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Bill Maxwell

A book lover goes digital

Remember Henry Bemis, the bespectacled bank teller in the Twilight Zone episode Time Enough at Last? Bemis' wife and boss never allow him time to read his books. One day as he hides in the bank vault reading, nuclear bombs kill everyone on Earth except Bemis. Now he has time enough to read his books. He is in paradise. But paradise is lost when Bemis breaks his glasses, making his world eternally blurry.

Now that I no longer work full time, I am like Bemis was, at least temporarily. I can read my books without interruption. I am in paradise. Since childhood, I have loved and owned books and wished I had time to read all I want. Books are the main company I keep. I love to touch them. Each has its own voice and a distinct story to tell. I cram them into my luggage on long trips and keep them on my nightstand and in bed.

If someone had told me just a few months ago that I would buy an electronic reading device and begin to see books in a different light, I probably would have said what U.S. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe said to the German commander who asked if the Americans cared to surrender at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge: "Nuts!"

Well, that person would have been right. I am now the not-yet-so-comfortable owner of a brand-new Kindle DX, Amazon's third-generation electronic reader, the supersized version of the original Kindle and Kindle 2.

Buying a handheld e-book device was a life-changing choice for me. Here is how I came to buy it. One afternoon in April, after buying a book at Haslam's, my favorite local bookstore, I realized all over again that I do not have much space left in my tiny garage apartment for more books. What was I to do? A few weeks later, coincidentally, I visited a friend who owns a first-generation, 6-inch Kindle that can store 1,500 books. She showed me how it works. I held it, inspected it, read a page of text from The Glass Castle and switched to the next page. In all, I was pleased.

Would I buy a Kindle and lose the tactile experience of books or continue to collect in the same old way, making my apartment even more cramped?

I went to the Amazon Kindle site and saw that I could preorder a DX, which would be shipped in June. It has a 9.7-inch screen, weighs little more than a pound, holds 3,500 books and is wireless. The price: a jaw-dropping $489. After three days of evaluating my new fixed-income status, I hit the "buy" button on the Amazon site and preordered a DX.

When it arrived by UPS on June 16, I opened the box with trepidation, my neo-Luddite instincts flaring up. What had I gotten myself into? Reading the quick-start guide, I found my way around the device and ordered my first book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which I had to reread for an upcoming panel discussion. I typed in the title and hit "buy" with the five-way control. In about 30 seconds, Tom Sawyer appeared on the screen, and I was ready to begin reading. It was just that easy.

I did a quick search for other books in the Kindle store, which had 307,420 titles at the time. I found three other books I wanted to read immediately, Stephen Carter's Palace Council, Michael Thomas' Man Gone Down and Adam Morton's philosophical treatise, On Evil. In fewer than two minutes, I had bought and downloaded four books, in the convenience of my home, for less than I would have paid in a store.

I have finished reading Tom Sawyer, and I enjoyed the experience. The DX's screen was easy on my eyes. I can adjust the font size and rotate the screen view from portrait to landscape. Now when I travel, I can bring an entire library with me on my Kindle. With the wireless function turned on, I have four days of battery life. With the function turned off, the battery lasts up to two weeks without charging.

I think I am going to love my Kindle, but I will continue to prowl our local bookstores, especially the independents. For me, nothing can replace real books.

A book lover goes digital 06/27/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 27, 2009 9:09pm]
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