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Saturday, December 18, 2010

An E-Reader Saved My Life

My husband bought me a first-generation Amazon Kindle for my first birthday that we celebrated together, two years ago. I had never had a chance to consider an e-reader, and the gift was a complete surprise. He knew I loved books, and he felt that the potential to cram most of my library into the size of one normal book had to be an advantage, since he moves around so much. That part of it has certainly come true. Now that my library is in storage in Pennsylvania, it doesn't feel right to add weight to the stuff we have with us, and lately if it's not available for my e-reader, I just don't buy it.

The Kindle inspired me to dust off and publish my book, Tree/House, mostly because it didn't cost me anything. I've only sold one digital copy, because it came out before anyone else actually had an e-reader, and now it's perceived as old. (It's actually perennial, ever fresh, and still available in paperback also!)

The Kindle has afforded us many hours of unexpectedly shared pleasure because I like to supplement my husband's literary diet by reading aloud to him. I already had a couple of different copies of The Princess Bride, but when I wanted to read it to my husband, they were buried in boxes without labels, and it was just easier to "whispernet" it to my Kindle. (That's a book I would buy 1,000 times if necessary.) When the local library didn't have the last installment of His Dark Materials, we had no qualms getting the e-version of that, too. Most recently, I couldn't help sharing so many delightful passages from Bill Bryson's At Home with my husband that he demanded we read the entire thing together.

Most dramatically, I happened to take my new Kindle with me on my fated trip to Spain in August 2008 (see an earlier post on this). I only had maybe ten books on it, and I couldn't download new things or even charge the battery, but thank goodness I had something to do on those couple of long nights waiting for the American Embassy to open! The fact that The Power of Now was the last book I'd bought for it was probably the decisive factor in my not having a complete nervous breakdown when my purse was taken.

I'm a bit miffed that there are newer versions of the Kindle, for much less money than before, with many more features. But these new versions, and the increasing number of viable competitors, are a sign that book technology is finally taking the next step. There is a buzz in the book community now about the meaning of e-readers and possible demise of printed books. I love books -- physical, pulpy, inky -- but I'm thankful that e-readers are an option now that my husband has introduced me to this semi-nomadic lifestyle. I can still be nearly as literary as before, and a million times as moveable. Given a choice, however, I would have access to an enormous, well-organized, beautifully architectured, physical library. Someday.