Two notes on books

1. eBook

For my birthday my wife bought me a Kindle.  Since then I've had a chance to read a number of books using it, and I wanted to say something about my transformation from anti- to pro-eBook.  The first thing to say is that I received a Kindle vs. a tablet.  I got what Jesse Brown has recently called "dedicated hardware" and not a multi-use device.  I spend my days working on all kinds of computers and in all kinds of computer programming languages.  When I read I don't want to be there anymore.  It's why I don't read anything longer than a blog post on a computer screen.  I need to be present with the text, without risking that I might slip off the edge and fall into my editor, browser, or mail.

In this regard, my Kindle is wonderful.  It actually can surf the web (I ran Processing.js code on it!), but in such a clunky way that I'm hardly tempted to do so.  What it does really well is let me flip pages through a book.  And so do all the hundreds of books in our house.  So why bother with an electronic book?

A few things convinced me.  First, I have too many books, and because I like to read, I acquire them too quickly.  In short, I don't want to store them anymore.  Some books I read more than once, and these I can see having in physical form.  For the rest, I'm enjoying not having to find a shelf for them.

Second, I'm tired of traveling and holding large books.  On a recent vacation, I took a bunch of books, some of them from the library.  It took room in our luggage, was something I had to worry about losing or wrecking, and since a few of them were large hard-cover books (library binding), they were unwieldy to hold.

The third thing that convinced me is that many of the books I want to read are free (I read lots of literature or otherwise public domain texts) and out of print.  This weekend, for example, I read Aristotle's Ethics and Dicken's Bleak House.  In both cases I went from, "I really wish I could read such-and-such," to having it available on my Kindle.  In both cases the books were free.  When I'm buying a physical copy of either book, I care about the state of the binding, the typography, etc.  In eBook form, these things vanish.  A $40 edition provides me with no more pleasure.

I'm enjoying the ability to instantly access free books, and while I will buy lots of books as well, this alone will pay for the device in short order.

2. A Bag of Books

For my birthday my friend, Luke, gave me a bag of books.  A bag.  Where some friends would hand you a slim volume wrapped and with a dedication, Luke handed me a shopping bag full of 11 books.  "You mentioned that you were looking for things to read, so I thought I'd get you started."  Because I love lists, and would enjoy stumbling on something like this myself, I wanted to present the list of books he gave me.  Imagine if you could ask a great reader what they'd recommend you read over the coming months.  This is that list:

  • "The Sunlight Dialogues" by John Gardner
  • "The Club Dumas" by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
  • "Captain Alatriste" by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
  • "The Fencing Master" by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
  • "The Pyramid" by William Golding
  • "The Spire" by William Golding
  • "Briefing for a Descent into Hell" by Dorris Lessing
  • "Ficciones" by Jorge Luis Borges
  • "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milan Kundera
  • "Blindness" by José Saramago
  • "Staring at the Sun" by Julian Barnes
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