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Thursday
Jul122012

Kindling 

Yesterday I was instructed to, quote, "Thank the Lord for science and art and medicine, bicycles and satellites."

There's a great deal to thank the Lord for.  Satellites, YES.  They're shiny and go real fast and shoot Shark Week being shot directly into my DVRlaser beams containing Shark Week directly from Discovery Channel into to my DVR, but bicycles can go take a seat at the back of a very long gratitude line, somewhere between warm pudding and the development of the Garden Weasel.  Bicycles breed bicyclists, who pretend to try to avoid me and my Toyota but wind up making for low-spermed, low-vibration panic attacks instead.  Nothing raises in me more nerves, as a motorist, than a bicyclist.  Pound for pound, I win, but lawsuit for lawsuit, I'm at a constant disadvantage.  Catching sight of a bicyclist on the road ahead makes me yearn for relative calm of this one time when, while hurtling 75 miles and hour northbound on I-65, a gigantic wasp totally flew out of a crack in my dashboard and directly into my face.  One moment, hot tea and the buzz of the highway and stray thoughts about the average relative distance between cows, and the next-- flailing and shrieking and disarray and OH DEAR SWEET HOLY CRAP IT'S THE END OF THE UNIVERSE.

I rather like the idea of being grateful for technological advances we take for granted.  But the prayer which instructed me to express appreciation for mobile squashed testicles was written well before the advent of e-readers, so I'm curious as to what its author might think of thanking the Lord for the ability to read an entire novel without turning a single page.  I was given a Kindle for my birthday, and it quite overwhelms me.  So far I have over 130 titles stored there, one of which I've read, and one of which I've actually paid for.  Largely, it functions as a ten inch by seven inch cask of English major guilt, as it holds all the royalty-free books which I as a college instructor and English major probably should have read by now but haven't, such as Ulysses, which I've been teaching for the past three weeks and might want to pick up at some point.

I wonder if this is what living in the age of Gutenberg was like.  In the space of a generation, the world advanced from monks coloring in each individual "begat"  to the ability to churn out enough Bibles for every single literate Christian to fight over the meaning of and still not read any of the begats anyway. 

Book club selections aside, I'm not buying anything for the Kindle until I've read through the backlog here in my office, which at the moment stands at two five-shelf bookcases, double stacked.  Given the amount of travel I do, it's far easier to switch to an all-Kindle lifestyle, but these books, they've heard about it-- word has gotten out, and they're conspiring against me by continuing to multiply.  Some I've been dragging with me since high school.  Others, such as Star Wars Episode I:  A Sneak Preview, might not offer the relevance they once had.

The irony here is that I'd have died to have such a wealth of reading material when I was a child.  There was never enough for me to read, as I grew up in the pre-Potter YA boom, and my schoolteacher mother, bless her, insisted on stocking the shelves at home with such useful, nutritious reading as Newbery Award winners and a freaking, actual, fact-checked, paper-based encylopedia.  So it was re-read The Babysitters Club #11:  Kristy and the Snobs for the 800th time, or it was Sing Down the Moon.  I became a writer despite myself, although sometimes I lie awake at night wondering if I'd be accepting my fifth or eighth National Book Award by now if only I'd bathed my developing consciousness in Island of the Blue Dolphins instead of The Official New Kids On the Block Trivia Quiz Book.

But there's something I don't entirely trust about the Kindle, and it's not merely an eighties baby's insistance that it should get off my lawn.  I grew up pushing buttons to make screens glow, so that's not it-- but there's something scream-inducing about the space between finding a few moments to read, turning it on, navigating the menu, turning on the wifi, tapping the book, finding the place, scrolling to the last line, etc etc etc... by then the doctor's receptionist has called you in and it's time for the cold metal table and the only comfort you've had is succesfully navigating the home screen.

I guess this is because I'm a tactile person who likes to fan through the remaining pages to see if I'm really making any progress to "The End" or whether or not I should include in those calcuations how much space the footnotes take up, or what. 

The Kindle lacks a certain drama as well.  When I finished the final math course of my entire life, I stomped on the book AND ripped out the pages AND threw it away AND burned it AND bombed the rubble.  Somehow, firmly pressing "delete" wouldn't have provided an equally satisfying sense of closure.

(...typed the woman into the little electronic box at the end of her blog post.)

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