“You may have heard the news that the independent bookstore is dead, that books are dead, that maybe even reading is dead—to which I say: Pull up a chair, friend. I have a story to tell.” – Ann Patchett
I now have both a Kindle and an iPad. The latter was a gift from my younger brother, formerly of Harvard Business School and currently employed by Apple at their corporate headquarters in California. Now I just googled Apple to be sure that the address is Cupertino rather than Mountain View. (When you do not live there, the now famous names of the towns of Silicon Valley tend to run together.) To be exact, the current address of the corporate offices is ‘1 Infinity Loop, Cupertino.’ Nearby is the Junipero Serra Freeway, named for the Franciscan Friar and famed missionary.
Thus we have the kind if random juxtaposition of past and present – happy, carefree, and jumbled – that to me seems typically American and inspiring of a sort of head shaking but nonetheless deep affection.
Well, I’ve wandered way off topic….
Anyway, I’ve not been using the Kindle much lately, as I’ve been overawed by the iPad’s mighty capabilities. (You were right, Richard!) But lately, where reading is concerned, I’ve found myself desiring less and less to read e-books, preferring instead to have the old fashioned print volumes nestled securely in my hands. More than one person has recently commented to me that they’ve gone over to e-books exclusively. I find such confidences dismaying, especially as they’ve been emanating from persons of my own generation.
I’ve been feeling very differently of late, possibly because I haven’t been traveling in recent weeks (a respite that’s about to end). I’ve been desirous of reading in the old way- and only in the old way, with books, magazines, and newspapers in my hands, positioned to receive the light. So you can imagine how delighted I was by “Don’t Burn Your Books–Print Is Here To Stay,” an article that appeared in the January 5 issue of the Wall Street Journal. Among other encouraging words, Nicholas Carr says this:
Half a decade into the e-book revolution,… the prognosis for traditional books is suddenly looking brighter. Hardcover books are displaying surprising resiliency.
Now, there are times when I think that resiliency is entirely down to me! But no – it seems that others are making a similar discovery. After charting the recent decline in e-book sales, Carr observes: “The fact that an e-book can’t be sold or given away after it’s read also reduces the perceived value of the product.” You may disagree with a few of Carr’s other assertions – I myself would quibble with the allegedly disposable nature of genre fiction – but still be heartened by his analysis of the current state of the world of books.
And then there’s “The Bookstore Strikes Back,” Ann Patchett’s rousing piece in the December 2012 Atlantic. Patchett and her business partner have singlehandedly demonstrated the durability of this beloved retailing tradition. They couldn’t stand the idea that their city, Nashville, was facing a future without a bookstore, and so they did something about it. Despite the odds in the current climate, Parnassus Books has succeeded brilliantly, and not just in financial terms.
In February of last year, during an appearance on The Colbert Report, Ann promised viewers signed copies of State of Wonder if they purchased it through her bookstore’s website. The result; a gratifying spike in sales of this terrific novel.
You may have heard the news that the independent bookstore is dead, that books are dead, that maybe even reading is dead—to which I say: Pull up a chair, friend. I have a story to tell.
Ann Patchett, writer and co-owner of Parnassus Books
Part the First: In which I learn to stop worrying and love my Kindle
I was greatly intrigued by an article by Cecilia Kang in Sunday’s Washington Post about the reading habits of people who use e-readers. It seems that these individuals are consuming books at a substantially greater rate than those who read only what Kang terms “physical books.” And there’s more:
Even as e-readers are downloading books on computers, tablets and smartphones, they are also checking out more books at libraries and buying more at bookstores and online. About nine in 10 e-book readers said they have also read printed books in the past year, Pew reported in its survey of about 3,000 people 16 and older.
Many, many titles are available for downloading onto the Kindle. When you line up your purchase, you are informed that you can “Start reading [Title of Book] on your Kindle in under a minute.” It was not until I actually observed this lightning-swift phenomenon with my own eyes that I truly appreciated the momentous nature of this paradigm shift. It seems miraculous – almost like magic.
Actually, the scales were tipped for me when I began exploring the world of lesser known short story classics. While reading Michael Dirda’s On Conan Doyle, I became interested in the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that were outside the Sherlock Holmes canon. These were tricky to locate in hard copy. But voila! Look what I found available for downloading on Amazon: The Captain of the Polestar cost $2.99; For Tales of Terror and Mystery, there was no charge.
I’ve mentioned that the January selection of the Usual Suspects was The Mystery of Edwin Drood. When I found that the print in the library copy of this title was uncomfortably small for my no-longer-young eyes, I downloaded a copy onto the Kindle. I could have opted for a free version, but instead got one that cost $0.99, because it featured illustrations. (Several of these appear in my post on the Usual Suspects discussion of Edwin Drood.)
In the course of my reading, I came across a reference to a monograph on Nathaniel Hawthorne written by Henry James. In the course of my English major days and a subsequent lifelong interest in the works of both of these great writers, I had never heard of this work. I was able to obtain it instantly from the Kindle store. Cost? $0.00.
Packing for a recent solo trip to New York, I struggled to minimize the weight and bulk of the reading matter in my luggage. I also wanted to finish Dana Stabenow’s A Cold Day for Murder, the next selection of the Usual Suspects Mystery Group. I was able to downloaded the novel onto my Kindle and leave the hardback copy at home. Cost? $0.00. (Great book, by the way. More on this after tomorrow night’s discussion.)
After perusing, at the local Barnes & Noble, the first few pages of Richard Mason’s The Memoirs of a Pleasure Seeker , I decided that I wanted to read it as soon as possible. I was relatively well positioned on the library’s list of reserves, but that simply was not good enough – I wanted the book at once. You’ll know by now what I did. Cost: $9.99
After recent being waylaid by the Egyptian antiquities at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I found myself possessed of a strong urge to revisit in literature the story of that illustrious ancient civilization. This topic has held a lifelong fascination for me – ever since, as a child, I received this most singular little gift:
I wanted a history that was eminently readable and well written. But I hadn’t been paying attention to recent publications on this subject. So I went on the Kirkus site and searched for “Egypt.” I then refined the search to display only starred reviews. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Tony Wilkinson seemed like the best bet. Although it was a bit of splurge from Amazon – $18.99 – I went for it anyway. I should mention at this juncture that this title was available for free download on the library’s site. I have not gone that route as of yet, but might do so in the future. One consideration, though: titles downloaded from the library are on loan, and I was pretty sure that I would want the Wilkinson title for keeps. And BTW, no regrets – I’m loving the book. It was worth price of admission alone to be reading about the Narmer Palette, which I’d never heard of, and then next, to see the images sharp and vibrant on the Kindle’s screen. (I’ve not used Kirkus for this purpose before, but I certainly will in the future.)
Part the Second: Instantaneous access to content
So, what was it that caused me to change my attitude toward the Kindle? Lately, the need to know more about a given subject has, for me, become increasingly urgent. The same impulse is operating with regard to works of fiction, though it is more muted because I have been so disappointed with a number of new works that Ive tried to read. For me, of late, short stories have been better than novels and crime fiction has been better than ‘literary’ fiction, which often seems to me to be striving too mightily to be literary. Unfortunately, a number of my favorite contemporary mystery authors have produced new works that have struck me as singularly lackluster. So, where fiction is concerned, I’ve been returning to the classics. And this, of course, is where the Kindle shines, providing instant access to obscure yet worthy works that stand a chance of ameliorating my literary malaise.
Department of cavils, complaints, and lingering reservations
In the early days of our Kindle ownership, Ron and I were having a number of problems with the device. First of all, the touch screen technology was far more difficult to master than I had anticipated. Accustomed as I was to the precision of the mouse, I found it extremely difficult to hit with your finger the precise the spot you were aiming for on the little screen (with its tiny print). Operations I could perform with ease on my beloved Sony Vaio* proved very tricky on the Kindle. I’d touch the screen inadvertently – a hard thing to avoid doing – and the screen would jump to a different display, and I would not know how to get back to where I’d been. My son suggested that I make more use of the pinch to zoom gesture; this advice helped, somewhat.
In short, I could have used a tutor, standing helpfully at my shoulder. (I’ve recently found out that Barnes & Noble provides this service for Nook users.) And yes, I looked at the online manual. It was but moderately helpful.
My friend Angie recently commented that you can’t riffle through the pages of a book when you’re reading it on an e-reader. (she was having trouble finding the table of contents for a lengthy work she’d recently downloaded.) I loved her use of ‘riffle,’ and her point is, of course, a good one. Finally, there’s no getting away from the fact that all this ready accessibility to content is exacerbating my already nearly out-of-control tendency to read several books simultaneously. This is most emphatically not a fault owing to the Kindle, but rather, a fault – if such it is – owing to me.
So to sum up, all in all….
The good far outweighs the bad
Precious books, swiftly acquired; back lit text and the ability to change the font size, both so helpful for these aging eyes; extreme compactness for traveling….these are just some of the reasons I’ve come to love my Kindle. Shortly after purchasing it, I bought a case made by Marware. This acquisition has made handling the Kindle and keeping it safe a lot easier.
It’s still true for me that late at night, while reading in bed, I crave a physical book. My whole history as a passionate reader is bound up in that timeless format. So at this point in my life, I’ll take both, thank you, and be very grateful.
*While I was gallivanting ’round New York City two weeks ago, Ron was hard at work executing a hard disc replacement for the Sony Vaio. A corrupted hard disc was increasingly disabling this best of computers. It took Ron pretty much the entire weekend to set things right – but he did it! (“Its pieces are all over the kitchen table!” he informed me on the phone, cheerfully. Just as well I was not there….)
Here I am, sitting in front of my brand new Sony VAIO L Series all-in-one touchscreen PC, accessorized with what just might be the world’s cutest mouse pad. (Yes, I know – She’ll do anything to sneak in yet another picture of the granddaughter!)
Much more, thanks to the magic of live streaming technology on the internet.
On Friday August 26, we had the privilege of attending a concert consisting of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony and Mahler’s First. The Berlin Philharmonic was led by Sir Simon Rattle, and we were watching the performance live, as it streamed via the internet from Philharmonie Hall right into our family room here in Maryland. Ron had secured us a free pass to this concert; we were not about to miss it!*
The Berlin Philharmonic is currently the only symphony orchestra in the world offering live streaming video of its performances.
When I got on this site and clicked on the video segment, I was instantly overwhelmed by the glorious music pouring forth. It is Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony. Here and see it for yourself.
The quality of the video and audio transmissions is quite simply superb.
A full year’s subscription to the Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall currently costs 149 euros, or about 190 U.S. dollars. But you can also gain access for a shorter term, at a reduced cost. Click here for more pricing information.
France’s Medici TV also offers live and recorded music from various European venues. You must register to see an entire performance, but amazingly, there is no charge. This past July, we watched a live broadcast of Don Giovanni from Glyndebourne.
Glyndebourne is a unique, and uniquely British, music festival. Opera is performed in a hall that is part of a country estate in East Sussex. People arrive dressed in formal wear. They bring picnics (or obtain picnic baskets on site, from a caterer) and eat on the grounds – sometimes literally on the ground – prior to the performance. Sheep can be seen grazing in an adjoining field.
(I attended an opera – La Cenerentola by Rossini – at Glyndebourne in 1985. At the time, I’d never heard of the place. I was the guest of friends of my parents. Due to several extraneous factors, I was not fully able to appreciate the experience. I recall thinking that the juxtaposition of high culture and pastoral surroundings was bizarre. Now, I look back indulgently at my insufficiently-enlightened pre-Anglophile self. I had much to learn in the coming years!)
Click here for a video history of Glyndebourne.
Medici TV and Berlin’s Digital Concert Hall convinced Ron that it was time for us to set up a home theater PC. You can certainly watch these concerts on your computer – but how much better to be able to see them on a larger screen (in our case, 32 inches) and listen to them with the benefit of a superior sound system (again, in our case, NHT Speakers). With guidance from the Audiovisual Science Forum, Ron began getting the system components in place.
To begin with, you need a television that is equipped with an HDMI input. Add to that, a dedicated computer with an HDMI output. After careful research, Ron selected an ASRock Core 100-HT BD, a small form factor desktop computer.
It is also essential to have a high speed internet connection of no less than six megabits per second. We have found that our Verizon FIOS connection is entirely equal to the task.
When all was in place and we fired up the system, we were thrilled with the results!
Ron and I are overjoyed that this treasure trove of classical music continues to be loved and nurtured in Europe. We’re also surprised that this tremendously exciting, cutting edge initiative, whose aim is to bring these riches to the rest of the world, has not garnered more media attention here. This post is my own small effort to rectify this omission.
*With this type of data transmission, there is bound to be the occasional glitch. Friday’s concert did not launch until about one half hour into the program, due to high user demand. (It’s that magical word “free” working its mischief again!) Last night, Ron received an e-mail from the Berlin Philharmonic apologizing for the transmission problems. As part of the apology, they provided another free pass for 24 hours of viewing on the site, good through December 1. Friday’s concert will be available in the archives as of Tuesday, August 31.
It begins with the death of our beloved twenty-year-old 25-inch Sony Trinitron. We observe a moment of silence as this venerable, essential component of our home life is carted out the door.* Even as we say our farewells to a companion whose age exactly matches our tenure in this house, the question looms…
I should first explain that my husband Ron and I are very particular about what we watch on TV. We choose each program before hand – no casual or impulsive viewing for us! After the choice is made, Ron commences the process he calls “delousing,” namely the excising of all commercial interruptions. (His tool for accomplishing this task is a DVD-RAM recorder.) The result seemed at first a delightful novelty, as if we were watching Law and Order on PBS. Where broadcast television is concerned, we prefer crime shows, true and otherwise. Commercial DVD’s are always welcome, especially British mysteries and selected feature films.
[Best recently viewed British mystery: “Invasion,” from the fourth season of Foyle’s War, IMHO the best mystery series to come from the Old Country since Inspector Morse. Best recently viewed feature film: Pan’s Labyrinth, a film of mindboggling originality and technical bravura – scary and at the same time very poignant.]
Okay, back to the aforementioned question. Here am I, jumping up and down and yelling,”Great! Time to get one of those huge hoggers I keep seeing in my friends’ houses! Fifty inches! Seventy-two inches! Sky’s the limit, right??!!”
We must first mourn the demise of the cathode ray tube, bringer of a near-perfect picture. It seems that none of the new technologies can measure up. Bigger is not necessarily better; in fact, it may be demonstrably worse. Oh dear; I can see that this is going to be a long haul.
And so begins our pilgrimage. We schlepp through Best Buy, Gramophone, Tweeter, Circuit City, Costco, and back to Best Buy. The promised land of fabulous viewing begins to seem a wasteland of imperfection. LCD? Blacks are not black enough, and colors tend to be oversaturated. Plasma? Blacks are black enough, but there’s concern that burn-in might result from watching standard definition programs on a high definition set. Rear projection? There’s often a problem with a restricted optimal viewing angle. And trust me -that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (For a useful primer on the new technology, see Amazon’s High-Def 101.)
So, while we are in a dark wood wandering (or rather, in the blinding expanse of huge desolate parking lots), what is happening on the home front?
Obviously, stop-gap measures are called for. The most logical first step: to use one of the electronic devices currently on the premises. For us, this consists of various decommissioned televisions and computer monitors. (Are other people’s houses also starting to resemble warehouses of disused electronics? This would include, of course CPU’s which cannot, alas, aid us in the present difficulty.)
First up is a Sony 19-inch professional Trinitron monitor, age eleven. Ron connects it to the recording device which will supply the tuner function. “Okay!” says he. We fire it up; it produces a desperate, wobbly image and then shuts down. Further tests confirm that it has, in fact, died. Up next: a nine-inch Sony Trinitron, age fifteen. Sure it’s got a screen slightly smaller than a cereal box – but what a picture! “Look at those colors – so true,” says Ron ruefully. “There’s simply nothing like a cathode ray tube…”
Meanwhile, our odyssey across television land continues. Occasionally we come close to deciding on a purchase, only to be warned off by something that has appeared on “the boards.” These sites, carefully monitored by Ron, contain posts which alert potential buyers to problems that have surfaced after purchase. Particularly recommended is the Audio Visual Science Forum, a real goldmine of information, much of it gained through firsthand experience.
Meanwhile, there’s been an upgrade on the home front, from nine inches to thirteen. We are currently watching TV on a 22-year-old Amiga monitor (manufactured for Amiga by Toshiba).
Ron was an early Amiga enthusiast and has never lost his respect for that most excellent machine. Alas, it proved incapable of handling the Y2K rollover. Thus it has been out of use for eight years. But guess what…It’s back! We sit before it in our darkened family room and are awestruck. “What a great picture,” sighs Ron. I cannot help but agree.
*As with computers, there are environmental issues concerning the disposal of old TV sets. See Take Back My TV for information on this topic.