Wednesday, February 1, 2012

cheaper by the dozen

In April 2010 and May 2011 I referred in passing to my beloved Kindle. The first of these posts was about an unpleasant encounter on a bus ride, and the second about the development of daily routines. At a time when e-books are being lambasted roundly in various media* due to Jonathan Franzen's screed at the Hay Festival, I feel compelled to write about how the Kindle has influenced my book-buying and reading habits.

Before I had a Kindle, I rarely bought a new book. My modus operandi was to buy virtually all of my reading matter at thrift shops and used book stores (see my post Flight of Fiction for a description of a surprise this procedure brought). Since these books were so cheap (rarely more than $5.00 each) I bought lots of them and piled them on their sides so that I could see at a glance which books I hadn't read yet. After reading each book, I'd pass it along to a friend or give it back to a charity that would re-sell it in another thrift shop -- unless it qualified to be saved on my shelf of exemplary fiction.

Since the e-books available at Amazon for the Kindle are usually $9.99 apiece (maybe $14.95 for best-sellers), it appeared that my book budget was going to go through the roof. I had heard, however, that there were books available in Kindle editions for $1.00, or even for free. I rationalized that my average book purchase might not be higher than it was when I was buying most of my books from Salvation Army or Goodwill stores..

The first thing I noticed on Kindle's lists of free and $1.00 books was a preponderance of Victorian fiction, from which I downloaded a potpourri of George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and Anthony Trollope, plus a Henry James title (The Outcry) that was totally new to me. These I kept in reserve and, at first, would righteously and parsimoniously read one Victorian title in between each modern title by Margaret Atwood, Douglas Coupland, Sue Grafton, Iain Pears, etc. This regimen lasted until I read Trollope's The Warden.

In college I'd greatly enjoyed Barchester Towers in a Victorian fiction class featuring one book apiece by the major novelists. That must have been in 1962. It all came back when The Warden appeared on my Kindle screen -- mostly through the imaginative, memorable names of characters: the Proudies, the Grantlys, Mr. Obadiah Slope, the Duke of Omnium (builder of Gatherum Castle), Sir Omicron Pi, and on and on. I was hooked, and so embarked on a journey through Trollope's six-book Barchester series, followed by another six in his Palliser series.

I don't think I'd ever have gone back to Trollope if it hadn't been for the way the Kindle changed my book buying habits, and yet this week we are being warned that because of e-books we are accelerating the fall of civilization as we know it.

Meanwhile Jonathan Franzen's acclaimed novel Freedom is available on Kindle for $9.99 (list price $16.00). Maybe I'll order it when I finish E.L. Doctorow's City of God -- if I don't get bogged down in Thackery.

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*for starters: CBC, Huff Post, Guardian. L.A. Times

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License