The world in a grain of silicon

I mentioned looking up books on Kindle last time. I’ve got one of the older electronic-ink versions, the one with the keyboard at the bottom.

I love it. I write books for children, and while I like the idea of seeing my work published on shelves in hardcover and paperback, I want electronic versions out there too.

My kids gave me the Kindle for Father’s Day a while back, and I wondered what I was going to do with it at the time. But as I started loading my favorites on board, and realized that I could read any of them anywhere I went, it really grew on me. Having accidentally squished the screen once (and gotten a replacement from Amazon), I got a nice metal-reinforced case from Proporta in England (“aluminium”) and it’s held up under a lot of handling since.

I like to read when I eat. I can turn pages by just tapping the side key, and I don’t have to hold a book open with a weight. I can eat spare ribs, and hit the button with my elbow. The Kindle fits nicely in the inside pocket of my jeans jacket, and I can read in a park, in a waiting room, or anywhere else. The electronic ink screen shows up in full sunlight. I can’t read in the dark, but I hear the newer “Paperwhites” have a screen light.

I like electronic ink. I don’t want my Kindle to be anything except a book. I have no desire to get anything more powerful. No movies, no games, no apps, no “Fire.” I also like that the battery lasts for a couple of weeks. If somebody ever comes up with full-color electronic ink, maybe I’d consider that.

My Kindle has wireless, so I can download new books any time I’m in a wi-fi zone. For a bit more money, you can get one that has cell phone access. You can get at Amazon’s library anywhere you have a signal. There’s no charge, and you don’t even need your own cell phone account. You can get a Kindle cheaper if you’re willing to put up with ads on it (no thanks).

I would have killed for this kind of literary access when I was 10. Say what you will about there being nothing like holding a real book, cracking it open for the first time, smelling that great new book smell, and turning the pages. I’d even agree with you. But there’s a lot to be said about carrying a little leather-covered pad in my coat pocket that contains enough books to fill a large room, with many classics available for less money than a fancy coffee drink. Or even free.

My Dad has one, and loves it. I got my wife a free Kindle app for the IPod she carries around (it contains reference books for her pharmacy work). She took to it like a duck to water. One reason I generate e-books of my work is because she likes to proof it that way. She’s reading an old classic now that weighs about three pounds in paperback. I can buy books and send them to anyone I know who has a Kindle (with permission). I just shot a copy of Half Magic to my wife.

There are other e-readers, of course. This is just the one I own.

So what have I got on my Kindle so far?

All of Nero Wolfe. All of Pratchett’s Discworld books. Six Dune books. A bunch of Heinlein. The Narnia books, and a bit more C.S. Lewis. The Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series. The Garrett Files. Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. The Complete George MacDonald, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Sherlock Holmes, H.P. Lovecraft, and Jules Verne. Moby Dick. Heidi. Wind in the Willows. Some Gaiman novels. And a few other odds and ends, including Kindle versions of my own books (only one of which is actually on the market).

I’m just getting started. I don’t have H. G. Wells in there yet, or Shakespeare, the Lewis Space Trilogy, or the Oz books, among many others. I only have the first Harry Potter book. I wish all the favorite books of my childhood were available in this format, but a lot of them are. I’m a kid in a candy store with a shopping cart the size of a dump truck. I tell my family to get me Amazon gift certificates for every holiday.


His grip on my shoulder tightened. “We have books here bound in the hides of echidnes, krakens, and beasts so long extinct that those whose studies they are, are for the most part of the opinion that no trace of them survives unfossilized. We have books bound wholly in metals of unknown alloy, and books whose bindings are covered with thickset gems. We have books cased in perfumed woods shipped across inconceivable gulf between creations–books doubly precious because no one on Urth can read them. 

“We have books whose papers are matted of plants from which spring curious alkaloids, so that the reader, in turning their pages, is taken unaware by bizarre fantasies and chimeric dreams. Books whose pages are not paper at all, but delicate wafers of white jade, ivory, and shell; books too whose leaves are the desiccated leaves of unknown plants. Books we have also that are not books at all to the eye: scrolls and tablets and recordings on a hundred different substances. 

“There is a cube of crystal here–though I can no longer tell you where–no larger than the ball of your thumb that contains more books than the library itself does. Though a harlot might dangle it from one ear for an ornament, there are not volumes enough in the world to counterweight the other. All these I came to know, and I made safeguarding them my life’s devotion.” 

– Master Ulton, the Curator, from Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer.