Monday, June 29, 2009

Kindle-ing a Love Affair with eBooks

After I returned home from the California Crime Writers Conference, where I saw editors, agents and authors toting their devices around from session to session, stealing peeks at their latest reading matter in moments of downtime, I signed on to my Amazon account and ordered my Kindle. It was time.

Earlier that week, I was in a doctor's waiting room with my mother and I watched two people reading eBooks contentedly as I fumed. I had forgotten to bring along the novel I was reading and the magazine choices in the waiting room ranged from awful to pathetic. Then there was that conversation with my cousin, who was thinking about buying a Kindle so that she could order books in bed. You know that moment at 2:00 am when you finish a great book, you are wide awake, there are no extra books on the nightstand and if you get out of bed, you'll freeze your tootsies on the cold floor or fall over the dog on the way to your bookshelf.

It was clear to me that Kindle mania was reaching critical mass and that I had arrived at that time in a new technology's market penetration when I was comfortable with being a buyer. I plunked the Kindle down into my shopping cart and headed for checkout.

A few days later, I opened the front door to rescue our newspaper from the sprinkler system and found the Amazon box waiting for me. Kindle's packaging was beautiful, functional and reasonably easy to unwrap, which is saying a lot these days, when you can send yourself to the emergency room trying to open some new products. Who are these guys who attended the Fort Knox school of package design anyway?

I bought the jacket for my Kindle. Now I'm not so sure I needed to do that. Of course, I haven't traveled with my device yet, so maybe I am speaking too soon. However, my original reason for opting for the cover was my belief that the device would feel more like a book and I would be more comfortable holding it if it had a spine and a front and back. Now I realize that was a silly assumption. Holding the naked Kindle is a very satisfying experience. I think I am channeling some atavistic persona, an ancient version of myself who remembers reading from tablets in ancient Greece or scrolls in Imperial Rome.

Reading books on Kindle gives me a new relationship with the printed word. I am discovering the physicality of words all over again just as I did when I got my first Mac in 1985 or bought the really big monitor for my new HP last year. I also recalled the experience of giving up chalk in favor of that first white board and how delicious it was to follow the smooth glide of the marker across the surface. I wonder how long it will be before this fresh perspective wears off, but for right now it is like that first rather formal handshake with an important new acquaintance, the mutual regard and the unmistakable sensation that a new journey has begun that will leave you changed for the better. The enchantment of embarking on a voyage is enhanced by the impressive portraits of favorite authors that appear like book plates when Kindle is on, but sleeping. Poe, Twain, and Dickinson invite you to pass beyond the screen into a world of endless pleasure, rendered boundless by digital wizardry.

Of course, I did some serious buying and have a nice cyber shelf or two of books to look forward to, but I also downloaded some free books, including Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow. How delightful to read the opening pages of that tale again! Irving's observations about the contrast in pace between the bustling cities of his time and the rural valley of farm people at the center of his story seemed more modern and knowing than President Obama's guns and religion remarks.

But the really fun thing I did this morning was to load my own manuscripts and read them on the Kindle. It took me a while to realize that the Kindle power cord also is a computer UBS cord and I wasted time looking for a cable that would work with my Kindle, but once I studied the picture of the cable in the online store, I realized Amazon had given me all that I required. I needed to save my files as text documents before I dragged and dropped them into the Kindle document folder, but this only took a few moments. I wanted to read my own creative writing on my Kindle early on, before the newness of the device wears off. Voila! There were my titles nestled in the list with the bestsellers I had purchased! Wow! Wowie Wow Wow!

Once I got over the rush of publishing myself for myself, I came down out of the clouds and saw what was really powerful about doing this. Reading your own work on Kindle is not only exciting, it is as useful in its way as reading your manuscript aloud or putting your book away for a month and coming back to it fresh. It is another editing exercise that you can use to improve your writing. Seeing your paragraphs on the Kindle page forces you to compare your work to published material. The flow of the prose, the rhythm of the dialogue sections, the pacing, the chapter breaks -- you'll be looking at all of this and more with a critical eye, made more discriminating by this new technology. Now, go back to the menu and press the text-to-speech button. Wow! Wowie Wow Wow!

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