Wednesday, May 18, 2011


My spouse got a Kindle for Mother's Day. To give it a whirl, she downloaded a few of the Agatha Christies she hasn't read. Her first report: Easy to read, handy for travel.

The device was a gift from son Dan, who is a big reader and swears by his Kindle. I can foresee nicking my spouse's Kindle when I'm on the island, say, with no access to bookstores or Amazon. There's a tiny library on the island, but I've pretty much read my way through it, and the only books are donations so one is unlikely to find the latest things I'd want to read. We'll see.

It appears that e-books are fast overtaking paper volumes, if they have not done so already. Dan says the Kindle can store thousands of volumes -- an entire library in the palm of one's hand. But I can't imagine a house without books. Bookshelves on every wall. Books spilling from desks and tables. Books piled helter-skelter in the spare bedroom. I'm consoled by their presence. I'm buttressed by their bulk. I'm warmed by their R-value on cold winter nights.

A Kindle is a genie in a bottle. I like my spirits free and roaming, shelf to shelf, room to room. I like my house to be like Caliban's island
... full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices

That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming,

The clouds methought would open, and show riches

Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.
I like it when while looking for last year's best-seller I find it snuggled up with the anthology of Greek drama I read at university. I like the way a march of spines recapitulates my intellectual life over sixty years, the evocative detritus of the past, yellowing, dog-eared, annotated.

Look! Here is my original paperback Walden, from junior year at university, with every word I didn't know underlined in red, to be looked up. Tantivy. Tantara. As I type them now they are highlighted by my spell checker. My word processor doesn't recognize them, but Thoreau knew what they mean and so do I, thanks to Thoreau. I used them once to good effect in something I wrote -- I can't remember what or where. But whatever it was, it is here somewhere, somewhere on these spilling shelves, and someday these paper clouds will open and those riches and more will drop upon me, sounds, sweet airs, a thousand twangling pages. A tantivy of inky syllables. Tantara!