Tag Archives: books

You Can’t Do This with a Kindle — A Tale of Love and Books

Back in the early 1990’s, I met Craig at the Samaritans — a suicide hotline. He was a trainer and I was a volunteer.

Sometimes on Friday nights, a group of us Sams would go bowling at University Lanes in Greenwich Village which is still there but it’s now the very retro-trendy, Bowl- Mor.  Back then it was a normal bowling alley and could have been anywhere. Then we’d go to the Old Town Tavern, the one that used to be featured in the opening credits of David Letterman’ s show back when it was on NBC.

I liked Craig, and thought that maybe he kind of liked me, but he never asked me out. Then he was going to go on vacation, and I was determined that when he came back I would make my move and finally suggest that we — just the two of us — do something together.

Only when he came back it was too late. Something was now going on between him and another Sam-gal recently separated with whom he’d had a longstanding friendship.

Suicide hotlines — hotbeds of romance and intrigue. Who knew? (Years later I worked at the Crisis Clinic in Seattle,which brought more people together than E-Harmony.)

I let it go. I became good friends with both Craig and his girlfriend.

Two years later I finished grad school and  got my first social work job in Burlington, Vermont. I wanted to start fresh and was getting rid of most of the stuff in my little apartment in pre-gentrified Williamsburg. (You want to know details don’t you? Bedford between North 11th and North 12th, $250 a month when I moved in, and the neighbors thought I was being ripped off. Probably now ten times what I was paying then.)

The place was crammed with books. I would regularly shop at Strand Books where it was easy to find everything in the 5 for $2 or 48 cent each bins, so there were just too many to move. I decided to have an ongoing book sale. These were the days before Craigslist and Facebook, so I just told my friends and they told their friends and people would call me and come over and leave with boxes of books for which I might get $5 or $10.

Craig was one of those people. Because he was a good friend, I allowed him to take some of my favorites, books I was pleased he’d chosen and wanted him to read.  But I confess it was hard to let some of them go. His take included: Gissing’s New Grub Street, Peter S. Beagle’s supernatural tale A Fine and Private Place, a Flannery O’Connor collection as well as one of Grace Paley’s, a couple of novels by Anita Brookner, La Batarde by Valerie Leduc (which I never actually read but was supposed to have for a class), A Recent Martyr by Valerie Martin, Up the Junction by Nell Dunn, and several more.

Cut to about sixteen, seventeen years later. Coming on Christmas 2003. Craig is between girlfriends and I haven’t had a date in years.

We are at a Pisticci’s, an Italian place up in Morningside Heights where, having returned to New York in 2001, I now live.

Craig starts talking about his dating issues. I interrupt and say, “Have you ever thought about dating me?”

It wasn’t spontaneous. I’d been thinking about broaching the subject for weeks, months, possibly years.

There’s a stunned silence that feels very, very long and finally he admits that it had crossed his mind.

In 2007, I finally told him that I really, really wanted to quit my job and while I believed I could afford to be unemployed for a bit and would find something, I couldn’t afford it paying my full monthly apartment maintenance and COBRA (health benefits). He agreed we should marry. We ran off to Niagara Falls to do the deed. It was another month to unpaper-train and properly housebreak his dog (Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks). And then he finally moved in.

We bought a few things together — night tables and dressers from Ikea. He gave all his furniture away and some of his many books were donated to a local church. He still brought box loads to what is now our apartment. These included — Gissing’s New Grub Street, a Flannery O’Connor collection, Peter S. Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place, Grace Paley’s Little Disturbances of Man, a couple of novels by Anita Brookner, La Batarde by Valerie Leduc, A Recent Martyr by Valerie Martin and Up the Junction by Nell Dunn which I’m just starting to re-read.

The End of the World as I Know It

[Ed note:  6 March 2010 — Can’t seem to make myself say anything new today, so I’m pulling this one out of storage and giving it the sticky.  Comments welcome.]

A couple of weeks ago I went to Borders. Hadn’t been to a big chain bookseller in a while. In fact, the last time before that that I had even been in a bookstore was the close out sale of a local independent.

Borders was culture shock. Other than a small table labeled “classics” there really didn’t seem to be any space devoted to literary fiction. There were lots of tables with big glossy hardcovers on which the writers’ names were writ huge: PATTERSON, CORNWELL, BROWN.

And there were horror of horrors, the Jane Austen parodies. Granted she could be kind of a moralistic stick in the mud (Mansfield Park), but does she really deserve this? Sense and Sensibility with Sea-monsters, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Mr. Darcy, Vampyre?

In my search for actual books, I also came across many written by celebs and semi-celebs. Everyone has a story and if you are famous even if yours isn’t especially interesting or well told (even to someone else), agents and editors believe someone will buy it.

Meantime Big Publishing houses are becoming the dinosaurs of the tens or whatever the coming decade will be branded. And everyone is betting on digital.

People who never would have gone to an old fashioned vanity press are now proud self-publishers. Though not in the brick and mortar stores. The PODs are at least as pricey as the books in stores, but the ebooks are cheap. An overwhelming amount of the new lit by the masses is complete shit, but there’s also a lot of brilliant and innovative stuff that never would have gotten out otherwise, and somehow the consumer has to find his/her way between the two. The industry — agents, editors, publishing houses, even reviewers that used to intercede can no longer be trusted. Notice how thin the New York Times Book Review section is lately?

Me? I’m heading down the indie path with my own plan for publishing glory which includes digital. I still don’t actually own a mobile reading device. A little afraid that kindle might be the eight track of the future. Even something small and with good lighting doesn’t appeal to me. I want a book I can read on the beach and get sand on. I want a magazine I can leave in a restaurant and then have to borrow a copy later from the laundry room because I was in the middle of an article. I want pages to turn. I want to fall asleep with the book next to me and wake up with it cradled in my hand. I want to spoon with it.

But then again, I still have my LPs.

So it’ll probably be a generational thing, and the revolution will be gradual. They’ll be people in their twenties comfortable with both digital and analog-books. The real push won’t come until school children all have the readers and grow up with them.

Of course it will also change how books are written. Some will be meant to be read “live” with tons of hyperlinked references. Can you image a truly digital version of Ulysses? But most books, I suspect will be short and simple. You can’t go back and turn the pages as easily as with an analog. There’s no app for that, so books with a lot happening where you might want to go back a few pages and reread, will be less popular, not that they are popular now exactly.

As for the analogs, will they be burned or more likely recycled? Or will they be exported to the developing world like used clothing? So not only will Adebayo be wearing a bowling shirt that says, Poughkeepsie, Pirates, but he’ll be carrying a worn midlist paperback, the pages beginning to yellow and crumble.