The Obligatory Kindle Post

I got a Kindle for Christmas, and now am obliged to write about how it looks like a real page, how cool it is to be able to carry my library with me and won’t it be great for travel, and how it will revolutionize reading, writing, printing, and life as we know it. And I will probably admit that while I love reading on my Kindle, I will never part with my dead-tree collection.

Consider all that said. I’ve read plenty about eBooks in general, and the Kindle in particular, and that pretty much says it all. If you want a reading list, I can refer you.

What I do have to say about it is this (and these observations are by no means unique, either):

I love to read — in theory. In reality, I have trouble seeing the page. I thought that going to bifocals would make it easier to read, but most of the time my arms aren’t long enough to hold the book where I can see it. And I don’t like holding books. If I can read with my book on the desk and plenty of light, it works, but reading in bed is tedious. Reading from my computer or iPhone hurts my eyes.

Kindle is allowing me to read more. Easy to hold, easy to turn pages, easy to adjust the size of the print. It keeps your page. You can write notes and underline without messing up your book. It’s like having an exercycle or a treadmill — now I have no excuse.

There are many people who love books as objects – the binding, the pages, the feel of a volume in their hands. I’m sure there were readers who didn’t want to give up their scrolls when the codex was becoming popular. But Amazon doesn’t sell a lot of scrolls these days. Eventually more ebooks will be sold than paper books.

I am quite ready to get rid of as many books as I can. More

The First Paragraph

Last weekend a hundred stories lay piled on my desk, awaiting my assessment. Though I like writing critiques, grading stories is one of my least favorite things to do.

When I could ignore them no longer, I sat down at my desk and thought about how to approach the task. If I read each story carefully and rated it on the criteria I had established, I would have to spend about an hour on each one.

There are not so many hours in a weekend, even when Monday is a holiday.

I worked out a method that would allow me to eat and sleep. The first paragraph and the last paragraph would tell me what I needed to know:

Does the beginning grab me?

Has the writer introduced a character in a setting with a problem to solve?

Does the story have a resolution? (Just to make sure it was a complete story.)

Does the story have dialog, or it is primarily summary?

Did this student care enough about their work to clean up the spelling and punctuation?

And then I understood what an editor facing a huge slush pile must do. Reading the first five pages is a perfectly fair way to evaluate a novel. You really can find out all you need to know by reading the beginning. It doesn’t matter how good chapter 23 is if you aren’t grabbed by the first pages. And if you find a misspelling in the first paragraph, that is a sure sign that there will be many more.

Each story tells me a number of things that didn’t figure into the grade as well. Which students read books? It is obvious that many don’t read. It is just as obvious that the ones who do read understand that life is more than boyfriends and girlfriends, football and shopping. Everyone watches movies and television, but these don’t have the same effect as reading. Readers are more mature, more thoughtful, more realistic.

There are many ways to tell a story, but not all are equal. These days, books seem to be falling out of fashion. But reading is superior to television and movies. People who always have their ‘nose in a book,’ as the criticism goes, are actually learning more than those who see stories on the screen. They are using their more and developing thinking skills. Reading is active; the screen is passive. A book is a good friend, a teacher.

Writers, take your responsibility seriously.

Who are you writing for?

book openThere are about half a million books (titles) published each year in the English speaking world. That may be a conservative figure. It’s hard to find numbers on how many books people actually buy. Why that should be a secret, I do not know. I think we can assume that it’s a big number.

Dax wonders, “How many of those books sold are actually read?”

It’s hard to get numbers on specific categories of books, but it appears that non-fiction titles sell better than fiction. The reason non-fiction books sell well is because they don’t make people feel guilty. If you buy a novel, it sits around waiting for a reading mood to strike you. Then you have to read it in order, from beginning to end. Why buy something that’s going to needle your conscious every time you see it?

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