Thursday, March 31, 2011

Comfort in Books

For the first time in nearly two decades, I am not surrounded by books.

Well, let me clarify: I am not inundated by books stacked around me in every room in the house.

That doesn't mean I don't have books in the house.  And it's not even my house!

Last summer, Carole helped me "de-clutter" my library so the amount of books I had actually fit within the bookshelves. (I know, where is the fun in that?)  Rest assured, it was for a good cause: the house was on the market, and professionals recommended implementing the "d" word.

What that meant was the boxing of about 20 boxes of books.  Give or take, that is; I didn't count.  I just closed my eyes and received the books Carole handed me.  We weeded out the ones I wasn't reading at the moment, added the ones I was unlikely to re-read in the immediate future, and made the remaining ones look like they were meant to be there.  Carole arranged the ones that remained with attractive, bookish knickknacks from her own shelves, rescued some from mine, and displayed them in a lovely fashion.

It was that room that sold the house.

Oh, don't misunderstand me: the new kitchen floor wasn't a washout and the couch set off the living room.  However, it was the love on those shelves that made someone think about how they would love that house, too — and, apparently, see beyond the cat scratching posts flanking the front door.

However, now... Now I have half a box of books in a cube in Alicia's guest room.

Well, that's how it started.  Then I found Summer of Night by Dan Simmons tucked, unread, on her bedroom shelves, and that was promptly plopped on the air purifier. 

Then I was lured into the library book sale and found myself the new owner of a stack of books, including new-to-David Dean Koontz and, for me,  American Wife (which had good reviews and I had meant to read when it first came out).  And a few more titles that looked delicious... With hardback novels priced at a dollar and the money funding library programs, who was I to deny the Friends of the Library a few shekels in exchange for books?

Alicia made a Marge Simpson sound when she saw them stacked on the shoe holder that evening.  "Okay, but no more books!" she declared, the only sane person in the house.  David and I nodded.  We could comply.

That is, until the latest Borders coupon was too much to resist.  I had managed to walk out of the store without A Discovery of Witches enough times to make me feel pious, and the box of books we took to Alicia's house was still buried.  I could see the end of At Home looming on the horizon: what was I to do?  I was too excited to not tell Alicia.  She just shook her head.

Then I dropped off some items at the local thrift store with low prices and a decent selection of books.  I told myself that one book was going to the Lunchroom Lending Library at work, one was for David and the other two... well, I'd give them away when I finished them.  Really.

I showed Alicia the first one, for David, which appeared work-related.  "Eat This, Not That? I've seen that at the bookstores," she said.  Then she saw the others.  "And where are these going?" she asked.

"One is going to work," I responded weakly.

She sighed.  I was officially incorrigible.  (Which was not news to either of us.)

I am sated — for now.  I have plotted them carefully: first, I finish Summer of Night.  That will take me a few days.  After that, I will follow up that with the new-to-me Penny Vincenzi in the box we brought with us, then dive right into Witches. 

At least, that's the plan.  I've had a few more titles suggested to me, and I've unfrozen my library reservation list, so I might have a few new titles from which to choose.

What other titles can you suggest to lure me off the straight-and-narrow?  Tempt me with your suggestions!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Perspective Makes Incomprehensible Disaster 'Real'

This morning, as I rambled about the chaos that is my living room, I logged onto the computer to discover the horrifying situation in Japan: an earthquake with an 8.9 magnitude, followed by a tsunami, north of Tokyo.

With the rest of the world, I watched the video of a wall of water sweeping through the streets of Sendai, carrying debris with it.  I read news reports and tsunami watches across the Pacific, and I joined the world in being shocked and frightened for those in the midst of the natural disaster.

After a while, I inserted my mind back into my own life.  I kept an eye on reports, but I kept myself at a distance — until I caught a tweet from BuzzFeed: Maru is safe.

Anyone in the know in the cute-iverse has met Maru, an earnest, sweet-faced cat whose "owner" loves that cat with an obsession every cat lover wishes to emulate.  Maru's blog is filled with photos, video, stories about the cat's happy life in Japan.

Maru is safe.  Now I can cry.

Humans — okay, I have difficulty comprehending the magnitude, the horror of a situation, without perspective.  When the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, in New York City, people watched in horror at the footage of the enormous buildings collapsing, the dust cloud billowing out from its base.  I was one of those people, and I can still remember my disbelief at what I saw.

However, it wasn't real for me until I saw the people: covered with dust, running for their lives.  I cried at the Newseum exhibit: at a broken camera found in the debris of the second tower — and the knowledge that its owner, journalist William Biggart, wasn't.  It's real to me when it's real to someone.

Maru is real to someone, and Maru is safe.  Many others are not.  It's not "just" a wall of water, but the people whose lives are swept up into it.  The unimaginable earthquake and the resulting tsunami happened to people whose lives never will be the same.  It is more than a news story: it is the life story of many — and so very, very real for us all.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

One More Reasons to Go Print: Sharing

I have a few friends in a never-ending book swap.  Kathy and I leave books on each other's doorstep, and Carole and I trade huge armfuls when we visit.

I'm sure publishers and booksellers are aghast at such activity.  Loaning books?  Where's the profit in that?

I will tell you: it's in the magic of finding a new author, in reading a book I might otherwise not have picked up myself, in introducing another friend to another author.  The initial profit is low for the bookseller, but the long-term benefits are grand.

It's like borrowing a book at the library that turns into a sale: if I know I will love it, I will purchase my own copy so David and I both can read it at our leisure.  It's like picking up a paperback at the second-hand shop: more eyes garner more purchases of current, past and future titles.

Apparently Amazon recently figured out this whole scam for its e-books — and implemented a lending program amongst its Kindles.  Rules are strict and Amazon creates its own restrictions.  Like computer software, access to an e-book can be controlled by the very machine that makes it available.

Now, a book's life does not end when its pages are warped and its spine bloated from being dropped one too many times in the pool, or the 40-year-old paperback that loses its pages, one by one, on a windy day at Dewey Beach.

Instead, the "real" owner cuts off access, or removes it entirely, from your library without your permission. 1984 or Animal Farm, anyone?  No, really: Amazon erased these Orwell titles from Kindles in July 2009; read the New York Times article.

I watched a woman reading an e-book in great comfort today at the bagel shop, and I wondered what it would be like to have a large portion of my library digitized.  This isn't idle fancy: Carole and I will finish packing those very tomes this weekend, and I lost count of the total number of boxes — in part because a portion of my library already is in storage in anticipation of my upcoming move.

Would my life be substantially different if a slim machine held 3,600 titles for me?  Sure.

With a Kindle, I couldn't have a stack of books at Carole's house, awaiting their return to my library (after the move, of course).  I wouldn't step out of my door to see a lovely pastel-covered book on my "welcome" mat with Kathy's bookmark ready for my use.  David couldn't read Barney's Version after I'm done with it — and I couldn't be done with it in the first place because it's not available as an e-book.

My library would be sparse and poor, and my friends empty-handed, if we went "e" — so don't count me in any time soon.  I'll be the one with the swollen copy of Pride and Prejudice poolside.  I'll let you have it when I'm done.