This week, I will be doing one thing I have not done in a long time — do a public reading from my first novel; and do another thing that I have not done at all — do a public reading from my Kindle.
My relationship with books began early, sealed by fate as soon as my father brought home an entire book shelf of encyclopedias instead of the much requested new T.V. Growing up without TV, an experience that easily made me an outsider in childhood conversations, opened another experience that most kids I know never had–the secret world of the imagination.
The Published Dream
For me, for many of us, the imagined world of reading is connected to the tactile experience of turning a page, of looking at the page number at the bottom, and sometimes folding the corner as a reminder of where to return at a later reading. When I wrote my first book at fifteen, I had every intention of mimicking the experience of a bound book by writing in the blank pages of a book binding project I did in school and by carefully centering the title in the middle of the first page.
Publishing a first novel was a process in the imagination: how the cover looks, the name on the spine, the people to thank inside, and in the thick of it, the words that once occupied the heart and mind and the dream. The dream was a package deal as well, and even when I wrote my first novel on my laptop, I knew exactly the first things I would do as soon as it came to fruition, from pulling it out of a shelf in a bookstore to signing the first or second page in my first reading. I even knew the color of ink I would use to sign all my books–green. I also had a stamp made to direct the readers to my website.
Then, suddenly, one day a month ago, my first book was released on Nook and Kindle. Twelve years after it was released in print edition.
The Kindle Experience
I, just like most people around me now, am what they would call a “digital immigrant,” one not born to the rather lightning speed changes in computer technology. In 1994, when I started writing my first novel, the public Internet we can’t live without now was at its infancy. I was part of a generation that was carried through the creation and invention of Amazon, Google, Facebook, and the disappearance of cassettes, Walkmans, and Floppy Disks.
I was excited to buy my Kindle. I thought of it as part of my growing up process as a digital immigrant, a new language to learn (sort of). Eventually I knew, I would surrender to E-books and E-reading; and now would be perfect time to do it, because my first novel is officially in the loop.
And so I put my Kindle on my lap while I comfortably sat on a chair. I lifted my legs and rested my feet on the edge of the chair and leaned back, letting my Kindle slide and rest between my stomach and my thighs. I thought the experience would be similar to reading from the screen of my laptop or desktop, a necessary but stressful experience for my beautifully aging eyes. Yet, before I knew it I had been reading for over two hours, still held captive by the text and the imagination, nary a wink.
The first book I downloaded was War of the Worlds, a sci-fi classic I had always wanted to read and whose movie versions where convoluted and polemical. I thought it would be the first perfect reading given the situation’s proclivity to the magic of science. My hands didn’t look for the edges of paper that they were so accustomed to turn. My eyes didn’t turn away from the screen where the text was as clear as it would be on paper. My mind knew exactly what it had to do next once I reached the bottom of the screen. And when my finger pressed the button on both sides to go to the next screen, I knew I could press another one to return.
The missing reading gadgets were replaced–my highlighter, my pen, my bookmarks. On my Kindle, I could highlight and annotate. I could bookmark a page so I could return to it later. Most of all, I could entertain my mercurial self by switching from one genre to another. So many books in one place, all of them feeling the same way, except in the heart and mind where the text of the imagination sits.
The Page, The Page Numbers, The Word Count
One morning, during my reading trips on the subway, I noticed that the page number has disappeared. I used to memorize the last page I was on so that I didn’t have to fold the paper edge or risk the quiet slipping of a bookmark from the book. At the bottom of my Kindle screen is a bar with a percentage marking of how much of the book I have read. I am now into 75% of War of the Worlds, just about when the protagonist has left the entrapped house where he witnessed first hand through a peep hole the quotidian goings-on of the Martians.
As a writer, I am conscious of page numbers and word counts. A 200-page manuscript can pass as a novel. Anything below or above becomes a matter of negotiation. In the e-book world, at least with my Kindle, none of that seems to matter. The emphasis is drawn back to the text and the imaginary world it creates. It returns us to the basics of reading, and to the solemn reasons why writers write in the first place. There are no decorative fonts, there are no status symbols in paper stock and glossy covers. There are no politics in the blurbs and endless recommendations.
For once, the book is naked and raw.
Readings This Week
Sunday Salon: Sunday, April 10th, 7pm, Manhattan
Ah, Spring! Though the weather begs to differ, spring has arrived and we’re celebrating the season of new life and, drum roll please… new books! Come join us in welcoming four outstanding writers and special musical guests to the Salon stage. At Jimmys 43, 7pm.
Directions and more info: http://www.sundaysalon.com/nyc-april-10-2011.htm
Brooklyn Reading Works: Thursday, April 14th, 8pm, Brooklyn
Thursday April 14, 8:00 pm
The Old Stone House, Park Slope
336 3rd Street (5th Avenue)
Brooklyn, NY 11215
Directions and more info: http://brooklynreadingworks.com/