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/
A week ago, a friend from Kenya visited to attend an e-publishing conference in New York City. One evening, we talked about the changing climate in the literary world because of the slow yet steady rise of E-readership. This is no surprise to me as a technologist. After all, it was what I studied in graduate school, where I first heard of “digital natives” vs. “digital immigrants” like myself, further amplifying my multiple identities.
That same week, I sat down with two colleagues over a meal of sashimi and somehow found our conversation hovering over E-reading. One of the two had a Kindle and the other a Nook. I was embarrassed to admit that when it came to e-books, I was still very much an E-virgin (by choice, mind you). I lug a huge paper book in my huge wheeled bag daily, and in fact, enjoy taking it out to read on the subway. I love staring at it on my chair when I’m not reading it. I love finding it on the edge of my bed, quietly inviting me to dive back in. I love the fact that I can’t read it without carrying a yellow highlighter and a green pen, because I habitually mark every book I read.
Every day now, I see people on the train with E-readers. It is becoming an accessory worth flaunting in public. First, there was the nano, and now that everyone has an I-pod, here comes Nook and Kindle, and all their lesser stepsisters. I am beginning to reconsider my decision not to get one, especially after I found out that my first novel has gone E-book.
Oh, And No I-Phone
I also don’t own an I-phone. I have been tempted many times to upgrade, but the thought of adding more pounds to my already crowded outerwear is precluding me the I-pleasure. I have a cellphone that is as old as the cellphone universe. I rarely use it, because I am simply not a phone person. And I have limited chats that reach its limit before the end of the billing month. I find the moment before reaching my text limit exciting. I know how peculiar that. But I actually start organizing in my little head who is worth sending texts to when I’m reaching my limit. Someone asked me once why I don’t have unlimited texting and whether it’s worth the headache of running out of text messages every month. Truth is, because of email, I normally don’t have heavy text months.
Don’t count me out of the E-world. I don’t see anything wrong with my scenario. I am online 24/7, well almost, with four computers and wireless access every where I go. As I type this, two laptops are facing me. I have a netbook clutched in a bag somewhere should I decide to run to bed and do some work there. I consider myself quite a techie. I spent a good four years teaching computer technology to Adult learners in poor communities, translating technology to all cultural mores–try to intellectualize that. I guess it’s this kind of overconsumption that had me considering the down times, those ephemeral moments when I don’t have technology access at all.
Take the cell phone. What would I start doing when I get an I-phone? Be on Facebook 24/7, even while I’m at the gym, so it would say “mobile” on the post? Would I walk around texting and forget that there are other humans on the sidewalk? Will I take pride in being REALLY e-connected (because I suppose that those few minutes while I’m between wireless access means I’m not fully-wired)? Will I get I-phone-envy and take mine out just because?
Well, granted, I have a terrible sense of direction and may need to always have access to GPS. Well, maybe not.
The Needs of The Writerly Types
Well, here it is. I am typing this blog on my laptop. I think I mentioned that already. Last year, I bought a netbook that was much lighter than this laptop and definitely much easier to travel with. I asked myself, what I would need it for?. I thought, well, I need to get a lightweight type of writing instrument that I could hide in any bag. The Netbook, though with smaller keyboard, was the answer. But I must admit that when I type on it, sometimes the Netbook is too slow for my rapid fingers such that I end up retyping sentences. Good for a writer. Not always.
And so there are the other devices. I thought if there were such a thing as an E-reader that has some word processing capability, then it would be perfect for me. The Ipad is very pretty, very costly, but yes, a good fashion statement for the upwardly mobile. But I can’t write in the darn thing. They say, if it has word processing, then it will take the function of a laptop and that’s not what it’s for. I ask, and what’s wrong with that?
My First Child Goes E-book
To add to my world of e-cosmic coincidences in the past couple of weeks, I found that that my first novel of 12 loving years was about to debut on Nook and Kindle in a few days, that is, February 28, 2011. Naturally, I got my two colleagues of my sashimi lunch team to fill their e-readers with The Umbrella Country e-book edition, although they had read it before. And, having no qualms about random and infrequent self-promotion, I immediately posted it on my Facebook page. The novel is twelve years old, a young teen, and Big Daddy here needs to keep pushing this teen into manhood.
Last week, my co-worker showed me my book on her Nook. How weird was that? I wrote this book on a laptop. I remember a magazine reporter who came to my home and asked me if he could take a picture of my desk with piles of manuscripts. I told him that I didn’t have such a thing, and showed him computer floppy disks instead. That was a surprise to him. I was easily a part of a generation of writers who were quickly and proudly transitioning from typewriter to word processors, in my case, a laptop. Strangely enough, those disks are no longer useful to me, because I don’t have a computer that could take them. Floppy disks, what again? Now, the choices are varied. In fact, I had gone back to carrying very small notebooks in which I can write, “notes.” And next to it, my flash cards.
My life and my work have both been immersed in technology for almost 20 years now. I even pursued my graduate studies in it. My comfort level in computers and the Internet is quite high. For people like me who think fast, get bored easily, and have a low threshold for the prosaic, the E-world presents a cornucopia of opportunities. I get information at my fingertips, and quickly switch topics on a whim, and the Internet, my BFF, is still there.
On the other hand, there is the moment of technological absence, a rarity but it exists. When I go to the gym, or when I’m in Jersey with my family, I make an effort to stay away from technology to be enclosed in a real, human space with old school interactions. It reminds me that in many ways, I’ could still be old school. But it’s become harder and harder to be this way. When I meet friends for dinner, I find myself dining with their I-phones. People have no boundaries between their I-phones and real time lives, such that suddenly going online mid-conversation is not as rude as it might seem anymore. And yes, in the corner of my pixeled mind, I’m wondering whether it’s time to upgrade and get an I-phone. I can always put it in my bag instead of my pocket, next to a possible new purchase of a Kindle or Nook. So what happens now to books on my shelf I haven’t read? Does that mean I have to repurchase them as e-books. I know I’m complicating myself. Just get with the program. You’re right.
Marc Prensky’s Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants
Motorola Xoom may just be what the doctor ordered
Barnes and Noble Nook