Monday, October 25, 2010

Crushing Kindle with Defeat?

I stepped on a Kindle Sunday morning.

I was coming down a ladder and didn't see it on the ground in front of the ladder.  I know it sounds bad but it didn't feel bad - I thought everything was okay.   No cracking sounds or broken plastic.  A minor mishap.  So I kept my mouth shut and went about my business.  (And there was a perfectly good reason why it was on the floor so there's no blame there.)

Sunday night my wife sat down to read on her Kindle before going to work and that's when we discovered that the screen was broken.  (Imagine Picasso working in E-Ink.)   I immediately confessed.   Then I ordered a new third generation Kindle right away.  I figured I was in the dog house (she really loves her Kindle) but I barely got in trouble at all.  (Which is remarkable given the fit I would've pitched if somebody broke my stuff.)

Technology is wonderful - but there are still some very practical limits to e-readers.  I destroyed a Kindle by accident - but all the books on it are still safe in the clouds or on a server somewhere.  I've stepped on books before, too.  But they all survived.  Given the damage e-readers are inflicting on real world book stores and publishers,  I think I know which force is more destructive.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Me and Mario

I read a lot.  I collect books.  I may even hoard books.  Probably fetishize some.  Spend an inordinate amount of time reading about books.  Shopping and hunting for books.  I know a few writers, too. (I chatted with a semi-famous American critic and novelist today.  I hadn't seen him since summer started.  He gave me the update on his work in progress - a novel about Nixon - and seemed genuinely pleased to talk for a while.)  And I love to read about writers.  Really, anything involving books I pretty much love.

But I do have a few blind spots.

For some reason, I am not very interested in Latin American fiction.  Maybe because I think I don't like magical realism.  Or maybe because in 5th grade I wasn't allowed to take Spanish.  Or because I am an ignorant gringo.  Or for no good reason.  I'm just not that interested in Latin America.  And because of this, for a long time I had no idea that I was regularly crossing paths with and sometimes interacting with Mario Vargas Llosa.  Someone finally clued me in several years ago.  He used to spend part of the year teaching at Georgetown University and that was why I was seeing (or not seeing) him so often.  Once in a while I would get a phone call from him - the first time he identified himself I asked him if he was the Mario Vargas Llosa.  And he sort of shyly said that yes, he was a writer.  Turned out to be a very nice fellow.  And a good dresser.  I hope I look as good as he does when I am that age.  His wife is very nice, too.

Anyway, the point of all this is that even though I have this book obsession, I never got around to buying any of his books.  Even though I had not read anything by him, I knew a lot about him and held him in high regard.  I had plenty of time to build a nice collection and I could have had all of his books signed.  Which would have been wonderful because as everyone knows by now, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature today.

Saturday, October 02, 2010


Nice, clean new Parkers from the University of Chicago Press

Soon I'll add The Outfit

Firsts of Kahawa and Smoke

First ed of The Ax

Not all shelf porn is nice to look at.  Most of my Westlakes are reading copies with a few exceptions.  And it's terrible that for as much as I love Donald Westlake, I don't have all of his books together.  Pride of place goes to Michael Connelly, John Harvey, Ian Rankin, Ian McEwan, Andrew Vachss, James Lee Burke, Brian Moore, William Trevor, James Crumley and others whose books I have in mint first editions.

Friday, October 01, 2010


Nearly ten years ago, a woman I knew through work gave me a book to read.  I didn't know her very well.  I did know she was a reader and we would occasionally talk about books.  One day, she told me she was reading a novel called Half in Love by Justin Cartwright.  I knew very little about him but she always seemed to have exquisite taste in books so I knew it would be worthwhile to look into reading him.  I often saw remaindered copies of his novel Masai Dreaming for sale but had never picked one up.  Maybe a week later I saw her again and she let me borrow her copy, an English edition of the book.  I don't think it was ever published in the US.

Half in Love is about a British MP who is recuperating from being stabbed in the neck at a soccer match when he finds himself dealing with the fallout of a sex scandal (he had an affair with an actress).  It was an excellent novel but that is not why it made such an strong impression on me.  What did my head in is that this woman had given me a novel about a man with a scar on his neck.  I have a giant scar on the back of my neck.  There's no concealing it, no way to not notice it - especially since I have a shaved head.  It seemed a coincidence of great significance.  What it meant, I had no clue.  But someone's first choice of book to give to me, a man with a giant scar on his neck, was an excellent novel about a man with a scar on his neck.  Baffling.  Astonishing.  Meaningful?  I had no clue and it never seemed like a subject I could ask follow up questions about.  We talked about the book some when I returned it but the giant scar in the room was never mentioned.  It's hard to convey the impact this coincidence had on me though I can't articulate any more of what it meant.  What's worse is that I always mock people who relate to characters in books (and openly admit it or delight in it).

After Half in Love, I set out to find more Justin Cartwright.  And I've since acquired several of his other novels and whenever he has a new book I always order a UK first edition.  But until a few days ago, I had never seen another copy of Half in Love.  (I know they are for sale via the internet but that's no fun.)  While out shopping for books on urban sociology I stumbled across an autographed first edition of my scar book.  Now I have my own copy.

Most people do not ask how I got the scar.  Every so often, someone will.  If it is a stranger,  I will sometimes lie and tell them I was stabbed at a soccer match a long time ago.