Having purchased my Kindle (amidst some controversy among friends and acquaintances), I went looking for those books available for free download. Such books are pretty much pre-1923 and have no copyright.
Project Gutenberg is one of the best known resources for free on-line books. It was the brainchild of Michael Hart, who began the project in 1971. At that time there was no Internet, but there were computers, and Hart's mission was the computerized storage, retrieval, and searching of what was stored in libraries. You can read more about the history and philosophy of the project, and about Michael Hart, here.
Thousands of volunteers have contributed to the digitization of tens of thousands of books. As I was skimming through some of the website's material, I noticed a link to Distributed Proofreaders in the "Volunteering" section of Project Gutenberg's site map. Interested, I clicked on over.
Here's the concept:
Distributed Proofreaders provides a web-based method to ease the conversion of Public Domain books into e-books. By dividing the workload into individual pages, many volunteers can work on a book at the same time, which significantly speeds up the creation process.
During proofreading, volunteers are presented with a scanned page image and the corresponding OCR text on a single web page. This allows the text to be easily compared to the image, proofread, and sent back to the site. A second volunteer is then presented with the first volunteer's work and the same page image, verifies and corrects the work as necessary, and submits it back to the site. The book then similarly progresses through two formatting rounds using the same web interface.
Once all the pages have completed these steps, a post-processor carefully assembles them into an e-book, optionally makes it available to interested parties for 'smooth reading', and submits it to the Project Gutenberg archive.
Of course I registered right away, even before I was sure exactly how the interface works or had any familiarity with the proofreading guidelines (these ensure that everyone involved makes corrections in the same way). I was e-mailed a list of resources (a beginner's forum where I could ask questions; a FAQ; the guidelines, etc.). And so I dove in.
I've proofread maybe a dozen pages so far. The motto at DP is "a page a day," although you can decide for yourself when and how much you want to work on a book. When hundreds of people are each contributing a page a day, a book can come together relatively quickly. One page is not so hard to proofread, even when you're so new you have to keep checking the guidelines, nor is it time-consuming. It's a little strange to finish a page, then go on to another page that is not continuous with the one you've just worked on, but it's probably just as well. Get too invested in the story and you can miss something. Also, errors like a "the" at the end of one page repeated by a "the" at the beginning of the next are easy to miss. This way, that kind of error is avoided.
Beginners are given feedback on their work, which will be helpful. I need to know what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong.
It's fun for me (I know, I know!), and I like the idea that I'm helping the Project. There are other volunteer opportunities, so if this is something that might interest you or be important to you, visit the Project and investigate the possibilities.
My status update on Facebook read, "I can't believe I'm thinking of buying a Kindle ..." Surprisingly (to me, anyway), it generated several comments. One suggested a different e-reader; a couple of people waxed enthusiastic and assured me that I'd love it; and a couple of people disliked the whole idea and remain loyal to actual books.
I know how those loyalists feel, because I was one of them. I never thought I'd buy an e-reader. The smell, the heft, the feel of a book, the turning of pages--these are things I've always loved. The physical aspects of books, not just the contents. And yet.
I like to think that I am capable of changing my mind and not staying with a position out of stubbornness alone. I'm not accusing the Kindle detractors of that at all, just saying that I myself am a stubborn person and could see myself falling into that trap. But last year we bought some new furniture, and two of the pieces were leather--this after a lifetime of declaring that I hated leather furniture and would never have any in my home. What can I say? The chair and loveseat are comfortable, simple, and go with the sofa. I like them. I changed my mind.
And so it is with the Kindle. When a friend of mine got one, I was surprised, because, like me, she's a book person. Even more of a book person than I am. I had a visceral reaction against the whole idea of e-books and e-readers and said, "I can't see myself ever owning a Kindle."
But recently I began thinking about the whole thing. In a discussion about e-readers, another friend made the point that he had a lot of books whose pages were turning yellow and brittle, with bindings that were coming apart. He was thinking about it (by now he probably has an e-reader of some sort).
Thanks to various ads on the Internet, and on Amazon.com itself, I discovered how modestly priced the Kindle is. Hmmm. I began paying a bit of attention to these newfangled devices.
Then yet another friend told me how much he loved ordering books that were delivered immediately to his newly purchased iPad.
I started saying things like, "My big worry would be how easy it is to order a book on impulse." In other words, I had already somehow gotten beyond out-and-out opposition to the idea of owning an e-reader. I was now considering the implications and wondering if this gadget was something I wanted after all.
My reasons for purchasing an e-reader are many. First and foremost, I have run out of room for storing books. My shelves have two and three rows of paperbacks and still not enough room. Boxes of books sit in the basement. Yes, I do need to take some of them to the used bookstore, an extra errand I really don't need or want.
Second, I can get free or very cheap books that have no copyright. We're talking Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and Samuel Clemens and the like. In my little Kindle, weighing 8.7 ounces, I can have, say, War and Peace without the bulk.
If I'm on vacation, I don't have to lug several different books with me so that I can choose one according to my mood. They'll all be right there on my Kindle.
I considered buying an e-reader that was backlit for nighttime reading, but after reading the reviews, I knew I really wanted the Kindle, on which the screen is not backlit. Luckily, there's an accessory that solves the problem: a case with a built in reading light that runs off the Kindle's battery. If insomnia strikes on a camping trip, I can read without disturbing my spouse.
And yes, there's the whole instant gratification thing: the next book in a series can be in my hands in 60 seconds. That mystery novel that's been calling to me can arrive almost instantly. (Of course, that could start to cost me an unjustifiable amount of money, too!)
It's a near impossibility that I will never purchase another print book. Not all books are available for Kindle, but besides that, it seems to me that some books cry out for a print version. But I'm looking forward to my Kindle. I'll let you know how it works out for me.
This is very tardy, since we didn't get our photos downloaded in a timely fashion. But these are a few photos of last week's snow, which amounted to close to a foot. It was difficult to measure because of drifting.
Those are rabbit tracks in the snow on our front porch. Notice how the drift curls at the top, reminiscent of a wave.
Still snowing. The drift blocked the exit from the porch.
James shoveled a path through the snow on the front porch before he could even think about the sidewalk and driveway.
Here's a rare moment: Blixa in actual fur-to-fur contact with Artemis. He's actually more aggressive with Sekhmet than he is with the kittens, although we're pretty sure the rapidly growing kittens are the cause of his increasing aggression toward her.
A friend who has also recently suffered the loss of a loved one remarked that she believed there is something of us that lives on after death, and she was honest enough to add, "I believe it because I want to believe it." Other friends present at the time concurred with her, at least about the existence of the soul (I infer), if not the "wanting to believe" part. None believed in the Christian afterlife of heaven and hell, but felt that in some way, we do go on, in whatever form, after our deaths.
Probably most human beings want to believe that death is not finality, not the last word. I think this is the lure of religion: the promise that there's an everlasting life for the soul, or that the soul is reborn, or for my friend, something unknown, yet there. It's very hard to accept the notion that this is all there is: this life, with all its joy and pain, exultation and tragedy, mundanity and transcendence. That this is it, this is all we get. That someone we loved is now gone, gone for good, all that brilliant light extinguished. And I'm not saying that that acceptance is right, or reasonable, or the only thing that makes sense. I'm saying only that this is something I'm trying to accept, because I don't think there's anything for us beyond this life.
Sometimes I myself have said that I wish I could believe--in God, in an afterlife, in something that gives the lie to e. e. cummings's line "and death I think is no parenthesis." But I have yet to understand how one can force oneself to believe. For me, it hasn't been possible to believe out of a desire to believe. That would require, for me, a shutting down of parts of myself that I can't, or don't want to, shut down. (For the record, I think "can't" is the more likely.)
My sister Linn bitterly accused me of being too rational, which strikes me as funny, since anyone who knows me knows that for me--to quote cummings again--"feeling is first." I react to things first with emotion, and often have to go back and analyze why I responded the way I did. I'm volatile, dangerously so--dangerous, that is, to my relationships with people and thus to my own well-being. I think most people who know me would attest to my passion and emotionality, and aren't those the opposite of rationality?
Linn's objection was that I needed some evidence for the idea of god in whatever way one imagined god, and that I hadn't found any. For her, god was far from the god of Judaism or Christianity. God was more in the way of a consciousness universal in scope and, in fact, inherent in the universe. She felt that I must feel very diminished by my acceptance of this life as "all there is." She pitied me for it. She raged against it. But one who lacks belief, like me, can't just talk herself out of unbelief and into belief. I don't know how untrue to myself I'd have to be to even attempt that.
It's not that I love the idea that this life is it, that we do, in fact, only go around once. Who does? And so ministers at countless funeral ceremonies intone about how we--well, actually, only those of us who are "saved"--will meet our loved ones in the hereafter. That sets apart "us"--the saved--from the miserable sinners among whose punishments is the eternal loss of our loved ones. I've never been to a Protestant funeral where this promise of a heavenly family reunion hasn't been trotted out as a recruiting device. Frankly, I find it sickeningly offensive and manipulative to exploit people's grief and fear at such a time.
I understand the need for comfort when we're grieving. I understand why preachers stand up and talk about how the departed is "in a better place now" (by the way, there's no Biblical support for the idea that the soul of the deceased immediately ascends to heaven). I've heard people at many a funeral talking about their loved one looking down from heaven and so on. I'm not a cold-hearted, cruel person. I understand why people believe what they do.
But I don't buy it. To me, it's wishful thinking. I don't have the comfort of having that comfort. I think we're like all other animals: we have a life, and when it's over, it's over. Death is the final act. I'm not happy about it, but there it is in all its starkness. And there's nothing to focus your attention on it like the sudden death of someone close to you.
Our own mortality is one of the hardest facts to grasp. Now that I'm heading for the age of sixty, I'm quite aware that my time on earth is dwindling. I would like to come to terms with the reality of my own death, but it isn't easy. And it isn't possible for me to find refuge in the belief of an afterlife. One cannot force oneself into a belief: it's either a belief, or it isn't. I understand wanting to believe, but I can't get from the desire to the actualization. I wish for many things that do not exist and will not exist, and I can't make them happen.
So this is it, all I have left of my life and myself, this time left on this earth. The question, then, is how to make the most of it.
From my sister Linn's former boyfriend Ed (you can read his writing here, here, and here, among other places) comes this story:
On September first , 1983, I was arrested for drunk driving on Hoover just north of Eight Mile Road. The cops take me to the Warren lock-up & it's 2:30 am & the cops process me & stick me in this clean well lighted fiberglass cage but there's no old man sitting on the cement bed sipping brandy .
The next morning the cops tell me I get two phone calls . Well, I called my buddy Marty to come and throw my bail and he wasn't home , so I called Linn . . .
" Linn , I need a small favor from you."
" Where in the hell are you?"
"Got too drunk I suppose."
"Yeah, I did."
"Well, I need a small favor."
"What kind of favor?"
"Call Marty 's house every hour. When you reach him tell him I'm in the Warren jail and tell him I need him to bring three hundred dollars so he can bail me out."
"OK, Eddie, I'll do that for you, but when in the hell are you gonna learn?"
"That every one of us is in jail and it's up to us to set ourselves free."
Linn always had a way of opening my eyes to perspectives I'd never considered.
I like this story because it's so Linn. She thought each of us was in jail due to various factors, a salient one being that we are prisoners of our conditioning: our conditioning by our upbringing, by our culture, society, education, and our own personalities, for that matter. She talked about conditioning often, and of the struggle to get free.