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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Kindle and a Carol

     I received a Kindle for Christmas. Though an avid reader, I had resisted buying one for years because I thought I could never get used to reading a book off a 6 inch screen. It took me about two minutes from the time I opened the box till the time I was actually downloading books over my home wireless connection. It was incredibly easy to set up, and this made an immediate positive impression. Within a few minutes I was reading and enjoying a book (The Honorable Schoolboy by LeCarre), and after a few hours I can honestly say the strangeness of reading off a small electronic device had all but vanished.  I won’t say I prefer a Kindle ebook over a traditional paper book, but it does have the advantage of being lighter, easier to carry, and, most importantly, capable of downloading almost any book I want anytime I want – and more cheaply than a paper book.   
     One more point: In the past, I had read reviews of the Kindle on Amazon and even some of the positive ones had caused me to think twice about buying one. For example: several reviewers carried on about the occasional flash of the screen that occurs every so often when you are advancing pages, and I thought that this must be a hugely annoying problem. Take my word for it: it is a total non-issue. I can only assume that some reviewers delight in noticing every little nuance of a product.
     But I don’t want to turn this into a discussion of the Kindle. I want to talk about a book. With my Kindle comes the ability to download for free through the Kindle Store many books that have exceeded their copyright and are now in the public domain. Books like Moby Dick, The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and A Christmas Carol by Dickens, for example. If you download the totally free books, my understanding is that they are not Kindle friendly, which means you can’t do searches in them or move around chapters easily. But if you buy the 95 cent version of these books, someone has made the effort to format the books to work smoothly with all the Kindle functions. All of this is a way of saying that I downloaded and read a 95 cent Kindlized version of A Christmas Carol and was profoundly moved by the story. No wonder it still continues to be read (and turned into movies and plays) 168 years after it was written.
     A Christmas Carol was the very first Dickens book that I have ever read. I expected to be charmed but bored by its old, thick, and probably dry writing style. Wow, was I wrong! My initial impression was that it is so well written that it could have been the book that all ‘How to Write’ books were based on. In it could be found almost every advanced writing technique that I had ever studied. It was so sophisticated and yet readable that it made me wonder if the ‘how to’ books were telling the rules of writing or just simply, having studied Dickens, describing the things that Dickens did to weave his magic. His descriptions were imaginative, evocative, and vividly written. His characters were intelligently and intricately carved, so that their emotions and attitudes were plain, consistent, and in many cases, profound. And this entire story was crafted before the invention of the backspace key or even the typewriter!
     But what really impressed me was the overall effect of the story. It was short for a book, but, if anything, it’s brevity added to its power. I was emotionally moved by the story as millions have been moved before me. Most strangely, it captured for me, a person of the 21st century, exactly how I felt about Christmas. How could it have been written over a century and a half before I was born and before the full might of Hollywood and American retail imagery had fully imprinted their Christmas spin on my psyche? I couldn’t help but wonder if Dickens’ picture of Christmas had influenced those creative sources as well.

     My next week’s posting will be on my first serious experience with ‘writer’s block’. I will tell how it happened and how I’m trying to work my way out of it.

Best regards,

Jim
Umhlanga, South Africa

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