I hope I won’t regret admitting publicly that I got a Kindle for Christmas. Or was it Chanukah? As a reader, I look forward to traveling without pounds of books in my backpack or luggage and never running out of reading matter. As a writer, I feel more ambivalent. Amazon’s world-changing e-reader has permanently debased the price of books (and therefore author earnings) and cut radically into the business of the independent booksellers and librarians who are the best friends of midlist writers like me. On the other hand, it provides opportunities that didn’t exist before to share my work with readers, and affordably, at that. I don’t want to add to the millions of words on the subject of the changing publishing industry that are already floating around the Internet. Instead, let’s talk about me as a reader with my first electronic reading device.
Can the reader be separated from the writer who inhabits the same brain and body? Maybe not. My very first download was my own story, “Navidad,” currently enjoying new life as an e-story on Untreed Reads, after originally appearing in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. As I write this, it occurs to me that if I actually read the thing, I’ll have a better idea of how this e-publisher presents its material. I’ve only thought of this because I noticed flaws in the formatting of the first e-book I did read: Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the very first Hercule Poirot mystery.
I know that HarperCollins plans to publish new editions of all 80 of Agatha Christie’s mysteries. Now, there would be a grand project for a Kindle reader, if it’s not prohibitively expensive. (I can’t imagine going out and buying 80 new print novels that I’ve already read, not to mention giving them shelf space. Can you?) But what’s available now for free or close to it consists of two novels, the first Poirot and the first Tommy and Tuppence, The Secret Adversary, which I also downloaded.
The Christies were not the first. My first visit to the Kindle store (which was not involved in the acquisition of my own short story) took me to two longtime favorite authors of whom I’ve read most but not quite everything in my lifetime: in order of acquisition, Louisa May Alcott and Jane Austen. My hardcover copies of Little Women (“special contents of this edition,” presumably the foreword and full-color illustrations, copyright 1946) and Jo’s Boys (Goldsmith Publishing Company, Chicago, no copyright information whatever) are falling apart. The spine of Little Women flaps precariously; the brittle brown pages of Jo’s Boys flake off as I turn them, trying to find a date. I still re-read them, and yes, I still cry every single time Beth dies. Um, is crying on a Kindle as bad as spilling coffee on a computer keyboard? If so, I might be in trouble.
I know I have my Pride and Prejudice somewhere, though I haven’t opened it in a while. It’s a trade paperback I got for an English lit class in college, which means it’s close to fifty years old. I don’t really need to re-read it to remember more than enough to enjoy P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley. Yep, I treated myself to a $12.99 current read I might otherwise have reserved at the library. P.D. James is not one of the hundreds of mystery authors I know personally, so I won’t pretend I would have bought the hardcover. But I certainly wouldn’t have failed to read it, no matter what. Anyhow, as Amazon assiduously tells readers, “This price was set by the publishers.” And there I go down the primrose path, buying books again.