Monday, February 15, 2016

The Kindled Spirit

It's been a while since I graduated to e-books.  There is a massive amount of convenience associated with reading on a Kindle.  I don't have to toss and turn and adjust my position a thousand times when I turn the page.  And then, I don't have to listen to my wife who would tell me in no uncertain terms, albeit in a sleepy voice, "Praveen, please switch off the light" even if there was no more than a few lumens emitting out of the poor lamp.  I would sigh, sulk, and be tempted to get into an argument.  But then, I would still do the same things with just a little bit of difference.  I would sulk, sigh and switch off the light, and get to sleep and start browsing on my mobile phone.  There are other disadvantages associated with a physical book.  When I fall asleep, I would have no clue as to which page I was on when my eyes drooped.  So, I would have to rely on my memory to figure out the context and land myself in the vicinity of where I intended to be.  That was truly painful.  Of course I can wax eloquent about how beautiful it is to hold a book in your hands and feel the texture of the pages and smell the pages of a freshly minted book in a bookstore.  That can never be experienced in a Kindle but the other advantages far outweigh the hard copy.  And if the hard copy is really a big, fat, hard copy, then the light weighted Kindle is definitely a no brainer.

Anyway, I did not mean to write about the advantages of a Kindle over a hard copy when I started the post.  It's a different matter altogether that if I had written a post on the same topic a few years ago, I would have fought tooth and nail on the advantages of a hard copy. As always, I digress. I don't have to say how much my reading has dwindled over the years.  I always feel that the student days are the best days in your life.  There is so much time to read all and sundry.  During those days I used to think, "How I wish I am past the student life.  I'd have so much time to read books." Somehow, I would always (I should have put the "always" in caps actually) find an interesting book to read a day before a test or an exam.  I would put it off for a later date.  Magically, after the exams got over, I wouldn't find the book as interesting.  There was something magical about exams and distraction. All the great things happened during the exam season.  India's greatest ever test win happened a day before my Signals and Systems exam.  My brain was convoluted with thoughts of the test match and here I was trying to figure out the concept of Convolution in the exam.

Anyway, this was well before the internet era.  And then as other distractions caught up with my life, my reading was limited to what I'd find on the internet.  In the pre-internet era, I would read every tiny piece of every news article, including the editorials and op-eds of the Deccan Herald and the Times of India.  I would learn some new words, look into the dictionary and figure out the meaning.  It was a fascinating experience.  In the process, I also cultivated a bad habit.  I would sit on the floor during meal times and I would always have a newspaper by my side while eating.  My mother would yell at me but to no avail.  Even today, I have the urge to keep my laptop or Kindle by my side during meal times.  It's a very bad habit.

I am not sure how many read a long form article on the internet though (like in a New Yorker).  Recently, my friend was talking about active and passive watching  Active watching, he said is watching informative documentaries, while passive watching he said is useless stuff.  I think the same thing applies to reading as well.  Reading a gossip column on the internet would hardly qualify as reading.

One of the things I love being here in the US is the public library system.  The public libraries are truly phenomenal. I have a membership in at least three of them.  Actually, a membership in one is more than sufficient.  But, there is something exquisite about visiting libraries.  It's just an awesome feeling to step into a library, see a lot of kids running around with as many books as their hands can hold, and people standing in lines at the information desk asking questions about why their hold copies cannot be found or something as trivial as "Where do I find this book?" when you have at least five computers to help you search and find a copy of a book at a particular location.  For me, visiting a library is like visiting a shrine at the temple.  It's a devotional experience.  It just puts you in a different state of mind.  Anyway, I would go to a terminal, see the recommended books at the library, find one of interest and then find my way to the appropriate shelf to pick the hard copy of the intended book.  Like I said, for all the convenience of the Kindle, the feeling of holding a book in your hand is absolutely priceless.  I would browse around, pick about three or four books for the next three weeks.  My wife would do the same.  And then, we would pick a few more books for the little fellow.  My wife and I would grin at each other.  There is no way in the world that we are finishing so many books in three months, let alone in three weeks.  But then, it's good to have as many books as you can at home.  Even if you end up reading just a few pages in one of the books, I think it's still worth it to get the many books home.  You never know what you find until you start reading a book.  At any given point, I'd always have books on the hold list for e-books as well as hard copies.

There is the convenience of the Kindle but at any given point, our place always has e-books as well as physical copies.  At the end of the day, I'd always want to have books that I haven't read.  Even at the tiniest minuscule of time, if I feel like reading, I feel I shouldn't be in a situation wherein my lack of choice puts a hold on my reading, even if my reading lasts only for a few minutes.  Because, it's a great way to fall asleep holding an unfinished book instead of a mobile phone.