Just Shelley

Philosophy of the turtle

In early 2002 I was living in a condo overlooking the bay in San Francisco. I had just finished a gig with Stanford University and was confident about quickly finding new work. After all, I hadn’t been unemployed once in the years since I graduated college. In fact, I could usually count on having multiple offers to choose from.

But as I walked past empty buildings, through streets made into homes by the homeless, and listened to the silence of my phone, I began to think that perhaps finding work wouldn’t be as easy as I originally assumed.

Living in San Francisco is expensive at any time, but the  expense can quickly break you if you have no income coming in. By April I knew I had to leave San Francisco, and take my best friend’s offer of a home in St. Louis. Perhaps away from Silicon Valley I could find work.

Decision made, I had only one remaining concern: what about my stuff? My roommate couldn’t fly out to help me haul the stuff back, and I couldn’t drive both my car and a moving truck. I checked into having the items professionally moved, but the cost was more than I could afford. I rented a storage space, instead, and hired a local moving outfit to help me move into it. I figured when I was bringing in an income again, I could hire a mover.

The steady jobs never came, though, and about six months later, I no longer had the money to pay for the space. I ran an ad in Craigslist, offering everything I owned that hadn’t fit into my car when I moved. All my furniture, my crystal vases, antique cobalt blue glass ware; the sheets and towels, and kitchenware; my photo studio lights and back drops;  the Vietnamese lacquered panels and Chinese embroidered tablecloth. And my books.  I had over 20 boxes of books, both paperback and hard bound.

I found a buyer, who ended up getting a better deal than he knew. I took one last trip to California, to drop off keys and see if I could salvage a few personal items from the storage. But the moving guys had done a good job, burying the boxes under a pyramid of furniture. The only items I could salvage were two boxes of books, too heavy for the movers to push into the far back reaches of the storage space, and of no interest to the new buyer.  At that I was somewhat lucky as the books I salvaged were some of the more expensive science books I’d collected, including the pricey Gravitation, which I’d always planned to read some day before I die. The boxes also included the only fiction book I was to salvage, a hard to find book by the legendary science fiction writer, James Schmitz.

I tell you all of this by way of explaining why I find it so funny when people criticize the Kindle because “someday Amazon may pull the plug, and you’ll lose all of your books”. Funny, because the main reason I bought my Kindle is because I had lost all of my books; my books of paper that were, somehow, supposed to be sacrosanct.

What is a frugal girl like me …

Typically, no special equipment is needed to read a book made of paper. All that’s required is the ability to read, and a light source. eBook readers, such as the Kindle, already have one strike against them because you have to first, buy the reader, and then buy the books.

Jeff Bezos understood this when he released the Kindle, and promised that many of the books available for the Kindle at Amazon would cost less than their paper counterparts. The $9.99 bestseller is famous, though there’s no guarantee that every bestseller would sell at that price, or even be released on a Kindle. Currently, Ken Follett’s World Without End in paperback format sells for $12.50, but the Kindle version sells for $9.99. However, the Kindle version for the second entry in the popular Twilight series, New Moon is priced the same, $6.04, regardless of whether you buy a paperback, or a Kindle eBook. And, in some cases, the Kindle books have actually been priced higher than available paperbacks; with the Kindle prices based more on the hard cover book, rather than the lower cost paperback.

Generally, though, I have found the books I’m interested in to be cheaper than whatever is the lowest cost paper version of the book— higher when the book is first released as a hard cover, with the price dropping when the paperback releases. Though some Kindle owners get angry when a book is priced over $9.99, I’m not adverse to paying more, as long as the eBook is cheaper than the paper book. That’s really the key to making the Kindle work when you’re frugal: setting a maximum you’ll pay for a book, and not buying it until the price is reached. And while you’re waiting for the book, you can always try out one of the thousands of free books available for the Kindle and other devices.

Project Gutenberg books have been converted into Kindle format, and many are now available for one click, free downloads from Amazon. In addition, several publishers, such as Random House and Tor, and others have been offering free books as part of a series or author promotion. The free books may be formatted in the Kindle format, in which can all you need do is drop them into the Kindle memory when next you hook it up to a computer. You can also email books to a special conversion address and the book will be uploaded to the device for you.

…doing with a Kindle?

I’ve not replaced all the books I lost years ago. For one, no matter how good the price, I can only afford so many new books. In addition, not all of the books I’m interested in have been converted to eBook format.

My reading interests have also changed in the last several years, and I’m now more interested in non-fiction works. With the new discussions about economic depressions and climate change, I’ve been trying out books on history and the climate, downloading a sample chapter and then buying the book if the sample is interesting. In a way, the Kindle has changed how I read, by making sample chapters so easy to access. It was through the sample program that I discovered David Kennedy’s excellent Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 and Havana Nocturne by T. J. English.

The Kindle isn’t perfect, and the imperfections have less to do with the design of the Kindle 1.0 and more to do with Amazon’s policies. It does bother me that the Kindle is a closed loop system, at least for books protected by DRM. I have grown increasingly uncomfortable buying books at Amazon, knowing that I’m locked into one vendor if I want to read them. So much so that lately, if I’m interested in a newer book, I get a paper one from the library; all my recently added Kindle books have been freebies. Between both, I’m covered. For now.

Still, Amazon does sell eBooks more cheaply than any other eBook vendor, and the money you save can offset the cost of the device. But that’s not the reason I bought my Kindle.

Philosophy of the turtle

I was watching a news story last week about one new industry that is adding jobs, rather than shedding them. So many foreclosed homes have furniture and other items left in them, abandoned when the owners moved. When you lose your home, I imagine you don’t care how it looks. I also imagine that most people having to move have to move into smaller homes.

There are now companies whose only task is to clean out these homes, and I watched workers from one as they tossed furniture and toys into a truck to haul off. Furniture, toys, and books. When you move from a house to a 1 or 2 bedroom apartment, or into a friend’s basement, or a parent’s attic, books take up a lot of room.

Whatever other advantage the Kindle provides me, the ability to pick up all my books and put them into my purse remains the primary reason I like my Kindle. No matter what happens in the future, I’ll never have to leave my library behind, again.

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