Reading on a Kindle


image courtesy of’s Kindle has revolutionized the way people read.  Oh sure, there’s the Sony e-reader, or the Barnes and Noble Nook, and even the iPad’s app for that,  but none have come close to the sales and marketing power behind Amazon and the Kindle.

But I’m not here to do a marketing spiel – I actually, as you know, care about the act of reading.

Kindles and e-readers in general have a lot of possibilities.  There are search functions; one can attach a dictionary to look up words as he reads; the text goes bigger and smaller; the physical reader is lightweight and easy to carry, and books can be downloaded in a nanosecond!

But, I’m not concerned with the physical aspects of reading either; I want to talk about the ways in which humans make meaning out of what they read.

There’s surprisingly little research on it, from what I’ve found.  I’ve read a number of things on my kindle.  I’ve read a great book on motherhood, called Bad Mommy by Ayelet Wadlman and laughed out loud on the airplane.  I read the New Yorker Magazine on it since the Kindle subscription, at $4 per month, is significantly less than the physical subscription – and wastes less paper to boot.  I read the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Tinkers on it and I read the classic D.H. Lawrence book Sons and Lovers. (Many classics have completed their copyrights and are free on Kindle now…)   But I can’t get past one fundamental, problem.  The screen somehow impedes my ability to make the movie in my mind.

I am assuming here that the screen is the problem.  It could be the device itself and having to press “next” to turn the page instead of just turning it.  It could be the fact that I can’t go back to  re-read something as easily or that I don’t have a proper book cover, or I have no pages numbers – just a silly percentage representing how much of the book I’ve finished so far.

I feel like my brain has trouble converting the words onto the screen into feelings in my heart.  Writing is less evocative for me.  Words don’t have their full impact.

One successful novelist I know buys a physical book if she loves a story on her Kindle.  She then dives into the book to further her pleasure of the ideas contained therein.  I might have to agree.

I’m just spouting ideas out here, and would love the opinions of others.  I also need to do some hard research before I make my final word.  For now, the convenience of a Kindle – not having to buy and carry actual books – outweighs the drawbacks.  I may have to work harder to “see” the characters and feel what they feel, but I can do that in the name of ease.

Please let me know what you think.

Bailey Reading

As a writer and writing professor and VORACIOUS reader, it’s very difficult for me not to influence my children’s choices on books.  So when Bailey, age 11 – grade 6,  came home two weeks ago and said he needed to read “something historical” for a book report this month, my brain whirred at a thousand miles an hour.  I first suggested The Diary of Anne Frank, partially because I knew my friend Bonnie’s daughter Julia is reading it in grade 6 in Maryland.  But he nixed it, saying that someone else in class is reading it.  Then I handed him a copy of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Zusak’s book is technically in the Young Adult category of literature, but it’s something I read in my book club with a bunch of decidedly grown-up women.  It’s a story about a young girl in 1930’s/1940’s Germany who loses her mother and brother and goes to live with a foster family.  The family hides a Jew in the time Liesl, the main character is there.  Also in that time, Liesl learns to read, and falls in love with books, which she steals as often as she can from various sources.  The book is in the third person, but expertly narrated by a personification of Death, who at every turn, laments how busy he is these days.

Bailey wanted to read the book.  I’m not sure if at first he just wanted to please me, or impress his teacher with his choice, but after the first few days, he was reading it and understanding it, and getting into the language and rhythms of the story.  At first I was upset at myself because I unduly influenced him.  But then I realized that he loves the challenge of it – and both the teacher and I offered him an “out” if he didn’t want to continue with it after hte first few days of trying. Brilliantly, since the book is so good, he took it out of his school’s library to keep in his locker to read when he has time at school, and has another copy at home that he reads nightly.

So recently, since he has started this adventure, I put Sydney (age 8, grade 3) to bed, and then Bailey and I enjoy 45+ minutes together companionably reading.

What am I reading?  I read Susan Isaacs As Husbands Go and also A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick.  Both are excellent books, the former being a mystery, and the latter being a real character study about people and their motivations.  I’ve just started The Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

But what I’m reading doesn’t matter at all.  What I love is that we are both curled up at opposite ends of my big, brown, leather, library couch, sometimes under a blanket and sometime not.  Sometimes Bailey asks a question or sometimes he makes a comment about something he’s read.  But more often than not, it’s just companionable silence.

My son is growing up and I’m so proud of him – how hard he works and the choices he makes.  And selfishly, I’m really enjoying this little, precious time we have together.  It’s really my kind of time – reading.  I have a feeling that we’ll now be doing it long after this book report is handed in in two weeks.

Literacy is Priceless

No English in sight, but the one on the left is Choco-flakes and the right is Corn Flakes.

The other morning I decided to have cereal for breakfast.  Cereal is not a common breakfast item in Japan, so when I saw the bags of it in my local grocery store, I grabbed them.  Oh, I’m exaggerating a little bit.  If I go to the International Supermarket, which I do rarely, there is a small selection of cereals.  There’s always rice crispies, frosted flakes, and granola.  In the past year, Special K has been available.  These boxes, however, run upwards of $5 for a box a quarter of the size of those available in the U.S. I try to stay out of the wildly overpriced International Supermarkets anyway, of which there are two.

So this particular morning, I opened the bag on the left in the picture above.  I looked inside and a very particular smell came up at me.  Chocolate.  I had bought chocolate cereal.  Me, in all of my attempts at healthy, Japanese-style eating, had bought chocolate cereal.

“Mom, Bailey said, taking the bag from me, “It says ‘choco’ right on there in Katakana.”  Then I showed him the other bag of cereal.  “Corn Flakes,” he assured me.

Hm.  It might be time for Mom to learn to read.

The Key, But Not The Answer

Last week, Trisha Wooldridge and I spent quite a while discussing freedom, safety, education and other assorted issues on our blogs.  Yesterday, she wrote a particularly thought-provoking short essay on questioning as a response to those conversations.  She said that of the ideas that we discussed, that was the one that stood out to her the most.  For me, the idea to which I kept returning was that of personal choice.

Adults – especially American adults – have the freedom of choice for everything in their lives.  They can go to college or not; they can have children or not; they can get a job or not.  So many people feel stuck in their lives.  If only I could save more money, they say.  If only I could go back to school.  If only, if only. I am just cynical enough to believe that people can choose to better their lives.

But that is a double-edged sword, most people would tell me.  The single mother on welfare doesn’t think that she has any choices.  But that’s not what I believe. She could work full time and take online courses toward a degree which would net her a better job. I balance my cynicism with a basic belief in the human spirit.  With hard work, all things are possible.  “Can I be president someday?” my young son asks me.  I assure him that if he works hard enough, it is indeed possible that he could be president.  Stay in school; don’t get pregnant; don’t do drugs.  These are the things I tell my kids.  They have to make smart choices – it is my job as their mother to help them make smart choices.

The problems lie within the education system.  We take education for granted in the U.S. and even here in Japan where the literacy rate is well over 90%.  Not all people have the access to schools the way we do.  There are millions of children across the globe who do not have the opportunity to attend school, whether it’s because they have to work to help the family or it’s to dangerous or even too far to get to a school.  We need to appreciate the gift of education – what education gives us in the long run.  Throwing money at the problem is not going to help.  What is going to help is people choosing to value that education.  Parents have to choose to support the schools not financially, but with volunteer hours and belief in the system.  Tell the kids to behave in school. Model good behavior.  These are choices that parents and children have to make in order to succeed.

As I pointed out in the conversation last week, there are no easy answers to any of these questions.  But it is important to ask the questions, search for the answers and ultimately to make good choices.  Sometimes the right choice isn’t the popular choice, but doing what is right should trump doing what is easy.  And that, my friends, takes hard work.  But that’s a conversation for another day.