'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
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KINDLE SPARKS NOVEL INTEREST IN THE CLASSICS
A few months ago I bought myself an Amazon Kindle. The Kindle is a pretty cool electronic gizmo with a screen that allows you to read books. The device has enough memory to hold approximately 1500 volumes. You can purchase the books online and then download them.
However, after spending about a hundred bucks for the device itself, I didn’t want to spend from eight to fifteen dollars a pop buying books. (Technically they’re called “e-books,” which stands for “electronic books.” But I think the term really comes from people’s reactions when they open their credit card bills and exclaim, “E-gads! How many books did I download last month?!”)
Being the cheapskate that I am, I took an immediate interest in a concept known as “legal theft.” No, just kidding. The concept is “copyright expiration.” You see, published works only have copyright protection for so long, and after the copyright expires the material then enters into the public domain.
I’m not sure how long a copyright is good for (I could look up the exact details on the Internet, but that might take 30 seconds, and who has that kind of spare time nowadays?). But I have discovered that basically everything written before about 1920 is absolutely free. I get a kick out of searching for a particular title on the Amazon website and seeing, “Purchase price: $0.00.” Then after I download the book, it displays this message: “The amount of $0.00 will be charged to your credit card.” That just makes me giggle. Sometimes I download a book I have no intention of reading just so I can see that message.
Over the past few months my frugality has prompted my to read a bunch of 19th century classics. So far I’ve read “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” by Mark Twain, “War of the Worlds” by H.G. Welles, “Oliver Twist” and “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens (holy mackerel, Ol’ Charlie was wordy!), and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriett Beecher Stowe.
My wife pointed out that I am now finally reading all the books I was suppose to read in high school but never did. She’s right. When I was 17 and required to read those books, it seemed like torture. I chose instead to call my girlfriend (now my wife) the night before a test and beg her to summarize the book for me. (Some people had Cliff Notes; I had Joyce Notes.)
Now that I’m a middle-aged schlep I actually enjoy reading those classics. Strange. I suppose there are other things besides classic novels my 17-year-old self would’ve been horrified to learn would be enjoyable almost four decades into the future, things such as church, naps, watching golf on TV, string quartets, cardigan sweaters, 9:30 p.m. bed time, and saying to young people, “When we were your age, we had some respect!”
I’ve been told that free books have been readily available my entire life at a mysterious place known as the library. Yes, that’s true, I suppose, but at the library the books are printed on paper with the pages bound together. That’s the same stress-inducing format they used in high school. It brings back too many bad memories. But offer something with an electronic screen, a recharging cord, a bunch of megabytes of memory, and a Wi-Fi Internet connection, well, now I’m interested.
The real test will be Shakespeare. If I actually read “Hamlet,” which I’ve already downloaded, then you’ll know the Kindle and e-books are an amazing revolution. But it won’t be easy, since Ol’ Willie is even more wordy than Ol’ Charlie.
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