As you might imagine for somebody who writes for a living, I spend a fair bit of my free time reading. The term “voracious reader” is stretching things a bit, and too much of my consumption sadly takes the form of doom-scrolling Internet junk food, but I generally have at least one book going at all times.
The number of books I’ve acquired over my life is less of a personal library, and more of a hoarder’s cry for help. They would all look lovely if they were organized neatly on bookshelves around my home.
But since my bookshelves are already full, I’ll have to channel my inner handyman and simply make some more bookshelves. So far, that hasn’t happened.
My procrastination game is strong, so I’ve already filed this as a good retirement project, even though the part of me that knows me too well knows full well that I probably won’t do it then, either.
Clearly, I’ll have to come up with something eventually, but that can wait for another day. I told you I was a procrastinator.
As you might have guessed, I was something of an early adopter of eBooks — digital books meant to be read on a computer, tablet or smartphone. It started with Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography, which I bought in 2011 for my first iPad, but really took off when I took over ownership of my mother’s Kindle Paperwhite, which had been a birthday gift from my sisters and me.
My mother was a very intelligent woman, but she had a mental block about using technology that was about a mile wide. We’d bought her the Kindle, because reading was one of her great loves, but she never caught on how to use it.
After she asked me for about the fifth time in eight months if I wanted it, and with the encouragement of the rest of my family, I finally accepted it.
Today, I alternate between reading on my iPad and my Kindle. The iPad has a bigger display and is great for books with color illustrations, but the e-ink display on the Kindle is the one you want if you’re going to be reading outdoors in full sunlight. It’s also light, and consequently a joy to read on, not to mention that its small and easy to carry with you.
Of course, if you want the best of both worlds, they make a Kindle app for the iPad, and I often read from my Kindle on that.
I quickly discovered that you could get public domain books on the Apple Books and Kindle bookstores, which started me on the path of mastering the art of the cheap eBook. I became adept at finding free public domain books at Apple Books, the Kindle store and Gutenberg.org.
If you’re interested in picking up your classical education, or brushing up on classic literature, public domain books will let you read everything from Plato’s Republic to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice — and much more — all in the key of free. If I ever feel the urge to go buy something, but don’t want the expense of actually using money, I go on the hunt for a few new free eBooks.
Later, I signed up for email notices of Kindle eBook sales, which let you know about eBook sales from publishing houses. Each week, you could find current titles for anywhere from $2-$4 apiece.
After three or four years of careful waiting and shopping, I came away with most of the C.S. Lewis canon, including the entire Narnia series; a host of classic Tolkien, including, of course, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion; and even the complete Ian Fleming James Bond novels.
Today, I have a library of 514 books on my Kindle, about 200 more in Apple Books, and a small handful of Google Books. All of these are accessible on my iPad and iPhone, and I freely admit that carrying a small library around with me everywhere I go gives me a sense of comfort.
As for physical books, I’m getting fewer and fewer of those, what with the steadily rising prices of paperbacks and hardbacks. I’m a great fan of used or discount bookstores, which are happily too far away to reliably drain my bank account.
As for local bookstores, I don’t usually carry cash with me, and when I do, I make it a point to NOT go into the Friends of the Rhea Public Library bookstore — not if I want to leave with my money, that is.
That said, I am an enthusiastic patron of Tennessee Reads, the state library system’s eBook loaning system. Accessible for free with my Rhea Public Library card, the system lets me borrow eBooks and audiobooks for free.
I’ve been a fan since I interviewed Kathy Collins about it in 2016, several years before she became library director. I use the Libby app, which can send the eBooks to my Kindle as well as acting like an audiobook player. It’s great for books you want to read, but don’t necessarily need to own. The best part is that books are automatically returned at the end of the loan period, which is fantastic for people like me, who can never manage to return a book on time.
I often happily receive books as gifts, but I personally haven’t paid full price for a hardback book since I bought Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass a few years back — and even that came with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet the author, one of my longtime musical heroes.
I’m planning on making an exception to my “no full-priced books” rule when the sixth and final book in Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians series comes out in September, but it remains a rule I don’t break very often.
But even in the case of hardbacks, there are low-cost surprises to be had. I belong to goodreads.com, which is a little like Facebook for book lovers. Goodreads is always offering giveaways for books, and my sister Kate — who reads like most people breathe — told me she’d picked up more than a few books this way.
Even though the last thing I’d won was a bench vise for my father when I was 14, I started entering the giveaways when a book struck me as interesting. So when I noticed a giveaway for one of several hardback copies of Wonders All Around, the biography of the astronaut who’d made the first untethered flight in space, I decided, “Why not?”
To my surprise, I won, and received a copy of the book in the mail the other day, along with some swag; a sticker, bookmark and an astronaut trading card.
As a result, I am enjoying reading a real ink-and-paper hardback for the first time in years, as well as greatly enjoying the book in general. A child of the ’60s, I developed a boyhood enthusiasm for space exploration that has never quite left me.
I’d never heard of the book’s subject, Bruce McCandless II, even after finishing a master’s thesis in communications on NASA, and I’m very interested to see how his story fits in with what I already know.
Like portable libraries, it’s comforting to know some of your childhood fascinations are still along for the ride.
See you next week.
GLENN TANNER is news editor of The Post-Intelligencer. His email address is email@example.com.