Tag Archive | "Kindle"

If It’s Free, It’s for Me!

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Everyone has heard of the expression, “If it’s free, it’s for me.”  The word “free” mesmerizes us.  The sheer thought of getting something for nothing gives us a rush of adrenaline.  But for everything that you may think is free, think again, even if you are spending a penny or a dollar for a so-called free item.  Case in point:

I bought a Kindle® a few months ago.  With the purchase, the manufacture offered a lot of free books; most of them were classics or the first published works of new authors.  Well, I got hooked like a fish with a juicy worm.  I took advantage of one of the free books and loved it.  Lo and behold, there was a sequel that I just had to buy; yes, buy.  Even though I understand that the heroine in the tale was fictional, I was drawn in by her story and wanted to find out what happened next.  Because this book was not yet on retailers’ shelves or in libraries, that’s how I got trapped: I paid the asking price.

My next big electronic investment was an iPod Touch®.  Before deciding to make the purchase, I found that the company offered many free applications, including games.  The apps are great inventions, but ultimately, consumers have to pay to access them.  Unaware of this, I downloaded the apps because they were advertised as free.  I received some complimentary coins to begin to play one of the games.  But by the time I was finished playing, I was addicted and wanted to add (read: pay for) more coins to be placed into my account.  It was just like being in Atlantic City.  Oh, the temptation!

It all comes down to buying one game and receiving coins to play another.  And the games are inventive and engaging.  With them, you can build a tropical fish tank or your own zoo, raise butterflies, own a pet salon, or run a restaurant … all in cyberspace, of course.

When it comes to buying things, our greed sometimes exceeds our need.   We stock up on certain products because we’ve been lured into thinking that we can save a few pennies.  When we spot signs saying, “Big Sale!  Buy One, Get One Free!” we can hardly wait to get to the store to shop.  But what do we really get for free?  Most of the time, the coupons the purveyors give you are not valid on the day of the big sale.  While you may plan on spending $25 or $30, you actually walk out of the store having spent a lot more.  Prices are marked up and selections may be limited.  Because we’ve been led by the nose to expect great savings, we’re oh so determined to get them.  So we walk out of the store with merchandise we really don’t love. We then return it (thus wasting money on gas), shove it in the back of our closets, or give it away to someone else.

We also have a wonderful time shopping online, too wonderful a time, in fact.  How often have we found something on the Web that we really wanted, for the low, low price of a couple of dollars?   We placed the items into our shopping carts, checked out, and nearly fell over when we saw the total amount.  Those low, low prices had been pumped up with shipping charges (that are not reimbursed if the item is returned).

Or how about getting a free trial offer with a money back guarantee?  We think, “Hey, what’s the risk?  We can return the product if we’re not satisfied.”  Well, we can but we still have to shell the postage out of our own pockets!

There is always an angle to these special offers.  Restaurants tantalize you with offers of free food and then get you to part with more of your money by ordering other items from the menu.  For that so-called free food, your wallet will be thinner.  You’ll find yourself taking peanut butter sandwiches to work all week for your lunch.

I always chuckle remembering how my father used to say that some people would take birdseed if it were free, even though no real birds were in their homes, just cuckoo clocks.  If you’re one of those cuckoo clock owners, A.K.A. freebie seekers, beware.  There is always some sort of price to pay, even if it’s the cost of a postage stamp for a self-addressed stamped envelope.  Because everyone wants his or her slice of pie, most of these so-called bargains exist for the sole purpose of advertising.

Rest in Peace, Barnes & Noble?

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The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age

Why do we still quote Shakespeare more than four centuries after the Bard first entertained theatregoers in England?  Why does the work of American poet Robert Frost, declared Poet Laureate during President Jack Kennedy’s administration, still strike chords with so many of us?  Why, when U.S. law stipulates that the title of a written work cannot be copyrighted, did celebrated author Harlan Ellison win a lawsuit barring a television company from naming its production after the title of one of Ellison’s most memorable short stories?

The answer to all of these questions is, “Because our society once honored great literature in all its forms.”  We once understood and respected literature for what it was: a means of learning on so many levels, a means of enjoyment, and a means of empowerment.  The prevalence of the Internet and the emergence of electronic reading devices represent advances in technology as well as the death of something precious.  Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal announced that Barnes & Noble, the mega retailer of books and music, is up for sale.  If Barnes & Noble closes its doors, we will have closed another chapter, and perhaps the final one, on the fine art of selecting our reading material.

While the Journal‘s article focused on the business aspects of B&N’s announcement, this article concerns itself with the kiss-off of yet another part of America’s soul.  Sure, you can purchase books online.  The process is quick, neat, and devoid of emotion.  Make your selection, pay for it, and a few days later, your tome arrives in your mailbox in a plain brown wrapper.  Odds are, you’ll enjoy your book in a vacuum.  No one in your household will give a rat’s hind end about your purchase:  not your significant other, who’ll be wrapped up in his or her own pursuits, and certainly not your children, who’ll view your book as they would wallpaper, and a particularly uninteresting pattern at that.  They get their reading material online.  Slam bam, thankee, m’am style, they flit from one topic to another, the way a prostitute services clients, calling this sound byte method “research.”  So, if you buy your books online, yours will be a solitary, efficient, and rather joyless experience.

You will not have the opportunity to ignore your emails, cell phone, and other demands, as you would have had you strolled into a bookstore.  You will not lose track of the time as you immerse yourself in the stacks, scanning spines in the philosophy, science fiction, cooking, autobiography, art, music, sports, new releases, and other sections.  You won’t sink subconsciously onto a settee and begin turning the pages of a book that called to you.  In the relative, almost reverent silence, your hand will not glide appreciatively over a richly illustrated page, and you will not inhale the unmistakable aroma of heavy ink borne of a tome fresh off the press.  You won’t know the joy of having entered the store with the most detailed of road maps, knowing exactly what you’d wanted, and then driven willingly off the road, leaving with unexpected treasures awaiting exploration.

You’ll be robbed of book readings and book signings by authors, and of book club discussions.  You’ll be deprived of the sight of small children sitting in a circle, enrapt by a story read aloud and unfolding before them.  And you’ll miss those musicians playing quiet acoustic sets free of charge.  Perhaps most of all, you will lose the quiet companionship of those gathered with you under the same roof for the same reason: the sheer love of reading.

We can argue that huge chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders Books & Music, which closed a number of its retail locations several years ago, put too many small independent booksellers out of business — and there is some truth to this.  I can’t go back to New York and get into a rousing discussion over a certain title with the two gay ladies who owned the tiny bookshop across from my old office on 41st and Lex, as that bookshop is now gone.  I can’t return to Grand Central Station to find the dizzying array of magazines from all points on the globe in the shop on the second floor, just to the right of the “up” escalator.  Although the shop is still there, one flight above the famous clock at which the world meets, it is run now by foreigners who have scaled it down to a ghost of its former glorious self.

And I can no longer go back to the used bookstore in Brooklyn, run by the Jewish man in the yarmulke and payot, whose knowledge of literature and authors was astounding.  That store is gone, taking with it it’s crammed-to-the-gills shelves, its musty odor, and its gems awaiting readers with a free afternoon.  In that store, I’d once bought a fortune’s worth of short stories by renowned science fiction writers, a treasured out of print compilation that cost me a whole dollar.  There, I’d found Bram Stoker’s Dracula and so many other tales that chilled me to the bone, lifted my heart, and transported me to other countries and alien planets.

It’s true that the mega booksellers helped institute the demise of the small independent bookshops.  But the mega stores were our last oases.  Where are we to go now?  Libraries are great.  But unless you can frequent bastions such as the library at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, New York, you’ll miss the depth and breadth of the choices offered by the emporiums.

As bookstores disappear from our landscape, leaving further sinkholes in our culture, I know that I am guilty of contributing to their passing.  A once avid reader who would gobble one, two, and sometimes three books a week, my brain got rewired after I watched the Twin Towers collapse.  In the weeks following 9/11, I could not even finish a magazine article, let alone a full-length book.  I can explain that, in those first few weeks, I was still trying to wrap my mind around what had happened in my city.  But I can’t explain why I’d purchased books afterwards, a good number of them, only to begin them and then put them aside without ever reading them all the way through. 

The sole exception has been Taylor Hicks’ autobiography, Heart Full of Soul, published by Random House in 2007.  I bought it at Barnes & Noble, and the author himself graciously signed the flyleaf for me.  As of this writing, I am about to finish this book for the 8th time, and that is not a typo.  Recounting the journey taken by a self-taught, monumentally talented musician-singer-songwriter who succeeded despite enormous odds, it is real.  It speaks to everyone who’s ever feared he or she lacked the strength to get up and face another day.  It’s funny and sad; it’s thought provoking and genuinely uplifting.  Again and again, I find myself reaching for this book, finding new inspiration in lines my mind has unconsciously committed to memory.

I did purchase another book recently, one written just past the turn of the century … the 20th century, that is.  How Animals Talk by William J. Long (publisher: Bear & Company) is as much about how humans communicate as it is about animal communication.  As luck would have it, I didn’t find it in a bookstore; it called to me in a lovely New Age shop in Red Bank, New Jersey.  I had another book in my grasp, all ready for the cashier to ring up, but something made me pick up Long’s work instead.  I’m glad I did.  The prose is lyrical and yet, completely logical, intertwining lessons the author learned from wild fauna, domestic animals, and Native Americans in tune with nature.  Approximately a hundred years ago, Long postulated that human beings are born with an innate telepathy, just like animals.  Further, he states that humanity’s creation and escalation of “civilization” is responsible for our loss of that gift.

About a third of the way through the book, I intend to finish it.  For some reason, when I read it a chapter at a time, like a woman savoring a box of Belgian chocolates, I sense the presence of Henry David Thoreau, esteemed philosopher, naturalist, and author of Walden and Civil Disobedience.  Maybe Thoreau is looking over my shoulder from the spirit world, reading Long’s beautiful treatise and silently agreeing with him.   If anyone understood the value of a good book, the value inherent in selecting it, and value of choices, I think it would have been Thoreau.  And I think that if Thoreau had lived now, instead of in the 1800’s, the loss of retail bookstores would have given him one more reason to isolate himself from a society that evolved more into a follow-the-leader machine than it did a free-thinking, human experience. 

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