Books — 17 April 2011

When I came to Chile I brought two suitcases with me. One contained my best clothes to wear at the office since I thought I might have to wear a tie which I don’t. The other was filled with novels and dictionaries in Spanish and French and books on mathematics. The “Petit Robert” dictionary I brought was so worn that the cover had come off and my two-volume edition of Victor Hugo “Les Miserables” absolutely de rigeur for the library of a francophile. The math books were for me. I am trying to study again what I studied in college and then write a math book something on the order of David Foster Wallace’s book on infinity and replace David Berlinksi’s “A Tour of the Calculus”. That second book is so badly written it took what could have been a good idea and ruined it by poor execution.

Anyway I brought my math books here because those just don’t work too well on the Amazon Kindle–they are large and heavy and you need to be able to see two pages at a time which you cannot on the Kindle. The magazine I have founded in Chile has published a detailed look at how the Kindle works and does not work here and in other outre mer locations.

As for my remaining prose and fiction that is at home in Virginia in my library of 700 books. This is the second time in my life I have collected so many. The first collection I lost to my ex-wife who kept them in the divorce including my autographed edition of Richard Nixon’s memoir. That can only be characterized as mean spirited since that wench philistine does not read but wanted something with colour to fill the shelves. As for my collection in Virginia I plan to give it to the library since they are too heavy to transport here to Chile and the cost to great. But since many of them are classics there is no need to do that since you can download those books whose copyright has expired free onto your Amazon Kindle in the kindle format or from such sites as books.google.com in PDF format. Either format works.

So it was that I left behind my cherished and worn complete collection of the complete works of Shakespeare whose 17th century editor, Nicholas Rowe, could have been a distant relative (that’s what my grandfather said). I would not have at my fingertips his poems “The Rape of Lucrece” and “Venus and Adonis” which I had tried to commit to memory. Both are on my Kindle now along with all 28 plays and sonnets. I downloaded all of that from the Guttenberg project web site.

In the USA I bought the Kindle because (a) Amazon invented the idea of the digital book and (b) Barnes and Noble’s nook does not work outside the USA. Further (c) the Apple Ipad is not a reader. Its for surfing the web and if one is to read serious literature there is no time to waste reading facebook. Besides the iPad weighs to much to read books.

The Kindle comes in two models. The more expensive includes a lifetime subscription to the cellular internet providers here and around the world so you can download book. (There is a catch, see the comments below about “Whispernet Fees”.) The Kindle 3G network works in Chile. It worked in Panama where I changed planes. And according to their web site it works in most places where there is cell service. The less expensive model is the same except it requires you to have your own wireless network as you might in your home or office. That is O.K. as long as you are at the home or office but what about when you are desperate for Thomas Pynchon and you are at the beach? (Note to Thomas Pynchon’s publisher: please make his books available in Kindle format.)

The Kindle is better than the iPad also to read books because it weighs less and more importantly it works outdoors in bright light. No laptop except the one-laptop-per-child model works in the sunshine.

So here I am living overseas with my Kindle. I brought it for a simple reason. Books in English and books in whatever language including Spanish are expensive here in South America. Why is this? People have speculated that it is because of shipping costs (obviously) but also because of piracy. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Maria Vargas Llosa would no doubt earn more money if their books were not pirated here so much. You can see the flimsy paper copies in stores where there might have been a more professionaly bound edition. Piracy in DVDs and books simple does not happen with the frequency in the USA as it does here. This is not because we fear the police. Its because we fear the copyright attorneys. This is as it should be. One should be paid for their work.

Also the bookstore experience here is different. In Barnes and Nobles and Borders in the USA you can hangout and browse, spending a few hours reading a book that you have not bought and will never pay for, then leave having spent nothing. Here the stores are smaller with fewer places to sit. Of course the American model is falling apart Borders having filed for bankruptcy and Barnes and Nobles putting itself up for sale.

Anyway the highlight of the week for me for many years since high school has been the arrival of  The New Yorker magazine. Now it comes to me for $6 per month delivered wirelessly to my Amazon Kindle. Voilà. Like magic. Same for the The Economist which costs $10 per month (presumably people who read about money have more of it). I could buy neither magazine here I am sure in printed editions and to wait for them to come in the mails when they arrived I would be reading not news but history. So this is the way to go for you travelling business types, backpacking youth, or those expatriates struck with wanderlust who want to take your library when you arrive.

Addendum: A Note on Amazon Whispernet fees

After having been in Chile now for 10 months I have an update on this issue. There are two issues with having an expatriate Amazon kindle. First under “manager my kindle” you can change the address of your kindle to the country where you live. But if you do that you will find material which was previously available no longer available due to, presumably, copyright rules and export issues. For example, when I changed my Kindle to Chile I could not longer find the books of David Foster Wallace nor the Kindle edition of  The Economist magazine. (The reasons for that are explained here.) But if you change the location of your Kindle back to the USA then Amazon will start to bill you for international Whispernet deliver of your periodicals although you presumable need to opt-in to this service by clicking on a link they send you. The email that Amazon.com sends you when you do this says it is free to download your magazine and newspaper subscriptions using WiFi. But the instant you have no WiFi signal and your Kindle connects to the 3G cellular data network you will be billed $4 per week. That is a lot to pay for a magazine like, “The New Yorker”, which costs $4 per month. So what to do? My practice is to leave my address as Chile until I want to buy another book and avoid turning on the wireless feature anywhere I do not have Wifi. That way I can receive The New Yorker without having to pay what might be called “roaming charges”. But when I want to buy something from Amazon.com I make sure I am connected to a WiFi network then switch my address back to the USA so as to avoid issues with export restrictions. Amazon.com says Whispernet fees due not apply to the purchase of books. Only the international delivery of periodicals.y of periodicals.

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