Category Archives: Reading

My First (& Favorite) Celebrity Author

In the late ’70s, I worked in a tiny, family-owned independent bookstore in downtown Sacramento. Founded in 1924, it was the sort of place that publishers like Alfred A. Knopf and Bennet Cerf used to visit on their West Coast trips. Levinson’s only reluctantly carried paperbacks; the broad selection of classics in hardcover was a point of pride.

One particularly slow afternoon, the lone customer, an older silver-haired gentleman, asked me why we didn’t have a copy of the then recently published Essays of E. B. White. We had it, of course—just not where he was looking (because it had gone immediately to our “General Literature” section instead of sitting on a mere bestseller table)—and I pulled out a copy for him.

When he came to the counter to pay for the book, he admired our 1906 hand-cranked NCR cash register and started to pull out a credit card.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “We don’t take American Express.”

“That’s the only card I have,” he said. “Will you take a check?”

“Of course. I just need to see your driver’s license.”

He hesitated. “That could be a problem. I don’t have a license—I don’t drive. I’m just walking around town while I wait for the Zephyr to Chicago.”

“Hmm . . . maybe you’ve got something around here,” he said, looking around. Then he picked up a little mass-market paperback from a stack sitting on the counter next to us. “Would this work?”

The black-and-white author sketch on the front cover of the book was an exact match for the man standing in front of me. I laughed, surprised that I hadn’t recognized him earlier, and put the copy of Fahrenheit 451 back on its stack, next to the short stacks of The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Dandelion Wine, all lined up there on the counter, all with the same distinctive sketch of their author.

I took his check.

And it still makes me happy that the first famous author I met was one of the writers who turned me into a reader in the first place.

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Filed under Just Because, Reading, Writing

It’s That Time of Year Again

No, it’s not quite time for the first North American Cup of the 2011–2012 USA Fencing season.

It’s time to celebrate reading and the First Amendment and subversive ideas all at once: Banned Books Week (September 24−October 1, 2011) starts tomorrow.

You can find web badges and a lovely brochure listing this year’s banned or challenged titles (many of them mystifying) at the Downloads page of the ALA Banned Books Week site.

Some of my favorite books are perennials on those lists.

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Filed under Families, Just Because, Reading

OK, maybe just one more cool app before I get back to work

When my iPad came, my friend Dianna said, “And we’ll never hear from her again.” (She has one, too, so she knows.)

I keep meaning not to check the App Store or Engadget or TUAW to see if there are any more nifty apps I should add, but somehow I always manage to ignore the plaintive call of my current book draft. Somehow there is always another app I absolutely, positively must have—and then, of course, I have to play around with it for a while, just to rationalize having downloaded it.

My app mania does seem to be subsiding, though. I think I’ve got pretty much all I need (for the time being, at least). Weirdly, part of what’s letting me get back into my normal routine is the last app I bought: Instapaper Pro.

Why didn't I ever find Instapaper before?

I can’t believe I never got around to checking out Instapaper before I got the iPad. You see, I’ve always been a fan of good nonfiction writing, but more and more recently, I’ve found that I just don’t read long articles on the web through to the end. Maybe, I thought, it was my deteriorating vision or even that shortening of the attention span that technology doomsayers lament.

It turns out, though, that I’m just irritated by the time it takes to stop and load the next page of a multipage article. (I have the same problem with eInk devices like the Kindle—the time it takes for each page to load is just long enough to be distracting.) Instapaper does away with all that—when I find a long article I want to read later, all I have to do is click on the “Read Later” bookmarklet in my browser’s bookmark bar, and Instapaper concatenates all the pages into one long file and saves it to my Instapaper app. (It also saves it to my account at the Instapaper website, so it’s not iPad dependent at all.) It’s been lovely rediscovering how much I enjoy reading long-form articles free of all that web-distraction.

And that focused feeling I get reading in Instapaper actually puts me in the mood to get seriously down to work. How can I argue with that?

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Filed under Reading, Science & Technology

Yeah, what he says . . .

Interesting essay by Clay Shirky in the Wall Street Journal this weekend–“Does the Internet Make You Smarter?

No surprise that this would appeal to me, a long-time fan of Steven Berlin Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good for You. And it turns out there’s a book due out next week: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age.   Sounds like yet another book that may end up on my iPad to-be-read virtual shelves.

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Filed under Cognition, Reading, Science & Technology