Thursday, July 14, 2011


I've been slogging through my first Kindle novel, which means I'm getting adept at pushing buttons instead of turning pages.

Kindle is one of those hand-held electronic devices created to put bookstores out of business. With a Kindle, you can upload a book in the time it takes to back out of the driveway en route to the Border's.

Once your "book" is safely affixed to the memory chip on your electronic device, you may begin your reading experience. Reading a book on Kindle is like reading a book that took a more circuituous route — from pulp mill to printing press to bookstore — to produce. Except that it's different.

For my first Kindle experience, I selected Jonathan Franzen's latest, "Freedom."

Franzen follows the sad-sack Berglund family along its careening path to oblivion. The plot is rather trivial, along the lines of a routine romance novel, but Franzen's precise construction — and deconstruction — of the human dynamic is thrilling.

Whether read from a printed page or from a digital screen, the story doesn't change. I would have enjoyed "Freedom" equally had I purchased the book in poundage rather than in bytes.

On my Kindle, though, I can bookmark and highlight passages that are more easily retrievable, without dog-earring pages, without stickies or paper clips. My Kindle was a much more convenient travel companion, particularly on the plane, during my recent vacation.

Still, I am nagged by the diminishing status of the printed page.

I acknowledge and accept that my newspaper will eventually become a digital product, once the last of my generation has read its final newsprint obituary. Like Franzen's Walter Berglund, I am grateful that I can do my part to save a forest, if not a job at the pulp mill.

In fact, I am uncomfortable with the anti-labor inclinations implicit in electronic books. Paper is produced by men paid to wield chainsaws, to mix the brew at the mill. Traditional books are published on presses operated by human beings with mortgages and car payments. Traditional books are moved from points of origin to sales sites by truckers. Traditional books are sold from shops with atmosphere and with clerks who can point customers in the right direction.

More than that, though, a traditional book is a thing, something to keep, to return to, to trade, to give away, to donate. A full bookshelf serves as a proud monument to the memories and the wisdom imparted in volumes. Just as the great family photo must be enshrined in an album or on the mantle, and not in the limbo of a computer, the artful construction of words deserves its own special place.

I'm not sure my Kindle is that place.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

An apple divided

From reporter Larry Parsons:

A few days ago, as I picked up some Gala apples at a grocery store in Salinas, I came upon one of those oddities of nature that tickle the fancy.

One of the four apples I bought appeared to be divided equally into near-perfect hemispheres of different color. One side was red, the other mostly golden. The line between them was straight, as if the creator used masking tape or a straight edge to apply the colors.

I showed the apple to a few friends and colleagues to see if my simple enjoyment in its split personality would produce similar reactions. Most of them agreed it was certainly a special apple. "Oh wow," they said.

I knew the veteran photographer wouldn't be impressed.

Photographers, you see, have encountered many pieces of fruit and vegetables tenderly carried by slightly wild-eyed people who claim a prosaic potato is the spitting image of the King of Prussia or a typically bumpy tomato has the horns of Satan right out of "Paradise Lost."

As the apple sat in the fruit bowl in my kitchen, it caused me to muse, speculate and cogitate. Not as much as the apple that bonked Newton in the dome, but more food for thought than your typical Gravenstein.

An odd ball in a natural world that favors curves, serrations, arcs and more complex geometric forms than a dull straight line, my apple seemed emblematic of the duality of existence — life-death, mind-body, male-female, comedy-tragedy, designated hitter-pitcher-must-hit.

Its hard-and-fast dividing line was a perfect metaphor for the country's polarized politics with its bitter divisions over government, taxes, war, budgets and Sarah Palin's new movie.

As I passed the fruit bowl one morning, with no apples now but Mr. Two-Face, I mentally wandered into the realm of Hegelian dialetics, vaguely recalled from a distant college lecture.

Let's see, history works like this. First there's a thesis. Then some folks don't like it, and they come up with an antithesis (especially effective when employing well-regulated and armed militias), and the upshot is synthesis — a blending, a compromise, a new thesis. And so on and so forth.

I know my apple's days are numbered, like everything.

I did, for a moment, consider preserving it in some clear plastic goop. But that would put me in the same league as the fellow with a summer squash that's a spitting image of Charlie Chaplin in "Modern Times."

Time marches on. History unfolds.

And apples, no matter how special, become applesauce, one way or another.

Crunch. Not bad, but not as good as the apples I remember as a kid.