e-Readin’, e-Writin’ and e-Rithmatic

Roger, like a lot of people this year, got a Kindle for Christmas. For those of you who came in late, Amazon’s Kindle is a hand-held computer that lets you read books on a white screen. It’s roughly the size and thickness of the old Reader’s Digest, with one big difference. It can hold 1,500 full-length, unabridged books, which cost $9.99 each.

I had never pegged Roger as a big reader. The only thing I have ever seen him read are golf magazines, and those have more pictures than a Playboy. And Roger is not on the cutting edge of technology. If I send him an e-mail, it might be a week or two before he gets his wife to boot up the computer and show him for the 15,000th time how to retrieve it. Then he wants her to print it out, which drives Meg crazy.

“Just read it on the computer. We don’t have to print it out.”

“What if I hit the wrong button?”

“It will shatter into a million razor-sharp pieces that will dice you into tiny, perfect squares and burst into flames and burn you to a smoking crisp. That’s where bacon bits come from, tragic computer accidents. It’s hard to believe they let first-graders use them.”

If I went two weeks without access to a computer I would explode. Freezes, crashes and power outages make me shaky. How can anyone stand to be out of touch for a moment? A minute? An hour? Who was last night’s “Biggest Loser”? What music did they play on “Glee”? Oh, that Simon Cowell! It doesn’t seem to bother Roger in the least, so I’m thinking that whoever spent $250 to get him a Kindle must not know him very well.

Why did they spend so much money? My usual gift to him is $5 worth of that peanut brittle they sell down at Dollar City, the stuff that has the “sell by November 2011, B.C.” stamp. I got him a card to go with it, but he didn’t even read it ... too long. It had seven words.

I ran into Roger a few days ago, and out of the blue he says, “I’m reading an interesting biography about Genghis Khan.” I said, “I didn’t know he played golf.”

Roger rolled his eyes. “You’ve got to learn there’s more to life than chasing after a little white ball with a big metal stick, my ignorant friend. I could lend you some simple books to start until you work your way up to, say, a third-grade reading level. You might be able to get through ‘James and the Giant Peach’ with a little help. Remember to sound out the words. We’ll work on teaching you how to read without moving your lips later.”

“When did you become Marian the Librarian?”

“Ah, a sly reference to ‘The Music Man.’ You’ll go far if you apply yourself. But I take the meaning of your question. I had to get on a plane the day after Christmas, so I took the Kindle with me. By the time I got off the plane, I was hooked. It’s so easy, I can look up any word in the text, instantly. I can dogear pages. I can read as many books as I want at the same time.”

“Lots of people say they don’t like staring at a screen all day.”

“So they come home and watch ‘American Idol’ and ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’ The screen’s not the problem, it’s what’s on it. As Melville said, ‘What’s not to like?’”

“That doesn’t sound like Herman Melville.”

“No, my son, Melville. That’s who gave it to me.”

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com.

Copyright 2010, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

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