Time Enough at Last

Time Enough at Last was the title of one of the more memorable Twilight Zone episodes. Perhaps you remember it. Harry Bemis was a bank teller whose one passion in life was reading. Unfortunately, he never had enough time to read. The bank president reprimanded him for reading while waiting on customers. His wife did not let him read at home, preferring a more social lifestyle. The only chance that Harry Bemis really had to read was in the bank vault during his lunch hour.

Time enough at last!
Time enough at last!

Bemis’s  habit of spending his lunches in the bank vault saves him when a nuclear war breaks out and he finds that he is the only survivor. He becomes lonely and despondent and contemplates suicide until he discovers the ruins of a public library. For the first time in his life, Harry Bemis has all the books he can read and time enough to read them. He eagerly stacks up the books and plans out in what order he will read them, but just as he picks up the first book, he drops his glasses, smashing them and making it impossible to read anything.

Here are the last few minutes of the episode.

You can watch the whole episode here.

It does sometimes seem as if the whole world is conspiring against us readers. Employers frown at us for reading on the job and actually expect us to work. Friends and family keep telling us to go outside in the fresh air and do various recreational activities that do not involve reading. Spouses expect us to take them places and do things with them, even talk. When they are in a romantic or amorous mood, they expect us to waste valuable reading time with sex.

Modern technology has made things a little better. Audiobooks allow us to “read” while driving or engaging in some activity. If you wear earphones, non-readers assume you’re listening to music. The invention of e-books has helped considerably. A Kindle is portable and easily concealed. We can carry whole libraries around with us to read at odd moments. I find that carrying a Kindle is a lot more convenient that the old method of carrying stacks of books. Even better, Amazon has apps for the iPhone and Android which allow you to read your Kindle books. We can read and non-readers think we are working and texting.

Still, there is never enough time for us readers to read as much as we would like. How nice it would be if there were some apocalyptic event which would destroy civilization. Sure, there would be a death toll in the millions and things would be really awful, but think of all the time we would have for reading.

There is one problem though. If there were a nuclear war or something, I doubt that electricity would be available. Without electricity to charge them, our Kindles, Nooks, and smart phones would quickly turn into expensive paperweights. Then we would end up staring at blank screens muttering, “It’s not fair”, just like poor Harry Bemis.


Are E-Books There Yet?

I got an Amazon Kindle for my birthday last year. I wanted it not just because I’m a technophile, who loves electronic gadgets of all sorts, and not just because of being able to carry around a small library with me, but also because I have just run out of space on my shelves for regular books.

So, you see, I had to find some solution. I couldn’t expand my book shelves any more. I wasn’t willing to get rid of any of my books. So, I decided that e-books was the way to go.

The reason I am mentioning all of this is that I just read an article by John C. Abell of Wired, “5 Reasons Why E-Books Aren’t There Yet”. Mr. Abell lists five reasons why e-books will not displace printed books just yet and I wondered how the reasons affected me.

1) An unfinished e-book isn’t a constant reminder to finish reading it.

Not a problem for me. I carry my Kindle around a lot and I am always reminded to read something. I created a collection on my Kindle called “Currently Reading” so I know what I am currently reading.

2) You can’t keep your books all in one place.

He is referring to the fact that different e-readers use incompatible formats.

Books arranged on your bookshelves don’t care what store they came from. But on tablets and smartphones, the shelves are divided by app — you can’t see all the e-books you own from various vendors, all in one place. There is simply no app for that. (With e-readers, you are doubly punished, because you can’t buy anything outside the company store anyway).

Apple doesn’t allow developers to tap into root information, which would be needed to create what would amount to a single library on an iOS device. If that restriction disappeared, there would still be the matter of individual vendors agreeing to cooperate — not a given since they are competitors and that kind of leveling could easily lead to price wars, for one thing.

But the way we e-read is the reverse of how we read. To pick up our next physical book, we peruse bookshelves we’ve arranged and pick something out. In the digital equivalent, we would see everything we own, tap on a book and it would invoke the app it requires — Kindle, Nook, Borders, etc. With the current sequence — open up a reader app, pick a book — you can easily forget what you own. Trivial? Try to imagine Borders dictating the size and shape of your bookshelf, and enforcing a rule that it hold only books you bought from them, and see if that thought offends you even a little bit.

I get most of my e-books from Amazon.com. I can also get them from the Gutenberg Project, and other free sources. I use mobipocket converter to convert them to a format my Kindle can use. I have created collections based on subject so I have little trouble remembering the e-books I own.
3) Notes in the margins help you think.

The Kindle allows you to take notes and share them with others.

4) E-books are positioned as disposable, but aren’t priced that way

This one is simple, and also easy to oversimplify since people still have to get paid. But until e-books truly add new value, the way Hollywood did with DVD extras, it’s just annoying to plunk down $13 for what amounts to a rental. E-books cost virtually nothing to produce, and yet the baseline cover price, set by publishers, is only fractionally below the discount price for the print version of new releases.

E-books can’t be shared, donated to your local library shelter, or re-sold. They don’t take up space, and thus coax conflicted feelings when it is time to weed some of them out. But because they aren’t social, even in the limited way that requires some degree of human contact in the physical world, they will also never be an extension of your personality.

Most of the e-books I buy are cheaper than the printed version. Older books, in which the copyright has expired can be had for a very low price or even free. I agree with Abell about sharing. That is really my only complaint, so far.

5) E-books can’t be used for interior design.

Okay, he’s got me there. Still, I have enough printed books for interior design to last me.

I do have one quibble that Abell didn’t mention. The way the Kindle handles illustrations sucks. The Kindle can’t do color yet, so they are monochrome and you can’t expand them. This is especially frustrating with maps, which more often than not are illegible.

Maybe e-books aren’t quite there yet, but Amazon is already selling more e-books than paper ones so they’re coming.

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