That I am considering a digital reader for e-books is proof that I am not a Luddite. In the last week, I have previewed Borders's Kobo Reader, Amazon's Kindle, Barnes and Nobles's Nook, and even the more versatile IPad. This has made me a readin' beast, folks! I read at stoplights, at lunch, while waiting at the doctor's office, or in any other interstice of life! So my conclusion is that I will actually read more books if I have one of these gizmos. But this is not about the device but, rather, what I have read.
Since I didn't want to buy any of these e-books yet, I sampled the free first chapters from a number of them. In the past week I have read the first chapters of A.E. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh (for its wonderful sound), William Stryon's Sophie's Choice (well-written if wrenching story, at least the movie was), John Piper's Think (haven't read much Piper, actually), George W. Bush's Decision Points (mildly interesting, but certainly not captivating or in one chpater terribly illuminating), John Powell's How Music Works (fun and informative and accessible), Beth Kephart's The Heart is Not a Size (previewed for my 16-year old daughter, and I liked it), Spencer Quinn's Dog On It (a detective novel told from the standpoint of the detective's dog, and that right there is enough to say about this funny book), and Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken (wonderfully written WWII story by the author of Seabisquit). And I'm still at it. However, it has led to some curious, shall we say, propinquities.
For example, I never knew that George W. Bush and Winnie-the-Pooh had so much in common: a perchant for the simple (and I mean it as a compliment). I'll keep reading about Winnie-the-Pooh but will likely not continue reading George Bush's memories. (I'll also pass on Sarah Palin and Barack Obama.) Memoirs must be compelling to draw you in, and these don't seem to be. Now Pooh --- you have to love him and his friends.
But when it comes to writing, by far the best here is Hillenbrand's Unbroken, as I was drawn in immediately in this first chapter as she tells about the coming of age of Louis Zamperini. Who, you might ask? A runner who grew up in Torrance, California during the Great Depression. More than that I can't say (that's the problem with first chapters), but I want to read on. That matters.
One good thing about reading so many books at virtually the same time is to get a sense of the different voice used in each. In Unbroken, it's that of a sympathetic narrator; in Think, that of a kindly but thoughtful pastor; in Dog On It, that of a wiseacre dog (and it sounds so doggish you have to believe it); and in How Music Works, that of an entertaining college professor (part of a minority) who loves to teach. And to hear the voice of a teenager, as in The Heart Is Not a Size, is to be drawn back to my own teenage years and remember, however vaguely, the not always pleasant intensity of everything that happened to me back then.
I never realized, or at least didn't remember, that one of the main characters in Sophie's Choice, Stingo, was a young editor at a book publisher, and his sometimes funny encounters make up a good part of the first chapter of the book. That seemed overlooked or downplayed in the wrenching movie version about a Holocaust survivor's stark choice (played so well by Meryl Streep). The comedy, believability, and emotion of this book also drew me in.
I hadn't sung "Ba, Ba, Black Sheep" in quite some time, and yet John Powell had me doing it, under my breath, in a restaurant while reading How Music Works, wondering later how effective that technique was. Piper might say that the purpose of reading such a book about music is "to study [its] reality as a manifestation of God's glory." Powell may not have that perspective, but I sense a wonder in his prose.
First chapters, even first paragraphs, tell you a lot about a book. It's important to start well, particularly in this era of impatience. It's good to have these different voices and perspectives. I like this dipping in and out of books, for a while at least, though I wonder about the long-term effects of such hop-scotch, of not finishing what I have started.
No matter. I think I'll buy one of these things. I'll wander in this land of literature for a spell, settling when I find a suitable resting place, surrounding myself with words that seem three-dimensional. I just hope you're not behind me at the stoplight. Be gentle on the horn. I'm reading.