llibreria - bookstore - Amsterdam - HDR

MorBCN via Creative Commons

My attention was brought to the following article in which it is suggested that perhaps eReaders are not heralding the end of printed books after all. As an exercise for yourself you can work out how much stock to put in an informal telephone survey which doesn’t even control for ownership of an eReader device. But another incident had me thinking of ebooks at roughly the same point in time, which was that I went to purchase an ebook copy of Robertson Davies’s Fifth Business for a book club only to find it isn’t available in that format. I ordered the print version and started wondering why my first inclination was to buy the ebook.

I have a perhaps unhealthy fondness for printed books. I’m the kind of guy who stares longingly at pictures of crowded secondhand bookstores, wishing I could be there to absorb the smell. I believe the most beautiful decor you can give a room is wall-to-wall bookshelves. And yet, I’m a technologist by trade. The fact that I can have a dozen audiobooks on my phone as well as access to a small library of digital titles is why I love living in the future. The built-in dictionary feature on my Kindle is my favorite feature of anything ever. The challenge, for book lovers, is how to reconcile these things.

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pretzel knot

lepetitsaboteur via Creative Commons

“What were you like as a little boy?”

“Normal, I guess. You know, average. Kind of a daydreamer.”

She made a sandwich of her hand between his bare chest and her chin. “What kinds of things did you dream about?”

“You know, stuff I saw in comics; swords and laserguns and adventurous animals.”

“Did you read books?”

“Not really.”

“Tell me one of your daydreams.”

“Like what?”

“Tell me about these adventurous animals.”

He inhaled; breath held. “I used to pretend I was this hero: Roper Raccoon. I had a lasso, and I could tie up bad guys with it. I looked up raccoons in the encyclopedia, found out they were nocturnal. So I’d sneak out at night with my lasso and look for bad guys to catch.”

“That’s cute. Did you catch any?”

“I caught my next door neighbor, few years older than me. She was sneaking in her upstairs window after curfew. I snared her foot and she fell.”

“Wow, I bet she was pissed.”

“I don’t know, the fall killed her. I unhooked my lasso and went back to bed. I never told anyone that before.”

The silence was excruciating. “You should have kept it to yourself.”

zombie 1

Petrina McDonald via Creative Commons

Theirs is the fear. Not just of me and the others, but of death and pain and screams and the unique agony of being eaten alive. If they knew it was the horror of those last moments we fed off, far more so than the flesh we consume, they might try to relax. It might even save them, though I doubt it. I’ve heard them say their fear keeps them sharp, helps them stay alive. If I had breath left to laugh, I would. It makes them stink, draws us to them. Blessed irony.

They scramble over fences, stopping to help the slower and weaker ones along. They fight back with axes and bullets and fire. We don’t care. There is no need to rush, no need to push our rotting bodies any faster to overtake their more slowly rotting bodies. Their time will come, as it always does: one by one; little by little; this hour or the next; today or tomorrow. We have the volume. We have the numbers, we have no need but the hunger and they have so many things to concern themselves with. They cling to their fear and we follow. Ours is the patience.

Texting

kamshots via Creative Commons

The days hummed past, the unhurried buzzing of a beetle in summer. She read books with confusing titles while the kids ran through the sprinklers, their forced laughter and worried glances bouncing them from the “Miss” column to the “Won’t Miss” on her chart. The phone was always at hand, the chime became a joke and an argument and a refuge.

Pithy comments flew from her practiced fingers onto the virtual keyboard, morsels of truth about sadness and sex, children and pomegranates. Everyone said she was funny, her reach was tens of thousands wide, a circle of eye-pairs much vaster than the population of her hometown.

A warm bath and a razor blade forced a numbness into her legs. The final message had to be a great one, and she composed it over and over with sandbag eyelids. At last she pressed “Send” and her world was pinkish water.

It took several days for the word to get out. There were questions, as always. How could this happen? What of the children, the loving family? We re-read everything, unfashionably tardy investigators, seeking reason. One question, above all: how could she not know how many people loved her from afar?

Perspective of Point...

Kelly Cookson via Creative Commons

Teenie risked pulling one hand off the metal railing and touching her pocket. The hard lump of the crystal converter was reassuring, so she slipped her hand in, clutching it. The wind was rushing and Jornah was shouting over the screams and shrieks of the plunging shuttle. Another passenger, a stranger, hung upside down from trembling knees, elbow-deep in the access panel behind the dead driver. Jornah was trying to get to him, instruct him on how to initiate the emergency recharge spellcraft, but there wasn’t enough time.

The crystal could save them all, if she gave it up. It would be used in whole, ‘crafted into the carriage by the stranger’s want and will. But Teenie didn’t want to lose it. She’d worked so hard to get it. It could save her, her and Jornah, maybe that terrified boy across the aisle as well. She only had so many hands. And there would be some crystal left over for later. For another emergency—there was always another emergency. Her grip slipped a little and she had to retract her hand to grab the rail, to readjust.

She didn’t realize it had fallen out until the decision was made.

Smoke

Andrew Magill via Creative Commons

Veins of chemical-smelling smoke settled around Bud Verney’s head like a crown. The sense of wild invincibility did not particularly appeal to him, but the sacrifice was worth it. If only Lonnie had a flaw or two, something he could use as rationale beside the fact of her hovering, mediocre attentiveness. His few friends, his weary co-workers, his prickly divorce attorney, to a one they failed to understand. They actually thought he should feel lucky.

This plan was better than the last one. Thinking about it now, he could see how maybe Gordon wasn’t Lonnie’s type. He guessed handsome and wealthy weren’t high on her list, otherwise she wouldn’t have pressured Bud into marriage. Gordon had taken the $250 anyway, saying, “I did what you asked and she told me ‘no.’ Gotta tell you, bro, I think she still loves you.” Bud grimaced as he put the lighter to the pipe again.

“We’ll see if she loves me,” he said to the filthy bathroom. He hit again and wondered how long it took for addiction to set in. Maybe she would find his stash tonight, confront him, walk out. He could be sleeping alone by Saturday. He smiled.

Roads At Night: Passing Lane

Bart via Creative Commons

Your face reflects, partially transparent against the passing streaks of streetlights, as if you were hovering just outside the car. The song plays with a beat that could be the rhythmic rumbling of tires over regularly spaced joints in the bridge, the lyrics morose and incomprehensible yet somehow you apply enough meaning to them that they become personal.

Beyond the bay, the city sins in its determined fashion, letting serious crimes go unpunished while minor travesties scandalize. Ideally, you could cry to complete the scene, even just a teardrop or two to reflect the sequins of night and make stars on your cheekbones, as temporary as your tattoos.

Your wardrobe suggests bigger plans than you have. The life inside your head is more meaningful than the macabre reality of banal work and forced frivolity with people you purposefully keep at a particular distance. You pick up the lyrics and sing along, watching your superimposed self like a music video and you think, I would make a good superstar because I am both attractive and yet relatable. These days, talent is optional, though yours is more than sufficient.

Wishing for a bathroom break or stop for gas, you sing on.

Sunset Beach Recropped

chiaralily via Creative Commons

Flight is easy once you learn the trick. The trick is you have to believe against gravity. Not stop believing in it, not believe it can be conquered, you have to believe against it. It’s like making yourself sink in a swimming pool, in reverse, a subtle series of muscle shifts and positioning; it’s a particular exhale.

We flew along the beaches, Shauna and I. The salt in the air made us faster, the roar of the ocean drowned our cries of joy. If we got too daring, we’d fall on sand or water instead of rock or concrete. She used to soar, frightening the gulls and shedding her clothes. I drank the air and I drank the sight of her as free as anything has ever been.

At sunsets she would fly far over the water, a black spot against the inferno of twilight. She used to say, “Someday I won’t come back.”

Flying is actually work. It’s fun work, but it takes effort. “You have to come back,” I’d say, “you can’t fly forever.”

“You watch. I will.”

The day she left I knew. She kissed me on the lips before she went. She sank with the sun.

“Hello, Quest Help Line, this is Dana speaking, how may I be of assistance?”

“Yeah, hi. So look, we’re in the Everdark Dungeon—“

“Is that EverDARK or EverDART?”

“Dark. Dark, like, no light. Is there really an Everdart—actually never mind. Not important. Still there?”

“I’m here, go ahead.”

“Okay anyway, we killed Lord Chymerion—“

“Congratulations!”

“Thanks!”

“Did you find the trap door?”

“There was a trap door?”

“Yes, sir, right underneath him.”

“Aw man, we totally missed that! No, we used a gorgon head our rogue, Tarrix, stole.”

“Very clever.”

“Yeah. The problem is, Tarrix missed a portcullis trap and now we’re under a Disrupt Sight hex. We’ve been wandering for—“

Telephone Switchboard Operators - a vintage circa 1914 photo (cropped)

Royce Bair via Creative Commons

“Okay sir, relax. I can help. Have you tried an anti-hex potion?”

“Tarrix mistook the last one for a restoration potion.”

“Is Tarrix still with you?”

“…Uh, no ma’am.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. What about your conjuror? Did she cast Divine Lighting?”

“Of course she did! Do you think we’re amateurs?”

“No, sir. Sorry, sir. Do you still have your Blessing?“

“Oh my god. I can’t believe we forgot—”

“Ah, well there you go. Try that.”

“It worked! Thank you!”

“That’s what we’re here for, sir.”

Inside a neighbor’s house: a bug, recording,
always hearing others’ conversation.
Two next door in this apartment complex
and one below never know I’m list’ning;
the one above, though, I think may suspect.
The extent of it, only mine to know.

They’d think me invasive with what I know,
the algorithm churning, recording.
I must confirm my fears, which I suspect
contain me in all their conversation.
And so my lovely digital list’ning
ears make simple what can be so complex.

To hack the social world is not complex.
The power is information; to know
others’ minds when they think you’re not list’ning;
to find the pattern in the recording,
dissects people like no conversation.
As long as they never, ever suspect.

Others do this naturally, I suspect.
For me those waters are far too complex,
I drown, thrash in failed conversation.
But now that I can truly, surely know,
charm oozes from me; playback recording.
I say good-bye, I go back to list’ning.

Someone out there is forever list’ning,
this is something I will always suspect:
Another spook, another recording
military-industrial complex.
People paid to listen, to hear, to know,
to break us down by our conversation.

The lie they know of all conversation
is we presume the only one list’ning
is the one we want to hear and to know.
Behind closed doors we can only suspect
the whole truth, so bitten off and complex,
unsure what the other is recording.

We make conversation and we suspect
the other isn’t list’ning, too complex
our minds to know. I can’t stop recording.

2009-01-10-FFeed100-10 Headphone

Michael May via Creative Commons