Monday, October 26, 2015
There Was No Gilligan, But There Was a Mysterious Dude.
I was converted to the concept of the e-reader (eBook, whatever) by my roommate on my Guatemala trip several years ago. Another busy physician, her specialty was family practice and we bonded over finally having the time to read without guilt, since there was nothing else to do in the evenings after the clinic closed for the day. She was glued to her Kindle every night. I was jealous that she never seemed to run out of reading material, whereas I zipped through my book and two magazines in nothing flat.
So when I got home I knuckled under and bought one. At first I wondered if I would ever download enough to justify the purchase, but that really has not been a problem. Have I bought more books? Yes, I have. But did you know that there are a lot of free books available for the Kindle? Yes, free. FREE. If you subscribe to Amazon Prime it gives you access to the Amazon Library system; there are a ton of books that you can obtain on loan. The limit is one per month, but if you are an avid mystery reader it's great to have access to all the paperback cozies you want without having to spend $7.95 on a book you'll never read again.
(Incidentally, what is it with mysteries these days? When did cozies start to incorporate recipes, scrapbooking, witchcraft, knitting and God knows what? I still read them, all right, but I'm starting to hate myself. The heroine/detective usually spends more time enthusing over her cats or her latest yarn purchase than she does solving the crime. I mean, Philip Marlowe would NEVER.)
But back to Free. I had heard that there was a big self-publishing market on Kindle, but I didn't realize how big until I started reading a prepper/homesteading blog in which the author used to publish a daily list of free books available on Kindle. I'd link to it, but the author then made the list available by subscription only. The books focus on topics of interest to preppers and homesteaders, such as homeschooling, working from home, religion, food storage, agriculture, etc. I have downloaded some of them, all of which were self-published, and the quality varies widely. Some are better than others.
But then I thought: What if I just type in 'free' on my Kindle? I tried it, and realized that on any given day there are thousands of free books available. Many of them are classics which some deserving soul has laboriously transcribed into a Kindle compatible format. Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Tom Sawyer - I felt as though someone had set me loose in a candy store and told me to grab everything I wanted.
And that is how I came to be reading Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island.
I love Jules Verne. Around the World in Eighty Days is still one of my favorite books, and one of my daydreams is to someday take three months off to go around the world. I also loved Captain Nemo, the self-exiled main character of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Mysterious Island (published 1874) is commonly called the sequel to 20,000 Leagues, but that's not all it is by a long shot. I would rather call it a stand-alone novel which incorporates a character from his previous novel. Verne started with this premise: if a group of people are marooned on an island with nothing but fortitude, knowledge and the clothes on their backs, can they survive?
The book is set in 1865 and focuses on a group of Americans, prisoners of war in Richmond, Virginia (they are Yankees). They escape from Richmond via a hot-air balloon which I guess someone carelessly left sitting around, are caught up in a storm over the open ocean and are forced to throw everything they own out of the balloon to reduce its weight before eventually crashing on an island. Captain Cyrus, the leader of the group, is an engineer; the other characters include his servant, a free black named Neb; Pencroft (a sailor); Herbert (the teenage ward of Pencroft whose hobby is natural history); and a journalist named Gideon.
It's interesting to read the book from a twenty-first century perspective. Our heroes have no qualms about exploiting every resource they can lay their hands on. They even wind up dynamiting part of the island to form an indoor shelter (it's a large undersea cavern, and the explosion allows them to drain part of the water out). The island just happens to contain clay, iron ore, nitrites, etc. etc. and the engineer figures out how to smelt the ore, build a kiln to make pottery and so forth. One running joke is that Pencroft is constantly hungry. Every time they find a new species, his question is: "Can you eat it?" Environmentalists everywhere would scream reading this book.
When the group initially lands on the island, of course, they have absolutely nothing. One of their group gets into trouble and then is mysteriously rescued; then they discover a chest of clothing and supplies sitting on the beach. Pretty soon they figure out that they aren't alone on the island...
The Mysterious Island is a good read, though somewhat stiff by today's standards. The adventure parts are interspersed with pages of straight-up chemistry whereby the engineer explains how the group is going to make gunpowder, why he knows the island contains iron ore and so on, which absolutely kills the suspense. But you can skim these parts. It's kind of like reading Tom Clancy where you blip over the parts describing tanks and aircraft in loving detail.
To get back to my initial point, I've been completely converted to the concept of e-readers. I continue to buy and read print books, and I don't think print will ever go away - nor should it. But the equipment is inexpensive and lasts a long time. I've had my Kindle for four years and it's still going strong. It's an older model to be sure, but I have not felt the need to purchase a new one. If you have been considering the purchase, or have bought one but aren't sure what to do with it, the free options alone are worth it in my opinion. Give it a shot.
Special interest crime is a fad that will die a natural death, as superficially attractive as it may be. Can't imagine Marlowe stocking his outer office coffee table (not that he had one) with homemaker magazines.
Our MD recommended the Kindle, and this summer I took his advice and got my husband and myself matching Kindles. Dean didn't even know what it was when he unwrapped it! But after getting set up (we had to open a new Amazon account for him because it had been so long since he'd bought anything, he'd forgotten his password!) he began to get the hang of it. Now he loves it! He's found all sorts of rare and self-published items on subjects that interest him, like Byzantine history, and we're no longer stumbling over books that have slipped onto the floor because there's no place on the shelf to hold them! I bought Ashok Banker's 8-volume Ramayana series for just $10; that wouldn't have been enough to buy the print version of just ONE of the volumes. So I figure the Kindle pretty much paid for itself right there. I'm just starting to discover all the free classics available, too.