Kindling Controversy

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E-books are harder to burn...

I asked for an Amazon Kindle for my birthday. Like Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” I have been haunted ever since. In my dreams, I visit the destitute families of the former owners of small, independent book stores. The youngest, a cripple, gives thanks before a paltry meal, declaring, “God bless us, every one — even that mean old Mr. Peake, the last person on Earth we thought would betray the printed book!” I wake in a sweat.

And yet, it is precisely because I love literature that I decided to try buying it digitally. None of the typical reasons for e-books really tipped me over the edge. Nor did the counter-arguments counteract the most compelling reason I have to take the plunge. Our small cottage is lined with book shelves. We moved five times in five years during the U.S. housing boom, when landlord after landlord decided to sell at the end of our one-year lease. That meant schlepping dozens of bankers boxes full of books — heavy books! — from one home to the next.

As a teenager, I watched “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” repeatedly. This 1970s Zeffirelli bio pic of St. Francis, complete with a soundtrack by Donovan, features the overacting of Graham Faulkner as the crusader-turned-saint. The scene that stayed with me is the moment of Francis’ enlightenment, when he strips naked and begins flinging his worldly possessions — and those of his rich father — out the window, into the arms of a receptive crowd of peasants below. That’s pretty much how I left college (though I kept my clothes.) And, while I miss my record collection (and my parents could have used the futon), the idea of simplifying my possessions — if not to enlighten myself, at least to lighten my stance — remains compelling.
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