A special gift

I’m one of those maddening people who, when you ask them what they want for Christmas/birthday/Mother’s Day say, “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t really need anything …”

And I’m (like all those other maddening people) perfectly sincere. I really don’t need anything. There are things I want, but that’s different. Frivolous. I don’t like asking for things that I want but don’t need. And I’m especially careful about asking for expensive gifts.

There was a time, not so long ago, when I never even had to think about that last – there wasn’t enough money in our bank account at any given moment to even consider a gift that cost over $25. But today, even with the poor economy, I have to be mindful because my sweet Mr Wren generally isn’t. He doesn’t buy a lot of things, but when he does, he tends to go overboard.

When he asked me what I wanted for Christmas a few weeks ago, I gave him the stock answer. He rolled his eyes – just like I do when people give me that response. Come on, I always think, help me out here! They don’t. And I didn’t help Mr Wren, either.

Fast forward to Christmas morning. Here we all sit in the living room, each one of us with a small pile of gifts. We start opening them. I get a beautiful, sparkly bracelet from Cary and Matt, and a comfy warm-up suit in royal blue (my favorite color) from my mother.

I pick up the wrapped gift from Mr Wren. It’s smallish. Solid. I shake it. Nothing moves. He sits there next to me, grinning. “Open it,” he urges. Matt and Cary stop opening their presents to watch. They’re grinning too.

What in the world? I think, and I tear off the ribbons and paper. And … OMG. It’s a Kindle.

I have always, since I was very small, loved to read. And I love books. I love the heft, the feel, even the smell of books. I love thinking about the process – of the author hunched over a desk, writing, lost in her imagination; of the publisher reading the manuscript and deciding the story is worth publishing; of the editor and author working together to clean and hone and polish the words so that the reader forgets she’s even reading; of the graphic designer choosing the font and style and perfecting the appearance of the book; of the typesetting, the huge presses, the book-grade paper, the ink; of the end-papers and the binding. As a reader, opening a new book is the first step of an adventure to me. If it’s a good one, I can fall right into the page and disappear.

There really is little in this world that I love more than reading a good book.

But rheumatoid arthritis has taken much of that pleasure away from me these last two years. I can no longer comfortably read a book for very long. My hands throb and ache. It’s an effort of will to grasp it, even if it’s not very heavy. My fingers are fumbly, making it difficult to turn the pages. As a result, I do most of my reading on the computer these days. But it’s not books I’m reading – instead I read blogs, news sites and other sites that catch my interest. They’re good, but none of them are stories. None are fictional, springing fresh from a writer’s imagination. Being unable to experience that particular form of creativity has saddened me, but I’ve accepted it.

I’ve found that I can listen to audio books if I’m driving, but in just about any other situation I can’t keep my mind on the reader and the story. I’m too distractible. I get antsy. I’m constantly losing my concentration and having to back up and listen all over again. This destroys the continuity of the story and annoys me – mostly at myself.

About six months ago I read a blogger’s post about the Kindle. He was considering getting one, but was holding off because like me, he loves books. He loves the physicality of books. And yet, he wrote that he could see the draw of an electronic reading device. No need to buy and find space for more bookshelves. Digital books were less expensive than the ones made of paper and ink. He wouldn’t have to lug a 450-page tome around anymore. There were upsides to getting an e-reader even though he found it disturbing to let go of traditional ink, paper and fabric books.

I found myself agreeing with the entire post, but for me, getting an e-reader wasn’t even something to consider. They were far, far too expensive, for one thing. Amazingly, prohibitively expensive. And because I love my books, I really couldn’t imagine trying to read them on an electronic screen, minus the solid weight of the book in my hands, even as sore as they were. I blogged about it myself.

I told Mr Wren about it, mentioned my frustration with how rheuma made holding a traditional book too painful for me, but how I also found both the techie coldness and the high cost of an e-reader sort of off-putting. He listened. Nodded.

And he remembered.

So I am now the surprised owner of an Amazon Kindle e-reader. And you know what? Forget all that techie coldness stuff. I absolutely love this thing. I feel like I’m living in Star Trek time. The Kindle is so light – it weighs only 10.2 ounces — that it’s mostly painless for me to hold onto. I can (and have) increased the size of the font to accommodate my dimming, middle-aged vision and find pressing the flat buttons on the side of the device to turn pages forward or back an almost automatic response to reaching the end of a page. And to my delight, not only are e-books much less expensive than their paper-and-ink counterparts, there are hundreds and hundreds of them that are free. Anna Karenina, anyone? Pride and Prejudice? The Invisible Man?

I am so happy with this gift – and Mr Wren’s sweet thoughtfulness – my eyes tear up every time I think of it. He spent wayyyy too much on this gift, but I’ve already forgiven him. He made this Christmas a particularly special, very merry one for me. Mr Wren gave me back my books.

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5 Responses to “A special gift”

  1. That’s terrific! so read away for I’ve heard rumors there’s an endless supplies of books.

    We solved the gift issue by agreeing to not give presents to each other. As it has turned out the holiday meal becomes the focus and it is oh so much more enjoyable.

  2. The major part of our day was the meal, too, Bill. We had a roast Christmas goose with all the trimmings, a ham and several different vegetables. A cranberry tart with Grand Marnier-tinged whipped cream for desert. I love cooking, so it was fun making this feast, though I did have to ask for help several times. I didn’t mind.

    Now that the kids are grown up, Christmas isn’t so much about Santa Claus and gifts (though I’m still delighted with my Kindle!). It’s more about simply enjoying the day and the hope of the new year.

  3. carlascorner Says:

    Wren:

    Congrats on your Kindle. I love mine. I’ve only had it a couple of months and it’s traveled with me to London and Las Vegas as well as many hours in doctors waiting rooms. Like you, I love the feel of the book, but I’ve quickly adapted to the Kindle (and I love the prices of the books and the fact that I’m not killing trees). I have splurged and bought a nice leather cover to protect mine which makes it feel more like a book.

    My big problem is that I’ve now got about a dozen books downloaded and I’m not sure when I’m going to get to read them all! (What a problem to have.)

  4. What a fantastic and loving gift! I haven’t seen a kindle yet, but I’d like to, just to get a feel for it. I’ve read a lot of very positive things about it, all from devout readers.

    Happy New Year, Wren!

  5. What a thoughtful gift. And score one for humane technology (when so much of it is inhumane)! Just so great that it’s able to make the pleasure of reading books enjoyable for you again. Keep us posted!

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