Archive for the Rotten Category

How (Not) to Crash a College Class

Posted in Rotten with tags , , , , , on August 5, 2012 by davehurwitz
Where did all the students go?

Beautiful U.C. Sunnydale… Just Kidding.

I’ve been a college professor for fourteen years now.  In that time, I’ve seen some pretty silly behavior.  It is not, for example, all that unusual for students (usually women) to show up for an early class in pajamas and fuzzy slippers, toting a large cup of coffee.  Then there’s the dude who spent every class break sipping Red Bull, smoking cigarettes, and taking puffs off an asthma inhaler.  Or the guy who left my class in a huff (and never came back) because we read an article explaining why herbal detox products are a scam.

All of which (except maybe the Red Bull and cigarettes) is fairly harmless.  But some of the things that students do in first few days of class, especially when it comes to crashing classes, can cause serious aggravation for professors, not to mention other students.

So here, for your benefit, is a list of Things You Shouldn’t Do When Crashing Classes.

Rule #1:  Don’t Lurk.

In professor-speak, a lurker is someone who has been told that a class is full, that there is a long waiting list, that they have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting a spot and that they should go look for open sections, but who takes a seat in the classroom anyway.  The logic of the lurker seems to be that if they take a seat, they must be in the class, right?  Wrong.  There are often more chairs in a classroom than there are spots for students (this is due to state and contractual limits on class size), and in any case, only the professor can add a student.  All the lurker is doing with this strategy is throwing off the attendance count.

(Incidentally, you should never ask a professor to enroll you over the maximum number of students.  While it may be just as easy to lecture to thirty-one people as it is to lecture to thirty, you are asking the professor to grade your work without compensation.  This is like your boss asking you to work a couple extra hours without pay.  Not cool.  Also, you are asking the professor to betray all his unemployed professor friends who just might get some work if new sections are opened to accommodate student overflow.)

There is also a more sophisticated species of lurker who will introduce themselves to the professor and ask politely if they can ‘sit in’ on the class just in case a space becomes available. Less experienced professors will allow this type of lurker to remain, usually after a stern lecture about their slim chances of getting a spot.  This kind of lurker will attend class scrupulously, participate in discussions, and even do homework, all in an effort to impress the professor.  The problem comes at the end of the add period when no spaces have opened up and the lurker is asked to leave.  Having invested all that time and effort, this type of lurker is often reluctant to go.  Professors that I know have had to call the campus police to eject disgruntled lurkers from their classrooms.  So don’t put yourself in that situation.  Don’t lurk.

Rule #2:  Don’t Shop.

A shopper is a student who goes around collecting add codes for multiple sections of the same class or multiple classes that fulfill the same requirement.  Having done this, the shopper decides which class they will ‘keep’ based on which one requires the least work or which professor seems friendliest.  This is all very well for the shopper, but creates problems in the various classes they visited.  Let’s say the shopper visited six sections of a class and obtained four add codes before deciding on the section they wanted.  That leaves three professors who think they have a student but don’t, three professors who will probably hold a spot open on the (incorrect) assumption that the shopper will return.  What that really means is three other students who don’t get a class because some greedy shopper wanted an easy grade.

Moral issues aside, things don’t always go smoothly for shoppers.  It often takes them a few days of shopping around to decide on a class section.  That means that they’ve taken an add code but have vanished from class without using it.  Savvy professors recognize this sort of behavior and assume that the shopper will probably not be coming back.  When the shopper finally does pick a section, they may return to find it already filled by legitimate crashers.  Shoppers who wait too long are in no position to be picky, and often wind up with their second or third choice class, which, given their habits, can set off a domino effect of scrambling to get other classes that fit their new and unexpected schedule.  So don’t shop.  The schedule you save may be your own.

Rule #3:  You are Not a Lawyer.

Inevitably, there are always a few students who enroll in a class and then get dropped from it before the class ever meets.  There are a couple of standard reasons for this.  In my experience, most students who get dropped before opening day didn’t pay their tuition fees on time.  In the second most popular scenario, a student enrolls in the next class in a series on the assumption that they will pass the one they are in now.  When they don’t, the enrollment system automatically drops them from the new class, which they are no longer eligible to take.  Usually, this type of student presents no problem.  Recognizing that they have been legitimately dropped, they will pay their fees or pick a more appropriate class and go about their business like regular crashers.

(The matter is complicated by the fact that sometimes people get dropped during the enrollment period for no damn reason at all.  Last year, due to a clerical error, this happened to literally hundreds of students at my school.  If you really have been dropped from a class in error, a phone call or quick e-mail from your admissions office to the professor goes a long way.)

I will occasionally get students (usually first time freshman) who honestly don’t understand why they have been dropped, or even that they have been dropped.  I don’t mind explaining things to these students, and they usually take it pretty well.  Sometimes, however, people try to argue.  The lawyer student will show up for opening day, usually with a piece of paper showing that they were, at some point, enrolled in the class.  When it becomes clear that they are no longer on the roster, the lawyer student will charge up to the front desk, waving their piece of paper, and demand to be reinstated immediately

The lawyers student is operating under the assumption that because they were in a class at one time that this entitles them to jump the line ahead of wait-listed students and other crashers.  This is simply not true.  If you have been dropped during the enrollment period for non-payment or any other legitimate reason, you have no more right to add a class than any other crasher.  So do yourself and your fellow students a favor, and don’t start an argument you’re not going to win.

And there you have it.  Three Things You Shouldn’t Do When Crashing Classes.

If you’re an incoming freshman, a first time college student in other words, bear in mind that you are the low man on the enrollment priority totem pole.  Be prepared to take whatever classes you can get and stick with them through the end.  If you can manage that for a couple of semesters, you’ll be top dog soon enough.

Dave Hurwitz

Still no students.  Where have they gone?

Maybe it’s Miskatonic University… Never Mind.

Advertisements

A Steampunk Xmas

Posted in Rotten on December 12, 2010 by davehurwitz

Imagine opening a Christmas gift that’s composed of twirling gears built with Victorian craftsmanship. Maybe the gift comes to life, waddling around the floor on mechanical legs. Or perhaps the object is more aesthetic, a mere bauble to amuse and delight its owner. This is the fantasy evoked by steampunk. A what if scenario where technology meets turn of the century charm.

Although we’ve recently crossed our own centennial border, the lure of nineteenth century steampunk is with us even more.

Okay, so you can’t actually have a mechanical creature powered by steam scrabbling around on your living room carpet. But you can come close. Kikkerland designs all sorts of wind up toys for the mechanical aficionado. These are far removed from those tin wind up replicas coming out of China these days.  Kikkerland wind ups wobble, jiggle, and crawl. They really do seem to have a life of their own.

Most of these toys are the brainchild of Chico Bicalho, a designer from Rio de Janeiro. The first wind up I experienced was Critter, sometime in the early nineties. The design firm I worked for was going to help with the promotion of these toys, and we all got a sample Critter. It wobbles and walks like a man with a severe case of hiccups. Very fun.

Critter

The next wind up I purchased only a few years ago was called Le Pinch. This operated like metal inch worm. It has seemingly thousands of tiny plastic gears to give it that pinch movement. It crawls all over my desk.

Le Pinch

For the gammer, you might check out this set of steampunk dice. Although, I think trying to read these number in low light might produce eye strain.

Your best bet on finding steampunk items is on etsy, like this steampunk inspired terrarium called Professor Alexander’s Botanical Vasculum. My wife picked up one of these for me last year and the foliage is still alive. The magnifying class allows close viewing for aspiring botanists. There’s also a solar powered light that you swap out the cover to get purple, green, or red glows. The plants do well out of direct sunlight and need only a drop of water every month or so.

Finally, if you want to experience steampunk firsthand, then why not visit the Gaslight Gathering in San Diego this spring (May 6th – 8th). The Gathering is a steampunk convention disguised as a ride on a dirigible: The ZRA Gaslight. Attendees can purchase tickets as either first class, second class or steerage passengers. This is the first year of this convention, and I’m excited to discover what they’re all about. Check out the Gathering here.


Merry shopping this Christmas season. And please remember to oil your gift so that the gears continue to mesh tightly.

Chris Kalidor

 

Gifts for Goths

Posted in Cinema, Parker, Rotten on December 6, 2009 by davehurwitz

That’s right, gentle readers, Black Friday has come and past.  Time to start thinking seriously about that holiday shopping you’ve been dreading.  Here at The Weekly Rot, we’d like to make that unpleasant task just a little bit easier.  Not sure what to get the horror junkie on your list?  Below are a few humble suggestions.

Thirst on DVD

Thirst DVD

The latest film from Korean auteur Chan-wook Park, creator the Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance).  Thirst is the story of Sang-hyeon, a Catholic priest who volunteers for a deadly series of vaccine trials.  The sole survivor of the experiment, Sang-hyeon emerges with a reputation for saintliness and thirst for human blood.  Insinuating himself into a family who believes in his miraculous powers, Sang-hyeon becomes infatuated with Tae-joo, the young wife of a man he has supposedly healed.  What follows could be described as a mash-up of Interview with a Vampire with The Postman Always Rings Twice, with a bit of The Ring and Rear Window thrown in for good measure.  Thirst is an epic, and not just because of its 133 minute running time.  Regular shifts of plot and tone lead the viewer to believe that Sang-hyeon really has lived a lifetime, from initial horror at his condition, to acceptance, through reckless abandon, and back to a much more weary horror.  His destruction, when it finally arrives, clearly comes as a relief.  As with all of Park’s work, there’s plenty of deeply disturbing, blackly humorous incident in between.  Highly recommended.

Ben Templesmith’s Dracula

The perfect gift for aspiring young Goths who haven’t yet graduated beyond Stephenie Meyer.  The unabridged text of Stoker’s 1897 novel with twenty-seven color illustrations by top horror comix artist Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night, Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, Welcome to Hoxford).  That’s one illustration for each and every chapter.  (Take that, Barry Moser.)  Templesmith’s work here (and elsewhere) is an eerie mix of scratchy pen, dark hued paint, and hazy digital overlays.  A distinctly modern edition of the Victorian classic.  I already own two editions of Dracula, but this book makes me want a third.  (I recommend on-line purchase for this one, as it not stocked at most book stores.)

Brides of Dracula

Richard Stark’s Parker:  The Hunter

Adapted and Illustrated by Darwyn Cooke.

Cooke's ParkerOkay, this isn’t so much a horror item as a noir item, but it’s still a worthy gift.  As regular readers are no doubt aware, I am something of a Richard Stark fanatic.  Even by my exacting standards, Cooke’s adaptation of the first Parker novel is incredibly faithful.  (Cooke even dresses his sets using décor described in the book.)  For once, Parker is allowed to be the brutal bastard he really is.  (It’s also worth noting that this is the only Stark adaptation to receive the author’s unconditional approval.  Neither of the two films based on the book was even allowed to use the name Parker.)  Better yet, the story is presented as a period piece, taking place in 1962, the year of the novel’s composition.  I was unfamiliar with Darwyn Cooke’s work prior to reading this, but his talent is evident here.  Utilizing only black, white, and a murky blue, Cooke’s panels look more like mid-century advertising art than a contemporary comic.  The design on the endpapers would look equally at home on the wall of a jet-age bachelor pad.  This book is a major artistic achievement, as well as a fine introduction to one of crime fiction’s greatest anti-heroes.

Stiff Kitten T-Shirt

You don’t have to be a fan of the sadly defunct band to enjoy the shirt.  C’mon, folks, it’s Zombie Hello Kitty.  What’s not to love?  (For those who care, Stiff Kitten was an alternative rock group out of Birmingham in the mid 90s.  The band fell apart when Stiff Kittenguitarist Keith Barry committed suicide after an argument with singer/bassist Daria Parker about Barry’s heroine use.  Parker is now a fixture on the lesbian folk circuit.)  Buy the shirt exclusively at Ziraxia.  It’s creepy.  It’s cute.  It’s Christmas.

Dave Hurwitz

The Roman Ritual

One more item needs to be added to this list. All through the 70s, 80s and 90s, I’ve yearned to reenact my favorite moments from The Exorcist—the film adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel. (The script was also written by Blatty. Having later read the actual text, the film is incredibly faithful.) Specifically the reading of the Roman Ritual to exorcise Regan.

Sadly, this text was a deep dark secret of the Catholic Church, which had wanted to sweep the whole exorcism thing under the carpet. Fortunately for us, all this changed on January 26, 1999. Pope John Paul II approved the document  De Exorcismus et supplicationibus quibusdam (actually back on October 1st). This paved the way for the official recognition of  “angelic creatures” and the aptly named creaures “who are opposed to God” (aka demons).

This new exorcism ritual replaces the 1614 version. Sadly, I have not yet found the phrase: “The power of Christ compels you.” The Second Vatican Council had been working on all the rituals for the last 30 years, with exorcism being the last on the docket.

You can find the Roman Ritual on eBay or Amazon or at your local Catholic store. Just make sure you get one marked with exorcism. The cost doesn’t get any cheaper than $65. Now go out and kick some demon butt.

Chris Kalidor

Book Review: The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Posted in Book Review, Rotten with tags , on September 6, 2009 by davehurwitz

Book Review:  The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan

The Red Tree

The Red Tree

Somewhere in the vastness of her internet musings, or perhaps in an preface to short story collection (I cannot now find the find passage, though I have tried), Caitlin Kiernan remonstrates with a reader who complained that he “could not find the story” in her stories.  In a way, I see this unnamed critic’s point.  Kiernan’s writing is notoriously short of both incident and resolution.  For example, her story “Standing Water” consists entirely of two bookstore employees getting freaked out by an especially deep, water filled pothole in the alley behind the shop and deciding, wisely no doubt, not to fuck with it.  It’s a far cry from “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and a bit of a shock if you don’t know what you’re getting into.  Throughout her career, Kiernan has consistently refused to stay within the lanes of genre boundaries, explain the origin or “rules” of supernatural manifestations, or to banish evil with a shotgun and a cross in the final chapter.  (The aborted showdown at the climax of Threshold is a marvelous example.)  It is these carefully fostered ambiguities which draw me to Caitlin Kiernan’s writing, though I see how they might drive more conventional readers crazy.  Such people would not enjoy Kiernan’s latest novel.

The Red Tree purports to be the journal of one Sarah Crowe, an Atlanta novelist who has fled to rural Rhode Island after the suicide of her lover, whom she refers to as “Amanda.”  (Suicide and its aftermath are recurring topics in Kiernan’s work.  Chance Matthews of Threshold has lost both her best friend and the Grandmother who raised her.)  Plagued by guilt and unable to write her next novel, Crowe finds a manuscript left behind by the previous tenant of the aged farmhouse she rents.  The manuscript, written by Charles L. Harvey, a sociologist from the local university, details the grisly folklore surrounding a massive red oak on the farm property.  As Sarah learns, Harvey took his own life by hanging himself from the oak five years previously.  Sarah is soon joined by Constance Hopkins, a local painter recently returned from Los Angeles.  Together, they descend into madness and mutual suspicion as they experience or imagine various spooky goings-on.

Threshold

Threshold

Compared to the grandiose shootouts and choreographed mutilations of modern horror films, the major incidents of the book seem small.  Sarah and Constance get lost on their way to visit the red oak, less than a hundred yards from their back door.  Later, Constance explores the cavernous farmhouse basement, only to emerge naked, covered in mud, and speaking in tongues.  (Her first coherent words in English are, to me at least, the most frightening in the book.)  Sarah reaches the oak on her own, only to find a sacrificed rabbit.  Woven in and around these events are Sarah’s guilty dreams of Amanda, tales of mass murder, cannibalism, and lycanthropy from Harvey’s manuscript, and the growing distrust between the two women.  The handling of this last is one of the novel’s great strengths.  Kiernan portrays Hopkins as sympathetic, though increasingly wary.  Nonetheless, there are hints that the artist is not what she seems to be.  Perhaps she is a werewolf, or a suicide’s ghost.  Or maybe just a figment of Crowe’s imagination.

In the end, what the reader gets is not so much a narrative as a bouquet of dark hints, strange moods, and suggestions of the intolerable.  The Red Tree leaves a lingering aftertaste of fear, but that fear has no object, no single definite cause.  We learn in a prologue by her supposed editor that Sarah Crowe dies, that she takes her own life shortly after the book’s final lines.  Not only is the evil in The Red Tree not vanquished, it is never clearly defined.  We are left with more questions than answers.  We are not allowed, as at the end of most horror stories, to shake off the taint of evil and live again.

Dave Hurwitz

Buy The Red Tree from Mysterious Galaxy.
Buy A is for Alien from Subterranean Press.
Visit Kiernan’s Red Tree website.

A is for Alien

A is for Alien

Small Press Spotlight: Centipede Press

Posted in Rotten, Small Press Spotlight with tags on May 24, 2009 by davehurwitz

As you have no doubt gathered from previous posts, when I am not teaching or suffering from strange medical problems, I read.  A lot.  I try to read a book a week, or fifty-two books a year.  I don’t always manage that many, but I usually come close.  I also tend to read obscure books.  This is not to say that I deliberately set out to read out-of-print books or little known authors in order to impress credulous bohemians and annoy my bookseller.  It just tends to work out that way.

Centipede’s luxury edition of Frankenstein

Centipede’s luxury edition of Frankenstein

Over the years, I’ve become dependant on a number of small press publishers to supply me with both old and new books by some of my favorite authors.  Today, and in occasional future posts, I’d like to tell you about a few of these publishers, all of which deserve a wider audience.

For many collectors, Centipede Press is the Rolls Royce of horror publishing.  Centipede’s luxury editions of classic horror novels are justifiably famous in certain circles.  Personally, I’ve been drooling covetously over their edition of Frankenstein—oversized, lavishly bound and illustrated—for years.  But with a price tag of $225, such things will remain forever beyond my reach.  So I was very pleased to learn that Centipede had decided, under its newly created Millipede imprint, to begin publishing affordable trade paperbacks.

I have enjoyed all of Millipede’s horror reprints that I have read so far, including Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon (a Matheson-like account of a psychiatrist’s struggle to evaluate an insubordinate soldier), Fallen Angel by William Hjortsberg (the basis for Alan Parker’s infamous film Angel Heart), The Other by Thomas Tryon, and The Face That Must Die, a masterpiece of psychedelic horror by Ramsey Campbell.  Though these books explore different themes, they share one common characteristic.  They all deal with characters that are dangerously insane.  They also share very high production values:  great cover art and endpapers, elegant interior design, bonus stories and critical content, plus recycled acid-free paper bound in individual signatures.  Better still, prices range between $12 and $17.

Jim Thompson’s Child of Rage

Jim Thompson’s Child of Rage

Unfortunately, I’ve had less success with Millipede’s crime books.  I made it through John Franklin Bardin’s The Deadly Percheron without sustaining permanent brain damage, but it was close call.  I quit a couple of chapters into both of their David Goodis reprints, as well as Fredric Brown’s Here Comes a Candle.  Noir devotees might love these titles, but they just didn’t do it for me.  In fact, the only Millipede crime book I still own is Jim Thompson’s Child of Rage.

Which leads me to another issue.  Go to the Centipede website and check out the price tag on Child of Rage.  That’s right.  Sixty bucks.  I only paid it because I know that I like Thompson and this particular title has been unavailable for many years.  That, and I’ve always wanted to own one of Centipede’s deluxe hardcovers.  While this is not the most I have ever paid for a single book, it comes awfully close.  Had there been a trade edition of this title, I would have bought that instead.  Alas, there wasn’t.

And that’s a problem.  Recently, Centipede seems to have abandoned their affordable trades in favor of increasingly expensive hardbacks.  While I was willing to plunk down $17 to replace a ratty mass market favorite or try an obscure reprint, I’m not willing or able to pay for Centipede’s deluxe books.  And the prices just keep getting higher.  For instance, I would love to own Centipede’s recent edition of Ramsey Campbell’s The Influence, but $150 is far too rich for my under-oxygenated blood.

The $150 print of Ramsey Campbell’s The Influence

The $150 print of Ramsey Campbell’s The Influence

All whining aside, the point here is that Centipede Press has already made and continues to produce some truly beautiful books.  Not all of them will be affordable to every horror fan, but many will.  I strongly recommend them.  I would also suggest that you order directly from Centipede, as finding their titles on the shelves, or even ordering them through your local bookstore, can prove difficult.  One more thing.  Though Centipede’s current website is a great improvement over previous incarnations, it does not always accurately reflect what titles are available in what binding.  (For example, the trade edition of The Other is not listed on the site.)  If you want to know if a particular title is available in a trade edition, it’s best contact Centipede and ask.

Small Press Spotlight will return with more recommendations.  In the mean time, happy reading.

Dave Hurwitz

Severed Heads and Arsenic: The Art of Victorian Lowbrow

Posted in Rotten with tags , on May 17, 2009 by davehurwitz

What do sideshow freaks, strange medical exhibits,  funeral rituals,  Opium dens, and graveyards have in common? Why Madame Talbot of course.

The woman in question is a reclusive self-taught artist holed up in her 135 year-old haunted house in Oregon. Her interest include just about anything that has to do with the Victorian era 19th century. She also has a morbid fascination with Victorian death rituals and mourning techniques, medical antiques, blood letting, and loves visiting old cemeteries and graveyards.

This fascination can be witnessed in the items she has for sale.

Hand painted tombstones

Hand painted tombstones

Vintage medical instruments

Vintage medical instruments

Hand created "stump" dolls

Hand created "stump" dolls

She also creates “curios” out of various vintage (and often macabre) items. Take her shrunken head. Not only is it authentic, but she also includes instructions on how to make your own shrunken head, should you be interested. Here’s a sample:

Shrunken Head

Shrunken Head

How to Prepare a Shrunken-Head After the enemy had been decapitated (preferably while he was still alive), the head is cut off below the neck, taking with it a section of the skin from the chest and back.

On the back of the head, a slit is made starting from the neck going nearly to the top. Once the skin has been successfully pulled away from the skull without damaging the face, the skull is tossed into the river. The eyes are sewn shut with jungle fiber and the lips are pierced with wooden pegs.

She’s also on the lookout for new grisly items. At a recent auction, she picked up a Victorian skin grafting razor (think of a cheese slicer) and a stomach pump in velvet lined case. One wonders what you would do with a cheese sized slice of skin.

Madame Talbot is self-taught in nearly medium she tackles: painting, pen-and-ink illustration, and framed curio exhibits. She is a purist when it comes to creating her Framed Curio Exhibits. No gaffs or fakes here. If it says real human heart, she means real human heart. She creates several curios a without the help of any assistants or  machines (She sews everything by hand using only a needle and thread). She works alone and seems to like it that way.

Sample Curios

Sample Curios

And as with all of her subject matter, Madame Talbot works within traditional Victorian Lowbrow themes that are at once timeless and current, merging the past and present with each individual piece that she creates in order to insure quality and care are of the utmost importance.

Victorian Lowbrow is a term coined by Madame Talbot to describe her work. She describes it as items both Victorian (of, relating to, or belonging to the period of the reign of Queen Victoria) and lowbrow (being uncultivated; vulgar; characteristic of a person who is not cultivated or does not have intellectual tastes). However a perusal through inventory shows a sophisticated array of macabre items guaranteed to send any Victorian steampunk or gothic into a frenzy.

Chris Kalidor

Kindle versus Kindling

Posted in Rotten with tags on May 10, 2009 by davehurwitz
Amazon's Kindle

Amazon's Kindle

I see Amazon is coming out with a newer, larger edition of the Kindle reader.  While most of me loathes the very idea of electronic books, a small part of me would very much like to own one.  This is the part that is continually selling, trading, and giving away books to make room for yet more books.  While my collection is in a perpetual state of turnover, the overall number of books has increased over the years.  I have two bookcases in the living room, not to mention the plank shelf above the front window.  I have books in the kitchen, books in the bathroom (for those moments alone), and books under my bed.  There are graphic novels in my clothes closet, and oversized books on an Ikea shelf in the bedroom.  And those are just my books.  I share my tiny home with two more voracious readers and their collections.  Suddenly, storing dozens or even hundreds of books on one small electronic device doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

Without a doubt, lack of shelf space will force me to surrender to Kindle eventually.  My jazz CDs have already reached critical mass.  These days, I buy music in disc-free download form whenever possible.  For now, though, the disadvantages of electronic books outweigh my logistical difficulties.  What are these disadvantages?

Buried alive in my books

Buried alive in my books

Start-up cost. The new Kindle DX will set you back nearly five-hundred bucks.  The paperback sized version is somewhat cheaper, but the price has not decreased now that a sexier version is on its way.  This is a significant investment for what is, essentially, a very fancy blank book.  The books themselves, just like music downloads, require an additional payment.  Worse still, if you want a digital version of a book you already own, you have to buy it all over again.

Batteries Required. There is no way around it.  The Kindle is an electronic device.  Paper books consume trees, but electronic ones consume power.  I’ve never had a paperback switch off because the charge ran out.  I’ve never had to change and recycle its batteries either.

Goodbye Secondary Market. There is no such things as a used e-book.  Once you buy a Kindle book, you’re stuck with it.  You can’t sell it to a used book store, donate it to the library, or even lend it to a friend.  (Unless you trust your friend with your $500 electronic reader.)  In short, if the book sucks, you can’t recoup any part of your investment.  (On the plus side, maybe this will finally stop ratty copies of Future Shock and Your Erroneous Zones from piling up at thrift stores.)

Limited Selection. While Amazon’s stated goal is to make every book they sell available for the Kindle, that goal is still way off on the horizon.  Right now, there about 275,000 books ready for Kindle download.  That may sound like a lot to some people, but when you consider that my little craftsman cottage contains roughly 2,000 books, it no longer seems that impressive.  The kinds of books for sale also present a problem.  Right now, the digital shelves hold mainly bestsellers and new books by established, mainstream authors.  In other words, books that a large number of people will want to buy.  Trouble is, I don’t read those books.  Right now, I’m in the middle Michael McDowell’s Cold Moon Over Babylon, a twenty-nine year old Southern Gothic that has been out of print since I left elementary school.  Could I read that on a Kindle?  Not a chance.

Cold Moon

Cold Moon

It’s not really as bad as all that.  What is, right now, Kindle’s biggest problem may turn out, in a few years, to be its greatest virtue.  When books become digital, they need never go out of print.  Why would they?  Digital books don’t clutter up warehouses or bookstore shelves.  None of the storage costs that motivate the destruction of unsold books will ever hold true again.  Computers have already changed the way I buy and even trade books.  (If you’re unfamiliar with internet book trading, check out Paperback Swap, my favorite exchange site.)  In a few years, once the technology settles down, I fully expect that Kindle, or something similar, will change the way I read.  Maybe then I can use my shelves for something else.  Anyone got some spare houseplants?

Dave Hurwitz