September 2011

The digital tree

By David Feela

When Amazon announced it currently sells more Kindle electronic book downloads than it does traditional hardbacks and paperbacks combined, I got to wondering, What do people do with all the electronic books they’ve read? It turns out that technically (and legally), people can do nothing with their consumed tomes except stack them on a theoretical and eternally expanding electronic bookshelf, which never needs to be dusted. Though they bought the book, they don’t actually own it. Their purchase only leases the rights to read and reread the material.

So it turns out the e-book doesn’t fall very far from the digital tree.

Recently at a thrift store I leaned against a physical set of shelving while I considered the purchase of an old-fashioned book. I cradled the binding in one hand and flipped a few pages. The background had slightly yellowed but it was bright enough to read without readjusting or recharging. If not, I could simply step closer to a window. If I didn’t like the story, I could give it to a friend or donate it to another thrift store where somebody with more eclectic taste than mine was bound to (don’t think Facebook) like it.

Here was a concept on the verge of being buried: A product that didn’t come with a service trail.

While I browsed the bookshelves, a tween stepped into the aisle with his little sister in tow. They stopped to stare at the wall of VHS films the store displayed. There were literally hundreds. “These are movies,” the brother explained.

DVD technology has apparently prompted the same kind of readjustment among these young movie fans that Kindle has foisted off on me, a change in format, complete with the claim that our lives will be more sophisticated. The girl looked up at her big brother with an obvious sense of awe.

“I want to see this one,” she insisted, pulling a video off the shelf.

“You can’t see that one, it would give you nightmares,” he explained.


“It’s a Stephen King.”

“I seen a Stephen King before.” “No, you haven’t, mom and dad wouldn’t let you.”

“They don’t let you either.”

“I’m older.”

“When will I be older?”

“Maybe when you’re as tall as me.”

“I’m almost that tall.”

“But you’re not tall enough for Stephen King.”

“How tall is he?”

“It doesn’t matter, he’s just more sophisticated.”

“What’s sophisticated?”

“He can read.”

“I can read.”

“No, you can’t.”

“I can too.”

“Find a different movie, I’ll be over there looking for a book.”

“What are you going to read?”

“Somebody told me Stephen King writes books too.”

As the boy passed by me, scanning the wall of books, I reached up and pulled a copy of “The Stand” off a shelf. “Here you go, kid, an ancient pre-movie incarnation of Stephen King.”

“Thanks,” he said, scrutinizing the cover art.

He’d never have spotted the book, way up there on a top shelf. Only then did I realize I had picked a piece of non-digital fruit, and downloaded it in the most original way.

David Feela writes from Montezuma County, Colo.