Life before Amazon.com

“Once we have computer outlets in every home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries where anyone can ask any question and be given answers, be given reference materials, be something you’re interested in knowing, from an early age, however silly it might seem to someone else… that’s what YOU are interested in, and you can ask, and you can find out, and you can do it in your own home, at your own speed, in your own direction, in your own time… Then, everyone would enjoy learning. Nowadays, what people call learning is forced on you, and everyone is forced to learn the same thing on the same day at the same speed in class, and everyone is different.” —Isaac Asimov

Amazon.com logo Amazon.com has an amazing array of books and merchandise available for us with just a the click of a mouse. Their Kindle app is my favorite and I use it to carry eBooks in my iPhone and iPad. Today I would like to talk about what life was like for me before Amazon, a time before the chance to go online and visit other places, shop, or email friends & family.

A month after I turned 6 years old my family moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. My parents bought a house in a blue collar neighborhood and we began living the Post-war, Cold War, Race-for-Space years of the 1950s. It was a time when the man of the house had a job and most of the wives stayed home to raise children and keep house. In our immediate neighborhood we had an Electrical Contractor, 2 electricians, a Masonry Contractor, a detective on the city Police Force, a Service manager for the local Ford dealer, and a lawyer. My father worked at a wholesale plumbing supply warehouse and my mother worked for the utility company.

The most interesting neighbor, for me, lived next door to us. His name was Dick and he reviewed books for The Ft. Lauderdale News & Sun-Sentinel newspaper. To say that Dick had some books at his home was like saying that there is some water at the edge of the beach.

Every room in Dick’s house was lined with bookshelves and stacks of books, 3 deep in some rooms and stacked to the top of the windows. These books were advance copies for review and when he was finished with them Dick willingly shared this wonderland of free books with the neighborhood. The end result of this generosity was a flood of information and entertainment spreading throughout the neighborhood.

In 1963 Dick went to work for The Washington Star newspaper in Washington, D.C. He was reluctant to sell his house in case he did not like the job or the D.C. area, so he shut it down and made a deal with my father: In return for forwarding any mail that the Post Office missed, and for periodic checks of the house for leaks etc., I could have any books that came to the house or were left behind in the house.

Hell's Angels Book CoverFor a young man just starting high school this was akin to having the keys to the candy store. I not only had free books, the books were not even in publication yet. By the time I read them and did a book report on them they were just coming out in the bookstores.

The literature available to me at that time was staggering because a lot of the books were not available in the library at school. Books from such people as Ayn Rand, Hunter S. Thompson, Frank Harris, Tom Wolfe (the other Tom Wolfe, from NYC). it was my opportunity to read whatever I wanted to read from authors that were previously unavailable or unknown to me. The remainder of my high school days were spent savoring the opportunity to read.

While I was away at college in 1966 Dick made the decision to stay in Washington D.C. and he sold the house next door. I don’t know what happened to all the books in Dick’s old house, neither do I remember who bought the place. My life had moved on and at that time I wasn’t looking back.The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby book cover

I was left with a love of old books and I am drawn to old bookstores. Today I am not comfortable in the sterile atmosphere of the Big Box book retailers. I gravitate to the dark crowded aisles of Used Book stores, places where finding a certain book is work. Give me a place where I can wander with no particular book in mind, somewhere that sparks my interest with the sheer volume of available books, the sheer variety of topics, the sheer joy of searching uninterrupted by corporate clerks.

The only constant in life is change, and that applies to me and my love of books. The most recent change in my life is the use of mobile reading platforms, specifically iBooks or the Kindle app. It is convenient for me not to have to carry a book around when I am already carrying a mobile phone. By making use of various apps I can read a book at my leisure wherever I am and with Amazon’s Whispersync feature I can read on one device and pick up where I left off on another device.

Al’s Amazing Discovery: Many libraries offer books online for your reading convenience. The library purchases X-number of licenses for a title and you can download it to your device for a certain period of time. It is just like showing up in person to check out a book.

If you haven’t tried an eBook, I would encourage you to give it a shot. I like holding a dead tree in my hands, but I am growing more fond of wireless living. I have listed below some links to help you try this out:

Thanks for stopping by.

  4 comments for “Life before Amazon.com

  1. July 17, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    That was a very nice post today. Thanks so much for sharing it. I
    really enjoyed reading it very much. You have a great day!

    Like

  2. July 17, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    Great post, Allan. Having recently worked in a library, I can confirm that downloading e-books from the available on-line library collection has been catching on in a big way over the past year. I appreciate that it is very convenient, but personally, I will probably be one of the last hold-outs who will stick to reading the old fashioned dead-tree books. To me, a book is an actual thing, not just a platform for words, however, well-written, useful or informative.
    But I don’t begrudge others their preference for the new technologies.
    I envy your access to that great home-library in your youth. We should all be so lucky.
    Bill

    Like

    • July 18, 2012 at 8:01 am

      Thanks, Bill. You make some good points about books vs. eBooks and it got me thinking this morning: I do have a few books that I use frequently. I write in the margins, highlight passages, underline key words and generally render it unsuitable for resale. The Highlight and Note features of the eBooks are just not the same to me and it is a different experience when I ‘flip’ through the ‘pages’ in the Kindle app. All that aside, it rocks to have books in my pocket at all times so that I can take advantage of an opportunity to read if it presents itself.

      Allan

      Like

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