A note from the High Sheriff…

Back in the mid-2000s, I was on the road a lot for work. Flying in and out of Memphis to points unknown with a bag of books in addition to whatever else I needed for a road stand was, if nothing else, inconvenient. Fortunately, this was about the time the first e-readers were coming to market. They were a godsend – stowing hundreds of books in a space no bigger than a writing tablet. I was a fairly early adopter, though even the best “electronic ink” was never a full replacement for the look and heft of a proper book.

In the last decade, I’ve gotten considerably more settled. Not worrying about fitting things into a carryon bag or needing to box up hundreds (thousands?) of pounds of books every couple of years to move has allowed the collection to grow unchecked by considerations other than price. For the most part, that’s been a net good, save for one minor issue. 

Those couple of years of fully embracing e-readers have left me with some gaps on the shelf – mostly series I started reading electronically, but then picked up in its traditional printed format later. I’d slowly add in some of the “missing” books when I’d find them lurking in some dusty shop, but progress was slow and unpredictable. 

With the Great Plague still keeping me from ratting around used book shops, but the monthly budget line for books still being intact, it presented an opportunity. For the last few months, I’ve been focused on collecting up some of the print books missing from my collection, particularly two of my favorite historical fiction authors. I’m nearly there with Edward Rutherfurd, who writes huge, wonderful, wide-ranging, doorstops. Bernard Cornwell, the more prolific of the two, remains, at best, a very partial collection – though I’ve rounded out several of his series, as well.

It’s collecting Cornwell that sparked this post. The most recent addition, a middle book of his “Starbuck Chronicles,” arrived fresh from the UK last week. Tucked inside the front cover, was a handwritten note from the book’s original owner – Brigadier Charles Edward Wilkinson, CBE TD DL, High Sheriff of Derbyshire. It’s not finding Napoleon’s prayer book long forgotten in a Paris shop or a copy of the Declaration of Independence hidden in a portrait frame, but it’s a happy little reminder that these books have a history – even the ones somewhat derisively sneered at and labeled “hyper-moderns.” 

Their value isn’t just in what I paid for them last month or what they’ll command at auction next week or six months from now. If all I’ve done in aggregating these “new books” is ensure that a hundred years from now one or two of these copies make it into a future collection at the hand of someone who treasures them, it’s been time and money well spent. In the long history of the written word, it’s mostly been the random people with shelves packed tight with text that ensured that what are now our most rare works survived. I like to imagine, in my own small way, that I’m part of that unbroken tradition. 


Thanks to Amazon, my Kindle is now happily stocked with what could well be months of reading material – ranging from the Battle of Jutland to the reign of Richard III to fiction of a decidedly pulp variety. It makes me happier than it probably should.

I’ll admit that I was a holdout during the formative years of the e-reader, but I’ve come to appreciate it all the more as time goes by. While I miss the more frequent binge visits to the book store, there’s something deeply satisfying about having the preponderance of whatever you may want to read available at the stroke of a few keys.

I suppose I have to grudgingly admit that the pre-Cyber Monday sales from Amazon where good for something after all. I’ve heard it said that you can’t buy happiness, but as long as you can buy books, I’m not at all sure that’s true.

A piece of work…

Without the kind of fanfare that accompanies something like an Apple Watch or iPhone, Amazon rolled out its latest and greatest e-ink reader today. It’s been my experience that people who spend a lot of their time reading are not necessarily the wild, loud, in your face types. That the Voyage showed up lacking in heraldry and great celebration feels almost fitting for the demographic it’s intended to serve.

I haven’t had any hands on experience yet, but the reviews I’ve read tout is as a best in class e-reader. That’s not exactly a surprise considering it predecessors were mostly best in class devices themselves when they arrived. I should go on the record saying that I like my current Kindle Paperwhite. It’s not a tablet. It doesn’t even pretend to be. Its mission in life is to replicate the look of a real paper reading experience as close as possible using an electronic medium. It took me some time to get with the program, but once I did I haven’t looked back. I couldn’t tell you the last paper book I purchased for myself. Having all the books at my fingertips is simply too great a temptation to resist.

If the iPhone is the Swiss army knife of consumer electronic communications, surely Kindle is the Ka-Bar equivalent – a single fixed blade designed to do exactly one thing and to do it with savage precision. I have no doubt that the new Voyage lives up to Amazon’s well deserved reputation building the kings of the e-reader universe.

I’d have my order in already if it weren’t for one pesky detail – the $199 entry-level price point ($219 if you don’t want built in advertisements). At that price, I’m going to have to sit the upgrade out for the time being. Although Voyage is technically superior in nearly every respect to my nearly two year old first generation Paperwhite that old model is still an incredibly reliable device that’s delivering rock solid performance every day. As much as I want to I can’t find a good enough reason to put it out to pasture yet – not even with a $40 Amazon gift card thrown into the mix.

When I’m willing to hang on to two year old tech because it’s still that good, you can best believe it’s a piece of work. In the best possible way.


So it seems that Apple is going to go ahead an announce the iPad Mini next week. Between now and then I’ll be doing my best to convince myself that trading in a six month old full sized iPad for a smaller version is a bad idea. I’m serious this time. Unless there are some pretty damned compelling features, I’m most likely going to be sitting this one out… although I won’t lie, it would be nice to have all my i-devices using a standard power source again. Keeping up with the old 30-pin docking cord and the new lightning cord has been a legitimate hassle, but I’m not sure it’s been enough of a hassle to justify switching devices in the middle of the product cycle. Even so, I’ll be watching next week’s media event with some serious interest.

Complicating matters even more, is the notion I’ve been kicking around of retiring my original Kindle keyboard e-reader in favor of the new Paperwhite model. I love reading on the Kindle. It does one thing and it does that one thing incredibly well. Even though Kindlem, to me, is a better reading exoerience, I default to the iPad for reading at night for the simple reason that it doesn’t require keeping a light on to do it. The front-lit Paperwhite appears to be the solution to needing either a backlit screen or an external light source at night. I’d really like to give it a test drive for a few nights and see how it handles. Sometimes I think it’s a real pity that there’s so much amazing tech on the market right now and so few hours in which to play with it all… but usually I just lump it into the category called “Awesome.”


I’ve liked books since I was a kid. In 5th grade when the other kids wanted to play kickball, I had my nose buried in a biography of Douglas MacArthur. Seems I could never walk by a book store without at least popping in for a look and I would never have dreamt of leaving the house without a least one book stashed somewhere. Unfortunately, stashed is usually where they would end up staying. It would take me months to read a book carving out five or ten minutes at a time to focus on it.

I’ve been hesitant, even hostile, to the idea of using an e-reader. In fact, I blasted the concept pretty roundly right here not so very long ago. The historian in me couldn’t quite come to terms with the idea that books could be anything other than words printed on paper and bound. It seems that, at least in this case, I may have been misinformed.

I’ve bene regularly using the Kindle app on my iPad for the last few months and my book consumption has been way up. As much as I hate to admit it, it just makes reading more convenient. Since the Kindle app crosses devices, I can start a page on my iPad and then finish the same page on my iPhone without missing a word. The app records where I stopped and picks up there regardless of what device I happen have in my hand. Add in over-the-air downloads from Amazon and it’s pure convenience… and we all know how I feel about that.

The e-reader has basically replaced the printed book for me. I don’t anticipate that the books filling shelves in the office will ever go anywhere, but I definitely won’t be adding to their number nearly as often. Of course some titles aren’t electronic and some may never be, so I suspect that there will always be room in my heart for both print and electronic books, but for sheer ease of use, I’m officially leaning way into the electronic camp. If you’re a reader and haven’t given it a chance yet, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.