The Experimental Memoir Day 12, Part 1

A year or so ago, Kim’s father bought her a Nook for her birthday. Kim had always spoken against the e-book readers. She liked the feel of the book in her hands, the small, and the look of a book. Books work nicely in many different levels of light. They don’t stop working when the power fails.

Kim is a voracious reader and around our house are various piles of books Kim has been reading. She makes regular trips to the library to pick up new books, and probably spends more time reading each evening than the average American spends watching television, or geeks like me spend on the Internet.

So, it was interesting to see her reaction. The first thing she did was hand the Nook over to me to set it up, configure it, and give it a test drive. I found it an interesting device. Basically, it is running Android, the operating system on more and more telephones. It had wifi connectivity to download books and a micro USB connection so that you could connect it to the computer. I was concerned that only way to get books for the Nook might be to buy them from Barnes and Noble.

Yet I did a bit of research online and found that we could download books from our public library onto the Nook. Shortly before we got the Nook, we had been camping out on Cape Cod. The first few days were rainy and we stopped at the Truro public library. People who summer on Cape Cod, even if they are merely there for a week in a camping trailer, can get a library card. So, we got a card, and checked out some books and movies for the trailer. Back in Connecticut, I did a little research and found that I could check e-books out of the Truro public library for the Nook as well.

Further research revealed many public libraries we could potentially use, including libraries where my mother lives, my sister lives, and Kim’s brother lives. One library that particularly jumped out at me was the New York City Public Library. Apparently, they have an incredible collection of e-books. We could probably work things out for my brother to check out e-books for us there. The New York City Public Library also has another interesting option. People from around the country can purchase a New York City Public Library card for a hundred bucks. We might do that some year as Kim has now read many of the books from our public library.

Doing more research, I checked out Project Guttenberg. This is a project that has been around for a long time, at least by Internet standards. The goal is to put as many public domain texts on the Internet as possible. There is a related project called LibriVox which is an effort to get these texts read and recorded as Audiobooks. I’ve used these audiobooks from time to time on my cellphone and have even burnt a few to CDs to listen to during long car rides, such as our frequent trips to Cape Cod.

I had downloaded a few ebooks Project Guttenberg to load on an ebook reader on my cellphone. I was glad to find I could do it, although the cell phone was not a great device to read the ebooks. The screen was just too small. Nonetheless, I’ve read a few ebooks on my cellphone. I was pleased to find that I could also load Project Guttenberg books to Kim’s Nook, although I’m not sure how many Project Guttenberg books she has read there.

One book that I read on my cell phone was Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis. It talks about the life of George Babbitt, following him through his daily activities, including his boosterism for his local community. It provides and interesting counter point to what I am writing.

Another book that I read several years ago provides another back drop to this week’s stories. In 2000, Robert Putnam wrote a book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. It was based, in part, on an earlier essay he had written, Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital. It was a book that I first read during Gov. Dean’s 2004 Presidential bid. It lamented the decline of civic organizations from the League of Women Voters and Rotary Club to bowling league. An important focus of my activity in the Dean campaign was to help revitalize civic engagement, a task that still needs work today. Social media has changed the nature of our civic involvement and the way we look at social capital, but there is still much more engagement to be encouraged.

All of this provides background to the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast I attended this week. The health center where I work is one of the sponsors of Middnight on Main, an effort to bring a First Night like New Year’s Eve celebration to Middletown, CT. For the past couple of months I’ve been going to Middlesex Chamber of Commerce events to promote Middnight on Main. At the events, I’ve run into various friends from politics and social media.

I’m not sure what time the breakfasts are supposed to start. I believe it is 7:30 in the morning. However, I’ve always arrived early to help set up the Middnight on Main display and greet people as they arrive. On a normal morning, I leave the house around 7:30, but for the Chamber Breakfasts, I’ve been leaving an hour earlier.

At 6:30, the traffic is lighter, although the sky is darker. The drive may be a little further than my drive to work, but it requires less turns and is highway almost all the way. The breakfast takes place in the ballroom of a large hotel just off the Interstate. When I arrive determines how far I have to walk to the main entrance.

This week, the parking lot was full of the large trucks of the line crews that have been in the state working on restoring power after the October snow storm. I walked into the hotel along with others arriving early, and found a couple of my coworkers already there and the display nicely set up. I chatted with others that have been working on Middnight on Main and handed out brochures.

For swag, we’ve been handling out small clear bouncy balls. Inside is fluid filled with some sort of sparking glitter that floats around much like the snow in a snow globe. In the middle is a small electrical device made of a battery, a couple LEDs, one red and one blue, that start to flash when the sensor feels the ball bounced on the floor. Not all of the sensors work, or perhaps some of the batteries are dead or these is some other failure, since several of the balls don’t light up.

Members of the Middnight on Main team bounce the balls on the floor to make sure they light up before handing them out to the arriving guests. The balls are a big draw and many people approach the display to get a ball.

We also have a large wicker basket full of plastic golden kazoos. The basket is very similar to the old wicker laundry basket we had when I was a kid and that I often had to carry out to the clothes line and then later back into the house after the laundry was dry.

It is mostly older men that take the kazoos. Perhaps they remember them from their youth. One man talks about making toys from materials lying around the house; the simple homemade toys that we had before all the toys were manufactured overseas and sold in big box stores or before kids started spending most of their playtime on computer games.

There may be another reason it is the older men that stop to get kazoos for their grandkids. Kazoos can be great fun, but to a parent, they can get annoying after the kids play with them for too long a period. Grandparents, on the other hand, head back home after the visit and don’t need to deal with the continuous pervasive noise that kazoos can create.

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