Since it appears that for the near future (and I do not know how long that will be), I will be a bit of a vagabond on the face of the earth, spending my weekdays in hotels in the Pacific Northwest, and my weekends at home in Portland, I have decided that I need some good reading materials to keep my brain occupied as well as “lighter” material for resting and relaxing. Desiring not to spend any money on this task, and having a Kindle reader on my laptop, I went to Amazon.com and looked up their free books, wondering what sort of materials they had available for free download to take up either temporary or permanent residence on the laptop for reading materials. One thing I quickly discovered in looking for good reading material is that the sort of books I like the most are not always the easiest books to find.
I downloaded about 30 books or so, which is not unreasonable for the sort of traveling I expect to do in the coming weeks, but it took me about 2000 books or so to find those ones I most wanted to read. This is not to say that all of the other books that I did not download were junk, just that I did not want to download them at this particular time. There was a lot of chaff to get a few books that I wanted to read, though. It is staggering to my imagination just how much really trashy romance fiction is available for the reading public. Does anyone actually read books about inexperienced mistresses or people who marry by mistake, Amish or frontier romances, or the romantic adventures of new girls or supernatural romances about vampires and werewolves. Of the two to three thousand books I looked at, I would venture to say that at least three quarters of them were romances. Now, those who know me well (which may not be that many people, I suppose) will understand that as far as fellows go, I happen to be rather romantic by nature (whether that means openly admitting my love of Jane Austen, or the fact that when I am interested in a young lady, poetry tends to be a natural consequence of the attraction), but such interest as I have in romance does not extend to being a fan of the sort of romantic fiction that seems to be produced and consumed. My own tastes in romance are well-represented by Jane Austen, being a fan of wit and a combination of chasteness and passion, along with a concern for pragmatic reality that means that the romantic elements are tinged by a realism that can occasionally skirt or include tragedy. It does not seem as if that particular blend of qualities is well-represented in contemporary fiction (though it still exists in historical fiction).
Once one takes out the romance books (aside from the several Jane Austen books I downloaded for pleasure reading), the remaining books are a mixture of materials that include subjects of personal interest. There were quite a lot of works of classic materials–great books (I would put Austen’s works in this category myself), ranging from history to philosophy to fiction. I downloaded a few of these as “light” reading, and a few of them (including works by Plato, Aristotle, Pascal, Hulme, and Marcus Aurelius, and a couple of Chinese military books, including one I had never read, as heavier reading). Beyond that, there were a lot of self-help books, including books on diet, business, eastern philosophy and religion, and technical matters. Some of these were books I found to be interesting and worthy of reading as well, though there were a lot of books that I did not find so worthy. Another fairly large collection of free books was Christian materials, though this was not as extensive a collection as I would have liked to have seen (except that R.C. Sproul had a lot of free materials, apparently short pamphlet works on common Christian questions, none of which I downloaded). I found some of the Christian works to be worthy of investigation, so I downloaded some and will review them as time and interest permit.
It is rather a cliche that one gets what one pays for. This is not entirely true, but that which one can get for free is going to require a great deal of discernment in order to find what is worthwhile to fill one’s time and attention with. What is true of, say, blogs is equally true of e-books or any other free medium. One has to spend time sifting through material to find what is worthwhile if one wants high quality for a low (or nonexistent) cost. If one is not willing to spend the time to ensure one is filling one’s life with material of worth, one will fill one’s life with material that is pretty shoddy and worthless. If one wants material of quality without spending any time in the matter, one will probably spend (more) money by relying on those whose judgment is trustworthy and who have taken the time to examine and wiegh and balance and sift what is available for your benefit. Either way, one does not get high quality goods and services for no cost without some expenditure of time and effort. We get to pick and choose among the options, but there are always tradeoffs. Since I did not want to spend money and wanted good materials, I was willing to spend the time to do so, even if it made me (more) hungry to look at all of the materials about old-fashioned cookbooks and the like. I suppose that working on feeding my mind only makes me want to feed the belly as well. Such is the life, I suppose.