One tiny silver-lining I was looking forward to with the lockdown was the chance to save a little more cash as working from home everyday meant I’d be spared from much of my daily expenses. There’s the commute, which isn’t really much at face value since I use mostly public transportation and opt for Grab or a taxi only on very rare occasions, and food, which can shoot up to really wild heights as I’m a sucker for steaks, ramen, and unlimited Korean barbecue.
But it turns out the universe follows some law of conservation of expenses: expenses cannot only be created, never destroyed. And when the object of spending disappears, the money only gets channeled elsewhere. That, or I’m really just horrible controlling my spending. In any case, despite never having to leave the house, and in the past four months having gone to the mall only thrice (once for groceries, once for a much-needed haircut, and finally to pick up my MacBook), I seem to have managed to lose just as much cash as I used to, pre-pandemic.
Books made up a lot of my pre-pandemic expenses, and it seems that might continue even into this so-called “new normal”. My impulsiveness towards buying books has existed for as long as I’ve been reading. But since entering my first job and getting a paycheck, it’s only gotten worse. Once of my recent habits is going through the catalogs of pre-loved books from online sellers. The low prices alone are tempting, but they usually include rare titles you’d never find at National Bookstore or Fully Booked. Up until the lockdown, I’d have at least one package of a book or two being delivered to my office.
With the lockdown, however, one might have expected the book purchases to stop. And for a moment, it did: bookstores were closed, and my onlike suki had to pause operations for a while. But that hiatus didn’t take long. Even with delivery services running on low capacity, the online sellers were back, and pretty soon I’m commenting “mine” on books left and right. My suki warned me that my books would probably not get shipped for some time, but that didn’t matter. I told them to just pile my orders and ship them in bulk when they can. That was through May and June, and they just got delivered the other day.
The books’ arrival takes on an ironic note considering that, also in June, I gave in to the temptation of getting myself a Kindle Paperwhite. I’ve been playing with the idea of getting e-reader since college but never got convinced enough to pull the trigger. I have a major paper fetish and so actually feeling the weight and heft of a book and leafing through the pages take on a premium for me. Not to mention that digital files (e.g. e-books) have a feeling of impermanence to them. You can’t see, smell, or touch them. They only exist as a cluster of ones and zeroes on a memory stick.
But really a lot of my other stuff have moved to memory sticks: course notes, journals, what have you. Heck, all my story drafts begin and end as digital files. And since we’re on lockdown, conversations with my girlfriend, friends, and colleagues all take place on software. I figured that a Kindle would not only reduce my book spending (Kindle versions of books tend to cost less than their physical counterparts, plus a lot of the stuff I read have budget editions that can be had on the Amazon store for less than a dollar), it would also alleviate the very urgent problem of no longer having the shelf space for more books. As I write this, my last book purchases are sitting in the corner of my work desk, still waiting for when I finally find the room to squeeze them into.
I got the Kindle through a seller on Lazada who was selling it at a little under its list price on Amazon. It’s the latest generation Paperwhite, with 8 gigabytes of memory. There’s the option to move up to 16 gigabytes but practically speaking it did not seem quite necessary. Amazon gives you free cloud storage with your Kindle so you don’t need to save everything locally, only those you’re currently reading (I tried researching on the limit for the cloud storage but have yet to find an authoritative source). Not to mention with the swarm of unread books on my shelf, my Kindle is really only likely to make up a small percentage of my overall reading.
Right now the big advantage I’m seeing with the Kindle is that I can take on doorstoppers like William Gaddis’s The Recognitions (which I’m currently in the middle of) without them taking up a huge space – and giving significant weight – to my bags in case I ever have to leave the house. This has been a primary reason why I’ve stuck with mostly small paperbacks, no more than 500 pages and with thin leaves, as most of my pre-quarantine reads happened on the bus, on the two- to four-hour commute to and from Ortigas. Any large book would have had to stay at home as a weekend read. Another big plus with Kindle: I can read in the dark now, which means I can sneak in a little more reading time just before I go to bed.
And yes, the Kindle has a name: Sumire, the aspiring novelist in Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart.