Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Kindle Goes to Italy

I posted my reading plan for next year here on the blog under the tab "2012 Calendar." I have a typical annual plan that I try to fit each year's books into. For instance, I usually devote the winter and spring to (1) works that are harder to read for one reason or another, (2) books I take extensive notes on, (3) and some dessert reading as reward for the tough work. Shakespeare goes in the summer just because that's the way I've been doing it. And so on.

But I didn't follow my usual routine in setting up the schedule for 2012, because I had a special consideration to keep in mind: my university is sending me to Arezzo, Italy, for the spring semester, January to May. A trip to Italy and an extensive, particular reading plan don't necessarily go together easily, and I thought about it for several months before hitting on the solution to the problem.

I first thought of just delaying my reading for half a year or even a whole year. But I realized I couldn't go five months without reading, and I might as well read books on my plan as something else. So then I thought about taking only the longest, densest books to get the most reading time out of the least suitcase space. The Great Books volumes would work well in this way, but I started balking at the thought of checking all that weight.

And then I remembered the Kindle and all the internet sources for classic literature, and my plan started to coalesce. After typing out the complete list of works to read next year and looking online at,, etc. to see what I could find, I ended up downloading and installing on the Kindle 34 files, all absolutely free. Well, OK, the Kindle, the computer, the electric power, and the internet service are far from free, but the files themselves cost nothing. Then it was just a matter of arranging the list so the Kindle works all came in the first half of the year.

The Greek classics stay in their usual place at the beginning of the year: plays by Euripides and Sophocles, Platonic dialogs, and various books by Aristotle. The translations available online are as old-fashioned as they are free, but then so are the translations in the Britannica set. For Virgil, I downloaded two translations, one verse and one prose, so I'll have a choice. Dickens stays in the winter as the perfect palette cleanser to some of the tough reading, but I moved Trollope up from his usual place in November. I also moved up some Christian theological works since they were available online. I usually like to spread out Aquinas, the Church Fathers, early modern Christian authors, and Augustine over the year so I'm always within sight of reading theology at any time in the schedule, but Dionysius and Edwards reside now in the public-domain etherworld, so they ended up on my Kindle and on my schedule for February and May.

I will take a small number of physical books with me. I write a lot of notes in the pages of the Summa Theologica as well as on my large computer file (well over 200 pages now), so one volume of Aquinas will take the trip with me. I also want to take the Oxford edition of Bleak House: besides the excellent editorial notes, each volume in the Oxford series of Dickens's works includes the transcription of the author's working notes for the book and reproductions of all the glorious original illustrations that did so much to give the reading world its collective idea of how Dickens's characters look. And I'm thinking of taking one other large book just to help occupy fourteen hours of airports and flights on the way home.

But for the most part, I'll read on my Kindle for five months. It's small and light, holds 1500 books, and casts a clear image without much glare, even under the Tuscan sun.

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