I don’t usually pre-order books. In fact, before I bought my Kindle last year, I had pretty much stopped buying books. I learned to use the library. I still love the library, and I can still check out books on my Kindle. However, much of my aversion to buying books was the storing of them.
Books take up space. They are heavy. And when you and your husband have acquired almost twenty book-boxes worth of books (even after several bookshelf purges and trips to sell used books back to Powells), you begin to think hard before buying more books. Especially when you are mostly living out of a suitcase and those twenty boxes of books are somewhere collecting dust and slowly collapsing in a storage closet.
So I’d mostly stopped buying books. Until the Kindle. Now books are just (heavily DRMed) bits of data that can easily be stored in that magical data cloud somewhere in Eastern Washington, or some other landscape deemed less than ideal for humans. Now I increasingly find myself forgetting to check the library and just pushing the magical “deliver to my Kindle” button. Amazon loves me. But that’s not new. They’ve loved me since 1999.
Even though I have found myself buying more books, rarely do I pre-order them. Usually I wait for the price to drop down to that magical $9.99 price point before I hit the button. Why should I pay more for my book just because I love the author so much that I have been eagerly awaiting the release of their new book and HAVE TO HAVE IT as soon as it hits the (virtual) shelves. (Yes, I know there are economics and logic behind the initial astronomical pre-order price. I resist it. Deal with it.) I make exceptions for authors I particularly love (like Neil Gaiman) and books I know I am going to read immediately upon release (like Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue). (Resistance is futile.)
Which brings us to last week, when I (finally) hit the pre-order button on Neil Gaiman’s latest book The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I follow him on Twitter and I read his blog, so I’d known this was coming for a while. And I’d known that it was going to be special. I knew I would read it and I knew I would buy it. (When I first bought my Kindle, I purchased digital editions of American Gods and Neverwhere even though I’d already read them in paperback.) I haven’t read all his books and I’ve only read a handful of the Sandman comics, but I really enjoy his stories. He creates these darkly magical worlds that it is almost possible to believe could actually exist. Or maybe by the time you’re done reading his books you really want them to exist. Either way, I knew I would be buying his latest book.
However, reading a Neil Gaiman book is sort of like enjoying expensive dark chocolate or a perfectly aged bottle of wine. You want to find an uninterrupted period of time where you can really savor it and immerse yourself in the experience without having to jump up and go do something practical. Like work.
So, I hesitated about the pre-order because books (like new music, but unlike new movies) are traditionally released on Tuesdays. Tuesday the work week is just getting started. This was not a book I wanted to read in 30 minute stretches on my commute. This book needed a weekend. Or a dark and stormy night. I hadn’t even read an excerpt and I knew this instinctively It’s Neil Gaiman, after all. I finally hit the pre-order button anyway — knowing I would resist reading it until the perfect circumstances presented themselves.
I thought I would start it on Friday, after work. But I was too keyed up and it just didn’t feel right. So I waited.
I thought I would start it on Saturday, after my morning swim at the outdoor pool. I might even go to The Depot after my swim and read it there over a breakfast sandwich on a croissant washed down with a cappuccino. But it turned out that after my swim I needed to go to the grocery store instead. And even after I finally had my breakfast, it still didn’t feel right. It was a bright, sunny, perfect California day and our neighbors were being too loud entertaining their guests on their porch, loud-talking and laughing in their carefully acquired California Bay-Area dialect. I have no idea what they were talking about, even though, with their porch on the other side of our apartment wall, it sounded as though the party was in our spare bedroom. I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I don’t speak Bay-Area Californian (and I hope I never do…). So I vacuumed the bedroom (to drown them out and hopefully annoy them in return) and I waited.
Then, this morning I woke up to fog and a pleasant chill in the air, welcome after yesterday’s heat. I made myself a bowl of yogurt and granola, put on the kettle, and sat down in my 70s-era lime green chair to read. Just as I finished the prologue the kettle whistled. I smiled, looked out the window at the fog settling over Sausalito, set down my Kindle and got up to make my first mug of tea. Today is the perfect day to read this book.