My Turkish doppelganger

My brother sent me an email saying that a Turkish guitarist I had commended to him looks just like me.  There is, in fact, a strong resemblance.  I actually had not heard the fellow’s music until today, although I probably did commend him to my brother without having heard him.  So here is a picture of my Turkish doppelganger, Erkan Ogur.

erkan ogur

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Prickly Expat Egghead Buys a Kindle E-reader

Readers of my blog may be interested to hear reports of my experiences with the Kindle e-reader.  I purchased the device yesterday.  The one I purchased was the “Wi-fi” model, on the grounds that I would not often need or want to download content while in transit.

Generally speaking, there has been one overwhelmingly pleasant surprise and some minor disappointments.  The overwhelmingly pleasant surprise has to do with the amount of free content available for the Kindle through http://openlibrary.org/subjects/accessible_book

Here are some titles that I have downloaded at no charge in my first day of Kindle ownership:

Austen, Jane:  Pride and Prejudice

Eliot, George:  Middlemarch

Gibbon, Edward:  The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 4

James, William:  The Varieties of Religious Experience

Knight, Frank H.:  Risk, Uncertainty and Profit

Proust, Marcel:  Du côté de chez Swann

Swift, Jonathan:  Gulliver’s Travels

Whitehead, Alfred North:  The Concept of Nature

It appears that many titles are available for Kindle download but are, in practice, barely legible.  Examples are the “Essais” of Montaigne in French and Durkheim’s “Les règles de la méthode sociologique.”  These downloads produced too many illegible characters.  Both works are probably available in English translation Kindle editions that are legible.  It does not appear that the Kindle supports reading texts in Greek.  The quality of the open-source Kindle editions varies considerably, and many of the scans contain heavy underlining.  Users are advised to view the prospective download in the online reader at openlibrary.org prior to download.  Some books, e.g. James’s “Varieties of Religious Experience,” are available in several Kindle-formatted editions, and it looked to me as though the 6th impression of the Longmans edition provided the most readable print combined with relatively little markup of the text.

I originally purchased the Kindle primarily in order to be able to purchase trade books at reduced prices.  The first book of this sort I purchased was “Freefall” by Joseph Stiglitz.  It appears to me that, if I am at home, I would normally prefer to read a book formatted for Kindle on my PC – the Kindle device itself is mainly for being in transit or perhaps for reading in bed.  (I believe that Nicholson Baker reported being very pleased with the Kindle for that purpose.)  But I suspect that I will also be repairing from the computer at a desk to a more comfortable sofa and using the Kindle there.

The true Kindle devoté might want to wear the device around his neck, in order not to lose it.

In practice, it appears that one can accumulate a large and exceedingly rich library of works that are out of copyright on the Kindle.  It may be too much to hope that Amazon would support the reading of Greek, Russian, Hebrew, etc. in future versions of the device.  It would be nice to think that millions of readers will be availing themselves of the opportunity to read classic works on their Kindles.

In future posts, I may report on the ergonomic and technical features and flaws of the Kindle.  My initial reaction is that this is a wonderful waystation along the road of the digitalization of human culture.

Coincidence in a State of Mourning

My mother, who died on December 3, 2010, was living in a large condominium complex for seniors that also had assisted living services.  I asked the management if I could see what she had put in her storage locker in the basement.

There were two empty suitcases and a box filled with papers.  I would like to have one of the empty suitcases, it would come in handy.  One of the suitcases had a plastic label attached to it that said “Ruby Cohn,” with a San Francisco street address.  When I looked at the papers inside the box, there were several envelopes addressed to “Ruby Cohn” and some literary manuscripts.  I realized that the belongings in the locker assigned to my mother did not belong to my mother, but rather to Ruby Cohn.

I knew a Ruby Cohn in San Francisco.  I asked at the desk to see if this were the Ruby Cohn who had taught French and literature at San Francisco State College, where my father had also taught for a few years before he died in 1964, and it was.  I had a survey course in modern European drama from Ruby Cohn at SF State in the winter of 1967, what would normally have been my last semester at Lowell High, but I graduated early from Lowell and took three courses at SF State instead.  This was one of the best courses I ever had, certainly one of the best lecture courses I ever attended.  I have wonderful memories of Ruby Cohn, who was rumored to have had an affair with Samuel Beckett.  I cannot see or hear about a 20th century European play without thinking of Ruby Cohn.  I ran into her several years later.  She was on her way to the library at U.C. Santa Cruz and I was on my way back.  She was a visiting professor there, I think I remember telling her that I was then a graduate student in Classics at Berkeley, so I don’t know exactly what I was doing at Santa Cruz, where I did my undergraduate work.  But she remembered me well and wished me well, I had got an “A” in her upper division course, I was precocious.

I would very much like to own the suitcase that belonged to Ruby Cohn.  It somehow seems destined that I should own it, since it has been sitting around empty in a locker for 2.5 years.  It appears that Ruby Cohn died while at my mother’s complex just before my mother arrived there.  I had no idea that Cohn had ever been there before visiting the locker, nor do I know what sort of physical condition she had been in.  On the one hand, it is not terribly surprising that an older upper middle-class woman on her own who had lived in San Francisco for many years would live in this facility at the end of her life.  On the other hand, it is surprising that the things I discovered in what was supposed to be my mother’s locker turned out to belong not just to someone I knew, but to someone whose influence on my life was  greater than that of all but a few people.

Whether or not I get the suitcase, because I have asked to have it, I think I will interpret this incident as a sign that I am supposed to be writing imaginative works.  I think that is what Ruby Cohn would have wished for me in my later years of relative leisure.

Brief Eulogy

As already noted on my Facebook page, my mother, Barbara Scodel, died on December 3 at the age of 87.  Her health had been deteriorating seriously for about two years, and she had had three major strokes over the past six years or so.  She was a person of great generosity and joie de vivre who had a rich and varied life.

I am the eldest of four children, and my father died when I was 14.  My mother went back to work after my father’s death and saw all the children through college, something that would have been much more difficult to do in today’s harsher economic climes.  She was a woman on her own with four children, a $20,000 insurance settlement, and perhaps $10,000 equity in a house in 1964.  The University of California university system was almost free in those days.

My three younger siblings and I will all miss my mother.