Sunday 6 December 2009

Snowed under

And the snow did come, punctual as ever, on my second day in New York. By the time I got back to my hotel in Short Hills, there were already a couple of inches of snow on the ground. The Christmas-decorated mansions in Summit, surrounded by white lawns and trees, seemed a postcard picture.

Before coming to New York, I had heard and read reports that Kindle had taken roots in America. Apparently more than a million Kindles have been sold over here, and publishers reckon that by 2015 thirty per cent of the sales will be electronic books, with futurologists predicting that mobile phones will be the tool of choice for most e-book readers.

Over the past couple of days I have used public transport and been in a few coffee shops, but did not see a single Kindle around. What I did see is lots of people watching movies from their phone or from a portable DVD-reader. But I also saw people reading traditional newspapers and magazines (not many books, admittedly!). Could it be only a little bit of hype?

I had lunch in town with Tom Lathrop, the excellent translator of our new edition of Don Quixote (to be published in May 2010) and his lovely wife Connie. He spent twenty years translating Cervantes's masterpiece, and he recently retired from his University teaching post. I asked him about the origins of his unusual family name, and he explained that the name comes from Britain, of all places – apparently his ancestor was a clergyman who left England in a bit of a hurry in the 1620s – not alone, but with a mistress.

I was surprised to learn he is not only a translator but also the publisher of over three hundred works both in English and in Spanish. He told me that he has converted all his vynils into iTunes, and showed me his iPhone with the mobile-phone version of Kindle (he also has the stand-alone version). I am always impressed and in awe with people who are more techno-savvy than I am, especially if they are from an older generation.

I wish I could grab a copy of yesterday's The Guardian: there a great review of Stefan Zweig's The World of Yesterday (translated by Anthea Bell and published by Pushkin Press), and a wonderful review by Jay Parini of The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy. But then, I could it read it online for free (sigh!).


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