June 19, 2014

Join the Navy, read The Lord of the Rings at the bottom of the sea


Image via Shutterstock.

Image via Shutterstock.

Sounds great, right? You, Frodo, Gandalf, and a hundred-and-forty seamen who really, really don’t want to take your “Which LOTR character are you?” quiz again?

But they may not have much of a choice: the US Navy and tech partner Findaway World recently announced the launch of an e-reader, the Navy eReader Device (NeRD—yep, jokes were made) which comes pre-loaded with a fixed set of 300 books. Among them are The Lord of the Rings, the Game of Thrones series, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, a selection of public domain classics, and most of the titles on the Navy’s Professional Reading Program, which consists of books that “illustrate key points about ways the Navy contributed to national security in the past and how it will operate in the future.”

This sounds like plenty, but there’s a catch: books can neither be added nor deleted; to comply with the Navy’s security requirements, the device can’t connect to wi-fi nor does it have input or output capabilities. So once you’ve made it through the official library, that’s it, you have to go back and start over again. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit….”

To be sure, this is an improvement on past selections. According to Matt Enis at the Digital Shift, in an article on the NeRD,

Aircraft carriers offer a selection of print books and DVDs on par with many public branch libraries. At the other end of the spectrum, submarines face significant space constraints. A submarine’s library may be limited to a few cubic inches.

With this in mind (and can you even fit a book into a few cubic inches? one of those miniature Bibles, maybe?) submarines will be getting the NeRDs first, five per submarine. No doubt this’ll be a welcome expansion of the possibilities for onboard entertainment, which have apparently included running around the submarine for long enough so that it adds up to a marathon.

Books were selected by a librarian with the Navy’s General Library Program, Nilya Carrato, who solicited suggestions from service members, as well as friends and family. So are there any surprises on there? In a product review on Armed with Science, the official US Defense Department Science blog — which has half-charming, half-worrying subheadings on, among other topics, “Lasers” and “Robots” — Jessica Tozer reports that the NeRD she got to take a look had, besides the usual suspects, copies of Bossypants and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Though it is tempting to start coming up with other unlikely-but-excellent titles one would like to foist on a captive audience (can I interest you, Seaman, in a book about the vocoder?), it’s probably best to let those urges go: the NeRD’s been stocked, the die is cast, and you just have to hope, for our naval forces’s sake, that Carrato’s family aren’t all rabid Paulo Coehlo fans. Because if there is anything worse than being stuck at sea, it might be being stuck at sea with a fable. That, of course, or Das Boot. Somehow I have a feeling that that’s not on the list.


Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.