Josna Rege

193. Kindling

In 2000s, 2010s, Books, Inter/Transnational, Media, reading, Stories, Words & phrases on April 12, 2013 at 1:16 pm
kindling (from

kindling (from

I’m speaking of the material one uses to get a wood fire going—dry twigs, thin sticks, or twists and knots of newspaper that will sustain the first, fragile, licks of flame, so that the larger pieces of wood will catch fire.  Having a supply of dry kindling on hand is essential to building a fire, whether indoors in a brick fireplace or woodstove or outdoors in a makeshift firepit.  As a verb, kindling refers to starting a fire, setting fire to something that will burn or, figuratively, arousing emotion. Etymologically, the word comes from cundel, “to set fire to,” thought to be of Scandinavian origin and related to the Old Norse kynda, also meaning “to kindle.”

How to Build a Campfire (

How to Build a Campfire (

There’s something very satisfying about building a good fire, setting it in the shape of a small teepee, carefully positioning the kindling so that it will get enough oxygen to catch fire and the flames are directed to the larger logs above, slipping the lit match in at the bottom, and watching it all flare up and slowly take hold. It warms your body and also kindles the cockles of your heart. Don’t forget, though, that the art of building a fire also includes the art of keeping that fire safe.

I suppose I have to mention (though I refuse to advertise) a commercial product, on the market only for a few short years (since 2007), that has appropriated this ancient word and still more primal human activity. I resent the fact that this brand of electronic reader seeks to be the object that comes to mind  when the word is mentioned. As a book-lover and former co-owner of a small letterpress business, I resent that this device even seeks to supplant the printed book, repository of human knowledge for more than a thousand years.

Amazon Kindle: Digital Book-burning (

Amazon Kindle: Digital Book Burning (

If you think that this new means of delivering information to readers will be more durable or more enviromentally sustainable, think again. “The printed book is by far the most durable and reliable backup technology we have. Printed books require no mediating device to read and thus are immune to technological obsolescence. Paper is also extremely stable, compared with, say, hard drives or even CD’s,” writes Kevin Kelly in a New York Times article on the Google Books project, digital technology, and the printed book. Librarian and cultural journalist R. H. Lossin has recently given a lecture on book-burning, Nazis, the 21st-Century digital library, and the fascinating question of why both major brands of e-reader have names that signify the act of setting something on fire. Thought-provoking, eh?

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  1. I never thought about the meaning of the name Kindle before. As someone who heated with wood for 30 years, I know the importance of laying the fire right and using the right amount and dryness of kindling. There were a few fires where I had to pull the wood back out of the stove and start again. not fun.

    • Ah, the days of woodstove heating (and cooking)–perhaps only romantic in retrospect! Yes, I wanted to remember the word “kindle” in this context instead of in its new, branded one. But I must admit that I also wanted to have a little tirade! I got the link between the Kindle and book-burning from R.H. Lossin.

  2. I never thought about the meaning of Kindle before either. Clever! I love a real wood fire. We have gas indoors which is not the same, but we do have a great firepit outside we enjoy. Thanks for visiting my blog…good luck with the rest of the challenge!

    • Yes, isn’t it? (Not my idea, but I thought it’d be provocative to make the link.) I’ve always wanted to have a fire-pit in the back garden, and to sit round it and cook out of doors on summer evenings. Perhaps this will the year I’ll do it. . .
      Thank you for the good wishes (I need them–this is crazy) and for visiting, too. I’ll come by yours again before the month is out.

  3. This reminds me of what is called “kseh” in Khasi and is used in most small and large fires in Meghalaya to start a fire in the first place, or to re-ignite one that has dwindled. Kseh are those pieces of kindling cut from a piece of pine that is full of pitch. One normally needs only one or two small pieces to get any fire going and it is lit and then placed under your neatly stacked pile of ordinary kindling and takes the place of paper or any other starter.

    We always had a small bundle kept in the wood box for this purpose and it lit with a quick and delicious piney smell. That smell can bring back so many wonderful memories of lovely log fires in our fireplace in Whispering Pines. A lovely smell of home.

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