Friday, 23 February 2018

I'm preparing to bid a tearful farewell to a dear companion - my six-year old Kindle

I asked Santa for a Kindle for Christmas 2011, because we were about to run out of space for book. To be honest, I didn't know whether I could bear to read whole books on a little grey screen, or whether the lure of owning physical copies would prove irresistible. But I simply couldn't face having to choose yet more paperbacks and hardcovers to throw out to make room for new purchases - I'd conducted numerous culls over the years, and I didn't feel up to yet another bout of bibliocide.  So I was determined to give the Kindle a proper go. Turned out I didn't need to steel myself, because - with the exception of poetry, illustrated works in general and art books in particular - I was perfectly happy to read a book on an e-reader: more than happy, in fact, because I could change the font size whenever I felt like it (I had yet to discover the joy of reading glasses), and I could download articles from the web - a real boon, as I...

...hate reading anything more than two paragraphs long on a desktop or laptop.

In the last 72 months, I've managed to accumulate about 450 books on the Kindle, including two versions of the Bible, two sets of Shakespeare, a number of 1000-page collections of film reviews, too many books about pop music, many ckassical Greek plays, too much political philosophy, and far too many Golden Age crime classics and true crime books, as well as a heap of spy stuff (fiction and non-fiction): there's some history and a bit of sport, classic horror and science fiction, classic and modern literary fiction - and,of course, some real rubbish. I've read a slightly higher percentage of these ebooks than I have of the books on my shelves, even though I've already ditched hundreds of physical books I'd decided I hadn't really enjoyed or was never actually going to get round to reading (including many I now wish I'd kept). The main reason for the Kindle's higher completion-rate is the ability to download books instantly, on impulse, which - counter-intuitively - has led me to buy fewer duds than I did when I spent hours in bookshops agonising over every decision. Kindle has simultaneously allowed me to indulge long-standing enthusiasms and encouraged experimentation: an unfortunate choice (of which there haven't been many) can be erased from the device with two clicks - it doesn't hang around sulking on the the bookshelves, its spine glowering at you like a sullen, rejected suitor.
As well as books, I must have read several thousand articles on the Kindle over the years. If you can find it online, and it isn't hidden behind a paywall, you can instantly download it to Kindle - which is handy. The great thing about the Kindle is that, like a book, you can read it lying down - I do most of my reading in bed or in the bath. I prefer the old-fashioned unlit screen, because it's more like reading printed pages, and backlit screens seem somehow intrusive in the wee small hours (besides, they're meant to keep you awake, which is the last thing I need). Possibly my favourite thing about the Kindle is that it only has one function - you can read, but (at least with my bottom-of-the-range model) you can't write or watch video or listen to music or check Twitter or play games. I find its single-mindedness, it's no-nonsense simplicity, soothing - I don't have to choose between a range of activities; I only have to pick what to read, and, whereas having half a dozen books available on the bedside table can occasionally leave me fretting over which one I really want to dive into at that moment, or darting restlessly between them all in turn, the Kindle offers such a wide choice I find myself homing in on one title and sticking with it, come what may.
Anyhow, my dear, faithful old chum is getting a bit long in the tooth - the battery's a bit knackered, and rather than instantly leaping into action every time I touch a button, it has started having a good long think about my request before eventually either obeying or seizing up, necessitating a reboot. I've ordered a replacement from Amazon (apart from the on/off button, everything's done via a touchscreen, so I'll have to get used to a new navigation system, dammit - but the battery apparently lasts for weeks and I can email myself chunks of text, which I've been wanting to do for six years). I won't have the heart to throw out Old Faithful - it would be like taking a much loved dog to the vet to be put down, and that's something I don't ever want to have to do again: perhaps I'll let it doze in front of the living room fire until Spring, then clear a space for it next to the window so it can warm its old bones in the sunshine...
Motorola V-Series clamshell
Enough whimsy! But I've often ended up feeling oddly affectionate towards technical products, especially if they're the first of their kind that I've owned or been allowed to use, e.g. the family's thud-tastic, bass-heavy '50s Blaupunkt radiogram; my first stereo record player, bought when I was 17 - nothing has sounded quite as good since; my first Sony Walkman (how cool I felt wearing it); our first dishwasher, a Bosch - it came with this house, and only lasted for 17 years; my second motorbike, a white and fawn Aerial 250 that made a noise like an angry insect swarm and went like the absolute clappers (until I crashed it); my first (and only) Palm Pilot - I loved that clever little thing; my first mobile phone - a tiny Zoolander-style Motorola clamshell model that I refused to replace until the battery died and I couldn't find a replacement anywhere; my first (and only) electric guitar - a black US Telecaster, still going strong after 20 years; our first DVR - a Tivo - because it seemed like magic at the time; my first Apple desktop computer, a design masterpiece which is stored under the eaves because I can't bear to part with it - the updated version on which I'm writing this post is certainly more sophisticated, but lacks its predecessor's sheer gorgeousness...
(That's enough geekery, you sad man - Ed.)


  1. Never having owned a Kindle, this post gives a pretty good idea of how it's seductive charms can spark an orgy of reading (as opposed to just a plain old orgy) and for this humble reader it's a temptation not to be visited.
    Call me old fashioned but the tactile nay visual delight of a paperback or a freshly ironed newspaper - chance would be a fine thing - cannot, at least in my book, ever be supplanted.

    1. Well, we still have a daily newspaper delivered (but I'm not sure the people at the corner shop iron actually iron it).

      Just to be clear, I love being surrounded by books - the look, the feel, the smell of the things. There is nothing more dispiriting than finding oneself in a house where there aren't any - I even find a room without books arid. If we hadn't run out of shelf-space, I probably wouldn't have bought a Kindle. I'd love to have physical copies of the 450 books on it, and, when we eventually expand the house and get some more shelves, I'm planning to buy copies of at least some of them. But even if we suddenly found ourselves living in a mansion with limitless storage space, I'd still spend a lot of time on the Kindle - I appreciate being able to buy a book, download it, and start reading it within seconds. That's probably why I get to the end of more ebooks than physical ones - I read them in the full flush of enthusiasm. The downside - as with digital photos - is not having them up on the shelf as a reminder of the pleasure they gave one.

  2. Yes that peculiar aroma of books, impalpable and enslaving.