published Sunday, July 14th, 2013

Fortune: No matter how I try, my Kindle leaves me cold


by Mary Fortune

I was giddy at the idea of an e-reader — all those stories dozing behind the sleek screen of that slender tablet. Books on demand. Books that won't tear or wrinkle. Books whose spines don't split, whose pages never fall out in chunks as if the story has developed mange. Endless variety, and virtually nothing to carry.

For an obsessive, lifelong reader, it seemed like the answer to everything. So when I received a Kindle for Christmas, I was thrilled. I immediately began downloading stuff I'd been meaning for ages to get my hands on. Christopher Hitchens' musings on death as his approached; a posthumous collection by Kurt Vonnegut; that devastating, hilarious essay by David Foster Wallace about the surreality of life on a cruise ship; everything David Rakoff ever penned (what's with me and doomed men, anyway?).

Oh, I read and read. And for a while, I did love my Kindle. I was infatuated. He was so pretty, so glib, so light, so quick with the words -- the infinite, beautiful words. He even defined the ones I didn't know. Just press the word, and up bounced its explanation. Miraculous.

But soon I started to notice things.

When I would try to lie on my side, for instance, he would flip the text, toggling it so that I could no longer read. He was only trying to help, but it annoyed me.

When my hand would stray accidentally to the screen, the page would spring to life -- icons, arrows, options everywhere. My Kindle was so responsive. So incredibly, infuriatingly responsive.

I started to realize I felt lost without the physicality of the book. No pages to flip, no map of the story that my eyes could walk through. Just the vaguely glowing screen, just the flat text behind the glass.

And how do I know how much of my book remains unread without a fat stack of pages behind my bookmark? Well, a little number in the corner tells me I'm 86 percent of the way through. Great. Now I have numbers mucking up my wordfest. Worse yet, percentages, which I especially hate.

And oh, PLEASE stop telling me you need to be charged. Such a buzzkill.

My Kindle even cost me the pleasure of a great read shared. I would tell a friend about an astonishing book and finish by saying lamely, "I wish I could lend it to you, but it's in my Kindle."

I stayed with my Kindle, though. It seemed like the right thing to do. I persisted. I bought more titles. I read on, learning not to lie on my side, not to let my hand drift to the screen, trying to ignore the infernal percentages and whiny low-battery warnings.

Until the night I was reading "The Book Thief," the story by Markus Zusak of a young girl growing up in World War II-era Germany. It's a tale narrated by Death, who watches the girl and ponders her fate as he goes about his grim work in that blighted time and place.

One day, the girl and her friend leave bread on the road where they know the starving, tortured Jews will find it as their Nazi captors march them toward Dachau. The horrific parade shambles past while the children watch anxiously from the trees. A lurching, skeletal man sees the bread, stoops to snatch it up, gnaws urgently. As more men follow suit, the scowling Nazi guard realizes something is amiss and turns viciously to ... device not responding.

Device not responding. Device not responding. Device not responding.

"Mommy, why are you yelling at your Kindle?"

And that, dear reader, was the end.

Contact Mary Fortune at thirtytensomething.blogspot.com.

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