Herewith a cautionary — or an encouraging — tale. (Depends on how you read it.)

A few weeks ago I started having a problem with my Kindle: it wasn’t holding a charge nearly as well as it had been. It was running out of juice more quickly with every charge, and had reached the point that, with wi-fi off, it was usable for less than three days. Since I am about to spend a summer overseas, and had planned to rely on the Kindle pretty heavily: for every book I’m teaching, or need to consult regularly, this summer, I am using the Kindle version when there is one. I’ve had too many summers carrying massive backpacks of books around that country for this to be a resistible temptation.

But what if the Kindle malfunctions? What if it becomes completely unusable? Having the Kindle along means that I don’t have to carry twenty books; but if the Kindle stops working then all twenty of those books disappear. Would I then have to purchase them all (again!) in England? Should I give up on this experiment before I begin and resign myself to carrying an additional backback and therefore experiencing six weeks of aching shoulders and back?

I got on the phone with Amazon and explained my situation. For several days they hemmed and hawed: the customer service people (who were uniformly polite) told me that the tech people wanted me to try A or B or C. Finally, on Monday, I talked to a woman named Kellie and explained that things were getting close to zero hour and I needed to get a new Kindle or else I was going to have to abandon my plan and blame all my aches and pains on Amazon. She replied that she was going to short-circuit the usual procedures and send me a new one immediately. It should arrive today.

This will make some people think that Amazon is serious enough about making the Kindle experiment work for everyone that the e-reading system can be trusted. It will make others think that the whole business of e-reading is fraught with complexities and anxieties and therefore to be avoided at all costs. I leave such judgments to the discernment of my readers.


  1. A friend of mine who runs a preschool reports that several of her kids don't know what books are – they are used to using Kindles or ebooks of some sort at home. I think it's her personal mission to introduce them to actual books.

  2. One of the beautiful things about ebooks is that Amazon has your purchases in your library online and they can be downloaded again easily to a new device. Imagine shipping or carrying physical books and them becoming lost, stolen or damaged. A much harder nut to crack.

  3. "It will make others think that the whole business of e-reading is fraught with complexities and anxieties and therefore to be avoided at all costs."

    Ha! This reminded me of Belloc, naturally.

    Sarah Byng
    (Who could not read and was tossed into a thorny hedge by a Bull)

    Some years ago you heard me sing
    My doubts on Alexander Byng.
    His sister Sarah now inspires
    My jaded Muse, my failing fires.
    Of Sarah Byng the tale is told
    How when the child was twelve years old
    She could not read or write a line.
    Her sister Jane, though barely nine,
    Could spout the Catechism through
    And parts of Matthew Arnold too.
    While little Bill who came between
    Was quite unnaturally keen
    On “Athalie” by Jean Racine.
    But not so Sarah! Not so Sal!
    She was a most uncultured girl
    Who didn’t care a pinch of snuff
    For any literary stuff
    And gave the classics all a miss.
    Observe the consequence of this!
    As she was walking home one day,
    Upon the fields across her way
    A gate, securely padlocked, stood,
    And by its side a piece of wood
    On which was painted plain and full,


    Alas! The young illiterate
    Went blindly forward to her fate,
    And ignorantly climbed the gate!
    Now happily the Bull that day
    Was rather in the mood for play
    Than goring people through and through
    As Bulls so very often do;
    He tossed her lightly with his horns
    Into a prickly hedge of thorns,
    And stood by laughing while she strode
    And pushed and struggled to the road.
    The lesson was not lost upon
    The child, who since has always gone
    A long way round to keep away
    From signs, whatever they may say,
    And leaves a padlocked gate alone.
    Moreover she has wisely grown
    Confirmed in her instinctive guess
    That literature breeds distress.

  4. The substrate on my Kindle cracked after a little under six months, making the screen look like a white on black etch-a-sketch. Customer service heard my story and offered an immediate replacement, not even inquiring how it may have gotten in that condition. Great response, though I have a suspicion that they checked my download history and thought, "You broke your crack pipe? No problem Mr. Bell, we'll just ship you out a new one."

    It did make me feel better about storing an increasing segment of my library with Amazon, but I still have an underlying anxiety about the fragility inherent in relying on electronics with planned obsolescence built into their design and dependent on a corporate storehouse that exists in an economy based on "creative destruction." Of course my books are vulnerable to fire, water or insects but at least they will not vanish overnight if a group of investors decides to pack it in.

  5. I am the only woman in my book club of eight without a Nook or Kindle. It's handicapping to lose the ability to borrow an expensive hardcover from a fellow member, when the library's reserve list is overlong.

  6. Another limitation is that I am now limited to selections available on the Kindle when it's my turn to select a book. I have some surprising gaps.

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