Some people choose a Kindle, some people have a Kindle thrust upon them. I am of the latter. I am grateful for it - don't get me wrong - and I have read several books on it, but there are things it doesn't do.

What it's great for is reading a big heavy book, which can now be held in one hand, and the print size increased in poor light. That's great. If you could get academic textbooks on it, that's great too.


Heart of Darkness

...I was reading a couple of months ago, and realised that as someone was being described talking I couldn't remember him being introduced, and specifically whether he was introduced as having been killed (and therefore the talking being metaphorical “he talks to me, as if he were here...” kind of thing). In a real book I'd have flicked back two pages, scanning in seconds looking for the first mention of his name. On a Kindle I don't have the ability to stick a finger in the book and flick quickly back. So I didn't. Instead I had two chapters of wondering whether one character was alive or dead. Probably didn't improve the novel.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

...Cathy and I read, in a hotel in Patagonia, with two bookmarks in one book, alternating reading, getting to the denouement at roughly the same time, letting us discuss what we thought was going on. I suppose you could just remember where you were, or write it down. Not quite so much sharing, though.


...Cathy read, and then passed to me, while she read The Prisoner of Zenda, which I'd been reading. I suppose we could each have a Kindle given we cross over in taste, but sooner or later the book would be on the wrong one. You can't just give the book over to someone else easily. Plus you can't technically give the book at all, since you don't own it. That annoyed me – you're only leasing it.

Anna Karenina wet. I read it in the bath, in the rain, on a pub table. It's a bit crumpled now. I don't read my Kindle in the bath. Boo.

Narrowboat Dreams

...was in an Oxfam shop on a dreary wet afternoon. The cover appealed to me (a cover!) so I picked it up. No going through lists of things at Amazon, but simply a few dozen books in a row. Which of these looks interesting? That one. Right, that one it is, then. I'm not a lover of too much choice. I'd never have found that book any other way.

Stories I Stole From Georgia

...was an “in” as a conversation starter while I was reading it. “Georgia? In the US? On my mind?” “No, not that one. The trans-caucasian republic, birthplace of wine, famous for only two people – Eduard Schevanadze (Gorbachev's foreign minister), and Joseph Dzagashvilli (Uncle Jo, that nice friend of Mr Hitler's) – and for losing two civil wars in the early nineties.” OK, maybe not the best conversation starter, but being able to see what someone is reading as they are reading it and asking them about it is nice, and with a Kindle you have to ask first rather than know. The guy next to me on the train could be reading a book I'd read last week and have interesting thoughts on (unlikely, I know, on both counts) and I'd never know. That seems a shame. We're getting more private, unnecessarily.

An Oxford Treasury of English Poetry a small book my mother had as a young woman. She wrote things in it when poems particularly moved her. She even underlined a line about betrayal and wrote June 1954 by the side of it. My father has no idea why she would have been upset right then, and I'll never know. But there's something magical about having the book she read, and flicking through its pages, now almost falling out, and finding something at random, knowing she read these same pages. I'm a sentimental old fool, I know, but that's something the Kindle doesn't give me. Heirlooms.

The Mystery of the Burnt House an Enid Blyton 'Find-Outers' book. Cathy read it as a prolific-reading child. It is now in Gabriel's room. Ignoring the sentiment, Gabriel has a shelf-full of books, which is a collection. Children (especially boys) like collections. There are whole sets of books. They sit opposite his bed looking at him, occasionally reminding him that he doesn't need to be bored. Inviting him in. A big book is a sense of achievement. A set of books is an achievement. Pressing a button – that's the different level of excitement he gets playing on a computer. That's the interactive book things you get on the iPad. In a study in Freakonomics they found that out of “praying with children”, “tutoring children”, “playing with children”, none of these had any correlation with the child's outcome. The only one which did was “having books in the house.” That's it. Not reading to the child, not encouraging reading, not beating the child until they pick the damned book up, no. Having the books in the house. Would a Kindle do that? Would it remind them that there are other worlds out there to explore? Somehow I doubt it.

The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail a book I suppose I'm glad I read. I suppose. I have long been interested in the Cathar heresy and the fourth crusade which swept through the Languedoc at the end of the twelfth century. This book related to that. For a while. It started with an interesting (but actually easily solved) mystery about Rennes-le-Chateau, and then at a particular point runs out of real mystery, lights a rocket marked 'bollocks', and shoots up into the stratosphere of toss. There are two copies of a list of people running an organisation, you see, and they are different, which means that the missing names obviously constitute a real list of the secret society behind the scenes running the first... Yeah, whatever. At an amazing point of old toss I threw the book across the room in disgust. It sat for a few minutes, looking ashamed of itself, in the corner of the room, its pages all splayed wide in a sign of submission.

I could throw a Kindle, but it's not the point. If I'm going to have a hateful relationship with a book, I want it to be with that book. Properly.

The Great Game

…is a big old beast of book, which I was reading in a pub while enjoying a pint, and expecting then to go home. I met a friend, and we decided to go on to a nightclub (these were different times). I had no jacket or anything. So I asked the barmaid to pop the book behind the bar for me and I'd pick it up the next day. She obliged. I thought it unlikely anyone would steal a book about nineteenth century imperial history, and if they did, well, fair enough. I don't think I'd have left a Kindle like that.

Doors Open

…is a book I am reading now because I picked it up from a desk and read the first two pages of it, and it hooked me. Yes, I know I could go to Amazon and read the first two pages of a book there, but again, that's me hunting for a book. Not me standing next to a desk where someone has the book they're reading and just having a quick look to see what it is.

Raw Spirit a book about tasting whisky, written by Iain Banks. He babbles, drinks, drives (not at the same time) and holds court on a variety of issues. I remembered it had a good quote about the comparison between whisky and smoking. I couldn't remember any constituent part of it, and “whisky” was mentioned thousands of times in the book. Searching would be hard on a Kindle. But part of my weird mind also remembered it was near the end of a chapter on the left-hand page, near the top. And that part of my mind was right, and I found it in seconds. And very funny it is too.

Past Presense my most self-indulgent argument. I wrote a novel back in 1995, and I'm proud of it. It won't ever be professionally published or anything, and few people will ever read it, but I wrote it. It's a part of me. I got a copy bound at the time, costing quite a lot, since it was some bloke who kept explaining how the magnetic field of the earth was about to destroy all computers and he'd be back in the book-binding business before long. I now got Lulu (yes, part of the evil Amazon) to print it for me, costing just a few quid. Lovely. It's my novel. It's on my desk. People sometimes pick it up, flick through it, and occasionally express admiration.

Or I could copy a file from one computer to another.

Yeah. You see?