The Best Way To Read Is On A Toaster


The first electric toaster in the world was Scottish; it was invented by Alan Macmasters in Edinburgh in 1893. General Electric swiped the idea in 1909 and the thing went global. It became ubiquitous in kitchens (and remains so) because it can only do one thing. It cooks bread. A child can use it safely, it’s fast and cheap.

In this century the Kindle is a toaster. While tablets and phones can be used to read books while working, surfing or chatting to friends the e-reader remains stubbornly welded to the reading experience. This has resulted in plunging sales, but may ultimately be the reason why it sticks around.

This is a subject I regularly revisit, and when I last looked sales of consumer ebooks had dropped by 17%, while sales of physical books were up 8%. Consumer spending on books was up £89m across the board, so hacks scenting blood attacked the technology and praised the sight and smell of old books.

Now new research shows that readers don’t absorb longford information well on phones and pads because it’s too easy to divert to doing something else. It’s  two-way, too – even those with the best intentions can’t easily control everything that requires the attention; emails, messages, alerts and notifications flood in and break the mood.

Reading requires so much concentration that you can read a book twice and find it a completely different experience the second time around. I remember both loving and hating Philip Roth and Nabokov on different readings. The Kindle forces you to concentrate – there’s nothing to make you divert from your intention to read.

But the Kindle also has a problem; unlike, say, a Mac, which stops supporting older models and forces you to upgrade, it has little or no planned obsolescence. The old models function as well as the new ones.


So Kindle has approached the problem differently; It has made the 9th Gen Oasis a thing of ease and elegance. The ugly Amazon logo is still insultingly big but at least it’s on the back. The Oasis battery pack is no longer separate but sleekly incorporated into the device. The screen is larger; it has gained an inch without discernibly changing the size of the device. It has built-in Audible and is waterproof (trust me, a good thing). The battery life is so long you’ll sometimes forget to charge it. The screen ambience adjusts itself. The tacky black plastic surround is now gun-metal grey aluminium. You can now buy non-Amazon covers which are actually cool-looking. The Kindle may have finally found its niche as a creative person’s essential tool.

I am still against Amazon’s sinister policies of attempting to cut professional authors out of publishing, but they’ll eventually learn it can’t be done. Meanwhile I’m packing a couple of thousand books, including a great many astonishingly obscure reference works for research. Of course I’m still buying novels in hardback (who could resist the blue and gold cover of Pullman’s ‘The Book of Dust’?) but I’m never going anywhere without this little baby in my pocket. Until I lose it again.

15 comments on “The Best Way To Read Is On A Toaster”

  1. Brooke says:

    Did a sample read of P. Pullman at B&N. Agree with LRB reviewer–Oxford porn; Tolkien/Lewis copy cat and Wagner did it better and with music. Pullman is writing about an old long dead, discredited religious concept–boring.

    Unlike the case with physical books, when you loose your kindle you haven’t actually lost the book and the $$ you have spent. I’m having fun borrowing books from the local library that are available through arrangements with Amazon. Our cash strapped library does not have to invest in inventory and receives a credit from Amazon.

  2. Helen Martin says:

    Pullman is not my favourite author, but I don’t think I’d come down quite so hard, Brooke, although I haven’t seen this new one. I really liked the daemon concept he had in the trilogy. (It’s all fiction, so I don’t have to agree with him theologically.)

  3. Wayne Mook says:

    Oh I like the lending policy with your library Brooke.

    When I travel with a book it’s usually an old 2nd hand copy so usually very cheep to replace, if I can find it, a lot cheaper than buying a new reader.

    I have an old kindle, a reader on my tower computer and one on my tablet, I do read comics still and the small tablet is best, the kindle for books and is fine for everything, I also have a lot of radio programmes in the computer. I’ve not really dome much audio books, although I did used to listen to Oneword radio before Channel 4 bought it and then dropped radio.


  4. admin says:

    I think you’re wrong about Pullman, Brooke. He’s a natural storyteller, whereas Tolkien is not. Oxford is the logical setting of a society like the Magisterium (it could have been Canterbury too) and can’t really help being so picturesque.

  5. Brooke says:

    Delete this if you like–long winded rant.

    I didn’t express my objections clearly. Helen, Pullman’s daemon concept is like Trump’s immigrant concept, i.e. a distraction from the really hard theological issues we are facing. Looking backwards. I long for a writer who will risk telling the new story.

    I lived at one of the older Oxford colleges for awhile; –yes, Oxford is picturesque; it is also self-obsessed and in some areas stuck in medieval arguments that miss the point. Yes, Canterbury would have done as well–sitting in the cross-winds of medieval Catholicism and Church of England politics.. I’m probably too US bred. commercial, to appreciate it all..

    I’ll return now to reading about cephalopods.

  6. Debra Matheney says:

    Tried Kindle and hated it. Back to real books. I read 10-12 a month and give them to friends or the library for their book sales. When I was young, my idea of being rich was being able to buy all the books and music I want. By that standard, I made it!

  7. Ian Luck says:

    Real books every time for me. They don’t need recharging, for one thing, and they’re not ruined if you accidentally get them wet, or leave them outside overnight. They don’t, as a rule, break if you drop them. Unless it’s a rare tome, it’s not heartbreaking to throw away if tatty. Real books tend to feel, and smell, nicer than a ‘kindle’. And what a stupid, stupid name that is. Could you, if in dire straits, make a fire with it? Possibly, but with carcinogenic fumes, and the possibility of the battery exploding quite vigorously in your face. Real books are furniture – the delight of going into a house full of well-loved books, arrayed pleasingly on shelves, their spines waiting to be perused, is a pleasure I never tire of. A coffee table with a couple of ‘kindle’ things on it, belongs in Room101, I’m afraid. Just try to imagine Foyle’s or your favourite library, with every book on its shelves replaced with memory cards. Just how long would you be willing to stay there? And would you want to return?

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Ian, I don’t think leaving books outside or allowing them to get wet is a very good idea. “Kindle” a fire in your mind or heart with the latest read. (And I have no thought of buying a kindle or any other reading device, even when the latest book is 500 pages and a nuisance to carry.)

  9. Vivienne says:

    I have an old Kindle which has been repaired twice by a wonderful company whom, I have just learned to my dismay, are ceasing this service. I will have to give it more care in future. Not being a lover of imitation leather covers, I long ago found a modern stretchy plastic type thing at one of those odd market stalls in an underground station. Have never seen it’s like. since. I now also have a custom made Perspex shield for travelling so as not to break the screen again, but travelling is what a Kindle does best. I no longer wish to heave a dozen or so books around when on holiday.

    Of course I still love books: two today from the Amnesty bookshop who seem to stock wonderful old green Penguins, which I fear other charity shops must junk as being to tatty or dog eared

  10. Wayne Mook says:

    On an earlier thread Judith Kerr was mentioned, so I thought I’d mention this up coming radio programme on radio 4 on Thursday 14 June 11.30am.

    Pink Rabbits And Other Animals

    Judith Kerr’s classic picture book The Tiger Who Came To Tea celebrates its 50th birthday this year. Still hard at work, in this programme Judith lets us into her study.

    Judith’s life has always inspired her writing, from fleeing Nazi Germany as a child, a story she told in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, to the peculiar family cat whose adventures she chronicled in the Mog series.

    Now 94 years old, Judith is still hard at work, still writing and drawing in the study overlooking the common where she has written all her books. In this programme Judith invites us into her study as she works on her latest classic.
    •Presenter: Jessica Treen
    •Producer: Jessica Treen for BBC Radio 4

    Taken from the BBC Media Centre radio Week 24.


    PS. When I see the word treen I always think of Dan Dare but I guess I should be thinking small wooden object.

  11. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – I like books more than I like some people. I don’t deliberately get books wet or leave them outside. If I’m carrying books to work, then they will be in a plastic bag inside my satchel – I cycle everywhere, having never wanted to drive; and I left a copy of ‘Metamorphoses’ by Ovid outside once, when called in to work in an emergency. When retrieved in the morning, covered in dew, it still worked better, I suspect, than a kindle in the same situation. : )

  12. Helen Martin says:

    I was fairly certain you were a sensible book carer, Ian. I did like the “kindle a fire” phrase I came up with, though.

  13. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – It’s a good phrase, and made me think of someone who would travel the world rounding up rogue kindles, in the manner of the (“Nobody expects the”) Spanish Inquisition, and getting rid of the things in a huge auto da fé. Sorry, I seem to have had a particularly vivid daydream there…

  14. Wayne Mook says:

    Ian I once dropped a copy of Lord of the Rings in the bath, it became an expanded version, but was still very readable, I never did finish reading all the extra and appendices. I don’t even watch the extras on most dvds.


    P.S. Sorry about dropping the ad for a radio programme like that, mid- thread.

  15. Ian Luck says:

    Funnily enough, I often rest books on top of my toaster (off, of course, and cool), when I’m eating in the kitchen. The book is up high enough to be out of range of any detritus, but easily accessible to read.

Comments are closed.