In Which The Kindle & I Part Company


Kindle, you know how our secret shame-ridden love affair began – years ago, when I first glanced away from my beloved print books. Seduced by the sleek lines of my first reader (a Kobo, sleekish, but it was no iPhone) I began to leave my books behind on the shelf. It was the hardback ‘His Dark Materials’ that caused my divorce. The book was overweight and ungainly, too heavy to hold – and to be frank, terrible in bed.

So I fled into the arms of my bright plastic Kindle. I know it wasn’t great to look at but it had me hooked. I soon discovered my new love was brittle and unresponsive, yet I remained smitten. When it shattered so did my heart, but I drowned my sorrows with a quick replacement, and soon I was hooked into upgrading my beloved every couple of years.

The infatuation turned out to be expensive and tiresome. I got through seven Kindles. For a carry-around object they broken with ridiculous ease. I graduated to the elegant Kindle Oasis and fell in love all over again, except for that afterthought of a cover, which despite being expensive unravelled and picked up dirt. The plastic frame was strong but its weak spot was the bizarrely delicate screen.

Then on Saturday, emerging from a theatre into pouring rain, it slipped away from me. It slipped from beneath my arm (being too wide for a pocket) while I was giving directions to some tourists and smashed to bits – in its protective cover – from a height of about three feet.

I went online to learn how to replace the screen, and it turns out that unlike an Apple product you can’t, not really, and even if you had the right equipment you still can’t because the screens are eggshell fragile – something they don’t warn you about when you buy one. The message was clear; if you break it you’re on your own, pal.

And something else had happened. The newly upgraded iPhones offered a massively improved reading experience on the Kindle app. Dimming the light at night was no problem, holding a phone in bed is easier than the Kindle, and some of the features are actually improvements over the physical device. Some people have a problem reading in columns, but turning the phone on its side allows for a completely normal book-like experience, way better than the Kindle.

As entertainment producers continue to streamline out the middleman hardware, single-use devices are rendered obsolete – and so it proves with the Kindle, which has almost overnight become a toaster (the sole single-purpose gadget sold into every home). Except that Kindles never became  an essential purchase, and now this September phones have overtaken them.

We’ll see how it goes, but I like reading text this way (my phone is medium-sized) and the new iPhone 11’s ease of use removes the need for an awkward square of plastic that breaks if you so much as breathe on it. In years to come we may, I suspect, find them beside 8-track cartridge players in charity shops.

So print-book lovers, you were both right and wrong. Right not to switch, but it’s worth trying out the Kindle app on a new iOS.

35 comments on “In Which The Kindle & I Part Company”

  1. Linda Casper says:

    After a couple of years reading from my Kindle for reasons of cost and ease, I am now reading a novel in printed form. It feels like eating a fattening dessert after dieting for ages. It feels good plus I remember the title as the book cover is on show

  2. Rachel Green says:

    I’ve used kindle app for android for years, mostly because I can enlarge the text and dispense with glasses for reading

  3. Brian Evans says:

    I use a Samsung tablet. I have never seen the point of a Kindle on its own. I can read on my phone too, but I much prefer the larger screen of the tablet.

    I like the fact that you can change the light and also the size of the writing. However, being a traditionist, I read only fiction on the tablet and my non-fiction is a continually growing library of “proper books”.

  4. Henry Fosdike says:

    Interestingly I’m going the other way. Seem to have developed some form of RSI in my thumb by scrolling through The Lies of Locke Lamora (a different genre to my norm but highly recommended!) on my phone and now doing all I can to get away from reading on it. So my only advice is to keep changing digits to scroll as you read!

  5. Brooke says:

    It’s you, not Kindle. I’ve had my K over 7 yrs; given to me by client who owned it for 2 yrs before and he is a tech abuser.

    Change subject: Re: Tweet about Susanna Clarke. Would you mind describing what attracts you to her work? Or was the comment tongue in cheek?

  6. admin says:

    Brooke, I am a ‘Young Elizabethan’ ie. born the start of the second Elizabeth reign, and loved history. The reference volumes we had in school had up to 200 years’ worth of pupils’ names in them. Clarke’s alternative history ended my antipathy toward fantasy novels because it melded fact and fiction so elegantly. She clearly intended Jonathan Strange to unfurl like a history book, complete with academic footnotes. I like her writing style, and loved the TV version.

    BTW I’m not a tech abuser so much as trying to hurry through cities carry too many bags, books and bits – but the Kindles are the only things I’ve broken. (OK, my iPad has a crack across it but that’s because someone dropped their suitcase on my backpack).

  7. Eliz Amber says:

    I agree with Brooke – I’ve got a second gen Kindle keyboard from 2012 that I’ve bounced off the floor of the train a few times, but it’s still working. I’ve got other Kindles – a paperwhite for reading in bed and a Fire – but my keyboard is still my favourite everyday Kindle.

  8. Brooke says:

    I think Clarke is to me what J.Austen is to you. Interesting though; Clarke shares Austen’s snarky Regency-style pitter patter commenting on men/women and society mores. I too love history, e.g. re-read The Making of the English Working Class this summer; could not be pried loose by friends to do anything else. But Clarke–just can’t read/listen to her work. Sorry.

  9. Andrew Holme says:

    We need more of Eddie Marsan on the television.

  10. porl says:

    B b b bbbut you just convinced me to get one!!!!

  11. davem says:

    I love print books but find my Kindle essential as well … the fragility point has never been an issue for me, so maybe you have just been unfortunate?

    I’ve had a Kindle for many years and this is only my 2nd one, and the first still worked, I just wanted an upgrade.

  12. Trace Turner says:

    Is anybody else wondering why you took a Kindle to a theatre?

  13. Peter T says:

    My work is mostly in front of a computer screen. My hobbies too often take me back to the computer. In fact, much of the necessities of life go via a screen. And TV is yet another screen. So reading for pleasure is from paper, glorious paper. I keep my books. I am helping the environment by storing captured CO2 in them (sounds good) rather than destroying the world with batteries, plastic and all the nasties in Kindles, tablets and the like.

    I second Trace on Kindle to the theatre. At least, go in with the hope of being entertained.

    Incidentally, Samsonite make some very conveniently sized shoulder bags for carrying Kindles, tablets, guide books, etc.

  14. admin says:

    Kindle in a theatre? I went by myself.
    Porl, Kindles are great but be careful with the newest models, that’s all.

  15. Helen Martin says:

    Still haven’t got one. Have a flip phone that has not had text activated. Stubborn, not much. Only phone number I give out is our home landline. Keeping the internet nasties out as best I can.
    Probably a net gain in using books rather than plastic/etc. but a tree had to be cut down to make the book, so if we’re going to use paper we have to plant trees.

  16. Debra Matheney says:

    I’m with Helen, although I traded in my flip phone a few years go for android smart phone. I am a total book girl. I had 2 Kindles, both of which died. A real book can’t die in the middle of a good read. I give books away to the library or ASPCA for their book sales, so others benefit from my habit. When I think of all of the abandoned, non working piles of electronics, well, I’d rather we planted trees.

  17. Ian Luck says:

    ‘Kindle’ – That’s the collective noun for a group of kittens (cats, for some reason is a ‘Clowder’). Kittens, definitely. Reading device – well, I prefer what was once referred to on the ‘None-More-Eighties’ TV show, ‘Max Headroom’ as a: “Non volatile information storage and retrieval device.” A book, in other words.

  18. Paul Waller says:

    There’s a place for Kindles and actual books. I always read the Bryant and May books in book form ( hardback) I just prefer them in that format

  19. Wayne Mook says:

    I have a kindle (solid with quite a thick cover to protect it had it quite a number of years.), a fire tablet, a reader on my phone & tower computer as well as having print books, just to make sure I never finish the books I own, I now go to the library. My seven year old picked up a Famous Five from the library (was on a list of things to do, like Wordsworth’s daffodil poem and Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D.). I don’t think she likes it as much as The Magical Detectives or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (both film and book.). At the moment she is obsessed with The Beano. If we aren’t careful she will read on her bed in the morning instead of getting ready for school. I think we’re training her well but my wife isn’t so sure.

    The Fire is an excellent size to read comics on, plus it will highlight panel to panel so I don’t need my specs.


  20. snowy says:

    Pachelbel’s Canon?

    If your seven year-old have managed to sit patiently through JP’s CinD, you might play her the sketch linked above. [If only for the line about the ‘Hairy Cow”].

  21. Martin Tolley says:

    My Kindle touch still going strong after about ten years. Sits in my back pocket and I sit on it every day. Touch also stores music files you can listen to while reading. AND it can read the text to you at no extra cost. Amazon took that facility away soon after. It highlights the text as it reads through. A dyslexic student of mine found it wonderfully enabling.

  22. Martin Tolley says:

    Thank you Snowy – not heard that afore. Brilliant link.

  23. Helen Martin says:

    Yes, definitely a great sketch and I had to look up Max Headroom, which was a total favourite of mine at the time. It was definitely more important at the historic time, but I love hearing that wandering stutter with the striped background. There was a lapel pin around here at one time, too.

  24. Ben M says:

    I use an old kobo Aura, it’s low tech but reliable. Paper books still have something over technology though; you can reserve a table or a seat by the careful placement of a paper book, you can’t with a Kindle, it’ll be gone.

  25. Ian Luck says:

    Comics should be only read in their physical form. Digitally, you miss out on the feel, smell, and sound of the pages, and the occasional inkiness on the fingers. All essential parts of the comic book reading experience, in my opinion.

  26. Brian Evans says:

    Unless I have missed it above, no-one has said the obvious-you don’t have to keep charging a book.

  27. Liz Thompson says:

    I use the Kindle app on my phone and IPad. But only when I am travelling, or if the book I want is unavailable in print form (some of yours, Mr Fowler) or too bloody expensive to buy!

  28. roxanne reynolds says:

    i was forced to resort to getting a kindle when i discovered my bookshelves were at maximum capacity, 2 or 3 books deep. no room for more shelves and i am constitutionally unable to winnow my collection. i use the library whenever i can, but it’s crazy-making to start a mystery series and discover the library only has books 1, 4 and 9. arrggh. i am still on my original kindle from 2011. no touch screen, no back-lighting. because it has no bells and whistles, the battery charge lasts for ages. i much prefer a good ol’ BOOK, but no more filling up my suitcase with books to take on holiday and worrying about running out of stuff to read.

  29. SimonB says:

    Why not take a Kindle to the theatre? Electronic devices have just as much right to be exposed to the arts as anything/anyone else…

  30. chazza says:

    What’s a kindle?

  31. Helen Martin says:

    If a book is currently not available then go to Abebooks on which you can find pretty well anything for minimal amounts of money and I enjoy getting something from a totally unknown place in Ontario, Texas or Illinois and I’m pretty sure they do overseas as well.

  32. Martin Tolley says:

    Helen, Abebooks is very good, but is actually owned by Amazon.

  33. Helen Martin says:

    Martin, I have given up on finding the source owner of companies, even though it is more important than ever. Have you ever looked at the publishing data on a book or the creation credits on a movie. There’s a tremendous amount of “division of”, subsidiary of, overlooked by, financed by, in debt to, and so on and the lineal trace becomes very blurry.

  34. Ian Luck says:

    Another thing Kindles are utterly useless at, is wasp extermination. Instead of ‘Swat!’ you have ‘Smash!’

  35. Helen Martin says:

    iphones have much the same problem, Ian.
    I keep forgetting that Abebooks was bought out. but it seems to function the way you want it to and interesting ads on the sides are usually apposite. I have usually looked at them closely, even if not buying them and without one purchase I wouldn’t now be boiling up every wild plant see to try for interesting ink.

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