Sunday 20 October 2019

My Kindle has given up. Real books, you get a second chance

In our short 18 months together, my Kindle and I grew quite close - but now it’s kaput.
In our short 18 months together, my Kindle and I grew quite close - but now it’s kaput.

My grandmother died in the mid 1980s. My grandmother was a caring, thoughtful and strong-willed person. My grandmother was also a skilled housewife and the owner of a handy little freezer in which she kept some of the convenience foods that made life easier in her later years.

A few months ago, that freezer finally gave up the ghost. I know this because I, her eldest grandchild, was somehow the one who ended up inheriting a quietly splendid piece of equipment, one which put the 'good' into the phrase white goods.

It came from the workshop of Old Mr Zanussi, a no-frills box that successfully froze ice cubes, bags of peas and the odd pizza for three long decades. It followed me to various addresses and was a dependable friend no matter where it went.

Not so much the appliance of science as an appliance of bog standard commonsense. Just plug it in and let her chug away. My granny's freezer was a constant in my background as I morphed from young man to middle-aged geezer.

No tears were shed when the ancient technology of Old Mr Zanussi finally chugged no more. There is only so much sentiment to be invested in an insulated metal cube flecked with spots of rust. Nevertheless, its demise was a little milestone on life's highway.

A few weeks ago my Kindle followed suit and it too gave up the ghost, mid-way through perusal of a Donna Leon detective novel. Grandmother did not live to see the revolution in reading habits offered by the advent of the Kindle, with a screen replacing the printed page and texts delivered via the wonders of WiFi.

In this case, the screen overnight took on the appearance of a shattered mirror, with some of the pieces missing. Suddenly, it was impossible to follow the urbane deliberations of police commissioner Guido Brunetti as he worked to keep the citizens of Venice safe in their beds and in their gondolas.

The Kindle was broken and, just like granny's freezer, it cried out for a replacement, repair being out of the question. I tracked down the customer service (a phrase weighted with doom is customer service) number for the Kindle readers and found myself speaking to a young man in South Africa.

He was a pleasant enough fellow but it quickly became apparent that he had just one reason for talking to me down the line from Pretoria, Cape Town or wherever. One reason only. His mission was to sell me a new Kindle. The way he said it, the replacement was so heavily discounted that he was practically giving the thing away.

My friend in Pretoria was not interested in what the screen looked like. He cared not a fig for my baffled protestations that I had not dropped the Kindle on hard ground or drowned it in the bath.

He was guided by one crucial cold fact which he was able to pick off his computer screen in South Africa once I had identified myself. Sitting in his far-off telecentre, he knew that the banjaxed piece of equipment was first commissioned around Christmas 2011. Therefore, it was out of warranty and his only job was to sell me the replacement.

In our short 18 months together, my Kindle and I grew quite close. I am not one of those readers who waxes emotional about the smell of real books, the tactile pleasures of turning real pages and the aesthetic charms of a real cover.

The Kindle offers easy access to a world of books to be explored without having to leave the security of the home internet connection. The convenience of being able to pack a month's supply of holiday literature into a featherlight device is very appealing.

And when I discovered that I was spending a small fortune on new titles, I was able fall back on the wealth of free ebooks, works that have fallen out of copyright. Check out anything by Somerset Maugham, or 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles' by Thomas Hardy, while the Sherlock Holmes yarns never stale, all free of charge.

Unfortunately, the Kindle is every bit as mortal as granny's freezer – with one very significant difference. When one of Old Mr Zanussi workhorses is finally carted off to the knacker's yard, that it the end of the story. When the Kindle refuses to function, it goes down with my entire collection of Somerset Maugham, F Scott Fitzgerald and Donna Leon. In order to retrieve these treasures, I have little choice but to give the waiting salesman in South Africa my Visa card number and stand by for postal delivery.

So far, I have not done so. I am still digesting the fact that keeping my ebooks alive will bring a bill of €70 plus – no matter how many discounts apply. And the average Kindle will never match granny's old freezer for longevity. I still have no idea why my machine collapsed and am worried that the same thing could happen again.

So, I have renewed my library card and exchanged the soulless process of picking books by internet for the pleasure of pottering along real book stacks. And I have rediscovered the joy of a lunchtime rummage around the bargain table of the local book shop. Real books are not done just yet.

Pretoria can wait.

Wexford People

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