Books, Other People's Stories

Reflections on an ereaderless summer + Kobo Glo review

I bought a Kobo Glo! It’s the most cunning little thing. My Kindle broke down around midsummer, about 1.5 years after my sister had bought it for me as a gift, just as I was absorbed in Ramesh Menon’s retelling of the Mahabharata (Volume 1 and Volume 2). I can’t speak to how well Menon’s book works as a retelling, but it’s very entertaining as a second encounter with the stories. (My first was The Palace of Illusions — also very good.) A lot of fun, and a great price point — I’d recommend them.

What I wouldn’t recommend is being interrupted in the middle of Bheeshma’s adventures in an underwater kingdom by your Kindle freezing up. I restarted it. It kept freezing. I charged it all night. Five minutes after I turned it back on, it froze. I backed up all my books and reset the Kindle to factory settings. Freeze-o-rama.

Since you only get a 1-year warranty and they don’t fix Kindles for you, all Amazon could do was offer me a discount on my next Kindle. Yeah, I don’t think so.

I went back to dead tree books for a while. It does affect your reading experience when you’re doing most of your reading on an ereader, instead of going to bookshops and browsing. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed the opportunities browsing gives you for encounters with things you wouldn’t have known to look for. I don’t look for bestsellers or award winners when I look for books to read — I look for things that are harder to define. Truth, humour, new perspectives.

I wouldn’t have found Yuri Rytkheu’s The Chukchi Bible clicking around in the Amazon Kindle store, but when I found it while poking through a secondhand bookshop on Charing Cross Road, I knew it was exactly the kind of thing I wanted to read. But I wouldn’t have known how to look for it, because I hadn’t known it was what I wanted. You don’t know what you’re missing, sort of thing.

What is good about having an ereader again is being able to find things when you know what you’re looking for. I’d read a brief interview with mystery writer Attica Locke about her second novel The Cutting Season, set on a plantation house in the modern day, and thought: that sounds interesting; I should follow up on that. I wasn’t able to find it in my nearest brick-and-mortar bookshop, but I did download a preview on my Kobo and was impressed. Tevere’s recent review of Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down reminded me that I’d bookmarked it to buy ages ago, and I’ve downloaded a preview of that. I’d probably struggle to find it my local W. H. Smith.

So I do want the easy access to a larger selection that an ereader gives me. It was terrifically dreary going into a W. H. Smith on my lunch break recently to get reading material for an upcoming holiday — all those rows of celebrity autobiographies and 50 Shades of Grey knockoffs. (Not that I object to celebrity autobiographies or erotica in themselves. I just wanted to read something different. I did manage to dig out some interesting reading — a Lindqvist horror novel which is all about how awful it can be to be a teenage girl, wickedly funny Pakistani chicklit, and finally Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End, which I bought to make up numbers for the 3 for 2 offer, and which is notable for being fairly readable despite my disagreeing with everything in and about it, from the cover with Benedict Cumberbatch’s face to the repellent worldview.)

But at the same time being deprived of access to ebooks has been a salutary reminder of how important it is to give myself the chance to stumble on books. I think it’s really important to put yourself in the way of finding obscure, interesting books, because the books that are easy to find are always the ones that tell you what you already know. You need to know what it is you’re missing, what voices have been drowned out that you need to hear.

I was going to do a Kobo Glo review, but I seem to have got sidetracked! OK, OK.

Review of the Kobo Glo

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