Recently I had to borrow my wife’s Kindle (thanks to the biggest bugbear in the ebook system – no longer can two people share a simple book without handing over their entire bookshelf. Sort it out, Amazon.)
My own Kindle is one of the early models with keyboards, the e-reader equivalent of the brick mobile phone, so at first I could only slam her Kindle Paperwhite against a rock while grunting, ‘Where controls? Me need make words.’
|Me have kindle fire!|
Eventually the rock bumped the ON switch, and I was away. I’d been looking forward to reading Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’, partly to dispel my suspicion that Donna Tartt was actually one of those spoofonyms like Eileen Dover or Claude Boddy (respective authors of ‘The Great Descent’ and ‘Lion Taming For Beginners’). For instance, ‘The Baker’s Hat’ by Donna Tartt… Aaaaaaanyway, I got reading, and soon noticed a nifty little feature boasted by the newer Kindles. A message at the foot of the page said, ‘Time remaining in chapter: 14 minutes’.
That’s handy, I thought. I do most of my reading on trains, and it’s good to know whether you’ll finish this bit before terminating at Leighton Buzzard (I know some readers with a borderline phobia of breaking off mid-chapter). What I didn’t expect was that this prompt would become a source of distraction, stress and ultimately humiliation.
There are stories of people driving dangerously fast to try and beat the estimated time of arrival on their SatNavs. It’s throwing down a gauntlet, isn’t it?
|I accept your challenge...|
I turned to page two of ‘The Goldfinch’ and the Kindle said, RECALCULATING. TURN AROUND WHERE POSSIBLE. YOU ARE IN A DUCKPOND. Actually it didn’t, it said, ‘Time remaining in chapter: 17 minutes.’ Hmm, I thought, that’s odd. Isn’t it supposed to go down as I read more? Maybe Donna beamed in some last-minute bonus material via the Cloud.
I put it from my mind, and let myself be swept up in crystalline prose and transatlantic angst. But on the next page I couldn’t help noticing: 20 minutes remaining. Twenty? This was getting absurd. I have less to read now, you dumb e-reader. I should take less time, not more.
Next page: 22 minutes. Then, 24. It felt like being in a sinking balloon. I’d blame Donna, she isn’t the briskest of reads, perhaps because she spends about a decade honing each book to perfection, but I knew I wasn’t dawdling. I read at a speaking pace, in that I say the words in my head exactly as if I were reading them aloud. When a book is particularly well crafted, like this one, I also like to drift back over pages and paragraphs as I go, savouring the turns of phrase, chewing over multiple interpretations and so forth. It’s wine, not Vimto. But now I was starting to read as if the very whips of Sauron were behind me. I was well into the chapter now, and the cheeky little slab was telling me I now had 30 minutes to go to the end of the chapter. Twice as long as it predicted at the start. What was going on?
Donna did her best to help out by offering a bit more in the way of page-turning action, but the finish line kept stretching off into the distance. Forty minutes now. Fifty. Would I break the hour barrier? Five pages later, with a moronic boom, I did. I began to think the tide would never turn.
|STOP! In the naaaame of love...|
Finally, at 1 hour 4 minutes to the end of the chapter, the predictions stabilised, wobbled a bit in both directions, and finally began to slip down again, until it reached 59 minutes and my train pulled into the station.
Here’s the thing. I presume that this particular Kindle has calibrated itself to the reading speed of its usual master, i.e. my wife. Which can only mean that she habitually reads at least FIVE TIMES faster than I do. I knew she was a quicker reader, but by that much? Given that I proceed at speaking pace, that can only mean that when she reads she musthearthewordsinherheadlikethis. Is that normal?
I always assumed critics were exaggerating when they claimed to have ‘devoured the book in one ravenous sitting’. Now I wonder. Could it be that I’m just an exceptionally slow reader?
I have gazed into the Kindle Paperwhite, but the Kindle Paperwhite has gazed also into me. You know, I’m not sure I care particularly for books that read me while I read them. What next? Iris-scanning emotion detectors that gauge whether you’re enjoying it enough? Sweat sensors in the screen to see if Stephen King is properly scaring you? God forbid, interactive intelligent books that actually delete the bits it notices you skipping, so that you get distilled fight or sex scenes as applicable?