Nicholson Baker Reacts to the Kindle

Nicholson Baker

Nicholson Baker

Author Nicholson Baker has written a lengthy response to the Kindle for the New Yorker.  I wouldn’t necessarily call it a review, as it’s more a humorous essay about his experiences using the device.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Baker, he’s one of those authors that people either love or hate.  He’s most famous for the extreme stream of consciousness style that most of his prose takes, often getting side tracked and spending more time on minute details than anything of importance.  For example, in his first novel, the purposely plotless The Mezzanine, the narrator spends a large amount of time analyzing the daily wear and tear of shoelaces.  It’s actually one of the book’s recurring motifs.  Depending on your point of view, this is either hilarious or annoying.

It’s the focus on details that makes Baker’s reaction more of an essay than a real review.  After 10 paragraphs of succumbing to the Kindle’s online advertising, making the decision to purchase, and slowly opening the packaging, Baker focuses in on the power adapter.

The plug, which was combined with the USB connector, was extremely well designed, in the best post-Apple style. It was a very, very good plug.

At first, it seems like Baker’s view of the device is extremely negative.  He does have a large number of complaints, mainly about the gray color, default font, and the way newspapers have been formatted for the device.  He also states that he greatly prefers reading Kindle books on the iPhone.  But at the very end he comes to accept the Kindle.

Poof, the Kindle disappeared, just as Jeff Bezos had promised it would. I began walking up and down the driveway, reading in the sun. Three distant lawnmowers were going. Someone wearing a salmon-colored shirt was spraying a hose across the street. But I was in the courtroom, listening to the murderer testify. I felt the primitive clawing pressure of wanting to know how things turned out.

I began pressing the Next Page clicker more and more eagerly, so eagerly that my habit of page turning, learned from years of reading—which is to reach for the page corner a little early, to prepare for the movement—kicked in unconsciously. I clicked Next Page as I reached the beginning of the last line, and the page flashed to black and changed before I’d read it all. I was trying to hurry the Kindle. You mustn’t hurry the Kindle. But, hell, I didn’t care. The progress bar at the bottom said I was ninety-one per cent done. I was at location 7547. I was flying along. Gray is a good color, I thought.

If you have some time to kill, I recommend reading the whole thing.  There’s much more to the essay than a general critique of the device.  Baker sometimes takes the essay in strange directions, getting sidetracked by things like the prevalence of erotic literature available on the Kindle store.  I actually laughed out loud a few times while reading.  If you are a fan of offbeat, dry humor, you should check it out.