HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

April 14, 2008
From the Editor

John Turner


My Kindle arrived last Friday from Amazon and I spent a good portion of the weekend finding out what it can do. I can report that it's an ingenious device, almost amazing. Until recently, I never imagined that I could decide to get a book one minute and have it right in front of my face the next, without ever having to leave my chair. The Amazon advertisers have said that's possible, and they're right. It is. And actually within a minute.

The problems I've experienced so far are not with the little machine itself but rather with the content you can put on it. When you go to the Kindle store at Amazon, you can't tell for sure what kind of book you're going to get. Some of the offerings have effective internal finding mechanisms, links from the table of contents to chapters, sections and so forth. And some have nothing at all. What you get can be simply a gigantic scroll, made of up of two or three thousand Kindle pages. That's fine if you plan to start at page one and read right through. But if you want to use the volume as a research tool, an electronic book of that sort is maddening.

Amazon provides you with a solution. But they don't advise you to use it to determine the electronic nature of what you buy. You can download the first section of any Kindle book for free. And, generally, from that first section you can tell what sort of finding devices the book makes available to you. So, my advice is never to buy an electronic book from Amazon before you download the free sample. And if you're concerned about clogging up your memory with too many samples, don't worry. They're very easy to get rid of. You can do that also in less than a minute.

There are lots of other features I can't explain today. But over the coming weeks I'll try to tell you more about them. Today I'll simply finish with the observation that though the Kindle is expensive -- $400, for those of you who haven't heard -- it's worth the money, at least for a person of my habits.

I advise all of you to access the April 14th New Yorker and read the article by Jane Kramer about Nadia Abu El-Haj's attempt to get tenure in the anthropology department at Columbia. It's a wild tale, and it tells us as much about American political sociology as it does about the weirdness of academia.

I also recommend Mark Leibovich's piece in the New York Times Magazine about the news talk show host Chris Matthews. It has many fascinating details about what goes on at NBC, who likes whom, and who is most threatened by developments within the network.

Spring is not yet quite here in Vermont, but we have had quite a bit of snow melting. I can now walk down my backstairs easily, and that's a convenient thing after having had to climb up over a pile of snow during the past several months.

This week I have to go to a local college and give a lecture with the dreary title of "How Does Advanced Technology Relate to the Idea of Death?" You may well be asking why I get myself into things like this. But the truth is that once I force myself to work up something to say, the events themselves usually turn out to be fun. I'll let you know next week if that happened this time.

Remember to write to us when you get a chance. I would love castigation.


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