Ugly witches and a little mouse

Last December my eight-year old nephew visited us from the U.S. It was his first trip to Germany, his first long vacation away from home in many years, and his eagerness to get here was matched by our enthusiasm to prepare for his visit. Wife and I planned and emailed him a ten-day itinerary, full of events and day-trips and guided tours for kids, to which he replied with a request, politely phrased, for more time at home. We guessed why — home was ideal for playing games on his Nintendo DS — but it turned out that there was more to it than video games.

The boy is a reader. In his ten days here he read as many books and finished half my collection of the complete Tintin series. When I told him how happy I was to see him read, he thanked me with a wide smile and added that last year, in his second grade, he had read a hundred and seventy five books, just twenty five short of the mark the school had set for the first prize, an iPod. No one had won it, but he seemed confident to reach the goal this year.

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My problem with The Cat’s Table

My first acquaintance with Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table was through an extract published this spring in The New Yorker. Reading it, I felt like an eleven-year-old watching a magician pull a rabbit out of his hat. I wanted to see more. The book, I learned, would be published “in summer”.

Summer arrived early, but the publishers kept their date fixed not to the season but to the calender. The weekend before the book’s release I scanned some reviews, avoiding parts that revealed the book’s contents, looking for whiffs of judgement. Everyone seemed to love it. On the day of its release, the Kindle edition on Amazon was prized at $3.50. Could this be true? For the price of two ice-cream scoops I could buy a new novel from a contemporary master of fiction? And it would be delivered instantly?

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I do not own a Kindle, but the iPad at home has a Kindle App that lets me read Kindle eBooks on the iPad.

Let this be an experiment, I told myself, as I greedily purchased The Cat’s Table, Kindle Edition. Perhaps this would mark my transition into the world of eBooks, a step I had avoided this far.

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Months later, I am still at “location” – the Kindle analog for “Page” – 235 of 3525. And I’m struggling to understand why.

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