The Pop of King

Stephen King: Books With Batteries -- Why Not?

The new Kindle from Amazon.com won't replace books, says Uncle Stevie. But a good story's bound to be compelling no matter how it's ingested

THE KINDLE Says King, who read Robert Goddard's In Pale Batallions on the Amazon device, ''[It's] a gadget with stories hiding inside it. What's wrong…
THE KINDLE Says King, who read Robert Goddard's In Pale Batallions on the Amazon device, ''[It's] a gadget with stories hiding inside it. What's wrong with that?''

Stephen King test-drives the Amazon Kindle

What did I do during the holidays? Read a good book, of course. It was called In Pale Battalions, by Robert Goddard. Goddard's British, and his tales of suspense and mystery have recently been reissued in America. I'd never read him. Now I'm glad I did. Set mostly during World War I (but with a leisurely framework that allows the story to stretch comfortably all the way to 1968), In Pale Battalions is a story of sex, secrets, and murder — all the good stuff, in other words. What makes it especially riveting is the malevolent demon-woman at the novel's center: Olivia Powerstock's greatest talent is making those around her suffer. And Goddard is clever, giving the reader not just one solution to what happened at drafty ole Meongate Manor, but three — each fuller and more satisfying than the last.

A book to remember, in other words, but one I'll remember another way: as the first book I read on my new Kindle.

Most of you will already know what that is, but for those of you who have been living in a barn, your Uncle Stevie will now elucidate. It's a gadget available from Amazon.com. The advance publicity says it looks like a paperback book, but it really doesn't. It's a panel of white plastic with a screen in the middle and one of those annoying teeny-tiny keyboards most suited to the fingers of Keebler elves. Full disclosure: I have not yet used the teeny-tiny keyboard, and really see no need for it. Keyboards are for writing. The Kindle is for reading.

There are two controls on the back. One is the on/off switch (duh). The other turns on a wireless connection called Whispernet. With this you can download books directly from the electronic ether, where even now a million books are flying overhead, like paper angels without the paper, if you know what I mean. The catch: For now, you can only order the ones at the Amazon-run Kindle Store. The advantage: It's cheaper than your local big-box store, with $9.99 as the price for many new releases. But a book is a book, right?

Or is it? One of my writer friends expressed strong reservations. Although raised on TV and weaned on the Internet, this talented young man made a strong argument for books as books: beautiful objects that take up real space in our lives. ''Books do furnish a room,'' people used to say when I was a kid, and I know what my talented young writer friend means. Covers, for instance. The Robert Goddard reissues have beauties. In Pale Battalions features vivid red poppies, those emblematic flowers of World War I, against a field of green. The ''cover'' of the Kindle version is a flat statement of title and author. Borr-ing. On many Kindle books the cover art is reproduced...but in tepid black and white.

NEXT PAGE: ''Then the story simply swallowed me...I wasn't thinking about my Kindle anymore''

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