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From the desk of Rupert Wright: when the Kindle fails to fire

Focus: Rupert Wright discovers what the fuss over his Amazon Kindle is all about.

I recently bought a Kindle. Yes, I'm sure you technologically advanced early adopters will be chuckling into your cappuccinos that it's taken me so long to catch on, but I'm a great believer in letting somebody else find all the glitches in a device before I invest. I was pleased when it arrived. It comes in a nice little cardboard box, with a small strip that you tear to open. And there is the little Kindle, lighter than a novella but able to store the contents of a small library.

The set-up was pretty straightforward, although the machine itself was rather clunky. When Jeff Bezos dies I doubt there will be tears and flowers in the streets. The Kindle is functional, but without much form.

The one I bought was not touch screen, but had a rather simple, counter-intuitive means of navigation that was neither elegant nor stylish. Never mind, it did the job, at least at first, once I got used to it. I subscribed to The New York Review of Books, downloaded the Booker Prize winner, which as usual was unreadable, and Snowdrops, a thriller set in Moscow that didn't win but was shortlisted.

Then I received a message on my Amazon account. We have noticed that you are not in England, it said. Where are you? When I replied I was in the UAE, it directed me to Amazon.com, the American site. I was delighted by this, because not only are books normally cheaper in dollars than pounds, but there would be no value added tax to pay. Quite how the British taxman thinks that physical books should be tax-free but electronic books taxed is so ludicrous that it's not even worth considering, but it would be nice to dodge it. So I went to the Amazon.com store. It told me there were millions of titles to download, so I tried to buy a couple. Nothing was available, it told me. I wondered whether there was there something wrong with the wireless remote. I phoned customer support, who told me what they always do in such circumstances, the very same advice that Etisalat always gives me: switch the device on and off, then restart. I did that. Still nothing. The charming Irishman charged with trying to get my Kindle connected then went away for a long time.

"Are you still there?" he asked. I was. "I have bad news for you," he said. "Amazon does not have publishing rights with the UAE. You cannot download any books."

Clearly Magrudy's, Jashanmal and even Kinokuniya have such a stranglehold on the book market that they have managed to exclude Amazon. Or maybe there's another reason. In any event, I packed the Kindle back into its little cardboard box and posted it back to England, for a refund. I was also able to get my money back for the Booker Prize winner, which was a relief. It was also quite a good feeling to have finally experienced a new technology, and then gone back to a good book with clear print and a bendy spine. Next week I may even try a papyrus scroll.

rwright@thenational.ae

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