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There are moments when I think Terry Pratchett is the funniest writer alive. Funny, that is, the clever sense of funny.

It is very important to be sober when you take an exam. Many worthwhile careers in the street-cleansing, fruit-picking and subway-guitar-playing industries have been founded on a lack of understanding of this simple fact.

In the 1990s, he was the best-selling British author in the world—until a woman named J.K. Rowling usurped that title for eternity—and he continues to turn out a book or two a year, each funnier, as in cleverer, than the last.

Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.

The genre of comic sorta-science-fiction seems to have been an English invention, with Douglas Adams, Tom Holt, and Terry Pratchett its main practitioners, and there’s something deeply satisfying about Pratchett’s Discworld series—something that the others never quite found, good as they were: a fictional universe broad, strong, and weird enough that the author can do anything in it.

Genius is always allowed some leeway, once the hammer has been pried from its hands and the blood has been cleaned up.

But I actually wanted to talk about the Kindle, the reading device from Amazon. And how horrible, stupid, and unusable it is.

Gods like to see an atheist around. Gives them something to aim at.

My wife bought me one for Christmas, and I tried. I really did. We go through a couple hundred pulpy genre books a year: sci-fi, mysteries, Napoleonic naval stories, and all the rest. Except Romance. Don’t know why we skip that one. It’s no worse written than all the rest.

Sometimes I really think people ought to have to pass a proper exam before they’re allowed to be parents. Not just the practical, I mean.

And I think my wife’s idea was that, since the Kindle editions are always a dollar or so cheaper, in a year or two, the Kindle would have paid for itself. Assuming that we would keep buying that many books. And assuming we found the Kindle a good substitute.

In the second scroll of Wen the Eternally Surprised a story is written concerning one day when the apprentice Clodpool, in a rebellious mood, approached Wen and spake thusly: “Master, what is the difference between a humanistic, monastic system of belief in which wisdom is sought by means of an apparently nonsensical system of questions and answers, and a lot of mystic gibberish made up on the spur of the moment?” Wen considered this for some time, and at last said: “A fish!” And Clodpool went away, satisfied.

But the text is simply a disaster. It’s like reading the old ASCII files of Project Gutenberg online: You could do it, if you really had to, but your eyes typically went on strike somewhere in the first half hour.

People’s whole lives do pass in front of their eyes before they die. The process is called “living.”

Why is the text on Kindle so awful—hundreds of years of lessons about typesetting, lost in an instant? Bad line breaks, bad hyphens, bad page composition, bad times.

Pets are always a great help in times of stress. And in times of starvation too, o’ course.

So I gave up. Or, at least, gave up until yesterday, when I found I had nothing to read. And downloaded a book, on the Christmas present that my wife gave me and has taken over herself for the occasional use she, at least, is willing to make of it.

Not a man to mince words. People, yes. But not words.

And I downloaded Terry Pratchett’s last book, Unseen Academicals , because—well, obviously, because I was desperate for something to read.

Bishops move diagonally. That’s why they often turn up where the kings don’t expect them to be.

And it was horrible. Oh, I read the book, since I was, you know, desperate , but the experience was again as disappointing as reading a Terry Pratchett novel could possibly be.

You can’t find a hermit to teach you herming, because of course that rather spoils the whole thing.

And here’s an easy illustration of why: A good number of the best lines in his work are at the bottom of the page; he employs footnotes as a comic device, and THE FOOTNOTES WEREN’T AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE. Gone. Lost. Astray.

Man, I hate the Kindle.

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