I now have a kindle. I don’t yet have any books on it (apart from the Oxford American Dictionary, which it comes loaded with, and an ebook file of the novel I’m working on for editing purposes). But I do own a kindle.
Most people are talking about e-book readers such as kindle as if they are recent developments, but actually the idea has been around since the early nineteenth century. An early (magical) prototype features in Hoffmann’s story The Choosing of The Bride (from Tales of Hoffmann). At the end of that tale, Albertine’s disappointed suitors are compensated with a series of magical consolations. Chancellery Private Secretary Tusmann receives “a little book bound in parchment which when he opened it proved to contain nothing but blank pages’. The secretary despairs, thinking he has drawn a worthless bundle of paper. The mysterious goldsmith tells him he is mistaken:
“No treasure could profit you more than that which you have found. Do me the favour of putting the book into your pocket. Now think of a book you would at this moment like to be carrying with you.”
“O God,” said the secretary, “in a thoughtless and unchristian way I threw Thomasius’s Short Introduction to Politic Policy into the pond!”
“Reach into your pocket, take out the book,” cried the goldsmith. Tusmann did as he was bid, and behold! – the book was none other than Thomasius’s.
At the goldsmith’s further bidding, the secretary places the book back in his pocket and thinks of another title. When he takes the magical book out again, it has transformed into the book he just thought of (Johannes Beer’s Musical War, or Description of the Pitched Battle between the Two Heroines, Composition and Harmony, and how They Took the Field against One Another, Skirmished and after a Bloody Contest were at last Reconciled.)
So delighted is he with his magical book (or kindle) that he completely forgets about Albertine and throws himself into an armchair, repeatedly putting the book into his pocket and pulling it out, his face transformed by joy. For, from now on, whenever he takes it out, it will become whatever work he desires to read.
Yes, Hoffmann certainly saw the Kindle coming, alright.