The Help Desk: Are you e-xperienced?

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

Have you ever used an e-reader? Why or why not? And if so, what did you think?

Jasmine, Fremont

Dear Jasmine,

Yes, I was gifted a Kindle years ago. I used it for a bit. It was fine for reading romance novels on the beach during vacations and for loading up all of the books I needed for graduate school (I have dual master's degrees in Barbie Architecture and American Cheese History from Devry), but overall I found it underwhelming.

Forgive the esoteric academic reference but e-readers are the EZ Cheese of books. They do nothing to enhance the reading experience, they just repackage it in a silly way under the guise of "progress." What you lose are books lining bookshelves, conversation pieces, petite packages of knowledge and creativity ready to lend to friends and people you'd like to impress.

Part of the pleasure of reading is the smell and the tactile feel of turning pages. Without those sensations, when using an e-reader, I experienced the impatience that non-readers must feel when trying to get through a book. I skimmed more and retained less.

I forgot to update the software on my Kindle way back in 2016, when Amazon insisted, so now it's worthless as an e-reader. It functions as a $300 bookmark for an antique dictionary. And although most iterations of Barbie would not be caught dead reading, it also exemplifies Brutalist Barbie architecture: inside the Kindle's pragmatic design and bleak interface lies the weak beat of human ambition, the unfilled promise of unlimited knowledge, the hope for something better. Another failed utopia.