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November 23, 2012

Slate: What not to buy on Black Friday

PALO ALTO, Calif — Black Friday is for suckers, I've always said. This quasi-religious American holiday is, at bottom, a terrible trick retailers lure you in for super-cheap stuff that you want in the hopes that you'll also be sucked into buying a lot of things you'd never otherwise buy. (Hey, is that a $700 meat grinder?)

For several years, I've cautioned readers to spend the Friday after Thanksgiving doing something much more productive with their time-like, say, writing emails to your favorite four-star general. Still, I always like to help out folks who simply can't resist the siren call of a good bargain.

Here, then, is my annual list of Black Friday bargains to avoid and to indulge. Read it while you're waiting in line-it'll take your mind off the terrible shame you feel for succumbing to the madness.

Do not buy an e-book reader without an illuminated screen, especially one that isn't made by Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

In my 2009 Black Friday guide, I advised against buying any e-readers, which then sold for at least $250 and were still part of a maturing market for e-books. Amazon's Kindle was at the top of the heap, then, but it wasn't yet clear which e-book format would win out in the long run. Three years later, all that's sorted out. If you're in the market for a device that just does e-books (as opposed to an iPad-like tablet), there are only two brands to choose from: Get the Kindle or Barnes & Noble's Nook.

The cheapest Kindle sells for $69, and you can pick up the entry-level Nook this week for $49 (it usually sells for $99). But I'd advise against getting either one of these cheapies. That's because we've recently seen a revolutionary feature in more advanced e-readers: Illuminated screens that allow you to read your device in the dark. You can see the light in the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight or the Kindle Paperwhite, which both sell for $119. (You're not likely to find any Black Friday discounts on these.)

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