Saturday, December 26, 2009
The month started, as I mentioned, with seemingly safe, simple territory: "The Children of Men" by P. D. James. I had seen the movie several months before (I was unaware that it was based on a book until the end of the movie) but knew that the book and movie were very different. The book surprised me, in that it was at once very similar to the movie and at once completely different. It's hard to explain without spoiling both, but I enjoyed the book thoroughly, and not just as a gentle dystopian way to ease into Sci-Fi Month. It's a contemplative adventure story, mixed with politics and a dash of social commentary. Unsurprisingly, the book is really good.
I chose to head in a completely different direction with the next book and finally got around to reading "Good Omens". I'd heard both good and bad, but I honestly expected to like it more. I thought some of the characters were brilliant and eagerly followed one plot thread, but found myself slightly bored by the rest. It also didn't really agree with my mood. It was too... giddily fantastic. Not exactly science fiction. Pleasant stuff (not amazing), but this wasn't the time to read it.
Book 3 came courtesy of the nice folks at Random House, who were kind enough to upload a bucketload of free eBooks just when I bought my handy-dandy Reader: "Perdido Street Station" by China Mieville. I'll be honest, I was flying blind when I decided to read this. Only afterward did I learn that this book has received quite a few honors (none particularly breathtaking, but it hasn't been ignored). The book itself is interesting (a little long, but good overall), if only because it's bizarrely difficult to define. Is it science fiction (what with almost everything being described by science) or fantasy (what with random bizarre inexplicable things happening)? A great segue for some of next week's definition discussions.
These three books reside in very different realms of science fiction (or fantasy, or whatever the requirement is...). One book is humorously fantastic (from fantasy), another is bleakly human, and a third is weirdly scientific. None of these come close to the types of books I hope to read in the coming weeks. I hope to pay my respects to Asimov (on the left) and Clarke over the next few days, as well as Ursula Le Guin and H. G. Wells. Oh, this is going to be fun...
Monday, December 21, 2009
I did, however, feel a slight twinge of guilt and shame when, scrolling down the list of sci-fi books (yes, Wikipedia actually has one of those...), I'd read a tiny tiny portion. I've only read a few Asimov stories, no Clarke, no H. G. Wells, and hardly any of the major, famous hits. I suddenly felt uneducated, much in the same way that three-four years ago I felt the need to educate myself in the "upper literature" realm (the "classics" - Tolstoy, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Austen, Eliot [George], the Brontës, this list goes on and on...), I felt the need to educate myself in science-fiction - and fast.
The problem is, I'm not very good at defining things. So science fiction grew to include fantasy and dystopian literature, which is definitely 100% not the same thing, but somehow I couldn't bring myself to care. The month started comfortably with "The Children of Men" by P.D. James and is now continuing onwards to Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's "Good Omens", which is a long time coming (and probably on the opposite end of the "not real life" spectrum). I'll probably head off towards "Foundation" next or maybe something by Clarke (I have a book of his somewhere, but I can't remember which...). I've also snagged a couple of random sci-fi, fantasy and dystopian eBooks (free[dom!]) and can't wait to see just how amazing "A Honeymoon in Space" is (if it lives up to its title: yes!).
I've got a lot to get through. I unfortunately have a small list of titles I've picked out, though, and could use all the recommendations. While I'm always open to the more modern titles, I am trying to focus more on the holes (uh... giant pits...) in my "outta-this-world" knowledge. Even so, I've got an interesting month ahead of me. I better get cracking.
*The definitions of "sci-fi" and "month" are entirely subject to change. "Sci-fi" may mean anything that isn't true to the world as it currently is and "month" can mean anything between 3 days to a whole lunar cycle of 28 days.
I'd also like to wish all readers a happy solstice and happy [winter/summer-for-our-southern-hemisphere-friends holiday of choice].
Sunday, December 20, 2009
We'll start with the Nook. A few weeks ago I casually noted the growing obsession with Barnes & Noble's new eReader device. It's gotten a bit out of hand. There have been very few early reviews and even those have not actually said much. Or have said not much to flatter B&N. It's a new device and consumers need to understand this. Sure, it's appealing on paper but with so little information, how can people seriously think that this is a game-changer?
As for the few reviews, the NYTimes was not impressed, calling it a Kindle ripoff and noting that almost every charming pro that made consumers drool came with a downside. The color touchscreen is random and unrelated, the page-flip time is long, the touchscreen is unresponsive, and a whole list of hardware issues that seemed to the reviewer to make the Nook "a mess". Which is unsurprising, given that this is a new product. There's still this assumption that any new product will be the game changer. I've seen articles referring to almost any non-Kindle device as precisely that, whether or not it even makes sense. Everyone wants the Nook to change the eReader realms because current non-Amazon guys (Sony?) aren't doing much, and a lot of folks don't want Amazon to monopolize the market so quickly and, shall we say, evilly? Actually, that's wrong. Sony has some great products, the problem is that they don't care enough to enter the battle seriously and loudly. Irony, right?
And then there's Apple. The mythical Tablet has been talked about for so long that it's turned into the publishing world's obsession. People have honestly said, "I'm not buying an eReader until I don't see what Apple comes out with." So this needs to be said once, clearly and loudly:
Apple's Tablet will not be an eReader!
Apple will, as usual, provide consumers with a cheerfully convenient device. They'll have some spiffy "Amazon-killer" eBook store (with their own personal DRM, I'm sure...), a huge marketing campaign, and hundreds of automatic customers just because it's got Apple stamped on it. Except it's not going to be a proper eReader like what we've come to imagine. It won't have eInk screen technology, it won't focus on books, and it won't be tailor made for readers (like the Reader, Kindle, Nook, iLiad, etc.). What it will be is a giant iPod Touch, which is really not the same thing.
All right. I recognize that for some consumers this is exactly what they want. They want an all-purpose shiny, glossy device that connects to the internet, surfs the web, lets them read, write and type, and do just about anything with Apple's trademark style. Fine, legit. But to hear publishers and serious readers try to compare a Tablet to a Kindle (or any competitor, etc.) is stupid. It's like saying an iPod Nano is comparable to a computer because they can both play music and show color things on their screens.
Yes, I am certain the Tablet will be shiny and awesome and will look amazing. I'm sure when (...if) it ever comes out, many tech lovers will drool over it in delight. I'm sure that some readers will find this a suitable device for reading and will forgo purchasing actual eInk eReaders (which was kind of the whole point, but all right...). Those considering buying eReaders for their crisp, comfortable screen quality should understand this, though. A giant iPod Touch sounds like fun but it's not the same thing. It's not what I'm looking for in an eReader, at least.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I smiled suddenly, understanding the question. "It's fun so far," I said. As I walked away, I added, "I hope she enjoys it."
(I definitely enjoyed the book more than the disappointing game. My team lost. Again.)
Friday, December 11, 2009
[T]he inescapable truth is, sampling world culture is an essential and powerfully enriching experience. [...] [These books] just happen to be set in slightly unfamiliar locales.Indeed. The list is fairly varied, with books translated from Spanish, Russian, Hebrew and Dutch (two books are originally from Spanish). Obviously, it might have been nicer having a wider variety (and a longer list!), but given how few books get translated per year, I'm willing to forgive Crispin. The topics are also all over the board, with horror stories, war tales, nerdiness, feminism and family drama all covered. For readers sick of constantly seeing the same titles again and again in "Best of" lists, this one is most recommended.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
The grand winners are, for the most part, Dave Eggers, Zadie Smith, and Ian McEwan. It's amusing, though, to see the others nominated. "Twilight", Dan Brown and Harry Potter are repeatedly mentioned as "How do people like this [expletive]?!". Many (I think almost all; "Wolf Hall" may be the only exception) of the last decade's Booker winners have been mentioned as "pure drivel" and several other popular novelists' names keep getting tossed around back and forth: "He's great! No, he's [crap]. What are you talking about, ----- was a masterpiece of modern literature! You're an idiot if you think that! Yeah, well you think--"
And people say literary discussion is dead.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Two books I purchased because they're part of a publisher series I quite like. One of these came heavily recommended while the other I looked up beforehand online. It looked interesting and was on sale. Alright, legit. The third book was also recommended by a couple of trustworthy sources. Actually, the author had been mentioned; I had no idea which book of his to read. I ended up picking the fattest one. The fourth book I took because I'd heard about the author. That's all. Name recognition and nothing else. The fifth and sixth books I chose because I've already read a book by their respective authors. In both cases, I wasn't blown away but felt I should give the authors another chance.
So the question: Do I actually need to know what a book is about before reading it? I'm leaning towards the "no" end of the spectrum. Several times in the last few months I've read books when I've known next to nothing about them and I've enjoyed them. The good ones, at least. Books with blurbs lead to expectations. You expect the book to follow the story summary and fit those perfectly chosen publisher phrases to the T. If it doesn't, it's a disappointment. If you're apathetic about the book, you end up feeling whatever the publisher wanted you to feel. And manipulated. If you liked it, no harm no foul. But reading a book ignorant is like eating with a blindfold on. Sure, you know the general genre (and if you spend as much time researching books as I do, tend to know a little bit about the author and writing style - thank you internet), but surprise and excitement lie within the story, in the "meat". It unfolds with no expectations and progresses as simply as any book can. If it's bad, it's bad. If it's mediocre, it's mediocre. And if it's amazing, it's your new best friend.
There's a second part to this question. What does it mean that a book sounds good? Essentially, books sound like they've been marketed. If a publisher tells me a book is a great work of international literature, something that will change how I view the world... yeah, I'll probably bite. But for all I know, it's a love story that just happens to take place in the non-Anglocentric world. Do I need a book to sound like it might be interesting in order to enjoy it? The books I hated most the last year have had "intriguing" stories. That's not enough. So once I have a vague notion what type of book it is (based even on a bookseller saying it's vaguely like this other book I liked, or the publisher selling it alongside a superb book, for instance), why should I bother?
I have no idea. I'm curious to know what others think, though. The floor is open.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Sketches. Surprised, I flipped through the book slowly, pausing every few pages. Lovely drawings by Berthold Mahn, scattered throughout this 1942 edition of one of my favorite books. Some drawings are more detailed and complex (above and lower left), while others take on a cruder, simpler style (lower right). The pictures match the story just right without revealing much for the unsuspecting browser. In fact, lined up and placed side-by-side, these different drawings tell a story of their own. The depth and beauty these pictures add to an already excellent book is surprising, making me wonder why I haven't seen more artwork of this kind.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
The thing about "Peer Gynt" is that I kept putting it off. Here's a play best known for Edvard Grieg's musical interpretation of it, not for its literary merit. That's where I know it from and I suspect the vast majority of readers associate Ibsen's work with the quite beautiful suite (my personal favorite from the bunch is "Solveig's Song"; absolutely incredible). It's a rare example where listening to the music doesn't remind the reader of the book, but rather the music paints the story and the book reminds the reader of the music. It's strange, too, because the music is meant to accompany the play. The English translation and the ultimate suite make this difficult to imagine these days, when the play is typically thought of only in reference to Grieg.
Here's what I discovered: it makes a difference. I had long intended to read the play along with the music, except I suddenly found myself wanting to dig into Ibsen and Grieg was nowhere to be found. So I just read the play. It was strange, partly because the order within the suite is different than the progression of the book (completely different, in fact), but also because I had a feel for the story before it even began. I knew key points simply because the songs were titled as such and the music to "Solveig's Song" made one scene clear just based on the musical interpretation. It actually meant that even though the play was far from the best of Ibsen's I've read, it was a moving, intense read. Scenes where I liked the music, I smiled at the words. Scenes where the music was unimpressive, I shrugged my shoulders and felt the urge to skim.Grieg and Ibsen (allegedly, according to Wikipedia and my translation) often had different ideas about how the music should sound. I have to wonder how this schism is reflected today, when Ibsen is largely ignored for his verse work and Grieg is played in concert halls round the world. And what it'll be like to reread "Peer Gynt" along with the actual incidental music (not the infamous suites...)? I'm intrigued to find out. Of course, it may take something akin to three years just to get there...
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I'm not convinced Amazon has a long-term commitment to the Kindle hardware business. In fact, I'll go so out on a limb and predict that Amazon will completely exit the Kindle hardware space within the next 3 years.Huh. While I'm certain similar thoughts have been expressed before, this is the first time I've come across anyone who thinks that Amazon will entirely exit the eReader arena (and gives a timetable too! Hmm...). The post is quite interesting, raising a number of quite relevant issues and offering places where competitors seem to win, mentioning the not-yet-available B&N Nook as a primary example and Apple's mythical "Tablet" (does this thing even have substantial rumors to suggest it will exist?) as another possibility.
[...] I had high hopes back in November of 2007 but Amazon is clearly hedging their hardware bet by offering the Kindle iPhone app as well as the Kindle for PC (beta) and Kindle for Mac (forthcoming) apps. That's a smart move by Amazon. If my prediction comes true and they abandon the hardware space in the next three years they'll still be a major e-content player.
I'm not sure there's a way to summarize Wikert's point so I recommend reading the whole post. What I find curious is that Wikert seems to focus so much on the Kindle's hardware issues rather than problems relating to its convenience (or lack thereof). The closed format is mentioned, but in reference to external applications (all suggestions here seem to mimic the iPhone... huh), not so much reader ease. And there's the assumption that Amazon's "e-content" is attractive. I'm not even going to approach that topic...
Also important is Wikert's claim that certain competitors are surpassing Amazon. Here the Nook seriously comes into play, except that on this count I have to shake my head and disagree. Sure, maybe the Kindle should have tried to be more like the Nook (or is it the other way around?), except we don't know anything about the Nook. Yes, aspects to it sound attractive, but it's a new product that hasn't been field tested yet and seems to be lacking here and there (like all current eReaders on the market...). I fail to understand Wikert's desire to have the Nook truly be "what the Kindle should have been", nor his belief in that statement. Still, it's an interesting look at the matter. Wikert is right in several places, including the mildly hinted idea that we should expect to see some strange and seemingly bizarre things in the future of eReaders and the currently mind-blowing concept that perhaps the Kindle isn't quite the king we assume it to be.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I think all this one needs is the link.
Friday, November 20, 2009
But in all seriousness, finally an award I can comment on. I've read the winning "Let the Great World Spin" and while I thought it was interesting and good (certainly very well written), I wasn't blown away. The book is like a collection of short stories except that the stories eventually connect to form a larger tale. A great tactic, sure, but there were too many stories. The book felt overly long and at times the connections were kind of pointless. That was my opinion, at least.
Should this have been the winning pick? I haven't read the other finalists (making it a little difficult to judge...), but I can't shake off the feeling that "Let the Great World Spin" doesn't deserve such honor. It's a good book; it isn't great. It seems like the award-givers wanted their audience to be pleased with the choice, rather than giving the audience a new and wonderful book choice. Perhaps it's just that it's been a very long time since I've read a book that later won an award. Perhaps it's my personal bias or an issue with my own taste. Either way, the judges have picked a well-written, interesting, and recommendable book for the fiction category (and most likely, equally [or better...] picks in the other categories as well).
Congratulations to all winners: McCann, Stiles, Waldrop, and Hoose.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
For me, the series ended abruptly but aptly. I started reading it in a strange order, first with the twelfth book "Polar Bears Past Bedtime" (the Lars books led to a lifelong obsession with polar bears), then backtracking to "Dolphins at Daybreak" (to understand the story arc), and then finally starting the series properly from the beginning and reading it through. "Polar Bears Past Bedtime" was perfectly suited for a "end-of-first-grade" kid, but years passed. It was difficult to let go and even though it took me about 22 minutes to breeze through "High Tide in Hawaii", I was sad to see the series off. It's a pleasure to find out that I can revisit some childhood favorites through older eyes.
*A small note - The name of the author of this blog has been slightly altered (to a perhaps more familiar title), as the old one is no longer relevant.
Friday, November 13, 2009
the office tv show is betterThis quote, the title of an unremarkable review expressing disappointment with the story and its ending, does not cease to amuse me. It's like saying "Battlestar Galactica" is better than Isaac Asimov's books (robots!). It's like saying "Desperate Housewives" is like "A Doll's House" (...drama?). It's like saying "Futurama" is like "Snow Crash" (this one's a cheat - I haven't read "Snow Crash" but Wikipedia claims they share a pizza delivery theme).
Okay, your turn.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
"They know they're being blatantly sexist, but it looks like they feel good about that," said [WILLA's (the new US literary organisation Women in Letters and Literary Arts) other co-founder and director of the creative writing programme at Florida State University, Erin Belieu]. "I, on the other hand, have heard from a whole lot of people - writers and readers - who don't feel good about it at all."The question: is it sexist? If in going through the thousands of books published this year, the top ten happened to be written by men, is it sexism? Answer: not really "blatant sexism", but it's kind of wrong. Literary sexism is often spoken of but is difficult to prove. It's known that men and women statistically like different styles and often view the literary differently (this is not to say that one is more right than the other). What remains is an argument over whether or not award-boards and juries prefer "manly" books over their female counterparts, and it's one complex, difficult argument that I still haven't figured out.
So what about this is wrong? If I don't think there's something inherently and outwardly sexist to this list (meaning, I don't think that PW intentionally left off women), what is it about it that bothers? Well, it's that you can't help but feel that there has to have been at least one (and probably many more) top-notch, incredible, mind-blowing book written this year by a woman. I'm not saying it has to be one of the big guns mentioned in the Guardian article (Atwood, Munro, Byatt, etc.), but it seems slightly sloppy of PW to judge like this. I wouldn't criticize them for purposely ignoring women writers, but I feel like publishing a list like this displays a slightly unbalanced view of this year's literature. So props for trying (points for non-fiction and graphic memoirs alike), but don't get too hurt by those calling foul. And for those on the other side, I'm not sure this is sexism out to get you - I honestly think it's just stupidity.
I'm curious to know how others interpret this. I suspect there's much to learn and understand from all sides of the story.
Monday, November 2, 2009
"The Arrival" gives the exact opposite. Now the book gives the images and the reader has to build the words around it. It's a curious case (not unique, I'm sure, but special), best described as similar to a silent movie. Indeed, reading "The Arrival" often feels like watching a movie except that there's still something particularly "bookish" about it. Perhaps the still shots help. Reading it, I needed to fill in the blanks in a way that a movie would ask less of me. It's a difficult book to classify.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
The author believes that the concentration and focus required to read a novel is becoming less and less prevalent, as potential readers turn instead to computers or to television. "I was being optimistic about 25 years really. I think it's going to be cultic. I think always people will be reading them but it will be a small group of people. Maybe more people than now read Latin poetry, but somewhere in that range,"Okay, Mr Roth. Let's go through these sentiments and shoot them down one by one.
1. Film as a form of entertainment has existed for almost 100 years. In these 100 years, literacy rates have risen. Yes, obviously part of the reason they've risen is because education standards have gone up along with technological advancements, but with this rise has come the concept of the mass-market book. People didn't stop reading because they could go to the movies; why should that happen today? What's changed?
2. The computer as a popular form of entertainment has been around for about fifteen years. Now, this may seem like hardly any time but in today's culture, things change quickly and decisively. Look how long it took eReaders to become normal. If the computer was going to eliminate the novel, wouldn't it be showing significantly by now? If anything, the computer has helped many people learn about literature, access certain books, and has made book-buying a much simpler thing.
3. Behold. This is an online journal that talks about books (and only books). Including novels. This "cult" of readers is massive - there are hundreds (thousands?) of books bloggers currently active, tens of thousands of Facebook users join book/reading related groups, hundreds of thousands of people write reviews on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing, and many more elsewhere. Are these large numbers just part of a "small group"? The number of people that read Latin poetry is... er... I have no idea. Maybe the reason people don't read Latin poetry is because nobody speaks Latin fluently. It's a dead language, remember? And how to define "a small group of people"? But let's assume for a moment that reading really is in decline. How in decline will it get? Do I, child of the internet, substitute reading literature with time spent on the computer? Absolutely not. Do I watch television for the same reasons I read? Even less so.
Mr Roth is basically saying (as others have before him) that the written word is dying and will be something so minute that it'll turn cult-like. I vehemently disagree. Literary phenomena like "Harry Potter", "Twilight", Dan Brown and others may incite his (and others) wrath (quality drop, blah blah) but there they are. Millions of people around the world continue to buy books. Millions of these will still be alive in 25 years. Still be reading novels. Still be teaching their children to love and appreciate the written word. There may be many things to be frightened of with the future of books, but that they won't exist globally in the coming years is not one of them. Is Roth simply concerned about his own name in history? Don't worry, sir, your novel legacy is good so far.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The salon they entered was large. It had three windows.It's very nice that people translate books. Really. It makes life simpler for most of us. But it's pretty disappointing to find lines like these in the midst of a book that deserves better. I suspect the blame lies with the translator, as the quote sits awkwardly compared to the rest of the page. I may obviously be mistaken and it's Isaac Bashevis Singer's fault but the impression was that the translation flubbed. Thankfully, most of "The Family Moskat" is better written (and translated) than these two sentences. It would make for pretty uncomfortable reading if not...
-p. 40, "The Family Moskat" - Isaac Bashevis Singer, translation by A.H. Gross
Saturday, October 24, 2009
- Two people (a man and a woman) in the same row (on opposite sides of the plane) were spotted reading "The Lost Symbol" by Dan Brown. The woman read through it most of the flight and made significant headway; the man read a few chapters and then set aside the book in favor of his newspaper and a good nap.
- A different man in the same row showed off his Kindle 2 to his travel companions seated on either side of him as the plane boarded. He displayed the way the Kindle flips pages, the weight, and presumably some of the higher brow books he had on it. He then put the Kindle away for the entire flight and read from a print newspaper. Go figure.
- Near the end of the flight, a woman one row ahead pulled out her iPhone and began to read from it. After a few moments, it became obvious (via her method of flipping pages and her level of concentration) that she was reading an eBook. Amazon wins again?
- And meanwhile, this correspondent was reading from a silver Sony Reader.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
The evening I bought it, I plugged it in, let it charge fully, installed Sony's incredibly convenient eBook Library, got my first book from GoogleBooks ("Fruitfulness", Emile Zola) and began to read. I was in a state of nervousness that perhaps I had made a bad choice buying the Reader and so I approached it more cautiously than I might have otherwise. Every negative comment I'd seen about it sprung to mind again, and I was certain that I'd be incredibly disappointed.
I wasn't. Two hours later, I was engrossed in my reading, taking notes in the "margins" (something I would never do in a physical copy, for fear of ruining it) and overall pleased with the device. The biggest point against the Reader was that the screen quality was poor but in all honesty, the glare was hardly noticeable. I suppose that for those eReader experts it might have been bothersome, but the screen didn't cause me eye strain, didn't bother at all, and served its purpose quite well in providing me with a book to read. The extra features are fun, easy and wonderfully convenient, like the dictionary and the ability to take notes in the margin (the stylus is extremely responsive and is fairly easy to use, just don't let your hand rest on the screen! A mess ensues...). Embarrassing side note about the dictionary: it is so useful that when I was reading from a print book the other day, I actually attempted to double-click on the word.
Another common complaint was that flipping pages was difficult and unintuitive. Quite the contrary. It took me a little while to get used to flipping the pages with my thumb across the touch screen, but once I figured out that a little bit of nail will help, it became quick and easy. Furthermore, the buttons are perfectly placed for how I hold a book, with my thumb resting at the bottom-centre and the rest of my hand supporting the book from the back. The movement is completely natural, as though I'm reaching for a page in the bottom right corner and I'm "dragging" it across to flip.
As for access to books, I was rather pleased. The idea of free library books sold me the device and I was happy to see that the process runs smoothly. Gutenberg, GoogleBooks, and various free eBooks filled up my library quickly and easily. My Reader now holds more than 50 books I downloaded and the grand total space used comes to... ~20 MB. ePub files are about 1 KB per page; PDF can take up to a few MB (e.g. a book with 640 pages is 2 MB). Some books have pictures in them and load a little slower but the images show up just fine in black and white. Some PDFs take longer to load the first time they are accessed (a slight downside to the Reader) and though they initially appear to be tiny, upping the font size on the PDFs will lead to readable texts (though the page formats will be a little funky - not a big deal, easy to get used to).
I have other qualms as well. Take, for instance, the occasional blips. GoogleBooks sometimes-to-too-often misreads/mistranslates the original documents, leading to strange mistakes. For instance, "j" may replace ";", "<" may replace a quotation mark, "111" may replace "ill", etc. It becomes easy to keep track of, but is still a definite drawback (although not exclusive to the Reader, as it is a GoogleBooks issue). The PDF issues listed above can also be frustrating at first but these became easy to manage once I getting into the book. It just means a bit more page flipping every once in a while. Formatting also tends to be an issue. Poems often are displayed weirdly, in such a way that indented lines start with a series of "?????". All in all mess-ups appear more often than one would like but don't do much more than irritate, in the same way an advanced reader's copy might annoy with silly goofs. Again, I note, in nearly all cases of formatting error, it is the fault of the source, not the Reader itself.
The reader is obviously not right for everyone. There are many die-hard print supporters (though clearly this will not replace the printed book, they will coexist) but for those interested in technology and willing to dip their toes into this volatile market, I can say that Sony's product is certainly worthwhile. Here's to hoping the price will eventually drop, though. Perhaps soon enough that I'll get a refund as well...?
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Months ago, when I realized I didn't want the Kindle 2, a friend who had handled a Sony PRS-505 suggested I check it out. After seeing the 505 and the 700, I was immediately drawn to the 505 (standard size, a series of buttons along the edge; a quintessential original-style eReader) but knew that a new model was sure to emerge soon. I waited patiently and out came the 600 and the PRS-300 Pocket Edition (immediately ruled out; too simple, too small). The 600 intrigued me: I enjoyed handling it, the screen quality was miles ahead of where the 700 had been (though I'll admit that it's still not quite as crisp as the 505 or the 300, though it's pretty good), and the touch quality made it comfortable and convenient. But this did not sell the product to me. Again, I'm a suspicious consumer and serving as a guinea pig for eReaders did not appeal to me unless the product went above and beyond.
So Sony went above and beyond. It offered me free books. Lots of them. One of the original points that bothered me with the Kindle was that it had no library offer (incidentally, the most viewed post on this blog, thanks to numerous Google searches). eBook prices are unjustly high and in addition to purchasing the machine, I have to buy the books as well for about as much as the paperback? No thank you. But Sony's library option took my terrible original idea and made it good. I take a U.S. (or U.K.) library card, plug it into the system, see if my library participates and can then check books out. I am lucky to have 4 active library cards of which 3 are participants in the program, and given time I'm sure the fourth will join too. I add a book to my cart, check it out, upload it to my Reader and two weeks later it just expires. Simple, to the point, and blissfully free. Coupled with the ability to take advantage of Gutenberg, GoogleBooks and any PDF eBook or document... that's a lot of convenient free material. And all of it open; no DRM. I bought the PRS-600 Touch Edition in silver.
This is not to say that Amazon's price cuts the day following my purchase didn't disconcert me. The fact that it was suddenly open round the world bothered me too (much of my time is spent abroad), because that point had initially disqualified the Kindles. But I quickly realized that it was silly to second guess. I had many initial doubts with the Kindle. I still do. I don't like Amazon's totalitarian take on things - closed format, buy all through Amazon, sneaky fingers in accounts, charging for certain free public domain books (at lower prices), etc. I don't like the lack of PDF compatibility. I don't like the placement of the flip page buttons (I don't hold books that way). I don't like the 3G (which for the abroad folks probably costs a lot more than Amazon is letting on). I don't like the giant keyboard, as convenient as it may be for taking notes. Sure, the Sony's touch keyboard is a bit slow at times but it gets the job done and doesn't add extra bulk to the device. Most of all, I don't like paying for eBooks. Amazon, as ruler of the online purchasers, has created the standard expensive eBook price (my complete rant will come another time) and leads all others to follow in their footsteps, not wanting to be outdone. I want my eReader for free books and so the Sony won out with its library, its comfortable GoogleBooks support and the various other options.
Why now? Now, when things are changing every ten minutes? One day the Kindle is priced the same as the Sony, the next the Sony is the more expensive of the two. One day Sony is king of eReader land, the next Amazon launches new products. Barnes & Nobles wants to join in, the iLiad gains attention, color eReaders seem on the horizon, wi-fi is expected (at some point, hopefully)... why would I buy what seems to be a sub-par eReader now, especially if it's unreasonably priced?
I've thought about it a lot. Nervous consumer and all that. Ultimately, the current market continues changing constantly. Even if new brands pop up, I'm not going to jump to them because a new product is typically less reliable than an established brand (Sony, in this case). I can't sit around waiting for the product to be perfect because that's never going to happen. If I want to experiment with a new device, I'll need to pick one at some point and go with it, just to see how it is. Maybe at some point I'll realize that I don't like my Sony and I'll get the newest Kindle. Or I'll decide that I don't like eReaders at all and will stick to my print books with religious love. For now, I took the plunge and made my decision. Let's see what comes of it.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Last week, Hilary Mantel won the Man Booker Prize for her novel "Wolf Hall". The surprise came in that Mantel was the expected win. Bookies and fans claimed her to be the favorite and indeed she won.
That Thursday, Herta M that the Nobels were far too Europe-centric. M MDistinguished Contribution to American Letters and The Literarian Award, respectively.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Israeli readers are spoilt for choice when it comes to tracking down international literature in Hebrew translation. [...] The literary curiosity of Hebrew readers seems to do something of a hop and a skip over their next-door neighbours before settling in further flung climes. [...] But there are attempts, small yet meaningful, to introduce Arabic literature to the Hebrew-reading public. One example is Tel Aviv-based Andalus Books. The publishing house takes its inspiration from the "golden era" of intellectual thought and activity in the Iberian peninsula[.]A commenter below the post discusses the voracity of Israeli readers, boasting that Israeli bookstores have large English and Arabic sections, which is half true - Israeli bookstores have a fairly wide variety of English language books, Russian books and often various others, but its Arabic sections (in the major bookstores, at least) tend to be small or non-existent. Certain areas, I'm sure, can show off large Arabic-language sections (areas with prominent Arab communities, no doubt) but the vast majority of Israel's main-chain bookstores do not offer much in the way of Arabic.
The core question here is whether or not Andalus Books will be effective. The Guardian seems to think that the publishing of Arab books will lead to better days. That is unlikely. Andalus' publications will most likely go unnoticed in the country that, as the article itself mentions, is currently reading "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". It's not even necessarily something against Andalus' attempt. Most Israelis, like the whole world, content themselves with the bestsellers recommended to them by booksellers. And it's particularly difficult in Israel, where bookstores are notoriously tiny (though common). So aside from the fact that it's difficult for Israelis to hear about the smaller, more random presses, there's the issue of whether or not the vast majority of Israelis will want to read Arabic books in translation.
Here is where some politics enters. The honest truth is that a large group of Israelis would yell at the idea immediately. But to be even more honest, these are often the same people that wouldn't read much in the first place (no offence, guys). It is true that Israel's left would be more willing to read these books and assuredly would appreciate and enjoy some of them (assuming these are good books; quality literature). It does mean, however, that the potential audience for these books is already small and getting smaller. Yes - Israeli culture does treat reading differently than American or British culture meaning a possible opening for Arabic books in translation. On the other hand, it'll be difficult to pass along these books and their possible positive messages to wide audiences. So the Guardian's enthusiasm should wait for reality to catch up.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Well, sort of. Primo Levi amazes me again and again. First, "The Periodic Table" managed to hook me onto his writing through a couple of sentences about hydrogen. Then, "If This is a Man" made me realize how much I'd been missing for years - the ultimate and original Auschwitz story, where Levi made me visit a familiar story with new eyes. The experience was quite fascinating (certainly not good or nice, but a curiously powerful sensation nonetheless). And now "If Not Now, When?". What to say?
Merely this: Every aspect that glowed in either of the previous books comes to life here. Yet in the same vein, the book is not flawless. It at times feels rushed - take, for instance, the way it is repeatedly mentioned that a certain group has 40+ members, yet only ten or so are ever named. Events only include these named characters, as though the others are only extras "to kill off" (not the case, by the way). The book also requires a flexible imagination. It is, after all, more an adventure tale than anything else and that's the core of it all. "If Not Now, When?" is a glorious novel, yet it acts like Levi's previous works. Here, too, emerge living, breathing men and women, though this time they aren't real. Here, made-up stories are carefully woven such that not a single thread remains loose. Here, the horrors of the Holocaust reveal and nauseate, reminding readers that the world is not always a grand and cheerful place.
Above all else, "If Not Now, When?" is Primo Levi's novel. 3rd person, full of adventure, love and drama, death and mayhem, fights and battles, good and evil. But Levi doesn't leave it at that. Often, main character Mendel finds himself wondering about death and killing - he wonders where the moral line must be drawn. Is it, he asks himself, legitimate to kill under any circumstances? He struggles with this train of thought throughout the whole book while others pick sides - some declare all killings unjustified and wrong, some say killing Nazis and S.S. soldiers doesn't count as murder. This question, along with other moral topics raised and masterfully handled, aims to present a full picture of life as a partisan in Poland and the Soviet Union. Primo Levi may not have lived this life, but "If Not Now, When?" proves that he was certainly an excellent enough writer to bring it to existence nonetheless.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I'm a little late to Banned Books Week but it's definitely something that deserves mention. I've been going through various lists of banned/challenged books and I'm amazed again and again by the reasons books are banned, which books are banned, and how often. But lists never capture the pure essence of these stats as much as the stats themselves, so with a respectful tip of my hat to the ALA, these are the charts and graphs (originally here).
As we can see from the Challenges by Year bar graph above, the trend is overall a downward one but the spike every other year is slightly disconcerting. Numbers in their raw form and they don't tell a happy tale.
In the Challenges by Reason chart, the chunk that perhaps frustrates me most is the "Unsuited to Age", which is surprisingly large. How exactly does one go about defining what is suited to what ages, particularly when the age in question is high school ages (14-18)? There's a lot more to complain about this specific slice of the chart, which will be dealt with another time.
The funniest sliver has to be that of "nudity". I have to wonder what types of books these were to be banned for... nudity, which is typically something one sees, not something one reads. Or do some people find the words "naked" and "nude" to be offensive? Not fully clear on this one. And the most singularly curious piece of the pie is the "inaccurate" one. A lot to ponder over with that one...
The Challenges by Institution chart is perhaps the least interesting to me - going over the lists makes it quite obvious that the vast majority of challenged books are from libraries, school or otherwise. It's a disappointing list, obviously (seeing as libraries are meant to house knowledge), but not particularly insightful or surprising. Still, it's interesting to see how small the "Prison" slice is. I guess even museums are more likely to ban books than prisons. I wonder why that is...
The final chart, that of Challenges by Initiator, is perhaps the most interesting one of the four. First of all, the immediate stat is obvious - about 60% of all challenged books come from parents. Now, I obviously don't know the circumstances surrounding all the challenges but I've read through a number of these lists and the pattern that emerges is that parents dislike the messages certain books send to their kids. Sometimes these are ideas based in religion but not always. Refer again to the first pie chart - it seems that parents complained quite a bit about "appropriateness", language, explicit books (and how does one define this? More questions for a later time) and then, in smaller slivers, a number of questionable themes. Parents, it would appear, want to keep their children (their high school aged "children") away from themes often relevant to their age group.
Another important and interesting aspect to this final chart is that the teacher chunk isn't as thin as one might expect. I'll have to read through the lists more carefully to spot these cases, but I just can't understand what might lead a teacher to challenge a book. All the lists and statistics require a lot more time and mulling over than one single post can give so I recommend everyone head over to the ALA's Banned Books Week page and read up a little. There's a lot more to be said on the matter but for now, let the stats speak for themselves.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
The ideas of flights and pursuit are recurrent in dreams and are equally enrapturing. Excellent witty things are said by everybody. It is true that if remembered in the daytime they will fade and lose their sense, because they belong to a different plane, but as soon as the one who dreams lies down at night, the current is again closed and he remember their excellence. All the time the feeling of immense freedom is surrounding him and running through him like air and light, an unearthly bliss.Above, dreams. Below, the chapter "The Elite of Bournemouth".
-p. 83, Out of Africa - Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen)
I had as neighbour a settler who had been a doctor at home. Once, when the wife of one of my houseboys was about to die in childbirth, and I could not get into Nairobi, because the long rains had ruined the roads, I wrote to my neighbour and asked him to do me the great service of coming over and helping her. He very kindly came, in the midst of a terrible thunderstorm and torrents of tropical rain, and, at the last moment, by his skill, he saved the life of the woman and the child.The book is (to an extent) summarized by these two passages. The first goes to show the elegance and beauty to Blixen's writing and how she manages to vividly describe everything she mentions. The second displays the culture gaps, humanity and ordinary life she constantly seeks to explain. The book manages to juggle these two styles fairly well though had it been more tightly written (and perhaps better edited) it might have been an easier, better read. Still, passages like those above redeem the book to an extent. It is difficult to fault a book that pinpoints the essence of dreams in the best description I've ever read.
Afterwards he wrote me a letter to say that although he had for once, on my appeal, treated a Native, I must understand that he could not let that sort of thing occur again. I myself would fully realize the fact, he felt convinced, when he informed me that he had before now, practised to the elite of Bournemouth
-p.223, "Out of Africa"
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
* Monte Cristo - escape from prison, fencing lessons, a large playpen full of foam balls and a few buried treasures, and villain laser tag.
* The Odyssey Experience - a frenzied boat ride through Poseidon-infested waters, souvenir shops that sell "I destroyed Troy! ...but lost my way home..." merchandise, and Odysseus vs. suitors teamed laser tag.
* Enderland - do battle with buggers, maybe have a few internal conflicts about it, fly around in a giant space station. And laser tag.
Just about any fantasy, science fiction, or adventure story can be transformed into a fun, exciting theme park. We should expect to see others like this very soon. All you need is time, good planning, publicity, and a whole lot of money... oh.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Five backlist novels and two new titles are featured in Point of View, a fall marketing initiative from Penguin Young Readers Group. The campaign, which focuses on literary books with strong, somewhat challenging themes, entails consumer and trade components and aims to connect readers who embraced such novels as Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson to new books with a similar appeal. [...] Having a vehicle to promote books with edgy, real-life themes and high-quality writing is rewarding to Peskin as an editor. [...] “Reading books about challenging subjects can help a teen make a decision that could be life-saving. This is a great opportunity to promote novels that will encourage teens to reach out to each other and to help friends get through difficult times.”Having read 3 of the currently displayed books (2 are excellent, one less so), I can vouch that these are indeed interesting, thought provoking picks. And for the most part good, seeing as even the one I disliked was well-written and just didn't suit my personal taste. What I particularly like about this story is how right the analysis is. Editor Joy Peskin learns from how teens reacted to "Thirteen Reasons Why" (recommended here) and from the incredible success of "Speak" (an excellent novel as well), recognizing that fiction of this kind is important not simply for its literary value but also for the topics it raises.
In the meantime, the site is fairly straight-forward - a synopsis for each book, an excerpt, reviews and the official site, alongside "book trailers". The design is attractive and friendly (though the button for returning to the main menu is slightly... tiny) but there's no "about the site" page. It's all very nice for those who have already read and appreciated one or more of the listed books but I have a feeling it'll have a tough time luring new readers unless it spruces up just a little. Or promotes its promotions. In the meantime, though, I commend the site's point and (so far) its execution. And as an added bonus, I am now curious to read the remaining titles...
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
Two new Sony Readers were released with surprisingly "little" fanfare, considering the amount of press the Kindle 2 received back in the day. Most articles dealing with the Sonys focused on how it fared against the Kindle, seeing Amazon's device as the standard and Sony's as the attempted competition. The PRS-300 is the pocket "budget" Reader, compact and limited in terms of functions (no music) and space (no additional memory) while the PRS-600 is the updated touch-screen version of the PRS-700. Little has emerged about the quality of the PRS-600's screen to counter complaints that the 700's screen was not very comfortable for reading. The 300 is comparatively cheap at $199, the 600 matching the Kindle at $299. Sony continues to battle Amazon by offering its Readers across the globe, hoping to establish itself in the U.K. as the standard eReader.
The same day the new Readers were released, Sony announced an even newer model, the "Daily Edition" which is meant to counter Amazon's DX. Here Sony went for the kill, offering a large touch-screen (take that, Kindle!) in addition to wireless access (seemingly U.S. only, disappointingly), thus "getting rid" of the two main eReader complaints. While this PRS-2121 sounds ideal for many, the actual specifications are still unknown and with a release date around December, it is unlikely more will be said of the matter for some time. Its price aims to once again undercut Amazon's $489 DX at $399. Not cheap, but it looks fairly impressive in the meantime.
Meanwhile, a report has found that even Sony's price cutting isn't enough for most people.
For its report, Forrester surveyed more than 4,700 online consumers, who reported that the average amount they would be willing to spend on an e-reader was $91. The average price at which these consumers said they would not consider buying such a device was $151.Indeed. Those who feel that eReaders are too expensive are not alone, particularly when one takes into account the price of eBooks. The report goes on to suggest that prices will slowly fall (as was the case with Apple's iPhone) until they reach a stable point. For my part, I certainly hope so.
The report indicates that, on average, the carbon emitted in the lifecycle of a Kindle is fully offset after the first year of use. The report, authored by Emma Ritch, states: "Any additional years of use result in net carbon savings, equivalent to an average of 168 kg of CO2 per year (the emissions produced in the manufacture and distribution of 22.5 books)."
The report says what some have felt for some time: it is better for avid readers who care about the environment to splurge once and save millions of trees. It's a convincing argument in favor of eReaders, particularly for environmentalists. A device (though plastic with a fairly short lifespan) capable of preventing needless paper waste and reducing use of the quite polluting process of paper-making... sounds good.But that's not how everyone sees it. Alex Salkever of the DailyFinance says no, eReaders aren't actually that green. Not only do most readers not actually read the "recommended" 22 books a year to counter the production, but the average lifespan of an eReader is much shorter than the report's assumption of 4 years. Salkever estimates that most people switch devices like iPods and eReaders once every 2 years, thus weakening Cleantech's argument. Points on Salkever's end can be argued as well: lots of consumers getting eReaders are getting them because they do buy lots of books per year. Or perhaps not everyone shelling out $300 for a device won't just replace it two years later because a newer one has come out. Lots to think about.
Finally, a new standard price for eBooks has emerged and I'm not liking it very much. Who else feels $9.99 for an eBook is a bit much, particularly when I can't access it without the device that reads it? I've often thought that $9.99 for a paperback is normal; this seems to me a good excuse to push paperback prices higher and hardback costs through the roof. Yet publishers complain that these prices will kill them...
Much to see and discuss on all fronts. eBook/eReader questions are popping up again and again, proving that there's still a lot to learn and figure out.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Research has directed programming toward phonics and reading fundamentals as the front line of the literacy fight. Reading Rainbow occupied a more luxurious space — the show operated on the assumption that kids already had basic reading skills and instead focused on fostering a love of books.It's disappointing that public television keeps aiming for younger and younger ages as opposed to funding appropriate shows for slightly older children as well, particularly a show that aims to instill in kids an appreciation for reading and books. The end of the show would be less bittersweet if only the reasons for its closing were slightly... better. I hope (and would like to think) funding will eventually return to a show like this.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Those who had an imaginary friend tended to provide a richer narrative when asked to retell a story compared to those who did not. Specifically, their stories tended to include more descriptors, dialogue, character names, temporal-locative-causal details, and more verbatim recall. Interestingly enough, these two groups did not differ in their vocabulary ability, nor did they differ in their ability to comprehend stories.
Monday, August 24, 2009
These criticisms fall into three main camps:
1) Your favourite book didn't win. This is the most egregious error the judges make, and they make it again and again. Worse still, instead of your favourite book, they select one that is at best mediocre and at worst thoroughly dull. What's wrong with them? 2) The books are always about post-colonial guilt, Irish poverty or English middle-class Islingtonians having Terribly Important Thoughts about their boring love lives … Where's the SF? Is that not literature? Where's the danger? Where's the challenge? Surely they are missing something. 3) The panel are unrepresentative. Who are these people? Who chooses them? Why should, say, James Naughtie be judging this year's prize? Are they really better judges than you or I?The Guardian handed over nominations to the general public, compiled the list and invited all readers to judge by voting (and the only mention of possible voter fraud was to dismiss the idea, kudos!). And now, at long last, the shortlist, announced. Another list full of books I haven't read yet. Charming.
It's a nice idea. In fact, a really nice idea. Handing over a chunk of the responsibility to the masses, the folks who ultimately read these books. And so what if the Not the Booker prize lacks the prestige of the Booker and receives only a mug as a prize? It's a good way to find out what books people are reading... Hopefully next year the Guardian will also tackle something bigger - a reader driven prize looking at a different set of books. Perhaps books from non-Commonwealth English speaking countries (there's a big one across the pond, right?). Or perhaps a prize for books translated into English. Or maybe round up the year's self-published novels and see what gems lie there. But I suppose I should be satisfied for now and get reading.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Although this book was very well written, I couldn't understand it very well. I probably would not have finished it if it hadn't been required reading for school. I would think that older kids might be able to undertsand it, but that most of it is too subtle for eighth graders.
Eighth graders???!!! Are you kidding me? By thirteen ANYONE should be able to understand this, unless the world is going very quickly downhill...