Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bookmarking 7 - Knopf

Have an opinion on this ARC? Probably, and if the book you're reading is a Knopf edition, you might have even encountered this bookmark before, tucked in an ARC of some kind. There's some logic in this kind of advertising, though. It's just one more way Knopf can remind you that they understand books and readers (by offering them the one thing bound to come in handy), that they care what the reviewers' thoughts are, and that they're totally awesome. Right? I have to wonder why other publishers don't follow their lead...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Title madness (or blandness)

I would just like to direct everyone to this excellent Guardian post on book titles. Darragh McManus vents a little on the way books are titled these days, rightly pointing out that for every genre there's the dull, depressingly predictable template. McManus focuses on literary fiction as a new victim of this disease.

This was once limited to what used to be – and probably still is – called genre fiction: Chick Lit, Mum Lit, Bloke Lit, Chicks With Dicks Lit, Blokes With No Dicks Lit, Zombie Novels, Zombie Crossover Novels, Zombies With Dicks Lit, the Tom Clancy oeuvre, and so on. Now, though, what still is – and will continue to be – called literary fiction has also caught the "samey title" virus. At times I suspect there's a computer somewhere that spews out clich├ęd names for such works, depending on how badly the publishers want it to be Taken Very Seriously Indeed.

McManus has nailed it. See, that point that non-industry booklovers often like to ignore (or, at least, I like to ignore) is that publishing books is a business. Like all businesses, it's kind of ugly. Book titles are like covers - you judge based on them. Personally, titles can sell me onto a book without any knowledge of what the book is about. Don't believe me? I bought "The Periodic Table" because I had a chemistry exam coming up. Titles matter.

And publishers have realized this. "Literary fiction" (and what, exactly, is literary fiction? More on that later...) got a template of bland vagueness. McManus' examples of "The Inheritance of Loss", "The Unnamed", "The Surrendered", "The Girl with Glass Feet", etc., show this precisely. Can you figure out anything about the tone, the style, the depth or the story from these titles? I'll even give you the answer: no. These titles have no spark, nothing to distinguish them. Which is, it seems, exactly the point. Literary fiction, it seems, is defined by its lack of individuality. It's someone's wife, or daughter, or shadow, or... To sum up, this comes from commenter harley26:

one final point - everyone always blames the publishers for this kind of bland marketing but I think it's time to have a go at the readers. If it weren't for us lot lapping up this s**t, they wouldn't bother to sell it so.

Well said.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bookmarking 6 - Finally!

In honor of the big day, a local chain decided to give their customers a little treat. "This is a fat book," they told us. "While you're probably not going to want to stop very frequently, at least you'll have a matching bookmark for bedtime."

Who can argue with that?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Whole wide world

A few years ago while browsing on Amazon, I found myself annoyed at how their subjects were arranged. Almost every genre I went to, the same top books popped up. "I want diversity!" I told the computer. Well, Amazon has finally heard my plea. They recently (probably a few months ago) added a "World Literature" genre.

Excited, I clicked on the link, eager to see translator names everywhere. Then my eyebrows rose. Then they rose even higher. You see, I'm looking at this list and the first title is the incredibly popular "The Help". Except "The Help" takes place in the U.S., right? I continued scrolling. Nicholas Sparks, pretty much the entire Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (props for Amazon for including kids' books, though), and Jane Austen. The next page continues the Western world streak, but tosses in a bit of popular Americanized world literature - books that could legitimately belong on such a list were it a legitimate list.

In the sidebar, there's the country breakdown. Want to laugh? The U.S. counts for 177,397 books. Britain is another 118,982, Canada, Australia and New Zealand offer about 17,000 more titles. Oh, and another 57,000 "mythology" titles, which is just a fancy way of saying "Kids books" and other random classics.

There's something kind of disappointing here. Yes, I know the U.S. is part of the world and can thus qualify (like any other book) as "World Literature", but the point of the definition (from an American standpoint, anyways) is to make it possible for us to categorize those other foreign finds we typically ignore. I had always hoped to see various different titles showcased, good books that aren't necessarily popular. Instead, it's just another mishmash bestseller list, comprising of mostly popular (American) books and a couple of random unrelated titles (like classics or kids books). I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised though. Why help consumers when you can just sell them what they've already bought from you?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

B (5) O2 K (19) ... Mg (12) Ar (18) K (19) In (49) 5 - Science

Sadly, this isn't one of mine. It is, however, a bookmark I found rather randomly on the internet thanks to boredom (Google: bookmark chemistry).

The cool thing about Mr "I Love Science" (other than everything) is that I often like to match bookmarks with the content of the book I'm reading. For instance, I might have a bookmark from a certain country live in a book that takes place in said country. I often plan months in advance what bookmark will go where.

Too bad I couldn't have had this one when I read "The Periodic Table"...

Monday, March 15, 2010


“Tablets currently focus on the web-surfing experience,”
This is a key sentence in the great Wired article about Tablets versus eReaders, which suggests that the two can (and perhaps should) coexist. It points out that Tablets are great for textbooks and magazines but not so much for fiction (it also puts non-fiction with that group but I'm not certain I agree - more on that later). The article rightly explains that eReaders are great because of their battery life and screen quality, while Tablets are awesome because of everything else.

E Ink screens aren’t particularly good at anything other than books, leaving newspapers and magazines out in the cold. That’s where tablets could step in, says James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research. [...] But it will be a battle that could take a toll on e-paper based displays, he says.

“For people who read more of those media than they do books, tablets will be an ideal device and can easily take some wind out of E Ink sales, once we get beyond the fourth of the population that really enjoys reading books,” says McQuivey.

Still, tablets won’t immediately supplant lower-priced electronic paper-based e-readers, he notes. “The first thing you need to consider is whether tablets will actually be as good for book reading as the E Ink readers are,” says McQuivey. “Having a two-week battery life and a device that’s comfortable to stare at for hours at a stretch without strain (as with e-paper based e-readers) is hard to beat.”

Indeed. There's the price issue too and with this Tablet vs. eReader split, eReaders will probably need to become cheaper. It's an interesting article, raising several ideas I'd never thought of before (and am still not certain I agree with). It's one of the better roundups I've encountered on the matter - those curious about the impact Tablets might have on the eReader market should certainly read it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bookmarking 4 - Egypt

In sixth grade, my homeroom teacher was also my English and history teacher. At the start of the year, she presented every student in the class with a bookmark. On one side, she had printed our names in fancy calligraphy. On the other was a stamped illustration - mine happened to be of a pile of books. Attached at the top was a small carved scarab beetle. A student asked, curious, "Mrs R, what's this?"

She smiled. "Wait until we start studying about Egypt."

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Calibre convert

I'm not very good at technology. If programs get to be too complicated, I raise my arms in defeat and forget about it. I like simplicity in the use of technology, complexity in its quality. I am that spawn of the internet age - at once lazy and inquisitive.

On the one hand, this trait made me fairly pleased with Sony's Reader Library when I first started using it. Moving files to my PRS-600 was so simple, downloading and viewing files even more so, and arranging them in bookshelves proved to be surprisingly convenient once I started amassing books. And taking notes on my computer? A cinch. But it's an annoying, frustrating program too. The inability to adjust metadata means that many of the files I've acquired have bizarre/inaccurate titles and authors, making it incredibly difficult to keep track of where my books are at, once on the Reader. I started searching for ways to change the settings, certain there must be some simple solution. Instead, I kept coming across the name Calibre again and again. I finally downloaded it, after using a computer for a couple of weeks that seemed unable to use Sony's program (it turned out the problem was that the Reader Library had been installed on an external drive to the computer that was no longer there...). The results? Calm, blissful, and altogether impressive. I am now a Calibre convert. Sort of.

Calibre doesn't resemble Sony's iTunes-esque library at all. On the one hand, it's simpler, with large, easily recognizable buttons along the top displaying the many available options. On the other hand, it's more complex, because -- it has buttons along the top displaying the many available options. I don't mean the option of "change author", "change title", etc. No, it's "edit metadata" and "convert format", both of which lead to new and seemingly complicated screens. Except there's really nothing to it. Within seconds, I'd managed to figure out how to maneuver Calibre's basic options, even picking up the quick keyboard commands (they're entirely intuitive - v for view, e for edit, c for convert, etc.).

There are two main features that make Calibre worth your while, no matter what eReader program you use otherwise. The first is the ability to convert files. Almost every format can be converted to something else (I think .doc is the exception), so if you've found a great book in PDF but don't like how it looks, hit a couple of keys and bam--ePub it is. I'm not sure if it works for .azw (Kindle) files, but the open screen indicates that it's a Kindle compatible program too (through .mobi, I think). For the rest of us, though, it works like a charm, even if converting PDFs reveals funny glitches like page numbers in the middle of the screen.

The second interesting feature is "Fetch news". Upon command, Calibre connects to the internet and downloads the most recent newspaper or magazine from a multitude of sources (in a multitude of languages), making it possible to read The New England Journal of Medicine and then getting updated with The Chicago Tribune. For those with Kindles who pay for some papers, this feature may seem silly (particularly since one needs to connect the machine and the fact that often the papers are incomplete without a subscription...) but in all honesty it's great for me. I recently took a flight across the Atlantic and instead of buying my typical Economist magazine, I downloaded the free (and mostly complete) version to my Sony and enjoyed it on the flight for no extra charge. Calibre automatically downloads the papers into the suitable format for your device (specified upon installation), complete with internal links to specific articles, to menus and the black-and-white pictures.

It's not a perfect program. Far from it. It's slow, somewhat unorganized at times, and cannot actually be used alongside Sony's Reader Library. Technically. In reality, it's possible to use both by taking advantage of Calibre's useful features and avoiding letting it come into contact with the actual eReader. Still, it's an added step and an added hassle. But for the ability to fix those pesky PDF files that come with crazy metadata (by converting them to ePub with the proper info, or self converting to PDF, as strange as it sounds), for the newspaper feature, and for the ease with which I figured out theoretically complex stuff, I give Calibre my stamp of approval.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bookmarkeng 3 - Kindergarten

Many might remember those times in kindergarten where the teachers assign "art projects". For my young cousin, one such art project was to make a bookmark, and then to laminate it. On one side, he drew the charming above display. On the other, he drew several colored boxes and attempted to write the name of this humble correspondent. He did not succeed entirely.