Why I Bought a Kindle

Yep, you read that right. I am now the proud owner of a Kindle, despite discussing my skepticism of ereaders earlier this year. I suppose it might seem odd that I’ve made the leap considering my stance that paper books are here to stay, but I do think the two worlds can co-exist.

One of the things that changed over the past six months is that the Kindle dropped in price to be competitive with the iPad and other ereader offerings from Borders and Barnes and Noble. Once the price tag came down to $189, buying one started sounding a lot more reasonable to me.

I did check out some of the competitive offerings before I went with the Kindle. The wi-fi Nook from Barnes and Noble has a price point of $149 and some decent features, but when I got my hands on one in the store, I wasn’t too impressed with the navigation screen at the bottom of the reader. I also felt like the PDF features on the Kindle were worth spending a little bit more, as was the more robust software and online store. The Kobo from Borders didn’t really come into play just because it doesn’t have wifi or 3g capability.

However, price wasn’t the only deciding factor. I’m currently in the process of moving to a new apartment, and I’m starting to realize that owning several hundred books is actually a complete pain in the ass. When I was packing, I filled a dozen or so small boxes and still had half a bookcase of books left to pack. After carting an endless number of boxes across town, I’m definitely starting to understand that the most practical solution would be to make my new book purchases digital-only. It’s either that or I keep buying bookshelves and never move again.

Also, now that I’ve actually got a Kindle to play with, I’m starting to discover other benefits. One of the biggest is that there are a lot of free ebooks out there in the world. One of the best resources is ManyBooks.net, which provides downloads of basically every ebook format under the sun.

Most of the books on that site are ones that were published before 1923 and are in the public domain, but that basically means I’ll never have to buy a copy of a classic book ever again. Naturally, I downloaded the most intimidating tomes that came to mind: War and Peace and Ulysses. There are also fantastic modern authors like Cory DoctorowCharles Stross, and Kelly Link who release downloadable versions of their books. It didn’t take me long to stock my Kindle full of a pretty decent list of reading material.

Another nice thing about the Kindle is that it is pretty easy to read it one-handed, or lay it flat and read while eating. This is a big deal for me, since I do most of my reading during my lunch breaks. Obviously this means I’ll have to be extra-careful about spills and spaghetti sauce on my hands, but it’s a decent trade-off. I won’t have to warp a paperback out of shape just to keep it open while I’m eating.

Long story short, I’m pretty happy with my purchase so far. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop going to the library, or buying the occasional used book at Half-Price books, but I’m hoping it will prevent me from someday suffocating to death under a pile of unread books. Or at least make my next move a little bit easier.

Priorities

Alright, as you may know, I own a lot of books, and most of the books I own are ones I’ve bought and haven’t read yet. I read constantly, and yet my book collection never seems to get any smaller. Funny how that works. Anyways, lately I’ve been trying to focus on reading books I already own, and to help myself out, I’ve made a priority pile of books that I want to make sure and read this year:

From left to right:

A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffen, Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey, Bite Me by Christopher Moore, The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, Horns by Joe Hill, Sleepless by Charlie Huston, Under The Dome by Stephen King, Going in Circles by Pamela Ribon, Ariel by Steven R. Boyett, Changeless by Gail Carriger, Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, Cuba Libre by Elmore Leonard, Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany, The Shadow of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell.

A lot of these are fairly recent purchases, but a handful of them are books I’ve had knocking around for years and years, with Cuba Libre and Dhalgren probably being the oldest. I can distinctly remember owning Cuba Libre when I was a freshman in college, and I know I read the first few chapters of Dhalgren sometime around then as well. As for the David Mitchell book, it’s an Early Reader from LibraryThing, and I have to read it within the next few months to receive any more books from the program.

I think this could be a good way to make my book collection more manageable. By setting aside a specific pile of books that I can make smaller over the next few months, it might feel more like I’m putting an actual dent in my collection.

Another Successful Trip to Recycled Reads

Made a trip down to Recycled Reads after running some errands and spent $6 on 4 books after some lucky finds:

1. The newest Jonathan Lethem book, Chronic City, which just came out in October 2009. The copy I found is in perfect condition, and it still only cost me $2.

2. Espedair Street by Iain Banks. I love Banks’ scifi work (as Iain M. Banks), but his literary fiction seems to be a bit hard to find in bookstores. This particular book isn’t even in print in the US anymore.

3. Fitzpatrick’s War by Theodore Judson, which also appears to be out of print. Recommended by my good buddy Eddy Rivas.

4. I Will Fear No Evil by Robert A. Heinlein, because one can never have enough Heinlein.

Books Bought Today

Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis, The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies, Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Went on a jaunt around town this afternoon and stopped in at Recycled Reads, the library’s used-books store that runs primarily on old library books, donations, and volunteers. They actually have a pretty great selection of books, made all the better because everything is absurdly cheap – hardbacks are $2, and paperbacks are $1. I dropped a total of $4 to pick up the books shown above. I was also pleased to discover they changed their hours to make them far more convenient – 12-6 Thursday through Sunday, instead of the previous hours, which were seemingly random.

Airport Novel

Airport novels are always paperback books of a small but thick format. These books are seldom made to last, printed on inexpensive newsprint, and they often begin to fall apart after one or two readings. Their titles are often printed in a gilded, silvery or vividly scarlet finish, which more often than not starts very quickly to dissolve and stick to the reader’s fingertips. This is not a problem for their intended purpose; they are made to be bought on impulse, and their readers often discard them when finished.

(via WikiPedia)

There Might Be Spoilers

In a recent post, John Scalzi discusses whether there should be a statute of limitations on spoilers:

If there is, in fact, a spoiler statute of limitations, the question then becomes, well, how long is it? I throw that question open to the crowd, but here are my suggestions:

Television: One week (because it’s generally episodic, and that’s how long you have until the next episode)

Movies: One year (time enough for everyone to see it in the theaters, on DVD and on cable)

Books: Five years (because books don’t reach nearly as many people at one time)

Personally, I absolutely think there should be a point in time where it’s okay to discuss major plot points in a story without having someone scream at you for spoiling it. I personally don’t seek out spoilers, but I don’t think that reading them or coming across them accidentally necessarily ruins my actual enjoyment of the resulting product.

For example, well before I ever saw No Country for Old Men, even without having read the book, I knew perfectly well what happens to one of the major characters near the end of the movie. This didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the movie at all, and in fact it was one of my most favorite movies of the year.

Ladies and gentlemen... I've traveled over half our state to be here tonight. I couldn't get away sooner because my new well was coming in at Coyote Hills and I had to see about it.Same goes for There Will Be Blood. Several of the movie blogs I read were talking about the infamous “I drink your milkshake” scene, and I ended up reading about the basic details of it before I saw the movie. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that nothing could prepare me for the sheer impact of that scene when I saw it in the film. Taking out of context it makes it sound absurd and laughable, but when you’ve followed the characters through the emotional journey that brings you that point, it makes a kind of mad sense.

I don’t think movies are the main source of spoiler accusations, however. With the advent of TV On DVD, more and more people are able to catch up on entire seasons of television shows by renting them or buying them. Within my group of friends, there are a lot of folks who only watch TV on DVD, and don’t even pay for cable. However, along with this trend has come a growing belief that the statute of limitations on spoilers never expires, even if you’re discussing a show that has been off the air for years.

Continue reading “There Might Be Spoilers”

52 Books and a “Best-of” List

As you may know, I spent 2007 reading constantly, my goal being to read 52 books (or more) over the course of the year. I’m glad to say that I successfully reached my goal – my final count was 53 books! I’ve been meaning to write a post about this all week, but I’m only just now getting around to it.

Here are some numbers for you: 11 of the books I read were audiobooks. 5 were graphic novels. 15 were library books. Terry Pratchett was by far the author I read most, with a total of 10 books by him on my list. Lemony Snicket comes in second with 4 books.

I rated every single book I read on a scale from 1 to 10, but I rarely rated anything lower than a 7, although two books did get a 6 rating (Humpty Dumpty: An Oval and The City of Ember). I definitely started a number of books that I never finished, however, and a lot of those would have gotten a 6 or below, which is part of the reason I stopped reading them.

I discovered a number of great authors that have become some of my favorites, including John Crowley, Tim Powers, John Scalzi, and Charles Stross. I also finally finished White Noise by Don Delillo, which I first tried reading back in 2002 on the plane to London – this was the third time I tried!

The full list of books I read is available on the “Books Read in 2007” page, but I’d also like to pick out a sort of loose top 10 of the books I read this year. Each book’s page has a short review that I wrote when I finished reading it.

Last Call by Tim Powers Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco Night Watch by Terry Pratchett Pattern Recognition by William Gibson On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers Old Man’s War by John Scalzi A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore Glasshouse by Charles Stross Little, Big by John Crowley Firethorn by Sarah Micklem

1. Last Call by Tim Powers
2. Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
3. Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
4. Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
5. On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers
6. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
7. A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
8. Glasshouse by Charles Stross
9. Little, Big by John Crowley
10. Firethorn by Sarah Micklem

Honorable mentions go to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by you-know-who, It’s Superman! by Tom De Haven, and the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket.

Long Time No Blog, Guess I Better Post a Movie Trailer

Hello there, gentle readers. I know I have been uninteresting lately. I’ve even gotten phonecalls from friends who need updates, new information and stories on what’s been going on in my life… My life is boring, really. I read books, watch DVDs and TV, and work work work like a good worker bee. I haven’t had the kind of low-level creative spark that produces blog entries recently.

I have, however, just watched a trailer for a new movie from the director of Thank You For Smoking. The movie is called Juno. Watch for yourself:

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

This film has been much-buzzed-about on the various filmic blogs I follow. It was, I believe, a must-see must-acquire film at the Toronto Film Festival, which is always a good thing. The trailer projects memories of such films as Little Miss Sunshine, Junebug, and Thumbsucker, so to a certain degree it’ll surely be cinematic comfort food, simply because I like movies in that vein. Hopefully it’ll also have some of the unique bite of “Smoking” along with all of the quirkiness.

Now, I can’t promise I’ll blog more any time soon. That’s practically the digital equivalent of crying wolf. Just be assured that I’m here, and I’m reading constantly, always working towards my goal of reading 52 books in a year. Along those lines, I’ve discovered several new favorite authors recently… John Scalzi, for example, as well as fully confirming William Gibson’s place on the list.

For All You Library Nerds

This means you, Ryan P. Craven.

I will fully admit that I am a huge library nerd. I have always loved going to the library, and, in fact, when we lived in Wichita, KS, I used to beg my parents to take me to the downtown library just because it was so enormous (3 floors!) and I could wander aimlessly through the sci-fi/fantasy books, and then browse the music, and then pore over obscure photography/art books.

I was a bit disappointed when we moved to Sugar Land because none of the local libraries ever seemed to match the sheer size of that great big Kansas library in my memory. I didn’t really get the chance to see an awesome library again until I went off to college – the SU library was pretty great, for example, although I could never seem to browse fiction the way I wanted to… I guess that’s just as well, though… I was really too busy to be reading for fun most of the time I was in college.

It’s just as well, though, because the Austin library system is awesome. As soon as I had an Austin-area lease document in hand two years ago, I made my way to the downtown library and got myself a card, and I haven’t stopped using it since. I constantly tell the people I know that they should get a card if they don’t have one… you’ll never regret having a library card, even if you aren’t much of a reader.

One of my most exciting realizations was the fact that the libraries here have a pretty excellent DVD selection, including entire seasons of TV shows that can be checked out all at once (I got the entire third season of Farscape from the library, for example, and that’s a hard show to find at a plain ol’ video rental place.)

It also just so happens that I have a newly-fancified-and-upgraded library just down the block from where I live. Good stuff.

Anyways, long story short, I was definitely excited to come across this 13 book hacks for the library crowd article on lifehacker.com. Especially interesting was the section on tracking your checked out books using a nifty OS X menubar addon called Library Books.

Setting it up did take a little bit of tweaking – the Austin library wasn’t included in the default list of libraries, but once I dug around on the library website a little bit, I figured out that it is based on the “iBistro/Sirsi Catalog System”, which is included in the Library Books menu.

The hardest part was figuring out which URL to use for the Catalogue Host:

https://www.ci.austin.tx.us/uhtbin/cgisirsi/x/x/0/49

Once you’ve got that, all you need is a library account and an online sign-in. Here’s how the drop-down looks on my system:

Library Books menu

Levar Burton Would be Proud

Mr. Burton doing his rainbow thing.

I have always been a fan of bookstores and regular book-buying. In fact, I will fully admit that I have bought books simply because I liked the cover and decided the blurb was trustworthy enough. My collection of unread books now spans two bookshelves, one waist-high and one full-sized.

I haven’t always had a giant collection of unread books, mind you… back in high school, I’m fairly sure I read books as soon as I bought them or checked them out of the library. At the very least, I used to read every day of the week, sometimes (well, a lot of the time, actually…) during my deadly dull Economics class in high school…

At a certain point in college, however, I lost the knack of daily reading… but I kept buying books at the same rate. A few years later and I find myself with overflowing shelves. At points I’ve felt vaguely guilty about not reading them… I like collecting books, and I fully intend on reading all of those books at some point in my life, but for a long time the balance has been tipped more towards guilt than action.

Earlier this year, however, I read about a trend/meme/whatever where a number of bloggers wrote about taking on a challenge to read 52 books in a year… i.e. one book a week. I could never pin down who came up with this particular challenge first (perhaps it sprang full-formed from the brow of Blogger.com, or maybe it was this guy) but I liked the idea, and it definitely seems do-able because I’ve come close before. I’ve been keeping track of the books I read for the past few years, partially because I wanted to gauge my rate of reading, but also because I like making lists and rating things.

For example: in 2005 I read 41 books total. In 2006 the number dipped slightly to 37… and so far this year I’ve finished reading 15 books, which is just slightly behind one book a week. In those totals I’m including a decent number of audiobooks and graphic novels, both of which some people might frown upon as lesser forms of reading (to which I say “nyeh!”).

However, just from those recent numbers, I think 52 books is well within my reach this year. Hell, it’s probably fair to say that reading more than two books in a year of any kind is more than most folks manage, so I’ve already got a pretty healthy taste for reading to help me along. If you’re curious about my reading habits, I’ve been tracking the whole thing on my library page.

What has helped me keep reading lately is that I have stopped driving home for my lunch break. This means that instead of getting back to work a few minutes late and barely having time to finish a commercial-free television show in the process, I can sit and read a good 40-50 pages on an average day.

The great thing about this is that just exposing myself to reading every day has given me the reading bug once again, and I’ve really been enjoying reading a lot lately, finding it much easier to focus on a book for a few hours every day. Guilt hasn’t really been coming into the picture, either. I’ve been reading lately not because I think I should be reading, but because I genuinely want to sit down and read something. At the rate I’m going I think I could get on a roll and beat 52 books this year… hooray for goals!

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut

One of my most favorite authors passed away this week, although I doubt he would have thought it sad. He was 84 years old, he lived a full life, and he wrote some damn fine classic literature for the ages. I recommend that anyone who hasn’t read Slaughterhouse-Five pick it up and read it right now. Once you’re done with that, read Mother Night, which is my favorite of his books.

He only wrote a dozen or so books in his lifetime, and I’ve read most of them, but I think I’ll track down the remaining few that I have not read and get crackin’. It seems like as good a time as any.

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” – from Mother Night

Stardust

Our Man Gervais

As you may know, I am a huge fan of Neil Gaiman, have been for years. Stardust is one of the first of his books that I read, and it has been adapted into a Feature Film, due to premiere this summer. I’m pretty excited, as should you be. Clicking on the picture of Our Man Gervais will take you to Yahoo’s lovely little trailer info page for the film, which seems to be pitched somewhere between The Princess Bride, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and all of those modern-day fantasy flicks with amazing special effects.

Interestingly enough, the movie was directed by Matthew Vaughn, director of Layer Cake, and original director lined up for the third X-Men movie before he dropped out to be with his family. I can respect a man who values family over big-budget action movies, but I still wish, in my heart of hearts, that we had gotten a chance to see what he might have done with the X-Men. We’ll never know now, however, thanks to that jerkface, Brett Ratner.

John Hodgman: Not Just a PC, Also Funny

I listened to “The Areas of My Expertise”:http://www.amazon.com/Areas-My-Expertise-John-Hodgman/dp/0143059092/ by John Hodgman today while doing the dishes and cleaning up around my apartment. Hodgman is absolutely hilarious, and definitely needs to write another book and/or get more work (besides those lovable “‘Get A Mac’ commercials”:http://www.apple.com/getamac/.) Here’s an excerpt from the book:

Attack Ad #2: /mp3/hodgman.mp3

work & mr strange

so i’ve been complimented on how quickly i’ve picked up the details of my job position. apparently this department is a pretty busy one – i’ve been told the workload will probably stress me out a little until i get used to it – so when it became clear that i was pretty on point already, people were already saying “where were you months ago when we needed you?”

from what i understand, i’m going to start off doing two main things:

the first involves going through people’s applications for education discounts and reseller purchases and making sure that they’ve plugged in all the right information. this is pretty straightforward; the most important thing i have to do is make sure i don’t forget any steps, because if i do, these folks can’t make purchases. the second involves me using this special customer service e-mail program where i’ll mostly deal with customer questions involving lost passwords and accounts that don’t seem to be working.

once i’ve got myself a cubicle and all the proper login information, i’ll basically be left to my own devices, and will be able to zone out listening to music while i dot the i’s and cross the t’s. and if i’ve got any questions, everyone who can help me will be on ichat.

the benefits of being a full apple employee – as opposed to just a contracted temp like me – are pretty incredibly awesome. there’s a gym on-site for employees, they get great benefits, and there is of course the much-coveted employee discount; one time a year, you can make a big purchase like a computer, and you get *25% off the purchase*.

let’s say you went crazy and got a dual 1.8ghz g5 and a 20″ flatpanel, more memory, a 160 gig hard drive, etc., which comes out to $3522 before tax. you’d save _$880_ with an employee discount and would only pay $2641.

cool thing is, though, that you don’t even have to use your discount sometimes, because they have quarterly specials just for employees. that g5 we just looked at might be even cheaper!

now, from what i’ve been told, the average to become a “badged” employee is about seven months lately. they’ve told me a couple times, though, that since the department is growing, there’s the possibility they’ll badge the temps quicker than that.

now that i figured out the video editing issues, i don’t actually need to get a new computer any time soon. i can wait. seven months. or more, really. according to some of the forms i signed at volt, i can last as a temp up to a year, and then they’ll reassign me somewhere else. of course, it seems more likely that if i keep this job, i’d become badged well before the year is up.

this, by the way, is the first time i’ve gotten a job that seems like it’ll actually require my brainpower. it’s a nice feeling, although i do wonder what sort of stressful life i may have found for myself…

also: i started reading “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1582344167/unsquaredance-20?dev-t=1Y3EPK63R73F26PRKG82%26camp=2025%26link_code=xm2 this week. i was lucky to find it on sunday at half price books. especially lucky because this past weekend was the grand opening of the new half price books that went in near my neighborhood, in what apparently used to be a grocery store. because it was their opening, they passed out coupons when i checked it out on friday, and one of the coupons gave you 50% off one item only on sunday. when i went to the big one that afternoon, however, it was jam-packed with people, and the line for the registers wrapped around the whole store. luckily, though, the coupon was good at any location, so i trekked over to the one on 183, walked in the door, went to the bestseller shelf, and found the exact thing i wanted. JS&MN is a pretty big bestseller lately, and only comes in one of those huge hardbacks that cost an arm and a leg. this copy was marked at $14. so i got it for $7. i was pretty proud of myself. so far the book sort of reads like a great lost Jane Austen fantasy novel, except it’s also hilarious on top of that. (if you hated Jane Austen in school, i hope you wouldn’t hold it against this book. it really is very drily funny.)

Neal Stephenson

“It reminds me somewhat of the split between Christians and Faeries depicted in Susannah Clarke’s wonderful book “‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.'”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1582344167/qid=1098486343/sr=2-1/ref=pd_ka_b_2_1/002-2519535-4588029 The faeries do whatever they want and strike the Christians (humans) as ludicrously irresponsible and ‘barely sane.’ They don’t seem to deserve or appreciate their freedom.”

— “Neal Stephenson, Slashdot”:http://interviews.slashdot.org/interviews/04/10/20/1518217.shtml?tid=192&tid=214&tid=126&tid=11