Sunday, July 31, 2011

New In Print

Went to a real library on Friday, and I checked out a few books.  Mostly things I couldn't get as ebooks, or things I was so unsure of that I didn't want to spend money on them.  It made me really uneasy--who would want to read print when I have Bessie?

Luckily, the first book I got--the one they don't have as an ebook yet--is My Most Excellent Year.  How have I missed this book before now?  It's been recommended to me and raved about by pretty much every YA reader I know, and I've passed it by.  Maybe because of the subtitle: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park. So many people love the Red Sox references, which don't mean nearly as much to me as they should to a good, honest Bostonian.

My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway ParkBut I just started this book, and it is already tinglingly delightful.  it's about T.C. (baseball fan, B+ student), his best friend Augie (Chinese-American, into theater), and his crush Alé (ambassador's daughter, activist).  Alé doesn't care for T.C.'s effortless cool; Augie's suddenly, blissfully in charge of the school's talent show, and T.C.'s guidance counselor thinks he could make straight As.

What do I love?  The characters are happy, and funny.  And they love each other, fiercely.  And their parents are cool.  T.C. lost his mom when he was 6, and he and his dad are close, and close to Augie and his parents.  The dads email, and we get to see them loving their kids, worrying about them, and thinking about their own lives.  The grown ups aren't against the kids, and they aren't absent--they're there, being square and loving and parental, supporting their kids.  I think I love this just as much as I love how fun and funny and passionate the kids are.

The best part is that it's the perfect segue back into print media.  This book would just barely work on a Kindle--it's a combination of emails, letters, text messages, IM conversations, journaling homework assignments.  The fonts, spacings, and layout of the pages matter and make it much easier to read--even the pagination helps you read the book more smoothly.  You couldn't do that in an ebook.

I'm GLAD this isn't on the Kindle.  Two days ago, I might not have believed I would say that.  Thank heaven--I'm pretty sure that means I'm not a pod person.  Yet.

Friday, July 29, 2011


I'm crawling out of my Kindle cocoon.  I feel like there's a lot I can say about it, but it's all kind of a jumble, and I wasn't sure how to discuss.  In my mind, the fact of the Kindle has eclipsed the actual books I'm reading on it, so I'm sorry about this long absence.

Last night I finished Divergent, a YA future dystopia novel that had the blessed advantage of not being all about Young Love Conquering All, Including Our Evil Overlords.  Yeah, there was a love interest, but it was firmly in the category of a Major Subplot, which I respect a lot.  I'm totally going to crib part of my Goodreads review for a synopsis:

Divergent (Divergent Trilogy)
In this post-society's-collapse world, there are five factions.  Each values a different virtue and lives that value passionately.  Young adults must choose their faction, and may have to leave their family to follow their chosen life.  Beatrice is born in Abnegation, who believe in selflessness, but she's always felt like a failure at it.  She chooses Dauntless, the faction of bravery, and throws herself into the training and initiation there. 

She learns to fight and to speak up for herself, but she also needs to learn more subtle ways of getting along in such an aggressive environment--making allies, projecting an image, hiding her virtues.  I found all of this the most compelling part of the book, though it definitely had a YA, finding-yourself feel that will appeal more to teenagers than adults.

There is a deeper plot, with mysteries and alliances and conspiracies, and there's a boy, and I won't give away all these details. 

A lot of the appeal of this story is in a texture of life way, which is really my favorite kind of SF/fantasy/speculative novel.  The ending of the book, while it does actually end the action of the story, is totally a "to be continued" moment, which irritates me on principle, but isn't too bad here.  I'll read the next one. 

Which, by the way, is titled Insurgent.  The third, as-yet-untitled book will, I assume, close the series, and I fully expect it will be titled Emergent, and be about rebuilding a new society.  I'll take bets, if anyone wants to offer one.

I've been stocking up on Kindle books the same way I always stocked up on library books, so we'll have to see what happens next.  It blew my expected PLR out of the water, though--I'm piling up the Kindle stuff instead.  It makes me kind of anxious to like it so much, because now I'm so dependent on it, but I'm going to the BPL today to get a couple of things that aren't available electronically, so we'll see how that takes, and if I make it out of my Kindle cocoon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

And Now, The Content

Bessie (we'll stick with this for now) is loaded up with a bunch of books, but as I said, I've been reading three pretty consistently.  Haven't finished any of them, but since this appears to be what will suck up all of my July, let me give you a quick run-down, even though there's not a ton to say.

That's because I started out my Kindle collection with solid contenders.  I'm too cheap to take risks with my money.  The Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss, was pretty much a sure thing.  It's the sequel to The Name of the Wind, second in the trilogy, and the only thing I don't like about it is how long I'll likely have to wait for the next one.  Also, some parts are so good and exciting that I have to stop reading for a little while, because I'm so worried about Kvothe and what's going to happen.  It's a perfect Kindle book, because it's a THOUSAND PAGES LONG (this is not hyperbole, though the capitalization is added for emphasis).  This means that if I look at the little percentage tab at the bottom of the screen and multiply by 10, that's how many pages I am into the book.  380 or so, now, and it's so good--textured, compelling, epic and personal at the same time.  Love it.

Angelica, by Sharon Shinn, is very good.  As others have said before me, it's a very similar story to Archangel, the first in her Samaria series, and of course the first time she did this story, it had more impact.  Really, it's a romance novel with a sci fi premise and a fantasy feel.  The fact that I've read this story before and know what will happen is really pretty irrelevant, because I love the characters.  I actually kind of appreciate the will-they-won't-they-oh-wait-it's-a-romance-of-course-they-will story arc of it all.  There are always moments in her books where I just sigh with happiness over the description of a meal, or a walk in the country, or someone learning to sing, and this book is no exception.

Finally, Divergent, a new YA novel by Veronica Roth.  I'm sure it was recommended to me, probably by someone online.  It's the first book I bought because I read the sample and didn't want to stop when I got to the end.  Really, it's not that different from any other YA dystopia novel, of which there are so many these days, but it's a nice parallel to something like Matched  It's not about a beatific, ideal, oppressive society, but a very structured one that is rough around the edges.  There's a love interest, but it's not the main point, which I really appreciate, and there is this idea of factions.

Society is composed of groups who pursue different virtues, and each teenager has to choose their affiliation and live a life constrained (in behavior, privilege, and occupation) by that choice.  Beatrice was born Abnegation--the faction of people who value selflessness, and do much of the governing and actual work of running society.  But, unsurprisingly, she chooses to leave that faction and join Dauntless, who value bravery and defend against any dangers in their world.  What these dangers are and what that defense consists of will likely make up the rest of the trilogy, though right now we're in the middle of an engaging training-and-friend-making montage.  I'm caught up.

So, that's my July.  All of it, if you'll believe it.  I blame the video game Mike gave me for Christmas last year that I just started playing on my DS, and Kindle ramp-up time.  Tune in for August, a 10 book month if ever there was one!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

My Kindle Lifestyle

I just looked back and realized that I've read almost nothing this month.  If you don't count comics, I appear to have literally not finished a single book.  I'm bowled over by this, but I think it's because I spent a good week at the beginning of the month breaking in my Kindle.

"Breaking it in" consisted of reading a lot of sample chapters, researching sources for free ebooks, and trying to pick what I was going to read next based on what I had at  my fingertips in this glorious new format.  Unfortunately, the timing of the whole situation has rendered my rather thrilling pile of newly acquired Paperback Swap books somewhat obsolete.  It's putting a lot of my borrowed books on the back burner, too, and I'll have to spring into action there a little bit, since I should return some stuff to Emily on vacation next month, and I should get The Pirates! in an Adventure with Communists back to Kris before the new Pirates movie comes out.

But instead, I'm loitering around my Kindle.  So, now that the dust has settled, here's the update on What It's Like.  First, the size and shape are perfect, and I can't say I miss the feel of a book.  It's really comfortable to wield and easier to manage on the bus.  This is a bit of a weird aside, but I have a very slight handicap when it comes to holding paper books open, in that I can't bend my thumbs independently of my fingers.  It's a weird little foible, and the only things I actually can't do are the Girl Scout Salute and that trick with the disappearing thumb.  But it does mean that holding a book open is sometimes less than graceful for me in a weird position (lying on my back with a book above me, standing on a crowded bus), and the Kindle is much better for that.

The page flicker is really annoying when you're demoing it at a store, but you entirely cease to notice it after less than ten minutes, so don't let that get to you.  And the interface is very intuitive, easy to get started on.  My remote control is more baffling to me three years into my relationship with it than the Kindle was after half an hour. 

What do I miss?  Well, ease of paging back through is a big one.  I've always had a real knack for finding the right page when I'm leafing through a book--finding my place without a bookmark, finding that scene where that guy said something that totally foreshadowed the ending, finding the one place where they mentioned that character's name.  I'm good at that, but the slowness of the electronic page turns makes it really impractical to flip back.  There's a chapter navigation, which helps when you have to, but it's still mostly not worth it.  The device does hold your place, though, so bookmarks aren't an issue. 

The thing I really miss being able to do easily is flip back to the map in the preface; I'm reading two books where that might have been helpful, so it's coming up a lot.  It's easier to jump right to the preface and back to your spot, but it's still several clicks, not nearly as fast and effortless as flipping a page.

Something that surprised me by changing so quickly was my relationship with the library.  I went from 60 to 0, as it were, regarding my involvement in my library queue, overnight.  I have not checked out a book, have barely looked at the website (except the ebooks section!), have not updated my queue or thought about library books.  This is a huge change for me.  I poke around at the library site like other people do Facebook--every couple of hours, I check something out, see if there's any movement.  Not so since the new Kindle. 

Something that surprised me by not changing at all is my tendency to read many books at once.  I have about 30 books on there now, but I'm actively reading three at once.  It's great for that, of course, since I can switch from one book to another while I'm on the bus.  The Wise Man's Fear has a lot of tense scenes, and Angelica has lots of slow bits, so I find myself jumping back and forth between them very often.  I'm neither feeling stuck to one book, nor am I unable to settle down into a limited number.  I do think this will affect my ability to pick the next book to read, though--without the Pile, or cover art, or blurbs, it'll be much harder to choose from the list of what might come next.  That's part of the reason this month was so slow--I had a hard time settling.

So far, the Kindle is a huge success around here.  I think, writing this post, that the device might need a proper name--Bessie leaps to mind, but I'm sure there's something more sleek, sophisticated, and wittily literary I can name it, so we'll see what I come up with.  But just retyping "the Kindle" this many times in the post has been somewhere between awkward and silly.

I will have to tear myself away from it, though.  I have that pile of books waiting for me.  Really, it's a box and four piles.  If I'm honest, it's a year's worth of books.  It makes me nervous just to think about, but what a really lovely problem to have.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Castles I Have Known

One of the many, many great things about my husband is that he notices when he runs across something he thinks I might like.  He pointed me at Linda Medley's Castle Waiting a few years ago, even though it was as far from up his alley as it is possible to be.  This is one of the many reasons I love him.

Castle Waiting
I just realized that I never wrote a review of it.  Castle Waiting is kind of a domestic fairy tale.  Think of the bramble-choked castle that Sleeping Beauty slept in.  Now think of it after she and her sleeping courtiers were awakened by the magic kiss and she rode off into the sunset with her prince.  The kingdom around the castle no longer exists.  What becomes of this place?

The answer is that it becomes a waystation and comfortable home for people who don't really belong anywhere.  Odd folks, wanderers, people who just don't fit in find themselves at home there, and they live happily in relative prosperity.  And when a very pregnant Jain is looking for somewhere to settle down away from the complications in her life, Castle Waiting seems like the right place to be.

The story is about as far from fast-paced as it could possibly be.  The structure of the story is about day-to-day life--making the seasonal trip to town for supplies, flirting and arguing with your housemates, running around to stop up a leaky roof.  There are hints of larger stories--who is the father of Jain's baby? Is the keep really haunted?  What's going on politically between the hammerlings and the men?--but the stories that are told are domestic.

Castle Waiting (Vol. 2) (Castle Waiting (Fantagraphic Books))
I didn't even realize there would be another volume, so when I found out about it, I ran back to reread the first one.  I had forgotten how leisurely it was, and how delightful.  Most of the content is a Scheherazade-like, stories-within-stories-style format, where the characters tell their histories (including the parts of their histories where other people they've known told their own life stories).  We find out about the Order of St. Wilgeforte, the bearded nuns, and travel a world where folks are just as likely to have a donkey or bird head as human.  Sister Peace's life story includes the retelling of her old Abbess's life story (complete with a childhood spent in a traveling circus), and the housekeeper tells about being courted by a (relatively short) giant.

Now that I've read volume two--which was just as leisurely as volume one, and mostly about a couple of people switching rooms within the castle, and opening up a more convenient hallway for their use--I'm even more intrigued.  And I suspect that, over time, I'm going to find out more about Pindar's father, about the war that seems urgent even if it's far away, and about Rackham's history and how he came to be steward of the castle.

This is not a book for everyone.  As I said, it's not about forward movement.  In fact, so many of the stories are so happy--little romances, little intrigues, little vindications--that I would almost put this in that rare and most-coveted category that Linden and I discussed many years ago: books where you get to watch good things happen to characters you like.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is how it's done.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Throwback Experiment

After I finished Rose Red, I realized that I don't like how fast I have to hustle through trade paperbacks of new comics if I want to get them back to the library in time.  There was so much going on in this volume--transitions from one storyline to another, backstory for Snow and Rose, politics among the witches and the Fabletown factions--that I was frustrated at being rushed.

And so, I have reached a decision.  I'm going to experience comics as they were meant to be experienced--issue by issue.  Instead of waiting for the next trade paperback, I'm going to be buying issues of Fables going forward.

Everyone I've mentioned this to has responded instantly with distress.  "Why would you want to do that?" was pretty much the universal reaction.  Mike pointed out that I could just buy the trade paperbacks when they come out, so I can linger over them.  Why would I set myself up for the agony of waiting? 

But isn't this a core part of the comic book experience?  I've never had to wait for a chapter, been left with a cliffhanger, been irritated by a half-baked filler issue.  Shouldn't I have that experience?

Since I'm switching from the trade cycle to the single issue cycle, I'm a bit behind, so we've bought a handful of issues and Mike is doling them out to me every couple of weeks.  It's kind of an imitation of the real experience.  I win out, though, because I'm getting them twice as fast as I would otherwise, and they're already in the house, meaning I don't have to find my way to a comic book store.

It seems sillier the further I get into it, but hey, at least I don't have to wait for the next trade.  And I get a new issue today!  Something to read in one of your favorite series every few weeks--what reader is so lucky?

Oh, right.  Comics.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

On Dictatorships

Apologies.  I was all swept up in the Kindle.  I've been so caught up in getting samples, I haven't actually read anything in ages.  It's unsettling.  More on that soon.

I did just finish a really wonderful book called Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick, which blew my mind.  Now, I'm a completely shallow ignoramus when it comes to nonfiction.  I want it to be easy, entertaining, engaging.  I don't want to struggle too much, at least not to stay interested.  I read for entertainment, and sometimes I think it's sad, but it's definitely true.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North KoreaI don't suppose you could really say Kim Jong-il's Korea can actually be called entertaining, even in the grimmest sense.  But in its very modern foreignness, it is intriguing, and in her narrative, Barbara Demick has made it incredibly engrossing.

Journalists are barely allowed into North Korea, and their experiences there are tightly controlled.  Demick spent five years interviewing defectors in South Korea, verifying their information against each other, and building an overall picture.  She makes the balancing act between the societal and the personal look effortless, by telling the stories of five or six individuals and using those very rich, personal narratives as a lens through which to view everything that happened during the past fifteen or twenty years.  She spends a lot of time with her main characters, using their stories to display facts and descriptions she got elsewhere.

It doesn't pretend to be a novel, though, or even a biography.  The organization is partly chronological, but mostly topical--one woman is a teacher, one a doctor.  A boy is homeless, a young man is sent to university in Pyongyang.  These people live very different lives, and we see all parts of society through them. 

The one thing they have in common is how close they came to starving to death.  However great a writer Demick is, there's an extent to which the story is just unbelievably fascinating.  How there can be a nation without electricity in the modern world, just miles from economic powerhouse South Korea and recently flourishing China is mind-boggling.  The narrow amount of information the average North Korean has available--most of it false--is frightening. 

Their greatest universities don't have the internet--they have an intranet, with a censored electronic encyclopedia.  There is virtually no electricity anywhere but Pyongyang anyway, and not much there.  Nearly 10% of the population died of starvation during the late 1990s--this in spite of humanitarian aid that was flowing into the country, only to be trucked away by the military and sold on the black market. 

I've been to South Korea--it's a beautiful place.  Everyone I met was friendly, and everything was neon, and I got drunk in a karaoke bar with a bunch of Western women singing the Canadian national anthem.  The fact that this vibrant, modern, zany society is only a short border--and 50 years of lies and oppression--away from what Demick describes in this book--well, it's hard to comprehend.  I can't stop thinking about it, though, and I can't stop trying.