The Whistle Poem

June 30, 2009 at 9:19 am | Posted in Rude Poetry | Leave a comment

You know I don’t care at

all where you got that whistle,

Neighbor Child,

come what may

because since my parrot

has heard you play it, this’ll

drive me wild

night and day.

The Other Thing about E-Readers

June 25, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 5 Comments

Scrolling!

It probably looks a little freaky to observers, but if you’re reading an e-book and you set the software to scroll, you don’t have to turn pages or interact with the device.  You just sit there and stare at it, and the words go flying by.  Sort of like the beginning of Star Wars, only not as slanty, and a whole lot faster.

The cool thing about this is that you can adjust the speed.  So I’m reading along, and reading along, and then I look up and realize I’m a third of the way through my book and I’ve been at it less than an hour.  It turns out I can read about 75 pages an hour with this thing!

I’d love it if all books were e-books, partly because the file size would always be the same.  No more variations between hardcover and paperback editions or different publishers.  Also no more heavy carry-on bags and no more moving 200-pound bookcases.

Cheap E-books!

June 24, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Posted in Book Services | 3 Comments

It’s possible I’m the last person on the bandwagon with this e-book thing, and everyone else has already figured this out.  Anyway, you know the whole Sony Reader/Kindle battle?  Which high-priced, sexy bit of electronics are you supposed to buy if you want to read e-books?  I admit that I was starting to covet one, but I just couldn’t get over that whole price thing.  Sometimes even free is too expensive.

It occurred to me that I could use my old Palm Pilot as an e-reader, as I’ve already done with free e-books from manybooks.net for years now.  Sure enough, it is possible to buy books in the Palm OS format, using a free e-reader software.  I went to Fictionwise, which is apparently run by Barnes & Noble, and found the book I wanted (The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink).  I registered and downloaded the book in under 10 minutes, and it’s reading fine.  I compared prices, and while it was about $2 more than Sony’s price and nearly double Amazon’s Kindle price, there’s a kicker.

I bought my Palm for $50 nearly five years ago.  I checked current prices on eBay, and the same model now sells for $3.99.  That’s an awful lot cheaper even than buying the Kindle or Sony Reader devices on eBay at steep discount.  Even if you read a book a day like I do, it would take a pretty big stack of slightly cheaper titles to catch up to the initial investment in either higher-end device.  Besides, they’re all black and white.

The caveat is that my Palm m500 has about a 2″-square reading area.  But I’m used to it.  Plus I carry it in my purse anyway, as my calendar, address book, grocery list, cookbook, e-mail reader, game player, notepad, etc etc.  The battery life is amazing – I only charge it about once a week – and I know if I broke it I could replace it inexpensively and simply download the contents onto a new device.  I hate to say it, but it looks like 2009 is going to have to work harder to catch up to 2001.

Booking Through Thursday: Fantasy and Sci-Fi

June 18, 2009 at 11:55 am | Posted in Book Blather | 2 Comments

Here is my response to this week’s Booking Through Thursday:

One of my favorite sci-fi authors (Sharon Lee) has declared June 23rd Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers Day.  As she puts it:

So! In my Official Capacity as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I hereby proclaim June 23 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day! A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.

So … what might you do on the 23rd to celebrate? Do you even read fantasy/sci-fi? Why? Why not?

I read my first science fiction novel at age 9.  My grandpa sent me two Robert Heinlein novels, Between Planets and Space Cadet.  I think I must have read each of them four times.  My dad commented that he’d been given the same books at the same age, and he called them “space operas.”  It was a family affair, and I read mostly sci fi and fantasy (including the copy of The Hobbit that I found under a bush) until about age 12.

At that point, I learned about genre fiction.  I took the PSAT in 6th grade, and received in the mail a list of Books That Must Be Read from Johns Hopkins University.  Suddenly the sci fi and fantasy I had been having so much fun with started to look just like the Harlequin romance novels my mom read by the sackload.  I made a conscious decision to broaden my reading, and developed a really sophomoric fixation on reading “the right books.”  Of course I continued to read the same stuff I had been reading; I just interspersed it with heavier things.

What I liked about sci fi and fantasy was that their worlds always seemed so logical.  The worlds I visited reflected my world, only as it should be, or in a darker light that revealed its little problems.  I went through a brief period of infatuation with unicorns and other fantasy creatures, but the main interest for me was always the “speculative fiction” aspect.  I enjoyed the thought experiments.

Now I might read a sci fi or fantasy novel once every few months; I get my “thought experiments” from non-fiction.  My tastes have changed and it’s rare for me to find anything that qualifies as genre fiction very satisfying.  It’s okay, though, because now I have a teenage stepdaughter who likes the same sort of stuff, and I can have fun picking things out for her to read.

The “Second Tier” Pulitzers

June 17, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Posted in Book Blather, Challenges | 3 Comments

In reading the Pulitzer Prize-winning novels, it’s impossible not to notice the vast difference between the earliest and most recent winners.  One would expect the occasional compromise choice, and that not all the books selected would be of equal quality.  What I’m talking about is more subjective.  I started to wonder exactly what criteria were used to award the prize.

It turns out that Joseph Pulitzer’s original criteria were as such

Annually, for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the whole atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood, One thousand dollars ($1,000).

This was changed to “wholesome” and it determined how the prize was awarded (or not) until 1931.

Now, the criteria are:

For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.

This explains so much; it explains how The Road and The Able McLaughlins are able to sit together on the same shelf without one of them spontaneously combusting.  The original committee had to look for a sort of “family values” book.  I wondered what was going on when I read One of Ours, because I love Willa Cather but I wouldn’t have guessed she had written it.

What it comes down to is that the fact that a book won the Pulitzer Prize is not a guarantee of quality.  Some of the earlier titles especially will continue to be read for historical interest more than an abiding literary merit.

Daisy Chain #4

June 16, 2009 at 1:22 pm | Posted in Daisy Chains | Leave a comment

So my brother called to say he was considering Costa Rica as the destination for his next vacation.  After we finished our call, I picked up B is for Beer, and lo and behold, one of the characters moves to Costa Rica!

B is for Beer -> The Hunger Games:  Both books feature an area called “The Seam.”

A Cold Case -> Nobody Move:  Both books, one true crime, the other fiction, feature a character who pretends to cough or blow his nose into a handkerchief to disguise his face when leaving a building.

So Long, See You Tomorrow -> The Ghosty Men:  Both books, one fiction, the other non-fiction, are based on newspaper stories from the early 20th century.

I also found So Long, See You Tomorrow very topical, because the beginning of the book talks about the protagonist’s attitude toward his stepmother when he was a child.  It’s funny how the right book will appear at the right time.

It truly does trip me out how often I can read two books on consecutive days, and they will have something really random in common.

You Saw This Coming, Didn’t You?

June 15, 2009 at 11:57 am | Posted in Book Blather | 2 Comments

The first two weeks have passed.  My reading rate has fallen from an average of 2833 pages per week to 1954.  That’s barely over 2/3 what I was reading before, and it includes 90 minutes of family reading a night for one of those weeks.

I guess it’s not so bad, really.  That’s just… two 400-page books a week that I didn’t read, or… 56 by the end of the year.  In other words, more than most people read all year long.

The good news is, we’re finally about 95% done unpacking.  Negotiations are going to begin on the balance between family time, couple time, and alone time.  I’ll settle for an hour a day.  I still don’t see how everyone else does it.

Daisy Chain #3

June 10, 2009 at 10:25 am | Posted in Daisy Chains | 3 Comments

The more you notice connections between books, the more you also start to notice connections between your reading and the outside world.

Yesterday, I finished One of Ours, whose protagonist is named Claude.  Later, we went to buy a new bed, and our salesman’s name was also Claude.  It’s not that common a name!  Give me a break, here.

Last weekend, I met someone who had the name “Venia” tattooed down her bicep.  Last night, we were introduced to a minor character named Venia in The Hunger Games.  I suppose it’s possible this girl was a fan of the book, but if so, you’d think she would have chosen “Katniss.”

Okay, I think everything below contains spoilers.

One of Ours -> The Not So Big House Book:  There is a brief scene in One of Ours in which Claude is building a house, and Enid thinks the best area should be reserved for guests.  The Not So Big House Book specifically discusses designing the house around the comfort of the inhabitants so they can enjoy it as much as possible.  If I hadn’t just been reading about architecture and design I would have glossed right over this part of the story in the novel.

One of Ours -> The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and Should You Leave?:   Here is another area where one’s non-fiction reading can impact the understanding of a novel.  It looks like contempt is having a big impact on somebody’s marriage!  There’s also a problem with conflicting relational ethics.

The Outlander -> Pygmy: Protagonists taken in by families who don’t realize they are harboring a cold-blooded killer!

The Man Who Forgot How to Read -> The Outlander:   Fiction and real life overlap again, as the protagonists of books I read on consecutive days both have to figure out what they’re reading by sounding out and interpreting one word at a time.

How the Dead Dream -> Early Bird: the adopted pet standing in for the absent loved one.

Early Bird -> All the Living:  Lonely women who take up jobs playing/teaching piano.

The Beach:  We were reading aloud in the truck about a character called Daffy Duck, who is sort of a ghost, just at the moment we drove past a road-killed duck.  When do you ever see a duck on the shoulder of the road, I ask you?

Family Reading Hour!

June 9, 2009 at 11:15 am | Posted in Book Blather | 3 Comments

Sweetie Junior moved in yesterday.  We get her alternate weeks.  I decided we should start out on the right foot with Family Reading Hour, so at 9:00 we all settled down to read The Hunger Games.  Noelie sat on her basket and cleaned her feathers, Spike curled up in his dog bed, SJ knitted, and my man Rocket Scientist started up a new cross stitch project.  We all ignored the labyrinth of boxes in the garage.

Now, I read The Hunger Games back in January, and I knew it was the perfect choice for our first pick.  But as I was reading aloud, I got caught up in trying to read well and do the voices and everything, not paying attention to my audience’s reaction.  I closed the book at the end of the first chapter, only to see two jaws hanging slack, and a pair of idle knitting needles.  They were indeed actually on the edges of their seats.

“Do you guys want to do another chapter?” I asked, innocently.

Yes,” they replied, in stereo, in a tone that said, “Well, duh!”

Family Reading Hour turned into 90 minutes.  It was 10:30 and frankly, I couldn’t read much longer anyway.  Haymitch’s voice is rough on the throat.  We have finished the first four chapters.  After SJ went to bed, RS went to put away a few things in the kitchen.  Fifteen minutes later, he came out and asked a question about the political borders in the book.

This morning, he had another question.  It looks as though he may have foreseen something interesting for later books in the series.  I’m not sure which is cuter, that he’s anticipating future developments or that he’s already so caught up in a young adult book.  But then, heck, I chose it…

If we keep up at this pace (about 50 pages per night), we should be able to finish by Sunday.  I’m more concerned that my crew will want to read more on the weekend, because if we finish early they’ll no doubt want to start Catching Fire.  (Yes, it’s true, I have an ARC.  He heh heh).  Then we would have to break off in the middle and wait another week, and we just can’t have that.

It’s been an entire day, and so far we haven’t heard a single word of complaint that we don’t have cable hooked up.  I don’t think the TV has even been turned on since we moved in.  FRH is 100% successful so far!

Culling

June 5, 2009 at 11:56 am | Posted in Book Blather | 7 Comments

Books are heavy.  (I paraphrase “Bricks are heavy” – a statement my old high school friend used to make whenever anyone said something she deemed self-evident).  After moving and setting up my bookcase, expertly repaired by my man Rocket Scientist with a little JB Weld, I feel obligated to remind you all that books are heavy.  So why do we all have so many of them?

Photos of stacks of new books always entice me.  Yet I often wonder why my fellow bloggers buy so many, considering our reading rates realistically.  Say you read 25 books a year.  Great!  But if you go out and buy three new volumes, you’ve just planned out your reading for the next six weeks.  Make it eight, and you’ve got a commitment for four months… but how do you know you’re still going to want to read some of those at that point?  What if something new comes along?  What about the poor sad neglected books already languishing on your shelf?

We all beat ourselves up over our TBR stacks.  We feel guilty that we haven’t gotten around to certain things we think we “should” have read by now.  What we should do is buy books the same way we would buy milk.  You might go through a half-gallon a week, but you don’t then buy 26 gallons every January, for obvious reasons.  (I use milk as an example, even though I am vegan, because I couldn’t think of anything else people buy often that gets quite so smelly when it expires).

I’m the worst offender.  (I’m sure I’ll be smelly when I expire too!)  I virtually never read books I have actually spent money on.  If it doesn’t have a due date, it isn’t getting read.  I have two shelves dedicated to library books, and they rotate through and get turned in at least once a week.  At the rate I’ve been reading lately, I could have read everything in the house within three or four months, and we wouldn’t have had to move my 200-lb bookcase or its contents.  So when I say we should liberate ourselves and cull out those books we’re honestly never going to get around to, I speak as first among sinners.

It’s spring cleaning time!  What’s the book that’s been sitting around your shelves the longest?  Tell us what it is about it that put you off:  The cover art?  The length?  The font?  The smell of the paper or ink?  Is it something you picked out yourself?  Is it too aspirational or outside your normal tastes?

I would offer a prize for best answer, but it would just be an excuse for me to pawn off an old book I didn’t want on someone who probably shouldn’t be collecting any more books anyway!  Instead, I hereby give you permission to cull the herd and take that pesky old book off your list.

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