Knock Knock

August 3, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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The Thrill That Had Gone

August 2, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

I was just thinking about my poor, neglected blog, and how few books I’ve read since trying to write my own novel. The mojo seemed to have gone. The new Stephen King that I pre-ordered languishes unread on my shelf.

Then we went to Oakland. I took Sweetie Junior to a great bookstore called Diesel, fifteen minutes before closing. In that short time I saw that new titles by several terrific authors had been released without my noticing. Gold by Chris Cleave; Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness; A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers; Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel; and several others caught my eye. You know how it is at an indie bookstore. Every shelf has a handwritten tag pointing out an obscure yet fantastic book. Many of them I had read when they first came out in hardcover. I started feeling the mojo.

We left at closing and walked up the street to Pegasus & Pendragon. They keep later hours and that’s all I really ask.

And THEN – [cue violins] – I SAW IT.

Broken Harbor by TANA fricking FRENCH.

See, I’m a frugalite and I don’t typically… buy books. Especially not in hardcover. But I tucked this one under my arm and paid for it without batting an eye.

(Sweetie Junior is truly the child of my spirit. I offered to buy her a book but she declined. Instead she noted down The Night Circus and *gasp* The Magicians in her iPhone for later. It is very weird that she is old enough to read it now. Thanks for asking).

Now Broken Harbor is sitting in my lap. If Tana French were here she could sit in my lap too.

I’m back.

“Iceland by Bus and Backpack”

July 27, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

I’m reviewing my own book!

Product Details

Iceland by Bus and Backpack is a short, digital travel guide.  You can download it onto your phone or laptop and bring it with you to Iceland, a big improvement on the large paperback travel guide we brought on our trip.  It’s also inexpensive.  You can have your very own copy for less than the price of a magazine, although you can’t really write phone numbers on it or use it to smack a hornet.

We spent three weeks in Iceland, traveling by bus and staying in camp sites.  Surprisingly, very few people seemed to be doing this.  Icelanders seemed impressed.  It was easy and relatively inexpensive – as low as 10% the cost of staying in a moderately priced guest house.  We found our travel guide totally useless for the purposes of camping, however, and I hit upon the idea of making our own.

The other reason I wrote this book is that I follow an alternative diet, and it took about a week for me to figure out how to find satisfactory food.  There is no reason for other alternative eaters to have to scrounge around the way I did.  So there is information for vegans, vegetarians, the gluten intolerant, and even low carb dieters.

I intend to put together similar travel guides whenever I go to a new country.

You should buy this book if you are planning to go to Iceland.  You should also buy it to impress me or to help fund my website.  You can even justify buying it just because you want to look at my many glorious photographs of Iceland.  Best of all, you can have bragging rights after I am famous, and tell everyone you were reading my stuff before it was hip.

Posting My First Book on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing

July 25, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

My first book is available on Amazon.com!  Here it is: Iceland by Bus and Backpack.

I’m still emotional about finishing my first novel and putting it out for the world to see.  I thought I would break the ice by posting a project I could feel “done with” and learning about the self-publishing process.  This was a great way to satisfy my curiosity and build my confidence.  Also, I had a great deal to say about backpacking and camping in Iceland and I felt my book would help other travelers.

Some unexpected issues surfaced in the uploading process.  First, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is promoting a book lending program, KDP Select.  I hadn’t heard of it and had to evaluate it in the middle of trying to publish my book.  Second, my book wouldn’t load, and due to my lack of familiarity with the process it took me two days to resolve the issue.  I will discuss those topics in greater detail after a cursory explanation of the process.

Amazon offers a free guide to the self-publishing process on KDP.  I found it helpful and easy to understand.  It recommends some formatting conventions, many of which I use routinely, and I was glad to find out that the formatting and conversion process was less complicated than I thought.  Don’t use tabs or indent paragraphs; use page breaks between chapters; center images.  Avoid page numbering.

Designing a book cover deserves real attention.  In retrospect it would have been nice if I had thought about a book cover while I was still in the act of taking photographs.  It would have been very simple to frame a few shots with the cover in mind, and then choose the best one.  In reality I must have spent two hours poring over thousands of images.  The KDP guide gave helpful advice on image dimensions.

Uploading a book involves two pages of forms.  The first page includes finding the files for the text and the book cover, and it can take a minute.  It’s possible to continue to the second page and complete it while waiting for the book to load, although it shouldn’t take that long.

Where I ran into trouble was that the book wouldn’t load, and I had no expectation of how long I needed to wait.  Two days later it still hadn’t loaded.  An error message that suggests trying to attach the file again would have been very helpful.  I contacted tech support and they didn’t suggest that simple approach either.  Finally my husband came in and did what was obvious to him – browse for the file and click Save again – and it was done in seconds.  I share this story because an extensive Google search failed to turn up any similar issues, but I doubt I’ll be the only poor sap in this situation.

The other issue I promised to mention was the KDP Select program that Amazon is promoting.  My book hasn’t been on the market long enough for me to compare whether I would make more money through KDP Select than I will by selling it.  So far I have sold a whopping TWO COPIES.  The way the KDP Select program works is that you make your book available exclusively through the program for at least 90 days.  Any time a Kindle reader chooses your book, you get a portion of the pool of money that subscribers pay.  The amount varies depending on how many authors/books are in the pool and how many subscribers are paying.  I got a newsletter that said the current payment per read was about $2.04.  That’s very close to what I think I will net per sale, so for me the question is whether KDP Select could garner more readers for my work.  I may write other travel guides in the future, but most of my planned works are not of this type, so name recognition may not be of much use to me at this stage.

What I really need is a reviewer!  I’ll be reviewing my own book tomorrow in the hope of attracting a traveler who can speak to my book’s accuracy, usefulness, and amusement value.  In the meantime, the fact that my book costs less than a magazine is not enough to appease wary purchasers of travel guidebooks.

The iPhone Changed My Reading Habits

May 10, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

The threshold between books and electronic media has always interested me, and I’ve written about it often.  Now that I’ve had an iPhone for about three months, I thought I would weigh in on fantasy versus reality.

In my younger days, I was a Luddite.  A cell phone only made its way into my life because a friend convinced me to take over his contract (a dumb move and one I regretted).  Words can hardly express how much I hated having a cell phone.  I had a bad enough time with voice mail as it was; now people could make a noise inside my purse any time they felt like it.  I had a pretty bad track record for returning phone calls, or even answering the phone, as it was usually zipped inside my purse and stuck on the top shelf of the coat closet.

E-mail was even worse.  I’ve had the same address for over 15 years, and at no point could I ever be said to be “caught up.”  I would regularly get e-mail from various people asking if I was still alive.  A two-month turnaround meant I really liked you and felt highly motivated to write back.

During this period, a book was always at my side.  There were generally books in every room of my house, except the bathroom, unless I was soaking in the tub.  I might leave the house without my wallet, or lose my day planner, hat, gloves, or umbrella, but no way was I leaving the house without literature.  I am one of those people who loves the smell of printed books.  As a rule, I don’t check luggage when I travel, but the heavier of my two carry-on bags is filled with books, not clothes.  I have been known to buy books when there was no food in the house.  I often dream in text.  I fit the profile of a print media enthusiast in every particular.

Enter the iPhone.  The only event in my life to have surprised me more than my incipient smartphone fetish was my sudden passion for distance running.  I had hopes that this awkwardly shaped, expensive object would help me become a reliable communicator; I knew my budding career depended on this.  I gave it a try, with about the same attitude that many people hold toward their first bite of kale.

I was off and running almost instantaneously.  Suddenly I could answer research questions the moment they crossed my mind.  I could delete junk e-mail instantaneously.  I could see who left a voice mail and choose to delete the ones I knew were spam.  Within days I had no scroll bar in my e-mail inbox.  I haven’t been haunted by a single voice mail I can’t make myself play.  In fact I just found myself responding to an e-mail on my phone while standing in front of my desktop computer.  This is not the first time that’s happened.

Naturally, my reading habits have changed in response to the presence of a helpful genie in my pocket.  In January, I was maxed out on the 30 books I am allowed from the public library.  There are five left, and my 20-slot holds list is almost empty.  I have shipped off fully half the contents of my bookcase to Powells.com and I have over $100 in unused credit.

I just love reading on my iPhone.  I can hold it in one hand while I eat.  I can read and relax, knowing I am not missing any key calls or messages.  I don’t have to worry about due dates.  I have even started to relax about running out of things to read, or bringing a book in the car.  Holding a printed book has started to seem unnecessary, ungainly, unwieldy.  The printed page is prone to tears and stains.  (Look, iambic pentameter!)

One thing that has changed is that I listen to audio books even more than before.  I started with a defunct old CD player, and the scratched, skipping audio books I could check out from the library.  When I upgraded to an iPod, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  With my iPhone came a Bluetooth headset that will actually stay put in my mutant, tiny ears.  (A Verizon sales rep actually said to my face, “You are a mutant,” after trying and failing to find a headset that would stay in place on me).  No longer were my headphone cords snagging on doorknobs or getting tied into macrame in my pocket.  Now I could run without the earpiece popping out.  I can even walk around the house with no earphones at all, simply using the speaker.  Coupled with the ready availability of the MapMyRun app and my desire to impress my Facebook friends, this improved audio book experience has upped my running miles considerably.  I even do more housework.

I do read actual books on my iPhone.  I love reading in bed at night, because I don’t have to juggle a book light any more.  My poor long-suffering husband has been flashed numerous times by my book light falling over and shining into his face.  There are no more lost bookmarks in the sheets.  And no more ink stains, as I can note down an idea without scrambling for a pen and then falling asleep on it.

What has changed the most is that I read the news even more obsessively than I did before.  News aggregators make this so easy – possibly too easy.  I always liked reading the news online, because it led to more follow-up and research on my part.  One advantage with the phone is that advertisements can be avoided.  Another is that it’s possible to read magazine articles without a subscription.  This is bound to change, as I’m sure those two conditions are giving Madison Avenue a real headache.

People have asked, “How do you read on that tiny screen?”  This could be a real issue for those with vision problems, but it hasn’t been a problem for me.  It’s bound to be a question of personal preference.  My prediction is that technology will (soon) advance to the point when it’s not necessary to read from a screen at all; the contents will appear as a hologram that can be shaped and sized at will.  This might be something projected from the device, or it might appear on glasses or a contact lens.

Since the iPhone got into my pocket, I have found myself reading more – and interacting with the screen more.  The dark side of this is that I’ve become one of Those People.  I keep everything set on ‘silent’ and most notifications turned off, but my husband accuses my phone of “farting” when it vibrates.  “Silent” still means it can be heard across the room by sensitive people.  It’s never more than a foot away (unless I am in the shower, and if it was waterproof I’d no doubt take it in there too).  It encourages a greater connection to those who are constantly wired, perhaps to the detriment of friendships with those who are phone- or e-mail-only.  For many, it appears to be too tempting to disrupt dinners, blather in public spaces, or risk the lives of thousands by driving and texting.

Despite these issues, smart phones are here to stay, at least until they are outmoded by something even more mind-blowing.  E-book readers report increased reading, and once the publishing industry finds a way to harness this, a fountain of dollars is going to start spouting somewhere.  If you’ve found yourself holding out in favor of paper books, be prepared to change your tune in the next five or ten years.  If it could happen to me, it can happen to you.

Trolls

November 9, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

While moderating comments, I ran across my first abusive comment and paused before authorizing it.  I thought I would check in with my readers and let you all weigh in on this matter of protocol.

The post (“Fat Head”) is one from the past that attracts readers who tend to be of a different stripe than my regular crowd.  Almost universally they hate the post and want to weigh in on it.  It’s unlikely any of them come back to follow the comment thread.  It’s my guess that most of them don’t even read the entire post, much less the comments of the irate readers who came before them.

One could say that it probably doesn’t matter one way or the other whether I approve a comment or not, if nobody will notice or care.  The question only really comes up in my mind because I feel some sense of obligation that my site reflect some sort of journalistic reality.

Anyway, what do you think?  Approve everything?  Blast anything that annoys me?  Remove the entire post so I stop hearing from that segment of… humanity?

My Choice for the Man Booker Prize

October 18, 2011 at 2:07 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I just launched out of bed with the sick feeling that I’d somehow missed the announcement of the Man Booker Prize for 2011.  It looks like I have about a two-hour window.  Phew!

Okay, I’ve read every book on the entire long list, and I correctly chose five of the six short-listed books, as I’ve done once before in 2009.  So I’m confident enough to put myself out there in picking a winner, although I’m torn between what I consider two very strong choices.  I mentioned as much when I reviewed them.

When I read The Sense of an Ending, I was positive it would win.  Since then, I keep having visions of Jamrach’s Menagerie.  I knew it was special the very first time I heard the title.  So that’s my pick.

See what I did there?  I hedged my bets!  Now I can also say that nothing would make me happier than to see the prize go to Pigeon English – the book rescued from a slush pile to take its rightful place among the literary elite.

That’s enough out of me.  Hopefully I can sleep now.  At any rate it’s somewhat disgraceful to be blogging in one’s underpants.

Happy Birthday, Stephen King!

September 21, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Stephen King is my idol and I want to wish him a happy birthday.  His books are one of the reasons I grew up to become the passionate reader I am today.  I read Carrie when I was 8 or 9 and I’ve been a faithful fan ever since.

http://www.stephenking.com/promo/11-22-63/promo_page/

If you haven’t already heard, he has a new book coming out on November 8.  Let’s all pre-order it so he can buy an extra-big cake.

“The Sisters Brothers”

September 17, 2011 at 12:28 am | Posted in Fiction, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

At last, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt – the title on the Booker short list that I personally anticipated the most.  Was it a self-fulfilling prophecy that I loved this book as much as I thought it would?

Product Details

This book is being billed as a ‘cowboy noir’ – whatever that means – but I would call it simply a picaresque novel set in 1851.  There aren’t any cowboys in it and I would also argue strenuously that it doesn’t qualify as noir, either.  Something about The Sisters Brothers makes us want to invent a new genre for it, that’s all.

I’m a nitpicker, a nitpicker with a bachelor’s in history, so I want to give this book the usual treatment to show that I don’t play favorites.  Many of the period details are more appropriate for a book set in the 1880s, a generation later.  The toothbrush – not mass produced in the US until 1887 and no American patent until 1857; not in general use in the form we would recognize until 1937.  I haven’t tracked down mint-flavored toothpaste, but I’m willing to bet it’s post-Victorian and I’m thinking WWI-era or later.   The cigarette – available in France in 1830 but not in the English-speaking world until 1853; commercial cigarettes in the US, 1865.  The other object to excite my interest was the single appearance of an indoor water closet.  1851 significantly preceded the Wild West milieu we know from film.

Speaking of film, the one I would compare this book to the most closely is O Brother, Where Art Thou?  It also reminded me a bit of Cold Mountain and Henderson the Rain King, although if you’re familiar with either you’re probably wondering why.

I’m waffling about discussing the book itself, because I doubt anything I could say would do it justice.  The graphic nature of the violent scenes somehow transcends the level of crime and adds a spiritual dimension, helping us to identify with Eli Sisters and to see him, ultimately, as sympathetic.  The bizarre incidents make an odd sort of sense and cohere in a way that justifies their presence as more than random.  Every incidental person has a message of import.  Unless we possess a weak stomach, we simply can’t stop turning the page.

I’m ranking this book with the books I’ve loved the most.

Five Out of Six!

September 6, 2011 at 4:19 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I think that’s my record so far: I correctly guessed five of the six titles on the Man Booker short list for 2011.

Neener neener neener.

I haven’t read Half Blood Blues yet – the one title I missed – but I’ll be pleasantly surprised if it’s better than The Stranger’s Child, the one I misnamed.  When you start reading the long list but don’t finish it in time, it’s nice to know that there are still some “winners” left in the pile.

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