Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Another blogger had a good post on the best sci-fi and fantasy books of all time, taking NPR's list and noting what she'd read and her thoughts:  the post is here.  I added a couple of my favorites in the comments.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What About the Kindle?

This blog has been dormant for a while, but I may post from time to time as book-related thoughts occur to me.  I'm also going to migrate my reading list over here from my main blog A Year With Horses, but I haven't completed that yet.

I've had an Amazon Kindle (the simpler wifi version) for about three months now - my husband has one too.  After using it a lot over that time period, I've got reasons to like and dislike it.  On balance, I've found it very useful, but with qualifications, and it only works for certain types of books and reading.

Likes:

It is extremely portable.  If you read a lot, as I do, and travel or commute, it's a life saver.  I used to travel with large numbers of books - very difficult when you're not traveling by car.  Now I can just load up the Kindle before I go, and also know that if I run out all I have to do is find a network to use to download more books.  It's also small enough to fit in a coat pocket, or purse, or briefcase, without hardly a bulge.

It's easy to use, and the battery power lasts a very long time (if you keep the wifi turned off).  It's a nice size to hold easily, the ink technology eliminates glare (which means it works just fine outdoors unlike a computer screen), and the basic features and arrangement of the menus are very good.

Having a choice of two built-in dictionaries is lovely.

I can buy books quickly, as quickly as I decide I want them, almost within seconds.  I think this is good news for publishers who are worried about lost revenue from e-books.  I believe I'm actually spending more on books now than I used to, because I'm buying more, even though the price per unit is (usually) less.  A fairly high percentage of the books I want to read are available on the Kindle.

My husband and I can read the same books if we choose, for the price of one book, and even at the same time.

The preview function, where you can download part of a book to try it out before you buy it, is very useful.

Not buying all those books means less to clutter up the house or have to be disposed of.

The ability to make the type size larger is very nice.

Dislikes:

I can buy books quickly, as quickly as I decide I want them.  This means, as noted above, that I'm probably spending more and more likely to just buy a book on impulse.  There's never that delicious sense of anticipation - but maybe it's just that I have no self-control!

I go to the library less often.  I love libraries, always have since I was a child.  There's something about the serendipity of finding a book just because it's near another book, and browsing the new books is especially delightful - all sorts of fun things to discover.  You can't do that on a Kindle - you have to know what you want to buy.  I also think that libraries are an important social and educational institution that needs to be maintained and enhanced, and I worry that, as physical books decline in importance, libraries will too.

A number of the books I'd like to buy on the Kindle are not available for it.  Editions of translated or older books may not be the best ones available - sometimes they've been poorly scanned or the translations aren't good.

The formatting on some books is poor - line breaks that show up as hyphens in the middle of words, dropped text, etc.

It turns books into consumables.  For books that are consumables - light fiction or other stuff you don't want to keep around - that's fine, but for books you might want to refer back to or keep, the Kindle isn't very good.

It's not good for looking things up in, or wanting to go back over things or find places to reread.  Paging back and forth is awkward, and looking from an index (these can be pretty useless as the Kindle uses "locations" instead of page numbers) to the book, or wanting to flip back and forth between one place and another in the same book, is at best awkward and at worst impossible.  There is a way to "bookmark", but that's not the same.

Although it's comfortable to hold and easy to use, it's really ugly.  There must be some way for electronics makers to move away from the ugly industrial, filing-cabinet gray.  Yuck!  There are some ugly book covers too, but also lots of really nice ones that actually are decorative when you're done reading them.  Also, I really miss the feel and design elements of a nice book - the different fonts and layout decisions, the nice paper and the covers (at least when they're attractive) - the "bookness".

It's no good for books with color illustrations.  Some people seem to find the iPad good for that, but I can't imagine how a fine art book, with high-quality photographs, would show on an iPad - not well would be my guess.

The annotation function is hard to use - the keyboard is small and awkward.  I'm also personally not a fan of the "shared annotation" function, where you can see what others have annotated and your annotations are part of the pool.  To me it seems a bit creepy, and knowing what's "popularly" annotated doesn't really interest me.

* * * * * *
So, in summary, I like and don't like the Kindle, and my book choices are beginning to sort themselves into Kindle and non-Kindle books.  A book that I'm going to want to keep, refer to more than once, or where color or the need to move around in the book is essential, I'll buy the physical copy.  Most fiction and any other book that I'm just going to consume, I'll buy on the Kindle.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

I've had this book but only recently got around to reading it: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz. This novel won numerous prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and deservedly so. The story is that of a fat nerd named Oscar, but is also the story of his family from the Dominican Republic, both there and in the U.S. It's a sassy, irreverent book full of life, both good and bad. I found it difficult to put down once I started it.

Reading Versus Movies - the Impact of Visuals - Movie Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I had the chance to see the Swedish movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo yesterday. This is based on the book of the same name by Stieg Larsson. (There's a second book called The Girl Who Played With Fire already out and a third soon to be available - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.) The original title of the book - "Men Who Hate Women" is less catchy but pretty descriptive. These mysteries are set in Sweden, and the mysteries are intriguing in themselves, but the cast of characters is the key thing - the two key characters are an investigative journalist and the "girl" (woman would be better) of the titles, who has a disturbing past and some odd personal traits. There is also a supporting cast of other interesting characters.

Both the books and the movie are extremely violent, and much of the violence is sexual violence. I often find that graphic portrayals of sexual abuse, rape and murder victims in movies much more disturbing than the words on paper. Perhaps it's a lack of imagination on my part, or an ability to avoid imagining awful images. When it's a movie, it's right there and no imagination is required, and it tends to really stick with me and remain disturbing. It also seems to me that movies from outside the U.S. don't have the tendency to "prettify" or downplay what actual violence, or its results, looks like - this is a big problem in my mind in U.S. movies since I believe it both glorifies violence and makes it easier to accept - European and Asian movies are often much more graphic. I think as a species we're very visual, and perhaps that's the origin of the visual impact of these disturbing scenes.

Definitely read these mysteries if you like modern Swedish mysteries and interesting characters, and see the movie if you can tolerate the gore and gruesome sexual violence, and some truly horrifying and repellent murderers.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Movie Reviews: Let the Right One In and Green Zone

Two very different movies -

Let the Right One In - This movie is outstanding - see it if you can - it's a modern vampire movie from Sweden, but a vampire movie with a serious twist - the vampire is a 12 year old girl, and the main protagonist is a 12 year old boy who is bullied by his schoolmates and seriously in need of a friend. The movie is alternately violent, sweet, other-worldly and realistic - there are some combinations of emotions while you watch it that are very odd. It got some notice when it came out a few years ago, but quickly disappeared - it should be available on DVD.

Green Zone - This movie is the latest Paul Greengrass (director of the latest Bourne movies) effort staring Matt Damon. It's a pretty effective piece of story-telling, with some fine performances, marred by a lack of nuance - it's hard to feel any sympathy or even understanding for the bad guys, or for that matter for the good guys, American or Iraqi. It's a pretty good action movie, though, marked by the trademark Greengrass quick cutting and camera work.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I Love Libraries

I've always loved libraries. When I was a child, a trip to the library was a wonderful adventure - I would always check out lots of books. I was a fairly solitary child, and did a lot of reading. Fortunately, the library we went to when I was a child pretty much allowed you to check out anything you wanted. I read all sorts of things, and often would cruise the shelves and pick things out at random to look at.

I'm a frequent library user now, too. When I walk in the door of the library, my heart both relaxes and is elated, at the same time. I still buy plenty of books, but try when I can to get books from the library. Our library isn't a pretty one - it's modern and fairly drab looking, and it's cramped, but the fiction collection is very good, and the reference librarians are wonderful about finding books they don't have from interlibrary loan. Our library also doesn't have enough quiet and secluded places to read - I love libraries with carrels off in the stacks where you can settle in in peace. But despite its defects, I still love our library. Many libraries in our area have had to limit services or avoid spending money for things like acquiring books, since they are unable to get the necessary spending measures approved by voters. Our library has been able to get the money it needs for now, and I'm grateful for that.

I'm reading an interesting book about libraries right now - The Library at Night, by Alberto Manguel. It's a fascinating collection of chapters, almost essays, on what libraries, and the concept of the library, mean - such as the library as myth, as order, as island, etc.

I need to make a trip to the library!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Couple of Movies, a Book and a Play

Recently, I've been trying to see some of the Oscar contenders that I haven't already seen. I got to see both An Education and Crazy Heart. These movies couldn't be more different, but they are both well worth seeing, especially for the performances. Crazy Heart features a compelling performance by Jeff Bridges - I think he may get the Oscar nod. I'm not a particular fan of country music, but this music is music I could like. T. Bone Burnett was very involved in this movie, and it shows in a good way. Although the movie is a sentimental mishmash of themes often explored in movies, the performances are exceptional across the board. An Education is an early 1960s coming of age story, involving a fine performance by Carey Mulligan as the teenage protagonist. This movie is a bit contrived, but the performances lift it out of the ordinary.

I just finished reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel - this book won the Booker Prize, and unlike many of the recent Booker winners, which often seem mannered or obscure, this one is a very good historical novel, involving Henry VIII, Cromwell, and Thomas More, among others. So the story is somewhat familiar; one of the things I liked best about it was that, unlike many other historical novels, there was little "exposition" or explanation of who people were and what they were up to - the novel just dumps you into the experience of the time, particularly taking the point of view of Cromwell, although interestingly enough, in the third person. This one is well worth reading.

Our local community college has a fine theater department, and last night I had the chance to see a performance of Angels In America, a play from 1992 written by Kushner. It's hard to summarize what this play is about - it's about many things, including obviously the effect of the AIDS crisis on gay men in New York City, but it's about many more things than that - justice, love, loyalty, imagination and more. I need to rent the miniseries that was made of it to compare. Although it was long - 3 hours with two 10-minute intermissions - it was compelling.