Monday, August 30, 2010

Some Writers Are So Good They Get Listed Two or Three Times

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

George Orwell - Animal Farm

What a great book. Could the ending have been better? I suppose, but it sure does wrap the whole thing up nicely in the end.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Yahoo Article is Wazoo

I read an article from the Yahoo home page today (here). This is not usual for me. Ordinarily I breeze right through the Yahoo home page on my way to my mail, hardly taking a second to glance at the generic articles. I've written articles like these. They're usually quite staid, not very informative, and are hardly memorable. This article caught my eye as it dealt with reasons not to buy e-readers.

In the past, I have taken the stance of which e-reader to buy and not whether or not it should be bought. Having read the article, I've decided not to change that dynamic. Some of the article's points:

Cost: The Kindle cost me almost 200 dollars. In just 12 more months I feel as though i can recoup that cost in savings on books that I've bought. I look through my Kindle and see about 15 books, three of which were free. One of the books and an online only book filled with great stuff on publishing. I've read them all. Had bought these at the store, I'm betting it would have cost me 200 dollars. I've spent less than a hundred. This is a spurious argument in my view. He would have been better off saying that at least when you're done reading a bookstore bought book you can take it to Half-Price and recoup some of the cost. He didn't though so I shant remind him.

Casual Readers Shouldn't Bother: I am an on again off again reader. Sometimes serious, sometimes casual. The Kindle lets me be serious all the time and I like that about it. Thanks to the Kindle, and my Droid equipped with Kindle, I'm never at a loss for having a book. Yesterday, sitting outside work waiting for someone to show up and open the door, I was able to read my book. I've increased the amount that I read. Bad thing? I think not. If anything I think the article should have said, "Makes Casual Readers Serious."

Books Can Be Found Just as Cheaply at the Bookstores:The author, Mr. Arends, breaks down the cost of books bought at bookstores with coupons vs books bought for an e-reader. I have a problem or two with his analysis. First, he's talking about the recently released best sellers, those that are 9.99 or more on e-readers. He compares these to buying the paperback at the bookstore with a coupon. First, the best sellers that are 9.99 and up, the new releases, aren't always in paperback form. Secondly, if I'm a coupon person at the bookstore, what about the coupon from Amazon. Apple to apples please. I've bought thousands of books in my life, new, used, trade-in, everything. When I buy for my Kindle, I've yet to feel I could do better anywhere else (One exception, buying On Writing. 12.99 for Kindle, 10 bucks at Half Price.)

I hoped to find some meat to the article, instead it was tripe. The ease with which e-readers allow readers to read and buy books easily outstrips any of the arguments against.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ending With Darkness and Distance

"He sprang from the cabin window as he said this, upon the ice raft which lay close to the vessel. He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance."

Mary Shelley - Frankenstein

I remember that was living just outside of Brussels when I read Frankenstein. Even as a novice reader, I realized that it was remarkable. Not remarkably good, just remarkable. I'm putting it on my list for re-reading.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Everything You Should Already Know About E-Readers If You Read This Blog

The entire front page of the Personal Journal section of the WSJ this morning was dominated by this article (here) that discussed the evolution and adaption of the e-reader. There's even a handy-dandy interactive that lets prospective e-reader buyers compare the three most popular e-readers (here).

Despite its length, there was very little in the article that I haven't discussed in this blog. In fact, if you move your eyes a bit to the right you'll see in the panel a list of all my links to articles and posts on e-books and e-readers all neatly compiled and imminently readable.

The portion of the article about libraries was interesting. One particularly weak aspect of e-readers is the fact that books will be harder to loan out. I read years ago that one should never loan money or books with the expectation of getting either back. Following that mantra I have not loaned out money. I have loaned out books. I've gotten a few back. I enjoy saying to a friend, "Here, read this, you'll love it." (My friend Bill is an even bigger advocate of this type of interaction. He'll loan me stuff he hates. Never really understood that. It's like saying to someone over dinner, "Man oh man this potato pancake is bad, here try it.")

Nevertheless, the quote that I liked from the article is: "Libraries are expanding services that let patrons virtually "check out" an e-book through the Internet, with e-book files that automatically lock down after the end of the loan period. According to the American Library Association, 66% of libraries offered e-book loans, up from just 38% in 2005. The most checked-out adult fiction e-book at libraries is Stieg Larsson's bestseller, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," according to Overdrive, a company that provides e-book loans for more than 11,000 libraries. The same is true at Amazon, the largest e-bookstore online, where Mr. Larsson also tops e-book bestseller lists."

Avid readers of this blog will note that one aspect of the e-reader I thoroughly enjoy is how inexpensive the e-books are. I find the same enjoyment out of shopping on Amazon's Kindle page as I do shopping at Half Price Books. Cost-conscious readers should love it. When is my library going to support e-loaning.

Finally, to continue the above line of thought, about shopping for e-books, some statistics from the article:
51% of e-reader owners increased their purchases of e-books in the past year.
9% of consumers increased their purchases of hardcover books in the past year.
176% Increase in U.S. electronic-book sales in 2009.
1.8% Decrease in U.S. book sales in 2009 from a year earlier.

Apparently I'm not the only cheap....I mean frugal e-reader out there.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Another Last Line...No Fuss

"Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out."

Arthur C. Clarke - The Nine Billion Names of God

Have read this many times before. Not the short story, but the line. Always loved the line. I think what I love most is that he didn't write: "Overhead the stars were going out." He threw in "without any fuss" and that makes a big difference. The line alone makes me want to read the rest.

UPDATE: I have read it. I just remembered. Read it in high-school, in the library, during lunch. Liked it as I recall, apparently not enough to remember immediately. THIS is why I have a book review series. Not for my readers (ahem,...reader) but for me. So I can remember what the heck I've read.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Book Review: The Last Song - Go Ahead and Proceed with the Mocking

So, I'm trying to broaden my reading horizons. I met a guy at the last writer's conference who liked to compare himself to Nicholas Sparks. Intrigued, I went to Amazon and started searching for one of his books. I landed on The Last Song. It was better than I expected.

It was a bit simple, the themes, which were easy to spot, were engaging and added a lot to a what otherwise would have been a fairly shallow story. The characters were somewhat flat, but Sparks never gave up on them and so the reader keeps reading about them. And despite the fact that it is predictable, it was fun to read. I look forward to reading another if only to see if this one was simple cause it was aimed at teenage girls, or if all of Spark's books are so easy.

Couple of things caught my eye:
The father, describing himself says: "Though he had certain talents as a mucisian and composer, he laced the charisma or showmanship or whatever it was that made a performer stand out. At times, even he admitted that he'd been more an observer of the world than a participant in it, and in moments of painful honesty, he sometimes believed he was a failure in all that was important."

I liked the way he says "more an observer than a participant."

The same character, a pianist, describing his regrets again: "He wondered when he would have an opportunity to play again. He now regretted not making the acquaintance of others in town; there had been moments since he'd boarded up the piano when he fantasized about approaching a friend with the request to play the seldom used piano in his living room, the one his imaginary friend regarded as decoration. He could see himself taking a seat on the dusty bench as his friend watched from the kitchen or foyer - he was quite sure on this - and all at once, he would begin to play something that would move his friend to tears, something he'd been unable to accomplish during all those long months on tour."

When Steve is dying, and his daughter is ministering to him, she watches him waste away: "He didn't answer, only held his breath, waiting for the pain to pass. When it did, he seemed suddenly weaker, as if it had sheared away a sliver of the little life he had left."

Then, these two simple metaphors were fun in context:
"At his answer, she felt something shake loose inside, like the first pebbles skittering downhill before an avalanche."

"It was one of those gorgeous evenings typical of the Carolinas - a soft breeze, the sky a quilt of a thousand different colors. . ."

So? Not bad all in all. Engaging but simple. Easy and simple. I'll try another Sparks, but probably not too soon.

Last First Line?

I know I said I was going to focus on last lines for a bit, but this first line from the novel I'm currently reading caught my eye:

"Dying slowly of bone cancer the old man, shriveled now, sat as ever in his great armchair, tears of lonely pain sliding down crepuscular cheeks."

Not the best first line ever, and doesn't do the intial situation justice as the old man dies in the next few pages and tells his greatest sin to the protagonist who he thinks is his priest. What I like about it? I love the fact that he worked a great word like "crepuscular" in.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Addled by My e-Reader Ads

Read an enlightening article (here) about the impending ad wars in books.

Not much that couldn't have been guessed at, but what I enjoyed about the article was the analysis and comparison of why ads never took off in regular books. Mr. Adler and Vincent bring up that one of the top sellers last year, Dan Brown's Lost Symbol, may have sold millions in its first week, but beyond that, not much. The WSJ sells millions daily. Which has the ads?

All that's about to change. Now ads will be placed in books as they're purchased for e-readers. I hope they quickly find ways to target the ads. As I said in an earlier post, I think it's ridiculous that one of my Kindle's screen savers is Harriet Beecher Stowe. I don't read her books. Never have. Don't want to. Why should she be on my screen saver? Amazon has a list of the authors I like. Put two and two together and throw some of my favorite authors on that screen saver. Same goes with ads. Don't give me ads for ladies shoes and shopping at Target. Take a look at my likes and dislikes. I read thrillers, let me know when to expect that next Vince Flynn book, better yet, use that handy Literature Map that I have linked on my blog and start suggesting I buy a book from a similar author.

Ads are a good first step, make it great and target them...then I'll be impressed.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Kindle-ian (or is it Kindle-ite)

One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve become a Kindle user, and something I have found more remarkable than I imagined, has been the number of other e-book reader fans that I’ve run into. Since receiving my Kindle I’ve met dozens of friends and acquaintances who when I mention that I have a Kindle pipe up with “So do I, don’t you just love it?”

Many of these people have had their Kindles for quite some time. Most of the newer e-book reader owners are i-Pad-ers. Today, I ran into my first Nook-er, or should I call her a Nook-ie.

Appropriately enough I heard about her recent acquisition through an online social network site. I’m eager to find out what she thinks of the Nook. I’ve never played around with one, but I like the fact that it saves room and provides a larger reading screen by dumping the keyboard. I’m interested in knowing where it comes up short. Battery life? Readability? Note Taking?

Nevertheless, among all of the things I like about my e-reader, syncing between platforms, ease of use, note taking, speed and discount when buying books, I think the thing I like the most is finding out that my friends are fans too and never having imagined they would be.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We've Given You the Firsts, Now....How Bout the Lasts?

"He loved Big Brother."

George Orwell - 1984

Seems fitting to start this "Last Lines" series with a line from a book that got on the list as a great first line too. However, I must say, this is a bit worrisome. Based on just this first entry, I wonder if this series may be a tad more difficult than the other. There may need to be a bit of context in order to understand why these are great last lines. Who would know what a great, dynamic, soul-churning, last line that above line is, if they had not read the book?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Book Review: On Writing - Not Quite What I Expected

People have been telling me for years that I should read On Writing by Stephen King. I wish they hadn’t played it up so much.

I grew up a huge King fan. When I spent summers with my grandfather at his bed and breakfast, he introduced me to Stephen King. We would run into the small town of Brenham, from the even smaller town of Chappell Hill where the bed and breakfast was located, in order to buy books from the little paperback book resale shop. The shop had a fairly poor selection, but barring an hour-long ride into Houston, it was the best there was. It was from here that I bought my first King book.

Christine was the first book of King’s that I read, then Carrie and onward from there.I read The Stand and loved every page. I read Tommyknockers and thought it was great. I read Salem’s Lot in typing class at school and got so scared I jumped when someone interrupted me. I haven’t read anything since I gave up on Gerald’s Game until On Writing.

It’s a decent book on craft. I loved King’s description of writer’s needing a tool chest. He did a magnificent job of imparting that to the reader. I enjoyed reading about how he writes, and what was going on in his life through the writing of each book. I had no idea that Misery was such an impactful book in his life. Also, although I read about his being hit by a car while walking, this book details just how horrific the crash was and how much it affected him.

I noted a few passages that caught my eye.

On character, plot and setting, King says:
“The most important (thing I learned) is that the writer’s original perception of a character or characters may be as erroneous as the reader’s. Running a close second was the realization that stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

And then this as well, on character:
“The situation comes first. The characters – always flat and unfeatured, to begin with – come next. Once these things are fixed in my mind, I begin to narrate. I often have an idea of what the outcome may be, but I have never demanded of a set of characters that they do things my way. On the contrary, I want them to do things their way.”

I resisted the urge to let other people read my work much. Following this book, I am changing that decision, ergo I need to find some “trusted readers.”
“Subjective evaluations are, as I say, a little harder to deal with, but listen: if everyone who reads your book says you have a problem, you’ve got a problem and you better do something about it.”

Finally, on back story and how much background to provide the reader, King says:
“I like to start at square one, dead even with the writer. I’m an A-to-Z man; serve me the appetizer first and give me dessert if I eat my veggies.”

All in all, it was fun to read Stephen King’s book On Writing. He has a tremendous voice, and even though this was non-fiction, it was fun to relive some of the books I read in my youth. It was great to read about his connection with his wife and the methods he uses to write. As a book on craft though….I’ve read better. Still doesn’t beat Maass’ book on Writing the Breakout Novel.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Borders Going the Way of Cactus?

Article in the Houston Chronicle caught my eye (Here). Pixels or Pages, how could a title like that not catch the eye. The article dealt with a popular meme of these posts, the extinction of the contemporary bookstore.

Whenever I think about this topic I think of Cactus Records and Tapes on Shepherd in Houston. Cactus, as the full name implies, was the prototypical record store. Large racks for vinyls, experienced and helpful, perhaps a bit unwashed staff, the whole boat. When CD’s came out they were forced to retool. Remember when CD’s were packaged in long, narrow boxes so they could fit in record racks? First time I wondered about this, it was at Cactus. Cactus disappeared. Couldn't keep up with the changes. Lost its place in society.

A few years ago I met a local entrepreneur who was bringing Cactus back. I went and checked out the new Cactus. It was like stepping into an antique store for the 70’s. It was filled with ancient vinyl records, probably the same ones I'd seen there when I was a kid.

This is the future for bookstores I’m afraid. Mr. Simba, quoted in the article disagrees: "Saying that bookstores won't be around in the future because Wal-Mart and Amazon sell books is like saying Italian restaurants will go out of business because we have canned spaghetti sauce," said Michael Norris, a senior analyst at Simba Information, a researcher and adviser for publishers. Part of the value of a bookstore is the expertise of its staff, he said.”

Sorry, Mr. Simba, there’s a quality distinction here. I can get the same book, packaged differently by buying it from Amazon. I can’t get the same Italian Food when it’s packaged in a can.

A few posts ago I mentioned that bookstores need to change their offereing and the way they offer it. The Chronicle discussed that too:

“Barnes & Noble has taken initiatives to keep it up to date technologically, such as offering free Wi-Fi access, spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating said. Customers of the Nook, the chain's e-book brand, can browse complete e-book contents in the store. Starting this fall the company will devote 1,000 square feet in its stores for its Nook boutique.”

And this particularly imaginative idea:

“To succeed, bookstores, including chains, need to provide customer service so good that people talk about it, Norris said. Some bookstores have effective e-newsletters personalized to the reading tastes of the individuals receiving them, he said. A number of independent bookstore owners are innovative, hosting, for example, vampire costume parties to tie in with all vampire books, he said.”

I say that this is imaginative because it revved my imagination motor. I thought about when I lived in Washington and went to the local bookstore to watch the mayhem accompanying the release of the third Harry Potter book. It was fun to see all the kids getting excited about the book and congregating at the bookstore. This may be the saving grace for bookstores. Think about reading clubs of kids all meeting at the bookstore. Movies based on popular books shown in the evenings. Writing and reading groups would no longer be forced to meet at each other’s homes and bare the strange glances from the homeowners spouses and children.

Bookstores need to start thinking in innovative ways or dry up and disappear like Cactus did.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

First Novel, Last Edit?

The first time I competed in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) I thought the writing part of novel writing was hard. I was right too. Writing that first novel was tough. Eeking out that first 50,000 word novel was excruciating. I look back at that draft now and still find it excruciating, but now its excruciating to read too.

If the past couple of years have taught me anything it is that writing is the easiest part of the novel writing process. Editing and rewriting is far harder than writing.

A couple months ago I gave my manuscript to a local editor. I've since gotten his edits back and input his edits on a nightly basis. I felt some trepidation when the editor mentioned he'd never read any Dick Francis novels. Nor had he read any Donald Westlake, Evanovich, or Robert Parker. These should have sent a warning klaxon to go off in my head.

As I enter his edits I'm amazed how I can see his moods on the paper. Some pages will be heavily marked up, red slashes and comments all over the place. Then there will be whole chapters where he has written nothing. At the end of these chapters he writes something like "This chapter does nothing for me" or "DIB" (do it better). I'm not sure how helpful these edits are (that's sarcasm....I know exactly how helpful these comments are).

In short, editing is tough, but figuring out which edits I should include is even tougher. I realize now that I should have found an editor or writer who is more in tune with the mystery genre, I think this guy is more comfortable with thrillers. Lesson learned for manuscripts two through forty. Then again, I should have done some homework myself. He has a couple of published novels, one would think I would have read one before handing over my manuscript and my money. Might have saved myself some dough and some consternation.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

That's the Bookstore I Remember

Letter to the editor today in the Wall Street Journal. It far more aptly describes the bookstores I like to remember than Mr. Birkerts' essay I posted on a few days ago. In the letter, Mr. Mirabile of Philadelphia say of bookstores:

"A bookstore browser expects freedom and, despite the public setting, some basic privacy. No Big Brother scrutinizes choices for thought crime, while the browser peruses this title or turns away from that. And the browser assumes that the books, unlike there digital substitutes, cannot be edited as they wait to be browsed. Reaching for a book is a symbolic and literal grasp at freedom, untethered to the whim of some cyber-gatekeepers."

This is the bookstore I like to remember. Being alone among the stacks, away from other people, surrounded by boundless sources of entertainment, and in some cases disappointment.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Final First Line

"I am an invisible man."

Ralph Ellison - Invisible Man

Disregard the contradiction in terms in the title for the moment, but this will be the last, first line. The series is coming to an end. BUT, a far more intriguing series of posts will take it's place. STAY TUNED!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

This One Goes to Eleven

"The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting."

Stephen Crane - The Red Badge of Courage

Anyone who has spent any time in the military or in the field hunting can relate to the way that Crane describes the retiring fog. When he adds the fact that it reveals an army stretched on on the hill, it takes it to another level. Dare I say it goes all the way to eleven.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Bye Bye Bookstores

As anyone who reads this blog knows (Hi Mom!), I like to get up and devour the Wall Street Journal's Editorial Page each morning. This morning, there was an article entitled Bye Bye Bookstores by Sven Birkets. In the article, Mr. Birket's, a long time educator and bookstore employee discusses the future of bookstores in the digital age. He agrees with me. (Notice, I don't agree with him).

"Now comes the news that Barnes & Noble is putting itself up for sale. The reason? The nation's leading book retailer and its stock are getting hammered by the rapid transformation of the marketplace—bits & bytes supplanting bricks & boards. A look at profit-earnings charts from Barnes & Noble and Amazon over a five-year period reveals reversed mirror-images, with Amazon predictably ascendant. No one doubted that the process was underway, but no one seemed to reckon on the speed."

I "reckoned" on the speed.

But, we're right, bookstores are going to have a very difficult time in the very near future. They're losing their place in society. Although, the author and I agree on many aspects of the coming digital reading age, there were some passages of his editorial that I found a bit odd. I'm a huge bookstore fan, or was before I became a Kindle devotee. I even read Gone with the Wind while traveling back from Washington by hitting as many bookstores as I could. Read that whole sucker without ever buying it. It's okay though, I bought alot of coffee from their over-priced coffee stores to make up for the difference. But, as a bookstore junkie, I feel I know a bit about them and have spent a lot of time in them. So, Mr. Birket's writing the following passage is a bit ridiculous to me.

"This grieves me. This is a loss far bigger than a loss of a particular kind of access to books. It marks the effective removal of what is finally a symbolic representation. Less and less will it seem right and natural, expected and desirable, that people should gather in appealing public spaces for the sole purpose of catering to, and perhaps flaunting, their mental (their inner) lives. Less and less is it already happening that this thread unexpectedly leads to that with the counter clerk, or even another customer, suddenly blurting, "Oh, if you haven't read—" That species of retail adventure is already being replaced by preference algorithms: the Pandorification of America."

I've never had, nor do I wish to have the type of experience described above, particularly in a bookstore. I share my mental (inner) life with very few, and certainly not to strangers at the bookstore. Perhaps I secretly want bookstores to go away. Maybe a series of coffee shops all with editions of Gone with the Wind would have served me better on my road trip. Starbucks take note....invest in used books!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Nothing Wrong with Stating a Truism in Sentence One

"Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I've come to learn, is women."

Charles Johnson - Middle Passage

Seriously, you can't tell me that you don't want to read on to find out what disaster with women has lead this dude to the sea. I've toyed with a book about women disasters.... I've plenty of research. Sadly, I as good as this first sentence is, I'm not sure it's enough to make me read another story about the sea or one with the title Middle Passage. I've yet to a sea tale that made me think it wasn't a waste of time. Captain and Commander came close, but still quite far from the goal.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Book Review: Rain Fall

I just finished reading Rain Fall by Barry Eisler. Liked it. Had a real good plot, great characters, and it took place in the Far East, a locale I've always wanted to visit. Seemed like a bit of Clancy's Without Remorse, mixed with Shogun. Been a while since I've been pleasantly surprised by a book, this one succeeded.

This is Eisler's first book, of eight that he has published. Throughout the first half I kept thinking, as I do in many first timer's books, "heck, mine's as good as this." Couldn't say it about the second half. Eisler's third and fourth quarters were great and kept me turning the pages,...or kept me clicking the advanced button on the Kindle.

A couple of lines struck me,
The hero, John Rain (note the title), is remembering his time in the war and his friends that he lost,
"Memories, crowding me like a battalion of suddenly reanimated corpses."
Makes me think of zombies, so naturally I bookmarked it.

Rain is checking out the love interest, Midori:
"I was struck by her eyes. Unreadable, even looking right at me, but not distant, and not cold. Instead the seemed to radiate a controlled heat, something that touched you but that you couldn't touch back."

This was the opening of a chapter that I thought was well done:
"At first light the whole of Shibuya feels like a giant sleeping off a hangover. You can still sense the merriment, the heedless laughter of the night before, you can hear it echoed in the strange silences and deserted spaces of the area's twisting backstreets. The drunken voices of karaoke revelers, the unctuous pitches of the club touts, the secret whispers of lovers walking arm in arm, all are departed, but somehow, for just a few evanescent hours in the quiet of early morning, their shadows linger, like ghosts who refuse to believe that the night has ended, that there are no more parties to attend."

Another similar to the one above, this time middle of the chapter:
"There was nowhere, nowhere on the whole planet, that I would rather have been right then. The city around us was a living thing: the million lighters where its eyes; the laughter of lovers its voice; the expressways and factories its muscles and sinews. And I was there at its pulsing heart."

All told, a very good book and I look forward to reading number 2 from Eisler.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Fireball in Sentence One

"When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."

James Crumley - The Last Good Kiss

Don't overlook that last sentence, "drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon" facinatingly poetic,. . . don't overlook it cause you're concentrating on what a terrific name "Fireball Roberts" is for a bulldog. I almost did.