Friday, January 28, 2011

What I’m Reading Now

"Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17_ and go back in time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodging under our roof."

Robert Louis Stevenson – Treasure Island

Yep, reading Treasure Island. I think I read it as a kid. Think I read Kidnapped as well. Fun to read again. It is free on Amazon and I'm in cost cutting mode for books. Working out just how many free books I have to read before the Kindle is completely paid for and I start seeing a significant return on my investment. Still, the first line, filled with information AND you want to read further!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Most Recent Last Line

As I've said, we know the importance of the first line of a novel . . . what of the last?

Here's a kicker. In Casino Royale, third and final Bond that was gifted to me by my bro (and sadly the last I'll read for a bit due to financial limitations I'm currently working under . . . more on that later) James Bond falls in love with the female main character, Vesper. It's a tragic love affair that ends with Vesper comitting suicide. Bond's final words on the episode, and the final lines of the book:

"This is 007 speaking. This is an open line. It's an emergency. Can you hear me? Pass this on at once. 3030 (Vesper) was a double, working for Redland."

"Yes, dammit, I said "was". The bitch is dead now."

You have to suppose that a novel that begins with "The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning" and ends with "Yes, dammit, I said "was". The bitch is dead now" has got to have some thrilling stuff inbetween.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An Apple A Day

Yesterday was an Apple heavy day. My older brother offered me an AppleTV. Don't know what I'm going to do with it. I don't have an HDTV. Even if I had an HDTV, I'm not sure what I'd do with it. I look forward to finding out though.

I also spoke with a client. He came into my office and mocked my PC. He has several Apple products, several meaning a dozen. An iPad for each kid, iPhones for the kids, couple of laptops, iMac, Apple server, a real connoisseur. We eventually got around to discussing Steve Jobs. I've just finished a book about how to give a presentation like Steve Jobs and in the book the author goes into great detail about the product rollout presentations that Jobs conducted. This client thought that Apple's days would be numbered without Jobs. We both agreed that what we liked most about Apple was that it was cutting edge, iPod, iPhone, iTunes both cutting edge technologies. How astonished was I to read an article (here) entitled "How Apple Foot-Dragged to Victory - Steve Jobs's formula for success: Don't Rush" by Holman Jenkins, Jr. in the Wall Street Journal.

In this article, which is a compelling read, Mr. Jenkins argues that it was not the pace of innovation that made Apple so successful, it was the way in which they innovated and the design behind the innovations.

"Let's try out a hypothesis: Mr. Jobs's slowness is the key to Apple's success. His focus on the device, his emphasis on perfecting the user experience, meant holding back, not overreaching. The iPod would only be a music player. The iPhone and iPad would be Web-browsing devices that wouldn't play most of the video on the Web. Apple TV remains "a hobby" (his words) because there's no way yet to deliver an acceptable user experience. And notice that each of these device categories had been around for five or 10 years by the time Apple entered (clobbered) them."

It's an interesting train of thought to take, and the article is quite convincing. Much more emphasis on design and function than on revolutionary devices. Perhaps its not the revolutionary the piece of equipment is designed to address, but it's the design of the equipment that makes it revolutionary. Kinda like what Chris said in Northern Exposure when he used a catapualt to launch a piano: "It's not the thing you fling, it's the fling itself."

Back to my client? What about the future of Apple. Jenkins offers this.

"Of course, this fundamental strategy orientation might now change. Apple has allowed itself to be drawn into a battle for mobile-platform market share with Google's Android. Apple's management is increasingly focused on growing an ecosystem rather than on creating devices. The Microsofting of Apple may be at hand, the company becoming a feckless and inefficient user of capital as it seeks to protect itself on every front from every perceived threat to its privileged position. Before long, Apple might even need a Steve Jobs to come back and save it again."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Most Recent First Line

Started a new book. Yet again, another given to me from my brother, a Bond again. Thinking I might try and read the entire lexicon as a serial. Nevertheless this is perhaps a repost, but good enough to be worth it.

"The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning."

Very good first line for a first novel. The paragraph only gets better.

"Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling-a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension-becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it."

You can't help but like a writer who writes "a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension".

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Last Year, Barren - This Year Surrounded

Last year at this time I was on the verge of getting my Kindle. I had no idea how that would spark my love for reading. However, last year when I got my Kindle I didn't know anyone else who had one, or an e-reader at all.

This year, just 365 later, my parents have an iPad, my coworker just bought and ipad, my other coworker bought his daughter a Kindle, my other coworker has a Nook. Two other coworkers, iPads, my mother-in-law, a Nook, my wife a Kindle, friend up in Dallas, Nook and my good friend just asked me what her daughter should invest in . . . another e-reader purchase is imminent.

Just a year later and I'm surrounded by e-readers. Funny world.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I May Be Onto Something

I may be onto something with this description of the morning thing. Then again, maybe Fleming just has a penchant for it. Second one from the same book, still pretty good.

In this one, James Bond is in Saratoga, New York with Felix Leitner. They are is going out early to watch the horses warm up.

“They leant against the rail, thinking about the early morning, and about breakfast, and the sun suddenly caught the trees half a mile away on the other side of the track and brushed the topmost branches with pale gold, and in minutes the last shadows had gone and it was day.”

Ian Fleming – Diamonds are Forever

I like the last phrase, “and in minutes the last shadows had gone and it was day.” Just like that. Boom. Day. A long run on sentence about pale gold light in tree branches, then daytime. Fun sentence.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Again Heavy on the Bond

I started the first lines posts because it's something that every writer has to deal with. Authors can be mellifluous like Pat Conroy or Technical like Tom Clancy, but they all have to deal with that first line. I'm finding that they all seem to like to describe the morning too. I thought about doing this string of posts when I read Tough Cookie and Diane Mott Davidson described the morning as pearl (?). Now, having read how Ian Fleming describes the morning in Diamonds are Forever, I feel compelled to take the task on.

In this snippet Bond is arriving in the US from an overnight flight from England. It's starts out with some pretty standard fare, but it's the last few words that grab the reader.

"He went forward to the washroom and shaved, and gargled away the taste of a night of pressurized air, and then he went back to his seat between the lines of crumpled, stirring passengers and had his usual moment of exhileration as the sun came up over the rim of the world and bathed the cabin in blood."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

At the Risk of Getting Too Bond Heavy; Another First Line

This first line, from Diamonds are Forever, is far better than the last.

"With its two fighting claws held forward like a wrestler's arms the big pandinus scorpion emerged with a dry rustle from the finger-sized hole under the rock."

Ian Fleming - Diamonds are Forever

Not bad, and the rest of the chapter is equally intriguing. A long analogy for what is about to happen in the rest of the story? Who is the scorpion? Who is the beetle the scorpion kills and eats? Who is it that eventually stomps on and kills the scorpion? I want to read on.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Book Review - Moonraker

My brother gave me three James Bond novels for my Kindle for Christmas. I'm not a James Bond novel fan, but I'm fast becoming one. Although I was sorely unimpressed by the gifting and exchange policy that Amazon has - as I tried to return these books - having just finished Moonraker I wonder if this difficulty was serendipitous. Moonraker was really good.

Having now read Octopussy, Dr. No and Moonraker I'm surprised by just how good the books are and how horrible are the movies. Even Octopussy, nothing more than a series of vignettes and short stories, is better than the movie. When I think of the movie Moonraker what comes to mind is Bond navigating a boat down the Amazon looking for orchids, his falling off a waterfall and whipping out a hang glider, and of course I remember Jaws, Jaw's girlfriend and the space station climax. The only thing that the novel shares with the movie is the main character and the title. The book is far, far better. I'm still trying to figure out why they didn't just use the story from the book for the movie.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book was Flemings description of the club Blades in London and Bond's game of bridge with Hugo Drax who is described with the wonderful dental vocabulary words below. Having never been a bridge player I'm always enthralled by the lexicon of the Bridge player. Laydown Grandslam, trumps, finessing, etc. all fun. One of the best lines was this one:

And suddenly Basildon understood. It was a laydown Grand Slam for Bond against any defense. Whatever Meyer led, Bond must get in with a trump in his own hand or on the table. Then, in between clearing trumps, finessing of course against Drax, he would play two rounds of diamonds, trumping them in dummy and catching Drax's ace and king in the process. After five plays he would be left with the remaining trumps and six winning diamonds. Drax's aces and kings would be totally valueless. It was sheer murder.

It's that last line that makes the rest of it so much fun to read. Actually, had the book ended after this scene at Blades I would have felt content.

My notes and marks:

I liked this description of the woman's smile,

The careful warmth of her smile of welcome dropped about ten degrees.

This conversation occurs right before a bomb blast that catches Bond and the girl, Gala. I like the way Fleming describes it.

She lauged. "I was teased about it all through school," she said. . . . "I'm always having to change my name now that I'm in the Special Branch."

"In the Special Branch," "In the Special Branch." "In the . . ."

When the bomb falls. When the pilot miscalculates and the plane hits short of the runway. When the blood leaves the heart and consciousness goes, there are thoughts in the mind, or words, or perhaps a phrase of music, which ring on for a few seconds before death like the dying clang of a bell.

Bond wasn't killed, but the words were still in his mind, several seconds later, after it all happened.

At one point Gala realizes that the Moonraker is going to destroy London, her reaction:

So one's heart really does go into one's throat. How extraordinary. Such a commonplace and yet there it is and it really does almost stop one breathing.

And some vocabulary:

Chemin de fer - French term for railway or Baccarat Chemin de Fer, a variation of the card game, Baccarat.

Prognathous - having a projecting lower jaw

Diastema - a dental term referring to a space or gap between two teeth

Chicane - an artificial feature creating extra turns in a roadway, used in motor racing and on city streets to slow cars

Baize - soft, usually green, woolen or cotton fabric resembling felt, used chiefly for the tops of billiard tables.

Easily the best Bond I've read yet. Thanks Dave.





Monday, January 10, 2011

Not Much Going On

My "other-brother" sent me a link (here). I hope that this recipe is actually a fine piece of creative and humorous writing, if not, it has nothing whatsoever to do with writing. Still, funny and poingnant (a bit like the source).

I read a blog (here) about thriller writing. A major contributor to the blog is Leigh Russel. She is the author of the next book that I buy. I have not read a thriller by a female. I'm looking forward to it. I just started listening to The Last Spy Master by Gayle Lynds. So far I'm impressed. Then again, not sure why I should have expected otherwise.

Friday, January 7, 2011

George R.R. Martin and No One Else

As I said a few posts ago, I don't read much Sci-Fi, but when I do, it's usually Vernor Vinge. For Fantasy, a genre I usually find gag inducing, the only author I will read is George R.R. Martin. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series is remarkable in its depth of characterization. Each book focuses on several major characters, each characters point of view dominating each chapter. So each time you finish one chapter and go to the next it's like a brand new story and book. One thing I find interesting and novel about his approach is his willingness to kill off his own characters. Nevertheless at the moment it is a four book series but he's been promising book five for several years. This is the aspect of the series I plan to address here.

Every now and then I double check his website and others to see when the next planned release of his fifth book is. As I perused Wikipedia's entry (here) I saw this line:

"Despite initial hopes of A Dance with Dragons being published quickly after A Feast for Crows, the writing and revision process for this fifth novel proved more difficult than anticipated. On January 1, 2008, Martin published an update on his website saying he hoped to have the book published in the autumn of 2008, but that it was only a hope. As of October 2010, the author has published no further updates on his website. Martin has in the past announced finishing dates for earlier works on his blog, and in the last several years also announced the genesis of other projects, which has caused some fans to wonder if he has lost interest in writing A Song of Ice and Fire."

It's easy to see where fans could get a bit perturbed by having to wait so long and for having the release date delayed so often, but it's the last line that grabbed me. Who cares if he's lost interest or not, it's his story. If he wants to kill off all the characters or not finish the series it's his perogative to do just that. I did more research and saw one long string of messages on a forum from a host of angry fans. They were bemoaning the fact that he doesn't promote "fan fiction" for his work, and the delay of Dance with Dragons. Again, go get mad about something else. It's reminiscent of sports fans who castigate team owners for not doing what they, the fans, feel is appropriate. Go write your own book I say to these fans. Then again I suppose this is a problem I would love to have, . . . if only because it would mean there were fans of my writing.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Last Lines - Epic End

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

Charles Dickens - A Tale of Two Cities

By itself it seems a bit vague and arbitrary, but when read with the beginning stuff, epic.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

An Article on Movie Theaters

Anyone who enjoys seeing e-reader articles from the Wall Street Journal posted in this space (a rare bird that), will be dismayed to find that I'll pass on posting the opinion article on the evolution of reading media through the ages that was printed today. I'm not a big fan of satire in the WSJ opinion pages. I want meat on the final pages of the main section, not dessert, thanks.

I will however comment on this article (here) Double Feature: Dinner and a Movie by Lauren A. E. Schuker that addresses some changes in theater offerings. Miss Schuker describes several upscale theaters that are revamping. They are offering dinner, drinks, larger, more luxurious seating, and waiters who will serve and clear during the movie. "I am one hundred percent sure that these theaters are the future of movie-going," she quotes Jeffrey Katzenberg as saying. I lived in Brussels for a year and one of my favorite hangout was a movie theater near the Atomium (see it here). This theater had large, comfy seats, over three dozen auditoriums, sals gals who would walk up and down the aisles selling waffles and chocolates during a long break that occurred between the previews and the feature, and bars outside each auditorium entrance where patrons could buy drinks prior to the show and take them in with them. However, I don't agree with Mr. Katzenberg. My friends and I did not go to the theater for the noshing or the drinking, we went because it was a cheap form of entertainment.

"Theater chains hope the new style of film-watching—which has previously been the realm chiefly of small independent theaters—will help boost the number of moviegoers after years of flat attendance."

I disagree with the above quote. I believe that if theaters want to boost sales they should convince distributors to set a lower ticket price. My wife used to get a perk from her job whereby she got 10 movie tickets a month for 20 dollars. Let me tell you we used all 10 of those suckers every month. We went to as many movies as we wanted to. Now, having lost the perk, we might go to five movies a year.

I understand that theaters make a majority of their profits from what they sell at the concessions, so I understand why theaters would want to create a larger offering. Who wants to sit next to a guy eating spaghetti, or liver pate or heaven forbid seafood while in an enclosed theater? And what about a blood-filled horror movie? Are you going to want to eat a rare piece of meat while watching SAW 6?

Mark me down as not a fan of the future of theaters.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Two Kindle Family

My wife casually mentioned that she had been thinking of buying an e-reader. Two minutes after she uttered this slight interest, I had purchased her a new Kindle.

Now, I wanted to get her an iPad. I've played with my father's new iPad and think it's great. My wife didn't want another computer. Plus she's frugal as hell and 500 bucks is a bit rich for her.

My mother in law just got a Nook. Color, easy to use, nice to look at. But again, the frugality kicked in. Why spend an extra one hundred bucks more when a Kindle is only 139? That's why I love her.

So now we're a two Kindle family. She wants just a reader with no distractions, she's got it. Makes sense too, we use one account at Amazon and now we can lend one another e-books. More to come in the weeks to come.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Most Recent First Line - Another Bond

Thanks to my brother, I'm reading another James Bond, this time Moonraker.

"The two thirty-eights roared simultaneously."
Moonraker - Ian Fleming

I've not been overly impressed with Fleming's first lines. His books are so concise and well written that it's almost as if the first lines are afterthoughts. This one makes me think that as well. The first line could be removed, and the first paragraph would be fine without it. It's as if an editor came along and said, "Uh...Mr. Fleming? You need to add a first line with more pizzazz."

The first paragraph after the first line is:
"The walls of the underground room took the crash of sound and batted it to and fro between them until there was silence. James Bond watched the smoke being sucked from each end of the room towards the central Ventaxia fan. The memory in his right hand of how he had drawn and fired with one sweep from the left made him confident. He broke the chamber sideways out of the Colt Detective Special and waited, his gun pointing at the floor, while the Instructor walked the twenty yards towards him through the half-light of the gallery."

See, that paragraph, although not particularly "pizzazzable" is classic Fleming. The first line; not so much.