Archive for January, 2012

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love E-Readers

Posted in E-books, Uncategorized with tags on January 30, 2012 by JE Cornett

This is as good an argument for an e-reader as any. Disclaimer – I have never read this book, nor do I intend to, but the cover never fails to crack me up.

While I’m far from being a Luddite, I simply couldn’t figure out why anyone would rather read a book in an electronic format than in print.  But that was before I discovered e-readers.

I stubbornly resisted e-readers for longer than I care to recount, mostly because of my experiences with e-books. E-books were emerging as a popular format for textbooks while I was getting my master’s degree in the mid 2000s, and I often found myself slogging through a text on a computer screen, via Adobe Acrobat or the abominable dinosaur which was Microsoft Reader , and found both lacking. Anyone who has attempted to read anything of length in Acrobat or Reader will understand my frustration. Underwhelmed, I gave up on e-books for several years.

But it was more than just the difficulty in reading an e-book on the computer that bothered me — it was something more ephemeral, literally. Even when I’d bought an e-book, downloaded it to my computer and could see its little icon there on the screen, it didn’t feel real. Feel being the operative word. There was a mental, emotional barrier there to cross: I love my bookshelves full of books, the idea of randomly pulling a book from a shelf and exploring it with all sense. E-books, mostly intangible, seemed distant and remote.

Even as I resisted them, the popularity of e-books and the attendant e-readers and tablets began surging. According to the Association of American Publishers, sales of e-books increased 202.3% between February 2010 and February 2011.  Libraries were scrambling to get into the e-book game. Even my 70-some year old father had a Kindle. And still I held out.

But at some point in mid 2011 — likely in response to the statistics the AAP cited — the Internets were flooded with digital re-releases of out-of-print books I’d sought for years.

I was suddenly faced with decisions on several fronts. Pay $20.00 or more for a used Anne Stuart novel in iffy shape, or download the e-book for less than $5.00? Hunt down copies of Regencies I’d likely never read again, pay around $7.00 with shipping to get them, then donate them, or download them for around $3.00? Spend $19.99 plus shipping for a book about the making of Guns-n-Roses Appetite for Destruction that I had been warned was poorly edited and worth it only for a few key interviews, or buy the e-book for about $6.00? A larger question applied to all these books — wait to find the perfect copy of a book, or just read it online?

There was no decision, really. Realizing that I was unlikely to cherish or re-read any of these books, I caved both to e-books and to e-readers.

Enter my first e-reader, an Aluratek Libre Pro. I only bought it because it was an open-format reader — at that point I still refused to wholeheartedly drink the Amazon Kool-Aid — and I was prepared to accept it only as a second choice. If I was offered an e-book deal I couldn’t refuse, I’d read on my Libre.

The problem was, I soon found that I enjoyed my little Libre almost as much as a print book, and for some applications, more. It’s small size and light weight made it easy to carry in my purse. For someone who never likes to be without a book, this was a revelation. At the time that I got the Libre, I’d been toting a trade paperback of Betty Freidan’s The Feminine Mystique around for a week; the change was a pleasant one, and that in no way diminishes Freidan’s book.

I also loved the Libre for long articles or essays I’d been reading online. Moving them to the Libre took only moments, and the reading experience was much more pleasant.

Then there was the purely esthetic experience of the e-reader. Old paperbacks, with their foxed pages and crumbling glue often make for frustrating reading. That, of course, discounts the covers altogether; while we know better than to judge a book by its cover, I am often mortified by my Harlequin Regencies and Anne Stuart Silhouettes, with their luridly posed cover models and eye-roll inducing blurbs. Your guilty pleasures remain your secret, when you’re reading on an e-reader.

Also: it’s easier to read while you eat when you can simply prop an e-reader up in front of you. Seriously.

All these concessions to vanity and convenience aside, my e-reader solved a bigger problem, literally — what to do about books I want to read, but not necessarily to own. While the library is obvious solution, when it comes to books that are hard to find, or not likely to be retained or circulated through interlibrary loan (such as single-run paperbacks), the library is often little help. E-books, on the other hand, at least when inexpensive enough, are the best alternative.

But the fluffy cloud of e-book joy had a dark side, and it’s name is Amazon. The ease with which authors can publish directly to Amazon’s Kindle format means that more and more authors are republishing their backlists exclusively through Amazon. As a reader (and a librarian), this frustrates me to no end. As a book lover, however, it means getting with the program. Before long, I added a Kindle Touch to my e-reader stable.

All that gushing aside, though I love my e-readers, I’ve not stopped buying print books by any means. If I find a book I’ve been looking for in print that’s not available as an e-book yet, there’s no way I’m waiting. Books that I’m likely to re-read or books that I know I will want to share with others, I’ll buy in print. Books that are more attractive in print format — books with lots of pictures or illustrations, a books with an especially well-designed cover or fonts — seem watered down even on tablets, so I buy those in print. And I’m still not crazy about reading most non-fiction on an e-reader.

But I’m nevertheless so in love with a gadget I thought I didn’t need or didn’t want that I never leave home without it. (I’ll let you guess which e-reader holds a place of honor in my purse 😉

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Book Review: California Gothic by Kristin Herrington

Posted in Literature, Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , on January 28, 2012 by JE Cornett

Kristin Herrington’s California Gothic is a classic case of the  “when bad books happen to good stories” phenomenon.  You know the type — all the ingredients of a great story are there, but somehow, it never gels. Despite occasionally inspired writing and a fascinating premise, something went horribly wrong with California Gothic. Sad to say, it’s nothing that a halfway-decent editor couldn’t have derailed.

First, a plot summary: before Aurora’s mother Jane passes away, she arranges for Aurora to receive a series of letters, explaining away some of the mysteries of Jane’s family. These mysteries encompass almost thirty years, beginning in the mid-1960s, when Jane, a singer in a girl group, meets J.C., a record producer, and Charlie, a member of a surf-rock band. The letters relate to Aurora Jane’s history with both J.C., who becomes Jane’s husband and father to her children, and Charlie, who becomes her lover. As Aurora learns more about her family, her life begins to unravel.

Now for the disclaimer: the plot summary makes California Gothic seem much more linear and interesting than it actually is. Which is a shame, because the premise would have made an excellent novel.

By Herrington’s own admission, Charlie is a fictional version of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, who drowned in the early 1980s. As such, the story touches on some of the aspects of Wilson’s life that are ripe for fictional interpretation: the music scene of the 1960s, Wilson and his famous brothers Brian and Carl’s abuse at the hands of their father, Brian’s struggle with mental illness, and even Wilson’s acquaintance with Charles Manson and the Manson Family.

However, instead of delving into these themes, Herrington abandons them. Aside from Jane’s truncated letters, these themes are never explored at all. The good version of California Gothic would have focused on Jane, J.C. and Charlie, but the version we get instead focuses on Aurora, who is quite possibly the least interesting — nay, the least interested — protagonist in print. The reader waits for Aurora to go in search of people who knew her mother, J.C. and Charlie, in order to find out more about Jane’s glamorous, if wrenching, past. Instead, we get to read about Aurora’s mind-numbing interactions with her co-workers and her indulgences in casual sex and cigarettes — and yes, that’s just as boring as it sounds. 

This is as good a time as any to point out that California Gothic appears to be a self-published work. This is likely the reason that an excellent story is buried underneath sleepwalker-as-protagonist Aurora’s story; any sort-of engaged editor would have led Herrington away from Aurora’s story (or lack thereof) and toward Jane’s.

Any merely sentient editor would have done away completely with one aspect of California Gothic in particular: the book occasionally employs a bizarre omniscient dead narrator whose identity or purpose is never fully explained.  While the writing in the dead omniscient narrator sections is good, the whole construct was so nonsensical that I literally can’t say anything else about it, because I have no idea what to say about it.

I can’t imagine that I’m the only reader who has been or will be intrigued by California Gothic‘s premise, only to be disappointed by the book itself. I just hope that someone is inspired enough by Herrington’s book to write a novel that takes advantage of what I would have thought to be a fail-safe setting and characters.

Thanks, BYUtv, for “Blackbeard’s Ghost” and More

Posted in Movies, Uncategorized with tags , , on January 28, 2012 by JE Cornett

Thank you, BYUtv, for showing forgotten Disney gems like “Blackbeard’s Ghost,” “Pete’s Dragon” and “The Ugly Dachsund.” Thanks for introducing a whole new generation of children to everyone’s favorite bumbler, Dean Jones, and, better yet, Peter Ustinov. Thanks for reminding those of us of a certain age how much fun good clean fun can be.

Oh, and thank you, too, for bringing Neil Peart‘s favorite TV show, Wind at My Back, to us here in the States. If it’s good enough for Neil Peart, then it’s good enough for us!

Old ladies, Blackbeard’s coming!