Sometime in the wee hours of the night last night, the magical book elves crept into my office and put an electronic copy of Stephen King‘s newest collection of novellas on my Kindle. Full Dark, No Stars is another book I’m looking forward to. As much as I enjoy King’s novels (for the most part), I think he is a brilliant short fiction writer. His collection Different Seasons was remarkable and I’m hoping that this one will be just as good. My biggest problem is that I have no idea when I’ll have time to read it. There are at least 3 books in line in front of this one and with NaNoWriMo going on, and various critiques and other projects, it may have to wait until I’m on vacation in December.
Tuesday bring the release of some new books. Here is what was downloaded to my Kindle early today:
- Echo by Jack McDevitt. The latest in the adventures of Alex Benedict. I haven’t yet finished the Devil’s Eye, but once I complete that one, I’ll put this one on deck. These are always fun reads because they combine mystery and science fiction, and the universe in which Alex and Chase live is such an optimistic one.
- The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1. I had no idea that Mark Twain wrote a 5,000 page autobiography, and no idea that he requested that it not be published in complete form until 100 years after his death. Volume 1 has arrived and I’m looking forward to reading it.
I’m still working my way, slowly, through Connie Willis’ wonderful All Clear, which I hope to finish by the end of the month. With NaNoWriMo and work and various other chores and endeavors, it’s hard to find the time to zip through this one the way I zipped through Blackout.
In the November 2010 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, David Pogue writes a column pointing out “The Trouble with E-Readers“. The trouble with Pogue’s column is that he is focusing on arguments that are old-hat and many of them are being addressed. What he, and the rest of the world seem to miss is that perhaps the most significant problem with E-Readers is their aesthetics. Robert J. Sawyer wrote about this scandalous state of e-books back in February.
Pogue argues that the death of the printed book is premature and that comes as news to just about no one following E-Reader developments. In the long run, E-Reader editions of books may very well replace the paperback market, but hardcovers and trade editions are going nowhere anytime soon. He makes a kind of amusing post hoc argument as to why E-Readers won’t replace books (because television didn’t replace radio and e-mail didn’t replace paper).
And then he goes on to talk about the crudeness of the technology, addressing the points that we are all aware of, but not even mentioning the crudeness of the aesthetics for most of these devices. I’ve talked about this before, but for those new to the discussion, what I mean by aesthetics is how pleasing the e-book looks to our trained eyes. And our eyes are trained. When we look at a book, we are used to certain types of justification, certain types of hyphenation, and a certain lack of typos in the text. However, many e-books are scanned in from manuscript without a copy editor, introducing numerous OCR errors that never appear in their print version. (Think of the word “turn”. An OCR scan may see that “rn” as an “m” and so you get “tum” instead. I’ve seen this countless times in e-books. Hyphenation in print books helps maintain the satisfying level of word spacing that we are used to. All of this combines to be the aesthetics of the book and it is here that publishers are presently failing. Fix this aspect of e-books and E-Readers and all of the other pieces will fall into place.
It is not an easy fix. It requires changes to the way e-book software does hyphenation. It requires paying copy editors to read the e-book version of each format of the book produced to check for typos introduced through OCR automation. Publishers will argue that this drives up the price of the book. But until the aesthetics of the e-book match that of the hardcover or paperback, people will continue to resist them for vague reasons that they can’t quite explain.
Ultimately, no device will ever be as perfect as a book. Isaac Asimov gave a reasoned argument for this in his essay “The Ancient and the Ultimate” and if you’ve never read that essay, I urge you to check it out. But I have been generally pleased with my Kindle and I consider myself a convert.
I’ve recently discovered another bonus of the Kindle–which I have been using now for well over a year: samples! Prior to having a Kindle, my book-buying behavior followed 2 possible pathways:
- Rush off to bookstore, browse for something that piqued my interest, and purchase on the hopes that I would like it. I rarely had the time to read the first few pages, let alone the first chapter in the bookstore.
- Order it online (usually via Amazon) and read it when it arrived.
In both cases, I sometimes found that a chapter or so into the book, it wasn’t what I expected, and had I known that, I would not have purchased it in the first place.
With my Kindle, I can download a sample of the book for free before buying the book. Usually, a sample is about the first 10% of the book, which is generally enough for me to decide whether I want to finish or give up. I cannot begin to emphasize how much money this has saved me. I’d say I give up on one of every 5 new books, and given the volume of books I go through, this adds up. And even though Kindle book prices tend to be cheaper than hardcovers, I am still saving myself a good deal of money by downloading the sample first.
And if I like what I am reading? Kindle makes it easy for me to order the full book when I reach the end of the sample.
Being able to sample books like this makes the online browsing experience a little more like walking through a brick-and-mortar bookstore, with the advantage that I can pull 20 books off the shelf, sample them at my leisure, and then discard or ignore the ones that don’t capture my interest, saving my a good deal of time, as well.
I just found out today that on November 23, the third book in Edmund Morris’ biographical trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt, Colonel Roosevelt, is being released. I read the first book, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt in December 2001, and read the second book, Theodore Rex in February 2002. Both books were extraordinarily well-written and I have been awaiting the third ever since finishing the second. I have pre-ordered the Kindle edition of the book. I guess my wait will soon be over.
In light of the Hugo Awards this weekend, a few reading lists that might be of interest to others:
- Hugo award-winning novels that I have read
- Nebula award-winning novels that I have read
- Campbell award-winning novels that I have read
- Hugo and Nebula award-winning novels that I have read
And just so people can be incredulous with me:
I picked up and/or pre-ordered a couple of books (Kindle editions, both of them) that I am looking forward to reading as soon as I have cleared the pile of current books and magazines from my desk. Both books are about or tributes to long-standing Grand Master’s of science fiction.
The first is Elizabeth Hull’s tribute to Frederik Pohl, Gateways. with stories and essays by just about every major writer in the genre. The second is the long-awaited authorized biography of Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialog With His Century, Volume I, which comes out in hardcover and Kindle editions on August 17.
I’m also waiting for Connie Willis’ All Clear, the sequel to her excellent time travel, World War II novel Blackout, which I enjoyed so much earlier in the year. The book comes out on October 19, which is just in time to get it before meeting her in person at Capclave a week or so later.
What are you reading this summer?
It is summer now and for those who are curious, here is what is on my summer reading list for 2010. Listed in no particular order:
- Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis
- The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
- The Devil’s Eye by Jack McDevitt
- Zero History by William Gibson
- Last and Future Men by Olaf Stapledon
- WWW:Watch by Robert J. Sawyer
- Up Till Now by William Shatner
- The Business of $cience Fiction by Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg
And in my ongoing efforts to read Stephen King’s book in roughly the order they were written:
- Pet Sematary
- Blockade Billy*
And a couple of things that I’m looking forward to later this year:
- All Clear by Connie Willis (sequel to Blackout)
- Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
- Echo by Jack McDevitt
What will you be reading this summer?
It doesn’t happen often, but on those rare occasions when it does, it drives me nuts: I leave the house and by the time I get to work, I realize I’ve forgotten whatever book it is that I happen to be reading. I look forward to my lunches everyday because I usually spend that time reading. It gets my mind off work and breaks up the day for me. And so when I forget my book, it ruins lunch (and sometime the day) for me.
Today, I forgot my book.
I’m currently reading Stephen King’s The Stand and I’m enjoying it. When I left the house this morning, going through my mental checklist, I ticked off this check box labeled “take stuff out to car”. The thing is, Kelly is heading out of town and I took her stuff out to the car, and forgot my own messenger bag in the house. Inside that messenger bag is my book.
But never fear, Kindle is here!
I’ve had my Kindle since late June and I’ve read a dozen books on it. In fact, The Stand is the 13th book I’ve read on my Kindle (for those of you who are superstitious). Of course, it doesn’t matter that I left my Kindle at home. My lunchtime is not ruined. I have at least 2 options:
- I can continue to read The Stand from where I left off by simply opening up the Kindle App on my iPhone. Sure the screen is a little smaller, but the text is clear and I’ve read from my phone before without any trouble.
- I can download and install the Kindle App for Windows on my laptop and read from there, if I feel like I need a bigger screen.
This is one of those advantages to eBooks, in general, and the Kindle, specifically, that isn’t always captured in the “Why You Should Read eBooks” articles that are all over the web these days. With an eBook, gone are the days where leaving your “book” (device) at home is a problem. My lunch is not ruined.
Kindle saved the day.
In another life, I might have been a historian. I have a passion for history that ebbs and flows, but never goes away. (As a youngster, I had a similar passion for astronomy, which has also ebbed and flowed and never gone away.) It is difficult to describe why I am attracted to history. In part I think it is because it helps me understand who we are and how we got here. Regardless, the passion exists and every once in a while, it flares up and must be fed. I’d guess that I have taught myself far more history than I ever learned in my schooling, and I’d venture to guess that my knowledge of history, generally, is equal to that of someone with a graduate degree in the subject.
There are 3 sets of history volumes that have always intrigued me. The first is Will and Ariel Durant’s 11-volume, Story of Civilization series. I’ve read the first 2 books in the series and own all of the others. I have promised myself I will make it through the entire series some day. The second is Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which I also own, and which I have read bits and pieces of from time to time.
The third and final set is from the turn of the twentieth century, a collection of historical writings called The Historians History of the World. I first read about this miscellaneous collection of historical writing years ago in Isaac Asimov’s autobiography. Every once in-a-while, I’d do some searches for the books but always come up empty-handed. This weekend, however, I tried a search and found the books, and to my surprise, discovered they are freely available as part of the Google Book Project. My reading is such right now that I don’t have time for any of these books. (In fact, I suspect I won’t really have time for them until well, into the future.) But it is nice to know that they are available for me when my inner historian comes calling.
With my birthday a few weeks back, came numerous gifts, just about all of which turned out to be books or gift cards for books. These are always my absolute favorite gifts and so here are some of the recent arrivals, some of which I received for my birthday, and some of which I purchased with the gift cards I was given:
- The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence by Paul Davies
- The Way of the Pilgram by Gordon R. Dickson
- A History of Christianity by Paul Johnson
- WWW:Watch by Robert J. Sawyer
- The Science of Liberty (Kindle Edition) by Timothy Ferris
- Up Till Now (Kindle Edition) by William Shatner
I’m currently in the midst of my annual reading of Isaac Asimov’s autobiographies, but once I’ve finished those Rob Sawyer’s, WWW:Watch is probably next on the list.