Tag Archives: book

Reading Achievement Unlocked

Achievement Unlocked

There’s been a lot of talk about how publishing has been radically changing over the past few years. The past couple of days, though, I’ve been thinking about how reading have been changing as well.

For a few years now, I’ve been using a site called GoodReads to track the books I read, and a number of my acquaintances online do as well. Before, I used to post a yearly list of books I was reading on LiveJournal, but I like the more social experience of GoodReads. As I’m reading a book, people will often comment on their own experiences on it or ask my opinion, and it becomes a reading club that goes at my own pace. But as I use the site and share my experiences, a couple of things have been rolling around in the back of my head.

First, GoodReads doesn’t really track rereading books really well. I mean, it’s possible to do it, but the site is really geared around reading a book once and calling it a day. As a perfect example, I’m rereading a lot of my Sherlock Holmes pastiches after going through the original canon, but I could really only track the books I hadn’t put into the site previously, or new books that I picked up between volumes. And in general, I’m not seeing a whole lot of people talking about picking up old favorites, but rather talking about the newest and greatest books in their collections.

Second, you can’t really tell how big a book is on the site,1 and it seems the trend in book length is reversing. As reading moves more and more to devices and ebooks, it seems (to me at least) that a long book I would have worked through in a physical book I find difficult to slog through on my iPad. Further, as writers find that having more books for customers to buy means more than having one big book, self-published ebooks are getting shorter and shorter.

Between the two, it feels a bit like reading books are like unlocking achievements in video games. Since it’s harder to track progress by page count, books themselves track progress. Reading five novellas feels like more reading than one compilation of the same five novellas. I’ve actually caught myself tempted to track the individual novels in a compilation such as The Chronicles of Amber, because I want to feel like I’m reading more, even though it’s the exact same words.

Don’t get me wrong – anything that gets people reading more is awesome. This isn’t a screed against how things were better before that damned Kindle, or how things are more awesome because I can read books in an afternoon. But it is different, and when assumptions about how people read starts to change, writers have to pay attention to it and keep those new patterns in mind as they create.

  1. I mean, yes, many books have a page count, but as more and more ebooks don’t have specific page counts, percentages are more common than page numbers.

Review of “Amortals” by Matt Forbeck

AmortalsDRAFT-front-72dpi-186x300Full disclosure: I’ve had a couple of drinks with Matt in the past. However, I paid for my own copy of this book.

(Yes, another review. What can I say? I had some time to get some reading done over vacation. And I picked up Amortals about the same time as In Hero Years…I’m Dead. So, naturally, I had to read them one right after the other as well.)

Amortals is about a Secret Service agent who is part of the Amortals Program. When he dies, his clone is activated with his last backed-up memories. This time, he’s sent to investigate his own murder, which is particularly gruesome and shocking. I found the premise similar to how clones work in the fiction of EVE Online, which is what initially interested me in the book, but I quickly got swept up in the action movie premise. Over time, the book throws you a few curves, and near the end there’s some good digging into the moral implications and concerns of a society that clones the rich and powerful on a regular basis.

Like In Hero Years, there’s an afterword in which Matt talks about the process of writing the novel. He says he’s shopped around a draft of this in various forms for fifteen years, and I think that shows in the book. Whereas Mike’s book was a fountain of exploratory writing that focused on character emotion, this is a manuscript that has been revised and polished and tweaked for maximum effect, and the plot is highly tuned as a result. I don’t think one style is better than the other, but reading them back to back did give me an appreciation of how each approach creates a different style of narrative.

Matt is at the top of his game in creating a fun and engaging story. If you like action thrillers, this is a good book to pick up.

Review of “In Hero Years…I’m Dead”

IHY512Full Disclosure: I have met Mike Stackpole professionally a couple of times. I paid for this book myself, and wasn’t compensated in any way for it.

I’ve been a fan of Mike Stackpole’s since I read his Fiddleback trilogy of novels. When I saw him post on his Twitter that he was releasing a new digital direct-to-reader novel, I was interested. When I discovered he called it “superhero noir,” I purchased it right away — the first time I made an impulse purchase on an ebook novel. I was in the middle of reading a collection of the Carnacki stories, but as soon as I was done, I got my trusty nook and opened up In Hero Years…I’m Dead.

I wasn’t disappointed. The book starts on a number of solid noir tropes, moves on to hit a number of superhero tropes, and then proceeds to keep sending the main character (and the reader) in a number of different directions before its all over. A couple of times I thought I saw where it was heading, only to be proven wrong. The story is about an unnamed protagonist who has been out of the superhero business for twenty years. He comes back to town to try to pick up the pieces of his life. From there, he’s drawn into a fast-paced collection of lies, deceit, optimism, hope, and sacrifice. The whole story is driven on emotion and feeling rather than logic, and I got swept up into the whole strange, wonderful world of it all. I spent the extra dollar to get the deluxe edition with his lengthy afterword discussing the creation of the book, and I was pleased to find that a lot of the details and feeling I noticed in the book were all intended.

The only downside is that there were a few more typos than I would have hoped for. I would get wrapped up in the story, and some missing word or errant punctuation would draw me out and slap my editor’s cap on my head. There were also a couple of times that I caught myself trying to figure out which heroes and villains were analogs of which popular comic book characters, which also distracted me. But I found myself taking any opportunity I could to sneak in a few more pages, so clearly these things didn’t distract me too terribly much.

Overall, if you want to support a writer trying a new business model, if you have an ebook reader (or are comfortable reading on a computer), and if you like gritty superhero stories packed with emotion and character, do yourself a favor and pick up In Hero Years.

I am a Media Omnivore

I am a media omnivore.

When I read, I will read anything from trashy pulp novels to works of great literature with equal enjoyment. When I watch movies, I’m just as likely to watch mindless entertainment like “Jackass” as I will watch something intellectually engaging like “Inception.” Television ranges from historical drama to zany sitcoms, while my phone has everything from pop music to hardcore rap on it. A lot of times, people will introduce me to new stuff, which is awesome even if I’m not a fan of it.

Once in a while, someone will tell me that they’re surprised that I don’t like something or that I do like something. I’m never sure how to respond to that. Some of it is, I’m sure, the fallacy that “I like you and I like/hate this thing, ergo you should like/hate this thing.” Sometimes it seems to be more personal, as if me liking or not liking something is a personal insult to someone. Usually, though, I try to deflect it with some variation of “everyone has their own tastes,” and try to change the conversation.

But lately I’ve been thinking about this as many of my coworkers and friends have been recommending stuff to me, and some people have been pointing me to cool things as a result of my Tour de Holmes. I don’t have a single bucket of things I like and another one of things I don’t. There are things that I really like but will never watch or read again. There are things that I’m not sure I enjoy but I’ll watch or read over and over again. There are things that I enjoy because it deals with some parts of my brain, and not others. Things that I really, really enjoy engage me in multiple ways, but that doesn’t invalidate or diminish other things I like. I think this is why I get frustrated with the five-star system of ratings. On the surface, something I rate as three stars would appear to be inferior to something I rate as five stars.1 But I might go to the three-star book over the five-star one if I’m in a particular mood, because it more fully scratches a particular itch.

Maybe it’s because I don’t buy into the idea of “guilty” pleasures – I like what I like, and I don’t feel the need to be ashamed by them. Maybe I’m wired differently, and look for connections between disparate media. Or maybe I just have no taste, and don’t have enough sense to hide the fact that I think “Jackass” is funny while writing a critical analysis of Victorian literature.

But odds are pretty good that I like something you do, even if I don’t like something else you love.

  1. There’s another problem of two or three stars having hardly any meaning, but that’s a separate thing.

My Portable Office

Some days, I really feel like I’m living in the future.

In May last year I went looking for a new back to replace my Czech map case. I like the case — it had a lot of character — but I wanted something that would be able to carry a three-ring binder. I looked at some messenger bags and a few other options in stores, but nothing really struck the right balance with me. I poked around on Amazon for a while, and ultimately decided to pick up the M-51 Engineer’s Field bag (pictured at right).

I pretty much fell in love with this thing as soon as I got it. While it didn’t have a couple of specific pockets I was looking for (basically a moderately-sized pocket with a flap to dump loose stuff in), there’s so much else that’s perfect with this bag that I can’t imagine going without it.

But what really struck me recently was how much technology has evolved to be more portable and more powerful, making the idea of "bag as portable office" very real. I was prepared to spend an afternoon in a car dealership today[1], and it was comforting to know that I could continue to do quite a bit of my work with just the contents of my bag (and even more if I can find a wi-fi network connection). Let’s take a look at what I’ve had in my bag today to demonstrate.

Continue reading My Portable Office

Arsene Lupin

Maurice Leblanc.

Image via Wikipedia

For a while now (okay, many years), I’ve been meaning to read Maurice Leblanc‘s stories of Arsene Lupin. A couple of years ago, I noticed that a half dozen or so of his books are now in the public domain and available on Project Gutenberg, so I downloaded them, but never got around to reading them. Over vacation I’ve been toying with my new netbook, but mainly trying to get some decent ebook software on it. After a lot of testing, I’m using FBReader — it’s not ideal or all that pretty, but it works the best for me.

Yesterday, we had a conversation at work about old properties that have been turned into movies decades after they were popular, and the movie versions being more inspirational than the fiction to even later adaptations (Sherlock Holmes, of course, but Conan and Tarzan were also mentioned). Based on that, I remembered that Maurice Leblanc wrote a number of unauthorized crossovers between Lupin and Sherlock Holmes, and I was vaguely curious to much his presentation of Holmes diverged from Doyle’s vision. Plus, I read on Wikipedia that Lupin himself spawned a number of movies and TV spinoffs. Since I was mostly[1] unfamiliar with Lupin, I decided to sit down with the first set of short stories and read up on him a bit. I expected to read one story and then maybe get some more work done that night.

By the time I went to bed, I had downloaded the same book to my iPhone so I could finish the last story, because I was not going to be able to sleep without knowing what happened.

For those who don’t know, Arsene Lupin is one of the original “gentleman thief” characters that inspired many similar characters (most notably, The Saint). He is a master of disguise, incredibly intelligent (sounds familiar?), and possessing of a certain sense of humor and nobility that puts him into bad situations, but also gives him a flair that makes him engaging. The first nine stories generally follow a kind of timeline, although there’s some jumping back and forth in Lupin’s career — it’s somewhere between an anthology and a novel. I read the English translation provided by Project Gutenberg, which has some errors and redundancies, but the stories are still quite engaging and easy to read despite that. I mean, this guy manages to steal from someone’s locked and guarded manor while he’s still in jail.

If you’ve finished up the Sherlockian canon and are looking for some new turn-of-the-20th-century action/crime stories, you can’t go wrong with Lupin.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar

All of Leblanc’s work on Project Gutenberg

Footnote 1: I did actually listen to an audiobook reading of the first story, “The Arrest of Arsène Lupin,” so I wasn’t going in totally blind.

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