Saturday, August 25, 2012

ereaders vs Dead Tree Books

Obviously I'm tipping my hand with the above title but I think the subject bears writing about.

I bought my ereader for several selfish yet practical reasons:

1)Portability. June 2011. I had just finished reading A Dance With Dragons. I liked the book and story. But curling up with that book was about as realistic as curling up with a cinder block. It had the heft and weigh at of a cinder block. It was a portable as as cinder block. Construction workers nearby asked if they could use it for a foundation stone.

Now, I'm reasonably strong and fit, I work out a lot, but that beast just kept getting in the way. I read all the time everywhere: At the gym in between sets, in doctor's offices, in line at banks and at the dreaded Department of Motor Vehicles, where I consider it a civil obligation to show the petty beauracrats I am not going to completely stop my day so they can make me wait for fees and forms to continue driving a car I own. But it was hazardous to try to take Dance With Dragons out anywhere but on my desk where it was supported by a solid foursquare oak frame.

I felt a sense of accomplishment when I had indeed finished the book and looked back over the size of the thing and saw that I had indeed passed through it all. But it was damned uncomfortable. Taking it out didn't just elicit odd stares which I generally cultivate "That's right, I'm reading you monosyllabic motherfuckers." But "Look at the guy struggle with that big book." I felt a bit like Charlie Brown in a Christmas special dragging War and Peace around. Like having a plus size girlfriend give you a lap dance. "Honey stop, people are staring.."

After purchasing the kindle the first book I downloaded was Brandon Sanderson's the way of kings. That too is a tome. It weighs in at over 1000 pages and is another doorstopper of a book. True it was in paperback but the paperback was the thickness of three metropolitan phonebooks. Opening the book and keeping it open was like trying to bend a nail with your fingertips.

2) Availability. I recently rediscovered several classic authors whose collected works were available for free on the kindle. Did I mention that part about for free? All these wildly obscure texts that are an English Majors wet dream like Wilkie Collins lesser known novels, Jane Austen's Juvenilia, Dickens Essays, Coleridge's LSD journal(ok the last one was made up). And for my (handful of) faithful readers consider this: No library anywhere in a 100 mile radius has a copy of Jack London's The War of the Classes. No book store in a 100 mile radius has a copy of that book. Amazon only has it as a Kindle book. There is no hard copy available. When I reflect on my thinking patterns and ideas over the past year no other book has been more influential. A game changer if you will. All possible thanks to the ereader.

Another aspect to availability is location location location. I live in the country. The nearest bookstore is an hour a way. The nearest decent bookstore complete with coffee shop, computerized inventory, and large breasted baristas is about two hours away. To buy hardcopies in a bookstore I'd have to spend about twenty dollars in gas just to get there.

Along with availability of texts was the fact I can have it right now. Yes, I sound like the annoying girl from Willy Wonka. But you know what? Getting the book right now spares me the shipping and handling fees. Spares me looking to my neighbors like a wacked out crack fiend amped on conspiracy theories while I check the front door every five minutes for the book to arrive via snail mail. Not only does the ereader keep me from waiting, but it also forced me to be a little more organized when it came to planning the book purchases. I want that one that one that one that one…wait, why is my amazon wish list over 2500 books long? Ok maybe its time to be honest with what I really want to read and what I hope to someday read and what I might maybe someday hopefully get excited about reading(I'm looking at you Jane Eyre).

3) Multiple texts at once. Another reason an ereader is the greatest invention since the condom Gutenberg press is the value of multiple texts in hand at one time. Someone once remarked that going on a trip with Hemingway was a pain in the ass because he spent most of his time packing books to take with him. He was afraid of being bored(like there weren’t enough animals to shoot or women to hump?). K I'm like that but without the native coolies to carry my bags so my family tends to get pissed off at me. Having an ereader gives you the option of if a book is boring the shit out of you, and as Nancy Pearl librarian extraordinaire says the world of books is too large and time too short to waste on a book you are not enjoying, a few clicks and you are on to the next one like a Kardashian through millionaire boyfriends.

4) Books in a series. For fantasy and sci fi geeks, as well I suspect of mystery lovers, the idea of having an entire series at your fingertips and in hand is immensely valuable for cross referencing. I have the following entire series on my kindle right now: The Wheel of Time(all 13), all the Malazaan series, all John Scalzi's Old Man's Universe series, the uhm er Halo series of books, etc. You get the point. When a text in one book makes you question something you thought you saw from a previous book(Wait..what year did Ms Marple contract syphilis?) the ability to check is again in your hands and only a few clicks away.

And to add a social dimension to the argument: pulling out a kindle in line, the dmv or doctor's office says a few things. You are obviously a committed reader because you've gone through the trouble of buying an ereader. You are genius level material because you read so often. Whether that translates to you are a superiour species that can demand prima nocturne on all females within a five mile radius though is doubtful. Still, you never know. People that don't read are highly suggestible are often easily duped.

The one counterargument I can understand is wanting to display all your books in your home. Dostoevsky, Hemingway, and The Wheel of Time novels occupied pride of shelf space for a long time. Like exotic pets they were on the top shelf. Then I picked up my copy of The Eye of the World and the prologue fell out. The books don’t look that cool if you have to wrap rubber bands around them to keep the pages together.

That and the idea that after a move I realized I had four copies of the Brothers Karmazov(2 of which were the same translation), I realized I might be overdoing it.

So maybe you can't display all your books and brag to your houseguests about your book collection. So what? The idea is to read, internalize, and understand the books. Do that and I'm quite sure it will be obvious to people who meet you that you are a reader.

And for a final unselfish reason consider the following article:

"Let’s do some math. In the USA in one year, 2 billion books are produced. To get the paper for these books requires consuming 32 million trees. We can estimate that one tree yields enough paper for 62.5 books. (Of course, these numbers vary depending on which expert you choose to believe.)
The 200 million free ebooks downloaded from Project Gutenberg and the WEF saved three million and two hundred thousand (3,200,000) trees."

Translation: if you step outside with an ereader don't be surprised if a tree hugs you, or starts humping your leg out of gratitude.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Review of The Lies of Locke Lamora

I know, this is a strange follow up to a war of the classes(not to mention the clash). On the other hand, I felt so strongly moved by this book that I can't escape the need for a response.

The Lies of Locke Lamora was a surprise. For a fantasy novel it is a curious specimen that sets up and breaks expectations faster than a bull on meth in a china shop. The story is a wild ride and you will be holding on by the whitening tips of your fingers to find out what happens next.

Camorr is divided up between the have's and the have nots. The haves, the aristocracy, wealthy merchants, and varous dukes and duchesses, have a lot. As in private summer barges, courtesans, expensive clothes, mansions and enough money to feed a third world nation for a year. Of course they do what most people with money do: they keep it.

The other half of the haves are the wealthy criminals. Camorr is a city where crime is as natural as the tides, and the Capa, the man who holds all gangs, cutpurses, whores, thieves in sway, rules with the absolute power of a tsar. Cross him and death is the least of your worries.

The only unforgiveable crime is to violate The Secret Peace. That is, the peace between the nobles and the thieves. Arranged between the Duke of the city and the Capa, the theives and criminals can steal, murder, and defraud all of the middle and lower classes that they want and can get away with, but they are not permitted to touch the aristocracy. For this freedom the nobles do not root out crime and drag the various gangleaders into chains. No summary exectutions. No raiding of gang warehouses. As long as the nobles, their wives, and their families are left alone, crime remains the most profitable business in Camorr.

Of course, Locke and his crew have other plans.

I can't remember the last time I genuinely had such fun with a book. I can unreservedly recommend the book for its plot construction, characterizations, and world building, but the sheer glee you feel when reading this novel, the delight in the anarchy that Locke trails behind him, is enough to hook the most experienced and perhaps jaded reader and a reading experience not to be missed.

My only problem with the novel is that it does have "first novel" flaws. Although I hate to use that term because usually when an author publishes a novel it may be his first published novel but not usually his first written one. Some of the descriptive passages try for effects which they don’t accomplish: broad canvas background scenes that don't really convey mood or tone. The book succeeds though with dialouge, and with his structual design.

The dialogue is always witty, always cutting, and entertaining. Characters speak like real people with individual personalities born from private experiences. Even minor and secondary characters come through as original creations and not merely mouthpieces. In one scene a sergeant on a night watch is fleshed out by the way he addresses his subordinates. Very skillfull handling of the material there and the extra effort adds to the many cool things to enjoy in a novel filled with cool things.

The thing that blows my mind though is the plot construction. It is a plot that is as twisted and torqued as a contortionist with cerebral palsy, but the amazing thing is it actually flows and fits together. It never feels like he is pulling an Indiana Jones and "making it up as he goes along." Handling flashbacks and info dumps is a fantasy author's nightmare. Simply no way around it this is part of the genre. But in Locke Lamora the author found a way to travel back and forth and uses carefully selected scenes to highlight the upcoming plot points. The past informs the present and round and round.

But where I think the book rises in comparison to others is in its uses of genre expextations. Locke is an orphan. The majority of the people in his crew are orphans. So the question of identity itself becomes a major plot point and the whole Aristotelian idea of recognition looms unforgettably in the reader's mind. Who is this wise ass little shit, where did he come from, and what is there about his past that causes such mystery.

Like a good con artist one of the things Locke does over the course of the book is dodge the question of who he is and where he came from. We don’t actually know that his parents were killed and he was an orphan. He may have chosen to go to the thieves world and make his living as that. We don’t know what the parents connections were. Locke may simply have been an impossible child and the parents dumped him off dockside to get rid of him. The book does a neat job of slipping that question the way a boxer expertly slips a punch. And in a novel supposedly concerned with orphans I found myself surprised that he had so often dodged it.

For a book about a con, the best con is the one enacted on the reader: what do we really know about these characters? If this were a dickens novel we'd be subjected to a relentless pursuit to find out the orphan's identity. And although that question is constantly being evoked and hinted at in the story, Scott Lynch is the artful dodger himself, making us forget then remember then have a burning desire to know, but never actually telling us. Well played sir. Well played indeed.

Great fun. Don't miss it.