Shameful, shameful confession

You know what I love about blogs? No, it’s not the false but liberating sense of anonymity (which is nice, even though everyone who reads this blog probably knows my name).

It’s the rant factor. In person and in print, my rants always start out calm and logical, very professional. But things go downhill very quickly, and it turns into this (but without the ensuing proletariat uprisings). Or, to be brutally honest, this. And blogs give me a forum to indulge my every ranting whim. Sure, you can just stop reading, close the browser or find another blog to read with less crazy going on. Or you can stay and be disturbed by the glorious and terrible calamity that is me getting my rant on. But be forewarned, you brave and foolish souls who will brave the rant… what is read cannot be unread.

<OMINOUS MUSIC WITH LOTS OF DRUMS>

Okay, yes, I’m exaggerating a little. On with the rant.

My rant today is a self-defensive mini-rant, because I have a shameful, shameful confession to make.

I own an e-reader. And I like it.

So what’s so wrong with that? Dip your toe into the online debate about e-readers and you’ll find out it’s less of a debate and more of an epic, end-of-the-world type, good versus evil battle, and you can guess which one e-readers are. The intellectuals who command sufficient respect that their opinions are  considered important (let’s call them them the Literati because it sounds cooler) have, at least according to my perception, vilified e-readers. One gets the impression that real readers should prefer the classic book (let’s call it a book, because that’s what it is), and that the only people who like e-readers are Philistines, barbarians, the middlebrow and bon-bon-scoffing Dame Sally Markham-esque trophy wives filling the emptiness in their souls with bodice-ripper romances. 

This is what I have to say to that.

E-readers are not evil.

Best picture of an e-reader ever, stolen shamelessly from the sanctimonious http://holynerdblog.blogspot.com

Rant commencing. Merits and demerits explored in the form of huzzahs and boo-hiss-boos. Here we go.

Huzzah – Convenience

Although I have mourned and railed against the inexplicable dearth of 24-hour bookstores and libraries, there is yet to be a place where I can go for book emergencies at 3:27 in the morning, when you’ve just finished the second-to-last book in a series and your thoughts are something like ohymygod the main character just DIED how why HOW CAN THIS BE there’s no way I can go six and a half hours until the bookstore opens. E-readers are like a live-in dealer for story junkies looking for their next fix. It’s as easy as downloading the next book. Whenever you want it. Like right now. (Which can also be a boo-hiss-boo if you think about it, the instant gratification thing and all that. Whatever. Give us a hit, Swanney.)

Boo-Hiss-Boo – Moolah

Everyone knows about the perils of online shopping. It just doesn’t feel like real money when all you have to do is click a button. I may go bankrupt because of e-books and their easy obtainability. But then again, I was probably going to go bankrupt because of buying book books anyway.

Huzzah – Look, Ma, I got me a fancy future word container

Oh, the wonders of technology. E-readers are still fringey enough to be novel (ha, puns) and also can be used to taunt friends who are still reading old-timey book books. If you go in for that sort of thing.

Boo-Hiss-Boo – Smell, and overall physicality. And a bit of book fate.

Yeah, I said smell.

Here’s the thing. The most obvious thing, really. Books exist. Physically. They are objects. You can feel a book, hold it, caress it (yikes), treasure it, find it, lose it, flip through to a favourite passage, hurl it across a room, use it as a weapon, write in it, draw in it, destroy it, turn it into something else entirely, and build book forts if you have enough of them. Books carry memories. Everyone has books that conjure up uncannily vivid memories and emotions: that copy of Wuthering Heights your mom read when she was incubating your alien baby-self; the battered Gone with the Wind that got you through fifth grade; the very first (but so not the last) copy of The Fellowship of the Ring that has crossed oceans with you and fallen in the bathtub more than once, its margins filled with “Hell yeah Aragorn”s; the books that loathing lead you to (Herman Hesse, I will never read you), and the books that love gave you, the Neruda, Chekhov and Benioff.

Whoa. Forgive that maudlin and narcissistic rumination. But it got the point across, didn’t it? There’s Meaning in a book. An e-book is ephemeral, intangible, and all wind-in-the-leaves and is-it-real (am-I-real) perplexity. It’s an existentialist’s nightmare.

And the smell, dear god, the book smell. Yes, I am the kind of person who smells books. Don’t judge me, I know you all do it too. Winos smell wine, book lovers smell books. There’s something about that blend of paper and ink and glue (and dust, too, if it’s one of my books) that is intoxicating. I want to bottle it and wear it as a perfume, like Kramer and the beach cologne. (Just in case you’re wondering, the best-smelling book I ever smelled–now’s there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write–was my copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the one I spilled ketchup in. Not because of the ketchup. I don’t think so, anyway…).

E-readers have no smell. Don’t ask me how I know this.

One final point about e-books’ lack of physicality. You lose book fate. Book fate: that magical moment when, walking through the stacks, letting your eyes drift over the shelves, a single title jumps out at you, calling to you with its siren song, suddenly a part of your life for no discernible reason. Serendipity, destiny, the will of the book gods-whatever it is, its important, and it only happens with books.

Huzzah – Portability

This is the clincher for me. If you travel a lot, you know why. I have many books. (There’s no such thing as too many books, but… I have many many many books.) I travel a lot. I don’t like to travel without my books. So until someone figures out a way to make me one of Hermione’s pretty little purses, travelling and reading are at odds with each other. I stress out way too much over which books to bring, then regret the choices I made the entire trip. E-readers solve this problem very neatly. No Sophie’s choice drama, no regrets. It’s all there in that ugly little plastic rectangle. 

Boo-Hiss-Boos – Electric avenue

Another problem: books versus e-books is analogous to human versus robot. E-books are soulless and need to be charged on a regular basis. Which raises another problem, a terrifying SUPER boo-hiss-boo: what happens when the power goes out? And I’m not talking regular thunder-storm shake-your-fist-at-London-Hydro power outtages.

I’m talking Zombie Apocalypse. (Which will henceforth be referred to as Zompocalypse or Z-day. When you’re running from a horse of shambling reanimated corpses hell-bent on feasting on your flesh, you need to save energy, and linguistic blends and abbreviations might just be the difference between survival and ending up as zombie munchies.)  BUT WAIT! I will rebut this Super Boo-hiss-boo in a few short moments. Read on to find out how e-books can help avert zombification!

Huzzah – No more book shame

No one can see what you’re reading on an e-reader. There’s no terrible, clichéd, too-revealing cover to betray your ignominious taste in books! Especially relevant to us adult readers of YA, who must suffer the sneers of the Literati for our diverse, unprejudiced, complex reading habits. That’s all I’m saying about this one. The rest is between me and my e-reader.

Boo-Hiss-Boo – Potential career destroyer

E-books are probably libraries’ kryptonite. Since I am in the process of becoming a librarian (like a librarian chrysalis, you guys!), this should bother me more. (The huzzahs are adding up, people.) Wait a minute, I see a Ringer reference lurking in here somewhere. So e-books are bad news for the only career I can manage (one that will actually make me money, because for some reason there’s no market today for lady explorers in pith helmets who aren’t half bad at making up scary stories) and they are kind of soulless…but e-books are also awesome and seductive in the way that new technology always is, and they seem to solve some pesky problems… GREAT GANDALF! E-BOOKS ARE THE ONE RING!!!

Final Huzzah – Zen

Aside from evil, career-destroying, jewellery-of-doom parallels, there is a purity to e-books that I think their opponents often overlook or choose to ignore. Book lovers talk about the experience a book offers-the feel of the pages, the weight of it in your hands, the smell, the loveliness of certain fonts, the whisper of turning a page. But these are all merely frills, extraneous factors that are actually related to the container, not the essence of a book. It is the essence that matters most. Text. Words. Twenty-six letters rearranged in infinite ways. Everything else is irrelevant. Having a pretty picture on a cover or the ability to be stacked in a shelf isn’t what defines a book.

What did the first copy of The Epic of Gilgamesh look like? Inscrutable marks on clay tablets, like tiny bird footprints in concrete. What about Beowulf? My copy sure doesn’t look like the one under glass at 96 Euston Road. And the two dozen copies of Wuthering Heights grouped together on my bookshelf in a bizarre little row of redundancy? None of them are exactly alike, but their differences mean nothing in the end. They’re important because of the only thing that unites them. The words, man. (I have no idea why I suddenly feel like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now.)

E-books are book zen. It’s just you and the words.

(Until your e-reader glitches out, or you try to install new software only to find yourself cursing the heavens and Bill Gates, or you try to borrow an e-book from the library and spend the night alternately weeping helplessly over your keyboard and doing your best imitation of the Hulk.)

But theoretically. E-books are zen. And zen always wins.

Did you stick with me to the end of this rant? Kudos to you if you survived the rambling, meandering, and excessive use of brackets. E-books are a sensitive subject for me, as they are for a lot of people, and I feel the need to defend my point of view fiercely and vociferously. If you disagree with me, we can have verbal fisticuffs… Oh, I’m joking, no need to bust out the fighting trousers. Live and let live and to each his own, blah blah platitudes blah. I’m arguing for e-books, but still cried tears of nerd-joy last week when I bought the 75th anniversary edition of The Hobbit, and I will continue to buy every new edition of Wuthering Heights I come across (I can’t help it, it’s a compulsion). It’s wheel of morality time, kids. Maybe, just maybe, e-books and book books can coexist peacefully, each fulfilling different needs, like the amazing super-awesome cool-beans Ringers, and those Star Wars fans who aren’t organized enough to have their own collective nickname. (Oh yeah I said it.)

Anyway, if you suffered through this and you’re not a blood relative, you deserve a hero cookie.

Or better yet, a hero cupcake.

This hero cupcake looks too heroic and too anthropomorphic to eat

… 

And now, as promised, a rebuttal in the form of a Bonus Huzzah – Zombies!!!

When the Zompocalypse hits, you don’t want to be this guy:

E-books are easily transportable if you’re on the move, fleeing from the walking dead. You can have all of your life-saving survival guides and zombie kill manuals at the tips of your fingers, without having to sacrifice valuable weapon space in your motorcycle’s sidecar. What about batteries and electricity and all of that, you say? I have three words for you, my annoyingly logical friend: bicycle-powered generator. And here’s a slice of fried gold for you-you won’t just be powering your e-reader, heady with a sense of god-like power from creating energy, you’ll be keeping fit, and adhering to the first and most important rule of Zompocalypse survival.

And that is the real reason I like e-books.

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All Hallow’s Read

Halloween’s only 15 days away and I’m almost as excited for All Hallow’s Read as I am for candy and wrestling my cat into a costume!

All Hallow’s Read = another great idea from Neil Gaiman. I picked up Neverwhere from a Waterstone’s on Fleet Street in real London (feels like so long ago!) and riding the Tube was never the same after that. (Friars at Blackfriars, a knight at Knightsbridge, and the amazing earl’s court held in an underground train still make me smile.)

Here’s Neil with the details.

Thanks for the shout-out to librarians, Neil! I may not be “full librarian” yet but I am a damn fine source of info on scary books.

(But what’s going on in the background? It looks like the aftermath of my family’s holiday dinners.)

This book needs a kitten. So do I.

This book was… interesting. It’s not your usual YA read. Unwanted teen pregnancy, abandoned babies, and the ensuing moral dilemmas–I’ll be honest, it caught me off guard. I’ll admit it, I picked this book from the library’s catalogue because I thought the cover looked spooky. (So so wrong).

Let’s talk appeal factors. The novel’s pacing was excellent, fast enough to maintain a steady level of interest, but not so rapid that there wasn’t time to sneak in some nice, thought-provoking introspection from the protagonist, Cameron–so, all in all, perfect for teens reading below grade level. There was nice balance of dialogue and description, and I felt the language was accessible for the target audience. My only complaint is that Katie, Cameron’s twin sister, has a very dark back-story that is only alluded to, and I thought this should have been explored in greater depth or omitted.

The characterizations were quite well done, considering this book packed a lot of action into only 124 pages. Even minor characters like Cameron’s crush/shoulder-devil are surprisingly well-rounded. Loved that it was told from Cameron’s point of view, rather than Katie’s–a male protagonist, huzzah! The first-person narration made it easy to like the already likeable Cameron.

As for the story itself–to put it simply, it’s complicated. It is well-written, provocative, surprisingly relevant, and retains that appealing whiff of scandal without becoming sordid or sensational. That being said, there are a lot of prickly moral issues raised and believe me, it gets TENSE. This is a potentially a good thing–it will hopefully make readers ponder these difficult grey areas. However, do not discount the potential to seriously weird out readers uncomfortable with this much heaviness in a YA novel.

My favourite part was when Cameron remembered an embroidered saying framed on his grandmother’s wall that said This Too Shall Pass — this made me get all teary thinking about the things we say to keep us going. Sniff. Cue Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” and movie-Sam’s inspirational speech about the shadow being a passing thing even though THEY’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE IN OSGILIATH!

Anyway. Back to the book. Recommended. Full of weighty issues that will have you thinking about right and wrong and the grey areas in between. Lots of lessons: appearances can be deceiving, people are complex and multi-faceted, and perfection is a massive myth. (I am so tempted to insert a LOTR reference right here but I guess one per post is enough.)

Seriously, though, this book was a downer. Even the “hopeful” ending was pretty depressing… Everyone in this book needs a kitten.

Or this.

 

 

Wondrous Strange: Title’s good, and then it’s all downhill from there

This week, I read Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston. It was… a struggle.

And don’t get me wrong, it’s not the whole fairy–sorry, faerie–thing. Faeries are cool beans. I love faeries. Good faeries, bad faeries, pretty faeries, ugly faeries, faeries that bite your finger because appearances can be deceiving (duh, Hoggle)… love it all.

Back to the book. I had a tough time with this book because I wanted so badly for it to be better than it was. It has so much potential! I love any book that plays with myths and legends and folktales, reviving them, twisting them into new things, and Livingston is working with some great source material–not only the traditional Celtic fairy mythology, but SHAKESPEARE! I love the idea of merging the two together; I always felt Midsummer Night’s Dream was something of an anomaly, with the fairies and the weird Greek elements, and also kind of unfinished, like it either needed to be twice as long or cut in half (maybe that’s just because I prefer my Shakespearean plays bleak, bloody and brutal: my cat is named Titus Andronicus… nuff said).

But this book let me down in a few different ways. First, the writing style was not to my liking. Especially the dialogue–it felt so stilted and unnatural (one of the worst scenes: when Auberon tells Kelley he’s–SPOILER–her father). And then there’s Kelley. I could not find it in my heart to like or care about this character. She felt so flat to me, no matter how much character development was attempted. Same goes for Sonny. Boring!

The worst thing, the most disappointing thing of all, though, was that this book never made me believe. Aside from the fact that this book is about faeries, which (supposedly) don’t exist, I couldn’t believe in this story. I never felt like I was living in it, the way you should with a good story. I always felt like I was just reading a book that was trying really hard. What it boils down to is this: I would not have clapped my hands to bring any of these faeries/half-faeries/changelings back to life. Just sayin.

I should probably mention Tithe, by Holly Black, one of my most favourite YA titles EVER! That book’s awesomeness has set a veeeeery high standard for modern faerie tales. One of my first impressions reading  Wondrous Strange: in a kelpie show-down, Tithe‘s kelpie would annihilate the one Kelley tries to “save” (real smart, Kelley). In fact, I think I have to reread Tithe to erase the awkward artificiality of Wondrous Strange, and give me a much needed fix of gritty, weirdly realistic and eerie modern fairy tales.