return to deverry

I spent the summer reading Amber Benson’s Death’s Daughter series. It started off fun, the idea of Death Inc and it being a corporation like Apple or BT is a cute idea and Calliope as the reluctant heir to the business interesting too. The side characters were realistic and I love younger sister Clio and junior hellhound Runt in particular. The later books tended to drag on a bit and the trope that behind every successful woman is a man was uncharacteristic of CRJ. I didn’t like Daniel, I thought he was a wimp. I skimmed through the last book.

I haven’t been reading much after that. I picked up a few books when favourite bookseller had a sale, but these have been left unread on my ipad. I know there are many new books by my staple group of must-read authors out this year, but I think I’m working too closely with the awards program and I need to take a break from our community for a while.

deverrybooks

So I’m going back to my roots. Well, not all the way back to Enid Blyton or Encyclopedia Brown or The Three Investigators. A little more recent, to the days when I was a regular at the local library. Those were the days of mostly fantasy and occasionally science fiction books. My David Eddings and Katharine Kerr’s early Deverry books have travelled with me all over the world. I’m sad that I donated the rest–Anne McCaffrey, Julian May, Asimov, Hitchhiker’s Guide. Anyway, I started reading Daggerspell again and decided I couldn’t read the physical book. Luckily it’s available on itunes and looks like DRM-free too .

I haven’t read the Deverry books in decades. Oh, how I’ve missed them. I’m about 2/3rds through Daggerspell and the familiar terms and people are coming back to me. Dweomer, wyrd, gwerbret, the wildfolk. Beloved characters too. I know why I loved these books so much when I first read them–a rich and wonderfully imagined world based on medieval Wales, strong female lead in Jill, magic that is magical, and an epic story that spans lifetimes that has tragedy, romance and adventure. For those unfamiliar, here’s the back cover from the 1986 original book:

In a void outside reality, the flickering spirit of a young girl hovers between incarnations, knowing neither ner past nor her future. But in the temporal world there is one who knows and waits: Nevyn, the wandering and mysterious sorcerer. On a bloody day long ago he relinquished the maiden’s hand in marriage–and so forced a terrible bond of destiny between three souls that would last through three generations. Now Nevyn is doomed to follow them across the planes of time, never resting until he atones for the tragic wrong of his youth.

And interestingly, the amazon synopsis for the revised edition changed focus from Nevyn to Nevyn and Jill, as it should have been:

Even as a young girl, Jill was a favorite of the magical, mysterious Wildfolk, who appeared to her from their invisible realm. Little did she know her extraordinary friends represented but a glimpse of a forgotten past and a fateful future. Four hundred years–and many lifetimes–ago, one selfish young lord caused the death of two innocent lovers. Then and there he vowed never to rest until he’d rightened that wrong–and laid the foundation for the lives of Jill and all those whom she would hold dear: her father, the mercenary soldier Cullyn; the exiled berserker Rhodry Maelwaedd; and the ancient and powerful herbman Nevyn, all bound in a struggle against darkness…and a quest to fulfill the destinies determined centuries ago.

The book takes a non-linear approach to telling the story. We start off in the present, in 1052. Backstory brings us to 643 to the beginning of the saga. Jump ahead to 1058 and then back to 698. The rest of the book takes place in 1062. There is a wikipedia table that can be used to keep track of who reincarnated as whom during which years. These characters are so interwoven and make different decisions in their different lifetimes that affect themselves and others. Debts are repaid; redemption is sought; new mistakes are made.

It was originally published in 1986 and many of the concepts in newer fantasy books–Harry Potter, cough cough–are common themes in the Deverry books. It’s a shame that Katharine Kerr isn’t mentioned as often when people talk about best fantasy authors. One of the common comments I see is that people read her when they were young and stopped reading somewhere in the middle of the series. That’s exactly what happened to me; I have up to book 7, left the UK, got busy and lost track. Now may be a good time to make my way through the entire 15 book series.

I was lucky enough to meet Ms Kerr in 1992 in London for a book signing. I also follow her on fb. She’s had a tough time IRL, her husband’s illness means she needs to care for him and it’s eaten into their savings. A couple of years ago loyal readers helped with a gofundme type campaign. She now has a patreon account and I’ll probably join. I think that’s the least I can do with an old favourite author.

the yellow wallpaper

Met mm for drinks and dinner. We spent more time at our newest discovery, the bar at the Novotel near her appointment, sharing 3 glasses of wine between us. For dinner we just had something quick. An added bonus was she bought new shoes. Discounted, and additional 30% off over the discounted price. She wore her new shoes straightaway and the shop assistants kindly threw away her old pair.

Ever since she started studying psychology, new words have entered our vocabulary. Social support, coping mechanism, pavlovian response. We talk about people or incidents being our stressors. I’m now clearer on the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Even within psychology there are different streams, like within the legal profession there are litigators, conveyancers, mediators.

gutenbergyellowwallpaper

On a separate (and yet strangely sort of related since it’s about Psychology) topic, I was on Project Gutenberg downloading a couple of classic books for the awards program and saw that the #2 most downloaded book there is The Yellow Wallpaper. I’d never heard of the book before. It was also mentioned on r/books recently so I did a little googling to find out that it’s a short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1892 and widely taught in schools in the US. A guardian review classified it under children’s books.

It didn’t take me long to read it. I’m not a teacher so I sometimes wonder at the choice of books we had to study at school. Some of them are downright depressing and creepy–Lord of the Flies, 1984, even one of my favourite books when I was young, I am David. The Yellow Wallpaper falls into this category. Told in first person, it’s about a woman who seems to be confined to her room because of a

temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency

and is widely interpreted as post-partum depression. It’s also widely accepted that it is autobiographical. In those Victorian times, women were still regarded as frail objects prone to hysteria and in those days depression was caused by excessive mental activity. Her doctor’s prescription was ‘rest-cure’ which meant she was forbidden to do anything, including exercise, feeding herself, seeing any other person other than her carers, and activites like drawing and writing. Basically they took away all stimuli and expected her to be like a vegetative patient. Robbed of all external stimuli, she turned inwards and started examining the awful yellow wallpaper in her prison room. Her anger and frustration were clear. Slowly she slipped further and further into psychosis.

Viewed from the 21st century, the actions of the doctor was so, so wrong that it borders on criminal. It was the same era that had terrifying medical treatments such as drinking radium water, starvation diets for aneurysms, or drilling a hole in the skull to cure headaches. Gilman sent a copy of the book to her doctor and it is said that he changed his treatment as a result.

Nowadays we do suffer from overstimulation. Our attention span has shortened and concepts like sensory deprivation tanks are popular. But no one believes that shutting out all stimulation can possibly be a cure for depression. Even a layperson like me know that take away someone’s freedom of movement and expression, not allowing any activity, and treating them like a comatose patient is going to push them further down the path of mental breakdown.

Going back to the book. I must admit I was a bit bored. The writing was good, and the description of the narrator’s view of the wallpaper and her own actions very vivid. I think it’s because it’s from an era that I have no affinity for, that my reaction was mostly, okay #thathappened. I’d still recommend everyone read this book, it’s short and a good representation of mental illness from a sufferer’s point of view.

feeding wolves

asi726franciswolf

I saw this post at kottke during the Japan trip and saved it to read again later. This is one of the stories from Ethan Hawke’s Rules for a Knight:

One time, on a sweltering August night, Grandfather and I made camp down by the ocean. He said, “While I teach you about the ways of war, I want you to know that the real struggle is between the two wolves that live inside each of us.”

“Two wolves?” I asked, seated on an old log near the fire. My eyes were transfixed by the flames twisting uncomfortably in the night air.

“One wolf is evil,” he continued. “It is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, deceit, false pride.” He paused, poking at the embers of our fire with a long stick he’d been carving.

“The other is good. It is joy, love, hope, serenity, humility, loving-kindness, forgiveness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, faith.”

I considered that for a minute, then tentatively asked, “Which wolf will win?”

Sparks danced towards the stars as the old man stared into the glare of the flames and replied, “Whichever one you feed.”

I was at the right age to be profoundly affected when Reality Bites was released and have a copy of Hawke’s The Hottest State. He’s always appeared to be a thoughtful actor and his writing seems to be that of a sensitive person underneath a broody exterior. Quite intrigued by the book, will put it on the list.

Kottke’s self-reflection on the story is so on point:

I’ve been feeding the wrong wolf recently. He’s so hungry and there’s been a lot of available food, but I’ve got to get back on track.

The pic is the statue of St Francis and the wolf of Gubbio at Basilica di Santa Maria Degli Angeli in Assisi. That is another thought-provoking story.

new books

nyc655books

Favourite bookseller is having a sale: buy 2 get one free. I got caught up with some book shopping, got 7 books total for US$40. Good motivation to start reading again, haven’t read anything for a few weeks.

Finished one book in a few hours. An easy-to-read romance from an author who is consistent, reliable and I know it’ll be well written. While the premise is formulaic, I was still absorbed in the story. Our MCs meet, fall in love, some obstacle happens, they break up and get back together again. And lived happily ever after.

I always feel very sad when I read traditional romances. It’s so easy for them. Oh, there are always obstacles, but it’s a guaranteed happy ending so the angst never last long. Not real. You don’t look across the room and feel everything fade to the background with only your soulmate lit up like a spotlight. You don’t start finishing each other’s sentences after talking to each other for five minutes. Friends and family and colleagues and society are not that accepting. Life is not that smooth. It’s a fantasy. Sometimes I hate these characters; it’s so unfair that they get to find the one and spend the rest of their lives together.

What about those of us to struggle and know there is no solution, no happily ever after. The angst doesn’t get resolved. Problems build instead of dissipate. Mere living, the act of staying alive, is tough.

May be we put too much emphasis on love. After all, it’s just an emotion and we can’t live on emotions. It’s not like food, shelter, air, water. Argh, I’m too cynical and jaded. Jeanette Winterson was writing in the Guardian about how the concept of marriage has changed from ownership of women a thousand years ago to business and convenience a few hundred years ago to marrying for love, a decidedly Victorian idea. On the topic of love, she says,

love is like gardening, or writing, or working out, or cooking, or eating, or meditation, or reading – it’s an everyday activity that needs to be fresh and alive every day, tended, and with tenderness.

Pretty idealistic but practical too. What of marriage in the future? May be we move away from the boxes society places upon us. Some people want to be married to one person; some people don’t want to be bothered with the grand declaration; some others have no option to be with someone but need to escape loneliness. It comes down to the different types of love. Does romantic love have to be the ultimate goal? What about the love of family, good friends, close community.

I’m getting off-topic. The next book in the newly purchased stack I’m going to read falls firmly in the adventure category. No danger of becoming even more sad reading about perfect couples with perfect relationships.

#18: design a book cover

llcover

I have to start working on writing again. Task #18 of 101.1001 is to design a book cover. I had in mind to take some pics in NYC for LL. Not as many or as good potential as I wanted.

The background is of stock market quotes in a newspaper from flickr user andreas poike under cc by 2.0. If/when I get a chance to submit a cover myself I’ll get a copy of FT and substitute my own image, I just didn’t have any newspaper at hand.

The Wall Street street sign and SMELLS graffiti are my own, from the most recent trip. I have a couple of pics of the charging bull but there were so many tourists I had to borrow from someone, this from flickr user sam valadi also under cc by 2.0.

The play on the son of man is based on a pic of me taken at Carleen’s friend Tom’s costume shop last year. The apple is also my own image and the frame from a random google image search for free images. Photoshopped to make it blurry and more like a painting. It’s something that will be referenced in LL, which I’ll need to edit in.

Is it a good cover? A passable attempt I guess. Can be so much better in the hands of a professional.

reading, telling time

My great-aunt in Toronto emailed me to say

take care your MOM and go on with the daily life

so that’s what I will try to do. The overnight beef stew went down a treat, comfort food at its best.

bookwithtime

We both stayed in all day. Mum watching videos on her ipad and me reading. I have plenty of unread books but right now I want to go back to favourites that make me smile. For the first time in a long, long while I grabbed one of the books on my bookshelf instead of reading on the ipad.

Strange feeling, reading a physical book. It’s a grotty day and whenever it starts to rain and gets dark I have to turn on the light as opposed to turning up the brightness. And then I kept glancing up at to the top of the page to check the time and am disappointed to see a blank spot. Of course there is no clock at the top of a page in a paperback. Except if I have some fun with photoshop.

whisky vs whiskey (again)

I was browsing through amazon, looking through the first few pages of a book that I thought may be interesting. Seemed promising until someone got a drink. The drink was even named: Chivas. A few sentences later it was described as whiskey. Argh. I was so put off I browsed for another book instead.

In this day and age, a simple google search will give the answer, and another one that gives more colour and explanation. Quite interesting that even the mighty NYT had to change its house style after stubbornly, and wrongly, defending their use of the word whiskey when describing a Speyside whisky. A rare case of Americans acknowledging the rest of the world is correct. Now onto fahrenheit, paper sizes, voltage and socc(–argh, I can’t use that word), haha.
 
whiskywhiskey

Anyway, TWE has a simple graphic using flags so people can remember. I’ve also read somewhere that countries with ‘e’ in their name–United States of America, Ireland–use whiskey and countries without–Scotland, Canada, Japan, India–use whisky. Hmm, may be not anymore as many countries are bringing out their products; the English Whisky Company, Penderyn, Mackmyra, Millstone all use whisky and they have ‘e’ in their country names.

 

chivasbottle

I think the easiest way is also the most respectful: look at the label. What do the distillers and bottlers, ie the people whose product it is, call it? So it should have been easy for the everyone involved in that book I was looking at to google an image of a Chivas bottle and see that it’s whisky, not whiskey.

With so many choices of books available to me, this poor book has now been pushed to the bottom of the queue. While it may seem a trivial reason not to buy a book, this is one of my pet peeves. Readers are fickle and books have been rejected for lesser reasons.

 

#90: leave an inspirational note

hp02collection

Task #90 of 101.1001 is to leave an inspirational note for someone to find.

Originally I envisioned getting a postcard with a motivational message and leaving it in a random book at a bookstore. I forgot to get it done at Powell’s in Portland, which would have been really great seeing that it’s a huge bookstore.

For once, I’m glad I procrastinated. Two things happened in parallel.

A few weeks ago, mugglenet started #potteritforward, where participants could

share messages of love, friendship, or bravery with the next generation of Harry Potter readers by tucking a note into the pages of a bookstore or library copy of the boy wizard’s adventures.

Naturally, it’s a hashtag and pictures have been shared all over social media.

The second thing that happened was when I was talking to my niece and finally she’s ready to read the HP books. I said she can borrow mine, if she promises to keep them in good condition.

hp16notes

So that’s how I came to incorporate #potteritforward into lending my HP books to my niece. Since most people have been putting notes in either the first chapter of the first book or last chapter of the last book that’s exactly what I did. There is a third note about Dementors hidden somewhere in the one of the middle books, when Harry used Expecto Patronum on Dementors.

 

gcls day05

gclstemp61bfast gclstemp65mints
mint pic credit Pol Robinson @polrobin

The last day of the conference, sad sad sad. I managed to say hi to a few more people before the closing remarks by our ED. Brunch followed, and more socialising. Saying goodbye is the hardest part, especially since we only get to see each other once a year and some friends may not be attending the next conference. Our group managed to plan pranks for one of us with a giant bag of mints and come up with panel ideas at the same time. I also talked to one of the winners R about LL, and she says she will motivate me into finishing it.

Finally we had to leave the room so the staff can clear up. Helped break down one of the vendor tables—lots of physical labour putting books into boxes. Went to the foodcourt for lunch (shared a 25-piece chicken finger bucket and got a hurricane daiquiri with tequila shot). After getting our sustenance, we convened at armchairs in the hotel lobby for a game of trivial pursuit. We only played two games, but we looked up towards the end of the second game and it was almost 7pm. Great game; I’m usually not too bad at trivial pursuit, but the US-centric decks we were playing were less familiar to me. I had great teammates though, I was blown away by their general knowledge. The most fun part was watching my teammates and the other team confer and discuss possible answers. The final result: 1 game each.

gclstemp62oysters gclstemp63lobster

Dinner was at the hotel restaurant. A few of us shared a dozen chargrilled oysters—the garlic butter was yummy. I had lobster with spinach risotto—the lobster was fresh and I added some of the garlic butter for additional flavour.

We planned to play another game after dinner. Ended up chatting and sharing stories into the wee hours.

I was looking forward to the conference with a mixture of dread and anticipation. I managed to go to most of the sessions I wanted, skipped a few because of award stuff and because I just wanted a little time at the gym. I don’t know why, but I get more sociable during the conference. This was the biggest conference so far, at 350 attendees. This meant I wasn’t able to meet as many new friends, spending most of my social time greeting old friends. Need to do correct that in future conferences.

Next year’s conference is at Washington DC and the following year in Chicago. I plan on going to both, but it had crossed my mind that I should go every other year because it’s expensive in terms of both time and money. What I spend coming to the con can be reallocated to another trip with mm. Then again, the conference experience is so unique that it’ll be a hard decision to make.

gcls day04

tl;dr: long day, great awards night, I got a huge surprise

gclstemp40dorothy

Too tired to go to the first session, and we had to convene to work through the presentation deck. We finished in time to go to the keynote speech by Dorothy Allison. I’d never heard of her before, although I understand she is a pioneer and very famous for both her body of work and her activism. Her speech was…there are no words to describe. Stunning, personal, mesmerising are the few that I can come up with. I started at the front then moved to the back to get pictures of the audience. At the end of her speech there was a tremendous standing ovation and I got regular pics and took a panorama of the room with the iphone too.

After lunch was a roundtable on reviewing. There were some very good discussions from the panelists and the audience. Not everybody agreed on every point, but that’s because we are not robots. The discussion was civil and passionate as it’s a topic we are all invested in. Interesting question, if there is absolute no redeeming qualities in a book whatsoever should the reviewer post a review? One camp says yes, to prevent other people from wasting their money; another camp says if there is nothing good to say, don’t say it.

We had awards run-through with the presenters at 3pm so we went over to the ballroom early to check it out. To our horror the hotel staff had only just begun to put out tables and equipment. They worked quickly and efficiently though, moved the tech table to where we wanted and worked out details of stage placement. Very professional. Carleen did a good job with the run-through, explaining the proceedings and expectations succinctly. Unlike last year we had more than 1hr to get ready. I’d grabbed spare lunch bags for dinner so I was prepared. A got me a diet coke too, so thoughtful. Had a sandwich, took a shower and went downstairs to set up. A bit of miscommunication with people coming in and out of the ballroom before official doors open was sorted quickly and we were ready to start the awards ceremony at 7pm.

The MCs this year were two of our own members and they planned funny sketches involving lost & found, tweets and cocktails in between announcement of winners in each category. We had planned theme songs for each category as well as each winner. As I ran the slides, Carleen ran the soundtrack. Everything ran smoothly.

The only part of the deck I didn’t have was the Director’s Award. This is the only non-writing award and is given to a volunteer for their contribution. When it was the category’s turn to be announced, I switched the main screen over to Carleen’s laptop and waited. It was nice to have a rest from tense pushing of the down arrow all night. Ha! Little did I know, I would have no rest, they gave the award to: me. My first thought was, what are you guys doing? Why me? What am I supposed to do now? Everybody had turned around and was cheering and clapping and standing up, Carleen had to tell them to sit back down to run the rest of the slides. I was still in shock and she had to tell me to go up to the stage to get the award. Easier said than done, it was like an obstacle course trying to negotiate tables. Apparently I said something like thank you to the board and told people to volunteer. Can’t remember. The only thing on my mind was to run back to the table to set up the slides for the next category, which was on my mba.

Deep breath. I’m incredibly honoured that the Directors think I deserve the award. I do a lot of running around during conferences—I take pictures, help move stuff, do the posters and this is my second year responsible for the award slides. But so do a lot of people. The entire organisation is staffed by volunteers and there are many others to put in as much, or even more than me. A big thank you to the Directors. Oh, the Exec Director gave me a bottle of Highland Park Dark Origins—if I had to buy a whisky right now, it’d be what I buy, perfect (okay, she actually asked me, under the guise of needing whisky adviceaas a gift for someone).

After my award, I had to focus again to get back to the tech table. The final awards are the big ones—two popular choice awards, one for cover design and one for a book. The Lee Lynch Classic award was presented by Lee herself to Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. Rita Mae was there in person to accept it. Karin Kallmaker did the presentation for Trailblazer award to Joan Nestle which was accepted by Dorothy Allison.

Last year after the awards I packed up, stayed for a few minutes when the dance began then went back up to the room. This year I still packed up, but was too excited to go to bed so I stayed to chat with a bunch of people. There was copious consumption of wine, and someone bought me a Jameson 12. We closed out the dance floor, with the amazing Lee Lynch taking my hands and us doing a jaunty bouncy number together—can’t call it dancing, it was more like skipping.

gcls day03

Actually set the alarm to go to a 8.30am session, about the changing landscape of the industry, with so many authors taking the self-published route. The panelists are both traditional and self-published, a couple of them having published both ways. The pros for self-publication are control and money as they get a higher percentage; the cons are time-consuming and it’s not always more lucrative—without the machinery of a traditional publishing house, sales tend to drop off after a couple of months unless the author embarks on intensive marketing. Interesting. I had plans to go to the next session but spent it doing some work and chatting with a couple of friends.

The mid-morning session was on the judging process. Not as well attended as hoped, since we were up against a bigwig reading. Still, it’s the first time readers, authors and publishers were given an insight into the book judging process, and kudos for transparency. Lots of good questions from the audience too.

Immediately afterwards was the author auction, which took a different format this year. Much more low key, much more mature. An author may participate in either the silent or live part, and during the live auction there was no need to come up to the stage and be treated like a product on sale.

Ali Vali was the special speaker was after lunch. She is one of the membership and she talked about her own writing process. She was funny and her speech had no dull moments. It’s wonderful to hear all these experience and amazing authors speak with authority and yet so much humbleness.

nolatemp018alligator nolatemp019fried

There were a couple more sessions and the author autograph. I skipped them in favour of going to the gym, although I only managed 5k on the treadmill. A and I went for an early dinner at Drago’s, the hotel restaurant. After hearing stories about the “sexy” alligator nuggets we shared one as a starter. Tasted like somewhere in-between tough chicken breast and a dense white fish. I had crocodile before and didn’t like it, alligator was better. For mains I had the oyster and shrimp platter, since I had wanted to try the one at Mother’s yesterday. Nice food, but expensive, $50 each including a beer for me. I think I’ve had enough fried food on this trip for the rest of the year.

Team meeting was followed by a great stand-up show by Fay Jacobs (she was actually sitting on a stool but whatever) which recounted anecdotes throughout her life culminating in her and her wife’s involvement in the fight for marriage equality in their home state of Delaware. I was quite tired and embarrassed to report that I nodded off in the middle of the show, it’s no reflection on the quality of the show. I was determined to stay till the end.

gclstemp36pamtribute

Traditionally Friday night is karaoke night. Not as many attendees as usual, some regulars were missing. Most of the singers had great voices or sang with enthusiasm. We had the “I Feel Pretty” tribute to our friend Pam—the DJ didn’t have the music so we all got the lyrics on our phones and sang without music. I had been waiting for this one, I left immediately afterwards.

gcls day02

At breakfast we ran into a newbie conference attendee and we had a great chat. She is an experienced reader, runs a reading group, is well travelled and knowledgable about many things. Hopefully will be able to participate more in the organisation. I think I made a new friend.

The first panel I went to was about how to do research when writing about a foreign country and times. The panelists were divided into the method writing camp, who insisted that the only way is to visit the countries involved; and the practical camp, who said that it’s not always possible because of distance, cost and sometimes danger. One writer writes about an invented country, so the method method doesn’t work. I had things to do so didn’t stay for the entire panel.

The next session was an extremely fun one, where well-known authors told a story and we had to vote on whether they were telling the truth or not. We learned that KK may or may not have 19 pairs of shoes; Rach may or may not have sat on the lap of another panelist; KG may or may not have been married to a man; LL may or may not have taken acid and MKM may or may not have ridden on a Harley with a motorcycle gang. This session should be repeated every year.

After lunch I went to a masterclass about the history of our books from the 1920s until now. Great class, delivered professionally and, even though it was in lecture format and a subject I’m neither familiar nor usually interested in, not boring at all. I felt woefully inadequate as I had only read one of the books on the list, and everyone in the class was waxing lyrical about this or that classic that spoke to them.

Next panel was about research. Well moderated and less contentious than the morning’s session about foreign countries. Agreed with the authors that evernote and scrivener is great, as is mindmapping. It’s important to have a balance between information dump and not enough information. It’s also more respectful to the readers to state correct facts, even if they are uncomfortable; than to make mistakes in books.

The membership meeting was next. Opening remarks by the Director was followed by financial reports and updates on awards and the new website. I also received a volunteer award and my 5-year pin. Yay.

nolatemp015mothers nolatemp016mothers

Since I had a meeting, A and I went quickly over to mother’s for dinner. Real southern food in a no-frills setting. We lined up against a counter, gave our order and found seats. The wait staff took our receipt and brought our food. I had baked black ham, the glazed outer crust which is normally the bit that gets the marinade. Very nice. Served with a choice of 3 sides, I had turnip greens, green beans & tomato and red beans & rice. It’s never going to win any prize for presentation but it’s honest, simple food. The fried shrimp and oysters and seafood looked good. I hope I have another chance to try before I leave.

gcls day01

gclstemp01nikka

The conference started in the morning with volunteers gathering to help with stuffing the swag bag, setting up tables, organising the silent auction. The venue in the hotel is based on a courtyard concept, with rooms radiating from the central courtyard. Of course it became the focal point and meeting place. There were hugs galore as we see friends and meet new friends.

I brought a bottle of Nikka from the Barrel for the silent auction. I found out that because it’s 500ml it’s not considered a regulation size for import into the US, which means it’s not available in the US. I also put some in a hip flask and told people to come find me for samples. The usual suspects came up to me, as well as a couple of new friends. I think at the end of the day the auction has reached $55.

gclstemp05shoes

The conference proper started after lunch (we had chicken salad we made from stuff we bought at the supermarket) when the director made a welcome speech. The first session after that was a readers trivia session. I wasn’t planning in staying, but I ended up staying the whole session. I even won a book! (real physical book, which now I need to figure out how to take home, it’s one on my list to buy.)

Went running at the gym while the con virgin meeting was going on, took a quick shower and was back for the ice cream social. More hugging friends and meeting new friends.

Dinner was at M’s house, she invited a bunch of people to her place for bbq. We had cocktail, very juicy pork, dirty rice, boiled peanuts, bread pudding. She showed me how to make a mojito and let me make a couple. There were a lot of people, and I was getting a bit angsty because of the crowd. Took a taxi back with a few others just in time to catch JD in concert. Good attendence and she was absolutely fantastic. A long, event-filled day. Exhausting but fun.

#10: read 101 books

leviathan

Task #10 of 101.1001 is to read 101 books.

I started 101.1001 on 01-dec-2013 and I finished reading the first book on 04-dec-2013. So it’s taken around 10 months. In other words 10 books a month or 2.5 books a week or around 3 days per book. Of course sometimes I finish a book in one day and some books take longer to read. I finally finished all Harry Potter books as well as one from the 2007 challenge, mythology for dummies. I would say 70:30 new vs re-reads; when I buy a new book from an author sometimes I go back and read all the previous books, especially if it is part of a series.

Book #101 was Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan. It’s all because I was looking at sci-fi books for my niece and I’ve had the hardback since it was published.

The book is set in an alternate, steampunk, universe of WW1. The blurb:<

It is the cusp of World War I. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ genetically fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, are on opposite sides of the war. But their paths cross in the most unexpected way, taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure….One that will change both their lives forever.

Marketed as a YA book, I must admit I really, really, really enjoyed it. The book had everything — smartly written story, fun main characters, realistic side characters, fantastic clanker machines, amazing darwinist beasties and great setting. There was a real sense of adventure and wonder, made me want to be Alek or Deryn. Barking spiders! Plus a side of history too, even though it only skirted with actual history. Unlike the other book I was reading for my niece, Death’s Daughter, I’m happy to recommend Leviathan. Not just for kids, adults too.

Since it’s #1 of a trilogy, I’m faced with the same dilemma as before. Complete the series by buying secondhand print books (under $10 for even hardbacks) or switch to ebooks ($30 for all three). Sigh, sigh, sigh.

So anyway, I’m already on books #102 and 103. I have a bunch of new books to read, and every month there are more new books. I sat on my sis’ armchair reading for a couple of hours the other day and she remarked that I could happily stay there for a long time. Absolutely true.

 

#13: read mythology for dummies

mythologydummies

Task #13 of 101.1001 is to read Mythology for Dummies. This is one of the incomplete tasks carried over from the 2007 list.

I didn’t have an arts education. Although I read steadily as a kid, it was fiction or those big general knowledge books. I knew about various myths but never paid much attention to them, and certainly never remembered much or was able to associate mythology references in books I read.

There are a lot of books on mythology. A lot of general, beginner, summary type of books. The dummies series seem to tackle subjects in a casual manner. The tone of the writing was definitely on the silly side, with chapter titles like “Snow, Ice, and Not Very Nice: Norse Deities.” Almost 1/3 of the book was devoted to Greeks and Romans. Extremely superficial coverage of European, Middle Eastern, Eastern and American mythology. Some of the sections were more description of religions than mythology.

It was an easy read, and I like that the authors didn’t try to make mythology sound mystical or serious. May be too light-hearted in places. What did I learn? Mythology around the world and along history was remarkably similar. Some version of a god or gods creating the universe, some gods bigger and older than others. Lots of murder, jealousy, incest and illogical behaviour. They married each other (sometimes at the same time), bred like rabbits, had a tendency to fight or kill each other off for no good reason, then are consumed with remorse.

I was interested in the Greeks but lost interest in the Romans. Had a hard time keeping track of the names and relationships. Nordic mythology was interesting, as was the legend of King Arthur and his Knights at the Round table. Too brief on the rest. I guess a book I’ll keep around for reference if and when I need it.

30in30 #27: read a new author

amberbenson01

Task #27 of 30in30 is to read a new author. Appropriate, considering today is international literacy day.

Sis asked me for my recommendations for science fiction books for my niece. Ah the memories. I can’t remember if I started reading scifi books at 12, definitely at around 15-16 I was going through the shelves at the library — hitchhiker’s guide and the foundation series came first, because they were there alphabetically. I can’t remember half the ones I read now. I switched to fantasy soon. I still have both sets of David Eddings’ Belgariad as well as his other books, all (I think) of Katherine Kerr’s Deverry series on my shelf, even after downsizing from 2 full bookcases of fiction to half a bookcase.

So when sis asked me, I went and looked to see what physical books I had left that I could lend to my niece. Anne McCaffrey and Philip Pullman. I’d love to introduce her to the world of Pern but I think I’ll start her with The Ship Who Sang. I also got a few recs from my fb friends. It’s enough for her to borrow from the library or get on kindle.

I also noticed the couple of Ghosts of Albion collectible hardbacks, and then I remembered I still haven’t read Amber Benson’s Calliope Reaper-Jones series. The first one, Death’s Daughter, was published in 2009, and I went to the signing in Chicago. I wanted to see if I can recommend it to my niece.

I’m a bit of an Amber fan. Tara of course. I have a small signed Chance poster framed on my wall. I remember reading that one of the locations for Ghosts of Albion was St Mary’s le Strand and it brought warm fuzzy feelings.1 I follow her on twitter and fb and instagram (but not in a stalkery way, I don’t think I’ve ever DM or commented on her posts.)

The publisher’s blurb for Death’s Daughter:

Calliope Reaper-Jones so just wanted a normal life: buying designer shoes on sale, dating guys from Craigslist, web-surfing for organic dim-sum for her boss.

But when her father—who happens to be Death himself—is kidnapped, and the Devil’s Protégé embarks on a hostile takeover of the family business, Death, Inc., Callie returns home to assume the CEO mantle—only to discover she must complete three nearly impossible tasks in the realm of the afterlife first.

Reviews for the book is mixed. Some outright fan fawning vs people who don’t think actors should write. I’m not a fan of these reviews. Actual reviews of the book are also mixed. And I can see why.

Callie is forced to return to the family fold after her father is kidnapped and she is the designated person to save him and the family business, Death. Reluctantly she drags her tank-topped and Jimmy Choo-heeled self to Hell (literally) and back in order to complete 3 tasks before a) her allocated time and b) her competition beats her to them. She’s whiny, contradictory, frustrating and basically bumbles along with help from friends, her sister and various mythical beings. Everybody talks like a SoCal teenager, even though they are mythical being or, in the case of Callie, a twentysomething immortal who lives in New York. There’s Bollywood dancing and an inordinate amount of ogling of the male body. On almost every page there are numerous pop culture references.

But that’s the point. I don’t think it’s supposed to be taken seriously, it’s not like it’s the next Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. Yes, Callie is, like, annoying, but her heart is, like, in the right place (that’s, like, how she speaks). I can get past the juvenile speak and get behind snarky Callie. Yes, the mythology is mixed up, with a Cerberus that acts in a surprising manner and the Indian goddess Kali acting like a mean girl and using words like “dipwad.” So what. It’s tongue-in-cheek, people.

The story itself is your standard do-3-impossible-tasks-to-save-the-world deal. Interesting twists on all 3 tasks. A flawed, reluctant heroine (like Buffy s1 or General Buffy s7) who is more concerned with shoe shopping and boys. The cover has a tough looking girl with short dark hair but for some reason I picture Lindsay Lohan (the actor with some talent, not the drug-addled failure). Hotter than hell…Hell, a castle with walls made from tortured people, a bottomless black pit and a 14-room house in New England are some of the locations. Plus a supporting cast of misfits. I can see it as a funny indie film.

It’s not a perfect book. Needed tighter editing to fix the spelling mistakes and superfluous parts. The dialogue doesn’t flow in all places and the plot jumps with no reason—they are screaming and yelling at each other then suddenly her dog bites her on her ankle.

The motivation for reading is to see if it’s suitable for a 12 year old. The story itself, yes I think a 12 year old will enjoy it. The silly speak and sarcasm too, i think a 12 year old will get the funny. I won’t be recommending it to my niece though, not until she’s older. There are too many inappropriate words and sexual references. It’s a shame, because these were the superfluous parts that didn’t add value to the story.

Death’s Daughter is the first of a series, there are 4 books now. I like this first book enough to want to get the other 3. Now here’s the problem, ebook vs paperback. In order of cost:

  • 3 used paperbacks shipped to US = $12 (I can get all 3 at 0.01+3.99 shipping)
  • 3 new paperbacks shipped to US = $21.57 (7.19 each, free shipping if I borrow the use of Prime)
  • 3 new paperbacks at paddyfield = $24.61 (64 each — paddyfield is a local online bookseller who sells English books from US/UK at almost direct fx conversion)
  • 3 new paperbacks shipped here from amazon = $26.56 (7.19 each plus 4.99 total shipment)
  • 4 kindle = $31.96 (7.99 each)

If I get the paperback, cheapest is used shipped to the US which means I have to wait till July. The advantage of ebook is obvious, and I’ve been 100% ebook for a few years now. I’ll think about it, I’m not in a big hurry.

1St Mary’s le Strand is a tiny church on the Strand rather pitifully divided by 4 lanes of traffic rushing either on the Strand or turning left onto Waterloo Bridge. It’s also directly opposite King’s, so I would have walked past it at least twice a day for 7 years.

16 books

bellagiftcert

Bought 16 books. Between a discount code and a gift certificate, total out-of-pocket was around $100 meaning I averaged $6.25 per book. The majority were full priced although there were a couple of novellas at lower price. Still, $6.25 per book, that’s a Mcdonald’s meal.

I actually could have reduced the spending if I used up all the balance on my gift certificate. One of the things I work very hard to overcome is not saving the last piece of something. It seems to be human nature, that the last chocolate was the best. May be it’s the freshest on our minds, or somehow we perceive that because there won’t be more, it must be preserved and saved. Mum a good example, there are many many single pieces of chocolate, cereal bar, snacks wrapped up in her fridge: almost always the last piece remaining. I’m trying to stop myself doing that as part of a general trend towards minimising clutter. I’ve also been burned — “best” pieces that I’ve saved to enjoy later have a tendency to spoil.

I tend to spend around $50 a month on books, and since I hadn’t done a big order since May, I feel good about the big order today. My aim is to slowly use up the gift certificate balance, may be $10 or so each month. This way, the certificate lasts longer and I can work in any sale or incentive available. This is apparently a savvy way to spend gift cards:

Get the most bang out of a gift card by spending it on already-reduced merchandise

I think I’m doing better at the not!hoarding business. Every time I’m tempted to save the last piece, I remind myself of the chocolate crickets [warning: insect pic] from Wittamer I was saving up but had to throw away because they got mouldy. Every time I buy something, I think about where it will go and how often I will use it. I will use up every $ on the gift certificate. I don’t want to add to the $44bn in unused gift cards sitting out there (okay, I won’t be adding to that because I’m not American, but imagine the global figure).

remembered for a while

nick drake
ben dylan / flickr

A new book about Nick Drake, Remembered for a While, is coming out. Edited by Nick’s family and friends,

This is not a biography. It is, rather, an attempt to cast a few shards of light on Nick Drake the poet, the musician, the singer, the friend, son and brother, who was also more than all of these.

The book is £35, the deluxe edition at £150 includes a 10” vinyl of tracks from a 1969 John Peel session, photographs and other goodies. The guardian has one of the tracks available for listening. It’s brilliant and haunting and sad. Another great musician who died young. There are no known live recordings of Nick’s performances, so we only get to listen.

 

reading

readbooks

Whatsapp with sis:

me: I’ve just been reading for 2 days
sis: you are ok?
me: oh yes quite relaxing
sis: [talk about new noodle shop near her place]

She has a family and household to run but she has never been a big reader anyway. She reads more literary fiction when she does, and the rest of time she reads cook books and books on health & beauty. I don’t think she’s ever spent a whole day doing nothing but reading. Whereas I’ve been reading since Sunday night and don’t have any intention of venturing out unless necessary.

For me, just like having no plans is the perfect plan, doing nothing but reading is the perfect activity.

sorry, I’m not paying USD48.40 for a book

japindustry

I’m trying to continue with the momentum I’ve built up for PP and have been busy doing research online. The story is set within the Japanese community in Tennessee — Nissan and Toyota are two of the biggest employers in that region. I’ve bookmarked corporate websites, the local Japan-American society, newspaper articles, and even the nashville cherry blossom festival. I also came across an interesting book, Japanese Industry in the American South which is, according the its blurb:

an anthropological case study that describes whole industrial cultures found in three Japanese industrial plants in the American South. This book searches for answers to these questions: Why are Japanese industries coming to the American South? To what extent does Japan industrial management in the American South replicate the industrial relations model used in the home plants in Japan? What are the reactions of Americans toward the Japanese expatriates? At the same time, the book looks at the profound impact that the Japanese have had on Southerners.

Just reading the first few pages piqued my interest already. And then I looked at the price. $48 for the paperback and $39 for the kindle version. Seriously?! Yes, I recognise it’s an academic book, and someone had devoted much time and effort into researching and writing the book. But the way academic publishers artificially inflate the prices of their books is increasingly seen as out of date and even stupid.

However much I want to support all writers by buying their books, I’m refusing to pay exorbitant prices for an almost 20 year old book. Luckily there are many second hand options, so for around $5 including shipping I should be able to get my hands on a copy.

p.s. no, it’s not in the library system.

30in30 #26: new author

gcls01gen080

Task #26 in 30 in 30 is to read a new author. The author is Sandra Moran and the book is Letters Never Sent.

For some reason I didn’t manage to speak with Sandra at Dallas last year, although I obviously saw her and took this pic. I was running around too much and too focused on getting pics I guess. I certainly hope she will be at Portland this year. I found out that we both run, so hopefully we have something in common to talk about.

One of the first things Carleen told me to do after the con was to get Sandra’s book and read it. Part of it was set in Chicago against the backdrop of the World’s Fair; she told me how realistic the description was and how I would recognise the street names, buildings and the atmosphere of Chicago in the 1930s. She also said (and read her review) that it’s a must read book and I always listen to her recommendations.

Here’s the blurb:

Three women, united by love and kinship, struggle to conform to the social norms of the times in which they lived.

In 1931, Katherine Henderson leaves behind her small town in Kansas and the marriage proposal of a local boy to live on her own and work at the Sears & Roebuck glove counter in Chicago. There she meets Annie—a bold, outspoken feminist who challenges Katherine’s idea of who she thinks she is and what she thinks she wants in life.

In 1997, Katherine’s daughter, Joan, travels to Lawrence, Kansas, to clean out her estranged mother’s house. Hidden away in an old suitcase, she finds a wooden box containing trinkets and a packet of sealed letters to a person identified only by a first initial.

Joan reads the unsent letters and discovers a woman completely different from the aloof and unyielding mother of her youth-a woman who had loved deeply and lost that love to circumstances beyond her control. Now she just has to find the strength to use the healing power of empathy and forgiveness to live the life she’s always wanted to live.

I usually pick thrillers or paranormal stories before ones that have historical elements, mainly because I’m not that interested in history. That said, I thought the way the book weaved between the 1930s and 1990s was done brilliantly. I loved that the 1930s wasn’t written as flashback, or as told by a storyteller in the 1990s. There were more details and we learned more about the characters and interactions of the older MCs, Katherine and Annie. And then we come back to the 1990s and we see how the daughter, Joan, was affected by the story of her mother. I also loved how the story unfolded, there was so much depth that it was a delight as each layer was revealed.

So often, we get characters who are tall, dark and impossibly beautiful, who are CEOs in their twenties, live in huge mansions and can walk on water while juggling. Ugh. We don’t get this in this book. America in the 1930s was economically and socially a very different time from now, and the hardships and social pressures were depicted realistically. Some of the actions and decisions made by the characters weren’t stellar either, and that makes them so real and so compelling to read.

There was a twist at the end of the story but I figured it out quite early — very shortly after Joan arrived at her mother’s house. The middle part of the book I wasn’t quite sure I’d gotten it right, and I was so happy when it turned out to be true. (I’m trying to be vague and non-spoliery here). I wasn’t obsessed with the clue though, I was busy being caught up with the story itself.

I have a couple of small criticisms. There was a mention of London Times, just in passing. It’s one of my pet peeves because there is no such paper. Secondly, there were two tiny, minute geographical inaccuracies about Chicago that only someone who is OCD will notice. Or perhaps streets were different in the 1930s and therefore I am wrong. Sometimes I get caught up with these small things and I end up not liking or even finishing the book, but it wasn’t the case here.

It’s a testament to the quality of the writing that I finished it, and immediately scrolled back to the beginning to read it again. It’s one of those books that stay on your mind long after you finish, and you can’t help but think about the characters or the setting or a particular scene.

#9: use my library card

guidebooksgreece

Task #9 in 101 in 1001 challenge is to use my library card. This is carried over from the 2007 challenge, mainly because I was working and travelling and moving countries during those 1001 days that I never got round to using libraries.

Going with parents and family friends on a cruise next week. Cruise #3 for us. Itinerary is Greece (Olympia, Crete, Athens), Israel (Haifa with shore excursions to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Dead Sea possible), Italy (Rome). Time to do some research.

Mostly, I research online and summarise my findings in evernote. Additional research for cruises is always necessary because some ports are not next to town. The cruise company obviously hardsells their excursions, but personally I hate the cattle herding feel of guided tours. Interesting to read cruise forums, most people are not DIYers, I would say they err very much on the safe and timid side. I guess it’s the sort of people who go on cruises a lot.

That said, I’m travelling with 4 seniors, so that needs to be factored in.

Guidebooks are useful, and have lots more information than a webpage. Afterall, they’ve done the research already. The problem is that guidebooks become outdated and there’s a limit to how many you can buy and carry.

Sometime during my stay in London, when I was making lots of small trips, I started getting guidebooks from the library. I’d get a few before a trip and may be bring one with me during the trip. It has worked absolute wonders, and I’m so glad libraries stock such a great selection of travel books.

These are from the small local library. Also came with maps, which is super helpful. I find it’s easy to borrow English books here, even in a small library like this one. It’s the minority language afterall. I have to go to a bigger library to find an Israel guidebook though. Off to start reading…

#11: finish a book in one day

weepingwalls

Task #11 in 101 in 1001 is to read a book in one day. Something I have done quite often. Not one of the Potter books I’d just finished, especially the later ones. Of course, one of these classics would have been okay.

I had the pleasure of meeting Gerri Hill last summer at Dallas; and I’ve read many, if not all, of her 20+ books. Her newest is Weeping Walls which has the same MCs as a previous book, Keeper of the Cave. It’s something she has done several times before, using the same characters or bringing back characters as side characters. It works, because these are good characters.

This book is somewhere in between a mystery, paranormal adventure and romance. The FBI team works well, the 4 agents have distinctive personalities and their interactions are realistic. Also it’s great not to have superhero characters, one of the characters is afraid of ghosts and the others also have their hangups and shortcomings. We don’t need heroes who can fly, walk on water, write prize-winning novels and knit a scarf at the same time.

The case the agents are investigating is a missing person that links to cold cases and involves a haunted house. The paranormal aspect was unexpected, although after the prior book, I should have known. It wasn’t rammed down my throat, and I appreciated not being scared shitless — I don’t read horror stories and there’s a reason why.

The romance is not about two people meeting and falling in love. They did this the other book. This is about what happens after the initial falling in love, and there is skill in writing this stage of a relationship.

I read Keeper of the Cave over a 24hr period too (started late on one day and finished the next). When it comes to sequels I like to read the entire series from the start, and I didn’t mind re-reading. Weeping Walls is a solid, great read. If there is another book with the same set of characters I look forward to reading it again.

#12: finish all the Harry Potter books

hp07

Task #12 of 101 in 1001 challenge is one carried over from the previous round.

I got up to Order of the Phoenix when it came out. It wasn’t my favourite, it felt like it was the Empire Strikes Back of the Potter series with endless exposition of Grimmauld Place, stupid Dolores Umbridge, grumpy Sirius and teenage angst with all the hookups and jealousy. The Dumbledore’s Army arc was great, so that was a silver lining.

I dutifully bought books 6 and 7 when they came out, but then sort of lost interest so they’ve been sitting on my bookshelf following me around the world for years. I saw all the films of course, so I knew what was going on.

It was time to finally finish reading the series. It seems like some sort of cultural heresy that I hadn’t. So I started with Philosopher’s Stone, and the magic came back. Yay! Hard to pick a favourite, I’m going say Deathly Hallows and Goblet of Fire. Despite all the despair and trudging around the country searching for horcruxes, DH was extremely well written. Plus, Neville! Easily my favourite character outside the three. Goblet of Fire I loved the whole idea of the Triwizard tournament, and it was IMO when Harry started growing up. Shame about Cedric, I hadn’t expected it when I first read it, was still sad upon re-read. A strange tidbit is that Mum’s copy of Goblet of Fire is an American version (all mine and all her others are UK) so it was odd to read about people running toward something and all the other American spelling. Didn’t really fit with such a British book and set of characters.

The great thing about reading the books now is that I don’t have to rush to find out what happens at the end. And hats off to the filmmakers, the casting was so spot on that I can picture very clearly all the characters and scenes while I’m reading. Made it very, very enjoyable. In fact, I might re-read the whole series again in a while.

reading day

sisuk082books

It’s labor day in the US, a holiday there. Did I do any work today? Nope. Stayed hidden at parents’ while they went out and spent the day reading. Well, reading is being productive right?

reading day

reading

Was up till 3am last night reading, and spent most of today reading too. Jane Fletcher’s Lyremouth series. Probably the 3rd or 4th time I’ve read the books but I still like them. Just broke off for half an hour’s swimming, food and then tv in the evening.

good work day

hk275chirashi

I went over to Sis’ to help her work on her book, a parent-family guide. Reading and sorting and typing. We worked for a while in the morning, had sushi lunch, picked up my niece from school then worked pretty solidly for 3hrs in the afternoon. By the time I looked at the clock it was almost 5pm. Made a dent in the pile of material in her large plastic container. Steak dinner, and a glass of wine. A good day.

charm school

charmschool

I came across a review of book 1 of a comic series called charm school. Wow it brings back memories. Charm School is a comic series set in the town of Little Salem, where good teen witch Bunny has a perfect girlfriend in vampire biker Dean, until a dark, and very insistent faerie comes along causing chaos. It’s cute and fun and, as befit the series title, quite charming.

I was an internet acquaintance of the writer a long time ago, long before social media came along and made everyone connected. I had lost touch, and am very glad to come across this mention of her work. Amazingly, book 1 is listed on amazon at over $10, and checking my copy I note that the cover price was $2.95 for the 2000 edition. How the world has changed. I have books 1-9, I think it’s time to read them again.

humble ebook bundle

humbleebookbundle

This is a fantastic deal. The idea behind the humble ebook bundle is pay whatever you want for 6 sci-fi ebooks, available in the popular formats, DRM free:

  • Invasion by Mercedes Lackey
  • Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
  • Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow
  • Pumpsix and other stories by Paolo Baclgalupi
  • Stranger Things have Happened by Kelly Links
  • Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

There’s a sweetener, pay more than the average and get two more books: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi and a graphic novel Signal to Noise by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean.

Of the six starter books, I’d only heard of Mercedes Lackey as an author and Cory Doctorow as one of the people at boingboing. But I have heard of John Scalzi and Neil Gaiman, who are I guess the bigger draws.

I could have paid a tiny amount ($1) and gotten the first 6 books, but the average when I saw the deal was $11.95 so it was a no brainer to shell out $11.96 for 8 books. I’m sure I’ll find something to enjoy; and even if I didn’t like them, it’s $11.96 I don’t mind spending. None of it goes to Big Publishers, the buyers can set how much is split between the authors, charities such as the EFF, and an admin fee.

The current average is $12.53 so it has been creeping up slightly. Almost 44,000 purchases totalling $550,000 since launch a week ago. Linux and mac users are more generous than windows users, heehee. There’s less than 10 days to go on this deal. They also bundle games, music and movies, I’ll be keeping an eye out for future happenings.

books and bookcovers

bookcover bookcoverlondoners

Looking at flavorwire’s recommended october books, it occurred to me that this is a nice bunch of bookcovers. A little aghast that my favourite is a Tom Wolfe I’ll never read. The most intriguing author on that list, to me, is Chinua Achebe, not least because I just read a small article about the memoir and it seems to be one of those important books that one reeds to read.

On a separate note, the list of 50 best book covers of 2011 is also interesting. The only book on that list that I have is londoners, although the cover that won is only for the UK edition, in the US it’s a more boring, generic cover. The publishers are not doing the reading public justice, it’s not just Londoners who will get that the colours on the cover correspond to all the tube lines, there are lots of people around the world who have travelled to London or recognise the clever play on colours. Sigh. Publishers really shouldn’t pander to the lowest common denominator. Anyway, here’s a snippet towards the end of the Introduction:

The only definition of a Londoner I followed was the people you see around you. The ones who stock the Tube trains and fill the pavements and queue in Tesco with armfuls of plastic-wrapped veg. Whatever their reason or origin, they are laughing, rushing, conniving, snatching free evening newspapers, speaking into phones, complaining, sweeping floors, tending to hedge funds, pushing empty pint glasses, marching, arguing, drinking, kneeling, swaying, huffing at those who stand on the left-hand side of the escalator, moving, moving, always moving. It’s a city of verbs.

He’s still not quite a Londoner. He should have said Tesco’s, not Tesco. It’s always the doctor’s, not the doctor’s office.

the other sweet tooth

sweettoothkate

All the palaver about Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, I almost forgot about the other book published this year also called Sweet Tooth. Not a spy thriller, but a sort of personal-discovery-essay-history of sweets, aka candy, by Kate Hopkins, more well known as the Accidental Hedonist.

The kindle page has no kindle version available. I can get it directly on my kindle though. Strange. I haven’t gone through with the purchase, I wonder if it will work.

first world book problem

sweettoothuksweettoothus

I’m thinking of buying Ian McEwan’s latest book, Sweet Tooth, a layered intrigue set in 1972 during the cold war.

I do a little comparison, amazon uk £8.09 ($12.99) and amazon us $13.99. Even without the small price difference, I want the UK edition because I prefer the cover and I’d like to read it in the English it was written (I’m assuming it gets “translated” to US English). There’s just a couple of tiny problems:

  • my kindle is registered to my US account, so it will automatically go to amazon.com
  • amazon.co.uk won’t let me buy kindle books if I’m outside the UK

It’s not just amazon, WH Smith, kobo and ebook all sell a DRM epub version (just ignore the dirty word DRM), all impose geo restrictions, I guess by IP address. What if I were travelling, does it mean I have to wait till I get home to buy? What a ridiculous concept.

The twist is that amazon lets me buy the paper book from anywhere in the world but not the ebook. Apparently it’s due to contractual agreements. This post talks about Australia but is a good illustration. It’s also from 2010 and hints that things are changing. Riiiiight. It’s now 2012, isn’t it time for country boundaries in the electronic world to go away?

I’ve spent enough time on this today, there are other things vying for my attention. I’ll read another book (from an international-reader-friendly publisher/seller — thanks Bella!) or I’ll play bad piggies or whatsapp mm. It’s likely that Mr McEwan will never get my sale, the US book comes out in November and I doubt I’ll remember. Fine. I’m just one insignificant person, Random House doesn’t care about me. The problem is that Random House and the other Big Publishers insist on putting obstacle after obstacle in the way of legitimate book buyers, who then get frustrated and what will they do? They’ll give up and not buy the book. If the book is that good, it’s not like the buyer roll over and wait like a meek little sheep to buy at the store and price that Big Pub dictated, right? The best case scenario is to use a proxy, then at least there is a sale. Nowadays, unfortunately, the more likely outcome is a torrent, and that’s an ugly unending downward spiral.

taken by surprise

kennataken

And the sunday before I go home was spent reading Taken by Surprise by Kenna White, who I sat with for a couple of lunches at GCLS. I wish I had more opportunity to get to know her better. This book won the lambda literary awards this year, it was a lovely romance. Just enough angst and again, a great supporting cast. The setting was Aspen, and who wouldn’t want to be in a romance set against the mountains of Aspen? Sigh.

rhapsody

kgrhapsody

I spent the saturday before I go home reading Rhapsody by KG MacGregor, here’s an excerpt. To think that just a week ago I had the honour of singing karaoke with KG at the GCLS conference, as part of her “Greasers” 50s group. These writers are so accessible.

It was not a question, I had to finish the book in one day because I wouldn’t have been able to sleep if I hadn’t. It is truly excellent work, deep and subtle, with realistic, believable characters that we want to get to know better. Love the ensemble nature of the characters too, and also the PG rating. I couldn’t help but think about the characters’ future and I see a lot of love and happiness. I think eventually, one of them will say “it’s time,” and it will be time.

kindle fire

About a month ago I saw that amazon was selling refurbished kindle fires for $139. I was slightly tempted when the fire first came out, but decided to wait for a new ipad instead. But lately I’ve been wanting to replace my very old (in tech terms) Sony ereader and was thinking of getting a kindle. The fire isn’t available in the UK, and the $139 price tag finally did me in.

Okay, okay. I just wanted another new toy.

It’s been sitting in Car’s house for a month, and I took it out to charge and play today. It’s a refurbished model, but it came in a box and everything was nicely packaged. To be honest, it felt brand new. Probably someone bought it and returned it. It was pre-registered to my account, and to all intents and purposes is new.

It’s heavier than the regular kindle and the ereader, which kind of defeats the purpose. But it doubles up as a tablet with basic apps, so it bridges the gap between the iphone and the mba, that should eventually be plugged by the ipad, may be. In the meantime I moved all my ebooks over via calibre and downloaded the music I bought on amazon. Nothing too fancy yet. Only bought one app, an office app that was reduced to 99c from $14.99 — may be a new version is coming out, but I don’t mind an older version. It would have been great to get existing iphone apps free, I really don’t want to pay for angry birds all over again.

First impression? Pretty cool. Scrolling is quite a bit slower than the iphone or ipad. A HUGE improvement in reading experience compared with the Sony — it’s not e-ink but I’m not bothered by the screen display. Initial complaints — I hate the carousel, that it saves everything I open; I’m the sort of person who doesn’t save browsing history and is very tight on controlling cookies. The second complaint is that sideloading from calibre loads into the documents folder and have to be moved to the books folder manually. There is also no ability to create sub-folders for different types of books, sorting alphabetically is not practical for a large library.

I’m pleased with it despite the initial reservations. it’ll be great for the trip.

libraries FTW

09library

I first did it when I went to Prague with Mum last year. I most recently did it just this past weekend when we went to Stockholm. I’m sure I’ll continue doing it going forward.

Do what?

Borrow travel guides from the local library. The books are up to date, and the DK guides have plenty of pictures and maps. Perfect for travelling. I can take the books out for 3 weeks at a time. What a great resource.

6 new books

sonyereader

Bought 6 new books just now. Still have a few unread from the 8 I bought in December. All set for vacation next week.

p.s. the image is from the very old palm ereader software, what memories, eh?

bad book

sisuk081homebooks

I bought 10 ebooks over the weekend, a mixture of new releases, earlier works and some from a sale event. I started on one of the 10 yesterday, but found it a hard slog. It’s not very well written: pov jumps all over the place; massive amount of telling vs zero showing; unconvincing dialogue; the characters have no character. The premise is decent, some important social issues are addressed and there is, on paper, a lot of potential. If only the writing matches the idea. I tried a couple more chapters today, but when I checked the page numbers I see that after all that, I’m only at page 110 of 260. Not even halfway. I can’t see myself sustaining any sort of interest so I gave up. Sorry, [author]. (And, I’m intentionally vague because I don’t want to upset people associated with the book.)

harry potter 7b

Harry Potter 7

Did my weekend run, laundry and grocery shopping yesterday so I had time today. Finally go round to seeing HP7b. It was very, very moving. I wish I watched part 1 beforehand to remind myself, but it didn’t matter, I was gripped from the start. The flashback to when Harry first went to Hogwarts, when he was under the sorting hat, wow. Everyone’s grown up, and the grown-ups held their own. Special mention to Neville! Awfully sad to see it end, I stayed all the way to the end of the credits.

book reading nottingham

bsbuk003reading

I went to the bsb uk author reading at Waterstone’s Nottingham on Saturday. It’s about 2.5hr one way, so I hesitated a lot before deciding that I really should go support the UK/European authors. I booked the train tickets online, and found that first class was only an extra £2. What a bargain, I got 4 seats with table all to myself (both ways), peace and quiet and free tea.

I’ve never been to Nottingham, and the high street is just like any other high street with loads of shops and people on a Saturday. The reading was well attended, over 50 people and 7 readers. Glad to see that the UK/European contingent is well represented. What I liked particularly about this reading is that I got to meet authors that a year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined having the opportunity of meeting. Listening to their reading is a nice way of being introduced to their work. One of the authors actually gave me a free copy of her forthcoming, yet to be published, book, which was so very kind. I read it on the journey back, and will finish it tomorrow, it’s funny and well written.

After the reading, the group adjourned to a nearby pub. I was having a great time chatting with my running friend K and catching up with my NY friend C. It was a shame I had to leave quite early to catch the train home. The event continues tomorrow morning with another session, but I have a long training run. Hopefully I’m still in the UK next year, if they hold the event again.

book fate

I’ve been reading some of the books marked for disposal, a kind of “last goodbye” thing. While others I’ve put away in boxes and not thought about, there are some that I am giving up in the interest of space. I managed to condense all my books from what used to be 4 bookshelves to 1. (Okay, some of that space was used for photo and stamp albums and I’ve put them somewhere else.) I suppose I might miss some of them, may be in a few months’ time I’d want to read a particular book and discover that I don’t have it anymore. Unlikely. And besides, I can get it again as e-book.

hp7

Saw HP7 part 1 today at Navy Pier imax. Absolutely brilliant. Would have sat for 5hrs without moving for the whole thing. July 2011 can’t come early enough.

Haven’t read the book yet, I think I’m still on HP5. But it didn’t stop me from appreciating the story, the acting, the special effects…everything about it. Now I’m wondering if I should go see it again before I leave.

#22 read 5 ebooks

ereader

I think I blew this one out of the water. When I started 101.1001 amazon had only just released the kindle and the ebook market was still in its infancy. I thought at that time that I’d try downloading a few ebooks and reading it on the mbp using the ereader software.

I now have 93 ebooks in my ereader (the hardware, heh, the same name thing is confusing). This includes 90 full length books and 3 short stories but excludes the free classics downloaded from sony. I’ve read almost all of them, so yes, I read 5 ebooks…in the last 2 weeks. They cost the same as regular paperbacks, so at an average of $12-13, that’s over $1000 I’ve contributed to the industry since march 2009. Do I get an award or what?

At the moment, I’m using one of the least popular readers, and there’s a lot of “me-too” pressure to get the kindle 3, which ships this week. The formats and industry are starting to settle, there will be a clear standard and device winner soon. Interestingly, I don’t think it’ll be the ipad, it will be a dedicated ereader. I’ve not even been tempted to read on the ipad so far.

reset 700

sony700

I bought a couple of new ebooks and when I went to read one of them it kept freezing the ereader. After doing a soft reset several times, the screen was still stuck on the start up page. So I decided to do a hard reset, which is like reformatting and wiping it clean.

All the books I’d purchased are in the calibre library, so I wasn’t worried. The free classics that I got when I first bought the ereader are also on the mbp, but since I never got round to reading a single one, I didn’t even reload them.

I really have to figure out how to a) convert and load my own stories and b) getting everything on the ipad.

#21(8) reading: bongwater

coverbongwater

Bongwater is Michael Hornburg’s first book, published in 1995. It tells the story of 3 twentysomethings in Portland. Courtney burned down the house she shared with David and ran away to New York. David had a crush on Jennifer and Jennifer ran away to New York to join Courtney. In the meantime, David met Mary and went on a road trip with her to visit his weed-growing friend Phil.

Nothing much else happens. Arguably David and Courtney are the main characters but they don’t meet up again till the end. Jennifer is the glue. Mary is somewhere in between. David crashes with two gay guys who steals Jennifer’s underwear. Courtney and Jennifer does a round of New York clubs and comes back to Portland.

The characters are cynical and innocent at the same time. They do drugs and each other. But no one judges. It just is. The end of the book doesn’t have resolution; instead there is the hint of a beginning.

I get confused between Gen X and Y. Of course I’m reading this book 15 years after it was published, and I think about those days in the early 1990s with nostalgia. Now I identify with them — not the drugs or alcohol or sex or partying, the sense that we are just observing and living our way through life.

Reviews are mixed. Some readers get it. Others find it boring and without plot. Even others dislike the prose. I liked it. It feels superficial, but is deeper than it appears. Was Mr Hornburg sending life lessons? No, of course not. It just is. I get the feeling that there’s a large autobiographical element in the book. Nothing wrong with it. It just is.

bret easton ellis: imperial bedrooms

coverimpbedrooms

Bret Easton Ellis’ seventh novel, Imperial Bedrooms, comes out mid-June. It’s a follow up to Less than Zero, to coincide with its 25th anniversary. Gulp. Has it already been 25 years? Next I know, I’ll be needing reading glasses. [heh, don’t be so cocky. that day will come soon and you know it.]

Less than Zero is arguably my favourite book. Something spine-tingling and deep comes over me whenever I read it (unlike spine-chilling when I read American Psycho). I’m not sure how I feel about a sequel, because they never live up to the hype of the original. And reading the excerpt, which I assume is the beginning, I’m still leery.

They had made a movie about us. The movie was based on a book written by someone we knew. The book was a simple thing about four weeks in the city we grew up in and for the most part was an accurate portrayal. It was labeled fiction but only a few details had been altered and our names weren’t changed and there was nothing in it that hadn’t happened.

Clay is now a successful screenwriter and returns to LA from New York. The characters are still there — Julian (RDJ, who died in the film), Blair, Trent. I suspect parties and craziness still abound but it’s probably a bunch of people pushing 40 who don’t want to grow up.

I’m being unfair. I haven’t read the book yet and here I am dissing it. The reviews on amazon are mixed. It’s 100% certain I will buy it so I must reserve judgment.

#21(7) reading: identity

identity

Milan Kundera is perhaps best known as the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I hadn’t read that; nor actually seen the film. My impressions and perceptions prior to reading was that it would be thoughtful, philosophical and may be even melancholy enough to be not too heavy.

Identity was written in 1996, the author’s second book after moving from Czechoslovakia to France. I read the English translation, having had this one on my shelf for something like 10 years.

This was the story of two lovers, Chantal and Jean-Marc, which started while they were on holiday on the Normandy coast. She arrived before him, and each in their own ways were thinking about themselves. About who they were. (Hence the title.) Gradually, parts of their lives and personalities were revealed, like layers of an onion. The book moved from purely situational to having some sort of a plot when she started receiving anonymous letters complimenting her and yet was stalkerish. In fact, he wrote them. The conflict was when she didn’t tell him about the letters, and they started second guessing each other. Finally she walked out, got on a train to London. And he followed.

I guess it’s too philosophical for me. I was waiting for something to happen, and then i realised that it wasn’t that sort of book. The structure, with no chapter titles, only short vignettes almost alternating between the characters’ pov, was like two parallel streams of thoughts occasionally intersecting. The part I enjoyed most was towards the end when unwanted visitors arrived, children misbehaved by trashing her room and she unceremoniously kicked them out. It had little to do with the main story, and the only tenuous connection was that it made her though about her son, who died when he was five. Nonetheless, when Chantal broke down and Jean-Marc was left throwing his keys into the Seine I finally felt like they had awoken from author-induced intellectual stupor.

I’m at the margin of this world. You, you’ve put yourself at the centre of it.

Even though both Chantal and Jean-Marc found out more about themselves during the course of the book, at the end I felt like I’d only glimpsed a part of their journey. That there was more to come. The end was both ‘fade-to-black’ and sudden. I can’t decide which, because I was flipping the pages too fast to get to the end. I also can’t decide if I wanted to know more about what happened next. Basically, I can’t decide if I like this book, or I was bored by it. It’s strange. Perhaps it will permeate and brew more in my head.