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Fitting in eBooks: An Experiment

16 Jan

I’ve had an ereader – a first-generation nook – for a while now, several years at least. You would think that being a fairly early adopter of ereader technology would allow me to work ebooks into my habits and somewhat replace print books into my collection; but sadly that’s not been the case, and I’ve struggled with even fitting ebooks into my reading. I use NetGalley to read pre-release galleys electronically, and I buy a lot of my YA guilty pleasures on the nook store because I want to read them, but don’t want them to take up space. But largely I’ve stuck to a print books. I still have the mindset that, if I want to “own” a book, I want the print copy, as if the ebook isn’t really “owning” it.

Lately though I’m testing out a way to both own an ebook and a hardcover version, and make both of them work. I’m currently reading Stephen King’s newest novel, 11/22/63. I bought myself the hardcover before Christmas, and then shortly after, I got a Klout perk for an ebook version from Simon & Schuster. I’m reading them both, depending on the day and the situation, and it’s been nothing short of enlightening. Both in respect to how I use paper books and how I use ebooks.

Overall, I’m enjoying having both available depending on how and where I’ll be reading – and my poor purse (and shoulder) isn’t weighted down with a 900-page book. But the page counts are off – the hardcover has 849 pages and the ebook counts just under 700. So syncing my stopping place has been tricky to say the least.

But this method – reading both the paper book and the ebook at the same time – isn’t practical. I am most likely only going to buy one copy of a book, but if I were able to buy a bundle of the hardcover and the ebook together at a lower price than buying them separately (but at a higher price than one or the other costs individually), I would be increasingly likely to do so. There are some books that I still will only want in ebook, and some that I will wait and buy in paperback. But I don’t see many possibilities where I would want the hardcover and NOT also want the ebook version. I’ve been delightfully surprised by how easily I switch back and forth and how much I actually use that option.

I’m curious, have you done this dual reading thing? What are your feelings about bundling ebooks with hardcovers?

One other note about switching back and forth: the engaging nature of the a particular book might be a mitigating factor. Because I cannot put down 11/22/63 and pretty much want to read it all the time at every moment I can spare. So I’m more willing to make the effort involved in dual reading, but I can’t imagine that a book I’m feeling only meh about will encourage the same level of engagement.

Review: Your Voice Inside My Head by Emma Forrest

26 Jul

Pretty much everyone is calling this the Colin Farrell book right?

Emma Forrest’s memoir Your Voice in My Head is getting a lot of press because she dated notoriously non-monogamous Colin Farrell and she details the relationship while still trying to retain a level of anonymity for all her partners, including Farrell. It’s not difficult figuring out which of the men in her memoir he is, and if you really wanted to focus your reading on the celeb-worshiping part of this book,  you definitely could.

I didn’t really know about her relationship with Farrell until I was mid-way through this, and truth be told by that point, I didn’t really care. Sadly, that was my overwhelming feeling about this chronicle of Forrest’s mental health/personal relationships. In the end, I just didn’t care. I know now, after I’ve finished it, that Forrest has quite the career as a writer, having penned columns for some of the biggest magazines in all the land like Vogue, Vanity Fair and Time Out, as well as several novels and screenplays. Her style is distinctive and recognizable to those who are looking out for her in the first place. But in the process of reading the ebook, I was mostly confused at first and irritated by the end.

The premise – not that you really need one for a memoir – is this: Forrest discovers that her long-time psychiatrist, Dr. R,  has died unexpectedly from an illness no one knew he had and she struggles to cope with the loss of that relationship. This is presumably what I thought it was about, but it is equally and unsuspectingly about the break-up of a significant relationship (Farrell) in the wake of Dr. R’s death. It attempts to join the grand tradition of mental illness memoirs, and in many ways it succeeds in painting a vivid picture of the author’s struggle and failure to regulate her bipolar disorder, in which she repeatedly succumbs to depression and bouts of eating disorders and suicide attempts. To say I didn’t care is too simplistic, and I fear it sounds cold-hearted. I can certainly relate to and empathize with someone suffering from a mental illness, but the way in which the book itself was written left me feeling very little sympathy in what should be a gimme situation for a memoirist.

My issues with this memoir are pretty simple.

First of all, the title suggests that the main focus will be Forrest’s reaction to and subsequent coping with the death of her psychiatrist. And while there are cursory attempts to remind the reader that this is in fact what she’s trying to do by including comments by patients left on a message board about Dr. R, it feels more like a gimmick. Like this death was the impetus for writing a book that in the end didn’t make any concrete statements about what losing that relationship is really like. She touches on it in the beginning, but by the end, it feels like an entirely different book, a break-up memoir, and I would have liked to see some sort of meaningful conclusion that tied it all together. Because there was no attempt to come full circle, Forrest gave the impression that she actually didn’t care about Dr. R’s death in any way beyond how it personally affected her, which was extremely off-putting.

Secondly, the way Forrest structures the book in terms of narrative arc was one of the most chaotic things I’ve ever read. She jumps between time periods with no warning whatsoever, and while I understand that the intention might have been to replicate her chaotic mind, as a reader I was confused, all the time. At one point, I compared my ebook version to a print copy to make sure there wasn’t something wrong with the digital file that caused the chapters to get shuffled. I’m not asking for much, but even tiny transitions would have gone so far in my level of understanding. It’s distracting to have to reorient yourself ever time there’s a section break on the page.

I have no doubt that Forrest battles a very real and, at times, very debilitating mental illness. But these two major problems I had with the memoir made me perceive her as neurotic, instead of ill. And I ended up not liking her at all. The potential is there, for sure, for this to be a brilliant memoir, but the gaps and the poor narrative choices left me annoyed and ultimately uncaring.

Taking This Show on the Road

26 Apr

Once again this year, I’ve got a lot of travel on the calendar. And none of it is purely for my own pleasure. No actual vacation this year, just lots and lots of weddings. It’s the curse of being in your mid- to late 20s and everyone is getting married. I’ve got five weddings this year, matching my record for one year but certainly not the distance traveled. In 2009 I also had five weddings and you might recall that I traveled to Israel all by myself for my cousin’s wedding. I lugged a bunch of books with me on that trip including the massive tome, Pillars of the Earth. Not sure what I was thinking taking a nearly-1000 page doorstop with me, but carting it around was worth the trouble. However, that trip along with all my other wedding travels that year convinced me to get an eReader. But owning a nook for the purposes of travel has introduced a conundrum in my life. Rarely am I between books when I leave on a trip, so I end up bringing a physical book with me, completely voiding the purpose of the eReader. It’s been a problem, especially since I do still own mostly physical books.

I’m leaving on Thursday for a cousin’s wedding in California, which means some serious in-flight reading time.

(SIDE NOTE: I’m not the only one that actually looks forward to long plane/train rides because I get uninterrupted reading time, am I?)

I am in the middle of a great book by Amy Stolls, The Ninth Wife (pub date: May 10) so that will be coming with me, but otherwise, I’m going to stick very hard to just bringing my nook and my iPod for all my other reading needs. I’ve stocked the nook with several galleys thanks to netGalley:

Your Voice in My Head: A Memoir by Emma Forrest (publication date: May 3 by Other Press)
This Girl Is Different by JJ Johnson (publication date: April 1 by Peachtree Publishers)
Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman (publication date: Sept. 1 by HarperCollins)
Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love by Matt Logelin (publication date: April 14 by Grand Central Publishing)

And I downloaded two audio books from Audible.com: Bossypants by Tina Fey (narrated by Tina Fey) and Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell (take a look at the list of narrators through the link and see why I chose this one in audio instead of print).

I think that’s enough to keep me busy, don’t you?

More one-sitting books

24 Mar

Sorry I’ve been inexplicably absent from blogging, everyone. Life sometimes manages to throw curveballs…and other times, it belts you with a dozen fastballs you can see coming  a mile away, but still can’t dodge. Guess which baseball metaphor I’ve been dealing with the past few weeks?

I’ve had a few things going on, last week in particular, that I knew were coming, but there was just no way to avoid them or get some of the work done in advance. You know how it is. I had a maddening 2 1/2 days at the beginning of last week, in which I had more to do than time to do it in, but somehow, I managed to get everything done, and done well. Then I flew to Omaha for the NCAA Wrestling Championships to cheer on my cousin, Dan, and watch him take 7th in his weight class and his team take the title for the third year straight. It was a fantastic and fun weekend, but the lack of sleep and the traveling left me with a wicked cold/cough and I’m seriously struggling. I’m at work, but dear lord, how much I would like to NOT be. Thankfully the weather here in DC is actually spring-like and I’m thinking some good, old-fashioned sunshine might be the perfect cure.

All that traveling did give me a chance to take a break from school work, since everything I had to do was strictly on-line, and I took full advantage by reading some fantastic books. I read a couple of books that probably would have What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen: Book Coverbeen One-Sitting books whether I was stuck on a plane or not. The first was a memoir called What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen. Here’s the Publisher’s Weekly synopsis:

In this chronicle of a late-in-life pregnancy, New York City playwright and theater artist Cohen recalls an unlikely chain of events that, at age 44, transformed her life: “Three weeks ago I found out I was pregnant. Two weeks ago, I contemplated and rejected a late-term abortion. One week ago I was put on bed rest. I accepted my role as a miniature hospital, protecting a fragile life by lying on my left side and drinking Gatorade.” Already the mother of an adopted daughter, Cohen’s first experience with pregnancy is a minefield of physical and financial dangers: “A woman with no prenatal care for twenty-six weeks is a lousy insurance risk… To an obstetrician, she represents an expensive malpractice liability.” Cohen questions herself-health, commitment and emotional readiness-and others while sorting through a growing mountain of advice, ultimately wondering whether one can ever be fully prepared to bring a baby into the world. Compelling, humanizing, and deeply honest, Cohen’s narrative will get readers rooting for her growing family.

I was initially torn about how I felt about Cohen. In many ways, it was inconceivable to me that her first reaction to finding out she’s pregnant is that she wants an abortion; but since I grew up past the point where DES is a serious concern for many women whose mothers took the drug, maybe I wasn’t able to understand her desperation and fear for her future child. But as we start to discover the scary and very real health concerns both mother and baby are faced with, I felt a bit more compassion for her. I have to admit that I still closed the book unsure of whether I admired Cohen, or reviled her, but I think it’s just that I didn’t totally understand her. But that’s the entire point of the book: no one understands her, and she’s swimming in a pool by herself without a life preserver to hold onto.

Nonetheless, the memoir is engaging and heartbreaking and I could NOT put it down. I started it as we took off from DC and by the time we were pulling into the gate at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, I was turning the last page. I highly recommend it. But a warning — if you’re more on the pro-life side of the argument, you might find this book infuriating. I could easily see how her desire to seek a late-term abortion would completely color your opinion of Cohen. I still recommend it, but do be prepared.

After that heavy-themed memoir though, I was ready for something a little more light weight for the trip back — plus I was tired and sick from the long weekend, and I didn’t want something that was going to make my brain hurt. I’d packed What I Thought I Knew but then I relied on the dozen or so books on my nook to find my next read. I Dear John by Nicholas Sparks: Download Coverhad quite a variety, and I almost hate to admit it, but I picked Dear John by Nicholas Sparks. I probably won’t see the movie, but growing up as a military brat, in and around military bases all through high school and into college, I’ve dated my share of soldiers. I think the last Nicholas Sparks book I read before this was The Notebook, but this one seemed like something I could relate to. From the Washington Post:

It isn’t hard to picture John Tyree. We can simply imagine his predecessors, men in uniform staring pensively from earlier wartime romances. Apart from the occasional detail—e-mail, cellphone, Outback Steakhouse—Dear John could take place in any modern American era. For Sparks, weighty matters of the day remain set pieces, furniture upon which to hang timeless tales of chaste longing and harsh fate. Only in a novel such as this could we find our political buzzwords—peacekeeping, IEDs, hurricane relief—interspersed with these sentiments: “And when her lips met mine, I knew that I could live to be a hundred and visit every country in the world, but nothing would ever compare to that single moment when I first kissed the girl of my dreams and knew that my love would last forever.”

Sparks recently gave an interview in which he denied that his books were “romance” but instead were love stories. I don’t deny that, and a lot of people have said, “What’s the difference?” I think Lusty Reader would be better suited to answer that question, but classifying his books one way over another doesn’t make them any better written or any less thigh-quivering (I’m sorry — I have no other way to describe it). I think about as much of Sparks’ writing as I do of Dan Brown’s — not very much — but for a quick and easy love story, it still does its job. I’ve never been one of those readers that thinks that books like this aren’t worthy of publication — they all have their place in the bookstore — and sometimes it’s exactly what I’m in the mood for. I hadn’t totally finished this one on the flight back to DC, but after a long day of traveling, I still stayed up until 1:30am finishing the last 150 pages. That’s a win in my book. Just don’t tell anyone ;).

nook love.

6 Jan

Meet my new boyfriend:

(sorry for the poor quality iPhone photos and the harsh glare on the screen.)

I was going to name him Snookums, but considering the rise of Jersey Shore and “Snookie,” I’m thinking not. Anyone have any suggestions?

He came in the mail last night, I went through the tutorial quickly and started reading almost immediately. It’s super easy to navigate, and my only not-favorite thing so far is that the page-turns are a little slow and have a weird “refresh” quality to them. I wish they simulated actual page-turning more. But I’m not saying anything new. Otherwise, I’m digging the nook a ton.

However, I need to vent a bit. I have gotten so much flack over this thing. You would have thought I started chucking my entire library into a fireplace and lit a match from some of the heat I’ve been taking for getting an eReader. Why is it that I’ve been called no less than a “hypocrite,” and a “traitor,” and someone actually said to me: “And you call yourself a book lover.”

Yes. I do. I AM a book lover. Why do you think I got the damn thing?? So I can read MORE!

By no means do I intend to replace my paper book library with eBooks. It’s just never going to happen. As someone who opens a new book and smells the pages (no lie), do you really think I can discard books so easily? I understand if an eReader doesn’t make sense for you — if you buy mostly mass market paperbacks or if you read mostly library books, yeah it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to get an eReader. But I love new releases, and I don’t use my library at all. I have no problem keeping multiple books going at the same time, so I can be in the middle of an eBook on my nook and also be reading an actual paper book elsewhere. If it doesn’t work for you, I understand. I won’t mock you, or insult you for it; so you shouldn’t do the same for me. It doesn’t work for you, but it works for me.

I’m still not sure how I’m going to integrate eBook reading into my everyday reading life. It’s going to make my purse a whole lot lighter, that’s for sure. But otherwise, I’m happy with my decision for a couple of really important reasons:

  1. The nook is compatible with PDFs. I printed literally a stack of PDF articles 5 inches thick last semester. I’m so excited to be able to do all of that reading digitally and not have to carry around pages that, let’s be frank, I’ll never read again after the class is over. Considering I’m planning on being in school for the next 32 months straight, I’ll take digital over paper anyday, especially since I can highlight those PDFs.
  2. I want to work in the Publishing industry. I’m starting a Master’s in Publishing in the fall (cross your fingers), and I try to stay current on trends in the field. Doesn’t this qualify? Whether we like it or not, eReaders and digital books are the future of the publishing world, and dragging your heels and insisting on the purity of paper books isn’t going to change that. It would be one thing if I was purely a book consumer, on the paying side of the register, but since I’d like to be on the other side, shouldn’t I be conscious of digital content and what makes a book successful in eBook format? It’s just like a journalist learning html and Web publishing so they can be competitive in their field.
  3. Many of the classics on my Must Read: Classics list are FREE or close to it in the Barnes & Noble eBook library. Umm hello, saving money. Come right in and have a seat.
  4. Speaking of saving money, I already mentioned that I buy a lot of new releases. That means a lot of hardcovers at $25 a pop. New eBooks are usually about $10. Twenty new release purchases on my nook instead of the hardcover and the eReader pays for itself. I buy significantly more than 20 hardcovers.

How does this NOT makes sense, at least for me? I don’t plan on trying to convert anyone else, this isn’t like Mormonism, people (sorry if you’re offended by that analogy, but it’s true). It works FOR ME. And that’s all that matters.

So leave me and my new boyfriend alone already.

P.S. If you can’t read it, the quote on my nook cover says: “A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever. – Martin Tupper”