Category Archives: GENERAL Bookish Thoughts

A Few Classics That Are Not Hard to Read

Classics are usually heavy reading. Even if they’re short, the language is unfamiliar enough that they take a long time to get through. But every once in a while you find one that surprises you, and here are three that surprised me.

Note: I’m not including any classics described as ‘children’s literature’ in this list.

'Around the World in Eighty Days' by Neuville and Benett 22
Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne

I just really enjoyed the very punctual and methodical Phileas Fogg racing around the world with his comic French servant, Passepartout. They get into preposterous adventures of all sorts, some of which strain believability but are incredibly fun to read. It gives a wonderful picture of travel before airplanes were invented, with railroads and steamboats. Verne is known as a science fiction author, but this was a contemporary novel for him—and so for us it’s a nice view in on the past. Also, I loved the sudden revelation of Fogg’s tender side in the end.

As a side note, Jules Verne’s novels have historically received poor English translations, which led him to have a higher reputation in his native France than in the English-speaking world. This is the only sample of his work I’ve read, but I quite enjoyed him. In addition, I’ve noticed publishers give this novel nonsensical cover pages – one edition had a hot air balloon, but hot air balloons failed to appear in the story. Another recent edition has a daredevil racing in an old-fashioned car, but this does not happen in the novel either.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

This remains the only Dickens novel I’ve read cover to cover. It’s short, so Dickens’ verbosity won’t put you off. The plot is easy enough to follow. I actually read it because I knew nothing about the plot and wanted to find out what this Christmas carol business everyone always went on about at Christmastime was all about, but I’ve reread it since without boredom. I’ve heard complaints about the opening paragraphs, where Dickens goes on about different types of nails and why the doornail should not be considered the ‘deadest’ type of nail out there, but personally I found it humorous. If you find it tedious, it’s a short novel, so it’s soon over and the rest of the plot begins!

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

This was my introduction to Jane Austen, and I still believe it’s the easiest one to start with (though none of her novels are too difficult for the modern reader, aside from the formality of the language). This novel gets right into the action and humor, with Mr. Bingley arriving in town and Mrs. Bennett nagging her husband to go meet him. It does not start with family history, like Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Mansfield Park. The heroine is lively enough that it’s not a chore to follow her through the story, and the story is shorter than Emma. There’s a few lulls in action, but overall it’s a very satisfying romance and shows off Austen’s talent very well.

 

 

These are my recommendations—your mileage may vary! After all, I thought Lord of the Rings and The Iliad were surprisingly easy to get into, and I know many people who didn’t. And I just struggle with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, while others just love them. But if you’re meaning to read a few novels that have stood the test of time, these are a few places to start!

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Join Mark Zuckerberg’s Book Club, Rediscover Why Books Matter

Mark Zuckerberg is starting a book club. A Facebook book club, which seems appropriate, considering he is Mark Zuckerberg.

BUT he said one very insightful thing that should give everyone hope for millenials – we aren’t necessarily shallow, visual-obsessed youngsters with short attention spans. At least, maybe not if we join Mark’s book club.

Here’s what he said:

“Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books.”

The thing is, he is absolutely right. How many times have I gone looking for information on the internet, only to find the absolute basics of a topic repeated over and over again, but no info beyond that? I remember, in my second English course in university, finally resorting to the library to find sources on Sherlock Holmes, A Scandal in Bohemia, and was stunned to find TONS of scholarly articles I could use. My thought at the time was – if it’s not on the internet or scholarly internet databases, it doesn’t really exist, right? But it turns out there’s still a level of detail not available on the internet.

(No, I’ll be honest – I just wanted an excuse not to leave my computer and walk to the library…)

So – go Mark Zuckerberg! If anyone can make our surface-level-knowledge-obsessed culture realize this is a shortcoming, it might be you!

Also, apparently both print and ebook versions of Mark’s first recommendation flew off the shelves – print is surprisingly still popular, one article concludes. Of course it is. Print will never die! Go ebooks (and do check out the ones I wrote ), but yeah, print is here to stay.

Tell me – are you planning to join Mark Zuckerberg’s book club. Or maybe another one? New Year’s reading resolutions, here we come!

  • (I, for one, hope to tackle more ‘classic’ novels this year. I’ll update you on how that goes in a couple months.)

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Tell Me About Your Favourite Bookstore

Last Friday The Guardian published a wonderful list of bookstores worldwide – including one from Canada, woohoo! Any book-lover knows there is no shortage of lovable bookstores out there, so which is your favourite? I’d have to say, from The Guardian‘s list, I want to visit the bookstore-in-a-van that sells Portuguese books translated into English. Leakey’s, in Scotland, looks worth visiting too.

Shakespeare & Company, in Paris, is not included in this list – I have a feeling it might’ve been too cliche to include such a famous landmark. But in case you’ve forgotten, here’s my picture of the place from when I visited it last April!

WIN_20140424_205457

What’s my favourite library? I blogged about it once before. Share yours below!

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Why Own Unread Books?

Unread Books

Unread Books, by Paulina Van Vliet. All rights reserved.

I used to never buy a book I hadn’t read. That was what libraries were for – I didn’t want to buy something that might be garbage. Only after I knew the quality of the book would I buy a copy for myself. However, I have started seeing the error of my ways.

Two recent blog posts brought this to my attention. The first – ‘The Virtue of Unread Books’ – argues that unread books are not merely pages on a shelf, but collectively they express an idea. When you stockpile books you’ve already read, Scott James argues, you’re basically making a monument to your accomplishment. Especially if you never re-read them. Look at what a well-rounded reader I am, you might be saying.

In contrast, he argues, a shelf of unread books hints at more than past triumphs – it symbolizes possibility. A well-selected library opens the mind to what could be read and learned. And so, hopefully, you might actually go on to read and learn.

The second post, ‘Busting a Book-Buying Myth,’ is directed at why you should buy books you may not read, rather than about owning them, but it comes down to the same thing in the end. Here, Ian Carmichael argues that even if you buy books you never finish, but you did get something useful out of them, it might be worth it. If it’s a useful book, at a reasonable price, why not buy it, even if it’s on an impulse? Also, if your owning of the book allows the book to give pleasure or information to someone who is not you – someone who borrows it, or happens to read it at your house – then it is worthwhile to own it as well. I really enjoyed this post, because it gave me a different perspective on my book-buying habits.

Now, for my opinion:

Absolutely, a library should be more than a monument to what you have read in your life. It could be what you should read, or books you know would give pleasure to others (visitors to your home, or people you lend your books to).

However, just because I own a book and intend to read it, doesn’t mean I will. In fact, it makes it a bit more likely I won’t. I’ll procrastinate because I know I’ll always have it, right there on my bookshelf for when I have ‘more time.’ But books I don’t own, well, those I better read quick.

This, however, is not an excuse for me not to buy and own books I should read – their collective spines on my shelf may someday shame me into picking them up. After all, I do get immeasurable joy from sitting in front of shelves of excellent books, even if I haven’t read them yet, because I know there are so many treasures for me yet to discover. This joy alone gives well-selected libraries a reason to exist.

Secondly, I think that using your library as a source of information – well, that works better for some things than others. It works great for classics. If I want to know what Herodotus said about the Persian wars, I can flip through it and look it up. Or if I forget a certain quotation from Jane Austen – same deal. But when it comes down to information more often classified as ‘facts’ or ‘non fiction,’ I’d consult the internet before my library. First, it’s faster. It’s more likely the internet has addressed that topic, rather than the off-chance I bought a book on the topic once. I can get multiple points of view on that ‘fact’ and try to determine if it should be called a fact. And, lastly but not least important, it is far easier to find info that includes the most recent updates online than in the encyclopedia you bought a decade ago.

Of course, for real, in-depth research the internet often falls short of a book, but in the case you need an excellent, well-researched and written source on something, the library is the place to look. After all, if you owned a library of your own on the most recent, up to date info on every topic you cared about, you might just be constructing a monument to your own interests after all.

So, readers, what do you think? Have you read every book that sits on your shelves, or must you admit there are a couple you haven’t cracked open? Is it worth owning them anyway?

 

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Do You Hear Voices In Your Head? (While Reading)

Do you hear voices in your head? When you’re reading, I mean. Of course I mean when you’re reading. I’m not trying to suggest anyone is crazy…

I mean, do you hear voices of narrators and characters speaking out loud in your head when you’re reading?

I’d never thought about this before. I’m struggling to remember what I actually hear when I read, but I think I enter the fictional world so completely that it’s hard for me to pin down individual sensations when I snap out of it. However, many people do hear voices. And accents.

This phenomenon was brought by to me by a lovely lady I was having lunch with this week. She insisted she heard books by Welsh authors read out in her head in a Welsh accent, and British authors in a British one. Until this point, I’d never considered this. I guess I always imagined everyone experienced books in exactly the same way as me.

But that would be a terribly ridiculous assumption, wouldn’t it? No one experiences the same book in exactly the same way. That’s part of the fun!

(I do find author’s accent sort of affect the overall tone of a work while I’m reading – C.S. Lewis, being British, has a different atmosphere in his books than others, but I feel that might be more due to word choices. Like when he described a hypothetical man as a lunatic – “on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg.” Why a poached egg, precisely?)

Just to prove this is not in the head of only one person in this world, I will point you to an article in The Guardian where readers describe all sorts of audible and visual experiences while reading, including – you guessed it, people who are not sure they hear anything at all. Very interesting read! There are all kinds of people in the world, after all.

Okay, now I am off to power-read three chapter of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which the informal book club I belong to has decided to read next.

Leave your experiences with disembodied voices in the comments! Do you hear voices when you read?

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Independent Bookstores Have NOT Disappeared – They’re Doing Fine, Actually

National Bookstore, by Ramon FVelasquez. Licensed under Creative Commons.

National Bookstore, by Ramon FVelasquez. Licensed under Creative Commons.

So it was bad news for a while for independent bookstores – you know, those tiny neighbourhood shops crowded with books and run by a dedicated owner or two. Chain bookstores were swallowing up their business left and right. Thousands closed as big-box retailers like Barnes & Noble and Borders took over (or Chapters and Indigo bookstores, if you’re from Canada, like me). But, in case you haven’t noticed, it’s these very chains that are now in danger from online retailers like Amazon. While your local independent bookstore (the ones that survived, at least) has managed to hang onto loyal customers and stay afloat.

In fact, Slate magazine recently reported sales at independent bookstores have grown 8 percent a year over the past three years.* Indie bookstores have done particularly well in categories that Amazon has not managed to take over with ebooks, such as hardcover nonfiction. Also, they’re under less pressure to have a high turnover of merchandise, so they have can a bigger selection of old, well-loved classics.

As for me, I publish ebooks on Amazon (and other platforms), but I would never want Amazon to rule the whole book market. I am a reader as well as a writer. I applaud indie bookstores’ tenacity at staying in the game, and catering to specific customers’ needs. Is there anything more comforting than browse rows of dusty classics, after all? And perhaps picking up a book to read you never knew you wanted to read?

In addition, it just makes sense these bookstores would thrive on hardcover books, nonfiction especially. As I’ve argued before, ebooks will never completely replace print. There will always be some works you want to have a hard copy of, and likely a good quality hardcover copy of, as the work has value to you. And illustrated books such as children’s books and cookbooks do not translate as nicely to an ebook format, at least at the moment.

Lastly, I also have this ingrained impression that big-box bookstores are evil – my youth was filled with frantic media stories about how chain bookstores would take over the world. (The movie You’ve Got Mail can’t have helped – the plot concerns a small bookstore owner put out of business by a dastardly big-box store owner… whom she falls in love with, of course). So my inner instinct is to cheer when I hear they’re in trouble. Size is great – until it makes you so inflexible that more nimble competitors can take you down before you realize it! However, to gloat over the currently downtrodden seems a little mean.

What do you think? Do you think indie bookstores are doing better than ever? Where do you shop?

As a final note in support of certain printed books, here is a humorous take by IKEA on the superiority of their print catalogue to the electronic version:

* The stats from the Slate article refer to American bookstore – I’m not sure what the comparable stats for Canada, or elsewhere in the world, would be. Let’s hope they’re

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J.K. Rowling is Not Dead – But Why Does She Want You To Know What Harry’s Up To?

Hogwarts Coat of Arms, by Jmh2o. CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1

Hogwarts Coat of Arms, by Jmh2o. CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1

J.K. Rowling, as the infamous Rita Skeeter, wrote a follow-up to Harry Potter. Harry has a new scar. He and Ginny might be having problems. Ron’s hair is thinning, while Hermione’s hair is – still not behaving. And so on.

Heresy, you might cry. The Harry Potter series is finished. Who does this J.K. Rowling person think she is, going back and adding stuff? This is just as bad as the time she declared Ron and Hermione should’ve never gotten married, and that Harry was Hermione’s One True Pairing after all. She went and wrote a whole sappy epilogue, naming each and every one of their children, and why did she do that if it was all a mistake?

Does an author have a right to do this – this is the question.

The Stakes:

This is a legitimate argument. This is legitimate because it’s a question that faces all authors and readers – is the printed word the final word? Or can the author go back later and say she or he did it wrong, and really it all should’ve turned out completely differently? Or, most shockingly of all, should we bow to the readers, and agree that whatever the readers feel happened is what really happened, even if it’s completely delusional?

This is essential because on one hand we’ve got English teachers refusing to explain literature, and asking us what we think happened, because it’s our feelings and our mistaken understanding of whatever it was Shakespeare was really getting at that really matters… and then on the other hand we have fans endlessly hounding authors for every little detail of their fictional world. What is truth? Who gets to decide? (And doesn’t this line up with some other of our culture’s debates over truth or the lack of it?)

The Harry Potter series illuminates this dilemma perfectly, in a way perhaps no other series ever has.

My Too-Simple Solution

Take the Ron/Hermione/Harry debate. If you want to get Harry Potter fan riled up, do bring this up. I met a couple random strangers on a sunny evening in Paris, and this was a topic we debated, because we all knew about Harry Potter. And most people will take sides, as to whether the books support either pairing. But that’s not the fundamental question. The fundamental question is – can an author go back and change something she wrote down as actually having happened? In this case, say Ron and Hermione’s relationship was a mistake?

Here’s what my position was that sunny evening in Paris. Basically – what the author wrote should be it. The printed word is what the reader experiences, so a couple verbal sentences tossed off in an interview shouldn’t be able to contradict anything. Now, if the author wants to go and write another sequel, and explain how things didn’t quite turn out as well as the previous book presented them, well then, go ahead. But respect your work and stand by it otherwise.

This seemed entirely reasonable to me at the time, but now I realize it’s not quite that simple.

Modern Fiction is More Than the Printed Word

Because we don’t live in a world where our experiences are limited to the printed page anymore. It’s not a singular experience between the covers of a book, or an episode of TV viewed once, or a movie you only caught in theatres. No, nowadays our stories can be watched and re-watched, and we can compile characters lists, and lists of tropes, and make vast encyclopedias of every little detail of a work we love. And we create, most importantly, fan communities. And somehow author’s works are not mere stories, but worlds, and these world spill beyond whatever medium the story was originally told in.

Obviously, this is all thanks to the internet. And Harry Potter’s popularity has been fueled by the internet in a way few books before it ever were. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in 1997. And during the late 1990s, traffic on the internet was growing by about a hundred percent a year. How much of that traffic was on Harry Potter fan websites and communities I’m not sure, but there was a good chunk of it that drove the fan experience.

So the readers’ experience with Harry Potter likely goes beyond the printed page. We’d debate and predict endless theories of what would happen, and view each others’ fanart, and look at fanfiction. And this runs right up against another darling literary concept, and drives this whole debate.

Killing ‘Death of the Author’

There’s a lovely little concept known as ‘death of author’ – in other words, it’s the idea that an author’s own interpretation of their work is no more valid than anyone else’s. Whatever their intentions are, it’s not important, so endless debates over the author’s intentions are meaningless. What matters is what the reader gets when reading it. Authors tend to not love this idea, of course, not in the least because in theory someone could declare what you wrote means the opposite of what you meant.

This is a concept J.K. Rowling seems to have devoted her Harry Potter series to fighting. Whether this was intentional, I’m not sure. But it’s plain as the nose on your face that she doesn’t believe in it.

Obviously, she does think she has the creative ability to add details to the story after the fact, whether it’s by announcing Dumbledore is gay, or Ron and Hermione’s relationship was a mistake, or hinting Harry and Ginny may not be completely happy. She happily feeds her fan communities the details they clamour for. And you know what? She’s always done that – she’s always extended the world of Harry Potter beyond the printed page.

Between the releases of her books, she used to post elaborate puzzles that led to clues for the new book’s title, or hold polls as to which question about the book she should answer. And then, when the series was done, she granted interviews to a couple of webmasters of incredibly popular Harry Potter websites, to fill in all the details that the series hadn’t addressed. Including, incidentally, her opinion at the time on Harry-and-Hermione (that believers in that ship were ‘delusional.’ How times change!) Lastly, she’s created Pottermore. That’s like spitting in the face of ‘death of the author.’ This author is definitely alive!

Does this give me hope? Does it give me the authority to tell readers what I really meant when I wrote those ebooks you see over to the right of my blog? You know, I suddenly find leaning towards the readers’ side. Because, come to think of it, I don’t always want to know every single details about these fictional world. And some of these details I would like to know – I’d like to experience them on the printed page, finding them out through the eyes of another character, rather than from the mouth of the author herself. That almost collapses the suspension of disbelief, injecting the reality of the author too firmly onto a fantasy. That’s not what I’m advocating for.

Oh dear, I’m going to argue for, of all things – balance. Once again. You need to leave the reader with some freedom to own their own experience in a book. But you don’t have to hand over the reins.

 

What do you think? Who should get the final say? And do agree J.K. Rowling is dealing a blow to death of the author?

 

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When Fantasy is Self-Indulgent

Note: This should’ve gone up Friday. In fact, it would’ve gone up Friday – was all ready to go up Friday – when my computer experienced internet connectivity issues. So, you get to enjoy it today instead!

A major part of writing fantasy is world-building – everyone agrees about that. What’s the point of setting your plot on another world, if everything that happens could’ve occurred in the very city you live in without anyone blinking an eyelash? Characters have to act in a realistic other world, a world that is somehow different than the world we live in.* This is the fun part of fantasy, but also one of its pitfalls.

And not just the realistic part. It’s tough to think up another world all on your own, and not even Tolkien’s world is without its flaws (Tolkien, by the way, admitted once or twice that the geography of Middle Earth was sadly unrealistic). Another pitfall is, after putting all your effort into dreaming up a wonderful alternate reality, you want people to know how much thought you put into it.

Shown their work” is one name for this, and don’t get me wrong, this can be done well. But everyone’s heard of historical novels where characters spend pages explaining the political situation of their time to each other, just so the reader knows how much effort the author put into this. And, you know, the exact same thing can be done in fantasy novels, and is definitely one of the reasons non-fantasy readers find them boring. Because there is usually a LOT of back story about the setting, characters and society that somehow has to get across.

I’ve certainly got the feeling before, while reading fantasy novels recommended to me as “good,” that these particular characters are chasing this particular MacGuffin into this particular country, just so the author can show off the fact he/she actually INVENTED another country/society/setting in their fantasy world. That their world has breadth and depth, just like the real world. But in reality, those scenes could be cut from the book and the only result would be that the plot would move along a little faster.

Or, the feeling that a particular fantasy series is going on forever because the author wants to explore the outer edges of his world, while the reader would be perfectly satisfied for the plot to just get on, already!

In these cases, the reader feels like the world was created far more for the author’s own pleasure than for the readers’. That we are just being dragged into a very long trip into someone else’s imagination – someone who is very proud of their imagination, and thinks the sheer scope and force of their imagination will convince everyone else it’s good too. When, in reality, the story is lost behind dense layers of self-indulgence.

I’m speaking here as a reader and not a writer, obviously. I know it’s a tricky balance, getting out everything you need to say in a story without destroying the illusion by saying too much.

Anyway, I’d just like to point out at the end, instead of listing off every terrible fantasy book out there (which would really just be tearing other authors down, rather than saying anything useful), one author who does not fall into this pitfall. You can pick up any of her books and feel the full force of disorientation of falling into a fully realized world in the first chapter. Very little is carefully explained, but none of it feels like it was hurriedly thought up at the last minute. She’s done her world-building, but she doesn’t tediously show it off.

I’m talking about Diana Wynne Jones here, of course.

According to her, the reason she doesn’t feel this urge to precisely describe every aspect of her world-building is because she spent so much of her career writing for children. In her own words, here’s a brilliant quote that explains why this is:

 “When I was asked if I’d like to try my hand at an adult novel, I most joyfully agreed… I found myself thinking as I wrote, “These poor adults are never going to understand this; I must explain it to them twice more and then remind them again later in different terms.” Now this is something I never have to think when I write for younger readers. Children are used to making an effort to understand… I can rely on this. I can make my plots for them as complex as I please, and yet I know I never have to explain them more than once (or twice at the very most). And here I was, writing for people of fifteen and over, assuming that the people who read, say, Fire and Hemlock last year have now given up using their brains.”

 This is, perhaps, why I have such trouble finding new fantasy books to read, despite my love of the genre. I don’t mind if every little detail isn’t explained – as long as there’s enough details for me to put things together. I don’t need every book to be a doorstopper. So I often find myself reading children’s fantasy, and I’m not ashamed of it. I still hold out the hope, though, that I’ll find more fantasy novels that I truly enjoy.

* I recognize many fantasy novels are set in our world, but by this sentence I mean in those novels our world has to be our world but different, for it to truly be a fantasy novel. You know, like in Harry Potter, where wizards and witches live hidden under our very noses. And so on. In this case, using our world as a setting is using it as more of an alternate fantasy version of our world.

** After complaining about the above at length, I realize it’s almost hypocritical of me to still love Lord of the Rings. But I’m willing to make an exception for Lord of the Rings. Because it’s – well, it’s Lord of the Rings.

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Let’s Call the Ebook Something Else – It’s Not Really a Book, Anyway

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle Touch, by IntelFreePress (CC BY 2.0)

“We need a new word for ‘e-book,’” Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich declare in Slate – basically arguing that process of reading things electronically is so fundamentally different from reading the printed word that they shouldn’t be compared.

Well, they do have a point. When I read stuff online, I frequently fall down a rabbit hole in a way I never do when reading a book or magazine. I follow link after link, and discover I’ve learned a truckload of information on, say, Les Miserables, when I did not intend to do so when I sat down at that computer. But it was just so interesting. And, Finn and Eschrich argue, ‘e-books’ have the potential to tap into the fundamentally different world of electronic reading, by experimenting with crowdsourcing, embedding videos, and faster publication. And this ‘reading experience’ should be known by another word than ‘book.’

Yes, a book is different than electronic reading in my experience too. When I turn back to print, I have to consciously shut off my ADD tendencies learned from online reading and link-skimming, and commit. Frequently, I force myself to finish books just so I don’t succumb to a short-attention span completely. And, the amazing thing is, once I shut off the ‘skim-reading’ part of my mind, I can suddenly fall into a deeper reading experience than I ever do with online/electronic reading.

 To be clear, I love BOTH types of reading – the exhilaration of link-skimming and information overload, and the deeper experience of committing to a book. But I mean to underline here that I agree the two experiences are very different – and that currently e-books exist in a funny kind of limbo between the two types of reading. And that the world of e-books could be broadened in a way that makes them bigger than their current existence as electronic copies of printed books (though whether this will happen is a different story). But if this does happen, a new name for e-books could help people understand how e-books are different than books, and take advantage of the fact they are electronic.

 However, I have a couple things to say about Finn and Eschrich’s choice of a replacement word for ‘e-book.’ They want to call it a codeX. First, what I like about the word, and then what I don’t.

 I like the roots of the word, in ‘codex.’ I love history, so a term with a long history behind it, and a reason for using it, makes me feel warm and cozy instead. (I am just naturally drawn to stuff with a history, that’s just the way I am. Anything brand-new makes me feel empty and sterile).

 Now, for the bad – I really, really hate the CamelCase. CamelCase is random, capitalized letters in the middle of a word. In many cases, especially in things like URLs, using CamelCase does make things easier to read and remember (for example, HarmaMaeSmit.com instead of harmamamesmit.com). But in this case, it looks like the X is random, and it would be pronounced the same way no matter which letter is capitalized.

 Secondly, ‘X’ is pretty much shorthand for making things sound science-y, modern and technology – ‘X-rays,’ ‘Xanax,’ and ‘Xerox.’ (both ‘x’ and ‘z’ are prone to this – see the number of drug names with those letters in it). This runs the danger of making the word look out-of-date when the technology is no longer brand-new – see ‘X-ray’ and ‘Xerox,’ above –and I can definitely see the word codeX falling into this. For example, in the nineties’, it was cool to put ‘e’ in front of everything technological, and then it was cool to put ‘i’ in front when the iPod came out, and now brands who did these look like they just jumped on a bandwagon.

 To follow up on that point – we don’t need to make books sound cutting-edge to make people want to read them, and many people who read lots don’t care about being cutting edge. I’d be okay with just calling it a ‘codex,’ though I can see people might be afraid it sounds too academic. After all, ‘e-book’ sounds familiar. It sounds like something you already have experience with.

Basically – if we have to a a new word for ‘e-book,’ let’s make sure it doesn’t sound gimmicky, shall we? 

But don’t worry, I haven’t seen any signs that vast hordes of readers are rallying behind this new name for e-books, which means the name probably won’t change any time in the near future. But I do think the idea of emphasizing how different e-reading is from print reading is an interesting one. In a world where Apple is patenting a way for authors to electronically authorize e-books, and most electronic publishers are slavishly trying to copy every aspect of a print book, the idea of trying to find a new path for electronic publishing that takes advantage of the very ‘electronic-nish’ of it could change publishing forever.

It’s just that no one’s quite figured out how to do it yet.

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Peck Out Her Eyes, She Deserves It!

Vindictiveness in Fiction

'Just Desserts,' by Paulina Smit. Creative Commons.

‘Just Desserts,’ by Paulina Smit. Creative Commons.

Some versions of Cinderella end with her ordering her bird-friends to peck out her stepsisters’ eyes. Yes, the sweet, lovely Cinderella whom we all heard about as a kid – though clearly not the Disney version. Apparently she decided to take revenge and punish her sisters by blinding them in the most gruesome way she could think of. Or, in other versions of the story, exiling them to the wilderness, or forcing them to be slaves.

 I always preferred the endings where she invites her stepsisters and stepmother to live in the castle instead, and teaches them how to be gracious. After all, Cinderella is supposed to be better than them, and if she resorts to petty vindictiveness to punish them, how is she better than her stepsisters, who mistreated her because she was prettier than them?

(See my version of Cinderella, Prince Charming, to see what I think about the character of the prince!)

 I always wanted to think if anyone could be outstandingly forgiving, it was Cinderella. And I always wanted to think the stepsisters learned to be better people after what happened. Maybe I’m just an optimist about humanity.

 But, strangely enough, vindictiveness is a strong theme in many works of fiction. I mean, take The Count of Monte Cristo. This is a book completely centred around a man taking revenge, it is regarded as a true classic, and its plot keeps getting used by many other works (the movie, The Mask of Zorro, for instance, and Charade, an actual Christian inspirational fiction book that uses the same plot).

 In the book, the Count of Monte Cristo takes great pleasure in revenge. He manipulates a man’s wife to commit suicide and take her son with her as well, driving the man insane. Then he destitutes another man, and causes a third to commit suicide. Of course, the point of the book is that they all deserved it, but still…

 Clearly, punishing people who were mean to you is attractive to most readers, and I’m not really surprised this natural human reaction is so popular. Everyone likes to see someone get their comeuppance. I am surprised that I don’t enjoy it. Like I said before, I like the versions of Cinderella where she doesn’t punish her stepsisters, and the parts of The Count of Monte Cristo where he relents instead of taking revenge. But this quirk of mine ends up interfering with my enjoyment of other classics as well.

 Take Roald Dahl. Everyone loves Roald Dahl! Everyone’s read at least a dozen of his books in their childhood – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, etc. So I read them too, and they confused me like crazy. As a kid, I couldn’t figure out if I was supposed to laugh or feel bad (I actually felt bad) when James’ aunts get flattened by the giant peach, or Veruca Salt gets carried away by squirrels.

 So while I knew these books were wonderfully creative and inventive – no one’s written about being inside a chocolate factory before! And definitely not a chocolate factory that was so fun – I couldn’t get past feeling uncomfortable with them. In this case, I never particularly felt that the characters in the book were the vindictive ones – Charlie, or James, for example. It was just this undercurrent of vindictiveness that ran through most of the books – as if the author himself was exorcizing his demons.

 So here’s the thing – bad characters should learn something, or be punished, or whatever makes a satisfactory ending to a story. But what I find uncomfortable is when other characters take this into their own hands. Because I don’t believe we ever see things quite clearly when we’ve been hurt. And I’m always afraid that taking this kind of revenge just tangles things up and makes them worse.

But that’s just me. What do you think about vindictiveness in fiction?

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Filed under GENERAL Bookish Thoughts, Misc. Books, Prince Charming Extras