Category Archives: Ebooks

In Jane Austen, Nice Guys Finish First

Girls go for the bad guys, they say, and nice guys finish last. If so, then Jane Austen has achieved an amazing feat of literature by creating nice guys you want to cheer for. Nice guys many females claim they’d like to date. Nice guys who aren’t boring, but actually readable.

I realized this while reading several people online insist Frank Churchill and Henry Crawford are far more interesting than their romantic rivals (the nice guys who actually get the girl, in other words) – George Knightley and Edmund Bertram.

This is craziness, of course. You’d have to be pretty committed to living a lifetime of misery to choose Frank Churchill or Henry Crawford over George Knightley or Edmund Bertram. Let’s see why:

George Knightley:

Okay, let’s look at George Knightley first. He’s too demanding, his detractors claim. He tells Emma what to do, and yells at her when she doesn’t do something right. He’s stuck to some kind of outdated set of morals, and wants Emma to follow them too.

In contrast, Frank Churchill – well, he’s fun. (According to the anti-Knightley people, anyway). He and Emma joke around, enjoy themselves, don’t take things too seriously. Wouldn’t a marriage between them just be great fun?

Sure… until you remember Frank and Emma’s ‘fun’ is at other people’s expense, and this is exactly what Knightley was being a ‘stick-in-the-mud’ about. Emma could’ve hitched herself to a guy who was rather callous about other people’s feelings – teasing people who maybe can’t take it at the moment, flirting to make his fiancée jealous, using his charm to get away with things. At heart he’s not a villain, but his charm doesn’t make up for all his faults.

And when it comes to Knightley – you know, it’s totally okay for a guy to call a girl out on something if she’s actually wrong about it – it’s not a symbol of patriarchy or an outdated moral code. It’s merely reasonable, and I hope whoever I’d get engaged to would do the same to me. Emma was a rather frightening person for anyone in the novel to call out on her behaviour anyway, and Mr. Knightley is the only one who does it – you could say he was of equal or superior social standing so that helped make him brave enough, but then you’d be forgetting one thing. You’d be forgetting he was in love with her – who wants to risk criticizing the person you’re crazy about? He doesn’t want to lecture her. He’d rather not open her eyes to how thoughtless and cruel she’s being to others around her (at Frank’s instigation). It’s a sign of the strength of Mr. Knightley’s moral fibre that he does anyway.

And as for fun – he and Emma have lovely debates that do not descend into bickering. Being able to disagree well, and able to debate well, is one thing I think of as fun. Maybe I’m alone here…

Anyway, he’s a ‘nice guy.’ And he gets the girl. Austen writes Emma as a girl who realizes exactly what the worth of Mr. Knightley is, and doesn’t despise him for being less charming than Frank Churchill.

Edmund Bertram:

Okay, now Edmund Bertram. I have to admit, Edmund Bertram is dreadfully boring – the worst of Jane Austen’s heroes. (Jane Austen fans – if Edmund Bertram is your favourite, stick up your hand now – I’ve never met one of you yet.) He hurts Fanny over and over – completely clueless because he doesn’t know she’s desperately in love with him, but still, he hurts her. And he dithers the whole novel over this other girl who’s just charm and a pretty face (according to Austen, at least).

And Henry Crawford – he comes closest of any of Austen’s villains to being reformed.

But really, Edmund Bertram is a nice guy. He loves Fanny as a sister, not a potential wife, and that’s not really his fault since they grew up together. He doesn’t even know how much it hurts Fanny to see him with this other girl, since he actually thinks Fanny likes this girl.

Whereas Henry Crawford just starts flirting with Fanny to see if he can get her to fall for him. Sure, he claims his feelings grow deeper as time goes on, but it says something about him when you know where it started. Would he really have ‘reformed’ for her? How often do people change themselves for the better for another, and how long does that kind of change stick? He doesn’t start as a nice guy, and after all the events of the novel, he doesn’t end as one either (leaving Fanny’s cousin Maria with her reputation in tatters, and abandoning her to her fate.)

Reformed bad boys may be exciting, but in Jane Austen the nice guys finish first. (Edmund wises up to Fanny’s charms in the end…)

I’ve ranted about Mansfield Park before, if you want to read it it’s here.

Austen’s other novels:

I don’t think I have to do too much convincing to argue Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon are far nicer guys than Willoughby, or that Henry Tilney (how I love this character’s snark!) is nicer than John Thorpe – and especially the General and Frederick Tilney.

And now we come to Mr. Darcy…

Mr. Darcy:

Aha, someone is arguing now. What about the most famous of them all – Mr. Darcy? Isn’t he emphatically a stuck-up prig in Pride and Prejudice, and doesn’t that show girls only want arrogant dudes who look down on them?

No, think of Mr. Darcy as that awkward dude at the party, who doesn’t quite know how to talk to anyone. When he does talk, he just makes people look at him strange. Completely socially awkward, especially in comparison with smooth talkers like Wickham. Haven’t you met people like that? Maybe ignored people like that?

You’d be right if you insisted Darcy is a bit too condescending and superior at first (awkwardly superior), but he does learn, and more importantly, Elizabeth doesn’t fall for him until AFTER he learns. (Contrary to how she is often portrayed by people, she DOESN’T feel any hidden, burning attraction to him at the beginning of the novel at all. No slap-slap/kiss-kiss, in other words.) He has to be a nice guy first.

Compare this to several Bronte heroes. Now, I’ve never been able to get into their books, and I really should give them another chance because I have reread books before and liked them so much more the second time. BUT I confess to a complete inability to see how Heathcliff, or even Rochester, is romantic at all. If you want to be treated horribly, sure, by all means fall in love with them. Let one lie to you, and the other be all moody and violent. Ugh, so romantic.

In Conclusion:

Authors can write their ‘nice guys’ as Mary Sues (or Gary Stus or whatever you want to call the male version) – far too easily. I’ve read many novels where the romantic hero is very, very boring. He’s supposed to be the epitome of good, and he is, to the point of dullness. The solution to this, it is said, is to add faults.

But add too many faults, and you just end up reinforcing the trope, “All Girls Want Bad Boys.”

It takes a genius like Jane Austen to make the nice-guy heroes be exactly the kind of person real-life women would fall in love with.

What do you think? Girls, who’s your favourite Austen character? Guys, are you ever offended by which Austen men get the girl in the end?

Also – I just released my sixth short ebook this weekend – it’s a romantic short story about one girl’s confidence or lack thereof towards one guy, and it’s called Lookin’ Good. Check it out and drop me a line or review telling me what you think!

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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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E-books Have Not Killed the Printed Book (Yet)

Two years ago, I asked the question, will e-books replace the printed book? Will we turn into a world of readers who stare at the glowing screen, instead of burrowing our noses in the musty pages of a hardcover? And I predicted that the good old printed book will never go extinct. Not completely. If vinyl records are still being used by music lovers, why wouldn’t printed books stick around for all of us book lovers? And it looks like, so far, the evidence bears me out.

I obviously have a vested interest in whether e-books are read by anyone – I’ve published several short stories in this format. But, as a reader, I will never lose my fondness for actual pages. And recently Time magazine reported that printed books are not dying, despite all dire predictions. And, as a bonus to me, e-book sales are still increasing alongside. So the conclusion basically is – e-books are a great, portable complement to printed books. People don’t feel like they have to choose only one or the other. And really, that’s great. There’s no reason this has to be an either-or situation. It just makes a good story to declare this an all-out war.

Of course, this study is just a snapshot of how things are right now. Everything and anything could change in the future. People might start exclusively buying e-books. Or e-books might just turn out to be a fad after all. But at the moment, it looks like both the printed book and the e-books have staying power.

What about you – do you find you read both E-books and printed books, or only one or the other?

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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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Is the Paperback Really Dying?

Maybe It Isn’t

E-books are taking over and traditional publishing is dying, or so the current narrative goes. E-book sales are going by leaps and bounds – apparently 2011’s sales were double that of 2010’s- and this clearly doesn’t bode well for the sales of cheap paperbacks. Readers might shell out for nice hardcovers if they want a physical copy of a book. But why shell out for a paperback?

Enter the article, “Is the Paperback Dead? Readers Still Love Them, But Publishers Want Them to go Away.” And why do publishers want them to go away? “[B]ecause paperbacks are the most common books to be bought secondhand…  A paperback copy of, say, Eat Pray Love can be sold and resold ad infinitum, thanks to Amazon and your local used book store. But for multiple people to read that same book on a Kindle or Nook, each of them has to buy it for $10.”

So it’s all a conspiracy, then! We’re doomed!

There might be a smidge of truth in this. After all, wasn’t the gaming community up in arms at recently over the way the new X-box restricted the use of used games? And apparently some court ruled MP3s can’t be resold. So – it does make sense for a company to want to reduce the ways other people can make money by re-selling their product.

But people still love paperbacks. Paperbacks are less of a wrench to give away to someone you know will never give them back. Used bookstores are exciting places to find a new read – and are one method of “discoverability” that the internet will have trouble replicating.  And, well, as long as enough people buy them, they probably will still sell them.

Therefore, I wouldn’t bank on the fact e-books will immediately and irreversibly replace the paperback in the near future. After all, the last telegram in the world will be sent in India on July 14. In this age of cellphones and even plain old landlines, some people still rely on the telegram! Technology does not a die a quick death. And I wouldn’t say the paperback’s death is absolutely guaranteed.

So get ye down to the bookstore and check out these old-fashioned things called ‘books’!

Harma-Mae Smit is an author of e-books, but she has a very soft spot in her heart for paperbacks and used bookstores as well.

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Another E-book Prediction Link

So I’ve spent the last three days trying to fight off a nasty virus of some kind, and though my head is swimming with all kinds of great ideas for blog posts (thanks to the stress of exams finally being over), I have almost no energy to write them. Therefore, I will follow up on my previous post, ‘Will E-books Kill the Printed Book?‘ by sharing this link on how book design will change as a result of e-books. It comes to similar conclusions my post did – that paper books probably will continue to exist, even if just for a high-end market of paper book snobs. It’s far more pessimistic than I am though. While I can see such a future might happen, I am by no means convinced it will. But either way – enjoy.

‘What Will Become of the Paper Book?’ Slate.com

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Remembering E-book Details – Harder Than With Print

I realized I should’ve mentioned earlier that no post would be going up yesterday, since it was Good Friday and a holiday (and wow, I was glad to have a holiday after writing so many history papers!) Instead, I’m putting up a short post today. I came across this article on Time.com the other day, discussing how our minds just don’t absorb the details of what we read as well when we read e-books, as when we read the same book in print. And I have to agree, to some extent.

I don’t read too many e-books, but I read (far too many) articles online, and though I usually remember the main idea of the article, I don’t do as well on the details. Sometimes I read the same thing twice before realizing I’ve actually read it a few months before. It’s enough to make me wonder if I actually read to get information, or if this is just a symptom of impending information addiction – an odd condition where the pleasure of finding out something new is, well, incredibly addicting. (On the other hand, I also apply what I read in numerous ways, including on this blog, so hopefully I don’t skate too close to the edge of surfing the ‘net just for the high it gives me. 🙂 )

I also sometimes am assigned textbooks as e-books, and it is sometimes incredibly difficult to absorb the information from them . On the other hand, I love the fact I save money on them, and will always choose textbook available as a free e-book from the library over being gouged on the print version. Another upside is being able to easily search the text for a keyword, or a half-remembered argument you were sure the author made somewhere in the book, rather than endlessly skimming print pages in a fruitless search for a certain quotation.

The argument in the Time article is that people remember things better in the print version by landmarking where they found information, such as remembering it was at the bottom of a page near an end of a chapter, and this was incredibly interesting to me. Sometimes, when writing an exam, I can see exactly where the information I need to know was in my textbook (though it has happened that I still have no idea what the answer is). If only my memory worked like a camera!

And, lastly, this leads to interesting implications for writers of e-books. Maybe intense fantasy tomes with hundreds and hundreds of names, and an incredibly complex invented society, are not the best choices when writing an e-book. Maybe readers are actually looking for a simple story, “light reading,” that’s a pleasant distraction while riding the bus. I wonder if, in the future, authors will write differently if they intend their work to be an e-book, or if they intend it to be released as a print version. It depends how well this e-book craze takes hold. I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

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Will E-books Kill the Printed Book?

Library

All those books! {{PD-US}}

A lot of hardcore readers were doubtful when the Kindle came out, but there’s no denying sales of e-books have skyrocketed these past few years. More and more people own e-readers, and several authors are making more money self-publishing electronically than they could ever make with a traditional publisher. Does this spell death for the printed book? The very idea has ardent readers up in arms. Reading electronically is not the same. A Kindle can never replace the feeling of holding a book in your hand. What if you want to doodle in the margins?

When I first heard about Amazon Kindle, I was horrified. I love books. I love the musty smell of libraries, even if it means I’m supposed to be studying. I love how different books all smell different, and if I had my way I would have a double-storey library in my house with little ladders going to all the different levels. How could an electronic device ever replicate that experience?

Bloggers have a field day, arguing for one side or the other – but defenders of printed books tend to be more common. For example, here’s one post that argues e-books bore him, because all the books end up looking the same on an e-reader. Author Jonathan Franzen argues e-books aren’t permanent enough. Another blog lists advantages and disadvantages and declares print books will never go extinct.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize there is a possibility e-book will win out.

After all, I only love books because I know books. What if you grew up reading all your books on the iPad or whatever your parents bought for you? Then there’s no physical reality of books to miss. If kids are far more comfortable in a digital world, which more and more they are, then an electronic book will be the thing that makes the most sense to them. Think about the advantages of CDs and records – those little liner notes that came with the album, all the artwork that indicates what the album is like, the experience of listening to an album as a cohesive whole. CDs are still considered to have superior sound quality, and everyone knows the crackle and pop of records lends a warmth to the music you just can’t get any other way. Yet none of that prevented people from switching wholesale to MP3s, iPods and the rest of it. However nostalgic people might feel for that stuff, iPods are just too practical to give up.

And if e-books are convenient, cheap (cheap is important, because no one wants to pay for an e-books that’s only a couple dollars less than the printed version), and integrated with our cellphones or something, they could easily become the dominant mode for reading.

But I still think the printed book will never die. Not just out of nostalgia, even though I will always love the ‘book experience.’ But because there will always be someone or other who just finds print more convenient, or doesn’t own an e-reader, or loves real books too much. Going back to the CD and record example, you can still buy both of those technologies. Bands even release new music on records, from time to time. So no matter how obsolete printed books become, there will always be a niche market for them. And, after all, with print-on-demand and other new publishing technologies, you can always set up a book to be printed on the off-chance someone comes along who would prefer to read it that way.

Worst case scenario: You cannot buy printed books except from speciality publishers who produce high-quality hardcover books for library enthusiasts to purchase. They’d be more expensive, of course, and there wouldn’t be much point in paperbacks if you can pick up a cheap electronic version for a dollar or something. But they would exist, because enough people love books.

But I don’t truly think it’ll be that bad. It’s more likely both print and e-books will co-exist side-by-side, and people will buy whatever version they want. They may even test out multiple e-books, before deciding which ones to purchase in the printed version. And while publishers and bookstores will move more and more towards printing-on-demand – a move I would support, since it’s ridiculous to print thousands of copies of something and then trash them all when they don’t sell – they would still be printing things.

And that’s a world that most of us book-lovers could live in.

 

What are your predictions for the future of books?

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The E-Publishing Experiment

Spring Fever, by Harma-Mae Smit. Cover by Paulina D. (all rights reserved)

So I decided to take a shot at e-publishing. If you listen to the hype, the world of e-publishing has exploded in the last couple years—it is the way of the future, it will revolutionize the industry, and so on and so forth. I’m not sure if all the evidence supporting that is in yet, but I still think e-publishing is a worthwhile experiment for authors. Which is why I e-published a short Christmas story yesterday. After all, what have I got to lose?

Only the chance of ever being taken seriously by traditional publishers, if you listen to the detractors of e-publishing. Self-published e-books look amateur, are unedited, and only sell if you’re lucky. Hmmm…

Oh well. I can’t get a feel for something until I try it, which is the reason for this experiment. I don’t expect to become a best-selling author by next Monday, that’s for sure. But how am I going to understand this new world if I don’t dip my feet in? It is just so different from the traditional route—already my head is whirling with different distribution platforms, methods of advertising, and formatting issues. And thus, Spring Fever (yes, that’s really the title, though it has to do with both Christmas and spring) has been published.

You may think this post is just a plug to let all my lovely readers know I have e-published something (I don’t know if the word ‘self-published’ makes sense because I’m not really doing the publishing myself). But truly, I want to hear your thoughts on e-publishing. Just a fad, or here to stay? Would you try it?

 

 (Spring Fever is available at Smashwords and Amazon)

Note: yes, I did forget to post on Wednesday. How could I forget??? I blame it on exam-and-paper stress.

(This post contains affiliate links)

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