Author Archive

The best e-reader

- July 24th, 2014

Regular readers know I’ve gone through several e-readers and tablets in order to perfect my reading experience. My wife still uses the Kindle 2. I have a soft spot for it. I like the fact you don’t have to touch the screen to turn the page. Clicking the button on the side always gets you a result. Even on my iPad and iPad mini, it sometimes takes a second touch or swipe to turn the page.

I had the second version of the Kindle Paperwhite. I hated the fact it was black. It was always dusty looking with fingerprints. There were still some shadows around the edges, although the latest Paperwhites reportedly have a better display. I also tried out the Kobo arc HD. That was a gorgeous screen and I liked the body as well. The problem is I didn’t have access to my Kindle library.

The iPad is good, but a little heavy. Finally, I ended up with the mini. A few months ago, I blogged that this tablet was the perfect e-reader. Light but with some substance. Super fast, easy on the eyes, just the right size. Access to numerous reading apps. And its speed and screen made for a better shopping experience as well.

A few people suggested it was unfair to compare the mini with a true e-reader advice. They are two different products. One is an e-reader and one is a tablet. Good point. Perhaps a better way to have framed the discussion was to look at what is the best reading device — a tablet or an e-reader. Either way, I still stick with my original conclusion. If you have the money, a tablet makes for the best e-reading experience.

So what’s new? Well, I’m starting to think that the latest version of the iPad, the one that weighs one pound, might turn out to be better than the mini. Of course, I can only really test that theory by buying a new iPad. Hmmm. Let’s see. I’ve own two Kindles and two iPads. Do I dare bring a fifth device home? Stay tuned.

Game of Thrones

- July 23rd, 2014

Millions of people have read the Game of Thrones series. I really had no interest, but after I finish the latest mystery I’m reading, I think I’d like to tackle some different genres over the next few weeks.

I was at Chapters the other day and Game of Thrones was in a prominent spot, so I decided to read the first few pages. I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but I am a fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. A lot of people have said Game of Thrones is the best fantasy series, ranking up there with Lord of the Rings, perhaps even surpassing it. That’s high praise.

I checked the Kindle as there is now way I’m going to read an 800-page novel any other way. Great news. I can have the first Game of Thrones for $11. That’s a great price. There’s also a boxed set for $40 that contains the first five novels. However, readers have complained that it comes as one 5,000-page book. They would have rather seen five separate covers.

If there are any Game of Thrones fans out there, drop me a line. I’d like to know what you think of the series or at the very least, the first book.

Lee Child and John D. Macdonald

- July 22nd, 2014

I started reading the Travis McGee series by the late John D. MacDonald. I have most of the books in paperback editions but I wanted to start with the first book again and do the whole series in order. The books were re-released a couple of years ago and the covers are beautiful and look great as well on the iPad mini.

I’m on book 4, The Quick Red Fox. I had noticed that these new editions came with a forward by Lee Child, another favourite author of mine and the creator of the Jack Reacher series. At first I thought, oh, that’s nice. Lee Child is a John D. Macdonald fan.

But then it hit me, there are a lot of similarities between Travis McGee and Jack Reacher. Both are big, both stand out in a crowd, they like their privacy, they make sure they do as little as possible to end up on anyone’s grid. In fact, it’s impossible to find Reacher. He’ll find you if he’s interested. McGee lives on a houseboat but is no more suited for the 9-5 world than Reacher. Although the difference is that Reacher for more than a decade was pretty good at following orders and working 9-5. But then again, McGee served in the army as well. Both are strong and rarely lose a fight. They have their own ideas about what justice means and when they are on your side, they are on your side to the end. Neither really cares about material things. McGee owns stuff, but as he muses in The Quick Red Fox, if it all sank, he wouldn’t miss most of it. He just wants enough money to avoid having to work full-time. In the early books, Reacher did need money and so he took jobs here and there — once as a bouncer, once as a pool digger.

So the most important question: Who would win a fight between the two men? Reacher could probably beat McGee, but it would be a hell of a battle. But McGee can probably think quicker on his feet. He’s better at improvisation. Reacher doesn’t really have much need or desire to disguise himself or pretend he’s anything other than what he is — a guy moving from town to town.

I love both characters and I’m sure I’ll read the books again when I’m looking for guaranteed enjoyment.

Reading the Internet

- July 21st, 2014

For the last decade, the Internet has turned upside down the way we consume news, entertainment, the way we shop, the way we research, all sorts of things. If you’re in the media, the Internet is one of the reasons the business is going down the toilet, but it’s also the reason why you can reach out to your audience anywhere and any time. As long as you have something the reader wants.

In the world of books, the Internet has made it easier to buy books, find out-of-print books, discover new authors, etc. But some will point out that the Internet has also ruined the art of reading, either with they-all-look-the-same e-books or just by the fact that people would rather read snippets of anything on the Net than sit down with a book.

I was reading a piece by New York Times writer David Carr this morning. He was writing about how print has a hard time competing with the Internet on breaking news like the downed airliner or the fighting in the Middle East. He also wrote about how staying informed when so much changes so quickly and is so readily available requires being constantly plugged in. There’s always another click of the mouse just waiting. There was one line in the article, though, that really stuck out for me.

“Then again, there are those who say that we see everything and remember nothing because we don’t have to, that the web now serves as our memory.”

What a wonderful line. It reminds me of the book, The Word Exchange, that I read this spring. With the Internet a memory of sorts, and with its ability to point us to things we don’t even know we want, it’s almost as if we’ve given up some control to the web. Looking for a book to read? Don’t worry, Kobo, Amazon, Chapters will all have suggestions for you based on your previous browsing experience and purchases. NetFlix does it, too. You like The IT Crowd? Here’s another British comedy we hope you will enjoy. Can’t remember if it’s i before e, don’t worry, just Google it.

In the world of books, the Internet has changed the way we consume books but not at the expense of the experience. Last week, I read My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard. The fact that I read it on my e-reader made it no less enjoyable or thought-provoking. The impact the Internet has on reading novels is that the Internet is another form of competition that wants to take your time away from books or whatever is your favourite activity. Thinking on what Carr wrote about the Internet serving as our memory, I’m glad I still read books and magazines. I’m forced to think, and hopefully to remember. Yes, I read the Internet, but thankfully I still find the time to read a good book.

Thoughts on My Struggle

- July 18th, 2014

I was a little slow to catch on to the buzz over Karl Ove Knausgaard’s novel My Struggle, the first of his six-novel autobiography. Only the first three have been translated into English.

The story is that this Norwegian writer got sick of writing fiction, something he was successful at. He believed the only writing worth reading any more was diaries or essays. I’ve only read book one, but I can tell you Knausgaard incorporates both. Some critics call him fearless, others call him shameless. The book was huge in Norway as many Europeans are not like North Americans. They don’t put every little detail of their life out there for someone else’s entertainment. So readers there found the book quite shocking in some ways.

The first book deals mostly with his childhood, his father’s death and their relationship. With the book, Knausgaard has angered a lot of people, including family members, by going into so much detail about the lives of the people around him. Most of those details aren’t that shocking, but they are intimate.

But what is really astounding is how much he reveals about himself. I found an article on Slate recently titled along these lines: If My Struggle had been written by a woman, would anyone care. I don’t have the writer’s name at my fingertips, but the argument was that this sort of diary, intimate portrayal of the ups and downs of life, the emotions, the insecurities, etc., if it had been written by a woman, probably no one would care. In North America, write a book like My Struggle and it would probably be called chick lit. (For the record, the writer did enjoy My Struggle). But after reading the novel, I agree with her a bit. The subject matter covered wouldn’t be new material for a woman. But that’s what makes My Struggle so great and surprising. It’s written by a man. For the last half of this book, I don’t think you can go more than two or three pages without Karl Ove telling readers he cried over this or that. Wow. Does that ever go against the stereotype of how men are portrayed in most books.

That’s not to say he’s unusual. Lots of men cry or tear up. I tear up at the craziest things sometimes. It’s normally a movie of some sort. What’s unusual about Knausgaard is how honest he is with his feelings, his thoughts, his beliefs.

He can turn an ordinary trip to the corner store into a three-page passage. You almost think you’re there because of all the little details he remembers. Although I doubt anyone truly remembers so many details of mundane events like buying a coke at a pop machine. Call some of this artistic licence. However, I suspect for Knausgaard, it was more important to convey the truth of the emotion, the memory, and not necessarily whether he really was wearing a blue shirt.

There’s a very in-depth article on The Guardian which I encourage everyone to read. (It’s old but it’s good). I’d love to give you a few details but The Guardian writer deserves to get the click.

As for book two, I was able to read an excerpt at the end of book one. I’m pretty sure I’ll be jumping back into the live of Karl Ove Knausgaard very soon.