Book Related Blog Post

I finally broke.

I’ve been saying for some time that if the Kindle, or a similarly capable eReader, went under the £100 mark I would splash out and buy one. Until quite recently I had been quite tempted, but this condition was never satisfied. Had I seen one for sale in a bricks and mortar store while I was over in the US of A, I think I probably would have just snapped it up, dollar to stirling exchange rates and relative prices being what they are. But I didn’t, so I didn’t.

Then, suddenly, out of the blue, I just happened to be on the Amazon Kindle page by shear chance, in no way fighting the urge to just say “sod it” and bloody well buy one, when I noticed the word “refurbished” in the pricing options. More interesting to me were the numerals to the right of the word. Eighty of your British pounds.

Snap.

To cut a fairly short story down to the bare minimum: I have a Kindle now. The fact that it’s refurbished doesn’t bother me in the slightest. In actual fact this would tend to mean that it has passed a more rigorous set of tests, and still has the full guarantee. Also, it was cheaper. Did I mention that?

So what do I think of this bit of kit? It’s very pleasing indeed, and plays very nicely with my tendency to read books which might more accurately be called “tomes”. Right now that’s George R. R. Martins long and impatiently awaited “A Dance With Dragons”, a book which, if you fell asleep whilst holding it above your face, might conceivably knock you into some sort of Inception esque deeper dream. The kindle, however, has about the size and weight of a molskine journal, making it small enough to fit into some pockets, and light enough to be carried comfortably in the hand or slung in a bag.

It has that slightly strange blinky page turn which is common to the current generation of eInk displays, but that doesn’t really bother me at all. At times it reminds me of shifting black and white sand, particularly when changing to and from the screen savers, which I actually find quite pleasing. I’d like it if they play this up in future versions, rather than just making the page turn quicker, but I suspect that would be a bit of a waste of resou… I mean… er… valuable functionality indicative of a mature company sure of its own capabilities and comfortable with its place in the world. It seems only right that such a company should furnish us with an eReader which acts like something straight out of the Diamond Age, no?

It’s not all sweetness and light, though. I do have two significant complaints. Firstly, when you turn the device off it shifts into a randomly selected screen saver image from a pool which is preloaded on the device. This is not what I want it to do. I want it to show the cover of the book which I’m actually reading. At this point you may have figured out that my complaints are not, in fact, all that significant at all. This one does annoy me a disproportionate amount though. It just seems so obvious.

The second, equally earth shaking, complaint relates to the progress information along the bottom of the screen. This gives the percentage progress through the book together with a progress bar. I’m told the dots on the progress bar represent chapters, but when the book you’re reading is about a bazillion pages long this is less than helpful. Something iBooks does which I really like is tell you how many pages remain of the current chapter. If I’m reading in bed, for instance, then this is  exactly the information I’m looking for. I suspect there is a way of showing more information here, but I haven’t found it yet.

Something else which pushed me towards the purchase of this particular object of desire was the imminent release of new books by three of my favourite authors.

The first is “Reamde” by Neal Stephenson. I usually love Stephenson, and the synopsis really makes it sound as though he might be firing on all cylinders:

Across the globe, millions of computer screens flicker with the artfully coded world of T’Rain – an addictive internet role-playing game of fantasy and adventure. But backstreet hackers in China have just unleashed a contagious virus called Reamde, and as it rampages through the gaming world spreading from player to player – holding hard drives hostage in the process – the computer of one powerful and dangerous man is infected, causing the carefully mediated violence of the on-line world to spill over into reality. A fast-talking, internet-addicted mafia accountant is brutally silenced by his Russian employers, and Zula – a talented young T’Rain computer programmer – is abducted and bundled on to a private jet. As she is flown across the skies in the company of the terrified boyfriend she broke up with hours before, and a brilliant Hungarian hacker who may be her only hope, she finds herself sucked into a whirl of Chinese Secret Service agents and gun-toting American Survivalists; the Russian criminal underground and an al-Qaeda cell led by a charismatic Welshman; each a strand of a connected world that devastatingly converges in T’Rain.

Sounds insane, right? This is another monster of a book, but right now there is no Kindle edition listed, disappointingly. Still, I have my fingers crossed. The next is Terry Pratchett’s latest. I hate to say it, but Pratchett’s last couple of books haven’t really been up to his usual standard, in my opinion. “Snuff” is a Vimes book, though, so I have high hopes:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a policeman taking a holiday would barely have had time to open his suitcase before he finds his first corpse.

And Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is on holiday in the pleasant and innocent countryside, but not for him a mere body in the wardrobe. There are many, many bodies and an ancient crime more terrible than murder.

He is out of his jurisdiction, out of his depth, out of bacon sandwiches, and occasionally snookered and out of his mind, but never out of guile. Where there is a crime there must be a finding, there must be a chase and there must be a punishment.

They say that in the end all sins are forgiven.

But not quite all…

Finally, we have “Manhattan in Reverse“, a book of short stories by Peter F. Hamilton. No one does overblown space opera quite so well as Hamilton, in my opinion, but his short stories can be a little spotty. I have no complaints about getting a bit more Paula Mayo, though, so count me in.

The fun thing, though, is that I found the second two books on the suggestions list for the first. Amazon, methinks you have a little too much the measure of me.

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What’s the Downside?

I’m reading a Peter F Hamilton book right now. His work isn’t perfect, but I like it. He achieves a fairly staggering level of scale, whilst corralling a considerable number of characters who are worth your time* and develop naturally, if exceptionally. His books are, however, frikkin’ gigantic. This one is 725 pages long, and is shorter than a lot of his other work. It’s not ideal for reading on journeys, and you wouldn’t want to pack more than one of them for a long trip. It’s also not like PFH is the only long winded author I read. See also Robyn Hobb, Neal Stephenson and Brandon Sanderson. I don’t only read huge Sci-Fi/Fantasy epics, but I do often read them.

Additionally, I have stacks and stacks of books, even taking into account that I divested myself of a lot before leaving Edinburgh. When I move into my new flat**, I’m not sure I’m going to have space for them. If I could stop that collection growing too much, that would be ideal, but I have no plans to stop reading or buying new reading material.

On the surface, to me at least, the ideal solution to this would be a kindle (or, I suppose, some other eBook reader). All of a sudden, Pandora’s Star is now the same Size as Cat’s Cradle. Crytonomicon is the same size as Memoirs of a Geisha. Plus, it doesn’t matter how far I’m traveling or how little space I have, i can basically pack as many books as I’d like. Likewise, the book collections would not (physically) expand in size.

But what about the books I have already? Do I just keep them, rammed onto the shelf space I have? Do I instead charity shop*** them? Do I replace / duplicate some or all of them with the eBook version? There’s no ideal solution here.

The publisher is never going to give you the eBook just because because you own the paper copy, and likewise I suspect the majority of people of aren’t going to want to pay full price for an eBook they already own. Plus, books are not quite so easy to format shift as CDs.

So, here’s what I propose: you take your book to a shop and pay them a nominal fee (say £1). They then give you the eBook version of your book, in the format of your choice. The book itself gets recycled. The shop and the publisher then split both the cash and the revenue from the recycling. You’ve format shifted your book, with only a small outlay. The publisher has benefited from this transaction. No new copies of the book have been magicked into existence (also good for the publisher). Lastly, raw material for recycled paper has been obtained. What’s the downside?

* Well, he  does now, anyway. Much as I loved the Night’s Dawn trilogy, Joshua was way more interesting than either the sum or the product of the rest of the characters.

** Which is in Clapham, for those of you who are playing at home. The Richmond flat was gorgeous, but size / price ratio was just too small.

*** I see no reason not to use that as a verb.