Aug 31, 2010

Review: Emma by Jane Austen

Emma (2009)Emma was the first full length classic that I read as an e-book via Kindle for PC.  About three weeks have passed and I thought I would, air some thoughts on it.  

Does a classic need reviews?

I have just listened to Adele at Persnickety Snark vlog about how she write reviews, so my approach to this review is going to be different (she's got me thinking).  I am reviewing a classic which, one would assume, has been read and reviewed by millions. If you don't know the story of Emma, you could look at the wikipedia page, but in the interests of supporting  reading of the classics I suggest that you read it instead.

The short of it

Emma is  a comedy/drama about the perils of sticking you nose into the romantic affairs of others - a job that the heroine Emma Woodhouse excels at (being nosy).

Romance ... bluurgh!

I think for any male readers the idea that Emma is just chick lit. needs to be challenged.  You might be forgiven for thinking its all heaving bosoms and wistful looks.  In reality it is a drama and one that has a happy ending.  There's a modicum of action with Mr Churchill  rescuing Harriet Smith from some vagabond trampers(gypsies?) but this is handled in two paragraphs.

No the action in this book is via the dialogue.  Characters are revealed and mischaracterized( by Emma) through the dialogue. The story might focus on Emma's attempts at match making, the protagonist might be female but the the larger picture is of course human interaction and this is part of what I found interesting.  As interesting as say any modern drama like channel 10's drama Offspring.

What do I take away from this classic?

Emma is a window on history. A look into  recent western culture. The more I read the more the various attitudes/social strictures made sense.  I did also have my copy of What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew... which was invaluable.  But I do feel I gained an appreciation of the period that you perhaps don't get from watching BBC Bonnet Drama's.

The other thing I have taken away is  Jane Austen's skill at creating character and story through dialogue - I wrote a couple of short narrative pieces while reading Emma and found, that without really intending to I had written two pages of dialogue heavy story.

I think for any writer experiencing trouble writing dialogue, Austen's worth reading.

Aug 28, 2010

Slow down your reading

Below is a snippet of a talk given by Francine Prose, posibly my favourite writer on the subject of writing.  I suspect that we might share some political leanings as well.

When asked what one piece of advice he could give to readers it was to slow down.


Aug 27, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday- 27 August

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading. If you like, share with everyone why you do, or do not, like the sentence.

This week, one of the books I am reading is John Marsden's Tomorrow when the War began.  Below is the first sentence:
It's only half an hour since someone - Robyn I think - said we should write everything down, and it's only twenty-nine minutes since I got chosen, and for those twenty-nine minutes I've had everyone crowded around me gazing at the blank page and yelling ideas and advice.
I was ever so slightly put off with this first sentence, but then I think Marsden is doing a good job of trying to give us the voice of a teenager –it’s unsure, the thinking is a little chaotic.
Regardless, I am hoping to find some time to really dig into this book, I suspect I will like it, given the praise it’s received from certain members of my family.

Aug 26, 2010

E-books–Bradbury not a Fan

The Martian Chronicles
It's nearly the end of Ray Bradbury week.  The aging writer turned 90 on August 22.  So three cheers for Bradbury, he's given us a long list of stellar works - with some modern classics like Fahrenheit 451.

Indeed he shows little sign of slowing down - he's on the verge of releasing another anthology of short stories.

"E-books smell like burned fuel"

Bradbury is no fan of E-books it seems.  Indeed when he's been approached in the past by digital publishing giants he's been rather direct:
"I was approached three times during the last year by Internet companies wanting to put my books" on an electronic reading device, he said. "I said to Yahoo, 'Prick up your ears and go to hell. " [source]

Ray Bradbury is also on the record as saying:
"There is no future for e-books, because they are not books," Bradbury said. "E-books smell like burned fuel" [Source]
So if you were hoping to read Something Wicked this Way Comes or Dandelion Wine on your Kindle, you might be waiting a while.  It's not just e-books though.  Bradbury has a fondness, a love for the book and for libraries, and a dislike for modern gadgets and distractions.  While Fahrenheit 451 appears to be a criticism of  censorship or book burning, Bradbury himself considered it to be a criticism of  the way in which television destroyed interest in Literature.

What I did find curious though was that his neo-Ludditism did not extend to movies or audiobooks based on his works.  Was this simply because these technologies were around ( by which I mean cinema and audio recording) in his youth? Or is it because there is no threat from them to the traditional book?

There are worse crimes than burning books
And according to Bradbury one of those is not reading books in the first place.  Which in some respects I find a little contradictory - when he is preventing his work from being read on the Kindle or the Nook.
The difference between reading Bradbury on an E-ink Screen compared to on paper is a small one.  Sure, I like the smell of books, I love bookstores and libraries, but when I sit to read something the outside world dissolves it matters little to me whether I access the book in printed format or in digital format - I am immersed regardless.

Your thoughts?

Aug 25, 2010

Do I really need an E-reader?

First a little history
Gutenberg_2I remember hearing about Project Gutenberg well over a decade ago.  I am shocked to discover it is actually the worlds oldest digital library1, having been started four years before I was born.
It houses upwards of 32,000 public domain items and is volunteer run offering text files for most of its works, as well as an increasing number of other digital formats.
Sadly I had not used it for my own reading until relatively recently.

The game changed
For me and I imagine others, the birth of the e-reader and formats that displayed digital text similar to that which people were used to in a paper version, marked a change in the use of this marvellous resource 2 and reading in general. 

Sony PRS-505 Portable Digital e-Reader System (Silver)
I don’t know many who have the patience to scroll through Animal Farm in .txt, word or pdf  format let alone War and Peace.  While the content may have been free it certainly wasn’t as accessible as the paper version.  There’s little difference between a book you can’t find/buy/ borrow and one that makes reading nigh impossible i.e. they don't get read

Enter the E-reader and associated software
It’s now possible to read free e-book classics or purchase new titles and you don’t necessarily need an e-book reader to do it. While Amazon and Barnes & Noble (to name just two) have their specific e-readers anyone with a computer can enjoy reading an e-book.
Amazon provides Kindle for PC( and a number of other devices),  ADOBE have Adobe Digital Editions and if you're are a little adventurous you can check out Calibre( which is a whole lot more than just e-book reading software). These interfaces enable you to take advantage of various e-book formats.  While each piece of software has its quirks they generally allow you to:
  • manage an e-book library,
  • track your position in multiple books,
  • make notation against the text 
  • search the text

Testing the waters without losing a kidney

Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, 6" Display, Graphite - Latest GenerationWith a basic Kindle now retailing at $US 139, price might be a moot point for some.  For the financially challenged though, having the ability to try before you buy is a must.

Now while reading on a computer screen is not quite the same as reading from the new e-ink enabled readers.  It gets you close enough to the functions of an e-reader to help you decide if reading digital formats is really you.

I am currently reading through my second e-book using Amazon’s Kindle for PC.  Personally I was skeptical that I could maintain the patience to read off a computer screen for a long period of time.  I have found it to be relatively easy though to adapt to reading using this software and have found its notes function invaluable when taking notes for a review.

In my next post in this series I'll take a closer look at e-reading software mentioned above.

1 According to this wikipedia article
2 I have looked but can find no stats on the usage of Gutenberg files to map to the release of e-readers

E-book adventures is my weekly series post outlining my exploration of the e-book format.  See other posts here and join in the discussion.

Aug 22, 2010

Free Kindle e-book - Germs, Genes, & Civilization

I am not sure how long this will free deal will last, but if you click the image to the left it will take you to the kindle store where you can download Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today for free.

The book is pitched as a laypersons guide to the history of Epidemiology.  I am reminded somewhat of Germs, Guns and Steel.

I don't have a Kindle Damn it

Neither do I, so I am reading this on Kindle for PC which you can download for free and which will read not only books from the kindle store but any .mobi files downloaded from the Gutenberg project.

Deal valid as of August 22nd

Aug 21, 2010

How to read the classics

Note: This post was a guest post on Desert Book Chick, check out Amanda’s blog for, some excellent book blogging and blogging in general.

A personal story

In a moment I will tell you about how to read classics.  It will be a suggestion, a guide. There are no hard and fast rules in this reading game and I think it would be dreadfully presumptuous of me to tell you exactly how you should approach Austen, Dickens or Tolstoy.

This is a story about rediscovering the classics, about two ways in which I have approached reading them.

Long ago

I graduated an English major, (a shock to many who read my postings) concentrating on Elizabethan, then American 19th century and post-war literature.  The approach was, and I guess still is, to have students read the selected texts usually within the week and to discuss it at tutorial.  You’d rip through one work and be on to the next without skipping a beat.

It developed in me no love of literature, indeed I can barely remember the texts read. Students tended to focus on one text rather than gain a wider appreciation. My reading habits since have remained chiefly those I developed through my love of reading as a child – science fiction and fantasy.

Being lured back

Fast forward nearly 20 years later and I am approaching classics from a different angle and one that is showing promise.  I credit this to coming across Francine Prose’s Reading like a Writer.  She’s an advocate for close reading and close reading of the classics.   She draws out the strengths of the classic novelists, showing how they develop character, use words or paragraphs.  

Good writing entertains, great writing transforms…

or has the capacity to. I love Barry Eisler novels, well written, realistic spy thrillers that I can read in a day if I am not careful. They entertain but they don’t make me think or marvel at his choice of words.

Similarly I think the internet, while it brings with it such boons as free classic literature also helps us train ourselves into reading short attention span optimised text.  Transformation and reading of the classics needs a little bit of effort, and a little bit of preparation.  It’s like going to the gym for the first time, take it easy but give it a good old try.

Tips for navigating the classics

  1. Be kind to yourself and your brain; don’t begin to read classics when you are tired.
  2. Be prepared for it to be a little difficult (note I said difficult not boring), nothing good ever comes easy.
  3. Slow down your reading speed
  4. Enjoy the way it is written as much as the story being told
  5. Take your time

How’s it going for me?

I am currently a third of the way through Emma, by Jane Austen (I have never read Austen before).  It’s only now that I have adapted my reading to her style - a mixture of familiarity with the way she writes and the speed at which I read no doubt.  I am slowly beginning to enjoy the jokes, the excellent observation of character and Austen’s dialogue.

Aug 20, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday- 20 August

The Red Badge of Courage (Enriched Classics (Pocket))Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading. If you like, share with everyone why you do, or do not, like the sentence.

This week, one of the books I am reading is Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage.  Below is the first sentence.
The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.

I first read The Red Badge of Courage as an undergraduate.  If I recall correctly I  did a paper on it and received a High Distinction - for the life of me, I can't remember the gist of the paper - only the grade and that it was the first time that I had heard of Occam's Razor (I had unknowingly applied it in my critique).

But back to the book.  

So after flying through the finish of Emma (which turned out to be quite enjoyable) I decided to get in touch with my masculinity with The Red Badge of Courage.  I find that the writing is a nice flowing prose and that in some respects Crane is writing in an impressionistic style, using colour  light and symbolism, writing as a painter would, if that makes sense.

It's interesting to note that may veterans of the war found this book to capture the reality of war -despite Crane not having had experienced war when he wrote it.

Aug 18, 2010

Taking the plunge–Going digital with e-books

The Adventure Begins

This post  marks the beginning of a series on my adventurers in digital reading.  Now of course anyone who has been using the internet has been engaging in reading digital formats(html, pdf ), but what I am talking about is of course the new (perhaps not so new) rage with e-books and specially designed e-book readers.

Spoiled for choice

It’s such a first world problem, having to decide which gadget to buy to read your digitally formatted classic. You can see in the Amazon  links to the left, three of the more popular readers, there are many more, each with slightly different functionality, features and draw backs. I hope to lead you through some of fluff to pin down what’s really necessary in an e-reader or indeed if you even need one(gasp!) .

 E-book Adventurers

I am an adventurer not an expert.  Opinions develop and our tastes and needs change. I hope to revisit many of the topics covered, when I find new information or change my mind.  There will be some travellers  well schooled in the art of e-book adventuring, just as there will be greenhorns.  So feel free if you have travelled further along the path or perhaps taken a different, more circuitous route, to give me and the other readers here the benefit of your wisdom.

Where to next?
Being somewhat financially challenged when lured by the siren calls of the Kindle I under took to ascertain whether or not there was some way of trying before I bought when it came to this e-reader malarkey.  I wasn’t sure if I could tear myself away from old faithful( oh the sweet smell of aged, dust covered paper) when it came to reading.

In my next post in the series I will offer some suggestions on ways you might do the same. Tentatively test the waters that is.

In the mean time, I’d like your thoughts.  Do you have a reader?  Do you want one? What’s your experience with your reader of choice? And for Australian readers do you feel you have less choice?

Aug 17, 2010

Is the internet affecting your reading?

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Hardcover)Won't Somebody think of the Children

I recently heard a radio host talking about Nicholas Carr's, The Shallows- What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.  Now I am always a bit skeptical when concerns are raised about the Internet and its effect on "today's youth" or "insert target demographic here".  Too often it's the call  of conservative Luddite elements within society that are resisting the loss of control they once exerted over information.

We are what we read
Thankfully though Carr's book seems to be a rather more balanced look at how the technology of the Internet is shaping our culture, our habits, our reading and what implications this might have.  From the book promotion site:

Building on the insights of thinkers from Plato to McLuhan, Carr makes a convincing case that every information technology carries an intellectual ethic — a set of assumptions about the nature of knowledge and intelligence. He explains how the printed book served to focus our attention, promoting deep and creative thought. In stark contrast, the Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Its ethic is the ethic of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption — and now the Net is remaking us in its own image. We are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming, but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection. 

Has the Internet affected your reading?

I confess that I have felt my concentration span shortening, my attention constantly assaulted by twitter (which I turned off to write this).  I read more than I ever have, indeed I read a good solid 6 hours a day if I am not working.  Most of this reading is short grabs of information - screen read, scanning optimized blog posting or messages via Facebook or Twitter.   Anything much over 500 words and I begin to notice the extra effort required to remain attentive.

How about yourself?

Aug 16, 2010

I declare this blog officially open

128010935_67ce3d5b33_zWelcome to any new readers and especially to those who have come via my other blog.

Many thanks goes to @naehutch from twitter for the inspired name it was either Bookonaut or Barry (don’t ask).


Why another blog?

Because I am a masochist and because I wanted to write more about the books I was reading as part of my writer training program.  I wanted to host more than just book reviews. I wanted to talk about e-readers, e-books, reading, revisiting the classics, all manner of book related stuff that doesn’t fit well into blogging about Skepticism, Atheism, Religion, Secularism.

Hey, there’s stuff here from January?

Yep.  I have ported over some of my reviews from my old blog  and labelled them with roughly the same date as I originally posted them.  You might also find links that go back to the my other blog.

What can we expect?

Well I have outlined what I would like to do on the about page.  I find that blogging (unless part of some corporate or business strategy) is a bit of an organic process –so let’s just say I intend to cover a few different book related topics and have some ideas at this stage for some regular weekly features.

Thanks for reading,


Aug 13, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday

Emma (Collector's Library)Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading. If you like, share with everyone why you do, or do not, like the sentence.

This week I'm (still) reading Emma, by Jane Austen.
This is the first sentence:
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

So it’s not exactly Pride and Prejudice, but it seems to basically some up what I have come to appreciate about Miss Woodhouse – a nosey spoilt brat.  In fact I am finding it hard to like any of the female characters that have been presented so far – well apart from Miss Weston/Taylor who as Emma’ previous tutor I have a mild respect for.

Aug 10, 2010

Reading Like A Writer

In 2008 I left a job that I had been working at for 7 years.  As a leaving present I received a book voucher to the tune of $200.  It may sound funny but when you are given $200 to burn on books it not as easy as it sounds.

Amongst the swag of non-fiction titles I purchased was Francine Prose's Reading Like A Writer. As life would have it, I didn't sit down to read the book until nearly a year later.

A Joy Discovered

This book has led me, along with having the joy of being employed part time, to discover some of those books that I may have skipped in the past because they fell well outside my area of interest and my comfort zone.  It’s a book worth picking up if you’re a reader or a writer.  It’s both a pleasure to read and quite instructive at the same time.
Below is a video featuring Francine discussing the book.  Apologies for the audio quality.


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