Saturday, February 28, 2009

Reading Books Without Pages

Last year in my post, Reading vs. Listening, the Debate Begins, I expressed my disinterest in "reading" a book by listening to it on audiotape. While I think it's great that audiobooks exist for people who have difficulty reading due to disability and for habitual multitaskers, especially individuals who find themselves on the road for significant periods of time, I personally can't imagine choosing listening to a book over reading one. If I have the time to engage in a literary work with 100% focus, I'd much rather do it at my own pace, with the book in my hand, and narrated by the voices in my own head.

Amazon recently released the Amazon Kindle 2, the second-generation of its ebook reader, the Kindle, first launched in November of 2007. The Kindle 2 is sleeker than its predecessor with a better battery life, but with the same hefty price tag - $359 for the device and $9.99 per book for most new releases and best sellers.

In the same way I am turned off by audiobooks, I am equally disenchanted by ebook readers. It's just not the same. I've always loved reading, but it's only recently that I realized how big of a bookophile I actually am, when suddenly faced with the opportunity to listen to/read non-books. Judging by my three generous bookshelves and my reluctance to borrow from the library because of a need to own, display, and wistfully peruse my own collection, I really shouldn't be surprised.
Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower, or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell musty and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is - it has no texture, no context. It's there, and then it's gone. If it's to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be, um, smelly.
- Rupert Giles
While I might not be as smell-centric as the lovable librarian Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I genuinely love books in their old-fashioned and paper-filled form, from their glossy covers and bindings to their genuine heft and myriad designs.

I wasn't willing to invest in a Kindle for the sake of writing a blog about it, but I did invest in an affordable alternative - the Classics app for the iPhone.

For a very reasonable $2.99, the Classics app gives me access to a growing list of classic novels to read on my iPhone, a list of 18 novels (and novellas) so far, including Pride and Prejudice, Alice in Wonderland, Paradise Lost, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Pride and Prejudice is on my 2009 booklist, and as I had already dragged an old copy out of the attic, I figured why not give it a go on the iPhone, and if it's too unpleasant to make it all the way through, then I'll pick up where I left off with the book, patiently waiting for me from the third row of bookshelf #1.

The Classics app is attractively designed, loads quickly, and easily "bookmarks" the last page read whenever exiting the app. I am particularly partial to the virtual bookshelf that loads before the book selection is made, complete with (color!) book covers that can be arranged in any order. Some of the classics, including Alice in Wonderland and A Christmas Carol are illustrated editions, which helps retain much of the originals' charm.

The screen of the iPhone is significantly smaller than the Kindle and other ereaders. With fewer than 100 words per "page" in the Classics edition, the 300 page Pride and Prejudice morphs into a 1500+ page ebook. The app features "realistic 3-D page flips", but I found the page-turning animation to be too distracting and was glad to be able to turn the feature off.

With my initial struggle to get used to the ebook format and the many extra "page" flips, I had some difficulty following the dialogue in the first few chapters of Pride and Prejudice, although part of the blame can be laid on Austen, who didn't feel it was necessary to always identify the speaker, even in conversations involving more than two people. Although I have no problem curling up with a book for hours at a time, I found it hard to focus on the iPhone screen for extended periods, unable to concentrate for longer than 40 minute subway rides.

I am happy to say that I did make it all the way through Pride and Prejudice and with only $2.99 + tax invested in this experience, I definitely feel like I got my money's worth. I'm thinking about trying out Paradise Lost next, with the hope of getting my hands on a hardback illustrated edition in the near future.

Assuming ereaders, like all new technology, will eventually drop in price as demand goes up and production costs go down, I could see myself investing in a fourth or fifth generation Kindle. I'd be particularly interested in having magazines and newspapers in a portable, digital format, rather than constantly having to recycle back issues, when it's be easier to spare the trees in the first place. I could also see myself using an ereader while commuting or while on vacation, without having to lug around as many physical books.

I just can't imagine ever replacing my bookshelves and the hundreds of books with their dog-eared pages and shelf-worn spines. As portable as bookshelves might be in the future, it'll never be the same.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

February Playlist

10 Random Songs* from my February Playlist

Song for You Alexi Murdoch
The District Sleeps Alone Tonight The Postal Service
November Azure Ray
Favourite Worst Nightmare Arctic Monkeys
Be OK Ingrid Michaelson
3rd Planet Modest Mouse
Sunbeams The Concretes
Let Me Know Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Hangin' on the Line Ladybug Transistor
Sweepstakes Prize Mirah

*Recently purchased with an iTunes giftcard, huzzah!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Coraline, a Modern Day Fairytale

I stumbled upon the Hugo Award-winning Coraline at the Strand Book Store a year ago, shortly after reading Stardust, a charming introduction into the magical worlds of author Neil Gaiman.

It's easy to forget in the current Disney-fied, PC-obsessed 21st century that a modern day fairytale can be as dark as it is enchanting, and that moral lessons come in all shapes and sizes, from easily-resolved G-rated conflicts, to frightening, "be careful what you wish for" adventure stories. Coraline, in both book- and film-form, is the latter.

is a quick, but thoroughly enjoyable read, in the fantastic and darkly comedic tradition of Roald Dahl meets Lewis Carrol. The creepy, black and white illustrations by Dave McKean are reminiscent of Stephen Gammell's illustrations in the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series by Alvin Schwartz ... only slightly less horrific.

There is a generation of kids (now in their 20s and 30s) who grew up reading the Scary Stories series and were traumatized for years to come. I believe most middle school libraries have since banned the books, so it's nice to know that Coraline's generation has its own thrillers to retell over summer camp fires, with Neil Gaimon's being significantly more palpable than Schwartz's "The Red Spot", in which a sore on a girl's face bursts open into a swarm of newly hatched baby spiders.

Yeah, I'm still trying to get over that one.

Back to ...

In Coraline, the title character and her parents have just moved into a creepy old house, complete with eccentric neighbors, an abandoned well behind the garden, and a door in the wall of the drawing room that leads to another house that is exactly the same, only better.

When Coraline journeys through the mysterious drawing room door, she meets her Other Mother, the ruler of an alternate world that is both more exciting and more magical than anything Coraline has ever encountered before. Coraline eagerly visits this Other World again and again, until faced with the Other Mother's ultimatum. Coraline can stay in the Other World forever, but she must first sew shiny, black buttons over her eyes. It is with this revelation and Coraline's subsequent refusal that the Other Mother's world begins to unravel, revealing the ugly truth beneath its gleaming surface. And things take a turn for the creepy, creepy worst.

Fans of the book will be delighted by the stop-motion animated film directed by Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas). The sets and characters are meticulously crafted and expertly filmed, with a charming visionary style guaranteed to appeal to kids and adults alike. While CGI animation can be beautifully executed (e.g. any Pixar film), it's a rare visual treat seeing Coraline's mastery of stop-motion filmmaking combined with the 3-D medium. The film is visually stunning and was a pleasure to watch, even with the minor headache that I invariably suffer when squinting through any pair of 3-D glasses.

The film is faithful to the tone and overall narrative of the original story, with the addition of a young neighbor named Wybie, whose presence gives the solitary Caroline someone to interact with, while also illustrating just how dementedly wicked the Other Mother turns out to be.

As I wrap up this review, I suddenly have the overwhelming desire to see Coraline again and to reread the cautionary tale that inspired this sumptuous masterpiece. I've already added the film to my mental list of must-own DVDs, but I wonder if I can talk another friend into accompanying me next week on theatrical screening #2 into the Other Worlds of Gaiman and Selick, 3-D headaches and all.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Joss Whedon Valentine's Day Special

Along with a delicious homemade dinner from my boyfriend, I received another Valentine this week - the opportunity to meet two of my personal heroes. Yippee!

On Monday, February 9th, I began work at a new full-time job in mid-town Manhattan. It just so happens that one of my coworkers is friends with Chris Baty, the crazy man who began National Novel Writing Month, and Chris was in the city that very day, taking a tour of my office before attending the Tools of Change for Publishing Conference. When I heard that Chris was in the office, I had a real geek-out moment - which was even geekier than usual because no on else had even heard of, much less participated in, NaNoWriMo. My coworker was kind enough to introduce me, and the three of us conversed for 10 minutes on novel writing, word counts, George R.R. Martin, and Phillip Pullman. In my experience, all of the best writing-related discussions involve at least one of the above four topics, so it was quite a lovely chat.

Of course, 24 hours later, my hero-meeting on Tuesday would completely blow Monday's out of the water ... no offense, Mr. Baty.

On Tuesday evening, my BFF Alicia (a fellow die-hard Whedonite) and I went to see Joss Whedon speak about his new series Dollhouse at the Apple Store Soho event in NYC. We were only expecting to see Joss, so we were pleasantly surprised a few times that evening because ...

  • Joss was there, and so was Eliza Dushku, Dollhouse's ass-kicking heroine, best known for kicking ass as Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
  • The opening act of Dollhouse was screened, with promises that it only gets better from there. The series "simmers before it boils", really kicking into high gear halfway through the first season's thirteen filmed episodes. Episode six has been guaranteed to blow our minds.
  • Best of all, despite the protests of douchy Apple Store employees, Joss was kind enough to stick around for an hour after the event to sign posters and other fandom as well as take pictures with his adoring fans. Including me! Yippee!
I didn't bring any of my DVD sets for Joss that night, but I did get a free mini Dollhouse poster which he happily signed. Of course the best part of meeting Joss was being reassured that he is not a Hollywood diva. He is a genuinely nice, brilliant man, who surrounds himself with genuinely nice, talented people, whom he respects. There's a reason why Whedon alumni keep popping up again and again in new Whedon projects, including Amy Acker (Angel), Alan Tudyk (Firefly) and Felicia Day (Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog) as Dollhouse special guest stars. He likes them and they like him, and together, magic happens.

Dollhouse premiered on Friday night (Friday the 13th, exactly 5 years after the WB announced Angel's cancelation), and while critics and fans are unsure of where this will fit on Whedon's top ten list of best shows ever, I'm definitely willing to give it a shot ... and my fingers are crossed that the big-bad FOX executives will too, despite it debuting with an unimpressive 4.7 million viewers.

Dollhouse is a futuristic, sci-fi drama that revolves around Echo (Dushku), a young woman who has willingly subjected herself to being pimped out as an "active", an agent of a shady organization who can be imprinted with false memories and skills to use on highly covert missions. When her missions are complete, Echo is returned to the "Dollhouse" where her memories are wiped and she becomes, once again, a complacent and vulnerable human doll.

Even without a stellar pilot to reaffirm our commitment, most of Whedon's fans are trusting that regardless of how commercially successful the series is, we will not be disappointed. If the series is anything like its predecessors, Dollhouse will establish a uniquely inventive world with an ensemble of compelling, morally-grey characters (heroes and villains), whose struggles will unfold across a story arc that explores themes of faith, sacrifice, friendship, love, and humanity.

That, in essence, is a Whedon show, and that is why I have been a fan since I was eleven years old when Buffy premiered on March 10th, 1997.

Couldn't make it to the Apple Store event on Tuesday? Pretend like you were there too by replacing my head with your own in the picture provided above. Ah, memories. :)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

2/3/2009 ... The Beginning of the End?

I can't believe it's already February, 2009. Seriously, where did January go? And why am I still signing dates with an "08"?

It's kind of funny remembering that ten years ago, we were all pretty sure we wouldn't make it to 1/1/00, and now we're a full 9 years past, and much closer to the next apocalypse, 12/21/2012. Personally, I think the date looks more binary than ominous, but I'm sure there are signs the apocalypse is near. For example ...

Signs of the Coming Apocalypse:

Who needs the Four Horsemen when we have kids roasting puppies?

1. Jerry Lewis To Receive a Humanitarian Award

Jerry Lewis is the ass who will be receiving this year's Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka: The Oscars). He's being recognized for the millions his telethon, Jerry's Kids, has raised for Muscular Dystrophy, but there are thousands of people with disabilities who consider Lewis to be far from "humanitarian".

Many disabled people are sick of being pitied, sick of being considered "half a person" (Lewis's words), and really, really sick of being viewed as "kids" who are incapable of doing anything but sitting on the sidelines with their hands out, begging for charity. Disabled people in America make up a marginalized minority who want rights and respect, not handouts.

There are protests scheduled for the days surrounding the Oscars - Feb 20th-22nd, and you can find out more information on why the disabled community is so vehemently opposed to the recipient of the 2009 award by visiting It'll be interesting to see if the protesters receive any media coverage at all, as most media outlets are far more concerned with what celebrities are wearing rather than just how un-humanitarian the Academy's Humanitarian seems to be.

2. In a Failing Economy, the Big Shots Still Get Paid

President Obama has recently limited the amount of compensation/perks that executives at failing banks can accept until their bank has repaid the government loan ... but of course the disgusting part of it all is that he had to take action in the first place.

For bank execs, $500,000 a year is a big comedown

As a taxpayer struggling to get by on $25k in NYC in '08, these numbers seriously make me ill. On a (comparatively) modest salary of $1 million, exactly WHAT the hell are these guys doing that is worth $350+ an hour, compared with my pathetic $13/hour, when I am working my ass off as much as the next middle class person just trying to survive?

3. The Bad Girls Club

I keep catching this reality series in late night mini-marathons on the Oxygen channel, and it's becoming a bit of a guilty pleasure. Unlike guilty pleasure #1, America's Next Top Model, in which "beautiful" women compete for a modeling contract while proving that there's more to successful modeling than just a pretty face, there are no such lofty pursuits for the girls of the Bad Girls Club. The series is nothing more than an outlet for catty girls, more processed than attractive, to drink excessively, party hard, mack on guys, dress like skanks, and otherwise act like total bitches.

And I keep wanting more.

4. Steve Jobs' Failing Health

I'll admit that for several years I was an adament boycotter all things Apple (more on that later), destesting everything from iTunes' download limits to the insufferable Justin Long in the Mac Vs PC commercials (go PC!). I was pretty sure that Steve Jobs was the devil, using trendy technology to steal the souls of our nation's youth ... and then I got an iPhone and fell in love all over again. It's entirely possible that for the last four months my soul has been slowly seeping out through my iPhone earbuds, but with all the free Apps I've downloaded, it feels like a fair tradeoff.

Now that Jobs is taking a medical leave of absence from work and the Apple stock is down, things are not looking so peachy keen. Devil he may be, but I don't want Jobs to die anymore. He needs to hold on until the end - the end of Apple or the end of the world, whichever comes first. My chips are on the end of the world.

5. Kids Roasting Puppies

The post-apocalyptic world is bound to have rag-tag bands of survivors, mutated by radiation, and nomadically scavenging the earth to form new, primitive societies in the aftermath. Apparently, some young people thought to get practice in a few years early, as a UK kiddie gang was caught roasting puppies over a bonfire. Clearly, food will be scarce, and the post-apocalyptic future will call for the ritual sacrifice of adorable little furballs. Without pigs around, the kids needed to find a substitute head to impale on a stick.

6. Post #50

Though perhaps the most indisputable sign of the apocalypse is that I have written 50 blog posts in just over 14 months, with no sign of slowing down. In my free time, I've even begun working on my YA novel that has been languishing since NaNoWriMo 2007.

The end is near.