Crown Conspiracy & Avempartha

Books, Fantasy, Reading No Comments

Finished two books while traveling yesterday — the last bits of Crown Conspiracy and all of Avempartha.

These are the first two books the six book “Riyria Revelations” series by Michael Sullivan — good, solid pulp fantasy in the grand tradition of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Sullivan’s world has some depth, however, and the episodic tales are significantly more complex than you might initially think. The stories draw upon thousands upon thousands of years of history, and I suspect it’s all leading towards a…well…a revelation that will likely be one of the turning points in that history.

Great characters, well written, fast-paced, and altogether fun so far. Recommended.

Why I love Readability, with screenshots

add-ons, Design & Usability, Firefox, Innovation, Productivity, Reading, Web, Work 5 Comments

Readability is a Firefox add-on that improves the experience of reading long articles in your browser by getting all the extraneous cruft out of the way. I use it every single day and love it to bits.

Here, for example, is a screenshot of what a typical Harvard Business Review article looks like in Firefox (Persona: Save the Bees Plz by monorail cat):

Old Crufty
before-readability

With the Readability add-on installed, all I have to do is hit a quick keyboard shortcut (alt-cmd-R) and the page will reload and be reformatted by Readability. It looks like this:

New Clean
after-readability

It’s just so, so much better. arc90, you have made a great thing. Thanks :)

iPad

Books, Computers, Design & Usability, eBooks, iPad, Reading, Technology 3 Comments

ipad_books_original

So as pretty much everyone in the world knows, Apple announced the iPad yesterday. Unlike apparently everyone else, I actually don’t have a problem with the name. Legal pad, note pad, hockey pad, bachelor pad, launch pad…etc. etc. etc. Come on.

Anyhoo…while I’m crazily excited about the iPad (and I will be ordering one the second Apple lets me send them money), I don’t think it will be a Kindle killer for me. It could be for a lot of people, but the way I use my Kindle doesn’t really lend itself to immediate replacement by the iPad. It’s too big, for one, and too heavy. And the Kindle’s buttons are ideal — I often read my Kindle lying on my side (on the sofa or in bed) and the buttons are great. The iPad’s swipe-to-turn-the-page thing is just not going to work for that. As others have said, the LCD screen is a double-edged sword…while I desperately wish e-ink were more contrasty, I’m not sure I could spend more time staring at an LCD screen than I already do. I’m on my laptop or iMac 10-14 hours a day as it is — I use books and my Kindle as a way to rest my eyes, and the iPad won’t work for that either.

I also like that the Kindle is a single-purpose device. Like John, I’m able to read longer and more complex works on my Kindle than on my laptop, with a much better ability to focus. Reading on my laptop, I fall into the trap of responding to IM pings or just flipping over to check a quick email or jot down a note or quickly glance at my Twitterstream, at which point I get lost in the other distractions. The Kindle, on the other hand, is just for reading, a step away from the hurly burly of the internets and all the shenanigans therein. The iPad seems like it will split the difference — other apps will be available, but without background applications there won’t be IM pings and whatnot. I’m not sure what that will turn out to be like in practice.

We will see. I am going to get an iPad, and I am going to try reading some books on it. I’m very much hoping that Apple continues to allow Amazon to have their Kindle app on the iPhone and iPad because at that point they’ll have to compete on the price of content, and less expensive ebooks are something I’m Very Interested In. Once I’ve had a chance to do an actual comparison of both as an eReader device, I’ll post a review.

Honestly, this is all jetpacks and flying cars, anyhow. I like living in the future.

Novel: The City & The City, by China Mieville

Books, Reading 2 Comments

citycity Was reading Stephenson’s Quicksilver but got bogged down about 25% in and switched over to Mieville’s The City & The City instead. Fantastic sci-fi detective story that I can’t really give any plot points about without spoiling something, so I’ll just leave it at that. I blew through it in two days — delightfully twisty plot, good (not great, but good) characterization, and enough sci-fi weirdness to keep it all very interesting. Highly recommended if you like sci-fi or detective stories. Doubly so if you enjoy both.

Non-fic: Awesomely Simple

Books, Reading 1 Comment

awesomely-simpleAwesomely Simple by John Spence – Business book outlining six “essential business strategies for turning ideas into action”. I sort of speed-read this on the plane to Mountain View earlier in the week, getting through it in a couple of hours, but I’ll be re-reading chunks of it soon. I’m not really qualified to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to business books, but I’ll put this one down as “worth reading” since I’ve already recommended it to a couple of people.

Novel: Moonfleet

Books, Project Gutenberg Project, Reading No Comments

moonfleetMoonfleet – Classic (1898) novel by John Faulkner describing a young John Trenchard’s adventures as he joins the smuggling trade, seeks a pirate’s treasure, and grows into a man. A fantastic story, well told and absolutely worth reading. Part of my Project Gutenberg Project. (Other reviews @amazon.com.)

Novel: The Forgotten Garden

Books, Reading No Comments

forgotten-gardenThe Forgotten Garden – Recent novel by Kate Morton. Great start that gets a little bogged down towards the middle but eventually leads to an overly telegraphed but satisfying conclusion. A decently entertaining read, but nothing spectacular.

Interesting resource – ManyBooks.net

Books, eBooks, Project Gutenberg Project, Reading No Comments

manybooks-logo-newA friend recommended a Project Gutenberg book last night*, but instead of linking to the Project Gutenberg site, he pointed me to ManyBooks.net. The site, which is apparently the work of one person, is a bit of an Amazon-like site for free ebooks, most (all?) of which appear to be originally sourced from Project Gutenberg. I can’t attest to the quality of formatting and whatnot for the ManyBooks.net books, but the site is interesting in that it has more information about the texts, and it also allows readers to post ratings and reviews (which is the really useful bit).

For example, the Project Gutenberg page for The House on the Borderland is a pretty dry and library-catalogue-like affair, and it doesn’t really contain all the information you want about a book, such as the original publication date and length.

On the other hand, the ManyBooks.net page for The House on the Borderland includes a brief synopsis of the story, the original date of publication (1907), its length (50,975 words, 140 pages**) and a handful of user reviews and ratings (average rating: 5 stars).

So if you’re looking for a Project Gutenberg book to read but are having a hard time digging around the Project Gutenberg site, check out ManyBooks.net. The site isn’t perfect by any means, but I find more approachable, more useful, and easier to browse than the Project Gutenberg site itself.


* The friend: David Humphrey, whose blog is very much worth reading. The book: Full Revelations of a Professional Rat-catcher, originally published in 1898 and now on my very 21st century Kindle.

** “Pages” don’t really exist in ebooks, so I’m assuming this is an estimation of the number of pages the book would be if printed.

PGP: The House on the Borderland

Books, Project Gutenberg Project, Reading 2 Comments

Project Gutenberg ProjectThe first book I’ve read for the Project Gutenberg Project is William Hope Hodgeson’s The House on the Borderland. This is a very strange, oddly compelling, and frankly bizarre novel in which two fellows travel to a remote village in Ireland for a fishing holiday. After a few days they run across a creepy old ruin perched precariously over an immense pit where a river is roaring far below. Whilst poking about the ruins they come across an aged manuscript that is largely still legible, and the rest of the tale is told within that dilapidated old book.

I chose this book because its title reminded me of “Keep on the Borderlands“, one of the first Dungeons and Dragons modules I (and most everyone my age) ever played. The novel, of course, has nothing at all to do with the game, but it doesn’t matter — once I started reading I could hardly put it down. Even when I thought I was done with it (there are a few draggy bits in the middle) I kept reading, drawn to continue turning the pages to find out what ever happens at the end of this absolutely bizarre story.

I liked this book at lot, and I think anyone who likes horror, scifi, or anything in between will enjoy it as well. It is strongly reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft, so if you’re a fan of that master of nightmares, you might give this one a go as well.

Novel: Elegance of the Hedgehog

Books, Reading No Comments

Elegance of the Hedgehog is translated from French, and apparently immensely popular in France. It is a very odd novel.

I liked it, but it’s awkward. The novel has two narrators — an older woman in her 50s who works as a concierge for a building of private apartments, and a 12 year old girl who lives in one of them — and various chapters, set in a different typeface for each, are told from the point of view of one or the other. It’s…odd, and I can’t say I found the technique to be particularly interesting or necessary. The narrators also spend an awful lot of time in their heads — there is a whole lot of telling-rather-than-showing going on, with big chewy passages wherein one or the other ruminates about art or philosophy or the nature of family or some other such thing.

The beginning is choppy — the concierge’s character is developed in fits and starts, and when first introduced the little girl isn’t terribly likable. In fact I never really developed any sort of affection or attachment to the child — she feels rather more like a plot device than a person, having no convincing emotional development or depth. The concierge, however, who is the actual protagonist of the story, is much more fully fleshed-out, and the middle of the story is spent largely watching her transformation and development.

But then it all goes awry. I won’t post anything that will spoil the story, but suffice it to say that I didn’t care for the ending (and the bit leading up to the ending) at all. It’s heavy handed and feels horribly contrived — the choppy beginning of the story lead into a reasonably well paced and flowing middle that is unfortunately destroyed by a sudden, sledgehammer-like ending. It felt very much like an editor or creative writing class had ravaged some subtler and more ethereal ending that was more in fitting with the narrative, so the author replaced it with something that attempts to be shocking, but is actually just abrupt and hollow.

Recommended? Not really. There are lots and lots of books better than this, but then there are also lots and lots of books that are much worse. A definite middle-of-the-pack showing.

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