Category Archives: Uncategorized

Gearing up again

I’ve tried a couple of times to get back into blogging, but studying and then working was full on. I’ve been cataloguing for two and a half years, and I’ve learned so much about books and libraries, but also so much about the world. In cataloguing, you need to give every single book an equal level of neutral description, to provide the best access possible.

I learned in my first month on the job, as well read as I thought I was, I was still living in a heavily curated and selective world. My own bookshelves are an echo chamber of sorts, especially compared to the huge range of perspectives in a library.

As a professional, I’ve come to feel that it’s that representation of differences in library collections that matters most. As you can imagine, I’ve read a lot and I’ve skimmed a lot, and I haven’t written much at all about it.

I don’t plan on reviewing as many books as I used to, and I won’t be accepting any advance reader copies or review copies of books anymore, but I look forward to reconnecting with you all and talking about books, material culture, Australia, and libraries!

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I sold my soul to read a novel.

Or, rather, a member of my family sold their soul and then passed the ill-begotten fruits to me.  That’s right, I’m one belated Christmas gift heavier (though not very much, only a hundred or so grams), and it’s a Kindle.  While I suspect the much pricier Sony readers may have suited me better, in the end they’re all being sold in an attempt to lock readers into proprietary formats; since I’m not planning on paying for an ebook that comes with copy protection from either Angus and Robertson or Amazon, I’ll be gleeful with what I have.

What I am doing with my Kindle is highly fun and exciting.  I have now:

  • Converted fan-translated novels, fanfiction, and various file formats into .mobi files using calibre.
  • Had fun with Project Gutenberg downloading bibliophilic and archaeological themed public domain books, as well as staples like Dickens.  I suspect I will end up reading more than I can possibly review.
  • Used the text-to-speech function to amuse myself.  Highlights of hilarity include sex scenes, non-English proper nouns, huge pauses after commas (but not between paragraphs or scenes), and the awkward pronunciation of many many words.
  • Become friendly and intimate with Baen’s reader-friendly ebook download library.
  • Felt disgusted that to use some basic functions like categorising my document library, I must apparently register a fake name my personal details with Amazon.
  • Read things.

What I suspect I’ll actually love most of all, depending on how tables and figures end up, is my newfound potential to convert .pdfs of journal articles to .mobi files for easy reading and annotation (I can always keep a copy of the .pdf as well, to view tables of data).  One of my pet peeves is alt-tabbing between my word processor and various open articles during study, and fingers crossed it will make the composition and editing of academic writing all the easier.

What’s most interesting, coming into the ebook device owning world and reading up a bit on commercial ebook sales, is the clashing and confusion over geographical tax and copyright laws, and consumer attitudes.  Customers want cheap books, not tax elevated books.  Role-playing companies selling short modules and updated for $0.99 US are frustrated by the $2 markup in some international zones, when they’ll sell it to everyone for the same price from their website.  It’s a fascinating mess in the grey area between the shared culture and spaces online and the geographically specific retail and consumer laws that govern pricing and access.  I fully intend to post again soon either with links to some of the core issues, or to blogs that cover them and have links to spare themselves.

I’ve posted in the past about ebook reading hardware and some of the associated changes in bookselling:

Do Readers Dream of E-lectric Books?

Dymocks and Book Prices on the ABC

The First Tuesday Book Club

The first weekend of every month has me anticipating The First Tuesday Book Club.  It’s a basic simple format book review panel on the ABC.  I have an ambivalent and frustrating love for the program.  I suppose my true complaint is that most readers enjoy different books to those that I read.  In any case, my joy in watching a regular bookish program is frustrated at times by both the mainstream predictability of some of the reading choices.

My favourite part of the show was, once, when the panel members would summarise and introduce each book.  This has been thrown over for more distant and far less interesting summaries provided by voice-over, accompanied with terrible video footage that is just shy of being amusing.  I’m not sure if many people noticed the change, but I really loved the body language and reactions of the panel as the various panel members described their choices.  At least they still discuss their recent reads, and I may have a small amount of joy in that.

I have had many disagreements with the opinions given on books, and I felt frustrated last time when To Kill a Mockingbird was more gushed over than discussed (not that the book doesn’t deserve gushing, but I did feel that the water-polo scholarship team at high school managed a more in-depth analysis).  The trivia was a bit fun, but all too brief to substitute for real discussion.

I’m curious to hear about Indelible Ink and Catcher in the Rye this upcoming tuesday, but I can’t help but feel frustrated that only the most popular and mainstream ‘genre’ fiction tends to be represented.  Even with Jennifer Byrne Presents trying to skim over entry-level information about many genres, most books shown are either general Australian fiction, hugely well known and popular genre bestsellers, or nominated by a guest.  I suppose that the real truth of the matter is that people who tend to get their book news from television are the sort who like to buy popular and recognisable books.  Though I do get upset at the restricted scope of the show, I still get excited every week when I know it’s coming around.  At the very least, it helps keep me up to date with the books I wouldn’t usually expose myself to, and every now and then I feel compelled to seek one out.

If you haven’t checked it out before, you can find old episodes at TFTBC website.  Old episodes are also re-screened occasionally on the ABC, keep an eye out.  Jennifer Byrne Presents also has old episodes up, and screens on Tuesdays that aren’t the first in each month.

Lifeline Bookfair in Spotlight

All right, so instead of reading I’ve just been sitting around eyeing my piles of loot from the bookfair and smirking and feeling generally wealthy in a literal sense.  But I’ve at least been reading search results idly in the meantime.

What do others blog about going to the bookfair for?  There aren’t many posts so far, but there were some interesting things being said.

For reference books and sewing skills: The Shopping Sherpa

For papercraft, scuplture and other wonderful book loving agendas: Art & Etc

And, like me here, just for the bookish bookness of it: Melicious

I knew theoretically that people travelled far and wide to get to the bookfair, and that it was a prime source not only for reading material but for craft material, and other versatile affordable re-purposing of paper.  But to know in theory and to be reading about it is another thing entirely.  I suspect part of this comes from living in Canberra, and having a lot of federal political news overshadow local news and events in the media.  People love Lifeline, people love books, and I’ve got a warm feeling deep down in my cold India-rubber academic heart from it all.

Currently Reading

In a pre-bookfair fit of reader’s guilt, I must confess to the books I intend to complete reading before I dive in to my new purchases.

1. Excalibur by Bernard Cornwell – finishing off this trilogy is going to be wonderful, but I’m a little scared to let go of the characters.

2. The Night Manager by John leCarre – I spent a bus trip nearly squirming in delight from the dialogue, and want to read this right now.

3. Clans of the Alphane Moon by Phillip K. Dick – because I think I’m in love with a Ganymedean slime mould called Lord Running Clam.  I am actually quite near the end of this, to be honest.

4. The Collected Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle – because I bought this a few lifelines ago and I’ve been introduced to the BBC remake miniseries recently.  It’s harcover, tactile and wonderful, and a facsimile with illustrations.  I think I’ll just lie around swooning over the binding and flyleaf and forget to get around to actually reading it.

50 books

Yes, I am a bit late again here.  But on my honour, I’m not simply posting about the 50 Books You Can’t Put Down government initiative to use popular books (this year Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and The Girl that Kicked the Hornet’s Nest make an appearance in the list amongst others) to plug Australian authors and get less bookish people buying and reading books for the sake of a freebie.  The 50 Books thing is familiar to anyone in this country who has ever walked through a mall and past a bookstore at the right time, or found the piles of leftovers at remainder or secondhand charity sales.

No, I’m more amused and interested by the first-chapter free previews and events.  Of which there are none in my city.  In fact, there seems to be a distinct lack of the walk-in public reading spaces in most towns and cities outside of the very big ones.  It is a bit baffling to me that an initiative aiming at increasing readership is targeting city centres that are chock-full of literate workers and libraries and bookshops rather than more remote and less culturally accessible areas of Australia, but that’s hardly anything new.  It seems that there are authors’ events at some smaller towns, but I have yet to find a way to search for smaller events by state, so I would recommend browsing the tags at the blog which seems to be where all the information actually lurks.  Though the month is mostly over now, there are still a few events here and there that might be worth checking out.

There’s a few this year that I know I want to buy, even if I cannot afford new books right now.  But I am very excited about the preview chapters.  Go here to find a list of the books on the list this year, and to get free previews of them all.  It’s not much, and I think I’d have rather had a free ebook or two of Australian based writers than an ipod app, a bright red website and fifty first chapters, but I’m a crazy open-source kind of girl and my brain just likes ideas like that.

I like to think that having access to books freely increases the chances of reading, not lists or sales figures, and I’ve always felt a bit dubious about lists and promotions like this.  Why can’t we buy any book published in Australia and get a free ebook of both ‘free’ books?  Why are pro-reading campaigns often centred more around bookselling than making libraries more visible and accessible?  I have nothing at all against making books affordable or the 50 Books system, I just wish… that small local libraries and pro-literacy programs got half as much flashy publicity.

On that note, a lot of Australian public library systems offer e-book ‘loans’ that have varying levels of downloadability and accessibility, and are well-worth checking out.  There are also sometimes e-audio-books available.  These systems are great not only for people with limited access to library services, but for those who need larger print or alternative forms of text to help with vision impairments or issues like visual dyslexia.  Australian libraries are awesome; even the 50 Books list can be found there!

Do Readers Dream of E-lectric Books?

I’ve wanted an e-ink energy efficient ebook reader for some time, but as I do not travel very often and I have a reasonably low income, I have never been able to suffer the price of it.  When I confess to this while amongst my more affluent (the word affluent here meaning securely employed) and gadget-savvy friends I get a lot of strange looks.

‘But how do you read ebooks?’ they ask, as well as ‘Surely the lower cost of ebooks for a reader would be better for your small income than buying hardcopy!’

This reveals an attitude towards ebook consumption that baffles me.  Isn’t it common knowledge that there are a lot of public domain and generously creative commons ebooks that are released in non-DRM and often .txt formats?  Isn’t it common knowledge that you can not only run ebook purchasing and .pdf reading software on your PC, but also use simpler and easier formats that work with software bundled in most operating systems?

My most important question is mainly raised by these gadget using friends, many of whom have had top-of-the-line phones for the last decade.  Why aren’t you using devices that you already own and are in contact with throughout your day to read ebooks?

I feel the need to make some affirmations here and now, that a lot of people do not seem to be aware of.

You can read ebooks on your phone

Not necessarily the DRM-ful .pdfs, but most phone models are capable of opening basic text files and there are many free software options that can convert .txt, .pdf and other formats into java applets that can run on your phone.  If you have polyphonic ringtones and colourful games, chances are with an hour of google-fu you’ll be able to read books.

ebooks are not restricted or expensive

Project Gutenberg is quite comprehensive, and has downloadable .rtf and .txt versions of so many public domain books that most bibliophiles will never read them all.  I’ve known about it for years, and it shocks me daily how many of my bookish friends don’t seem to know of it when our conversations turn to ebooks.  Project Gutenberg is free.  Project Gutenberg has Pride and Prejudice, Alice in Wonderland, and The Pickwick Papers.  In multiple languages, often, for the more popular books in particular.  There is much fun to be had.

Creative Commons books are newer (effectively within copyright by law), but freely available for copying and download and usually conversion to whatever format your computer, dedicated ebook reader or phone needs.  There are more restrictions than public domain, but Creative Commons is incredibly rad and you can find all the guidelines at the site I’ve linked.

All gadgets are only as useful as they are useful

A common criticism of solar panels is the resource cost of creation and development that may not be clear to the consumer.  While many people are excited by the energy efficiency of e-ink, there are more things in my mind to consider.  The energy cost of creating the device, as well as the cost of recycling or destroying it at the end of its usable life should factor in to any decision to buy a gadget.  Even if I had reliable income I am unlikely to run and purchase an ebook reader because my need is not greater in my mind than the cost.  If I travelled, weight of books and energy consumption may indeed make the device worthwhile, and I love e-ink readers for this very reason.  But my lifestyle means it is far more efficient and rational to simply use devices I tend to be passively using while reading (phone, PC, laptop) than to buy into the production of another device, another charger and battery.

I can knit while I read

This is not a mentionable point for most people, but knitting is often tedious and I love being able to knit and read without juggling things in my lap.  I can simply page down with the end of one needle as I go, which is quite lovely and convenient. This works better with computers than phones or ebook readers.

I do hope one day to have the income and lifestyle that would justify the purchase of an ebook reader, but for the moment I simply live a life of rampant and indulgent consumption of ebooks and invite others to explore the versatility and usefulness of ‘ebooks’ in their lives.