Sunday, December 20, 2009

My pile of Kindle-ing

It happens to the best of us. We hear about a shiny new product, figure our lives are still okay without it, and go on with things. Then we get said product and wonder how we ever lived.

Such is the case with my Kindle.

(Disclaimer: Though I am an Amazon Affiliate because I like being able to get a new DVD every now and again, in this case I am just a satisfied customer.)

When you live in an apartment and own a lot of books, space becomes a major issue. When your husband threatens to divorce you if he has to move any more of your books, that's also a major issue. For me, the Kindle solved both those major problems; I can fit my entire library on there with room to spare, and I can carry it in my purse. And since I've had a lot of questions about it, here are my answers:

  • No, not every book is available for the Kindle, and the Kindle cannot read e-pub format books. But I figure that Amazon has 400,000+ books available for the Kindle. I'm not going to get bored anytime soon.
  • You have to read your Kindle under the same conditions you'd read a paper book, in terms of lighting. The Kindle is not backlit, because reading on a backlit screen for long periods of time is very hard on the eyes. I'm also a loyal iPhone user, and believe me, I spent the first 24 hours of my Kindle ownership poking the screen and listening to Mr. Carlie yell, "It's not an iPod! It doesn't have a touch screen!" Of course, there is a Kindle for iPhone app, which allows me to read my downloaded books on my phone and then sync the two so my Kindle catches up to where I've read on my phone. I heart technology.
  • I can hold a drink in one hand and read on my Kindle in the other and not worry about getting food on the pages. This is important!
  • Yes, Kindle books are $9.99. Sometimes they're more, sometimes less. Lots of classics are available for free.
  • You don't have to have internet at home to use the Kindle. In fact, you don't even need to own a computer. It works over a 3G network, just like cell phones.
  • No, I don't think the Kindle, or any other e-book reader, is going to kill the publishing industry because...
Let's think about this for a minute. THE hot new electronic toy to have is a device dedicated to reading. When was the last time that happened? Sure, the Kindle plays MP3s, but it's way too small in terms of capacity to hold a music collection. One significant person in my life who travels a lot adores his Kindle because it means he doesn't have to pack heavy books in his luggage. I like that I can read one-handed if I have to ride the subway standing up. People who love to read but have limited space don't have to worry about their volume of book ownership. Since the font size on the Kindle is adjustable (though the Kindle only has one font), people who are visually impaired don't have to wait for large-print versions of books. And those who like to mark their books (not I, but there are some) can still make notes and bookmarks via the keyboard.

There's even a discussion about the Kindle at Jezebel here.

I know lots of people have found various faults with the Kindle, but I personally love mine. Like Urban Decay Primer Potion and the Tide pen, it's changed my life for the better.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Help: You need it

I know it probably makes me uncool to blog about a huge bestseller, but I was never one of the cool kids, anyway.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a book that I might normally pass up. It's historical fiction, set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi. It's also most definitely women's fiction, which I've never thought was my thing. What got me to pick it up? First, I got it as a gift. Thanks, Mom! Second, the people I talked to who had read it said that what made The Help stand out were the voices. I'm a sucker for a great voice, so I picked up the book and now there's a day missing from my life (in a good way).

To be precise, the book has three voices: Skeeter, a white recent college graduate who is living at home in Jackson with no boyfriend and no job; Minny, an outspoken black maid with a talent for cooking; and Aibileen, also a black maid, who is devout and kind. When Skeeter is rejected for a job at Harper & Row, she is advised to work on her writing and really think about the stories she wants to tell. This leads to Skeeter investigating what happened to her beloved maid, Constantine, who stopped writing to Skeeter while she was away at college. In the course of finding out what happened to Constantine, Skeeter grows closer to Aibileen and decides that the stories she wants to tell are the stories of black maids who work for white families in Jackson. In the era of Jim Crow laws, just getting the maids together to tell these stories for the book endangers their livelihood. The women must meet in secret and when Skeeter's best friend Hilly gets wind of Skeeter's writing the book, she sets out to make things miserable for Skeeter. While Skeeter and Aibileen work hard to keep the book a secret, Minny is keeping a secret of her own: Her employer, Miss Celia, will do anything to keep her husband from knowing that she's hired Minny.

The voices make this book unforgettable, definitely, but I think there's another aspect to it, and that is that Stockett treats great human kindness as well as cruelty with equal care. She also stays far away from two of my biggest pet peeves in historical fiction, which are characters who rebel with twenty-first century sensibility in a time when they knew full well what the consequences could be for doing so, and forgetting that not everyone is super affected by every major historical event that comes along. Stockett always keeps her focus on the people, which I feel should be the focus of all good works of fiction. She gave her characters fascinating yet real lives, so they only needed each other to make for a great book. The setting is just as vivid as the characters, and it made me very glad to live in a time of air conditioning. No breakneck adventure, no zombie apocalypse, no torrid doomed romance, just an absorbing, thought-provoking story of three lives.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Holes Goes to Hell

Know how much I wanted to read this book? I bought it. (Alas, my local library system doesn't own it and I never got an advance copy.) Not only that, I paid retail for it. I don't remember the last time I paid retail for a book. I have to say, this was well worth every cent.

Lockdown: Escape from Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith (FSG, 2009)

The premise: Fourteen-year-old Alex has led a life of petty crime for the past two years, stealing money and valuables from empty houses. Stealing gives him a thrill, until the night he and his friend Toby break into the wrong house. Alex and Toby are caught not by the cops, but by three men who seem to be right out of a sci-fi movie. To Alex's horror, they kill Toby and frame Alex for his murder. And there's no standard juvenile detention facility for Alex, either. He's sent to serve his sentence in Furnace, the worst correctional facility since Camp Green Lake. It's a state-of-the-art prison built a mile underground into solid rock. No sunlight, minimal air, no fresh water.

The worst part of Furnace isn't the heat, or the tiny cell, or even the prison gangs. It's the monster skinless dogs who can rip you to shreds in about five seconds. Or maybe it's the wheezers, who come during the night. Once they mark you, you're in for a fate worse than death. You won't find any senior citizen inmates in Furnace. No one lasts that long.

Alex refuses to give up on himself, no matter how bleak Furnace is. He clings to his innocence and he's determined to find a way out.

My personal thoughts: This book hits all of my favorite book buttons. First, an institutional setting. I don't know why, but I love books that take place in prisons and hospitals. Second, the action is bloody and unforgiving. Many Darren Shan references are made by both the author and the characters. Darren Shan is the first author I thought of when reading this book. Both authors use breakneck speed and incredibly creepy half-sized creatures, and neither shies away from describing every gory detail and injury. (Translation: This book is not for the faint of stomach.) They also both remember that a book can have all the blood and gore of all the Saw movies put together, but no reader is going to get past page ten if the protagonist doesn't have some heart and charm. No matter how frightened he is by the prison, Alex retains his sense of right and wrong. He is a thief, yes, but not a violent criminal. Nor is he someone who wishes ill on his fellow inmates or harm them without provocation. I wanted to see Alex succeed, but I also couldn't wait to see what kind of prison atrocity Smith would spring on us next. It's a page-turner, no doubt, and I almost wish I'd waited to read this until book 2 was out.

Lockdown is the first in a planned five-part series. I don't know if I can take the suspense!

Lockdown's page at Macmillan US || Alexander Gordon Smith's website || author interview at The Discriminating Fangirl || Jen Robinson's review