Fat Books & Thin Women


Reading Journal!

Iris wrote this great post about reading journals and using our blogs to offer something besides straight reviews of novels. I don’t usually use this blog to do much other than review and post about short stories, but lately I haven’t been so much in the mood to review. To say, many thanks to Iris for reminding me that I can use Fat Books for whatever I like.

My reading lately has been a lot of Albanian history interspersed with comfort reading. I mean the Emily Giffin kick that I was on a few weeks ago, The Two Towers (which I just started rereading), and Sue Grafton. Plenty of Sue Grafton.

When I reread The Fellowship of the Ring last year, I had a hard time thinking of it in terms of anything other than comfort reading. It was such a great book to return to when I was sick (seriously, for like a month straight – that’s what happens when you should go to the doctor but don’t) and working on a huge project (a gazillion spelling bees). The Two Towers is just about the same. Reading the first chapter, I was surprised by how clumsy Tolkien’s writing seemed, but after a couple chapters I had slipped into the rhythm of it. I’d been debating starting on the second book of the George R.R. Martin series, but I’m glad I decided to stick with The Lord of the Rings. Gives me what I wanted out of Martin – that sense of a completely imagined and endless world – but with the added benefit of familiarity. Plus, this means that when I fly home (July 31st! [for good this time!]) I can buy A Clash of Kings in paper.

Reading this article on Nancy Drew’s “father” last week, one thing O’Rourke wrote really struck me – that no reader could ever solve one of the Nancy Drew mysteries. When you hit the end of the novel you could look back and say, “okay, I guess everything fits that solution” – but as you read, there was no way you could take the “clues” Nancy found and turn them into anything meaningful. The Nancy Drew books just aren’t the type of mystery designed so the reader can attempt to solve them as he or she goes along. While I was getting close to the end of Sue Grafton’s G is for Gumshoe, with no clue of what “solution” Kinsey was close to finding, or how the hell she had gotten there, I realized that Grafton’s mysteries have the same problem. I keep reading the Kinsey Millhone books because I’m getting fond of Kinsey’s character, but I’m more passive than I was when reading, say, one of Elizabeth George’s books (as frustrating as her books have become). What “clues” Kinsey deals with aren’t clues of the type that might lead the reader anywhere; we just end up waiting for Kinsey to have a flash of inspiration and tell us how she solved the mystery, going from clueless to closing the case in the last few pages of each novel. This is, actually, kind of frustrating for a reader.

In other news, I have a box of books on Albania and stuff relating to Albania on its way to Tirana. I’ll probably post about some of these things as I read them – expect a lot on Ismail Kadare’s novels – although it occurred to me, as I was looking at the nonexistent comments for my review of Kadare’s Chronicle in Stone and this longread on Albanian blood feuds, that exactly zero people, other than myself, are interested in this stuff.

Also, my Kindle had a baby. If I can pose this question to people who own one of the newest Kindles (which is so small I find myself tempted to buy one when I get home – imagine how easy it would be to use even with just one free hand!), how are you supposed to take notes on the thing? I appreciate how much smaller the Kindle got once Amazon dumped the tiny keyboard, but if I had to laboriously select the letters on the Kindle’s on-screen “keyboard”, one by one, using the up and down button, I would never, never take a note. It seems like giving up on the story that you can mark up an ebook just as easily as a real book. You can’t, which is why I coerced my parents into spending $50 to mail a box of books to me in Albania, rather than reading them on my Kindle.

In the same ereadery vein, The New York Times today ran a piece about digital distractions on tablet devices. The piece falls into the camp of NY Times pieces telling us things we already knew, using a small subject sample, but whatever – the idea of people struggling to read novels or other books on their tablets is both painful and obvious. One of the things I like about my kindle, especially since I’m in Europe and can’t access the internet on it (old timey kindle here), is that there are no distractions. I can’t go online, I can’t learn if I have a new email; I’m just reading. A tablet seems like an appealing thing to have for a subscription to the Times, and to play Angry Birds on, but I can’t imagine reading a novel on one. You?

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14 Comments

I like journal style posts :) Sometimes, there’s little to say about a certain book, but there are lots of things to say about your reading at that moment.

You have two Kindles? I admit, I am a little jealous. I have one old Sony Reader, because I wanted to avoid the issues surrounding ebooks in Europe through amazon (inexplicably, it’s 2 dollars more for each books (AT LEAST) due to “deliviery costs”), then again, my Sony reeader is linked to a Dutch ebooksite (as a European, I am not allowed to buy from Sony.com) and those books are super expensive as well. So if I ever have to substitute my reader, I may consider getting a kindle.

Comment by Iris

Yikes, I am glad I don’t have so many problems with buying ebooks. Bettina from Liburuak mentioned some of the difficulties in buying books (for kindle) when you’re registered outside of the States. Until I read that I hadn’t realized there were any such problems – but I guess my kindle has always been registered in the USA, although I’ve lived abroad most of the time I’ve owned it. The small kindle actually belongs to one of my friends who is working on a project with ereaders. I couldn’t resist getting a photo of them side-by-side, I was so surprised when I saw how much smaller they’d gotten.

You’re right about not having much to say about one book vs having a lot to say about reading in a broader sense. Sometimes when I look at my reading list here I realize how many books I skip over reviewing, either because I don’t think they’re worth a review or am not sure what to write by the time I get around to reviewing it. I like the idea of giving those books some sort of mention on here, because they make up such a huge part of my reading.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

I wrote about the Kindle Fire here, but I love it. I don’t have a problem compartmentalizing my time between reading and the other tablet apps. For me it’s a lot easier to read than the original Kindle I had before. My daughter loves it as well, especially the Touchy Books app series that are children’s books that read to her and offer interactive pages. I have to say I’m not even tempted by the iPad 3 because of the Fire (at least until I see one :-)).

Comment by scottissterling

Oh, cool, thanks for linking to that post! I’d been wondering for a while what the e-readers are like for kids. The Kindle strikes me as about the most boring electronic you can own, so not real appealing to kids. I’d love to get a look at the Kindle Fire one day and see what a picture book is like on it. Such a cool opportunity to take a book and make it more interactive, the Touchy Books app sounds great. I almost wish I had a Kindle Fire so I could use it myself.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

I have a Kindle Keyboard 3G, and I do like having internet access through it. I think for me though a big part of it is that I don’t have a smartphone, so I like knowing that if I get lost in DC I can hop on my Kindle and figure out where I am or look up the address of where I’m going. The connection is very slow, so it isn’t really a distraction from my reading so much as a way to get a new book in a pinch if I finish mine and am not at home.

Comment by Grace

I liked having the internet too, when I first bought my kindle. It’s a little dangerous, though. I would find myself laying out in the backyard, a few minutes into a new book, when I’d think of another book I wanted to buy. Presto, a minute later I had spent $10 and added another book to my library that I might read, in a few years. It’s funny how, with the kindle, the slow 3G connection becomes almost a selling point. I checked my email a few times on it, but it took so long that I quit doing it. Distraction handled.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

I’ve been trying very hard to make sure that I only buy one new book at a time, not counting public domain works, otherwise I’d spend way too much money on Kindle books. Then again, one of the reasons that I wanted the 3G is because I’m almost never at home when I’m reading, and I wanted to be able to download a new book on lunch break if I finished mine.

Comment by Grace

May be I’m just an old fashioned girl but I I prefer to read real books. I just dont want e books could ever replace traditional books …I have my Kindle but I find such a big pleasure to read a nice paper book even an old one. It has some special energy…

Comment by Alex Fatcow

Oh, so do I. There’s not much I like more than walking into a library or a used bookstore and breathing in that old book smell. The Kindle, though, is great for certain purposes – for me, now, it allows me to read recently published books even though I live abroad and can’t buy them at a bookstore. When I get home, though, I’m excited to go to the library and the bookstore and get back into what is, as you say, the special energy of paper books.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

I love my Nook Color, and yes, it can do other things, but I am rarely, rarely distracted by anything on it. When I want to read, I read. If I want to check Twitter in bed, I’ll pick it up and use it solely for that. I don’t really enjoy electronic games, so Angry Birds and things of that nature just aren’t tempting for me.

As for reviews, I have personally been playing around with mine for a while now. For example, the review that’s up now is a bit playful because it’s not my typical book, and I didn’t want to review it like one. I wanted to point out the things that brought me to that book or that worked and didn’t work in a less critical way.

I did the same with The Woman in White, simply because it’s been reviewed to death, and I don’t want to write an academic essay on my blog. I’ve done that and can do that but don’t want to. That’s not what I want my space to be. It’s fun watching the evolution of your own blog. It can be painful and a lot of work, but I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it.

Comment by jenn aka the picky girl

Maybe this means you’re a better reader than I am? Or maybe just that my idea of things like iPads has been skewed by my living abroad when they came out. I’ve only seen a couple iPads, and I skip right over the ereader apps to finding games to play on them.

It is so interesting to watch our blogs shift over time. I love going back into old reviews occasionally, and seeing how my posts have shifted over time. It’s such a cool way to remember not just what we thought of a particular book, but how our thoughts on reading and reviewing shift over time.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

My kindle had a baby, too, but I have the touch version, so the keyboard isn’t so painful to use. I also sold my earlier one to justify the ‘upgrade.’ I have no idea how one is supposed to effectively use the onscreen keyboard with the little knob – seems like its there more for search than note taking.

Also, I think just like it’s interesting to see your blog morph over time, it’s also interesting to revisit books you loved in the past, and notice things that never registered upon first reading (awkward writing, for example). Either the story was too engrossing, or your mood has changed, or your reading ‘style’ has become more refined, or the self that enjoyed the book has added so many experiences that the current self isn’t sure why the book ever affected you so. I’m probably not making any sense. I experienced something like that when I reread the God of Small Things, which I still think is excellent, and I still enjoyed the prose, but it just didn’t pull me in a decade later in the way it did the first time around. It was just so sad – I don’t know if I just found tragedy more romantic then and think it’s just completely wasteful now, with nothing appealing about it whatsoever. Perhaps my left brain has taken a more firm grasp over my persona, because stories like The English Patient and Shakespearean tragedies used to affect me more strongly, and now I think, you idiot humans, what a mess you’re making of things. Stop it. Just stop.

So that was quite a digression. I probably should have just written my own blog post. Maybe I will…

Comment by zeteticat

Yeah, nice as the new kindle is, not sure I’ll buy one. I guess the way I use my kindle will change when I’m back in the States. Right now I use it for pleasure and for reading works for my fulbright project; not being able to type notes easily would be a huge pain for me. But if six months from now I begin using my kindle to read on the subway, I can see the advantage of having one that’s so light. (Plus, they’re so cute! The smaller they get, the more adorable.)

I like the way you’re thinking of rereading here. When I write about rereading – when most people do, I think – it’s about how awesome it is, how much more of the book we’re able to see and understand, all the layers of the story that are becoming more visible. I tend to forget the rereading can backfire sometimes, and the work can lose what made it so good in the first place. I can vaguely remember this happening with some books I read as a kid – I think I reread something by Bruce Coville and was disappointed to realize how much I’d built it up in my memory. As much as I want to reread The Hunger Games, I’m scared to because I worry a second read will just give me the chance to see clumsy writing or characterization, that the books will lose what they had when I raced through them the first time.

Anyway, I’d love to see you write about this on your blog. It’s so interesting to me to think about how we change as readers, and how that changes our reading experiences and rereads, for better and for worse.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

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