Tag Archives: books

A terrific “Peanuts” Humble Bundle!

It looks like I’ve gone slap-happy for “Peanuts” ebooks. There’s a fantastic new Humble Bundle of exclusively “Peanuts” comics.

Please turn your attention to the $15 donation level, which includes Volume One of Fantagraphics’ “Complete Peanuts” (all of the strips from 1950-1952) as a DRM-free ebook. I just bought it (of course) and you get download links for it as PDF, CBZ, or ePub.

Even if I’d already bought this from Comixology I would have bought it again, just to have it unlocked. And of course the Bundle also includes scads of other Peanuts-licensed comics, plus some of the dough goes to support charities.

As your attorney, I strongly advise you to buy this bundle.

Pleasure An eBook Will Never Give

miss_pettigrew_lives_for_a_day_ver2

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day.” It’s belongs to a personal movie genre: “Movies I love, whose fine qualities didn’t come through to me in the trailer.” The trailer and the ads just didn’t make any kind of impression, despite the fact that the movie stars the always-good Frances McDormand, and thus I didn’t see it until it turned up on cable. I liked it so much that I saw it a bunch of times and then when it went away, I bought a copy for my library. I almost never buy movies.

“Miss Pettigrew” is a gentle, sweet-hearted character piece centering around a magnificent woman who’s long led a life filled with gentle disappointment but also of quiet bravery and admirable endurance. It’s chock-full of strong performances, wall to wall with lovely 1930s set designs, boasting a soundtrack in which even incidental music is worth a download, and powered by a confident sort of storytelling that trusts the audience to pick up on subtlety. It’s dramatic without ever being loud.

And yup, it’s a genre. Almost all of the movies I’ve bought in the past year are titles that I was aware of but wasn’t able to enjoy until they just sort of landed on my TV one day. “The Descendants,” “Up In The Air,” “The Big Year,” “Moonrise Kingdom“…each of them so badly under-served by their theatrical trailers that the only way I was ever going to see these films was if I was only required to look up from my bed and not reach for the remote.

I even liked “Miss Pettigrew” enough to seek out the 1937 novel by Winifred Watson. The book was just as much a treat as the movie. The story is just different enough to make the novel into a different experience and Watson gives the reader more access to Guinevere Pettigrew’s internal monologue. I was enjoying the book so much that I couldn’t bear to not finish reading it during my trip to San Francisco for WWDC.

I should mention that “Miss Pettigrew” is out of print, and you can’t buy it as an ebook unless you can read German. I had to buy a secondhand copy via Amazon. Given that my determination to travel light is starting to amplify itself from a Skill to a Mania, the fact that I chose to tote a slab of paper during a trip in which I only had one shirt is a level of endorsement that can’t be quantified, but must be some multiple of the prestige of a Pulitzer.

I can’t even remember the last time I read a treeware book that didn’t come to me as a gift. As I often say: only a print book can convey the pleasure of a book…but ebooks are just as good at serving the pleasures of reading.

But this trip reminded me of a unique advantage of printed editions.

I finished “Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day” on Tuesday morning. Later that day, I was having tea with a good pal of mine and catching up on things. I praised the book and then recommended that he read it, by way of handing over my copy right there.

I miss lending books to people. I also miss borrowing books from people (and not because I’m a cheapskate. Though the fact that before I handed Miss Pettigrew over, I delicately removed the dollar that I had been using as a bookmark would argue against that point). I enjoy the borrowing and the lending because it’s a tactile, personal, and deeply satisfying endorsement. This is an object that I’ve been holding and carrying for days, weeks, or months. I’ve touched every one of these 240 pages. It has the stains of a few lunches on it.

And remember: I bought it as a secondhand book! It doesn’t have the ugly scar of a remainder, which means that this title had been read by others. The book becomes a shibboleth among people who like to read.

Lest I wallow my way into a luddite essay about the evils of Progress (written on a manual typewriter, with a lede paragraph that explains precisely why the author only writes with manual typewriters), I should point out that I was only able to get this book because Amazon makes it just as easy to locate and buy an out-of-print book as a new title. And though I definitely want to read this book again one day, I gave it away without a second thought. I knew I could get my hands on another copy just as easily.

Isn’t that a terrific twist to modern reading? I used to have to protect my out-of-print books. It was though my copy of “The Book Of Lists” were “The Book Of Kells.” Now, I will eagerly give away a book such as Simon Gray’s “Fat Chance” and not even expect to ever get it back. If it stays in a friend’s library for two years before he reads it…isn’t that a win?

Gifting a book that I like just feels like a more thoughtful kind of recommendation. I would never have watched “Miss Pettigrew” unless the movie happened to already be in my house already. And getting a friend to like something you like is way too important to leave to chance.

At Last: Librarians With First-Strike Capability

I should really activate the parental controls on the TV in my bedroom. I’m not concerned about limiting my access to sex and violence so much as controlling the times that I can get sucked into great movies that I’ve never seen before. Friday morning’s casualty was “Infamous.” In one of those weird things that sometimes happens in Hollywood, two movies about author Truman Capote got made at about the same time, and both movies focused on the same period of Capote’s life: the research and writing of “In Cold Blood.”

“Infamous” started up just as I was making the bed and starting my long commute downstairs to my office. I’d seen “Capote” (starring Philip Seymour Hoffman) in a theaters and I was a bit curious to see how Toby Jones approached the same character.

And the next thing I knew, it was lunchtime. “Infamous” is the more intense of the two movies by far. It’s understood that the intensity of researching and writing “In Cold Blood” (a process that involved forging a very close relationship with one of the killers) had a profound effect on the author. “Capote” presents it as a kind of transformation, albeit not for the good. “Infamous” left me feeling as though he had suffered a death of self without a subsequent rebirth.

Which is why I found myself scrambling to start my day a couple of hours late. I didn’t even bother to move to the room with the sofa and the good TV; I didn’t even think to get off of the half-made bed.

Afterward, I was eager to read some more of his works. I’d read a couple of his short novels. I’d never read “In Cold Blood” (I feel like I shouldn’t tackle it until the spring, when there are more hours of sunlight in the day). But I found a collection of nonfiction essays that I was immediately keen to read: Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote (Modern Library Paperbacks)

It’s not available for the Kindle. Dash it. And then, as the mouse pointer hovered over the “Buy With 1-Click” button, I realized that I didn’t even want to wait until Monday to start reading it.

So I grabbed my bag, put on my shoes, and headed for my local library, after checking online and verifying that they had it.

I love libraries. And here’s something I love just as much, if not even more: creating the false impression that I use libraries every day. In truth, this was the first book I’ve checked out of my local library in over a year. If I’m interested in a book, I’ll buy the Kindle edition. If it’s not available digitally, Google or Amazon will help me find another book that’ll satisfy a similar itch.

Yes, it’s a terrible and myopic relationship with books. It limits me to the subset of English literature that’s either in the public domain or copyrighted works that are still commercial enough to merit a digital edition.

In my defense, however, Day Two with the dead treeware edition of this book reminds me of the life I left behind when I began my relationship with ebooks. For all of the romantic praise that’s been lavished on printed books — the smell of the glue, the crackle of the binding, the dogears and light stains acquired through several generations of love and use — you won’t carry a three-inch-thick stack of paper with you unless you really, really know you’ll need it. I’m in a coffeeshop right now. The perfect spot to do a little reading before or after work. My usual daily carry bag won’t accommodate Truman Capote; I had to scrounge through the office for a promotional canvas bag that came with a loaner Nokia tablet.

Or, I can sling my usual bag (thick enough for a 13″ notebook and an iPad but little else) and carry the book by itself. Holding it low by my hip triggers painful flashbacks to junior high. Carrying it high makes me look like I’ve hollowed it out and am using it to smuggle a recording device into a movie theater or a loaded gun into one of the majority of places where packing heat is regarded as a serious social faux pas.

The experience did make me realize something: I’ve discovered the justification for commercial drones. I really did want that book right away. This is the perfect item to be delivered by autonomous octocopter: it’s light and takes up little volume.

It has the added twist of being something that I maybe shouldn’t have just bought sight unseen, even if it had been available as a digital download. I was taking a flutter on this book. If I’m honest, I’ve had to skip over Capote’s earliest work, which I found too obsessively lyrical for my taste.

The multistate lottery jackpot is up to $500,000,000. My sensible policy regarding lotteries is that I’ll buy one or two quick picks if the payout can legitimately described as a fraction of a billion dollars.

If I win, I have big plans for my local library. I’m going to buy them a fleet of drones. When you visit their website and find the book you were looking for, there’ll be a new button next to “Reserve”: “Airdrop.” Twenty minutes later, you’ll hear a rrrrrrrrrrrrRRRZZZZZZZZZ that increases in pitch and volume, and then a soft thunk outside your door. Presto: literature.

Later generations of these library drones will include two features that I consider essential to robotic package delivery: the drone should ring your doorbell by extending a white-gloved four-fingered hand on a scissor-tong. And when it acknowledges that a human has received the package, that same hand should remove a small brown bowler hat from atop the drone and tip it to the recipient before buzzing back to base. The hat will have no purpose other than to make this vital courtesy possible.

Ultimately, we’ll weaponize them to enforce collection of library fines and also ensure that the Amazon drones stay within their territories and leave the library’s air corridors alone, if they don’t want an airborne repeat of the bootlegger wars of 1920s Chicago.

But that’s for the future. First step is to win that lottery. Then, we start a pilot program. Or, if you will, a pilotless program.

I’ve suddenly realized what I’ll enjoy the most about this: I’ll be able to make terrible jokes like that one and people will pretty much have to laugh. I’ll be a half-a-billionare, which means that such things will be magically thought of as Quirky and not Gratingly Annoying. Also, I’m making it possible for everybody in the community to receive the full benefits of their local library without leaving their homes, so everyone will be willing to humor me. They probably okayed the library drone program because they thought they’d be able to hit me up for funds to long-overdue bridge repairs and upgrades to water treatment plant capacity later on.

Also, when someone during the town meeting Q&A asked me if I will have an override code that allows me to commandeer this fleet of armed drones to enforce my will upon a defenseless population, I’ll offer an answer that’s exactly what they want to hear, but just evasive enough to instill a slight concern that all will remember. It’s going to be great.

Darwinist Consumerism: What’s the most ethical way to buy books?

Street performer dressed as an angel poses in Harvard Square in front of two hipsters dressed in black.

An Angel of Death (or perhaps just an Angel of Street Performance) hovers near Wordsworth Books in Harvard Square. Photo by me.

WESTHAMPTON BEACH, N.Y. — Ever since Books & Books opened its doors on Main Street here last month, it has missed out on some of the adulation usually reserved for new independent bookstores in the age of Amazon.

Terry Lucas founded Open Book in 1999. The new location now has less foot traffic.Several storeowners nearby have ordered their staffs not to shop there. Indignant older women have marched inside the bookstore to yell at employees. And someone, or perhaps several someones, may have sneakily placed used chewing gum between the pages of new books.

The animosity seems to have stemmed from the fact that Books & Books moved in when there was already an independent bookstore, the Open Book, around the corner. And as some people saw it, there was no room for another one.

via Books and Books Arrives and Sides Are Taken – NYTimes.com.

Actually, I originally followed a link via Fark.com. But that’s beside the point. I thought this was an interesting article. It demonstrates that it’s possible to be a Darwinist consumer — to feel very strongly that you’re doing the right thing both as an individual and as a logically-minded citizen — and to still feel like a jerk.

I’m sure there’s a proper academic economics term for this idea. What I mean is that when I patronize a business, it’s solely because of the level of service that they provide. Every transaction is a selfish one. I don’t buy things to make a political statement or to support A Way Of Life. I love bookstores. I just don’t particularly care if any given shop survives or not.

And yet, I love books and I love independent, locally-owned businesses. What can I say? It’s a complex world.

When the first Barnes & Noble opened up in my old neighborhood, I was thrilled. But local, independent bookstores were up in arms, crying about how this was another tragic case of Huge Corporations putting the screws to honest, decent, local businesses. They were vocal and active, trying to draft other businesses and community organizations into forming a grassroots movement of some kind. All I can say is that they certainly put way more time and effort into getting articles into the local papers than they ever did in courting me as a customer of their shops.

Before the Barnes & Noble opened up, there were only two or three bookstores within a short drive of my house. Two sold nothing but sappy romance novels and other books solely of interest to Ladies Who Sew Little Outfits For Their Pets. I distinctly remember walking into one of these shops and getting a glance that communicated “We have less than $20 in the register” the moment I wandered within range of the owner’s trifocals.

The third seemed to be little more than a storage area for the owner’s book collection. It was a secondhand shop — I love secondhand bookstores — without any organization to it whatsoever. During the colder months, I believe that one or two area homeless people would build a little igloo of books and live there, warm and unnoticed among the other shapeless heaps of great literature.

I walked into this new Barnes & Noble for the first time. And here I saw thousands and thousands of books covering nearly every topic. Multiple clerks would help you find whatever you were looking for. The wide, well-lit aisles were dotted with comfortable club chairs and you were welcome to just sit and read for a couple of hours if that’s what you wished. “This ain’t a library, kid!” was articulated solely through the sentiment “…none of your tax dollars are paying for this.”

Inevitably, those three locally-owned bookstores went out of business. It was (I hope) the only time I had an actual, practical demonstration of a favorite phrase I had once come across:

“I could watch this die and feel nothing.”

I wasn’t pleased. I wasn’t unhappy. These stores had absolutely no relevance to me.

I should draw a distinct line between the awful stores in the suburbs and the fantastic ones in downtown Boston and Cambridge. As a kid, I used to make regular excursions (involving a bus and two different subway lines) to Harvard Square. First, I’d hit Wordsworth. Then, I’d rummage through the two or three used bookstores along Church Street. Finally, I’d wander around in the Harvard Bookstore and get lunch at The Greenhouse while I read my new treasures.

My book-buying habits smoothly transitioned over to Amazon.com when the time came. But I still kept brick-and-mortar bookstores in the loop. Amazon’s automated recommendations are often uncanny and the discounts can be the difference between being able to afford an art book and having to let it go. But no online retailer can replicate the experience of wandering through aisles in search of a book that you don’t know exists, but which will become your consuming focus after reading just the first twelve pages.

So I still relied upon traditional bookstores for “discovery.” I’m a sucker for that pair of bookcases that display “Staff Picks.” If I found it in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, I bought it in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, dammit. It would have been gauche to jot down the title and then go home and save four dollars and thirty cents by ordering it online.

I’m satisfied with the logical reasons that define my book shopping. Nonetheless, I felt a pang of complicit guilt when I hit Harvard Square one winter day after a long absence and found that the enormous Wordsworth store — which had occupied the entire crescent of that block and defined the Square for me since the first day I got off at the Harvard stop on the Red Line — was vacant. They’d gone out of business a few months earlier, after two unprofitable years and an inability to compete with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders.

I absolved myself by noting that (1) I stopped going to that store because I rarely had an excuse to be in Harvard Square; (2) As much as I liked the idea of this bookstore, my book-buying needs were being better served by Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com…on a personal level, it was simple Consumer Darwinism.

…And finally (3) Oh, for God’s sake, you stinkin’ hippie…there was a Barnes & Noble in Harvard Square as early as 1962!

My basic book-buying scheme remained in place. Amazon.com was for search-and-purchase missions. Brick-and-mortar stores were for “discoveries.”

Great. And then I got a Kindle, and it left me with a big, big quandary.

I just don’t buy physical books any more. If a book is in print, it’s probably available via the Kindle store. If it isn’t, I can wait until it shows up in the catalogue, and I’ll almost certainly find a different ebook that I’ll like just as well. And if the book I want is out of print, it’s far easier to locate a used copy on Amazon.com than in a secondhand bookstore. Even if the store in question isn’t studded with street people living in forts made from Jackie Collins novels like my late and unlamented old neighborhood used bookstore.

And when I buy secondhand books through Amazon I am indeed purchasing them from local, independent sellers. They’re just not local relative to me, that’s all.

Where does that leave my local bookstores? I still drop by to browse. But my old system has stopped working. If I discover a great book at the store and I buy a digital edition for my iPad, it feels a little bit like shoplifting. And yet I know I can’t pay $23 for a physical book that will do nothing but remind me to buy the $9.99 Kindle edition when I get home.

Fortunately, my favorite stores still sell magazines, and cards, and other things that spin in the close orbit of hardcovers and paperbacks. I’ll happily spend $15 in other departments; I feel as though I’m paying the store their “finder’s fee” while still getting items of useful value.

I have to be honest and say that I’ve no idea where this is all going. I’ll be terribly, terribly sad if my favorite regular bookstores close their doors…but I don’t know what I can do to stop that. They no longer sell a product that I use on a regular basis. As a kid, I couldn’t imagine a future in which I’d describe a book that way. But I also couldn’t imagine a device which weighs little more than a single hardcover but represents a reading library of…

(hang on, I’ll actually count them out)

…eighteen books, close to a hundred comic books, and dozens of feature-length articles. To say nothing of all of the movies and music I’ve got on this thing.

Back to the New York Times article. I confess that I can’t see what all the fuss is about. A new bookshop opened up “about a dozen storefronts away” from another bookstore, and that’s gotten a lot of people upset. If it happened in my neighborhood, I certainly wouldn’t be yelling at the new shop owner, or sticking used gum in the pages of his merchandise.

I’d just shop at the better store. I enthusiastically believe in charity for people…but not for businesses.

Google Books for iPhone

Oh, well, yes, I suppose it’s also for Android phones. I’ll happily plug Google’s phone platform too. Actually, I’ll happily drive to Google’s house and clean the dead leaves out of their gutters. Google is officially The Coolest Company On The Planet.

Why? Today they’ve released Google Books for Mobile. Plug http://books.google.com/m into your mobile browser and look what happens:

 

Google Books for Mobile: Top page

Google Books for Mobile: Top page

Yes, all 1.5 million public-domain texts in the Google Books project are now available to mobile users, behind a fairly awesome, slick interface. I’m in the mood for some PG Wodehouse, I think:

 

PG Wodehouse, on a whim.

PG Wodehouse, on a whim.

And I scroll down a bit and find many titles of interest. I give one of ’em a tap, and soon I’m looking at a very credible little mobile book reader:

 

The reader. Basic, but hey, a reader ought to be clean.

The reader. Basic, but hey, a reader ought to be clean.

And the reader isn’t bare-bones. If I zoom to the top I can go to specific pages or search within the text. It doesn’t seem to “bookmark” your place automatically but you can use the browser’s built-in bookmark tool to mark that specific vague section of the book (the “hunk” that Google has just downloaded and is displaying).

Good golly. If Google is evil, then they’re a Doctor Doom sort of evil. What’s a little evil, when the totalitarian dictator takes such wonderful, indulgent care of his subjects?

Huge, hulking, armed Googlebots may suddenly appear on every street corner one morning but I’ll be inclined to think “Well, yes, that’s annoying, I won’t lie. But I do get to keep Google Books for Mobile, right?”