maxcelcat: (Dalek)
One of my prize possessions is a Kobo Ebook Reader, which was a gift from Deb on my 41st birthday. I was very anti the ebook for a long time, I love books and have thousands of them, and I like being able to hold that solid lump of paper and read it. I also figured that ebooks would suffer the same fate as all the released video tapes. When DVDs became the norm, a lot of films were re-released on the new format, but to this day some 40% have not. I figured the same thing would happen to some of the more obscure books I wanted to read. The example I used was Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, a book published during the second world war. Then someone sent me a link to the Kindle version of it on Amazon...

My tendency towards reading large dense Science Fiction novels and more recently the 4000-odd pages of Game of Thrones also endears the ebook reader to me. The whole GoT series must weight in at three kilos, but on my ebook reader they weight nothing. I've also got a lot of books my Neal Stephenson. One of his latest offerings, Anathem clocks in at 937 pages!

I also read a lot of (big fat) history books. History doesn't lend itself to brevity. And this is where I discovered a flaw in the joy of ebook reader ownership.

I bought a (big fat) history book on the Kobo site, and read it with great interest. It was the first volume of a two volume work, like I said, history is verbose. So I coughed up some more money for the second volume... Only to find that the digital version of the second volume had the same contents as the first - it was the same file, effectively, with a different file name.

I brought this to the attention of Kobo. They have one of those fun email support things, where you fire off an email to them, they respond with an email saying we have received your email and will respond forthwith. Then another email with a response, asking for more information, to which you reply, which prompts another email saying thank you for getting in touch we'll get back to you shortly, then a response from someone else asking for the same information again, and more than likely contradicting the earlier... And thrown into the mix are other emails asking how helpful the first set of emails were and could you fill in a short survey.

Out of this the gist of what they were saying was "contact the publisher, we just publish what we're given". This I did. The publisher turned out to be a tiny specialist imprint from the US called Potomac Books. Emails to the various email addresses listed on their site yielded no response whatsoever.

So one night I stayed up late and called them at 9AM their time, 11PM Melbourne time. In fact I called a couple of times, once I remembered how to dial internationally. I left detailed messages with email addresses and phone numbers. Again there was no response.

One night after another unanswered call, I decided rather than calling their editorial line, I'd try sales. I finally got onto an actual human, who was perplexed by my inquiry, but did provide the useful information that Potomac has recently been bought by the University of Nebraska Press, who handled all their ebooks. Finally!

In the mean time, I thought I'd try and get a copy from elsewhere. It turns out that JBHiFi, of all retailers, now has an ebook site. So I bought another copy of this book from there... And wouldn't you know it, it had the same contents! At least this meant the problem was definitively with the publisher and not Kobo

So I dropped some emails to the folks at Nebraska Press. This process had been going on for about six months by this stage, although I lost interest for months at a time. Finally I got a reply. Yes, the contents were wrong, yes they'd update it. And yes they did... Then Kobo did nothing with it for at least a few weeks till I prompted them again. And finally I got the book onto my reader. Volume II was finally mine to read! And... it wasn't half as interesting as volume one...

It occurred to me afterwards that part of the reason Potomac books might have ignored me was because I must have been the first and so far only person to actually buy the ebook version of this tome. It was a lot of trouble for them to get my $37 for this one book!

And what after all this, was the book in question? Why it was A History of Carrier Aviation and Its Influence on World Events in two volumes by Norman Polmar of course!

Now if this had been a paper book, I'd have been able to look at it in the book shot as an actual physical object and go "wait a second, this is the wrong book!". When everything is digital, there are no words on a page to read before you buy.
maxcelcat: (Dalek)
I've been diligently reading the five books in the series A Song of Ice and Fire (aka "Game of Thrones"). It's something of a hard slog, each book is about 500 pages long, the last one is over 1000 pages!

I confess I came upon it via the TV series, which is just about in it's third season. This will give you some idea how long the books are - season three is going to be an adaption of only the first half of book three in the series. And I'm not sure I'll watch it, I know all the plot spoilers now. And there's are some remarkable differences between the plot of the book and that of the TV series. Notably, the books are far less violent, and what sex there is is far less explicit. There are also a number of characters who don't appear in the books, or have much smaller roles. For example, Robb Stark's deeds and battles are only related second and third hand.

The author of all these words, George R. R. Martin (not to be confused, as I first did, with Beatles producer George Martin) writes in a really unadorned style, very easy to read, avoiding big words. One suspects he subscribes to Stephen King's style guide. To quote King "Any word you're looking for in the thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule."

Actually, I suspect his writing style derives from his work as a television script writer. Not much call for Tolkien or Joycian writing there!

Every book seems to include at least one epic journey. By foot, by boat, by horse, and always beset by difficulties of one sort or another, drawing journeys out so they take an entire book for one character to get from one distant place to another. Worse, in fact, there are four folks who set out on foot in book three and didn't arrive until book five. The world were all this takes place could really use some proper transport infrastructure...

He's also not averse to killing off major characters. Especially in book three, some 40% of the major characters, who one might have assumed would be the center of the whole story, come to sticky ends of one sort or another. I genuinely wondered what the rest of the books would be about without these people! Or, more annoyingly, characters who seemed like they might be important simply disappear for extended periods or seem to slip entirely from importance. It's like he's storing them for later plots, only to decide they're not required.

I'm some 61% of my way through the fifth book, according to my Kobo. Hooray for digital book readers, otherwise I'd be lugging around about 1.5 kilos of books.

I will say this of the TV series: it is extremely well cast. The characters, mannerisms and general appearance of the actors have been really well matched to those in the book. Of course I saw one them on screen before I read about them, so I never formed my own mental image of what they looked like. Weirdly, the only actor I really recognised in the show was Peter Dinklage, a dwarf who I first saw in the cult film "Living In Oblivion". Go watch that, by the way.

And after 20 or so years, five books and so many words, it sounds like Martin plans at least one, possibly two more books. Given that books four and five began as filler, in order to draw the action five years into the future, and they came out in 2006 and 2011, I suspect it'll be long long time before the story is finally concluded.
maxcelcat: (Stooges Dancer)
In the last couple of months, indeed over the summer, I've re-read every novel Douglas Adams' wrote. Novels only, I haven't touched on his other books such as "Last Chance to See" and "The Deeper Meaning of Liff".

I originally read "The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy" in the late seventies (shit I am old). In fact, I'd encountered it as a radio series prior to that on the ABC. Man, those were different times... When you wanted to re-hear something which had been broadcast, you basically had to wait for it to be rebroadcast. If you wanted to find out about a new book that was coming out, you basically had to be lucky. I remember finding out about the book of the Hitch Hikers guide when one of the other kids at my school was putting a copy in his bag...

Anyway, I bought a really big omibus edition of all five Hitch Hikers books from Minotaur and read 'em all over the summer. Then I re-read the Dirk Gently novels. And I have to say, I think I like the Gently stuff more than the Hitch Hikers stuff. It's somehow less manic and more logical. I felt a lot of the HHGTG work consisted of random anecdotes about random aliens. You know: "The so-and-so people of some planet do the following amusing things..."

I think also I really like the character of Dirk Gently, and indeed Thor in the second novel, stomping around being all impressive when no one really notices. It's also more ambiguous exactly what is going on, more is left to one's imagination.

I still remember being at a gym in Brunswick, watching a television with the sound down, some time in 2001. And they were showing snippets of the HHGTG television series and other Douglas Adams related stuff in the news bulletin. I had no idea what they newsreader was saying, but I thought it ominous.

Two more Douglas Adams stories: My cat Marvin, who really belongs to a guy called Jack, was acquired as a kitten from the RSPCA around the time Adams died. Hence he was named after Marvin the Android.

And many years ago - 1994 - I used to haunt the newsgroup (remember those???) Adams himself was often on it, it was back in the day before the web was drowned in millions and millions of idiots, and it was actually possible to carry on intelligent discussion. There was some guy on the list who was being an asshat. He said he had Douglas Adams' email address, and was willing to sell it to people so they could write him an email. Adams himself replied to this thread, saying "Really? How can I get some of this action?" followed by his email address!

I actually emailed him once, asking him if he minded if I used the handle "Maxcelcat", which was the name of a very, very obscure character in the original radio series of the HHGTG. So obscure he doesn't even get a line. Douglas never replied, which I took to be assent. Either way, I've been using the name absolutely everywhere...
maxcelcat: (Einst├╝rzende Neubauten)
My bookgroup book for this month is the remarkably interesting Stasiland, which is about East Germany, and the secret police, the Stasi, who more or less controlled the place. When the protests started in 1989, they started outside the Stasi buildings.

Anyway, one of the particularly amusing characters in the book - which is non-fiction, by the way - is a chap who is described as the Mick Jagger of West Germany. The author of the books spends many a drunken evening with him in the local pub.

He delights in the name "Klaus Renft" of the Klaus Renft Combo. East Germany's answer to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and well just about everyone, there weren't a lot of rock bands on that side of the wall.

About half way through the book, Anna Funder quotes the lyrics for a song, written by the recently deceased song writer from the Combo. And... They rang a vague bell... I could swear I'd heard them somewhere, that I'd heard the song somewhere.

So, they have this wonderful invention now called the Internets, where you can find out all sorts of things.

I found out that the song was called "Singing the Blues in Red" (I believe) by a chap called Gerulf Pannach (gotta LOVE German names).

And in 1986, Gerulf starred in a semi-autobiographical film called Fatherland, which is about an East German musician escaping to the west. Which I must have seen somewhere - I'm guessing on SBS - anything up to twenty years ago. And somehow it must have struck a chord, because I remember liking the song, and also a rather great quote from the film (I think that's where its from):

Stalinism is not Socialism.
Capitalism is not Democracy

I am amused by the things by brain chooses to retain.

And, the internets being the internets, I of course found a copy of said movie on Ebay. It's in the post to me right now...

A little side note. "Fatherland" turns out to have been made by a rather famous British director called Ken Loach, quite famous for a film called "Kes" from the late sixties. He also made the grindingly depressing My Name Is Joe, which I must have seen in the cinemas in the late nineties.

Interesting side note: A major source of hard, western, currency for East Germany was selling the freedom of some of its citizens. West Germany would hand over something like forty thousand marks to the Easterners, and they'd had over someone who was probably trying to get out anyway. They were basically exporting their citizens! What a weird time.
maxcelcat: (Stooges Bass)
Norman Mailer, the, shall we say, somewhat controversial American novelist died late last year.

I've not really read that much of his stuff, I tried and failed to wade through his first novel, "The Naked and the Dead", and I vaguely recall reading at least to of his other works.

Anyway, his one book which I recall really liking is The Armies Of The Night, of which I have an ancient copy, which once belonged to my long-dead uncle. In fact he bough it in 1970, before I was born. I fished it out when he died, planning to read it over the summer.

Which I finally started to do yesterday.

It tells the story of an anti-Vietnam war march in 1967. What makes it interesting, however, as a work of "literature" is the way it is written in two halves. In the first, Mailer recounts his personal experiences of the march, Washington at the time and the events leading up to it. The second half is a more direct reporting of the events that took place, in which Mailer is merely one protagonist. One detail I always liked: one of the stated aims of the marchers was to surround the Pentagon and by shear force of will levitate it 300 feet up in the air! Ah, hippies...

It's widely regarded as an important piece of what was called "new journalism", a genre where writers like Hunter Thompson would tell of events as if writing a novel. It won several awards, I believe, possibly even a Pulitzer. (Yep. Hooray for the Wikipedia.)

I remember being most impressed by it when I first read it, which could be anything up to twenty years ago (scary!).

So. I've been re-reading it... And I'm finding it to be, well, at best self indulgent. At worst self indulgent twaddle. Mailer must have had an ego the size of a small planet... Which would explain a lot... Damn it. Either I've read a lot of good or better books along the same lines since (Capote's "In Cold Blood" springs to mind, and indeed is my favourite book of all time. Well, in my top ten at least). Or as a somewhat repressed and bored teenager in North Balwyn, maybe it had quite an impact on me because, well, it was more interesting than anything which happened in my life.

I hate it when this happens. Why can't good things stay good with the passage of time?


Nov. 9th, 2007 11:53 pm
maxcelcat: (Krazy Kat)
For reasons not entirely clear to me, I've been re-reading lots of Ursuala Le Guin's books recently, including at least five of the books in the "Earthsea" series.

(I think I like re-reading them because they're not particularly weighty, so they're kinda the book equivalent of fairy floss. Given that I usually read Chomsky and Primo Levi and other heavyweight shit, it makes a pleasant change of pace...)

Anyway, the other "major" series she's created is called the "Hainish Cycle" after a planet of the same name which appears in it. And for no good reason, I've decided to re-read them all - eight (or nine) novels and a smattering of short stories. The debate is - should I read them in the order in which they were published or the order of the internal chronology? Even the Ursuala FAQ doesn't have a definitive answer.

The really scary part is... I found three books (one, two and four in the "chronological" series) sitting on my bookshelves. Along with at least three other books by her which are not in the Cycle... Although there is some debate about "The Eye Of The Heron". Clearly I was (or am) a fan...
maxcelcat: (Default)
Damn it! I should know better than to step into Readings on Lygon Street. So many yummy books.

I am now the proud owner of Primo Levi's "The Drowned and the Saved", which in my defence I've been looking for for months as a gift for someone. And William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition". And "M is for Metal" which is also a gift. So I suppose the pile o' books has really only grown by One... And I did finish a book today :-)


Aug. 22nd, 2007 11:38 am
maxcelcat: (Catnip Cat macro)
Remember how I swore I wouldn't buy any more books until I'd read all the one's I have already?

Oops. I was walking past the crazy second hand store in Westgarth (run by the crazy second hand shop lady) and spotted a copy of Farenheit 451 sitting in the window. A book I have read, but do not own a copy of (I think. I have multiple copies of several books due to my unreliable memory :-)

And I had to have it, even if just so it would be around my flat. $8 later and I was on my way.

Actually, first I fell into an odd conversation with the Crazy Second Hand Shop Lady. She said she needed $43 by the next day to pay some bill, which was why she was still open at 9.30PM on a Tuesday. Otherwise the bank was going to slug her a $30 fee. I know that feeling. Anyway, after I bought the book - she half jokingly asked if I'd like to pay $43 for it - she only needed another $35... Weird lady, weird shop.
maxcelcat: (Krazy Kat)
I keep seeing Books... Books everywhere! And they keep begging me to buy them!!!

Darn it, why did Robert Fisk have to write "The Great War for Civilisation - The Conquest of the Middle East", which is winging it's way to me via Ebay.

And why did an original edition of "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" (the book, not the film) have to show up on said Ebay? Darn it! Stupid buy it now button!!!

Then I heard about "The World Without Us" and... Well, you can guess what happened next...

Darn it, I have about twelve books at home waiting for me to read them!!!!

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