The E-Book: A Catalyst to Anonymous Reading

As any readers of this blog have probably realized by now, I love my e-reader. It’s a tablet as well as a reader, so I often have phases where I either use it to browse social media and play games or as a reader alone. As a reader, Kip (my Kindle) is unbeatable. Buying books and reading them immediately is a luxury I’ve grown accustomed to – as is the precious, sometimes minute feeling of anonymity connected to purchasing an e-book.

As an English major and lover of all things literary, book purchasing is a pastime of mine. At a store, your purchases are often scrutinized by a plethora of people – the customers near the shelves as you pluck a novel off the shelf, the cashier who rings you up, and if you’re like me, your own capricious mind. I often choose a novel and carry it with me as I continue shopping, weighing it over in my mind and deciding if the novel is worth my time and modest budget. Bookstore buying offers two things: public opinion and deliberation time. How many of us have been accosted amongst the classics by another book-lover, remarking that the H.G. Wells classic in our hands is among his worst works? Or perhaps a snarky cashier whose not-so-hidden facial expressions tells us we’re buying the wrong books? How many times have I carried everything from Light in August to Wicked in the crook of my arm for 25 minutes before putting it back on the shelf with a strange feeling of emptiness?

Enter the E-book. As I’ve related to readers of this blog before, having a Kindle colossally shifted my book-buying and -reading perspective. For one thing, I found that there exists a bizarre sense of rebellious freedom when you purchase a book you’ve never seen on a best-seller or English major’s reading list. Yes, I like beachy chick-lit. No, I don’t often purchase in them in store, under the prying eyes of my literary colleagues, but offer it for $4.99 on a Kindle daily deal and you can bet I’ve already hit the download button. Why is this? Why am I more comfortable displaying copies of Atlas Shrugged or Never Let Me Go on my bookshelf, but would rather hide Sex and the City in a stack of books on the floor next to my bed (i.e. it’s a figurative stack of books that in reality is my Kindle)? There is a perverse kind of joy in being able to own the entire Princess Diaries series but not necessarily being forced to own up to it.

We’ve established that e-readers have brought us anonymous reading. They’ve also but us shorter deliberation time and instant gratification – when I’m choosing whether or not to buy a book on Kip, I can’t mull it over for too long. One reason is that Kindle offers daily and monthly deals on novels that often force readers into making snap decisions (brilliant, Amazon – simply brilliant). They’ve made Wish Lists available, which is fantastic for those of us who still require good old-fashioned deliberation to make a decision.

. Remember in the nineties when the internet was new and exciting, and people found out you could shop online? This is similar – suddenly people no longer have to get up and go to a store to buy the latest in noteworthy fiction, and they certainly don’t have to stoically walk by the romance section while secretly wanting to buy all of them.

What does this mean for the culture of reading? We are finally embracing the socialization of literature – choosing to connect with other readers and authors on websites, blogs, and social media by sharing favorite quotes and writing reviews. But at the same time, e-reader sales specifically in the genre of romance (often of the paranormal persuasion) are booming, because readers are secretly buying novels they’re actually too embarrassed to own, and keeping quiet about it. How are these opposite trends co-existing in the world of literature? We have anonymous reading, which involves sitting along and choosing whichever titles you’re in the mood for and being able to read them within 30 seconds in the privacy of your home, and hyper-social reading, which involves internet book clubs and testing each other on our favorite book quotes. It’s quite curious.

I think that overall, anonymity and socialization amount to the same thing: we are building a larger book-loving audience than ever before. Whether you are learning to love books by privately purchasing novels that you can’t bring yourself to buy in a store, or you’re creating quizzes and booklists on Goodreads to incorporate as many readers as possible into the discussion of a certain novel, you’re reading. And that’s all that matters. What do you think? Am I over-reacting to the introduction of a new way to purchase literature, or do you agree that e-readers are changing the way readers enjoy the written word? I’d love to know your thoughts on this – have any of you bought a book on your e-reader that you would never have purchased had your choice been made known to another person?

Dos and Don’ts of the Modern Book Club

This post is about my first ever book club, which took place last summer. Some girlfriends and I were done with school (three of us had graduated), but we were heading different directions at the end of the summer. Of the 5 of us, one was studying abroad in Palestine and Ireland starting in July, and one was moving to Spain for a year. We wanted to do something fun and personal that would keep us connected in this next stage of life. My friend Claire, the one who moved to Spain, had heard the book The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was an excellent read for people in their 20s. We immediately went to the nearest used bookstore and purchased our copies, excited to be doing something so intellectual and grown-up.

cup-20973_640 In the group, we have 5 distinct personalities. Claire is fun-loving and focused her energy on making the group enjoyable for everyone. She loved the quality-time aspect of the book club despite knowing she was about to leave the country for a year. Lauren loves the finer things in life: literature, wine, cheese, and Audrey Hepburn. She often provided the goodies during group discussion – which always included wine. Jill wanted to hang out with her best friends while enjoying good wine and conversation – the book was less important than the company. Carly is a planner, and was often focused on the schedule of reading and making sure everyone stayed on task and took it seriously. Also a wine-lover. Then there’s me –the token English major and all-around reading junkie. Who also drank wine.

While wine greatly enhanced our book club experience, it was by no means the main event. I am fully in support of drinking while discussing literature – it helps with the flow of conversation and smoothes over the less-savory aspects of the content. Enter the novel. First and foremost, it was fantastic – easily one of my favorite novels I’ve read outside of school. I went on a Michael Chabon binge soon after finishing Kavalier and Clay with The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Telegraph Avenue. We didn’t stick to the timeline as well as we would’ve liked, and most of us ended finishing the novel on our own after Carly left for her studying abroad trip. But we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves during the few weeks we read the novel, and here’s why.

 

  1. Treats

As I mentioned, we drank wine. We also often had cheese, bread, and salami. Depending on the time of day we met, we had an appropriate snack: brownies, cake, quiche, olives, etc. While the wine was a staple, switching up our snacks was a pleasant way to keep the group from getting stagnant. There was always something yummy to look forward to, in addition to the discussion and company.

  1. Games

We’d been studying in college for years. We had no wish to make this book group a boring lecture or discussion setting where we were fighting sleep more often than we were contributing. Claire adapted one of our favorite game-night games for the novel: it’s called Bowl of Nouns, Fishbowl, or the Noun Game. We had strips of paper on which we wrote characters or nouns from the novel – we all wrote five or so, then put them in bowl. There are three rounds: Catchphrase, where you try and get your teammates to guess the noun by any means, save saying the word itself. The second round was charades, and the third one was one word. By the third round, everyone has heard all the clues twice, so it’s a little easier. We played it almost every time we met up – because it was a fun and entertaining way to learn more about the characters without getting boring.

  1. Friendship

I don’t think our particular book club would have been as successful had we not all been friends. We were able to forgive each other for not showing up on time or reading the correct amount of chapters, but at the same time, we respected each other enough to respect our time together.bible-138977_640

  1. Timeline

While we didn’t adhere strictly to our reading schedule, having a basic structure was very helpful. We didn’t need to spend 3 months on one book, nor did we try to read one book every week. Be reasonable with your time frame – you can’t expect everyone to read as fast or slow as you do. Respect the game, but don’t bank on uniform reading.

  1. A Really Good Book

Honestly this makes all the difference. I recommend reading excerpts or first chapters of a few books before settling on one, or at least doing plenty of research before choosing. No one wants to be stuck reading a boring book that they’d never choose to read on their own. Luckily for us, The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was absolutely fantastic and easy to stay focused on. I’ve attached my review of the novel below for anyone who wants to read it.

In my opinion, book clubs should be fun, and the people in them should genuinely enjoy reading as well as the company. Also wine. But seriously – it was a fantastic experience, and it allowed us to connect in an intellectual yet personal level that we hadn’t experienced before. We’re hoping to get started again this summer. Have any of you had a book club? What was your experience like, and how could you make it better? Do you have any book recommendations for fellow book club enthusiasts? Comment below or email marketing@curiosityquills.com with your book club stories.

[images from http://pixabay.com/]

 

Kindle or Kindling: A Song of Ice and Fire Changes the Game

Our series of the e-book vs. real book debate continues with a train of thought I had a few months ago, while staying up late reading A Game of Thrones, Book One of A Song of Ice and Fire. A little background first: this is not my first attempt at starting the dauntingly lengthy series, and I pray to the reading-in-my-spare-time gods that I finish what I’ve finally started – I’ve currently finished Book Three. My brother, a fan of the series since the first novels were first published (a shocking 18 years ago), supplied me with the first two novels, which sat dusty and rejected on my shelf for too long. Oh, I tried. I picked up the books. I read a few chapters. Every time, the only thing running through my brain was how small a dent I was making in this goliath of a novel—I could never get past holding 800 pages in my right hand, and a paltry 35 in my left.

Then of course, the HBO series came out. Friends raved about the characters and the world Martin created—they also cringed and saw more than they wanted to see, but that’s HBO for you. I took the bait and was floored by the sheer scope of the series, characters, and world development. After finishing the entire series in a month and a half last fall, I needed more. I picked up Kip, my trusty Kindle, and searched for the e-books on the Kindle store. On that fateful day, A Game of Thrones, the first foray into the epic series, was on sale for $1.99. I made the purchase and began reading immediately.

You’re probably wondering why this relates to the Kindle or Kindling debate series, as it just seems like some girl’s late-in-the-game obsession with an epic series. I’ve been reading it for a few weeks, in my not-so-spare time, and I’m 74% done with it. There are two possible schools of thought as to why I’m suddenly devouring this book like it’s my last meal before orthodontic surgery: 1) I’ve watched the TV series, and am so interested in the world and the characters that I simply crave more, or 2) the Kindle has given me the chance to read a novel without constantly being aware of how many pages I have yet to read.

I will not deny the first school of thought: I love the Seven Kingdoms: it’s been an introduction made by the HBO series, but a relationship sustained by the novels themselves. It’s been agony watching the current season one paltry, cliff-hanging episode at a time, so I’ve survived the withdrawals by clinging to the written word. But it’s the second school of thought that is, I believe, the true reason why I’m finally able to absorb these novels. In the genre of the epic fantasy novel, an author needs appropriate time to build a world, so that readers can truly escape to it, even if it’s only for a few hours. That’s the beauty of the fantasy novel: the escape. Time, in this sense, can be directly translated as pages. Most fantasy novels, or certainly the ones with the largest reader base, come in at anywhere from 400 to 900 pages, give or take. If you’re someone like me, that’s a daunting prospect. It’s not exactly the unabridged Les Misérables (which clocks in at just over 1500 pages), but it’s in the same ballpark. One of the strange and beautiful aspects of the Kindle (or any e-reader) is that the reader is somewhat blind to the actual pages of the book. You’re given progress updates when you open and close the e-book (typically a percentage), and you can choose whether or not to be aware of that. All you see is the page in front of you—not the three-inch thick ream of paper you have yet to read. It’s similar to the concept of horse blinders, if you think about it: you’re no longer distracted by the size of the novel, but instead, you get to relish in the moment you’re reading.

This is an opinion piece—and all opinions deserve a little spotlight. So what are your thoughts on this aspect of the e-reader? Is it easier for you to finish a novel because you can stay delightfully ignorant of its size, or do you prefer to stay aware at all times of your progress? Do your hands get tired holding up a 900-page novel, or does the fantasy keep your mind off your physical discomfort? My hands get tired. Not so with Kip, as I can easily prop him up anywhere. So. Let’s hear your thoughts. When you are reading a lengthy book, do you prefer Kindle or Kindling?

 

The English Major Myth

war-and-peaceIn March of 2013, I graduated from the University of Washington with an English Language and Literature degree. I’m not bragging—not exactly. I have a soap-box routine for when family members or business majors or bio students ask me why I chose to be an English major—and this is neither the space nor the platform for that discussion. Is it however, the perfect place for a little honesty.

Don’t get me wrong: I made the right choice. Being a English major has prepared me for more life moments than I have the time to explain here—rest assured that every successful job interview, every proud moment of eye contact and conversation I’ve had with a respected adult, and every molecular resume re-write was a direct result of being an English major. I know how to communicate. I know how to present an idea to a board of my peers or superiors. I know how write. And…I’m an assistant. But, hey! I know how to write!

Okay, so writing. Also reading. (This is where it gets good. The part where the hoity-toity English major gets off her high horse.) The writing part I always had a handle on—which means I must have been pretty good at the analyzing literature/reading-between-the-lines part, right? WRONG. We were taught to break down a chapter, a sentence, a word, an apostrophe. We were also taught, not by a teacher, mid you, that bullshit will go a long way in a 10-page essay.

Myth: English majors are really good at reading.Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_Cover

Fact: I’m actually bad at reading. I’m just really good at bullshit.

I have a huge bookshelf. It’s ones of those built-in shelves, so it’s literally over six feet tall. It’s six feet by 4 feet of shelving. It’s pretty awesome. I have over a hundred books on that shelf. And I have read maybe 30 of them.

On the surface, I look the part. I write on this blog. I have a degree. I have opinions about e-readers. I take literature quizzes on Buzzfeed, and I always do well. I own hundreds of books. You walk into my room and you see this huge bookshelf, and there’s this intimidating feeling, and you think, “Wow, she must read a lot.” You see the classics, you see Harry Potter, you see Margaret Atwood (although for the record I’ve read all the Harry Potters and at least three of my Margaret Atwoods).

But I don’t read a lot. I wish I did—I wish I knew War and Peace as well as I know The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I have all of Shakespeare’s works. I have Gabriel García Márquez, and Wallace Stegner, and Faulkner. But I’ve never read them—I just like to have them, to know that I should have them. As an English major, as someone who’s education revolved around literature, I should own all these novels. In an ideal world, they’d have dog-eared pages and worn covers, but hey.

I can’t win them all.

Am I a hypocrite for owning these books and never reading them? I can’t be alone. I can’t be the only person who doesn’t read all the books she wants to. What about you? Do you honestly have the time to read the books you want to read? Because if you do, I’d love to know how you do it. And if you’re like me, and you need a place to commiserate, comment below or email me at holly@curiosityquills.com.

 

Book Adaptations and their Place in Society

The idea for this post came to me after the season four finale of the HBO series Game of Thrones. I’m surprised I hadn’t thought of it before, as my friends have endured several of my soap-box tirades on this very topic. I’ve been an avid GoT fan for the last year (a little late on the band wagon, I know), and Sunday night’s (that’s June 15th) episode absolutely rocked. It caught up with all the characters we know and love, had a few pretty gnarly fight scenes, and shocked us to the very core as our favorite dwarf’s death sentence…er…played out.

However, as someone who has read the third installment of the series (A Storm of Swords), the novel most closely paired with season four, the finale was not everything it could be. There were SEVERAL cliff-hanging, jaw-dropping, heart-poundingly brilliant and genuinely pivotal scenes from the novel that I was expecting to see, and didn’t. I wouldn’t dare spoil it for the watchers – there is a special circle of hell reserved for people who spoil impactful episodes immediately via social media – but let’s just say that George R.R. Martin is the king of fantasy fiction for a reason.

Leaving out these moments that were, as I said before, genuinely pivotal to plot advancement, really got me thinking. The writers and producers, while extremely talented for turning Martin’s words and characters into living, breathing (sometime fire-breathing) entities, certainly bit off more than they could chew with A Song of Ice and Fire. There’s simply too much that will inevitably be lost in translation, and first to go is the timeline. The omission of these two (or more) major plot points will drastically affect the subsequent seasons—which is only frustrating for the people who read and watch the series.

There are a few things I’d like to comment on as far as movie/TV series versions of our favorite novels are concerned. Clearly, certain things are done very well, as evidenced by the large following of shows like GoT. Just as clearly, certain things are done extremely poorly, although ideally these are overshadowed by the grandeur of the things done right. I’ve done a short case study of a three rather well known book-to-movie or book-to-TV show instances. I’ve chosen to dissect the relationship between book and screen of the following popular series: the Game of Thrones television series (based off George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire), the Harry Potter film series (based off J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels), and the Hobbit series (based off J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel).

 

Daenerys-TargaryenThings Done Right: Character Embodiment and Casting: Perhaps my favorite element of being both a reader and a watcher of movies and TV shows is that I get to see my favorite characters brought to life. When a film or TV series does this well, chances are the minor discrepancies between text and screen fade away, and we simply focus on how well a certain actor portrays a character.

Game of Thrones: My favorite character in the books is Tyrion Lannister, followed closely by Daenerys Targaryen, and because the casting was so well done, the same is true of these characters in the HBO series. Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke (among others, of course) are magnificent portrayals of the extremely dynamic and complex characters in the novel. Dinklage won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, and a Golden Globe for a similar category – he was the only GoT character nominated for the big-time acting awards (although Emilia Clarke won the Scream Award for Best Breakout Performance).

Harry Potter: I don’t really have a favorite character in the books – although I suppose if I had to pick, it might be Hagrid. I do, however, have several favorite characters from the film series – less because of the character portrayed and more because the casting was superb. My top three actors are Robbie Coltrane (whose portrayal of Hagrid was absolutely perfect and my favorite performance in the movies), Helena Bonham Carter (her Bellatrix Lestrange was breathtakingly villainous) and Maggie Smith (whose dedication to the role of Professor McGonagall was simply outstanding). Honestly, I could list several more actors here—the casting director did an excellen job with these movies.

The Hobbit: I am a huge fan of Martin Freeman (I almost chose to use the BBC Sherlock series as my third study, but decided I was too unfamiliar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original works). I loved him in Love Actually, I loved him in Sherlock, and I adored him in the Hobbit. His was an excellent portrayal of the stuffy Bilbo we know and love – and his transformation to hesitant adventurer was near perfect.

 

Things Done Wrong: Adaptations as a general rule are pretty fun. I’ve come to the realization that I can’t ask too much of them, or I will always be disappointed. Each of these screen versions of some of my favorite novels succeed in many Harry-Potter-And-The-Prisoner-Of-Azkaban-harry-potter-17188607-500-208ways, but there is one gaping problem in each of them.

Game of Thrones: The timeline. While they’ve certainly adapted other things to fit the screen, like leaving out or combining characters, small plot points, etc, the writers have never been able to adhere to the time frame of the novels. Around season three, they start changing things – certain characters or plot points happen sooner or later than in the books, and let me tell you, it was incredibly confusing for a first-time reader to try and follow along. By choosing to create their own timeline, the writers are causing confusion and being forced to start changing major plot points as well. All in all, this hasn’t begun to affect the plot in a detrimental way, and the brilliance of the casting with Martin’s originality still make for an awesome adaptation.

Harry Potter: Ugh, plot points. Plot points, plot points, plot points. The actors are awesome, and there’s a certain light-heartedness to the books that the movies do a great job of capturing. The effects are decent, and the dialogue is good – but don’t even watch the sixth movie if you’re looking for attention to detail. I understand that Rowling’s universe is astoundingly fleshed out, and that so much of the detail in the novels is really difficult to put on the big screen. But for me, there are gaping holes in the plot of the movies that I’ve never been able to overlook. Stellar casting or no, I have a love/hate relationship with these adaptations.

The Hobbit: Total Misinterpretation. I’ve enjoyed the Hobbit movies as displays of visual greatness and landscape charisma. They’re beautiful. Stunning, at times. But they aren’t J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, not one bit. As adaptations go, the liberties taken with the text are almost so huge that the movie no longer resembles the original story. Tolkien’s novel (novella, maybe) is essentially a children’s tale of light-hearted adventure. The language, fitting to the time period, is quaint and easy to follow—it’s a story. Not exactly a fairy tale, but certainly not a large-scale epic like Tolkien’s other, more well-known series. It’s nowhere near as violent or battle-infused as the movie adaptations would have you believe. As I said before, I enjoyed the movies on a visual level. But honestly, that’s about it—it’s ridiculous that this novel, one of my favorites and a literary classic, has been butchered into a money-making scheme that irreparably changes the story itself. Cool movie, terrible adaptation.

 

Kindle or Kindling: An Introduction

Last summer, my roommate got a Kindle Fire HD for her birthday, and needless to say, I was simultaneously horrified and intrigued. Disclaimer: I’m a book person. I browse used bookstores whenever it’s physically possible, which ends up being roughly three times a week. I like being around books. I can’t really explain it, but I have this need to fill my shelves until they have every genre, all the classics, and of course, each Harry Potter book (in hardback, naturally; I’m an HP purist). That being said: I saw my roommate playing with this strange, beautiful device—she was flipping through bookshelves with a flick of her finger!—and I felt a strange longing. I wanted one.
Enter my relationship with Kip, the graduation present from my parents, which is, in the common tongue, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9. I was enthralled, hoodwinked, and utterly taken in. I was curled up in the personal haven of my bed, wearing sweatpants, and purchasing books with the immediate satisfaction of seeing it in my library. The origin of Kip’s name is simple word association, and has grown to be the title of this blog series. Kindle led to kindling, also known as fire fodder, which developed into Kipling, as in Rudyard. Kip, for short.
I love Kip. Kip is also a tablet, so I’m free to access social media, games, and all the amenities of the world wide web, which I will do my best not to pair with my thoughts about e-readers. Let me revisit a fact about myself I mentioned earlier: I am a book person. I love groaning book shelves. I love turning pages, and I love that strange, sweetly pungent smell of an old paperback. Nothing makes me happier than an overstocked bookstore—you know, the ones where you have to precariously pick your way through the aisles so you don’t disturb the stacks on stacks of best-sellers from the 1990s? I also love Kip. Kip is convenient, and most e-books are pretty darn inexpensive, even compared to used bookstore prices. My favorite feature of Kip is that while reading, if I come across an unknown word or a phrase that is vaguely familiar but the true meaning escapes me, I simply highlight it and Kip brings up the full definition, including derivation, etymology, and archaic uses. It’s pretty freaking cool.
I’m torn. I love books, and I believe I will. However, I see the positive elements of having an e-reader, and I take advantage of them every day. So here’s my call to action: this blog series has one purpose, and that’s to delve into the debate between paper books and electronic books. Both have their niche, and both are incredibly prevalent in today’s society—clearly, books have in no way disappeared since the introduction of the e-reader. Anyone who considers literature to be an important facet of their life has an opinion about this—even if their only conclusion is a benign apathy. Indifference is an opinion, people.
I encourage readers of this blog to comment below or send an email to me about this important topic of discussion—I’m curious. Are you a purist, like I thought I was before I held the power of a bookstore in my hands? Are you indifferent? Does your e-reader make it easier for you to finish books, or harder? Like I said, I’m curious. And I’m one of the main contributors to this blog, so I get to ask the questions. If you would like to share an opinion on Kindle or Kindling that might be more fitting as a guest blog post, please email marketing@curiosityquills.com—the more discussion we can generate, the happier I will be.

 

[Editor’s note: The Kindle or Kindling Series will continue with the views of the CQ team]