Archive for the ‘Books’ Category
The debate about electronic book (e-book) formats seems to be cropping up quite a lot lately. Arguments have happened on Twitter, and there’s even been discussions amongst friends in (gasp!) real life.
As is usual with such discussions, there are the extreme viewpoints. Some people are absolutely dead set against electronic formats for reading, considering the whole practice as sacrilegious, while enthusiastic adopters of the technology accuse the former of Luddism.
Then there is the boring middle of the spectrum people like me (though perhaps I am closer to being an e-book convert). I have used a Kindle for close to a year now, have read quite a few books and regularly read the New Yorker on the device. But I have also enjoyed reading paper books during this time.
So, here goes a rather subjective look at both formats. Fair warning – there is little new ground broken here on the debate. There are ample blogs or articles that have made similar points. I just wanted to jot out my own thoughts, and also – I have nothing better to do right now.
Love or hate it, e-books are here to stay – this summer Amazon passed the milestone of selling more books in electronic formats compared to hardcopies. The practical advantages of e-books are difficult to argue with. The devices are (usually) light and small, hence portable and their massive capacity enables you to carry range of reading materials. On a recent trip to India that involved over 48 hours of travel time, I took my Kindle (the latest non-touch version) loaded with about ten different novels of varying genres from serious literature to sci-fi, fantasy, mystery etc as well as couple of the latest New Yorker editions. And these were just the unread stuff. I also had a collection of old Wodehouse, Agatha Christie and classic short-story compilations – stuff I love re-reading occasionally and are available for free or cheap on Amazon. All this in the convenience of a sleek device that holds like a paperback in my hands, but much lighter. Having the Kindle allowed me to jump easily between various books or magazine articles depending on my mood (I like reading a few different books simultaneously, especially when I am travelling). In the pre-electronic book days I would have been limited by perhaps one or two. Given that I travel somewhat regularly and enjoy catching up on my reading during flights, this easing of burden on the shoulders is quite a boon.
At this juncture, I should mention that I strongly favor the Kindle as my reading device. I have tried the Kindle app and iBook on iPad as well, but the iPad is not built for reading books. It is too heavy and the screen glare is too harsh for any kind of extended reading. Then there is the distraction of a device that is usually connected to the internet tempting you away from reading. The iPad is however excellent for reading magazines, news articles or scientific/technical papers where colored graphics are important. I also think that it could be a great substitute for academic text books.
Amazon has recently introduced couple of new lending features that makes the Kindle even more attractive. Firstly, you can now lend e-books from the local library. Second, Amazon will allow you to lend certain books indefinitely from their own collection. There are some caveats though. The local library, at least in my city, ‘stocks’ only few copies of an e-book, usually just one or two licenses for the entire library system as opposed to a few hardcopies of the same book per branch. Thus there is typically a very long waiting list for the popular books (but I did manage to borrow couple of books that were best sellers only a few years ago). The Amazon lending feature is also somewhat limited – only members of its Prime program can borrow, and borrowing is restricted to only one book at a time and also one per month. Additionally, they do not have any system by which you can list books you want be borrowing next e.g like a Netflix queue. But the collection of lendable books is pretty good, and I have a feeling that the program will be extended as e-books gain more popularity.
Also, as a side-effect, and if you are into that kind of thinking – reduction of traditional books should help the environment by reducing paper usage. Saving trees and the rain-forests is probably not a bad idea (Used electronics is a source of environmental pollution too – not sure if they balance out).
On the flip side of all these wonderful advantages that technology provides, the reasons for coveting regular books are usually sentimental and romantic – the touch and smell of paper, the physical act of turning of the pages, the memories associated with the dog-eared copy of that one favorite novel and so on. I have to agree that there is some intangible feeling provided by a paper book that does not convey as well on e-formats.
On a more mundane, practical level, paper books are still the best when you want to lend or borrow. This is important especially if you have friends who share similar reading habits. Sharing books makes it so much easier on your pockets. Finally, if you extensively read any Indian vernacular language books, e-book options are practically non-existent.
In the end, the Kindle/e-book versus paper debate obviously comes down to a personal choice. I would however, encourage skeptics of e-book format who haven’t tried reading on proper reading devices (e.g Kindle or Nook) to give the format a shot. Personally, I see myself moving gradually over to e-books just for the convenience, while continuing to buy some paper books, especially those I would love to display on my bookshelf.
1. And somehow kick re-start the moribund blog.
2. Never tried the Nook.
Occasional re-readings of good old Plum’s extensive output can work wonders in perking up the depressed soul (second only to the restorative effects of a w. and soda brought to your favorite armchair by a trusted, brainy butler) .
Should be a mandatory prescription, or something.
No matter how many times you have read it, lines such as this never fail to shovel out a loud chuckle:
He had the look of an ostrich that had swallowed a door knob.
A wave of nostalgia induced by this post, led to an youtube-hunting session with a desire to revisit what is possibly one of the most memorable – not to mention comic – scences ever created in the history of Indian cinema :the meeting of Jatayu with Feluda and Topse on a train while it stops at Kanpur.
I have seen this film possibly more than hundred times and this particular scene is etched in memory, yet it doesn’t age.
Sorry Non-bongs, look elsewhere; no amount of translation can convery the nuanced wit.
PS – On the way back from Kolkata, the current crop of Feluda, Topse and Jatayu were traveling on the same plane till Singapore. I gathered they were on their way for an on-location shooting, not doubt with a view to butcher (sorry, not a big fan of Sandip Ray’s version of Feluda’s) Tintoretor Jishu (IMHO, one of the weaker Feluda novels).
Suffice to say, that these guys, Sabyasachi (Feluda), Parambrata Chatterjee (Topshe) and Bibhu Bhattacharya (Lalmohan Ganguly) are no patch on Soumitra, Sidharth Chaterjee and of course, the incompareable Santosh Dutta. I especially took an instant dislike for the new Topshe: of course he was out of character, but all-together too much of a smartypants. Topse is supposed to be innocent.
Via Neil Gaiman’s blog, links to the full list of sci-fi/fantasy short stories nominated for this year’s Hugo Award. Devoted fans of this genre would have not doubt already read them. I consider myself as a big fan too, but as usual, am late to the party.
Anyhow, must read, all of them. The one I enjoyed most is Tim Pratt’s ‘Impossible Dreams’;it combines sci-fi with a passion for cinema and even a dash of romance thrown in.
Here is an obituary in Salon and an extensive one in New York Times. Here is a video of his appearance on The Daily Show almost two years ago. He was about to read a list on that interview when they had to stop. But Jon Stewart put it on the web-site (via):
LIBERAL CRAP I NEVER WANT TO HEAR AGAIN
Give us this day our daily bread. Oh sure.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Nobody better trespass against me. I’ll tell you that.
Blessed are the meek.
Blessed are the merciful. You mean we can’t use torture?
Blessed are the peacemakers. Jane Fonda?
Love your enemies – Arabs?
Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. The hell I can’t! Look at the Reverand Pat Robertson. And He is as happy as a pig in s**t.
………."And so it goes"……….
….are immense, especially if the subject matter happens to be as diverse and fascinating as the birth (and growing pains) of science in the mid-17th century, contemporary intrigues in the royal corridors of European monarchies, the gradual evolution of money and stocks-markets as we know it today and not the least, swashbuckling adventures in lands stretching from the American coasts, through Europe and Africa to India ! But to describe Neal Stephenson‘s Baroque Cycle simply as a sweeping historical novel would be both clinched and a grave understatement.
The work is in three volumes – Quicksilver, The Confusion and The System of the World. Each volume consists of two to three novellas and is spread over 900 pages. And, the 3000-odd paged behemoth was all hand-written ! I am at the 700th page or so of Quicksilver - so some ways to go yet. So far, in spite of a few perhaps unnecessary diversions and some excruciating details of the period, it has been a compelling read. Will attempt to write a full review when I am through.
In addition, the following books are also in possession for future reading:
Fun times ahead. Although one wishes that the days could be stretched beyond the 24 ticks or that one could return to the responsibility-free times of school/college vacations, when the majority of the day was given to perusing the written works.
Just to let anyone who still bothers visiting this blog that I am not really missing in action. Just been very busy and any free time to be had is being consumed by this very exciting, eminently gripping even if sprawling (about 1000-pages and I am near 350 now) sci-fi and historical novel, Cyptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.
Meanwhile, enjoy the post-card-like qualities of this photo:
…in Literature (finally breaking the American march towards a Nobel sweep1). Pamuk, a Turkish author, was recently mired in controversy in his homeland for speaking out about Turkish atrocities against Armenians and Kurds. He was accused of being anti-Turk, and the case generated international condemnation for Turkey’s stance on freedom of speech. The charges were eventually dropped.
The Nobel citation described him as such:
"who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures".
I will leave it to the more erudite bloggers for further comments on this one. Personally, I had read Snow last year and was mesmerized by the enigmatic story-telling, as well as deeply intrigued by the depiction of the tense clash between government imposed (Western) secularism and personal (Islamic) religious choices. Extremely topical, wouldn’t you agree ?
1: Although the Economics award is not strictly a ‘Nobel Prize’, and hardly any Americans stood a chance for the Peace Prize this year.
PS – Interesting how the MSM is breaking the story – I assume they will fill in with more information as the day goes on but hardly any mention of the persecution in his native country so far. The AP release that most sites are carrying right now (7.40am EDT) , however, all contain this nugget:
Last year’s winner was British playwright Harold Pinter, a vociferous critic of U.S. foreign policy. That award triggered accusations that the Swedish Academy was anti-American, left-leaning and politically motivated.
There should be warning signs or alert notices with news such as these – otherwise when you are reading them way early in the morning, you are liable to spill the coffee.
First, via Slashdot, a story about the Kerala goverment ‘actively encouraging’ its schools to use Linux and other such free software instead of Microsoft products.
As part of a drive against “monopolistic” organizations, schools and public offices across the state are being encouraged to install free software systems instead of purchasing Microsoft’s Windows programs.
(via NYT, free reg’d required)
Now don’t get me wrong here, I hate Microsoft1 and love free stuff as much as the next guy, but its the reasoning that caused an inward gasp.
“It is well-known that Microsoft wants to have a monopoly in the field of computer technology. Naturally, being a democratic and progressive government, we want to encourage the spread of free software,” M. A. Baby, the state’s education minister, said by telephone.
This from a goverment that actively pursues monpoly of the state in every sphere of life and tries to stifle free market competetion.
(btw, cannot help but giggle at the name of the education minister. Imagine him at the cabinet swearing-in ceremony: “I, MA Baby,…..”)
Second, via Amit Varma, another example of ignorance and ineptness in the main stream media. Some dude named Stephen Thompson reviewing Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games for the Scotsman on Sunday begins with this gem:
There are certain books that are so similar to one another they almost beg to be grouped together. This is largely true of Indian novels. Look closely at the ones published in the past, say, 25 years, and you’ll see that they’re virtually identical, in theme if not in style and content.
For me, Midnight’s Children is indivisible from A Fine Balance, which in turn cannot be separated from A Suitable Boy. Directly or indirectly, all three books – and there are other notable examples – are concerned with the same thing: the state of Indian society in the wake of independence and partition.
As Varma says, the idiocy and the fallacy in these statements are pretty much self evident. Apart from nitpicking that Thompson should mention ‘Indian novels written in English’, given the vast repertoire of quality literature in other Indian languages, I could question how many of the so-called ‘Indian novels’ this guy has read. I am sure Chetan Bhagat’s ‘Five Point Someone’ (lacking as it might in literary merits) deals with post-partition trauma – actually I can see that – IITs came about after independance and so on !
Moreover, has he ever bothered to read, at least the synopses, of the novels he cites as examples of being similar ? A Fine Balance deals with emergency and a particular section of Indian society, while A Suitable Boy and Midnight’s Children are much more sweeping temporally (not to mention the wholly different issues tackled in each of the latter novels). Additionally, if a novel is set in modern India, what the fug could it’s theme consist of if not independance and partition? Same as saying all mystery novels are about murder and such and all sci-fi novels are about the future. Of course, he also conveniently ignores Chandra’s own earlier epic ‘Red Earth and Pouring Rain‘.
Such use of broad brush strokes and sweeping generalizations could be construed as racism, as this person does. To me its plain laziness, combined with incompetence.
1: With Bill Gates recent philanthropic ventures, my MS hatred has become a bit muted.
Samit Basu writes about how his comments on the Kaavya Vishwanathan story suffers a twisted fate of Chinese whispers. He is originally misquoted and mis-contexualized by Tehelka, which in turn is further misquoted by none other than the Wall Street Journal. The final story:
"There’s nothing wrong with a little national pride over a young star living out the Indian-American dream. But wouldn’t it be nice if at least once in a while, the Indian media could admit it was wrong."
You would think that the main stream media would like to get its act together and come down on journalistic laziness/incompetence, what with blogging and citizen journalism breathing down its neck !
While on Kaavya Vishwanathan, Jabberwock points out a Roald Dahl short-story I should have recalled long ago when the story broke out: The Great Automatic Grammatizer. As a big fan of Dahl’s short stories I can’t believe I didn’t think of it.
It has been a month or so since I finished reading this rather engaging book written by Steven Levitt, an award-winning young Economist at the University of Chicago and journalist Stephen Dubner. I have been procrastinating on writing about it for a while. Yesterday, the book turned one (Happy B’day!) – so I guess it is probably as good time as any to post some thoughts.
The book and its authors have been extensively discussed on the blogosphere and reviewed elsewhere, and they have their own blog. Therefore, it is quite needless to go into a detailed review. Instead, this post will be more of personal musings on my perceptions of Economics (with a capital E) and how economics-blogs and this book has affected it.
(warning: long personal ramblings ahead)