Tag Archives: books

DFW word game

David Foster Wallace’s shorter works, like found in “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” is to an olive as “Infinite Jest” is to:

a. a concrete block
b. a hot air balloon
c. a muffuletta sandwich

The answer is c, a muffuletta sandwich.

Thoughts on the Kindle – six months later

My friend Melissa sent me a link to this New Yorker article about the Kindle. She wanted to know how I was liking mine. I read the New Yorker article, and started to reply to her email. I think it was the New Yorker writing style that made me so verbose, but the reply turned into something much more like a blog post, so here we are. Here’s my previous post about the Kindle, over a year before I got one. (As I re-read it, I see I make lots of the same points. Ah, my sieve of a brain.)

I’m enjoying the article – the author really covers a lot about the ebook phenomenon, and the reasons Kindle has the lead. So, here are my thoughts, now that I’ve had a Kindle 2 for about 6 months:

There is this weird disconnect – you know how when you’re absorbed in a book, and you don’t even notice when you turn a page? Your hand moves, the page flips, and for a brief moment your brain suspends what it just read to flow into the new page as it’s shown. We’ve been practicing that since we were pre-readers flipping board books.

The Kindle, when you press the “next page” button, doesn’t turn a page. It reverses the colors, part of the magical e-ink thing. So, you’re reading, reading, near the end of the page, you press the button and … evil twin. It all reverses color, going dark then light and you have the next page. It was kind of upsetting to me, when I first started reading. It makes sense – I’m used to a very proscribed procedure for page turning. I recognized it for what it was, and vowed to use it till my brain learned to get over it.

It’s not that much different, really. I assume what happens is that your eyes read ahead on the last line of the page, and your brain absorbs the words as you turn the page, creating an almost seamless flow of text. There’s no reason why the Kindle experience can’t be the same. I just have to train my brain to do it.

I just finished Accelerando, a sci-fi novel which was fun to read on my futurebook. It’s the fourth book I’ve read, and I feel like at this point I’ve gotten over the page turn problem.

Jason’s been using the Kindle app on his iPhone. The account is set up to mine, so we can share books. (That is a huge downside – the DRM.) He’s read a number of books on his tiny screen, and doesn’t seem to think it’s a strain. Then again, he’s a programmer and programmed to read on screens.

I have a half of a shelf filled with books I’ve borrowed from people that I’d like to read soon so I can return them. I can’t magically throw them onto the Kindle, so the Kindle waits patiently for when I’m looking to read something I don’t already own, or have borrowed.

The Kindle has affected my library usage. The East Boston branch of BPL is a one-room library, far enough away from my apartment for it to be an effort for me to get there during their limited hours. Any branch of a library can still deliver almost any book, though – I would regularly get books from other branches, but now with a Kindle in my lap I’m willing to spend the $6 to get the book on Kindle. Now, I’d have to really not want to own it for me to get it via library. With the limited hours, I tend to have overdue books – if you count in $.50 in dues, the Kindle book price is looking better and better.

My theory is that as the technology becomes better, and more people buy in, e-books will become the way we read the kinds of things that don’t really deserve printing anyway. Newspapers, romance novels, and overrated bestsellers are all printed on crap paper, bound just enough to keep them together for a few readings. I’m happy to read those on a Kindle.

So here’s the good news for dead-tree books: I think we’ll maintain books as a format. Because they don’t require a player (unlike records, eight-track tapes, or laserdiscs) you’ll always be able to pick up a book and read it. Reading a book is a pleasurable experience, with the feel of the paper and the choice of font. Plus, always thinking to the apocalyptic, you can read books without electricity.

My hope is that great books will still be printed. Yes, I’ll use my Kindle to read the New Yorker, but it’s meant to be disposable. For someone’s birthday, though, I might give them a book – a well-bound, hardback, creamy-paged edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide, perhaps. Books will be seen as works of art as well as a medium for information. Sure, I won’t be able to keyword search the pages, but I will be able to read it while the electricity’s out.

So, the Kindle is not the end-all and be-all of my reading. I’m not getting rid of all my books like I did my audio tapes and I’m still a fan of the book experience. I’m using the Kindle maybe 20% of the time. I figure this will continue with a slow incline for the next few years, until more people are buying e-books and I won’t be able to peruse their bookshelf and ask if I can borrow something (it sure would be nice to be able to lend someone an e-book). The e-books themselves will get better, the screens clearer, the battery charge longer, and then there will come a day I will reread The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer on the ebook described in the story.

Book/band mashups

Mat blogged about it first.

What happens if you paint all your walls with chalkboard paint? Mashups of band names plus book titles.

It’s hard not to want to list my favorites here … but …. Neutral Milk Hotel New Hampshire.

My first thought was to take my favorite book – so then I thought … “The Little Prince”. Ha.

Now, go, go check the rest.

RIP Michael Crichton

I read almost everything Michael Crichton wrote, in junior high, high school, and college. I even read his autobiography, Travels, which is about as close to The Celestine Prophecy as I’ve seen. (Who knew dude had a transcendent conversation with a cactus?)

Anyway, I grew out of Crichton’s books. I don’t mean to make that sound like his writing is for younger people – I just read so much of his that I couldn’t read any more (same with Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels and M.C.Beaton).

Books can be like blinders, ushering you though time not with guidance, but with an alternate place to be – to be comfortable. Crichton did this for me, and so I’m a little bit sad today.

A question for the librarians

A lawyer friend brought this case to my attention:

Wisconsin woman, 20, arrested for two overdue library volumes

Basically, she borrowed two novels and didn’t return them. The library sent letters to her house, which she ignored. That’s when the Failure to Return Library Materials ordinance made it possible for police to go to her house and arrest her.

I’m not aware of the varying levels of procedure found at libraries around the country, but I was under the impression that at the very worst, someone would have their account frozen and a collection agency brought in to try to collect the amount (it would have to be a large amount to warrant the cost of the collection agency).

I don’t think this was covered anywhere in the classes I took – what do all y’all librarians know about this?

Infinite Sunday

I suppose that title works in two ways – my online nom (nom nom nom!), and probably a descriptor of my upcoming weekend.

During the summer of 2005, whipped into a frenzy by my friend Jake, I joined his Infinite Jest book club. If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s (roundabout) thousand pages are right up there in the list of often-unreadable books.

Jake’s resurrected the group for another read, and I decided to give it another go. I’ve not started, partially because I lent my copy to a friend who was going to be recuperating from surgery, and thought it would be a good time to read it (which is reminiscent of my friend who taught himself to play the banjo one summer while rocking a broken leg), and because I’m happily busy with my job.

An aside – I typically don’t start working till 10 a.m., and have found myself waking up at 9:30 regularly. I seem to be so reticent to get out of bed, that it’s starting to suck what is generally a couple of extra hours other people get at the end of their day out of my life. So, in addition to starting to read IJ, my goal is to do so in the morning, before work. Or at least do the dishes so I can spend more time reading in the evening.

This got me wondering if Infinite Jest was in audiobook form. Certainly, there would be issues with inserting footnotes. Then again, they managed to turn the Thursday Next series into audiobooks, and there are much weirder format issues there (a footnoterphone, and a character’s name that has no vowels.)

My job currently involves scanning book reviews. I’m seeing a lot of reviews for Gravity’s Rainbow that talk about how it’s known for the hard-to-crack aspect, but people who write seem overjoyed at finishing and seeing the big picture of visiting the book cover to cover (or are they smug and bragging?)

So I present to you, LibraryThing’s data on Infinite Jest. Why look at this? In addition to pulling MARC record data (the info libraries typically have), LT also has a “Common Knowledge” section, that allows LT members to add information typically not found in a MARC record – important places, character names, awards, publisher’s editors, etc.

LibraryThing also has a crapload of reviews (I say that because I’m reviewing lots of them for inclusion in LTFL) and 24 of them are for Infinite Jest.

To throw in the other aspects of LTFL, we can look at the tags associated with Infinite Jest, as well as the recommendations.

These are the most popular tags:
1001 1001 books 1996 20th century addiction america American american fiction american literature boston canada contemporary Contemporary Fiction David Foster Wallace dfw drugs endnotes entertainment favorite favorites fiction film footnotes humor humour literary literary fiction Literature metafiction novel own owned postmodern postmodernism read satire science fiction signed tbr tennis terrorism to read unfinished unread usa wallace wishlist

‘Own’ is a tag often found, it means that the member owns the book. In this case, it’s interesting to look at ‘read’ and ‘unread’. Not that it HAS to be statistically significant, but the number of people who have tagged this books ‘read’ is 36, while 50 tagged it ‘unread’.

LibraryThing (algorithms) say that if you like Infinite Jest, you’ll like:

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace
Girl With Curious Hair by David Foster Wallace
Oblivion: Stories by David Foster Wallace
The Devil’s Details: A History of Footnotes by Chuck Zerby
David Foster Wallace’s Infinite jest : a reader’s guide by Stephen Burn
Amazing grace by Megan Shull
The Recognitions by William Gaddis
Winning Ugly: Mental Warfare in Tennis–Lessons from a Master by Brad Gilbert
JR by William Gaddis

I tried reading this giant book last time, and got 200 pages in. Environment factors Jake talked about – hating my job and general place in life, distracted by my hot boyfriend probably played a part. Hopefully this time I can bite down on this book and not give up so early.

At said hated job, had a coworker who talked about IJ as being DFW’s way of impressing people with his giant brain by creating a book that was just detached and abstracted enough to confuse you into thinking he was smarter than you, while wanking off for a thousand pages.

The two factors that brought me back to it were Jason’s enthusiasm for reading it again, and Jake’s fantastic blog posts that are acting in a professorial role – making me enthusiastic to take the role of a student (and a student’s guilt at not starting the assignment).

So I’m going to kick it up a notch – reading a library copy. Or taking the Fung Wah bus to NYC to retrieve my copy.