Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Bookish Websites and Apps

Top Ten TuesdayI love book blogs, but there are other places I hang out with my books. Here is my top ten list of go-to websites and apps.

  1. Goodreads: Goodreads is an excellent social network for readers. Had Goodreads been around when I started this blog, I might have just posted all my reviews there. As it is, I do use Goodreads to connect with other readers, read reviews (they tend to be more critical than Amazon), scout for giveaways, keep track of my to-read list and let my friends know what I’m reading and have read, and play trivia games. Goodreads also allows users to add as many books as they like, whereas similar sites like LibraryThing limit free users to 200 books.
  2. Shelfari: Shelfari is a pretty site, but it has a long way to go before it’s as good as Goodreads. I have spent some time writing up book pages, and I do like the wiki user-generated aspect of the site. Goodreads allows you to do this if you become a librarian (which I have done), and you must meet certain criteria. Shelfari does not allow HTML in its reviews, which I think stinks. Until recently, it was better than Goodreads at tracking reading goals, but Goodreads has added a feature that allows for that. I spend more time on Goodreads, but I like to have a Shelfari profile just to connect with readers who may not be on Goodreads. I also do like the pretty shelves, I admit.
  3. DailyLit: I mostly interact with DailyLit through my email, as I am always subscribed to a book in my inbox. I love DailyLit. I have read several books I do not think I’d have ever read if not for DailyLit.
  4. Guardian Books: I have the Guardian app on my iPhone, and I’ve customized it so that the books section is the first one I see. I like to read their articles about books. Users in the UK have to subscribe to read The Guardian via this app, but because The Guardian is trying to increase American readership, content in the app is free to US users.
  5. Twitter: Believe it or not, Twitter is a great reading website. A lot of people I follow are readers and are always tweeting about what they are reading or want to read, and I have discovered some great books that way. Also, a lot of authors are on Twitter, and it is fun to interact with them. I am still waiting for Judy Blume to reply to one of my tweets, but it will probably make my year when or if it happens.
  6. Amazon: As an Amazon affiliate and customer, I spend a lot of time on the site. I tend think the reviews are not as critical as on Goodreads, but I do read them and compare. I also like to see books that are similar to others that I’ve searched for and have discovered some very interesting books both that way and through their recommendations for me.
  7. Any New Books: I just discovered Any New Books this year, and I subscribed to their newsletters based on my interests. I have found quite a few excellent books through their weekly newsletters, which come out just in time for Friday Finds.
  8. Kindle iPhone app: I love my Kindle, but I can’t read it in the dark. When I have to shut out the lights, but I still want to read, I turn to my Kindle app. One thing I’ve noticed is that real page numbers seem to have come to the Kindle app on the iPhone, but not to the Kindle 2. I don’t know why Amazon hasn’t updated the firmware for the Kindle 2 so that readers can have real page numbers, but it’s nice to check my Kindle app sometimes and see where I am in terms of pages.
  9. Audible app: I subscribed to Audible and receive a book each month with my subscription. I used to download the books into my iTunes, sync them with my iPhone, and listen to them in car. Then I discovered the Audible app, which has a few features that I like. First of all, I was nervous it wouldn’t remember where I left off, but it does. I can also access Audible’s store from the app, which is a nice time-saver. It also has a social aspect in that I can connect to Facebook and Twitter and share what I’m reading.
  10. Shakespeare app: This app has all of Shakespeare’s plays and poems as well as some fun extras like a quote generator (just shake the phone to get a new quote), a great glossary, a search feature, and even a help section on scansion. Note: This app has gone up considerably in price. I think I paid $2.99 for it. There is a free version that has all the texts but none of the extras.

So do you have any recommendations for good bookish websites or apps? I thought The Broke and the Bookish had a pretty good list.

Booking Through Thursday: Interactive?

Numerique - papier - un texte est un texte

I detect a bias in the way this week’s Booking Through Thursday question was asked:

With the advent (and growing popularity) of ebooks, I’m seeing more and more articles about how much “better” they can be, because they have the option to be interactive … videos, music, glossaries … all sorts of little extra goodies to help “enhance” your reading experience, rather like listening to the Director’s commentary on a DVD of your favorite movie.

How do you feel about that possibility? Does it excite you in a cutting-edge kind of way? Or does it chill you to the bone because that’s not what reading is ABOUT?

I know that there is a dedicated group of readers who seem to be anti-ebook and are worried about the direction reading is going in. I am not among their membership. I think ebooks are great. I think the possibilities for books are opening up. Who knows what ways we might be able to interact with them? I have an app on my iPhone that is a version of “The Three Little Pigs” (iTunes link) illustrated and read by a six-year-old boy in Texas. I also have another app based on “The Velveteen Rabbit,” (iTunes link) one of my favorite stories as a child because oh! I wanted my toys to become real. The app allows me to watch a video based on the book, read the book, listen to Meryl Streep read it, or read and record myself. I have a Sherlock Holmes Vook (video book—iTunes link) on my iPhone that allows me to view videos that contain insights into Sherlock Holmes and Victorian London. My [amazon_link id=”B002FQJT3Q” target=”_blank” ]Kindle[/amazon_link] has a feature that allows me to see what passages other readers like enough to highlight. I can share my own notes and highlights with others and access them online later with a secure link. It sure beats thumbing through a book trying to find that passage again. I love being able to move my cursor to look up words I don’t know in the dictionary.

If you haven’t guessed the answer to my question, I’m excited about the possibilities that ebooks and devices like the iPad and Kindle offer readers. Who says that reading has to fit some narrow definition or be confined by some idea that a book isn’t supposed to be a certain way? If you don’t want to interact with your book, you have the option not to—paper books have not gone anywhere and won’t go anywhere soon. I for one think that now is an exciting time to be a reader (and a writer—ebooks are opening up the closed world of publishing to indie writers like me).

I am starting to see a trend among readers who want to stop any sort of change. The most disturbing aspect of this trend to me is that these types of readers seem to believe that they are somehow more authentic readers or love books more because they don’t like ebooks. That’s snobbery. Why be so judgmental? So it’s not for you. Don’t do it. You can avoid ebooks if you want. But to insinuate that interactive features that are now available with the advent of ebooks detract from reading and are not what reading is ABOUT is a fairly antiquated opinion to hold. It rather reminds me of folks who insist graphic novels aren’t real books or that one should not read books like romance novels, mysteries, or chick lit. Bottom line? People should be able to read what they want, however they want, and other folks should have better things to do than stick their noses in the air about it.  Put your nose back in your paperback where it belongs. I guess I am getting a little tired of these snobs telling me I shouldn’t read ebooks.

The subtitle of the photo I chose for this post is “un texte est un texte.” Translated into English, that means “a text is a text.” Exactly so.

Edited to add:

I forgot to mention ebooks on the iPad and Kindle and just about every other reader I can think of allow readers to change the font size, which opens up reading to people who couldn’t. So there is also that.

photo credit: Remi Mathis

Kindle Singles and Amazon’s iPhone App

kindle3I have two pieces of news from Amazon that might interest you.

First, Kindle is introducing Kindle Singles, which Amazon describes as “Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book.” It looks like Amazon is trying to attract writers who want to self-publish for the Kindle.

Amazon has also updated its iPhone app to include barcode scanning. It only works on the iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4. What can you do with it? Scan the barcode of an item and check Amazon’s inventory for it. You might save yourself some money if you’re out book shopping (or shopping for anything else, considering how Amazon has branched out).

photo credit: daz smith

A Really Good Day

GateFirst, I received an e-mail from HarperCollins informing me that I won The Map of True Places Sweepstakes. I enter contests like this all the time, but I never have any expectation of winning. My prize is a weekend in Salem, Massachusetts, a place I have always wanted to visit (especially as an English teacher). I am so incredibly excited. I hardly know how it happened. Like I said, I enter these contests whenever one strikes my fancy, but how exciting!

Second, I am slowly catching up with my Instructional Technology coursework. I read and took quizzes on three chapters of Educational Research yesterday. I didn’t too badly on the quizzes either, especially considering the difficulty of the quizzes. Today I wrote a short paper critiquing a journal article for the same course. I am virtually caught up in this course based on the schedule I set for myself. What I would like to do this week is get a little ahead in both this course and Multimedia Authoring so that I can be sure to finish both courses by the end of the semester. Once again, I find myself wishing we didn’t use grades to evaluate. I would much rather receive the feedback and a pass/fail. Grades stress me out. I hate giving them to my students, and as a student I hate worrying about them.

Finally, I noticed a small crack in the back case of my iPhone about half an inch long originating at the center of the docking port. I have scheduled Genius Bar appointments twice, but canceled them so I could continue working or not feel pressed for time completing other activities. Finally, I decided it bothered me enough to bring in and see what would happen. The Genius at the Apple Store examined the phone, determined somehow that I didn’t cause the damage by dropping it (not sure how he figured it out; I didn’t cause the damage that way, but I admit to having dropped it, although not hard—maybe it was the location of the crack), checked on my warranty (glad I got AppleCare), and replaced the phone. I’ve had it since December 2008, so it wasn’t new. It was in good shape, though the corners were chipped (I didn’t used to have a case for it; now I do), and a tiny scratch marred the otherwise perfect screen. I bought some crystal film protectors to prevent damage to the new phone’s screen and immediately put it in the case. I hope I can keep this one in pristine shape with some extra care.

So all in all, a really, really good day. Plus it’s spring break! Bonus!

In book news, I’m still reading The Annotated Pride and Prejudice and keeping up with Crime and Punishment as best as my schedule and interest will allow (I’ll be glad to finish that one and begin Gulliver’s Travels). I am thoroughly enjoying the audio version of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I am planning to read about the Once Upon a Time Challenge to see if I can participate.

photo credit: Svenstorm

iPhone Apps for Book Bloggers

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The Woman in White

Wilkie Collins’s novel The Woman in White is one of the first “detective novels” and is still considered one of the finest Victorian “sensation novels.” I decided to read it after reading a student’s praise of it while reading AP applications (we have an application process to take AP English courses at my school). I have heard references to the novel for some time now, one of the most recent in conjunction with the recent spate of Charles Dickens novels such as Drood and The Last Dickens. I decided to download the eBook version on my iPhone. I have been reading it since about April. It might be a little too long to read on the iPhone. I had some trouble with the files, too. Near the end of the book, I found an odd bug that caused me to be unable to turn to the next page. The only way I found around it was to use the slider to scan ahead a few pages and then backtrack. Also, one version of the eBook that I tried did not break the book into chapters in the way it was designed to be broken and instead had one long chapter to cover the whole book. If you’ve not used eBooks on Stanza before, this likely won’t make much sense, but chapters are fairly important to me because they help me keep track.

In reviewing The Woman in White, I should point out that though many might consider the novel to be clichéd, it is in fact the originator of many tropes that became clichés in later fiction: the innocent girl who marries a man who is deceptively charming, but alters into a cruel wastrel only after her money once they marry and the mysterious character who looks uncannily like one of the other characters. However, Collins shows a propensity for developing some interesting characters. It’s rather a shame that Laura Fairlie Glyde, whom I considered so dull and uninteresting, is the one who captures the main narrator Walter Hartright’s love, when by all rights, it should have been her half-sister, Marian Halcombe, who is much more intelligent and interesting a character. Collins’s characterization of the evil Count Fosco and Laura’s uncle Frederick Fairlie are also excellent. Frederick Fairlie’s voice as he narrates his portion of the story is truly funny. The novel is often described as an epistolary novel, but I’m not sure that’s a good description. It is told by multiple narrators, all of whom have different pieces of knowledge about the main plot: Sir Percival Glyde and Count Fosco’s plot against Laura and her fortune. However, it is not precisely told in the form of letters only. The journal of Marian Halcombe and narration of Walter Hartright form the bulk of the novel, and it’s not made clear that any of Walter Hartright’s narration is epistolary. I found the book to be engaging, particularly when the plot picks up steam. I think anyone who likes Victorian fiction might be interested in reading this book for its portrayal of the times in which it was written. I don’t think most book lovers would consider time spent reading The Woman in White to be time wasted.

I have three books ready to read on my iPhone: Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, and E. M. Forster’s Howards End. I have not decided which to read yet. If you have strong feelings about one of the three, I’d love for you to let me know in the comments. I should note that Mansfield Park remains the only Jane Austen novel I’ve not yet read, and Vanity Fair was cited by a colleague (a well-respected English teacher) as his favorite novel. On the other hand, there are a lot of novels in the Classics app that I haven’t read yet, either: Dracula could also be calling my name. Choices, choices.

New eReader App and Updates

The Unofficial Apple Weblog reviewed Barnes & Noble’s new eReader app today, and it doesn’t look pretty.

This is a bad product debut. It has an onerous and ill-thought out sign up routine, lousy selection and many prices are way too high.

I had to test the veracity of the reviewer’s claim about the cost of the books, so I did a search for Neil Gaiman’s books in the B&N reader and the Kindle store. I found that the prices for books in the Kindle store were several dollars less without exception and that the selection was also much better in the Kindle store. The reader itself is free and comes preloaded with two books: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen and The Last of the Mohicans James Fenimore Cooper. Once you register, you will receive Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and Merriam-Webster’s Pocket Dictionary. A weird bug I noticed the first time I refreshed the book list is that I had two or even three copies of some of the books. I deleted the extras, closed the app, and opened it again. This time when I refreshed, I did not see extra copies of the books. I’m not sure why that happened. I have to agree with TAUW that this reader isn’t quite ready to compete with its fellows.

Meanwhile, Stanza, my favorite eReader, updated their app recently. The changes include

  • iPhone OS 3.0 compatibilty
  • book annotations
  • improved page turning animations

I haven’t played with book annotations, but I can tell you that the page animations are much nicer and resemble Classics, my second favorite app (first with design, though). I noticed some problems with turning pages in The Woman in White last night as I read. Specifically, at several points when I tried to turn the page, the book appeared to be stuck, and the page turned to reveal the same page I was just looking at. The only way I could find around it was to go forward a few pages using either the chapter bookmarks or the slider and then backtrack. I’m not clear if this problem is a bug resulting from the update or a corrupted book file.

Speaking of Classics, this app also recently updated. New in this edition is a fix to the chapter numbering in Flatland and several new books:

  • Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
  • The Odyssey by Homer
  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu

The app now includes a total of 23 books (not bad for 99¢), but its chief drawback is the inability to select books. I have no desire to read several of the books that come with the Classics app, but the interface is beautiful and much more book-like than any other app.

You can read more about these apps in an earlier post about eReaders.

Amazon Acquires Lexcycle

Lexcycle announced today that it has been acquired by Amazon. Lexcycle is the developer of the popular iPhone app Stanza. While Lexcycle is currently promising no “changes in the Stanza application or user experience as a result of the acquisition,” I’m not sure I believe that. Am I still going to be able to download books for free from Project Gutenberg and Feedbooks? Why would Amazon want to continue developing Stanza, which could be seen as a direct competitor with their own Kindle app? I don’t have anything against Amazon, but it has been great to be able to download free classics like The Woman in White, Persuasion, and A Tale of Two Cities (among others I plan to read) in a perfectly readable format for free. After all, I can find them online for free. The format in Stanza makes the text more readable than using a computer to read. I would hate to see Stanza change, but I don’t see how it won’t. It doesn’t make sense to me for Amazon not to at least stop offering free books—they’re all about making a profit from reading, aren’t they?

Reading Apps for iPhone

Amazon’s Kindle app has received a lot of press, but other iPhone reading apps exist. I wanted to share my thoughts about my favorite reading apps and a few images of the apps in action. Links in this post connect to the iTunes Store, where you can learn more about and download the apps in this article.

Stanza

Stanza will enable you to download free books or purchase books from a cadre of providers, including Fictionwise and O’Reilly.

Stanza 1

You should be able to locate just about any book that is in the public domain through various providers, including Project Gutenberg.  The interface is easy to read, but users can change fonts and colors.

Stanza 2

A new update allows users manipulate text (zoom in, select, and define words).

Stanza 3

The dictionary feature is really nice, and I could see it being very useful.

Stanza 4

Stanza is free, but as I mentioned, some of the books are not; however, as most of the books and the app itself are free, Stanza is probably the best reading deal for the iPhone.

Shakespeare

The Shakespeare app from Readdle allows users to own the complete works of William Shakespeare–all the plays, sonnets, and other poems–on the iPhone.

Shakespeare 1

The interface is easy to read, just like Stanza’s.

Shakespeare 2

Bible

The Bible app allows users to choose from among many Bible translations, including the popular NIV, New American Standard, King James, New King James, and many more. The interface is very easy to read.

Bible 1

Users can bookmark their favorite verses for easy perusal. This app also comes with a daily reading feature for users who want a reading plan.

Bible 2

Classics

Classics is not a free app.  Currently priced at $0.99, this app is still a bargain for its beautiful interface.

Classics 1

Classics comes with twenty books, and more are promised by developers as the application is updated.  The current list includes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Dracula, and The Hound of the Baskervilles.  Of the apps I’ve discussed, Classics most closely replicates the experience of reading a book, but it also has the most limited library. Users are clearly paying for the interface rather than the books.

Classics 2

While some might argue that reading apps on the iPhone will never replace the feeling of reading a book, and one certainly shouldn’t read the iPhone in the tub, I have found the apps to be a pleasant way to read books. I take my phone with me everywhere, and it has been convenient for me to read at long stoplights, while waiting in the doctor’s office, and while in line. In addition, the backlighting allows me to read with the lights off.

I have downloaded the Kindle app, but I haven’t purchased any books. My husband swears by the Kindle app. I checked out the interface on his phone and discovered it is much like Stanza’s. Books for the iPhone Kindle are cheaper than regular books, and the array of new titles is quite possibly broader than with other apps (though I’m not certain this is true). Perhaps after I’ve had a chance to check it out, I’ll review Kindle for iPhone in a future post. Meanwhile, feel free to post any questions or comments.