Young Woman Reading by Hermann Jean Joseph Richir

Saturday Reads: January 21, 2012

Young Woman Reading by Hermann Jean Joseph RichirSaturday Reads is a weekly feature sharing bookish links from news, blogs, and Twitter that made up my Saturday reading.

I spent a lot of time at my two favorite newspapers’ book sections on my iPhone this morning. The Guardian has a great article by Margaret Atwood reflecting on [amazon_link id=”038549081X” target=”_blank” ]The Handmaid’s Tale[/amazon_link] some 26 years after it was published. A commenter quoted Rick Santorum, underscoring just why Atwood’s book is as important as ever. Here’s my review of The Handmaid’s Tale from my archives, if you’re interested.

The New York Times has a great review of [amazon_link id=”0062064223″ target=”_blank” ]The Flight of Gemma Hardy[/amazon_link], which I will soon be reading for TLC Book Tours (very excited!).

New Books

The publishers also sent me a pretty copy of [amazon_link id=”B004CFA9Y6″ target=”_blank” ]Jane Eyre[/amazon_link], which Margot Livesy’s book is based on. I can’t wait to reread that one. It’s got deckle-edged pages and the paper cover is textured. I am very much in favor of this new trend in making classics look cool with bold, creative covers. As much as I love old paintings, I think they’re becoming a little played as book covers (she said, knowing she used one on the cover of her own book—in my defense, I don’t have the budget to pay a graphic artist to design one). I think winter is a good time to read gothic classics.

The New York Times also has good reviews of new nonfiction, including Ian Donaldson’s new biography [amazon_link id=”0198129769″ target=”_blank” ]Ben Jonson: A Life[/amazon_link], John Matteson’s new biography [amazon_link id=”0393068056″ target=”_blank” ]The Lives of Margaret Fuller[/amazon_link], and Richard W. Bailey‘s new book [amazon_link id=”019517934X” target=”_blank” ]Speaking American[/amazon_link].

I also really liked this feature on Edith Wharton as New York will celebrate her 150th birthday on Tuesday. Nice link to [amazon_link id=”B005Q1W10A” target=”_blank” ]Downton Abbey[/amazon_link] and discussion of Wharton’s own novel [amazon_link id=”0140232028″ target=”_blank” ]The Buccaneers[/amazon_link].

Of course, Charles Dickens also celebrates a big (200th) birthday this year, and The New York Times has a fun feature on Dickens. Favorite quote? “The fact is that Charles Dickens was as Dickensian as the most outrageous of his characters, and he was happy to think so, too.”

I’m think anyone interested in New York might find the new book [amazon_link id=”067964332X” target=”_blank” ]New York Diaries: 1609-2000[/amazon_link] intriguing. It sounds like the book has a variety of entries, from the “famous, the infamous, and the unknown in New York.” The Times reviewed this one, too, of course.

Flavorwire had some interesting posts, too. I particularly enjoyed “The Fascinating Inspirations Behind Beloved Children’s Books” and “10 Cult Literary Traditions for Truly Die-Hard Fans.”

Finally, I enjoyed this reflection on A Wrinkle in Time at Forever Young Adult. [amazon_link id=”0312367546″ target=”_blank” ]A Wrinkle in Time[/amazon_link] will be 50 this year. Can you believe it?


Sunday Salon: An Early Review of Pottermore


Pottermore is J.K. Rowling’s new website. It officially opens in October, but in July, a one-week trivia competition was held that enabled the first million users who were able to answer the questions correctly to obtain entry as beta testers. Welcome letters were rolled out slowly to control the numbers of new members added and enable the site managers to keep up better with beta tester suggestions. Members of my immediate family—husband Steve, daughters Sarah and Maggie, and me—received their Pottermore welcome letters this week. We weren’t sure if Dylan would want to worry with it or not, so he doesn’t have a membership yet. After playing with the site for a while, here are my spoiler-free impressions.

The interface is charming, but as you might imagine, very dependent on flash. It works better in my Safari browser than my Firefox browser. Steve reports it clunky to use in Google Chrome, but I haven’t tried it in that browser. If you are finding the site hard to use, I would suggest trying a different browser. Of course, some of those issues should be worked out by October.

Once you are inside the story, you follow the plot of [amazon_link id=”1855493942″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone[/amazon_link] (or [amazon_link id=”054506967X” target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone[/amazon_link] for those Muggles who change to American English in the settings, I guess). You learn more about how Vernon and Petunia met and courted, and you learn more about Lily and Petunia’s relationship. My other advice is to mouse over and try to click on everything. You just never know what it will do.

Once Hagrid comes to give you your letter, you get to go to Diagon Alley, and it’s a real treat. Not all of the shops are unlocked. I imagine you access them as you reach the book where they are first mentioned. By far, the coolest part of the trip is buying your wand. You answer a series of questions, and then a wand chooses you. Mine is 10¾-inches, sycamore, phoenix-feather core, hard. I am a true Harry Potter geek because honestly, getting my wand made me a little teary! Once you have your wand, you have access to all kinds of new content on wand cores and woods as well as Mr. Ollivander. All of it easily some of the most fascinating information you can learn during the first book phase of Pottermore. All I will say about it is that I think the descriptions of my wand wood and core are an accurate reflection of my personality (and so are Steve’s, Maggie’s, and Sarah’s). It’s also fun to look up what it says about the wand woods and cores for other people in the series whose wand construction you know about (such as Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Draco, Voldemort, Bellatrix, etc.). Sarah, for instance, has the exact same wand wood and core as Cedric Diggory. In many ways, I think she is like him: humble, unassuming, a really nice person and yet a star in Hufflepuff house.

After you get your wand, the next big deal is being sorted into your house. Let’s just say it’s more interesting if you want to learn more information NOT to be sorted into Gryffindor. During the Sorting Ceremony, you answer a series of questions, and I will not share any of them with you. Rowling has said that no two people necessarily get the same set, but she feels supremely confident in the results. I have to say I think the four of us who took it were put in the houses where we should be. I am in Ravenclaw. Sarah and Maggie are in Hufflepuff. Maggie was a little surprised about that, but I’m not. She thinks she wanted Ravenclaw, but she’s not crazy about books and school to the extent I think Ravenclaws might be. Both Sarah and Maggie are incredibly smart, but the hallmark of their personality is the more Hufflepuff traits of sweetness and kindness they share. Steve is in Slytherin, which is no surprise as I have never seen a Sorting Hat quiz place him anywhere else. He is already strutting around like he owns the place. Typical. You learn some interesting information about Neville and Hermione’s sortings, and let’s just say if you’re a Neville fan, it will make you tear up. You also learn more about Flitwick and McGonagall’s sortings.

Once you are sorted, you are welcomed to your house common room by your prefect, who tells you the history of your house (unless you are in Gryffindor, in which case you are really just referred to the books). You learn the names of the prefect in the your house (or at least one of them), which is something you never learn in the books until the second book, and you learn about which famous witches and wizards were in your house. You also learn how each house sees itself. In the books, we get Gryffindor’s rather limited view of each house. You also learn how your house tends to feel about members of the other houses. It’s all very interesting.

As you progress through the site, you learn more about certain characters and objects. McGonagall’s backstory is revealed, and it’s perhaps one of the single most interesting things about Pottermore so far. You learn how to brew potions, but right now that feature is extremely buggy. I am hoping they work out some of the kinks soon. If it tests my patience, then I can’t imagine a child would stick with it! Some issues I’ve noticed is that it often acts as though you haven’t begun the process of brewing a potion, but it still ties up your cauldron, so you have to do the first steps over and over again until it recognizes that a potion has been brewed, all the while still using up the stores of your ingredients. I hope they will make the bottles easier to manage and that they will make heating a little easier. Points should be awarded differently depending on the difficulty of the potion. The easiest potion earns you the same amount as the harder ones, so I have taken to brewing the easier one, which is very Slytherin of me, but can you blame me? I am not looking forward to having to brew Polyjuice Potion in [amazon_link id=”0439064872″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets[/amazon_link] unless they work out the kinks!

As of right now, the houses seem fairly evenly divided in terms of numbers. Ravenclaw has nearly 1,000 members more than the next closest house, but a difference of less than 2,000 members divides the house with the most members and the house with the fewest out of nearly 100,000 members (as of this writing). I think that surprised me, but I’m not sure why. They always seemed evenly divided in the books, too. I do think the house placements are quite thoughtful and accurate, at least the members of my family’s placements were, so I can’t imagine it’s randomly sorting people.

Overall, I think it’s a brilliant site, and it promises to have something for everyone: games if that’s what you’re after, and new, exclusive information for those fans who have been looking for that encyclopedia. Waiting for new books to be added to Pottermore promises to replicate the wait for the books in print with the added bonus that new content can be added all the time. At any rate, it should keep Harry Potter fans busy.

The Sunday Salon

Borders Bookstores to Close Doors

Borders Book Bankruptcy?

I was saddened to hear Borders is closing all of its stores and laying off its 11,000 employees. I just went to my local Borders, the closest bookstore to my home since indie bookstore Coffee Buy the Book closed several years ago, to buy a copy of [amazon_link id=”0439136369″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban[/amazon_link], which Maggie and I are reading together right now. We have had to replace worn Harry Potter titles a few times around our house. Aside from that visit, I can’t remember for sure the last time I made a trip to Borders. I used to go all the time. In fact, some 15 years ago, it was my favorite bookstore, and I used to drive all the way from Winder, where I lived, to a Borders in Gwinnett County near the mall. They had the best selection of any bookstore around, and the addition of music made it worth the trip.

Borders blames their troubles on the market and e-books, and they probably have a point, but they should also blame online purchases of music and movies. While books were their primary product, they also sold DVD’s and CD’s. The market for CD’s has all but vanished. I can’t remember the last CD I bought. I still buy DVD’s because movies take up a lot of real estate on my computer. Surely the dwindling music and DVD sales hurt Borders, too.

Borders closings mean that Barnes and Noble will be the last large chain remaining. I suppose Books-a-Million is still in business, but only in the East and South for the most part, and I have never been fond of them. Of the BAM stores I’ve visited, all have been somewhat untidy and had poor variety of selections. I have to wonder what Barnes and Noble is doing right that is keeping them afloat that Borders failed to do. One possible explanation is that the Nook e-reader seems to have caught on, whereas the Kobo reader didn’t become as popular. Aside from that one (admittedly major) difference, I can’t decide what sets Barnes and Noble apart from Borders: both even have attached coffee houses most of the time. I like the atmosphere in Barnes and Noble a little better I think, but I couldn’t pinpoint why.

Because friends know I have a Kindle and that I keep up with technology, many have asked me about e-readers, and I have always advised them to look at a Kindle or a Nook rather than a Kobo reader. I think that Kobo readers can handle books bought from a variety of places, but Borders’ shaky ground prompted me to feel leery of Kobo’s sustainability. Does anyone know what Borders closings will mean for Kobo readers?

It’s too bad Borders is closing, but I’m glad I didn’t renew my Rewards card now. The writing has really been on the wall for some time. Unfortunately. I truly hope its employees land on their feet and find other work that they love. Somewhat ironic consequence of the closing: I almost have to use online bookstores like Amazon now because all the other local bookstores are too far away for me to visit regularly, just on a whim. We have absolutely no independent bookstores nearby.

Update, July 19:  Macworld has a story about what will happen to Kobo reader owners.

Update, July 21: Slate has some additional thoughts about Borders’ closing, all of which make sense to me.

photo credit: Dave Dugdale

The Future for Amazon Associates

George is Keeping an Eye On You!

I have mentioned many times that I’m an Amazon associate, and I have been very happy with Amazon. It look me years to build up to the point at which I regularly received a commission that allowed me to buy books, but I persevered. I still usually earn between $20-30 a month in gift certificates to Amazon, excepting the odd really good month, but that allows me to buy two or three books each month.

Some of the states have begun passing laws that require online retailers to charge sales tax, and as a result, Amazon is dropping associates in all of those affected states. I haven’t heard of any pending legislation in my home state of Georgia, but I admit the trend has me worried. Being an Amazon associate is what keeps me in books and allows me to run this blog. Affected states include California, Colorado, Illinois, North Carolina, Rhode Island, or Connecticut—and soon, Arkansas. Massachusetts is also considering a law. If I were ever to move to any of these states, Amazon would drop me as an associate after more than 10 years. According to this New York Times piece, Amazon doesn’t have any fulfillment warehouses, corporate offices, customer service, or other facilities in Georgia, so I might personally never be affected, but it does have such facilities in Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, and it does not collect tax in any of these states. Amazon collects sales taxes in Kentucky, New York, Washington, North Dakota, and Kansas.

If Amazon is not willing to work with associates in states with these tax laws, then I hope they are at least informing associates when impending legislation is being considered in their state legislatures so they can choose whether to write their representatives or drop their affiliation with Amazon. A lot of associates are understandably angry and feel Amazon is throwing them under the bus. Amazon has indicated they plan to challenge the new law in California.

You can read more about the issue at The Los Angeles Times and NPR.

photo credit: peasap

Ad-Supported Kindle

Kindle 3

Amazon is now selling an ad-supported version of their Wi-Fi Kindle 3. The wi-fi version regularly retails for $139, but buyers who opt for the “Kindle with special offers” can own a Kindle for $114.

The ads will appear on the home screen and on screen savers, but will not appear in the books themselves (thankfully!).

I am conflicted about this idea. We are bombarded by ads in our society, and throwing them into e-readers seems wrong-headed. We’re already paying for the privilege of reading on these devices, and over time, $25 doesn’t seem like enough money to save. I also think the price is strange in addition to not being low enough. I am with Michael Grothuas of TUAW: $99 might make the ad-supported Kindle more appealing, at least psychologically.

On the other hand, ads are ubiquitous, and I’m not sure if having them on my e-reader would bother me or not, especially if they were not in the books themselves. I block ads in my web browser using an add-on, however, so they must bother me at least a little, right?

In addition to the ads, other “special offers” include discounted Amazon gift cards and Audible books. How much do you want to bet the ads will be a much more common sight than the discounts?

Bottom line? The savings doesn’t seem worth it considering the potential for annoyance.

Audrey Watters of ReadWriteWeb also covered the news. Macworld’s Jared Newman offers a different perspective.

photo credit: kodomut

American Gods It Is

OMGIALMOSTDIEDThe other day I needed some help picking out what to read. I think it turns out I just needed a nudge. You voters selected Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I have read the first chapter, and yeah, I think I will like it, but it’s hard to tell at the moment. I totally love Neil Gaiman, so there is, at least, that.

I think maybe before I read The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer, I will re-read The Tempest. I might get more out of the former if I read the latter first. The last time I read The Tempest was college. That has been a while. No takers at all for Gaskell’s North and South, two votes for The Cookbook Collector, and one vote for Becoming Jane Eyre.

At some point, I need to make time for Jasper Fforde’s new Thursday Next book—One of Our Thursdays is Missing. I also decided I need to read Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution. Until I read Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution, I can’t say I was that interested in that time period in France, for some inexplicable reason that makes absolutely no sense to me now. Oh! And I just started participating in book giveaways on Goodreads, and I won the first book I was interested in! The Rebellion of Jane Clarke by Sally Gunning. I hope it will be good. I haven’t read a great deal of fiction set during the American Revolution.

P.S. This was my 1,000th post! Feels like a milestone.

photo credit: J.J. Verhoef


Ulysses, James JoyceI want to thank Stefanie for drawing my attention to “What I Really Want is Someone Rolling Around in the Text.” The headline caught my eye a few days ago, but I didn’t read the article because I expected it to be yet another screed about how e-readers are destroying civilization, and real readers won’t use them. It’s not.

Despite the fact that I’m an English teacher, I don’t usually mark up my books. I just feel weird writing in my books. Maybe it has something to do with the time I spent reading library books as a kid. I don’t know. Professional reading I mark up a great deal and always read with a pencil in my hand, but not novels as much. And why not? I can’t say. I really marked up Passion by Jude Morgan—or, I should say, I underlined a lot. On the other hand, I highlight and take notes all over my Kindle books.

As Stefanie noted, Anderson begins to go off on e-readers a bit, but he also acknowledges the possibility of sharing marginalia in ways that we currently can’t—or at least not as easily. Stefanie explains that with public note-sharing, users can see others’ notes and share their own. Anderson actually ends the article excited about the possibilities technology might offer for sharing marginalia. It’s worth a read.

Stefanie also shared the public notes feature at Kindle, and if you want to follow mine, here is my profile.

photo credit: cobra libre

Do You Write a Book Blog?

Goodreads has an interesting poll up that could potentially lead you to some new book blog reads.

Happy Birthday, Aunt Jane!

It’s Jane Austen’s 235th birthday. Happy birthday, Aunt Jane! If you’re looking to celebrate, Maria Grazia of My Jane Austen Book Club and Fly High blogs is sponsoring a birthday blog tour. Check out posts at each of the blogs for giveaways:

  1. Adriana Zardini at Jane Austen Sociedad do Brasil
  2. Laurel Ann at Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog
  3. Vic Sanborn at Jane Austen’s World
  4. Katherine Cox at November’s Autumn
  5. Karen Wasylowski at  Karen Wasylowski Blog
  6. Laurie Viera Rigler at Jane Austen Addict Blog
  7. Lynn Shepherd at her Lynn Shepherd Blog
  8. Jane Greensmith at Reading, Writing, Working, Playing
  9. Jane Odiwe at Jane Austen Sequels Blog
  10. Alexa Adams at First Impressions Blog
  11. Regina Jeffers at her Regina Jeffers Blog
  12. Cindy Jones at First Draft Blog
  13. Janet Mullany at Risky Regencies Blog
  14. Maria Grazia at My Jane Austen Book Club Blog
  15. Meredith at Austenesque Reviews

Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story ContestYou might also be interested in the Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest, hosted by the Republic of Pemberley and edited by Laurel Ann of Austenprose. The contest begins on January 1, 2011, and is open to previously unpublished writers over the age of 18. Stories must be approximately 5,000 words long. Manuscripts can be submitted from January 1 until February 13. Voting for selections will take place from February 14-28. The winner will have his or her story published in the anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, slated for publication by Ballantine in Fall 2011. What an excellent opportunity to appear alongside writers like Laurie Viera Rigler and Syrie James!

In honor of Jane’s birthday, please talk about your favorite Austen book or quote in comments, or your favorite Austen sequel or derivative work if you like. For what it’s worth, my favorite novel is Persuasion, and my favorite quote is Captain Wentworth’s letter, which has its own Facebook fan page. As it should.

All Hallow’s Read

Brainiac ManiacNeil Gaiman came up with the idea for All Hallow’s Read—a Halloween/reading celebration during which you give scary books and comics to people. Did you participate?

I gave Sarah a copy of Stephen King’s Different Seasons, which I think I read for the first time when I was just about her age. I remember really liking it, too, especially the last novella, The Breathing Method, which incidentally, is the only one of the four novellas in that book never to have been made into a movie.

Dylan got a copy of In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz and Dirk Zimmer.

The scariest thing I could get Maggie to try is Beverly Cleary’s book Socks. After insisting she couldn’t handle scary stories, when we got home from the bookstore, she was watching a vampire/werewolf movie on Disney (and no, not that one). What gives?

Anyway, if you didn’t participate this year, put it on your calendar for next year. I think it’s a great new tradition.

photo credit: Kelley Mari