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 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.


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


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 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.

Coming Up for Air

Last night I finished reading George Orwell’s novel Coming Up for Air, which was a book club selection for our faculty book club longer ago than I’m going to admit.  I had to set it aside for a while, but I always intended to finish it – I’d read too much not to, but in all honestly, I was also enjoying it.  This book is the first book I read using Stanza, the free reading device on my iPhone.  I originally downloaded it on my iPod Touch (which was free with the purchase of my Mac back in August), but I had a great deal of difficulty getting it onto my iPhone later, and suffice it to say, I didn’t pick up the book again for a while.

The novel is the story of George Bowling, who wonders one day if you indeed can go home again and takes a trip to his hometown of Lower Binfield.  George’s voice is engaging – he is the sort of everyman who is easy to relate to even if you despise him at the same time, for he’s not a particularly likeable character.  When he sneaks off to his hometown, lying about his destination to a wife whom he feels will not understand his need to go back, he is confronted with one harsh change after another.  It becomes clear to the reader long before it becomes clear to George that his hometown as he knew it doesn’t exist anymore.

I think most readers are more familar with Orwell’s other books: 1984 and Animal Farm, but when the member of my book club selected this book, he said that sometimes it’s good to look at a writer’s lesser known works, and I agree this is the case with Coming Up for Air.  Writing the novel before World War II, Orwell is once again oddly prescient about the coming war and its impact on Britain.  It is perhaps the impending changes George senses on the horizon that drive him to see if there is one place in the world that hasn’t changed.  Though the reader can predict what George will find when he takes his journey, it is the journey that interests us.  How will George react to what he finds?  How will he change?  Interestingly enough, the answers to those questions are, at least in part, left unresolved.

I would recommend this book, but prepare yourself not to admire George much.  If liking the characters is important to your enjoyment of the book, you might steer clear of this one.  I will say, however, that even in disliking George for the most part, I did sympathize with him.  His feelings of powerlessness in a world careening into a different direction from that world of his youth are feelings I think most of us can recognize in ourselves.