The Pillars of the Earth – and the Kindle

pillars In 12th century England, society is built around the Church and the King.  The working class build their towns and homesteads around the monasteries and lease the local Noble’s land to make their way through their lives.  It’s a violent, difficult and somehow simple time.

This is the story of one man, Tom Builder who dreams of building a cathedral.  It’s also the story of Prior Phillip, a man of the cloth trying to hold his own against the larger corrupt and vengeful religious order he’s part of.   It’s a story of conquest and greed, of splendor and destitution, of dreams realized and hopes dashed.  Across generations and landscapes, it’s a wide reaching story of the passions- ambition, faith, beauty- that drive the human spirit.

*****

So, this book was okay.  It’s a pretty ambitious story and it’s a fairly good one, but eventually Follett’s writing style annoyed me.  Have you ever read a story that seemed almost padded?  Like the author felt it was necessary to remind you of who was who when you were pretty sure you could remember them from that major thing that happened before?  Yeah, that’s the feeling I got.  It was too bad, because the story itself – which is really wrapped around the Cathedral and the lives that it impacts – was a good one.

Follett created a lavish world with good characters even if they are painted with a pretty heavy brush.  There are very few “sort of good, sort of bad” people in this book – they are either good or bad and you know it right from the start.  Personally, I prefer characters who are written a bit more realistically – no person is all good or all bad and to portray them as such pulls me out of the story.  There’s no potential for redemption or surprises with reactions.  I realize that’s not the purpose of this book, but I personally think that you end up caring more about complex characters than one dimensional cut outs.

This book is worth picking up in a used book store somewhere, I’m not sure I’d pay full price for it.  It would be good for a plane though, it’s long!

So, what was different about this book?  I read it on this:

kindle1 Yep, I bought a Kindle.  Okay, how many of you are really surprised?  I mean, I’m a techie dork and I like to read and it was only a matter of time, right?

So, I got this on April 1 and have been using it off and on since.  Let’s start with some specs from Amazon (the only place you can buy the Kindle)

Display: 6″ diagonal E-Ink® electronic paper display, 600 x 800 pixel resolution at 167 ppi, 16-level gray scale.

Size (in inches): 8″ x 5.3″ x 0.36″.

Weight: 10.2 ounces.

System requirements: None, because it doesn’t require a computer.

Storage: 2GB internal (approximately 1.4GB available for user content).

Battery Life: Read on a single charge for up to 4 days with wireless on. Turn wireless off and read for up to two weeks. Battery life will vary based on wireless usage, such as shopping the Kindle Store and downloading content. In low coverage areas or in 1xRTT only coverage, wireless usage will consume battery power more quickly.

Charge Time: Fully charges in approximately 4 hours and supports charging from your computer via the included USB 2.0 cable.

Connectivity: EVDO modem with fallback to 1xRTT; utilizes Amazon Whispernet to provide U.S wireless coverage via Sprint’s 3G high-speed data network.

USB Port: USB 2.0 (micro-B connector) for connection to the Kindle power adapter or optionally to connect to a PC or Macintosh computer.

Audio: 3.5mm stereo audio jack, rear-mounted stereo speakers.

Content Formats Supported: Kindle (AZW), TXT, Audible (formats 4, Audible Enhanced (AAX)), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; PDF, HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion.

Included Accessories: Power adapter, USB 2.0 cable, rechargeable battery. Book cover sold separately.

That’s the techie part.  Here are my thoughts and impressions after using it about a month:

1)  This thing is COOL!  e-paper is cool.  technology is cool.  cool

2)  This thing is thin, I’m scared to read it in bed (since I have a tendency to fall asleep with books in my hand) and I’m seriously thinking about getting the replacement insurance although I’m pretty cheap and probably won’t.

3)  This changes reading.  First, it lets me carry a bunch of books around with me at all times.  Second, it remembers where I am with all of them and I can sync that to an iPhone application that lets me read the same books and then sync back to the Kindle.  It lets me buy a book immediately.  And I can preview them to see if I think I’ll like it.

4)  It’s not like “tree book” reading, it’s a different experience.  The Kindle is light, but weighted differently than a book is.  You push a button to turn the page.  BUT, that being said, there were times when I found myself reaching my hand up to physically flip paper

5)  There is no eyestrain like reading on a computer.  Of course you can’t read in the dark – no light, no reading, just like real paper

6)  There are TONS of free books.  Between books that are out of copyright (like all of the OZ books and classics like Don Quixote and The Divine Comedy) and newer ones that are being released either as promos (via Amazon) or via Creative Commons licences on other sites, you could read for a long time and not pay a cent.  That’s cool, yo.

7)  The battery life on a “wireless on” Kindle is about 4-5 days but I leave my wireless off and I’m going on week 3 on the same charge.  Granted, I’m not reading this all the time, but the battery life kicks butt.

So, I’m still getting used to it, and you’ll start to see books listed here that I’ve read on the Kindle.  I’ll tag them for you, just so we can see if my reading habits change over time.  One note about “number of pages” on a Kindle – because you can change the font sizes, there aren’t page numbers – there are location numbers.  I’ll have to figure out how to convert them to pages.  If there is a print version available, I’ll use that number for my page count.  If I’ve had to derive it otherwise, I’ll tell you that, too.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, 973 pages (as listed by Amazon print edition spec page)

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Published in: on April 27, 2009 at 10:21 am  Comments (1)  
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Choose the next book!

While I’m busy working up the next book post (here’s a spoiler – I read it ELECTRONICALLY!  OOH!  Technology!), I’m going to let you all choose the next book I read.  Keep in mind that the review will be out a bit, I tend to run a few books behind in this blog (I think I currently have something like 5 to post) so don’t get all cranky if you don’t see it immediately.  🙂

Your choices this round are:

The Sea of Trolls (I got this in the kids section)

The Last Watch – 4th in the “Night Watch” series by Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (sorry Pete, it’s still unread!)

Mystery book – here’s a clue… it’s got “zombies” in the title
You have a couple of days to “vote” in the comments and I’ll start on that book next.  I’ll give you until the end of Saturday night, that’s a couple of days and if you’re reading this at all, that should be plenty of time!

Published in: on April 23, 2009 at 9:33 pm  Comments (9)  

The Toxic Toadburger Conspiracy

toxiccover To date, 14-year old Eddy Tumble’s greatest triumph consisted of scoffing a ‘fat lad’ quarter-pounder in 39 seconds. A truly breathtaking feat which had decimated Graham ‘gobbler’ Griffith’s record by a clear three seconds and a slice of gherkin.

How ironic that only a few weeks later, a rogue roast potato in his windpipe caused Eddy to collapse unceremoniously into a large bowl of lukewarm bread sauce.

Brought back to life by a race of accident-prone aliens, Eddy now finds himself fighting the diabolically deranged owner of Gut Bucket Holdings, Marcellus Guzzle, a bloodthirsty hit-gran, and an unhinged magpie with an unhealthy appetite for inflicting pain.

Death would undoubtedly have been the easier option!

– From the back cover because, let’s face it, I’m not sure I could have written it better!

*****

So one day I was at Half Price Books, perusing the kids books (don’t judge) and came across one of the best TITLES for a book I’d ever seen – The Toxic Toadburger Conspiracy.  Then I looked at the cover and knew I had to own it.  I wasn’t disappointed with my purchase!  This is a damn silly book.

The premise is that a fairly average boy with an iron stomach needs to save the world from this horrible fast food man who has already managed to convince the world that we should be eating toads.  Yuck.  There are also some aliens, a hamster, some penguins (in some.. unexpected colors), various sealife and lots and lots of toads in this book.  Gotta tell you, they should make this into a Broadway play if only for the costumes they’d need!

Now, I dunno about how they work in the UK- where this book is from- but here in the US we don’t kill people in kids books.  Oh, wait, I know how they work in the UK – they *do* kill people in kids books!  Woo hoo!  I’d guess that you’d probably consider this a ‘young adult’ title, but let’s face it – the only people who want to read about toadburgers are kids or adults who frequently indulge their inner child.  Or who are ruled by their inner child.  Or something.  All I’m saying is that this isn’t really going to appeal to the “Gossip Girl” or “Twilight” crowd.  Maybe your 11 year old boy would like this one – as long as you don’t live near crows, toads or psychopathic Grandmas.

Is this the next great YA title?  Nah, it’s from 2005 so it’s obviously not.  But it’s lots of fun and heck, it’s got a great title.  Ha!

The Toxic Toadburger Conspiracy by Ian Hills, 365 pages

Published in: on April 21, 2009 at 8:56 am  Comments (6)  
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The King Must Die

kingmustdie If all you remember about the Greek myth of Theseus is that he killed the minotaur, this book will remind you of his more evolved story.  Born of a princess, Theseus was told all his life that his father was a god and when he finds that his father is actually the king of a distant land, he journeys to find him.

Along the way, he not only encounters the thieves and ruffians but (in the true Greek legend way) overcomes the obstacles to make his way to his father in distant Athens.  After narrowly escaping Medea in his father’s court, he find himself  part of the yearly tribute to King Minos as part of the sacrifice to the city’s Minotaur, a half man/half bull.  As legend has it, Theseus befriends the daughter of the king who gives him a ball of string enabling him to find the best within his lair and kill it while still escaping with his life and his lady.

He make his way back to Athens where, when failing to display the appropriate colored sails, he causes his father to believe Theseus killed, leading to his own suicide.  Thus, Theseus returns to Athens as the proven heir apparent and hero but loses his father in the undertaking and becomes the new King… where he goes on to have other adventures.

*****

Now, I know it seems like I just totally spoiled the whole plot.. but I didn’t.  First, you should already have a working familiarity with the basic story if you are going to get much out of this book because Mary Renault tells the story in a very different way.  And I’m really trying to spare you any of the “wait, what?” moments that I had while I was reading this.

What she’s done is take the basic myth and make Theseus flesh and blood with his own insecurities and strengths and real world problems.  She’s used the legend as an outline to the book, but transforms it into a story that has the main elements while making the story realistic for the time.  Since I don’t want to give away too much of it, I will just say that you have to trust me that it works, although it’s a bit strange at times.  I guess it’s sort of like how the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou? tells the story of Odysseus, although this time she didn’t bother to change the names and it’s in the same time period and I’ve searched and searched and there is no George Clooney anywhere in this book.

If you like Greek mythology, you should consider picking this one up. In fact, if I were a High School English teacher, which thankfully I’m not, I’d make my students read this as a great example of the reworking of an established plot line into something literately more.

The King Must Die by Mary Renault, 338 pages  (and if you get this particular copy, there is a short write up of the Theseus legend in the back)

Published in: on April 17, 2009 at 11:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Tuf Voyaging

tufHaviland Tuf is not necessarily a likable guy.  But he’s been double-crossed by the folks that hired him and his cats to take them to the “plague star” and it looks like he might not live to collect his meager payment.  One thing Tuf is is smart.  And when it turns out the “plague star” is actually a EEC Seedship -a modern day ark – suddenly the stakes change.

The seedship has samples of every known living thing from every known planet and a sophisticated genetic modification system – which basically means that whoever owns the Ark owns considerable potential for good or harm.  And who better to own such potential than a man who loves cats and, mostly, disdains people?

Thus begins a series of adventures across the Universe.  And it’s not always going to be easy to please everyone.. in fact in most cases, it’s going to be pretty tough voyaging.

*****

George R.R. Martin is mostly known for his current grand epic A Song of Ice and Fire. This isn’t really in the same vein – it’s not fantasy, it’s sci-fi to the core.   This book is actually a collection of short stories about Tuf as he (and his cats) travel in the Ark solving problems.  It’s a fun throwback to some classic sci-fi (it feels very traditional in some ways) while being very clever and smart overall.  The characters are not always as fully fleshed out as Tuf is, but they are developed enough to carry the story (another key to classic sci-fi where the story was paramount over highly developed characters)

Tuf is the most defined character and you really get the feeling that he’s an honest, moral guy who really just doesn’t understand people very well.  Or if he does he’s just living in a constant state of disappointment by the behavior he sees.  He’s a strange ‘hero’, but one that you come to understand.

There’s quite a bit of humor in this book, it’s just not overt.  It’s more of a “oh Tuf, you bastard” chuckle sort, which is fun in itself.  I’d totally recommend this one if you are looking for a fun, classic feeling series of stories or if you are a Martin fan and want to see what he does when he’s not writing sweeping epics that seem to drag on and never really get to the plot.  Heh.  Not that I’m judging or anything.  (grumble, read all those other books, series still not done, seems like it never went anywhere, no, I’m not bitter not at all)

*a note.  I believe that this book is out of print, so look for it at in a library or borrow if from someone who has it.

Tuf Voyaging by George R.R. Martin, 440 pages

Published in: on April 15, 2009 at 9:47 am  Comments (2)  
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ATTACKED BY NINJAS!

Okay, not really.  That would be a good story though, huh?

This time, we’re going foodie in a double update!

nastybitsus_150dpi200x300pxl Anthony Bourdain.  The name conjures images of a lanky, chain smoking swearing man enjoying a dish of something that you and I would probably not eat on a bet.  And yet it’s cuisine and he loves it and hey, how can you argue anyway?  Well, he’s back with another book – this time a collection of short stories and essays about everything ranging from how his show is shot to why we should all be nicer to the waiters.   And sometimes, why we should just cook at home.

Since there’s really no “story” here, it’s sort of hard to review this book.  I like Bourdain’s ramblings – he seems like an interesting guy with a lot of insight.  I like how he’s gritty and blunt and seemingly honest with his opinions… but he sort of seems like someone that might knife you if you make him mad.  He probably wouldn’t kill you, but you’d have a really cool scar.  Which might be kind of sweet in itself.  There’s probably a Facebook group for people who have been knifed by Anthony Bourdain.

Anyway, this is another fun one to read if you’re looking for something that you can pick up and put down without losing the narrative (one reason I like these short story/essay compilations).   He never fails to make me want to cook and stay far far away from a professional kitchen.

*****

downandout Part autobiographical, part fiction, Down and Out in Paris and London is George Orwell’s first novel.  It’s a gritty account of poverty and trying to get by in two of the largest cities in the world.  Along the way, he finds himself working in the kitchens of Hotel X, slogging his way through in order to just keep afloat.   Later in London, he finds himself maneuvering through the homeless and the “charitable” shelter systems in an attempt to find his way out from poverty.

*****

I don’t think I want to be poor. I mean, not in the “what can I hock today for some bread” kind of poor, and that’s the kind of poor that this talks about.  It’s the kind of poor where you have to sneak your clothes out of the building you’re living in so that your landlord doesn’t notice and want the rent.  It’s the kind of poor where you sleep in barracks or in shelters that make you listen to a sermon before giving you some bread.  That’s a kind of poor that nobody should have to live.

While this book is technically fiction, it’s commonly known that it’s very autobiographical and from the way it’s written you can tell that these things HAPPENED to Orwell.  There’s a sense of absurd realism that rings true as you read along and you can almost start to see where his ideas about the class system and society (which are so pointedly lampooned in Animal Farm) come from.

I picked this up (and am including it in this post) because it was a book that Anthony Bourdain recommended.  I wouldn’t say that this is REALLY a book about the restaurant industry although it’s a focus of the Paris portion of the story, so if you’re reading it for that you will probably be sort of disappointed.  Those portions are written with the same grittiness as Bourdain’s writing, so you know they are probably fairly accurate, but this book is more than that.  It’s about struggle and despondency and just being part of a marginalized population.  Worth the read – it’s not a long book – and it’s now public domain so you can go to Google books or other sites and read it online for free.  And we like free.

The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones by Anthony Bourdain, 288 pages

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell, 213 pages

Published in: on April 6, 2009 at 9:02 am  Comments (7)  
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