Monthly Archives: September 2012


This is not a rant about how authors are artists and should be paid for their work. This is a post about the bargain that is a book, a physical book, pages bound together inside a cover.

New hardcover books are about $35.00 or so here in Canada. New pocket paperbacks are about $12.00 and new trade-sized paperbacks around $20.00. I realize that some books are slightly more, some could be less, but if you went into a bricks-and-mortar shop and found these prices here in Toronto, you would not be surprised. If you ventured forth and bought, say, a new book in hardcover by an author you’d read before, and that book was around 400 pages, how long might it take you to read it? If you are a page-a-minute person, it would take you 400 minutes, which is 6 hours and 40 minutes. Many people actually read at a slower rate than that, why don’t we say around 10 hours. That is entertainment for $3.50 an hour. That’s a pretty good rate. The ten hours it takes to read the book are probably spread over about a week and interspersed with other activities. You can read on transit, while waiting for an appointment, after dinner in the evening, before work in the morning, any time you like, you can read. It is entertainment on demand.

Lots of people complain about the price of books. I’ve not heard as many people complain about the price of movies. Maybe this is just because I work in a bookshop and not a movie theatre. But think about it. If I go to a movie, it costs about the same as a paperback novel, and I get an hour and a half of story that I can’t experience again. If I buy a paperback novel, I get 10 hours of reading and a story that I can experience again and again if I want. Same price. People complain about the books.

I think books are a good deal, even at full price. Why don’t more people buy into this?



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Book Addict or Info Addict?

Earlier in the summer I bought a copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0 a “book” which is actually an info-mercial for a certain type of test that tells you things about yourself. Then I used the code in the book to take the test, thus giving the authors more data to make more money, and paying for the privilege of doing so. (Yes, I think this process is distorted and slightly scam-like, but hey, it was interesting, and I got the book for cheap, so why complain. I’m just making sure you have a clear picture of what is going on with the scam.) One of my strengths is “Input.” People with this strength are described as having “a craving to know more.” Also, “they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.” I think my book addiction may be linked to this collection of information. I also collect paper with information on it and attempt to store this paper logically in files. I have a four-drawer metal filing cabinet and about twelve (12) bankers boxes filled with my own personal archive of random stuff I think or thought to be important. I am moving. This is a problem.

Robertson Davies has a really interesting scene in Tempest-Tost, part of the Salterton Trilogy. In it, clergy are offered any book they want from a dead professor’s library for free. Two hundred and seventeen of them showed up before the hour appointed for the library to be open for their selections. This is what happened when seventy of them managed to push their way into a library that might comfortably take forty people standing:

“One does not describe the activity of clergymen in a library as looting. They were, in the main, quiet and well-bred men, and it was in a quiet and well-bred manner that they went to work. The pushing was of a moderate order, and the phrase ‘Excuse me’ was often heard. Natural advantages, such as long arms, superior height, and good eyesight were given rein, but there was no actual snatching nor were the old intentionally trodden upon. No very wide choice, no thoughtful ranging of the shelves, was possible in such a crush, and with good-humoured philosophy the visitors seized whatever was nearest.”

Another character in the book, a fourteen-year-old young woman called Freddy, had hoped to negotiate her way into the library, but the 217 clergymen picked the place clean. Freddy “was a victim of that lust for books which rages in the breast like a demon, and which cannot be stilled save by the frequent and plentiful acquisition of books.” I’m afraid I relate to that. But, maybe it isn’t books. Maybe it is just information? I’m not totally sure of that, as I’m finding the file purging a little easier than the book purge. I think books give the information better form and visual style.

How about you? Information or books? Does this mean that if it is the information, electronic formats are more appealing? Or is it the physical form of the information as well?

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How J.K. Rowling Changed the World

I have been pondering the world-changing nature of the Harry Potter books, thus the way their author has changed the world. Fifteen years ago none of us had ever heard of Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, Quidditch, Potter, or Voldemort. Now these are a part of our culture in a way which is rare for things that come from a children’s book series. Three pieces of evidence for the way all things Potter are embedded in our culture:

1. I have seen a bumper sticker in my neighbourhood on a car with South Carolina plates that says “Republicans for Voldemort.”

2. Yesterday afternoon I saw a Quidditch practice outside Trinity College on the University of Toronto campus. Yes, university students were running around holding broomsticks between their legs.

3. The Thursday Next novel I am reading is set in Bookworld where everyone is a fictional character, so it isn’t too surprising that Potter is mentioned. It made me laugh though, so I will share. Thursday describes the way reader feedback shapes the way characters look in Bookworld. Harry Potter was annoyed that he had to spend the rest of his life looking like Daniel Radcliffe. Out here in the Real World, I am pretty sure the reverse is also true!

I can’t think of another set of fiction books which is so influential over a variety of aspects of our current culture. Can you?


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Re-reading Science Fiction?

In a previous post I linked to an essay about re-reading books in a reliable Canadian newspaper. The author of the essay claimed never to have re-read any science fiction, and was quite content that this should continue to be the case. In the list of authors he thought were unworthy of re-reading he included William Gibson. Today as I read Count Zero by William Gibson, I came across this passage which follows the description of a nightmare:

“She woke in the coffee-scented morning and saw the squares of sunlight spread across the books on Andrea’s table, heard Andrea’s comfortingly familiar morning cough as she lit a first cigarette from the stove’s front burner. She shook off the dark colors of the dream and sat up on Andrea’s couch, hugging the dark red quilt around her knees.”

What’s wrong with that? Who wouldn’t call those two sentences literature? Anyone who can set a scene so clearly ought to be re-read. I say this as one who has only recently come to the works of Mr. Gibson, and therefore have not re-read any of them. I am thoroughly enjoying my first reads, and several of Gibson’s works have survived the Great Library Cut before the Great Move of 2012.

I’ve re-read other works of science fiction, and don’t find that they suffer on re-reading. Some of the works gain on re-reading, much as you would expect from any good book. Others don’t stand up to the scrutiny of a re-read, particularly books I was fond of in my much younger days and now re-read out of nostalgia. I think science fiction as a genre is like any other genre of writing. Some authors do it very well and their works cry out to be re-read. Others churn out the pot-boilers, and we see the books at a thousand garage sales.

Do you re-read science fiction? Is there any genre which cannot be re-read?


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Not Exactly Backlist…

This is meant to be a blog about discovering backlist books, not about-to-be-released books. In this case, it is J.K. Rowling, and I find it hard to resist. The Casual Vacancy, Rowling’s much anticipated first novel intended for adults, will hit stores this Thursday, September 28, 2012. There is something about the novel on the Guardian website with links to a video interview of Ms. Rowling which I quite enjoyed.

I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to resist this book. How about you? Are you looking forward to Rowling-for-adults? Will you buy a copy on Thursday? Have you already pre-ordered it? Do tell.

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As noted earlier in this space, I am moving. I have done an initial cut of my books with more to come. My current task is purging paper files. I am an academic who likes to save things that might possibly be used for future research. This is a problem. I decided, before opening the first of nine (9) bankers boxes of assorted files that I moved from my last location, to be quite severe this time around. So far I have been. Two boxes have become half a box. Well begun, I think, and isn’t that half done?

I have been sorting more carefully through some files labeled “bibliography.” If I have to get rid of paper copies of journal articles, it might be nice to have a list of some that might be important. The lists I’ve looked at have mostly been books. In the dim and distant past I’d annotated one of the lists in a read it/got it/need it kind of way. I am going to update those notes as I think I’ve acquired some of the ones listed under Need. Also I’ve read a book or two so the Read part also needs some work. I like bibliographies a lot — so helpful for picking out what to read next. Also, these bibliographies may help me decide which books are worth keeping. After all, aren’t bibliographies lists? And aren’t lists of books a good thing?

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Outlandish, Thursday Next, and Garage Sale Sales

I finished Outlander and can only recommend that you run away if you ever see the book anywhere around you. Waste. Of. Time. I got to the end, threw the book down and (mentally) yelled YOU MUST BE JOKING! No plot, no character development, little discussion or thought on the issues of time travel, little thought at all, and some superficial theology pitched in at the end. Blech. Must find something to read to take the taste out of my brain. Go see the reviews on goodreads for more, I can’t really add to the 1/2-star reviews there. They say it all, and I don’t want to think about it any more. Take all the gushing 5-star reviews with a large handful of salt.

In happier news, I’ve got a Thursday Next book on my iPad from the library, One of Our Thursdays is Missing. Yay for Jasper Fforde and Thursday Next! (What!?!?! You’ve never heard of Jasper Fforde and Thursday Next?? Get to the library now.) I’m irritated by the fact that the EPUB copy of OOOTIM has the map of Fiction Island sideways, then when you turn the iPad to see the map not sideways, the image rotates. Another eBook irritant. Fortunately the fantastic Mr. Fforde has the map on his website. I like maps in books a lot. I’ve talked about that before around here.

I’m still thinking about the lack of book sales at the garage sale on Saturday. Some of the non-fiction went quite quickly, including a book about how everything works. The mother of a small boy picked that up, along with a baseball glove for said small boy. Some of the mysteries went, but they didn’t go as quickly as I’d hoped. Everyone commented on the number of Ian Rankin books, but there were just as many of other authors. The sale I enjoyed making the most was to a 30ish guy who bought my 2 Gordon Korman books because he read them when he was younger. It was totally a nostalgia buy, and something I wasn’t really expecting. I did see other people pick up books, then put them down as though they shouldn’t buy books though they wanted to. Why not? What’s wrong with buying books, especially when they are $1.00 or less? Oh well, some books found new homes.

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Garage Sale Tales & Other Monday Musings

I didn’t sell as many books as I hoped at the garage sale. But I’m down 3+ boxes, which is better than being down none at all. It wasn’t as hard to sell the books and other things as I thought it would be — though I must admit to pricing some glasses high when I didn’t want them to go. The item I really wanted to get rid of didn’t sell. It is a decorative plate that some of my friends have described as evil because it is so very ugly and tasteless. But this is a blog about reading books, not about kitschy things I’ve been given and can’t get rid of.

Because of the sale and the Great Apartment Hunt I’ve not been doing as much reading as usual. I finished 1Q84 last night, and, to my horror, found it was the first book I’d actually finished in September. Have you read 1Q84? You should. It is thick and intimidating, but really interesting. There are lots of references to other books in it, 1984 of course, but others as well. One of the main characters is a writer and he reads a lot.

I’ve not quite finished Outlander which I mentioned in my last Current Reading post. I cannot recommend the book at all. It has no apparent plot and the characters rush around being punished, being tortured, or having sex. That is all that happens. There are no interesting musings about time travel. The book is pointless, unless you want to read about people being punished, tortured and etc. The interesting bits about the time and how to live and survive are all avoided. The time traveller is not shocked by all the injuries that result from the punishment and torture because she was a nurse in a field hospital in WW2. The plot appeared to be about Claire (the time traveller) getting back to her own time, but then that changed, and now I’m not sure where it is all going. So not recommended at all. How did this become a NYTimes bestseller and have a series that followed? Most odd.

How is your reading going for the month of change that is September?

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Getting Rid of Books

It is like cutting off your arm sometimes, but it has to be done. I have too many books and no room for more shelves. Many of my shelves are double stacked. Something’s gotta give. I’m moving, and that also means getting rid of books. I’m pausing in the middle of the heartbreaking process of shelf-purging (Amom hates the purge word, sounds too much like bodily functions I think) to reflect on how I’ve been making decisions.

1. If I’m not going to read it again, it goes. I’ve been pretty severe with my fiction collection. I have collections of many of the works of some authors, and I decided I was going to select the ones I really liked from each author and keep those. Also, if I’ve recently decided not to re-read an author because I now think he/she is a waste of time, I am trying to get rid of all of that author’s works. Example: Tom Clancy. I recently re-read a Clancy book and thought this is a waste of time and shelf space. I found, though, when it came right down to it, there were four Clancy books I couldn’t yet put in the garage sale box. I think I’ll be ok eventually with dumping them, I need another day or so to make sure. The books I’m having a hard time with are the four I think I’ve re-read most often: Hunt for Red OctoberPatriot GamesDebt of Honor, and Executive Orders. I think that those four are the heart of the Jack Ryan set.

2. If I haven’t read it yet and I’ve moved it more than once, I need to consider carefully whether I should give up on this book and let it go. This applies to both fiction and non-fiction, but I’m more generous with the non-fiction because I’ve only begun a serious reading schedule in the last couple of years, and I’ve collected a lot of non-fiction to read — which is, of course, why I need a serious reading schedule. I do dump both fiction and non-fiction if I think I’ll never actually read the book.

3. Some books have sentimental value. I picked up an autobiography of Dick Francis to garage sale today. I like Dick Francis, he wrote interesting mysteries, but I haven’t yet read his autobiography, and I’m not sure it is up there in my list of really interesting things to read. I opened the book and found it was inscribed to my ADad from his sister, my aunt Nan. I’m keeping the book. I only have a few like this. I have a Byron collection inscribed as a wedding present to my great grandmother and some school books that belonged to my AMom and aunts.

4. Doubles. Ergh. I hate it when I find that a book so interests me that I acquire it twice. Oh well, one copy can go.

I’ve filled four boxes so far in this iteration of the purge. I had one box of books I knew I had to get rid of that’s been lurking since the spring, not quite making it out the door. I’m sure there are more boxes to be filled yet. I don’t know if I’ve any other criteria than above. What criteria do you use when getting rid of books?



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Ebooks revisited

I remain unconvinced about ebooks. I have been reading virtual books on my iPad for three months now. I will still read eBooks, but I am not totally sold on the whole thing. Why not? you might ask. Of course I will tell you.

1. Ebooks are so portable, you can carry lots and lots of books in a small device. Yes, yes you can. And in some cases and in some situations this is a huge advantage. I admit that there are some books that are bulky and the eformat made the whole thing weigh less. But, the device isn’t as easily portable as a regular book. The device is breakable and needs more care when taking it with you than a regular old paperback. You don’t care if drop your paperback on the bus. You care if you drop your ereading device though!

2. Battery life. I’ve yet to run out of juice while reading a juicy bit in a book, but a low battery has prevented me from taking the device with me some days. It means I always have a back-up actual book on the go.

3. Lending and other ways of passing books on. One cannot lend a friend an ebook. One cannot pass on a good read to another person. Of course you can recommend the book to them, but you can’t say here, read this and pass them something tangible. Also it is questionable whether you can leave your ebooks to your heirs.

4. Page adjustments. I am not at all fond of the repagination that means I don’t know where I am in this book and how this passage could be quoted. This is slightly more awkward for academics (me) than for others, but still. I don’t know whether the great scene I just read on page X is also on page X of the virtual book my friend is reading, so I can’t tell her where to find it so we can talk about it.

There are four points to consider. Notice I didn’t say I am through with ereading, just that I am not totally sold on the whole idea.

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