31 Jul

The Traveler’s Nook

We bought a Nook Simple Touch with backlight (the book reader, not the tablet). It’s small, surprisingly solid for its size, easy to hold, and flickers the page when you read forward or back–can’t call it turning the page–it’s a screen, where the text and margin settings determine how much you see at once, and page numbers are based on the page length set in the source.

This Nook cost $139, or $61 less than the new fullblown Google tablet coming soon now. We didn’t debate on which to buy though–we’re headed to Spain child-free this September and the Nook is meant to travel, to tuck into a pack or bag, weighs little, and as a generic little thing that looks like a squashed PDA, not look attractive to thieves. The battery lasts up to a month if we’re really, really judicious–realistically, we’ll probably get two weeks between charges.  The Google tablet would provide possibly up to a week without a recharge. Most importantly, there’s not much else to do with the Nook except read (or, of course, buy books from B&N). The tablet is loaded with distractions.

Done with the justifying. More about the reading. or, the getting of stuff to read.

The Nook’s native format is epub (which displays best), although it can display PDF, HTML, plain text, and eReader, too. I spent several hours (in between crashes and tire sabotage in the Tour de France) at Project Gutenberg and other sites with free books or stories, periodicals, and articles (including some publisher sites), saving items to my laptop then copying them to my personal storage on the Nook (without an SD card, I still have 250 MB space for items not purchased from B&N–that’s still a lot of books, periodicals, articles, and stories).

Some of the PDF’s are ugly on the Nook, like reading through a screen door or squinting at a remote screen. I’m guessing this has more to do with the options used to create the files than anything else. It also enforces the PDF page breaks instead of letting the document flow from one page to the next. Basically, the Nook was doing its best with the information it was given.

Fortunately, the Calibre e-book manager can convert several formats, including most PDF, to epub. Unfortunately, PDF conversion success relies on how the PDF was created. I’ve had a leave a few documents in PDF format after Calibre failed to convert anything past the title. (There are ways around this, including copying text into Word and saving as RTF, but I also don’t have to read everything electronic on the Nook.)

7/20/2012: Yesterday my friend Steve shared his Dropbox folder of delicious ebooks with me, including Bujold’s tasty Vorkosigan series from the Baen Free Library, which I’ve been snacking on since (and will buy in print form in the coming year).

7/28/2012: After a two weeks, I’m hooked. Never thought I’d say that. The Nook’s a completely inoffensive companion to the hundreds of physical books on my shelves at home. I’ve taken it camping and used it daily on my bus and train commute. I’ve always held onto books as a security blanket. Now that I have a Nook, I feel safe wherever I travel.

And now, a riff:

We took a look
We saw a nook.
On his head, he had a hook
On his hook, he had a book
On his book was “How to cook”

We saw him sit and try to cook
He took a look at the book on the hook
But a nook can’t read so a nook can’t cook, SO…

What good to a nook is a hook cook book?

– Dr. Seuss, Red Fish, Blue Fish

7/31/2012:  I don’t notice the page flicker anymore, just like I stopped smelling the neighbor’s cows in high summer when I was a kid.

03 Jul

Other Paths

Page1 of the 2002 edition of Other Paths to Glory* by Anthony Price starts with

The Angel of Death, looking to call his roll in Picardy on the morning of September 18, 1918, would have been hard pressed to find the village of Fontaine-du-Bois.

The story continues with a description of how a German commander determined that Fontaine-du-Bois was the perfect place to dig in against the coming British attack. It didn’t take long for both armies to wipe it off the map, leaving land scars in place of the buildings and trenches, like vine and pest scabs on fruit. In that first page Price captures–with subtle sensitivity–costs of war for the landsmen and the invading armies–one cost being the vanishing of villages and beings from all groups.

(Note, 7/16/2012: Sing a lovely sentence that puts readers to sleep. Shit. Channeling the ghost of a cheesy litcrit reviewer above. Next time will try not to reduce it to a reviewer’s quote. The importance here is former reader’s comment below in my copy of the book.)

In the controlled blank area above the chapter start, a previous reader wrote:

I was born on September 26, 1918

then linked it to the Sept 18 date in the book text with a shaky arrow.

The hand is spidery and seems more masculine than feminine. The 2002 publish date puts him at 83 or older. It seems likely that the book came from his estate.  Or maybe he was a spry 80-something and traded Other Paths for another Price. Did he buy the book or was it a gift from a caregiver or older child who knew Pop loved or found comfort in his British mysteries? He was a wartime baby, conceived a year before the end of war and born two months before armistice. Did his father serve and possibly die in WWI? He left no other traces of himself in the book (as I hoped he would), so I’m left to guess at the paths it took after he finished or was prematurely forced to set it aside. (The tragedy lies in being unable to finish it.) I bought it from a reseller on Amazon for $2.

His single note is a kind of map clue: the treasure is Here, though Here is happily the damn destination and the starting point, with neither as the same point. For the reader or writer, it’s a great opportunity to let the book be a time traveler’s MacGuffin and pay imaginary visits to the people who may have touched it or been touched, and where that led them before the end. It’s irrelevant that this branch leads to me and my perch at the top of this blog, except where it helps me become a better writer.

Read Price, if you haven’t. Then start discovering other mostly and undeservedly forgotten writers of intrigue that weave introspection, history, politics, technical details, and adventure** (and sometimes a cracking good romance). Not for the sake of those writers–most of them are dead–but for you. And the handful of others who find your annotations (yes, write in your books) once you’ve gone from breathing to ghost.

Note: I found Anthony Price thanks to this essay by Jo Walton. I started with The Labyrinth Makers, finished it last night, and opened Other Paths this morning. Tomorrow’s Ghost waits in a corner of my bedside shelf. His books are sometimes hard to find on the shelf but easy to find in good shape from sellers on Amazon ($1-4).

*Winner of the CWA Golden Dagger Award 1974

** Like Riddle of the Sands

Just found this recent small blog series on Price, with a bibliographical article and interview (part 1, part 2).