Sunday, August 17, 2008

Titles on My Kindle

So I got a Kindle from Amazon about two months or so ago. During that time, it has really become one of those things (on the order of cell phone, glasses, keys, train pass, etc.) that I ensure I've got in my bag whenever I leave the house. I even bought a beautiful red leather cover for the device to protect it during travel and commute. It's an imperfect device but very convenient for reading in a variety of settings. That said, here's a list of titles currently on *my* Kindle device.

1. Kim Stanley Robinson's Science in the Capital trilogy. This trilogy consists of Forty Signs of Rain (2004), Fifty Degrees Below (2005) and Sixty Days and Counting (2007). It is interesting reading, part of a sub-genre in science fiction known as "mundane sf". The point of this sub-genre is to focus on the "what ifs" of modern technological life in the near-term, rather than the stereotypes of aliens and space ships generally associated with science fiction. The three volumes share thematic concerns -- primarily, global warming (or climate change, if you prefer) but also the balance between attitudes of "knowing" (scientific thought vs. buddhist thoughts), the associated pros and cons of national agencies' handling of science policy and funding in coping with global science issues, and the more cosmic theme of a human's place in the global ecosystem.

Robinson's style of storytelling is not particularly fast-paced. He throws in entire pages of hard science between chapters and scenes of characters' interactions. His characterization forms individuals into archetypes very quickly. Indeed, throughout the first volume, I was sure that the elusive female pursued by Frank Vanderwahl was intended to be symbolic of the Feminine Element rather than any specific identity in the story. Such characterization can be off-putting for some readers, but I think the patience and perserverance required in working one's way through the three books is rewarding. Robinson has a point -- some might say an agenda -- but the plot twisted just enough to keep my interest. The benefit of reading these on the Kindle was that I had the experience of reading all three volumes as a single narrative rather than having to wait a year or two between as with the original print publications.

Author interviews here, here and here.

(2) The Maltese Falcon, John Huston, Director by William Luhr. I have to discuss the classic detective novel by Dashiell Hammett in two weeks at the local library. I purchased this book because it has the script of the movie as well as several critical essays. I want to elicit discussion by the group of the challenges of transforming a novel into a screenplay. (The Kindle is conducive to focusing on shorter forms of writing. The screen -- six inches on the diagonal -- helps one to focus on grasping the point of each paragraph building the argument. I personally think it aids retention).

(3) Pride and Prejudice (Enriched E-book Edition) by Jane Austen. Undoubtedly you are questioning just how many copies any one woman needs of this particular classic. I do own multiple copies but each has a different value point to it. This particular Penguin edition contains the frequently-cited Tony Tanner introduction to the novel as well as extensive notes, a filmography, and a bibliography for suggested further reading including modern sequels. The book uses hypertext links throughout for navigation. (Not all publishers have been as smart on this.)

(4) The Missio-Dei Breviary. I would have preferred to carry around the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) on my Kindle, but Cambridge University Press hasn't made a Kindle edition of the prayerbook available as yet. Besides, there are plenty of Web-based versions of the BCP that I can use, if necessary. I like the Missio Dei Breviary for its brevity as well as for its roots in the social gospel. If you visit here and here, you can learn more.

(5) Mitch Albom's Commencement Speech to his nephew's high school graduating class (exclusive to the Amazon Kindle -- get some background on it here). This was a sweet gesture by the ESPN sportscaster who is also author of the best-selling Tuesdays With Morrie. I haven't read that one, but the commencement speech hit a nice, soft spot in me. I hope the nephew will grow to appreciate this gift from his uncle, if he doesn't already. I have read it frequently, just to bolster my spirits and keep my attitude properly adjusted. I even handed my Kindle over to my younger son so that he could read it. It has some lovely humorous touches as well as offering sound advice -- "avoid sushi in airports" and "call home regularly".

(6) The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas. I'm not much for scary stuff and I certainly haven't read any of the Twilight series of books, but this is one of the best vampire novels I have ever read. None of the gross Renfield stuff or the fantasy of vampire as seductive lover, this presents the vampire as a lonely wanderer in modern society. Charnas does not minimize the horror of the vampire but does manage to generate sympathy for the anthropology professor who suffers from this biological mutation. (More of her views on vampires).

The novel was originally published back in 1980 (which is when I read it) but has been in and out of print since then. A print edition is being re-released this very week through the Macmillan imprint, Orb Books. It's very well-done and I heartily recommend it. The Kindle edition is being used (I suppose) to generate a build-up of interest. Charnas is not as well known as I think she ought to be.

(7) Touchstone by Laurie King. This was the very first book I bought via the Kindle store, specifically because I was about to go away for a long Fourth of July weekend but didn't want to lug along the heavy hard-back book.This stand-alone novel is a tale of suspense set in England in the period between the two World Wars. The country is under stress due to economic strain and a paralyzing labor strike is in the offing. Touchstone has only about seven major characters to track; the focus is on following the psychological mindset of each during negotiations between the various factions. There is a primary character that serves as a central focal point in the action for the bulk of the book – Harris Stuyvesant, a well-drawn American agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). King uses a slow pacing to build characters, but the final third of the book moves rapidly and carries the reader along. The final resolution is neither weak nor entirely happy. Another thoroughly enjoyable read that I can heartily recommend. The paperback edition is due out in December of this year. The hardcover is currently available.

Author interview here.

By the by, the backstory on the Kindle is that publishers had been wary of Amazon's intent and so took the less risky approach of licensing only older back-list titles or those titles already proven to be money-makers. However, early data regarding sales since last November must have been positive because an increasing number of publishers have committed to working with Amazon in delivering digital editions for this reader. I summed it up in my work-related column to members this way: "...the Kindle is not a replacement for the traditional print version of high quality content, but rather a supplemental convenience. It soothes a persistent irritation rather than satisfies a pressing and urgent need." And yet, I'm carrying my Kindle with me most days I'm out of the house.

**NOTE** Rumors of this blog's death have been greatly exaggerated. I have just been overly-occupied by work and family obligations. This seems to happen during the summer and I haven't figured out the stumbling block associated with the lapse in expression. Heat? Humidity?