Boooo Amazon; and a technology ramble

Just went 0 for 3 on finding the next novels in the Kindle bookstore (“Ironweed”, “The Magus”, and “Wide Sargasso Sea”). I’m going out of order by skipping ahead to “Tobacco Road”. Where the hell am I going to find e-texts of these other books? Fack.

I’ll take a moment to share an interim conclusion about e-texts versus paper books: e-texts are superior. Several reasons:

  • (this is a personal note, not a universal pain point) whenever I read paper books, I get paranoid that I missed a page, so I neurotically make sure I can’t separate pages 53 and 54, which are opposite sides of the same sheet. Perceived problem is eliminated by eliminating the physical sheets.
  • e-readers have built-in dictionaries. My vocabulary has already begun to tumesce (thanks for that gem Styron!)
  • e-readers can report your location in the book as a percentage of how much you’ve read already. “that’s weird! don’t like it!” – I know, right? That was my first thought. But then I realized the only reason I seem to care about page number is because I know the total page count to begin with – so implicitly, I’m doing a rough percentage-completed calculation anyway, which is ultimately what I care about. If you don’t know how many pages are in the book, you don’t care what page you’re on. You care about percentage complete and you don’t even know it.
  • e-readers allow pacifists of medium build like myself to read titles like “Sophie’s Choice” on the bus without getting strange looks. Also, Sophie’s Choice is very very long – I’m sure the book would be heavier than the device. (I feel like I’m talking about “Sophie’s Choice” too much…)
  • Form factor interchangability. I have the Kindle app on my iPad and on my laptop. 15 spare minutes during lunch at work – bam, reading and nobody’s the wiser. Pulling a book out would look really weird.
  • I won’t elaborate on the obvious benefits – e.g., reduced space use, collection centralization, immediate access – but they’re great too.
  • This might be tautological, but e-texts are better because you can act superior and enlightened to people you don’t like who still read paper books. They convey a certain je ne sais quoi; a certain go-fuck-yourself-you-stodgy-old-snob.-oh-really?-you-like-“the way it feels in your hand”?-you-like-“the way pages smell”?-good-luck-with-that. And if you happen to like the people who still read paper you can tell them you respect how they keep it real. Win-win.

Finished: “Under the Net,” Iris Murdoch (#95)

I don’t know if it was because it was on the heels of Sophie’s Choice, or if this book just sucked, but it sucked. I think I’m missing something, maybe allegorical or crocodilian. Flat, undeveloped characters mashed together in a contrived set of coincidental encounters that somehow goes nowhere. I think it was about the ease with which we interpret the world incorrectly, see causation where there is none, and fumble the real meaning of things with the fundamentally flawed conveyance tool of language. Weird, boring, and not good.

Finished: “Sophie’s Choice,” William Styron (#96)

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck. I hate unhappy endings. Holy shit. I feel like I got punched in the stomach. This was some heavy, heavy shit. A meandering intertemporal character study that brought me closer to the protagonist (Stingo, not Sophie) than any other so far. I felt everything he felt about Sophie. Jesus this book was tough. More Nazis, American South racism, sex, drugs, mental illness, death fixation and emotional and physical torture than I thought possible to cram into one book (560+ pages, though). The real deal. When I got to the first borderline pornographic part, I was pretty shocked. But between the frequent recurrence of these sections and the sheer weight of the book’s emotional payload, I was numb to them by the end. While Sophie does  make a notable, impossible choice, she is constantly choosing courses of action (mostly self-destructive) throughout the novel. I think her titular “choice” is not just the single choice, but her capacity to choose in general – as in, the freedom of choice. Either way I don’t really care though. The book was freakin’ awesome. I’m afraid that the next book on the list will be lukewarm at best no matter what, so long as it’s in Sophie’s shadow.

P.S., her choice is which one of her two children to send to the gas chamber in Auschwitz.

Finished: “The Sheltering Sky,” Paul Bowles (#97)

Moving. At first I thought this was going to be about the value of going with the flow and letting go of irrational fears and inhibitions that prevent people from achieving their full potential and/or pursuing their passions. It was kind of about that. But it was also about not that at all. It was about how going with the flow can lead to complete and total beat-downs; punishments so brutal that you forget who you are and lose your identity.

The imagery of the sky and the power of the unknown that lies beyond our living perception was haunting. This book also made me want to go to old-timey northern Africa.

Oh, and the main character dies in the middle of the book. Very different and refreshing. I love unhappy endings! Really, I do.

Balancing act

OK, I have some momentum. It’s part of my daily habit. I don’t watch TV at night anymore. I sometimes used to take OTC sleep aids to help fall asleep. No more of that either. The behavior pattern feels good.

But I still have moments of flashback to the (bad) experience of reading assignments for school that damned my literary appetite so severely. It feels like a balancing act – I need to get far enough into a book so that the pull of the plot and characters overpowers the gravity of the mechanics of reading that I have historically been disenchanted by. But so far, the pull of the stories has been enough to keep me from getting bored or made uncomfortable by the act of reading. I actually think I’m starting to enjoy the act (see first paragraph), despite the occasional flashback.

Also, I have stopped reading the news. I don’t know what’s happening in the world.

Finished: “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” James M. Cain (#98)

More of a short story than a novel, really. Read it within a 24-hour period. Maybe I’m just getting faster and building momentum… Anyway, the quick tale reads like a tame action movie slash courtroom drama. More of a situation-based plot than a character study. I kind of get the postman metaphor, but the story itself wasn’t that colorful or full of metaphor, so it seems like a funny title. I might have titled it, “Murder is Hard to Pull Off”. Classic case of not getting away with bad stuff. Glad to be done with it.

Finished: “The Ginger Man,” J. P. Donleavy (#99)

Holy shit. I felt like I was literally drunk the whole time reading this. Donleavy made me read and think like I was as drunk and nasty as the main character. I felt embarrassed for him and his downward spiral. The shameless lust for unattainable money, however, keeps me from pitying him. Donleavy’s perspective largely confirmed my general sentiment that people suck.