Friday, June 19, 2015

"Free" Books on Readers: Not Such a Deal for Me

Recently, I managed to wrack up a $30 Kindle book bill one month buying books priced at $3 or less. Now, $30 isn't huge in the grand scheme of things — I can spend that on a single printed book (sans latte) at a full-price bookstore. However, I am always looking for a great deal, so I reviewed my Kindle and Amazon reading and borrowing privileges.

I noticed some of my recent inexpensive buys were Kindle Unlimited or Kindle Prime books, which meant I could read them for free (with some restrictions).

Kindle Prime members are Kindle owners who may borrow a single book each month from a select list. Kindle Unlimited permitted readers to borrow, for a fee, an unlimited number of books each month from a select list. Between the two, I could read for three months on what I spent in a single month.

But was it really a deal? Were the books I wanted to read Unlimited to me?

The short answer: no.

The long answer: none of the 130 books on my Amazon book wish list are Unlimited.

My wish list skews toward popular fiction and non-fiction (at least, that's where I found them when I listed them). If I was paying a monthly fee to read e-books, I'd want access to books I would buy to read.

I checked for Kindle Prime books on my wish list and found the same: not a single one.

Now, to be fair, Kindle Prime borrowing books don't always display on non-Kindle devices, and I searched on a laptop computer browser. Perhaps the same is true of Unlimited books as well.

Typically, I do not shop on my Kindle, so it's not helpful to me if books are accurately tagged as Unlimited or Prime only when viewed on Kindle. I would prefer Amazon tantalize me with Prime and Unlimited books across all platforms — and perhaps lure e-reader enthusiasts to purchase a Kindle reader. (Amazon, please take note.)

Long story short, I am not subscribing or investing in Kindle book borrowing or subscription programs beyond what I already have. I have been spending a lot of time reading e-books lately, and I am weary of a few Kindle features that highlight an e-reader's limitations. I am tired of my Kindle telling me it's low on power. (That's my job, to be low on power.) I don't like having to use a sliding bar to skip around a book, and I haven't mastered the "jump to bookmark" feature. "Added features" such as first chapters of new books show as part of the book I'm reading, so I can finish a book but still show a few percent of the book left to read.

Having said that, I am not going to abandon e-readers completely: my Kindle gives me more than a hundred books at my fingertips, and I am grateful for that, especially when I travel.

However, I would prefer Amazon expand its subscription programs to include more of the books I want to read. I'd consider a subscription if the catalog was worthy.

What do you read on? Have you traveled cross-platform, and do you have a preference?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Review: Station Eleven

It comes out of nowhere and takes the world by surprise, a new virus with a near-total mortality rate. What it does to humanity is devastating. What humanity does in its aftermath is fascinating.
In Station Eleven, watch the world through the eyes of people with connection to a single person: the world-famous Arthur Leland. Each has experiences that, when woven together, tell a fascinating, riveting story about hope and loss, love and fear.

This isn't a "science fiction" book beyond the idea that it's futuristic and involves the end of the world as we know it. It's the story of people trying to live in a world that is strange, cruel and beautiful. Emily St. John Mandel chooses an interesting, comprehensive cast of characters through which to see this new world, and it was amazing to watch the threads slowly create one of the most interesting, gorgeous designs I've seen in a while.

Much like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Mandel doesn’t try to tell the story of the plague on society beyond what the characters can tell us. I prefer it that way: the omnipotent narrator isn’t always welcome when a story can be told better in small ways. It’s the “a-ha” moments, the hints and ideas that slowly take shape, that are the strength of books told in such individualistic ways. I thought the connections wrought for the title were too thin, but it didn’t change the quality of the story or the value of the characters.

After you finish the book, be ready to spend an inordinate amount of time examining how you use the tools of your life and whether you could thrive in the post-flu world. And become determined that in the future, you will dedicate yourself to print media. Just sayin'.

This beats Alanis Morrisette's definition of irony: I read Station Eleven on my Kindle.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Polar Book Club True Confession: Winter's Tale Freeze-Out

I hang my head in shame and announce something that should be obvious by now: I did not read Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin, the Polar Book Club book this past winter.

I tried. In fact, I am still trying to read it, a few sideways glances at a time.

It is perhaps the least enjoyable book I have encountered this year.

It was weird, which I normally do not mind (and, truth be told, tend to prefer). 

It was tedious reading, scattered, unfocused storytelling. 

It also put children in adult situations. Okay, let's not be coy: a pre-teen boy was having all the sex he could muster. I cannot tolerate gratuitous sexualization of children in books, and since the story ambled along in a scattershot way, I did not see the value in that portrayal of a child. 

Finally, it was not the story I expected to read. I thought I was getting a love story that stretched across time.  Instead, I managed to get quite a ways into the story without a glimmer of such romance (but plenty of sex).

I read a few pages every once in a while, hoping it gets somewhere good. However, I think I am formally and publicly surrendering. It's not the book I want to read, so I won't.

Have you read it? Have you tried? Let me know!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Summer Reading Club: My Ambitious Summer Reading List

It's the summer reading season, which is when I make  unreasonably long lists of books to read. 

It's like the rest of the year, but with a publicly announced ambition. (And warmer. Usually.)

As a child, I loved the summer reading club — and found myself really disappointed to find no adult version. So, I did what most people do: I formed my own club and invited my friends, family and interested future reading buddies. (Let's be honest: if you see someone with a book, especially a book you yourself have read, are they really strangers?)

Now, the summer has unofficially begun with Memorial Day, a solemn occasion to remember why we have the freedom and opportunity to exercise our rights and privileges as Americans. Please, take a moment to remember the true reason for the day.

Review your bookshelves or nightstand to decide what to put on your summer reading list. Here is mind, in no particular order:

    The Lowlanddescent-site
  1. Good Omens
  2. Divergent 
  3. Insurgent
  4. Allegiant
  5. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
  6. The Light Between Oceans
  7. Stepmonster
  8. Map of the Sky
  9. The Map of Chaos
  10. The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books
  11. The Descent
  12. At the Water's Edge
  13. Everything I Never Told You
  14. The Glass Sentence
  15. Arcadia
  16. Second Life
  17. Bone Season
  18. Bristol House
  19. Carsick
  20. A God in Ruins 
  21. Wolf Hall
  22. Arcadia
  23. Faefever
  24. The Lowland
  25. And the Mountains Echoed
  26. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter 
  27. NOS4A2
  28. The Sixth Extinction
  29. Revival
  30. Bellman and Black
  31. Station Eleven

I have no doubt this list will change, probably as soon as I publish it. However, I am going to let it fly.

Join the Summer Reading Club and put yourself in the running for a new book. Read as much as you wish from May 22 through September 27, and if you read the most book, you will win a book of your own. 

To join the club, just send me an e-mail or leave a message below. Then, at the end of the summer reading period, send me a message or include your reading list in a blog message. If you read the most, congratulations! If not, you still are a winner because you spent your summer reading.

I've already had a few e-mails from eager readers, and I can't wait to read your list!

I make sure summer reading is beneficial to my community. As I have done in years past, I will  donate $5 per book I read to Main Street Child Development Center, and I will buy three new books for the Fairfax County Public Library from its Amazon Wish List

Hopefully, reading club members also will find a way to help their communities through their reading, or to help share the love of reading with their communities. It's not a requirement, of course, but it certainly is a worthy effort. It doesn't have to be financial support, either — think of what the community wants and needs. Every reader can determine what is within her or his power to bestow.

Even if you don't join the reading club, I still would love to know: what's on your summer reading list? Tell me!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Review: Tell the Wolves I'm Home

I had no intention of reading Tell the Wolves I'm Home because the description on the jacket was so unappetizing. I am grateful my book club chose this novel — it's one of my favorite reads of the year so far.

The book jacket makes the story sound like an AIDS story, which is totally inaccurate. Rather, it's a story of grief and loss; of growing up, growing apart, and growing together; of self-discovery and of the discovery of the world from a different perspective; of family; of tolerance. Carol Rifka Brunt captures this through the voice and experiences of an unlikely character: 14-year-old June, a girl at the stage in life where her self-awareness often shrinks to a microcosm of her own life.

AIDS may be a factor in this book, but it is by no means a central character. In fact, the family and community treat the disease — and the people with it — with more compassion and honesty than I would have expected. What a welcome respite from the real world, in which HIV-AIDS was (and to a certain extent, remains) a media circus threat and mystery.

June grieves for her Uncle Finn, her godfather and closest friend who, in his last year of life, is painting a portrait of her and her 16-year-old sister Greta. June thinks she knows her uncle because her uncle knows her. June doesn't know much beyond her direct experiences with Finn, so she's shocked to find out that he has a "special friend," and even more shocked that this mystery person is accused by her family of infecting Finn with AIDS.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home is about growing up and growing out of the role of a protected child, finding one's own path on the cusp of adulthood and learning what boundaries are worth pushing and what rules should remain unbroken. It's about finding out that people are more than just who they appear to be. It is rooted in a time and place: New York, 1987. It is told by a reliable narrator in a compelling story with rich description and great honesty. It's perhaps one of the best coming of age stories I've read in a long time. And it's a touching love story between people who are trying to figure out how to live with grief and loss.

Read this book and be just as surprised as June that life isn't exactly how it looks from your passenger seat on the train.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Summer Reading Club: Go Wild!

Are you ready for some reading?

Get your books in a row in time for the 2015 Summer Reading Club.

There are lots of reasons to enjoy a summer read. You can use it to catch up on the good stuff you think is too Fluff 'n Trash™ for the rest of the year. Maybe it's time to focus on one genre, the one you never admit to in mixed company. Maybe you just want to walk into the library once a week and pick up the first book that looks good.

For whatever reason, indulge. Read all summer, and enjoy yourself.

And maybe win a book.

That's right: if you are the book club member who reads the most books, you will win a new book.

The reading period is from Memorial Day through the end of summer. This year, let's choose Friday, May 22 through Sunday, September 27.

Send me your list any time you're ready. I'll publish mine by the end of May.

Join the club: read all summer!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Dulce Et Decorum Est — National Poetry Month

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

by Wilfred Owen
courtesy War Poetry