My GoodReads, Your GoodReads

I love GoodReads because it does a lot of things for me that I am too lazy to do myself. It collects all my books with lovely little covers, let’s me see what other people are reading, and have you seen their new iOS app with barcode scanner? Sweet.

I do have some nitpicks: it’s not easy to remove books if you have added them accidentally to one of the three primary categories. The website’s interface has this scrolling sameness that can make picking out details and links difficult and sometimes frustrating. Minor quibbles though. I use the site almost every day.

But beyond that I don’t really review books. Oh, I have opinions. Don’t get me wrong. They live in a paper journal on my shelf, for my eyes only. That’s where I will write at length about the book in question. It goes back to 2006 when I started keeping track. What I do say about a book isn’t a review so much as an impression, as spoiler free as possible, about my experience. And that lives here, over on the Bookshelf page, not on GoodReads. All of these authors worked very hard on their books and who am I to pick them apart? I’d rather focus on the things I loved, and talking them up to people who might love them, too.

But I do, perversely, like giving star ratings to books over in GoodReads. But how I rate books may or may not make much sense, either. So, context!

5 STARS: This book either made me cry or made me stop and go, “WHOA.” (Yes, very Keanu-esque.) These are the SQUEE books, the fangirling, where a piece of the book is forever stuck in me, a splinter I will never pull out. I have a hard time being either eloquent or critical of these books. It often ends in Kermit-flailing.

4 STARS: I really enjoyed this book, will recommend it to others, will continue reading the author. It might not have made me cry, it might not have thumped my soul, but it was crunchy, it swept me up, and I emerged wholly satisfied.

3 STARS: This is my waffle rating, meaning there were lots of things in the book I liked, maybe even a lot, but the were things that distracted or bugged me. If it’s a series, most often the middle books, a three-star rating will not stop me from continuing. If it’s a stand-alone, I may or may not pick up books by this author in the future. Would depend on topic, on buzz, on good word-of-mouth.

2 STARS: Highly problematic and on multiple levels. I find myself annoyed while reading it, notice that it’s easy for me to put the book down and do something else, mentally deciding what I would do different.

1 STAR: I argued out loud with the book, in the bad way. The WTF? Are you kidding me? Jesus Christ! sort of way. If I finished it … Well, let’s just say it was a near thing. (And while grammatical, having STAR here in the singular offends my sense of symmetry deeply.)

0 STARS: I started the book but did not finish it, for reasons. Sometimes the book itself, sometimes not.

There is a lot, A LOT, of wiggle room between these categories. A 3 for me is someone’s 5, and vice versa — I’ll recommend 3 STARS books to friends I know whose tastes run that way. And what I thought was worth 5 STARS for me when I first read it might drop if I were to reread it a year later, or ten years later. (Ex: Amber Chronicles possibly, haven’t tested it.) Or I might go back to something I dropped the first time only to fall in love with it later. (The Hobbit.) And there are books I know that if had gotten to them as a kid I would have loved them until the covers fell off, but that time for me has passed. (Harry Potter.) And there are some that I will never, ever get. (Lord of the Rings. Please put the stones down.)

There aren’t too many 1 or 2 STAR scores in my GoodReads feed. When I first started, I entered all the books I remembered reading, which tended to be books I already loved. As I went along, books I didn’t click with often got quietly removed from my GoodReads list instead of being given any stars.

Books are personal in a way a movie never can be. A movie can be interpreted, debated but its form is fixed, unarguable. A book is reborn every time it is read, enjoying infinite incarnations, individual to each time, each place, each reader. (And each reader’s time and place, if read more than once.) I want to talk about the books that move me so, I hope, that they might move others.


After spending the day shuffling items around in my office, I spent a chunk of the afternoon finally getting around to that book I’d borrowed from the library. You know, that bit of serendipity I mentioned earlier? Yup, all about the history of medieval medicine! This is of vital importance to me, as the main character for BLOOD is a would-be scientist, like her father. But beyond some very vague ideas of how she might go about any of this, I’d skimped on many of the details, favoring action and dialogue.

No longer!

And the cool thing is just how much they did know back in the 1600s, which is my watermark for the highest level of technology in my weird little gothic world. Things like the first microscope, mechanical hands, surgery that removed cataracts, even mobile surgery kits.

How cool is that?

I have a sweet little setup, actually. Book is on a book stand to my left, iPad and Bluetooth keyboard in the middle (where I am taking the notes and now writing this blog entry) and the Macbook on my right cycling through Good Eats episodes.

I love the future. Don’t you?

As far as my Getting Things Done blowout? Yeah, on hold. I did spend some time today moving around my tools, things like screwing my little IKEA bucket holder on to the wall, pairing down storage boxes, getting things off of my desk. I still have more reading to do to finish the book and I think I’m going to need some supplies to get the system in place. Like, specifically I want to move my filing cabinet into the office proper, but then I have a gap in my living room that needs to be filled. (It files and holds stuff on top of it! Huzzah!) Maybe even a second filing cabinet. I also have to figure out how much of this will be electronic and how much of this will be physical. I plan on doing some writing tonight, some exploratory thinking about what it is that I want to track, store and use. In going through the book, I’ve realized that I’ve got a pretty decent system of inventory for all that life stuff — folders for banking info, for work, for my medical papers, my cats’ vet papers, my taxes, and so on. But it’s my creative stuff that I have all over the place as well as all the task-related stuff, both creative and non-creative, that I need to get a handle on.

Anywho, I’ve got reading to do!

Through the Book Stacks

At the library today. I came to drop off a book (one that I really want to read but have no time and should stop trying to tell myself otherwise) but ended up wandering around through the stacks and eventually settled at a table. I had to scuttle over three seats to find a place where the overhead lights didn’t wash out my iPad screen.

What is it about places other than your own office that end up being more comfortable? If I wasn’t theft and if I thought it was in any way practical, I would take one of these chairs home with me. It’s like they were molded precisely for my well-proportioned butt. Of course, they are wood, and as such solid and comforting and old fashioned, as most places only offer the comfort of plastic. A wood chair feels like it’s a part of history, that it should be sat in seriously and pondered on. Work will be done, the sculpted seat tells you, so pay attention and get started.

Since I’m at the library … On to books!

I finished reading “Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us” by Jessica Page Morrell this morning. At first I thought it was going to be one of those angry, stalker-ish love letters to would-be writers with a long list of do-nots. It had that, sure, but delivered with as much love as with sarcastic zeal. And the further I got into it, the more it felt like a mentor talking to me one-on-one, someone who understood the process, warned me of the pitfalls ahead and then armed me with the sharpest machete she had to give. It’s going on the Awesome Shelf ™ to be referred to in times of creative stress and despair.

I’m reading “Dogs” by Nancy Kress. Just started. I picked it up last year at World Con and I’m only getting to it now. It’s been a huge relief to so severely cut back my to-read pile to purchased new books instead of the horde I’d accumulated from the local used book store. I’m actually making some headway.

I still don’t want to buy anymore new books as paper books if it can be helped. Fiction especially. But I’m having hard time finding all books across all iPad applications and it is irksome to have to use three separate applications. Ideally, I want to use one. iBooks, while at least officially open, is still missing far too many titles and authors; I understand that this is based on publishing houses, which are still negotiating for Canadian rights to distribute their titles through the new ebook seller. But even the Kobo and Kindle apps come up with the same limitations and I can’t rationalize a reason why. Some titles are available in one and not the other and prices can vary quite a bit. Kobo seems to consistently be offering their titles at a lower cost than Amazon, but at the same time the Kobo app doesn’t have the same utility as the Kindle app, with respect to highlighting and notes and such. Ah, imperfect solutions, all of them.

Speaking of highlighting and notes, I took a pencil to much of Morrell’s book while reading it, an anathema to me for, oh, twenty years? You just didn’t WRITE in books. That was just wrong. NOT DONE. Books must be kept in PRISTINE condition, else you’ve failed as a book owner. I wouldn’t dog-ear pages, wouldn’t highlight passages or add any of my own scribblings. Okay, university textbooks got a pass on that, but the rest? Never!

Picture me in a sweeping taffeta dress, hair straggling down from a southern belle’s up-do, clutching not a turnip but a paperback, screaming, “As God as my witness…” and you’ll have the idea.

I’m sort of over it now, and Morrell’s book got the full force of my underlining, squiggly paragraph bracketing, starring and even, in one place, a little heart.

Now I’m starting to sound stalker-ish.

I think I’m done here for the day. Heading back out for some proper, aimless about-town meandering. And later, back to the draft.

It’s (a)LIVE! It’s (a)LIIIIIVE!!

Pardon the exclamation marks. And extra letters.

Last night, on a whim, I scooted over to the iBookstore. It’s become a regular habit, like checking email or Twitter feeds, something done quickly and with no forethought, like a cleaning routine. I was half way through shutting down the application when my brain finally registered that there were new images. I quickly reloaded and then started squealing.

(Of course, this was after I had bemoaned the iBookstore’s dearth of books and then dropped a load of cash at the local Chapters during their buy three, get the forth free sale. *sigh*)

So I spent a good hour poking around the iBookstore. I didn’t end up buying anything but I grabbed about six samples, some fiction, some non-fiction. A lot of the books I looked for by name, either title or author, simply weren’t there. Yet, I’m sure. It looks like it’s only a few publishers, Harper Collins and Penguin, if I’m remembering right.

It is very slow navigating the iBookstore. And there isn’t yet a way to drill down through the sub genres. Fantasy and Science Fiction has over 800 titles (and, I want to remind, missing many, many authors and books still) and the only way to do it is to go through page at a time of about twelve books. There was also a significant portion of the books that were Star Trek books, or to a lesser extent, other media tie-in merchandise. (I’m not judging here, but it makes it more work for me. We’re talking page after page of the stuff.) I want a way to be able to remove them or have a better way to narrow down the categories. I have seen other subheadings like “epic” but no way to choose it specifically from the category section. Hopefully this is coming, too.

I do like the Author Pages, quite handy, and as I was thinking about some sort of authorial book-marking system, I discovered the Alert feature, which I’m guessing will send me an email when they get a new book by that author. Cool.

So, a great start, but still work to be done.

PS: They need to split the Children & Teen section into proper Middle Grade and YA categories. There is a lot of YA that appeal to adult readers, and its buried in their Children and Teen section.

PPS: YAY, it’s finally LIVE! Thank you Apple. 🙂

Bookish Blasphemy

In what will probably be a heresy of biblical proportion for book-lovers, I’m coming to the conclusion that I will end up packing up all of my used books and bringing them back to the used bookstore. The only ones I will keep are books that I bought new, mostly compilations and a few others. Sure, the other books I have I do want to read, but the likelihood of me reading a paperback book again are few and far between and I don’t want a shelf of glum paper books looking at me accusingly every night. If I clear out the used books, I’d free up a bit of shelf space that could go towards still unboxed RPG books I’ve kept for inspiration. Not only that, it means that if I buy digital copies of these books when I am ready to read them, money will actually go to the writer.

(See how I rationalized my technological snobbery there? Not bad, eh?)

Have begun Palimpsest by Cat Valente on the Kindle app for the iPad. Wow. Luxuriant prose. Some fucking beautiful stuff so far. Also loving that I can highlight passages and make notes. If I’m not careful I’m going to end up having a whole conversation with this book before it’s done. But the Kindle app is just not as pretty as the Kobo app. In fact, if I had my way I would hack up and sew together the best parts of iBooks, Kindle and Kobo into an uber e-reading application, one with the ability to landscape like the iBook, the notation features of the Kindle and the sexy stylin’ of the Kobo interface. It would reign as the mightiest of e-readers.

Yes, I am getting quite silly now. G’night!

Discover Your Limit By Hitting It

After my blow out day of writing, I felt a little run down the next day. With the cats still getting used to each other, I decided discretion was the better part of valor and called in sick. I had visions of finishing off the WIP, too, and did my best.

My best being only 800 words.

Glumly I went off to my writing meeting, our critique night, and started to rouse out of my funk. But when Friday night rolled around I ran out for groceries and then vegged to a movie. I itched the entire time, my body knowing I should be in a different room, but I let myself finish the movie and then go to bed.

Tonight was much the same. The last two days at work have been just brutal and I haven’t had the temperament to be calm and solicitous and patient. So tonight I relaxed with a little Mario Galaxy 2, some kitten athletics, and my iPad — most specifically the Kobo app.

Without a doubt I read faster with a device than I do a paper book. I’m able to focus longer, light conditions are made irrelevant, and I can hold it in all sorts of comfortable positions. The only drawback is that not all e-reading apps offer the same functionality and that I would not be permitted to read my e-books at my desk at work. Which means I’m still trucking physical books around. For now.

Still trying to find the perfect writing application, but so far have settled on Notebook. The only thing missing there is the ability to save and send files in ways other than an email. Granted, that might just be me not having found it yet. It offers landscape writing with a centered pane, so I’m mostly happy.

And less importantly, paragraph indents! This will probably end up being a stylistic thing that will go the way of the dodo, but I like paragraph indents. I realize email doesn’t have them, my Kobo books don’t have them, and none of the writing applications I’ve tried have them, but there is a tab function in Scripts Pro, damn it, so why not the others?

Long live the paragraph indent!

(Clearly it’s time for bed.)

Short Game, Long Game

The other day I stepped into the local Chapters because I had some time to kill between buses. I shouldn’t have because I’m a bit broke at the moment and the place is a terrible money sink, but I did anyways. Besides, I had my eye on something.

So I wandered around, feeling a little strange and hypocritical with my iPad nestled in my purse. No point looking at paperbacks, as I have no doubt that I will never buy one again. The magazines had some interesting bits, and I ended up with two of those, Writer’s Digest and ImagineFX (one to inform writing, one to inspire writing). Eventually I don’t want to buy paper copies of magazines at all, but they aren’t quite as far along as e-books yet.

And then I rounded the corner of the magazine racks and headed to the lifestyle section for what I’d really come for in for: a small hourglass filled with tropical blue sand. I’d seen it in the store several times, even played with one, and thought it would be neat and sort of old-fashioned to do timed writing with it instead of a clunky kitchen timer. I finally decided I wanted it.

Any long time readers of my blog (Ha!) might remember a rather snarky post of mine complete with shocking evidence — a display window for Indigo, Chapter’s parent company, that was filled with blankets and dish wear and specialty teas and wasn’t it outrageous that the book, the whole point of the damned store, was barely visible. “See??” I typed self-rightiously. “This is what’s wrong with bookstores these days!”


In retrospect, they were playing the long game, while I was stuck thinking the short game.

My complaints about finding new books, access to titles, and the like have been rendered moot by devices like the iPad, the Kindle and others. The mid-list will likely start picking up and the internet, with sites like GoodReads, will become the primary way for people to discover new writers and books. So if the physical bookstore doesn’t have to concern itself with book selection (not that it often appeared to be beforehand) and if books will increasingly be purchased electronically, what are you then going to sell?

A lifestyle.

And the smart thing, if you’re playing the long game, is to prepare for it before it happens. WAY before it happens. Get your customer base used to seeing upscale and eclectic items side-by-side with their favorite books and magazines. Get items not available locally, at least in small towns, and cater to a desire to pamper, in the same way that books are often marketed as an affordable comfort. There will always be a place for the high-end hard covers but mass consumption will go digital. And when the paperback market falls away, you have something to take it place.

Years before the eBook market finally gets off the ground and the company was already laying the groundwork. Not that it isn’t iffy to place your bets on luxury items (though I’m sure they weren’t expecting in the economic bubble and it’s after effects) but it has to look like it’s the only solid lifeline for the physical component of their companies once the bulk of their wares goes digital.

So I take it back, Chapters. You had me fooled. I was all about the short game, but you were planning ahead. Far ahead. I hope it works for you.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to read more of “Soulless” by Gail Carriger in the Kobo app for my iPad.

(Edit: Pardoning my terrible french…)

Three to One

So I’ve given the iPad a test spin and so far, very impressed. Still waiting for the Dock and the case to arrive (case especially as it will allow me to use it as a writing desk. Of sorts.)

In the meantime, my biggest experiment is figuring out which e-reader I’m going to use. I’ve downloaded both Amazon’s Kindle app and the Kobo app, which is the reader that Chapters/Indigo has gone with. And of course, Apple’s iBooks application.

I bought two books, Gail Carrager’s Soulless and Cat Valente’s Palimpest. (Links to follow, or maybe I can figure out how to do it through the iPad WordPress app …) I tried to buy a third book through iBooks, but frankly the Canadian iBookstore is barren of all but un-copyrighted works, classics mostly. They have a section for a list of New York Times Bestsellers, but it is empty. This is the one major hiccough; if I don’t have books I actively want to read on all three app-platforms, there will be some bias built in to the test. For iBooks, I downloaded the iPad Guidebook and the classic Vanity Fair.

But this is what I have to work with. So here we go! First impressions only.

Kindle: I hadn’t bothered with this before now, as i was happy using Stanza and eReader on my iPhone (and BOO to both developers for not creating iPad versions). The splash screen of a person sitting under a tree with a background that changes based on the time if day is pretty, thou having my books float in space above that nameless reader is rather odd. The formatting looks good. I haven’t yet tried the annotation feature, but will as that strikes me as rather useful. A really big plus? Being able to download samples into the Kindle. Good stuff.

Kobo: I wasn’t expecting to like this application. I figured, since the Kobo was such a late comer to the eBook market that it was made as a begrudging concession to a changing market, But the application is slick, everything from their mini-bookshelf to the page format to the bookmarks. You literally dog-ear pages and you have your choice of bookmarks, including a leather placeholder, a golden tassel, or even a fish. So far I’ve read the most in this application.

iBooks: Unlike the other two, iBooks can be used in either regular or landscape modes. Now to be fair, both the Kindle and Kobo apps were intended to be used on an iPhone, which would be ridiculous in landscape mode, and it’s not like their own physical eReaders can go into landscape mode, either. But there is something about having two pages side-by-side that is familiar, comfortable. I really hope that both Kindle and Kobo build in this feature in upcoming versions as it is something that will become a deal breaker for me.The page turning animation is ridiculously satisfying. This has the potential to be among the best of the lot, but the empty iBookstore makes that hard to test for sure.

But of course, it all comes down to access. I already have about six books locked into a format that can only be read on my iPhone. While I may have minor technical preferences, ultimately the format that has the greatest number of books for sale, specifically books I want to buy, will be the winner. And it’s way to early to know that for sure.

Also, I’ll need to keep my fingernails clipped short. No way you can type effectively on the iPad with long fingernails. Another thing, you have to get used to not having your fingers on the keyboard itself. While on a computer keyboard your fingers can rest on the keys, any errant stroke on here registers instantly. My retraining is coming along swimmingly, tho’.

Next up, my editing workshop experience!

Back To It!

Weekend was a bit of a wash on the creative front, as Saturday night was the TGIO (Thank God It’s Over) party for Script Frenzy and then Sunday night I came home after work, retooled the wireless router and then found myself sinking into a sleepy fog that claimed me way before bedtime.

But when I became restless again around 9:00 pm I picked up Illustrated Teachings of the Dalai Lama (sadly out of print, but his works and words are available in many volumes). I found myself peaceful, centered, curious. I finished off the book today and will be returning it to the library during tonight’s write-in. I’ve ordered another of his through I look forward to reading more. I had picked it up on a whim after coming across it in the stacks, among a few others.

That’s the one thing that libraries can do that a brick and mortar store or an online store can never offer. The book store categorizes everything so neatly, so discretely. Everything has its own place. If I’m in the mood for a fantasy or science fiction novel, I go to that section of the store, I peruse, make my choice, if any, and then go on my merry way. Only if I am wandering, if I want to cover some ground, will I encounter anything outside of my initial driving interest. And an online seller, with access to millions of titles? Un-perusable. I defy you to peruse an online sellers multitude of choices. I would wager that people go to the online book stores with a title in mind. Of course, through recommendations, either automatically generated or based on purchasing habits of others who bought the same book, a long, nebulous network begins that can carry you from book to book, like to like to like down a continuum of titles. Useful, yes, but not random.

In a library, or at least the libraries I frequent, they are small things, staffed with a few well-intentioned but overworked bibliophiles who must not only manage the collection but also group activities and maintenance and order. Books are one of three things: fiction, non-fiction, or children’s books. There is no time or space to break books up by genre. Fantasy lives alongside cowboys, sordid love stories, galactic empires.  And the collection is small enough that if you go down one shelf of non-fiction you will find science books up against paranormal books, history near cooking, writing how-to besides celebrities.

This is how I get into trouble on Monday nights. My legs get restless and I have to wander. And in wandering, discoveries.

They don’t all pan out. My last run was a mystery with an intriguing cover, a setting that I’m interested in (a hotel/food service) and a great opening line. Read about 20 pages and nothing clicked. But a non-fiction book I grabbed detailing the plot against the Medici’s in Italy in the 15th Century? Bingo. (This may be related to having played/finished/loved Assassin’s Creed 2, which is set in this era, but it’s still damned interesting besides.)

Enough book talk. I am a day behind my writing plans and need to catch up.