Some Stones Unturned

Knitting, Biking and Some Sober Second Thoughts

Archive for the category “books”

Adventures with Sherlock Holmes and the Toronto Tea Festival

At the start of this year, I found out that the Toronto Public Library is renovating the usual location of its quite extensive Arthur Conan Doyle collection and has put a number of the pieces on exhibit at the Toronto Reference Library. I was a pretty big Holmes fan as a kid and even made the trek out to Reichenbach when I was in Switzerland.

Holmes and I chilling in Meiringen

Holmes and I ponder how to show this picture but maintain some anonymity

I have started critiques of several of the recent adaptations and homages for this blog only for them to turn into an absurdly long, disorganized mess. So Adventures with Sherlock Holmes seemed like a great opportunity to explore more Holmesian goodness. In particular, this past Saturday the library was scheduled to show Murder by Decree and tour the exhibit afterward.

I went to a local blog to see if I could find more details for the event, particularly whether tickets were needed, and I found out that Saturday was also the Toronto Tea Festival. How could I not have known? I was torn between two of my great loves. But as fate would have it, the Tea Festival was also happening at the Toronto Reference Library. So I hurriedly packed a bag and headed out earlier than planned in the hopes of getting as much tea festivizing in as possible before the movie.

And, well, I might have gotten a little distracted by the tea. It was fairly busy, but not bad by Toronto Festival standards (You could still move, for example). Although I often had to wait a while to get to the tables, I certainly managed to make it around the exhibit hall in a reasonable time, stopping for a few samples:

tea sample cups

I don’t live right downtown, but I get around enough that I was surprised there were so many great vendors I wasn’t aware of. Really this is my own fault for sticking with David’s Tea because they are in my ‘hood (with the occasional House of Tea side trip), but I guess they are sort of the “big chain” now, which seems so strange because I remember when they opened and I think they only had a few other locations in Toronto and Montreal and now they’re all over. Anyway, here are a few highlights from the festival. Read more…


What I’ve Been Reading Lately

I’ve read a few things over the past few months and although I didn’t have an entire post’s worth of stuff to say about any of them, I thought I would do a quick summary of a few of them here.

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins (The second book in the Hunger Games trilogy)

Flavius tilts up my chin and sighs. ‘It’s a shame Cinna said no alterations on you.’

‘Yes, we could really make you something special,’ says Octavia.

I flew through this one in about a day again and yet I can’t say I really enjoyed it as much as the first. I thought things were headed one way and then they sort of twisted back to repeat a lot of the first book (I actually wrote “Not again,” at one point in the notes). Not a lot of new ground covered and, if anything, this time Katniss gets really lucky and has a lot of help rather than relying on her own skill. Which is fine. She’s just one girl being thrown toward death by a nefarious government desperate not to lose control. It’s okay for her to have help. But in a first-person narrative I think it gets a bit tough to tell the bigger story that is going on in this world, especially when Katniss is in the dark about what’s really happening 90% of the time. And the love triangle gets frustrating what with everything else seeming to be of so much more immediate importance.

Read more…

Three Less-Discussed Considerations about eReaders

Hello everyone! In the intervening time since the last post, I’ve become Dr. Some Stones Unturned (not the real kind of doctor. I got a PhD) and gone to a conference/vacation in Australia. It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind and I now have to find something to do with my life after grad school, but let’s not dwell on that boring-ness. I’m looking forward to a spring/summer not having to think about my thesis and maybe doing a bit of blogging again. And it seems I am coming back to the topic of eReaders.

I’ve talked previously about how I came around on eBooks and that post mentioned things that come up a lot in discussions of eBooks (feel, cost, browse-ability). But a few recent experiences have made me aware of other differences (two advantages and one disadvantage) that don’t come up as often.

1. You can’t throw an eReader across the room

I mean, of course, you can, physically speaking, but it’s not really a wise decision in terms of the satisfaction-to-cost ratio like it is with a paperback. This occurred to me recently when I was reading Game of Thrones. It wasn’t that I hated the book; I actually quite enjoyed it, once I got through the initial walking around and continually talking about how cold it was. It was just that certain characters were, um, frustrating is putting it mildly. Not the ones who stole and lied and murdered, weirdly, but the woman who babied her six-year-old and that sort of thing. And Sansa was just driving me crazy, being so blind to all the things, but I know I can’t really be angry with her because she’s only 11 and is largely on her own but just GRAAAAH I wanted to throw the book across the room. And I couldn’t. And those books are pretty long, so I imagine the thwack of book on wall would be incredibly satisfying, but alas I will never know.

2. You can buy just one short story or essay

This may be possible with paper books and I’m just unaware of it, but all the essays and short stories I have in hard copy are collections of a particular author or anthologies. In the Best American Essays 2007 collection, which is guest edited by David Foster Wallace, Wallace’s introduction discusses how people usually skip through collections to the authors they know, then maybe read a few whose titles look interesting. But people won’t read the essays they aren’t interested in and they definitely won’t read the intro. Not true for me.  I paid for the whole thing.  As long as it holds my interest, I will keep reading that thing. In order. Because that’s the way it’s put together.

But the strangely apropos thing is that I bought that collection largely because it was edited by Wallace and I found his introduction to be one of the most enjoyable parts (although many of the other pieces are great too). Perhaps if I could have bought just that essay, I would have. This might be considered a point against eBooks, I suppose, since not buying the full anthology might have meant missing out on some pieces in the full anthology I found educational or interesting, but it would be nice to have options is all I’m saying.

And if you would like options, the BookRiot blog recently put together a post on shorter reads, noting in particular Byliner as a way of tracking these sorts of pieces down that I wasn’t aware of. In addition, some pieces are available for free online (notably from Longform and Longreads, which has a lovely Flipboard gadget if you are an iPerson. I haven’t checked it out recently because of the aforementioned PhD/Australia chaos, but was very into it for a while) and can be saved for offline reading using Instapaper, which can then be moved to your Kobo and presumably other readers as well.

Recommendations for Instapaper

Chinese Citizens on Tour in Europe – for some of the universalities (and a few differences) of tour buses from any culture

Wading Toward Home – for a different perspective on Hurricane Katrina

The Falling Man – the story around a 9/11 photograph

And I should probably just re-buy all my DF Wallace in electronic form for convenience, but bits and pieces are available online. An edited version of his Illinois State fair piece is available in pdf and probably a good place to start.

Recommendations for Purchase

I really only started exploring recently, with the Bookriot entry as a guide, so that’s why these things are mostly the things you see in that article: Margaret Atwood’s I’m Starved for You (Why haven’t I read more Atwood? Added to my to do list); How a Book is Born: The Making of the Art of Fielding (really interesting, at least to me who didn’t really know anything about buying and selling books). But I also read Elizabeth Mitchell’s The Fearless Mrs. Goodwin, which I thought spent too much time speculating on police procedures at the time and not enough on Goodwin herself. I know the author was probably limited in terms of available information so long after the fact, but it felt a bit too padded. Nevertheless I sent it to my Mom for Mother’s Day just because I loved the idea of the story and thought she would too. I’ve also bought the Vollmann piece on the Fukushima reactor, which I’m looking forward to both as an interesting topic and since Vollmann is someone I’ve intended to read for a while but never got around to.

Anyway, back to considerations for eReaders…

3. E-Readers for Organizational Freaks

I’ve already complained about organization in eBook stores. But once you’ve purchased the books, eReaders are much better for those who love organization. I got thinking about this recently when I brought a bunch of old books back from my parents’ house, had to clear off some new space to hold them and ended up having to reorganize my shelves. This may end up being more info than you wanted about my life, but I feel like there may be a number of you out there who sympathize with me in my shelf-space troubles so here we go.

In a perfect world, I would split my books simply into fiction and nonfiction.  Fiction would be organized alphabetically by author (anthologies at the beginning by editor) and non-fiction would go by subject (a Dewey-esque system only I can fully follow).  But in the real world, I have limited room, so I have to split my books between rooms: ~50% in a case in my living room, 50% on various spaces I have repurposed in my bedroom (half a printer stand, a section of my desk and now a part of my dresser that relies solely on bookends to keep 20 or so books from falling off its edges. There’s also a growing to-read stack on my nightstand, but I don’t think it would be fair to include this in the “organized” section).  I have become a lot less strict about organization due to these limitations, but there still needs to be SOME order.  Currently I have separated out mysteries, sci-fi and fantasy and moved them into my bedroom, leaving classics and non-genre fiction on the living room shelf.  However, that splitting left me with slightly too many books in my room and a little space on my shelf, so I pulled out some of the more “serious” sci-fi (a completely arbitrary call, particularly since I haven’t even read some of the books I pulled, so I was literally judging based on the cover and the summary and blurbs) and shelved it in the general fiction.  Clearly this is an imperfect solution and I’m bothered far too much by how a single Alfred Bester novel separates Jane Austen from Anne Bronte. Still might move that one back.

But the point is, eReaders don’t have this kind of space restriction. And you have the ability to create “shelves” (I’m using my experience with Kobo, an old version which they may have improved upon.  I assume other software does similar things, although I have less experience with it.  The point isn’t really what a particular piece of software actually does, but what it could easily have the potential to do) so you could have a general fiction shelf with everything or have shelves for every subgenre you can think of or whatever you want. THE E-SKY IS THE LIMIT.

But even if I had all the shelf-space I needed all in the same room, I would still likely not be satisfied with my physical book organization. The space on my printer stand, for example, will only fit standard paperback-height novels and nothing taller. So some books have to be pulled out and placed in a special “oversized” section.  Likewise in the living room, the dictionary should clearly be at the start of the non-fiction section, but also at easy height for grabbing to look things up, but also its position is limited since it can’t fit on every shelf.  I’m sure a topologist could figure out the optimal organization given shelf sizes, but with an eReader, the size of the book is a non-issue in terms of organization.

But even a topologist could not solve the largest problem a crazy person concerned reader has, which is what to do with in-between books. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but the world is a very complex place. SHADES OF GREY PEOPLE (um, not the book. Just meaning not everything is black and white). Is Sherlock Holmes a mystery or a classic?  The Princess Bride seems like it should go in fantasy, but doesn’t it make sense to shelve it with the rest of Goldman’s books and isn’t it a stretch to put The Temple of Gold anywhere other than general fiction? I like to keep an author’s works together. You might think that this is due to my space limitation and if I hadn’t separated out the genre stuff, it would be a lot clearer, but this isn’t so! I would still have to split up authors like Franzen, whose How to Be Alone would be nonfiction and The Corrections (I will read it someday…maybe) would be fiction.

With an eReader, you could be browsing your shelves, see Goldman’s “Which Lie Did I Tell?”, wonder what all you had by Goldman, click his name and voilà: all his fiction and nonfiction together. (Again, I speak in terms of possibilities. I don’t believe my eReading software currently does this, but certainly software could be made that did. That’s how my music library works on my computer for example. Or how tags and categories on blog posts work, where multiple tags and/or categories are allowed for a single post and posts in the same category could have different tags. Is there eReading software with a tagging feature? Let me know if you’re aware of any).

And splitting up authors isn’t the only “in between” problem. What should be done with The Best American NonRequired Reading series?  It contains essays, but also comics and short stories and IT IS RUINING EVERYTHING. What I really need is the ability to have two copies of the book and then I could shelve one in fiction and one in non-fiction. But with an eReader, you don’t need multiple copies, you can just point to the book you want from multiple shelf-like objects, each going to the same “copy” of a book. Done. This is also handy if you have a non-fiction book that falls into multiple categories (eg. Bike Snob is obviously about biking, but is it about biking as a hobby, which puts it more with crafting and yarn books, or biking as a sport? Or it could also be considered a collection of humourous essays and housed with those).

And as a final possibility, the great question of whether unread books should be kept separate from completed books and books in progress could be abandoned. I have a lot of unread books. Placing them all in the to-read pile would result in a precarious tower (or two or several) leaning over my bed. E-Reader solution: tag things as unread. Or have the software automatically move things to a completed list when you’ve finished them and also keep things you’re currently reading separate (which is kind of annoying when you re-open a book just to look something up and then you get all confused when you go to your “currently reading” list because you’re sure you already finished that book. Just me?).

But yes, if you like to pretend that your life is organized and your soul is at peace when you are in fact incapable of moving things from the “to read” pile on your nightstand to the finished section of your bookshelf until the whole terrible mess comes crashing down around you in the middle of the night, an eReader might help you cling to that illusion of control and safety a little bit longer. Or so I assume; I’m not the sort of person who would know anything about that, naturally.

Two New eBook Sites

A few weeks ago I mentioned that one of my biggest issues with eBooks was the ability to find relevant ones and browse through options.  Emails about the ten most popular bestsellers or clicking through page after page (ten books each) of a genre category doesn’t always feel like the best way to find things I might be interested in, particularly weird new things I would need to stumble across by accident.

Shockingly, I am not the first person to think this is an issue. And more importantly, other people did not just sit around with their knitting (or with some other hobby. Are there other hobbies? I have heard rumours, but cannot understand it myself) muttering about it; they have actually gone about proposing solutions. You go entrepreneurial book-people!

Jellybooks (details on paidcontent) will let you browse full-size book covers and download the first 10% of any book you think looks interesting. If you like it or think it looks interesting, you can share the excerpt with people using a link. It doesn’t look like Jellybooks is planning to sell books itself, but there will be a link at the end of the excerpt to online retailers. Jellybooks will then use the information on what you’ve read and shared (so if being tracked online freaks you out, this may not be for you) to create recommendation lists and offer group deals on books you might like.

Jellybooks will initially only be launching the UK. I am assuming the name is related to the Fourth Doctor’s penchant for Jelly Baby candies, which he goes around offering to friends and enemies alike, but that could just be my limited Anglo-knowledge.

Then there is StoryBundle (more details here, which is not where I originally saw it, but I can’t find that now), where you download a group of ebooks together and get a chance to check them all out. Bundles will be “curated”, which is a word I would have avoided because of its kind of negative association with Apple’s practices, but I assume is somewhat necessary in the ebook market where quality is highly variable. Supposedly you set the price for the bundle, so I have no idea how that’s going to work, but even just the bundle concept is intriguing to me.

Interestingly, both solve the problem of ebook discovery by trying to do volume-based things. StoryBundle gives you a large number of books, not all of which you may be interested in reading, but some of which could be hidden gems. Jellybooks relies on large numbers of people reading and recommending to create recommendation lists and then also offers deals when large numbers of people all agree to buy an ebook at a reduced price. When you don’t have to transport things, why not take advantage of volume-based deals? Both are DRM-free as well. Huzzah!

I’m signed up for email updates from both, but not much news so far. Neither is expecting to offer anything until early spring, but still, exciting times in the ebook world. (I myself am a big Kobo fan, but it would be nice to get some new ideas and ways of buying into the market).

How I Came Around on eBooks

In the past week, I have heard two authors, Maurice Sendak and Jonathan Franzen, come out against eBooks, with Franzen suggesting “serious readers” prefer paper. Both authors commented that they couldn’t imagine a future where eBooks were popular, but they supposed it didn’t matter because they would be dead. I don’t want to respond too much to their comments specifically. Sendak didn’t give much explanation for his reasoning and Franzen seems to have confused eBooks with eBooks sold by a particular vendor that maintains access to your copy after you buy it (or license it or whatever is technically legally happening with that transaction), which is not a problem with the medium itself but rather with that particular vendor’s implementation of it. Taking a stand against propietary formats that lack permanence is great, but different from being against eBooks as a whole.

I have noticed that anti-eBook sentiment is common, however. A friend of mine got a hard copy book for Christmas and launched into an unprovoked rant against eBooks and how physical books were so much better. The same seemed to be true in the comments following Sendak’s interview. “Right on,” people said. “I love paper books and have not ever read an eBook, nor will I.”

Wait, what? If you have never read an eBook, how do you know it’s a terrible experience? I get that eReaders are expensive, so it’s not like it’s something you just pick up at the corner store on the off-chance that it may be for you (If you have tried an eReader and it wasn’t for you, fair enough). I actually consider the expense and barrier to buying them the biggest argument against eBooks if we’re setting things up as a paper vs electrons choice. Affordable $4 paperbacks or near-infinite selection at the local library for anyone with proper identification are one of the greatest things about paper books. Anyone can access them; not so for eReaders.

I get that people love paper books. I have been there. I still am there in many situations. But to try to extrapolate from that to what it is like to read on an eReader without actually having read on an eReader and pass judgement on people who choose to read that way seems…unfair? Over-controlling? Really lacking in perspective? So I thought I would share my experience becoming a reader of eBooks as a reminder to people to stay open-minded. There is enough snobbery around books and their content without criticising readers who choose a different format as well. Read more…

In which I try to avoid being the last person on the planet to read The Hunger Games

This post contains spoilers for the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy.

I have been hearing about The Hunger Games for quite some time, but when I saw the movie trailer1, I mentioned how good it looked to a good friend and that I had bought the book on sale over Christmas and not cracked it open yet. She pretty much said “Read it. Read it now,” which is not something she does too often. So I pushed it to the top of the list, in spite of the fact that I have just finished the also-dystopian Wool 4 (which I’ll probably discuss after I’ve read the last one) and have been watching a bit of darker sci-fi TV stuff. Why I think this will help with the winter blahs I don’t know.

I really enjoyed it, found it a real page-turner (finished in about a day). I will probably wait a little while before picking up the remaining books in the series, both to try and read something a little lighter and for reasons I’ll talk about later. For those of you who have checked out the last post-apocalyptic novel post, you might be interested to know that there is no knitting in this novel. There is, however, one attempted drowning of a cat that, yes, is meant to tell us about the desperate world in which these people exist and the calculating  and compassionate natures of two different characters (previously, on cats and dystopias. I’ve seriously got to start cataloguing these). There are a few other subjects dealt with in slightly more detail, however. Read more…

Knitting through the Apocalypse


Imagine you come across an isolated car, undriveable due to gas shortage, and you yourself have nothing but time because there are no jobs or anything and whatever yarn you can find is basically fair game. What about this situation does not scream yarnbombing?

You know how sometimes you’re reading along in that post-apocalyptic novel and you find yourself thinking “This is a pretty good description of the rapid rise and extreme control of a political/religious organization in the power vaccum left after that plague/nuclear/environmental disaster, but there should really be more knitting.”  Yeah, me too.

It’s not that post-apocalyptic novels are completely devoid of knitting, but in my experience, the main focus often falls elsewhere.  And this is a bit strange.  Partly because, if industrial manufacturing is severely limited, people who craft cozy things should be an extremely valuable resources.  But mainly, of course, because in the bleakest of times one turns to comforting, meditative things one loves, like knitting.

Preferably knitting in fuzzy mohair or bright colours.

Crater and Knitting

If yellow and pink socks can't save us, we must ask if this is still a world worth living in.

A brief summary, from a knitting perspective, of some of the post-apocalyptic stories I have read:

  1. Earth Abides: the struggle of a small group of people to preserve information when they can barely survive day-to-day.  At first I thought there was no knitting in this book; a big part of the story is that very few people have useful skills in the new world in which they find themselves and, not only that, they generally don’t have much desire to learn them.  However, Google books tells me there is a mention of Ish spending a night reading by the fire while Em knits beside him.  Whether she does this for comfort or practical reasons, I can’t recall.
  2. A Canticle for Leibowitz: also the struggle to preserve information, this time headed up by some future version of a Catholic monastery.  No knitting that I can recall, although it’s been ages since I read it and the book must be at my parents’ place since I can’t turn it up at home.
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale: weird political organization that claims to be religious creates a class system based around women’s reproductive ability1.  This book has several knitting scenes, perhaps unsurprising since Atwood herself is a knitter.  But weirdly the knitting is not done by any likeable characters; rather it’s used as a creepy way for the privileged to pretend to show how compassionate and supportive they are of the lower classes.  And at one point knitting is used for violence.
  4. Y: The Last Man: the decay of political organizations altogether and descent into anarchy, although the whole women’s rights business sort of becomes a moot point.  Enjoyably, Agent 355 knits and this seems to be the only example where it’s explicitly stated that the character knits because they find the action relaxing or comforting (“to keep [her] hands busy”).  She says her grandmother taught her.  She also notes that needles can be used as weapons in a pinch.  Note: I’m only a few volumes into this, so I could be a bit off here.

(Mistakes?  Other examples?  Help me out fellow nerds sci-fi fans.)

So, on balance, there’s actually a fair bit of knitting going on as the world ends2, but if this still isn’t enough for you, GOOD NEWS.  Writer and friend-of-fibre-enthusiasts Hugh Howey has put out a series of short stories/novellas with a knitting theme called Wool.  The first book does not contain any knitting references, but the second one has a main character who knits:

This was her favorite part, casting on.  She liked beginnings.  The first row.  Out of nothing came something.

I’m only just starting the third one3 and it seems like there will be less actual knitting in this one, but each book’s title is related to some part of the knitting process and the atmosphere of the book is sort of metaphorically related to that knitting action I guess.

He also answers questions while knitting at a S&B.

So, yes.  Wool.  Knitting sci-fi-type people should check it out.  You never know when disaster could strike.  Grab your needles and be prepared.

Jayne Hat

Men come and go, but knitted Jayne hats abide

1. Noted without further comment: the wiki page, imdb page and SparkNotes page all have higher Google rankings than the Amazon link to the actual book. Return to post

2. Aside: two of the most memorable scenes from the above novels (hopefully this isn’t too spoiler-y.  I won’t say which ones), involve really disturbing descriptions of people killing cats and how that’s symbolic of what desperation brings out in humanity.  Is this a thing, that in really bleak futures we will spend a great deal of time thinking about cats?  Wait, is Cat’s Cradle literally about cats?  No, don’t tell me.  I will get to it eventually.  Maybe it just says more about me that those are the scenes that have stuck with me all these years. Return to post

3. I thought I heard somewhere that the series was only available on Kindle, but I seem to see a paperback on Amazon.  Anyway, if you have the Kindle app on something, which can include your computer if you don’t mind reading off a laptop/desktop, the first couple of books are pretty short and only 99 cents each, which is a decent way to find out if that’ll work for you. Return to post

Via: First heard about the series on Metafilter, which has more details about it being self-published and how it’s risen in popularity, which is also a pretty interesting story.

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