Archive | January 2012

Kindles and page fondling

I got a Kindle for Christmas. Yay me. Not exactly newsworthy on its own, but I noticed something interesting the other day. When I’m reading a book I get a tactile experience that reminded me of the habit forming behaviours that go along with smoking. With the Kindle, my hands are fidgety.

I’m not a luddite in any sense. I love technology and usually can’t wait to get my hands on new kit. I’ve only delayed getting a Kindle this long because of the sheer number of unread books in my house. I thought that having a Kindle would mean I wouldn’t read any of them and I promised myself I could have it when I’d read all the unread books. What actually happened was that I kept buying books so the unread books pile is not that much smaller. I decided I would ask for a Kindle for Christmas, continue to read the unread books and only buy new ones for the Kindle.

Over the last few days I’ve had a bit of a cold so I grabbed a couple of books and headed for a snuggly blanket-laden sofa. I finished Others in hard copy then picked up my Kindle on which I am reading the first book club book of 2012 (it’s awful, but more on that at the end of the month) and read that for a bit. Then I started on Finders Keepers in hard copy.

I had noticed with the Kindle that if I’m not careful I press the forward page buttons on the side and lose my place, so I have some difficulty finding a comfortable holding position. It doesn’t yet feel quite right in my hands. When I picked up an actual book to read I found myself fondling the pages. There’s something about the feel of the paper books are printed on – this particular book was using a soft but thick paper that was especially pleasing to the touch.

Part of the difficulty in overcoming addictions like smoking is the way our bodies get used to certain actions and sensations. So, it is not just the addiction to nicotine, but also the addiction to having something in our hands, to the feeling and motions, to the habit of the actions associated with smoking a cigarette. When you give up smoking, as I did five or six years ago, you have to give your hands something else to do.

It made me wonder if some people who are clinging to the printed book as the ultimate media for delivering fiction dislike e-book readers because they don’t feel right in your hands. They feel different, and therefore, a bit strange. A little disconcerting, even. I wonder if the nay-sayers have an addiction to the physicality of books rather than to the content of books.

Maybe I’ll just get a cover for my Kindle that is pleasing to the touch and that will solve the problem. Maybe that’s why most seem to be in suede.

100 Books in 2011: Others

This is the last book in the 100 Books in 2011 challenge and it is Others by James Herbert. A man’s soul is in Hell, tormented, and is given a chance to redeem himself. He accepts the offer.

Nick Dismas is a private investigator running a small, successful business in Brighton. He happens to be mishapen and ugly and so encounters much of the worst of humanity. A woman approaches him and asks him to find her long lost son. She was told that her baby didn’t survive but she believes that he is still alive and now wants to find him.
After he takes this commission he is plagued by nightmares which he tries to explain away as the result of the drugs he takes to deal with his condition. The woman is revealed to have been recently widowed, requiring a son in order to benefit from her husband’s will, and acting on the advice of a psychic. Dismas tells the woman he can’t help her, but a combination of psychic phenomena, intuition and pressure from the psychic pushes him into following up the one lead he has. He thinks it’s pretty tenuous but it leads him to a place where deformed and mutated children are kept secretly from the world, experimented on and exploited.
Dismas rescues them and comes to remember who he was in his previous life. Then, having redeemed himself, he dies.
This is definitely a book on the warm end of the spectrum of writing technique. We spend most of our time in Dismas’ interior world as he ruminates on what is true and what is not, follows his intuition, and explores his feelings for the people around him.
Much of Others feels more like a thriller than a horror. Dismas is trying to find a missing person whilst battling personal demons. It’s ok. It’s pretty readable but I didn’t find the characters that engaging. There is a motif of ‘ugly but good’ and ‘beautiful but evil’ running through the book like a freight train, which I found unsophisticated and heavy-handed.
As a thriller, it was alright until the ending, which was Dismas remembering the bargain he had struck and then all the loose ends being tied up in a couple of expository pages. It felt hurried, especially as the final escape from the burning building had taken over sixty pages to play out. The action was tense and exciting in places but the pacing was a little haphazard. As a horror, I didn’t really get it. I suspect the horror lies in what has been done to the ‘others’, how they have been treated and how society has effectively erased them. The horror is in how easily we decide people aren’t people. But choosing to tell the story from the POV of the private investigator distances us from that for most of story. Unless, of course, you’re freaked out by the idea of demons invading your nightmares. I don’t believe in an afterlife of any kind and so I find it hard to be afraid of that sort of thing.
Anyway, it’s alright. If you enjoy mild supernatural horror, you might like this.

Hemingway vs. Austen

Writer Unboxed has a recent post on warm versus cool writing which made me rethink some of the things that I’ve heard and read about writing.

Cool writing, as illustrated by the work of Ernest Hemingway, is dominated by ‘showing, not telling’; action and narration are prominent with the reader left to infer what the characters are feeling.

Warm writing is the other end of the spectrum, delving deeply into the interior worlds of the characters and focussing on emotion. It is the style used predominately in the romance genre and is illustrated in the article by the work of Jane Austen.

The Writer Unboxed post asks who is the better writer. I don’t think I could honestly say who was the better writer, given that they are separated by time, geography and subject matter. I enjoy the works of both but I prefer Hemingway, which indicates that I am a writer on the cool end of the spectrum and could use some warming up.

The spectrum of warm to cool is an interesting way of looking at different styles of writing that gets away from arguments about good and bad writing. I think the next time I read a romance novel I might have better insight into the style of writing.