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Posts Tagged ‘ebooks’

Around ten years ago I read Anne Fadiman‘s wonderful books of essays, Ex Libris and At Large and At Small. Those are both so delightful that I still recommend them to people — they make wonderful gifts for people who love reading and books, and they are smart, interesting, and won’t keep you up at night like so many contemporary nonfiction books might. I’ve also always meant to read her book about a Hmong family dealing with the American medical system The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. But I was in a bookstore in Vermont on Columbus Day and saw her 2017 memoir, The Wine Lover’s Daughter, on a staff pick display and serendipitously, discovered it is in Overdrive (library eBooks).

This memoir is as much a book about Fadiman’s father, Clifton Fadiman, as it is about her and the rest of her family. She talks about what it was like to have a well-known father, to both be writers, and to try to share his love of wine. In fact, much of the book is about the fact that Fadiman doesn’t really like wine, something she feels badly about and suspects her father knows even though she politely fakes it. Towards the end of the book, Fadiman looks into the physiological reason some people don’t like certain tastes, and that section is reminiscent of her earlier work.

I enjoyed both the personal reflections and the more straightforward nonfiction sections. It’s interesting to read about Clifton Fadiman, and his desire to make himself over from a Jewish child of immigrants into a man of letters. My own great-uncle, a chemist, changed his name to sound less Jewish, so the phenomena of distancing oneself from family history is familiar to me. And there is a good bit of information about wine in this book, especially French wines of certain areas and vintages that I didn’t know much about before reading it.  Mainly Fadiman’s writing is a pleasure, smart and clear and evocative.

This was a good read, but I admit I am a little tired of eBooks. There are a few more I’d like to read that are available on Hoopla and Overdrive but I may take a print break before reading those.

 

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I love the ALA Center for the Future of Libraries Read for Later.”  In the most recent issue I took a link to a Wired piece about “bingeing” on books. That to me sounded like a dream weekend, but the article was actually about a publishing format that was hot in the 19th century and is coming back in style: serialized fiction.

Which reminded me that I could download the final chapter of Julian Fellowes’ BelgraviaYes, that Julian Fellowes. His latest project is a 19th century story published 21st century style — via either the website or an app, in weekly installments. I subscribed as soon as I heard about it, which means that for eleven weeks I read a short chapter and then felt a little inconvenienced at being left hanging.

The app itself was seriously annoying — it won’t remember login information, so every week I had to enter it anew, which is problematic both in terms of remembering exactly what strange combo of capitalization, numbers, or characters I’d added to make the password fit the app’s requirements, and typing it all accurately on my iPad, something I always manage to screw up. Also sometimes the latest episode wouldn’t download, or would close while I was reading it.

The book itself is soapier than I would usually enjoy, but coming from the creator of Downton Abbey it’s highly entertaining and filled with historical details. At this point if you buy it I think you’ll get all eleven chapters at once, and if you don’t like eBooks, the print version will be published in early July. The book “opens on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, 15th June 1815, when the Duchess of Richmond threw a magnificent ball in Brussels for the Duke of Wellington.” From this real event, Fellowes spins a tale of love and betrayal, social aspiration and accomplishment. History and social commentary are the backdrop, but Fellowes’ characters are fictional, and in many ways very modern.

The main characters are the family of a self-made man who made his mark as Wellington’s supplier during the wars with Napoleon and went on to build great houses in London, and the family of his daughter’s love interest, aristocrats whose son was killed at Waterloo. There is plenty of family and social drama, and just plain human nature, and I enjoyed it as a pleasant diversion. I’d love to see a Masterpiece adaptation.

But reading Belgravia affirmed that I don’t love eBooks — I really didn’t even find the “bonus” features like links to information or photos all that engaging. I’m a narrative fan, and I don’t want to “binge” episodes, I want to read an entire novel at whatever speed I choose. But, that’s me. I’m all in favor of reading choices. If serialized fiction engages readers who otherwise don’t believe they have the time or attention span to read a novel, I hope the trend grows. But I’m hoping the print edition of Belgravia does even better than the serialized app, and that publishers use this trend as a hook, but continue to provide those who like to savor rather than binge with novels-in-full, in all formats, including print.

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Ok, for those of you who’ve followed along with my can-I-or-can’t-I finish Infinite Jest: I can’t. I tried. I made it to page 500 something. But I have a Kirkus assignment, a tall to-be-read pile, and a book I put in a purchase request for waiting at the library, and also it was slowly dawning on me that even if I persevered to the end, I was not going to “find out what happens.” What seemed interesting and fascinating in the first few hundred pages began to wear me down.

Infinite Jest is still an interesting book. I was amazed at how prescient it seems even though it was published in the early 90’s. Sadly it doesn’t seem all that far fetched that an American administration might consider corporate sponsorship of time. And the drug addiction in the book seems pretty timely. But I was disappointed that the complex plot lines did not become clearer as I read, and I feel a little ripped off that I spent over three weeks trying to get through a novel that was ultimately impenetrable when I have so many other books I want to read.

Would I recommend anyone else try Infinite Jest? I know there are many people who think it’s brilliant. There’s a temptation with a book this out of the ordinary to believe it’s a work of genius that is just beyond the average reader. But I’m afraid I feel like any book that doesn’t reward the reader with some insight after three weeks of hard slogging is probably not a good book. It may be a creative, experimental work, it may be groundbreaking and innovative and unique, and I’m all for complexity, nonlinear narrative, unreliable narrators, etc. But I’d like, in exchange, a good story. This book didn’t give me that. And it’s fairly depressing, to boot. So I’m out.

A side note — I tried Infinite Jest as an ebook at first, and then when it was clear I couldn’t finish it by the time my Overdrive loan would expire, I placed a hold on the hard copy. I’d advise anyone trying to read this book not to bother with the ebook. If you want to try to read the footnotes — something I had limited success doing even in the paper version — it’s just completely inefficient to try to do it in the ebook.

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