Welcome to Smugglivus 2012! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2012, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2013.
Me & My Kindle
I have had a weird reading year. All year I’ve had a dozen books going at any one time, and I rarely finish any of them. So, for this Smugglivus post, I thought I’d talk a little about my top three – the ones I read start to finish and really enjoyed. Those were (in the order I read them): Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.
But when I’d come up with these three titles, I realized that they have something unusual – for me – in common: I read them all on the Kindle. So rather than talking about the books themselves, I’m going to share my Kindle reading experiences of them.
Now, you have to understand about our Kindle. We bought it in Dec. 2011 for eighty bucks – about fifty quid – during our week-long Christmas visit to my family in the US last year. It seemed cheap enough that we bought it as an experiment. We reckoned it was worth the purchase price just because it came pre-loaded with a complete Oxford English Dictionary.
So we started experimenting. By about June 2012 I was in the middle of at least five unfinished books on the Kindle – I’d put it down and forget the book existed for a couple of weeks (see, if the printed book was staring at me on my coffee table or my desk, I’d feel guilty about it. Invisibly hidden in the Kindle’s memory, there’s no guilt. I’ve still only finished one of those five books). I also really hate not being able to take notes easily (our cheap experimental Kindle only operates with arrow keys). So, I wasn’t really in love with it. But it was handy for downloading Book Group books that I don’t want cluttering up the house, likewise various purchases for my 15-year-old daughter Sara that I don’t want cluttering up the house, likewise hefty transcripts and summaries of the Nuremberg Trials which I didn’t want to have to haul all over North America and Europe this summer.
Which brings me to Life: An Exploded Diagram.
I downloaded Mal Peet’s latest (despite the fact that I have been in the middle of his Carnegie Award winning novel Tamar for six months because I keep losing it in the Kindle’s innards) because Life: An Exploded Diagram and my book Code Name Verity were both named Boston Globe Horn Book Award honor books this year. I was going to go to the awards ceremony and meet the author and be on a panel with him on the subject ‘War Stories,’ and I wanted to be able to converse eloquently about his book and tell him how much I liked it (I don’t think I did that adequately, but we certainly made a fine little Mutual Admiration Society of Two). Also, I reckoned I would buy his book in hardback when I got to Boston for the ceremony, and get it autographed, and by reading it on the Kindle ahead of time I wouldn’t have to carry it both ways across the Atlantic (I flew transatlantic with no checked bags!). Plus it would mean double sales for Mal Peet, which is cool from an author’s point of view.
I loved Life: An Exploded Diagram. In many ways it is a lot like Code Name Verity. It features a first person narrator talking about himself in the third person; it starts out bang in the middle of the Second World War (BANG in the middle); it is full of what John Steinbeck calls ‘hooptedoodle,’ as the artistic narrator describes landscapes and envisions scenes from his grandmother’s point of view and his mother’s and father’s; it is all told in flashbacks; plus, for much of the book you sit there going, ‘Exactly why is this Young Adult fiction?’ (My Goodreads review of it is here)
But actually, I was only about 60 per cent finished with it by the time the awards ceremony in Boston rolled around. So, I bought my hardback copy and got it autographed, and went home still reading on the Kindle. And then my daughter Sara grabbed the Kindle to read Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver and I had to finish Life: An Exploded Diagram on paper.
It was a really strange transition. First I had to find where I was in the book, and that was actually hard to do. Although I knew I was at ‘60%,’ because I didn’t have any sense of what the text looks like on the page I couldn’t use the normal clues to find my place. It was like navigating a different visual landscape. It took some weird mental readjustment to settle back into the book – to realize that I was reading about the same characters, and oh yes, I recognized them all, and oh yes, that was where I left them.
Also, I have to say that the paper book in this case is just nicer than the electronic version. There are these nifty pictures between sections, and although they do appear in the electronic version, the sense of spacing and their relationship to the text is kind of lost. That is also true in my own book, Code Name Verity, which has a very important symbolic relationship with its physical presence on paper (the US edition of CNV has got handwritten samples from the text in grayscale as a background, and all the printed editions use different fonts for the headings and coded messages, which disappear in the Kindle version).
Well, ok, so I didn’t read the whole of Life: An Exploded Diagram on the Kindle. But it was my first successful use of the Kindle as far as my own reading habits are concerned.
Which brings me to The Fault in Our Stars.
This book, well-deserving of the mountains of critical acclaim it’s getting, has the real honor of being the first book I read on the Kindle where I forgot I was reading on the stupid Kindle. Somebody interrupted me in the middle of reading The Fault in Our Stars, and I lowered the electronic device and reached for a book mark. Yup. I reached for a paper book mark to stick in my Kindle so I wouldn’t lose my place.
I reckon that’s high praise indeed. Because it took me a very long time to learn to like this reading device. What a PAIN it was on the trip to Boston: having to power it down for take-off and landing eight times. Take-off and landing is when I want to read, because that’s when the tray table is down and I can’t write! Indeed, one of the huge irritations I found while reading The Fault in Our Stars was that I’d accidentally somehow turned on the ‘View All Highlights’ function and so I got to see how 9000 people (or whatever… Sara has stolen the Kindle again so I can’t check) had highlighted:
I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.
…or some other similar passage on every single screen. Few of them were passages I would have highlighted myself, and a lot of them take up half the screen with underlining, and I find it a little weird that so many people have highlighted the same passages, and, well, it was making my reading experience of an otherwise excellent novel extremely irritating.
So I was forced to figure out how to turn off the ‘View All Highlights’ function. And this was a very good thing, because in doing so I finally figured out how to use the highlight function myself, and more importantly, how to MAKE NOTES!
Which brings me to A Moveable Feast.
I’m pretty sure I stumbled across this when I was trying to research the Paris Ritz during World War II for the book I just finished writing. As a result I decided I wanted to know more about Hemingway in Paris. I knew I’d enjoy reading Hemingway anyway because I always do, and, well, there you go.
I’m not sure what made me put it on the Kindle. A desire to reduce clutter drives a lot of my Kindle purchases. Also, I guess I should confess that I haven’t finished reading this book yet, either (BECAUSE SARA HAS STOLEN THE KINDLE AGAIN. First she had to read Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens as an antidote to The Lord of the Flies for school, and now her excuse is she’s reading Veronica Roth’s Divergent… clearly this child of the modern age does not have the e-reader issues that her mother has). A Moveable Feast is essentially essays about writing and what it’s like to be a writer, and there’s some great stuff on nostalgia (a condition from which I frequently suffer), and basically I wanted to highlight tons of stuff in it. And I can, because I was forced to figure out how to use the device when I was reading The Fault in Our Stars!
So, yeah, I am a Kindle user, and it’s taken me nearly a year to learn to like the pesky little thing. If you’d asked me six months ago what I thought about it, I’d have given you a list of complaints. But its virtues are growing on me.
So now there is talk in our house – not by me – of getting me an upgraded version with a touch screen so I can make notes more easily. Mainly I think this is an excuse for Sara to take over the current Kindle so she doesn’t have to steal it from me any more. But I suspect that if a Kindle Fire turns up in our house she will start stealing that, too.
Christmas is coming…
Thanks Elizabeth and we’d totally love a Kindle Fire for Christmas too.