When it comes to technology, sometimes I feel exactly like that: Blind, frustrated, and living out a giant crapshoot. Case in point: The Barnes and Noble Nook Color, version 1.2. Between Monday when I got the email notification to Friday, when I handed in this blog, my emotions sort of went like this:
Development is a natural part of any civilization, but I think most people accept that the past few decades have blown the other millenia out of the water. I swear, I blink and my cell phone grows another set of eyes.
However, I’m also hearing observations about trends in reverse – call it part of the back-to-basics movement. I think it’s already in full force with our overt concern for the environment. Line-drying, not drying machines; cooking at home vs. eating at Applebee’s; stay-cations vs. vacations. And it crosses over into family values and education – I’m hearing a lot of calls for tough love, rather than cosseting. (And in the meantime, our grandparents slap their foreheads and think, “Duh.”) The recession undoubtedly played a big part; history shows that generally, in tough times, people get nostalgic and want to do what their gramps did, politically, socially, and economically.
And culturally, what did gramps do? Well, for one thing, he listened to the radio, and if he could afford it, he listened to LPs. A decade ago, CDs were in, cassettes were out, and LPs were absolutely dead. Now the music aficionados are pumping their fists in the air, because LPs are Cool with a capital C. They’re no longer relegated to secondhand and niche music stores – HMV, the biggest Canadian music chain store, carries a significant section of LPs, and artists like Radiohead and Coldplay release new albums on those crazy 33 ½” vinyls.
Unconditional love – that’s what I give my lovely Nook Color. I’ve now had it for three weeks, even though the device has been out since November, and I’ve got a fairly good idea of its capabilities. First, it must be said that the NC is a very specific device. It’s a color touch screen tablet that’s still, first and foremost, a device for reading books. When it comes to reading, the NC mostly succeeds. In other areas, not so much.
Reading Library Books: This is the most important reason that I got an eBook reader, and I have no complaints. Adobe Digital Editions, that’s another matter.
Size: I deliberately chose a larger size that more closely resembles (so it seems, anyway) the dimensions on a paper page, and I love the 8” x 5” dimensions with a 7” screen. I’m all in favor of fewer page turns.
Even though there’s still snow on the ground, I can feel spring around the air. Unlike many people, I mourn the loss of the winter when spring comes – I’m not really one for rain and flowers. So as I was happily shoveling the snow the other day, I thought about my favorite winter romances.
Except I couldn’t really think of any, except one: Devil in Winter, by Lisa Kleypas. The story of Evie Jenner and the utterly ruined Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, is one that has remained readers’ favorites since it came out five years ago – it climbed four spots to land at #3 on the recent Top 100 Romances poll. It’s pretty hard to ignore the appeal of St. Vincent, who is so deliciously, unrepentantly bad, but who learns to love the stuttering Evie over a backdrop of frigid winter. Their race up to Gretna Green remains memorable for those thick sandwiches of thinly sliced meats and cheeses; the hot bricks and fragrant wine that St. Vincent procures for the freezing Evie; and their quick growth to intimacy while cuddled for mutual warmth in the rocking carriage. I love this section every time I read it, and I spent a happy fifteen minutes with my shovel on the driveway while I thought of Evie and St. Vincent.
But this time it’s not over the latest iPod iteration or another generation-defining device. Nope, now they’re pissing people off with their new subscription rules.
The facts are these: Consumers can now subscribe to magazines and newspapers through the iTunes App Store. The pieces were put in place with Newsweek and the Daily, in October and earlier this month respectively. But now you can subscribe to almost anything, provided the publishers agree to the new regulations. And the big sticking point for the publishers is that if consumers make the purchase from within the iTunes App Store, Apple takes a 30% cut of the revenue. If you make the purchase outside the App store, Apple gets nothing. And the publisher can’t provide a Web site link from within the app.
So the imminent ballooning of steampunk comes as a breath of fresh…steam. (It may have come into prominence during the 80s and 90s, according to Wikipedia, but to me, it’s new.) This genre mixes different elements together – sci-fi-ish technology, occasional fantasy elements, usually an alternate historical setting, and a mystery or romance or two – and the combination is absolutely irresistible.
I first encountered steampunk in the form of Gail Carriger’s Soulless, the beginning of her wonderful Parasol Protectorate. It’s perhaps steampunk at its “purest,” in that it remains confined to an alternate Victorian setting, and features steam machinery, dirigibles, and many gadgets that could have arisen from the technological advances of the time. That it has a mystery and romance is an added bonus.
According to the experts, there was very little or nothing particularly new at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show. Well, pooh on you, you jaded roosters – I found it plenty fascinating.
It’s not just the whole tablet thing, although there’s more than enough variation to keep us occupied for at least another year. We’ve got tablets that slide out and tablets that dock in, tablets that swivel and flip and connect. (Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if next year they came up with a tablet that could dance.) But aside from all the tablets, and the obvious implications for readers on the digital book market, one thing struck me in general: The In Death reality is a lot closer than I thought.
For those who aren’t familiar with J.D. Robb’s In Death series, it depicts a world fifty years in the future, where there are autochefs and robot servants, handheld audio/visual communication devices, lots of synthetic foods, weird and wacky cars; in short, everything that could be touched by technology has been touched, and possibly enhanced.
The news has been floating around for a while, but Google finally made it official on Wednesday: Google Editions, their eBook store, launched on Monday.
What’s the big deal? Well, as many of us agree, the proprietary formats are just a pain. You can’t read Adobe DRM on Kindle, you can’t read AMZ on anything except Kindle-compatible devices, blah blah blah. (Although the Bluefire app, which reads Adobe-DRM books on Apple devices, just broke through a major barrier.)
Anyway, the difference with Google Editions is that their books are entirely Web-based. This means that you would be able to read books anywhere, on any device, as long you can connect to the internet and have a Web browser.
The tech media are talking it up, saying it makes a significant difference, that it will provide true competition to the juggernauts. And in a way it is. Without being tied to a proprietary format, readers can read on anything. Similar to most eBook stores, the purchased books will stay on your virtual bookshelf, which you can access as long as you have a Google account. Reading the fine print on the Google Editions page (which is directed at potential booksellers, not consumers), there are some points of interest:
See, I love France. I love the food and the art and the cinema. I love the cobblestone streets strewn with leaves and dog poo alike, and I love the mega-stores and tiny boutiques. I appreciate their massive anal attitude towards their language, and am utterly envious of French women who all seem born with the Instant Style Gene. Whenever I go to France, the minute I step off the plane, I feel like I’ve come home.
In other words, I don’t get the semi-automatic “anti-French, anti-revolution bias” that Jennie at Dear Author says is “common to most everyone but the French”, but that, honestly, I think is really only common to English-speakers. (Stereo)typically-speaking. So I’m happy whenever I read a book that’s mainly set in France. (The temporary excursions just, somehow, don’t count.) Pre-Louis XIV is pretty thin on the grounds, but there’s always Susan Carroll’s witch series, starting with Silver Rose, and the second book of the Renaissance Lymond Chroniclesby Dorothy Dunnett. In the pre-Revolutionary 18th century there are Georgette Heyer’s classic These Old Shadesand Anne Stuart’s recent Ruthless. Turn-of-the-century, I’ve read Susan Johnson’s Forbidden and Judy Cuevas’ Beast, and heard amazing things about Bliss and Dance. All are really good books.
When I submitted my entries for the 2007 Top 100 Romance Poll, my exposure to romance novels was still fairly limited. But in the past three years my reading has expanded in both breadth and depth, stretching across genres and eras and sensuality ratings. My list of TBR books and Auto-Read authors has doubled in length, and I’ve found much delight in some damn good books that have come across my way. However, this also leaves me with a quandary: With so many books to choose from, do I vote for the best, or my favourite?
After all, the poll’s title (“Top 100”) can be open to interpretation, and for me the two are not necessarily mutual. For instance, I think Nora Roberts’s Angels Fallis one of her best books. Plot, character, setting, structure, dialogue – you name it, she aces it. I really enjoyed it, both times I read it, and I’ll continue to re-read it. But do I read it as often as I read Sweet Revenge? Hell no. Sweet Revenge is faulty, but every time I read it I store away my critic’s hat and just enjoy. I need my annual fix of the un-tannable Englishman and felonious Arabian princess. However, when it came time to rank the books, my head overruled my habits, and Angels Fall went in at #6 with Sweet Revenge at #69. Ditto Connie Brockway’s My Dearest Enemy and Bridal Favors. I re-read the latter probably twice as much as the former, but I think the former is the better book. So I listed them as #10 and #22 respectively.