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04 April 2012 @ 02:47 pm
So my experiment with audiobooks continues. It's very hard to have any objectivity about the effect listening rather than reading has on me, but I have a couple of thoughts. First, though, let me say I'm not just listening. I currently have a 45-minute drive to work, so I like to listen to the audiobook then, but when I'm at home, I'll pick up the physical book and read that instead. So it's a combination.

I've recently read three books this way, all of them part of various series. One, Sue Grafton's V is for Vengeance, I'd been eagerly awaiting. I like the Kinsey Millhone series and U is for Undertow had really done it for me. So I was dismayed to find that I couldn't really get behind V. It was okay--a perfectly serviceable entry in the series, but somehow it failed to grab my interest. And I began to wonder how much of that had to do with listening rather than reading. I mean, when you're reading you can skim over parts that deal with, for example, a character you don't much like. And you can linger over the parts that you particularly do like. But when you're listening, everything's given the same treatment.

What made me start thinking about this was the fact that I'd had a similar experience with the latest in msagara's Cast series. It's another series that I like a lot (though my true love will always be the Sun Sword and related series) and as it's gone on, I've thought she was doing some really interesting things with it. Again, the last book, Cast in Chaos (I think--I tend to get these titles mixed up) had really rung my chimes. But this new one just seemed a bit flat to me. Now I don't like all the Cast books equally, so it's possible that this was just one that didn't do it for my idiosyncratic tastes. But again I wondered, did it have to do at all with the fact that I'd listened to as much as I read?

In contrast to these two experiences was the third (which actually came before the other two). This was marthawells's Serpent Sea. There's only one previous book there, and I read Cloud Roads and liked it. I did have some mixed feelings--I found the setting and the new species she'd peopled it with absolutely fascinating, and I like the main characters. But I did feel that the plot was more YA than adult, and that some of her previous books had had more twists and turns. Still, there was no way I wasn't going to pick up Serpent Sea. Which I duly did, and was happy to find there was also an audio book. I was a little dubious about this one, because this series is just so creative and imaginative that I was worried somebody else's voice would interfere with my own vision of it. But, in fact, it didn't bother me and I found I liked Serpent Sea even better than Cloud Roads. Just really, really got into it and thought it was exceptionally well done.

Let me also say that none of these three audiobooks were ones that I particularly loved the reading of. I didn't hate the narrators or anything, but meh probably best describes my reaction to them. As opposed, for example, to James Marsters and the Dresden Files, where I find his reading actually contributes to my enjoyment. But that kind of reading is few and far between.

Next up I'm probably going to try non-fiction since my reading list has come round to the Malazan series which, darn it all, doesn't have an audiobook. Not even in England because I checked. What's up with that?
03 February 2012 @ 09:36 pm
So I bought a book on Amazon. I would have much preferred to buy it at a bricks-and-mortar store, but, well. Firstly, my local Barnes & Noble didn't have it. To buy it at an indie would have involved a drive, which I might have considered, but they didn't have it either. 

But of course the most important reason was money. It's a $26 book (Skirmish by Michelle West). I got it for $16. Yup, a whole ten dollars less. And I didn't pay for shipping or for sales tax because a good friend of mine is an Amazon Prime member. 

Did Amazon sell the book at a loss? No one knows. Certainly an indie store would have been selling it at a loss at that price, or at least at a margin so slim it wouldn't have been worth it to order the book in. So here's the thing: until publishers address the disparity in prices, there's really very little a physical bookstore can do. It's all very well for Ann Patchett to take the high road and say that if you want to continue to shop in a physical bookstore, you should pay 40% more for the privilege. Most people can't really afford to make that choice. At the moment, I can't.

I could, of course, have gotten a copy of the ebook for $13 pretty much anywhere. (Paper, printing, binding, warehousing, & shipping--does it really add up to $13 per book?) Lots of people will tell you that soon I won't have the choice. That may well be true, and the price disparity is certainly helping that very bleak future along.

15 December 2011 @ 12:41 am
Lately I've been listening to the Dresden Files on audiobook. James Marsters reads all of them except the latest, Ghost Story. I understand that there was much reviling of the switch to John Glover, and there were those who felt that this was the worst thing ever to happen in the history of the Dresden Files. So I went into listening to it with a solid heads up and a determination to be objective. Or at least as objective as I could manage.

First, a disclaimer: I haven't listened to a lot of audio books. I recently acquired a 45-minute drive to work as well as a copy of the audiobook of Dead Beat, which is what started my current audio craze. It remains to be seen whether I'll like other audiobooks as well as I like these, or whether I'll just go back to listening to podcasts.

Back to Ghost Story (which is a fantastic book, by the way). I'll admit it took me a good quarter of the book to get used to a new narrator. I tried to imagine what I would think if I'd never heard any of the others, and I concluded that Glover did a fine job. I'm not sure but what some of his voices weren't even better than Marsters. Listening to the beginning reminded me that when I first plugged in Dead Beat, there was a certain cadence in Marsters' reading that I found a little irritating and I was surprised to find that by the end of the book I couldn't hear it anymore. Couldn't even remember what it was.

Glover was a little different--his quirk (to my ear) is a careful pronunciation, almost as if he were reading to a child. It completely disappears whenever he's reading dialogue, and after awhile I stopped noticing it most of the time. But it never went away altogether for me. Still, after I got past that first quarter, I was really enjoying it, very caught up and thinking that although Marsters' voice *is* Dresden's to me, Glover was doing a very fine job indeed.

Now, I only listen to the audiobook in the car. I rarely listen to them in the house--too many interruptions. So I always have a copy of the book as well, and read it during the evenings, picking up from wherever the audiobook left off when I got home, and then advancing the audiobook in the morning to where I'd left off reading the night before. With the Marsters, I often found myself listening to the part I'd read the night before, just to see what he made of it. Hearing him read it was part of the experience of the book for me. But as Ghost Story went on, I realized I wasn't doing that anymore.

I thought at first that this was just because of the difference in narrators. Especially for a book written in the first person, a narrator is like a character on TV--you can't replace him with someone else. It doesn't matter if the new guy is a better actor because his interpretation of the character will never be the same as the one you've bought into. So the fact that I wasn't listening to the parts I'd read told me that I hadn't been doing that just to experience those bits in audio, I'd been doing it specifically to hear Marsters' rendition of the text.

I still don't think Glover's reading was better or worse than Marsters. But it didn't have the same resonance for me. Although I enjoyed Ghost Story, if it had been the first one I'd listened to, I probably wouldn't have gone haring after all the others.
24 November 2011 @ 11:49 pm
Many years ago, I came across a series that had, at the time, maybe four books in it. Since I like both fantasy and mysteries (though the traditional hard-boiled genre is not my favorite), I gave it a try. I really liked the first book. I didn't care as much for the 2nd for some reason (I have since speculated that it was my mood at the time), so I didn't go on to the third immediately. But eventually I did, and I liked it enough that I went on to the fourth, and I liked that even better.

After that, of course, I had to wait for Jim Butcher to write more, and I got my Dresden fix every year or so. My personal favorite remains Dead Beat (at least so far), but I didn't read the penultimate book, Changes, because what I heard about the ending led me to speculate that it might be the last of the series. So I was saving it for a special occasion. Then Ghost Story came out and it turned out I needn't have worried. 

Then the other day, a copy of the audiobook of Dead Beat came into the store. Like I said, it was always one of my favorites, and since I recently acquired a 40-minute commute to work, I thought I might as well give it a try. I fell in love with James Marsters' reading of the text, and in love with the book all over again. So I embarked on listening to *all* the audiobooks, in order, and also to reading them over again. I have to say, it's given me a very different appreciation of the series. The arc of the overall story comes out much more strongly if you read them all back to back, and I find it really adds something when you don't have to search your memory for references because they're all still fresh in your mind.

It was from here that I finally approached Changes and now Ghost Story. I've only just started Ghost Story, so I won't comment on it, but I had a few thought on Changes, and on Turn Coat, the preceding book. 


In both books I wasn't too fond of the earlier parts. In Turn Coat, this had largely to do with the "the-butler-did-it" motif introduced early on. I kept hoping that it would turn out to be a blind, that it was a clever misdirection on Butcher's part. But, no, as it turned out, it really was the old cliche. I really honestly felt that a plot element that had run for several books deserved to have a better conclusion, and the answer should not have been a character that we had never met before. Additionally, there were plot holes you could drive a Mac truck through. But the second half was so spot-on emotionally that I didn't care a whit about any of the rest by the time I got there. Butcher even made up for Peabody with the introduction of Cristos. I have rarely encountered a scene as emotionally satisfying as the one with Morgan at the end. And, to a lesser extent, the scene with Luccio.

In Changes, I mostly felt that poor Harry was getting hammered on just a little *too* much in the earlier part of the book. But again, Butcher pulled it out in the second half, and especially with the slam-bang ending. I mean, I sure didn't see that coming. Not even a little bit, and it was heart-wrenching once I got there. I was sort of dreading the end, since I'd heard what happened, but actually I really liked it. 

As an aside, I was talking to my agent about the Dresden Files the other day, and she mentioned the phrase "urban fantasy." I was a little startled. I know what urban fantasy is, of course, but I've never actually read any--as a genre it doesn't particularly appeal to me. But what I thought was funny was that I've never thought of the Dresden books as urban fantasy, even though they clearly are. Thinking it over, I decided it was probably because when I first encountered them, urban fantasy wasn't as common as it is now and might not even have been on my radar at the time.

Anyway, I've immensely enjoyed my re-reading of the series, and I've found that, taken as a whole instead of individually, they have a much more epic quality to them than I had remembered. I'm awfully sorry that I only have one book left.
20 November 2011 @ 03:35 pm

The cats have had a rough couple of days. 

First, I ran out of cat food (I was having a bad week). That was on Friday night, and I only realized it after it was too late to run out and get anymore. I felt really bad about that, and it didn't help that while I was performing my nightly ablutions Niko kept sitting by the empty bowl and staring at me. Having attracted my attention, he would sniff the bowl to show me it was empty and needed to be filled. When no food was forthcoming, he repeated the process patiently. This does not make me feel better.

Come the morning, I arise, pull myself together and run to the pet store to procure cat food. I bring it back, open the fresh bag and fill the bowl rather fuller than usual because I am still feeling guilty. Then I leave for work.

When I go up to bed that night, I am astonished to find that the cats have actually eaten all that food. I fill the bowl again, checking them over worriedly for bloat. I mean, that was a lot of food.

Which brings us to this morning, when I was awakening by a clinking sound coming from the bathroom. Blearily, I sit up to behold the greyhound up on her back legs busily eating the cat food.

So not only did my poor cats not have any food on Friday night, but once they got food on Saturday, the dog ate it all. Good grief.

17 November 2011 @ 12:28 pm
The NYT times today has an article about how people graduating from college are moving back in with their parents instead of contributing to the economy by starting a new household. The article is interesting and talks about a lot of things, but one thing it doesn't mention at all is wage stagnation. 

The example in the article is a woman just out of college who has gotten a job as an assistant editor at a national magazine. She can't afford her own place, and so has moved back in with the parental units. What struck me about this was shortly after I graduated from college, my best friend acquired a job as an assistant editor at a national magazine. Her salary enabled her to get her own apartment in New York and move out of her parents' place.

So is not a lot of the problem here attributable to the fact that the cost of living has far outstripped current pay rates? It seems so to me. I don't have any answers for this problem, but it seems to me that it's important that it be part of the discussion.

Here's the article:

14 November 2011 @ 01:06 pm
I am getting very tired of help lines that are not helpful. The latest offender is, believe it or not, Apple.
I ordered an item off their website, but somehow missed arranging for expedited shipping. First off, this is something I should have been able to fix online. But when I tried, a window popped up telling me to call the help line to change my shipping instructions.
Let me just say that the automated system that greets you is bloody brilliant. It was more like talking to a real person than the real person was.
The real person came on and repeated my order number back to me. I told her I had messed up placing the order and had wanted to expedite the shipping instead of keeping the standard. She asked for my name.
Now, I ask you, why on God’s green earth would not the order number bring up my name? Surely it would. Therefore this is merely a question to be certain that I have not screwed up the order number and am about to adjust someone else’s shipping. Okay, I get that. So why not just ask me if my name is Cassandra Chan? This is how regular people talk to each other.
Now I get put on “a brief one to two minute hold” while she brings up my order on her computer. If it’s not there, then how the hell is she verifying my name? And if all her software has given her is the order number & my name, then somebody has been writing some really crummy software.
She returns. She wants to know my address. So apparently just checking my order number and name was not enough. We also want to check my address, just in case I am phishing somebody else’s order. Well, if I have the order number and the name it goes with and yet am not legitimate, then wouldn’t I also have the address? Good grief.
All right, now we’re down to brass tacks, i.e., getting me expedited shipping. I know, from having tried to do this on the website, that I have three possibilities: 1) Overnight (I know I probably can’t afford that), 2) 2-day shipping, or 3) 2-3 day shipping. They didn’t tell me how much any of it would be, so I am expecting to go over the rates. Instead I get put on another “brief one to two minute hold” (this one lasted longer), at which point she comes back and tells me she’s taken care of it. WTF? I ask how much extra it is. I get put back on hold. She comes back and tells me it’s now 2-3 business days at no charge.
Well, I can’t argue with that. I thank her very much and hang up on the rest of her script. I may have fixed the problem, but I am still aggravated. Why on earth cannot companies understand that hemming in their employees with scripts only annoys their customers? They end up making the person on the other end of the phone feel as if the customer service rep isn’t really listening to them or responding to what they’re saying. It also makes for a very awkward conversation when one of the people has to constantly interject corporate-speak into it.
On top of that, there is no reason your rep should have to put a customer on hold unless there’s a problem or a higher authority needs to be appealed to. Instructing your reps to say “a brief one to two minute hold” does not alleviate this problem. It just makes it obvious that the company is aware of the problem and has decided to ignore it.
I suppose all this does make it possible for companies to hire people who really suck at customer service. Not that I’m accusing the woman I spoke to today of that—she wasn’t given the opportunity to demonstrate to me whether she was good at it or not. 
23 October 2011 @ 06:08 pm
I'm written out for the afternoon. I've had a burst of enthusiasm for my potential YA novel. I suppose I should call Jenn to find out if it is really a YA novel and, if so, if it has any possible commercial value. But right now I'm just enjoying the enthusiasm.

I probably should have been looking for a job instead of writing, since I think I'm going to need a second one. The bookstore is not doing as well as advertised. Too bad. I might still make a go of it--it's early days yet--but the first couple of months have not been encouraging.

Anyway, right now it's time for a drink and then dinner.
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21 October 2011 @ 04:29 pm
I am really beginning to become quite concerned about Pat Rothfuss. This is odd, because I don't know him.

An yet, from reading his blog, I have become quite fond of him despite not ever having met him. I'm sure lots of other people feel the same way, if not about Pat, then about someone else whose blog they read regularly. It's a very strange by-product of modern life on the internet.

Anyway, back to Pat Rothfuss. I've been reading his blog for years now, and he was a very regular contributor--at least one post a week, sometimes more. There were occasionally gaps when he was working super hard on his current book, but those were usually accounted for on the blog.

But now his last post was on September 2nd. It heralded no break in the regular flow to come, but there has been nothing since and, as I said, I am getting worried. I fear very much that something bad has happened in his life and, although I don't know him, I feel badly that I have not been about to reach out and say, "I hope everything's okay. Good wishes coming your way."
03 September 2011 @ 10:16 am
It's very early for me, but I've got a lot on my plate today (new store!!!), so I'm doing a quick post now. Which is all to say, forgive me if it's a bit less lucid than usual.

Today's NYT has an article about the decline and possible death of the mass market paperback. You can read it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/03/business/media/mass-market-paperbacks-fading-from-shelves.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp

The gist is that e-books have taken a huge bite out of the good old MM. People who would once wait for the paperback of the latest John Grisham can now get the e-book for only a few dollars more when the hardcover comes out. And this is undeniably true. As a result, publishers are putting out more trade paperbacks instead, and bringing them out earlier than the traditional year. They're pretty happy with this, since trades make more money than MMs (which, in my opinion, they're pricing out of the reach of the people MMs were meant to reach by making them bigger and charging $10. But that's just what I think.)

What the article never mentions, however, is the authors who are virtual unknowns who get their start in MM. Most people will spend $5 to $8 bucks on someone whose book looks interesting, but whom they're never heard of. They won't spend $15 (average for trade paperback). And they're not necessarily going to discover those authors in ebook format. It is impossible to have something just "catch your eye" in the Kindle store or on Amazon. And that's how a lot of these now-bestseller authors got their start. Because publishers could afford to put out a mass market for a new author, and even continue to publish them in that format for awhile to see if they built a following.

So I would be very sorry to see mass markets go away from bookstores altogether. In my used store, I still see tons of people who don't want to read on an electronic device (and no, not all or even most of them are old) who come in and buy stacks of MMs. And they buy them from B&N, too, and then trade them in at my place. I'm happy to get them because although the margin isn't much, they sell like billy-o and keep customers in my store.