Tagged in: books

Just When I Thought I Was Out: Fantasy, Kindle, and Me

Check Out The Swords on this Dark Elf!

I have a strange relationship with the fantasy genre. From roughly age 10-13, my literary tastes tended toward books with barbarians on the cover. I’d always been a voracious reader, but something just clicked when I worked my way through the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander and almost without meaning too, I found myself mired in various epic battles. Seventh and eighth grade were when I discovered Dungeons and Dragons, and though I only played the game on a few sporadic occasions it opened the door to the morass of tie-in novels. R.A. Salvatore and company lead me through the hormonal soup of my early teen years. I spent more time reading about dwarven gold and elven longbows than I probably should have.

Eventually I drifted away. I started reading selections from the canon in my A.P. English classes and Kerouac or any other book I thought might make me seem cool to disaffected young women. From there, I became an English major and my focus tended to the more literary, proper fiction. Part of me never lost sight of the genre. I would occasionally pick up the latest in a series I had followed in my younger days, but I never returned to the level of fervent fandom my 12 year old self felt when he would stay up all night turning the pages of slightly yellowed David Eddings paperbacks.

As much as I like to think of myself as a rebel nonconformist who does what he pleases without a care for what people think, I know deep down that the stigma of being a geek had something to do with my shift. I did consciously decide that at some point I wanted to have sex, and maybe walking around with a dog eared copy of The Might of the Dragon Emperor’s WarKillers: Tales From the Kingdom of Le’ve’n’ti’ri’a wasn’t the best way to accomplish that particular goal. The girls I wanted to woo needed to hear me drop knowledge about the sensitive and the weird, not relay the latest doings of lavender-eyed dark elves. This applied doubly to the cute girls behind the counter at Barnes & Noble and the art student with horned rim glasses who I took German I with.

I know it’s shallow, but I felt vaguely embarrassed to be seen reading fantasy literature. But I never entirely lost the urge. How do I know? Because as soon as I got my Kindle last year I immediately began downloading cheesy fantasy novels. I have made peace with my geekdom since my late teenage rebellion from it, but there’s still a social cost to reading trashy fantasy novels on the bus or train that I don’t know I am willing to pay. The Kindle removes that social cost. I can download the books without anyone seeing the covers. Since I’ve gotten it, I’ve still read literary fiction. I’ve read a few nonfiction books. But I keep returning to the apostrophe-filled prose of the fantasy genre. When I read them, no none around me knows that I’m not reading Cloud Atlas. The Kindle strips my nerdy tendencies bare. It turns my homescreen into an inescapable reminder that I am a huge nerd.


The Rundown for Wednesday, July 7th 2010

Mistress Internet reveals her hidden delights in response to my tender ministrations:

  • Borders Gets in the E-book Game
    Seems they are selling titles in epub format. Easy to convert with Calibre to make them Kindle ready…
    Filed Under:[books ebooks technology media publishing ]
  • The Rundown for Thursday, May 27th 2010

    Mistress Internet reveals her hidden delights in response to my tender ministrations:

  • How to Save the News
    by James Fallows @ The Atlantic
    Filed Under:[google economics journalism media toread theatlantic ]
  • How to Get a Book Deal: Lessons From My Adventures in the World of Non-Fiction Publishing
  • @ Studyhacks
    Filed Under:[advice howto writing publishing books toread ]
  • Cyberpunk detective novel Altered Carbon really is all that
    Altered Carbon book review @ io9.
    Filed Under:[books bookreviews cyberpunk scifi ]
  • The Nation of Gods and Earths – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • Filed Under:[islam religion toread cults fringe ]

  • 21st Amendement Brewery
    One of my favorite spots.
    Filed Under:[bayarea beer sanfrancisco breweries ]
  • The Rundown for Wednesday, April 21st 2010

    Mistress Internet reveals her hidden delights in response to my tender ministrations:

  • Video games can never be art – Roger Ebert’s Journal

    Filed Under:[art aesthetics criticism games videogames ebert ]

  • The iPad, the Kindle, and the future of books : The New Yorker
    Thoughtful article about the coming War.
    Filed Under:[books amazon apple publishing ]
  • Man Versus Food: The Omnivore’s Dilemma Book Review

    The Omnivore's Dilemma Michael Pollan Cover

    Reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan made me think more about food than I ever have before. For something so fundamental to human existence, it’s amazing how little thought I give to the stuff on the end of my fork (or spoon). I’m a large man and I can’t deny that my appetite is hearty, to say the least. But most of the cognitive work I do regarding my food generally concerns finding out where it is and how I can get more of it. I never thought about the eponymous problem: what to eat when you can eat anything.

    The author takes a more contemplative approach, taking four separate meals and using them as jumping off points for a deeper exploration of human beings complicated relationship to the stuff we consume. Four different meals: one fast food value meal eaten in a car, one prepared using organic ingredients, one prepared using ultra-organic ingredients gathered during the author’s time working on a small farm, and one featuring meat and vegetables he hunted and gathered with his own two hands. Along the way, Pollan takes a wide-ranging view of the process by which plants and animals (and other things) go from their natural state to the end product on out plates.

    He spends a good chink of the book talking about corn, the monocultured agricultural juggernaut that drives U.S. food policy. Pollan takes a dim view of the role that corn plays in the way Americans eat. He excoriates the baffling economic forces that drive American corn farmers to produce more and more ears of the yellow stuff even as the actual consumer demand for it shrinks. A complicated system of government subsidies and industrial processes that require corn-derived products like high-fructose corn syrup for nearly everything keep the process moving. There’s a certain hippy-fied scorn for The Man and his Big Agriculture in Pollan’s writing, especially when pondering the role that capitalism has played in the development of sustenance as product, but The Omnivore’s Dilemma never feels hateful enough to devolve into full-on screed. It opened my eyes to some of the inherent dangers in our evolving approach to eating. Pollan is a big fan of grass-fed beef, pointing out the numerous ways in which nature has ill-equipped the cow to subsist on corn. Its stomach isn’t built for it.

    My favorite section of the book detailed Pollan’s time on an organic farm. After a section discussing the ambiguities of the term “organic” and the ways in which the foods we find in the supermarket that bear that label are barely discernible from their more industrially produced cousins, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma takes a much less ambivalent view of small, locally produced organic food. He seems to reach the conclusion that mass-produced and distributed food is necessarily different from what most people imagine when they read the pastoral reflections on the organic food labels. Unless it comes from a farmer’s market or other source that utilizes regional producers, “more organic” is the best that the food can be. The producers can take a more sustainable, less chemically-dependent approach to raising livestock and vegetables but the need to meet economies of scale and transport the goods necessitate certain industrialized processes.

    It is only Polyface Farms (and those farms like it) that seem to meet Pollan’s expectations for how farms ought to run. The author clearly has a soft spot for the owner of the farm, a christian libertarian named Joel Salatin who takes a thoughtful approach to the way his farm is structured. There is something to Pollan’s romantic portrayal of a man determined to take a personal, face-to-face approach to both raising his animals and dealing with the people who buy his food. Pollan drives the contrast home by comparing Salatin’s open air abattoir where customers can see their chickens being slaughtered and look the farmer in the eye as he does it with the secretive, hidden, and unknown processes by which industrial slaughterhouses turn cows into steaks. The difference is as philosophical as it is a matter of efficiency.

    This section of the book made me want to be a farmer, a career aspiration I can honestly say I have never felt before. And I am notoriously ranging in my ideas for what I wanna be when I grow up, from F.B.I Agent to writer to professional fighter. Farming never appealed to me, but after seeing the intellectual and logistical challenges that go into creating food coupled with the satisfaction (I imagine) one feels in growing your own food. Part of the romance of the idea comes from the numerous innovations Pollan ascribes to Salatin. It makes farming sound like an adventure.

    The ending section, wherein Pollan grapples directly with the moral complexities of humans as omnivores is also immensley satisfying. He touches on issues like animal rights and the problems with vegetarianism, beyond the whole “not getting to eat Double-Doubles” thing. He talks about how we have evolved to use culture as a way coming to terms with the omnivore’s dilemma and bemoans the lack of a coherent food culture in American society.

    I can be hit-or-miss with nonfiction work but Pollan does an excellent job at taking on complex issues with an engaging tone and an admirably light touch. The result is a thoroughly engaging layman’s approach to food. A natural history of four meals, as the subtitle says.

    The Summer of Sean

    It’s summertime, and just because I’m working for a living doesn’t mean that my life starts at 9:00 and ends at 5:00. I have decided that even though I am a temporary wage slave, I should set goals to accomplish before school starts back up at the end of August. Sadly, this will (probably) be the last summer vacation of my life, since after I graduate law school next year I lose the comforting ebb and flow of the academic semesters.

    1. Play More Video Games

    Last year I sold my X-Box 360 because I was short on cash and couldn’t bring it with me to Australia since the power supply was incompatible with Australian sockets, which run directly off power generated from kangaroos jumping on trampolines and are shaped like jars of Vegemite. My reasoning was that I wouldn’t be able to play video games for over half the year anyway, and I could just buy it back when the urge to rain hot-lasered death on my pixellated enemies became unbearable. I spent a good chunk of last Christmas playing Fallout 3 and Dead Space on my brother’s PS3, and although that video game binge allowed me to get it out of my system for a while I knew that there would come a time when I once again had to buy myself a video game console. That time is now. The problem is that I kind of liked the PS3 experience and Infamous looks bad-ass. But bad-ass enough to make the switch back to Sony after so many years canoodling with Microsoft? Are there likely to more exclusive titles that will once again chain me to brand loyalty? Hard to say. The X-Box 360 had some great exclusives as well…

    2. Get to Book-Stack Zero

    I periodically tell myself that I can’t buy any more books until I finish reading the backlog that threatens the structural integrity of my nightstand. I take a solemn vow that I will in no way purchase another book, swearing that this time I will have the discipline to follow through. It usually lasts until the next Borders 40% off coupon arrives in my inbox or I pass the Books, Inc. on a Sunday morning stroll with nothing better to do than browse around until I inevitably buy something. (There is never anything better to do). My rate of reading is relatively swift, and will likely increase now that I am using Muni to get to work instead of walking to school. Reading on the bus is one of my favorite activities. Since I buy and read at roughly the same rate the stack of unread books tends to stay at a stable height, usually about four deep. Not huge (especially compared to The Girlfriend’s stack, which could take up an entire wing of the Library of Congress) but this summer, I aim to read every last book on the list. That means finally polishing off the Borges collection I’ve been savoring for the better part of a year by reading a few stories at a time. It also means choking down 1776 by David McCollum. I bought this last year when I watched John Adams and contemplated a career as colonial American lawyer. I always THINK I want to read about history, but the experience proves tough to get through. No matter how skillful the historian, I still need a little fictionalization.

    3. Shape Up

    Finals are a dangerous time for my waistline and I’m starting the summer off with the telltale snugness of my pants that always signal that I’ve tilted away from stout and toward chubby. Who would have thought that sitting motionless for eleven hours a day while reading hornbooks and constantly stress-eating would be bad for me? I haven’t exercised in forever, and my constantly expanding ass shows it. You know what that means: bootcamp! I can just work out on my own, but I find the collective experience of forcing myself to wake up early and endure an ordeal for a fixed block of time is a big help. I always lose weight and feel better when I participate in one of these things, so I plan on starting one soon. In the past, I have taken a pugilistic approach to getting in shape. Now I’m contemplating something a little less focused on boxing and more of a general fitness experience. San Francisco has many bootcamps to choose from, and even now I’m deciding which one suits me. Military? Fish-based? General Purpose? Whichever one I go with, I’m sure that it will help me get back on the right track.

    4. Ship Out

    I want to travel some. The work week will keep me in San Francisco from Monday to Friday, but each weekend is a new opportunity to get out. I’m not sure what my plans are post-graduation. This could very well be beginning of the end of my west coast tenure and I will make sure to hit up as many spots out here as I can while I still have the chance. I’m taking a trip to Portland, as I do from time to time. And after work finishes, I will hit up Vancouver before making a likely ill-advised return to Las Vegas before classes resume for the fall semester. Before then, I’m going to try to take as many day/weekend trips as possible and explore North California. So far, I’ve barely been out of San Francisco, and not really very far out of the Bay Area at all.

    I realize that some of these goals don’t fit very well together, if not totally mutually exclusive. Sitting on a couch playing video games will definitely eat up hours I could spend traveling, and it’s not the best activity when you’re goal is to get in shape. Likewise travel isn’t the best way for me to get in shape, since I generally eat out and drink more than I should. Nevertheless, a summer that satisfies all these goals will be an awesome one indeed.

    Also, wherever possible I plan to integrate beer into the aforementioned activities.

    The summer of Sean begins.

    Internet Goodies for Sunday, January 18th 2009

    Just because I have other things to do (like my Professional Responsibility reading) doesn’t mean I don’t have time to waste on the internet.

  • Our world may be a giant hologram
    Filed Under [science ]
  • superuseless superpowers Things like being impervious to the 13th bullet fired at you (and not the first 12) or being able to teleport one inch in any direction. Filed Under [humor superheroes ]
  • Readingon on the Rise
    A new report from the NEA: more Americans are reading and more Americans are reading Fiction! Filed Under [books Culture america ]
  • Inside the Savant Mind: Tips for Thinking from an Extraordinary Thinker
    An autistic savant discusses how his memory works. Filed Under [psychology neuroscience mind ]
  • Whitechapel – Postmodernism – your views?
    A forum discussion of everyone’s favorite subject of academic wankery. Filed Under [literature philosophy postmodernism ]
  • Joe the Plumber = Homer Simpson?
    Some action shots of everyone’s favorite two legged political prop captioned with Simpsons quotes. I like Homer. Filed Under [politics ]
  • Obscenity and Paranoia: Lenny Bruce May Have Been Talking Dirty But I Barely Understood a Word

    “That’s great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane –
    Lenny Bruce is not afraid…”

    Lenny Bruce was a big part of making our culture what it is today. R.E.M said so. A fast-talking comedian of the early days of the counter-culture, his trials for obscenity in the early 1960s set the baseline for the Howard Stern’s of the future. His comedy helped set the boundaries that latter day shock-jocks still push against. A jazz-obsessed hipster whose monologues chipped away at the corners of issues like race relations, drug policy, and censorship. He’s an interesting guy, and his autobiography How to Talk Dirty and Influence People should be both important and funny. He was a comedian after all.

    And for all I know it is hilarious, but it is not written for the modern reader. Lenny Bruce first published it in 1963, and to my eyes it comes across as hopelessly dated. I don’t mean that as a criticism so much as a statement of fact. Bruce was a comedian and a social satirist so its no wonder that his writing (which seems to be big chunks of his stage routine) is full of cultural references and bits and pieces of the social landscape of his time. My only problem is that much of it is lost on me. The fault may be mine. It’s possible that I am just unreasonably ignorant of 1950’s/1960’s pop-culture minutiae. But the book is peppered through with things like the following, which made no sense whatsoever to me:

    “This was sort of a devitalized Dwight Fiske routine, with nothing left but the subtle swish.”

    Whoever Dwight Fiske was, I guess he was kind of effeminate? The only way for me to work out some of Bruce’s allusions was to be near my computer, ready to fire up the wikipedia at a moment’s notice. Sometimes, I could work things out by how the references were used in context, but not always. The following passage left me particularly mystified:

    “When the evening was over, to my surprise the owner did not assume the Eduardo Cianneli posture with the dialog that I had been conditioned to expect. Lyle Talbot always nods to Eugene Pallette: “You’ve done it again, Mr. Florenzo, this kid’s sensational! We’d better sign him before the Tio Bamba gets him.”

    The book is full of name drops like Tio Bamba that don’t register with me, which distracted me a little from the overall thrust of Bruce’s narrative. I can’t really call the comedian out on this, because I’m sure that the contextual nature of his allusions went over much better at the time. They just sort of blurred together for me and I tried to look at his larger points.

    Lenny Bruce is a man convinced of the power of language and he spends much of his time thinking about the way that we give words power. The first part of the autobiography sketches a few details about his childhood and time in the navy before he entered show business. Then he hits us with a few routines/anecdotes before moving in to focus on his many legal battles. I particularly enjoyed his story about posing as a priest and getting arrested for soliciting donations. It gives him a platform to talk about the slim line that can separate religion from con games. He gets particularly vitriolic toward what he sees as the hypocrisies of organized religion.

    Hypocrisy in general seems to really get under Bruce’s skin. He talks at great length about how ridiculous it was for him to be brought up on obscenity charges when he was only saying what people expected to hear in a place where they had paid money to hear it. As a society we need people like Lenny Bruce chipping away at the corners of American culture. The obscenity charges were promised on the salacious quality of his jokes, and whether or not the cops who witnessed his routine had been turned on.

    The latter sections of How to Talk Dirty and Influence People is devoted to his trials and what he saw as his persecution by the police. He did seem to drift along into paranoia, but as we all know that does not mean that they weren’t out to get him. The book adds to his hipster mystique and I think most modern comedians, at least those who lean toward social/political commentary, are walking down the path that Lenny Bruce paved.

    Saline Testicular Enhancement and the Modern Detective Story: A Review of Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis

    This is a novel that will make you feel uncomfortable, at a conservative estimate, at least once in every ten pages. It might be a little squirm, a minor fidget, or a full-on scrotum (or other anatomically appropriate body part)-tightening wince that wracks your entire body. But make no mistake, Crooked Little Vein will make you react physically.

    Delivered by well-known Internet Jesus and eponymous purveyor of graphic novels Warren Ellis, Crooked Little Vein is a kind of gonzo detective story. Our protagonist is former Pinkerton and current bottomed out private eye Mike McGill. It seems that ever since he left the corporate detective agency to go into private practice, Mike has been a lightning rod for the weird and perverted cases. While your average detective probably takes pictures of insurance fraud and Sam Spade deals with mysterious bird statues, Mike is the kind of detective who investigates a cheating husband and finds a tantric ostrich-sex cult. He’s a “shit magnet” which makes him the perfect choice to find the Other Constitution of the United States. Its a shady, mysterious document that the White House Chief of Staff needs Mike to find. Along the way, he picks up a sidekick/assistant/love interest/ sex researcher named Trix and the two of them set off on a cross-country road trip to track down the document, tracing a crooked little vein across the underside of American cultural geography.

    The Constitution seems to have been held only by sexual deviants and depraved freaks. Mike and Trix meet at a Godzilla-themed bukkake porn theater and their relationship gets weirder from there. Its the perfect vehicle for Ellis to explore some of the darker, stranger aspects of twenty-first century culture which is really his playground. Crooked Little Vein is a slim volume, and you can burn through it pretty quick but that helps with the episodic nature of the quest. I found myself reading through one of Mike’s troubling encounters a night and saving the next for tomorrow. It was the most fucked up bedtime story I have ever subjected myself to. The worst part for me was a fairly detailed description of a process whereby one’s testicles are filled with warm saline and swelled to ridiculous proportions. Granted, I am something of a wuss when it comes to body modifications, but I had some trouble getting through that section of the novel. But I kept coming back for more.

    Ellis is firmly in his element here and this is clearly a Warren Ellis book. While Crooked Little Vein is his first novel, he has written an impressive number of graphic novels and developed a characteristic style that tends to shine through no matter what he’s writing. His voice is so distinctive that it almost becomes a liability. Like Chuck Palahniuk or David Mamet, the authorial tone and stylistic tics mark the narrative. Whether his protagonists are superheroes, futuristic reporters, or shit-magnet PIs they all speak in the curmudgeonly shades of Ellis (and probably smoke cigarettes).

    The story in Crooked Little Vein is new and distinctive enough to separate it from any of Ellis previous narratives but some of the things Mike sees and experiences wouldn’t be out of place in the far-out future of Transmetropolitan’s Spider Jerusalem. But what sets this novel apart is the little character touches that dance in and out of the narrative frame as Mike and Trix grow closer together. The plot plays like a grotesque road movie, and although there are no huge character-arc moments to explore the personalities of his characters there are just enough little touches of humanity to make us care about the horrible things they smell and eat.

    For fans of Ellis’ its a no-brainer and if you count yourself in that camp you probably already own a copy. Otherwise, if you’ve got the stomach for it, this is worth your time. And if you don’t, then you probably never would have picked it up in the first place.

    2007- The Year of Dick

    No. Not like that. Or like that. Like this.

    I have decided to embark on a literary journey this year; a journey through the paranoid, weird, and highly awesome world of Phillip K. Dick. He was a science fiction writer, known for paranoid plots and characters that come to question the nature of reality. For some reason, a number of his trippy head-fuck stories have been made into big Hollywood films, with varying degrees of success. Blade Runner was awesome. Minority Report was cool. I didn’t really care for Total Recall, and Paycheck pretty much sucked. Generally the films forego the paranoid delusion elements of the novels in favor of pure action sequences. Only the recent A Scanner Darkly managed to receate the tone of his work. The movie felt like a PKD book, due in no small part to the rotoscoping animation style.

    I’ve read a few of his books already but its time to work my way through the rest of his catalogue. I really liked VALIS, which was a sort of autobiographical story of the time he was blasted by a divine laser beam of pure information and realized that we are all actually living in the first century, under Roman rule. Yeah…

    I aim to work my way through the rest of his work over the course of this year. I intend to read every novel the man ever wrote and hope I don’t have a nervous breakdown like he did.

    I’m going to start by finishing out thew VALIS trilogy and work from there. First up is The Divine Invasion.

    I’ll let you know how it goes.