Showing posts with label Gutenberg. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gutenberg. Show all posts

Friday, September 7, 2012

Archive surprise | After the Divorce

Grazia Deledda's novel After the Divorce doesn't seem to be all that popular, and I'm not sure why. Sure, the fact that it was first published in 1905 might have something to do with it, but that's a pretty weak claim in our contemporary, classic-appreciative world. After the Divorce is a good book. It deserves more attention.

To a certain degree, After the Divorce reminded me a lot of Émile Zola's books. This is partly because Deledda, like Zola, deals with issues that are still fairly relevant in our modern age. The book feels old, but not old-fashioned. It's remarkably interesting and is told in a surprisingly modern way, with a sharp eye for religion and belief, and a little less of Zola's particular brand of preaching.

It's not just that. After the Divorce has a little bit of everything. There's love, loss, murder, an evil mother-in-law... and yet the novel never feels overwhelming. It's relatively short and is remarkably easy to read, but more importantly - it's enjoyable. I read the book in a day not because it's light fare, but because it's interesting. There are soap-opera overtones, but this never degenerates into stupidity.

After the Divorce has a seemingly narrow focus (a small Sicilian town), yet the story is generic in nature and can be applied anywhere, anytime (much like many of Zola's novels). The story opens dramatically - Giovanna's husband Constantino has been convicted of a murder he denies committing and is sentenced to twenty-seven years in prison. Giovanna is convinced to seek out a divorce from her husband under a new clause in the law that would permit her to get a divorce even in her highly Catholic society. After the Divorce - as the name indicates - follows Giovanna and Constantino... after the divorce. The story progresses much like a tragic soap, with events constantly unfolding. Yet After the Divorce isn't petty or shallow. It portrays Giovanna and Constantino's struggles realistically, as each deals with the consequences of Constantino's imprisonment. It's all very interesting... and very different from most books I've read.

After the Divorce strikes me as one of those books that stands the test of time, except for the fact that it seems to have never gained the popularity it deserves. Maybe it's my own literary ignorance, but I had not heard of Grazia Deledda until I began to look up all the Nobel Prize winning writers. She appears on no lists of "greatest novels" or "greatest authors". Like the vast majority of authors, Deledda's works have faded into the background. According to the official Nobel Prize website, Deledda earned her award "for her idealistically inspired writings which with plastic clarity picture the life on her native island and with depth and sympathy deal with human problems in general". This is certainly an accurate description of Deledda's writing in After the Divorce. It's a shame she is not better remembered for it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sci-fi shorts

A couple years back, I spent a day scouring Gutenberg for all kinds of free goodies. Specifically, I wanted to see what public domain science fiction and fantasy there was. I soon realized that the copyrights of a lot of old sci-fi magazines had long expired, and that these stories were all freely available. I didn't download all the available stories, obviously, but I downloaded somewhere in the realm of one hundred, opting for those with the silliest and most dramatic titles ("Spies Die Hard!", "Martians Never Die", etc.). It was a fun way to pass an afternoon, but my attention span is exceedingly short and I mostly forgot about the stories and never actually got around to reading them.

I started to fix that recently when I decided to organize my (no-longer-newish) Reader Seshat (a fine heir to Artemis' noble legacy). Now I read a short story once every few nights, writing up a one-line assessment at the end for the sake of my own forgetfulness.

It's an interesting experience for a number of reasons. There's the obvious one: I'm reading old stories. And these are old, mostly pulp stories. This isn't literature at its finest. It's not even sci-fi at its finest. I think it's best described as sci-fi at its mediocre-ist. But the fact that these are typically sub-par stories makes the reading experience that much more interesting. I try to put myself in the shoes of whoever read these stories back in the 30s, or 40s. I see what type of writing style was popular at the time. I see which character cliches appear again and again. It's pretty amazing.

Then there's the entertainment factor. Because a lot of these stories are ridiculous, and I don't think they were necessarily intended to be so silly. But their outdated styles and exaggerated character portrayals make them a lot more laugh-out-loud funny. When taken in small doses, it's actually a whole lot of fun.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Book title of the week

I love browsing through Gutenberg. Unlike standard booksellers, Gutenberg is a messy, delightfully unpredictable source of new reading material. Oh, and it's perfectly reasonably to find a book with the following title:
The Discovery of a World in the Moone
Or, A Discovrse Tending To Prove That 'Tis Probable There May Be Another Habitable World In That Planet
This find by John Wilkins was published in 1638 and has all the marks of a book from its era - spelling is random, sentence structure is bizarre, and every point seems to stretch on for eternity. For example, one of the "cautions" in the introduction:
That thou shouldst not here looke to find any exact, accurate Treatise, since this discourse was but the fruit of some lighter studies, and those too hudled up in a short time, being first thought of and finished in the space of some few weekes, and therefore you cannot in reason expect, that it should be so polished, as perhaps, the subject would require, or the leisure of the Author might have done it.
That is, based on my brief flip-through, the most easily comprehensible sentence in the entire book. Meanwhile, the ideas in the book are no less strange (and obviously hilariously outdated). Thank you, Gutenberg: this is going to be amazing.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hilariously bad Dumas? Impossible!

I first "met" Alexandre Dumas pere when I was ten years old. My older brother was reading The Count of Monte Cristo for school and he told me, flat-out, "You have to read this book. It's awesome."

And so I ordered a Scholastic classics abridged version from then-still-awesome Scholastic catalogs* and promptly read it. I was amazed to discover that it was, in fact, completely and totally awesome. My brother had not lied. Two years later, I bought the unabridged Penguin edition and spent three weeks out of my summer vacation working my way through it. My conclusion at the time was that overall there was too much stuff going on, but that it was still completely awesome. Just that the awesome got a little buried underneath the slightly less awesome parts. And so, basing myself on this wonderful experience, I decided to read The Three Musketeers that year. Once more, I was impressed by how much fun and adventure Dumas managed to pack into his obviously old-fashioned books. It was refreshing and was the original spark to my classics obsession.

But since then, other than writing a paper on Dumas and reading two additional abridged versions of The Count of Monte Cristo, I've taken no steps in reading Dumas' other books (though he has... lots). So a couple weeks ago I finally clicked on one of many Dumas eBooks I once got during a Gutenberg downloading blitz and went with it.

The book in question is The Black Tulip and quality-wise, it's one of the worst books I've read in a really long time (since the atrociously and disgustingly bad Across the Universe). I'm talking awkward writing, terrible characterization and one of the worst cases of wish-fulfillment storytelling that I've encountered. It's completely over-the-top, dramatized to a level unequaled in even the most dramatic of 19th century literature. It's a bit difficult to bear, at times, but it's also a great deal of fun. It's like trashy thrillers or a romantic comedy - you know the inevitable ending, but the way the author brings you there is what makes the show worth it.

Ultimately, I don't think Dumas as a writer is what makes The Black Tulip laugh-out-loud ridiculous, but rather the period it's from. This is historical fiction made even more archaic by the hundreds of years that have passed since its publication. So it's kind of... uh... outdated. And unlike the swashbuckling awesomeness that is The Count of Monte Cristo, The Black Tulip doesn't have any timeless adventure themes that can survive generations. It's a historical romance.

About flowers.
* Anyone else remember the days before the whole Scholastic fair turned into an outlet to sell games and toys and was still all about books?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Stumble and surprise

One of the things I've only recently learned to love about is the potential for surprise. If years ago when I first discovered the site I was amazed by the mere idea, and more recently, by the ability to download classics, I now relish the availability of less-known titles. In this internet age, when browsing Amazon "recommended" lists always shows the same titles, Gutenberg is an utterly refreshing shift in perspective.

Because here, there's no agenda. When I browse a list of most recent releases, it's literally the titles that were most recently released, not a selection of recently released titles that will benefit the site if pushed. This is how I find myself browsing truly different and weird titles, often by authors who were once a lot more significant than they are today.

Look, for instance, at Mór Jókai. A Hungarian author with a vast bibliography (and a very detailed Wikipedia entry, oddly enough), and yet I've never even seen reference to him. Or Christine de Pizan, one of the earliest feminist writers (and we're talking early - 13th century!). By coming across these books, I find myself learning much more than I might have expected just from simple browsing. There's that magic of newly discovered knowledge, of something different.

Though to be honest, it's that difference from last year's mentality that has me most interested. In a year and a half, I've gone from wanting to standards to wanting the random and the obscure. I realized that I'll always be able to find and download War and Peace if I feel like it, but I might never again come across Xavier Hommaire de Hell again. In the same way that I semi-stumbled upon A Honeymoon in Space, I want to stumble upon other books with obviously silly titles and equally embarrassing old covers.

You know what it is? I want to relive some of that childhood joy of just finding a book and not knowing what it's about or where it came from. I've kind of missed that.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Homemade eCovers

Long story short: my operating system can no longer use Sony's eReader library program (and good riddance, too...), leading me inevitably to Calibre. By resetting my entire Reader to Calibre's way more convenient standards, I've been finding myself having a jolly good time with the new order. One aspect of this is finding covers for all my eBooks.

The problem is that almost all of the freely available fiction on the web (my only source for eBooks) is extremely old (thus the copyright has expired). A lot of these books don't have normal covers. Same for various free short stories and self-published stuff. This is where it gets fun. Books need covers. So what if there are no good options? Let me have a crack at it!

I don't have much (any) artistic talent. I don't have particularly complex picture editing programs. But here's a glimpse of some of the covers I've made the last couple of weeks, for your entertainment:
Sci-fi/fantasy/other collection

Favorite to make - short stories
Mythology/folklore collection
My favorite homemade cover (original photo here):

And these two, that actually look a little like textbooks I've had in the past. It begs the question though, why I ever downloaded these books from Gutenberg... Picking out these pictures was cool, though (physics and chemistry), and it was plenty nice trying to decide exactly which color shade and font (sadly limited with the new operating system...) fit the book best.

This is fun.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Numerical update

Almost a year after purchasing my Sony Reader, I have read over 30 digital books thanks to the device. And this not counting essays, poems, short stories, assignments, proofreads, textbooks, newspapers, magazines, etc. All for free.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Up and down

Some unrelated, stupid thoughts on North and South from the first couple of chapters:
  1. I don't remember the last time a book had a declaration of love quite so early on. And so randomly. And so not related to the actual plot of the book...? Still too early to tell.
  2. Margaret's dad is kind of despicable. I know I'm not supposed to dislike him, but it's rare for me to want to slap a character in a book. I want to slap Mr. Hale. Really, really hard.
  3. This book is kind of slow, but my interest is piqued. Let's hope it stays that way.
I'm having a weird reading experience with this one. I'm reading it quite sporadically and it feels just a little like reading used to feel, back a few years ago during my classics faze. It's nice, going back to 19th century England. It's been a while since I've visited here.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


I knew there was a reason why I loved Gutenberg (especially now that I have an eReader): there's a Pirates, Buccaneers, Corsairs, etc. bookshelf.

I have no idea who makes these, but thank you.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Enjoying 600 books (and how!)

Disclosure: I like my Sony PRS-600 Touch Edition.

The evening I bought it, I plugged it in, let it charge fully, installed Sony's incredibly convenient eBook Library, got my first book from GoogleBooks ("Fruitfulness", Emile Zola) and began to read. I was in a state of nervousness that perhaps I had made a bad choice buying the Reader and so I approached it more cautiously than I might have otherwise. Every negative comment I'd seen about it sprung to mind again, and I was certain that I'd be incredibly disappointed.

I wasn't. Two hours later, I was engrossed in my reading, taking notes in the "margins" (something I would never do in a physical copy, for fear of ruining it) and overall pleased with the device. The biggest point against the Reader was that the screen quality was poor but in all honesty, the glare was hardly noticeable. I suppose that for those eReader experts it might have been bothersome, but the screen didn't cause me eye strain, didn't bother at all, and served its purpose quite well in providing me with a book to read. The extra features are fun, easy and wonderfully convenient, like the dictionary and the ability to take notes in the margin (the stylus is extremely responsive and is fairly easy to use, just don't let your hand rest on the screen! A mess ensues...). Embarrassing side note about the dictionary: it is so useful that when I was reading from a print book the other day, I actually attempted to double-click on the word.

Another common complaint was that flipping pages was difficult and unintuitive. Quite the contrary. It took me a little while to get used to flipping the pages with my thumb across the touch screen, but once I figured out that a little bit of nail will help, it became quick and easy. Furthermore, the buttons are perfectly placed for how I hold a book, with my thumb resting at the bottom-centre and the rest of my hand supporting the book from the back. The movement is completely natural, as though I'm reaching for a page in the bottom right corner and I'm "dragging" it across to flip.

As for access to books, I was rather pleased. The idea of free library books sold me the device and I was happy to see that the process runs smoothly. Gutenberg, GoogleBooks, and various free eBooks filled up my library quickly and easily. My Reader now holds more than 50 books I downloaded and the grand total space used comes to... ~20 MB. ePub files are about 1 KB per page; PDF can take up to a few MB (e.g. a book with 640 pages is 2 MB). Some books have pictures in them and load a little slower but the images show up just fine in black and white. Some PDFs take longer to load the first time they are accessed (a slight downside to the Reader) and though they initially appear to be tiny, upping the font size on the PDFs will lead to readable texts (though the page formats will be a little funky - not a big deal, easy to get used to).

I have other qualms as well. Take, for instance, the occasional blips. GoogleBooks sometimes-to-too-often misreads/mistranslates the original documents, leading to strange mistakes. For instance, "j" may replace ";", "
A lot of people may shy away from the lack of internet on this Reader, but as long as the internet provided remains 3G, somewhat limited, and not wi-fi, I'm okay without. The screen quality is quite good for those used to computers (I can't say about those upgrading from older Sony models) and reading from it is comfortable. Overall, the convenience far outshines the downsides and the device is both fun and useful.

The reader is obviously not right for everyone. There are many die-hard print supporters (though clearly this will not replace the printed book, they will coexist) but for those interested in technology and willing to dip their toes into this volatile market, I can say that Sony's product is certainly worthwhile. Here's to hoping the price will eventually drop, though. Perhaps soon enough that I'll get a refund as well...?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Some Sony

I've been to Sony stores around the world. I've handled the old 505s, the fairly poor quality 700s (sloppy original touch screen), and the newer models. I've had the opportunity to see just how the products work, read a couple of pages and figure out the pros. Other eReaders? Nothing. Blips on the radar. I've heard much about the Kindles, written tons about them, even seen them in the hands of random people or acquaintances... but Amazon never openly came and offered them to me for even a store run. I am a naturally suspicious consumer and Amazon did not make the situation easier for me. Sony did.

Months ago, when I realized I didn't want the Kindle 2, a friend who had handled a Sony PRS-505 suggested I check it out. After seeing the 505 and the 700, I was immediately drawn to the 505 (standard size, a series of buttons along the edge; a quintessential original-style eReader) but knew that a new model was sure to emerge soon. I waited patiently and out came the 600 and the PRS-300 Pocket Edition (immediately ruled out; too simple, too small). The 600 intrigued me: I enjoyed handling it, the screen quality was miles ahead of where the 700 had been (though I'll admit that it's still not quite as crisp as the 505 or the 300, though it's pretty good), and the touch quality made it comfortable and convenient. But this did not sell the product to me. Again, I'm a suspicious consumer and serving as a guinea pig for eReaders did not appeal to me unless the product went above and beyond.

So Sony went above and beyond. It offered me free books. Lots of them. One of the original points that bothered me with the Kindle was that it had no library offer (incidentally, the most viewed post on this blog, thanks to numerous Google searches). eBook prices are unjustly high and in addition to purchasing the machine, I have to buy the books as well for about as much as the paperback? No thank you. But Sony's library option took my terrible original idea and made it good. I take a U.S. (or U.K.) library card, plug it into the system, see if my library participates and can then check books out. I am lucky to have 4 active library cards of which 3 are participants in the program, and given time I'm sure the fourth will join too. I add a book to my cart, check it out, upload it to my Reader and two weeks later it just expires. Simple, to the point, and blissfully free. Coupled with the ability to take advantage of Gutenberg, GoogleBooks and any PDF eBook or document... that's a lot of convenient free material. And all of it open; no DRM. I bought the PRS-600 Touch Edition in silver.

This is not to say that Amazon's price cuts the day following my purchase didn't disconcert me. The fact that it was suddenly open round the world bothered me too (much of my time is spent abroad), because that point had initially disqualified the Kindles. But I quickly realized that it was silly to second guess. I had many initial doubts with the Kindle. I still do. I don't like Amazon's totalitarian take on things - closed format, buy all through Amazon, sneaky fingers in accounts, charging for certain free public domain books (at lower prices), etc. I don't like the lack of PDF compatibility. I don't like the placement of the flip page buttons (I don't hold books that way). I don't like the 3G (which for the abroad folks probably costs a lot more than Amazon is letting on). I don't like the giant keyboard, as convenient as it may be for taking notes. Sure, the Sony's touch keyboard is a bit slow at times but it gets the job done and doesn't add extra bulk to the device. Most of all, I don't like paying for eBooks. Amazon, as ruler of the online purchasers, has created the standard expensive eBook price (my complete rant will come another time) and leads all others to follow in their footsteps, not wanting to be outdone. I want my eReader for free books and so the Sony won out with its library, its comfortable GoogleBooks support and the various other options.

Why now? Now, when things are changing every ten minutes? One day the Kindle is priced the same as the Sony, the next the Sony is the more expensive of the two. One day Sony is king of eReader land, the next Amazon launches new products. Barnes & Nobles wants to join in, the iLiad gains attention, color eReaders seem on the horizon, wi-fi is expected (at some point, hopefully)... why would I buy what seems to be a sub-par eReader now, especially if it's unreasonably priced?

I've thought about it a lot. Nervous consumer and all that. Ultimately, the current market continues changing constantly. Even if new brands pop up, I'm not going to jump to them because a new product is typically less reliable than an established brand (Sony, in this case). I can't sit around waiting for the product to be perfect because that's never going to happen. If I want to experiment with a new device, I'll need to pick one at some point and go with it, just to see how it is. Maybe at some point I'll realize that I don't like my Sony and I'll get the newest Kindle. Or I'll decide that I don't like eReaders at all and will stick to my print books with religious love. For now, I took the plunge and made my decision. Let's see what comes of it.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Gutenberg revisited

Every once in a while I head on over to to see what new books they've uploaded. It's not something I do all too often, but every once in a while I get itchy fingers and click on over. Every single time I remember why I rarely visit the theoretically perfect site. Probably because it isn't so... perfect.

Much as I love Gutenberg (the man, the website, and the whole idea), I realized that there's one fatal flaw to the whole eBooks idea: they're really uncomfortable. I mentioned this way back when, in my first ever attempt at being clever (also known as my first ever post), but it didn't hit me quite so hard until last week. I was thinking of a couple books I wanted to recommend to a friend when I remembered that there were a few more Zola novels I really wanted to read (he is a genius, by the way... just making sure we're on the same page). The paperbacks weren't actually that expensive, but frugality and curiosity led me to download the eBook instead of a standard purchase. And what do I get?

I keep forgetting this is how Gutenberg works, but the crappy font, the bunched together lines, the needless scrolling is really uncomfortable. I did my usual thing: cut and paste into word. But nope, that doesn't help the font or the bunched-together aspect. So I change the font to the easy-to-read Verdana. Okay, but now everything is shining red and green. "Spelling mistake! Grammar mistake! Oh, who cares that this is a French name and that's a British spelling? Who cares that this is literary license? Not Word, no siree!" That, by the way, was all sarcasm. Imagine the little paperclip guy singing that in a really high-pitched voice. That's what I'm picturing right about now. Okay, canceled the grammar/spelling check for this document. Can this get any worse? Well, yes. It turns out that I have no desire to read a book just like that out of a word document.

I'm guilty of not owning an eReader (when they're cheaper we'll chat again). Still, Gutenberg is doing this great thing here and I just can't appreciate it. It's not even that I hate the way they do their thing, I get it. It's just that I guess eBooks don't do it for me. It's no different than the book in my hand... except in every way. So what now? How hypocritical is this moment? Maybe not as much as I think. It's been talked to death, but the tech revolution is hitting books a little late and awkwardly, though the awkwardness is not that unlike the music world's reaction. And just as things have been working themselves out there over the last few years, books will probably learn to adapt and coexist with eBooks. eReader-less people will settle for classic paper and ink; the technically adept and cheerful will remind us of how many trees we're killing.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Amazon, Gutenberg, and a Kindle

“The written word is dead.”

Too often have these idiotic words been stated. It’s simple, really. New generations bring new inventions. Radio was once the “fresh” way to tell stories – now it’s what you hear when you’re driving and nothing else. Then came television. Then came the internet.

We start with, the modern ubiquitous source for book-buying. That’s not to say Amazon is the only source; AbeBooks, Borders, Barnes & Nobles, others, and various publishers all offer books online, but none do so quite as comfortably and conveniently as Amazon. Amazon, in a sense brought reading to the 21st century, making books easily available from everywhere in an Ebay style source, minus the bargaining. Fun.

Then came eBooks. The Gutenberg project, bringing to light thousands of classics and books so old they’ve been part of the public domain since Columbus, is a major source. You run through their stacks and there's this amazing phenomenon unheard of on the internet - you can smell the dust.

That minor quip aside, the revolutionizing of books through the internet proved to be kind of... lame. It's taken a while to catch on. It's hard to concentrate on a computer screen for too long and definitely harder still to read difficult literature through it. Plus... blasphemy!

An exaggeration? I think not. Gutenberg's dust exception aside, eBooks have no heart or soul to them. They aren't tangible. Who wants to read something in the same form they read blogs in? Where is the smell of the book; where is the texture? Maybe that's the reason the eBook hasn't caught on. Readers simply don't want to give up their last ties to the old worlds, where young ladies donned pretty dresses and went out with their parasol and their Austen. What a lovely (if inaccurate) image.

And then. Like the iPod, comes this shiny white toy for us to play with. The Kindle. Amazon's latest, greatest... and here's the part where the correspondent must admit a complete lack of knowledge when it comes to the Kindle, other than the descriptions. But here's the catch: it doesn't matter. The product itself is out there, a newer, fresher take on the already existent eReaders. Only problem? Amazon needs to fix the kinks. Make it cheaper, make it friendlier. Maybe then this correspondent will consider purchasing it. It may be blasphemy, but it sure saves a lot of trees.

And here we have it: the Internet generation of books. See? Who said we don't read?