Ready Player One and Reading Technology

I’d like to start off by saying that I completely understand why e-readers are attractive and why lots of people have them. They are just not for me. There are all the romantic reasons – I love the smell of a book, I like turning the pages. Hell, I even like the breaks in the spine that mark how much you’ve read and where your favourite pages are. I know that’s an unpopular feeling, but most of the time I like a book to look like it’s been read and loved. There are a few exceptions to that rule (my signed editions of The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Stardust, for instance). I Iike the piles of books that dominate my house and my life. There is very little more soothing to me that browsing a bookshelf.

I don’t like filling my hand luggage with books because a book a day might not be enough for the holiday, or the ache in my back from slouching over a particularly heavy book which I can only read in one position. And whenever I show up at security looking sheepish and someone makes a joke about e-readers, I completely understand why I look like a bit of a fool. And sometimes, I even think that maybe they’re right. Maybe all the romantic reasons I have for reading real books aren’t worth the discomfort of these situations.

Then I read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It was recommended by a friend, who has since regretted this because I hated it so much. I completely understand why she thought I would love it and I do not regret the time I spent reading it. It’s not that it’s a bad book, it’s not that it’s a badly written book, I just felt like my brain was melting when I was reading it.

For those who don’t know, Ready Player One is, for the most part, set inside a computer game. Great concept. Love it. I’ve recently started playing computer games as well, so I felt like I might actually be able to appreciate it. It is also pretty dedicated to 80s pop culture. Sounds fantastic, right? Not for me. We’ll put aside the fact that I didn’t particularly like the narrator. We’ll put aside that the pop culture references were so overpowering that for the first few chapters it felt like I was just reading lists and lists and, oh wait, more lists. Yes, I get that it’s representative of the obsessive nature of the narrator and the world he lives in. And don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoyed bits of it, much to my own chagrin.

It’s the “my avatar selected the sword from my inventory” which really killed me. It’s really effective actually, now that I’m writing it. I felt like I was in the game, maybe not like I was playing, but there was that reminiscent, lingering feeling of having my hands on the controllers. And it is that feeling of never disconnecting, of feeling like I’m still staring at a screen, I’m still plugged in to the technological world, that made me realise that I couldn’t have an e-reader in my life. Not yet anyway.

I look at a computer for a good proportion of my day at work, I check e-mails, I make posters, I add events to our online resources, I send more e-mails.  When I’m home, I watch TV (knitting at the same time obviously) and I play Skyrim. I have a SmartPhone because all my friends are very far away, so I’m tweeting-Facebooking-blogging-texting to keep connections alive. Connecting technologically in order to connect emotionally.

And that is why I can’t have an e-reader. I don’t want to transfer more of my life onto a screen with a battery life. I want to maintain those few hours a day where I’m not living in a digital space, where choosing a random page is a decision that I make and not the work of a randomness algorithm. I’m making it sound like it’s all or nothing, as if getting an e-reader equals leaving print books behind altogether. I know that’s not necessarily the case. I also know that it is exactly what would happen. It’s not an accident that the rest of my life is ruled by technology. If I started, I would adapt. I would get used to only paying pennies for a book, and being able to sit in whatever position I wanted, and taking extra clothes in my hand luggage instead of books. Those romantic reasons I started with would mean less and less. And then all of the things I want tech for would be amalgamated onto one device and I would never disconnect. Like the characters in Ready Player One, I’d be absorbed into that virtual reality world. I don’t know if I’d have the strength to pull the plug.

So for as long as I can, I’m keeping this one area of my life disconnected. There’s no off switch because there’s no on switch.

Until next time. *logs out*

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And the rest of 2013…

So here’s all the books I never got round to reviewing last year because I was too busy. Lame excuse, I know!

13) Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo

We got a few copies of this book free for my teen bookclub. I really enjoyed it. The setting is refreshing and the story was incredible. The narrator’s voice was a little modern to start with, but I was quickly swept away with the story. Recommended!

14) Siege and Storm – Leigh Bardugo

Sequel to Shadow and Bone. Where the first book builds up the stories and the characters and generally sets you up, the second book knocks you down. It’s even devastating in points. Beautiful!

15) A Boy and a Bear in a Boat – Dave Shelton (Carnegie Shortlist Challenge)

If you ever decide to start this book, you just have to be prepared to know that you will never actually find out why there is a boy and a bear in a boat. Slow, and if it wasn’t part of the challenge then I probably wouldn’t have read past the first page.

16) Fuse – Julianna Baggott

Sequel to Pure. The first came with a sticker on it saying “If you liked The Hunger Games, then you’ll love this…” And the sticker was right. It’s quite dark, surreal dystopian literature. Visually quite disturbing.This second book was particularly strange however, down to the weirdest sex scene I’ve never experienced. I am looking forward to the final book in the series however.

17) Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe – Shelley Coriell

Another free competition book for the groups. Welcome, Caller… looks like your typical shiny, Glee Club-esque, American high school novel. Popular girl is forced to hang out with the outcasts. But! It was a lot better than I was expecting. Touching in places, and which characters who actually develop a bit, I enjoyed it.

18) Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

Wow. Just wow. This book totally blew my mind. I read a lot of teen dystopian fic, but not a lot of proper sci-fi. I’ll have to change that after this. I don’t even know what to say. Just get it read!

19) How I Live Now – Meg Rosoff

I read this as a prelude to watching the film, but after reading it, I couldn’t even be assed seeing the film. It was ok, but I didn’t find it to be fantastic like everyone said. The incestuous aspect of the storyline kind of put me off, but I guess that’s the prude in me or something. I just never really got on with the narrators voice either.

20) Monster on the Hill – Rob Harrell

Hilarious! A great interpretation of the village monster. Touching and funny with really lovely illustration.

21) Deadpool: X Marks the Spot – Way, Medina, Crystal

So I went to my first Comic-Con in London this year as Domino. Just before I went I figured I should maybe actually read some of the comics she was in, and this was the only one they had in Forbidden Planet. It was nice to just relax and read some good superhero stuff for a while. Deadpool is really popular at the moment, and I get it. His personal brand of crazy is hilarious and disturbing. Domino gets to land in a swimming pool full of pancakes. ‘Nuff said.

22) Resurrection Man: Dead Again – Abnett, Lanning, Dagnino

I wasn’t blown away by this story, but it was interesting. And one awesome cosplay opportunity!

24) Bink and Gollie: Two for One – Dicamillo, McGhee, Fucile

23) Bink and Gollie – Dicamillo, McGhee, Fucile

Bink and Gollie are a series of simple, beautiful books about two best friends and their adventures together. It was heartfelt, wonderful, and you can empathise with it all just by thinking of your own best friend.

25) Divergent by Veronica Roth

A girl at the Summer Reading Challenge told me that this series was better than The Hunger Games. I can’t agree, but I feel like you can tell a lot about a person depending on which one they prefer. It had some very interesting elements which effectively combated the poor analogy for teenage rebellion.

26) Batman: Crimson Mist – Jones, Beatty, Moench

Weird. Just weird.

27) A Greyhound of a Girl – Roddy Doyle (Carnegie Shortlist Challenge)

Another one I wouldn’t have read if it wasn’t part of the challenge. Fortunately a nice short read. Very sad and poignant.

28) Insurgent – Veronica Roth

Pretty much the same as the second one. The twist at the end was predictable, but still worked very well. Girls in these books are such liars though.

29) Fortunately, The Milk… – Neil Gaiman

You probably know already that I love Neil Gaiman. This was a short, surreal and very, very funny read. I also love Chris Riddell, who’s illustrations were just the fabulous icing on the cake!

30) The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

Bit boring and preachy for me. But I’ve now read 19 of the 100 books-to-read-before-you-die… according to Facebook.

31) The Screaming Staircase – Jonathan Stroud

I’m such a scaredy cat. I still get all nervous when I think about certain scenes in this book! The right amount of creepy, some great characters and a pretty good twist. Rather liked.

32) Tinder – Sally Gardner

Another wow moment. I don’t remember The Tinderbox by Hans Christian Anderson, though I’m told I’ve read it. But, Gardner’s interpretation is an incredible, unputdownable fairytale. Just. Read. It!

33) X-Force: Old Ghosts – Yost, Kyle, Choi, Oback

Was this really the last thing I read last year? I can’t even remember it! That makes me feel pretty awful. 😦

 

Review: City of Bones (Mortal Instruments)

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Sixteen-year-old Clary Fray is an ordinary teenager, who likes hanging out in Brooklyn with her friends. But everything changes the night she witnesses a murder, committed by a group of teens armed with medieval weaponry. The murderous group are Shadowhunters, secret warriors dedicated to driving demons out of this dimension and back into their own. Drawn inexorably into a terrifying world, Clary slowly begins to learn the truth about her family – and the battle for the fate of the world.

Second half of my 2 for 1 is Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones from her Mortal Instruments quintilogy. I’d never normally have picked this up, but as I work with teenagers and they’re all into this, I figured I should give it a go. Plus, there was nothing else on the shelf. Plus it was coming out as a movie and I knew my mother would want to see it.

It’s not bad. It’s a thick book but only took a couple of days. I’m glad it was an easy read or I probably wouldn’t have actually finished it. I haven’t had the energy to read the sequels (mainly because I read something much better and when I tried to go back to this, I just couldn’t face it).

There’s enough mystery to keep you intrigued. I guessed half of it before the end, but there were still some surprises. It’s also got enough of it’s own ideas (the Shadowhunters, Angel Raziel) combined with classical concepts (vampires, werewolves, demons) to make it an interesting world to discover.

Unfortunately, there’s a love triangle. Because there isn’t enough conflict already without one clearly. And everyone became very capable very quickly. But were also very stupid. But that’s always the way.

Somehow, I still managed to have a favourite though. Simon. The geeky, sweet one who stupid things keep happening to (like getting turned into a rat) and being but who also gets to have his moment when he saves the day. I’m the one shouting at Clary to choose him, just like I was shouting at Bella to choose Jacob. It’s good to know I’m not a sucker for bad boys, even in fiction. 🙂

The film was poor, even in comparison.

Review: The Understudy

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For Josh Harper, being in show-business means everything he ever wanted – money, fame, a beautiful wife, and a lead role on the London stage. For Stephen C. McQueen, it means a disastrous career playing passers-by and dead people.

Stephen is stuck with an unfortunate name, a hopeless agent, a daughter he barely knows, and a job as understudy to Josh Harper, the 12th Sexiest Man in the World. And when Stephen falls in love with Josh’s clever, funny wife Nora, things get even more difficult.

But might there yet be a way for Stephen to get his Big Break?

My father bought me David Nicholl’s Starter for Ten when I first went to University. Being as it was about somebody else going to Uni, it was appropriate, and there was a film coming with starring James McAvoy. I try to make a habit of reading the books films are based on before seeing the film. It was funny, and cringe-worthy and bleak. And refreshing it being all that.

Then I read One Day a few years ago. A book group choice? I can’t really remember. Anyway. I loved it, mostly because it broke my heart so damn much.

I bought The Understudy because I had a five hour train journey and no knitting. 2 for 1 in WHSmith. It’s fraternal purchase was City of Bones which we’ll get to later. I read the whole book on the train journey (just as I’d read the whole of The Ocean at the End of the Lane) on the outgoing journey.

It was very similar to Starter for Ten, in it’s funny, cringe-worthy-ness. No tears with this one, but sometimes I came close out of sheer embarrassment for the characters. Nicholls has a knack for creating terribly inadequate characters who are (or at some point in the book) failing at life. It’s not the kind of romantic comedy where everyone gets what they want in the end and lives happily ever after. It’s the kind of romantic comedy that you think might actually happen to you. Except you won’t be nearly as witty as any of the characters.

This makes it really easy to identify with, but also unbearably depressing, as any reflection of life is. It’s funny, but whenever you laugh, it’s like you’ve just laughed at someone who just fell out of their wheelchair.

All that makes it sound like a terrible book. It’s not as good as the latter two, but it has style and the awkwardness is actually tremendously appealing, in a masochistic kind of way.

Review: Wonder

‘My name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.’

 

Auggie wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things – eating ice cream, playing on his Xbox. He feels ordinary – inside. But ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. Ordinary kids aren’t stared at wherever they go.

 

Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life. Now, for the first time, he’s being sent to a real school – and he’s dreading it. All he wants is to be accepted – but can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, underneath it all?

All in all, I found this book very saccharine.

I’ve said it before (and I will probably say it again) – I do not like books which feel the need to write in the first person from different characters perspectives from chapter to chapter. And this is a prime example of doing it wrong. All the voices sounded exactly the same. Without the headers, I would have been completely clueless about who was talking – until they said they were his sister, etc. And the chapter where all capital letters were dropped to lower case did not help the cause.

The only character who developed at all was Miranda – who was hardly in it. She was also the only one I warmed to – but this could be because I’ve been through a similar situation to her (except for the Auggie part).

It was neither funny nor exciting, it just plowed from one experience to another, hitting the same point over and over again until I was rolling my eyes. I’m not underestimating the ordeal that life is for kids in Auggie’s condition. I feel like this book tried so hard to illustrate those difficulties, but then became too much about people ‘doing the right thing’. The good are rewarded and the bad are punished. As a reflection of life – which I feel this book should have been – it went a bit too Disney which detached me from the message.

I did enjoy the Star Wars references though. And there were several clever moments which worked completely under the Auggie-centricity to surprise the reader – the clues to the incident with Daisy and also Miranda’s parents. These served to redeem it to some extent, but not much.

The serious message – and perhaps lesson – was undermined by the sugary results and lack of character.

Review: Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop of Dreams

Were you a sherbet lemon or chocolate lime fan? Penny chews or hard boiled sweeties (you do get more for your money that way)? The jangle of your pocket money . . . the rustle of the pink and green striped paper bag . . .

Rosie Hopkins thinks leaving her busy London life, and her boyfriend Gerard, to sort out her elderly Aunt Lilian’s sweetshop in a small country village is going to be dull. Boy, is she wrong.

Lilian Hopkins has spent her life running Lipton’s sweetshop, through wartime and family feuds. As she struggles with the idea that it might finally be time to settle up, she also wrestles with the secret history hidden behind the jars of beautifully coloured sweets…

I met Jenny Colgan when I went to the showing of Dr Who and the Daleks several months ago. She was there because she now writes Dr Who novels, but most of her work is Romantic Fiction. We shelve this in the Fiction section of the library, not the Romance section. Which I think is a good thing?

Anyway! I really, really enjoyed this book.

The characters were interesting and lovable, if not wholly realistic and it was certainly entertaining. Her representation of coming to the countryside from the city was daft but I’ve had many moments them that myself when returning home. And the plot moved comfortably and easily forward, without hefting any depth or weight of being. It was, in short, comfortingly entertaining.

And then.

Suddenly.

It was as though somebody else had taken over writing the book. A ‘love interest’ is revealed as gay – there were no clues to this , just a sudden realisation on Rosie’s part. And everyone – including the ex-boyfriend – is suddenly paired off by the end, thereby losing any connection with reality it had previously.

At least the sex scene was… oh crap… where did that come from? (And among the better scenes of that nature that I’ve read.)

The one redeeming feature of this last section was that the story of Lilian Hopkins – told in flashbacks – continued as it had started. A hope-filled but inevitably sad tale of love, loss and aging. There were no tears, but a part of my heart ached for her.

I have yet to try out the recipes. Apparently sugar is my enemy. But on a treat day, I’ll give one or two a shot. 🙂

Review: Ocean at the End of the Lane

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond this world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed – within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it.
His only defence is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang…

My copy of Neil Gaiman’s latest, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, has actually been touched by the author. Squee! I went to a pre-release book signing and met the man. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so excited. So far, doesn’t look like any of the genius has rubbed off yet though. Boo.

The book itself… Well…

I finished it on a train and it took a lot not to cry. The start reminded me of Iain Banks in character, then it becomes a children’s book. The best kind of children’s book, that reminds you of your own childhood but also makes you reinterpret that memory, and then gives you a few moments to feel really uncomfortable about it. I want to give examples, but that would ruin the glorious surprise of those moments. It reinforced the innocence of childhood but also the innocence of adulthood – all the things we don’t remember, don’t realise, don’t know.

The imagery is incredibly visceral. A friend referenced a section in a message to me, and it took me a full ten minutes to realise that it was from the book because I was positive that it was something I had experienced or at least seen. It was difficult to believe that mere words can elicit such nausea, but it did. That’s not to say a book has never made me feel that way before – but it always takes me by surprise.

Though you can sense the depth of meaning throughout, it was also a damn good adventure/ fantasy story. A quick, exciting read, a long emotional recovery.

Glorious. Read it (and everything else Neil has ever written).