You should read

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Obviously, I’m preaching to the choir a bit with this one.

But, and this is a big but, how much do you actually read? How much do those reading fans actually read?

If you go by the statistics, which I’ve covered before (US, UK, Australia), you see that even reading fans aren’t actually reading that much. I was reminded of this fact as I looked through a few of the Goodreads Reading Challenges for this year. At one end, you had readers who were going to be downing a book every other day, and at the other end, you had readers who were going to check in with one every other month.

Now, there is nothing wrong with either end of that reading spectrum. But why aren’t we reading more? Not just the general public, us reading fans as well.

He says on the ultimate distraction tool ever created.

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Sony exits ebook biz

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there are these things called electronic books now, e-books for short. Now these are brand new (invented 1971, possibly as early as 1949) and understandably the devices to read them are even newer (first e-reader released 1998). So it may come as a shock to many of you that quite a few people read e-books on e-readers now instead of paper books. It will come as even more of a shock to you that the Sony e-reader has become a thing of the past.

That’s right my fellow book lovers – lovers in the adoration sense, not in the brace yourself, oh yeah, uh-huh, uh-huh, chikka bow-wow, sense – it appears that Sony has decided it doesn’t want a dedicated e-reader, in fact it doesn’t even want an e-book store. They have announced that they are pulling out and customers are being transferred to the Kobo store.

Of course, I don’t think anyone is particularly surprised by this decision. Raise your hand if you’ve ever actually seen a Sony e-reader. Now keep it up if you’ve actually owned one. If you can see anyone with their hand still raised, I’d question how you manage to turn people’s web cams on. Sony has been playing at the bottom end of the market for e-readers and e-books for quite a while now. The chart below from Goodreads shows Sony were picking up Kobo’s scraps in the market.

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http://www.slideshare.net/GoodreadsPresentations/whats-going-on-with-readers-today-16508449

So what does this mean for us readers? Well, it means the big dedicated e-readers remain, the Kindle and Nook. It also means Kobo could pick up a bit more of the e-reader and e-book market. But that isn’t particularly interesting to me, I’ll discuss why in a moment. What is interesting is the Sony e-reader is probably the victim of the modern device market.

I read an interesting tech article that was discussing mobile phones. They pointed out that the companies making money on phones weren’t actually making money on the phone sales, especially at the mid to lower price points, but instead cashing in on the app stores and downloads. The phone is a loss leader for the software business they run. Nokia and their deal with Microsoft is a classic example of this, with Nokia battling to compete for market share and profits.

Translate that to e-readers and the same thing applies. It was even worse for Sony, as the other competitors were/are selling their Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc, as a loss leader to get people using their store or affiliates. This meant that the big stores attract the users, who buy the associated tech, which locks them to the stores (to some extent at least), leading to e-book sales profits. Terrific! As long as you don’t think too hard about the slave labour making the devices.

The reason I don’t find the market positioning of the e-reader devices of much interest is down to a few things. The first is a little statistic that has been showing up in surveys from Goodreads and The Pew Institute; namely that 29-37% of people read books on their phone (23% on a tablet). A dedicated reading device is only really in the book space now because the e-reader screen has less eye fatigue. At the moment! Watch this bubble burst as phones and tablets eat away at the readability technology, such that e-reader screens become redundant. Mobile devices also don’t have to be linked to any one e-book store, so interesting times are on the horizon.

Another view on e-readers future: http://techland.time.com/2013/01/04/dont-call-the-e-reader-doomed/

Why are books abandoned?

Goodreads survey

This is a great breakdown of why readers give up on reading and which books are the biggest culprits. I largely agree with most of the sentiments and books listed. It is very interesting to me that “slow and boring” is the #1 reason people abandon a book. Not just #1, it is number two and three as well, as the next reason had less than half the polling. I’ll offer a few comments on each part of the infographic.

Top Five most abandoned:

Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling – This is no surprise really. I’ve heard it is a particularly dark book and the remark that people were expecting it to be more like Harry Potter shows that no-one read the blurb.

Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James – Who’d have thought that Twilight fan-fiction would be poorly written?

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – When you have a trilogy that could have been edited down to a single book there are bound to be a few readers, like me, who think this ‘thriller’ is slow going.

I haven’t read or heard of anything to do with the other two on the list.

Top Five most abandoned classics:

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – When people don’t get it then of course they will abandon it. One of the rejection letters for Catch-22 said, “I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say…Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level.”

Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – I can see why some people wouldn’t like this book. While I loved it, there are unnecessary characters, events, chapters, scenes, language use… Okay, it’s long and waffly.

Ulysses by James Joyce – At a thousand pages, unless you like an abridged, tiny text, 600 page version, this was never going to be an easy read.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville – I read this when I was in primary school. It made my brain hurt. Very hard to read and spent a long time between the interesting scenes.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – Great doorstop, selfish drivel to read.

Reasons for and against abandoning:

It really doesn’t surprise me that the reason most people give up reading a book is that it is boring and slow (46.4%). What does surprise me is that the reason people keep reading a book is not because people are enjoying the book but that they like to finish a book regardless (36.6%). Clearly too many people are reading books that they don’t like. Given the popular books, like the already mentioned Stieg Larsson and EL James, it shouldn’t be surprising. I’ve read instruction manuals with more action than The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

I remember working out roughly how many more books I could read in my life. I have averaged reading roughly 100 books per year for the last few years. Now excluding a major accident or the zombie apocalypse, I should be able to continue this average until I die peacefully in my car travelling the wrong way down the freeway at age 90. That means I can only read another 5,500 books in my life! There are more than 8,500 books published every year in Australia, so my chances of reading all the great books I’d like to are slim. We really don’t have time to waste on bad books.

Getting your terminology right

Sometimes I cringe, sometimes I laugh, because sometimes writers just haven’t done their homework. Speaking as an avid reader (check my Goodreads stats), it often disappoints me when I see mistakes in a book, TV show or movie. In a movie it isn’t really acceptable, they have consultants whose job it is to make sure they don’t mess up. A TV show might have a consultant who will get a call during their lunch break at their real job to confirm details, the consultant isn’t really listening because they know the scene has already been filmed and the writer has just been told to check to get them out of the director’s hair. In the book there is only the author to blame – editors could care less.

Lets not delve into those little facts and descriptions that always garner criticism, lets talk terminology. Is it too much to ask to have writers use the correct terminology for things? Unless your character is meant to be ignorant, a minute on Google (or one of the competitors) should be able to tell you that a passant is the strap on the shoulder of shirts or jackets that epaulettes are attached to and that a chevron is a ‘V’ shaped insignia that is often used to signify rank and may or may not be on the epaulette or the sleeve. This is just to cite one annoying example I have recently run across. Don’t get me started on CSI – the katana is only one of many swords made of folded steel!!

Anyway, I ran across an interesting list that shows how terminology is often misapplied just to cheer everyone up: mostly me.

1. A firefly is not a fly – it is a beetle

2. A prairie dog is not a dog – it is a rodent

Dogs and rodents are slightly different

3. India ink is not from India – it is from China and Egypt

4. A horned toad is not a toad – it is a lizard

5. A lead pencil does not contain lead – it contains graphite

6. A douglas fir is not a fir – it is a pine

7. A silkworm is not a worm – it is a caterpillar

8. A peanut is not a nut – it is a legume

9. A koala bear is not a bear – it is a marsupial

10. An English horn is not English and it isn’t a horn – it is a French alto oboe

11. A guinea pig is not from guinea and it is not a pig – it is a rodent from South America

12. Shortbread is not a bread – it is a thick cookie

13. Dresden China is not from Dresden – it is from Meissen

14. A shooting star is not a star – it is a meteorite

15. A funny bone is not a bone – it is the spot where the ulnar nerve touches the humerus

16. Chop suey is not a native Chinese dish – it was invented by Chinese immigrants in California

17. A bald eagle is not bald – it has flat white feathers on its head and neck when mature, and dark feathers when young

18. A banana tree is not a tree – it is a herb

19. A cucumber is not a vegetable – it is a fruit

20. A jackrabbit is not a rabbit – it is a hare

21. A piece of catgut is not from a cat – it is usually made from sheep intestines

22. A Mexican jumping bean is not a bean – it is a seed with a larva inside

23. A Turkish bath is not Turkish – it is Roman

24. A sweetbread is not a bread – it is the pancreas or thymus gland from a calf or lamb

Book Review: Beneath the Dark Ice by Greig Beck

Beneath the Dark IceBeneath the Dark Ice by Greig Beck
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Beneath the Dark Ice was on my Amazon recommendations list for ages. Clearly it ticked a lot of boxes for my likes and being written by a fellow Aussie was another big tick. Needless to say, when I was in a bookstore that hadn’t been swallowed by a bank, I bought a copy.

For anyone who has read James Rollins’ Subterranean, or drowned themselves in HP Lovecraft at any stage in their life, you will see some similar ideas in this techno-thriller. Mix a super soldier and his team, his long time enemy, a band of scientists and a world beneath ours and you have the makings of a fine thriller. I always enjoy playing, “guess who dies next” in these sorts of novels.

So why only 3 stars? Well, I’m not a fan of exposition. Sorry, let me rephrase: you know how everyone loved Steig Larson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? Well I hated it; because I didn’t need the first 50 pages of the book to describe flowers, home renovations and nautical exploits. Greig’s book is fast paced and doesn’t flounder in blocks of boring detail like Larson, but he does use a style of exposition in his writing that I don’t enjoy. Nothing wrong with the story, or the style, just that whilst I enjoyed the story, the style just didn’t do it for me.

This was Greig’s first book, so I expect his work will be ‘tighter’* in the subsequent books (which are rated higher on Goodreads). His super soldier, Alex Hunter, is definitely setup for another adventure. How Greig will top the story in this novel I don’t know though.

View all my reviews

*tighter – this is reviewer talk for “I have no idea how to write a book but writers seem to get better at it somehow, I’m assuming magic”.

Social media

In internet terms I’m somewhat of a noob. I was late to Facebook, I held out on joining message boards and forums, I even had a personal campaign to avoid the vapidness of Twitter. Now, of course, I am happy to admit that I was wrong. Social media is awesome.

There are some down sides of course. I’m not a huge fan of the salespeople posing as real people on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and the various forums I frequent. There are only so many times per day that I need to be told that my penis is not big enough, that I could be making money on Twitter by being a douche, or that someone I’ve never conversed with has a book for sale.

What I love about social media is the friends I’ve made, the great conversations I’ve had and all the catching up I’ve managed to do with friends I don’t get to see regularly. I have just joined Linkedin and discovered a friend of mine has two start up companies (check them out: http://www.cockjox.com/ http://tidyclub.com/). How would I have found that out between now and the next time we catch up for a beer?

Anyway, you can join me on the links below. We can chat, I’ll be funny, quote some science and talk books.

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