Of E-readers and Personal Reading Challenges

I can’t tell you how long I hesitated over purchasing a Kindle! I bought myself an iPad Mini 2 a couple of years ago thinking that it could be my dedicated e-reader, but it really didn’t work for me: the glare coming off of the screen was (a) distracting, and (b) hurt my light-sensitive little eyes. Eventually, I realised that with the way I studied and did my readings, I could use the iPad as a tool to complement my Mac, especially with the Notability app. This became how I mainly used the iPad – well, that and Tapped Out, which is my favourite mobile game because it literally lets me play god as an urban planner. While the iPad didn’t become my primary e-reader, it did help me in other ways and I don’t regret the purchase.

Now, I’ve been starting to get back into reading again as a hobby, especially over the summer. Goodreads says I’m on track to finish 12 books for 2017, which is great! With my 27th birthday coming up, and also as a reward for making it out of year 1 of this program alive, I bit the bullet and bought a Kindle Paperwhite three weeks ago. Amazon Prime Student and their discounts can be very convincing.

Was the Paperwhite worth the purchase? For me and my lifestyle, absolutely! First, it is conveniently-sized. I am that person who buys outerwear based solely on whether the biggest pocket can fit a standard-sized paperback comfortably and the Kindle slides right in where my book would usually go – taking up less space, and being a fraction of the weight of your usual paperback. I also specifically chose the Paperwhite because I wanted the built-in light, and let me tell you, it works like a dream. One time last week, I woke up at 2 in the morning unable to get back to sleep so I picked up the Paperwhite and started reading Martina McAtee‘s Dark Dreams and Dead Things (book 2 of the series!). I finished the book, fell asleep, and then woke up without a headache because there was no glare from the screen. It has been absolutely fantastic.

This purchase also inspired me to come up with a personal reading challenge: I’ve compiled a chronological list of Stephen King’s oeuvre, and I want to make my way through it. Honestly, that should take me a good chunk of time. While King is one of my favourite writers, there are works of his that I haven’t read, like the Bachman books and the Dark Tower series.

Here’s the plan, which of course will see some change over the course of this reading challenge: I will read one book of his every two weeks, then publish a post with a short synopsis. If the work in question is a collection of short stories, I will pick favourites. If it is a book in a series, I will rank the work with the others in the series. If there is a movie and I can access it, I will compare the book and movie(s) – and this, my friend, is a big maybe because I just found out that there is not one, not two, but three Carrie movies.

The only real restriction in this challenge is that I will not watch the associated TV series, if there is one. I am still in grad school, after all, and only have so much time to spare on fun things like this. I am very excited! The first one up is Carrie, which should be interesting as I’ve never read the novel before, nor have I seen the movies. I mean, I know what’s going to happen because Carrie is ubiquitous, but it should still be an interesting reading and watching experience.

Let’s dive into this, and I hope I make it to the end of the list!


Literature Monday: White Oleander, Janet Fitch

Hello, beautiful people! I know it’s not a Monday today, but I submitted my last paper of the semester last Tuesday and I was so excited to work on non-academic fare that I just had to publish this entry.

White Oleander by Janet Fitch is a book that always seemed to be in my periphery, but I was never interested enough to pick up. One girl I knew in high school (I was part of the class of 2006, whuuuuut) was all about it, but we weren’t good enough friends that I could borrow her copy and I don’t think our library had it. So… I always put off reading it.

I decided to finally take the plunge a few months ago, and simultaneously fell in love with the story and regretted reading it. It didn’t just tug at my heartstrings, it obliterated them. I was wrecked, and could barely force myself to move forward. Still, with my penchant for toxic love stories and tragic tales, this was right up my alley. Until it got to the point where it hit me where I don’t like being hit — it was a story of maternal dysfunction too real for me to deal with.

Astrid and Ingrid together were a nightmare. A fucking nightmare. I blame all of it on Ingrid’s lack of affection; ultimately, it’s far too complicated to boil it down to that, I know, but oh dear god. Do not read this book if you’re looking for a happy afternoon (or commute) of reading. It’s just not going to happen.

“I cracked seeds in my teeth and flicked off the rubber sandals I’d been wearing since April. I could’t tell my mother I’d outgrown my shoes again, I didn’t want to remind her that I was the reason she was trapped in electric bills and kid’s shoes grown too small, the reason she was clawing at the windows like Michael’s dying tomatoes. She was a beautiful woman dragging a crippled foot and I was that foot. I was bricks sewn into the hem of her clothes, I was a steel dress.”

(Excerpt: White Oleander, by Janet Fitch, who broke my heart and wrecked my soul.)

Literature Monday: The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

Up until this year, the only Neil Gaiman book I had ever read was Coraline (featured in an earlier post). While I loved it, and highly recommend that creepy little story, I felt no inclination to read his other books. Over time, though, my interest was piqued as I started hearing nothing but high praise about his body of work from several different people. I eventually decided to do a bit of research and see if he had written any other stories I might want to get my grubby little hands on.

I looked over his Wikipedia page, as you do when you’re not quite sure what reading path to take with an author you’re only vaguely familiar with, and I came across The Graveyard Book. That title alone was enough to fan the flames of my curiosity; I adore cemeteries and all things morbid.

The Graveyard Book was a wonderful reading experience. Short and sweet, like a late afternoon cone of Sweet Cream ice cream from Marble Slab after a long day at work, The Graveyard Book was a delightful adventure set in a graveyard, with personable ghosts, a boisterous witch, the appropriate number of Jacks, and a boy who is but isn’t really there. Here’s one of the (many) parts that I loved:

“You might think – and if you did, you would be right – that Mr. Owens should not have taken on so at seeing a ghost, given that Mr. and Mrs. Owens were themselves dead and had been for a few hundred years now, and given that the entirety of their social life, or very nearly, was spent with those who were also dead. But there was a difference between the folk of the graveyard and this: a raw, flickering, startling shape the grey colour of television static, all panic and naked emotion which flooded the Owenses as if it was their own. Three figures, two large, one smaller, but only one of them was in focus, was more than an outline or a shimmer. And the figure said, My baby! He is trying to hurt my baby!

(Excerpt: The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, who I’m enjoying more and more with each book of his that I read.)

Literature Monday: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

Khairete, Mikaius returning as your humble paper-pauper.

I did not grow up with Harry Potter. I actively loathed it, having grown up on Lord of the Rings, I was simply too damn good for this kid’s crap. None of that “Diagon Alley” nonsense for my refined tastes! Mind you, plentiful WarCraft and Diablo “novels” were read, so I was clearly full of shit. I found out this year that Harry Potter is awesome. Dani sat me down for the movies, which were adorable and fun. Then she up and got me some of the books! Neat original editions too, gotta love those used book sales. Took me eight months to read the first book, a chapter here, a chapter there, between exams and assignments. What an adorable little book! I will never forget the damn awful “Mirror of Esired” as a name, but I also won’t forget the way in which Hagrid’s accent is written, or how quaintly the holidays were described. This first book is a delight – I thoroughly enjoyed it even at 25 years old; it reminded me of my own childhood and coming across the Hallo’ween and Christmas chapters at just the right time of the year really brought those passages to life.

“Harry had never in all his life had such a Christmas dinner. A hundred fat, roast turkeys, mountains of roast and boiled potatoes, platters of fat chipolatas, tureens of buttered peas, silver boats of thick, rich gravy and cranberry sauce – and stacks of wizard crackers every few feet along the table. These fantastic crackers were nothing like the feeble Muggle ones the Dursleys usually bought, with their little plastic toys and their flimsy paper hats. Harry pulled a wizard cracker with Fred and it didn’t just bang, it went off with a blast like a cannon and engulfed them all in a cloud of blue smoke, while from the inside exploded a Rear-Admiral’s hat and several live, white mice. Up on the High Table, Dumbledore had swapped his pointed wizard’s hat for a flowered bonnet and was chuckling merrily at a joke Professor Flitwick had just read him.

Flaming Christmas puddings followed the turkey. Percy nearly broke his teeth n a silver Sickle embeddedin his slice. Harry watched Hagrid getting redder and redder in the face as he called for more wine, finally kissing Professor McGonagall on the cheek, who, to Harry’s amazement, giggled and blushed, her top hat lopsided.”

Watch the movies, read the books, hate Ron Weasley’s dumb face.

(Excerpt: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone J.K. Rowling)


Literature Monday: The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter

When I first entered the Canadian school system, it was through Seneca College’s Liberal Arts program, which was a gateway to continuing education at Uni. It was thanks to that program that I entered the University of Toronto prepared for what the university experience was in Canada; having gone through the sciences in the Philippines for my first degree, switching over to the arts AND being in a new school system was inevitably going to be jarring.

It was at Seneca at York that I met Tanya Ceolin, who taught ENG150. I happened to mention one day that I was drawn to dark, tragic stories, and she said that I should read  Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. I filed that recommendation away in the back of my mind, and I didn’t really find a copy of the book until three years later.

My experience with this collection of reimagined fairy tales is rather strange. I love fairy tales, myths, and all of their brethren. I love dark, dangerous, tragic tales. During my first read-through, the language used was almost too flowery for me – and yet, the more I delved in, the more I enjoyed myself.

My favourite line comes from The Company of Wolves, the last story in the collection:

That long-drawn, wavering howl has, for all its fearful resonance, some inherent sadness in it, as if the beasts would love to be less beastly if only they knew how and never cease to mourn their own condition. There is a vast melancholy in the canticles of the wolves, melancholy infinite as the forest, endless as these long nights of winter and yet that ghastly sadness, that mourning for their own, irremediable appetites, can never move the heart for not one phrase in it hints at the possibility of redemption; grace could not come to the wolf from its own despair, only through some external mediator, so that, sometimes, the beast will look as if he half welcomes the knife that despatches him.

(Excerpt: The Company of Wolves, from The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, who I have a strange relationship with.)

Literature Monday: World War Z, Max Brooks

Khairete, Mikaius remains your ever loyal bookbuddy. It’s exam season, and students are endangered, so I have arranged today’s Literature Monday.

Today I’m bringing what may well have been the last book I read. My reading is limited, but I went through a predictable and absolutely massive zombie-phase in my late teens/early twenties. This happened to coincide with a general peak in zombies in fiction, from games to movies to books; zombies were everywhere and readily available. To that end, Shaun of the Dead was my favourite movie at the time, and Max Brooks was my favourite author. Reading World War Z was great fun and Brooks’ depictions of zombies were always in line with the classic Romero-slow-zombies that I so cherished.

The book is a series of interviews, vignettes between the author and interviewees, ranging from spies, grunts, teenagers, generals, doctors and economists. Through the interviews, the world is pieced together, the familiarity of regimes, the way certain ideologies clashed against the undead, and how the pieces were put back together. Who failed and why they failed, told through the lens of those that “lived it”. There are some cringey parts of the book, such as the Japanese teenager that ninja’d his way to an old blind man and formed a group around that. Otherwise, subjects such as submariners dealing with the endless distress signals from boats with outbreaks, people selling snake oil as cures, survivors guilt and full on breakdowns, the book becomes touching in its own way.

I don’t know how many times I read this book, and how many times I read my favourite passages. This particular excerpt, well, it might be entirely owed to be a teenager, a headbanger and a big damn fan of Iron Maiden, that I hold this one above ‘em all:

“The dogs were recalled, racing behind our lines. We switched over to our Primary Enticement Mechanism. Every army had one by now. The Brits would use Bagpipes, the Chinese used bugles, the Sou’fricans used to smack their rifles with their assegais and belt out these Zulu war chants. For us, it was hard-core Iron Maiden. Now, personally, I’ve never been a metal fan. Straight classic rock’s my thing, and Hendrix’s “Driving South” is about as heavy as I get. But I had to admit, standing there in that desert wind, with “The Trooper” thumping in my chest, I got it. The PEM wasn’t really for Zack’s benefit. It was to psych us up, take away some of Zack’s mojo, you know, “take the piss out,” as the Brits say. Right about the time Dickinson was belting “As you plunge into a certain death” I was pumped, SIR* charged and ready, eyes fixed on this growing, closing horde. I was, like, “C’mon, Zack, let’s fuckin’ do this!”

(*The SIR referenced above is a “Standard Infantry Rifle”, designed by the United States after a particular failed confrontation in the book.)

Max Brooks can be found on Twitter and seems to be readily doing regular rounds at various conventions.

(Excerpt: World War Z, Max Brooks)

Literature Monday: The Fault In Our Stars, John Green

One fine day three years ago, I was waiting for my parents to come pick me up from work. Because they were trapped in traffic and I was an impatient drudge worker who wanted nothing more than to leave the premises, I decided to walk down to the nearby Chapters – which I usually always do when I have more than half an hour to spare; that particular branch has really good sales, and I am a sucker for pretty notebooks. While I was there, I decided to pick up a book at random and hide in a corner to read. I picked up TFIOS because it had the prettiest cover of all the books that it was shelved with. I know we say don’t judge a book by its cover, but that iconic blue with the overlapping clouds was really what made me pick it up.

Within twenty minutes of reading, TFIOS had managed to make me break my three-year I-shall-not-cry-in-public streak. I loved it so much that I have given it as gifts on two separate occasions, and I probably will again.

The book itself is a very easy read, but what made it a great book for me was how easy it was to slip into the story being told and forget that you’re reading fiction. John Green has a gift, and it is in this particular novel that I think he wields it to its fullest. If ever you decide to follow the tale of Gus and Hazel, remember to put a few tissues within arm’s reach. You’re going to need them. I don’t want to say more because most of us will have seen the movie and know what’s coming up (and may I just say that I did *not* see that coming).

My favourite scene in the book is the one that involves Isaac and the eulogy he wrote, but this is the one that sealed the deal for me and has put this book on my top 20 list:

“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”

John Green can be found on Twitter and Tumblr, and click here for his website!

(Excerpt: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, who made me cry in the middle of a crowded bookstore.) 

Literature Monday: Coraline, Neil Gaiman

A few weeks into the Fall semester of 2014, I had the crazy and not particularly well-thought out idea that I should write a series of reviews featuring four horror stories by authors I had never read before. The reviews would have been up on the blog in time for Halloween month, but as is usual with crazy plans like this, it didn’t work out. I was only actually able to write one review which made it to City Streets: Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood. School had taken me by then into its all-encompassing embrace, and sadly, the themed review series had to be postponed.

But while I was researching for possible books to feature on the scare fest, I came across a couple of individuals who said that Coraline the book was infinitely darker – and loads creepier –  than Coraline the movie. I’d seen the movie and loved it, so I decided that it wouldn’t hurt if I gave Neil Gaiman a try.

I do not regret the decision to read it! If anything, this has enhanced my enjoyment of that dark little film even more. Coraline didn’t scare me to the point of nightmares, but I did pull my blanket a little more snugly around my shoulders while I was finishing the story. If I had encountered this book when I was in my Narnia phase from nine to eleven years old, I would have been thoroughly scared. The Other Mother, especially, gave me the heebie-jeebies.

“How do I know you’ll keep your word?” asked Coraline. “I swear it,” said the other mother. “I swear it on my own mother’s grave.” “Does she have a grave?” asked Coraline. “Oh yes,” said the other mother. “I put her in there myself. And when I found her trying to crawl out, I put her back.”

Here is Neil Gaiman’s Twitter and Tumblr, plus his website here.

(Excerpt: Coraline, by Neil Gaiman. This book freaked me the fuck out, it’s so much creepier than the movie made it seem!) 

Literature Monday: Star Wars Encyclopedia, Stephen J. Sansweet

Khairete, Mikaius remains your substitute book worm as Dani battles mighty deadlines.

Well, it’s time for a moment from my childhood. Growing up in the ’90s, I was lucky enough to enjoy Star Wars before the Prequels and the ’97 Remasters: I was just old enough to get the “real deal”, and it’s nice to have those memories. It’s even nicer to have silly expanded universe materials that predate and catalogue those old-ways, though this particular book is dated 1998, and the Remasters are 1997. When I was a Star Wars obsessed 8 year old walking around downtown Toronto with my parents, I saw this particular diamond (Star Wars Encyclopedia) and could not be parted with it – as well as, if I recall correctly, a book of super-cheat-codes they used to make in the ’90s. I remember thinking “oh this is so expensive!” (the cover slip is labeled $70CDN!) and being incredibly excited that my mom agreed to actually buy this monster for me.

The coolest part of it for little me was that I got the little tidbits and information, the condensed data, without having to sift through the very-awful actual Star Wars books. Little things like learning about how lightsabers worked:

“Seemingly simple in design, a lightsaber has a handle about twenty-four to thirty centimeters long that is usually hung from a belt. Inside are a power cell and multifaceted Adegan crystals or jewels (usually one to three) that focus the energy from the power source and release it through a concave disk atop the handle, where it appears in a tight and steady colored beam of light and energy about a meter long. When they are activated, lightsabers hum with their coursing energy. Although considered archaic by some, lightsabers can be powerful weapons after their users undergo extensive training.”

Honestly, at this point you could get this whole deal by just going to Wookiepedia, but it was great as a kid to have this stuff at my lightning-firing fingertips.

(Excerpt: Star Wars Encyclopedia, Stephen J. Sansweet)

Literature Monday: The Essential Epicurus – Letters, Principal Doctrines, Vatican Sayings, and Fragments

Today’s Literature Monday is going to stray a bit from the usual. Dani’s been swamped, so I’m commandeering this boat for today’s (late) post. I haven’t been an avid reader since I was a child, and largely don’t read anymore, but the last time I gave reading a shot, I jumped headlong into some foundational philosophy pieces. Amongst them, I crossed paths with Epicurus, who was a philosopher of the Hellenic-boom period following Alexander’s conquest and the spread of Hellenism under the Diadochi empires and kingdoms.

I was drawn to Epicurus after learning of him in a history course I had in college. My professor was explaining to the class a common misconception and misuse of the term “epicurean”: today, the term is ignorantly applied in the same manner as “hedonistic”, a term of indulgence and self-satisfaction, decadence and depravity. After the lecture I knew it was wrong, after this sampling of Epicurus’ work, I knew it to be beyond wrong and entirely insulting. It is degrading to associate Epicurus’ philosophy with base instinct and masturbation.

Epicurus was a proponent of the simple life, of trusting one’s sense and only what can be proven. Propaganda and misunderstanding took how he lived and has in 2000 years converted his living on a friend’s farm amongst pupils into living a lavish life of self-satisfaction and the search for pleasure. There is a dire misunderstanding as to what pleasure is according to Epicurus. To quote directly:

… sober reasoning, which examines the motives for every choice and avoidance, and which drives away those opinions resulting in the greatest disturbance to the soul.” – Epicurus on the definition of happiness

Pleasure is not a positive sensation or emotion, it is the lack of negative occupation. Pleasure is not indulgence, it is ensuring that your mind is at ease and not preoccupied with skyfathers and paradises beyond life. Fear is evil. Knowledge and understanding ward against fear, so knowledge and understanding are pleasure.

If you’re interested in an easy collection of philosophy books, the “Great Books in Philosophy” series from Prometheus Books has you covered. The Essential Epicurus can also be picked up here.

(Excerpt: The Essential Epicurus, Translated by Eugene O’Connor, from Letter to Menoeceus)