Tag Archives: reading

MJ Joins the Kindle Revolution

Mots Justes took an unexpected hiatus this week when a family matter required a last-minute trip home. But the unplanned travel gave me a chance to try out my Kindle for the first time.

My parents had given me the electronic reading device for my graduation—how appropriate for a freshly diplomaed Master of Professional Writing! To be honest, though, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I hadn’t asked for it, and before receiving it, I hadn’t thought about wanting one.

I did familiarize myself with the slick technology that first weekend by reading through the User’s Guide, and given it was the second Kindle purchased on my father’s credit card, it came loaded with the titles he and Mom had already purchased, The Soloist and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle among them. (While Mom calls her Kindle “the gift that keeps on giving,” my father explained, carefully and repeatedly, how to change the settings on mine so that future purchases would be made on my credit card on not his.)

But I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate my new ereader into my reading regimen. You see, in an effort to read widely and deeply, I have a complex schedule that includes fiction and nonfiction, contemporary and classic, short and long literature. (I won’t go into detail here to spare me the embarrassment of revealing just how nerdily obsessive compulsive I am—just know that categories and subcategories are involved.) And I have purchased copies of the next several books I plan to read.

Furthermore, I like to see what I’ve read:


And what I will be reading:


It gives me a sense of accomplishment and anticipation to see these titles piled in my bookcase, organized in the order that I read or will read them.

However, I’m currently reading the third volume in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, an eight hundred-page tome that severely compromises my ability to travel as light as possible in this age of checked-bag fees. So I decided to see if I could download a copy onto my Kindle.

Sure enough, I was able to find the text for ninety-nine cents. Kindle tricked me, though—I selected the digital version next to a picture that matched the cover of my volume. Unfortunately, I’m reading a revision of a translation, and the version I got was only the original translation. But you know what? Close enough. Now, if only you could get digital downloads of every hard- or paperback book you purchased at a reasonable price, you could enjoy both the aesthetics of print and the convenience of digital.

Meanwhile, at Attica Locke’s reading last week, I purchased two signed copies of Black Water Rising, one for me and one for Father’s Day. (In addition to giving me a reason to break out my Kindle, my trip home also offered the rare opportunity to celebrate an early Father’s Day with Dad live and in-person, so I’m not spoiling the surprise here.) Although there have been some reports of authors being asked to sign Kindles, ereaders have so far not satisfactorily brought this tradition into the digital age.

Aside from fiddling around with the User’s Guide, I haven’t had a chance to utilize all the Kindle’s features, but so far I’m a big fan of the built-in dictionary:




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Best Books Read in 2008

For years I’ve been putting together year-end top-ten lists of movies. One can do this as a film critic because one has presumably seen a prodigious number of current titles in order to make a qualified assessment of the cinematic offerings from the past twelve months. (Reading these rankings, however, can become eye-blurringly repetitive, with little variation aside from the occasional left-field acclamation, so I’ve put my own twist on this industry tradition, as you’ll see later in the week.)

I’ve never done a best-of list for books, however, because of the thirty-plus titles I read last year, few of them were published in 2008. Instead, here’s a list of not the best books of 2008, but the best books I read in 2008:

  1. athousandacresallthekingsmenA Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley and All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren—These are my all-time favorite books and the reason I am a writer. I reread them back-to-back this summer, and I was reminded how A Thousand Acres was a revelation to me: you can write a novel about a farmer? Smiley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book was not only an homage to King Lear but to the reserved, stalwart men and women around whom I grew up in the Midwest. After reading it for the first time, I became determined to bring more of their stories to the page. Meanwhile, Warren’s veiled account of Louisiana Governor Huey Long’s rise and fall is as humid as a Southern swamp with rich language, lyrical detours, and compelling themes about the corruptive influence of power.
  2. longembraceJudith Freeman‘s oeuvre: The Chinchilla Farm, Set for Life, A Desert of Pure Feeling, Red Water, and The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved—Freeman’s biography (of sorts) of Raymond Chandler, which was released in 2008, is a fascinating meld of geographic history, speculation, and writer’s notebook. In it, she visits each of the Los Angeles-area homes occupied by the Chandlers, an itinerant couple who rarely lived in one place for more than a few months. At each location, Freeman imagines the relationship between Chandler and his wife Cissy, about whom little is known and who was much older than her husband. Meanwhile, Freeman writes about the process of writing the book. The Long Embrace marks a departure from her previous books—all novels that at least originate in the rural West and, often, among Mormons. It was this milieu that we shared as thesis advisor and advisee.
  3. indefenseoffoodThe Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan—In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, food activist Pollan follows four meals from the ground to the plate, from driving through McDonald’s for a burger and fries, to organic shopping at Whole Foods, to eating locally raised meat and vegetables, to hunting and gathering for an entire dinner party. In his follow-up, In Defense of Food, he prescribes a new approach to what and how we eat based on his findings.
  4. considerthelobsterConsider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace—I have to confess I’d never read anything by Wallace before his unfortunate passing, although I have had Infinite Jest on my bookshelf since it first came out in paperback. His forte, however, may have been nonfiction. In this collection of journalism, which includes the oft-mentioned profile of John McCain from his 2000 presidential bid, he takes, say, a straightforward assignment from Gourmet magazine to profile the Maine Lobster Festival and turns it into a manifesto decrying the barbaric way in which the crustacean is prepared for our consumption. Or a simple book review assignment from Harper’s becomes a history of Standard Written English. The man dug and dug and dug until no corner of a story was left unilluminated.
  5. blindnessBlindness by Jose Saramago—Saramago’s portrayal of a community suddenly universally struck blind and the resulting disintegration of society is the most awful thing I have ever read.

Now it’s your turn: what are the best books you read in 2008?

Caught in the ’Net

Entertainment Weekly is already looking ahead to the best books of 2009.

Chicago’s Seminary Co-op gets a presidential endorsement.

Two new CD sets from the BBC feature British and American authors in their own words.

Now that we’ve celebrated the published word, here’s a sobering prediction: “The End of the Book?”

R.I.P. 2008: “Writers and Editors”

Glen Goldman, owner of Los Angeles’s Book Soup, dies.

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Airplane Reading

I’m off to England tonight to study writing at Cambridge for three weeks! Reading packed for the ten-hour plane ride includes the remaining titles on my required reading list, Frommer’s England 2008, and the user guide for Final Draft 7.

Caught in the ’Net

Blogger mousewords came up with this glossary to the new online vocabulary.

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