An avid reader calls it as she sees it on books, publishing and the written word in general.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Architects of Tomorrow Volume 1 by William Van Winkle

Back when my family first encountered the excitement of dial-up internet, I took up knitting. This was back when loading a single website could take five full minutes or more. Starting at the little eggtimer was just as frustrating then as it is now, so knitting at least kept me busy in those interminable pauses.
I was thinking those early days as I read Architects of Tomorrow by William Van Winkle. Some of the interviews collected in the book date back to that period, while others are more recent. The thing that they have in common is that all of the interviewees are in one way or another, pioneers in the technology field. From gaming to processors to personal computers to services such as Smashwords, these were people with a vision of where technology would take us. One thing I particularly like in the book is that Van Winkle has gone back to the interviewees in the past year, asking them which of their predictions have come true and what their new vision for the future is, given the exponential speed at which technology is now developing. While it’s a form of guessing game, it is made up of educated guesses by some of the smartest minds in the business, so all of their comments are well worth reading.
As a book, I think the collection holds up well. I’m not a reader of CPU Magazine, where the articles originally appeared, and I’m fairly sure I don’t fall into the target readership either. Some of the interviews were a little heavy on the technical details or of limited interest to the general reader. However, Van Winkle’s interviewing style is full of enthusiasm and he doesn’t presume a great deal of technical knowledge. I do think that there were perhaps too many interviews in the collection – as a book, I think it may have been more satisfying if some of the weaker interviews were cut out.
On the whole, I enjoyed reading this book, and I’ll probably buy Volume 2 as it comes out – perhaps not to read cover to cover as a whole, but to dip into now and again. Many people ask “What’ll they think of next?” and it’s the interviewees in Architects of Tomorrow who are most likely to have the answers.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A few thoughts on subscriptions

We've just renewed our weekend subscription to The Age newspaper. We suffered through a couple of weekends without a newspaper (yes, #firstworldproblems, I know), and it got me thinking about subscriptions in general.

I read the newspaper pretty much cover to cover, every weekend (whether this is a productive use of time is an altogether different question!). I do that because it's delivered to my house.

I've also been reading the Words With Jam e-magazine lately, which is quite fun. Problem is, every time I want to download it I need to log onto Smashwords, haul out my credit card, and plug the eReader into the computer. Yes, all you people with Kindles can be smug now. But the point is, it takes effort on my part. You know what I would love? For the magazine to be delivered to my inbox as an email attachment, for me to download whenever I'm ready. I'd happily pay a year's subscription up front.

Well, it looks like I'm not the only one thinking along these lines. I've just discovered The premise? An ebook a month, delivered to your inbox in your preferred format. I'm signing up right now. I could do with some variation in my reading diet, and thing is, if the book is there, I'll read it. Could lead to some interesting blog posts if nothing else (is it bad for an ereader to throw it across the room?)

I will report back on the great subscription experiment, if I manage to tear myself away from my newspaper. And if anyone out there knows of any other good subscriptions (crime fiction magazines, especially) do let me know!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Bird Cloud: A memoir by Annie Proulx

E-readers aside, I can be a bit old-fashioned when it comes to books. You see, I like a plot. It doesn’t matter if it’s tenuous, implausible or just flat out incomprehensible, but heaven save me from a book where nothing happens.
I am sorry to report that Annie Proulx’s Bird Cloud – A memoir is such a book. Ostensibly the story of the building of her dream house on a property called Bird Cloud, the back cover promises history, geology, anthropology and more.
Here’s  a summary of what happens in the book. Proulx organises the building of a house. A number of minor issues are overcome. She moves in and spends a large number of pages describing the birds that live on the property. The grand tragic finale? She can’t live on the property in winter because it gets snowed in. I needed a whole box of tissues for that one.
If that sounds a little self-indulgent as the premise for the book, that’s probably correct. Proulx talks more than once about the house going way over budget, and I have the sneaking suspicion that this book was intended to help recoup some of the cost. Or perhaps I am being unfair and the book  reflects the fact that dramas such as the polishing of the floor in the wrong colour loomed very large for Proulx. Of course, that doesn’t help a reader much. I am interested in history, geology, and other subjects promised by the back cover and barely touched on by the book. I am not interested in the squabbles between Proulx’s architect and her builder. In this I suspect I am probably not alone.
The book is of course lyrically written, as you would expect from such a renowned writer. This didn’t stop me from skipping large chunks towards the end. I would have skipped to the part where something happened, except that I got to the end and found that part didn’t exist. To make things more frustrating, Proulx drops dark hints in the early chapters about catastrophes to follow – “little-did-I-know” type statements. I can only assume she was referring to what I would characterise as minor mishaps during construction. Either that, or my copy had some important pages missing.
Without Proulx’s name I seriously doubt this book would have been published. As a personal diary of an important time in the writer’s life, it makes sense. As a cottage history of a particular piece of land, it may be interesting to people who live nearby. As a reference source for people thinking of building an architect-designed dream home in the middle of nowhere – well, perhaps not. Unfortunately, I can only recommend this book to the general public if they are in need of a soporific or so post-modern they have no need of plot. As you can see, I don’t fall into either category.