Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The future arrives!


Fujitsu announed today what appears to be the first commercially available (in Japan) color e-paper reader, the FLEPia.  Here is the official press release.


Wired blog has an article.

The price is 99,750 Japanese Yen, or $1017.35 at today's rate.  

According to Fujitsu's press release, the device:

Supports 260,000 colors on an 8" screen;
Lasts for 40 hours of continuous use on a full charge;
Can support storage on a 4GB SD (secure digital) card for approximately 5000 300-page books;
Is equipped with the Japanese version of WinCE and two popular Japanese e-book viewers;
Includes embedded stereo speakers;
Has a screen redraw rate of 1.8 seconds; and
Has a 768 x 1024 dot screen resolution.

The redraw rate is slow.  Here's a page with videos of the device operating where you can see for yourself.

The high cost alone would exclude many buyers, including Kindledude, and the device is not yet available outside Japan, but this is simply the first harbinger of greater change.  Who can doubt that in a year or two, the Kindle and other similar devices will have a color e-ink display at an affordable price  and reasonably fast page flips, and will be widely available?  It will be a welcome development.  Book covers and illustrations will be able to be rendered fully, in all their glory.  Graphic novels, comics, and manga, and perhaps even coffee-table books with photographs, will become reasonable to read on e-ink devices.

I'm looking forward to it!








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Monday, March 16, 2009

Lethal Legacy: Linda Fairstein


Lethal Legacy is a murder mystery wrapped in bibliophilia.  A library curator is mysteriously attacked in her New York apartment; later, in the same apartment, a housekeeper who is wearing the clothes of a wealthy heiress is murdered.  Finding the killer involves Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper in a journey through rare books and an almost-mythical map, hidden spaces in and under the New York Public Library, and a highly dysfunctional, if wealthy, family.  It's a strong story, and the background about rare maps and books (and their quirky collectors) is clearly a fascinating labor of love for the author.


Unlike many of the books she admires, however, Linda Fairstein's prose tends toward the direct and functional rather than subtle and sophisticated.  In a murder mystery such as this one, this is rarely a problem--the story moves along well and it retains one's interest.  Unfortunately, it becomes something of a liability when expounding the fascinating backstory of rare volumes and New York history via its architecture and a series of topographic maps.  These details, often placed in long explanations in the mouths of characters, could be woven into the story with greater subtley.  As it is, you sometimes get a policeman speaking like a museum tour guide, which is a bit disconcerting for the reader.

This caveat aside, this a good mystery with interesting characters about the power of family legacies and the fascination exercised by rare books and even rarer ancient maps, which, in parallel, portray mankind's striving to unravel the mysteries of the world as Alexandra Cooper (and the reader) unravel the mystery at hand.  




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Thursday, March 12, 2009

1001Books.com


One of the awesome Kindle enthusiasts at www.mobileread.com, Daithi, has produced a nice download portal for the Kindle, 1001books.com. At one location, you can browse or search for books that reside, if they are free public domain works, at sites such as mobileread.com and feedbooks.com, and if they are under copyright and for sale, at Amazon.com's Kindle store. If you select a book, the site will:

  • Download the book from one of the free sites if it is in the public domain
  • Allow one to buy the book from Amazon if it is available but not free
  • Request Amazon to ask the publishers to make the book available if it isn't available
Not only is the site one-stop shopping for these sites, it is particularly nicely designed with a clean, easy-to-navigate look. The site is new, but is already quite useful (and should only get better), has a very nice book list, and saves a lot of hopping around the Web. For more information, the discussion thread on the mobileread forums is here. Definitely check this site out.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

What will become of libraries?


I happen to be reading Linda Fairstein's new crime novel, Lethal Legacy. At the front of the book, the author offers a dedication: "For libarians -- guardian angels of the mind and soul." I certainly agree with that sentiment, but the lines also made me think: extend current trends into the future, imagine that the "digital divide" is solved and everyone has access to the internet. Now imagine that all books are bought or borrowed wirelessly, the way you can buy books for the Kindle now.


"Libraries" would be nothing more than servers full of digitzed books, and the library as we know it, as a meeting place and sacred space for books, would vanish.

Fairstein has a point when she invokes angels in the context of the library. For some, libraries may be nothing more than a place their parents dragged them to for school research projects. But for those who like to read, libraries are like cathedrals of books (think of the main reading room in the Library of Congress, pictured), temples where great authors reside instead of deities, where one ponders the achievements of Faulkner, Hemmingway, and Shakespeare rather than saints, martyrs, and religious teachers. To me, somehow, presence in a library collections imparts a sense of depth and seriousness. While a bookstore may carry whatever sells, presence of a literary work on a library shelf indicates that it is special. It is a space where one can uniquely appreciate the heightened use of language accomplished by a gifted writer.

What happens, then, when even the greatest books become nothing more than digital downloads attached to no special place? When books, MP3s, movies, and games are all simply different versions of digitized content, accessed the same way, possibly even experienced on the same devices (you can do all these things now with the iPhone, for example). Will literature lose its sense of being something unique and special, or will the power of great language survive undiminished through the process of being chopped into ones and zeros, sent through the air, and reconstructed?

Of course, I don't know the answer, but I suspect time will tell. Please post any thoughts you have in the comments.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

March genre deals at the Kindle Store


Orbit's dollar book this month is Empress by Karen Miller, which is reviewed on several sites, such as this review in Fantasy Magazine online.

Also until the end of this month, Kitty Raises Hell by Carrie Vaughn is free if you buy Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand. Both of these are fantasy novels dealing with the paranormal, werewolves, vampires, and such. Monsters and Critics has a short review of the latter novel here.

Closing out March 9 (so there are still a few days left) is a similar deal involving mystery author Cara Black, whose novels are set in Paris. If you buy Murder in the Latin Quarter before March 9th, you will receive Murder in the Marais for free. One review of the latter can be found here.

I haven't read any of these, so it would be great if anyone who is familiar with these novels or their authors would leave a comment or two!

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Magazine List, Updated

Amazon has added some new magazines, including The New Yorker (even cartoons, which render quite well on the Kindle), Women's Adventure, and U.S. News Weekly. The list of magazines available from the Kindle store is now:

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine
Analog Science Fiction and Fact
Asimov's Science Fiction
The Atlantic
Cash: Personal Finance for Real People
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
The Escapist
Forbes
Fortune
MIT Technology Review
Narrative
Reason
The Nation
The New Yorker
Newsweek
Opinionated: Voices and Viewpoints on America
PopMatters
Reader's Digest
Salon.com
Slate
Time
U.S. News and World Report
U.S. News Weekly
Women's Adventure

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Kindle Reader Software for iPhone - First Look

As a number of sites have reported, there is an official Amazon "Kindle for iPhone - With Whispersync" app. I first saw the info on the awesome Mobileread forums, where, if you look through the forum posts, you will find a discussion about it. PC World has an article here. Time magazine has an entry in the doesn't-quite-get-it category here. Engadget, which does get it, chimes in here. Business Insider also has an article. The Books-on-the-Knob blog has posted pictures of the iPhone and both Kindles open to the same page--very nice work, Karen!

Obviously, as this blog has already covered, reading books on the iPhone has some drawbacks for serious readers and lengthy works. However, there's plenty of genre literature and even short literary works that can be absorbed in the stolen moments on a commuter train or in the grocery line, when one is likely to have one's phone. Furthermore, those of us who have both devices, due to the ability to mutually sync to the last page read on either device, can now keep up with even a long book during those moments where we may have our phones but do not have our Kindles. Not everyone spends so much time reading that the Kindle is worthwhile, but many casual readers would be happy to have access to the Kindle bookstore on a device as handy as the iPhone.

Owners of both devices are in reading Nirvana. Once you download the iPhone widget, you can link to your Amazon account and download any book from your archives. If it is a book you are reading on the Kindle, it will sync to the last page read. You can also sync to the last page read in the other direction of you are switching from the iPhone back to the Kindle. There's virtually never a need to be without your current book, and have your place kept for you! Or, as Engadget says in their geekier-than-thou style: "It's a huge win for owners of both devices, considering that the Kindle's still just a little bit big to be carrying everywhere you go, but your phone -- well, if you don't have that everywhere you go, you're just plain weird!" Great minds think alike, but often express themselves differently.

Of course, there are features the Kindle has that are not replicated on the iPhone, such as text-to-speech and dictionary lookup. There's no special front-end for the Kindle Store either, but you can use the built-in Safari browser to buy books. On the other hand, book covers are in color!

It's a free download for the iPhone, so it's certainly worth a try.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston


I myself am a relative latecomer to the novels of Charlie Huston; like many readers, the critical acclaim of The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death caught my attention (reviewed here). That, and some free book offers for the Kindle. Those of you who have followed this author from the beginning can have your moment of superiority. Enjoy.

The rest of us, who may be looking for an introduction to Charlie Huston's 9 (by my count) novels, would make a good start with Caught Stealing, a dark suspense novel that begins a trilogy involving Hank Thompson. In Caught Stealing, we learn how Hank gets into the mess that occupies the following two novels: from being a promising high school baseball player, talented enough to be followed by scouts, to being overwhelmed by a series of events that seem largely out of his control that drive him ever deeper into a world of mayhem, murder, and a bag full of 4 million much-contested dollars. The humor is dark, the prose is taut, and the main character is well developed. My only real complaint about the novel is that some of the other characters are painted deftly but perhaps too deftly as versions of stereotypes. Yvonne, a girlfriend, a bar owner who befriends and employs Hank, and a cat named Bud, are in my view the next best developed characters, and consequently the ones with whom the reader can most empathize with. The novel takes place largely in Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York, and knowledge of place and history are evident but lightly applied when appropriate. All in all, a well-paced and well written novel in the mystery genre.

I would offer the following as a thought for discussion for anyone who has read or will read the novel. Hank is the antithesis of many central characters in mystery novels. Often these are antiheroes, but antiheroes who stick to a code of honor (not society's code, but a self-consistent one) and are intensely intelligent and observant as well as tough, which qualities are often the ones that solve the mystery and allow them to save themselves from peril. Hank is somewhat the opposite: overcome by events he doesn't understand, forgetful at critical moments, and morally compromised even by his own standards. Read and discuss (in the comments below)!

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Romance isn't dead...

At least, not at Harlequin. To celebrate 60 years of reading pleasure, Harlequin is giving away 8 Kindle editions: Once a Cowboy, by Linda Warren; Hide in Plain Sight, by Marta Perry; Kiss Me Deadly, by Michele Hauf; Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch, by B . J. Daniels; Irresistible Forces by Brenda Jackson; Baby Bonanza, by Maureen Child; Price of Passion, by Susan Napier, and Homespun Bride, by Jillian Hart.

Kindledude is not a romance novel aficionado himself, so he welcomes any comments, reviews, or recommendations from any readers who are. But, really, if you're a Harlequin fan, how can you go wrong with free?

Orbit, a fantasy imprint, is featuring Pleasure Unbound by Larissa Ione, for one dollar (the regular price is $6.99). From the description: "Someone has been cutting up demons and removing their body parts, and this doesn't make sense to doctors Eidolon and Shade, the only surgeons in the world who care exclusively for demons. One patient after another has been arriving at the "demon ER" with missing internal organs, and Eidolon vows to find who has been targeting his race and for what purpose." There's more, that's only a taste. This novel is the introductory book of the Demonica series. Hmm, I may have to review this one!

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