Fall Update

Thanksgiving

I love the fall. The weather cools down, the trees turn colour, and the pace of life picks up.

Marion and I had a delightful day trip and picnic lunch with our friend Suzanne. We drove up to Forks of the Credit and enjoyed the autumn countryside. It takes a long time to get out of the city now with the GTA expanding northward. One day I expect it to be solidly urban from Mississauga to Orangeville.

This fall I’m taking an online course “Writing the Personal Essay,” from Creative Nonfiction. We have weekly readings and tutorials, occasional online chats, written assignments, and peer review. It’s stretching me as a writer, for which I’m thankful.

I’ve been reading so much my Kindle is smoking. I’m on an SF&F spree that I hope never ends. I’m also reading some mystery fiction. I don’t read much mainstream literature — I find it boring. Contemporary literary fiction, most of it anyway, leaves me cold. But science fiction challenges me and the inventiveness and creativity of the authors delight me. My Kindle is currently subscribed to Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and Clarkesworld. And for more serious reading, Philosophy Now.

The delightful thing is that as soon as the issues are released by the publisher, they download into my Kindle.

The fall marks the new TV season as well, and this season I’m watching Dexter, CSI, Silk, Inspector Lewis, and Ringer. Plus documentaries and specials.

Not to mention listening to podcasts galore, including the bracing TED Talk videos.

And I was delighted to hear that my friend Earl has picked up a Macbook Air.

Finally, for anyone interested, I’ve started a paper.li Internet newspaper called Gene’s Sci-Tech Daily.

Does the Kindle Contain Steroids?

I’ve owned the 6-inch Amazon Kindle Global Wireless for about 15 days as I write this, and I’d never have guessed how much reading I’m doing. In terms of novels or novellas, I’m reading, or have finished:

The Man Who Was Thursday, G.K. Chesterton
The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan
The Call of the Wild, Jack London
The Shadow Out of Time, H.P. Lovecraft
A History of Terraforming, Robert Reed (Asimov’s, July 2010)
Triplanetary, E.E. “Doc” Smith
The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaal, E.A. Poe

In addition I’ve read short stories by Poe, Conan Doyle, and Charles de Lint, plus whatever else is in Asimov’s July 2010.

Current nonfiction on the go:

Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin, Stephen Jay Gould
Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to the Present, Edited by Lex Williford and Michael Martone (just finished the marvellous essay, “The Search for Marvin Gardens,” by John McPhee)
The Smashwords Style Guide, Mark Coker
Walden, Henry David Thoreau
On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin

With nonfiction, I tend to read bits at a time, usually a chapter or another logical unit.

The Kindle, as evidenced by the above, has put steroids into my reading habits. The only downside so far, I’ve been neglecting my math studies for the past few days.

Why Kindle?

Early B'Day Present

What I asked for, and received, for my birthday, was an Amazon Kindle, the 6-inch screen international model sold to Canadians.

Several of my friends told me they were surprised I didn’t go for an iPad. Given my penchant for tech toys, it’s a legitimate observation. Here’s my attempt at an explanation.

First, let me say I have nothing but admiration for the iPad. I’ve held one and had a good look at it. I also have an iPod Touch I use frequently, which, I believe, provides me with a smaller but similar experience to the iPad.

Though it may be counter-intuitive, it’s the iPod Touch experience that dampened my enthusiasm for the iPad. The reason is that it can do too many things.

When a technology provides multiple things that can be done with it, I’m the kind of person who tends to hop from thing to thing, enjoying each goodie. I add programs. I do my email. I check blog sites. I solve a sudoku. You know the drill.

Everything about the iPad is leading edge and is justly praiseworthy. However, I’ve confirmed many times over that, for me, trailing-edge technologies that offer less sometimes deliver more.

Take word processors, for example. Though they do many things well, including decent page layout, I do all my professional and personal writing in plain text editors. I import them into a word processor to pass along to editors, but I get more done with simple text editors. They’re less distracting, and the files are superbly portable.

Another example is the AlphaSmart Neo. It’s essentially little more than an electronic typewriter with a great keyboard and a small LCD screen. It stores files as text files and squirts them into computer programs via a USB cable. When I have the Neo along, instead of the Touch or the netbook, the only option I have is writing. And I write more, with better concentration.

Turn this to reading, and I had a hunch that the Kindle would result in my spending more time reading e-books than an e-book reader on a multipurpose device. The Kindle essentially does only one thing, and does it well. It provides a good reading screen, simple controls, great battery life, and the ability to annotate and make notes.

I’ve had the Kindle less than five days and I’ve already read two novels and am halfway through another. I’ve also read several short stories. It’s light enough to hand hold while I’m lying in bed.

There are drawbacks to the Kindle, or any e-Ink e-book reader such as the Sony Reader. They don’t display colour. Although the Kindle will display PDFs they’re hard to read. The Kindle is not well adapted to newspaper formats, with fancy columns.

But feed it straight text–the kind you get in stories and essays–and it allows you to see right through the device itself, into the flow of the text. That is, it provides a good reading experience.

I don’t chase best sellers, so contemporary e-books aren’t a high priority for me, though they’re available. What I like is downloading Project Gutenberg copies of free e-books from sites such as manybooks.net that offer them in just about any popular e-book format, including Kindle’s native AZW format.

So far I’ve read John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, and I’m well into H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out of Time. I’ve been reading short stories by Poe, and the Sherlockian adventures of Conan Doyle. There are thirty or so more books waiting in line.

Do I like the Kindle? Very much! Sometimes less is more.