Summer Reading

I follow Barnes & Noble on Facebook and today they posted a summer reading challenge. Details here.

I love this idea! I've been reading since I was very little, and always wondered why other kids didn't do the same. A lot of kids look at summer reading as a chore, instead of as a joy. For me, summer reading is one of the best ways to keep kids learning and growing while they aren't in school. A lot of schools have set reading lists of books kids have to read, but others give a range of books and that's my favorite way of doing it. I think that, instead of forcing kids into a specific direction with their reading as they do during school, kids should be left to explore their own interests in the summer.

My fiancé Chris likes to tell me the story of how he loved to read nonfiction on his own time while he was a kid, and one of his teachers was so dismayed by his interest in history that she wouldn't let him take any nonfiction books out of the school library. He was supposed to be reading fiction, not facts! His mother, thank goodness, stood up for him and got that restriction lifted. I like to think that if that were my child, I would have done the same thing (and then taken it to the principal, school board, etc. to get this teacher disciplined - no one should be telling my child what he should and should not be interested in!).

I can't help but think that my ability to read freely when I was little has helped shape my own interests in reading today. Knowing I could read whatever I wanted (within reason - obviously I wasn't allowed to read adult books in elementary school) allowed me to choose books that fit within my interests, and prepared me to make analytical choices later. Continuing to read even when I wasn't in school, I shaped my own library, which has grown in size since then and is my pride and joy. Reading whatever I wanted also helped me decide what I wanted to do with my life. I want to teach college literature, I want to spend a lot of time analyzing and talking about some of my favorite subjects, and I want to help other young minds figure out their own interests as well. And if all that fails, well, I'll just open a bookstore!

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this Barnes & Noble promotion is a great idea, a great way for kids to explore their interests, and puts them on a path to discovering themselves. If you have children, I highly recommend having them participate. Not only do they read a lot, but they have to explain to whom and why they would recommend the books they read. And tell them to be honest - if they don't like a book, say why they wouldn't recommend it to anyone. This could be the start of a lifelong love of reading.

(And parents, there may be a free Nook in there for you too!)

eBooks, or How Preferences Change

I never thought I would enjoy reading a book on a screen. Computer screens, iPods, even the DS "game" that comes with a ton of public domain books for you to read - none of it ever appealed to me. I stare at a computer screen all day at work. I prefer the tangible pages of paper leafed (or more often now glued) together, folding open at just the right place, turning pages with my fingers instead of on a screen (which I do know you turn with your fingers, but this is a different sensation).

Recently I've started reading eBooks, mostly because I can get the public domain books I've been wanting to read for free. Saving money is hard enough without wanting to drop hundreds of dollars on books all the time. I don't have a Nook or a Kindle or anything. I do have an iPod Touch that can do eBooks, but I don't use the app because the screen is too small. I just read them on my computer and when I'm done I move on to the next one. And when they're free, I can read a lot more.

This puts me in a predicament. I don't want an e-reader as offered by Amazon and B&N, and I don't want to put books on my iPod. But I do want to start reading more modern books, which is only slightly cheaper to do with eBooks than it is with paper copies. Most of the books I want to read are around $5 in an e-edition, while a hard copy costs around $7 or $8. To me, the cost of buying an eBook just doesn't make it worth it. I'd rather hold the book in my hand.

I am also having the following problem: I downloaded a bunch of free eBooks from Suvudu. These eBooks were all the first books in their respective series. I enjoyed ALL of them! ARGH! Now I need to track down the rest of the series, and since I collect books I have to buy the ones I've already read too. Being a book collector (should I say hoarder?) can be tough on the wallet.

Chris is taking me to the Borders in Clifton Park tomorrow to use a 50% off coupon they have. Online they're doing a BOGO 1/2 off on all paperbacks, and I'm curious if it's going on in-store too because the coupon code wasn't working right for me online. There are books I want that I know I can get there because it's an author they actually stock (but that's a rant for another entry), but I'm not buying them if they aren't on sale!

Anyway...this entry veered slightly off-topic. I guess what I meant to say was that while I was vehemently anti-eBook for a very long time, I've softened a bit. It has caused problems for me though in that now I have to own the books I liked. I do appreciate the fact that I don't have to buy the books I didn't like (which is good, it saves me money), but considering I've enjoyed just about everything I've read lately (except that damned bad book I can't seem to finish), it's hard to tell myself "No, you don't need to buy that right now."

What is your opinion on eBooks and e-readers? I don't think I'll ever own a Kindle or anything like it, but testing out books in e-format isn't as bad as I'd previously thought.

Imagination, or How Different Can They Be?

This past week in reading has been difficult. Almost no progress has been made in the book I don't like, but in other areas I've been moving along quite nicely.

Last Monday I finished A Princess of Mars by Edgar R. Burroughs which was a free ebook on Suvudu. In finishing A Princess of Mars (and even upon starting it), I realized I had read it before and never noted it. I can't remember for the life of me when or where I read it. Maybe in college? I did take a science fiction course in my last semester. There was also the Arthurian literature course I took in undergrad, but I don't think we read it in that class. Anyway, what struck me as funny was that I had been looking forward to starting over in C.S. Lewis's final novel in his space trilogy, That Hideous Strength. And the reason for this? I remembered the opening scene from A Princess of Mars and got them confused. So it's nice to have that put right again, and now that I've read it over again I realized why I was looking forward to reading it again - it was such a different take on what may exist on Mars.

I've read Bradbury's Martian Chronicles a couple of times and that book helped form the basis of my Mars-novel expectations. In his stories, he talks about how desolate Mars is, how most of the Martians have died off and how humanity helped to kill them. One particular story stands out in my memory: it's not about Martians at all, but rather about what happens on the planet once they're gone and once humans have deserted the place. It's just a planet, it's a lonely miserable place that boasts both relics of Martians and of humans. There is one man left on Mars. After eating food in shops and at first paying for it, then wandering around and realizing everyone's gone, he starts dialing the phone to random numbers. Someone picks up on the other end, and he asks where she is and she asks where he is, and they get cut off. So they each start to travel to the other's location, and they miss each other. In the end, he never meets this woman. It leaves you with a melancholy feeling after reading, because the Martians weren't as strong as we would suppose them to be, and the humans couldn't even triumph on Mars. They went back home to Earth and nothing was left on the planet except perhaps a couple of Martians who had fled to the mountains.

A Princess of Mars was so much different! John Carter travels somehow to Mars and encounters two different races of "people." They call the planet Barsoom and refer to themselves as Barsoomians, but identify themselves by their race. Each of the races has two factions that war against each other, and then they all war against everyone else. John Carter teaches the two races how to work together in order to keep the planet living. After many years of living with his princess-wife and the people of Mars, their atmosphere machine fails and they are preparing to die. However, John can help fix it and his last act is to open the door for the man who is to go in and fix the machine. When he wakes up back on Earth we realize that we don't know what happened on Mars.

The two takes on Mars are very different: one presents a destroyed planet and one presents a thriving planet full of creatures and people and life in general. Which one is right? At present it looks like there aren't any people on Mars and that we won't experience anything remotely similar to what these writers imagine. But in the end, it's the imagination that makes it all real to me. The red planet in the sky, millions of miles away, with no life left on it, is not my reality. Is it strange to prefer the fantasy to the reality? When you are book-minded, I don't think so.

In other reading, I have also finished Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb, and His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik, both of which were very good (and now I must get the rest of the series for both). I have now started a re-read of Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, and I'm still working on the damned City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer, which I am determined to finish even if it kills me!

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