Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson.

Now that my semester has started and I’ve front-loaded my course load again, I’ve barely had time to think about posting!

Mild spoilers – no plot revelations or anything.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

I finished reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, and found out that the original Swedish title is actually Men Who Hate Women, which makes more sense to me. I guess Men Who Hate Women wouldn’t have sold well in North America, but it certainly suits the book more.

The book really does argue against misogyny, but in order to do so there are some brutally misogynist characters and the whole book is based around sexual violence. That was really difficult for me. There are some graphic scenes that I couldn’t bring myself to read word for word, and descriptions of death scenes that were gruesome. They went beyond the usual “murder suspect found dead, stab wound.” The more I think about gender issues, the more sensitized I am to issues about sexual violence, so this book sat very heavily with me.

As a mystery thriller, it is a great book. It’s suspenseful, fast-pasted, and full of details for the intelligent reader. I loved the set-up of the complex mystery that Blomkvist, the main character, is hired to solve. Blomkvist, a journalist, becomes tangled in the very complicated family affairs of the Vanger family. “Complicated” is an understatement, really. Forty years ago, a 16-year-old Harriet Vanger disappeared off the island where the family estate is located. Her devastated uncle, Henrik Vanger, has been traumatized by her disappearance and has decided to re-open the cold case. It is a “closed-room” case, because on the day of Harriet’s disappearance, the bridge that connects the island to the mainland was closed off. Everyone on the island that day – numerous family members and other people who live on the island – are suspects. And there are a lot of skeletons in the family closet.

So the mystery part of the story was pretty fascinating to me, but some other parts weren’t. It’s not that I’m warning people off reading this novel – it just ended up being a lot darker than I expected.

Stieg Larsson, who passed away in 2004, was a journalist against white power, racism, and right wing politics.

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Kindle Review.

I’ve had my new Kindle for a few days now and have read two books on it. I like it very much so far, and I’ve been thinking about how it could change the future of my reading. This review is based on the current model: 6″ Display, Global Wireless, Latest Generation.

Arrival of the Kindle.

Tech Specs

Some information on the Kindle which I personally found useful before choosing it as my primary ebook reader:

    About 1/3 of an inch thick, weighs 10.2 ounces.
    Can last up to one week on one battery charge with wireless turned on, or up to two weeks with wireless turned off.
    Able to read TXT and PDF documents. [Perfect for doing course readings on the go.]
    E-ink technology means you can read without glare.
    Connects to Amazon Whispernet so you don’t have to log onto a network. I don’t really know how Whispernet works, but it seems to be available in all major Canadian cities and strangely enough, a large portion of Alberta.
    Books are delivered/downloaded in under 60 seconds.
    The battery is not removeable, so you would need to send the entire device back to Amazon for repair.

Usability

My first negative reaction to the Kindle was how the screen blinks black before changing pages, but I quickly got used to that and now I barely notice. I suspect that for people using ebook readers for the first time (like myself), there will be a lot of things to get used to, but in no way should this put people off buying ebook readers.

The Kindle is very easy to use for people who aren’t familiar with gadgets and gizmos. The basics of using the Kindle (selecting titles, turning “pages”) are very straightforward and intuitive. If you want to upload files from your computer, you can connect via USB and drag and drop files in the correct folders. The 5-way controller, located to the right of the screen, looked tricky at first – it’s so small that it seems like it’d go in any direction when you try to push it, but I haven’t had any problems with it so far. Sometimes you have to push harder on the keys than you think, though. The “Next Page” buttons are located on either side of the screen in the natural spots where your thumbs sit, and the smaller “Previous Page” button sits on the left.

Here’s the kicker: the “Home” button takes you to your master list of books and other documents, where you can’t organize them into folders. As a future librarian with a passion for organization, this is a huge letdown. You can view by books, personal docs, or all files, but that’s it. You can sort your documents by title, author, or most recently added, but even this is problematic. Personal docs and PDF files that I create are filed under my full name when I would obviously rather file an academic article under its own author. “Lewis Carroll” is correctly found under C but “L. Frank Baum” was filed under L. This is not the Kindle’s fault; it’s simply how the metadata was inputted, but you can’t change the metadata using the Kindle. I found a program called Calibre that allows you to edit the metadata before it uploads files to your device via your computer, but even then, all authors were filed by first name rather than last even though I specified the reverse. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all. For non-techies who prefer correct metadata, this could be an issue.

My Kindle has a very basic web browser which is best used for websites that are mainly text without fancy images and script. That said, I doubt I’ll ever be checking my email on the Kindle. It’s just not built for that. It’s built for reading books, and that is main pro of the Kindle. It doesn’t try to be anything else. It’s a simple device for reading ebooks, and it accomplishes that task very well.

I did use the browser to access a text-only site where you can find free ebooks (the legal kind, ie. pre-1923 classics). All I had to do was click on the title and it was on my Kindle in under half a minute. Easy-peasy!

Reading on the Kindle.

Readability

The text is very crisp and easy on the eyes. When reading the reviews, I didn’t really buy into all the “It’s just like paper!” hype, but… it’s just like paper! Okay, well, it’s not but it’s very close. I barely notice that I’m reading off a screen. It feels very non-intrusive and simple. I love my crisp MacBook Pro screen but I can’t stare at it for hours. The Kindle’s screen isn’t backlit, so it’s much easier to look at for longer periods of time. You do need to turn on a light to read, as you would a normal book. Personally, I’m very impressed with the E-ink technology.

You can adjust the text size on the Kindle but only in certain documents. For ebooks that you buy from Amazon or download for free, this is no problem. For PDFs, the white margins are cut out to maximize viewing, but you can’t zoom in on a document or change the text. So if your PDF has small font, it will be nearly impossible to read comfortably.

One of the many Kindle screensavers when you put it in sleep mode.

I used to be against the idea of ebooks, but that was a long time ago. There are many pros and cons to digitalization, but I want to look forward rather than back. Let’s look forward cautiously though, as I don’t want my Kindle to one day become a killer robot.

I think more work needs to be done on creating an effective and safe work environment for authors and publishers if ebooks are to take over paper books. I also think that the Kindle needs some work. Models will only continue to improve, and the release of the iPad will help with that.

When I think of what the Kindle can do for my own lifestyle, it’s pretty exciting. I’m an avid reader, so the idea of bringing a Kindle along on a two week vacation is more attractive than packing five or six books. I’m currently reading The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt but it’s so big that I can’t take it anywhere. If I had it on the Kindle, I’d probably be finished by now. I’m looking forward to making room in my school bag by carrying the Kindle to campus instead of other books. The convenience factor is a big plus.

When all is said and done, I love reading, plain and simple. The process of reading by paper or electronically currently doesn’t matter to me. Exploring new options doesn’t mean dismissing my old paper copies. Just give me a good story!

The Hunger Games & Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins.

The Hunger Games.

A spoiler-free review.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is one of the best YA novels I have read in a long time. It is thrilling, suspenseful, fascinating, well-written, and the first part in a trilogy.

The story of Katniss Everdeen is set in District 12 of Panem, formerly North America, in a post-apocalyptic world where the government, called the Capitol, controls its surrounding districts by selecting two teenagers between the ages of 12 and 16 from each of the twelve districts to participate in an annual event called the Hunger Games. These teenagers must fight their way through a Survivor-esque game, which is shown on television to all of Panem. Instead of getting voted off at Tribal Council, though, the last player left alive in the arena, a constructed space in the vast wilderness, is the winner.

There were many things I loved about the first two books in the trilogy. They are incredibly addictive. I read The Hunger Games in one evening, Catching Fire this morning, and the third book, Mockingjay, will be released in late August, otherwise I would have devoured that by now.

Catching Fire.

The second book is just as good as the first, and just as exciting. The writing is engaging because it is very intelligent but still accessible to readers of many levels. For reluctant readers, the story is well-paced and interesting enough to capture your attention. For adults who say they don’t read children’s or YA literature, this is a series that adults would really enjoy. There is a lot of darkness to it – Katniss faces many choices that challenge her morals. The politics of the Capitol and around Panem are important to the story. Collins’ portrayal of a post-apocalyptic North America is very interesting. We get to know several characters throughout the course of the story, and most of them are well-rounded and realistic. Katniss is a strong female character who’s been through some tough times, but she’s also very vulnerable in many ways.

I could go on and on, but really you should just do yourself a favour and pick up a copy. I got Corey to read it on our trip to Quebec, and we talked about it non-stop as soon as he finished.

Quebec.

I’ve just returned from a small road trip with Corey – we visited some of the Eastern Townships and Montreal in Quebec to see some of his family this past week. It was my first time in Quebec! In the Eastern Townships we mainly saw Lennoxville, which is a borough of Sherbrooke. We also spent some time in Magog, which is a touristy riverside town, and drove around the countryside, passing by Sainte-Catherine-de-Hatley. One of Corey’s relatives lives outside of Sherbrooke, so we slept there. I must not have slept out in the country for a long time, because I couldn’t get over how dark it was.

Country life.

We spent part of Thursday in Montreal, visiting with an old friend of Corey’s. I had the best pastry of my life that morning. The weather took a turn for the worse with a massive thunder and lightning storm so we figured it was best to spend our sightseeing indoors. Corey’s friend lives very close to the Biodome, so we went there and admired all the wildlife, although they’re not in the wild anymore.

Birds in love.

Finally, for my sole purpose of going to Montreal in the first place, we went and had poutine at a popular place called La Banquise. It is a 24-hour poutine restaurant. Such a concept sounds absurdly wonderful. Corey ordered a large classic and I ordered a regular Trois Viandes (Three Meats).

Poutine at La Banquise.

It really did taste like the “real” poutine that everyone keeps telling me about – the cheese curds squeaked and the gravy was perfect. It was incredibly filling though; I made a dent in mine but had to leave a lot behind. Next time, I’ll just stick with the classic.

This was my first visit to Montreal, and I didn’t at all expect to see so many European style apartment buildings. Lots of three-storey buildings with the entrances on the outside, accessible by spiraling staircases. Most apartments that I’ve seen in Vancouver and London are apartment buildings, with one main entrance that you have to buzz in to enter. I like the Montreal style apartments, where most people still have their front door connected to the outside world instead of a hallway.

We also visited a shop called Planete BD, which sold French comics. Corey bought a French TinTin for me to practise my French.

On our drive home yesterday we hit up the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. This was, of course, mainly for Corey’s benefit, although I also thought it was pretty interesting. We got home just in time to see the thunder and lightning storm from our window instead of on the highway, but the drive outside of Toronto on a Friday afternoon was excruciatingly long. Term starts tomorrow and I don’t have classes until Wednesday, so I’ve been lounging about, watching movies, and playing with my brand new Kindle. Review to come!

Knit & Crochet Blog Week: What A Yarn.

There’s one love that we all share: yarn. Blog about a particular yarn you have used in the past or own in your stash, or perhaps one that you covet from afar. If it is a yarn you have used you could show the project that you used it for, perhaps writing a mini ‘review’. Perhaps, instead, you pine for the feel of the almost mythical qiviut? You could explore and research the raw material and manufacturing process if you were feeling investigative.

My yarn stash is comprised of several different yarns from many different places, but my current favourites are SweetGeorgia Yarns’ fibre club yarns. Usually they’re sent as fibre (hence the name “fibre club”) but I’ve been so busy with school that Felicia is sending them to me as sock yarn. Later in the year, when I learn how to spin on the wheel instead of the drop spindle, I’ll sign up again and go for the fibre. Here are the March and April installments:

I absolutely love the colours in just about everything that comes from SweetGeorgia. For the green/brown colourway, I think I’ll make a Shetland Triangle. Not sure about the pinkish skein yet, as the colours don’t shift as subtly. Maybe a pair of spunky fingerless mitts but I want to use the full skein for one project. I just don’t want to make shawls over and over. That said, I’ve been wanting a pair of fingerless mitts that go nearly up to my elbow, for winter days when I don’t want to wear a sweater inside the house.

Knit & Crochet Blog Week: Revisit a Past FO.

[FO = Finished Object]

Bring the fortune and life of a past finished project up to the present. Document the current state and use of an object you have knitted or crocheted, whether it is the hat your sister wears to school almost every day, or a pair of socks you wore until they were full of holes.

Garter Yoke Cardi.

The Garter Yoke Cardigan is the FO that I wear most often. In winter, I wore it practically every day to school. It’s very comfortable, it goes with my jeans (which I also wore every day in the winter), and it’s light but warm. The body and sleeves are in Cascade wool, while the yoke and sleeve cuffs are Noro Silk Garden.

At the time I began making this, most of the knitters on Ravelry who had knit this sweater used the same colours for the yoke and the body. Very few had used Noro for the yoke, but I knew I wanted to do the same. Since then, several people have used Noro for the yoke, and they are all beautiful. I think using Noro works incredibly well for this sweater, because for me, too much Noro is overwhelming with all the stripes and colours, but too little Noro is kind of pointless if it doesn’t show off those colourways. The Noro yoke is the perfect compromise.

I also get several compliments while wearing this sweater. Once, while sitting at the pub, I felt a tap on my shoulder and woman who was clearly rushing out asked me if I had made it. I said yes, and she said she and her friends were just admiring it from afar, and then she gave me a big thumbs up as she went through the door.

I could see myself knitting another one of these, once this one starts wearing out.

Knit & Crochet Blog Week: Location, Location, Location.

So I missed Day Five because of a work luncheon, trip to the yarn shop, and a spontaneous camping trip. Here’s me, catching up.

Where do you like to indulge in your craft? Is your favourite arm chair your little knitting cubby area, or do you prefer to ‘knit in public’? Do you like to crochet in the great outdoors, perhaps, or knit in the bath, or at the pub?

I can knit just about anywhere, but mostly I just knit on the couch, usually with the TV on. I don’t mind knitting in public at all, and I welcome people who approach and ask me what I’m making, although every so often I’m approached by people who see my knitting as an invitation to come and chat my ear off about any little thing completely unrelated to knitting.

I definitely love knitting outdoors – back in Vancouver I would bring my knitting to the beach or to the park and knit in the sun during the summer. I actually brought my knitting on our camping trip yesterday but didn’t get a chance to pull it out.

While I can knit just about anywhere, I try not to pull it out all the time. I would never bring it to a restaurant and knit while I wait for my meal if I’m there with someone, for example, unless I’m with knitting friends and they’re doing the same. That said, knitting at a restaurant seems kind of strange to me.

Right before writing this, I was knitting on the couch watching the Canucks game on TV.