Tag Archives: reading

Review: Amazon Kindle Voyage Wifi (India)

After a few hints, nudges, wistful sighs, and a lot of eyelash fluttering, The Hero surprised me with a Kindle Voyage for my birthday this year ūüôā

Image Source: Amazon
Image Source: Amazon

I own a second generation Kindle and one of its biggest drawbacks is the lack of a light. It’s messy to deal with a clip on to read in a dark room (and deal with the batteries for that) and if you can’t read in a dark room, you might as well buy a dead-tree book. I’ve used the Kindle app on my phone but a bright screen in a dark room – or anywhere else – is a bad idea for the eyes.

I love the light on the Kindle Voyage. The lights can go from very dim to very bright and the Voyage has an adaptive front light which you can caliberate. I personally prefer to keep the light off when I don’t need it and I’m not too particular about the paperwhite effect. Amazon advises you to keep the light low in a dark room and that works perfectly. I haven’t experienced eye strain despite endless Pratchett marathons. I’m sure you aren’t supposed to be looking at lights no matter how dim or bright in the night but a mom’s got to do what a mom’s got to do to get her reading fix.

The device is light weight and the page turns are great. I don’t care much for the page press but if you like the idea of a physical button, it’s nice. The display is clear and kind on aging eyes (heh, a bit of belated birthday drama). I love being able to adjust the font, text size, margins, and spacing. It was a little funny to read a paperback after reading on the Voyage for a few days. I’m a bit bookmark challenged and I’m always losing my place. After getting used to my preferred granny-friendly font the paperback text felt a bit tiny. However, I’ll still take a paper book over an e-book any day for reasons that will follow.

But first, a look at the other features. I love the X-Ray feature that allows you to keep track of characters and it would be useful for very long books with complex family trees (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?) or books resumed after a while. I also like the word lookup feature. I’ve always been too lazy to look up a dictionary so this helps. There are a few other features that I can’t name because I don’t use them ūüôā

The Amazon India Kindle store has some issues with processing payments and I’ve had two incidents already. They suggest you have a pre-loaded gift card that you use for your Kindle purchases. Sounds good but it’s still annoying.

All said, the Voyage cannot replace paper books for me. An e-reader is, ultimately, a supplemental device. You cannot lend books to friends. You cannot savour the weight of a book in your hands and the feeling of getting to the end of Lord of the Rings. It’s still hard to flip back and forth between pages though the X-Ray feature does allow it a lot more than before. It’s still an electronic device and you have to behave yourself while reading – no reading cookbooks in the kitchen, for instance. It’s also pretty terrible at rendering anything but text so comics, graphic novels, books with illustrations, etc are out. The Kindle is a great vacation companion and good for reading on the go especially during long commutes. It minimizes carry on clutter and you can never be bored with all your books with you.

If you’re trying to decide which Kindle to buy, here’s a quick how to choose a Kindle checklist:

Buy the basic Kindle if: You read a limited number of books and don’t need the screen light. It’s gentler on the eyes and makes a good travel companion. Also good for reading IAS prep books on the go, I’m told.

Buy the Paperwhite if: You read extensively and you’re ok with there already being a device on the market that’s better than yours. The light makes it much more portable than the basic Kindle and the display resolution is mid-way between the Kindle and the Voyage. Having a light also means you can read while commuting. Single handed reading is always a bonus on Namma Chennai autos when you’re using one hand to hold on for dear life.

Buy the Voyage if: You read extensively and prefer to hold on to a device for longer. If you’re not quick to abandon electronics, it’s better to buy something that will stand up to comparisons for longer. This device also has the best display of all the available models.

In all cases, I do not think the 3G is worth it. Wifi is pretty ubiquitous these days anyway and most smartphones can also create a wifi hotspot if needed. Why bother?

There are two very important negatives to consider. One, we’re not exactly buying these ebooks. It’s more like a license. If Amazon chooses to change its sales/licensing model, it could pull all books off the Cloud and we wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it.

Two, more importantly, what data does Amazon collect? They do collect reading time, highlights, and notes but they’re very dodgy about providing the details. I cannot control a single thing about it or manage my privacy which makes the whole thing quite creepy. I think I’ll still be buying some of my books offline in regular bookstores. Maybe even with cash.


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Book(s) Review(s): Night Watch – Terry Pratchett

Or, of Sam Vimes.

Or, of His Grace, His Excellency, His Blackboard-Monitorship, The Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, Lord of the Ramkin Estates, King of the River.

DISCLAIMER: SPOILERS GALORE!

The first Pratchett I ever read was Night Watch. I loved the book but certainly not as much as F.D. did. I put it down to a difference in taste and went back to¬†my then¬†twin obsessions¬†of Indian authors and non-fiction.¬†I read a few more of Pratchett’s books over years and absolutely loved “Small Gods” and “Pyramids” but I still didn’t feel the urge to binge read. I bought “Truth” and “Witches Abroad” on a whim during my vacation and after The Hero surprised me with a Kindle Voyage, I ended up completely addicted to the Watch novels.

Samuel_Vimes
Source: Wikipedia

We first meet Sam Vimes when he’s lying drunk in a gutter. We watch him pick himself up and fight a dragon. We root for him as he solves a series of mysterious¬†murders. We understand his reluctance to induct the undead into the Watch. We feel fuzzy as he finally overcomes his distaste and hires a Golem and then a Zombie. We watch him jump onto a ship and pursue unknown political villains and become a¬†Duke. His Blackboard Monitorship then assumes a blank face and embarks on a diplomatic mission (the blank face doesn’t last too long, though). In The Fifth Elephant, we finally understand him¬†a little bit and the constant fight between the Commander of the Watch and The Beast. It all comes together in Night Watch as he¬†prods some serious buttock. Oh, he also marries Lady Sybil along the way and they have a baby. How lovely!

As Sam Vimes matures, so do the novels. Each of the Watch books before Night Watch has its own flaws. In “Guards! Guards!” Ankh Morpork isn’t perfectly developed and Vetinari seems a bit cocky. The preaching about men being worse than dragons will spill over into “Men at Arms”. “Feet of Clay” could have been shorter¬†and the minor theme of atheism less preachy. Only Sir Terry Pratchett could ever get away with the mess that is “Jingo”. “The Fifth Elephant” is a bit too neat. Everything wraps up too conveniently and there’s just a tad too much of everything including female dwarfs. But Night Watch, well, let’s just say Night Watch makes up for Jingo.

In Night Watch we finally know why Sam Vimes was able to pick himself out of the gutter and fight the dragon in “Guards! Guards!”. There are the usual puns in this book, but they’re not forced. There are underlying themes and references but there is no preaching. There is some nonsense but it fits seamlessly. There are even some weird religious figures but there’s no underhand ribbing. There is a villain but he’s not a caricature. Carcer is to Vimes what Khan is to Kirk and The Joker is to The Dark Knight.

The book has a different tone from the other Watch novels but it is not dark. It merely makes a case for Sam Vimes and his twisted, cynical idealism. It’s impossible for the book to be dark because it was written by an optimist who said:

A dark book, a truly dark book, is one where there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Where things start off going bad and carry on getting badder before they get worse and then it’s all over. I am kind of puzzled by the suggestion that it is dark. Things end up, shall we say, at least no worse than they were when they started… and that seems far from dark to me. The fact that it deals with some rather grim things is, I think, a different matter.

That’s what I love about the Watch novels. Things end well. Things get better. They might be cynics the whole lot of them but they work together to keep Ankh Morpork running. Vetinari’s thoughtful planning is complemented by Vimes’ action. Vetinari could never rid the city of a dragon by himself. Vimes’ cynicism is toned down by Carrot’s niceness. Only Carrot can put a Golem back together or set him/it free. Carrot’s niceness doesn’t fool Angua. She sees how he has a single claw of nasty. We understand not everyone can be a Vetinari or Vimes. We need the Colon’s and Nobbs’ of the world. Most importantly, we see there is no such thing as “The People”. There’s just a motely crowd of individuals doing the best they can. Barring the occasional psychopath, they’re all just nice people cutting their own throat selling sausages in buns, really.

That’s the thing about satire. Without a happy ending, it would all be just another cynical rant. We need these books with their puns and their silliness. We need Vimes and Carrot and Angua and Leonard of Quirm. We need Gaspode the Talking Dog. Most of all, we need to believe that it can all work out.


ps: I still have “Thud!” and “Snuff” to go.


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Of reading

I’ve always been a book-a-week kind of person. I used to be evangelical about this to the point where I looked at not reading¬†as a character flaw when I was on the Marriage Market (as opposed to being, you know, an incompatibility issue).¬†Thankfully, I’ve mellowed over time and I’m not too judgmental about those who don’t enjoy reading. My own reading habits however, resemble Amit Chaterjee’s (The character from A Suitable Boy. But you knew that)

But I too hate long books: the better, the worse. If they’re bad they merely make me pant with the effort of holding them up for a few minutes. But if they’re good, I turn into a social moron for days, refusing to go out of my room, scowling and growling at interruptions, ignoring weddings and funerals, and making enemies out of friends. I still bear the scars of Middlemarch.
– Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy

A sentiment better expressed by a more contemporary cultural icon:

reading_cat
Grumpy Cat. But you knew that.

Memes¬†aside, I’m not very well-read by conventional standards. I score rather poorly on the¬†“How many of these have you read” type of quizzes for two reasons.

My¬†first reason for missing out on “must reads” is¬†fairly simple. I tried reading some¬†books too early and I bear the¬†scars of many a bad pick. For instance, at the ripe old age of fourteen, I went to the library and picked up the first¬†Stephen King novel I found. Unfortunately, it was Gerald’s Game. The¬†plot¬†of the novel as summarized by¬†Wikipedia:

The story is about a woman who accidentally kills her husband while she is handcuffed to the bed as part of a bondage game, and, following the subsequent realization that she is trapped with little hope of rescue, begins to let the voices inside her head take over.

Let’s just say I wasn’t able to get beyond the first three pages. It was the early 90’s and¬†I was a model pupil at an¬†all-girls’ Convent school. Unlike today’s teenagers who’ve been weaned on the Fifty Shades trilogy,¬†I only had a vague idea how¬†even vanilla sex actually worked. Needless to say, I was never able to read¬†Stephen King again. I have read a bit of Michael Crichton and Robin Cook but it’s not the same, is it?

Another disadvantage of reading books too early is that you don’t really grasp them completely.¬†For instance, how much does a twelve or thirteen year old really understand¬†Miss Havisham? How much of Ayn Rand can you understand when you’re sixteen? On second thought, sixteen is probably the latest one should read Ayn Rand.

The main¬†reason behind my reading gap, however, is that I missed the prime time for reading and experimentation – college.¬†All I could lay my hands on in my college hostel (located outside city limits) were the Harry Potter novels, Mills & Boon romances, and the occasional Sidney Sheldon or two. You don’t figure out what to read¬†googling “100 books to read before you die”. You need friends who love reading for that. Looking back, that’s probably why I was so miserable and angsty throughout college.

I did start reading again once I started working and thanks to F.D. my new found love for sci-fi and fantasy keeps my Kindle warm on a lonely night. Yet the missing years continue to rankle.

Perhaps this shall be the year I get around to reading some of the classics I missed.


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