Why Kindles aren’t (too) bad

Everyone seems to have a very strong opinion about whether reading e-books, most popularly on Kindles and other e-readers, is good or bad. The debate seems to centre around Kindle vs Physical Books, with the main arguments normally consisting of weight (aka, the ability to carry many books on Kindle instead of just one or two physical books), feel, authenticity, and preserving the bookshop.

As a bookseller, I have my own opinions on this topic, but as a reader I have even more – put together, there’s really only one sentence that I think really sums up my thoughts on whether we should use Kindles or Physical books and that is:

Reading is reading.

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Before starting my work in a bookshop, I predominantly used my Kindle. It was light, it was easy, and books were far, far cheaper. I hadn’t picked up a proper physical book in a long time, and the books I typical read were more romance and whimsical, with no real weight to them (pun intended, although that was a pretty poor one). I still classed myself as a bookworm and voracious reader, but it wasn’t until I started working in a bookshop that I realised how much it felt like I missed out on. My first day of work, I walked into the staff room to see everyone reading proof copies of A Little Life by Hanya Yanigihara, which of course I then picked up and read (review here). Not to sound too cheesy, but this book honestly changed my life, and completely changed the way I read books. All these books I’d read on Kindle couldn’t even hold a candle to this novel – because whilst you can get all sorts of books on e-readers, I tended to buy the cheapest, which didn’t always mean they were the best quality. For my first year of work, as you can see on this blog, I continued to read on my Kindle, but also began to read more and more physical books, and really from the beginning of 2017 I’ve barely used my Kindle.

For me, it felt like my love for books and reading had be reignited. When a customer comes in and talks about buying all these books they see on their Kindle, I usually shake my head and tut. “It’s the independent bookshops you’re killing!” I’ll tell them with a laugh, as they sheepishly grin. And whilst this holds truth, and whilst I still believe that Amazon is the devil in the book world, I don’t think we should discourage the use of Kindles, e-readers, and other ways of accessing e-books.

As I said earlier, e-books are usually far cheaper than physical books. For 99p, someone can download many different books straight onto their phone or computer. In this age of technology, there are so many ways someone can access reading – and no matter what, I stand by my opinion that reading is reading, and no form of reading should be discouraged. Whilst older generations may wag their fingers at youngsters reading books on their phones, what they’re doing is not discouraging using phones to read books, but reading entirely. Kids may be more attracted to shiny gadgets over paper (and what a generalisation that is, a stereotype that everyone uses), but what should that matter if they’re reading? For them, it means they may well pick up the new Percy Jackson or Roald Dahl or even Dickens, but will read it on their phone instead of buying a physical copy. For many, they can’t afford to buy books and don’t have access to a library, so to have a more painless, easy way to access literature is a godsend.

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I joke around a lot about Amazon, threatening to disown members of my family who buy physical books off there (and I hold by that threat, no family of mine buys physical books off Amazon without incurring my wrath), but what they have managed to do is bring a new dimension to reading. I for one am a huge fan of audiobooks, something which I would never have dreamed of investing my time in before audible became available to download on my phone.

Reading is reading, and whether someone is reading from a huge tome, a computer, a phone or a Kindle, no one should be discouraged from unlocking these many worlds that books bring to us.

Rant over.

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Books I’m Thankful For

Although I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, I saw some really lovely book-related posts about books people are thankful for, and thought it was a really lovely idea. So, without further ado, here are some books that I am thankful for.

1. The Judy Moody Series

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Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). I wasn’t always an avid reader, and in fact I have a very clear memory of when I was about seven or eight in class and we had to bring in a book for reading time – and I brought in this sort of guide, non-fiction, about tropical animals that was bright green with a lizard on the cover. I couldn’t read half the words (most were of the latin names for certain creatures with their various different body parts) and every week my teacher would write on my progress sheet that I should probably pick something easier to read.

Then I found the Judy Moody series with their simple brown covers and illustrations. For some reason this was the series that got me reading, and I absolutely loved them – it also sparked an obsession with mood rings for a while, and I remember I had a hardback of one of the books that had a little arrow you could spin that would tell you what mood you were in. Most people say the first books they loved were Harry Potter or The Northern Lights, but for me it was the simple, sassy character of Judy Moody, who had so many mood-swings it was hard to keep up.

2. Twilight

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Ok now bear with me here. I know Twilight isn’t great, and I know the movies aren’t great, but this is one series that I remember starting in between primary and secondary school and absolutely loving. It’s the first series I found that I was always desperate for the sequel. I remember finishing New Moon on holiday and waiting anxiously until the next time we had internet to find out when the third book would be out. Ok, yes, they aren’t great books – and I can say that now when I’ve read much better – but from the ages of 11/12 to about 14/15, these books made me excited about reading. It was the first time a book was the main topic of conversation at school, and everyone was talking about them, so it was great to be the person that had read more than others and could engage in serious debates over which character was better. I was on Team Jacob, and I think I also have Twilight to thank for those years where I became obsessed with wolves – not to mention Taylor Lautner, who I also loved in The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, definitely go watch that movie because oh man, it’s a good’un.

 

3. The Night Circus

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Still one of my favourite books of all time, The Night Circus showed me what a brilliant fantasy book could be. Not only were the descriptions beautiful, but the plot was cleverly woven together, the world was crafted with an amazing imagination, and I absolutely adored the characters. Even the concept – a circus that opens at sunset and closes at sunrise which travels around the world, appearing without warning – is just brilliant. Something so simple is made into pure brilliance, with one grand duel, magic, and more, interspersed with sections detailing various exhibits at the circus. This was the book I discussed in my interview for the bookshop I work in now, and the manager joined me in complaining that there wasn’t another book out by her. There’s no doubt about it that this book truly is breathtaking.

 

4. A Little Life

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So we’ve gone from fun kid book, to vampire teenage romance, to magical mayhem, to the cause of my first true broken heart. A Little Life ruined me and my emotions for the whole time I read it, up to today. Even when I think about this book I feel my stomach clench – Hanya truly is a master of words and characters. Never have I cared more about characters than I did for the four boys in A Little Life, and it’s the first book that made me scare people in public. There are several traumatic events in the book, but one particular twist I did not see coming towards the end had me slamming my book shut on a busy train and say ‘For God’s sake’ out loud whilst tearing up a little bit. The girl sitting next to me looked very alarmed, and shifted as far away from me as her seat would allow.

This is also the first book I was recommended by a colleague at work – several of them, actually. I thought I’d finally found where I belonged, walking in to the staff room those first few weeks only to see literally everyone reading proof copies of this book. It was all anyone talked about for a very long time, and when I finally read it I had a support group that I messaged with my progress. Although it wasn’t very comforting to have someone say ‘Oh, you’re almost at that part’ every single time I messaged.

 

5. The Odyssey

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I had to have something about classics in the mix. The Odyssey was my first real introduction to Classical Studies, and I couldn’t have loved it more. Here I thought it would be something boring, just about war and sailing and fighting and old white men. Alas, it was about war and sailing and fighting and old white men, but it was also about witches and vengeful gods and monsters that tried to eat you and a very arrogant protagonist you can love to hate as he winds up being the sole survivor of hundreds of his men. (Why anyone thinks Odysseus is a good leader I will never know)

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Honourable mentions go to Antigone, Picture of Dorian Gray, The Hunger Games, Frankenstein, and Uprooted. It was so difficult to narrow down to just five (especially when you know you have to include Twilight for reasons I will not repeat), but it serves as a great reminder to how much a book can have an impact on your life. This year, and probably every other year, I am so thankful to books for providing an escape from the world – and, as 2016 draws to a close, it’s clear I’m really going to need that escape often.

Readathons

I have always liked the idea of a Readathon, or Read-a-Thon, or whatever it may be. The general idea is that you read-along with other people, and that sense of community in books and reading, things that I enjoy immensely, was appealing. I wanted to be able to read a book with someone and be able to say to them ‘OH MY GOD ARE YOU AT THIS BIT YET’ and ‘I KNOW RIGHT INSANITY’, and so on. So when I saw a latest readathon to tackle books of over 500 pages, I though ‘Grand, I have lots of big books I want to tackle, let’s do this’. But I kind of failed, because although I was pumped and picked my books, I forgot the whole ‘community’ bit, because it was all on twitter. My bad. On the bright side, I’ve finished a few big books – and some smaller books, because they needed to be read.

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But I’m still on the bandwagon that declares that readathons are the best, despite not being able to participate in one yet. So I’m trying again, but on something a little smaller scale – buddy reading! For those that have no clue what I’m saying, it’s again in the name, when you buddy read a book with someone – luckily I work in a bookshop so it wasn’t hard to find someone who also needs to read a certain book.

I have seen some opposition to readathons however, such as ‘but reading is such a personal thing’, ‘I read alone not in groups’, ‘Why talk to people when you can read?’ (You get the drift). And, truly, I get what you mean. You have to be the one to discover reading and actually enjoy it. It’s you that gets lost in the characters, the emotions, the feels, and all of that. But talking about books is almost as good as reading them, trust me.

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When I was younger, I didn’t have many people that read the same books as me. In secondary school, there was the occasional book that others had read (hello Twilight) but again, not many. It wasn’t really, if I’m honest, until I reached university and, more importantly, the bookshop that I discovered the joys of talking about books in depth. When I started working as a bookseller, all of my colleagues were reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara, and so everyone was talking about it. As soon as I’d finished it, I understood why everyone was going so batshit crazy for it. The book itself is written beautifully, but the response it creates differs incredibly (if you want my response, go read my review). Talking about it, debating, discussing plot twists, analysing characters, swooning over certain moments – it’s fun, it’s engaging, and it makes the book worth so much more. It makes you feel closer to it and the writing. Being able to talk to people means getting new opinions and ideas. For example, I recently heard a review that hated the book, and talking about why was so very interesting. In the case of A Little Life, they disliked the fact that a certain character suffers from so much abuse that it becomes closer to ridiculousness and melodrama – which, when I think about it, I completely understand. And that’s ok! It’s great to have a different opinion when it comes to books, because it means that you’re truly engaging with the book and appreciating it.

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Which is why I’m so eager to get into buddy reading and, maybe, try out another readathon – but next time I’ll be sure to check the details for where discussions are actually happening. Because that’s the whole point, Eleanor, you dodo.

Let me know what you think about readathons, if you’ve participated and, more importantly, if you’re up for buddy reading. I’m so game it’s not even funny.

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Planned upcoming reads: Mistborn: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson, The Archived by V.E Schwab, Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin, and Nod by Adrian Barnes.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Sometimes you can forget just how much power a book can have – at least, that’s how I felt after reading A Little life. A story about love, friendship, and life – which sounds completely vague, but it’s hard to go into detail without breaking down into tears. I finished this book on the first day of this year and finally I can post a review.

When four graduates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome – but that will define his life forever.

 

 

Hanya Yanagihara made the Man Booker nominations with this novel, and it’s easy to see why. From the very first page she offers up beautiful descriptions and some great lines, but what drives this story is the extraordinary character development. The book follows a group of four friends: Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm. We follow them through their lives, starting when they’re in their early twenties, and it’s difficult not to care about them when you spend over 700 hundred pages with them. Even now when someone mentions the name Willem or starts humming ‘Hey Jude’ by the Beatles, my heart hurts.

Willem is the handsome, wannabe actor that you fall in love with, JB the outspoken artist who will offend you yet still manage to charm his way in, Malcolm the uncertain architect, and finally Jude, who is the real mystery. You watch them as they make their way through the spectacle that is life, dealing with jealousy, success, relationships, and more. Jude is the only character who is entirely closed off, with an unspeakable past which will have you guessing – and, let me tell you, when you find out the details you’ll wish you could turn back the pages and not know. You want them all to have their happy ending, and you never know whether or not Hanya is going to give it to you.

There are few bits that might irritate you – such as the lack of insight to any female character whatsoever. There are a few secondary characters that happen to be female, but they are not at all necessary for the main story. As much as this irritates me, it’s hard to dislike being so completely immersed in the lives of these four men. I would have liked to see some stronger female characters, as every female character in the book is normally partnered up with a man who has a much bigger role – it definitely shows when I can’t remember a single female character name now, but I still can name Harold, Ezra, Richard, and more. You get the idea.

Harrowing, desperate, utterly heart-breaking – just a few words I’d use to describe this whirlwind of emotions. It’s painful, but brilliantly so. The book tears you down just to put you back together again, only to tear you down even more than the first time. It brought me to tears, made me smile, made me laugh, made me want to put it in the freezer and run far, far away where it can’t hurt me. You’ll want to scream at these characters, hug them, laugh with them and, yes, sometimes punch them in the nose. I’d forgotten how much a book could make you feel and can safely say that this was an experience unlike any other, I can’t recommend it enough. I would advise though that you carve out time for this book and make sure that you’re in a very happy, stable state when you start it because you’re going to need strength to get through it all.

January Wrap Up

I actually read a ton of books last month, and although some are a bit ‘cheaty’ I’m still bloody proud. I’m having two different tallies, as my main goal is to read 50 books – but in my head, by 50 books I mean I want to read 50 proper books and not count the quick, easy-to-read, often-one-day kindle reads that I usually get for free or for until £2. So Goodreads is my ‘proper 50 book’ record and I have a little ‘what i read’ book (thanks to the beautiful December Owlcrate box) which I write down everything, warts and all.

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In the month of January, I read 6 *ahem* proper books and another 2 kindle reads on top of that. Now I say 6, but really it’s more like 4 and a half – first of all because one of the 6 was very small and another I merely finished in January, whereas in reality I read the vast majority of it in December. Oh well, according to Goodreads it counts (and on that note, you can find me on Goodreads at http://goodreads.com/Stammydodger).

So the first book I finished in January was the beast that is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – a full review of this will either be popping up on this blog or on a friend’s website very soon! To sum up my thoughts: it was beautifully heartbreaking. If you follow me on Instagram @Stammydodger (so much plugging today, it’s not true), you will have seen the various photos when I finished the book and the note a friend wrote me whilst drunk to help me deal with finishing it. It was heartbreaking and it gutted me, yet I’m so glad that I stuck with it and managed to finish. A book has never felt so powerful to me before, and I completely understand the concept that characters are the ones who drive the plot. In all honesty, I couldn’t tell you the plot of this book outside the fact that it follows these four friends and their lives. Five stars, no doubt.

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After that, I wanted something easy to read and decided on The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, which ended up being kind of sad and bittersweet as well! Alas, a very sweet and lovely book to read, one that I’ve been meaning to read ever since my dad bought me a copy when I was a young teen. I awarded it four stars.

Now for the first Kindle book of the year, called The Score by Elle Kennedy, which was a light-hearted, easygoing romantic comedy which I gave a relieved-it’s-not-sad three stars.

Following that was Waterstone’s rediscovered classic of the month A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, which I also gave three stars – but a very different kind of three stars to The Score. See, I find it very very very difficult to rate books against each other, so in my head I rate them according to their category. If I were to talk about style and sophistication of writing, these kindle books I gobble up would be 1-2 stars with Hemingway at 5, but alas, that’s not how I work. Moveable Feast is very beautifully written, a non-fiction set in Paris after the war, but the man is just an arse. Never have I read something where there is name-dropping on what feels like every other page.

Then we get to another kindle read, Hollywood Dirt by Alessandra Torre which I’m still not 100% sure about. There were a few isolated scenes that, on their own, were very good and fun to read, but the relationship between the two main characters just never seemed to work in my head. There’s a very good way to do the Frenemy trope, but it wasn’t within this book. In all honesty, there were a few times I wanted to give up with this book as it felt quite unnatural and uncomfortable, but still an ok read to wind down. And really, that’s the kind of book I download on my kindle – something that is easygoing, not difficult to read, and I can just relax.

Now for The Martian by Andy Weir – and I see what all the fuss is about. I was going to post a review for this, but I’ve decided I’d like to see the film first to see how they manage to transfer the brilliance of the book into film. What a fantastic read, five stars without a doubt, with a surprisingly hilarious narrator yet packed with scene after scene of action.

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One of my university reads now, Turkish Embassy Letters by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and I am unashamed to say that I did indeed picture Lady Mary from Downton Abbey travelling with a husband around Turkey because, really, it made for a much more interesting read. I’ve never read any travel writing before, so don’t even ask me why I’m doing eighteenth century travel writing, but I still found it very interesting.

Finally we get to the last book of January, and what a book, Uprooted by Naomi Novik which I absolutely adored and will definitely be posting a full review for. I always forget how much I love fantasy, despite it being the genre I read the most, and this appealed to me to no end. I mean, one of the main characters is called ‘The Dragon’ – how could I not like it? I read it in three nights – literally, three nights, as I stupidly started it before I went to sleep and ended up reading until the early hours of the morning, only putting it down to get some kind of rest before work. There were a couple of elements that made me lean towards four stars, but I can’t help it, I just love it too much to not give it five stars.

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That brings me to 6/50 for this challenge, and a total 8 books for this year. I highly doubt February will be as successful, considering the addition of university work and reading of articles that I can’t count as books along with essays (oh man), but I’m pretty chuffed with my 2016 reading so far. Not sure if any month can beat A Little Life, The Martian, AND Uprooted, but I’m willing to try.