Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’

I Must Remember This… A Privacy Problem for Amazon?

In Entertainment, Technology, Uncategorized on June 11, 2010 at 12:51 pm
The Amazon Kindle 2

Image via Wikipedia

Did you know that 929 Kindle users highlighted the following phrase from Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom:

“faith is about doing. You are how you act, not just how you believe.”

Or that 438 Kindle users reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice highlighted:

“Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”

Or that 870 Kindle users highlighted the following from The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown:

“McTaggart’s book The Intention Experiment, and her global,Web-baesd study — — aimed”

Thanks to a new feature from Amazon, you can check and see what the most popular books and phrases highlighted by Kindle users as well as the most recent ones.

What’s it mean?

Well, in the case of the third reference, I would bet that most people just wanted to remember the website so they could see if the book and site actually exist (they do).

Slightly more ominously, though, it seems to mean that Amazon has learned little from last year’s kerfuffle when they remotely deleted thousands of copies of Animal Farm and 1984 from people’s Kindles.

As The New York Times reported, Amazon had been deleting other books as well though, in each case, the books were ones that should have never been available, put in the Kindle store by people who didn’t have the rights to them.

And while Amazon got a lot of flack — CEO Jeff Bezos posted an apology saying the way they handled the situation “stupid” and “thoughtless” — I kind of feel some of it was misguided. You buy a stolen car and the cops find out, you’re going to lose the car and there’s really nothing you’ll be able to do about it.

Where I think they deserved a lot of flack was the fact that they were able to remotely go into people’s devices showed an ability to infringe on people’s privacy.

And that’s where I think this highlighting thing comes in — I actually think it’s a much larger invasion of privacy than the deleting remotely. It’s one thing to recall a purchase that should have never been made it’s entirely different to be able to basically spy on someone, not only monitoring what they’re reading but what they’re highlighting.

Yes, it’s kind of interesting to know what others find interesting but it’s kind of disturbing that Amazon has the ability to collect that information.

And while Amazon says they’re not posting who underlined what, they still have the information.

It’s great that it’s becoming easier to buy books, store books and that reading e-books is becoming a more enjoyable experience. But it’s important to realize that as more and more people buy e-readers and we spend more time online, the ability to lose our privacy becomes a bigger and bigger threat.

Just ask the more than 100,000 iPad users whose email addresses were obtained by a security group that breached AT&T’s security.

The Irony of the Internet

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2010 at 12:13 pm

For as long as I can remember, a pen and piece of paper have been the tools of my trade.

Somewhere — a box in my house or maybe my grandfather’s — exists a poem written when I was about five and trust me when I tell you, it was probably the most wonderful poem ever by anybody.


Even now, in this age of computers where emoticons (see above) are now as prevalent as semi-colons (if not more s0) and I sit here writing this post on my MacBook, there’s still something about grabbing a pen and piece of paper and starting to work out my thoughts that way.

Whether it’s been an article for a newspaper, a short story, sometimes even just a letter, I like to put pen to paper before I put fingers to keyboard.

And, I have to say, for a long time, I’ve been a bit of a pen snob. There was a long stretch where it was just Mont Blanc ballpoints and now I alternate between a Waterman and a Cross.

Anyway, what got me thinking about this was the story in the New York Times the other day about Mark Twain as literary critic, which included an interactive feature that allowed you to scroll through pages and examine Twain’s own handwriting.

This wasn’t the first of the Times’s literary postings. Late last year they put on their website the one and only complete handwritten manuscript of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. As the Times pointed out in an accompanying article, looking at the manuscript in Dickens’s handwriting allows you a glimpse into this thoughts, as he crosses out sections only to reinsert them later to draw out the dramatic effect.

The manuscript draws you into the magical world of creation, the  pen strokes, the scribblings that become art. Not to take anything away from anything created on computer, but there’s something about being able to see the work that’s gone into something. It’s not like politics and sausage-making.

And more often, libraries are beginning to recognize the appeal.

The British Library has even developed special software, Turning the Pages, that they say allows you to “leaf through our great books and magnify the details.”

The online gallery they’ve created allows you to read Jane Austen’s handwritten, satirical history of England and Lewis Carroll’s original Alice’s Adventures Under Ground.

One of my personal favorite examples of this is an early draft of what would become the Story of Babar posted by The Morgan Library.

The online exhibitions of handwritten pages come at a time when — and I actually feel a little silly saying this because it seems to obvious — a probable majority of work these days is created on keyboards.

Just look at the announcement from Emory University, which has acquired Salman Rushdie’s archives in the form of his old computers.

The point is that there’s a certain irony in the fact that thanks to the beauty of the digital age, it is now so much easier to appreciate the beauty of the written page, the work that goes into creating art.

Cathleen Schine's Wonderful, 'Sensible' New Book

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2010 at 8:43 am

Make no mistake — a positive review in The New York Times Book Review, especially on the cover — can sell books.

About a month ago, I wrote about the trouble I was having finding Cathleen Schine’s new novel, The Three Weissmanns of Westport.

Powell’s, in Portland where I live, couldn’t get copies, same with Barnes and Noble. Even online Barnes and Amazon had been listing it on backorder.

I reached out to Schine’s publicist at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Laurel Cook, to find out if there had been some sort of production problem — after all, it had received a front page, fabulous review in The New York Times Book Review and it seemed it shouldn’t be so hard to get the book.

“Even though there were a substantial number of copies printed and advanced, the demand after the NYT review was unprecedented,” Cook said.

So, I waited and a couple of weeks ago, I went back to New York for Passover and renewed my search, striking out at the Barnes and Noble on Broadway and 82nd and another store before finally finding a guy who knew a guy.

The question now is, Was it worth it?

The answer?

Hell, yeah.

Listen. I’m not the first person to talk about how wonderful this book is.

Read what The New Yorker had to say


Adam Kirsch at Tablet


The Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

“When Joseph Weissmann divorced his wife, he was seventy-eight years old and she was seventy-five,” the book begins.

Joseph’s wife, Betty, is stunned when he tells her that after 48 years, they have irreconcilable differences.

“Irreconcilable differences? she said. Of course there are irreconcilable differences. What on earth does that have to do with divorce?”

Beginning with whomever wrote the copy for the book’s dust jacket, there is no shortage of people comparing the novel to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility — just transported to Westport, Connecticut.

And certainly that’s true to a large extent. Betty stands in for Mrs. Dashwood; her daughters, Annie and Miranda, for Elinor and Marianne; Cousin Lou is there for John Middleton.

But stopping at the comparisons doesn’t do Schine or her book justice. With all deference to Austen, Schine has taken a recognizable quantity and layered it so deeply, with plot twists and language that is witty without being overdone, that you are the richer for having spent time with it.

“In the contested apartment, Betty Weissmann took some satisfaction in finishing a bottle of Joseph’s favorite single malt. Some satisfaction, though not much, for Betty did not like single malt whiskey.”


“Betty watched her daughter from the other side of the room. How serious she looked. Attractive, in a severe sort of way. Betty remembered giving Annie a sweater with sequins, just a few sequins, very tasteful, very chic. The look on Annie’s face — it was pure, such pure dislike. Betty smiled. It was like the time Annie had wanted a cowboy outfit and they gave her a pink cowgirl skirt. It had offended her, even at five. If she had known the word ‘garish’ at that tender age, she would surely have used it.”


“The waves were uniform and hushed, each gentle white hiss followed by another. She saw some sea glass, a nice lage piece, beautiful muted green, but she was too stiff to bend down and pick it up.”

Almost every page brings a moment of joy, a moment that will have you delighting in the book. Schine builds her book masterfully — so much so that you don’t realize the true achievement until you’re close to finishing and wanting to slow down so the sad moment when the book will end, is postponed.

Abe Lincoln Vanquisher of the Confederacy, Killer of Vampires

In Entertainment, Strange on March 3, 2010 at 12:43 pm
Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of th...

Image via Wikipedia

He was the 16th President of the United States and it’s generally accepted more books have been written about him than any other president.

There’s even a book that has 101 things you probably didn’t know about Lincoln, presumably even if you had read most of the other books.

As it turns out, even if you had read all of those books, chances are you never would have learned about Lincoln’s true story — the story of his career as a vampire hunter.

But thanks to Seth Graeme-Smith, we now know the truth.

His new book, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, was released on Tuesday and we can finally learn “the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation.”

It should be noted here that Graeme-Smith’s previous novel was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which he “co-wrote” with Jane Austen.

And while there’s plenty of reason to be a bit skeptical of these literary mashups, as Entertainment Weekly pointed out, Graeme-Smith’s book deserves a lot of credit for the “satisfying desire it awakens to read the remix and the original side by side.”

And Entertainment Weekly’s not the only one to notice Graeme-Smith is on to something.

First, there was the news that Natalie Portman has optioned Zombies.

Then, for the Lincoln book, his publisher has come up with a pretty good trailer.

Which maybe inspired Tim Burton’s decision to option it.

Maybe not. Either way, I’m glad that Lincoln’s real story is finally being told.