November 17, 2013 § 7 Comments
The debate about the merits of e-readers over books has been raging since the Kindle rose to popularity. There are those who condemn the e-reader for the downfall of the major book stores, and to some extent, I sympathise with that perspective. Yes, e-books led to a decline in the sale of hard-copy books. When the three-story Borders in the middle of my city closed, Brisbane lost something special. Jobs were lost and an important part of the cityscape was gone. I felt this loss acutely, as I visited Borders several times a week since early high school.
But something has begun to bother lately: the statement that one must have an “actual book” in order to read. If I had a page for every time someone said to me, “Oh, I can’t use an e-reader, I need to hold a real book”, I’d have a tome the size of War and Peace. Now, I believe you when you say this. Really, I do. But you’re missing out.
Books are irreplaceable. This, I will not deny. E-readers and digital books cannot replicate the feeling of opening an anticipated book to its first page, or the exhilaration of turning its final one. Books are emotional objects. Every book I own holds a memory – where I got it, why I bought it, how I enjoyed it, the people I shared it with. My first edition of The Hunger Games, with its childish cover and Scholastic branding, is evidence that I trusted my good friend’s recommendation enough to read it long before Jen stepped into Katniss’ worn leather boots.
My copy of Fight Club has seen better days. I’m pretty sure that someone I loaned it to spilled beer on it, but it kind of added to its authenticity, in a meta-fictional sense. My Harry Potter novels are in perfect condition, so much did I treasure them, but their pages are beginning to yellow with age. My handwriting, on the top right corner of each title page, gets more and more legible with each volume, as I grew up in time with my collection’s expansion.
My collection of books is testament to my obsession with fiction. I long since gave up on using a bookshelf. My last one collapsed in on itself with the weight of my books, so for now, three quarters of my collection is housed in air-tight crates. The remaining quarter of it is sitting in stacks all around my house. You’ll find my books on the arms of chairs, under my bed, on my desk, on my living room table. It makes me happy to see all my messy, mismatched editions sitting cheerfully on top of one another, wherever you look in my house. I love to lend my books to others, especially when someone has taken me up on a recommendation. I’ve lost more than a few books to irresponsible readers, but somehow, it’s worth it. Well, mostly.
Above all, my favourite thing about hard-copy books, though: bookstores. I go to a bookstore nearly every day: Second-hand book shops, with unimaginable range and unshakeable character; on-trend book stores with tattooed staff and eclectic selections of vintage novels; academic bookstores with hidden gems tucked in amongst the scholarly volumes; and a specialty bookstore with a genre-specific catalogue and staff patient enough to sit through my constant questions about upcoming releases and ETAs on my many, many orders. If I only ever bought e-books, I would lose out on the richness of these stores, and the books I would never have picked up if they hadn’t been recommended to me by someone who has come to know my tastes. This is what I’m paying for when I buy my novels in hard-copy. These are the experiences that are as much a part of my book collection as the tomes themselves.
However, does not mean that my e-reader does not have value in its own right. Tucked inside a pocket of my hand-bag is an entire collection: hundreds of books, literally at my fingertips. I think I first began to truly appreciate my e-reader when I was reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. If you haven’t heard of WoT, each of the fourteen novels is enormous. Having the entire collection on my e-reader meant that when I finished a book mid-bus ride, I could just open up the next with no pause at all.
Obviously, price is a factor with e-books. With prices so low, I’m much more tempted to try an author or genre that I wouldn’t risk my spending my money on in hard-copy. And thanks to Project Gutenburg, there are many e-books available for free. I have a small confession to make, also. I have, at times, read pirated copies of books on my e-reader. I endeavour to be an ethical pirate. When I finally decided to read Ender’s Game, I couldn’t bring myself to give royalty to Orson Scott Card. So I read a pirated copy, loved it, and didn’t have to feel guilty about having supported a homophobic asshole.
On the flipside, digital publishing offers a legitimate, accessible platform for new authors. I recently read, and loved, A SINGLE GIRL’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. I bought this book purely because the title was funny and it was $5.99. It was an excellent read, and I was glad to be able to support a new author. On top of this, I could recommend this book with complete ease over the internet to my international readers, who could own it within seconds if my review persuaded them to read it!
I believe there are those who love books, and there are those who love to read. Of course, you can be both, but I think many people love the idea of being a bookworm more than they love to read. If you truly love to read, the format of the story is secondary to the story itself. The oft-repeated “I have to have an actual book in my hands” is a materialistic sentiment that belittles the author’s work. You think that just because you’re turning the pages on a screen, you’re not reading the book? You’re wrong. Yes, I prefer print books over digital books, but it’s not because I have to hold the book in order to enjoy it. I regularly use my e-reader in order to read books that aren’t available in print format, and if I refused to do so because it was not a physical copy, I would be cutting myself off from an enormously rich market.
My Gran, who endured endless conversation about the books I was reading, would always remind me, “No matter what, you’ll always have your books.” She’s right, of course – I live in the many worlds of the fiction I read. A piece of me resides in Fillory, another in District Thirteen. Most days, my mind has wandered to the Gryffindor common room, or possibly to the decks of the mad ship, Paragon.
I’m dependent on reading. If I’m having a bad day, I console myself with the fact that I can vacate reality and step into fiction. I am a reader. It is what I do, who I am. And I am bewildered by the fact that this is called into question when people see me reading from my e-reader. Read. Read everything, every way.
November 15, 2013 § 3 Comments
I’ve always had a weakness for medical thrillers. Back in high school, I went through a Robin Cook phase, and I’m not even embarrassed to admit that to you all. When I picked up PARASITE on one of my frequent trips to the bookstore, I was immediately drawn to the concept of medical parasites. Although I didn’t enjoy Mira Grant’s Newsflesh Trilogy, I decided to buy it anyway. PARASITE turned out to be the best second chance I ever gave an author.
After a car accident nearly killed her, Sally was reliant on life support. But just as her family were preparing to turn the machines off, Sal opened her eyes and sat up. The genetically modified tapeworm secreting tailored medication, vitamins and minerals in her gut had somehow brought her from a coma to consciousness. Sally Mitchell owes her life to the SymboGen Intestinal Bodyguard™.
Although she no longer remembers being Sally, Sal learns to walk, talk, eat and clothe herself all over again. Thanks to the Intestinal Bodyguard™, she has a second chance at life.
Sal is the first person whose implant delivered her from a coma. Now that she represents the enormous potential of the Intestinal Bodyguard™ Sal’s body has become highly valuable to the biggest company in the world… and SymboGen won’t let her forget it.
Sal isn’t stupid. She knows that SymboGen track her every move – she is simply too important for them to lose track of. Since her living memory only extends back six years, and given that she’d be dead without her tapeworm, she’s not really in a position to argue. But that doesn’t mean she trusts SymboGen, who have never really been forthcoming about why, exactly, her implant saved her.
At first, it’s a freak incident. A little girl in a shopping centre suddenly goes slack-jawed and loose-limbed, and even her mother’s frantic sobs can’t bring her back to reality. She seems to be sleepwalking, in a slumber so deep it ultimately consumes her. But then there’s another incident, and the “sleepwalker” became violent, lashing out at passers-by who got in his way. Another incident, and then another, until the “sleeping sickness” becomes a worldwide concern.
Nobody can figure out what’s caused it – except that all of the sufferers have SymboGen implants.
Sometimes humanity is the reason we can’t have nice things.
Sal is such a great character; she’s strong-willed and observant, shrewd, kind and caring. She also represents a fascinating dichotomy – she has an adult understanding of her life, and is treated as an adult by those around her, but can only remember being alive for six years. She is at once mature and naïve, and always dependent on those around her. With a medical doctor for a father, a sceptical parasitologist as a boyfriend, and the CEO of SymboGen as her protector, Sal is at the very epicentre of the sleeping sickness conspiracy. The world at large knows that it’s related to the implant, but Sal’s boyfriend Nathan suspects the company is withholding critical information from the medical community. Uniquely positioned to obtain this information, Sal begins to feel the pressure from all sides. And underneath it all, she’s worried. After all, Sal has an implant too…
Almost unintentionally, PARASITE raises some interesting ethical issues. If you wake up one day and don’t remember who you are, are you someone entirely new? Is there such a thing as cellular memory, and if there isn’t, do you have a right to the relationships and achievements of the person you don’t remember being? On the other hand, SymboGen has much to answer for. There’s no denying the fact their genetically modified Intestinal Bodyguards™ are evidence that the company has no qualms about playing God. But if something that hurts the few can truly benefit the many, is it right to withhold information about its potential danger?
I think what I found most interesting was the exploration of the ethics of the creators of the Intestinal Bodyguard™. A modified tapeworm spliced with the DNA of other organisms, D. Symbogenesis is the brainchild of three parasitologists. Pioneering the idea that parasites are our friends, Dr Steven Banks has fronted up SymboGen since the implant boomed. His mentality is gradually revealed throughout the novel in snippets of his interview entitled “King of the Worms”, published in Rolling Stone. Dr Cale was directly responsible for the final incarnation of the implant. She reveals her thoughts in excerpts of “Can of Worms”, her unpublished autobiography, where she dishes on the truth behind the world’s most important parasite. And the third doctor? Well. His thoughts come in the form of a suicide note.
“If you believed that D. Symbogenesis was the simple, easily controlled organism SymoGen described in their press releases and paperwork, you have been sold a bottle of snake oil.”
PARASITE is the best thriller I’ve read this year. This is mostly due to the fact that it was absolutely nothing like I expected it to be. I was waiting for it to eventually morph into a zombie novel, but it didn’t even come close.
The concept of people purposely ingesting parasites is a serious skin-crawler, and would probably have made for an interesting book by itself. But combined with cleverly-paced revelations, genre-melding narrative and characters that you can never quite trust, and you’ve got an unpredictable, completely engrossing page-turner.
Regular readers will not be surprised to know that I found PARASITE at Pulp Fiction. Did you know Pulp Fiction supply e-books too? Buy your e-copy of Parasite from Pulp Fiction here, for $11.99, and support my favourite bookstore.
Are you, like me, oddly fascinated by parasites? You’re weird. But we’re in this together. Check out Caustic Soda’s podcast episode on parasites. Be warned, though – Caustic Soda are not for the faint-hearted!
November 10, 2013 § 4 Comments
Q is an odd kindergarten teacher. She is constantly daydreaming, Scrubs-style, about the best strategy to overcome a hypothetical zombie apocalypse.
When vegan activist Rabbit comes to the kindergarten where Q works, she’s too enamoured with his rugged good looks and hippy-chic to be paying attention to the lyrics of his songs. She’s snapped out of her reverie when she realises that the children are crying – Rabbit’s rendition of “New MacDonald” had detailed the ins and outs of the meat industry, and it hasn’t gone done well with this particular demographic…
Nevertheless, Q is in love. Through a stealthy combination of Facebook stalking and posing as a potential vegan convert, she manages to track down an activist group that Rabbit attends. When the group invites her to a bush retreat, Q envisions romantic encounters with Rabbit in picturesque scenery. So naturally, she accepts.
Being more than a little obsessed with preparedness for that hypothetical apocalypse, Q habitually brings to the retreat everything that she could possibly need in the extremely unlikely event that Z attacks. It’s not because she thinks it will, it’s just what she always does. Like I said, she’s an odd kindy teacher. The first day of the retreat, Q finds herself clashing with Pious Kate, the leader of the group and Rabbit’s ex, over what is and is not permitted on a soul-searching expedition. Q’s extensive collection of weaponry, for example, is apparently not.
Much like the hapless teens of Tomorrow When the War Began were blissfully ignorant to invading forces when they were camping in the bush, Q and the vegans see only hints that something has gone dreadfully wrong in their hometown of Sydney.
Before long, Q realises that the apocalypse strategies she’s always assembled as a hobby will actually need to be implemented, if she is to save the vegans and, more importantly, have an opportunity to woo Rabbit.
THE SINGLE GIRL’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE is different to every other zombie book I’ve read. Although one might classify it as a zom-rom-com, it’s got very little in common with the infamous Shaun of the Dead. For one thing, while Shaun of the Dead is indisputably British, SINGLE GIRL’S GUIDE is very Australian. If you’re not familiar with the Australian sense of humour, let me explain: Australian comedy is a kind of hybrid of American confidence, British self-deprecation and complete eccentricity. Australian humour tends to be satirical, pointed and quite often bittersweet, like Kath and Kim or Chris Lilley’s comedies. THE SINGLE GIRL’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE exhibits all of these characteristics, and somehow manages to be quite frightening at the same time.
As a protagonist, Q is really fun to read. Being obsessed with the zombie apocalypse, she’s a bit of an oddball, but she’s also quite sweet. She respects her kindy kids as equals, so she is able to develop strong relationships with them. Some of my favourite passages from the book are the hilarious conversations between Q and five year old Hannah, who Q calls her best friend. I am a twenty-three year old Australian girl who used to be a pre-service teacher. I am willing to admit, albeit sheepishly, that I think about apocalyptic events more than your average person, so naturally, I identified strongly with Q. That said, author JT Clay has portrayed Q in such a way that I felt 100% invested in her bizarre situation, but I was also distanced enough from it that I was able to laugh at it.
THE SINGLE GIRL’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE could be seen as quite an unforgiving depiction of vegans. However, I don’t think it’s a criticism of the vegan lifestyle, but rather of the “piety” of those few who see themselves as “greener than thou.” Pious Kate, as Q aptly names her, is a textbook example of a vegan who uses her belief system to belittle others. Having worked for an actively vegan company, I can say with complete confidence that a vegan who dictates their values to others is an exception and not the rule. That said, when I recommended this book to a friend who is vegetarian, I will admit that I thought twice about whether it might be considered offensive. I think, though, that it would only be the hyper-sensitive who would take these affectionate jibes to heart. Anyway, my vegan readers will be glad to know that they come out on top in the end…
I do prefer to read print books, but books like this are the reason it’s worthwhile owning an e-reader. THE SINGLE GIRL’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE is author JT Clay’s first novel, and if it weren’t for the e-release, it might be years before this gem hit the shelves in print. I’m also particularly excited to be sharing my review of this book with you guys, and with the Books Rock My World Facebook community, because you can grab a copy of it pretty much instantly!
Buy THE SINGLE GIRL’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE for your e-reader for $5.99 right here. If you think it sounds even halfway decent, I encourage you to give it a try. I had to consciously stop reading it on the bus because I could not refrain from laughing out loud. Zombies + romance + vegans + kindy kids = a really funny, really sweet book, and you should read it right now.
I can’t wait to hear what you think of THE SINGLE GIRL’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. Leave me a comment here on the blog, on The Novelettes Facebook page, or on Books Rock My World, to let me know how you enjoyed it!