darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Default)
Listening to fiction )

Listening to nonfiction )

Watching TV )

Watching a movie )

Reading things )

And, a propos of very little:

My fellow Fanmericans - The State of Our Union is...#SuperSleepy is canon! May God ship you & may God ship the United States of Fanmerica

(@TheOrlandoJones tonight on Twitter)
darkemeralds: Image of an open book whose pages are turning into wings and flying away (Winged book)
Currently on the beside table, Kindle app, and Audible player: )

And in lighter reading: I'm back on a Supernatural kick. [livejournal.com profile] roxymissrose has some great classic recs here--Amnesia fics. It's a whole category. God, I love fandom.
darkemeralds: Image of River Tam from the River Tam Sessions, Serenity, with caption "I can see you." (I Can See You)
I'm about ninety percent through Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things, and I'm just...gah! I love it so much, and it cuts so close to the bone for me, that unless Gilbert completely ruins it in the home stretch, it will be one of my favorite novels ever.

It's difficult to discuss without revealing significant themes and plot points, but it probably won't spoil the story to say that for the bulk of its many, many pages (or, in my case, hours of audiobook) it's about a female character in her fifties: an intelligent, erudite, repressed, perfectionistic, obsessive and--not incidentally for me--very big, unattractive--woman who doesn't break out of her chrysalis until late in life.

I've avoided reading about it, or the author--I like novels better that way--but I heard that Gilbert spent three years researching the story. Clearly this research included spending lots of time in all the story's locales. Her descriptions of place are brilliant.

As such, it's the kind of novel that only an already-successful writer can undertake--take three years off, travel the world, read widely, meet with experts, then craft a masterpiece of historical fiction.

Late in the story, a new work by a (very) prominent scientist is published before Alma, our central character, has ironed out the imperfections in her own, related theory. The other writer's work, ironically, shows all the faults, not of Alma's theory, but of her perfectionism. Alma loves and admires the new work while envying its author painfully.

I feel exactly that way about The Signature of All Things.
darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Default)
Current audiobook: Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things, read by Juliet Stevenson. I never felt the faintest desire to read Eat, Pray, Love and my only exposure to the author's work is her well-known TED talk on creativity. I'm glad I took the plunge. Signature is a terrific novel (so far--I'm about a third of the way into it).

The Signature of All Things )

Current Bingewatch on Netflix: Arrow Season 1. Cheesetastic but good in unexpected ways. The acting is stronger than I would have expected from a CW Parade of Beauty, and the writing veers all over the place from comic-book operatic to really solid. I'm way more interested in it than I thought I'd be.

Current Book: Dawn Powell's The Wicked Pavilion. Published in 1954, forgotten by 1965, and revived in recent years. Powell has a snarky, trenchant style, a bit Dorothy Parker-esque, very New York. My niece living in New York City recommended it and I can see its literary worth while not, strictly speaking, enjoying it.

Current Fic: I'm off fic at the moment. Open to suggestions, though.

Current Shows: Agents of SHIELD is growing on me a little. I said I'd give it six eps, so it's got one more chance to really hook me in. The new season of Grimm started off with a bang last night. Still enjoying Elementary. Loving Sleepy Hollow in spite of myself.
darkemeralds: Image of an open book whose pages are turning into wings and flying away (Winged book)
I'm testing Spreeder, a browser extension for speed-reading online content. It's awesome. You highlight some text, right-click and select Spreeder, and it plays the text one word (or two or three words) at a time, fast.

First I did a quick test of my speed when reading conventionally, and came out at about 290 words per minute. So I set Spreeder at 300. That felt really slow, so I tried 400, and finally settled at 500.

screen shot of the Spreeder browser extension showing two words and a speed of 500 words per minute

I tried it on some fic, a New Yorker political article, and a post on BikePortland. I'd say my comprehension of each was at least as good as it would have been reading conventionally. That's an instant 70% speed increase.

The average American never surpasses speech-speed in reading, about 200 words per minute. We subvocalize--read aloud in our heads. Spreeder helps force you past that limitation. Apparently most of us spend about 30% of our reading time "regressing"--re-reading and checking back. Obviously Spreeder eliminates that option altogether.

What's lost, of course, is rhythm and cadence and the other auditory qualities of text that, in speed reading, you're actively trying to get rid of. There are times when you want those, and that's when you'd put down the toys and techniques and go back to 200 words per minute.

A couple of really valuable aids for reading online material the conventional way:

Beeline Reader: colors the text progressively, making it easy to follow from line to line. A very good aid for focus. (Hat tip: [personal profile] ravurian.)

Clearly, a browser extension associated with Evernote, and Readability, an independent browser extension. Both present text in the font, size, and page layout of your choice, without ads or distractions, thereby aiding both focus and poor eyesight.
darkemeralds: Image of an open book whose pages are turning into wings and flying away (Winged book)
Current audiobook: I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By the Taliban, by Malala Yousafzai. I bought it on the strength of Malala's speech to the United Nations, and because the audiobook reader is Archie Panjabi.

Malala's personal story is interspersed with political, geographical and historical detail. It's hard to escape a sense that this young woman is being swept along by the western publicity machine--maybe willingly, as she makes no secret of wanting to be the next Benazir Bhutto--but her story comes across as authentic all the same. I've learned more about Pakistan and the Taliban in a few hours of listening to this audiobook than I picked up in all the years after 9/11.

Malala herself reads her prologue, and it's interesting that Archie Panjabi, in reading the rest of the book, chose to replicate her youthful tone and, to some degree, her accent. It's very nicely done.

Current book: Captive Prince, Volume 2 by S.U. Pacat. It's good--everyone who recommended it was right. Self-published on Amazon and now picked up by Penguin, it's a fast-moving sort-of-medieval-alternate-universe where there's a lot of slavery and a lot of non-heterosexual sex and a whole lot of political intrigue. There's a long, slow-burn romance between the two leads (the captive prince of the title, and his captor, the crown prince of the enemy state) that is really compelling. The characterization of the crown prince is fascinating, and I can't be the only reader picturing Tom Hiddleston playing him. (Yes, Tom's too old. So what.)

My only real quibble with it--one that I hope an editor at Penguin will help sort out--is that it's slightly under-written. Its narrative is so stripped down, and so many characters, important places, plot points and political factions are introduced with less than a full sentence, that I've felt completely lost a few times. Had to go back and re-read Volume 1 and half of Volume 2 before I could continue. Not that I minded.

In fact I'm not quite finished with Volume 2 and I'm trying to stretch it out, because there's a Volume 3 that isn't out yet.
darkemeralds: Photo of Downtown Portland, Oregon USA in twilight (Portland)
1. Posting from my phone. This works slightly better with the latest version of Chrome for Android than it did before.

2. Reading the Felix Castor books by Mike Carey. Urban magician, kind of, except he's more of an exorcist, and there are ghosts and zombies. In London. Good stuff. A long arc underlies the individual story in each book. I'm on book two and it's getting more intriguing as it goes along.

3. I made oatcakes for dinner and ate them all.

4. The weather here in Stumptown is PERFECT. I can't get over it. Bright and warm in the day, cool in the leafy shade, cool at night. Breezes are keeping air quality high. It's wonderful.

5. Eleanor O is in the shop overnight, having her brakes adjusted and getting a new bungee for her rear rack. This means a couple of bus rides for me, but I don't mind because it's just so nice here right now, nothing seems bothersome.
darkemeralds: Poster image of farm-fresh food (Eat Food)
I just finished Michael Pollan's newest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation and I liked it so much that I went back to Chapter 1 and started it over.

Cooked )

Note: the audiobook is read by the author, who does a terrific job. And there's a story in it about a pig named Kosher. Kosher: The Porcine Prometheus.

It's a really good book.


Apr. 27th, 2013 10:26 pm
darkemeralds: An old book whose spine reads Signsls and Cyphers, with the text DarkEmeralds (Cyphers)
Just finished my third and probably final pass through Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler.

I first listened to this one about three years ago, and one of the authors' key findings left a big impression: that your position in your social network a) has a lot of influence over your well-being and b) is partly heritable. If you're peripheral (few friends, weak ties, less able to benefit from the network), there's an even chance that you were born that way.

This notion planted a seed in my brain that's borne some interesting fruit. A vague sense that asexuality and "attachment disorder" (god I hate that term) might be related to network position has led me to a lot of research and some new ideas about myself and how maybe I don't need fixing. (My post about my simple mind the other day may be loosely bound in this constellation too.)

It's a fascinating book. For a short version covering the high points for free, Christakis gives an entertaining TED talk, and a more sciencey TED talk.
darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Default)
I just finished listening to The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond, he of Guns, Germs and Steel fame. It's...I'm not quite sure what it is. Four books in one, I guess. Lots of cultural anthropology about New Guinea, a diatribe about diet and exercise, a warning about not romanticizing small non-state societies, and a bit of a rant about logical vs illogical safety precautions.

I think I enjoyed it despite its multiple personality disorder. Diamond makes a fairly good case for selectively adopting the wisdom of our hunter-gatherer brethren into our WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) lives: aspects of their child-rearing methods, elder care, and (surprisingly) safety standards, and a big chunk of their diet.

The World Until Yesterday is alternately amusing, interesting, and tiresome--really a mixed bag--but overall worth a read/listen if you're into this kind of "let's look at humanity's long history and draw some conclusions for modern life" type of thing, which I am.

The audiobook is very competently and unobtrusively narrated by Jay Snyder.
darkemeralds: Screencap from Teen Wolf showing Stiles and Derek against a flowery background (Teen Wolf)
I've been reading a lot in the Teen Wolf fandom lately (a lot a lot). Here are three Sterek recs:

First, Last, and Always by sffan
Explicit rating
13,000 words

Read more... )

this boy, half-destroyed by M_Leigh
Teen and up rating
25,600 words

Read more... )

the blood blooms clean in you, ruby, also by M_Leigh
Teen and up rating
48,000 words

Read more... )

In both of M_Leigh's stories there's a strong and cohesive plot thread involving Alphas and magic and all the most interesting things from canon. But what the author does better than the show's writers is make the story arise from the deeply flawed characters who inhabit it.

Both stories have that rare quality in fanfic: re-readability. I'm going back to re-read them tonight, in fact.
darkemeralds: Image of an open book whose pages are turning into wings and flying away (Winged book)
Five things on a Sunday night )

Back to work tomorrow. Work is evil. I can hardly wait for the Singularity.
darkemeralds: Photo of a microphone with caption Read Me a Story. (Podfic)
In the last few days I've been indulging what seems to have been a pent-up appetite for mainstream media.

Books, shows, movies... )
darkemeralds: An old book whose spine reads Signsls and Cyphers, with the text DarkEmeralds (Cyphers)
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker, is my latest foray into long, paradigm-shifting nonfiction. My last major such foray was Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants, and there's an interesting common thread in the two works.

Both examine long spans of history to discover evidence for the trends they are talking about--in Pinker's case, that human violence is decreasing, and in Kelly's that technology is a seventh order of life; both suggest that the trends are inevitable and natural (in fact, that's Kelly's primary thesis), and both find hope and beauty in human life as a result of their examinations.

I'm only about a quarter of the way through Pinker's massive nearly 800-page (32 hour) tome, so I don't yet know precisely where he's heading (except towards the thesis defined by his subtitle), but he writes engagingly and with humor about the fascinating and repellent subject of human violence.

(There is a TED talk here where Pinker summed up his ideas a few years ago, clearly in the early stages of his writing this book, and it covers some of the book's key points. Warning for shocking illustrative images and descriptions.)

It's prudent to mention that in order to make his case, Pinker has had to describe some really horrific forms of violence, though I'll give him credit: you need to understand how bad it's been to follow his larger argument, and somehow past gories are easier to hear/read about knowing that the whole point is that We Don't Do Those Things Anymore.

Good book. I'm enjoying having my mind expanded in hopeful and positive directions.
darkemeralds: An old book whose spine reads Signsls and Cyphers, with the text DarkEmeralds (Cyphers)
Hello, O Mighty Friendslist and DW Circle.

Do you track your reading? And if so, where? And (assuming you like it) what makes it work for you?

It occurs to me that, having returned to the consumption of written materials outside of fanfic, I'd like to track it (because really, the ungoogle-able life is not worth living, right?). The reading side of the social networking picture has kind of eluded me and it's high time I dipped my toes into that pool, I think.

I've heard of Goodreads and Librarything, and AllConsuming looks interesting because it includes movies, music, and other stuff. I did some googling, but I'd love some recs and thoughts on the subject from people I know.

darkemeralds: An old book whose spine reads Signsls and Cyphers, with the text DarkEmeralds (Cyphers)
Stress, weakened eyesight, busy-ness, online activity, sore hands, fanfic, annoyance at technology, an internet-induced attention deficit, and probably a few other things have all conspired in recent years to curtail my reading of books.

Lately, though, I've sort of taken it up again, this book-reading thing. [personal profile] ravurian has heckled me into a bunch of it, actually going so far as to send me books.

I was gonna list a bunch of them here, but then I got all knotted up over fiction vs nonfiction and paper books vs ebooks vs audiobooks, and then I realized that if you count audiobooks, I've never stopped "reading", and if things like lectures and podcasts count as audiobooks, my absorption of material has been pretty good all along.

And of course, if you count fanfic, which...why would you not, really?...well, I read more than I thought I did.

But still, I was sitting up in bed last night with a nice bright reading light on, and a cat nearby, and a real book* in hands whose achy joints I was completely ignoring, and it was really nice.

*Nights in the Gardens of Spain by Witi Ihimaera.
darkemeralds: Baby picture of DarkEm with title 'Interstellar Losers Club' and caption 'Proud Member' (Nerd)
I think I've finally been won over to the Kindle side.

Not that I have anything against ebooks--I really don't. I bought a Rocket eBook when it first came out, in 1999, and I've been an avid ebook aficionado ever since--in theory.

But somewhere along the line I kind of quit reading. "Real" reading gave way to fanfic--which I avidly read on my PDA, then on a succession of smartphones--but I gradually seemed to lose all power of attention, and switched almost entirely to podfic and audiobooks. I liked the Kindle in principle, but I didn't really need one.

[personal profile] ravurian (who has been the instigator of a number of changes lately*) recommended Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London, and located an audiobook version for me. I enjoyed it so much that I listened to it twice, the second time finishing this afternoon while I was ironing on my porch in the sun. I wanted to go immediately on to the sequel, but it doesn't seem to be available yet in audio.

So, with my new Android tablet in hand, and a Kindle-for-Android app before me, this evening over dinner I bought my first Kindle edition: Ben Aaronovitch's Moon Over Soho.

I'm in love. I can see it. I can read it. I'm reading again! It's wonderful.

* He also persuaded me to buy a hardcover novel not long ago--and I read it, but it took two months: Jo Walton's Among Others. Good book.

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