Millennials Love “Real Books” and Other Generalizations

millennials love books

Over at Mashable, MJ Franklin declares that he is “a millennial, and (he) will never give up reading real books“. If you were wondering, he defines “real books” as the paper-and-glue sort, not those filthy ones-and-zeroes people keep locked up in their e-readers. Audiobooks don’t even enter the discussion, so his post is already inadequate as far as I’m concerned.

At the heart of Franklin’s thesis is a study of “300 university students in the U.S., Japan, Germany, and Slovakia” that reveals how millennials, the internet’s favorite generation, say that they prefer physical books to digital ones by an overwhelming margin. The study focused on the students’ medium of choice for textbooks, but Franklin repurposes the statistic as a generalization about the state of books, and not for the first time.

I’m technically a millennial, although I’m at the top of the cut-off, so I exist in that uncomfortable middle-ground where I’m old enough to side-eye the newest whine/rant but young enough to get lumped in with bullshit trends. Even still, from an anecdotal perspective, I feel like I’ve definitely seen evidence of this particular trend in my life. My parents love their e-readers, but many of my peers seem to prefer physical books. Also, I won’t deny that I love physical books. Anyone who has seen my apartment knows that for a fact.

When Franklin says that he recently bought a new shelf to house his “to-read” collection, I had to laugh, because I have five bookcases full to overflowing with “to-read” books. I keep buying physical books even though I ran out of space years ago. I don’t think the demand for hardcovers and paperbacks will go away any time soon.

It’s fair to say that I agree with some of the sentiment behind Franklin’s post, but I don’t agree with his conclusions. He portrays the choice between physical books and ebooks as a pitched battle, as if only one format can survive and Your Loyalty Will be Tested. It’s a strangely petulant and exclusionary stance.

It doesn’t help that I’ve never been able to relate to people who like to write in the margins of books. I shudder at the thought of ruining a book by writing in it, and I thoroughly hate it when I buy a used books only to discover writing in the margins. I’ll admit that Franklin’s love of marginalia didn’t really improve my opinion of him, but I suppose if that’s how he likes to read, who am I to stop him?

That’s really the main point, though, isn’t it? How does my enjoyment of audiobooks and ebooks interfere with Franklin’s appreciation for the printed page? The answer is that it doesn’t, not one bit. Every reading format has positives and negatives, and they can (and should) co-exist.

Audiobooks are great for times when I want to keep my brain occupied during a mindless or repetitive task like driving, exercising or washing the dishes. I love audiobooks, but I would never sit down on the couch and listen to one unless I was doing something else at the same time.

I definitely love physical books as objects, especially when they have a cool cover design. I also feel like reading the printed page  transports me into a world of my imagination like nothing else. Problem is, I hardly ever have the time to sit down and do nothing but read for more than half an hour or so. I can maybe squeeze in a chapter or two of reading during my lunch break, but I finish books faster if I listen to them during my commute.

Ebooks are by far the most convenient medium. I’ve read books on my iPhone while waiting for the subway, and my Kindle is crucial when I travel. I also love that I can put my Kindle or my iPhone in my pocket and carry hundreds of books with me wherever I go. The biggest downside, though, is that it is incredibly easy to forget about all of those ebooks I’ve impulse-purchased for $1.99 over the years. I never look at them, so they might as well not be there.

As I grow older and my life becomes fuller, I have to squeeze in reading for fun when I can. Focusing on the “realness” of a physical book over more practical considerations like storage space, free time and convenience is a luxury I can no longer afford. It’s the kind of lesson you can only learn by growing older and understanding how your priorities have changed.

I’ll probably never stop buying physical books because I have terrible impulse control, but that doesn’t mean I think they’re any better or worse than other mediums. I want books in every format so that I can read as much as possible.

The Fold: Inter-Dimensional Holmes

The Fold by Peter ClinesThe Fold by Peter Clines

Published: June 2nd, 2015
Publisher: Crown
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Horror
Format: eBook
Length: 384 pages

My first exposure to Peter Clines’ work was thanks to Audible, which recommended his earlier novel, 14. I rarely buy books without existing knowledge or recommendations to go on, but the summary sounded really interesting – a man moves into a Los Angeles apartment building and starts experiencing mysterious and possibly supernatural events – and the narrator, Ray Porter, was excellent. I ended up really enjoying that book, and added Clines to the short list of authors I plan on reading as thoroughly as possible. Accordingly, when I saw that he had a new novel coming out this year, I immediately wanted to get my hands on it.

In The Fold, teleportation is a reality… but it’s not quite ready for public consumption. Enter Mike Erikson, a man with an eidetic memory hired to find out why the scientists involved refuse to share their invention with the world. Thanks to his observational skills and analytical mind, he soon discovers that things are not what they seem and that “the fold” is far more dangerous than anyone imagined.

The Fold’s strongest points are its plotting and sheer readability. I tore through the book in a matter of days, and I was definitely hooked throughout, forgoing sleep and important chores so that I could continue reading. Clines is skilled at subtly injecting creeping horror into his stories, and I loved that feeling of being slowly drawn into something horribly doomed. Clines also injects timely pop culture references throughout, which makes the book feel grounded in the here and now

Anyone who has read Clines’ previous work knows that he has a fondness for a certain brand of cosmic horror. When hints of a connection to the world of 14 started cropping up in The Fold, I immediately had a guess where the story might be going. Although this did make the book slightly more predictable for me, I was also excited to know that Clines was continue to play in a setting that I throughly enjoyed.

Unfortunately, the characterization in The Fold isn’t quite up to snuff. Mike isn’t given much depth other than his stated discomfort with using his intellectual abilities, and we are only provided the barest glimpse into his life before this story begins. Most of the time it felt like his function in the plot was more important than who he was as a person, and ultimately he became a kind of Holmes pastiche without the humanizing flaws or down-to-earth partner.

The other characters don’t fare better. The supporting cast is a bit one-note, and Jamie, the love interest, reads like such a wish-fulfillment cliché that Clines hangs a lantern on it:

She sighed. “All that brain power and it never occurred to you why a cheerleader turned into a computer geek?”

“I just figured you were some Internet male fantasy come to life.”

I was also disappointed that the novel raises existential issues like whether you’re still the same person after you teleport and then quickly discards them in favor of resolving the story with a series of bloody fights. In fact, the climactic scenes don’t really have anything to do with the side effects of teleportation. Instead, they turn The Fold into the kind of story you could tell about any door into a hostile place, and felt like a bit of a re-tread of 14 in some ways.

Although I did enjoy reading The Fold, I definitely wish the characterization had been stronger. I think there might be a more interesting version of this book, perhaps in an alternate universe, where Clines draws his primary influences from Philip K. Dick’s worries about reality and selfhood. I do still recommend checking out his work, however, and I’m hoping there will be further books in this world.

LIKED IT
LIKED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

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Memory Comes in Waves: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LanePublished: June 18th 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Books
Genre(s): Fantasy
Format: eBook
Length: 178 pages

Neil Gaiman’s most recent novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is a study in contrasts. It’s his first book written “for adults” in many years, but the main character is a seven-year-old boy and the writing style is the same clean, spare style he used in The Graveyard Book and Coraline. It’s a novel, but it has the flavor of a short story or a novella, and Gaiman admits in the afterward that he originally thought it was a short story until it took on a life of its own. Then there’s the fact that despite the writing style and length, it took me a month to finish. That last part is my fault, of course, but I digress.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane tells the story of an unnamed narrator who returns to the town where he lived as a child for a funeral. To escape from the day, he decides to drive to where his former house used to stand, then he continues his journey on down the lane to the Hempstock farm, where a girl named Lettie Hempstock used to live. He speaks with the old woman still living there and asks if he can see the duck pond out back that Lettie used to call her “ocean”. He sits down to look at the pond and finds himself awash in memories of his childhood, back when he was just a boy and Lettie Hempstock still lived down the lane.

The narrator’s life collides with that of the Hempstocks one day when a boarder at his house commits suicide on the border between his house and their property. The narrator becomes friends with Lettie, a girl who seems strangely assured for her age and who also demonstrates powers and abilities that are at odds with her farm-girl appearance. The narrator becomes more and more entwined in the strange world of the Hempstocks as supernatural events begin to escalate and his world becomes far more dangerous.

I’ve long said that Gaiman’s Coraline is one of a handful of books I’ve read that genuinely freaked me out. The Ocean at the End of the Lane isn’t exactly the same kind of freaky, but it definitely feels like his darkest and most surreal novel. Gaiman is a skilled writer when it comes to ratcheting up tension and slowly pouring on more and more unreality, but he normally saves his weirdest stuff for his short stories. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the first time he’s let those sensibilities loose on a larger canvas, and although it did take me a while to finish, he sticks the landing.

I was slightly bothered by what felt like the passive nature of the narrator, but it’s easy to forget that he’s only a seven-year-old child during the events he is remembering. He’s as brave as possible and he takes action when he thinks it matters most. Ultimately his heart is in the right place. I’m honestly not sure what slowed me down while I was reading this – in fact, I read an entire book by Lisa Lutz during a break in the middle – but I don’t necessarily hold that against it. Although I was occasionally unsure what I thought of the book, the payoff in the epilogue cemented its status in my mind.

I think if you enjoyed this book, you should definitely check out some of Gaiman’s short stories. They’re occasionally hit or miss, but they can also be shivery and intense and beautiful in all the right ways. I particularly recommend Bitter Grounds.

LOVED IT
LOVED IT

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Small Things Become Magnified: Under the Dome by Stephen King

Under the DomePublished: November 10, 2009
Publisher: Scribner
Genre(s): Science Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Length: 1074 pages

Like many of the books in my extensive collection, I’ve owned an unread copy of Under the Dome for years. It wasn’t until I began sorting through my books in preparation for a cross-country move that I decided it time to dive in and read that massive tome so that I could sell it. I was, of course, also hoping to finish reading before the premiere of the CBS adaptation. I wasn’t successful in either goal, however; the book came with me to California, and the series was 3-4 episodes in before I finished reading.

I’ve also been on a bit of a throwback kick recently. I read a lot of Stephen King and Elmore Leonard in high school, and I’ve been reading a lot of both lately. I’ve mostly been reading Leonard’s older stuff, but with King I’ve been focusing on his most recent work. Doing so has caused me to come to the conclusion that King has been doing some of his best work since finishing the Dark Tower series. Joyland is brisk and entertaining, 11/22/63 is easily one of King’s masterpieces, and Under the Dome is a solid small-town epic.

Under the Dome opens with few glimpses of events around town as people are trapped, injured or killed when a mysterious invisible dome comes down from the sky and surrounds the town. King sets up heroes, villains, murderers and a mystery in short order, then gets down to the business of watching a small town viciously turn on itself. In a lot of ways, Under the Dome reads a bit like a fictionalized sociology experiment. The speculative elements are kept to a minimum, and King seems more interested in human behavior under pressure – good, evil and in-between. It’s a concern that has always threaded through his work, but here he brings it to the forefront.

I will admit that Under the Dome didn’t grab me quite as much as 11/22/63, but I think part of that is the difference in focus. 11/22/63 is personal and romantic, focused on one man’s experiences, whereas Under the Dome has a huge cast of characters and a wide-ranging focus. The characters in Under the Dome are alternately likable or heinous, but none of them has the depth given the main character in 11/22/63. In some ways, Under the Dome reminded me a bit of Tommyknockers, with its shifting viewpoints and portrait of a small town falling apart at the seams. However, where Tommyknockers is wildly inconsistent and rambling, Under the Dome is measured and focused, even at an epic length.

Ultimately I thought Under the Dome was entertaining and competently written but comparatively unremarkable. Better than some of King’s older books, but not up to the standard set by his other recent work. I think part of the problem may have been the fact that much of what happens relies on the townspeople being gullible or outright stupid; Big Jim Rennie feels like such an obvious villain that it’s sometimes hard to believe anyone trusts him in the first place. I’m glad I read it, but I’m curious to see how the TV series reconfigures the same elements for a different medium.

REALLY LIKED IT
REALLY LIKED IT

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The Long, Slow End of the World: Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey

Black FeathersPublished: March 26th, 2013
Publisher: Angry Robot
Genre(s): Fantasy, Horror, Post-Apocalypse
Format: eBook
Length: 496 Pages

Joseph D’Lacey’s Black Feathers is an interesting anomaly in the world of apocalyptic fiction. Instead of focusing on a dystopian post-apocalypse, as is the fashion nowadays, Black Feathers consists of two interlocking plot threads: one that starts in modern-day and continues through the fall of society, and one that follows a character hundreds of years in the future. It’s also the first part of a two-book series which continues in The Book of The Crowman (December 2013).

In the modern-day, Black Feathers focuses on the Black family, specifically their young son Gordon Black, who may be connected to a mysterious messiah figure named The Crowman. Crows seem to follow Gordon everywhere he goes. His mother and father are oftentimes accosted on the street by people with prophetic visions of a future where The Crowman heralds the beginning of the Black Dawn and Gordon’s part in it. The Crowman is an interesting combination of savior and destroyer, sometimes described as a demonic presence, a half-man half-crow who only wants to destroy the world and at other times as a healing presence with a deep connection to nature. The more we hear about The Crowman, the more unsettling and dangerous he seems, even as it also becomes increasingly clear that Gordon is deeply connected to The Crowman.

In the far future, Black Feathers tells the story of Megan Maurice, a young woman picked to apprentice with her village’s Keeper, a sort of combination medicine man and archivist tasked with keeping the story of The Crowman alive. Megan must travel along the Black Feathered Path to cement her destiny as the next keeper, a journey that involves visions of the past as well as harrowing encounters with The Crowman’s more animalistic aspect. Megan experiences visions of Gordon’s life and tasked with recording them in a special journal for safekeeping. One thing I really liked is that Megan’s world might be “post-apocalyptic”, but it doesn’t feel ruined. She has a comfortable life in a small village, and it is only when she ventures outside that safe place that she begins to encounter danger, all in the name of traveling on her path towards becoming a Keeper.

In fact, there are a lot of things I liked about Black Feathers; the portrayal of The Crowman was particularly nuanced and unsettling, and I also liked the juxtaposition between the modern-day and far future. I love the idea of a messiah who isn’t so black and white, simply because maybe the world needs a little destruction before it gets saved. The book’s true villains, the power-hungry Ward, were a bit more stereotypically drawn – the bloodthirsty corporate influence made flesh – but that didn’t make their methods any less terrifying.

My biggest complaint is with the book’s pacing. It took me a long time to make it past the first third of the book, and it was only when I decided to make a concerted effort to finish it that I finally started making progress. However, as I neared the end it became clear that Black Feathers wasn’t actually going to resolve anything major. Gordon and Megan both have some intense experiences as the book progresses, but these events seem relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. Black Feathers, sold as the first volume in a two-book series, feels more like the first half of one massive novel. I liked it enough to finish this first volume, but I’m honestly not sure if I’ll make the effort to pick up the second book later this year.

LIKED IT
LIKED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

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Bright, Bloody and Intense: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining GirlsPublished: June 4th, 2013
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Genre(s): Crime, Thriller, Science Fiction
Format: eBook
Length: 384 pages

Lauren Beukes first came to my attention thanks to William Gibson or maybe Cory Doctorow. Some great author who recommended her on Twitter. I picked up her first two books, Moxyland and Zoo City, and read Moxyland a few years ago. I liked it, but it definitely felt like Gibson’s sensibility filtered through a South African setting. On the other hand, The Shining Girls, her third novel and first for Mulholland Books, reads like Beukes striking out on her own and making a name for herself. The result is stunning, harrowing and immensely readable.

The Shining Girls follows the interlocking lives of two characters: Curtis Harper, who discovers a mysterious house that lets him travel in time as long as he murders the “shining girls” mapped out on the bedroom wall, and Kirby Mazrachi, one of Harper’s attempted murder victims who manages to survive and devotes her life to tracking him down. We are also treated to heartbreaking vignettes of the women Harper kills throughout the 20th century; every woman he murders is full of endless potential that he snuffs out by torturing them to death and mutilating their bodies.

Although time travel is part of the narrative, The Shining Girls feels more like a crime thriller than a scifi story. It helps that the story all takes part in the past – Kirby’s “present day” is the early nineties. The speculative elements exist mostly as plot devices and a way to build tension, and Beukes doesn’t spend much time explaining how Harper is able to do what he does. Beukes has a background in journalism, and it’s clear that a lot of research went into this novel. The women we meet throughout the story span multiple social classes, decades and races, and each one is carefully drawn in the short moments before she dies terribly.

My only criticism of the novel is that it feels like Kirby discovers the truth very late in the story, and after that point everything kicks into high gear until the ending. I would have liked to see a bit more of Kirby exploring the strange world of the house and its dangerous inhabitant. If nothing else, Beukes left me wanting more at the end, which is definitely a positive thing. My hope is that The Shining Girls is just the first of Beukes’ forays into crime/thriller writing. It’s a genre that suits her well.

LOVED IT
LOVED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

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For Sale: Used Ebooks, Electrons Slightly Creased

"Used Books And Vinyl"Amazon raised eyebrows in the publishing world last week with news of a patent they received for reselling used ebooks. Several authors I follow on Twitter expressed immediate concern, including Chuck Wendig, who wrote a hilariously foul-mouthed blog post and began tweeting jokes about used ebooks.

Now, it’s possible that the patent is just Amazon covering their bases. Apple is known for patenting technology that never sees the light of day, and I’m sure they aren’t the only one. It’s also possible that the patent isn’t exactly what it sounds like at first blush.

However, it’s hard to imagine how reselling used ebooks would work any better than piracy does for authors. Authors don’t actually receive royalties when you walk into a used book store and buy their book second-hand, so would that still be the case if you buy a digital version of their book “used”?

Also, what exactly does it mean for an ebook to be used? It’s not like the files degrade, after all. It’s generally understood that used books are cheaper than new books in part because of wear and tear. Would it make sense, then, to discount a used ebook? Amazon’s currently system involves selling new and used books side-by-side, sometimes with a fairly prominent one-click button to buy the book used, so would they also start displaying cheaper “used” versions of ebooks?

Along those lines, I can definitely understand why the immediate reaction from authors was disbelief and concern. A form of this business model already exists on a website called ReDigi, which bills itself as a “pre-owned digital marketplace” and lists “used” and “new” prices for MP3 files right next to each other despite the fact that the files are probably identical. The whole thing just feels sketchy, and if Amazon goes down the same route, they’ll do nothing but alienate authors and other content creators.

However, I do think there is a counter-argument to consider. After all, as more of the content we consume starts existing only in “the cloud”, what exactly does it mean to own something digital in the first place? In most cases, companies make a clear distinction between owning the “license” to content and owning the actual content. A license is something that can be revoked, and digital rights management means that you can’t circumvent that license.

If I’ve spent hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on digital books and music, what happens to those licenses when I die? Do they just evaporate into the ether, or should I have the right to hand them down to my heirs? What if I read and enjoyed an ebook and would like to give it to a friend to read at her leisure?

If you start thinking about license transfers on the personal level instead of the corporate level, they start making a bit more sense. The problem to solve is finding a way to allow someone to give an ebook to a friend without also making it possible for a corporation to sell thousands of copies of that book without paying royalties.

It might actually all come down to branding, really; the concept of “used ebooks” is patently absurd because calling something “used” is irrevocably tied to its existence as a physical object. However, if you reframe it in terms of digital content, transferring content licenses starts sounding a bit more reasonable.

Ultimately I think there needs to be a legitimate way for content licenses to be transferred between people, and if Amazon has figured out a way to do it, it might not be such a bad thing.

eBooks Might Not be the Death of Print After All

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Don’t Burn Your Books—Print Is Here to Stay“, Nicholas Carr discusses how the apparent decline in eReader and eBook sales seems to signify that physical books aren’t in their last gasp after all. While I do agree with the general premise of his article, i.e. that physical books won’t disappear from the face of the planet any time soon, I have to wonder what is causing the downward trends the industry is experiencing.

For example, I can tell you that I haven’t bought a new eReader because my 3rd generation Kindle still works just fine (despite the fact that the case seems to be swelling at the bottom). I was momentarily tempted by the new Kindle Paperwhite when it first came out, but they’re still fairly pricey and the plain fact is that my current Kindle doesn’t need to be replaced. Also, I’m not really sold on buttonless touchscreen readers. I like being able to hold my Kindle one-handed and turn pages without needing to move my hand.

I have to wonder how often Kindle owners feel the need to upgrade to the newest model as soon as it comes out. eReaders don’t seem like the sort of technology that would inspire upgrade fever. The hard drive on a Kindle is nearly impossible to fill up (unless you load it with audiobooks and music) and the main thing it needs to do is display text, which doesn’t require too many bells and whistles. If you really want to play games or use apps on a handhold device, you’re probably in the market for a tablet instead of an eReader.

It also make sense that the biggest customers for book purchases are book lovers who either 1) insist on sticking with physical books out of familiarity and comfort or 2) buy books in every medium (like me). That’s why I am particularly intrigued by Carr’s suggestion that ebooks “may turn out to be just another format—an even lighter-weight, more disposable paperback”. This definitely jives with my current buying habits.

When it comes to new books, I almost always buy digitally, but for most big new releases I buy audiobooks from Audible because I am far more likely to read a book quickly if I listen to the audio version. I do still buy a decent number of Kindle books, but usually only when they’re on sale. I’m a sucker for $1.99 price tags, so if I catch wind of a sale on a book I’m interested in, I’ll buy it despite the fact that I might not read it for years. As for physical books, I’m pretty much addicted to used book stores, so I walk out with books basically every time I walk into a Half Price Books. Additionally, there are still some books that can only be bought in print, such as the unabridged version of Jorge Luis Borges’ Collected Fictions.

Kindle Additionally, it makes sense that there are some books that are well-suited to buying on a Kindle. The recent upsurge of self-published books has created a glut of digital-only content, and although I am still wary of self-published books in general, I think they will continue to thrive on ebook stores. I’m also likely to buy lightweight fare like urban fantasy novels on a Kindle because they’re normally priced to match mass-market paperbacks.

Ultimately I think it’s likely that eReaders will live side-by-side with physical books for the foreseeable future. It’s possible that physical books will eventually become more of a specialty product for connoisseurs like vinyl records, but I think that’s a long way down the road from now. I don’t think print publishing has anything to worry about until we reach the point when grocery stores start stocking cheap, nearly-disposable eReaders instead of printed copies of the newest sensation like Fifty Shades of Gray.

Shift by Kim Curran

Published: September 4, 2012
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Young Adult, Horror
Format: eBook
Length: 320 pages

Shift is the story of Scott Tyler, a British teenager who accidentally discovers that he has the power to “shift” between possible realities by changing his past decisions. Along with this discovery comes his entry into a secret world of shifters and a dawning understanding of the terrible powers at play in a world where reality can be changed at will.

One on side there is a clandestine government organization called ARES that focuses on training young shifters to use their powers for good, and on the other there is a rebel faction of shifters called the SLF, who believe that shifters should be allowed to use their powers without regulation. Scott’s first contact with the world of shifters, Aubrey Jones, is also, conveniently enough, the girl of his dreams. Aubrey is a pixieish blonde with a chip on her shoulder and conflicted loyalties between ARES, who took her away from her family, and SLF, who seem bent on anarchy and destruction for the sake of it. At first it seems like the book might be about a clash between ARES and SLF, but then we meet the true villain, a morbidly fat man wants to eat Scott’s brains.

The villain, Benjo, is easily most original thing Shift has going for it. However, he is so vile and over-the-top that he seems slightly out of place in the story. I actually would have liked the author to delve more deeply into the darkness that might result from people with the power to reset their decisions controlling the world. As it was, the book felt like it flipped back and forth between a fairly by-the-numbers secret world adventure and a squick-inducing serial killer tale.

I did also appreciate that the book retained its inherent Britishness, using uniquely British phrasings and colloquialisms that seemed slightly exotic to this American reader. I suppose it’s possible that when the book is eventually published in America, that regional flavor will be stripped out, but I certainly hope not.

However, my main problem with Shift is that the underground world of the shifters never seems particularly exciting. The scenes in the school for shifters feel fairly dull and a bit cliché when compared to other similar entries in the genre. In fact, the author ends up quickly summarizing Scott’s time at school after a few scenes, and promotes him to junior agent status as if impatient to get past all that training. The end results is that we never really understand why Scott feels an allegiance to ARES, and it seems like he only really dislikes SLF because they’re the snotty popular rebels.

Also, after one of Scott’s early shifts goes terribly wrong, he never really experiences any further consequences from his new-found shifting ability. Although he uses his ability to save himself from death at one point, it never feels like we get to see him exploring his shifting powers. Additionally, the author establishes early on that shifters can only control conscious decisions, so whenever there is a passage where Scott agonizes over a decision, it openly telegraphs that he will need to shift a few pages later, which immediately lowers the stakes. The only real stakes that come into play are when the villain, Benjo, lumbers onto the scene, simply because he is so outrageous that it feels like anything could happen when he is around.

Overall, Shift is a bit of mixed bag. The storyline follows familiar contours, as a “normal” kid discovers that he is actually very special and then proceeds to save the day. The cast of supporting characters are all fairly two-dimensional, and several characters established early on barely get more than a few lines before being shuffled off-stage for the rest of the book.

Although the villain is a uniquely twisted touch in an otherwise familiar-feeling story, he never completely meshes with the rest of book around him, and the end result is a story that only hints at something darker and more compelling.

DISLIKED IT
DISLIKED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

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Why Audiobooks are the Best Kind of Digital Reading

Hello, strangers! I come to you bearing book-related opinion pieces! I know I’ve stayed away for far too long, but this blog fell prey to modern life, as is so often the case. Countless blogs gather dust while their owners spend time trying to find the cutest picture of a cat on the internet. I’ve also heard rumors of a strange cult known as the “tumblers“. However, instead of dwelling on my own shortcomings as a purveyor of content, let us instead turn our attention towards all things digital…

The general consensus in the book world is that exciting and/or frightening things are happening on the frontiers of digital publishing, but the discussion is, in my opinion, giving short shrift to audiobooks as a digital medium. Although my Kindle is a wonderful convenience – the best way to cart around various 1000+ page tomes by Stephenson, Martin, and Murakami – it is my audiobook collection that holds a special place in my heart.

eBooks might save space on overcrowded bookshelves, but great audiobooks do them one better by bringing a story’s characters and ideas to life, filling them with breath and emotion, and transporting you into another world. It’s my opinion that audiobooks are a far more exciting digital medium than ebooks will ever be. I also feel like the practical benefits are more compelling; going from a box full of a dozen CDs or cassettes (bulky AND overpriced) to a few digital files seems like such a huge evolutionary leap, even compared to the transition from the printed word to digital text.

Accordingly, I was particularly excited by the recent launch of ACX, the “Audiobook Creation Exchange”. ACX helps authors connect with narrators to produce professional-quality audiobooks for books that might otherwise get indifferent, tone-deaf productions or simply never get adapted. Neil Gaiman used the service to launch his own Audible “label”, featuring books he loves that were never previously adapted for audio. Self-published authors have been podcasting their books for years now, and ACX feels like taking that DIY impulse to the next level. My sincere hope is that the floodgates open and we start getting audiobook adaptations of obscure, out-of-print, or just plain weird authors.

In an interview with Salon, Gaiman says that one of the reasons he became an evangelist for ACX and audiobooks in general is that, when listening to an audiobook, “you often notice things that the author in all probability thought he or she had buried brilliantly in the text, sitting there in plain sight.” This has definitely been my experience more than once; truly great audiobooks bring something to the table that you’d never discover in the text alone. In fact, I’d argue that some authors should only be experienced in audio form.

I doubt that David Sedaris’ stories are quite the same if they aren’t read in his peculiarly expressive voice, and I firmly believe that Woody Allen’s comic writing doesn’t quite come alive without his unique delivery. However, it makes sense that non-fiction would be best experienced when read by the author; the far more astonishing experience is a narrator who brings a fictional narrative and all its myriad characters to three-dimensional life in your head.

Late last year, when I first started my Audible membership, one of the first books I bought was The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. The narrator of the book, Steven Pacey, did such an incredible job with distinct voices and accents for every character that I was completely hooked and ended up listening to the entire series in audio form. You know an audiobook is firing on all cylinders when you can immediately tell which character is talking by the sound of the narrator’s voice.

It has actually reached the point where audiobooks are becoming my medium of choice. I’m far more likely to read a brand new book if I buy it in audio, simply because I can listen to it while I’m working, or going for a walk, or doing errands around the house. A few years ago I only listened to audiobooks on long trips out of town, but nowadays I’m finding more and more time to multi-task while listening to a good story. In fact, I’d argue that listening to audiobooks has majorly increased my productivity over the last year, because I’m far more likely to do something mindless or repetitive if I have a good story to keep me occupied.

All of these and more are reasons why my dream future is one where every great book has a great audiobook, and all of them are sold at reasonable prices. I’ll be listening. Will you?