Who am I this time?

The above is the title of a surprisingly sweet made-for-TV movie starring Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon from before Walken was firmly entrenched as the weird crazy evil guy. It was a long time ago. The movie is a romantic comedy, and the two characters are rather shy and nerdy in different ways. They both get talked into joining a small community theatre group, and turn out to be great actors. They lose their extreme shyness only when playing their parts. As long as they have other people’s lines to say, they’re fine. Unscripted, they’re lost. They can only express their growing love for each other, by acting. They end up spending their lives together, living theatrically. If you can find a copy, it’s worth an evening’s popcorn.

I have a sign in the kitchen that I bought when we moved here, that reads, “I only have a kitchen because it came with the house.” I used to say that I cooked in my last life. Or that the microwave cooked, I didn’t. After coming home at 6, or 7, or occasionally later, cooking simply wasn’t worth bothering with.  But in the last couple of months, while we’ve been here packing up, the priorities have shifted.  My old recipes have come in handy again, and we found some new ones.  There’s nothing fancy involved, but yes, I do cook in this life, and no one has died. I may need a new sign. I wonder if there’s a source for “Dinner will be ready when the smoke alarm goes off”, since that’s already happened a couple of times.

But some parts of my previous lives are not coming back, and going through the books and boxes is making that abundantly clear. I’ve moved my needlework patterns and books and supplies from Chicago to Anchorage to Tally to Chicago to Gainesville, and I have shoved them into deeper and deeper closets each time.  It’s a hobby I enjoyed when I did it, but it’s time to acknowledge that I’m not going to pick it back up in the reasonably foreseeable future.  Or even the unreasonably foreseeable future.  I used to do cross-stitch when I watched television, and, considering that vast wasteland, I don’t do that either. Social networking, video games and the internet in general have taken over that time. But letting all that go and giving it to a friend who will use it, that’s difficult.

Even harder, I have a truly big collection of Star Trek books.  I think I have all the mass market paperbacks, trade paperbacks and hardcovers up until last year. That’s the point where I finally realized I was never going to catch up to reading all the ones I had, let alone any new ones published.  I have all the episodes of all the series on DVD, and all the movies.  I’ve seen every movie on the first night, even the bad ones.  But the books are dead weight at this point. I have a few collectibles mixed in there, including a copy of Trek or Treat, which still grabs the funny bone even decades later. The really good stuff like that will be hung on to. I still love the Trek universe, and I wish the rights-holders would do something good with it again.

Getting rid of entire swaths of stuff feels like losing parts of my identity. It’s hard to separate what we own from who we are, which sounds stupid when written, but is very different in actual practice. I’ve always believed I’d go back to cross-stitching someday, but if that day hasn’t come in 10 years, realistically, it’s not likely, and it’s time to move on. I know someone who will get more good out of what I’ve been carrying around than I have, no matter what postage to her is going to cost.

I watched the last season of the initial run of Star Trek with my dad. He passed away 20 years ago this coming October. Star Trek was the first science fiction I ever got interested in, and without that first taste, my life would have gone down a very different leg of the trousers of time, to mix in a Discworld metaphor. But I have to keep telling myself that all the mass market paperbacks are available as ebooks if I really want to read them.

Sometimes, it’s not the thing, it’s the memories attached that make all the difference.



Are eTBRs easier to forget?

A thread in rec.arts.sf.written that was discussing the merits of ereaders vs. “dead tree” books raised some interesting corollary questions that don’t seem to have anything to do with the technology per se.  They seem more like unintended consequences.

Bookshelves have inherent browsability. Many people commented on the pleasure involved in just looking at the books they have, and seeing what is available to read, or re-read. I know that’s true for me. Also, there’s the added benefit of thinking that Galen might like something, and knowing that I have it and can simply go to the shelf and pull it out, even at 2 am. He can read it or not, because it’s already here. John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is a book I know I introduced him to, because I had the whole series on hand. Likewise, Tanya Huff’s Valor series. Not all my introductions go that well, but when it works, it really works. There’s just something about handing someone a book that you know they will absolutely love, and then watching them just absorb it, and by absorbed by it, that is simply marvelous.

Handing over my Nook doesn’t quite have the same feel to it. It only contains my B&N stuff, not the rest of my ebooks on my iPad. And it duplicates everything–so it includes all the trashy romance novels, not just the book I want to give Galen to read.  I’m not sure who is going to be more embarrassed!

And, as someone on the list pointed out, it is much easier to lose your TBR list on an ereader than it is in the “flesh”.  A physical TBR pile has weight and heft–it piles up–sometimes literally.  My remaining “dead tree” TBR pile takes up three bookcases, plus the 200 or so books that were interfiled during the last move we made. And it continues to increase in my B&N wishlist, since that’s where I keep it.

But my ereader TBR list is even more invisible. The Locus Awards finalists were announced last week.  Connie Willis duology Blackout/All Clear was nominated Best Science Fiction Novel, and it was already moving up my TBR list after having been nominated for the Hugo last month. Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest book, Under Heaven, was nominated for Best Fantasy Novel, and it has been hiding on my Nook and then my iPad for over a year. I usually read him as soon as his stuff comes out, but the ebook was too easily buried compared to a physical object.

I’m discovering that the less obvious a TBR is, the more likely it is to wind up on a back burner. My library books get read first because they have the highest nuisance value. I do not mean that in any negative way, merely that there are so many built-in reminders. I keep them easily visible on the kitchen counter, so I don’t lose track of them. They have to be renewed, and I can only renew them so many times. If someone else wants them, I can’t renew them at all. Of course, any library books from here are going to have to be shipped back if I haven’t finished them before we move, and I’ll have to pay for shipping. Physical books that are on countertops are more in the way, and are more likely to get read next. Books in those TBR bookcases in the living room just cry out “read us first!”. The TBR bookcase in the Florida Room is “out of sight” and therefore, “out of mind”.  The TBRs that got interfiled have blended into the books I have already read.  Finding out there were over 200 of them was quite a shock.  The eTBRs are just a tiny part of my iPad. Compared to all the other books clamoring for my attention, they’re almost invisible.

So many books, so little time.

Docking the ARCs

It turns out that ARCs are surprisingly difficult to give away.

What’s an ARC? An ARC is an Advance Reading Copy of a book. They are usually ugly, and their mother dressed them a little funny, to make them instantly distinguishable from their grown-up sibling, the published book. They are also known as review copies.

A FPOW was located in a major metropolitan area where the local newspaper still had a separate “Books” section on Sundays. The newspaper received TONS of review copies. ARCs are not supposed to be sold, it says so right there on the front or back cover. Also, they are usually uncorrected proofs, so they are may have typos, the illustrations are missing, the index isn’t done yet, etc., etc.

Said newspaper, instead of pulping all these lovely books, donated them to the local library. On the order of an industrial pallet load or two every month. Some of the review copies they received were “real” books. Those were added to the library’s collection. But most were ARCs. Because the ARCs are not quite the real book, the library didn’t add them to its collection. And the library couldn’t sell them either, see the disclaimer in the above paragraph. So, they were distributed to the staff. Particularly for fiction, they make excellent reading copies.

ARCs are also distributed at library conferences. I’ve generally stopped picking them up as not worth the weight, but I used to. In the continuum between free beer and free kittens, with the added charges for luggage these days, too many ARCs have tipped towards the free kittens end of the bar. I already have 4 of those, and I know how free they aren’t.

Publishers are now doing eARCs, and there is a site that specializes in eARCs called NetGalley which absolutely loves librarians.  Also, for anyone interested in Science Fiction and Fantasy, Baen Books Webscriptions sells eARCs ahead of publication for some of their authors.

But the weeding project has passed the end of the alphabet for the fiction, and has now journeyed into non-fiction. I used to bring a lot of non-fiction ARCs home for Galen from that FPOW, as well as keeping some for myself. It turns out that a lot of those were of the “read once” persuasion. We’ve turned up a couple of dozen so far, that need to be properly disposed of. And it’s more difficult than I thought.

I don’t feel right selling them. Legally, I’m pretty sure I can in spite of what it says on the cover. I own them. I just don’t feel right about selling them. I can give them to the Library Friends, but, there again, I don’t feel right about them selling them, either. And I’m not sure if they will. They might just throw them out. I already know that the library will not add them to the collection.

Book Mooch will not let me add any more inventory until I accept books from people. I am way too much of a net giver to be permitted to give any more books away. Period. End of discussion. I tried. The fact that I am moving in two weeks and just plain don’t want any more books right now, and really, truly want to get rid of books doesn’t seem to matter. That I honored all of my previous commitments doesn’t seem to matter. I’m violated some kind of un-posted community norm by having a massive credit balance, and therefore can’t add any inventory, no matter how much I want to give stuff away. My account was suspended until I agreed to this.

Paperback Swap will only deal with ARCs on an unofficial basis, through their forums. This looks like a really good service generally, but it’s going to be more difficult to get the ARCs placed through the forums than through the regular listings.

The process of organizing the library has been fascinating but bizarre. According to Library Thing, we’ve been through over 2,600 books. We kept 1,700, and have sold or given away over 800.  There are 5 boxes of that on the floor of my office to be run through Powell’s Books, to see what they will take. We have a massive credit with them, which will end up being spent on ebooks through Google. I love technology!

But, like kittens, my ARCs are free to a good home. And just like the kittens, I’m having a difficult time finding loving homes for them. I was looking for a place where I could give them to people to read them one more time. It shouldn’t be this hard.

The Mysteriousness of Collecting

I’m staring at shelves again.  And some of them are even empty.  I’m also thinking about Booklist’s mystery theme this month, and there IS a connection.

There are certain kinds of mysteries I enjoy.  The ones I like, I really, really like.  The ones I don’t, simply don’t work for me.  My enjoyment of mystery series has so much to do with liking the point of view character.  In a series, the detective is the person you “live with” throughout the series–if you don’t like them and the “family” they create to investigate with, it’s difficult to like the series, or at least it is for me.

Janet Evanovich‘s Stephanie Plum is a truly likeable heroine.  The scrapes she gets into always seem not just far-fetched, but trouble that almost anyone with half a brain should have seen coming a mile (make that ten miles) away.  At the same time, I can identify with Stephanie’s multi-generational issues with her mother and her grandmother, and her Grandma Mazur is an absolute hoot!  I still want to read the next book in the series, even though I know Stephanie’s train wreck of a love life is never going to be resolved.  The mystery in the books is not the point, everything else in “the Burg” is.  The Plum books are a series I have read all of, but never owned.

A lot of my mystery reading falls into that category.  But there were a few series that I had collected, absolutely religiously.  I had all of the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters.  I love Amelia.  She’s someone I would have adored to have tea with, or more likely brandy.  Right up until she started ordering my life around, which she would have done upon 15 minutes acquaintance, tops.  Readers either love Amelia, or can’t stand her.  I found her attempts to reconcile her passionate marriage with Victorian circumlocution utterly hilarious. And, as Abdullah, their reis intones in an early book, “another season, another dead body”. Someone always dies, providing another mystery to investigate.

In a completely other vein, I had the entire run of Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Joe Grey series.  Joe Grey is the narrator.  However, Joe Grey is a tomcat who both understands and speaks perfect English.  Joe doesn’t know why he is gifted, but he uses his talent, which he acquired as an adult cat, to help the police in his small town solve mysteries.  His owner does know about his gift, which Joe occasionally misuses to place delivery orders from the local deli.  Joe Grey is sarcastic and somewhat confused by his gift, which is shared by two other cats.  He doesn’t just speak human, he also thinks human, and he knows it’s wrong for a cat to be whatever it is he is.  There are a lot of times he’d rather be normal. But Joe somewhat subscribes to Spiderman’s credo, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Joe is able to help, so he must, in spite of the fact that sometimes he’d rather still be selfish, just like a cat.

Both these series are gone now.  I’m still not sure how I feel about that. These were long series, and took up a lot of space. I bought them because I wanted to read them as soon as they came out, not because I re-read them. But being able to see them on the shelves, especially the Peabody series, was very…comforting.  At the end of the Star Trek episode “Amok Time”, Spock tells T’Pring, “…having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”  When it comes to books, having them to read ASAP is very pleasurable indeed.  But I kept thinking I was going to re-read Amelia’s story, beginning with Crocodile on the Sandbank, someday. I guess if someday ever comes, I’ll just have to buy them all as ebooks!

Book Mooch is not my mother

The admins at Book Mooch are concerned about the amount of work it takes to give 300 books away to people who really, really want them.  So, allegedly out of concern for me, they deleted the half of my inventory that no one had claimed yet. 

What does this say?  First, that in less than 36 hours, 150 books had been snapped up by eager readers around the country.  Many of the books I was willing to mooch had huge wish lists, 50+ people in many cases.  The requests started coming almost instantly.

trunk of packagesYes, this does take a lot of work.  I packed up 140 books in the end, after I decided not to ship international.  I answered everyone.  I made a couple of newbie mistakes.  I started entering titles on Tuesday, and the last books will go to the post office tomorrow.  The local post office wants me to call ahead before I show up again, so they can lay on more staff to handle the workload.

I spent my time, and also invested some money, to send books to people who actually want those specific books.  It would have been easier, faster and way, way less expensive for me to just drop the books off at my local library.  But I thought this would be a good thing.  And some of the people who have packages on the way have already written back saying that they are looking forward to getting the books.

But the admins at Book Mooch got worried.  They explained that they were uneasy about the amount of work I was taking on, sending out so many books at once.  I asked to have the inventory restored, explaining that I was sending books out, and that I was trying to dispose of a significant collection before moving.  Again, they expressed their anxiety about my workload, and that they would check back in two weeks, to see about putting my remaining inventory back up.

If there is concern that a new account is adding too many books, and won’t deliver, just say so.  Better yet, limit new accounts until a defined number of deliveries have been confirmed. 

Apprehension about business and service levels are Book Mooch’s legitimate concerns.  If they had an issue, they could have raised it honestly.  They didn’t.  Instead, they sounded like my mother, talking about chores, and I mean that literally. I already have a mother.

I didn’t see this as a chore.  I saw it as giving books to people who wanted them.  But if it’s a chore, it’s one that I don’t have to do.  The local Friends of the Library can always sell my books at their next sale.

Whither used books?

Over the weekend, the great weeding project of 2011 finally got started.  This is a fairly daunting task, as this is an 1,800 sq. ft house, and there are books in every room except the laundry room.  At least, I’m pretty sure there are no books in the laundry room.  When we moved here, we rented a house this size in order to finally have enough room to shelve all the books.  And, we still didn’t make it past the letter R.

In about a day and a half, Galen and I went through 935 books, shifted over 600, and boxed over 300.  The process temporarily halted at the late, and sometimes great, Robert A. Heinlein. 

Library Thing LogoWe’ve added everything to Library Thing, whether we’ve kept it or not, and tagged it appropriately, hence the statistics.  (If anyone is interested in our process, just ask)  The fascinating thing about the listings has been the automatic suggestions that the collection has generated.  So many of the suggestions are books that we do have, they are just later in the alphabet.  But the others, well, just what I needed, a neat new toy to play with that will generate even more TBRs. 

The question about what to do with the books we have weeded, and why we are weeding them, circles back to the questions about the aftermarket of used books in general.  These are books.  They are still readable, and someone can still get still get lost in them.  But how do we effectively get rid of this many?  And what happens to used book stores and sales in the future, when more and more readers like us read ebooks instead of paper.  The news last week showed that ebooks sold more than print books in February.  We, the reading public, have reached the tipping point.

The Friends of the Library here is having their semi-annual book sale this weekend.  It is a five-day event that will probably bring in over $150,000 for the group.  They are extremely successful, rightfully so, and fund literacy projects in the community in addition to the work they do with the local library.  What happens to groups like this in 3-5 years when readers no longer have book collections to donate?  People will still want books to read, but where will those books come from?  I suspect I am like many ebook readers, in that what I am interested in is the content and not the container.  But I can’t re-sell or donate my used ebooks when I am done with them.  The long term implications of this trend are staggering.

Powells LogoMeanwhile, we have a “metric buttload” of books to get rid of, and it’s growing nightly.  The local used book store will only give cash for hardcovers and trade paperbacks, with a store credit for mass market paperbacks.  While I understand their position, since we are leaving for Atlanta in six weeks, a store credit doesn’t help much.  Powell’s Books in Portland, OR will buy books online based on the ISBN.  Admittedly, Powell’s is also giving a store credit, but the store is online, so it is much easier to spend.  And they now do ebooks through the Google bookstore.  We still haven’t used the credit from last time, but we’re going to do that again. With the addition of the ebook option, the credit won’t last long.

Book Mooch logoI’m also going to try Book Mooch for some of what Powell’s doesn’t take.  This is a service where you get credit for listing your books, and you pay shipping to send the book to the person who wants it, and get credit for that transaction, too.  In return, I can receive books I want from other people, based on my accumulated credit.  A friend recommends this service, so I’m interested in trying it, especially for the long term possibilities.  There are just too many books in the short term to deal with the shipping charges–success might be it’s own punishment!

We will not throw any books away.  Whatever we can’t send to Powell’s or doesn’t look like a candidate to be Mooched will go to the Friends of the Library as soon as they re-open for donations.  It takes them a little while to recuperate after one of their sales extravaganzas.

I thought it would make it easier to pass along some of these books if I just kept a record of what I had read, but it isn’t.  Even reduced by a third, this will still be a big personal library.  And I recognize that some of these books are ones that I won’t pick up again, and that there is someone out there who will enjoy them if I let them go.  But damn, it’s hard.