Monday, June 21, 2010

Fifth Blogiversary!

On June 11, 2005, just over five years ago, I made my first blog post. I had already been writing reviews for Wands and Worlds, a site I founded with my son, and posting them in a homegrown database. But I had started reading kidlit blogs (there were a lot less back then!) and, inspired and encouraged by the talented Tasha Saecker, who blogs at Kids Lit, I decided to take the plunge and start blogging. My first post was a look at BEA 2005, which I had recently attended. It was a pretty good post, but the posts that followed were a little insipid, and it took some time for me to find my voice.

In honor of my fifth blogiversary, I decided to do something that I should have done, er, five years ago: I wrote up my blog and review policy. So now publishers, authors, and publicists don't need to guess what I review and what my policies are. You can see it at the "Blog & Review Policy" tab above, or at this direct link. Comments, questions, and critique are welcome.

A lot has changed in five years, but a good book is still a good book. I haven't started running out of books yet, so I hope to be blogging for a long time to come.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Little Tiger Press Young Writer and Illustrator Awards

I received information about a contest that I thought sounded interesting, for children ages 5-11 in the UK. From their web site:

The Little Tiger Press Young Writer and Illustrator Awards 2010, sponsored by PriceMinister, are designed to encourage reading and creativity in children from an early age. This national competition aims to promote a life-long love of reading, writing and illustrating.

Children either choose one of two stories to draw an illustration about, or one of two illustrations to write a story about. Entries are submitted by the schools. The winners receive vouchers to spend on the PriceMinister web site, and the winners' schools also receive vouchers. The first place winner's school receives an £800 voucher, and the second place school receives a voucher for £400.

The closing date for entries is 23rd July 2010.

More information is available on the award web site.

Friday, June 04, 2010

48-hour book challenge starts TODAY

Don't forget that MotherReader's annual 48-hour book challenge starts TODAY! The idea is to read and review as much as possible over a 48-hour period between this morning and Monday morning. There are even prizes!

You can pick your starting time, so it's not too late: you can start as late as 7:00am on Saturday and still make the 48 hours by the deadline of 7am Monday. Unfortunately I won't be able to do it this weekend like I had planned, but I'll be cheering everyone on. Sign up for the challenge here!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Digital World 1990

Twenty years ago, I attended a conference in Monterey, California, organized by Seybold and called "Digital World 1990." The conference was intended to address the rapid technological changes affecting publishing, computer gaming, movies, and other media industries, and the coming convergence of technologies. I've attended other conferences, but that one was strongly imprinted on my memory, and I've never forgotten it. Last week, attending BEA and IBPA's Publishing University was somewhat of a déja-vu experience, which reminded me strongly of that long ago conference.

In 1990, we were in the midst of a sea change of technology that threatened to drastically change the way we did business. Publishing was still reeling from a relatively new technology, desktop publishing, that took power away from the corporations and put it in the hands of ordinary people. There was disagreement between advocates of desktop publishing, and those of us (including me) who advocated a device-neutral tagging system, SGML, as a better approach for the long term. Multimedia, in the form of CD-ROMs, was going to change the way information was presented, and a convergence of technologies meant that soon computers, televisions, telephones, and other devices would merge into multi-purpose devices.

Broadband access, in the form of ISDN, would put the world at our fingertips, although no one seemed to know exactly what that meant. The internet was gaining in popularity, but gopher was the primary means of using the internet, and the World Wide Web was just on the cusp of being developed. Ted Nelson spoke about his vision of a world wide hypertext library of information, Xanadu, which would allow anyone to create content and link to other people's content. Digital World 1990 was where I first heard about a new technology being researched, I think it was by Xerox, called electronic paper, which would use rotating dots of electrically charged ink to create paper on which the image could be changed.

There was both fear and excitement at the conference, but excitement seemed to be the primary emotion, particularly since many of the people at the conference were deeply involved in bringing about those changes. I remember one speaker, I wish I could remember who it was so I could credit him, talking about the curve of development of new technologies. Using the example of multimedia CD-ROMs, he talked about how when a new technology is first developed it generates a lot of excitement, and people think it's going to change the world. Then, when change doesn't happen as quickly as expected, there's a backlash against it. Finally, the change does happen, although often differently than expected.

Today, we are once again (or still) in the midst of a sea change affecting the way we do business. Just as twenty years ago, there is both fear and excitement, but whereas I think fear was the primary emotion at BEA 2009, I think BEA 2010 moved more towards excitement.

Some of the changes predicted at the 1990 conference have come about, although in almost all cases the change has been different than expected. CD-ROMs still exist, but they are essentially dead, however multimedia presentation of information is stronger than ever, as evidenced by the many demonstrations of "enhanced e-books" at BEA 2010. Broadband access has indeed come about, although through DSL and cable and wireless, not ISDN.

We do indeed have "the world at our fingertips," but the World Wide Web has replaced Ted Nelson's Xanadu (although project Xanadu still exists and is working to bring their vision to reality). I do wish that Xanadu had won out over the web, because Nelson's vision was far superior to what we have today. Xanadu had greater granularity of linking -- you could link to any amount of content, even down to a single byte, instead of being forced to link to whole pages -- links were bi-directional, and there was built-in copyright protection and automatic compensation of copyright holders.

E-readers based on e-ink, the descendent of e-paper, are the hot item in 2010, although sadly it seems that once again Xerox missed the boat on a technology for which they were a pioneer. There is indeed a convergence of technologies, although there is also increased specialization. Today consumers have a choice: you can purchase multi-purpose devices like the iPhone, which combine telephones, computers, and video, or you can purchase specialized devices like the Kindle that serve one purpose. Instead of an overall convergences, we've seen a combining, separating, and re-combining of technologies in many different ways.

Desktop publishing has evolved into robust graphical typesetting programs like InDesign. Yet, with the increasing importance of e-books and multi-platform publishing, format-neutral tagging based formats -- in this case XML, the intellectual descendent of SGML -- are playing a more important role, and even InDesign now incorporates XML tagging capabilities.

Using the development curve described above, I think that e-books are starting to move from the second phase, backlash, into the third phase, real change, although there is certainly still some backlash.

I think the important thing to take away from all this is that change will happen, although probably differently than we expect it to. Twenty years from now, the world -- and publishing -- will be very different than today, but it will also be different than today's predictions of where it's headed. The important thing is to be flexible and creative; companies that can adapt, in one way or another, to the change, will survive, and those that don't, won't. Adapting doesn't necessarily mean moving everything to e-books, but it does mean finding ways to do business in this new world, whatever that might mean.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Book Review: The Stand graphic novels

The Stand: Captain Trips
The Stand: American Nightmares
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Mike Perkins
Based on The Stand by Stephen King

Stephen King's The Stand is one of my favorite books of all time. It's one of those books that I go back to and reread from time to time. So I was excited when I heard about the new graphic novel adaptations from Marvel Comics, written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and illustrated by Mike Perkins. I haven't read many graphic novels, but it's something that I've wanted to get more into, so I thought this would be a great opportunity. I wasn't disappointed.

Marvel is releasing the story in installments, first as comics, then as hardcover books collecting five comics in each hardcover. The first hardcover is The Stand: Captain Trips, and it tells the story of the spread of the deadly bio-engineered virus that comes to be known as Captain Trips. In the second hardcover, The Stand: American Nightmares, the survivors of the modern plague begin to travel, in search of help or other survivors, while being plagued by nightmares of a dark man.

One of the best things about the original book is the characters; there is a large and diverse cast of characters representing all aspects of humanity. Some of them you can't help but love, others are ambiguous, and others are strongly in the camp of darkness. Stephen King brings all these characters to vivid life, and The Stand is really the story of how these characters weather the crisis and the aftermath, and what choices they make in the larger battle between good and evil. Bringing these characters to visual life on the page had to be one of the biggest challenges for Aguirre-Sacasa, Perkins, and the team, and they succeeded brilliantly. As an appendix to the first book makes clear, the team gave much time and attention to getting the characters right, and I think it paid off. Most of the characters look pretty much the way I imagined them, although the characters on the dark side tend towards an exaggeration in appearance that isn't to my taste, but that is probably the norm in the comics genre.

The same attention to detail was applied to the locations, from the beautiful seaside town of Ogunquit, Maine, to the streets of New York City. The appendix to the second book explains how Mike Perkins traced Larry's route through New York City and took photographs, and how he used those photographs to create the panels in the book.

The graphic novel is very true to the book, and although the scenes are necessarily abbreviated, the pictures do much to fill in the details, as they should. I was particularly interested to see how they would handle the famous Lincoln Tunnel scene, one of the scariest scenes I've read in a book. Because much of what's frightening in that scene stems from the unseen, rather than what's actually seen, I was concerned that a visual adaptation would reduce the impact. However, Aguirre-Sacasa and Perkins accomplish this by alternating panels of Larry using his Bic lighter for light, with completely black panels when the lighter gets to hot to keep on. (And a few panels showing the things in Larry's imagination). For me, it didn't have quite the visceral impact of Stephen King's words, but it did a darn good job of creating an atmospheric, frightening scene.

The first two volumes of The Stand graphic novel are very well done, and are fast-paced, entertaining reads. The artwork does a beautiful job of bringing Stephen King's vision to life. Both fans of the original book and those who have never read it will enjoy these visual interpretations of the story. I look forward to reading the next installment, The Stand: Soul Survivors, when it is released in July.

Please note: the links above will take you to the books on However, I strongly encourage you to visit your local independent comic book store and purchase them there.

FTC required disclosure: I purchased the books read for this review. The links above are Amazon Associate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Two innovative new e-readers

It seems like every day now, another new e-reader is announced. Some of them seem to have little to set them apart, but I saw two e-readers at BEA that caught my eye for their innovation.

enTourage eDGe

The first one is the enTourage eDGe, an exciting new dual screen reader. The left hand screen is a black & white e-ink screen for displaying your books, and the right hand screen is a full color netbook which runs the Google Android operating system.

The e-ink screen is large and comfortably displays a fair amount of text. A stylus enables you to write and draw on the e-ink screen, useful for taking notes and annotating books. The netbook half is a full-featured netbook, and runs Android apps as well as Microsoft Office applications. The current model has built-in WiFi, with 3G coming on future models. The screens can be held open side by side like a book, or can be folded back and held like a tablet.

enTourage is aiming at the higher education market with this, and I think that it would be a perfect reader for college students. The touch screen would allow them to take notes in their textbooks, and the netbook gives them access to their email, internet, and Office applications. There are even skins available for the device.

enTourage is working with textbook publishers to make their content available for the eDGe, and several large publishers have already been announced, including Elsevier's Science & Technology division, Wolters Kluwer Law & Business Books, and McGraw Hill Higher Education. In addition, the eDGe can display any book in ePub or PDF format.

The only drawback that I found to this device is its weight; it weighs slightly over three pounds, and it felt a little heavy to me. This definitely wouldn't be a device for my mother, who loves her Kindle and would have trouble holding this, but my mother isn't in the target market. It's lighter than some textbooks, and I think for college students it would be great.

The enTourage eDGe is $499, with an additional $40 for some colors.


The other interesting e-reading experience I learned about was a new book social network called Copia, with e-readers that integrate the social capabilities. I didn't get to see the actual readers, but it sounds like an interesting concept. Copia is a new social platform for readers; it apparently combines content with social networking capability. In addition to recommending books, similar to other book social networks, readers can share their notes and annotations, in a sort of online book club. The Copia e-readers are e-ink devices in a variety of sizes and configurations, but with the ability to access the recommendations, conversations, and notes of your friends as well as the e-books you purchase. Copia is still in Beta testing, but you can find more about it at