Books, Recommendations, and Amazon

I really like to read. I read almost every night and I have since I was a little kid, so I’ve gone through a lot of books. Lately though I’ve noticed a new trend in my reading; I’m reading books that no one recommended to me. Well, no person recommended them to me, I guess it is all Amazon at this point.

Normally, and this goes back to the first time I read the Lord of the Rings, the Belgariad, or the many books of Piers Anthony, someone would mention the book to me and I’d go find it at the book store or the library and I’d be set. For years, this is exactly what would happen, going through Frank Herbert, Anne McCaffrey, Terry Goodkind, etc. but recently I found myself buying two different book series that absolutely no one had ever talked to me about before.

The first was a set of two books (with hopefully more to come!) by Peter V. Brett; The Warded Man (aka The Painted Man, his first novel) and The Desert Spear. Both of these were excellent, the kind of books that I gave up many hours of sleep for because I couldn’t bear to stop reading.  Shortly after, due to Amazon’s decision to show it to me I suppose, I read the debut novel by Patrick Rothfuss; The Name of the Wind and then pre-ordered his follow-up the moment it was available. So, both series are by new authors, completely unknown to me and between the two of them they are some of the best writing I have ever read. I’ve just finished reading The Name of the Wind for the second time as a matter of fact… which is not unusual for me, I don’t want to even try to guess at how many readings of Dune I’ve gone through, but still it says something since it hasn’t been very long since my first reading of Rothfuss’s books that I felt compelled to go through them again.

I think this shift, from all my reading flowing from word-of-mouth suggestions to finding books through the algorithms of Amazon’s recommendation engine, is due to two things. One is that such a system never existed when I was a kid, your friends were the only source of “if you liked that book, then you’d probably like this book” suggestions around. The second, which is a bit sad, is that as far as I can tell almost none of my friends read. We discuss movies, TV shows and video games all the time, and many recommendations are made, but books almost never come up. I won’t go on and on about this, I probably already sound like an old man at this point, no need to take the leap into “the problem with kids these days…”

In a little bit I think I’ll make another post that goes through the various books I was a big fan of over the years. They are, for the most part, all pretty popular books in their genres so it won’t be a great list of new books to run out and get, but so many of them are excellent that they deserve to be discussed.

Marvel Digital Comics, not perfect, but worth the money!

A month or so ago, I went looking to see if there was any way to read back issues of Marvel Comics online… and discovered a complete site around providing exactly that service. With a subscription to the digital comics section, you can view any issue of any series that is available on their online catalog; I sat down a couple of nights ago and read through issues 1 to 100 of Ultimate Spiderman for example.

Marvel Digital Comics - Windows Internet Explorer (2)

The viewing experience (it appears to be based around some customized version of Adobe’s PDF reader) is acceptable to me, although it sometimes renders text out in odd fonts (obviously not the ones used in the original printed version) and its coolest feature ‘Smart Panels’, that lets you view the comic one panel at a time, instead of one or two pages across your screen, sometimes shows you a view that has cut off parts of the various bits of dialog. So far, the best experience for me has been viewing two pages at a time on a large wide screen monitor like my laptop’s 1920 x 1200 screen. The text is all readable, the rest of the art doesn’t look too cruddy from scaling, and I don’t run into the various bugs of the ‘Smart Panels’ system… and this is the closest in size and format to reading an actual comic, so it works out on many levels!

MARVEL DIGITAL COMICS - Mozilla Firefox

I’ve been reading a bunch of comics nearly each and every night… from ones that I read as a kid (like old issues of the X-Men, probably the only series where I had a ton of issues… well, other than owning the full run of ROM: Spaceknight and the Micronauts!) to all the new ones that I have never read at all (the Ultimates, Secret War, the Civil War series, M-Day, etc…)

The one major flaw with this system though, and this didn’t stop me from buying a year’s subscription but it might be a deal-killer to you, is that there are often gaps in a series you are trying to read. That 1-100 of Ultimate Spiderman that I mentioned earlier, well it is actually issues 1-3, 6-7, 14-15, 19-23, 31-34… and so on. Storylines stop right in the middle, then pick up so far ahead that it can drive you crazy! I’d like to hope that they are working on fixing this, but the cynical part of my mind wonders if it is on purpose, to encourage you to buy the print version of the comics… I hope that isn’t the case, it would really lower my opinion of Marvel 🙁

If you love Marvel comics you should check this out… maybe you’ll love it enough to pay for it, or maybe not… but I think it definitely worth a look.

Three Cups of Tea is a great book…

One positive side to being stuck at home for two weeks is that I was able to do a fair bit more reading. For the most part, I read magazines and watched movies, but my wife also brought me the book “Three Cups of Tea” about Greg Mortenson’s work in Pakistan building schools for the children of poor rural areas. Mr. Mortenson, an avid mountain climber, ended up spending time in a small village near the base of K2 in Pakistan, barely making it down alive after a failed attempt to reach the summit. Spending time with those people made quite an affect on him and from that point on he was on a mission to build schools and otherwise help out the people of that area. The book is great reading, dealing with exciting events, perilous adventures and important issues … all taking place in an area of the world that is completely foreign to many of us. Check it out, read more reviews or buy it here “Three Cups of Tea” in paperback from amazon.com.