Monthly Archives: March 2011

28 Cents per Book, Am I Really This Cheap?

It’s been a little over two months since I got my Kindle. The thing about the whole experience that’s amazed me the most is how I haven’t stepped into a physical book store since then. Such a book store drought before would have been unthinkable. My book acquisition demon seems to be satiated by downloading samples. I have nearly a hundred of them on the device now. I’m also rediscovering classics, love that I can access them instantly, for free, and then read as much or as little as I want with no feeling of having to stick with it. And I’m sampling a lot of indie authors too, though admittedly only getting past the sample stage for a select few.

Here’s the list of books I’ve downloaded in full (samples are too numerous to easily list) and what I paid for each. Public domain books were all free.

Paid books:

Public domain books:

I’m averaging a staggering 28 cents a book. (Though if you factor in the cost of the Kindle and case, it comes out to almost $16 per book.) That’s downright embarrassing. I really thought I had spent more money on books, as I seem to be downloading them all the time. I didn’t buy the device so I could get cheap books. I bought it so I could have access to books that otherwise weren’t available. Some of the public domain books, such as those by Mary Johnston and Marietta Holley, are out of print. I love that so much of this esoteric stuff is available instantly, and in full. The fact that it’s free is a bonus.

I also haven’t given up on paper books. I’m still reading them, but focusing on the hundreds of unread books that I have piled up around the house. There is something strangely satisfying about hacking my way through these piles faster than they grow, for the first time ever. I seem to have found a new rhythm of one paper book from the shelf, then one ebook. But if my paper purchases slow down (yes, at some point I’ll go back and buy more) and if I’m averaging a mere pittance per book, how does this bode for publishing? Not well, it seems. Even Amazon can’t be all that excited about a 28 cent average per download. Yes, they got paid for the device, but my hunch is they’re barely breaking even supplying me with downloads.

Does this mean that I’m officially giving myself permission to spend more money on books?

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Thoughts on Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher fits snugly into the dystopian trend in young adult fiction. It tells the story of two people in different worlds. There’s Finn, an inmate in a futuristic prison with the same name as the book. He has no memory of his childhood, and is convinced that he did what no one else in the vast prison has done… seen outside. Then there is Claudia, daughter of the warden of Incarceron, who lives in a highly refined and aristocratic world, one where technology is artificially held back through Protocol.

The book starts with a bang, with Finn about to be run over, and doesn’t let up much through the end. Fisher has mastered the art of throwing rocks at her characters, though it’s often–perhaps as a result of so many hurled rocks–the secondary characters who feel more deftly drawn, if not outright likeable. Attia, a slave girl, was my favorite. She was unquestionably devoted to her master, yet also more than capable of taking care of herself. Lord Evian, a tireless sycophant with a secret, came a close second.

The settings of the book are wonderfully evocative, and change rapidly. Finn moves through the prison world, making his way out from the belly of the beast. Often it feels like the stage sets are the real stars of the book, and the main characters just show up to move the furniture around. Yes, this book fired on all cylinders, but it ultimately never captured me the way I hoped it would.

I did come to Incarceron with high expectations. It was the most recommended young adult fantasy at the SCBWI Weekend on the Water writer’s retreat last November. I heard more than one rave over it. And yes, the book is the work of a master wordsmith and highly skilled storyteller. But it all felt a bit like watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster. The sets were fantastic. The lighting and atmosphere spot on. The actors immensely talented. But the sum of it all somehow lacking.

There were so many opportunities where Incarceron could have offered much more than action, but it never seems to have taken aim for the profound. The story surged from one instance of mortal peril or jaw-dropping scenery to the next, never asking anything too serious of the reader. So that in the end, I wasn’t quite sure what Incarceron is about, and feel that in spite of the fine skill that Fisher displays, I’ll soon forget all about this prison and its inmates.

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Lucas Cranach the Elder and Speed Painting

This blog is getting rather dusty lately, but I have a good excuse, really I do. I’ve been focused on finishing the rough draft of what will be my first novel. I have two other novels in the drawer. Whether they ever see the light of day is far from certain, but if they do, they won’t be the first out of the gate. That spot is reserved for this puppy.

Speed. I’ve been thinking a lot about it and my own scribbles. It seems that the faster I write, the better I write. Short bursts of creative output are key. I’ve also heard this idea debated with the explosion of ebooks. Writers are about to enter a new golden age of pulp. One where fast writers will be far more likely to make a living than slow writers. The pulp writers of the 30s and 40s produced a lot of less than savory tomes, but they also produced the occasional masterpiece. That’s true for all art. A whole lot of fluff, and the occasional gem.

Then I came across the essay “‘… that you paint with wonderful speed’ Virtuosity and Efficiency of the Artistic Practice of Lucas Cranach the Elder” by Gunnar Heydenreich this weekend. It details a myriad of ways in which the Renaissance master, sped up his process. Things like laying down the total composition in a carefully thought out manner to reduce the drying time needed between sessions. Or tracing outlines of figures that would appear across multiple works. Movement and fluidity were the priority:

It was not only the more expensive pigments but also the more refined and lavish painting techniques that were reserved for commissions of greater importance.

Cranach would often take shortcuts, such as painting fur with a double-tipped brush. This technique was apparently never adopted by Albrecht Durer, his less prolific contemporary. Durer did what Renaissance masters are supposed to have done. He painstakingly reproduced each tuft of fur with a single-tipped brush. I’ve always admired how flat, and almost cartoonlike a lot of Cranach’s paintings are, with solid blue or green monochrome backgrounds. I never thought until this essay that this played a role in how the artist was able to make a living from his art. More paintings produced in less time.

Cranach also dabbled in early publishing. He went so far as to purchase a beechwood forest to increase the profits of his business. His books were bound with beechwood covers, and his paintings were often produced on beechwood of the same size as standard book dimensions of the time. Efficiency of scale. The printing press must have gone a long way to introduce this concept of speed to the early Renaissance. We often hear that we live in fast times now, but the rate at which things acclerate today is nothing compared to how much faster the early part of the 16th century must have felt like compared to all that came before it.

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