Category Archives: Books

Don’t Want No Nekkid Kindle

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Actually, this title is a bit misleading. Reading with the Kindle 3 au naturel is a very comfortable and pleasant way to read. The weight and size of the Kindle 3 make it quite easy to read one-handed, even while lying down. Given the choice, I probably prefer reading on the Kindle without a cover. However, I’m a bit protective of my gadgets and I try to keep them in good shape. Our iPod Touches all have BodyGuardz or Invisible Shields (my BlackBerry was in service for three years and fell off a moving car once–when I retired it for the iPhone 4, it was still in immaculate condition thanks to the BodyGuardz cover).

So, despite enjoying the Kindle in its native state, I decided I wanted to be more careful with it. It can take days to go through all the available accessories on Amazon and it is a bit overwhelming/frustrating. The variety of styles, colors, and materials borders on mind-numbing. After hours of looking through page after page and reading scores of reviews, I concluded that a light would be useful. I looked at the Mighty Bright, the M-Edge e-Luminator, and the Kandle but didn’t want ANOTHER thing to carry around. A case that had a light and would protect my precious Kindle while it’s stuffed in my computer bag seemed like the best alternative.

Apparently, I’m cheap about accessories because the thought of dishing out $60 for a case to protect a $139 device really chapped my a$$. But, the thought of tossing a naked Kindle into my computer bag and then jamming it into an airplane cargo bin is just too frightening. Since Target carries the Amazon case, I decided to get it there so I could return it if I didn’t like it.

The case has a nice pebbled leather exterior with an elastic strap to hold it shut, a groove for the strap, and a leather tab on the strap to make it easier to grab. Although I’m a little concerned about the strap losing its tension, so far so good. When you fold the cover back, the strap can be used to hold it tight against the back of the Kindle, making it a little more convenient to hold. The inside of the cover has a soft microfiber that will certainly help protect against scratches. The interior spine has two metal tabs that are used to lock the Kindle into the case and to provide power for the light. Because I’m concerned about those metal tabs beginning to carve out the soft plastic of the Kindle, I leave the Kindle in the cover all the time. It’s a little disappointing but reading with the cover on makes it feel more like a book.

The light pulls out from the upper right corner of the back. It has a plastic edge that can be a little tricky to grab with your thumb but it’s not too bad. The light consists of three LED’s that shine onto the front of the Kindle. The light degrades a bit as you move down the page but even the bottom is bright enough for me to read. There are a number of things about this case that make it very nice:

  • The LED’s illuminate the front of the Kindle but that’s about it. If you read in bed and aren’t sleeping alone, your partner will hardly even notice it.
  • The light is powered by the Kindle battery, so there is no issue with remembering to charge something else.
  • Because it’s powered by the Kindle battery, if you fall asleep while reading, the light will go off when the Kindle goes into sleep mode.

So far, using the light for 5-6 hours/week hasn’t put an appreciable dent in the battery life.

If you’re in the market for a case and would like the benefit of an integrated light, there isn’t much competition for the Amazon cover with light. It’s a high quality case and the pull out light is extremely convenient without being a battery killer. Check it out.

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The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Kindle

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Let’s get this out right away… I love books: the smell, the look, the feel. A new book is always a treasure. A bookstore is a magical place with so much potential for knowledge or challenge or excitement. I am bibliophile and proud of it; most of my books look as if they’ve never been read, even after I have finished them.

When the first Kindle arrived, I could not have been more underwhelmed. The size, shape and placement of the page buttons was horrible, leading to frequent accidental page turning. The clunky design of the thing made it look like they were channeling the creators of the Commodore 64. The e ink was ok but page refreshes were slow. In short, I had no interest in ever getting one of the things. A good friend had one of the originals and rarely used it. After losing it on a business trip, he had concluded that he wouldn’t bother replacing it. That is, until his daughter bought a Kindle 3 with her babysitting money. Now, he reads constantly and, I’m willing to bet, if he were to lose the new Kindle, he would order a replacement that same day.

Having never seen the Kindle 3, I was no more interested in it than the previous generations. I had gotten to the point where I used the Kindle app on my Touch to read while out and about. It wasn’t great but it was a way of wasting time while waiting for a haircut or an oil change. When I was able to move from a BlackBerry to the iPhone 4, my time spent reading in the Kindle app began to increase substantially. The retina display is so crisp and clean that the reading experience was much improved. It seemed to me that with the retina display, I had found a reading solution that obviated the need for a Kindle, a Nook, or any of the other e-reader variants.

Then, Christmas morning, I found myself the owner of a shiny new Kindle 3. It was so small and light. The screen was so sharp and responsive. Although I did decide to buy a case (which we’ll talk about later), reading with a naked Kindle 3 is a delight. The whole experience shocked me; I couldn’t believe how much I liked this little device. There is no question that I am reading more now than I have read in a very long time.

Hardware

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The Kindle 3 is 7.5” x 4.8” x 0.335” and weighs 8.5 ounces. With that, you get a 6” diagonal E Ink Pearl screen. They claim that it is 21% smaller and 17% lighter and I believe it. The screen is the same size as the original but offers better contrast and faster page changes. To me, the delay now is less than you would get turning a physical page. Put me down as one who is drinking the E Ink Kool-Aid. I occasionally get eye strain while working on the computer or reading on the iPhone. After having ready 8-10 books over the last six weeks, I have not experienced a single instance of eye strain while reading on the Kindle.

The placement for the page turn buttons is much better. Accidental page flipping is greatly reduced over the original but the shape and location of the new buttons makes for very convenient page turning regardless of how you hold the unit–assuming you hold it more or less like a book. The keyboard buttons have a nice feel but, despite being a former BlackBerry thumb-typing whiz, I typically type with my index finger on this device. The shape of the buttons and the greater separation between buttons just doesn’t work for me to try thumb-typing.

The wi-fi was very fast and easy to setup. If you can setup the wi-fi on your smart phone or Touch, you’ll have no problem with the Kindle. I can’t speak about the 3G because I do not have that version. When I first received it, I decided I was going to return it and upgrade to the 3G version. Amazon was more than helpful and I quickly had it all boxed up and ready to go. A friend then pointed out that with space for 3500 books, it seems unlikely that I would get caught without any books while traveling. Figuring that the extra $50 would be better spent on books, I decided to stick with the wi-fi only version. Besides, I was already in lust and didn’t want to be without it for 3-4 days. Although he is correct and I certainly should have no issues with keeping enough books on the Kindle for travel, I have twice found myself in the position of wanting to look up a book while having no access to wi-fi. In retrospect, I might have gone with the 3G version but it’s only a minor annoyance and I doubt I will have many regrets. Keep in mind that you also have free access to all AT&T Wi-fi Hotspots, so you still have wi-fi options while out and about.

The 5-way controller is probably the weakest link for me. Placement is fine but the active edge for moving the cursor is quite thin. If you have a tendency to fat finger things, you may buy a few books accidentally; whenever you look up a book, the BUY button is active. It wouldn’t be difficult to buy a book while trying to get to the links for downloading a sample or to look at the reviews. Luckily, upon buying a book, you are presented with a page that includes a link for returning an accidental purchase.

The MENU button provides a context aware menu for next actions. Press the button once to activate the menu. Press it a second time to close the menu. Examples of the menus available are shown below:

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The BACK button acts like the back button on a browser; it returns you to the previous screen.

The HOME button will take you to the first screen of your book listing, whether you are currently in a book, shopping, or in one of the other book listing screens.

The SYM button provides access to special characters. Press the button to activate the menu, press again to close it. While the menu is open, the 5-way controller allows you to navigate among the options and the center button of the controller allows you to select the character to appear next. Please note that you must be in a context in which the Kindle is expecting input for the SYM key to do anything. If you’re reading and hit the SYM key, nothing happens. The result of pressing the SYM key is shown below:

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The text key (represented by Aa) provides a variety of options. You can change the font size, the typeface, the line spacing, the number of words/line, and the rotation. You can also activate Text-to-Speech if the publisher allows it. See below:

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The three typeface options are shown below:

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The Text-to-Speech isn’t too bad. The reader has some inflection and it sounds fairly normal. You get the indicators of synthetic speech but it’s actually better than I expected, sounding better than the typical computerized voice that you would hear on your computer or on a child’s toy.

When you attach the Kindle to your computer, it mounts as a USB drive. Once mounted, you can drag documents or MP3 files to it (or take them off). If you purchase something or elect to install an archived item on the device (archived means any purchases that are in your library at the Kindle store but which are not currently installed on your Kindle), you don’t need the computer; it will happen via Whispernet (wi-fi). As you can see, the directory structure is quite straightforward and you should have no problem deciding which directory to drag the item into:

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Along the bottom you have:

  • a volume control switch
  • a headphone jack
  • the USB connection
  • the on/off switch.

The on/off switch is very low profile and it’s not uncommon to think you have turned it on or off without actually accomplishing the task. To avoid this problem, there is a green light under the switch that lights up for a moment when you have activated it on or off. The same light acts as a charging indicator while you are plugged into a wall outlet or a computer. It will be yellow while charging and green when fully charged.

Finally, the battery life… Mine hasn’t sat long enough to determine how long the battery lasts when not using the Kindle. I consistently get a week+ on the battery while reading daily.

Software

As mentioned earlier, the Home screen is where you will find the Samples and purchases. Ten books fit on a page, so you will get as many screens as it takes to display all of your titles. The previous and next page buttons are used to move between Home screens and the 5-way controller is used to navigate within a screen and to select a title for reading.

Home Screen

If you refer back to the first screenshot under the MENU button, you’ll see a shot of the Home screen. Note that there is a string of dots under each title. The length of that string indicates the relative length of that book. As you progress through a book, bold dots will indicate your current position within that book.

The Home screen allows you to change how your books are sorted. You can sort by:

  • Most recent first
  • Title
  • Author
  • Collections

Collections

Collections provide a way of combining like books (like a folder for books). If you refer back again to the Home screen under the MENU button discussion, you’ll see that there is an option to create a collection. Once you have created a collection, you are free to add as many books to that collection as you wish. A book can belong to more than one collection. To add a book to a collection, navigate to that book, then press the 5-way controller to the right. You will get a number of different options, as shown below:

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Be careful, if you press the 5-way controller to the left, rather than to the right, you will get the option to delete that book from the device. This will remove it from the Kindle but the book will still be available in your archive.

Search

To begin searching, just start typing. Next, use the 5-way controller to move over to the search context. You’ll find five options:

  • My items
  • Store
  • Google
  • Wikipedia
  • Dictionary

The Kindle would never be my chosen web surfing device but the browser works well enough for simple needs. As a research tool while reading, it provides a level of capabilities with which I can live. The results of the search (if searching My Items) presents each document containing your search text, as well as the number of times the text appears in that document:

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Dictionary

As seen above, you can search for dictionary entries by keying in a word. While reading a book, you can get the definition by using the 5-way controller to navigate to the beginning of that word. A short definition will be presented right away. If you want a more detailed definition, hit the return key to be presented with a more complete display from the dictionary. There are actually two dictionaries provided on the Kindle. The default is the New Oxford American Dictionary. Also selectable as your dictionary of choice is the Oxford Dictionary of English. An example of the short and long dictionary options is shown below:

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Highlighting/Notes/Social Networking

The Kindle allows you to create bookmarks, highlight text, and take notes. Any highlighting that you do or notes that you take, will appear in a file called My Clippings.txt. The file is visible in your Home screen for review on the Kindle. You can also copy the notes from your Kindle onto your PC or Mac by attaching the Kindle to your computer and then copying or dragging the file out of the Documents folder. Any highlighted text will appear in the file, fully annotated, like this:

==========
The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price, (Lynn O’Shaughnessy)
– Highlight Loc. 215-16 | Added on Tuesday, February 15, 2011, 07:34 AM

While popular media has loudly touted the increased competition for admissions to our nation’s top colleges, the truth is, for many students, getting in isn’t the problem. It’s how to pay for college once you do get in.
==========

You also have the option to see what others have highlighted in the book. If you have “Popular Highlights” turned on in the settings, you will see a light underline for highlighted text, with an indicator showing how many people highlighted that passage.

To highlight text, you use the 5-way controller to the beginning of the passage, then push the center button. Use the controller to continue highlighting the desired text. When you have the text highlighted, you have two options. If you press enter, the text will be highlighted and added to My Clippings. If you press ALT and Enter, you have the option to send that highlighted text as a Tweet or as a posting on Facebook (assuming you have setup your account within Settings). To link the Kindle to your Twitter or Facebook account, press the Menu button, then select Settings. Press the Next Page button and then navigate to the Social Networks option.

Graphics

If a page has an image, it will display as a normal part of the page, as you would expect. Although the e ink screen is quite nice, it’s quite possible that the table or image will be too small to read. Use the 5-way controller to move the cursor to the image. When you get to the image, a graphic will appear in the center of the image that looks like a magnifying glass with a + sign at its center. Click the center square of the 5-way controller and the image will enlarge to fill the entire screen. The BACK key will return you to the original page. The below images come from: The One-Page Project Manager for Execution

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Formats

The Kindle 3 supports the following content:

  • Kindle (AZW)
  • TXT
  • PDF
  • Audible (AA, AAX)
  • MP3
  • Unprotected MOBI
  • PRC

By using the Whispernet service and the myname@free.kindle.com, you can have Amazon convert the following content types to Kindle format:

  • HTML
  • Doc
  • TXT
  • RTF
  • JPEG
  • GIF
  • PNG
  • BMP

The service is free as long as you use wi-fi and the free e-mail address. The document will arrive within 5-15 minutes and you will get an e-mail at your registered e-mail address letting you know that the document is available.

Although the Kindle 3 supports PDF, you may decide that you want to convert PDF files via the free service. If you copy a PDF file to your Kindle, you will be able to read it but you will not have the same options under the Text button. You lose the ability to change:

  • Typeface
  • Font size
  • Line spacing
  • Words/line
  • Text-to-Speech

You instead get the options to:

  • Fit-to-screen (150%, 200%, 300%, actual size)
  • Contrast (lightest, lighter, default, darker, darkest)
  • Screen rotation

Converted files seem to get the same capabilities as purchased Kindle documents.

You can also download documents from the browser on the Kindle. Supported formats are:

  • Kindle (AZW, AZW1)
  • MOBI
  • PRC
  • TXT

Along with books, you can also read periodicals and blogs to which you have subscribed. This is not a feature that I have tested.

Experimental

As an MP3 player, the Kindle 3 is OK. I heard some unexpected crackling but it wasn’t bad. If you don’t already have a player, it will work. Personally, I prefer to keep my music on my Touch and reserve my Kindle for documents.

I mentioned that the Text-to-Speech is pretty decent. It isn’t something I care to use at this point but my limited experience with it suggests that the voice is quite clear and should do the job if you cannot see the text or you just prefer to be read to. You won’t be getting James Earl Jones but you aren’t getting the full-on computer voice either. Just keep in mind that not all books permit the Text-to-Speech option. If you’re looking at the Kindle version of a book in the store, it will tell you whether or not the publisher is permitting Text-to-Speech.

The browser on the Kindle 3 is Webkit based, so it is more capable and faster than in previous versions. Below you will find a screenshot showing the default bookmarked sites, as well as a glance at IMDB.

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It doesn’t have the pretty colors of a Nook Color but, as I said, I’m drinking the E Ink Kool-Aid.

Whispernet

I have to say that I’m quite impressed with how well the synch process goes. Even if you’re buying from the Amazon web page on your computer (or getting a sample), the transfer is quite fast.

More importantly, it’s quite useful. As an example, I was out with a friend the other night. We were talking about a book that I was reading on my Kindle. The Kindle was at home so I pulled out my iPhone, downloaded the book from the archives, and opened it to the page I had been reading. Within a few minutes (we don’t have 3G here, we are stuck with the lousy AT&T Edge) I was able to show him the passage we had been discussing. It worked without a hitch (except, as mentioned, the shitty Edge network).

Shortcuts

Here are a few of the shortcuts I’ve found while playing with the Kindle 3:

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Rant

There is no question that I love my Kindle and already see it as an indispensable tool. However, there are still a few things that piss me off.

Pricing

Before I got my Kindle 3, pricing for ebooks was pretty good. Unfortunately, Apple really screwed the pooch when they released iBooks. When Apple agreed to the “Agency Model” pricing scheme set forth by publishers, Amazon lost the ability to set prices as it had when it was a benevolent dictatorship. It may well be that some books are cheaper now but I’m not seeing it. Here are several examples:

While traveling one day, and before getting my Kindle, I decided I would use the Kindle app on my iPhone to buy something to read. A friend had highly recommended The Lion’s Game by Nelson Demille. Expecting an inexpensive book, I found the book and was shocked to find the price set at $12.99. This is a book that was released in September, 2000 and it has apparently had a good run. The Amazon discounted paperback price is $10.19. What the hell? The publishers had argued that by letting them set prices, they would have the flexibility to make older books cheaper, while trying to capture a little extra revenue on the newer books. If this is an example, I’m missing it. Clearly, I’m an idiot but I fully expected the ebook version of a 10 year old book to be somewhere between $5 and $8.

Similarly, Altar of Eden by James Rollins was recently released in paperback format. The discounted Amazon price for the paperback is $8.29. The Kindle price is $8.99. You can pick the same book up at Sam’s Club for $6.49. I understand that Sam’s savagely discounts books but I again expected the price of the Kindle version to be somewhere between the Sam’s price and the paperback price. Unlike the price of The Lion’s Game, this one is new enough and the price close enough to the paperback that I might still be persuaded to pick it up.

Finally, yesterday I was looking at The 4% Universe by Richard Panek. Hardback price is $14.30. Paperback price is $10.85. Kindle price is $12.87. Again, I say, What The Hell? The book looks very interesting but the price turns me away.

Certainly, there is a convenience factor here. I don’t have to carry a bunch of books, nor do I have even more books clogging up my already overstuffed bookcases. The ability to synch between devices is also very nice. The other day, I wanted to show a book I was reading to a friend. I didn’t have my Kindle but had my iPhone. After launching the Kindle app, I was able to download the book from the archives to my iPhone and show him the passage where I was currently reading. Also very convenient.

What I don’t have is a tangible product that I can resell, give away, or loan. I have already purchased several e-books at $9.99 that I regret buying. Too late… That horse is out of the barn, the publisher has my money, and I have no way to recoup any of the money that I paid. With a physical book I would have the option to return it, sell it as a used book, or donate it. It seems to me that publishers are milking the ebook side of things, which is unfortunate.

If I find a book that I want to recommend to friends, they are compelled to buy it (or get it from a library) for themselves, rather than borrowing my copy. Ultimately, as more and more ebooks are sold, the publishers are putting themselves in a position where they are losing fewer sales to libraries and used book stores. Making older books available at a cheaper price is a way of recognizing this and appealing more to the avid readers who liked to share their books with friends and family. The beauty of an ebook is that, over time, the cost of a sale continues to decline. Publishers no longer have to worry about shelf space in a bookstore, so they can make more books available longer, rather than having to make the tough decision to take books out of print to reduce their printing, storage, and distribution costs. We, as readers should see some of that benefit. There are ways to crack the DRM and do whatever you want with the book but I would prefer to take the high road on this matter and ensure that the author gets his/her cut.

Here are a few more brief examples:

  • The Millenium trilogy books by Stieg Larsson are very popular. Although I have access to the paperbacks from a friend, I realized one day that
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire were available for the Kindle for $5. At that price point, it was a no-brainer; I picked them both up. However, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is selling for $9.99. That book remains on my wish list.
  • I have a friend who has been raving about Edward Rutherfurd’s New York for months. It doesn’t look like my kind of book but I have never heard such praise for a novel. He told me to get it for the Kindle. If I don’t like it, he will reimburse me for the cost. I told him that if the book cost more than $9.99 I would not buy it, despite his generous offer. When I checked, I found that it was also available for $5. Again, that was a no-brainer and it now waits for me on my Kindle.
  • Kindle samples are huge for me. If a book looks remotely interesting, I will download the sample. As time allows, I will pull up a sample and give it my full attention (much more attention than I would likely give the book while browsing in a bookstore). If I like the book, regardless of the subject matter, I will seriously consider buying it. An example of this is Chelsea Handler’s My Horizontal Life. After downloading the sample, I read it to my wife. We both laughed so hard that I immediately looked it up. When I saw it was $5, boom, another purchase. Will the rest of the book be as funny as that first section? I have no idea, but I’m willing to take that risk for $5.

So, here is my heuristic for purchasing e-books:

  • Is the cost greater than $9.99? If so, there has to be an extremely compelling need for the book. Otherwise…no purchase.
  • Is the cost between $7.00 and $9.99? If so, I will seriously consider buying the book but I might need a little time, research and thought.
  • Is the cost $5.00 or less? If so, and I’m interested in the book, it may very well be an impulse buy. At $5 or under, I am willing to take chances for an e-book that I probably would not take even for a similarly priced paperback.

Lending

In the previous section, I said that I cannot loan books. That is no longer completely true. If the publisher permits, you are now able to loan a book ONE TIME to someone. They get the book for 14 days and then the book reverts back to you. While they have the book, you cannot read it. The time limit makes perfect sense. The restriction that prevents you from also reading the book at the same time makes sense. Why can we loan a book only once? Believe it or not, I have more than one friend who likes to read the same books as I do. I have more than one friend who is using a Kindle or Kindle app to read books. As it stands right now, I have to decide which friend gets my coveted loaner and which ones are screwed. It seems to me that a number between 3 and 5 is more reasonable. A few friends can share a book but the limitation acknowledges that, over time, a book will degrade and at some point will be falling apart and no longer desirable as a loaner. If we’re going to get tagged these higher prices for ebooks, we should have more flexibility with what we can do with those books, short of breaking the law.

What are your thoughts on e-book readers and e-book costs? If you’re willing to share your opinion, I would appreciate it.


Silverman vs. Munn Smackdown

OK, so part of the reason for doing this posting is to test  MarsEdit, a blogging app. The title sounds like a mud wrestling competition that a fair piece of geekdom might be interested in, but this is really about their respective books.

 

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One day I found myself looking for something to read and was hoping to find something funny. I stumbled across the Olivia Munn book and was excited to get my hands on it. Munn has geek cred and, in the limited exposure I’ve had to her, seems funny. Plus, with a title (and cover) like that, how could I help but be interested? Then, after my encounter with Ms. Munn, I found the Sarah Silverman book. Since I’ve sort of made a habit of contrasting two different products, it seemed like a worthy entry.

Here is the  expected table:

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In a rundown, Olivia’s title certainly beats out Sarah’s. It doesn’t have the soul-searing honesty of Sarah’s but it has a certain “imagery” to it that is more attention getting. The cover picture is a toss-up. Olivia is going for the cleavage angle but Sarah looks damn cute as one of the Beatles (or whatever the hell look she was going for).

Neither of these young ladies should kiss their mommas with those mouths. If you rate a book based on the number of references to penises, poop, farts, and vaginas, Sarah’s book may well be the book of the decade. If you are turned off by a constant barrage of expletives, these are not the books for you. I’ve heard that “The Hiding Place” and the Little House on the Prairie books are light on blue language but they also aren’t nearly as funny.

Both books provide an abundance of pictures. I flipped a coin and Olivia won. Without question, Olivia wins on the flip book front. Sarah can’t touch that ingenious little addition to Suck It. It’s like buying two books for the price of one.

Unfortunately for Olivia, when you actually start reading the book, Sarah wins. Hands down. Both women clearly love their families and both are comfortable with admitting their foibles. They each have a self-deprecating way about their writing that keeps things light. But…Olivia’s book reads like it was written by a high-school girl. It was an absolute chore to read through. In fact, in full disclosure, I could not finish the book (if someone can get me a signed copy, I’d be happy to give it another shot…). This is in contrast to Sarah’s book, which I completed in less than 24 hours. Although she dealt with some dark subjects (quickly), like bed-wetting and depression, they did not bog the book down. The book remained light, funny, and interesting from beginning until almost the end. There were two events in the book that were a little disgusting. The first revolves around Sarah and Louis C.K. dropping their clothing, one item at a time, into an apartment lobby from high up. They then get into the elevator, naked, and run around retrieving their clothes. I have to admit that the image is interesting, even compelling, until a naked Louis C.K. steps into the frame. At that point, my gag reflex is triggered (but I’m just not that into naked, balding, middle-aged red-headed men, YMMV). The other is a picture of a guy’s penis with a hair clip on it. In context, it’s funny but…

Perhaps it makes sense that Sarah would have a more “mature” “professional” book since she’s 10 years older and has earned her living as a writer, but I expected more from Olivia’s book. I wanted to love the Munn book. Too bad. Seriously, get me that signed copy and I will force myself to read it and revise this as appropriate…

 

 


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