Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Apple iPad: Communications & Publication

Okay, this is not a technology blog, but I am going to talk about the new Apple iPad. Why? Because we live in a technologically advanced society where each new toy--shiny as they may be--affects the way we live, and even the way we read. This is not a technology blog, but it is a blog that looks at literature, publishing, and communications, and the iPad, and Steve Job's unveiling of it, encompasses all of those.

Communications - Audience, Rhetoric & Presentation
What I like about Steve Jobs is that he is not the corporate CEO archetype. When Jobs showed up on stage earlier this morning to present the new Apple gadget, he was wearing jeans and tennis shoes. Not exactly what you would expect from the head of a leading technology company on the day of its big presentation. In doing this he presents himself to the people as one of the people, as someone just like them. Now, this is a great strategy for gathering attention, reaching out to those who are not the technology-following geeks, and essentially it helps them identify with Jobs. What they see is an average man sitting on his couch using the new iPad. Jobs is showing the community at large that they too can easily use and apply this new technology to their everyday lives, they don't need to be technology wizzes in order to understand it. In fact, for many people who already have the iPhone or the iPod Touch, the technology may not be that much different. That's two (or arguably three) audiences that Jobs is already appealing to in his presentation, without having to say anything yet, and then you add in the technophiles of all sorts and you have a ready-made fanbase. And, he's also adding one more audience: those who have trouble viewing small screens. Now, I'm not saying that the elderly are going to pick up the new iPad or anything like that, but they might. Why? Because the larger screen, with the ability to magnify and resize text easily, would be appealing to them, especially in conjunction with the new iBooks app. They would be able to use an eReader on a larger scale that would be backlit and easy to read. The same applies to any webpage, now that the older generation are also becoming a part of the new technological world. The topic of iBooks & the iPad as an eReader is something I'll come back to in a moment, but first I want to look at the rhetoric and presentation of this new device, from a communications standpoint.

I don't want to spend too much time on this, but I believe that it is important to examine the syntax that Jobs uses. Sure he may have overused hyperboles* like "magical" and "awesome," but they work well for him. Through his use of hyperbole Jobs has built up this product in the consumer's mind--which could help or hurt him in the future, only the sales will show. Will some consumers look into getting an iPad based on the colourful and ambitious dialogue? Maybe. Will some others criticize Apple for not living up to it? Probably, in fact, I would argue, definitely. How this plays out in sales though, remains to be seen.

Another effective strategy for the Apple team is the way they have used communication and social medias as a business tool. What's the best way to get the word out quickly these days? Social medias like twitter, where rumours of the new Apple "tablet**" have been circulating for weeks. There have been talk about the new features the iPad might employ, as well as what it will look like, and what the cost will be. What I find brilliant, when looking at this strategy from a marketing standpoint, is that Apple "accidentally slipped" a few price ranges that one should expect from the new toy, generally centering around $1000 a pop. Why does this matter? Because everyone went in expecting that sort of price, and were then shocked to find that it was only going to cost $499 (with additional data packages at $14.99 & $29.99 a month). This may seem expensive, but in comparison to the $1k we were expecting? It's a steal. Now, I will admit that this may have also hurt them in a way. By releasing a higher price, they made the public expect a larger product, like a tablet computer, which is not what this is. So now the public's attention might be shifted (as my friend Mike pointed out again just now) more towards what the iPad isn't, based on rumours and early projections, and less on what it actually is. But make no mistake, it's still a great way to market and make the product seem as if it has more value. Not to mention that the web has been craving for any solid data for months, creating all sort of buzz. By keeping most things under wraps, this works in the same way that GoogleWave did in that people want to know more, simply to be in the know. We're a very nosy society that way, and Apple is great at using that in their favour. They keep it a secret and therefore we want to know. And as soon as any hard data gets out, it's everywhere. Even now, hours later, 7 out of the top 10 topics trending worldwide on twitter are related to Apple, the iPad, and the release this morning (also how it will compare/compete with Amazon's kindle). Social media is a great thing for this, creating all sorts of hype.

Possible Effects for Publishing & the eReader Market
This new device is probably going to be used primarily as a multimedia device, and I don't see anyone writing anything long form such as novels on it, at least not without the aid of the keyboard dock***, but I do see people using it to watch movies and listen to music. The new larger screen even makes it somewhat superior over the iPhone in that it allows high definition videos to play on YouTube. More and more I am finding that I--as well as many others--cannot view a video on YouTube in regular dimensions because it has been recorded to be viewed in high def. And really, if you have the option, high def is the way to go, so it's great to see that in a device such as this (I'm still unsure of what to describe it as). But one thing I think the iPad is going to be great for is that it can be used as an eReader with the new application, iBooks. What is iBooks? Think kindle, only Apple. In the presentation today Apple even said that they would be using the same kind of idea--as well as interface--as Amazon's highly-acclaimed Kindle. And with the ebook market growing so rapidly****, it's no shock that Apple would want to get in on the action. Like I mentioned previously, this ebook is something that others are not: it's big. That may sound silly and obvious, but it's true, and that's going to appeal to a lot of readers out there. It is all the convenience of an eReader, on a bigger format, and one you can easily maneuver thanks to the touchscreen technology. Something else that you can do with the new iPad is you can buy books right from the iTunes store without having to connect with a computer to do so. Plus, there are already so many free ebooks online free that you can read! But the great thing? A lot of large publishing houses have teamed up with Apple to make iBooks work. Some may even be releasing books earlier on iBooks than they will for the Kindle, Sony, & Nooks--spelling trouble for companies who previously held the market and now may have bigger competition than they expected.

So what will this do to publishing? Well, I predict that we will see an increase in ebook sales, or rather, a continuation of a trend that is already in place. Though this might also speed that up. Another thing is that prices may go down as these companies compete with each other, and that could be a huge problem for hard copy books, a market that is already taking a hit from ebooks. Who wants to spend $20 or more on a hardcover book, or even $10 on a paperback, if soon you will be able to buy many books online for far less--or even free? How this, and also other digital readers like the Kindle, will affect the publishing market remains to be seen, but you can be sure that the market is there for an eReader and that it's not about to go away. Another thing this may do for publishing is, again, an extension of a trend that is already there, but some publishers may choose to release a book only in ebook format, possibly only on iBooks. This could be good or bad for marketing, but it saves on publishing costs (especially those of overprinting a book, which could also be disastrous for a novelist), and it creates a kind of exclusivity for that book, making readers value a digital reader, and possibly one eReader over another.

These are all very early predictions for something that was just released today, but certainly things to think about. I would be very interested in what others have to say, so please, let's get a discussion going in the comments. Again, this is not a technology blog and I am focusing on this new iPad from a communicative, rhetorical, and publishing standpoint, so I am looking for things primarily related to those subjects.

And thank you for reading this far, that was a lot to take in, I know.

*Is an overuse of hyperbole redundant in and of itself?
**I would argue now that this is not a tablet computer, nor is it the new version of the iPhone rumoured to come out sometime this quarter, but it is somewhere in between and therefore we cannot truly call it a tablet any longer.
***Which, I must say, looks really shiny. And is a great idea, because it then makes the iPad into a touchscreen desktop computer. I think that's a huge selling point, at least for me. I don't mention this because again, this is not a blog to look at the technological aspects, you can find those anywhere else.
****I refer you to this very interesting article on ebooks & advertising that features Maureen Johnson!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Condensed Review: Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King

I realize that my last review of Green Grass, Running Water was a bit much for some of you to digest, and certainly more than you wanted to read, so here is the condensed version that I wrote for's review page of this novel.

The format of this novel and the cyclical oral tradition/literary mashup that King presents us with is fantastic, interesting, and satirical of canon, as well as Western & Native cultures. The three levels of narration are intriguing and although they may complicate the story at times, they provide a certain amusement and insight that would not otherwise be possible. The characters are believable and lovable and when the novel is finished you will feel as if you have lost a close friend. The part that I most enjoyed, however, was King's humour. Witty and satirical and just out-right funny, it was a great. I highly recommend this book to all adult readers!

You can read my full review of this book here:

Review: Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King

In the beginning there was nothing, just the water. That's how the book begins and how we are first introduced to one of the stories involved in this book. Part creation story, part biting satire and quirky humour, and part realistic drama. The story has three levels, the first revolving around five Blackfoots, the inhabitants of Blossom, Alberta, and the nearby reservation in Canada, and around a doctor and his assistant from Florida, USA. There is Lionel, TV salesman with an upcoming birthday and a life that seems to be going nowhere. Charlie is the hot shot lawyer who has everything except the full attention of the woman he loves. Alberta is the woman they are both persuing, but who doesn't want to be tied down by any man or marriage, although she does want a child. Latisha is Lionel's sister, a single mother of three, and the owner of the Dead Dog Cafe, a restaurant near the reservation that boasts dog meat is its daily special to unsuspecting tourists. Their uncle Eli completes the quintet, a now-retired professor who is the wayward son who came home. He is currently living in a cabin that stands in the way--and halts the progression of--a dam that threatens the Blackfoots, and Eli has found a way to tie the case up in courts, with Charlie as the opposition's lawyer. Finally we have Dr. Hovaugh & Babo, employees at a mental hospital four Old Indians have escaped in order to fix the world. These Old Indians, going by the names of Robinson Crusoe, The Lone Ranger, Ishmael, & Hawkeye, are mythically old and legendarily powerful. They are a part of this story, but also on a higher level telling it to the even higher narrator who is telling the allegorical creation story to Coyote, who also intervenes with the rest of the narrative. It is, in a word, complicated, but in another, brilliant. I highly recommend anyone who is looking for a fun, humourous read, or anyone who is looking for an intellectually stimulating story.

The most notable aspect of this novel is the way the narrative is told, on three different levels, and in a way that combines the oral tradition of the Native American peoples with the written literary tradition of Western culture. The story of the higher narrative gets told 4 times, each time a little different, but sheds more on the real story in the present day. It's cyclical and very much a part of the oral tradition & the Native American culture it is meant to reflect and contrast. The literary & allegorical sides also show up in the narratives when each Old Indian, in their turn, meets a member of Judeo-Christian tradition, as well as characters from the canonical novels they take their name from. It's a bit like Jasper Ffrode's Thursday Next series, in my opinion, and I think that fans of Ffrode's would greatly enjoy King's humour and satire of literary canon & form.

Another great asset to this book are the characters, flawed and realistic. I think all readers from all walks of life will be able to relate to at least one characteristic from anyone in this cast. Whether it be a fear that your life is going nowhere, a dissatisfaction with your situation, a marriage gone wrong or a fear of commitment, there is something there for everyone. More than that, the characters are lovable, you want them to succeed and you will find yourself choosing teams in some situations, siding with one character or another. In the literary aspect these characters help drive the narrative forward and help with King's odd disjointed style of telling the story both in the past and the present. More than that, Charlie and Lionel are great foils for one another, set in comparison as well as in competition for Alberta's heart.

I hope my literary notes did not scare anyone away from this book, because I promise you that even without knowledge of literary canon or the full Judeo-Christian tradition, without a degree in English, you will still be able to read and appreciate this novel. King is a gem of modern literature, a writer that is both comic and satirical and unequivocally brilliant. I highly recommend this book to any adult looking for a good read and a few good laughs. (Again, especially to fans of Jasper Ffrode)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Why We Write

I've just finished my last day in a short interim course on writing & publishing, lead by Travis Thrasher. He's a great teacher and it's great to take a class on these things where a writer is the teacher instead of just another professor who is saying what he's told to say. Thrasher worked in publishing and he is now a full-time writer, so it's great to get that sort of insight.

I was just looking through Thrasher's blog, The Journey is Everything & I came across an entry from the beginning of this year about why he writes. I thought it was a really great post and I share a lot of his reasons.

You can read Travis Thrasher's post here, and I recommend looking through the rest of his blog as well, there's plenty of tips for writers to be found there.

What are my own personal reasons for writing?
Whenever I'm asked this question, or why I'm writing a particular project, I think back to something Madeleine L'Engle once said. "You have to write the book that wants to be written." I have always identified with that quote* and I think it really applies here. I could write a novel on any subject you want to give me, but it wouldn't be mine. I write because I have new stories within me, just waiting to be told. Stories that are just busting to get out and onto the page. I write because I have a story to tell.

And I write because it's what feels right and what makes sense in my life. I am not about to pretend that my life is all sunshine and daisies right now--nor has it ever really been--but in spite of all of that, writing makes sense. And it's somewhere I can work out my real life problems, even just in small ways. My characters are not me, and the stories I tell are not my memoirs, but everything I write has a piece of me in it. Moreover this is a reason I write Young Adult fiction, because I feel that in YA you can work through different problems than you can in adult literature. Which reminds me of another quote from literary agent Kate Schaffer (aka Daphne Unfeasible): "I don't believe that most teens think their lives are "normal and uneventful." I think every moment is fraught with anxiety & excitement." I feel like that's true also, and therefore I can fit most of that into my books, and if it helps me, great, if others can identify with it and it can maybe help them also, even better.

I write to satisfy my curiosity & to explore all of the "what if"s in life. I can't get rid of all of the world's air travel in real life, but I can write about what would happen if that were to occur. I can't give myself a horrible fatal disease (and still be alive to write about it afterwards), but I can write about it. Life is full of "what if"s, and I write to see what would happen.

And, like Thrasher, I write to say the things I wish I could say and do the things I wish I could do.

That's why I write, and so I'm curious, what about you? For all the writers out there--serious or recreational--what makes you write?

*And the second part where she says "And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children,” but that's a whole other topic for another blog.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Review: Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Micah is a compulsive liar, we know that from the start. We do not know why she lies, or when. We do not know what mysterious disease her family has and hides. And most importantly, we do not know what happens to her boyfriend Zach who has gone missing and is later found to be murdered (on page 5, not a spoiler). This novel is a psychological thriller and a journey to find the truth, something Micah has had trouble with before.

It's really hard to write a synopsis of the story without giving anything big away, so I am going to leave it at that. I will also do my best to keep this review free of spoilers from here on out. I think the biggest thing about this book is the fact that Micah is a very unreliable narrator. Everything she tells us must be questioned, from the smallest of things to the existence of some of the characters. You will suspect her and you will feel betrayed by her and you will wonder if she's crazy. The thing is, though, that Micah is such a beautifully written character that we want to believe her, despite how many times she lies to us. We will go along with what she says and get wrapped up in the story only to fall for one of her tricks--and she will trick you. At the end of the novel you're left wondering what was real and what she lied about, or if any of it was real at all. Another brilliant thing that Larbalestier does is set up the novel in 3 different sections, each of these with smaller parts broken into Before, After, School History, Family History, and History of Me. In this way it feels as if Micah is organizing the facts--or rather, her thoughts depending in which interpretation you end up taking. It's a different way to read but it works so well for this novel. While reading I found myself finding some aspects a little too much (I can't even say, it's the biggest spoiler), but then I realized that this could be a lie as well. Whatever this book was, it was compelling and it made me think. On a few occasions since finishing Liar last week I've caught myself thinking about different things and honestly, I'm not sure what I believe about this story, except that it was an interesting read and I enjoyed it. Larbalestier has woven quite the novel that will keep you guessing from start to finish.

Reviews are Coming Back!

I posted very little in 2009 and only 2 of these were book reviews, which was the original purpose of this blog. Now, this is not entirely because I wasn't reviewing, it was also because I wasn't reading much either. I was a full time student with two jobs and very little time on my hands, and that's still partly true. Even so, I am opening up the blog for reviews again. My goal is to review every book I read, whether I was in love with it or not. Seeing as I only read nine books last year (seriously, there is something wrong with me, but this is not including comics & manga either), this may not be such a huge task. This is my goal and you can hold me to that.

That said, a review of Justine Larbalestier's Liar will be up later tonight.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Insomnia: What It Is & How to Deal With It

Despite what WebMD & pharmaceutical companies may lead you to believe, the tiredness you're feeling every now and again may not be insomnia. These days it seems that everyone who is awake at night or is tired in the morning is blaming insomnia for their sleep troubles, and that may not be the case. In a study 23 out of 100 people were found to suffer from insomnia, but what that doesn't tell you is how many suffer from acute or chronic insomnia. What you all are calling insomnia may be a short-term thing or it may just be a lack of sleep or a disturbance in your sleep cycle.

Acute insomnia can last just a few days or be a problem that comes and goes over time. It is caused by stress, pain or discomfort, another medical issue, environmental factors, or a change in your sleep cycle.
Chronic insomnia is long lasting and more severe.

You do not have insomnia if you stay up all night by choice.
You do not have insomnia if you spend the entire night on the internet just because you can.
You do not have insomnia if you wake up tired to your alarm after only four hours of sleep.

Tips for dealing with insomnia:
  • Stay away from computers, televisions, books, and anything else that may distract you. These only allow you to stay up later and occupy your brain even more. They do not help you sleep. So, really, if you are online talking about how you can't sleep, you're only making it worse for yourself.

  • Make your bed your sleeping place, not your living space. If you have your bed only for sleeping, your body relates it with sleep instead of awake activities.

  • Set a schedule, the more you stick to it, the better chance you will have of getting to sleep at night. If you have a lot of trouble falling asleep allow yourself time to do so. The important thing is that you go to bed at the same time every night, whether you are tired or not.

  • Again with the schedule, do something at night to help you fall asleep that doesn't take too much brain power. I myself pray and go through my day in my head, trying to remember all the good things and not focus on the bad. Another trick I sometimes try is to play the alphabet game with comic/book/tv series. Such as A is for Albus Dumbledore, B is for Buckbeak, C is for Crookshanks, etc etc. It's a personal thing and related to you, but it should not be something that requires a lot of brain power

  • Do not sleep during the day. If you immediately take a two-hour nap when you get home, is it any wonder you're not tired a few hours later when it's time for bed? I really don't care how tired you are, you are not allowed to sleep during the day.

  • Allow yourself time to wake in the morning. Remember to stick to that schedule though. If you wake up at the same time every day, you are more likely to wake up feeling rested than if you wake up at 7 one day and 10 the next then maybe 8 the day after that. Consistency is key.

  • Take warm baths at night about a half hour or an hour before you go to bed as they will help your body relax. Showers are not recommended because they will wake you up, but for some people it works (works for me, but this is not so common). If you have to take a shower every morning to wake yourself up, do not take one before bed and opt for the bath instead. Also, if you need that morning shower, it is still okay to take a bath at night. You are allowed to bathe more than once in 24 hours, you know.

  • Keep the room quiet and dark. This should go without saying, but really, you would be surprised. Do not have the tv on, do not turn on the radio, and turn off all lights and electronics you can. Sure your lava lamp or Christmas lights may look cool, but they are not helping you sleep. Keep them on during the day, but turn them off at night (this also helps to conserve electricity).

  • Think about what you are eating and when. If you are eating something close to bedtime that is going to give you heartburn, well, it's not wonder you're not sleeping well. If you eat too much, you might have trouble also. Same goes for not eating anything (and really, you will regret that when you get up in the morning).

  • This goes along with the above, but avoid caffeine and sugar late in your day as they will only wake the body up even more. Instead try to drink water, non-caffienated warm drinks, or low-sugar fruit juices late at night.

  • Ultimately, it's something you have to work at each and every day. You can't just fix things overnight and drugs aren't the best option either. You may not even have chronic insomnia to begin with and it may be related to stress or some illness, in which case, you need to deal with that first before you can get decent sleep again.

    One more thing, you may not need as much sleep as others do anyway. If you can wake up feeling rested after only five or six hours of sleep, there is nothing wrong with you. Enjoy your extra hours, by all means. Just because you are awake at 2 AM does not mean you are an insomniac. It's when you lay in bed for hours at a time and can't sleep or wake up constantly in the night or feel lethargic and irritable all day long that you have to worry.

    And, from the insomniac's point of view, just saying you are an insomniac when really all you are doing is forcing yourself to stay up to watch a tv show or something on youtube? Yeah, we don't like that. And you're not doing yourself any favours either.


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