Sunday, March 17, 2013

Everybody's Irish sometimes

Even though my name is Shannan, I'm not Irish. I don't identify as 'Irish-Canadian' or 'Irish-American' in any way. I've never been to Ireland either. I'd like to go there someday though. I've seen pictures and talked with people who've been or are from Ireland and it seems lovely.

I'm North American - the sum of all my parts and ancestors. Until very recently, I didn't know much at all really about any of those ancestors any further back than my grandparents. I did know all of my grandparents to some degree, but only ever met one great-grandparent - all of whom were North American. But thanks to Ancestry-dot-com (as offered by many libraries, including my own local library until a year or so ago when the subscription system unfortunately had to drop it) as well as a couple of genealogy classes offered free by my local library I got curious and in the last year I've been spending a lot of spare time researching.

Me, both of my parents, all four of my grandparents, and 5 of my 8 great-grandparents were born in North America. All in and around the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence. On my dad's side, all of my great-grandparents immigrated to Canada from the UK. On my mom's side, it turns out some of my ancestors have been in Canada for at least 200 years! I say at least, because I haven't yet found information about the parents of the ancestor I know was born in Ontario in 1812. I was utterly amazed when I found this out! Until I started searching, I had no idea that I had ancestors who had been here that long!

Like many North Americans, when I say I'm the sum of my ancestors, I mean the sum of a variety of folks. Of the ones I've found so far, my ancestors aren't worldwide diverse by any stretch, but a few different places - including, I found out, Ireland!

My great-great-great grandma Ann was born in Ireland in around 1815! I'm not sure how or why she came to Canada, but when she was 19 she married my great-great-great grandfather who was a farmer born and living in central Ontario!

Of the rest of my ancestors I've been tracing, there are folks from England, Scotland, and France for a start -- well, I'm not 100% sure about France. I am sure about ancestors who were French-Canadian and so the usual progression would likely go back at some point to France, but as of yet, I haven't found solid enough information about the parents of my great-great-grandmother who I know was francophone and born in "Canada - French" as the census says to be absolutely sure.

Searching for ancestors and finding all sorts of folks who might be the right Ann or George or Julia or Robert and having to do the research to try to make sure you've got the right one is something I've been finding really quite fun! It's frustrating too sometimes when I can't find corroborating information and so can't be sure. Part of the challenge too is the propensity I'm finding of folks to lie on old census forms, or in family histories whether to hide something considered "shameful" at the time, or to just make things easier in the "climate" of the time. The same people are sometimes listed as being French Canadian, sometimes not; sometimes Irish, sometimes not...

So, it turns out I am, if only a little bit, Irish. So, Beannachtam na Feile Padraig! To one and all!

Monday, February 04, 2013

Random thoughts on reading certain translations

Someone once told me that they hate reading translated books because the place names stay the same and seem out of place with everything else being in English.

The thing I find a challenge sometimes when I read a book that's been translated into English is the fact that the cultural differences - the accepted norms in the culture of one language don't always (or even often really) translate very well into another language.

I don't have a lot of experience reading books that have been translated from English into another language.  For one thing, I've only ever had any ability to read in English and French. Though my French is *very* rusty these days, I have read some books that have been translated from English to French, but I've always read the French only after I'd read the English version, so the story was already in my head. Any concepts that didn't really translate from English to French, I didn't notice because I already had the English story in my memory.

I've read a few mysteries translated from Swedish or Finnish to English and right now I'm reading "Against God" by Patrick Senécal which is by a Quebec author and has been translated from French to English.

This book is challenging me for three reasons: 1) It's a heavy story. Sad. 2) It's written in a "different" sort of style - namely, it's one long sentence. Seriously, the whole book is one stream of consciousness sentence without end. 3) It's a translation, and turning a turn phrase in French into English is difficult even without the unusual writing style.

The reason for the translation challenge aside from the style issue, is that the way that words are used, how sentences and thoughts are arranged on the page in French is quite different than how they are arranged in English

To be clear I'm not criticising the translator - I haven't read the French version yet (it's on request through ILL), but it seems like a good translation to me. But for the reader, it can require a stretching of the mind - even reading the words in English, to really get what the author is trying to get at, you have to read it from a French frame of mind. In this case, you have to read it in a French Canadian frame of mind.

For some, this literary 'dipping of toes' into a different cultural frame of mind is exhilarating -
a mental workout almost as enriching as travelling to a foreign country. For others, it's not that it's too difficult a challenge, it's just that it's not what they're after from a book - books are their relaxation, their break from the days full of challenge.

For me, I like the challenge. It's a different sort of challenge than my every day challenges which can be more wearying than invigorating at times.

This book is invigoratingly mentally challenging me and I like it. I'm reading it slowly though because it is a challenge and I want to make sure I'm really getting it. The "easier" reads I'm going through at the same time the gentle stretches between workouts.

A translation of a great work of literature can be like listening to the Queen of the Night Aria (Mozart - The Magic Flute) played on a plastic child's recorder. No matter how technically correct, it's just not the same. Or, it can be like hearing a classical piece like Ave Maria played flawlessly on acoustic guitar - different, but equally stunning. I'm not sure where this translation falls on that scale, but it's a compelling enough read for me to keep going and keep putting myself into the mind of the character in M. Senécal's book.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

100 Books in 2013!

I've challenged myself to read 100 books in 2013!

In part I'm doing this to support the centennial celebrations of the town where I live at the moment, but I'm also doing it for me. This will be a great opportunity to read deliberately and consciously. I'm planning to read a diverse assortment of books from various collections in my public library. I'm going to stretch my horizons and read genres I don't usually read and collections I haven't read much from in a while. I'll push myself out of my comfortable favourite styles and genres.

  • Adult, teen, and children's books are fair game,
  • Fiction and non-fiction are fair game,
  • Mysteries, classics, science-fiction, fantasy, westerns, Christian, romance are all fair game,
  • "Fluff" and "high-literature" are both fair game,
  • English and French are both fair game (my français is pretty rusty these days and can use the workout).
 I'll be keeping a tally of what I've read on my Goodreads page and I'll even review as many as possible there.

May your shelves be ever filled with great books!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

The thing about e-books

The thing about e-books

by Shannan Sword

The first time I read an entire book on an e-reader was in 2001. It was a Rocket eBook by NuvoMedia and it weighed about as much as a good sized hardcover and was about as thick. The weight, held only in one hand instead of two like a paper book, got heavy for me so I ended up laying it on a pillow on my lap to finish reading. Though this was not a major issue, it was something I noticed at the time.

It was exciting though to try this new(ish) technology. I felt so modern and high-tech! As with most geeks like me, it felt like science fiction made real. I may even have said; “Set pages to turn, Ensign Reader!” or something equally silly… maybe.

Those first readers and e-books promised a revolution in how books would be published and how authors would distribute their work. There had even been a buy-in by a famous, best-selling author when Stephen King published a direct (and only) to electronic format book called “Riding the bullet” in 2000.

King’s e-book wasn’t one of the titles I read on that now ancient machine, and at the time, I knew nothing about rights management, hacking, or how many computers crashed trying to download “Riding the bullet”. That spring of 2001 I only knew that it was a nifty bit of technology. It wasn’t perfect, and I was far from ready to abandon my paper books, or rush out to purchase an e-reader for myself. It seemed really cool, but not quite there yet to me. I wasn’t sure yet if this new technology would iron out the bugs and improve enough to change how books would be made in the future, or if it would be my generation’s 8-track tape: superior technology in some respects, but inferior in others and just not quite what the market wants.

Keep in mind that I’d grown up without a computer. I successfully used a computer for the first time when I was 19 or 20 to type an essay at university. That computer didn’t have a mouse and to do anything, you had to remember the right combination of keystrokes to make it happen (was it Ctrl-F7 or Alt-Ctrl-F7?!). To have a device that fit (sort of) in my hand and digitally held a dozen books or so inside it, was absolutely amazing.

I would soon learn of some of the other major issues with this new publishing format and here I'd like to discuss three of those challenges. There was no universal standard, so compatibility between devices and the sources of content was problematic. The availability of titles in those early days was quite limited as various publishers slowly came on board. And perhaps worst of all, impacting every other issue, was the problem of security. Encryption wasn’t standard, or hack-proof. Stephen King’s “Riding the bullet” was offered for $2.50, with some vendors giving it away for free download, and still, hackers broke the encryption within a few days just to see if they could.

It’s twelve years on now though, so have all the problems been solved? Well, let’s have a look:

Can you purchase an e-book from any vendor and access it on any e-reader? Not quite. For example, though Amazon Kindles now work with some library lending programs in the United States, the brand remains largely proprietary; only working for e-books purchased from the Amazon site. Apple iBooks work on iOS machines, while Kobo, Nook, Sony and a few others have a bit more cross-compatibility.

There are a growing number of “apps” that make it possible for non-compatible machines to access e-books though. My iPad isn’t compatible directly with the e-book lending programs offered in my local library, but I can still borrow e-books through a specialised application I’ve downloaded. Unfortunately, apps aren’t a perfect solution either. At one time I had an app on my iPad that gave me access to titles available through Kobo. I’m glad I hadn’t gone too far with it though, as at some point, Kobo decided to discontinue this availability.

Publishers themselves also seem to be having difficulty making up their minds about who they want to work with and which titles they want to make available in electronic format. This is especially a problem for libraries who have enjoyed a very good relationship with publishers in the past when it came to access to paper books. When Penguin ended its relationship with OverDrive, a very popular e-book lending service used by many public libraries, to try a new service method, it was reported as a “stunning development” that shocked and angered librarians. Other publishers have chosen to still allow libraries access to their titles through programs like OverDrive, but at greatly inflated prices; a practice that has led to much consternation and frustration amongst librarians.

As a public library administrator, trying to manage a budget while providing patrons with a decent selection of materials in a relevant selection of formats, this kind of changing of minds and price inflation is difficult to trust. In Canada, I’ve also run into the roadblock of trying to order e-books only to find that certain titles were available only in the United States, and in Canada, they wouldn’t sell them to me.

Amongst modern democratic countries, paper books have not typically been withheld from distribution across boarders. Differing laws regarding freedom of speech, decency, and hate literature may have blocked books from crossing a boarder, but as a librarian, or a reader, I’ve never requested a book published in North America or Europe that a publisher wasn’t willing to sell me before.

So compatibility, whether it be all e-readers working with all e-books, or even all e-books being available to all customers, is still an issue.

I’ve already mentioned the selection problems regarding getting e-books across boarders, but what about other aspects of selection? Have the number of choices for e-books increased? Are all books also available as e-books?

This actually is an area that has enjoyed considerable improvement since 2001. It’s still not perfect, but then what is? A very large number of titles are now available to purchase for individuals at least. In fact, e-books have become so easy to create that the self-publishing market for e-books has virtually exploded. Amazon and Apple are two major vendors of e-books that allow anyone to create an account to publish and sell their self-published books.

Some might suggest that such easy self-publishing has “dirtied the waters” a bit by allowing anyone with a network connection to publish anything. Without editing, or vetting by anyone qualified to weed out the terrible prose, or factually incorrect information, consumers may be overwhelmed. As for me, I admit to a bit of a personal bias when it comes to self-publishing. In general, I find that if a book isn’t good enough to pass the scrutiny of an agent or a publisher, there’s probably a reason. I have read self-published books, and many of those experiences have informed my (admitted) personal bias.

Still, the proliferation of self-published e-books isn’t necessarily a bad thing. No one is forcing anyone to read them if they don’t want, and really, I’m all for encouraging the free expression of creativity for everyone. I’ve even thought of self-publishing an e-book myself, if only to try out the process and see how it works.

Meanwhile, at least one early adopter may be moving away from e-publishing at least a little. In 2012, Stephen King announced that his new book “Joyland” would be released in paperback only - at least initially. Though this seems to be more for reasons of nostalgia or possibly even gimmick, he hasn’t abandoned e-publishing entirely and other new books will still be coming out in paper and electronic formats. Still, an interesting development from the author famous for putting e-publishing on the map with his phenomenal release in 2000.

From a user perspective, I think that security on e-books, known generally as DRM: Digital Rights Management is still a major problem. From a publisher’s perspective, security is better, but hackers are always going to try to beat whatever security is devised, simply to prove that they can.

More and more users are starting to understand the fact that as things stand now, e-books you’ve paid for, are not owned by you. What you purchase with an e-book, sometimes for as much or more than you’d pay for the paper book, isn’t ownership of that book, but rather a license to access it - for now. In October, 2012, one woman in Norway found this out the hard way - when Amazon, without notice, deleted her entire library of purchased e-books. Only after her plight was published and got public attention was Amazon willing to restore her account.

When you purchase a paper book, or any other physical thing, you own that object and are free to use it, loan it, sell it, or pass it on to your children. With e-books, it’s written in the small print that what you “purchase”, you don’t even own. You can’t loan it to others, you can’t copy it, you can’t sell it, and you can’t even give it to anyone else. Worse, the people you purchased it from can take it back without compensation at any time.

I think my father epitomises the experience of a growing number of users in dealing with these frustrations. When he got an e-reader a few years ago, he loved it. Through the wireless internet connection in his home he could think of a book he’d like to read, look it up using his e-reader and purchase it on the spot for instant download. This, like my first experience over a decade ago, was like science fiction made real for him. More recently however, he’s grown frustrated by the fact that some of the titles he wants aren’t available for his e-reader due to compatibility issues, or publisher fickleness. He’s annoyed that so many e-books are now becoming so expensive, even rivalling the price of the paper version of the same title. Worse, on learning that the fine print of DRM means that he doesn’t actually own all the books he’s paid for, he feels cheated and even robbed.

In my darkest moments of frustration at how publishers and e-book vendors operate, I have wondered if there wasn’t some conspiracy to actually sabotage the future of the format. Realistically however, I’m confident that e-books are here to stay. As much as I still truly prefer a paper book when reading in bed, or on the couch or beach, even I can’t imagine travelling without an e-reader anymore. I recognise though, that I am a digital immigrant, meaning I came to digital devices as an adult. Digital natives, those who have been using digital devices, including e-readers their whole lives, may come to prefer the interface of reading from a screen the way that I prefer the interface of ink on paper.

My Verdict:
For longevity and archival purposes, since a paper book, “depending on the model, lasts anywhere from five to five thousand years” while e-book technology is changing so dramatically and quickly that the websites for that Rocket eBook I tried only twelve years ago no longer exist; e-books have a long way to go before they’ll kill off paper.

A well-bound book printed on low acid paper can outlast a civilisation, or it can be burned to dust in moments. Barring vendor or publisher interference, an e-book saved on high quality media and properly backed up, can last perhaps an indefinite amount of time in “the cloud”. Similarly though, a small glitch, a single character out of order, a system crash, or merely gremlins in the machine might erase it forever. Neither format is foolproof but printed books have stood the test of time already while e-books are in relative infancy.

In the end, I think that e-books and paper books will coexist for some time yet to come. I don’t think I’m alone in preferring an inexpensive paperback at the beach to an expensive electronic device. The two formats serve different purposes even as paperbacks, hardcovers, audiobooks, and large print already sell to different markets, to serve different needs. Perhaps we’ll just add e-books to that list and they’ll happily coexist with hardcover books as long as the other formats have. Maybe people won’t even mind the “rent-not-own” aspect of DRM and use e-books as the even more discardable than paperbacks, fluff-reading format.

Either way, e-books are here to stay; and so, I think are print books.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Facilitate your dreams

I know, the expression is usually more like "follow your dreams", but the truth is, to make your dreams come true, you have to work - and work hard to make them happen.

In his book "Outliers" (from 2008 - but one of my favourite reads of 2012), Malcolm Gladwell writes about the 10,000 hour rule - that basically, talent only gets you so far. It seems that no matter how "innately" talented you may or may not be at anything, it's those who put in the effort who succeed. The magic number of hours of effort that seems to turn up every time you look at especially successful people? 10, 000 hours.

Talent helps and opportunity helps, but all the talent and opportunity in the world mean nothing if you don't put the hours in.

Right. Off to put in a few hours before bed and then back to work in the morning!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Fear is the little death...

Today I wrote down all the fears I think are holding me back. I was brutally honest with myself.

I wrote them out in full sentences, starting each one with "I am afraid..."

I then took that piece of paper (I filled one side of an entire page), folded it up, sealed it in a zip-lock bag and put it away.

Being brave doesn't mean not having fear. Being brave means being afraid, and doing things anyway.

"I will face my fear. And when it has gone past... Only I will remain."

*(Quote & post title from Dune by Frank Herbert - the bene gesserit litany against fear)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

For several years now I've been busy creating websites and blogs and various other social media setups for places I've worked and places I volunteer for. In that time though, I've been neglecting my own public blogs and media to the point that folks have become a bit too curious.

No more!

Many people have been telling me for years now that I focus too much on work and things I volunteer for and not enough on myself. I've kept doing what I've been doing though because that's the personality I am and I love my profession.

I truly am passionate about books and information and the need for information to be accessible to all. It may sound corny, but I honestly believe that the right to access information is essential to a functioning free society. I also believe that leisure reading is an important part of maintaining good mental health and flexibility.

My New Year's resolution is to take some time to allow myself these rights and needs more often. Get back to public blogging instead of just private journalling. Spread the good joy of reading, writing, publishing, librarianship, and information as myself instead of just as other groups.

I'm going to read more books just for fun. I deserve it, and so do you.