Monthly Archives: December 2016

Free Books, or: Bookworm’s Pleasures on the Internet

img_20161231_102332153I got a new Kobo for my birthday, as the one I’d bought myself six years ago is in the process of giving up its electronic ghost. You can read all about that one here – it’s one of those older (brand-new released at the time) non-touch-screen ones that don’t really do anything but display books. My new one doesn’t do much else either, it just does it faster and with a built-in sidelight. Actually, pardon me – one thing it does do that the old one didn’t is make it possible to borrow ebooks straight from the library, via its wifi connection.

You see, that’s one of the great things about an ebook reader: getting library books at any hour of the day or night you darn well please. Like right now, my local library is closed for the holidays, but I’m still merrily downloading books to my Kobo. (A big reason I chose a Kobo, i.e over a Kindle is that it allows you to get library books, which a Kindle won’t, at least not here.)

But you don’t have to have an ebook reader to do that mad midnight murder mystery acquisition. Any computer, tablet or smartphone has the possibility of downloading free ereader software – the Kindle App, the Kobo App (all of which designed to get you buying from their websites), and – my favourite – Overdrive (which is the program that allows you to borrow books from libraries – both “print” ebooks and audiobooks – but also read books from other sources). Plus, most phones/tablets/computers come with built-in ebook software – Google Play Books is the one I got on my phone, for example, and Apple devices come with iBooks.

Even quite aside from the wonders of library downloads, there are treasure troves of books out there on the internet – for free, and for keeps. I’m not even talking about all the great perma-free indie books you can get; Amazon and Kobo and the other ebook vendors abound with free books (like Seventh Son – you know, just sayin’). No, there are websites out there where you can get more free books than you can read in a lifetime. We’re talking the classics here, books that are in the public domain, and other wonders.

That’s right, free. Austen, Dickens, Brothers Grimm, Brontë, the Oz books, Trollope, Andrew Lang, L.M. Montgomery, Chesterton, Sherlock Holmes – to just mention a few that I loaded up my new Kobo with – all yours for the collecting, with just a few clicks. Pretty awesome, right?

So here, without further ado, are some of my favourites of those sites (click on the names for the links):

Project Gutenberg: over 50,000 free books (!) in the public domain. Extremely easy download for epub, Kindle, plain text, html…

Mobile Read: a community of people who’re into, well, e-reading. They have an ever-growing library of books (again, numbered in the tens of thousands) that members put in the collection for free download. A lot of them are the same as the Gutenberg.org ones, but nicer – better cover images, cleaner formatting, less front matter etc.; they also have languages other than English. In fact, Mobile Read is the first place I look when I want a classic for download to my Kobo. Quite incidentally, this is also the go-to site for any e-reading support. The good people in the discussion boards have been invaluable in helping me learn to drive my ereader.

Librivox: this is audiobooks – crowd-sourced, as it were. Volunteers from all over the internet record themselves reading public domain books, and upload it to the site. Thanks to Librivox, I finally fulfilled my long-held good intention of getting through some of the Victorian writers like Dickens and Trollope. I like getting both the audiobook and ebook of the same title, and listening to it while I do boring housework, then flipping to the print when I have time to sit down. You’ll need to download the Librivox App to listen, but it’s quite painless and works well.

There are other places where you can get books, of course, but as I said, those are my favourites, with the most extensive selections, so I wanted to share it.

Life, the Universe, and Free Ebooks. What’s your favourite ebook site?

 

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Wordless Wednesday: A Wish Fulfilled

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28 December 2016 · 09:53

Happy Christmas!

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24 December 2016 · 08:00

Favourite Mugs

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Here is Steve, mugging for the camera. Well, he’s guarding my new favourite Christmas mug, which I got for all of 35¢ at the thrift shop the other day.

I already had a collection of Christmas mugs (most of them hand-me-downs), so I really didn’t need another one. As a rule I avoid buying knick-knacky things – they’re fun to get as presents, but I’m not going to spend money on them; I’m trying to have less “stuff” in my house, not more. But there was something that struck my fancy about this mug.

I picked it up, cupped it in my hand, turned it around a few times, put it back on the shelf (between the other two Christmas mugs identical to one I have at home), walked a couple of steps away, turned around, and went back to pick it up again. Repeat process a few times… There was no price tag on it, but finally I decided to just do it. As it turned out, it cost even less than I had expected, so, bonus.

I’m not quite sure what it is about this mug that makes me like it so much. It’s the cheerful, bright yet not-kitschy colours that got my attention at first, I think. The design isn’t exactly high art or great taste, but the Frosty is kind of cute in a folksy sort of way.

But the real selling feature was the shape and size, and the feel of the handle. I like mugs that I can fully wrap both my hands around, and the size of the handle loop makes a big difference. I don’t have huge hands, but I like getting three of my fingers crooked through the handle at once, for full support of the hot cup, and a lot of mugs have handles too small for that. The other thing that matters is the thickness and shape of the handle – not too thick (again, crooking my fingers around it) or too thin (in which case it feels too flimsy to hold that full heavy mug of hot tea), and it needs to be nicely rounded so it doesn’t cut into your fingers.

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A collection of favourites: Gifts from friends with bookish sayings or fun pictures, a homemade one, and one of my ordinary everyday cobalt blue ones.

On the last count, my own homemade pottery mugs (e.g. the one in the front of the picture) actually fall down. I pulled the handles (which is a vaguely indecent-looking process in which you hook your index finger around a stubby sausage of clay, gently squeeze down on top with your thumb, and pull it out into a longer, flatter shape), and me being not the most expert of potters, they have high ridges that are a tiny bit uncomfortable on the hand. Another thing I don’t like as much about my own mugs is the thickness, or rather lack thereof – I’d like them to have a bit more heft. I’m going to have to see if I can remedy those issues next time I make it back to my long-neglected pottery shop.

The other thing that matters is the shape of the mug itself. I like mugs to be fairly straight-sided, or at least not too narrow at the bottom – they have to be sturdy, so as not to tip over and inundate my computer, lap, or plate of sandwiches with a flood of hot tea. And then there’s the rim. The feel of the lip of the cup against my, well, lip is really important. I know a lot of people like a thin cup lip curving outward, but my preference is for a fairly thick, round edge. What I really don’t like is mugs that curve in at the top – how can you sip hot liquid from something like that? As for the material, ceramic or thick glass are the only options for good mugs. Not metal – definitely not metal! And plastic is only tolerable in travel mugs (which are in a category all by themselves).

The funny thing is that some of my favourite mugs are my most ordinary ones. Not the one-of-a-kind artisanal hand-thrown pottery from my own shop, or fancy gold-rimmed designer porcelain. No, the simple set of cobalt blue mugs with white speckles, which I got as hand-me-downs quite a long time ago and then found more of in a thrift shop a few months ago.

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They’re plain, straight-sided, and fairly heavy. The lip is thick, round and smooth, the better to sip you with, my dear (tea). The handle is round, and rounded (not attached in that half-heart shape that even my handmade mugs have because it’s the easiest way to attach handles), which makes it perfect for sticking three of my fingers through (with the pinky wrapped underneath) and then cupping my other hand around the belly of the mug, absorbing its warmth as I stare out the window at the cold grey winter’s day, musing on the vagaries of life.

Tea is, of course, the elixir of life, but the right mug to drink it out of makes a difference, don’t you think?

Life, the Universe, and Favourite Mugs. What’s your preference?

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Wordless Wednesday: Just Three More Days

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Wordless Wednesday: Chillin’ in the Winter Sun

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14 December 2016 · 19:07

Dashing Through the Snow

img_20161211_095337933I had some errands to do in the big city. Well, one errand really – getting my German passport renewed, which requires going to the German Consulate in Vancouver – but of course, it’s also the perfect opportunity for a Christmas visit with family & friends.

But this is winter. In Canada. Vancouver, from where I live, is on the other side of a mountain range – nothing on the order of the Rockies, but still, mountains; the highest pass is at 1728 m. And while I quite enjoy that drive in the summer in nice clear weather over dry roads (there’s nothing better than a solitary five-hour drive for concocting novelling plots), I utterly refuse to drive it myself between Thanksgiving and Easter. Because, mountains. In other words, snow.

And boy, was I ever justified in that policy this time. I’d booked my Greyhound bus ticket a couple of weeks ago, when there wasn’t a speck of white to be seen around my house. Then, a few days ago, it started snowing. And it snowed, and snowed…

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So there I was at the bus depot, first thing in the morning as it was just getting light. Greyhound stations are depressing places. In this one, the women’s washroom has one stall with a broken lock, the next one with a broken toilet tank (it won’t fill properly), and a hand dryer that just sighs at you instead of blowing properly, but does so with great regularity about every ten seconds even when you’re not holding your dripping hands under it. So there you are, sitting on the can – “Whoooooh!” – pause – “Whoooooh!” – pause – “Whoooooh!”…

The bus was over an hour late leaving. The driver had got in late the previous night from driving the Vancouver route, and he needed his eight-hour break to get some sleep before he could get behind the wheel again – that’s the law. A law which I’m in utter agreement with, especially in this case. Buddy, I want you to get a good solid kip, before you’re carting me and fifty others across that mountain!

“I drove this road last night,” the driver said as we were pulling out of town, “and there’s nothing good about it. I’m going to take it slow.” You do that, buddy, you do that! “However,” he continued, “you’ll still see me passing a lot of the other vehicles, and that’s simply because this is the best-equipped vehicle on the road.” Very reassuring, that (even if he just said it to keep us calm and not-freaked-out).

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So on we went, through a winter wonderland. Snow, snow and more snow – what you could see; most of the higher-up view was hidden in a thick cloud. Rows of fence posts with their comical little white toques; waterfalls of icicles streaming off rock walls; trees shrouded in drifts of cotton wool. Coming back down the mountain, not-yet-frozen streams still gurgling beside the road, the rocks in their stream bed converted to puffy feather duvets floating amidst the dark water.

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I was profoundly grateful for that bus driver, who ferried us so safely and competently across. In the end, we were only an hour and a half late – his “taking it slow” made for no more than an extra fifteen minutes. An everyday hero, I was thinking. It might sound a bit melodramatic, but still. The lives of fifty people were in his hands that morning, on that snowy mountain road. And then, no doubt, he turned right around and drove another fifty back the other way. I sure hope he got a longer break that time.

Life, the Universe, and a Snowy Drive Over the Mountains. Things to be grateful for.

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