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Category: school reading

Sony Tablet arrives (almost) in time for school

Sony's tablet will be on sale in time for school -- almost. The tablet is expected in stores mid-September, it was announced Wednesday. It's priced at $499.99.

Sony debuted an early version of its tablet in the spring, but it hasn't gotten that much attention from the e-reader world. In that way, Sony's arrival on the tablet scene bears sad parallels to its e-reader. Sony was early to market with an e-reader and had many fans -- but when Amazon debuted the Kindle, that became the star of the e-reader show. Amazon's Kindle made e-reading commonplace, when Sony's eReader could not.

Does the Sony Tablet face the same fate? A hypothetical Amazon tablet has been garnering headlines: "Apple should take Amazon tablet seriously" (USA Today), "Amazon tablet means Apple should 'prepare for war'" (Forbes) "Amazon tablet could disrupt Apple's dominance, analyst says" (Wall Street Journal).

Maybe, or maybe not: the Sony Tablet is getting its fair share of attention. It's announced two models, the Sony S (pictured) and the Sony P. Our Techology blog explains:

The Tablet S will feature a 9.4-inch touchscreen, a unique wedge-like shape and run on Google's Android Honeycomb operating system....

The Tablet P also features a look unlike any other tablet on the market, with dual screens and a clamshell-like ability to open and close on itself. The two touchscreens are 5.5-inch displays and the Tablet P will run on both wi-fi networks and AT&T's 4G network.

The Tablet P is planned for release later this year at an unspecified date; its price has not yet been announced.

The Sony Tablet S's innovative design, which acts partly like a folded-back magazine and partly like a tilted keyboard, has both upsides and downsides, according to this Engadget review. Although they were able to thoroughly test-drive the hardware, the software was still in the works. So exactly how Sony's tablet will behave as an e-reader remains to be seen.


The hypotehtical Amazon tablet will take over the universe

How the iPad is shaking up publishing

Sept 2010: Sony announces new line of e-readers

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: A side view of the Sony Tablet S. Credit: Sony

Kathryn Stockett and Janet Evanovich become Kindle million-sellers

Kathryn Stockett, author of "The Help," and Janet Evanovich, known for her popular mystery series, have both joined the Kindle million-seller club, Amazon announced Tuesday.

The Kindle million-seller club are those authors whose books have sold more than 1 million Kindle e-book copies.

So far, it's a pretty small club. Steig Larsson was the first to cross the 1-million Kindle ebook mark first, followed by thriller-writer James Patterson and romance maven Nora Roberts. Then came Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse books, which are the basis for the HBO vampire series "True Blood." Lee Child, Suzanne Collins and Michael Connelly are also million-sellers. Independent author John Locke was the first to become a Kindle million-seller without the support of a major publisher.

For Stockett, joining the Kindle million-seller club means just one thing: "The Help" has sold that many Kindle ebooks. It's her only book -- Stockett had a hard time finding a publisher -- and it has been a long-lived bestseller in both hardcover and paperback. Last week, the film adaptation was released; the movie came in second at the box office over the weekend and, apparently, sparked the interest of Kindle owners who hadn't yet purchased the book.

Evanovich has many more books behind her: The Stephanie Plum novels are numbered -- "One for the Money, " "Two for the Dough," up to "Smokin' Seventeen," and she's written a number of other books, too. It may make for a difficult schedule for a writer to be wrapped up in a popular series, publishing a book a year or more, but it also makes for a big body of popular work. That's what's helped Lee Child and James Patterson make the million-seller list: a deep backlist of books readers want to have on the Kindle, books they might have missed the first time around or have in another format.

Notably absent from the Kindle million-seller club is Stephenie Meyer. The "Twilight" author was among the first five authors to reach 500,000 Kindle ebook sales last July, but the other authors have continued on to sell more than 1 million, while she has not. At least, not yet.


Independent author John Locke sells 1 million Kindle ebooks, but at what cost?

Amazon now sells more Kindle ebooks than print books

Charlaine Harris sells 1 million Kindle ebooks

-- Carolyn Kellogg


School reading: Mary Cappello on 'See Spot Run'

Inspired by an exhibit in Philadelphia's Mütter Museum of pins, teeth, toys and more, Mary Cappello's next book is "Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them." The book, which comes out in December, is a thoughtful take on what the act of swallowing non-edible objects means, as well as how, excatly they got in -- and out -- of people's bodies. Cappello, whose book "Awkward" was an L.A. Times bestseller, answered our questions about school reading via email.

Jacket Copy: What was the most interesting book you were assigned in school?

Mary Cappello: The most interesting book I was assigned in school was one I remember to have been titled “See Spot Run,” though this may not have been its title at all. I think it was part of the Dick and Jane series, but I cannot be sure of that either. The book, as I remember it, was about a red ball.

That it was the most interesting book ever assigned to me I have no doubt: I know this because it was the first book I ever read, and the most interesting book in the career of any school girl or boy is the one from which we first learned how to read.

The book’s red ball, my red ball, was like Helen Keller’s water pump and well. I swear I remember the first experience I had of letters-as-things on the page matching up with my voicing of them, but the red ball at the center of the book was as important if not more important than those letters. Certainly, the red ball was more than an “illustration” of the letters. Reading “See Spot Run,” all that I read was this red ball. And a lock of hair (a ringlet or flip) and the pie crust ripple of an ankle sock. The quotation marks around the ball (to indicate speed) mimicked other marks on the page -- those, for example, that braced the words “Woof, woof.” I also have a vivid memory of hyphens. Either some of the words were sounded out or someone had occasion to spell Spot’s name at some point in the book so the letters each got a space of their own separated by a solid plank. The hyphens were just as mesmerizing to me as the letters.

“See Spot Run” is thus and was therefore an exceedingly interesting book to me, and I think if you asked anyone to try to remember their own first scene of reading it would work like a crank on a wellspring of memory, and there’s no telling by way of that first (most interesting) book, where they would presently land.

JC: What grade were you in, and what was the name of your school?

MC: I was in first grade at Blessed Virgin Mary grade school in Darby, Pennsylvania, a working-class town on the outskirts of Philadelphia, founded by Quakers (but by 1967, we were being taught by nuns) and that featured the oldest continuing lending library in the country, the Darby Library. I’d made many a trek there with my mother long before first grade.

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School reading: Karen Joy Fowler on 'The Hobbit'

Karenjoyfowler Author Karen Joy Fowler Fowler is known for her bestselling novel "The Jane Austen Book Club," but she's also an award-winning science-fiction writer. Her new short-story collection, "What I Didn't See and other stories," published by the independent Small Beer Press, includes both historical and fantastical elements -- a one-winged man, the ghost of John Wilkes Booth's brother -- and is described by Publishers Weekly as "genre-busting" and "thought-provoking." Fowler will be at Vroman's on Friday at 7 p.m. to read and discuss "What I Didn't See."

Jacket Copy: What was the most or least interesting book that you were assigned in school?
Karen Joy Fowler: I have always been a generous and enthusiastic reader. I can honestly say that not a single book in the whole of my education ever bored me, though I found Chaucer (junior year of high school) quite difficult. I'm still in touch with a handful of people from my English class (we were tracked so the class was the same people every year). From time to time, we argue and re-argue various book choices -- clearly, we were asked to read a number of classics we were too young and dumb to appreciate, and I seem to be in the minority in thinking that was still a good thing.

But if I'm made to pick one transcendent reading experience, then it was listening to Miss Sarzin as, if we'd been very very good, she read the next chapter of "The Hobbit" aloud to us. 
JC: What grade/class were you in, and what was the name of your school? 

KJF: I was at Addison Elementary in Palo Alto, Calif.  Sixth grade.
JC: Did you read the book?

KJF: I listened to it. I lived in it. I read it over for myself the minute Miss Sarzin finished.
JC: What did you learn from it? Why does it stand out?

KJF: I learned how to comport myself among trolls, elves, hobbits or goblins. I learned that a friend can be lost to greed and avarice. I learned that solving riddles may be as important a survival skill as bowmanship. I know how to talk to a dragon and that it's best not to.

Added to the pleasures of the book itself was the shared experience -- a whole class full of kids simultaneously transported to Middle Earth. We were all hobbits then. It was like a fever.
JC: Did you have to take a test on it, or write a paper? Do you remember what grade you got?

KJF: We did not take a test nor write a paper. We made hobbits by wrapping light bulbs in papier-mache and then painting and dressing them. I made a very creditable hobbit in a tux and top hat.
JC: Which teacher assigned it? Did he/she assign lots of good (or bad) reading?

KJF: Miss Sarzin was the best teacher I ever had.
JC: If you were teaching a similar class today, what book would you assign your students?

KJF: Kids today are more imperiled by advertising than by goblins. I'd assign "Feed" by M.T. Anderson.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

School reading: Jay Varner on the 'insufferable' 'Ethan Frome'


When Jay Varner graduated from college, he returned to his hometown in Pennsylvania and took a job at the local paper covering local news, including police and fire reports. That's where his first book, the memoir "Nothing Left to Burn," starts -- and things soon get interesting. Varner explores his unusual family history: His father, who'd died years before, was a brave local fireman; his grandfather Lucky, a convicted arsonist. Varner, who now lives in Virginia, will be one of nearly 100 authors at the National Press Club's annual book fair Nov. 9 in Washington.

Jacket Copy: What was the least interesting book that you were assigned in school?

Jay Varner: To this day, "Ethan Frome" remains the most insufferable book I've ever read. If you name a character Ethan Frome, there's no reason he shouldn't be fascinating. Instead we get this awful, depressing bore.

JC: What grade/class were you in, and what was the name of your school?

JV: Senior year English at Lewistown Area High School in Lewistown, Pa.

JC: Did you read the book?

JV: I did. I don't remember Edith Wharton's sentences as terrible, but her symbolism is painfully overwrought. Luckily, the book is short, which makes the relentlessly bleak story slightly more bearable.

JC: What did you learn from it? Why does it stand out?

JV: Not to sled into trees. Seriously, if your characters enter a suicide pact and decide to sled into a tree, something is terribly wrong. And here's the thing -- these miserable, dreary people don't even die!  They end up horribly injured and are damned to even more pain. I'm also pretty sure part of the plot hinges on obtaining glue for a broken pickle dish. Thrilling! The phone book has better hooks than this.

JC: Did you have to take a test on it, or write a paper? Do you remember what grade you got?

JV: I'm pretty sure I wrote a paper comparing Wharton's New England to Nathaniel Hawthorne's New England in "The Scarlet Letter." It was the latter half of senior year, and I was already accepted to college, so the grade was just as unimportant to me then as it is now.

JC: Which teacher assigned it? Did she assign lots of good or bad reading?

JV: Mrs. Richards actually did assign some great reading. "A Separate Peace" and "The Great Gatsby" were the most memorable -- and books I continue to read every few years. That made assigning Wharton, Hawthorne and "Wuthering Heights" at least forgivable. We did, however, watch the Mel Gibson version of "Hamlet" rather than read the play because we ran out of time at the end of the year.  That's kind of unforgivable.

JC: If you were teaching that class today, what book would you assign your students?

JV: My school tried to avoid controversy, but I was the opposite. So I would deliberately bring in books I knew had been banned from the curriculum: "Slaughterhouse-Five," "1984," "Animal Farm," "Catch-22," "In Cold Blood," "A Farewell to Arms." The book that touched me the most in high school -- and what should be a prerequisite for graduation -- was "The Catcher in the Rye," which was sadly never assigned by any teacher when I was there.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jay Varner. Credit: Eric Kelley

School reading: Andrew Winer on 'Bleak House'

Andrew Winer's second novel, "The Marriage Artist," begins with infidelity, art and death, then unfolds to a dual story of a present-day mystery and love and art in Vienna between the two world wars. Winer, who now teaches writing at UC Riverside and once studied art at UCLA, told Jacket Copy about the school reading that was most important to him. Winer writes:

While a student in the Graduate Writers’ Workshop at UC Irvine, I was required to take a seminar in the English department, which was and is one of America’s high temples of theory, a place where secondary texts -- works of criticism -- can often be valued above primary texts like novels and poems. We MFA students sometimes felt like outsiders in the department, yet I was welcomed into the seminar of Professor Robert Newsom, a renowned scholar in whose courses the greatness of Charles Dickens’s work was still being praised. Among the many novels Professor Newsom assigned was "Bleak House." The Andrew Winer who opened to the riveting first page of that novel was a young writer-student still in thrall to an important but rather formally-constricted group of American short story writers so regarded by creative writing instructors and the anthologies they taught. But Dickens’ evocation of primordial earth in his opening description of London, his enshrouding of the High Court of Chancery in fog, his rule-breaking alternation of omniscient and first-person narration, and his daring glimpses into shadowy, possibly metaphysical corners of existence, loosened me from the grip of religiously restrictive, single-point of view American realism, and altered my vision of what literature could do.  Many other great novels have shaped me since, but "Bleak House" will forever represent my liberation as a writer: the scope and shape of my new novel, "The Marriage Artist," its contrapuntal narrative structure -- and certainly its blending of the deeply internal with large external forces -- can all be traced back to my first reading of "Bleak House." The paper that I wrote on Dickens’ masterpiece was not so much an analytical essay as a love letter to the author, an expression of gratitude to my teacher, Professor Newsom, and an adumbration of new artistic goals that included commands such as: see more! look into things! electrify the reader! Professor Newsom made no effort to hide his love for "Bleak House" and other novels we read. This felt right and proper to me, and I do everything I can to convey to my own students my reverence for great works.

Winer will be reading and signing "The Marriage Artist" at several events in Orange County between Nov. 10 and 17.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Andrew Winer. Credit: Roy Zipstein


School reading: Daisy Hay on 'Jane Eyre'


Daisy Hay is the author of "Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry's Greatest Generation." The book, which came out this spring, focuses on Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, John Keats and journalist Leigh Hunt, along with less-remembered names, as young, passionate intellectuals in the early 1800s. She answered our questions about the book that meant the most to her in school -- never mind that it was extracurricular, she says, Charlotte Brontë's "Jane Eyre" made the biggest difference in her reading life.

Jacket Copy: What was the most interesting book that you were assigned in school?

Daisy Hay: It wasn’t assigned, precisely, but when I was 13, a wonderful English teacher suggested I might like to read Charlotte Brontë’s "Jane Eyre."

JC: What class was it for, and what was the name of your school?

DH: I was in the eccentrically named Lower Transits, at Wychwood School, Oxford, in the U.K. 

JC: Did you read the book?

DH: You bet. I went home, found it on my parents’ shelves and devoured it in a single weekend. I had a nightmare about Grace Poole on the Saturday night and felt privately furious when some cousins turned up on the Sunday afternoon to show off their new baby. I was right in the middle of Jane’s reunion with Rochester and couldn’t believe my parents were actually making me put the book down to be sociable.

JC: What did you learn from it? Why did it stand out?

DH: It stands out because it was the first time I’d read a "proper" literary novel, and I’d expected to find it a bit of a slog. But instead I was completely gripped, as I’d never been by a book before. Or at least, I’d been gripped by books before, but once read they were easily forgotten. I’d re-read them happily, but the experience didn’t stay with me, or change me, like reading "Jane Eyre" did. I can honestly say that it was that weekend which switched me on to English literature and that it was then that I decided English was my thing. I can date a whole set of subsequent decisions -- to study English at advanced level at school, to read English at university -- from that moment. It showed me the huge possibility of literature, that there was a world out there waiting to be discovered. I learned I loved literature because of it.

JC: Who was the teacher who suggested it? Did he/she assign lots of good (or bad) reading?

DH: It was suggested by the one and only Ms. Crawford, one of the great English teachers of all time. She assigned terrific reading and had no time for the idea that her students should only read "accessible" texts. Under her aegis, we read "Paradise Lost," "Twelfth Night," Greek myth, and poets galore: Donne, Marvell, Wyatt, Heaney and countless others. And she also made you think about what you read, and about how you articulated your response: no sloppy commonplaces for her. This training stood me in excellent stead when I went off to Cambridge at 18.  

JC: If you were teaching a class like hers today, what book would you assign your students?

DH: I’d make sure they read the books you only read if someone makes you as a teenager: 19th century novels and poetry and drama of all kinds. This is the philosophy I follow as a university teacher of English. When I teach the literature of the long 18th century, I make my students read Samuel Richardson’s magnificent "Clarissa" for precisely this reason: You might never get round to reading it in your everyday life, but you will never, ever regret having done so. Like "Jane Eyre," it’s a novel that stays with you for life.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

School reading: James Prosek on Elizabeth Bishop


James Prosek was just 19 when his first book, 1996's "Trout: An Illustrated History," was published. It included original watercolors he'd painted of North American trout as well as the stories he'd learned about them. This fall, he turns his considerable narrative talents to another watery creature in "Eels: An Exploration, From New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Mysterious Fish." Prosek answered our questions about what he read in school -- when he wasn't busy bringing the world of trout to life -- and it's not fishy at all. It's poetry.

Jacket Copy: What was the most interesting book that you were assigned in school?

James Prosek: The poetry of Elizabeth Bishop ("The Complete Poems, 1927-1979"), which I had not been exposed to before.  The class was 20th century poetry.

JC: When and where was this?

JP: It was my junior year of college, at Yale University.

JC: Did you read the book?
JP: Yes, though perhaps not every poem in the collection.
JC: What did you learn from it? Why does it stand out?

JP: Bishop wrote about landscapes that I was interested in, seascapes in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, Key West.  She lived in Brazil and wrote about São Paolo, where my father was born. She loved travel and maps, things that were part of my childhood image of my father, who loved nature and during his time in the Merchant Marines had traveled all over the world. She writes like a painter. I learned that Bishop was a watercolor painter, and about the time I was taking the course, a collection of her delicate paintings had come out in book form. I realized from reading her work (and this is what I wrote my paper about in Harold Bloom’s class) that words could describe color in ways that paint could not, simply because with words you can have metaphorical color. For instance, two of my favorite Bishop colors in her poetry both describe water. The first, “mutton fat jade,” she uses to describe the cold seawater of Canada. The second, “lime milk sherbet,” she uses to describe the tropical flats off the Florida Keys when the silt of the bottom is kicked up in a storm and suspended in the water.  As a painter myself, I became fascinated with the notion of what color could do in visual art versus in literature (paint versus language).

JC: Do you remember what grade you got on the paper?

JP: It’s one of two papers I can clearly remember writing. We had one grade for the class, 20th century poetry. I got an A.

JC: It was for Harold Bloom's class. What did you think of his assignments?

JP: He assigned a lot of poetry by poets that he had met or knew personally, like Hart Crane and John Hollander. But he had met Bishop once when she visited Yale.  

JC: If you were teaching that class today, what book would you assign your students?

JP: I would definitely not leave Bishop out of a 20th century poetry class.  I also would have thrown Robert Frost in, but Bloom didn’t.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

School reading: Tom Franklin on 'Jaws'

TomfranklinTom Franklin is the author of this fall's "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter," part mystery thriller, part literary fiction. Set in rural Mississippi, it tells the story of two men in their 40s, one white, one black, and how their lives have intersected. Our critic, Sarah Weinman, says the book is "a wise and gripping account of manhood and boyhood that frames what we think we know in a greater context of revelation and surprise."

Franklin, who will appear in L.A. next month with "Mystic River's" Dennis Lehane, answers our questions about his favorite school reading. 

Jacket Copy: What was the most/least interesting book that you were assigned in school?

Tom Franklin: "Jaws." OK, not assigned per se, but I was given a book report, and chose "Jaws." I was rereading the sex scene with Hooper and Mrs. Brody when Mrs. S___ looked over my shoulder and caught me. She sent me to the library, where they had a Reader's Digest condensed-novel version of "Jaws."  It was cut down to a novella, with all the sex and gore gone, just pure story, actually a much better read. But I still wanted the sex.

JC: What grade/class were you in, and what was the name of your school?

TF: 7th. Clarke County High School, Grove Hill Ala.

JC: Did you read the book?

TF: Many times. The novelization once.

JC: What did you learn from it? Why does it stand out?

TF: I remember knowing the movie was better, and that was rare. Usually the book is.  But "Jaws" the movie is better the way the novelization was, the extra stuff, the fat, cut out. Plus the ending was way better. "Smile, you son of a ..." BOOM!

JC: Did you have to take a test on it, or write a paper? Do you remember what grade you got?

TF: Book report. Probably a B-

JC: Which teacher assigned it? Did she assign lots of good (or bad) reading?

TF: Mrs. S____.  Good reading, in the case of "Jaws."  In the case of "Silas Marner," not so sure. 

JC: If you were teaching that class today, what book would you assign your students?

TF: "True Grit." It's a perfect novel for almost any age. Every word, every quotation mark, is so true it makes my phantom wisdom teeth ache. It's a novel so deep you can swim in it forever. The Coen brothers are filming it now, with Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn. That's the best news I've heard in a long time.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Tom Franklin. Credit: Maude Schuyler Clay

School reading: John Ortved on George Orwell

John Ortved's "The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History" tells the story of the television show as an oral history, with the voices of Conan O'Brien (a former writer/producer), Deborah Groening (former wife of creator Matt), comic icon Stan Lee, mogul Rupert Murdoch, artist Gary Panter, comedian Albert Brooks, writer Tom Wolfe and a star-studded cast of others. Matt Groening and James L. Brooks appear only as excerpted from other sources -- that's the "unauthorized" part -- but Ortved has created a dishy picture without them. His book is now out in paperback.

Ortved kicks off our new Jacket Copy series on reading the way Bart would: at school. And for Bart Simpson, that would probably be detention.

Jacket Copy: What was the most interesting book that you were assigned in school?
John Ortved: George Orwell's "1984," which describes a dystopian future full of mind control and war. Except we read it in 1996, and everything was pretty good. I enjoy it immensely when people smarter than me are wrong.
JC: What grade were you in, and what was the name of your school?
Ortved:I was in 11th grade at Royal St. George’s College. It is a small Anglican private school in Toronto. I know what you’re thinking, but there really was no hanky-panky. There’s another private school in Toronto, Upper Canada College, where a bunch of that stuff came to light at that time. It was an odd point of pride for us. Like, "Ha ha, you guys got molested and we didn't."  Kids can be cruel.
JC: Did you read the book?
Ortved: Yes. But I had read it before.  My mother had us all reading at a really early age. She gave me "Catcher in the Rye" at age 9, which really is the right age for a child to learn about pimps and nervous breakdowns. 
JC: What did you learn from "1984"? Why does it stand out?
Ortved: It’s such a brilliant book for kids in school because it really highlights the power of education, how knowledge is power in a very real way. Also, there are dirty parts.
JC: Did you write a paper about it? Do you remember what grade you got?
Ortved: I remember having to write an essay.  I’m sure I got an A.  I was a good student -- just one of many notches in my belt of high school unpopularity.
JC: Which teacher assigned it? Did he assign lots of good reading?
Ortved:His name is John Kerr and he was a great English teacher. I had him again for AP English.  He assigned us great stuff: Macbeth, Oedipus Rex, essays by people like Salman Rushdie.
JC: If you were teaching that class today, what book would you assign your students?
Ortved: None. I would just direct them to my Twitter (@jortved, in case you’re wondering). 

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: John Ortved. Credit: Gasper Tringale


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