Book-related nuggets

I keep thinking about writing something here, but the problem is once I get started, that's a whole evening gone, waffling.

In particular, I've been thinking about books a lot. So here are some book-related nuggets. It all goes a bit Victor Meldrew by the end, I warn you now.

Space operas I've read

I recently read Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep alongside Alastair Reynolds' House of Suns. Both are galaxy-spanning space opera, both full of artificial intelligences, alien races, and dogfights in space. Both highly entertaining. But Vinge's book was written about 20 years before Reynolds', and it's pretty obvious Reynolds is a big fan of Vinge. Not to the point of copying, but the plotlines of both share similarities (humans caught up in a battle involving AI systems/races which have reached god-like power). And Vinge is a much, much better writer: his characters are more sympathetic, his scenery more memorable, his aliens more interesting, and his narrative pace tighter and more dramatic. So if you want some space opera, I'd go for Vinge first, and Reynolds second.

I might read Jack Vance soon, as a brief look at one of his books (The Star King) suggests Vinge was inspired by his work (e.g. both use the term The Beyond to refer to the far reaches of the galaxy)...

Hay-on-Wye visit

I visited Hay on Wye with my family for a couple of days last week. We've made this an annual pilgrimage, as we all love going there so much. I found a lot of good books; in particular, Richard Booth's bookshop was a fantastic source of unusual sf: see the town shop catalogue and castle bookshop catalogue for a fraction of the stock.

I ended up buying:

  • China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F. McHugh
  • Greybeard - Brian Aldiss
  • Underlay - Barry Malzberg
  • Galaxies - Barry Malzberg
  • The Last Transaction - Barry Malzberg
  • The Opiuchi Hotline - John Varley
  • The Snow Queen - Joan D. Vinge
  • The Peace War - Vernor Vinge
  • The Humanoids - Jack Williamson
  • Mockingbird - Walter Tevis
  • Bring the Jubilee - Ward Moore
  • Walk to the End of the World - Suzy McKee Charnas
  • The Breaking of Northwall - Paul O. Williams
  • Gray Matters - William Hjortsberg
  • Riddley Walker - Russell Hoban
  • Star King - Jack Vance
  • Stolen Faces - Michael Bishop
  • A Mirror for Observers - Edgar Pangborn
  • Other Days, Other Eyes - Bob Shaw

Each book cost me £2 to £2.50: cheaper than Amazon marketplace, but not as cheap as I would have liked. I think I'm lucky because sf books are still in a bit of a ghetto; other types of paperback seem a bit overpriced (a symptom of the tourist popularity of the place). I love going there, but my best finds are still when I get hold of an unusual 1960s/1970s paperback for 30p in a small charity shop.

My tactic when visiting is to make a list of specific books to look for: we have about 3-4 hours browsing time, and there are just too many books to look at all of them. On this occasion, I was aiming to find a few "classics" (Moore, Varley, Pangborn, Shaw), interesting books by authors I've recently discovered (Vernor Vinge, Michael Bishop), and books by authors I always look out for (Malzberg - often tricky to find, as I'm not sure all his books made it to publication in Europe). I had a list of about 50 authors/books, but passed up on a few I found because the book wasn't in particularly good condition, or it didn't look so good in the flesh, or were too expensive.

Madeleine chose 17 books (we had to limit her to 1 or 2 per shop, as she kept gathering piles of half a dozen or more - children's books are reasonably priced, though the Children's Bookshop is a rip-off with common paperbacks at £3); Joel got 4 picture books (he mainly wanted to walk around the shops, rather than look at books); and Nicola got about 5 (her favourite shop there is Murder and Mayhem).

Anyhow, now I've got so many great books to read, I don't know where to start.

On Bookmooch

Bookmooch is a great little site: basically you list books you want to give away, and books you'd like to acquire. Each time you give a book away, you get points; each time you acquire a book, you spend points (so no money changes hands). You get 3 points for sending abroad, 1 point for sending to your own country; asking for a book from your own country costs 1 point; asking for a book internationally costs 2 points. I've exchanged quite a few books on there. But a few recent experiences have soured it for me:

  • People giving away bookcrossing books
    I like the idea of bookcrossing.com very much, but don't like it when people take bookcrossing books and put them onto bookmooch without mentioning it. bookcrossing books are intended to be given away after they've been read; I don't mooch books off bookmooch to give them away again, necessarily: it might be that I want to keep the book after I've read it (I like collecting books). I'd feel guilty if I got hold of a bookcrossing book via bookmooch and kept it. I recently got a bookcrossing book unintentionally off bookmooch, so now I've read it I'm going to have to leave it somewhere for someone else to pick up.
  • People refusing to send mooches internationally
    People on bookmooch have the option not to send internationally, or to have you ask first to see if they'll agree to send internationally. While in principle I understand this (from what US citizens tell me, postage internationally is exorbitant; in the UK I've found it to be fine), it is still galling to see books you want but are unable to get because the person won't send internationally. Even more galling if you ask them to send internationally and they say "No". This is really an issue with bookmooch: it shouldn't show books you can't mooch because the person won't send internationally.
  • People sending books in terrible condition
    I got one book off bookmooch which had some kind of toxic sticky gunk on its cover. It's so bad I can't put it next to another book on my shelf. I'm reading it at the moment, taking care not to put it down on top of any other books after each reading session. Once I've read it I'm going to have to bin it, as I'd be ashamed to give it to anyone else.
    I don't mind dog ears, crumpled spines, bent pages, limited water damage etc.; but a cover which glues itself to other books goes beyond acceptable.
  • Poor user experience
    The bookmooch website really doesn't lend itself to regular use, and does a poor job of tracking what tasks are pending and what you've done. One example: if you ask someone to send internationally, there's no record of this on the site: you have to keep the email to remind you. But despite that, you can mooch the book anyway, before the person you asked has responded (the system should block until the person agrees to send internationally, but doesn't for some reason). Then add to that the fact that reservations expire after a week, even if the person doesn't respond to your request within that time. So you can be in a situation where you've asked someone to send internationally, they haven't responded, and your reservation is about to expire. What to do? I tend to mooch it anyway, explaining why, and saying they can cancel if they wish.
    Another example is the wishlist. It defaults to showing you just the books you've wishlisted, and not related editions. You can show related editions if you want, but you have to click. Each moochable book has a link next to it; but if a related edition is moochable, there's no link. What you really need is a list of "moochable items which are on my wishlist or related to my wishlist" (this is roughly what the RSS feed supplies), with a link for each.
    Also, there are more general issues, like the terrible search engine, which as well as returning very poor results is also horribly slow; and the abysmal HTML, resembling something produced by Microsoft FrontPage sometime around 2000, bloated and nigh on impossible to screen scrape.
    (I know I could do better (I spent two years working on Prism after all), which is, I think, what makes it so frustrating to use.)

All in all, while it worked out well for a while and I got some good books out of it, I'd actually rather spend £3 on Amazon to get the books I want, rather than go through the hassle of using bookmooch. Shame. I'll leave my wishlist on there, but I'm not going to put anything in my inventory for the time being.

Comments

got a bookcrossing book?

If you've received it on bookmooch or anywhere else no bookcrosser will mind you keeping it. Although the idea is to keep them travelling if possible there's a huge amount in "permanent collection" status.
Currently more bookcrossers are using bookmooch while the wishlist search is down on bookcrossing. We're using it as a way of finding a book a home where it's wanted so you may find several on offer.
I have to agree bookmooch has bad site functionality, particulalry on browse options. It appears to sort books almost randomly into topic.
However it has now produced one from my wishlist and lots of mine have gone out.
In my opinion it needs an overhaul but has the same issue as lots of these type of sites. People put naff books on to gain points and that doesn't help. Come on people, put some good ones on!

Bookmooch

I had never heard of Bookmooch before, but I would also be interested in the international use since I love to read books in foreign languages. However I understand people not wanting to ship internationally due to the costs. Within Europe it's ok, but to the States I think it might get expensive.

I've heard of bookcrossing

I've heard of bookcrossing and I'm thinking of giving a couple of my shelfwarmers at home away through it but Bookmooch is completely new to me. Your bad experiences make me a little wary but it still sounds too good not to try it out at least.

BM

I think you just get used to bookmooch's quirks. And certainly, if you get into the community aspect, it can be really good. (Says someone who just spent 7 points for 5 books).

Also, the no-country thing, use the BookMooch angel network:
http://wiki.bookmooch.com/index.php?title=BookMooch_Angel_Network

Hello there. Think I've

Hello there. Think I've actually mooched at least one book from you (Sundiver) :)

I certainly enjoy using it, but it does get on my nerves at times. I tried the Angel network once, but the person I selected didn't bother to reply, which put me off somewhat.

re, mooching, yes. I'm a bit

re, mooching, yes. I'm a bit cheeky, I check people's email addresses to see if they have a website, and if they talk about stuff I am interested in, I'll subscribe ;)

It's worth sticking with the Angel network.. people on the other end of bookmooch do sometimes get into difficulties. (Car crashes, bus accidents, etc) that can cause people to drop off the 'net without warning. Check the last time they logged into BM, normally good indicator. Also, their feedback rating and comments is normally a good indicator as well.

I can blame elwoodicious for getting me into BM, but it's a cheap way of getting books, wonderful for a bookworm like me :)