Treadmill Reading

It’s been a while since I wrote about what I’m currently reading while I tread the mill. I usually reserve my Kindle for treadmill reading, but, in anticipation of a ten-day vacation, half of it spent on planes and trains, I filled the Kindle with vacation fare, so what follows will be a more general reading list.

Shortly before leaving on the trip, I finished Charles Dickens’s The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. Although I had plowed through most of it at the gym (beginning in late July), on August 27 I got so close to the end that I went ahead and completed it at home. If you are interested, the linked Wikipedia article will fill you in on this classic. The names of schoolmaster Wackford Squeers and Dotheboys Hall, if not exactly household names, were not unfamiliar to me, and I suspect I may have seen all or part of a Masterpiece Theatre rendition of the novel, but I am very glad to have now read it for myself.

Since Nicholas Nickleby was the last of several Dickens works I’d downloaded to my Kindle (I’d already read two short pieces, A Holiday Romance and The Seven Poor Travellers), I was in the market for further free downloads. Through some Facebook friend or other, I had become aware of Pixel of Ink, which features “free and bargain Kindle books.” If you “like” this site on Facebook, you’ll get posts half a dozen times a day about books that are free for a limited time. I suspect that most of these are worth little more than the price, and I’d be willing to bet that none of them will ever end up on a list of 100 Best Books of the Twenty-first Century, but for what my mother used to call “time passers,” there are plenty of candidates. I selected two of these and was reasonably well satisfied.

The first was The Temporary Detective, by Joanne Sydney Lessner. This book introduces aspiring actress Isobel Spice, who “arrives in New York City, fresh out of college and deficient in PowerPoint.” After being rejected by seven temp agencies, she manages to cajole a novice recruiter at the eighth into sending her in response to an urgent call to fill a sudden vacancy. Needless to say (after all, this is a detective story), murder ensues, and Isobel is in the thick of it. I thoroughly enjoyed this début and will keep my eyes peeled for a sequel.

The second was An Eye for Murder, by Libby Fischer Hellmann. This one got off to a very rough start, and I almost gave up in the first few pages. Hellmann begins with a Prologue in Prague, August, 1944. Two men become engaged in a dialog, both using pseudonyms: an American calling himself “Kafka” and a Czech (presumably) calling himself “G.I. Joe.” This would be confusing enough in itself, and the exchange is made more confusing by the fact that Hellman does not attribute any of the quotes. The final nail in the coffin is the faulty formatting of the Kindle edition (a problem throughout) that has resulted in extraneous or missing paragraph breaks. I must have reread this prologue half a dozen times before throwing in the towel and proceeding to “Chicago, The Present” (almost equally confusing) and then Chapter One. From that point on, it was easy to get caught up in the action. Ellie Foreman is a likable character and a believable amateur detective. This is the first of a series of novels, originally published in 2002 and released for Kindle in 2012. I see that it was nominated for several awards and “was followed by three more entries in the Ellie Foreman series, which Libby describes as a cross between ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ’24.'” There is only one book by Hellmann in the Baldwin County Library System, and it features another detective, Georgia Davis, so I might have to pay actual money to read any more of Hellman’s books, though there is a short story (which Hellman describes as the “prequel” to An Eye for Murder) available free for Kindle.

I did pay actual money for my next Kindle book. I read the previous two during our train trip (described in previous posts). After arriving in Portland, I turned to the stack of magazines I’d brought with me and made short work of The Rotarian, a Newsweek, and the September issue of The Atlantic. At that point, my son, whom we were visiting, pressed on me Terry Pratchett’s The Color of Magic, which I read furiously in order to finish it before we left and leave it with him. I enjoyed it very much but likely won’t persevere to complete the Discworld series—not really my cup of tea.

When we arrived, my son was engrossed in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. Shortly thereafter, my husband, a longtime ham radio operator who has always been fascinated with cryptography, downloaded a copy to his Kindle, and the two of them spent all their spare time for the rest of the week companionably reading the same book. It had somehow escaped my awareness that this was actually a novel, but from their laughter and the glimpses of the text I caught over my husband’s shoulder (easy to read, as he sets the type size on his Kindle to Gigantic), I was intrigued. In the PDX airport, I finally broke down and ordered a sample. By the time we got to Phoenix, I was frantically ordering the whole thing as we raced from one concourse to another.

I’ve been reading it pretty much nonstop ever since and am about halfway through. Although I am reluctant to recommend a book on the basis of 50%, I can only say that after less than 5% (the sample), I was well and truly hooked. To anyone who has not read this book and is inclined to, I offer these caveats: (a) do not begin this book until you have a large chunk of time for which you have no other use, and (b) get a hard copy for reference. Although the hard copy is unwieldy (the trade paperback is 1.6 inches thick and weighs 1.8 pounds), making the Kindle version much more practical, this is a very long book with many interwoven plot lines, and you will almost certainly want to refer to earlier chapters to refresh your memory; this is very difficult on a Kindle. Over the weekend I put in a reserve for one of BCLS’s hardback copies. You’ll probably also want an atlas, or at least (or better) Google Maps.

One of the things that has been especially interesting to me about this book is how long it actually is. Because I tend to read Kindle books in 45–50 minute chunks while exercising, it can take a very long time to finish one, giving me the impression that the Dickens novels I’ve read are quite hefty. Yet they are featherweights compared to this: Cryptonomicon has 22,830 locations (928 pages in the trade paperback). The only longer novel I’ve read on the Kindle is The Count of Monte Cristo (24,681 locations). Dickens novels are mostly much shorter: Bleak House 17,105, Nicholas Nickleby 12,370, Pickwick Papers 16,737, A Tale of Two Cities (which seemed interminable) only 6,106. And the Robert Louis Stevenson novels I gobbled up are mere appetizers: The Black Arrow 3,292, Kidnapped 3,197, Treasure Island 2,708. And these all had biographical information and sometimes extensive tables of contents in addition to the novel itself.

Needless to say, if I read Cryptonomicon only on the treadmill, I might never finish it, but I’m headed off to the gym now to give it another shot!

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