25 August 2010


Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)My library was surprisingly on top of things and had this book ready to be picked up yesterday, a day before its release.  I liked it a lot, even though I still don't much like Katniss. Quit reading here if you want, because I'm going to talk about some details of the book.

I liked the overall plot and how Collins used the idea of food and entertainment to control people.  I appreciated that the rebels were far from a perfect organization; revolutions often are too neat in history and in books.  I couldn't help thinking of Kyrgyzstan often throughout the book.  But that's just me. 

I was disappointed at how easily Collins discarded Gale.  I don't mind that he ended up out of the picture, but I thought it was unfair that his much more difficult childhood (compared to Peeta) ended up creating a personality Katniss didn't need.  But maybe it was more than their circumstances that created Peeta and Gale. 

It didn't wrap up neatly, which I liked. It wasn't at all neat and there are still plenty of questions. I was sad to lose Finnick though.  I really liked him. 

I don't know if others like her a lot, but Katniss certainly isn't my favorite heroine.  Her cluelessness was over the top in the second book, but even here she didn't see things too clearly.  And what about her voting for the Hunger Games to happen again?  Seems Peeta should have had trouble getting past that decision. 

Anyway.  What did you think?

24 August 2010

Mormon Country

Mormon Country (Second Edition)I loved this book.  Totally fascinating.  The only drawback was the brief chapters which nearly always left you wanting more (you can tell the book was written quickly), but since there are lots of brief chapters, you still get a lot.  Highly recommended whether you're Mormon or not, especially since it's a unique look at Mormons and Mormon life in the early part of the 20th century by a non-Mormon.

18 August 2010

Red Odyssey: A Journey through the Soviet Republics

Language hat recommend this one in his review of The Possessed.  It's nearly 20 years old and out of print, but my library happened to have a copy and it turned out to be one of the best books I've ever read about the Soviet Union or traveling in Central Asia. 

It's by Marat Akchurin, a Tatar who was born and raised in Tashkent and lived in Moscow at the time the book was written.  He traveled a lot throughout Central Asia before this book was written and speaks Uzbek well (he was raised in a mahalla) and can therefore get by in a lot of other Turkic languages.  He studied Islam and speaks Arabic also and lived in Iraq as a translator for the USSR.  In other words, he's uniquely positioned to write a book about the Soviet Union.

He travels by car from Moscow through Kazakhstan and spends a little time in Kyrgyzstan (since he was forced to leave early because of the violence in Osh province in 1990 (sounds familiar)), and also goes to Samarqand, Tashkent, Ashkabad, and Baku.  The chapters on Uzbekistan are the best, but the entire book is excellent.  It's a completely different and refreshing perspective on the Soviet Union and Central Asia.  Highly recommended.

One quick warning for the one person who'll probably read this- there's a short violent bit at the beginning (this is the Soviet Union in 1990, after all), but don't be dismayed.  The rest of the book isn't like that at all.

16 August 2010

How to Scan a Lot of Books

Don't bother reading this post if you are opposed to violence towards books.

Books are hard to move for mobile families.  I hadn't really bought many books for the last 5-10 years before scanning everything because we moved so often and nearly always had an excellent public library, but we still had over 1000 books.  They'd been moved and stored, and, every once in a while, all of them were out on shelves.  It was impossible to take them overseas, impractical to store them again, and painful to part with them.

So we scanned them.  It was a huge project, but we ended up with 600 scanned ebooks (we gave the rest away, or sold a few).  I don't regret one second spent on that project.  It was the best preparation I have ever done for an overseas move.

Most people are rather horrified when they learn that I cut up so many books and then recycled them all.  But there have been a few people, usually those who've moved overseas without help, who get it.  Ebooks are a lifesaver.

Anyway. It took some time to figure out how to get the scanning done quickly.  We started with a flatbed scanner and an old computer and it took forever to get through one book, so we bought this scanner.

Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 Instant PDF Sheet-Fed Scanner for PC
I never thought a scanner could make me so happy. It folds up into a nice little package and all that, but it works amazingly quickly.  It's not a flatbed scanner so (here's the catch for a lot of people) I have to cut the binding off all my books.  I was curious how long it took so I timed it and took pictures.  Here's the process:

10:23 AM Begin cutting. There are lots of ways to do this. I don't recommend using a saw because it creates a lot of dust that can jam up your scanner. You can take your books to an office supplies store and they'll cut off the bindings for about $1, but that adds up quickly when you need hundreds of bindings cut off. You can buy a guillotine cutter like the office stores use and do it yourself.

I decided to use my fabric supplies because they were available, cheap, and the mat wasn't going to get stored anyway (it's gotten pretty beat up in the process). First, I recommend cutting the book into sections with a box cutter or exacto knife. It's much easier to work with smaller sections, the cutting is neater, and it ends up not taking any longer. 50-75 pages is good.

Then use a rotary cutter to neatly slice off the binding.  Make sure you don't leave any glue bits on the page, but try to take off as little as possible.  As I said before, it's much easier to do this if you're not working with a huge chunk of the book.

Finally, you need to check the pages to make sure none are still stuck together.  Flipping carefully through the pages helps you notice this.  It's worth taking the time to check the pages well. The entire cutting process took 6 minutes for a 270-page paperback. 

10:29 AM Begin scanning. It took me 10 minutes to scan the 270-page book, but it would have taken our faster computer about 7 minutes. 

You can stop here because the scanner creates a pdf document. However, it doesn't create a searchable document that can have its font adjusted on an ereader. If that what you want, then you'll need to open up Adobe Acrobat and run the book through OCR. That took my (slow) computer 19 minutes.

Obviously, all these steps can be shortened a lot by combining them, and the longest part is the OCR which doesn't require any effort at all on my part (I'd usually tell it to OCR a lot of books overnight). The process can take a little longer when you're cutting up a book with pages wider than 8.5 inches. You'll need to figure out where to trim more paper off.

One more thing- we got a refurbished scanner.  It includes Adobe Acrobat standard, which we needed to buy anyway, so we were very happy with the price for the scanner.  If you already have Adobe and buy the scanner new, it'll be more than $400.

Totally happy.

13 August 2010

The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition

The Book of Mormon: A Reader's EditionI thoroughly enjoyed reading this edition of The Book of Mormon.  I checked it out of the library so I had to get through more quickly than I usually would, but that was no problem.  It's always amazing what a difference some simple format changes can make in a book.  Even though every word was the same, it still felt different.  Almost as refreshing as reading a new translation of the Bible after reading the KJV all your life.

Highly recommended.  I'd buy this one if we were buying books right now.

Young Men and Fire

Young Men and FireI can't remember where I heard about this one and I'm not entirely sure why I finished it because I wasn't really engaged in the book.  It was reasonably interesting in many parts, and always well written, but it dragged a lot.  I would have given up if I'd had more time for reading recently, but this one worked because I didn't really need to keep track of anything.

I bet you're going to run out and read this one now, right?

07 August 2010


RecapitulationI liked this sequel to Big Rock Candy Mountain.  It's set many years after BRCM, with Bruce Mason as its main character and follows his brief return to Salt Lake City.  His life after BRCM is told through his memories when he returns.  As always, it's well-written, although I still like Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety better.

Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs

Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs: Living and Writing in the West (Modern Library Classics)This is a collection of Stegner's essays published about 20 years ago.  I enjoyed the first half of the book more than the second half, since the first half was about living in the West and the second was more about various Western authors I haven't read.  Still, it was a good read.