Archive for January, 2010

Great magazine, wrong name

January 12, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m a bit shocked to hear that The Beaver, my favorite magazine (and one for which I’ve written a few pieces over the years) is changing its name to Canada’s History.

It’s an accurate enough description of what this fine magazine cares about. And it’s understandable — altho regrettable — that they have to drop a name that’s been given a bad rep by people who apply a sexual meaning to the word.

But Canada’s History? Dull, dull, and for many, I’m sure a turn-off.

My concern is that the name change might turn out to be counter-productive. Instead of enticing more people to its lively, gotta read stories, it just might turn them away.

The National Post ran a full-out piece on the name change, along with a tongue-in-cheek sidebar suggesting alternate titles.

One of them, TRUE NORTH, really appeals to me.

As far as I know, none of the writers who contribute to The Beaver or any of its subscribers were ever consulted about the change. Touche, we feel it’s OUR magazine!

So here’s my appeal to Deborah Morrison and Mark Reid. Take some more time to think this through. Maybe someone with more energy than yours truly will get up a Facebook page or an online petition to try and influence their thinking.

The Globe and Mail also marks the passing of the name. James Adams, who I consider the most knowledegable media reporter in the country, says The Beaver did a lot of market research and found out that its present name was turning off potential readers.

That might be true, but there’s great danger when a company breaks links with its past. I’ve seen it happen a few times. Management decides what the company’s been doing isn’t all that smart, and a new face is needed. Remember New Coke?

I wish Canada’s History all the best, and I’ll be proud if they continue to let me write for it. But I wish they’d choose another name.

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The Road and the Reader – life with ebooks

January 4, 2010 2 comments

I’m back, and anxious to tell you about my introduction to the Sony Reader, the ebook device that along with Amazon’s Kindle is said to herald the next era in reading.

This little machine came to me as a Christmas present (my thanks to the giver) and as with all new technology toys, it takes a while to figure out how the gizmo works.

I can’t say the instructions in the little folder that came with my PRS-600 model are as explicit as I’d like. It doesn’t tell you right off, for instance, that you need to go to the Sony web site and download software. When I finally realized this is what I had to do, it took me three days to get into Sony’s Canadian site. There must have been a lot of Sony Readers in Christmas stockings this year!

So what has been my reading experience? My Reader came with a dozen books pre-loaded, none of which appealed to me. So after finally getting into the Sony e-store, I deleted these files and set out to find something I wanted to read.

I should explain at this point that I have about a dozen hard covers sitting on my book shelf that I’m keen to get into. I thought I’d use the Sony as my bedtime reader, reserving the others for easy chair consumption.

Because I’d noticed the best-seller by Cormac McCarthy, The Road, on several “books of the decade” list,  I decided to go with it. I hit the shortcut button on my desktop, signed in, and there I was. Sony was plugging The Road as

A searing, postapocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece.

The price was right – $9.95. I assume an author of the import of McCarthy got a fair cut of this. This is where the biggest battle of the ebook world will rage — the division of income between a publisher freed of  printing costs, and a writer faced with the usual long odds that make literary life a doubtful economic proposition,

The Road may well be McCarthy’s masterpiece, but it didn’t do it for me. I found the story largely without plot and its protagonists, The Man and The Boy, cardboard cut-outs of real people. It put me in a time warp, back to the 50s and 60s when we all thought atomic annihilation would be our fate. But it fails to deliver the believability of On the Beach, an epic work of this genre.

By great coincidence, Lysine Gagnon has a piece in today’s Globe and Mail that makes pretty much this point. As she writes:

“”The two main characters, the Man and the Boy, have no identity. We know almost nothing about them. And apart from expressing fear or hunger, they have nothing to say. Most of their dialogue, while walking south in a country destroyed by some huge cataclysm, goes like this: “What did you dream about? Nothing. Are you okay? No. We’ll be okay. Okay.”

I finished The Road in a few nights of bedtime reading. I found the Sony Reader, well, okay (sorry, gift giver!) but not an overwhelming experience. It’s easier to hold in bed than a hard cover, but the screen is a little dicey, despite the ability to enlarge the font. And when I tried it out in natural daylight abed one morning, reflections from a window made the screen difficult to read.

But it proved to me that, once again, the medium is NOT always the message.

The story’s the thing — whether consumed in the tactile experience of turning the page or the more remote (for now) scrolling of the electronic screen.

With Sony, you download your ebook first to your computer and then transfer it to your Reader. Not as clunky as it sounds — and you can also read your buy on your computer, if you wish. And the Reader also can store pictures and audio, neither of which I’ve yet tried.

I suspect I’ll make the biggest use of my Sony Reader to acquire of print Google books. I’ve started with Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada, an 1838 classic by Anna Jameson. And it’s free!