The price of a free e-book

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NameoftheWindBefore I left for Florence, Christmas happened. On my Christmas list was “e-reader,” so I could carry a library with me while I was abroad and it wouldn’t crush my shoulders and ruin my back. My Nook has served me quite well this past year and I’m very glad of it. I can fit Anathem (Neal Stephenson; 1008 pages), The Count of Monte Cristo — in French (Alexandre Dumas, northward of 1000 pages), The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss, 722 pages) and its sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear (1120 pages)… and a few more! all onto one nice little e-reader.

Everything was shiny, excellent, hunky-dory, and all-around great all the way to Florence and back; across 7 planes, over 40 hours of train rides, and with many hours of airport and train station waiting time. It was when I got home and discovered BookBub that I had a problem.

You see, BookBub trawls the internet hunting for cheap or free e-books in the format(s) you request. It then sends you an email with your BookBub deals, according to whichever update schedule you choose. (Mine is daily.) These cheap/free books are typically priced as such in order to promote them. More often than not, if it’s under $2, it’s the first in a series and they’re out to get you hooked. What I didn’t realise was that this cheap/free promotional system is effectively a replacement for the penny dreadful.

If you, like me, are always on the lookout for new books to read, BookBub sounds like heaven. So several weeks of updates come and go and I find myself downloading the few free (or $0.99) e-books whose descriptions catch my eye as “possibly quite interesting.” I never read them, though — I hadn’t the time.

At least, until I went to go visit some friends in a distant city, and made use of commercial air travel to do so. Armed with nothing but my Nook for reading material, I embarked upon a trip which took me nearly 12 hours longer than it should have to complete. This wouldn’t have been a bad thing if I hadn’t already read nearly all the good things I had loaded onto it, and all much too recently to justify re-reading. Plus, I had all those bargain books. They were worth a shot, right?

Hours and hours of tedious, dreary reading later, I realised that, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they’re all terrible. Unless you KNOW you’re embarking upon a marvellous fictitious journey and it’s worth every penny and then some (The Name of the Wind was on sale for $1.99 when I bought it), you’ll be trudging through unedited (or poorly-edited) e-ink pages and wishing you had something more substantial to read. Reading the drivel which is out for free reminded me why I now primarily stick to classics, harder sci-fi, or established fantasy: because I need something to chew on, mentally. After twelve hours of air travel — not to mention an enormous amount of waiting time — over my weekend, I felt as though someone had been actively undermining my ability to appreciate good literature by poisoning my mind with trash. And the worst part was that the “someone” was me. I put my Nook away and hit the library. I needed something MUCH better to read.

If you, my dear readers, will allow me a moment of dramatic flair: the price of a free e-book is your mind. Most of the time, you really do get what you pay for. My advice? Keep the promotional info, but only buy things which will definitely be worth your while. (I highly recommend both Rothfuss and Sanderson as authors.) Otherwise, save that money for used paperbacks at places like Goodwill, your local library, or a used bookstore.

New Lent, New Goals

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A blessed and holy Lenten season to however few readers I have left!

This year, I’ve not been keeping up on the Catholic blogosphere nearly as much as I have in the past. Nonetheless, I do still religiously read two blogs, and one of them linked to Simcha Fisher’s Lenten Guide. I’m really grateful for this guide because she covers Lent as categories as opposed to particular disciplines, and I actually set out to do that this year.

In past years, I’ve treated Lent as a discipline, where I pick one thing to either give up or focus on. That makes it easy and pithy to tell someone else what I’m doing (“Oh, I gave up chocolate this year”) but it doesn’t necessarily remind me of why I’m doing it (“why did I choose to give up chocolate in Italy??”). So this year, I’m treating Lent as the chance to make myself a better person. Instead of one key thing, I’m using a series of small goals to help shape me into — hopefully — a holier person.

Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I have this archetypical-eldest-child complex of wanting to save the world and everyone in it. (Or rule it, depending on the day.) I also really like to do everything all at once. The biggest issue I’ve run into with this compound-complex is that, often, I don’t take the time to take care of myself properly. I don’t sleep very much, which causes my performance to suffer, which in turn takes a toll on my motivation and self-confidence because frankly an inordinate amount of my self-image is wrapped up in the work I do. This makes me a negative influence on the people around me. So this year, I’m going to take care of myself so that I can better serve other people. Semi-decent bedtime, Vespers daily, and working on my ongoing personal projects are all included in my list of small Lenten goals. (Side note: because this blog is one of my ongoing projects, of sorts, it may find itself being updated more frequently in the future. I’m considering renewing my presence on the Catholic blog scene.)

And so begins Lent, with an Ink trying to develop the ever-elusive discipline of time-management. A delightful fruit of my failure (I found it on tumblr) is below, just in case anyone ever needs it.

AshGuide

Interlocutors, Conversions, and Outside Views

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As late, it appears that I’ve been sort of “collecting” Orthodox friends. This is really fun for me because it grants me the opportunity to think about things from the perspective of the East, just for a little while. However, I know next to nothing of their internal politics; I just know that I long for the day that East and West are reunited.

The Orthodox friends I have are fairly well-versed in their faith. I haven’t pressed them on it — I’m not here to test them, just to compare notes — but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were also somewhat ignorant of the internal politics. It’s common in the Catholic church, too, so I don’t really think much of it. But it makes it very difficult for me to make the Catholic church sound attractive when we’re still recovering from the 1960s and 70s, and I know it.

Additionally, I run into a bit of a dilemma. I want to make the Church sound attractive. Actually, I want to make Her so attractive that these friends come home to Rome. But that would leave me sans Orthodox friends. We would agree on all the important matters and then some. Which is so excellent! But the idea of the loss of my interlocutors makes me sad.

Why is it sad that you’d lose them as interlocutors? you may ask. What makes them any different from Protestants? And these are very legitimate questions. It’s taken some chewing to think it through.

I think the biggest difference between the Orthodox and the Protestants is that the Orthodox split off before the Enlightenment. There was no rise of individualism. They are still a church almost as unattractive as the Catholic church to the modern world because they still support difficult and unpopular ideas like self-sacrifice. (They’re just not as reviled because they’re considerably lesser-known.)

Losing the outside view of my Orthodox friends would mean that I’d lose a perspective that’s ever-so-slightly different from mine. It’s one I don’t get to discuss nitty-gritties with very frequently. I’d like to.

This probably isn’t going to happen at all — I’m not sure why I’m worrying about it. But it has been occurring to me and I thought it may be worth exploring.

The problem of the Catholic university

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As with every subculture, there are some ugly sides to the Catholic bubble. Some–like the radical traditionalists–are somewhat prominent in the public eye. Others, however, are rarely addressed. Like the oft-unspoken (but sometimes actually said) prejudice against secular universities.

The sad blunt truth of the issue here: Catholic schools suck at STEM. Full stop. They kinda suck at art and design, too. …Actually, if it’s not liberal arts, it’s probably not a very strong program.

The second part of the sad, blunt truth: it doesn’t matter if you want to go into a STEM field, or study art or design. Those people who live in the Catholic bubble will still judge you for going to a secular university (or sending your children there). CUA, Steubie, Christendom, and the UDs become the be-all/end-all for students in the Catholic school system. Places like Notre Dame and Drexel are declared “acceptable” for students wishing to study architecture or design, but they’re obviously not nearly as preferable as the Great Catholic Universities. And don’t even think about going to Georgetown.

What’s wrong with this picture? you might ask. Why can’t students just go to a secular university and deal with it? or, if they want the Catholic experience, why can’t they just accept that the program won’t be nearly as strong? I ask in return: why must students choose? The first universities arose out of monasteries, and the most prestigious ones were run by the Church for the longest time. Some of the most famous Doctors of the Church (like Thomas Aquinas) taught at these universities.

Historically, universities as a whole tended towards the liberal arts. Technical training was received through apprenticeship and on-the-job experience. Today, however, that is not the case. Students in the STEM world often need a bachelor’s degree to get anywhere. They are also more likely than liberal arts students to be employable with only a bachelor’s degree. For STEM students–and often art and design students as well–their undergraduate university is the top name on their resume, not a graduate school.

How do we solve this problem, then? A few solutions come to mind. If you happen to be marvellously rich and extremely generous, and you support this cause, donate to an existing Catholic university to help boost their science program. If you’re extravagantly rich and every bit as ambitious, start your own Catholic university which focuses on STEM as opposed to liberal arts. (I’m not saying to completely ignore the liberal arts but to instead put lots more attention into the STEM side.) If, like me, you lack money to do anything, you can help bring the issue to the attention of the world. If you go to a Catholic university, you can be grateful for the environment. You can stop judging students who go to secular universities to follow their dreams. You can not assume the worst of us. If you go to a secular university, you can try to get involved in the Catholic center. You can keep going to Mass and keep praying for the state of the world. You can quietly witness the Faith even amongst the heathens or fallen-aways.

Some part of me thinks that this divide is also propagated by the false dichotomy between faith and reason, between science and the Church. The Church employs an enormous number of scientists, but they’re never spoken-about. And a whole heck of a lot of those scientists went to secular schools. See? they’re not all bad.

So it begins…

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A blessed Lenten season to you all, and my sincerest apologies for not posting more. I’m currently studying abroad in Italy and have been quite busy with architecture school here.

I’m giving up chocolate for Lent.

It’s the age-old cliché… chocolate is something everyone loves and it’s tasty and good and easy to remember to avoid. It seems trite. But frankly, it’s going to be harder than ever. The only food-vice I love more than chocolate is coffee, and I can’t give up coffee lest it become the most penitential Lent ever for the other 41 students here with me. At least chocolate doesn’t have withdrawal symptoms.

This is my third attempt at giving up chocolate. The first time I tried, I failed miserably. I was going through it with my sister (in an attempt to have some sense of solidarity) and we both caved around St. Patrick’s Day. That was rough. The second time, I was much better, and I think I only broke twice. However, about halfway through Lent I decided I subscribed to the “Sundays don’t count” mindset. This year, it’s day two and I’m already struggling.

Remember, I’m in Italy right now. We can buy Kinder here. And Ferrero everything. And truffles, and pastries with chocolate. Every kind of pastry with chocolate. Oh, and nutella. And, the icing on the cake? It’s the Old World. People expect to walk a lot. So I can literally walk down the street, go into Despar, and buy as much chocolate as my wallet has Euros. This has been very, very dangerous (molto molto pericolo) for both my wallet and my waistline. But how I love it…

Additionally, I am restricting my personal access to cappuccini to one, on Sundays only. This means that my favourite bar is closed so I won’t have to explain to them (in my pidgin Italian) that I don’t actually want chocolate in my cappuccino–since by now, they do it without asking. It means that if I need a kick during the day, I just order “un caffé” and I’ll have to develop a taste for straight espresso. (Sadly, while it’s stronger in flavour than drip coffee, it has only half the caffeine. I don’t know how these Italians do it.)

I may be in Italy, but I think it’s going to be a rough Lent. Or, rather, a purifying one. I hope. Every time I want chocolate I remind myself that it’s a vice, a small pleasure, and to deny myself it is a way of becoming closer to God. It’s little. It’s silly. But it’s really, really hard. Colour me cliché.