Blanket in the snow

In addition to the ridiculous piles of yarn and sweaters populating my house, I also have a number of 100% wool blankets, which are definitely keeping me warm these days. In particular, I have a queen-sized Hudson Bay Point Blanket that we received as a wedding gift from my parents – it was tucked inside a cedar blanket chest built by my Dad. Best gift ever! We love this blanket – it keeps us toasty and it’s so heavy that it prevents the sheets and duvet underneath it from shifting during the night as well. But I was getting worried (to the extent that one should be worried about textile cleaning), that I would either a) have to pay an arm and leg every couple of years to get it dry-cleaned or b) have an increasingly grimy and smelly blanket on our bed. That’s why I was intrigued the other day to read this article in Mother Earth News on cleaning wool with snow. Who knew? You can clean wool blankets and rugs by scrubbing them with cold snow!

It’s been quite cold in Madison this past week, and last Thursday it was around 5F/-15 C. You need cold weather to make this cleaning method work, otherwise the snow simply melts on contact and makes the blanket too wet. So I decided to give this a try. I took the blanket outside and hung it on our clothesline for an hour or so, to pre-chill it. I then spread it on the snow (about 6 inches) covering the ground:

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The article linked above simply said to walk all over the blanket, in order to smush the snow into the fabric. This didn’t seem like a good idea considering that I was wearing heavy, soiled boots! So I got on my hands and knees and crawled all over the blanket, then flipped it over and did the same thing on the other side. I took a break at one point to admire the scenic view:

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and then shook it out as best I could (which wasn’t very well – that thing is heavy), and took it upstairs to hang it over the banister to dry out.

(OK, the real story is that between crawling all over it in the back yard and bringing it inside, I discovered that I had locked myself out of my house, in 5 degree F weather, wearing jeans and my Bucky the Badger sweatshirt, no mittens, no phone, no wallet. Thank goodness for neighbourhood stores that let you use their phone, and for the fact that our property manager lives around the corner. Phew!)

So, after I made an idiot of myself crawling all over a blanket in the snow, did it work? YES! Yes it did! The blanket smells much better, and I do believe it looks brighter as well. So I think this will become a yearly activity, and I’m happy to be able to continue using my beloved Hudson Bay blanket every day without worrying about it becoming too stinky. A good discovery!

(Finally, for those who are expecting that a blog called “Bronwen Reads” should include some mention of, well, reading, never fear! In between all of the textile-washing this weekend I had the chance to place lots of holds on library books – I’m particularly looking forward to getting my hands on Parade’s End, by Ford Madox Ford.)

In Arcadia

Twin Valley beach
Twin Valley Beach at Governor Dodge State Park, via wonder_al on Flickr (Creative Commons)

A few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of discovering a new bookstore, Arcadia Books, in Spring Green, Wisconsin. (Why yes, the URL for the store’s website IS readinutopia.com – they are obviously able to laugh at the fact that some parts of southern Wisconsin don’t really seem like the real world). We were in Spring Green looking for a place to eat lunch before we headed to Governor Dodge State Park to go to the beach. Our lunch was so-so (if you can call a swiss-cheddar-cheeseburger with fried onions on toast grilled like a grilled cheese sandwich so-so), but our visit to this bookstore certainly made up for it.

The first sign that Arcadia Books was my kind of place was evident when we first entered: they have a large range of children’s book-cover t-shirts from Out of Print Clothing hanging above the shelves in the children’s section. I’m a huge fan. There is also a nice little cafe in the store. After we had done our shopping, we enjoyed sitting down and drinking an iced cold-brew coffee. I have found that cold-brew coffee is much more common in Wisconsin than it was in Toronto when I was visiting this summer, so I was excited to share the joy with my sister, who was visiting. Try it yourself! It’s got a much better flavour (less bitter) than iced hot coffee.

And, what did we shop for? My sister was looking for some children’s books, being as its birthday season in my family. We had a great chat with the store manager, who obviously has a great knowledge of children’s books, and a great memory for titles! The selection of children’s books in the store, especially chapter books for ages 6-12, is one of the best I’ve seen. And I visit A LOT of bookstores! They had some old favourites, like The Great Brain and many many Tintin books, but I was mostly impressed by the great selection of children’s books I’ve never heard of, including many many series. Two that books that stood out were:

Shoeless Joe and Me, part of the Baseball Card Adventure Series of stories about kids and baseball heroes in historical context, and

The Mysterious Benedict Society, the first in a series about four kids who answer an ad in a newspaper asking “Are you a gifted child looking for new opportunities?”

As everyone who was a voracious reader as a child knows that as soon as a kid finishes one book, he or she is bound to ask “What’s next??”. The store manager not only knew which series were likely to be attractive to kids of a certain age, he also knew which books came first in each series, and which books they had in stock for each series. Excellent!

We also received several recommendations for adult books, and my sister picked up a copy of The Night Circus. I had the chance to look at their great selection of NYRB Classics, a reprint series from the New York Review of Books which I had never seen “in person” before. They are very aesthetically pleasing but somewhat daunting. I’m not sure I’m ever going to pick up my own NYRB classics edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton – only 1392 pages of light reading! The store also keeps on hand a full set of all the plays being performed during the current season at American Players Theater in Spring Green, and, as one might expect, has a large number of books on Frank Lloyd Wright, who lived at nearby Taliesin.

Me, I opted for some beach reading, and picked up a copy of F in Exams: the Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers. I had browsed through this book earlier in the summer in a bookstore in Toronto, and I had been kicking myself for not buying it. I was not disappointed, and I sat in the cafe at Arcadia Books and laughed so hard at this book that I started crying.

I’ll definitely be back to Arcadia Books!

 

The ten longest novels ever written?

I finished A Suitable Boy! Yes folks, I read 1474 pages in 5 weeks. I love summer.

Which brings me to this (unscientific, but seemingly reputable) list of the ten longest novels ever written, compiled by an Amazon customer. How many of them have you read? In addition to A Suitable Boy , which is number seven on this list, I’ve only read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which is number ten on this list. Could it be a coincidence that I also read this enormous tome on a summer holiday? I think not! My sister, it should be said, also happens to be tackling another big one on this list right now – Les Miserables – and the only time I ever tried (and failed) to get into War and Peace , it was also summertime.

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge into David Foster Wallace’s crazy world of insidious entertainment, drug addiction, obsessive tennis and Quebecois terrorists who speak inexplicably bad French, here’s a good starter guide to reading Infinite Jest. In my case, my reading of Infinite Jest was greatly encouraged by the fact that I started it while I was in Europe on holiday with my (now) husband, and I read most of it during two weeks in Budapest, while my husband was at a summer course. Once you’ve seen many of the sites in Budapest, which are lovely, it is a sad fact that you can get a little lonely, surrounded by people who speak Hungarian, also known as “the least accessible language in the world for foreigners who don’t happen to be Finns.” Budapest does, however, contain a number of parks with excellent swimming pools, many of which are equipped with ice cream stands, beer gardens, and best of all, places that sell the excellent savoury doughnuts called Lángos. I don’t think it’s essential to eat fried dough covered in cheese and cream in order have the energy to wade through Infinite Jest , but it certainly helped!

And so, in memory of another big book read in summer, a few photos of Margaret Island in Budapest, where I read many, many pages:

Margaret Island, Budapest, ruins

Margaret Island, Budapest, food stand

Margaret Island, Budapest

Big book, Big knitting, Big Olympics

I am in a rut, a very enjoyable rut. I’m about two-thirds of the way through A Suitable Boy, which, according to Wikipedia at least, is one of the longest books ever published in one volume in the English language. It is very very long, and very very good. I wish I had read it more slowly so that I could have more time with this wonderful book!

And my knitting, well, I can’t say that I wish my current project were taking longer, but I am certainly enjoying it as well. It’s a variation of Natalie Selles’ pattern, Reunion Cowl, a big huge cowl made of very fine lace weight yarn. I would estimate that it has at least 100,000 stitches in it, and it’s not even done yet! But the fabric made by this yarn (Fleece Artist Bluefaced Leicester 2/8 is very very soft, and the colour (a variegated sort of icy blue), makes it fascinating to knit, as I just want to see how the next inch will look. That being said, I am really looking forward to having it finished. I can’t deny that I am looking forward, just a little, to crisp fall weather, and wearing my new gray fall coat, topped off with this cowl. I’m knitting it in plain stocking stitch, without the rows of eyelets shown in the pattern.

And what better thing to do when knitting a giant blue cowl than watching the Olympics! I am enjoying a surfeit of swimming, gymnastics, rowing, whitewater canoeing, and more!

Booker prize 2012 long list (with wine gums)

Still in VacationLand, still reading. I’m about halfway through A Suitable Boy. There’s nothing more relaxing that lying down on your bed on a summer afternoon, reading a large book with hundreds of pages to go, and eating a large bag of Maynard’s Wine Gums (not widely available in the US – pity).

I continue to LOVE A Suitable Boy – I’m learning so much about India that I never knew before (including the fact that monkeys seem to gambol freely around public parks), yet the characters inhabit a place that seems entirely familiar. It is a very funny book too.

I happened to see on the Guardian website today that the
Booker Prize Longlist has been released. I’ll be interested, when I return to Madison, to see how much media play and shelf space (in both bookstores and libraries) is given to Booker Prize Nominees. The prize receives a fair amount of attention in Canada because only authors who are citizens of the U.K., the Commonwealth, and the Republic of Ireland, are eligible. I’ve noticed before, and discussed it with my American librarian colleagues, that the fiction markets in the U.S. and Canada are remarkably distinct; my husband, for example, had never even heard of David Foster Wallace and his big fat crazy novel, Infinite Jest, until he moved to the States to attend graduate school. and my husband’s a tennis-playing logician. On the other hand, I had a great time pulling several well-known (in Canada) Canadian novels to lend to a Madison English-teacher friend for her summer reading this year, including Fall on Your Knees and Lives of Girls and Women.

This year’s Booker longlist, unlike in some previous years, contains many almost unknown titles; the exception is Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall. Mantel’s book is also the only nominee that I have read – I devoured it in a beachside marathon of Renaissance machinations and gore during the first three days of our holiday. I’ll definitely post a longer review soon. In the meantime, I think I’ll agree with the London bookies, cited in the Guardian article, who are calling it: I think Bring Up the Bodies will win the Booker.

Loading EPUBs (including converted PDFs) onto your e-reader using Calibre

[this post is a follow-up to my post about converting PDFs to an e-reader friendly format using Calibre ebook management software]

Once you’ve got all your ebooks organized, with PDFs converted to the EPUB format, the next step is to load them onto your e-reader. I actually found this a bit confusing the first time I did it (it’s not actually hard – I just couldn’t figure out where to click when!), so I took some screenshots for you.

The first step is to plug in your e-reader. Check to make sure that it is loaded properly: my Kobo Touch shows up as an external drive in Finder when it’s properly loaded, looking like a USB drive, iPod or other external device.

It might take a few seconds for Calibre to recognize your device. When it does, it will let you know:

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(This notice will disappear quite quickly after it pops up, which I find a little frustrating). Once your device is loaded, you will see a “send to device” button in the top toolbar:

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Select the files you wish to send to your device, and click “Send to Device.” It will take a few seconds for the material to be loaded.

To check that your files are properly loaded, you can click on “Device” (next to “Library”) in the top toolbar, and you can view all the files on your e-reader:

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Unplug your e-reader and get reading!

Also, as this screenshot shows, it’s possible to convert PDF knitting patterns as well, although I’ve found that the results are somewhat more hit-and-miss than with articles and books, probably because designers (rightfully) add more white space and special formatting to PDF knitting patterns to facilitate readability. When the conversion does work, though, it can save you from lots of squinting at instructions:

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I hope these instructions are helpful! Although I originally conceived this little tutorial idea when I received a free PDF advance copy of Bowling Avenue, which is now available in non-PDF format for Kindle, Nook, and good old-fashioned paper, I realized that it might be useful and interesting for readers who are more generally interested in cleaning up and organizing their PDFs. I’ve certainly found it a godsend for storing and reading academic articles on the go.

If you like reading news on your ereader, you might also want to check out this article on ProfHacker about Calibre’s “News” feature as well.

Convert PDFs to a more pleasing format for your ereader using Calibre

(before getting to the meat of this post, can I just say that ebook readers need to be shipped with at least two extra charging cords? Or, better yet, may I suggest that someone should invent, if they haven’t already, just one cord  that would charge my laptop, my iPod, my cellphone, if I had one, and my ereader? In any case, apologies that my posts on Bowling Avenue, by Ann Shayne are so egregiously behind schedule. and now, on to our regular tech-nerd-lite programming)

Way back at the beginning of May, David Pogue of the New York Times made an offhand remark in a column about the new Sony e-reader stating that the problem with e-readers today lies in the incompatibility of formats, which means that you are limited to reading only Nook-formatted books on your Nook, Kindle-formatted books on your Kindle, etc. If you want to know more about whether this is, or is not, true, I’ll direct you to Pogue’s follow-up article, linked above. (short version: it’s true with commercial e-books that have embedded Digital Rights Management technology, which is most of them).

It is, however, possible, and fairly easy, to convert PDFs to the more ebook-friendly EPUB format, and then read them happily on your ereader, with the ability to manipulate font-size, add virtual post-its, mark your place (I don’t know about other e-readers, but when you bookmark a page on your Kobo touch, it folds down the corner little piece of virtual paper, leaving a triangular dog-ear, which I find very pleasing), and all the other things that e-reading allows.

Why would I want to convert PDFs to EPUB format? Well, in my case:

    • scholarly articles are widely available as PDFs, and I have to  choose to read many many articles in order to choose the ones I want my students to read, but PDFs are very unpleasing to read on my Kobo, and printing out 50 articles is a pain and a waste of paper, and since I like to read on campus/in coffee shops, I’d have to lug around a big binder everywhere, because I am too scatterbrained to manage individual articles without losing random sections of them everywhere. The ereader makes my life easier,* and, I hope, my course readings better.
    • and, secondarily but not unimportantly, I have in my inbox a 267-page PDF “Freeola” copy of this summer’s most highly anticipated Nashville-based real estate flooding-related chronicle of human drama, complete with knitting subplot and artisanal letterpress cover design and I’d like to be able to read in on my e-reader without printing it out.

Important note: This book is now for sale in several pleasing non-PDF versions, including Kindle, Nook book, and print-on-demand paperback here , so this process won’t actually be necessary to read it, but this tool is so handy for those who deal with a lot of PDFs that I thought I’d use Bowling Avenue as a good example to demonstrate it! Thanks again to Ann Shayne for sending me the freeola PDF.

So, to convert all those PDFs on my reading list into the EPUBformat, and load them onto my Kobo, I use
Calibre, an ebook management software that’s free to download for both Macs and PCs. I find it a lot more useful and easy-to-use than either the software provided by Kobo, or Adobe Digital Editions.

Once you’ve downloaded and installed Calibre (shown here on Mac OS Lion), you will be prompted to choose which type of e-reader you are using:

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This is really all the set-up that’s required, and then you can get on with organizing your ebooks, including converting PDFs, adding tags and other metadata, and loading them onto your ereader.

To convert PDFs, first click on the “Convert Books” button in the toolbar:

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Choose the PDF file from the folder where you saved it (your desktop, downloads folder, etc.):

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and then check to make sure that the “Input format” is set to PDF and the “Output format” is set to EPUB. You can add tags and fix the author and title information before you convert the file as well (Note: this is not actually the cover of Bowling Avenue: it’s a dummy cover that I added to the book by mistake)

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Press OK to start the conversion process, and wait for the “Jobs” status doohickey in the bottom corner to indicate that the processing is complete:

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The first time I did this with the Bowling Avenue file, the word-wrapping in the EPUB version was not correct, so I decided to try out the “Heuristic Processing” option offered by Calibre. Basically, what this function does is try and guess what the perfect formatting for your PDF will be in order to make it most easy-to-read and nice-looking in the EPUB version:

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This worked very well, leaving only a few minor formatting flubs in the final version. You can check how your EPUB will look on your e-reader by opening the file in the Calibre e-book viewer:

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In the next post, loading your converted PDF-to-EPUB file onto your ereader. . .

* It’s important to note that if you are using this process to convert articles in PDF format, it will not work well (or not work at all) with PDF scans of older journals, because, for want of a more elegant explanation, these scans behave more like photos than like textual files. I haven’t made an extensive study of why some articles work and some don’t, and the process isn’t hard or particularly time-consuming, so you might as well try it out and see what happens.