Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" by Beverly Daniel Tatum

[Just as a side note, I read the original version, not the revised text. -Rob]

Despite the title, this book is less about dealing with racial issues in class than in the general idea of racial issues. Dr. Tatum structures her book to discuss why we often don't talk about race, the idea of racial identity for blacks and whites, and even a bit about why in an America where immigration is far more complex than it used to be, why this discussion can't solely happen in black and white terms.

The Chapter from which this book gets its name was part of a set of readings I needed to complete, and it intrigued me enough to want to read the entire text. As I've grown older, and especially now that I will be a white teacher primarily working with black students, I want to read all I can on the idea of racial identity.

This is a tricky subject. It's one that, as Tatum notes right away, no one wants to talk about. A young child who sees someone different from them is often told to be quiet, rather than engaged in the idea of difference among people. As a result, as these issues of difference grow over time, it's not something to be discussed. Instead, the child is given a steady diet of racial depictions that are often stereotypical at best and horribly racist at worst.

Once you get talking, as Tatum works to do in her classes on race, the answers can be troubling, both to hear and to express. The book is sprinkled with multiple comments from her past students, several of which might just make you fly into a rage or be stupefied by the ways in which people think about racial relations. I do wish she had shared a few more positive stories, however, as I can't believe there were nothing by bad journal entries.

This book works best when it's centering on the idea of forming racial identity. Her explanation of why after a certain age, children stop playing together in racial harmony and begin forming groups in the lunchroom and elsewhere makes perfect sense. As a child gets older, the messages of society tell them that's the thing to do. The idea of beauty, for instance, is completely race-based. It only makes sense (even if it's horrible in practice) for children to take in these messages and act accordingly. If they're told, in action if not in words, that they aren't supposed to be together, or are supposed to act out in class, or any number of other things, then that's just what they're going to do. That's sad, but true.

Having a popular culture where race-based stereotypes exist in everything from television (how often are African Americans depicted in a way that's not negative), to the news (how often are the stories in poor, minority neighborhoods a positive one?), to my own personal favorite genre, comics (white Hal Jordan, almost never makes a mistake, while black John Stewart has a long history of making mistakes or perceived errors, often tied to race). If there's no one out there to fight these depictions, then we're going to internalize them. It's a problem that Tatum brings to the forefront and makes the reader think about, whether they have before or not.

The central section of the book, where Dr. Tatum refers to the idea of whites and blacks facing their own racial identities, did have a complication for me that might say more about me than about the book. I was a bit distressed by her feelings that it is best for people to go over their feelings about race with people who are of the same race as they are. I got the impression that only after a person had finished being completely comfortable with their identity that they could and should move on to bridging the racial divide.

In an ideal world, that might work, but this is a very imperfect place. Leaving people in their comfort zones to explore their issues is not going to work. After all, if you're comfortable, are you going to tread the dangerous ground of possibly upsetting someone by pointing out that they made a racial remark? To me, down this road leads to a status quo for too much of the white population. It means the individual has to work too hard to change. I don't think people are going to do that. After all, with gated communities and the ability to voluntarily segregate if you have even just the smallest income flexibility, why try?

In my opinion, I think you have to interact well before the person is completely comfortable with the differences of race, mostly because I think the only way to change things long-term is to stress the similarities, not the differences. I agree that people need time to find out who they are, especially in a culture that downplays their importance, but if we're always looking at how we are different, how are we ever going to find a way to be together? As this country moves to majority minority status, that's going to be the key to keeping America together. I don't see a way for that to happen if we're all spending all our time waiting to be perfect.

I may be misreading Dr. Tatum's argument. This is a subject that is easy to have a personal opinion on, and I'm obviously coming at it from a different angle. But while I agree with her that it's hard to have a positive image of being black (or for that matter, latino/hispanic or even asian, since a stereotype is still a stereotype) and that whites take for granted a hell of a lot, I don't think the way to solve this problem is through navel gazing.

Dr. Tatum does spend a bit of time at the end making suggestions, such as writing a letter to the editor, getting a racial dialog together, or looking closely at race relations at work or in your school. I think those are all good ideas, and they can be hard. But they don't need to wait until you feel better about race to do them, and they don't need to be done in a racial block.

At the end of the day, I agree with this book more than I disagree with it. The biggest problem about race in America is that we aren't talking about it. If you've ever tried, it's hard. I know personally I often just opt to fall out of a situation rather than talk about it, when faced with racial remarks in person. I wish I'd been stronger at those times, but as Tatum notes, you pay a price for being the person who makes others examine their actions. What I did was better than agreeing with them, but it still pales compared to what I could have done.

A book like this one is good for people who are already pretty far along the racial recognition progression, to see how others view the same concepts. It's not going to reach anyone who wants to defend their racist views, but I don't think Tatum expects it to. I think it does a great job of showing how people form their racial ideas, but struggles when discussing how to move from exploration to action. It might be unfair of me to have hoped that it would, however. I definitely recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the subject of racial identity and how that impacts on society. To answer Dr. Tatum's question of has she said anything helpful, the answer is definitely yes.

After all, her role is to start the discussion, either in a classroom or through this text. It's up to those of us who read the book to decide what to do next.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Teaching Books: The Heart of Teaching by Audrey J. Sirota with Laura Ianocone Taschek

[I'm not going to try to review the books I'm reading as part of my transition to becoming an educator. However, I do want to at least do summaries, both for myself and if anyone's interested. Consider these mini-reviews, if you will.]

This book offers a look at some actual lesson plans used by either individual or groups of teachers across a variety of grades and subjects that put a high focus on literacy, interactivity, and achievement.

They are grouped into sections based on the primary focus of the lesson (participation, complex thinking, making connections, etc.) and generally contain three examples for the reader to consider. In several cases, the reader is even allowed to see how the lesson plan was revised over time to make it better, based on either student feedback or seeing how it worked in the classroom.

Heart of Teaching shows how effective lesson plans can be created with scoring rubrics and goals based on state achievement tests without using the standard lecture format. In fact, in almost every case, the lessons were revised to reduce lecture time as much as possible. It also helps to show that creating a lesson plan does not need to be complex so much as it needs to be focused.

Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith

It's always fun to see other writers play with the ideas created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle all those years ago. Some, like Laurie King, opt to use Holmes himself as a side character. Others try to write a book that fits neatly into the cannon.

In the case of Holmes on the Range, Hockensmith tries a different tack, and it works surprisingly well. Our story involves two cowboys who are down on their luck that get a job at a ranch that might not be all that it seems.

They're basically told to stay out of things, but that's not in the nature of Old Red Amlingmeyer, an avid reader of...The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Soon Old Red and his brother Big Red are doing "deducifyin'," whether the rest of the ranch hands want them to or not. Can they solve the crime before someone makes them stop permanently?

This is a fun variation on the Holmes script. Big Red, like Watson, narrates the adventure and is an often reluctant participant in the proceedings. His brother has an eye for detail, but he's nowhere near as arrogant as his idol and also not quite as good at staying out of trouble.

Hockensmith writes a book that features two men who are aware of how good Holmes is, and one who wants to emulate him. That doesn't mean they're perfect at it. In fact, just like Hockensmith might tell you he's not as good a writer as Doyle, the characters know they aren't going to be as good as the master detective. It's a conceit that might not work in other hands, but Hockensmith pulls it off in a convincing fashion.

Plus, his mystery is not too shabby. We're given a few likely suspects, but solving the crime will take more than just suspicion. After all, how can two drifters looking for a job be trusted? Getting over prejudice and finding a way to make things right give the plot some extra twists and turns. Plus, by the time we get to the end, unlike an 19th Century story, the crime itself is far more complicated.

I liked Holmes on the Range a great deal, and I need to get around to reading more by Hockensmith. If you're a mystery fan that likes the Holmes mythos or Westerns, give this a try. I think you'll be glad you did.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Everyday Racism by Annie S. Barnes

Any book dealing with racial issues is not easy to read. Sadly, issues of racism aren't something we can leave to the history books. It's very real and very current. Life would be better if that weren't the case, but since it is, we need to study racism in all its forms and learn how to combat it.

That's where a book like that by Ms. Barnes comes in. Rather than looking at racism as an issue of the past, she takes it into the daily life of Americans. Using a variety of real-life examples to bolster her arguments, Barnes shows how African Americans are still running into discrimination.

The stories are, quite honestly, brutal to read. It pains me to know that as a country, we often aren't any better than we were fifty years ago. There may not be segregated buses or schools, but the idea that I can get a separate check without thinking and a black person might not is horrible. Similarly, I don't have to worry about being followed at a store or held back from getting a job or being promoted.

We all know this happens, but I think everyone tends to treat it as a rare occurrence. When Denny's gets nailed for discrimination, it allows people to pretend that the issue is over. Unfortunately, that's not the case, not even close.

I know that I was offended when I was asked to join an all-white (I know because they didn't ask my black cross-street neighbors) neighborhood watch because the street was getting "crime ridden," which was blatant code. A security company tried the same thing with me. I hate the fact that this still happens, and I hate the fact that because I'm white, I'm supposed to go along with it. Further, I hate myself for not being firmer in my rejections.

That's exactly why we need a book like Everyday Racism. Barnes lays it out in page after page of very difficult reading. She uses examples from all classes and situations, so this is not a case of people discriminating because a person looks poor. Racism happens to affluent African Americans as well.

Barnes wrote the book knowing it would touch a nerve. That's the point. She doesn't even need to add much in the way of commentary--the stories do that for her. It's a chronicle more than an analysis. A fervent Christian, Barnes notes in her introduction that an awful lot of Christians don't practice very Christian actions towards minorities.

Each chapter also has a set of suggestions for both white and black people to deal with the racial issues presented. They're mostly about attitude and perceptions. None of them are earth-shattering, and most of them seem like no-brainers. Yet I bet you'd be surprised if you look around and realize just how often these little things don't happen.

If you don't want to have your perceptions challenged, then don't read Everyday Racism. I know that I came away from the book looking more closely at how I interact with people, both white and black. This book is designed as a place to start the conversation of racial relations. Anyone interested in doing so should definitely pick it up. Unfortunately, those who most need to read something like this probably won't.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Teaching Books: How to Say the Right Thing Every Time by Robert D. Ramsey

[I'm not going to try to review the books I'm reading as part of my transition to becoming an educator. However, I do want to at least do summaries, both for myself and if anyone's interested. Consider these mini-reviews, if you will.]

This book is directed primarily at principals and superintendents, but I figured that any kind of information about how to talk to people in relation to a school setting would be helpful. The book is fairly similar to any other how-to management book I've read, designed with simple sentences and prescriptions that end up using targeted language to get the results you are looking for.

The biggest thing in the book is its desire to keep away from using jargon. Ramsey argues that jargon turns people off, and that straight talking is the best policy. He also stresses honesty, even when it's uncomfortable, and never covering up the truth, as it will always get out somehow.

Ramsey's book is divided into short chapters for dealing with students, parents, the general public, and of course, people in the education field. The advice is similar in all areas, reflecting back to the theme of being honest and direct. There are sample examples of correspondence as well as listing of proactive words. The last major components are dos and don'ts for various occasions.

Two things that did stand out were Ramsey's continued references to Jesse Ventura and his occasional mentions of God and religion. The former is a weird quirk, but understandable. The latter may be troubling for some readers, so just be aware that it exists.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Boston Noir edited by Dennis Lehane

I enjoyed the first book I read in this noir series, so I decided to try another one, this time moving all the way across the continent to Boston. I was not disappointed. Boston Noir is another collection of solid sordid tales, and almost as varied as Mexico City was.

Editor Lehane scared me a bit when I first started reading this book, because his introduction talks about noir as being "working class tragedy," and that sounded like a buzzword for pretension if there ever was one. He dismissed the idea of fedoras and private eyes out of hand, and that really bothered me.

Fortunately, the stories themselves were a lot better than the introduction, and we even got a couple of private eyes. And while they may not have been wearing fedoras (well, one of the might have been for all I know), they still had the same shady operation that defines a good noir tale. Whether or not they have a happy ending, none of these stories feature people that are morally pure, and that's just how I like my crime fiction.

If there was a general problem with this edition of the series, I'd say it was in the lack of the city as a character. Mexico City's background featured prominently in the other anthology. In this case, Boston just did not shine through for me. It felt like these tales could be set just about anywhere. Some stories tried harder than others to set the stage, but as a rule I felt the backdrop was a bit lacking. I'll be curious to see what I think about the books set in other cities in this series.

Since I want good stories more than regionalized ones, that really wasn't a problem for me. And this book delivered almost every time. I was particularly impressed by the variety of settings. We get everything from the current day to a pre-Revolutionary War Boston, with a trip to the 1950s thrown in for good measure.

"Femme Sole," the story set in the 18th Century, might be the best of the bunch. Dana Cameron shows the plight of a woman trying to life her own life in an age where that was nearly impossible. But if you were willing to do almost anything, a life alone was possible. The tone is probably a bit too modern, but I loved how it played out.

I also liked the strong entry story, "Exit Interview," where Lynne Heitman plays with the reader in terms of what is going on at a Boston business. Despite the short length, it does the job of keeping the reader off balance very well.

The editor's contribution, "Animal Rescue," shows a kind heart behind the cruel crime writer. An abused dog changes the way the protagonist looks at life, and he ends up using his connections to make life better for the dog and maybe even a young woman. There are degrees of evil in the world, and sometimes it's nice to see the lesser evil win and not feel bad about it.

Those were my favorite stories, but most of the ones in here are pretty good. Though it's pretty straightforward if you read a lot of PI stories, Brendan DuBois's "The Dark Island" is very well constructed. He captures the way a private detective can avenge a crime in a way no lawman can do, and often will. The shades of grey that pervade a story like that also play out in Don Lee's "The Oriental Hair Poets," where our PI must try to figure out which of a pair of poets is lying to him. Does he make the right choice? Or just the one he can live with? It's up to the reader to decide in an ending that's as final as it is mysterious.

"The Place Where He Belongs" is a story of media manipulation, with writer Jim Fusilli missing the boat on the noir angle but still turning in a story I liked about a man who needed a muse. Itabari Njeri is not afraid to give us an older female character as the focal point, and neither is Patricia Powell. Their two entries are sort of book ends, as the former features a woman who doesn't let anyone get the jump on her and the latter runs from one trapped life to another.

The only clunker, at least for me, was John Dufresne's story that takes on the problem of the Boston clergy scandals. I didn't think it worked at all, and felt like he was just using fiction to veil his desire to express anger at what happened. I don't disagree with the sentiment, but I hate stories that preach at me.

Boston Noir may not have put the city of Boston in my mind every time, but it did put a smile on my face as I read a set of excellent stories that for the most part captured the feel of a noir tale well despite writing in the modern age. The authors are as diverse as their stories, which is a real credit to the editor. I definitely recommend this for anyone who likes crime fiction, and I look forward to reading more in Akashic's series of noir stories in the near future.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Teaching Books: Teaching as Leadership by Steven Farr

[I'm not going to try to review the books I'm reading as part of my transition to becoming an educator. However, I do want to at least do summaries, both for myself and if anyone's interested. Consider these mini-reviews, if you will.]

This is a required book for new Teach for America corps members. It is also written for anyone who is interested in reading about strategies for reducing the achievement gap.

The book is structured into six sections which match up with the qualities TFA believes are needed for effective teaching: Setting big goals, investing in students, planning, execution, working to improve yourself as a teacher, and never giving up on your efforts. Each of these ideas gets a chapter, explaining the concept and how to use it to be a highly effective teacher, often with charts explaining what a good teacher does versus a struggling teacher.

Teaching as leadership uses a large number of stories from former and current corps members to bolster its arguments. There are also a lot of ties to current research both in education and in business strategies. (The latter might make educational purists wince.)

The back of the book explains a bit about the philosophy of Teach for America, its rubrics for measuring teacher performance, and how they select candidates. There is also information on al the teachers used in the book.

This is by far the most current teaching book I've read so far, but it's also the only one with a 2010 copyright.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Rob's Adventures in E-Readerland: Picking an E-Reader

As you can see from my profile information, I'm getting ready to make a move to another state. Because of this, I've had occasion to touch a lot of my books, and do a purge of those titles that I don't think I'll read again (or, in some cases, will ever read period).

Put simply, I've got a lot of books. And moving them is both a pain, an expense, and means we have to live somewhere maybe bigger than we need. I've been spending a lot of time lately on the idea of getting an e-reader. Probably too much time, actually, but I tend to agonize over technology purchases. (Plus, it beats worrying over my Praxis scores.)

So, let's start with what I was thinking going into this:

1) I know that e-readers tend to be protective of data, but I'd like one that reads as many formats as possible.

2) I don't want to pay through the nose, so the cheaper the better.

3) I'd want a wide selection, as I tend to read things that are, being charitable, obscure.

4) Trade paperbacks on a true e-reader are several years away, so this was only for book books.

5) I'd want to hold on to my e-files as long as possible.

Based on this, a few things trended in my mind, most notably that while the Kindle may have a large book selection, its proprietary nature is a huge turnoff.

Then I started reading.

Oh god.

I don't think I've ever seen a gadget genre ever be this hard to nail down. When I went to buy my really nice not-quite-professional-level camera, I read for a few hours, set a price point ($500 or less), and used my desired features to get the camera that fit as many of my needs as possible. The review sites has consistent information and my camera is about 95% like how they described it in the reviews. (I'd actually argue it's a bit better than they gave it credit for.)

Over the multiple hours I've spent reading about e-readers, I don't think I've gotten the same information twice. That's probably a slight exaggeration, but not by much.

Generally speaking, the word was favorable on the Kindle. BUT! Amazon zapped people's books that they'd already paid for, which I suppose any electronic company could do but still is really uncool. The battery requires sending back to the manufacturer, and there's no room for an expansion card. Plus, Kindles don't read anything but Amazon books and those formatted like an Amazon book.

The nook has the advantage of being based on a Google engine and backed by a bookstore. It reads more book types than the Kindle, but still has rights issues. Unfortunately, it has a rather useless split screen IMHO and from all indications there's about 67% chance of getting a lemon. Even on pro-nook boards, I found story after story about how the device didn't work very well. It also was the e-reader of choice on e-bay, meaning people were dumping them left and right. Not a good sign. Only one reviewer seemed to like it, making that perhaps the only thing they could agree on.

The Sony name is a mixed blessing, at least for me. I love my Playstation 2, but I still have nightmares about the various problems I had with my Walkman and Discmans over the years. Sony arguably had the most open e-reader, but their standard model has a glare-prone touch screen and the pocket edition can't expand. Plus, at least half of the sites I went to complained about Sony's software, and I don't think I want to be playing around with alternative interfaces that might not stay around. I'm very technology friendly, but I hate wasting time fiddling.

There are a ton of other e-readers out there, but I am leery of using any product that may not have strong company backing. (I love you Border's, but I'd never buy a Border's only e-reader.) That's why I basically concentrated on the three companies above. Barring major political changes this is a clear case of bigger is better, at least in my opinion. Amazon isn't going anywhere since everyone uses it. Barnes and Noble is extremely stable, and Sony has the longest history in e-readers and the most brick and mortar store presence.

The trouble I'm running into is that there's no clear-cut winner here. I'm a man who lives in shades of gray, and likes to have experts help get him to one point or the other. E-readers don't seem to have that one-is-the-best device, which is either good or bad, depending on how you look at it.

Price doesn't help, either. Thanks to the publishers putting the squeeze on (again, that's good for my friends the writers and bad for me as a consumer), Amazon is no longer cheaper as a rule. I picked out different authors I like, and the prices were either stable or within a dollar or so of each other. With the Sony reader, I'd be using Adobe e-pub, and they were actually higher as a rule.

In fact, one thing that almost threw me out of this entirely is that e-books tend to be priced about the same as a mass market. I've gotten so spoiled by used books that paying more than $5 for anything I want to read is hard for me now.

However, as a result, I never read anything new. I've mentioned before I want to be more on top of the reading curve, so an e-reader would help with this.

The fact of the matter is I was hoping to have something that would enable me to pare down the number of book-books I own, freeing up space. (Someday, I hope to get to do this with comics, too.) But several of the things I collect--as opposed to just reading--aren't available on e-readers. You can't get the "Best American..." series on e-book, at least not that I was able to find. That's a bookshelf right there. Nor are there very many Civil War titles, and certainly not the smaller press editions, at least not yet.

So at least for now, having an e-reader would only cut my book book ownership by about 33%. Tony Hillerman and Stephen King would go digital, but discussing Longstreet's merits as a general would likely still be on a dead tree.

The question is--is that enough to make it worth my while for an e-reader only? I'm honestly not sure but my inclination is to say no.

That thought circled me back around again to what I wanted from my e-reading device.. If the e-reader can't be a 100% non-comic book replacement, then it has to do more. That drops Sony out of the equation, for all intent and purposes. If you want an e-reader only, Sony seems to be the way to go I think. But I can't see paying $200 for something that only reads 30% of the books I want to keep.

Now we circle back to Kindle and nook, our internet-capable readers. While the nook can theoretically get online, it can't do anything but buy books from its parent company, Barnes and Noble. The Kindle can do simple web work, and with its full (if small) keyboard, I could use it to double as a word processor by hopping over to my Gmail and making a draft. (I do this from time to time with my cell phone, but it drains the hell out of my battery.)

So, looks like Kindle might be the way to go, right? Here's my credit card, let's get this angst-fest finished.

But not so fast! The web browsing is probably slow (how slow I don't know, because you can't test one) and I have no idea if the small keyboard is any better than the virtual ones I tried on the nook and Sony. Plus, there's still the small nature of formats, because while you can change the formatting of some ebooks, the legality of doing so appears to be a bit sketchy.

I have no desire to do anything that might run me into trouble later, no matter how ethical it might be. Violating the TOS of the Kindle is going to leave me with one expensive brick.

I could probably deal with the mostly Amazon-only nature of the Kindle except for one big problem--library ebooks. I have no idea how often I'd use them, but I really like the idea that they exist. Sadly for Kindle users, they're mostly unavailable due to their format. While my old library offers no e-books on the main company for doing so, Overdrive, my future library does. I rather like the idea of being able to e-read a best seller without committing to paying for it until I know I like it. (Sony and a lot of the smaller company e-readers can do this, and from what I can tell, so can the nook.)

All of this has led me down a path that probably leads to madness. In the end, it seems like they don't make an e-reader at a price point that makes me comfortable or one that offers as many books as I'd like. Adding other features is nice, but it may not do them very well. I am reminded here of the waffle iron-sandwich maker-grill I just gave away after 3 mediocre tries at using it. I might not end up being very happy with what I get in my extras, so I've spent more than on a basic e-reader getting something that drives me crazy when I try to use it.

So, what should I do? That's the $300 question.

And it could be answered by something that's strangely familiar.

After thinking hard on what I want and what I'd be willing to pay for a device that does many things pretty well, though not perfect, and factoring in the advantage of adding color, I'm actually leaning towards buying a cheap netbook. This is sort of like going the ipad route, but without the expense and with a workable keyboard that comes pre-installed. (Nothing personal against the ipad, but it seems to me to be an expensive, crippled laptop. I like what it can do, but I think I can do it better and cheaper another way.)

Let's go over that list above again and see how a netbook stacks up:

A netbook satisfies the first criteria, because I can download clients for Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Adobe, plus others if I really wanted to, for no cost. That also gives me number 3 and number 5, because it opens up the reader types to all formats and also lets me easily back up to my external hard drive. Number 2, price, is doable if I search, and even a top of the line netbook is roughly the price of a Kindle.

Best of all, it actually puts #4 into play--I could do any color comics that a publisher puts out an app for if they make it run on a PC as well as an ipad, which seems pretty likely to me. (Why alienate the majority of computer users by going mac only?)

I would also have my ability to use the device for multiple things, like writing, checking my e-mail, and even reading all those webcomics I've become so fond of over the past few months. Paying $300 for that would be a damned sight better than paying $300 for an e-reader only. I know a netbook can do these things to my satisfaction, because that's what they're made for.

It won't have e-ink, but I'm rarely in direct sunlight. (I'd never take an e-reader to the beach or in a jacuzzi, that's what $1.00 books and magazines are for. I shudder at the idea of sand near an electronic device, to say nothing if you end up too close to the ocean!) I think the eye strain thing is overrated. I've been at a computer for years, both at work and off work, and if you take breaks, it's fine. Getting color and a reliable word processor (even notepad) would make up for not being able to read 4 hours straight. Besides, who does that anyway? Not me, not even if the book is good!

A netbook would be less portable, certainly. But even the Sony pocket reader is too big for anything but my cargo pocketed shorts, and even if it did fit my jeans, I already have my cell phone there so there's no room. I'd almost certainly end up carrying it in a bag, like I do anytime I'm going out for more than a shopping trip as it is.

For me, the idea of carrying a bag around is a way of life. I've been doing it for my entire adult life. Having a bag with a three pound netbook would be an advantage compared to lugging around 10 pounds now. I can't really imagine that I'd be any more inclined to take an e-reader places I don't already take a bag.

If I don't want to carry a bag, odds are I'm not carrying a book, either. My cell phone and online websites work fine for when I need a quick read and have nothing on me. I imagine whatever phone I get next year in my upgrade will be equipped with a simple e-reader, though a screen smaller than I'd want to use daily.

I also think battery life is overrated. My "big" laptop gets 4 hours if I'm only writing and web browsing on it. While I sometimes am away from an outlet for longer, a netbook these days seems to get 10 hours or more life from a charge. I'm not out camping for weeks on end, and carrying either a spare battery or lugging the AC cord are not hardships for me. I can't see a time when I'm going to want to be reading for over ten hours with no access to a power outlet.

In terms of reading itself, for better or worse, I tend to read with the book pretty far away from my nose anyway. No idea why, I just do. So having a keyboard in the way shouldn't present a problem--after all, it doesn't now. I'd say 50% of my non-comics reading is online now, between newspapers and blogs. Same holds true for the weight. I am a shifty reader at best, and book, e-reader or laptop is going to be moving all over and never crushing me anyway.

The only issue I can see with using a netbook as an e-reader is distraction. Given I would have other options, I might not read enough. But that's really a personal thing, and could just as easily happen with an e-reader or paper book. I'm not distracted if the book is really good!

From reviewing this post, it sure seems like the netbook is the way to go, at least for me. It addresses the needs I set out at the beginning and a few other things I wouldn't mind having. I could always test this theory for a bit on the current laptop as well. Your mileage may vary, but I think the case for using a netbook as an e-reader is pretty strong, the more I think about it. And I've been thinking a LONG time!

Having an e-reader would be cool. There aren't a lot out there, really, and getting one would make me an early adopter. The problem with being an early adopter is that if things change (and like it or not, the ipad and tablet PCs or cheap netbooks are going to have at least some kind of impact), you can easily be the guy holding on to the Sega Dreamcast. It might do a lot of cool things, but if it isn't supported, you're left in the dust. For $100, I'd take a flier on it. For $200 it better be pretty solid. At $300, it better be the Wolverine of e-readers.

So far, from what I can tell, none of those kinds of e-reader exist. But using a smaller PC to do the same thing plus a few other options I'd like to have handy would be just fine. I'd guess I'll be getting one soon, after I confirm I am okay with reading off a screen for an entire book. (Why, hello there Project Gutenberg!) You may want to try this as well, if you're on the fence.

One last thing I want to mention here before I wrap this up. With all of the reading I've done, and again, it was a lot, I feel like I learned more than I ever have before about the march of technology. Reading things on a computer is the future. My generation is probably the first to have spent so much time on a computer, and the price of data storage makes it feasible for just about anything to be primarily electronic.

Photos were first. Then came music. Video and television are headed that way. Newspapers are either going to go online or die. Due to people loving the feel of a book, it might be the last thing to go, but it's going to happen. Depending on who you ask, we'll be primarily e-reading in a generation or so, or perhaps even as early as the not-too-distant future, to borrow a phrase.

Reading about this process and thinking about how *I* read today as compared to say 5 or 10 years ago (hell, even a few years ago) has been fascinating, and I consider it time well spent. In the end, I'm a lover of *reading* more than a lover of books. I didn't know that when I started all this, but it makes sense to me. You might find that's true for yourself as well.

That means it's time for me (and maybe you) to start e-reading, and if they drop the price or make a better multiple-use device, I'll be there (and maybe you'll join me). But even if I use just my laptop or a netbook, I think I'm ready to embrace the future, and slowly start getting more books electronically. The technology, whether it's an e-reader or a laptop, has caught up to the point that I feel comfortable doing so. I have a feeling that's going to start being true for a lot of people. It might even get more folks reading again.

My final advice to anyone who's read this far is that unless you end up captivated by the future of e-reading, don't bother trying to wade through the reviews. They quickly became pointless for picking a device and good for watching minor flame wars and true believers behind each device clash. Try the nook and the Sony e-readers in person, and if you don't like them, get a Kindle or use your laptop, maybe even both. If you have a question about whether or not a device can do something, hit the forums, NOT the review sites. Forums were far more helpful for me.

This was not an easy process or decision for me. I doubt it will be for anyone who reads seriously. Good luck, and just remember how hard the book burners will have it when we're all e-reading!