In which I long to curl up with a good book

‘Tis the season when colleagues start discreetly disappearing from the lab, only to return a few hours later laden with shopping bags from Oxford Street. There is a run on discarded boxes and packing peanuts in the store room, and colorful envelopes from biological supply companies begin to clutter up the pigeon-holes. Starting from this week, alcohol dehydrogenase levels will slowly build up while last-minute experiments are frantically completed around a complex festive social schedule. The London air will smell like snow, yet will produce only a chill drizzle.

For me, the upcoming Christmas break means time to do all the things I now struggle to make time for – in particular, reading. If you’re like me, you’ll want to sink into a lovely novel or two or twenty. So there is no better time to announce that my lovely publishers, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, have decided to slash the price of the Kindle versions of my two science novels, Experimental Heart and The Honest Look – to £3.56 (or $5.72, or suitable equivalents in other currencies). Both received great reviews from all the life science journals that have steadfastly refused to publish my finest work over the years, so what’s not to like?

Remember, Cold Spring Harbor Lab Press is a non-profit organization whose income helps fund the great science that goes on nearby. So do consider getting yourself a copy!

I confess to having mixed feelings about ebooks. I tend to buy both print and electronic versions now, depending on price and availability, and while I enjoy using my Sony Reader, the paperback still exerts a bit of a pull on me. For October’s Fiction Lab, I read John Banville’s Kepler on the Reader, but there was something compelling about the look and feel of this month’s selection bought in paperback, John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, that seemed to draw me in. I don’t like to imagine my once-dynamic bookshelves becoming static museum exhibitions, slowly gathering dust and trapped in time as my purchases tend increasingly towards the electronic.

Will I really one day throw away my books as I recently did my CDs, VHS and audio cassette tapes? I feel the answer must be a vehement ‘no – but I have the sneaking suspicion that I’ll be proven wrong in my lifetime.

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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23 Responses to In which I long to curl up with a good book

  1. Brian Clegg says:

    You really threw your CDs away? Wow. I never use them any more, but I tend to regard them as an ultimate fallback backup…

  2. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Cannery Row is my favourite book of all time. I’ve probably read my battered copy, bought for me by my two best friends when I was about 16, at least ten times; there’s just something about it that keeps drawing me back, especially if I’m feeling homesick, for some reason, or otherwise a bit down. I’ve actually passed up two opportunities to go to Monterey because I knew an in-person visit would completely destroy my mental image of the place. I can’t wait to hear what you think of it!

  3. Brian, I think the actual CDs might be in a box in storage somewhere, but many of them were starting to skip, so I’m not sure how good of a backup they would be likely to be. At the end of the day they were taking up space and I never used them – I’ve become ruthless in my old age. I couldn’t quite bring myself to throw out just three audio cassette tapes – 4-track masters from some songs I wrote and performed back in the 90’s. I think my 4-track just about still works, but they are all safely digitalized so it’s really just nostalgia that keeps them in that drawer. Richard recently bought a lovely widget that can convert VHS to digital, so we’ve been slowly working through old tapes and converting them.

    Cath, Cannery Row was very well received at last night’s FictionLab! Even the curmudgeonly Philip (who tends towards negative scores) gave it an 8 out of 10, and called it a great American novel of the 20th century. I loved it too. I thought the ending was a little weak and mawkish, but that was just a minor quibble. Just beautifully written and so evocative I can picture the Row and its inhabitants perfectly clearly in my mind.

  4. Steve Caplan says:

    As a scientist, “Of Mice and Men” wins hands down…

  5. Stephen Moss says:

    It was Cannery Row that got me into Steinbeck, and a few years ago I had the pleasure of staying a couple of nights in a hotel on Cannery Row. Not a sardine in sight these days, but it’s not difficult to imagine yourself right back in that wonderful world he portrayed.

  6. It must be a very affluent neighborhood now, though?

  7. Stephen Moss says:

    Cannery Row these days is surprisingly ordinary, even quite featureless in places. It isn’t overtly touristy, there are a few hotels, some restaurants and bars, but nothing too ostentatious. Take a wander with Streetview.

  8. rpg says:

    Hmm. Looks like a six hour drive from
    San Diego. Damn.

  9. Eva says:

    You threw away your CDs????!!

    Oh, I see I wasn’t the only one to pick up on that. 🙂

    I do confess to having my CDs in boxes, but it’s a remnant of moving too much in the past years and getting rid of the CD shelves. But I always have some lying about and I do use them.

  10. Eva says:

    (I also have all my cassettes and a few VHS tapes even though I have nothing to play those on. But if I ever have grandkids, I’m going to show them the rewinding-tapes-on-a-pencil trick. Now making a mental note to also save some pencils when those become obsolete…)

  11. ricardipus says:

    “Both received great reviews from all the life science journals that have steadfastly refused to publish my finest work over the years, so what’s not to like?”

    That made me done a LOL right here at the kitchen table. 😀

    Also – Cannery Row is absolutely FTW (as the kids say these days, apparently). By coincidence, I just finished re-reading it (third time, maybe?). If you haven’t read its sequel, Sweet Thursday, do. It’s not quite as good, but still brilliant.

    And… you had a cassette 4-track? Wow. I used a Fostex 160 for years and years and years (now in mothballs with the rest of the music gear). It was beginning to be unreliable, and having sat with its belts in the same place for a number of years now I doubt it still works. Fortunately, there exist digital mixes… some of which can be found on SoundCloud.

  12. Grant says:

    I still have my cassette tapes. My car, a 1.3 litre Corolla that’s soon to see it’s 22nd birthday, only has a tape player.*

    Most of my music is still on CDs, bar a few recent additions.

    I also have a few VHS tapes. I’ve still got a player for them, but I imagine that will have to be further moth-balled (than it already is) when NZ moves to digital-only TV some time next year. It’s not as if I’ve actually used the VHS player in years, after all.

    some songs I wrote and performed back in the 90′s

    Do spill the beans 🙂 You performed music? I confess I’ve long liked the idea of writing lyrics, but I can’t say I’m good at learning to play an instrument, which you have to admit is a bit of catch…**

    * Well, OK, I could install a CD player. Personally I think I need a newer car, really.

    ** I could get one of those music computer programs but for whatever reason the idea simply doesn’t appeal.

  13. The four-track was ancient when I inherited it from a song-writing buddy in graduate school. It started to go off a bit during my first postdoc – when I over-wrote tracks you could still hear a ghost of the previous track bleeding through. I actually took it to the machine shop guys who worked in the basement of the London Research Institute and they were able to fix it – just a simple matter of adjusting the “erase” head’s angle. They were amazing. I haven’t done much music since I got more serious about writing – except the band of course. Recently I’ve been having the urge to write songs again, so I might have a go over the holiday break.

    I was actually afraid to read “Sweet Thursday” in case it was utter crap, but I’ll certainly try now.

  14. ricardipus says:

    Uh oh… I hope you like it since it will now be my fault if you don’t. 😉

  15. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    It wasn’t as good as Cannery Row – not by miles – but it was still good, and in no way spoiled my appreciation of the original

  16. ricardipus says:

    P.S. Grant, if you want to upgrade your car, I can sell you a Mazda with a CD player that is a mere 11 and a half years old. Sure, it’s a bit dented and rusty, but come on – a CD player!

  17. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    CD player?!

    iPod dock or GTFO!

  18. Grant says:


    Do you offer free delivery? *smiles sweetly*

    I’m in New Zealand.

    Alternatively, someone in Toronto could offer me work there and I could emigrate and pick up the car. It could be well worth it.

  19. ricardipus says:

    @Cath – iPod dock? You and yer new-fangled hi-falutin automobilitative devices. What, you think I’m made of money or something?

    @Grant – er… I’ll get back to you on that. I may have to fit a snorkel.

    @Jenny – sorry. Threadjack now fully in progress.

  20. Hey, don’t mind me. I just blog here.

  21. Cheryl says:

    I was hoping to find “Honest Look” on Kobo or Adliko but no luck, so I ordered a real copy. Looking forward to a having a fiction reading break over the holidays.

  22. Thanks Cheryl – sorry about that (I’ve never even heard of the second ebook reader you mention!). But I really hope you enjoy it!

  23. The Overseas Collaborator says:

    I have VHS and DVD versions of the Star Wars Trilogy. I think my VHS are the cleaned-up but unaltered versions with the Ewok’s “Yub nub” song intact.

    I’ve been reading all the books I was supposed to read in high school, but never did. I would recommend “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” unless you are a Metallica fan. Just the mention of those four words gets that song stuck in my head, and the Spanish Civil War does not work with Metallica as a sound track.

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