Category: General


Sight loss and access to reading

Posted 13 February, 2014 by Nikki in General / 7 Comments

For a while now, I’ve been meaning to make a post about my volunteering work for the RNIB. It’s not all relevant to this blog, but certain aspects of it are. I’ve been having a hard time phrasing it, though, and finally Lynn agreed to help by asking me questions as an interview. So thank you very, very much to Lynn for helping out.

Before we start, I just want to say that while I’m talking about being a volunteer for a couple of charities, I don’t officially represent them. And while I hope that I’ve been sensitive and thoughtful in my answers, I’m aware that there’s nothing wrong with my own sight a pair of glasses can’t fix, and that I may get things wrong or mess up in some way. Feel free to tell me if I do: I’ll be glad to add corrections to my post if necessary.

That said, here’s Lynn!

I know you volunteer for RNIB/Macular Society, but what is it that you do when you’re volunteering?

Well, my role in the Macular Society is really simple: I moderate the forums. I answer questions when I can, offer reassurance if I can, but mostly just make sure there’s no spam. Which is why I’m really glad I have a more active role for the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind). It’s also affiliated with the local Institute for the Blind, and we have a really good network of support out there for people who are blind or partially sighted.

My particular role involves working in the clinic and trying to ensure everything works smoothly: I’m there to help both the patients and the nurses. So if someone’s lost, I tell them where to go; if someone’s just had their eyes dilated, so they can’t see to go get a coffee or get a taxi home, I’m trained to lead them safely and comfortably; if someone’s upset, I sit next to them and talk to them a bit; if someone needs to know how much longer it’s going to be, I go and find out. I also help with the general running of the clinic. If there’s work that you don’t need to be a healthcare professional for, I’ll do it: moving files, sorting files, taking requests to the photographers, running messages… It doesn’t sound like much, but when you know how big the clinics are and how many people we move through them each week, the five hours I volunteer a week is actually a significant help to the nurses.

Can you give any rough estimates on the numbers you alluded to?

I remember being told that in one of our treatment clinics, we move 800 people through each month. And we’re sometimes running seven clinics at a time, as well as the eye casualty. Diagnostic appointments usually take longer than the treatment clinics, so the numbers are probably lower for some of those, but it gives you an idea. The waiting room is often standing room only.

For more context, everyone who comes into the clinic has to first have their ‘visions’ done — a simple eye test to compare their current sight to when they had their last appointment. There is one visions room, divided into two parts, so only two nurses are ever doing visions at one time. Some clinics have a specific nurse assigned in one of the other rooms, if it’s a bit more complicated, but most people will go through the visions room.

That sounds like a lot of people! You must be really busy when you’re at the clinic.

Reaaaally busy. I don’t know what they do when they don’t have a volunteer there, because a lot of the stuff the nurses have to do then means they take even longer to get people through the visions room. Even with me there, we’re nearly always running with a delay.

Wow! I hope they always have at least one volunteer there then. How do the people visiting the clinic spend their time waiting for their appointments?

Some of them nap, which is an entirely valid response to the waiting times! Or glare at me, which is kind of unfair but also understandable. Mostly, though, and what I really wanted to talk about, people bring a book or a magazine, or buy the paper on the way in. That really surprised me, actually: I see a lot of the rest of the hospital, helping people around, and I don’t see as much reading in any other clinic or waiting area. You’d think a badly lit eye clinic full of partially sighted people would be the last place you’d see loads of people reading, but that’s my experience.

That does sound pretty incredible! And I mean that in the most positive sense of the word. Does that mean you sometimes end up talking about books and reading with the visitors too?

“What are you reading?” is the third most popular question (after “Where is the toilet?” and “Why is the clinic running late?”) I get asked. Not that I have chance to be actively reading when I’m on duty, but reading is an easy conversation topic to help distract people or just give them some interaction time with a friendly face. When people are worrying about the effects of losing their sight, too, the idea of not being able to read is what seems to really scare a lot of them. And quite often they know very little about the options out there to help them read for as long as possible.

Does the clinic offer them information on the options they have?

The clinic doesn’t, no. Not as such, anyway. My ‘boss’, the person who coordinates all of the volunteers, has an office in the clinic for that purpose. I was taught about the assistive devices we have, but mostly if someone asks for information, it’s easiest for me to go and find her. Then she’ll arrange to spend some time with them, talking about options like that and registering as legally blind, etc.

The one thing I do talk about when I can is ereaders. I’ve been investigating the various options for several years now, since my mother was diagnosed with macular degeneration, so generally I can help people figure out the best ereader for them, and recommend places to get books. Sometimes if it’s quiet I’ll fetch my own ereader and show them how it works.

So… there isn’t a lot of information to help ensure people are still able to read at the clinic other than in a specialised consultation? Is that why you mention ereaders specifically as something you talk to the visitors about?

There isn’t. I think that’s a problem that comes out of the NHS being very compartmentalised, which is a whole ‘nother rant — basically, instead of treating problems holistically, we treat problems separately. The clinic is there to deal with the physical issues; as far as I know, apart from the volunteers, I’ve never seen anything in place to help with the emotional side of going blind. With the clinic so busy, there isn’t time.

So it’s something I bring up when I can, something I know a lot about and can share that sometimes makes it all a bit easier to handle. I know for me, if I couldn’t read anymore, I’d be devastated. I’d probably end up on (more) antidepressants and just miserable. That’s why I also advocate for large print books in libraries (including the one I volunteer in), and for access to audiobooks and so on. Which is, you know, another reason to love the RNIB: they have a Talking Books subscription service with thousands of books available. (Which always needs help and donations, by the by.)

I see. That is… very sad. I’d be devastated too. Apart from ereaders and audiobooks, what other ways have you learned about that help people continue to be able to read?

Well, sometimes really good lighting is enough to help for some people, but then there’s also a variety of magnifiers. The one I find easiest to use myself (I have tried all of the ones we have available) is one of the variety of dome magnifiers we have. You just place them over the page and slide them along, and they magnify the text as well as concentrating the light on it. There’s CCTV video magnifiers, which take the text and magnify it up on an LCD screen, and have the advantage of being somewhat adjustable, but they cost a lot. I’m talking in the region of £800. For something that’s such a major concern for so many partially sighted people, the technology is difficult to access.

We do have programs that can give people these sorts of things free, but again, it takes resources, and it depends on where you live whether you can access one of those programs.

That sounds awful! I hope as technology increases, the costs will become less prohibitive to people. So ereaders and audiobooks are pretty much people’s best options?

To my mind, yes. An ereader is easily the cheapest option. It wasn’t cheap when I first started researching — I got mine for £180, and I think the Kindle was around that price too, then — but now things have caught up. The ereader I’d most readily recommend is the Kobo Mini: I got it when it was in a sale for £24, it’s pretty easy to use, and it’s lightweight, which is often another bonus for elderly people. The Kindle’s about the same weight and so on, but it doesn’t have the same range of fonts and font sizes. There’s a version of the Kobo with a backlight, too; that or the Kindle Paperwhite might be best for people who need bright light and good contrast.

I know you’ve already mentioned this, but just so we’re clear on this and have it reiterated: different people do have different requirements in ereaders? How do you know which ones work best for who?

It can be a problem, because obviously there’s lots and lots of people coming through the clinic from all sorts of backgrounds. Some of them might not be able to afford even a basic Kindle (~£60), or they might have trouble with coordination so a touch screen might not be a good idea. Generally, I just start by mentioning that I have a Kobo and find it useful, and let them ask me questions, which tends to give me a good idea of what they need. E.g. if they say they have trouble reading on a backlit screen, then obviously I scratch the idea of recommending the Kindle app on an iPad and go for something with e-ink technology.

I see… Do you think you could give people a few recommendations on ereaders to start with? Not too many details, perhaps, but some general pointers that you’ve found the most useful.

My first recommendation is generally to ignore me and get to a shop and try them out! In the UK, WHSmith will usually have display models of Kobos, while Waterstones has Kindles. Big supermarkets sometimes have them out, too. That way you can fiddle with the font options for yourself and just see what suits you.

Good idea! Though I know that I find it helpful to have some idea of what I should be looking for before I go into a shop myself. I feel very self-conscious if I have no idea what I want or need from a shop and I’m sure it’d be much worse if I had to deal with losing my sight as well. Having some idea of what kind of ereader I should be looking for would really help me look for one.

For that, I’d probably end up suggesting chatting to other people with similar issues, e.g. on the Macular Society forums. But in the meantime I’d go through a sort of checklist: what sort of screen do you want/need? Do you want it to do other things as well (i.e. a tablet)? Write down the things you know you can’t do without (like a lightweight unit, large buttons, lighting options, fonts), and that’d give you some idea of what to ask the shop assistants. There’s usually a particular shop assistant who handles ereaders, in my experience, so ask about that and ask to speak to them if possible.

I am actually planning to do a post here sometime soon about the pros and cons of various ereaders, and if anyone has any specific questions, feel free to ask me. If I don’t already know, I may be able to find out.

That doesn’t leave me with many questions to ask, beyond thanking you for your time and wishing you loads of good experiences volunteering!

You’re the one who helped me out! Thank you for your time, Lynn.

As I said, if anyone has any other questions, feel free to ask them in the comments — if there’s anything interesting, I may add it to the post, and likewise I’ll add any corrections that may be necessary.

Tags: ,

Divider

What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 13 February, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

Well, it’s kind of Thursday now, but I’ve never let that stop me!

What did you recently finish reading?
The Assassin’s Curse, by Cassandra Rose Clarke. Review coming up on the blog tomorrow: suffice it to say that I think it’s a lot of fun, and I’ve acquired the second book and the companion stories to read ASAP. Like my to read list isn’t long enough.

Before that, it was The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory, which… I just don’t get the appeal. Elizabeth Woodville was smarter than Gregory’s version, a political schemer, why does she have to melt into goo over a man? She could still be political and canny and in love, but it doesn’t seem that way.

What are you currently reading?
Longbourn, by Jo Baker; “Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice“. I’m quite enjoying it. From the reviews, I didn’t expect to, but maybe it helps that I’m not precious about Austen. I do think Baker’s rather riding on Austen’s coattails, telling a story that isn’t inextricably entwined with that of Pride and Prejudice and just using the original story to garner interest. I don’t know if that feeling will stick with me.

Also, Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine, because it’s high time I got round to that.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Joanne Harris’ The Gospel of Loki — just out today! I have promised Joanne Harris that I won’t mention a certain actor’s name in my review… Also, obviously, A Pirate’s Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke.

I’m also interested in Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. It’s being mentioned in my ethics class this week, and we had an excerpt to read. There’s some fascinating research, and I’ve found his TED talks interesting.

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Stacking the Shelves

Posted 8 February, 2014 by Nikki in General / 38 Comments

Yay, it’s Sunday Saturday (I can do the days of the week!) and I have some books to show off! Tynga’s Reviews, as usual, is hosting Stacking the Shelves.

So first things first, a new library opened in Caerphilly. It is lovely, and only getting four books out was a heroic feat.

Cover of Dreadnought by Cherie Priest Cover of Greatshadow by James Maxey Cover of The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow Cover of Dream London by Tony Ballantyne

And then yesterday after my shift as an RNIB volunteer, I ended up in the hospital’s WHSmith, which was dangerous. They always have buy one, get one half price, but I couldn’t find a fourth I was interested in. Which is probably all to the good.

Cover of Anatomies by Hugh Aldersley-Williams Cover of Longbourn by Jo Baker Cover of Fanny & Stella by Neil McKenna

I’m most excited about Fanny & Stella, which I’ve already started reading. It’s a bit sensationalised, but I think the subjects would’ve loved that. Not the trial for “conspiracy to commit buggery”, but the very exuberant, flamboyant biography.

And finally, here are two pictures of my makeshift bookshelf, containing almost all the books I dragged with me for a five-week trip to my parents’ (minus the comics, which’re on a different shelf).

Photo of my makeshift bookshelves, crammed with books Another view of my bookshelves, showing off my owl bookends

Tags: ,

Divider

What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 6 February, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
The Universe Versus Alex Woods, which made me cry. It starts off misleadingly quirky, and then I went and fell in love with it, and the ideas it articulates. I almost want it to be a surprise in the same way for everyone who reads it (if you’d like the surprise, don’t read my review), because I love the way it developed. I’ve got to keep an eye out for Gavin Extence’s other work.

What are you currently reading?
I still haven’t finished reading Rachel Neumeier’s Black Dog. When I do read it, I’m biting it off in big chunks, but I don’t just want to nibble at it — which is hard, when I’ve had a lot of work on, and nibbling books are what I need at the moment.

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, by Caspar Henderson, is my currently ‘nibbling’ book, though I’m nearly finished with it. It’s a type of modern bestiary, which I think has confused lots of people who expected something encyclopaedic and mostly scientific, whereas this draws from the medieval tradition of articulating philosophical/moral concepts through talking about mythical/little-known creatures.

I’m also reading The Iron Wyrm Affair, by Lilith Saintcrow, which is so far too blatantly drawing on the Sherlock Holmes tradition for me to be too interested, although it does feature a female main character who seems to have a fair amount of agency and power without being perfect, so we’ll see how that goes on.

What do you think you’ll read next?
I have Secret Chambers, by Martin Brasier, next on my pile. I’m in a non-fiction mood at the moment, so that’s been calling me. Also maybe Cosmos, by Carl Sagan, because of my astrobiology and astronomy classes.

Fiction-wise, I should just be working on my backlog of books/series started and not yet finished. The Assassin’s Curse, by Cassandra Rose Clarke, is next on my pile in that sense.

And now I’m going to go off and draw for the winner of my giveaway for Black Dog!

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

A bibliophilic problem, redux

Posted 30 January, 2014 by Nikki in General / 5 Comments

So a while back my mother made a bargain with me: £5 for every so many books I managed to finish from my to read list. Well, I never finished that list, but now it’s back! And we have renegotiated so that I get £5 for every ten books I finish. This seems fair. Wish me luck! And here’s the list.

(I’ll even come back and update it with strikethroughs, this time.)

Bold denotes that I’ve already started it, underline that it’s an ARC.

Sarah Addison Allen, Garden Spells.
Rosie Best, Skulk.

Lauren Beukes, Zoo City.
Katherine Beutner, Alcestis.
Alan Bradley, Speaking from Among the Bones.
Alan Bradley, The Dead in their Vaulted Arches.
Gillian Bradshaw, Render Unto Caesar.
Wesley Chu, Deaths of Tao.
Cassandra Rose Clarke, The Assassin’s Curse.
Anna Cowan, Untamed.
Jeffery Deaver, The Empty Chair.
Diane Duane, The Door into Shadow.
Diane Duane, The Door into Sunset.
Steven Erikson, Deadhouse Gates.
Steven Erikson, Memories of Ice.
Ian C. Esslemont, Night of Knives.
David Gemmell, Ironhand’s Daughter.
David Gemmell, The Hawk Eternal.
Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber.
Jason M. Hough, The Darwin Elevator.
Jason M. Hough, The Exodus Towers.
Jason M. Hough, The Plague Force.
Matthew Hughes, Costume Not Included.
Matthew Hughes, Hell to Pay.
Guy Gavriel Kay, A Song for Arbonne.
Nicola Griffith, Hild.
Caspar Henderson, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings.
Bruce Holsinger, A Burnable Book.
Margo Lanagan, Tender Morsels.

Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice.
Fritz Leiber, Swords Against Death.
Fritz Leiber, Swords in the Mist.
Fritz Leiber, Swords Against Wizardry.
Stephen Leigh, Dance of the Hag.
Stephen Leigh, A Quiet of Stone.
Karen Lord, The Best of All Possible Worlds.
Scott Lynch, Republic of Thieves.
James A. Moore, Seven Forges.
Christopher Morley, The Haunted Bookshop.
Rachel Neumeier, Black Dog.
Thomas Penn, The Winter King.
James Renner, The Man from Primrose Lane.
Brandon Sanderson, Elantris.
C.J. Sansom, Heartstone.
Julianna Scott, The Holders.
Julianna Scott, The Seers.
Melissa Scott, Shadow Man.
Michael J. Sullivan, Avempartha.
Michael Swanwick, Dancing With Bears.
David Weber, The Honor of the Queen.
David Weber, The Short Victorious War.
David Weber, Field of Dishonor.
David Weber, Flag in Exile.
David Weber, Honor Among Enemies.
David Weber, In Enemy Hands.
Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Djinni.
Chuck Wendig, Mockingbird.
Chuck Wendig, Cormorant.
Tad Williams, The Dirty Streets of Heaven.
Chris Wooding, Retribution Falls.

Gulp.

Tags:

Divider

What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 29 January, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire, by Simon Baker, which was okay but not wondrous. And before that, Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great, which is wondrous and a joy to read — it distracted me from work, a lot (or made work easier to handle).

What are you currently reading?
Slow Fall to Dawn, by Stephen Leigh. It’s one of the books I found in Belgium that I’d never heard of before. Apparently it’s from the 80s, but it doesn’t seem too dated, probably because the author sensibly decided to set it after a civilisation crash (and rebuild). I’m enjoying it: at times, the writing seems a little clunky (like introducing a tiny detail and then two pages later, in the next chapter, bashing you over the head with the This Is Plot Relevant mallet).

Aaand Black Dog, by Rachel Neumeier. I’m taking my time with it, really. I’m quite enjoying that it doesn’t feel like YA, aside from in having adolescent protagonists — the characters aren’t instantly falling in love, they’re wary around each other, things aren’t easy, sibling bonds are more important than most other things… Rachel Neumeier’s blog tour swings by my blog tomorrow, so look out for that if you’re interested. There’s a giveaway as well.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Well, so far this year I’ve followed a fairly steady pattern of working on books I’ve already got started while reading one new, recently bought book that I obviously thought was shiny, while it’s fresh in my mind. So after Slow Fall to Dawn, I’ll probably read the two sequels, and after that… I might get round to Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen.

As for finishing books I’ve already got started, I think Katharine Beutner’s Alcestis and Gillian Bradshaw’s Render Unto Caesar are my next targets.

And I’d like to note that I haven’t bought any books since the Jo Walton, yet. I’m expecting an ARC and I won a LibraryThing giveaway, but I’ve been restrained.

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Stacking the Shelves

Posted 25 January, 2014 by Nikki in General / 22 Comments

It’s time for Stacking the Shelves again! If you’re new to it, basically we all show off what books we’ve got in the past week. It’s hosted at Tynga’s Reviews, and you can find a ton of other people’s posts linked there too. So here’s my haul for the week — very restrained, for me: I think my partner will be shocked. At least if she discounts the ARCs, some of which I requested ages ago and some of which were unsolicited.

Ebooks

Cover of What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton

ARCs/review copies

Cover of Gretel and the Dark, by Eliza Granville Cover of The New Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko Cover of biography of Sally Ride Cover of Charles Darwin: Destroyer of Myths Cover of The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan

I think I’m most excited about reading Jo Walton’s book. It’s sort of a companion to Among Others, in a way, talking about fantasy/SF, a lot of which is probably mentioned in Among Others. That book meant a lot to me for personal reasons, but the range of books discussed in it was amazing too. I’m interested in the Sally Ride biography, too; women in space!

And for those who’re just dropping by this blog for this post, and aren’t planning to look around at the rest of it, may I tempt you to stay?

Posts coming up on The Bibliophibian sometime soon:
-Comparison of ereaders.
-Reading and the blind/partially sighted (written as an RNIB volunteer, but however not officially representing the RNIB or blind people in any way, just my personal experiences).
-Lord of the Rings Online as an adaptation of the books.
-A post in Rachel Neumeier’s blog tour for Black Dog, with giveaway!

Plus, of course, the usual reviews of a range of books and comics!

Tags: , ,

Divider

What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 23 January, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
The last thing I read was the Ultimate Hawkeye comic, I think. Not a big fan. And before that, J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Archive, which again, not a big fan of. Before that, though, it was Emilie & the Hollow World (Martha Wells), which makes a great girl’s own adventure story.

What are you currently reading?
Fiction: Emilie & the Sky World (Martha Wells), the sequel to the book mentioned above! It’s an ARC and I’m very much enjoying it. I wanted to finish it today, but work got in the way…

Non-fiction: Through the Language Glass: Why the world looks different in other languages? (Guy Deutscher). It’s fascinating to read a longer explanation of the issues like the Ancient Greek epithet for the sea, the “wine-dark sea”, and why that arose from seeing colour differently.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Black Dog (Rachel Neumeier), as she’s stopping by my blog on her blog tour (post coming up on 31st January, if I remember rightly), from my ARCs. I also want to start on Stolen Songbird (Danielle L. Jensen).

And then there’s also What Makes This Book So Great (Jo Walton), which I will be buying in the morning. (Not now, I don’t need another excuse to procrastinate and get distra

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Stacking the Shelves

Posted 18 January, 2014 by Nikki in General / 36 Comments

Welcome to another week of lookit-my-new-shinies, aka Tynga’s Reviews’ Stacking the Shelves. I’ve been fairly good this week: I did go shopping in Leuven’s bookshops, but I set myself a goal: only get books that you’ve never heard of before, preferably by authors you’ve never heard of. This took me some time and deliberation and paging through reviews on Goodreads, but it was pretty fun. The dead tree books below are the result!

Dead tree books

Cover of Bear Daughter by Judith Berman Cover of A Secret Atlas, by Michael A. Stackpole Cover of Assassin's Dawn, the Hoorka trilogy omnibus by Stephen Leigh

ARCs/review copies

Cover of DC's Wonder Woman: War Cover of A Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon Cover of Out on Blue Six by Ian McDonald Cover of Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina Cover of Emilie and the Sky World by Martha Wells Cover of Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert Cover of Windwalker by Natasha Mostert Cover of The Midnight Side by Natasha Mostert Cover of A Burnable Book, by Bruce Holsinger

Obviously I’m pretty excited about my ARC of A Burnable Book, since that was the book I picked for Waiting on Wednesday. Of my dead tree books, I’m most interested by Bear Daughter — it’s based on West Coast mythology, if I remember rightly (I’ve packed the book in my suitcase, so I can’t check), and sounds pretty good. I’m also excited about Emilie & The Sky World; I haven’t read the first book yet, but that may well be what I read on the Eurostar today. I’ve loved what I’ve read of Martha Wells’ work.

What’ve you all been getting?

Tags: ,

Divider