Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Reading Too Much Into Serendipity

Serendipity is one of those "tech can't copy it" things often sited by people clinging to the-way-things-were.

And there is serendipity in libraries and book stores. There's a lot of fun to be had finding books. But that's only for people who have a wide enough reading palette to enjoy a variety of books. I think that most readers pick their books for comfort, so they're not really interested in discovery.

That's why bookstores are failing across the country, why Amazon's suggestion logarithms do more business than libraries. We just aren't interested in reading much.

And I wonder if the internet doesn't offer the deeply engaged reader as many opportunities for discovery as the book store. Sure, if you're ruling out every recommended read and every suggested title as unserendipitous, sure that doesn't leave much else. But looking at it another way, every book reviewer is a book seller.

I wonder if that isn't really better in the long run.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Happy Friday

Review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

On the same road trip when I listened to The Year of the Flood, I also listened to Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.

Maybe it was too much dystopia, or maybe I just spent too much time in the car (hello Pittsburgh!), but Oryx and Crake wasn't as riveting.

A lot of my enjoyment of a book comes from the narrator. Even if I didn't always love both narrators of Year of the Flood, they were distinct, and the point of view shifted often enough to keep one voice from going stale. In Oryx and Crake, we have only the voice of Snowman, gone mad with loneliness and grief.

Having read Year of the Flood first, the fact that Snowman is the only narrator also tips the author's hand that there will be no other people in this book. Much more than Robinson Crusoe or The Shining, Oryx and Crake is about what it's like to be the last man on Earth.

Oryx and Crake also suffered from the prequel problem (since I listened to the two books out of order): there were plenty of mysteries in the first book, and they don't all have to be explained away. Trying to understand without knowing is a part of life, and it's a part of the best fiction. Many of the scenes in Oryx and Crake I would have been most willing to cut involved the development of the technology that was taken for granted in Year of the Flood like ChickieNobs and pigoons.

Much like knowing the ending to a mystery novel, knowing a piece of the ending sapped some of the joy from Oryx and Crake. I'm not sure what I was hoping for, but I'm sure I didn't get it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Review: Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

On a recent road trip, I brought along Margaret Atwood's stupendous The Year of the Flood unabridged audiobook. It was good- five star, top shelf, rave to your friends until they're sick of hearing about it good.

The Year of the Flood is about the end of the world. While the book's structure is divided between the time before and the time just after a pandemic that pushes the human race to the brink of extinction (the "waterless flood" the novel's religious zealots warn about), human life was over long before the disease's outbreak.

Atwood writes about people trying to build a life in the ruins of civilization. As power and wealth concentrates to the elite few, how do the rest of us forge a life? Can you get a decent job, find a decent place to live, raise a family? Through the eyes of two survivors, Toby and Ren, Atwood shows us a world in which the corrupting power of oligarchy's decadence and self-service rips civilization apart.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Going Back to Goodreads

One of my 30 Before 30 goals is to improve the blog layout. While it isn't exactly an adjustment to my site, last night I finished importing all my reviews on this blog and LibraryThing to Goodreads.

I got onto Goodreads years ago (seriously, the first book I added was East of Eden on July 11, 2007). Back then, I didn't like it. It was clunky and slow, and it didn't do a good job of sorting through multiple editions. Just because I read one version of Pride and Prejudice doesn't mean I need 1000 versions in my library.

When I started blogging about books, I discovered LibraryThing. It had a much smoother interface than I remember from Goodreads, and the site is small enough that I've actually won a few books from their give-away program. But smallness is a disadvantage, too. I'm not leaving LibraryThing, but with 21 million members, Goodreads is where the people are.

If I'm going to properly serve myself in promoting my reviews, and serve the publishers and authors who have sent me books, I've got to reach the biggest audience possible.

So, whichever site you prefer, let's connect.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review: Baseball as a Road to God by John Sexton

John Sexton is in the news a lot lately, and not for some good things.

While I have a variety of opinions on the globalization (and commercialization) of American higher education and the use (and abuse) of adjuncts and graduate assistants as teachers at the university level, those thoughts will have to wait.

Sexton's tome should not be confused with light reading. While plenty of baseball books probe the spiritual side of our attachment to the national pastime (for me, most memorably in the recently departed Richard Ben Cramer's Joe Dimaggio and in Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer), Sexton probes the history of humanities spiritual quests through the lens of baseball.

From Aristotle to Sarte, the citations and reference points come thick and fast. My background is in literature, and while I've spent a fair amount of time with the deconstructionists, most of Sexton's arguments were too heavy for me to consider them enjoyable.

I had an especially challenging time with Sexton's personal allegiances: a Brooklyn Dodgers fan who became a Los Angeles Dodgers fan when his family moved to Southern California who became a Yankee fan while raising his son to love baseball back in New York City. My trouble wasn't Sexton's shifting loyalties (while I am first a Yankee fan, my National League attention has shifted from the Expos/Nationals to the Marlins to the Braves and back to the Nationals again), but with the argument Sexton built around those loyalties, an argument that speaks to his core purpose.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

5 Great Movies I've Never Seen

There are a lot of famous movies I've never seen: Gone with the Wind, Raging Bull, Psycho, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Which is why I made seeing some of these movies one of the goals of my 30 Before 30.

They say you have to know what you don't know, before you can really learn about it.

I've got some friends joining me for this challenge, and we decided we should focus on movies that none of us have seen.

1. Doctor Zhivago
2. Citizen Kane
3. On the Waterfront
4. Lawrence of Arabia
5. All Quiet on the Western Front

That's 24 Oscars and a ton of movie history.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Seeing the Strings

It's no secret I dislike Dickens because Dickens hates a loose end, so everything ties up nice and neat.

And that's the worst, when you can see the strings that connect the characters to the author. Michael Crichton was guilty of it, too (it seemed like his novels were thrilling for 280 pages, and then he remembered that he promised his editor he'd wrap it up in 300 pages, so the novel just stopped).

Saturday night I saw a one act play (For the Record by Bernie Appugliese at the Oakland Center for the Arts) that was all loose ends. And it was fantastic.