Friday, June 29, 2007

Book 33: The Book: The Life Story of a Technology

NUMBER: 33
TITLE: The Book: The Life Story of a Technology
AUTHOR: Nicole Howard
STARTED: May 20, 2007
FINISHED: June 27, 2007
PAGES: 171
GENRE: Books about Books

FIRST SENTENCE: In today's world, technology plays an integral role in the daily life of people of all ages.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] One of life's most frequently encountered technologies is perhaps the one most often taken for granted: the printed book. Daily contact with books makes these everyday objects so familiar that one is apt to forget that the invention of the book has more profoundly altered civilization than almost any other invention. This volume provides a broad overview of the printed book's development across many centuries, cultures, and in a variety of fields. It highlights the forerunners and offshoots of books that have come from and been dispersed to all corners of the globe. The creation of a single book requires diverse skills and techniques that have taken centuries to develop. This addition to the Greenwood Technographies series will give readers of all ages a greater appreciation for this familiar phenomenon that is part of everyone's life.

REASON FOR READING: Assigned in my "History of the Book" class.

THOUGHTS: A textbook about the history of the book. Nuff Said.

MISCELLANEOUS: Worst opening sentence EVER!

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Book 32: A History of Reading

NUMBER: 32
TITLE: A History of Reading
AUTHOR: Alberto Manguel
STARTED: June 4, 2007
FINISHED: June 21, 2007
PAGES: 372
GENRE: Books about Books

FIRST SENTENCE: One limp hand by his side, the other to his brow, the young Aristotle languidly reads a scroll unfurled on his lap, sitting on a cushioned chair with his feet comfortably crossed.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Writer, translator, and editor Manguel has produced a personal and original book on reading. In 22 chapters, we find out such things as how scientists, beginning in ancient Greece, explain reading; how Walt Whitman viewed reading; how Princess Enheduanna, around 2300 B.C., was one of the few women in Mesopotamia to read and write; and how Manguel read to Jorge Luis Borges when he became blind. Manguel selects whatever subject piques his interest, jumping backward and forward in time and place. Readers might be wary of such a miscellaneous, erudite book, but it manages to be invariably interesting, intriguing, and entertaining. Over 140 illustrations show, among other things, anatomical drawings from 11th-century Egypt, painting of readers, cathedral sculptures, and stone tables of Sumerian students.

REASON FOR READING: It was assigned for my summer course.

THOUGHTS: Part memoir, part histiography, part biography, Manguel's A History of Reading incorporates numerous genres to craft a complete history of reading. Despite the fact that this book was assigned for my class (which generally means that I will not like it), I rather enjoyed this book. Manguel draws together the most random aspects associated with reading to create a rather eclectic view of books and their readers. At first, I did not understand how the anatomy of the eye or Manguel's personal musings worked together - but they did.

Manguel's book is not so much a chronological, unabridged history of reading but, instead, is more like an anthology. The book is composed of vignettes of activities, items, people, and events that are associated with the history of reading. While Manguel does not write the "extensive" history of reading, the aspects he has drawn together give the reader a complete view of the beloved activity.

The prose of the book is both self-musing and lyrical. There is a well-paced flow to the book that makes even the most boring aspects seem interesting. Manguel's vocabulary is rich and descriptive; this lends the book a quality that just makes the reader want to curl up in an easy chair with a cup of hot chocolate and read the day away.

MISCELLANEOUS: If I were to write a memoir of my reading, it would be very... random.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

LOLBooks!


For the record, the answer was "E."

I've become (more than) slightly addicted to lolcats and lolcandidates.... so I've decided to create lolbooks. If you got some images and/or captions that might work send'em on my way.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

OMG Maybe!

I just came up with a fantastic idea. I just need to get to my photo editing software. Stupid workplace that only has paint.

If I'm on the ball maybe, just maybe, I'll have something up tonight.

Also, this is where all my friends, once they see my idea, will think I am:
A) Crazy
B) Crazier Than Usual
C) Obsessed
D) Weird
E) All of the Above

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I'll shush you... actually I won't

Since I was out of town for my brother's high school graduation, I was only able to attend the last day of the ALA Conference Exhibits. While I would have loved to have attended a number of the programs and events for this year's conference, visiting the exhibit hall was a nice introduction to my first ALA conference.

While I was wandering about (because I clearly did not make plans since I was all by my onsies), I discovered a few things:
  • Librarians are part pack mule - the things I saw people lugging around without breaking a sweat or with one ounce of complaint was amazing
  • You could easily tell the librarians from the vendors. The vendors wore business/business casual outfits, while the librarians mixed business casual with casual.
  • Librarians will attack with vicious snarls and words if you dare cut in their line for free books. I think they may bite too.
  • It doesn't matter what it is, if it's free, the librarians will take it.
  • Librarians are keeping the shapeless, floor length, jumper dress in fashion (a move with which I completely disagree)
  • If you're under the age of 26, you're in the minority.
  • Speed walking is the only walking.
  • Librarians don't shush each other. In fact, they can be rather loud.
One thing I have a question about.... why would a vendor try to bribe a librarian to their booth with the lure of winning the last Harry Potter? We're librarians. We've reserved our copies months ago.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Book 31: Inventing Human Rights: A History

NUMBER: 31
TITLE: Inventing Human Rights: A History
AUTHOR: Lynn Hunt
STARTED: June 11, 2007
FINISHED: June 18, 2007
PAGES: 272
GENRE: Non-Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: Great things sometimes come from rewriting under pressure.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Human rights is a concept that only came to the forefront during the eighteenth century. When the American Declaration of Independence declared "all men are created equal" and the French proclaimed the Declaration of the Rights of Man during their revolution, they were bringing a new guarantee into the world. But why then? How did such a revelation come to pass? In this extraordinary work of cultural and intellectual history, Professor Lynn Hunt grounds the creation of human rights in the changes that authors brought to literature, the rejection of torture as a means of finding out truth, and the spread of empathy. Hunt traces the amazing rise of rights, their momentous eclipse in the nineteenth century, and their culmination as a principle with the United Nations's proclamation in 1948. She finishes this work for our time with a diagnosis of the state of human rights today.

REASON FOR READING: I just can't let my politics thesis go.

THOUGHTS: For a book like this, I'm glad that I can't seem to let my thesis go. Hunt does a fantastic job of chronicling the birth of human rights. She breaks down a specific point in history (the time of the revolutions in the U.S. and France) to detail just how we came to be individuals with specific human rights. I never would have guessed that the birth of individuality would have such a profound impact on one of the most important aspects of human morality.

Sadly, I could not even begin to do the content of this book justice. Hunt's argument is fully supported by her research, which covers everything from novels to torture to manners and law. He reasoning and logic are well founded and easy to understand. Hunt's writing style is simplistic without being dull or patronizing.

This was a fascinating read because it opened up my eyes to just how complicated the issue of human rights truly is. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is even remotely interested in how we, as human beings, have come to view humanity as a whole and just where those ideas first began.

MISCELLANEOUS: My goodness, this would have been a great paper. I wish I had thought of it first.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Monday, June 18, 2007

I think I can finally do it

I might finally get to write an academic paper on Romance Novels. I’ve been threatening to do so since my freshman year of college; now, I might have a legitimate way to actually do so. It’s only taken until my second semester of graduate school…

My "History of the Book" class requires that I write a final paper of 10 to 12 pages. Joyfully (and horribly at the same time) the topic is completely up to us. The professor said, "Write on anything you want related to the history of the book." Well, I will surely take that statement and run with it.

The title I have cooked up in my head is "One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure: The Myth and Reality of Romance Novels and their Readers." I’m thinking of structuring my paper like so:
  1. The History of Romance Novel Publishing
  2. The Current Era of Romance Novel Publishing
  3. The Myth of the Romance Reader
  4. The Reality of the Romance Reader
  5. What it All Means

Clearly, I need to make all of that more definitive, but I actually think I can get away with it this time.

I win!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Seen on the Metro #6

I was just arriving at my metro stop this morning when I noticed a woman reading the first few pages of Brad Meltzer's The Book of Fate. I had an almost bodily reaction to this sight because of how much I loathed this book.

It took all my strength to not lunge across the train and grab the book out her hands. But, recalling my own encounters with crazies on the metro, I held myself back.

No one appreciates people stealing their books. And, if I was this woman, I would certainly not appreciate someone telling me book of choice was a horrible selection. I put up with enough shtick for my love of romance novels. I know the pain of someone telling me time and again that my book is bad - I don't ever want to put someone else in that situation.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

%$&*! I've had it!

Someone needs to explain to me why romance novels (particularly Harlequin published ones) must have such slap-you-in-the-face-with-with-a- frozen-halibut for titles. Seriously, The Roman's Virgin Mistress (!)... I wonder what that must be about.

And that was the best of the worst. I've seen titles like The CEO's Sexy Secretary and Kept by a Spanish Billionaire. If they're going to give the plot away, they might as well just start calling books The Doctor's Infatuation for the Virgin Nurse, Plus an Abandoned Secret Baby, Leads to a Kidnapping Plot, Use of the Word "Mine" to Often, and, Ultimately, Wraps up Far too Quickly to be Anywhere Near Satisfying or Well Written. Buy now for $5.99!

Ugh.

It's stupid titles like these that help give romance novels their horrendous reputation. I'd rather see a book with an overused word (like Endless or Breathtaking) as a title than this drivel. Throw in the mantitty festooned cover-art and you have to wonder what the marketing department is snorting.

I don't need the publishers to demean my intelligence. Do they honestly think that I will buy their book because it does or does not tell me exactly what the plot is about? How condescending can you be? I know that titles and covers sell books. I have been swayed by the shiny ones more times than I can count. People, I am not looking for the "The Greatest Title Known to Man" to rear it's head. I just want something that does not say "Here is the Plot Because We Don't Trust You to Get It Otherwise" on the cover.

The worst thing is, I like Michelle Styles (author of the The Roman's Virgin Mistress) and want to read her book - but I won't buy it because I don't want to encourage this sort of behavior.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tasty Reads

One of my favorite blogs, Smart Bitches, recently had an entry asking, "What kind of food would a romance author be...if a romance author could be food?"

The entry itself is hilarious, particularly if you know anything about the authors, but it also got me thinking. What sorta food would I, as a reader, be?

I like a lot of genres which rules out anything with a single intense flavor. That nixes chocolate, most alcohols, fruits, and candies.

My reading choices are totally random and go with my mood. That puts chocolate back on the plate (mmm.... chocolate plate), but rules out any "normal" foods.

While I may read lots of genres, I tend to stick to old, tried and true favorites like romance, political thrillers, and historical fiction. That makes me lean toward the idea of comfort foods such as mashed potatoes, chicken pot pie, and my mom's meatloaf.

I'm easily swayed by book reviews, covers, and books that my friends hand me. I'll give anything a try, so that throws the exotic foods into play. I tried Pakistani food back in middle school and loved it.

No matter how horrible the book, once I start reading it, I have to finish it. Yick, lima beans.

So I took all of these factors into consideration, mashed them up a bit and came up with Pineapple and Pepperoni pizza. It's full of multiple flavors, it's not your normal combination of pizza toppings and most people find the mix disgusting, it's a random "exotic" pie that I gave a try simply because Domino's screwed up, and it has turned into the one pizza I always want to eat.

I think it also helps that I call it Austen Pizza. (Pineapple and Pepperoni = P&P = Pride and Prejudice = Austen Pizza)

Dagnabit.

Now my lunch of a peanut butter sammich and a peach feels like a let down.

What delectable dish is your reader soul?

Book 30: Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint

NUMBER: 30
TITLE: Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint
AUTHOR: Donald Spoto
STARTED: June 5, 2007
FINISHED: June 10, 2007
PAGES: 222
GENRE: Biography

FIRST SENTENCE: In libraries and on Web sites, you can readily count hundreds of biographies of Joan of Arc published in English since the middle of the nineteenth century.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] During the tumultuous Hundred Years' War between England and France, a teenage peasant girl followed her heart and helped save a nation. A vision from God, received in her parents' garden, instructed her to take up arms and help restore the kingdom of France. Without consulting her family, Joan left home on one of the most remarkable personal quests in history. As a young girl in a world of men, she faced unimaginable odds, yet her belief in her mission propelled her forward. Within months Joan was directing soldiers and bravely fighting for her nation. Before long she had become a national hero and was the guest of honor at her king's coronation. Yet fame ultimately became her undoing. The English shrewdly realized that Joan's demise and defamation would disgrace France and provide a more direct route to victory. Captured in war, Joan became a pawn in one of the longest and bloodiest wars in history.

Since her death at the age of nineteen in 1431, Joan of Arc has maintained a remarkable hold on our collective imagination. She was a teenager of astonishing common sense and a national heroine who led men in battle as a courageous warrior. Yet she was also abandoned by the king whose coronation she secured, betrayed by her countrymen, and sold to the enemy. In this meticulously researched landmark biography, Donald Spoto expertly captures this astonishing life and the times in which she lived. Neither wife nor nun, neither queen nor noblewoman, neither philosopher nor stateswoman, Joan of Arc demonstrates that anyone who follows their heart has the power to change history.

REASON FOR READING: Joan of Arc is one of the historical figures who fascinates me.

THOUGHTS: For having a minor obsession with the historical Joan of Arc, I've actually read very little about her. In fact, outside of random articles, I have not read anything about her. Donald Spoto's biography was a pretty good place to start. Joan was and continues to be a rather polarizing figure. In his book, Spoto tries to walk a fine line between all the warring factions. His goal, which he readily achieves, was to simply detail Joan as an historical figure. Spoto neither declares her saint nor heretic, he simply documents her life in prose and descriptions that give the reader a better understanding of who Joan was as a human person.

At first, I was quite worried that this book would spend more time discussing Spoto than Joan. In the introduction, Spoto details where past biographies and research have gone wrong while showing why his will be so much better. I was waiting, just waiting, for this biography to become nothing more than an academic boosting his own ego. Thankfully, those statements of greatness were limited purely to the introduction of Spoto's methods. I was able to easily disregard his preening and enjoy the work itself.

Spoto's writing is clear and concise while giving a remarkable insight into who Joan must have been as a person. Spoto spends time breaking down Joan's writing and statements, highlighting her personality, wit, passion, and sense of humor. He also describes how Joan's companions viewed her. All of these personal details craft a detailed image of Joan in the reader's mind. One begins to understand why the French and France put themselves wholly behind the young, illiterate country girl. Joan was not a shrinking violet, she was a girl on a mission. The book also helps to elicit why the English would revile her and wish to end her profound influence on the French people.

It is clear that Spoto does not want to call Joan anything other than a remarkable girl. He successfully walks the fine line between declaring her saint or sinner. Spoto spends times describing why Joan has developed so many reputations and opposing opinions over the past few hundred years. In discussing all the sides of the issue, Spoto allows the reader to meditate on Joan as a person who simply lead an extraordinary life.

MISCELLANEOUS: This book needed an endpaper map.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Monday, June 04, 2007

Book 29: Academy X

NUMBER: 29
TITLE: Academy X
AUTHOR: Andrew Tress
STARTED: June 1, 2007
FINISHED: June 4, 2007
PAGES: 224
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: [From Chapter 1] Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of this story, these pages must show.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Welcome to Academy X, an ethical wonderland in which up is down, right is wrong, and parents and students will stop at nothing (including lying, plagiarizing, and even seduction to name a few) in order to get into the Ivy League. Caught in the middle is John Spencer, a bumbling but lovable English teacher struggling through the final weeks of his spring semester. But keeping focused on a Jane Austen seminar proves problematic when a his crush on the sexy school librarian and as well as a pending promotion threaten to divert his attention are threatening to sink him in a sea of academic intrigue. Things become even more complicated when the college counselor asks John to lie (or at least exaggerate) in a recommendation letter for the very student who he’s just discovered is a plagiarizer! And things are only about to get worse for John, who discovers that no price is too high to achieve a coveted admission to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton—even if that includes his own disgrace.

REASON FOR READING: It was on my TBR list.

THOUGHTS: I'm having trouble deciding if Tress is actually witty or was simply playing at witty. This book relies heavily on allusions to scenes, plots, and language from literary classics. I want to say that Tress is truly witty because only a very well-read, learned person could draw the parallels he does. Then again, he hits you over the head with some many of those very same allusions that he comes across like he is deliberately trying to impress the reader. (I get it, your a brainiac English teacher, lets move on.) For a book like "Academy X" I don't expect (or even necessarily want) the author to makes some vast, world-altering point about the state of education in the modern era. The corruptness that is today's educational system is disparaging enough to not need an extra fluff to shock the reader.

The whole point of Tress' book is to showcase to the reader the utter depravity of the education system - specifically, it focuses on the extreme lengths parents and their children will go to get into an "acceptable" college. In the world of private schools, these actors are not above bribery, cheating, and manufacturing scandals. "Academy X" focuses on John Spencer, our trying to remain naively innocent (and totally autobiographical) English teacher. Spencer is childlike in his need to believe the best in everybody (his students, their parents, and his colleagues) even though every aspect of their character points to the contrary. During the book Tress is caught up in sex scandal that threatens to ruin his career - even as he actively loathes the system, he refuses to rebel against it.

It's hard to like any of the characters in this book, even the protagonist. Spencer's students have no redeeming qualities (their cheats, drunkards, and "loose" with everything from their bodies to their morals), Spencer's colleagues are annoying and selfish, and Spencer himself comes across as a whiner who refuses to see what is truly occurring in the world around him. When one of his students manufactures a scandal to preserve her acceptance to Princeton, I was actually rooting against Spencer. He's been working in this world for years and knows all the "tricks" for getting a student into college - he whines about it and, yet, he refuses to actually do anything until it affects his job.

The point of Tress' book is simply to say,"Our educational system is completely corrupt, the rich kids get their way because they've got the money, the poor kids who deserve everything get nothing, and there's nothing we can do to change it." There is no real resolution at the end of this book. Sure, the plot lines are wrapped up, but the whole moral point of the book just sits there. Yup, our educational system is fraudulent and we might as well just deal with it instead of fixing the problem. At the end of the book, Spencer merely goes back to the way things were. The reader is left screaming at him to do something but he seems happy to go back to the role where the school and his students steamroller over him.

MISCELLANEOUS: I could so ramble on about school vouchers right now... but I won't. Aren't you lucky.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

New Feature: Reducing Mt. TBR

Since I have not been the greatest student of Classic Literature, I've added a new feature to the blog: Reducing Mt. TBR.

If you look over in the side bar (it's probably down the page) you'll find a poll where you can select which Classic (that I should have read in High School) I should tackle next. I have no idea when I will close this poll, but it will probably occur after I finish reading all the books I currently have checked out from the library.

When I do close the poll, I will read the book that has the most votes at the time. Once the poll closes, I will post a new poll with (entirely?) new books to choose from.

If you've got any additional details about why I should read your choice, please leave them in the comments or shoot me an e-mail.