Thursday, December 22, 2011

Vikings, and the best book I ever gave up on

So, I'm ashamed to say that on my trip back to the library, I also turned in "The Vikings" by Robert Ferguson with 100 pages to go. I had had the book in my posession since late August, and had renewed it a bunch of times. I read a fair amount of it, but finally just faced facts that I was hopelessly bogged down and needed to give it back.

I bogged down because it wasn't what I was looking for. Military history has never interested me much, and that's what this was. I was hoping that the books would focus more on the belief systems and daily life of the Vikings. To make myself get through some of the military stuff, I used a trick so simple, I can't believe I never thought of it before: I took notes. Every time I found something interesting, I wrote it down.

The book made me realize, first of all, how little I really do know about some eras of history. The narrative we get in school tends to start with the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans, and pick up sometime in the Middle Ages, where you learn about the Magna Carta, the War of the Roses, the plague, Queen Elizabeth and King Henry. In 1442, the story begins its move across the ocean but stays sort of vague until the American Revolution era. But you're missing a good 1200 years of human history, between the fall of Rome and the point where the story gets picked back up.

So, this book was fascinating from that perspective. Ferguson considered the "Viking era" to begin in 793 with a violent attack on a monastery in Lindisfarne, and to end circa 1066. The most striking aspect of Viking history is the lack of evidence and narrative. They were an oral culture, more or less, and left behind mostly artifacts that are still being uncovered today. One of the most striking discoveries was in 1816, of a ship burial with tons of grave-goods. It was at this point, as a new museum was being developed expressly for it, that the Stone Age/Iron Age/Bronze Age divisions were created by the new museum's curator. It was initially just his means of sorting the artifacts, until he took a step back and discovered that there was a real progression there.

A chapter is devoted to their beliefs, but most of the book is devoted to their military adventures all across Europe and even into the Middle East a bit, it seems. Like I said, I'm not reallly into accounts of battles and conquest, and this book was not exactly written in an entertaining way, not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that, But I enjoyed the book a great deal for what I did get out of it, and I'm looking forward to tracking down other books that may focus more on the aspects of that era that I do find interesting.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We wear the chains we forge in life...

Not long after I vowed to quit going to the library for a while and catch up on what I had here, I decided to go after all.

This time, I had a purpose. A few weeks ago, I posted that reading "A Christmas Carol" at Christmastime was on my bucket list. A co-worker had just taken his girlfriend to see a production of the play, so it was even more on my mind. I made the trek, partially on foot after picking up a poster for him from the theater company, and at first I thought: everyone else had the same idea.

I couldn't find the book, and the irritating parents of small children were making it harder. As part of the reconfiguration, the children's section got moved into the fiction section. It used to have a separate room. When I first saw that, I was worried about kids being loud. It turns out, I had to worry about parents being loud. The kids were as good as gold. When they raised their voices above a whisper, however, they'd get very loudly corrected. I was about two seconds away from saying something when I discovered that the book I wanted was in the other part of the library, with the literary criticism.

I looked it over carefully. I've been duped more than once by a book that says "George Eliot's Middlemarch" or something similar on its spine, and it turned out to be ESSAYS ON George Eliot's Middlemarch. I happened to get a wonderful edition, an Everyman classic with pen-and-ink sketches and other of Dickens' Christmas stories, too. I'm excited. I finished up to Ghost of Christmas Past last night, and although I kept picturing Daisy Duck breaking up with Scrooge McDuck, I quite like it. It reminded me how much I like Dickens. I'd been planning "Crime and Punishment" for after Christmas, but maybe I will go with "The Old Curiosity Shop" instead!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A very straightforward Booking through Thursday

I didn't post yesterday, because I had no ideas. I wasn't going to post again today, because I was still struggling to come up with something. Then, I remembered what day of the week it was!

Today's book question is about as straightforward as they come. For your consideration:

Mystery or Love Story? December 8, 2011
Filed under: Wordpress — --Deb @ 1:04 am

All things being equal, which would you prefer–a mystery? Or a love story?

Well, both are pretty well outside my usual realm of reading. When I was about 12, I decided I was going to get into romance novels, because it seemed as if real adult women read them. I got a couple that were geared for my age and historical. I liked the first one. The second one was the exact same shit set in a different time period. I haven't returned to the genre since, and maybe it's unfair. On my trip through the blogosphere, I noted a trend: romance novelists and readers are trying to skirt the "r-word." I don't blame someone for not wanting their book lumped in with a genre so prolific and consumable that a lot of used bookstores refuse to take them, even if their book is the definition of a romance novel.

Mysteries are also outside my usual fare. A lot of them strike me as extremely formulaic as well. But I was also a teen Agatha Christie devotee, and still cherish my leather-bound copy of what must be her greatest book, "And Then There Were None" (alternately "Ten Little Indians"). More recently, I enjoyed reading some of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books. They're pretty light reading, but they're funny, as they chronicle the work and love life of a Jersey girl who became a bounty hunter in her cousin's bail bonds business after losing her job as a buyer at a lingerie store. The guy who's been her on-again off-again boyfriend since high school and her mysterious, dangerous co-worker vie for her affections, although maybe at this point in the series, that's been resolved.

So all in all, I guess I would generally prefer a mystery over a romance. However, if the choice was more literal -- say, if I found myself with a lot of time to kill in a confined space with just one romance novel and one mystery novel, I might pick up the romance first, just for the novelty.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Animal story

If you've ever taken any sort of communications class, you've probably heard confirmation of something you've already observed for yourself: people love animals. Stick one in your commercial, or on the front page of your paper or magazine, and people will gravitate towards what you're offering.

It works on me, definitely. I'm a total animal person. My county has managed to reach zero-kill countywide, partially through satellite cat adoption centers at the local malls. I stop in every time I'm there. I have two cats. I know all of the neighborhood dogs and cats, sometimes better than I know their people.

And I like animal books, too. For today's post, I thought I'd compare a few that stand out in my mind.

"My Dog Skip" by Willie Morris is sort of the classic American animal tale. It concerns a pet, and follows the arc of the pet's life, complete with the very sad end inherent in all stories about a bond between a human and one of the small, furry creatures with the short natural lifespans.

It's a wonderful book, though. It explores very well the actual bond between Willie and Skip. Growing up in a large Southern town in the 1940s, Willie and Skip did most things together. Skip could, and did, play football and baseball. They had a gag where Skip would drive a car, with Willie operating the pedals and controlling the steering wheel from the floor. They had near misses and adventures. Skip was a part of the community. He was known by everyone and was a regular customer of the butcher, when Willie would send him for bologna with money under his collar.

A series of animal books that breaks out of that mold was written by James Herriott, Yorkshire country vet. He tended to not just dogs and cats, but horses, sheep, pigs, cows and anything else found on farms. His stories are also delightful. He told his tale over several volumes, which take their titles from different lines of a hymn: "All things bright and beautiful," "All creatures great and small," "All things wise and wonderful" and "The Lord God made them all."

These books can't help but explore small-town country life, and the various characters and idisyncrasies of the owners of the animals. Herriott can't help but laugh at himself, and many of the stories involve him facedown in the mud, chasing after recalcitrant patients, or tangled in the nightmare red tape of tuberculin testing. They also can't help but be hopeful. One of my favorite tales involved a man whose calves were dying of a common but fatal virus. Herriott said that he wanted to try something, that he'd read of this new drug that could do wonderous things, and persuaded the farmer to allow him to give it a go. He returned the next day to find the calves much on the mend. The whole lot of them were saved. And penicillin had come to the Dales.

A darker, much less happy book is titled "Zoo Story: LIfe in the Garden of Captives" by Thomas French. Covering the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida, it's an enthralling, depressing, fascinating read. French goes behind the scenes at the zoo, as they attempt an incredibly ambitious renovation featuring an elephant exhibit as its crown jewel. But as humans attempt to subvert nature, bad things inevitably happen.

It's upsetting for anyone who likes animals, or is even just concerned about the direction things are going in, to contemplate the "Fifth Extinction" that is currently underway. Animal species are disappearing at a tremendous clip as their habitat is gobbled up to make way for fields of corn and soy, coltan mines, and other such things. That topic is discussed extensively in the book. At the beginning of the book, he talks about an elephant refuge in Africa that actually succeeded too much. Elephants were happy there, and multiplied, and soon began to strip out all of the vegetation at such a clip that the park was becoming a barren wasteland. If some elephants weren't put down or moved or something, none of them could survive. As four of them are airlifted to Tampa and Lowry Park, French notes that humans are the only animal that can modify their environment more, and leaves us to chew on that.

What are some other thought-provoking or heart-warming animal books that you've read?

Monday, December 5, 2011

EvMo is NaBloPoMo

So, astute readers may have noticed that this year, the amount of blog posts did not take a nosedive after Nov. 30. So smart, you are!

This month, for the first time, I really got interested in how to build an audience for a blog. I'd never thought about it much before. It seemed as if I heard about the various sites I frequent just by magic. A friend would say, "Hey, you've gotta check out Regretsy, hilarious stuff." Or, I'd see a magazine article that referenced it. So when I started this blog, I waited patiently for the Internet to sprinkle its magic fairy dust over my page. And waited. And waited.

Do I have it even close to mastered? Hardly. The Internet seems very "mushy" to me. People read the paper I work for because it's available everywhere. When people in my community ask where they can get a copy, I don't even know what to tell them. To me, it's like asking if I know where they can dig up a sample of dirt. We have free drop boxes all over the place. On street corners, in grocery stores, in restaurants and coffee shops (I still love going into the one closest to the office on the day the paper hits the stands and seeing everyone reading what I wrote). But on the Internet, there's nothing like that. You control your online environment, so how does one sneak their own content in there?

I'm clueless. The wife of one of my friends and followers here works at a marketing firm and I know digital strategy is a big part of her job. I can't even imagine how she makes that happen.

But one fundamental piece of advice I've read on sites that give advice on how to get readership is quite simple. It's the same piece of advice I've been hearing from sources as diverse as my second grade teacher, a smartass McSweeney's columnist, and the woman I posted about yesterday: just write. Just keep posting things for people to read. You'll never become a better blogger by not doing it. You'll never garner more readers by not posting. So, I'm going to try to keep going with this, every day. I may not make it through some of the holidays, but I'm going to try. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I try to avoid talking about work on here too much. Getting "dooced" is the fear of every blogger, even when they're saying innocuous things. But I was having trouble all day Friday with a story that I really want to be good and meaningful, and I thought maybe writing from the heart would help when it comes time to wrap it up and write it like a feature story tomorrow.

On Tuesday afternoon, I got a call from an area resident who had written a book and was wondering if the paper would be interested in covering it. I said sure. I've done quite a few similar stories. The fact that people can self-publish for much less money has led to an explosion of people making their authorial dreams come true, which is cool. It used to be that in order to ever see your work in print, it either had to be judged marketable by a large publisher, or you had to have enough cash to afford old-school self-publishing, where you assumed all of the risk (the chief one being spending thousands of dollars on books that would molder in your garage until your descendents threw them out after your death) and reaped (generally meager) rewards yourself.

Now, someone wants your book, and your e-publishers make them one. And in my two years at the paper, I've interviewed a variety of area residents who have taken advantage of this new way to make their voices heard. There was the man who wrote a memoir of his father, a well-known OB-GYN in the area, after his own days as a doctor. There was the fascinating woman who homeschooled her children because she didn't think public schools provided enough experiences, and was trying to position her children's book as the next Flat Stanley. There was the artist and all-around neat old man who wrote a historical fiction novel about the earliest days of this area.

So I met with the woman with interest. She was older than I expected her to be, and in the course of the conversation, I learned that she had a college-age grandchild and had retired in 1988. She got inspired to write her book when her own children were young, and went to summer camp. Since then, she's worked at it on and off, throughout the changes in her life. She's seen those children grow up, get married, move away and have children of their own. Since she started writing, computers went from the provenance of NASA to being carried around by everyone, the country flipped from Republican to Democrat and back again several times, the Cold War ended and the War on Terror began. Some people would have said that society has changed so much that a mystery novel written for her children would hold no appeal for today's children.

But she kept going. Whether her breaks from the book lasted two weeks, two months, or upwards of two years, she never gave up on it. I think a lot of people, when pressed, will confess to having something like this in their lives. The quilt they started for the baby that's now in first grade. The dollhouse kit they bought with babysitting money that's half-built and has survived multiple moves. Or even, the novel they started ages ago. I think most people view them as a failure, but meeting this author has given me a new way to look at it: that they're just successes that haven't happened yet. Because her book is now complete, and now available for purchase.

She's definitely inspiring. She probably won't make a lot of money off of these books, but she has had her say. She felt that she had something to share with the world, an idea that would motivate children to read. She felt that she had the power to make them laugh, make them think, give them something to respond to. And I'm sure that more than a few children will respond this way. I haven't read her book. I don't know how a critic would judge it. I don't know if a major publishing house would say that they could market it. But the fact that she never gave up on it, throughout all of the changes her life brought her, from being a working mom of young children, to an empty-nester, to a retiree and a grandmother -- it can't help but inspire. So I encourage anyone reading this to take what's left of their Sunday and dig out an old project of theirs, or even just knock a small one off their to-do list. It's never too late.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Batavia: This Place Matters

When I started Bill Kaufmann's "Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette," it struck me mostly as an angry rant. Bill Kaufmann is angry about homogenization, the failed policies of urban renewal that left us with soulless, empty buildings and saplings were ancient trees once stood, and the death of civic life and small towns. He's angry that society seems to believe that success only comes when you leave your small town, that "communities of exiles" like New York, Washington D.C. and San Francisco are glamorized while the Batavias of the country are mocked and ignored. He's angry that more people gravitate towards a mass culture that has nothing to do with them personally while the culture created by their neighbors begs for an audience. It's a lot to be upset about, and it comes through in the first fifteen pages of the book.

But if you stick with it, the angry rant sweetens into a love letter to a flawed small town. Bill Kaufmann achieved success in the larger world, but returned to his roots simply because he liked it better there. But Batavia is a tough place to love. I have visited it a few times. I've seen its soulless "brutalist" mall, which (if Kaufmann is correct) is venerated in planning textbooks as an example of what not to do. It's so awful that it's not even online anywhere. I tried finding a photo of it to show you how ugly it is, and there just aren't any. A lot of its historic buildings have been torn down, and driving around, you don't get much of a sense of place. He's right in saying, too, that the community did it to themselves.

But it's still home to Kaufmann. It's where he went to high school, where generations of his family earned a living, where he grew up watching the single-A baseball team play. And there's that sweetness about the book, too. Kaufmann has been busy since he returned, and sits on the boards of several Batavia organizations, so he's known, and he knows lots of the local characters.

I initially was going to suggest skipping this book. Now I think it's a quality read for anyone who loves small towns.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Stories of the Season

You can tell it's getting close to Christmas in several ways. The stores have all of the decorations out, which you can see in the tiny gaps between the mobs of people. Christmas events are everywhere: I set a 20-inch story on this week's events alone for my paper, and have one of comparable length ready to go for next week.

And, inevitably, one of your Facebook friends will post an angry rant about the phrase "happy holidays," something I've never understood. Most of us grew up with that phrase, which is said to either people you don't really know that well who may be of a different faith than you (like someone who cashed you out at the supermarket), or people who you won't see with enough frequency to issue separate greetings for the two to four holidays that happen within a week (like the co-worker who requested vacation time starting with Christmas and ending on New Year's). It's not some mid-1990s PC-police invention designed to somehow supress Christianity. I'm always surprised that some people actually believe that, and always irritated when I wish someone happy holidays and they say "Merry Christmas" back in an aggressive manner.

But at least they're fighting. The worst is when people say, in a resigned manner, that they're "not allowed" to say Christmas anymore. By who? Are the cops now issuing tickets to anyone overheard using the word? Some people not only act like the word Christmas is literally outlawed, but like they're resigned to that fact. You'd hope that people would fight. I believe that other religious communities, even the atheist community, would join the fight if there was an attempt to literally outlaw Christmas.

It's just that some people would like the celebration to be more inclusive. They'd like to have the Christian kids at least be aware of what happens in the homes of their Jewish classmates who are singing about Santa alongside them. Or their Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh classmates. And really, doesn't it matter more how Christmas is celebrated in the churches and in homes than at Target? Retailers just want to make as much money off the holiday as they can, and the sole belief system they promote is the belief that you should buy big expensive gifts for people. So, take the greeting in the spirit it was offered, and say whatever you feel comfortable saying, is my philosophy.

But look at me. This was supposed to be a nice post about Christmas stories. The holiday has spawned many things and looms large in literature, and I'm wondering what everyone else enjoys reading around this time of year.

Probably the ultimate literary Christmas classic is "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. Reading it around this time of year has been a feature of my bucket list for the past few years, and I'm hoping to make it happen this year. But my personal favorite Christmas tale is "A Child's Christmas in Wales" by Dylan Thomas.

My sister has taught this story to her English classes as a wonderful lesson in imagery. And it is. You can taste, smell and feel everything in this sweet, humourous story, from the "snow coming down in buckets" to the dead robin the young Thomas finds in the snow, "all but one of its fires out, and the last burning on its breast." The late Dylan McDermott starred in a late-1980s television adaptation of it, as the grandfather who narrates for his grandson a tale of Christmases past. If you ever see it on television or can find a copy on DVD, Netflix or anywhere else, it's worth a watch. A family viewing is usually the last thing we do on Christmas day.

What are your favorite Christmas stories?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mood music, mood books

Awww...remember Booking Through Thursday? So do I. I figured today would be a great day to revisit it, it being Thursday and all! So, here goes:

Do you find that your mood affects the things you read? Like, if you’re in a bad mood, do you tend to indulge in reading that will support it or do you try to read things that will cheer you up? Do you pick different types of books on dreary, rainy days than you do on bright sunny ones?

For that matter, does your mood color what you’re reading, so that a funny book isn’t so funny or a serious one not so deep?

I think mood definitely colors what you read. How can it not? It affects everything else, which is why I find "It's a Wonderful Life" to be a heartwarming story about our interconnectedness in years when things are going well for me, and a tragic story about a nice man who gets screwed out of every dream he has at every turn through no fault of his own during other years.

Sometimes, when I'm in a bad mood, I really just want to wallow. I pull a bunch of books that have depressing scenes in them off my overcrowded bookshelves, make a cup of tea, and crawl back into bed and read all of the sad parts. Other times, I actually do want some cheering up, and I choose something that always makes me feel good, like my James Herriott books.

And by the same token, when things are going well, the last thing I want is to find the biggest downer possible, so I tend to try to find things that reflect my mood. I gave up on a very sad book about a man with terminal cancer and his suicide plans one fine spring when the snow had melted and skies were blue. So I do think mood affects reading habits, and vice versa, at least for me.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The whole Kindle/Nook thing

So I've been avoiding writing about the whole e-reader debate for a while for several reasons. The first is that it's been absolutely done to death. Since they exploded on to the scene about a year and a half ago, all anyone's done is discuss them. Are they the end of the printed word? Are they good, bad, or indifferent? And by the way, anyone hear of any good sales on them?

Another reason is that I don't know much about the debate. I'm not a techie. I was without a cell phone from 2005 until last Christmas, and my co-workers laughed pretty hard watching me try to figure out my future sister-in-law's old Android. I don't have a burning desire for an e-reader, although The Sedentary Vagabond let me mess around with her Nook last week.

The third reason is that it's a debate based mostly on emotion. Either you're seduced by the ease and convenience of Kindle, Nook et al, or you're in love with the tactile smell and feel of books. How can you argue that?

But three things changed my mind. The first was a conversation with a different co-worker today (we'll call him Gibby) who told us of his recent trip to Barnes and Noble. I don't think I've visited one since I picked up "A Dance with Dragons" by George RR Martin over the summer, but apparently they've made some changes. Gibby says it's very Nook-focused now, with the music and DVDs eliminated, and a lot fewer books. He described it as going to an Apple store.

This change seems to be depicted on the New Yorker cover, which also influenced my decision to write about them, as did the fact that I had no other ideas for today.

I can definitely see their appeal. A Kindle or Nook would eliminate the problem I was writing about a few days ago, where I feel as if I'm drowning in books. I'll end up selling the ones I don't want, which is a hassle, and I'll have to keep going through this process over the years. With a Kindle or Nook, hit delete, no problem. It would also be nice to have an endless variety of books available to you on vacation. I usually lug several pounds with me and can work myself into a frenzy packing: but what if I'm not in the mood for that one? What if that one isn't any good? What if I'm feeling more serious? What if this one is too fluffy? Another problem eliminated by a Nook or a Kindle.

The instantaneous nature of it also appeals. In my travels through the blogosphere, I came across a woman who blogs on Canadian fiction. She wrote an article about an interesting-looking book. I wrote down the title and author, but if I had a Kindle or a Nook, it would already be downloaded to it. And by the way, when you're out in public with your Kindle or your Nook, no one knows whether you're reading a trashy romance novel or catching up on back issues of The Economist.

But at the same time, they do have disadvantages. You'll have to keep charging it. My Android spends as much time dead as it does working because I always forget to charge it. I'd be irritated if I wanted to read a book, and couldn't because of a stupid dead battery. You also can't take it in the bathtub with you. I'm assuming that the technology will improve, so you'll have to update every few years, and what, transfer all of your books, I guess? Sounds annoying.

As The Sedentary Vagabond
pointed out, with a Nook or Kindle, you can't tell where you are in a book. If you downloaded "Cannery Row" and didn't check out the page count, you wouldn't know how short it is. You don't know how to tell whether you're almost done with the book. You don't know whether finishing the chapter before bed is realistic. I do that constantly with my books, so I think that would annoy me greatly.

A physical book prevents revisions later, too. I believe there was a case recently where they pulled all of the virtual copies of a particular book for some reason. Just gone, wiped out. I don't know whether it was a licensing dispute, or whether it was that well-publicized case of a recent mystery that turned out to be totally plagarized. But the implications are pretty scary. It would be easy to destroy every copy of something with a click of a button, or revise it to better suit someone else's needs.

So despite the fact that Barnes and Noble is peddling fewer of these "book" things, I do think they'll be around for a while. People will still want a physical copy. People like the tactile aspect of books. A lot of readers are older and not tech-savvy. Others just feel they don't need the expense in this economy. Others may prefer aspects of the physical-book experience for a lot of the reasons I outlined. If you're a busy mom who does her reading in the bathtub after the kids are in bed for the night, if you plan your reading around the length of chapters, if you spend lots of time away from outlets, the Nook or Kindle may not be for you.

But they'll have their devotees, too, and that's also great. I hope it will encourage not only more reading, but more writing too. What could be cheaper to produce than a digital book? I interview many local authors for my paper, and their careers wouldn't be possible without internet-based on-demand publishers. Maybe de-books will be the next frontier and the bleeding edge in independent writing. And in the meantime, I don't see why the printed and digital word can't co-exist.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Short Takes

It's back, that feature where I talk about a few books in quick succession. They're books that didn't spark any sort of deep thoughts, but still worth mentioning anyway.

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. If you haven't read any of his books other than the two that everyone gets assigned in high school, do yourself a favor and pick this one up. It's very short, and is simply a slice of life in this part of a California town, and the characters that live there. Like a lot of fiction from the 1930s and 1940s, it's rather difficult to describe, as it's so character-driven, and doesn't seem to have a formal "plot." It's worth reading for yourself. Pick it up, you won't be sorry.

Faith, by Jennifer Haigh. Having discovered her through a remaindered hard copy of "The Condition" last year, I was pleased that she came out with a new book so quickly. This family drama coincides with the international scandal of priests molesting children. When the narrator's brother is accused, she and her other brother have to choose sides. Since you get several perspecitves, it also provides an interesting look at the life of a modern-day priest. It's definitely up to her usual standard. I wish I could recall more detail, but I do recall liking it.

The Bride's House by Sandra Dallas. I enjoy Sandra Dallas, but honestly, her books tend to be similar. Though one thing I do appreciate about her is that she can resist the "too spunky for her time" trope on occasion. The first inhabitant of the Bride's House, Nealie Bent, has no higher aspirations than to escape her abusive father, marry a rich man and settle down in the Bride's House, the fanciest place in her new community. It doesn't go quite as planned, though, and her daughter is actually forced into Too Spunky mode, on a short leash as her father's accountant when she'd prefer to marry. By the time we meet Nealie's granddaughter, she doesn't need to be Too Spunky. I loathed the ending of this book, because it just seemed dumb, but for the most part, it was a nice quick read.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Get out of jail free

So, one of my longstanding rules for NaBloPoMo is that I'm limited to one post during the month about how I have nothing to blog about, how I'm not into it anymore, how no one reads this anyway (although I do have some evidence to the contrary thanks to the "stats" feature), etc.

Here is that post. It's not so much that I don't have any ideas, it's that I worked almost straight through from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and am just what you might call zombie-fried. I used my chair massager tonight and read a Vanity Fair article about Charlie Sheen, and I'm just not up to writing, especially since I'm staring down the face of having to write several articles tomorrow and lay out my section as well. So, this will be a very short post. But I posted today, just under the wire. NaBloPoMo, still going strong.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Library in my House

Today, I was trying to clean up a "problem room" in my house. Often known as "the back porch," "out back" or simply "the back room," it's been a trouble spot ever since the day I opened its sliding door to move my stuff in. Four years on, I feel like it's never really gotten set up. There are two bookshelves back there, along with a whole lot of other random crap. One large thing back there made its exit this weekend, when we gave our old television to my future sister-in-law and her husband (previously it had been in the middle of the floor).

Mr. Library Diva's Halo-playing chased me back there with my book about the Vikings, and I started looking around. I decided that if I could get rid of the "overflow" books stacked on top of the bookshelves and on the floor, it would go a long way towards making the room feel more like a room and less like the place where things we don't know what else to do with dwell. Since I'm not working in the field right now, I took all of my museum reference books off the shelves to put in a box until things change. It's odds-on that I won't be looking up how to write exhibit labels or searching for ideas on where to put an accession number on a sofa in my day-to-day life. That freed up significant space on my shelves, since those are big books.

It also made me really look at everything on my shelves. With shame. There are quite a few books I've never read, good books by authors I like. I decided that my new year's resolution will be to make decisions one way or the other on them. I've had some for so long that I'm ashamed to feature them in a TBR list on this blog again. Here are some others, though:

Children of Henry VIII, by Alison Weir. This was one of those strange choices, where I saw someone reading it at a Renaissance Festival that my old, terrible job hosted. For some reason, it got into my blood. I had to have it. I didn't want to read anything else. It wasn't at the library, so I bought it. I think I made it to page 4, but having just finished a book about Elizabeth I, maybe the time is ripe to revisit it.

Crystal Beach: The Good Old Days, by Erno Rossi. This was a Christmas gift a couple of years ago. Crystal Beach was an amazing old amusement park that got torn down to make way for condos when I was 13. From time to time, I still visit it in my dreams. I'm not the only one. It's spawned a minor cottage industry in Western New York. Someone purchased the recipie for the suckers they used to make, and several places claim to sell Crystal Beach-style waffles and loganberry. Of course, there are also books. I think I have them all, but have yet to read this one.

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. When she's good, she's very very good. When she's bad...I don't want to say she's horrible, but I've read some of her books that were absolutely forgettable. I guess this one never much appealed to me, but I'm going to give it a try anyway.

Bushwhacked by Molly Ivins. I bought this ages after it came out. I love Molly Ivins but wasn't really in a political mood when I picked it up. I put it on a shelf and it's stayed there ever since.

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. Bought it over the summer after finishing "David Copperfield." I decided to start with "Our Mutual Friend" instead, but didn't get far, and didn't pick this one up either.

Collected stories by Carson McCullers. I got it during the Borders closing orgy. I love her writing style, though, and don't think this one will linger unread too much longer.

Dracula by Bram Stoker. I tried it once before. I'm not sure if knowing the plot will work against me or not.

Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. I got it at the American Association of University Women's book sale this year. I've had a longstanding interest, and vaguely planned it as a winter project.

Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut. Growing up, I always looked forward to our library's biannual book sale. You could get tons of books very inexpensively, and my whole family pretty much just grabbed. I got this during one of those. I do like Kurt Vonnegut, though, so I really should get this one read.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. A few years ago, my dad asked me to go through a big box of books, take what I wanted, and bring the rest to the library for the aforementioned book sale. This is one of my rescues. He's a good writer, and I enjoyed his book about Mormons a lot.

Front Row at the White House by Helen Thomas. Another resuce, and one that I might enjoy more now that I'm working in the field, albeit at the lower end of it.

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. I like learning about the space program, and actually didn't even realize I had this book.

Often, reviewing my shelves doesn't turn up anything unread that I still have a strong desire to read, but today was different. Rather than go to the library when I finish my Viking book, I'm going to pick up one of these.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Workday companion

Working at a newspaper is not what I thought it would be, based on the impression the movies give. In movies, a newsroom is non-stop action. It's fifteen or twenty or fifty different conversations all going on at once (depending on how large a staff the movie newsroom has). It's the hum of a wire, the clacking of keyboards, the constant ringing of phones, the buzz of interviews, and the beeping of the scanner. It's people screaming at each other because they don't have the time to be civil, running around, yelling things like "Page One!" or "Stop the presses!"

My newsroom is generally not like that. I used the generic "hum" to describe a newswire, because I don't know what one sounds like, or if they even make a sound anymore. The scanner is going constantly because my boss is a volunteer fireman, but for the most part, people are pleasant, and if people are yelling, it's usually because there was a super-exciting episode of "Survivor" last night.

But it's definitely not constant activity. What the movies don't show is how much time you spend waiting around. On an average morning, my to-do list may look like this: check e-mail, check voice mail, check regular mail, call mayor about random rumor, call high school drama director to set date to interview musical actors, call owner of new jewelry store down the street regarding business story, call school to arrange interview with the 8th grader who got invited to the White House, set press releases that may have come in. Yikes, huh?

Well, the results often go like this: e-mail, one message from the publisher alerting everyone that the copier won't work between 2 and 3 p.m. and two press releases for things we don't cover, regular mail, a press release from the secretary of a local church regarding an event which you already interviewed the pastor about and wrote a story on, voicemail, someone going "Oh, I think I have the wrong number," after four minutes of silence. Mayor is in meetings all morning, not for the village government, but for his day job. The high school secretary is totally befuddled when you ask about the musical and transfers you to the music department office, where you leave a message.

Jewelry store is so new that its phone is not yet in service. Middle school tells you that they can't just let you talk to a student because after all, you may be one of those phone pedophiles they heard about on CSI, but they'll contact his parents for you. Now you've been at your desk for nearly 20 minutes, and it's time to set those press releases, but there aren't any. Go to your email and refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Go check you mailbox in case a fax came in the last 10 minutes. It didn't. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.

I love my job, I try to bring energy and ambition to it every day, but the reality is, there is some downtime. It's during these times that I turn to one of my newest favorite websites:

I stumbled on it by accident, but there is so much great stuff on there. It's essentially a collection of essays and columns written by a great variety of people. Some of it's funny. Some of it's sad. Some of it is thought-provoking. You kind of never know what you're going to get. "Notes from an amateur spectator at an amateur mixed-martial arts fight" by Rory Douglas is so funny it should come with a warning label. It describes the fights, fighters, spectators, and ring girls at his brother's MMA fights in the Pacific Northwest. The same with "Sarah Walker Shows You How," where she provides detailed explanations on accomplishing some of life's basic tasks. I especially reccommend "How to Train Your Dragon."

Others have the ability to make you think and expose the hidden worlds around you. In "Total Loss," Stef Willen takes literary snapshots of days in her life inventorying charred remains of people's homes. When there's a house or business fire, they call her to sit with the victim and find out what was in the structure so they can make an insurance determination. It's far and away my favorite column on there, so much so that I actually wrote to her to tell her and received a very nice email in return. Some of the columns are funny, and most have at least a little humor in it. But she's dealing with sad situations, and often with very sad people, so there are quite a few tragic columns, too.

Bianca is living every underemployed college graduate's worst fear as a high-class hooker, in "Bianca, the Covert Toronto Escort with a Day Job." That column is also often funny and sad. The funniest parts are when she's comparing and contrasting her day and night jobs, and determines that her madam boss has more credibility than her daytime boss (because she knows what it's like to hold Bianca's position and has a very clear understanding of what she does), and that her night-time co-workers are friendlier, often more professional, and have a better sense of camraderie (unlike the girl who sits next to her all day, never has a longer conversation with Bianca than "Can you hand me that" as is the custom of her daytime workplace, yet maintained a secret Twitter feed entirely devoted to how awful Bianca was). Of all of the columns on there, Bianca's has the strongest arc from start to finish, and she's a heroine you truly root for.

In this year's new column contest, I voted for "History's a Bitch: A Dog Walk through Time" by Robb Fritz to win the extra $1000. His column focuses on dogs' roles in history. Each one must have taken a great deal of research, but he also injects a lot of humor into it, making them a truly enjoyable read. "The Chorus Boy Chronicles" by Brian Spitulnik wasn't an option on the column contest, but it's also very good and entertaining. "Dendrophilia and Other Social Taboos," on New Age living by Dani Burlison, and "Assimilate or Go Home: Dispatches from the Stateless Wanderers" by someone credited only as D.L.M., have both gotten better as they go. "Assimilate" is about young Fundamentalist Christian woman and her work with recent Somalian immigrants in the Pacific Northwest.

I sincerely hope that all of this has convinced you to check out the website for yourself. I'm planning to enter next year's column contest, so someday, you may even see me on there!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Occupy Main Street

Here I am again, with my annual plea to think differently on this Blackest of Fridays.

It's ironic that we go from a holiday rooted in thankfulness and appreciation to one that is all about greed, materialism, and seemingly, how rude one can be. Buffalo shone with pride last year, when we made national news because a man was trampled at Target. Elsewhere in the metro region, shoppers reached over EMTs trying to assist a girl who was having a seizure to grab more shiny plastic crap.

I hate it. I hate it all. The entire concept of Black Friday, a day set aside to honor the worst aspects of our culture, just sickens me. I feel for the retail slaves who were ripped from their warm beds in the pre-dawn hours, if they got any sleep at all, to get screamed at by these hordes for minimum wage.

But Small Business Saturday, that's a concept I can get behind. Small businesses are likely to be quieter and to cultivate an atmosphere of appreciation. There will be tea and cookies, not security guards trying to keep people from killing each other over flat-screen TVs. You'll talk to someone who has made hardware, or shoes, or cupcakes, their life's work and passion, not someone who's still learning the register. It's a tangible chance to help do something about the chains that are taking over everywhere. Small businesses need you. So on Saturday, and throughout the holiday season, do try to buy it local first. Your neighbors depend on you.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

In honor of the holiday, I am posting a speech that I think exemplifies the spirit of the day. It was originally given on a different national holiday, July 4, by a man who some might say had little to be thankful for. Forced into retirement by a rare and fatal disease at the age of 35, at the peak of his career, no one would have blamed Lou Gehrig for seeming angry, sad, or broken. Instead, he gave a speech so powerful, so moving, that people who know nothing about baseball remember him for his ability to see the blessings in his life, even in the face of terrible adversity.

Here is what he said on the day of his retirement, to a packed Yankee Stadium full of people there to honor him. If you feel you have nothing to be thankful for today, remember Lou Gehrig.

"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

"Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.

"When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know.

"So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Things I'm Thankful For

Since it's Thanksgiving Eve, and I will be on the road for the next few days, I thought I'd post now a list of things I'm thankful for this year.

Thankfulness can be tough, especially when things aren't going the way you want them to. With me, the main things I wish were different are work and money. Although I like my job, it's not in the field I went to school for, and it doesn't pay very much. It can be hard to put in perspective when you've just paid all of your bills and have $100 left that needs to cover gas and food for the next week, but although money's a big thing, it's not the only thing, and money problems are far from the worst kinds of problems one can have.

Other than the money, I realized I like pretty much everything about my life right now. My job is meaningful, creative, and it's even fun. It offers the type of work environment I didn't think actually existed. When I feel slightly under the weather, I would be more inclined to go in than stay home, because going in would make me feel better. Working at a community newspaper also gets you appreciation. Occasionally, people will give you hard time, but the kind, thoughtful emails and letters I've received outnumber the nasty ones at least five to one. So I'm definitely thankful for my job, especially at a time when so many people don't have one.

I'm also thankful for family. Family's easy to take for granted when you have a good one. They're like air: you don't really think about them until they're gone. My mother and Mr. Library Diva's father both had health scares this year, and my sister had a minor surgery over the summer, so I'm thankful that everyone is OK and is doing well, and here with me. And I'm thankful that they are such a wonderful, supportive, kind, loving family.

I'm thankful for my partner. I have a friend right now who's divorcing a terrible human being and tells stories that will make your hair curl. Whatever else happens, I know I have Mr. Library Diva to come home to, and that makes my home a safe, welcoming place. He's there whenever I need advice or have a problem or just need cheering up. He's there for the fun times, too. I'm looking forward to marrying him next year!

I'm thankful for my friends. Some, like Chris and Dan, I only get to see rarely. Others, like The Sedentary Vagabond, I get to see every day. But I appreciate your support, I appreciate you being a part of my life, and I'm thankful for your companionship and for the relationship we have, whether we talk all the time or not often at all.

I'm thankful for my cats. A co-worker interviewed second graders for her paper about things they were thankful for. Pets ranked high. One little boy said that his cats kept him from getting lonely when his brothers didn't want to play with him, and another said that his cat slept on his clothes and warmed them up for him. I definitely agree with all of that, and more. They make me laugh, they help me fall asleep at night, and home just wouldn't be the same without them.

I'm thankful that I have a decent place to live, and thankful for all of the stuff in it. I've been in this apartment for four years, and the only place that felt more like home was the house I grew up in. I got a good deal on a nice place in a nice neighborhood, with a place to garden and sit outside in the nice weather, and offstreet parking for the cars. Kids come in hordes at Halloween, everyone decorates for Christmas, and it's a place I can invite people to with pride.

I'm thankful for people who create things. Maybe blogging daily and working for the paper has given me a new appreciation of the simple fact that there are human beings behind every snarky website you snicker at, every book you read, every TV show, movie or play you watch, every exhibit you visit. Some of these people are well-known, others you'll never hear of, but they enrich our lives just the same. Thank you for the time and effort you spend to entertain others.

And I'm thankful for you, my readers. I'm never sure how many of you there are, but I appreciate everyone who comes here and checks out my blog. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Getting Romantic: a guest post by The Sedentary Vagabond

Today's post was brought to you by .The Sedentary Vagabond. I am guest posting on her blog today, too, so make sure to visit me over there!

My introduction to romance novels came when I was a fifth grader smuggling them home from my tiny Christian school. (I was really sheltered, and my mom thought I was too young to read romance. Long story)

They were works by authors such as Janet Oke, full of pioneers and Amish people and very definitely PG.

My mother no longer desires or is able to control my reading habits, but I hadn’t read a true romance novel … until this week.

I love reading - it ’s my go to answer when anyone asks me what hobbies I enjoy – but I’ve mostly focused on classic fiction, biography, humor, detective fiction – pretty much everything but romance. My aunt has bookshelves upon bookshelves of romance novels though, so there must be something to them. Right?

I selected “A Scotsman in Love” as my reading choice. I’ve got some Scottish blood in me, and the cover featured a dashing Scottish gent shirtless, garbed in tartan and holding a lovely lass in his arms, so it promised the true romance novel experience.

The book was fine for its type. It was well written enough – not enough to deserve to enter the same room as “Anna Karenina,” but it was readable. The author did seem to have had her thesaurus too handy – seriously, nobody describes leaf color as “persimmon and ochre.”

Stories tend to have a certain setup: tension and resolution, but it was all too evident in this piece. And no, I don’t just mean the non-PG stuff. The main characters, a Scottish lord (of course) and a talented female painter, spend too much time unaccountably sniping at each other before the non-PG stuff begins.

Of course, the man is perfectly beautiful. Of course, the woman is unusually strong and sassy for her time. Of course they’re suddenly passionately obsessed with each other.

I don’t think this is a fault of this particular author. This is what the romance genre is. It’s about using certain common tropes to provide a predictable type of entertainment. The formula is what makes it attractive. If it wasn’t formulaic, it would be a different type of book.

I can definitely be one for predictability myself, at times. I like “cozy mysteries,” defined by Wikipedia as “a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community.” You can come to those sorts of stories with certain expectations and find them fulfilled. And I am perfectly fine with that.

I don’t find romance novels all that compelling. Maybe it’s an acquired habit, and I need to read another.

Do you like romance novels? What attracts you to the genre? Should I be looking for volumes without sexy Scottish men on the cover?

Also, apropos of nothing in particular, I found this sentence in the book hilarious: “He was not so much hirsute as all male.” Author, what I think you really mean is he was a hairy, hairy man.

Monday, November 21, 2011

TBRR = To Be Renewed Repeatedly?

I think I may have mentioned a few times that I have a longstanding ambition to learn more about Vikings. I'd like to say something lofty inspired it, but World of Warcraft inspired it. And it wasn't the fact that an entire 12-boss raid was lifted from Norse mythology, featuring bosses named Freya, Thorim, and Hodir, or that the Wrath of the Lich King expansion had a Norse subplot, with Skaldic warlords to defeat, and valkyries waiting to attack you everywhere. No, my honest thought was that if I read up on it, I could annoy the rest of my guild with random factoids.

Well, that subplot is over and done with (they moved on to mining Egyptian beliefs), but the desire never really went away. This summer, I checked out a book simply titled "The Vikings" by Robert Ferguson.

I didn't read it.

Then I checked it out again.

And I didn't read it.

But this time, I'm pretty determined. I'm about 20 pages into it, and it's really good. It opened with the description of an excavation of a burial ship in the 1920s. When the ship was buried, with the bodies of the two women, they chose an area with very clay-like soil, and the soil preserved the spring flowers that were growing when they dug out the pit, and the fall flowers that were there by the time they were ready to bury the boat. It was interesting reading earlier theories on conservation, as well. I'm also surprised at the paucity of primary sources, even archaeological sites, for Viking culture.

But I'm not sure I'm going to get to keep going, sadly. I checked my library account as a means of checking the author's name, and also to renew my books. It won't let me. I owe too much in fines, so it may be going back to the library tomorrow, sadly.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hawaii and American Domination through the eyes of Sarah Vowell

I remember in eighth grade history class, Mr. Vincek warned us that we were going to be studying a sort of dark period of history during the decades following the Civil War, when America started to seize territories across the globe. I don't remember how it was explained to us, but it's a part of American history that we certainly don't like to dwell on much.

Sarah Vowell touched on this towards the beginning of her book on Hawaii, "Unfamiliar Fishes." She notes that during the time was researching the book, America was preparing to go to war in Iraq. The anti-war protestors tried to argue that what we were doing was against American ideals, and that "this isn't who we are." Sarah Vowell's history of American involvement in Hawaii, as she put it, demonstrated that "from time to time, this is exactly who we are."

Her book is very short, only about 200 pages. It outlines a part of history that we generally don't learn about in school: how exactly Hawaii became part of America. She outlines the period of time when American missionaries traveled to Hawaii from New England to bring Christianity and the written word to Hawaii, and how, over time, the interests of their descendants turned more towards the worldly pursuits of sugar farming, which is what led to its being annexed. She explores how its annexation wasn't entirely on the up-and-up (it was done through a joint resolution after failing an up-or-down vote). And in the process, she notes how its culture was nearly destroyed: through the outlawing of the hula dance, the replacement of creation myths with Christian stories, the spread of disease and death of large portions of the native populace, and more.

One thing I disliked about the book was the lack of other voices besides Vowell's. It told the story primarily from the American perspective. I found the apparent passivity of the native Hawaiians baffling. I know she's writing from a historical perspective, but she included brief glimpses of a modern Hawaiian nationalist movement and a few words with experts on Hawaii's past. I would have liked to have seen more of that, but at the same time, the book opened my eyes a lot. Hawaii's story is hardly untold: Vowell included a two-page reccomended reading list of primary and secondary sources. But at the same time, it seems like it's not widely known either. I picked this book up as a Sarah Vowell book, not as a book about Hawaii, so I'm glad that she used some her her fame to shine light on this topic. If I had any myself, I'd like to think that I'd do the same sort of thing.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"Sisterhood Everlasting" and the nature of friendship

If you're an older person who enjoyed "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," your own experiences might have endowed it with a more poignant dimension. Growing up, we all had best friends that we thought would be with us our whole lives. But for the most part, at least for me, that hasn't turned out to be the case with many of them. I grew apart from my best elementary school friend by seventh grade. A close middle school friendship ended when our schedules were diametrically opposed in ninth grade. We both made new friends, and when her family moved to Georgia later that year, I didn't even hear about it. My college BFF likewise moved cross-country and, after a while, stopped contacting most of her New York State friends.

I'm fortunate to still have a few close friends from various stages in my life with me. One of them is Chris, a frequent commentor on this blog. I've also stayed in decent touch with two college friends, Dan and Melissa, but sadly, I don't get to see any of them nearly as often as I'd like to.

So with these experiences in my past, I naturally wondered how Tibby, Lena, Bridget and Carmen's friendship would fare as the girls aged, as careers, marriage, and children pulled them in different directions. Ann Brashares chose to tackle that subject in "Sisterhood Everlasting."

Of course, "everyone drifted apart" would be an extremely boring answer, as would "everyone still lives in town and is still BFFs." Their lives have changed a lot. Carmen is an actress on a show very similar to "Law and Order," and is based in New York. Bridget still never stops moving. She's still with Eric and has worked a whole series of temp jobs in San Francisco. Lena is an art professor, and that's the most interesting thing about her: she lives by herself in a one-bedroom apartment and spends her evenings renting movies, occasionally with her "sandwich artist" quasi-boyfriend.

Tibby is the conundrum. We learn early on that post-college, all of the girls shared a New York City apartment for a while. Tibby was the one to break the quartet, when she moved to Australia with Brian, who had a good opportunity with a software company there. But since then, she's sort of been...incommunicado. They will hear from her every once in a while, but don't really know what's going on. The time zone barrier keeps them from calling and finding out, and it's not like she's alarmingly silent.

Then she surprises everyone with plane tickets to Greece. She wants a full-scale reunion, in the town where Lena's grandparents lived, where she met Kostos, where the pants got lost all of those years ago. Everyone attends, but it doesn't go as planned. Three of the girls have to contend with not only a sudden loss, but with unraveling the truth behind it.

That's what gives the book its momentum. I've essentially recounted the plot of the first 40 pages. This book is a lot sadder than I thought it would be, because it does deal with grief (and there's nothing on the jacket to suggest that). Several plot elements I found to be slightly implausible (the drop-everything-and-travel-for-no-good-reason device is still very much in force), but I liked the book regardless. People always wonder what happens to YA characters when they grow up, and it's interesting to see each of them approach 30. If you hated the Traveling Pants series, this won't redeem it, but if you enjoyed it, I think you'd like this sequel.

Friday, November 18, 2011

SOPA? Nope-a

About five minutes after the invention of the Internet, people started to use it to find ways around buying things they used to pay for. As magazines and newspapers rushed to make use of the new technology, their subscribers stopped getting their print subscriptions, or never started them in the first place. Since most of their revenue comes through advertisers, they were able to adjust well enough to view a continued online presence as a sound business strategy and a complement to their print versions.

The music and movie industries, however, were subject to more outright theft. They found themselves locked in a battle with fans, especially as the economy worsened and a $10 movie ticket represented a larger expenditure to people. They used PSAs to try to equate illegal downloading with stealing cars. They targeted a few downloaders in well-publicized cases, slapping 22-year-olds with five and six figure fines for their crimes. ANd now, they're trying to flat-out make it illegal.

Currently before Congress is the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. One clever linguistic trick politicians employ is to name a bill or law after something most people would approve of. The Clean Air Act, the Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind -- how could you not vote for those things? You're telling me you like dirty air, hate America, and want to see kids left in the dust? So when a bill or a law has an upbeat sound to it, be very suspicious.

Suspicion is warranted in this case. The proposed law, in its current form, would do away with the so-called "safe haven" law that prevented sites with a lot of user-genreated content from being liable for the actions of every single user. It's what allowed Craigslist to escape liability in a lawsuit on housing discrimination, and kept it from being shut down in the wake of the prostitution scandals. It's why the Chinese resellers don't take out all of Etsy. It's why this blog can continue to exist, even if the guy at the "next blog" button's entire blog consists of movies he filmed off the theater screen using his iPhone.

Even if you're not on the creation side of Internet content, (and actually, most of us are: if you sell on Ebay, have an Etsy store, sell your old furniture on Craigslist, upload photos to Flickr or have a YouTube channel for your toddler's antics, this applies to you) this bill has another creepy feature for you. According to this great explanation at, this bill would require a sort of Internet wiretapping to make the blocks on these pirate websites work. Your internet providers would be forced to see where it is you're going online in order to keep you from getting there if there's a block on it.

The law also doesn't lay out a framework for how something comes to be blocked. This could be very, very bad. If you are of Regretsy, you will know that most people have an imperfect understanding of what copyright infringement is. The copyright laws are so ridiculously obtuse that in graduate school, I was advised as a curator to not even attempt to understand them myself, and call a lawyer whenever things weren't clear to me. But to quote "The Princess Bride," in general, it does not mean what you think it means. It's not infringing on your copyright to re-post a photo of your work that you yourself placed online, as long as you are credited. It's not infringement to link to someone else's site without their permission. It's all right to photograph anything that's not placed where the owner or creator has a reasonable expectation of privacy, so if I were to photograph everything in one of those booths at the Allentown Art Festival that hangs a homemade sign warning passerby that their beaded jewelry is intellectual property and you can't photograph it, the cops would side with me. Shit, I could even re-post the photos here!

But like I said, a lot of people don't realize that. Combine that with the abolishment of safe haven, and you've essentially got the end of user-generated sites on the Internet. Think of Etsy, for example. There are hundreds of thousands of listings at any given time. If one person is accused of violating copyright and reported for it, if I'm understanding this bill correctly, the entire site would be shut down, all transactions suspended, and they'd actively look through your online activity to do it.

This is not the way to protect the film and music industries. If you agree, tell your representatives. Visit and to let them know.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Where's today's post?

It was one I'd worked on over the weekend, but hadn't finished. I forgot that when you start writing something and leave it as a draft, Blogger will post it in the day you wrote it, not the day you published it. So it's right here. NaBloPoMo, still going strong!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Eragon and Hunger Games, making headlines

It's been a big week for young adult fiction. First, there was the much-anticipated release of the trailer of "The Hunger Games" on "Good Morning America" earlier this week. In case you still haven't seen it, you can watch it here. We'll wait!

There's a lot of debate among fans of the books whether the movie will be as good. THe main thing I hope is that they don't water down Katniss. It still makes me angry that they excluded Hermione's hero scene from the "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" film, where she solves the logic puzzle and figures out which flask Harry needs to drink in order to proceed. I don't want them to turn one of contemporary literature's most badass female characters into a wimp. I didn't see Jennifer Lawrence (who plays Katniss) in "X-Men: First Class," but I did see her in "Winter's Bone," and she was great.

I had long held out hope that they'd cast Robert Downey Jr. as Haymitch. I've adored him in everything I've seen him in, from "Iron Man" to "The Soloist," and I still think he would have been awesome, but Woody Harrelson will also be good. I didn't know that Lenny Kravitz acted, but he definitely looks like how I imagined Cinna. I had heard of Donald Sutherland, who plays President Snow, but couldn't recall what he'd been in. So I looked him up on iMDB, and was pretty blown away by the wide variety of roles he's had in his lifetime. He should be a good President Snow as well.

The timing of the film's opening concerns me a bit. It's due to open March 23, 2012, and that's usually the time of year they reserve for bottom-shelf releases. Gross-out comedies with no-name actors, romantic comedies rejected from Lifetime Movie Network on the grounds of excessive sappiness, small-budget action films that might as well be titled "Shit Blows Up Near Boobs"...and rotten adaptions of less-popular books and graphic novels. "Hunger Games" doesn't fall into that category, though. It topped bestseller lists and garnered many accolades and awards. Google-search "The Hunger Games," and 142 million results will appear. People will definitely be watching this film.

Also, the final installment of the "Eragon" series by Christopher Paolini hit stores last week. The series was initially supposed to be a trilogy, but Paolini had so much left over, he created a fouth book. The new book is called "Inheritance." I know very little about it, as I read only the first book in this series. The series has many, many fans, though (including Mr. Library Diva!) and I know they've been anxiously awaiting this book for several years. If anyone out there has read it, I'm interested in your thoughts!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Another NaNoWriMo author discusses her project

The first time I ever heard of NaNoWriMo was through a college acquaintance of mine, Carol. Most people can conjure up those they knew as acquaintances at some point in their lives, always liked and found interesting, but through chance and circumstance, never became closer. It turned out that Carol is a cousin to Mr. Library Diva, and will soon be official family of mine, so it's nice to get a do-over with someone like that.

Carol is a NaNo vet, as you will see from the interview. Her longtime experience makes her one of the best people you could possibly ask about NaNo. Here are her thoughts!

How many NaNoWriMos have you participated in? What keeps you coming back?
This is my ninth year doing nanowrimo. I've done it every year since 2003. I really enjoyed the reckless abandon of the thing, the ability to push out a novel in 30 days and keep all of the prose, good and bad. It was a very hard debate this year, whether or not to do nano again.

Part of me was just tired. I tend to put everything else on hold during nanowrimo and focus solely on the process. I spend all of my creative energy during this time of year. Part of me was afraid I was only doing it because of tradition; I've been doing it so long it would seem strange not to do it again.

For whatever reason I tend to pass the finish line on odd years. That was a big push to do it this year (because last year I came within 100 words, but couldn't pass the finish line in time). I also had the right project to work on this year. In the end I opened up googledocs on November1st and wrote 4000 words. At that point I wanted to prove to myself that I still have the passion I did nine years ago. Nanowrimo is as important to me now as it was then.

Describe your current novel project. What is is about, how long have you had the idea, and what inspired it?

Funny enough, this year's nanonovel is a complete reboot of my 2004 nanonovel. I decided I needed to rewrite it, mostly because I borrowed too much from books I was reading at the time, but also because I've matured as a writer. I have the ability to write the story properly this time. Originally it was titled Shades of Purple, but I've retitled it Book of Threads.

I always struggle to describe my writing projects, but I was thinking about this one the other day. This novel is about various people who live in a world that they see is deteriorating around them. They see their government making decisions for the people that no one is happy about. They decide that they need to do something about it and set themselves on a round about path to fix it.

Originally this was just a story about one girl trying to live up to her destiny, but since then it's become something more to me. It's more politically driven this time, but there are other messages tucked in the prose. It's about finding your way no matter how old you are, finding your family among your friends, loyalty, regret, and the choices we make that shape our future.

If you were an employee at a bookstore that is organized thematically, where would you shelve this novel?

I don't know where I'd put this novel. It would probably get relegated to the fantasy section, since it's set in a world where magic exists. My issue is that I tend to write fantasy novels that aren't categorically fantasy novels. For the most part magic takes a backseat to the characters and their personal drama.

The week we're heading into is usually where the slump starts to come in any similar projects. Where do you turn for support when you're stuck?

I have a group of nano-cheerleaders that have helped me through past projects; they keep me going if it gets bad just by asking me how it's going and offering support. If I notice the slump happening I try to step away from the novel for a bit. Sometimes it helps to go do something else and then come back to it. A lot of time I have to write out of order and just follow what wants to be written. One year I actually stepped away from the project altogether and started writing a new one.

Can you describe your NaNo routine? What time of day do you like to write, where do you like to write, do you use a computer, typewriter or pen and paper, and do you like to have any particular food, drinks or music on hand to help you write?

I'm doing it a bit differently this year. In previous years I'd write in msword and then post finished chapters to my livejournal for friends to read and comment as I was writing. This year I'm using googledocs as my word processor and I'm not sharing on LJ. It's just as well because I'm writing so far out of order I wouldn't have posted much.

I tend to write in the wee hours of the morning. Since I work evenings, it's usually the end of my day and it's how I wind down. If the writing is really good I end up staying awake a bit too long, but I'd rather be tired than put the book away when some good writing is happening.

I'm comfortable writing anywhere, but when other people are around I tend to get distracted. I either need headphones or I have to shut myself up in my room.

I prefer using a computer because I type faster (and my handwriting tends to get sloppy and illegible as I write quickly). My hand can't keep up with my brain. I will jot down notes on paper when I don't have access to a computer and type them up later. Sometimes it's nice to have the weight of a pen in my hand.

Since I quit coffee, tea is my favored nano beverage. I like herbal blends, but chai is my all time favorite. Chocolate is also my great sustainer during nano, but I tend not to snack much while I'm writing.

As for music it's different every year. I tend to make a playlist of tunes that remind me of the characters, or songs that suit the themes of the novel. This year it's a bit Queens of the Stone Age, Stornoway, Ani Difranco, Florence and the Machines, Radiohead, Telepopmusik, and a lot of Jimmy Eat World.

What, in your opinion, makes NaNo special and worth doing?

Before nanowrimo I struggled to finish stories. I found that nano helps me finish projects (most years at least). It's the one way I've been able to get a story out; it really works for me. It's because of this that I keep coming back. It's important to me and my creativity has somewhat synced up to thrive under the pressure of it.

The people in my life also expect me to do nano. Silly as it seems it's become "my thing." I gear up for it every year and even when I dread it I'm really looking forward to it.

NaNo ends in about 17 days. What is your next step with this novel?

I don't know if the novel will be finished when I cross the 50k line. I'm going to keep writing otherwise, but I might need a bit of a break in December. If that's the case I'll come back to it in January and once it's finished I'll be posting it on my livejournal for my friends to read and critique. My goal is to publish this novel at some point, but it's going to need some edits and work put into it before that happens.

What is the most surprising reaction you've gotten from your participation in NaNo? Do you find most people are generally supportive, generally believe you won't make it, or somewhere in between?

Probably the best reaction is having my sister join me. We have word wars where we try to beat each others daily wordcount; it's been the most effective way to keep my count up (because there's no way I can let my little sister beat me).

For the most part people are very supportive, or they think it's a cool idea. The only time people have been negative is when the writing comes at the cost of everything else. Like my brother and his girlfriend constantly trying to get me out of the house when they know I'd rather be writing.

What advice would you give to someone who's contemplating doing this next year?
Do it. You can't know if nano will work for you unless you try it. My first year I was doing it by the seat of my pants. My second year I planned my novel a bit more through the course of October (mostly world building and jotting out character profiles). I discovered I'm a bit more of a pantser (as fellow nano-ers call it).

Don't give up if you have a bad day (or a string of bad days). It's never too late to start over. Get out of the house for a bit or do something else for a few hours. Relax and refocus, and if you can try to avoid forcing it.

Keep every word, even the stuff you hate. If you hate it so much you don't even want to look at it, make the font white so you can't see it. I highlight all the stuff I'm going to get rid of in red so when I do a second draft I can delete it right away.

If it's going really poorly there are some little tricks that help boost your words. You can stop using conjunctions. Write out full names of characters. Borrow songs/poems, have a character describe their favorite movie from opening credits to end credits. Title your chapters.

If you're really struggling, go hang out in the forums or go to a local write-in. You might be surprised to find that you're not alone and there are plenty of people who are willing to help.

And hey, it might go beautifully your first time. If that's the case, feel free to share the love and support other writers you know.

How have you seen NaNo change over the years that you've participated?

Nano has been through different website designs. This year's roll-out has been slow, but I like the new site overall. A new t-shirt design for every year I've been doing it (and any year that I have some extra money I buy one).

To be honest I think I've changed more than nano has. I've grown as a writer over these past nine years, grown in ways I might not have if I didn't embark on this insane literary journey every November.

Thanks very much, Carol! Wishing you all the best with NaNoWriMo!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Interview with an author!

One of the cool things I wanted to introduce to this blog was some more participation. I am probably pretty boring to listen to all the time, after all, so I wanted to get some other perspectives on here from time to time. I contacted a friend of mine who didn't pussy out with this NaBloPoMo, and went right for the hard stuff: NaNoWriMo.

Rebecca, who will be identified by her first name unless she gives me permission to edit this, is a graduate school classmate of mine. I remember her as never being one to shrink from a challenge: her thesis research was of the type that required her to look at hundreds of old documents and draw conclusions. Certianly not for the faint of heart! She's currently the director of a cultural center in sunny New Mexico. And this month, she is also a novelist. She took a few minutes out from her novel to answer a few questions about writing and maintaining her sanity this month. Here goes! (Warning: there may be more later. Facebook seems to have cut some stuff off?)

Is this your first NaNoWriMo, and if not, how many others have you participated in? Why did you decide to participate this year?

This is my second year to participate. I did it last year for the first time. I love writing but it isn't something I take the time to do - so I try this to recharge my love of writing.

What is your novel about?
I went with fanfiction this year. Last year my favorite author - Mercedes Lackey - gave the advice that it was perfectly fine to start with fanfiction if you need help getting started. So this year's story is a HP story. It is an alternative world where Harry moves to New Orleans before Hogwarts and events bring about the end of Voldemort in a completely different world.

If you were an employee of a thematically-organized bookstore, where would you shelve this novel?
It would be in the fantasy section.

Can you describe your NaNoWriMo routine? What time of day do you write, where do you write, do you use a computer, typewriter or paper and pen, and is there any particular food, drink or music you like to have on hand to help you write?

I write after work - at a table - on my laptop with a large glass of milk and a special music blend on my Ipod.

Mid-month is usually the hardest time for any of these challenges. Where do you turn for support to keep going?
Last year I just plowed through - this year I am having major writers block and nothing I am trying is working. It is very frustrating.

What aspects of NaNo have surprised you? What about doing this challenge has been either harder or easier than you anticipated?

I am always surprised at how busy the month of November turns out to intrudes way more than I plan.

Thanks so much for your time, Rebecca! I have so much respect for anyone attempting NaNoWriMo. It's like running a marathon. Only maybe even harder. Best of luck, you are halfway through!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hunger Games teaser trailer

The full trailer is supposed to debut during Good Morning, America tomorrow.

"May the odds be ever in your favor."

Good Queen Bess: The Elizabeth I project is done!

Margaret George doesn't have many books, but all of them are both a treat to read, and a time commitment to read. They're always very long, but they also always flow well and are absorbing. She will take a major historical figure, usually name the book after them, and write about their lives from their own point of view. It's "historical fiction" in the sense that she endows them with their own thoughts and emotions, and will occasionally do things like consolidate four minor characters that served a similar function into one, or invent a minor character to illustrate something important and real. But it's meticulously researched, and she infers the thoughts and emotions based on real events.

For example, it's not hard to imagine that if you were flirting with a guy, and your cousin hauled off and married him, you would feel pissed off at your cousin, and maybe never speak to her again. It's also plausible that if you got to know the son of your cousin years later when he was an adult, your feelings towards him might be complex, carrying both the weight of your anger towards his mother and your long-stifled love for his stepfather. Especially if you were a virgin queen, married to your realm.

This is where we pick up the plot of "Elizabeth I." As Margaret George notes in the afterword, few British monarchs hold such a continued sway over public imagination. You can look at her and see many things, and people felt that way even in her lifetime. It must have been a daunting task to try to write from her perspective, and there were so many tacks she could have taken, since Elizabeth I reigned for so long and had so much happen. But the primary plot of the novel concerns Elizabeth I and her cousin, Lettice Knollys Devereaux Dudley Blount. Lettice was banished from court when she married Robert Dudley, and when the book opens, she and Elizabeth I have not seen each other in years. Robery Dudley dies soon after the book opens, and that's when Elizabeth I gets to know his stepson, Robert Devereaux, the Earl of Essex.

We see from both Lettice and Elizabeth's points of view as the book wears on. Robert Deveraux is the thread that binds them together, and although Lettice at first seems like a typical stage mom whose only hope is her offspring, her character evolves. Elizabeth is a bit harder to categorize, which I guess meshes with history. Though this isn't my favorite of Margaret George's books, it's still a good read, and I'd still reccomend it.

Other blogs, not my own

So one of the main suggestions that comes up if you look for ways to increase blog readership is to visit other people's blogs and comment on them. I've been doing this over the past couple of day, just by using the "next blog" button on Blogger. I've made the following observations:

Lots of people start blogs and don't keep up on them. I've found many blogs that haven't been updated in over a year. Some haven't been touched since Obama came into office.

Commenting on family blogs feels weird. I don't know why. After all, the people who run them are the ones that made them public. But are they looking for random people to come and comment that "OMG yes, my baby cried that much too! Wow, you guys are making peanut butter cookies today? Sounds super-fun! Ugh, it's science fair time at your house, too? I can totally relate!" It feels sort of invasive to leave comments for these folks. It's like I knocked on their front door and asked if I could come in and look at their family album, then sat in their living room, eating their food, with my feet on their coffee table, commenting on how each photo was shot and telling them boring stories about how one time I did something sort of like what's happening in the picture.

Lots of people blog about running. I had no idea there was that much to say on the topic, but then again, I'm not a runner.

Many bloggers believe they are better than you. Sometimes it's subtle. One blog said that any comment that revealed obvious ignorance of rules-based systems will not be posted. It made me wish I knew a little bit about them, so I could whip up the most maddeningly ignorant comments I could think of and leave them all over the place, just to be contrary. Sadly, my ignorance is so vast, I didn't even know how to annoy the author. Other times, they're much more in-your-face. One blog that featured mostly the author's political opinions said something like "If you're just a clicker then click on through, this is not the blog for you." Translation: I CAN READ HUFFINGTON POST AND YAHOO NEWS BETTER THAN YOU CAN, BITCHEZ!

Sharing your photography seems to be one of the most common reasons to start a blog. I came across TONS of them. There was the guy who takes mostly action shots of skateboarders and BMX. There were quite a few wedding photographers. There were loads and loads of nature photographers. I commented on some, not on others.

Commenting is deceptively hard. Or maybe I overthink it. If I just wanted MOAR PAGE VIEWS, I could make one generic comment and post it everywhere, like the people who spam for cheap electronics. "Hi! Your blog is excellent resource! I must tell you, I will never buy electronics from store again! My mom got bran new laptop for only $20! Click here see how!" But I guess I want people to come here because they're curious, or I sound interesting, not because they believe some scam. So to me, that means I have to say something worthwhile on other people's blogs, not just NICE POST! HERE'S MY LINK!

At the same time, since part of the point of commenting places is to encourage people to come here, that also narrows it down to where I should comment, in my mind. So I don't comment on blogs that aren't in English, that haven't been updated sometime in 2011, and that I don't find interesting, or at least relevant to my blog.

Those are the easy decisions. Then it gets murky. If someone describes herself as "an avid homeschooler and warrior for Christ," and most of her links are to churches and extreme right-wing causes, but seems to like some of the same books as I do, would she "follow me home?" Would the guy who did a great interview with the man who designed stage clothing for most of the hair metal bands but mainly blogs about death metal "follow me home?" Should I comment? If I come across a poetry blog and I think the poetry isn't to my taste, but they seem to have tons of followers, should I comment?

It's been fun exploring what other people's blogs are like, but I'm not sure how this piece of advice is working out for me. I see a couple of people have been enticed here, and I really appreciate you coming and hope you enjoyed my blog. But at the same time, this seems like an awfully labor-intensive way to try to build a following. I could spend every night for the rest of my life doing this and still not visit every blog. I got accepted into a a book blogging Ning group, so I'm going to try to develop that more. If you're interested in seeing the site, you can visit it here. And anyone with advice, I'm all ears!

What People Google, or Making my Blog More Awesome, part 3

So I noticed that Blogspot has an option called "stats," you know, along with "posting," "settings," "design," etc. In my ongoing (12-hour long now!) quest to make this blog more awesome, I checked into it.

It's neat. It will tell you which of your posts people are looking at, where the people came from (both online and on the internet) and what google search may have brought them here. Very interesting and surprising. For example, several years ago, I titled my post on my saints book "Have you ever come across a St. Maureen?" It's a line from a British film called "Millions," and is said several times throughout the course of the movie by a young boy who has recently lost his mother and is fascinated with the saints. He sees several of them, and always asks that question. Well, apparently he's not the only one: 18 people have come here by googling "St. Maureen." Fans of the film? Catholics looking for a baby name? Guess I'll never know.

I received a number of hits from webistes with .tk domains. I've never heard of that domain before. I followed one, and it took me to a slutty video of Emma Watson and warned me repeatedly that my computer could explode if I didn't stay to watch. I got one hit from someone who had googled "chicken bestiality" and didn't understand it, until I found this old post about a salaciously named but otherwise forgettable short-story anthology. I am very surprised at the continued interest in my post on "Charity Girls." The one person from Etiquette Hell who came to see me truly warmed my heart. That website is one of my favorites. I go there all the time, I've shared it with many people, and always enjoy not just the stories, but the lively debate in the comments and the wild stories some commentors have. So, thanks for your visit.

And thank you to anyone else who comes to see me. I've been trying to get out there more today. I visited lots of folks on their blogs and left some comments, and have applied to join a Ning of book bloggers. I don't aspire to be Regretsy, at least not in terms of readership. I'm not looking for a book deal, a movie deal, or my own line of e-readers out of this. I would just like to expand this blog's circle a little bit, to attract 15-20 followers instead of three, and to maybe even see comments sections where the people start talking to each other. So, thanks for being here, thanks for hearing what I have to say, and if you have something to say in reply, I appreciate that too. Even the chicken bestiality person.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

In the spirit of "more awesome..."

I'm trying an experiment. I eliminated comment moderation on new posts. I had it in place solely because I was concerned about spammers. In the years since I've doing this, though, I think I've declined to post only a handful of spam. At this point, I think it's hurting me more than it's helping me, since people can't really talk to each other. So, have at it!

Making your blog more awesome

As I mentioned before, the reason for the sharp drop-off (to zero) posts between mid-July and now is that I was pretty convinced no one was actually reading. In the past 12 days, I've begun to wonder how to reverse that trend.

I frequent an embarassing amount of websites. Only some of them are listed in the links. Others, I didn't bother to link to, because frankly, they don't need me. Regretsy updates several times a day and never fails to garner fewer than 100 comments on a post. STFU, Parents likewise has a huge following, so large that it's earned her a column on a large parenting website. Seriously, I might as well link to Google: hey guys, let me tell you about this ahhhh-mazing website where you can just ask it a question, any question you want, and it will tell you the answer!!!!!!!

But most of the sites I like to visit, I just heard of through word-of-mouth. I learned of STFU, Parents through my awesome, child-free friend Kiki. I heard of Edge of Sports through a website called Working for Change, which was an ethical telecommunications company and also carried many syndicated columns. I used to go there to read the works of the late, great Molly Ivins. Dave Zirin's column was there, too, and it inspired me to go to his site. The rest, I'm not even sure how I heard about the sites. But I have no clue as to how to attract that kind of attention myself.

I think this is sort of reflective of a larger issue in my real life. I'm not a networker. Some people are always working, always out there making connections, and amazing things happen. They hear through a lady in their spinning class about a great house for sale for $30,000 because the owner just wants out. An alum of their college hooks them up with a great job, through which they meet someone who can offer them something even better. Sadly, that's never been me. I tend to do my job and go home. When I interview people for stories, I often feel like I make good connections with some of them, but I never trust it. When they say something like "call me anytime," I never take them up on it. I never think that they may actually mean it, for one thing, and many times, I'm not sure what to say anyway.

I have commented on people's blogs, but I'm not really sure how many of them have "followed me home." This month has reminded me of how much I do enjoy blogging, though, and I think I'm going to try harder to figure out how to share this with more people. I started by putting a "follow" link on here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Future of Books? Small-scale

When Borders first hit trouble earlier this year, then went under, much ink was spilled about What This Means For Books. Theories abounded. "This is a sign of the times. People download e-books to their iPads, they don't leave the house to buy some clumsy dead-tree product," some said.
"Chillax," said others. "Borders was a poorly run company, and this is what happens when you do a bad job, even if your product is a home run."
"Nuh-uh. You wait. This was just the first round. In ten years, we'll download them directly to our brains."
This article at Business Week Magazine has another theory as to what we may expect post-Borders, a theory to compete with "direct-to-brain downloads" and "just one less shitty company in the world." The article posits that as large corporations get out of bookselling, mom-and-pop business owners will get back into it, and we'll see things return to a smaller, saner size.

It's a nice thought, very nice. It's harder to determine if it will happen. I think there's been a lot of backlash against the whole concept of e-books right from the start. Many people just love the idea of books, the way they smell, and feel. As this article points out, people don't like giving soulless downloads as gifts, and may not plan ahead enough to use an online retailer exclusively.

I don't think e-books and e-readers have a clear advantage over books. You interact with them entirely differently. The Sedentary Vagabond bought herself an e-reader with birthday money, and has pointed out that you can't tell where you are in a book at any given moment. If you hold a 300-page book in your hand and open it up randomly, it's easy to determine if you're almost done, or jsut starting out. I'd assume, too, that you have to keep an e-reader charged, that they will (or can) break if you drop them, and that you can't take them into the bathtub with you.

Of course, I can see their appeal. I like the idea of being able to obtain any book you want instantly. It's also nice that they won't clutter up your home, although they will clutter up your machine and you'll have to start making some hard choices at some point. But another thing about books is that they're oddly social in a way. When you read something good, you want to talk about it. Even when you read something bad, you may want to tell the world how terrible it is. Bookstores are places set aside for books, with frequent author readings, book club meetings, and just a good atmosphere, and I think that e-books can never entirely kill them off for that reason.