Search This Blog

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Books In, Books Out

Nick Hornby wrote a column for a year about his reading habits, and they were collected in The Polysyllabic Spree. Among the many things (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) that I loved in the book, was a weekly tally of books in and books out. I know more come in to my house than I read, in a constant flow.

The world has conspired to make book buying easier and more convenient than ever. I also volunteer (temporarily) in two school libraries, so I am always seeing books that other people are reading, or that I want to share with my kids, or that I have heard about but not handled, that I bring home. And I have an irregular group of reader-friends, and we swap around books constantly, plus I sometimes hang out with a book club. And most everyone that gives me gifts tries to surprise me with something different. All these are fairly common ways to get books.

But I also have a special supplier: my beloved husband brings home books for me all the time. I almost need not keep a wish list, because he notices the same books that interest me, and gets them for me. So many of my books were presents from him that I felt it was TOO big a category for a tag on LibraryThing, not to mention the fact that my thoughts are his thoughts, and the line is blurry. But his complete reading satisfaction comes from looking them over and buying them. He loves books, but not reading. A singular case.

Anyway, the marigold is asking nervously:
Is it time to start a books in/books out tally on this blog? I think I would be interested to know the results.
Is that more or less important than working out a Partially-Read tagging system a la Bayard?

PS Life is good.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Me too! LibraryThing Unread meme list, nervous marigold version, May 27, 2008

My list is ready, but it is not easy to use this formating in Blogger - no underline, no strike through, so...

Here are the regular rules:
Bold what you have read, italicize books you’ve started but couldn’t finish (my note: so far!), and strike through books you hated. Add an asterisk* to those you’ve read more than once. Underline those you own but are left unread.

I will do: Bold for books I have read, italics for started but not finished, tiny for books I hated, asterisk for books I've read more than once and all-caps for books I own AND are still on my unread list, plus books on my wish list are in a different font.

Ack! Books I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF have a § after the title

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adam
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell by Susanna Clarke
THE KITE RUNNER by Khaled Hosseini
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Illearth War§ by Stephen R. Donaldson
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
DON QUIXOTE by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
Ulysses by James Joyce
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Elantris§ by Brandon Sanderson (13)
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
*Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1) by Neal Stephenson
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
The Satanic Verses: A Novel by Salman Rushdie
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
(No title) by Mohammed
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
*The Odyssey by Homer
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
*Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Iliad by Homer
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Emma by Jane Austen
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
The House of Seven Gables§ by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
*Dracula by Bram Stoker
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (56)
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond
The Corrections: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen
Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (124)
Count Brass§ by Michael Moorcock
The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn Peake
The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin
Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
The Inferno by Dante Alighieri
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Swann's Way: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1 by Marcel Proust
The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Silas Marner by George Eliot
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
THE CONFUSION (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 2) by Neal Stephenson
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
*Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
THE SYSTEM OF THE WORLD (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3) by Neal Stephenson
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and…§ by Brian Greene
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
The Known World§ by Edward P. Jones
THE TIME TRAVELLER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
Dubliners by James Joyce
The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Infinite Jest: A Novel by David Foster Wallace
Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Persuasion by Jane Austen

Totals (I think):
Books I have read: 42 *twice: 5
Books I have tried to read and not finished (but hope to): 8
Books on my wish list: 7
Everything else – Haven’t read ‘em, don’t care much. If they come to me, I might give’ em a try, etc.: 38

I had a couple of email exchanges with Abby, the LibraryThing librarian. The list of the top 106 books tagged unread will necessarily change all the time. Not only would it be interesting to check the way the list appears, say, every year, it could be done every day! In fact, as the meme spreads, and people convert their tags over to unread, the list will experience massive changes in the short term. (ie My tag used to be still to read. In one shot I added 100 votes to the unread list when I converted. Group use – Wiki – is what makes tagging worthwhile. There was a link to a great essay about the validity of tagging rather than cataloguing in LibraryThing about a year ago - I will try to find it and add a link here.)

It would be interesting to compare these lists with the lists in The Top Ten, a book of meta-book lists. That book attempts to identify the most important books by compiling the top-ten lists of current authors, and then it is interesting to compare one's own reading with the important books of our culture. The LibraryThing tag unread would mainly be about books people are attracted to, and have, but have yet to read - a list naturally more influenced by current releases, marketing, Oprah, etc.

PS Abby says there is NO REASON for the list to have 106 books on it. Fair enough, but somebody came up with the number. Who? What? When? Where? How?

The marigold asks nervously:
Is updating this list another task I need to keep on my to-do list? What about my other tagging projects? I guess anal-retentive does have a hyphen. MUST LET GO! MUST LET GO!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

LibraryThing Early Review

The Age of the Conglomerates: A Novel of the Future
by Thomas Nevins

This title was so attractive to me that the Librarything algorithm got it just right to pick me as an early reviewer. I was really excited to have scored this book. However, the best thing about this book was the title.

The whole work felt expeditiously executed. The ideas seemed both too numerous, and vague, the predictions unsupported. The writing was poorly edited: so much so, that I wondered if the writer's pals at Random House, where he works, didn't want to hurt his feelings with corrections.

For a start, Nevins's version of the future is already out-dated – imagine that in 50 or so years there would still be cell-phones in use and old computers lying around with email capability!

The dystopia Nevins envisions is an America bankrupted by the meeting of massive boomer pension requirements with decades of personal borrowing beyond assets, winding up with CEOs of powerful companies "united in greed" taking over government and operating the country as a "Conglomerate", to their own continued personal benefit. Not a bad idea, although anti-corporate in a juvenile way. However, the lifestyle achieved does not seem consistent with personal benefits accruing to these leaders.

The action plan of the "Conglomerates" involves the appropriation of the assets of the elderly and their resettlement into camps; the genetic modification of the children of the rich, to order; and the family-requested and paid-for resettlement of unmanageable children, ostensibly to other camps, but actually to dumps in the New York subway. Whew!

The inelegance of the writing is well-demonstrated in the tin-eared use of the casual "Coots" as the official word for the elderly, apparently a homage to the writer's father, and "Dyscards" for the cast-off children, a term one could imagine they would like, but would be too biker-glam for the "Conglomerate" bureaucracy, surely.

The main characters are part of a family that conveniently embodies each of these categories, and consequently the family dynamics are forced off-key: the grandparents, old "Coots", are fabulously in love, still. Their daughter (invisible and unexplainable in the story) is unable to stay married, and has had one natural child who is possibly the highest-ranking geneticist in the country (ie a key "Conglomerate"), and two genetically-modified children, one of whom is a "Dyscard", a wild punk. (How did that happen? The mother has already paid once to have this child. Shouldn't she get her money back instead of having to pay to discard her? What can the explanation be?) Neither of the older children can stand their mother or each other. Whew, again!

And what about the handful of genetically-modified mutant babies that the "Dyscards" are trying to save from the "Conglomerates" at all costs? Where does that come from? Although they have no connection to any part of the story, they appear suddenly to provide the locus for the narrative, which improbably winds this family's lives back together as the writer works them through the scenario of the "Coots" and "Dyscards" needing each other to fight the "Conglomerates". Enough said.

I see that the other reviewers are forcing themselves to finish the book responsibly, as I am, but I guess there is not much to look forward to in the last 20 pages.

Nice face, shame about the legs. ( 1/2)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Opera-Manga Lives! It Lives!

A comment left for my first post about Shakespeare-manga, from someone at Classical Comics (see link), has led to a conversation, and she led me further to someone who is actually doing graphic versions of operas! Hurray!

It is P. Craig Russell. I am adding a link to him too. None of the operas I was thinking of, like La Traviata and La Boheme, but instead he has produced versions of The Magic Flute and The Ring of the Nibelung and Parsifal and Pelleas and Melisande.

The cool thing here is that my children know The Magic Flute quite well, in part because it features in Mozart's Magic Fantasy, one of the Classical Kids' series that started with Beethoven Lives Upstairs, that they have been falling asleep to for years. I cannot recommend these disks highly enough. They do correspond with known biographical facts about the composers, they work around short excerpts from many of a composer's pieces and they contextualize these composers in their times, while entertaining with a story. I feel they can be forgiven for the odd anachronism, or language slip, as the value in laying down a ground of really good music is so high.

In a related note, something we look to You-Tube for is opera arias. We once spent a couple of hours on a rainy Sunday judging the merits of various performances of the Queen of the Night from The Magic Flute and Il Commendatore from Don Giovanni. WAY cooler than Hannah Montana. I don't think that even the most disinterested person could fail to be reached by these two arias. (Mozart's awesome Requiem does not stand up so well on You-Tube - better to just close your eyes and listen to a recording. Except for the Princess Tutu video, q.v..)

And The Magic Flute is also part of the Metropolitan Opera's offerings that we hope to find on DVD.

It seems like a no-brainer that my kids will want to peek into a graphic version of The Magic Flute. And, if they don't, who cares? I will.

Incidentally, about a year ago, I bought a Wagner's The Best of The Ring CD-set from Philips, and the book Wagner Without Fear by William Berger. I felt like it was ignorant to know nothing (duh!) and be afraid. In fact, Wagner writes the most lush romantic music possible. I often amuse myself when listening to the radio by trying to work out the composer, and I figured out that if I am saying to myself, "Beethoven? No. Tchaikovsky? No. Beethoven? No. Tchaikovsky? No." it is actually Wagner. Not at all threatening, really! Time to try The Ring of the Nibelung, graphic version.

Back to P Craig: even I had heard of Hellboy, one of his major creations. He has also worked with Neil Gaiman on some Sandman stories. I'll have a check at the couple of volumes of Sandman I have, and if I am missing P Craig's, I'll get them.

Now I have to get to a bookstore and get out my wallet for:
Classical Comics Macbeth at least, and we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their Frankenstein, too;
and The Magic Flute, and The Ring of the Nibelung, for starters, illustrated by P Craig Russell;
and any Gaiman/Russell that I do not have.

The marigold asks nervously:
It is one thing to be able to buy or borrow all the books that are interesting, but will I have enough time to read them? And listen to the music? And share?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ghost Lilacs

On the Victoria Day weekend, I was driving by myself on Highway 401 between Belleville and Toronto, which is pretty boring. However, it was lilac season, and I was noticing little clumps of lilacs by themselves, or lines of lilac bushes near the highway. I was also admiring the old lilac trees around the old farmhouses, and thinking about the fact that lilacs are not native to Ontario, and I suddenly wondered if these lonely ones mark where houses had once been. These ghost houses would only be visible during lilac season, otherwise the green bushes would blend in with the bush. I thought it would be an interesting project to map the lilacs, and compare it with old county maps showing settlements and houses and farms. Some would be escaped strays, but probably not most.

I love the idea of mapping. I have always wanted to map the birds nests that are visible in the early spring when the trees are bare, so I can follow the development of the baby birds when the leaves come in. I think it would be a very child-friendly mapping process, too.
I guess mapping outcroppings of lilacs would have to be done with GPS positioning, in order to overlay it properly.

I love the idea of the lilacs being the ghosts of the houses. How tangible, yet intangible. MMMM.

The marigold wonders nervously:
Is there enough time in one life-time to figure out these kinds of questions?
Is this sufficiently interesting to be a thesis in horticulture? Urban studies?
Has someone already thought of it? Will I ever know?
The marigold wanders nervously back to the first question.
I also love thinking up potential theses. Can you tell?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Triumph of the Delivery Modes II

I am proud of my kids capacities and abilities, and I want to show them everything, from ballet to baseball, but nevertheless I don't want them to be out of step with current kid-culture. Yet, I have to admit that after our Shakespeare-manga moment, we had another cool new-delivery-mode experience, this time with opera. We had an arrangement to go with a couple of other grown-ups and another kid to the HD re-broadcast of La Boheme from The Metropolitan Opera. I had hoped that the opera I consider to be THE introductory opera, in a movie theatre with popcorn, at a $20 ticket price, would work as a starting point for a lifetime of pleasure in opera, but...I was prepared to leave if they got bored or really didn't like it, or couldn't sit still. On the contrary, it was the little one who wanted get a membership to The Met so we would have first access to tickets for future shows, and the big one wants to rent or buy other operas from The Met on DVD to try at home! (For interest I'll note that La Fille du Regiment and the Barber of Seville are at the top of the list, not to mention La Boheme again. Opera-movie party, anyone?)

Now, the Met is one of the best opera companies on the planet, and their staging and production values were perfect. (Which is not to say the broadcast was without flaw - the colour was improperly adjusted in our theatre for the first half of the transmission.) The "extra features" like interviews about the staging, and with the stars, and with the adorable conductor Nicola Luisotti, were delightful. The movie audience got to see a bit of back-stage business, including Ainhoa Arteta, as Musetta, actually wiping her eyes behind the curtain before the curtain calls.

In its own way, the combination of the best opera company available at the movies, is as suitable as Shakespeare available in manga. Of course it works. It is a bold and up-to-date idea from a world known to be as stodgy as they come. The Met is also flying with their success in this initiative: last season they gave six broadcasts, this season they gave eight, next season they are planning for ten. In the extensive program they say their transmissions reach one million viewers! That's a lot of people watching opera. I think the new General Manager, Peter Gelb, is responsible. I read about his plans a few months ago in The New Yorker.

I have been out of the opera-loop for nearly ten years. (See: The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer on how this works.) I know longer know all the names. I did know of Angela Gheorghiu, who sang Mimi, and she debuted professionally in that role more that fifteen years ago. Her voice was awesome. First the good: the final act was wonderful. It often requires such suspension of disbelief to fit together an opera singer, healthy (robust) in body and voice with a dying consumptive, but she did it! Here it is tempting to say that it was filming that allowed her to hold back her power, but, of course, this was recorded during a live performance, filling an opera house. How do dey do dat? Unfortunately, the filming made the first act hard to believe. Gheorghiu had to vamp her young seamstress to communicate the character, and meanwhile her not-young face was in close-up. Opera has been an art at a distance until now. I guess the new stars will be (are?) as young and telegenic as most writers are now: made for TV. I had not heard of Ramón Vargas, but I loved him in the role. He was emotional and believable. His high notes were effortless and lovely. His closing cry of "Mimi!" made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I was talking with the most musically qualified among us about that note. Is it a slight discord? It sounds unresolved to me, and that would be appropriate. I'll try to look at the sheet music. Or should I write to The Met and ask them?

Kids or not, depending on the work, I really plan and hope to see more of these. Suddenly I have seen a few different opera things lately, and I am thinking opera traditions are changing. Why would people choose a quite-good but terribly expensive, local performance of standard repertoire, over, on one side, an affordable, digital broadcast of the best in the world, or, on the other, a specialized festival (ie the Rossini Opera Festival), or a company that devotes itself to non-standard repertoire performed at a high level (ie Opera Atelier) or...what else is coming down the pike? I think that, similarly to retail, the middle will die away and only the top and bottom will be left. Interesting. I'll be watching.

The marigold asks nervously:
Will opera movies work at home, or does the mystique of even a movie theatre provide some necessary seriousness? Will I kill my kids' enthusiasm by trying this at home?

PS This morning we are watching SpongeBob, so I guess they're still OK. Whew.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Triumph of the Delivery Modes I

This past week has brought into use for my family two new delivery modes for cultural data. In Earth-speak, we enjoyed old-fashioned culture in new-fashioned ways!

One of my questions has been answered:

The kids were seeing the Julius Caesar Shakesapeare-in-manga book lying around on my pile, with the bleeding hero on the cover, and the conspirators with their various reactions standing over him. They were curious. Finally, one night at bedtime, the six-year old said "Please, please can we read Julius Caesar tonight?" I said "Oh honey, it's dark to read this, and it's hard to understand, and it might not be good bed-time reading." The face went under the covers, to hide the disappointment. So...we started reading Julius Caesar in manga. I don't know this play, I have to study a bit now, to help understand the story, but how cool is that as a project?

QED Manga worked, by itself, to draw kids into the story. I'll update on our progress as we go.

PS We laughed hard at Monty Python's Julius Caesar on Aldus Lamps, too.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read

This book, by Pierre Bayard, is perfectly provocative. By that I mean it really offers a push to reconsider how we rely on received ideas, and also how using received ideas is, in fact, useful. His thesis is simple: knowing how books are perceived within the culture is arguably more important than actually reading them. Bayard further suggests that many educators and pundits have not and do not read thoroughly everything upon which they expound.

One thing I found lacking is discussion of alternative ways of "not reading". I cannot skim. I don't allow myself to look at newspapers, especially week-end editions, because that would be the day gone. I find myself reading the business pages and the ads and so on. I am a bit compulsive. Therefore, my method of knowing a book, without reading it completely, is reading it very closely, but only partly. The rest I extrapolate, and/or fill in with my cultural knowledge of the book and/or any hearsay evidence I come across, including reviews and conversations with other readers. I am so tempted to add Bayard's categories to my LibraryThing tags, only using PB for "partly-read books" rather than SB for "skimmed books". (Therefore my tag could/would be: PB/HB - book I have partly read/book I have heard about.) A further note could also be why the book was abandoned: got the drift already? too boring? too repetitive? unpleasantly written? not enjoyable? too difficult? too easy? too formulaic? Actually, I see that this would require further thought to make it meaningful. Actually I see that perhaps instead of PB - book I have partly read, I should say AB - book I have abandoned! Or maybe I need both categories. Are there other ways of "not reading"? Will anyone tell me theirs?

Funnily enough, How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read is a book that can be understood and appreciated through reviews alone (HB - book I have heard about)! His key ideas are much expanded in the actual book, but much presented in reviews such as this one. The link I have provided is, in fact, for a review meta-site (through Literary Saloon - also provided separately).

The marigold asks nervously:
How do I encapsulate in a tag that I have stopped reading a book that I like because I learned enough before finishing?