30.1.06

Notable Quotes

Did I Miss Anything

--Question frequently asked by students after missing a class

Nothing. When we realized you weren't here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours
Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I'm about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose
Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter

This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
on earth

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?
Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human existence
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been
gathered
but it was one place


And you weren't here

Tom Wayman.

In re e-Books

Terry posts about e-Books, and he likes them. Among other things, he says "In addition, the e-book is a technology so powerful and far-reaching in its implications that I’m sure it will offer countless additional advantages I can’t even begin to foresee."

Working Smart had a similar post in December, and I expressed my reservations then:
I agree that there will come a time when digital books will have the right gizmo to read them on. It seems that text and reference books would be the natural place to start (imagine getting that entire backpack of heavy Calculus and AP History tomes into one neat tablet that you can annotate, print from and bookmark, just like a print version).

Where I don't think you'll see a dent in sales is with reading-for-pleasure. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.
When Terry writes, "As we drove home afterward, we chatted about how delightful it is to browse the shelves of a good bookstore. But is it delightful enough to survive the coming of the e-book? I doubt it. To be sure, I had a lovely time—but it was the first time I’d done any serious in-person book-browsing in nearly a year. I now buy virtually all of my books online." I want to scream. Buying books is not nearly the same as reading them. And you don't have to own to read. At least, that's what I keep telling myself I have a rather substantial print resources budget for: providing books to students/faculty/members of the community without them having to buy them.

He's conflating two issues: the availability of books (how one gets ones hands on them) and the readability of books (what one does with them after they're gotten). It's also following the iRevolution's motto of "immediate, and small, is best". Minimalism isn't always to be honored and celebrated. Right now, watching a tv show on your iPod is cool - it's hip - it says "I've got disposable income and time and watch me be really, really now". But when you're my parent's age? Try watching that 2" screen then.

What about loaning books? I do it all the time. Will I want to loan an e-book? Perhaps, but there's a good chance that the technology won't allow it.

Unlike Terry, I don't mind packing and unpacking my books - I mourn the ones in storage right now, and I enjoy looking at the ones on Mt. Bookpile (which, sadly, seems to be holding its own against my best attempts to scale it and wrestle it into managable size). But that's me. While the Teachout Museum is impressive, I wouldn't want to live with all that - it's just a difference in opinion, and taste. Which is fine and good and makes for horseraces and all that.

Come the e-book revolution, I'll be happy to buy the OED and all the editing and school library texts in that format. But not the next Ian Rankin or Garth Nix or A.S. Byatt or Alison Weir. And I suspect I'm not alone in that.

20.1.06

Whose characters are they?

Grumpy Old Bookman has an interesting post about Peter Pan and copyright. Many people know that Great Ormond Hospital owns the rights to Barrie's work, still collecting royalties and protecting Peter from the adults.

Now there are a slew of new books about him, ranging from Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg (about which I wrote here)to Peter and the Starcatchers and Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth. Seems simple, doesn't it? It's not.

Apparently, the Hospital is claiming that simply writing about the characters is a violation of copyright (which runs through 2007 in Europe, and 2023 in the US). Without getting into the whole "if copyright ends earlier in Europe than the US, what does that mean for my royalties and people that shop at Amazon.uk?" issue, the question of who owns the characters is critical.

Disney is notorious for going after people that use their characters, but they don't pretend to own Snow White or The Little Mermaid - just the images they've created of those characters. Ditto Peter Pan and Tink (I remember seeing her fly around during the opening of Sunday night's Wide World of Disney show).

But what about these three books? How much do they owe to the Hospital for using the characters created by Barrie? Do they owe anything - legally or morally? With copyright continually being extended, I suspect this issue will crop up more and more. While in some cases it's good (some books just shouldn't be written!), in terms of stifling the creative spirit, it's bad. In terms of artistic freedom, it's bad. Particularly if the artist/writer in question isn't directly copying the original, but creating a new work that can stand on its own.

9.1.06

Notable Quotes

I hope to find someone who understands the meaning of the word "monogamy" and knows that it isn't the Japanese art of folding paper into little animals.
Unknown, via Alice

1.1.06

You don't HAVE to

One phrase I find overused is "I have to ___". The truth is, 99% of the time, you don't "have to". "Have to" implies you really, absolutely Must.Do.This.Thing. Even though you'd rather not.

Take, for example, laundry. You don't have to do it - and certainly not when you claim you "have to" - you choose to do it then, perhaps to conform to the societal norms about appearance, perhaps as a way to get out of some other less-appealing chore or task. There's perhaps an obligation involved, but you could choose not to.

It's rare that the "have to" really means "If I don't, there will be dire consequences" (see Terry's posts about his health and slowing down). So what if you pong a tad? Who really cares if you haven't thanked someone for a gift? Will the world really end if you don't return that book immediately?

Alice often says "don't should on yourself". One of my goals for 2006 is to stop shoulding and saying "I have to ___." What about you?

Year-end Update

About this time last year, I commented that I had (approximately) 4400 books left to read before I die. I read 195 books this year (for a list, go here, here, here) and here), leaving 4204. Not bad, right? However, as we all know, it's quality, not quantity that matters. And sometimes, quality is, well... lacking is a good way to put it.

Unfortunately, reviews (professional and from well-meaning friends) are not always helpful or accurate. It's like cataloging in the library: some catalogers see a book as being about the history of the presidency and assign it to the social sciences (300s, for those of you unfamiliar with the Dewey Decimal System). Others, looking at the same book, conclude that it's really about the history of the US and assign it a 973 number. We, the hapless librarians charged with shelving the books, have to make up our own minds. So when someone says, "this is a great book" or "an incredible first novel" or "you'll laugh out loud", you take it with a grain (or cupful) of salt.

I get more upset by the things that should be good - a known author who, for whatever reason, writes a bad book - than by the ones that I had my doubts about in the first place. Those just hurt: it's time, effort, reading all lost and never to be regained. My goal, this year as always, is to cut back on the "bad" and increase the "good". Of course, I'd have to get over my problems with "clean your plate" reading.

All this ties in with an update to this post about reading in 2004 (taken from Librarian.net), updated below. 2004 totals are in parens.

number of books read in 2005: 196 (124)
best month: January/43 books
worst month: June/1 book

For 2005:
average read per month: 16.3 (10.33)
adult fiction as percentage of total: 13 (14)
children's/YA fiction as percentage of total: 40 (35)
mystery as percentage of total: 12 (23)
non-fiction as percentage of total: 8 (13)

On to 2006!

Notes from Mt. Bookpile

This has been a banner quarter! Here's what descended from Mt. Bookpile to join The Collection (per Doug's request, one-line reviews are now included).

Biography
  • Vita's Other World; Jane Brown Skirts her affairs and love life to concentrate on the gardening; too bad there weren’t more plans and colour photos
  • So Many Books, So Little Time; Sara Nelson If you’re a reader, you’ll know why this book hits home. If not...
  • Girl Sleuth; Melanie Rehak Interesting “biography” of Nancy Drew
Children's/YA

Fantasy
Fiction/Literature
  • Tales of Manhattan; Louis Auchincloss An old-fashioned look at an old-fashioned world
  • Dead Air; Iain Banks Not sure why this isn't available Over Here, but it's definitely worth reading (lad lit done way better than Nick Hornby does it)
  • Staring At the Sun; Julian Barnes I'd read a phone book if Barnes did it
  • Mysteries of Pittsburgh; Michael Chabon Not so sure if this qualifies as a "brilliant first novel" but not bad.
  • The Bookshop; Penelope Fitzgerald Small-town claustrophobia, UK style. Very nicely done.
  • Never Let Me Go; Kazuo Ishiguro Pretty good dystopian literature; sort of reminded me of James' The Children of Men
  • The Late George Apley; John P. Marquand Hard slog but, like Auchincloss, a nice period piece.
  • Changing Faces; Kimberla Lawson Roby Complete waste of paper and time.
  • Prep; Curtis Sittenfeld I can almost identify, but mine was single-sex.
  • A Complicated Kindness; Miriam Toews Vaguely disturbing coming-of-age as a Mennonite.

History
  • The Amber Room; Adrian Levy; Catherine Scott-Clark I admit, I've always wondered what happend to the room and it looks like now we know
Mystery
  • Case Histories; Kate Atkinson Nicely interwoven tales, but the linkages were telegraphed way too early.
  • Belle Ruin; Martha Grimes Only three books in, and Emma Graham's story is growing tired.
  • The Lighthouse; P. D. James Seemed vaguely like a retread of other Dalgliesh's, but still well worth the read.
  • The Haunted Bookshop; Christopher Morley Another nice period piece, set in Brooklyn during WWI. Interesting tie-in to today in some respects.
  • Knots and Crosses, Hide and Seek, and Strip Jack; Ian Rankin Yes, I'm catching up on my Inspector Rebus mysteries. Just wish I remembered more about my time in Edinburgh!

Non-Fiction
  • Every Book Its Reader; Nicholas A. Basbanes Another good book about, well, it should be obvious
  • Not-a-Tame Lion; Bruce L. Edwards Not-a-great-read-about Narnia, either.
  • The Unprejudiced Palate; Angelo M. Pellegrini Surprisingly good food writing (particularly loved the episode with the girlfriend's family)
  • The New Brain; Richard M. Restak What's going on neurologically with the NextGen kids: are we doing more harm than good?
  • The Primal Teen; Barbara Strauch Explains, without judging or offering fixes, what seems to be going on in the American teenage mind.
  • The Heart of Narnia; Thomas M. Williams Might be about the Heart, but written without soul.

Travel