Monthly Archives: August 2012

Lists and Critics

A couple of links until I can write something thoughtful about re-reading, a post which has been brewing all week… threat or promise? You’ll see in a day or two.

1. A list on goodreads, a place where I’m not a member because I’m trying to limit the places I have an account. It just gets complicated. This list is pretty interesting. It is fully a democratic list, anyone can join in the party, and it is entitled “Books Everyone Should Read Once.” I went through the first page of this list, the top 100 vote-getters, and I’m doing ok, at I’ve read 42/100. Mind, some of the books are picture books. There is a funny thing with the Chronicles of Narnia as a set and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe listed as a book, both in the top 100. I counted both since I’ve read the set and thus read LWW. Some of the top 100 are books-of-the-moment, but many are not. Thoughts on the selections of a variety of readers?

2. An article on what being a book critic is all about from the L.A. Times. This reinforces my view that a good book review is a piece of literary criticism, not primarily a way to say nice things about a book you liked, but a way of understanding what it is about the book that is really good, or, conversely, what makes a book really terrible.

3. On the flip side of the list of books everyone should read once, which seems to be a popularity contest for books, Publishers Weekly asked readers to tweet about underrated books. They collected some results. I’ve never heard of these books. Perhaps I should correct this.

What about you, what makes a book a classic that everyone should read? What are the underrated books you’ve run across, books you think are great but no one else has heard of?

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More Books to Read

Here are a few more links to lists of authors and books that I’ve found over the last week or two.

1. Suggested Reading for English Teachers on Vacation. (I’ve extended the title to make it a bit more descriptive.) The list, posted by the English department of St. Columba’s College in Dublin, looks pretty interesting. It caught my eye as it includes a book I’ve been pondering at work, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs. The cover catches my eye every time I walk past the literature section, a section that is very close to my desk. I can’t quite see TPoR from my desk, but as soon as I stand up to walk to the front of the store, boom, there it is. The top book on the Irish list also looks interesting, though I’ve never seen it myself. Actually most of these books look interesting to me or I wouldn’t pass it on, now would I?

2. The Top 10 Women writers of fantasy, Part 1 and Part 2. I mostly know the names in part 1, but part 2 shows that I’ve just not read enough fantasy by women. Or possibly it shows that I’ve been reading other fantasy by women. Or that I read Young Adult fantasy novels by women (Rowling? Collins? Not On The List). Whatever it means, I have new authors to try.

3. Finally, three books to help one become a better reader. I’ve read other books on reading well, but none of these. Adler sits on my shelf awaiting attention. I’ve paid him some attention — I counted the number of female writers indexed in this continuously reprinted and recommended guide, and that number is zero. Zero. None. Zilch. Possibly this is one reason I haven’t read it quite yet. The other two look promising, I shall keep an eye out for them.

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Olympic RIP

Ok, one last kick at the London 2012 can before the second games begins. Here are some photos of abandond/repurposed Olympic sites. Most worrisome: the ones from 2008, Beijing. Thoughts? Feelings? Montreal?

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Some reading bits and pieces

Here are a couple of interesting reading lists and links I’ve picked up over the last little while.

1. Literary devils. This ranks the devil (you know, Satan, embodied evil) as portrayed in literature by relative fearsomeness. I find Lewis’s demon much less laughable than the author does.

2. Reading in the Renaissance. This is a pretty cool post. It has a description of the Renaissance scholar’s study from the period. It is kind of a how-to of having a study and being a scholar. Really interesting.

What about you? Anything interesting out there in the world of book?

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Writing Tips

I’ve been collecting some writing tips over the last week or so. The Olympics now being over, it is time to return to regularly scheduled work. Also, the second new year, September, is coming quickly. My fall schedule needs to include time for writing. With that in mind, here are three posts that I found interesting:

1. Advice from Mr. GenX himself, Douglas Coupland. Here Coupland gives 25 practical pointers he wished that someone told him earlier in his career. Note that this list of pointers includes setting aside regular time for writing more than once.

2. How to Read like a Writer. This is an interesting post about reading to improve writing. I’ve done some things like this, but never with the intensity proposed in the post-it note section. I kind of like it. I use post-it notes in research, why not in writing research?

3. Plot shapes and examples. There are 21 plot shapes given here. I am not sure that the shapes of the last 3-5 go anywhere much. I think possibly more can be explained in terms of basic plot shape than is credited here, but hey, it is an interesting collection of ideas.

What are you writing?

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Liebster Award; or, Chain Mail for Bloggers

It is kinda cool when people you don’t know read your blog. So it is gratifying that a book-lover in India nominated me for this Liebster Award thingy for bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. Thanks Disquisitive Writer. I appreciate your support. And get a black iPad, they look best.

But really, as another recipient of the award pointed out, this is like chain mail for blogs since part of receiving the award means one should nominate others for the award. Now the rules vary depending where you look. The rules the Disquisitive Writer who nominated me posted ask that I nominate 11 others. The rules I’ve seen elsewhere on other recently nominated blogs ask the award recipient to nominate 5 others. What is one to do? I’m going with 3 others. Why? Because they are the blogs I read regularly. My nominees are Necessary UrbanThe Lonely Disciple, and The Mrs. If you guys have more than 200 followers, oops, my bad.

The rules the Disquisitive Writer also included 11 questions for me to answer. I’ll do my best, but there are never guarantees with this question thing.

Q1. What is your favourite book of all time? Possession. I’ve said this a few times in this space.

Q2. Which is your favourite post from your own blog till date and why? Hmm. I think I’ll have to go with the one MBro asked me to write.

Q3. You’re meeting your girlfriend/boyfriend’s parents for the first time. What do you say or do to break the ice? Sorry, no idea, I’ve never actually been in this situation.

Q4. You are 100% free from work and other shackles for today. How would you like to spend your day? (in couple of sentences at most) Read. And drink coffee.

Q5. Have you ever read a book that challenged your intellect? Which one and how was it challenging? Many. My current intellectually stimulating read is The New Testament and the People of God written by N.T. Wright and dedicated to everyone’s favourite campus chaplain.

Q6. Mention one of your obsessive compulsive habits that you’ve ever had. (like climbing stairs two steps at a time.. come on, everybody HAS something) Can’t think of anything, probably because I don’t see it as obsessive, but as normal. Someone else would have to tell me it is obsessive.

Q7. One thing that you have always been really good at. Reading.

Q8. One thing that you have always been really bad at. Most sports or crafts that involve fine motor skills.

Q9. What did you want to become when you were little and what have you become? Is it the same? An aerospace engineer. Yes, I did get that degree, but now I’ve moved on to other things.

Q10. One thing that you would love to procrastinate forever, if it was so possible. You mean something I want to always postpone doing or something I would like to last forever? I take it to mean something I want to permanently postpone. Nothing that I can think of.

Q11. Favourite age at which you could go back and live it again. Ages ending in 7. 17, 27, etc. Hey, I’m in a 7 year right now. Cool.

I won’t leave 11 questions for my nominees, but will ask them, should they decide to participate, to give the world 11 random facts about themselves.

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Literary indigestion

You know how sometimes you have a craving for food that you know in your head isn’t that good, and is terrible for you? Maybe KFC is an example, or you might have another. Then you give into the craving and regret it. Blech. There was the promise of a treat but the indigestion makes the whole thing just not worth it. And you hope you remember this well enough to resist in the future.
I have that kind of thing going with Tom Clancy novels. As noted in my previous post I got sucked into re-reading Rainbow Six because of the Olympic tie-in. Like most Clancy books R6 is badly overwritten, and thus needs at least a good edit. It is also full of boring internal dialogue in which Clancy basically preaches to his readers. The message in this particular version of the sermon is terrorists are dumb, soldiers are smart family men, and environmentalists are crazy crazy people.
I decided I was done with new Clancy books after the first post 9-11 book, The Teeth of the Tiger. Now I also think I am done with old Clancy books too. I thought maybe there was something to examine in the version of Catholicism portrayed in the books, but I feel like that any writing about Clancy books might be the literary equivalent of Fast Food Nation or whatever that book is called.
I like spy thrillers though. Any suggestions for some more literary attempts at this genre?

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Clancy passes Bechdel Test

I’m re-reading a large Tom Clancy thriller because it has an olympic tie-in and I’m sort of a sucker for the Jack Ryan thrillers. These are NOT feminist books by any stretch of the imagination, and I think one could argue successfully that these books are anti-feminist in many ways.

But. Rainbow Six passes the Bechdel Test. WHAT? Yup, it does. In case you haven’t read Rainbow Six, let me just assure you that it is a typical Clancy thriller about spies and guns and terrorists and shooting people dead without a trial. The main characters are all men. The two main characters are familiar to people who read the Ryanverse books — John Clark and his son-in-law, Domingo Chavez. Back to how this book passes the Bechdel test.

1. There are at least two named women characters. There are far more than two named women characters in this book, but for now we’ll just mention Sandy Clark and Patricia Chavez, her daughter.

2. Who talk to each other. Sandy and Patricia do talk to each other in a dinner scene where both of their husbands are also present.

3. About something other than a man. Yes. Yes, they do talk to each other about work. Sandy is an ER nurse and Patricia is a medical doctor doing an OB/GYN residency.

This scene is a weird little slice of domesticity in the book. I’m not sure what its purpose is exactly, except to emotionally set up the next operation that John and Domingo have to go on, which involves rescuing children.

To be (slightly) fair, there are also named women who play a more central role in the plot, but none of these talk to other women, only to men. I am only half-way through this re-read, so if this changes I will let you know.

If Tom Clancy can pass the Bechdel test, surely it shows that this is a very minimal standard. Yet, there are many books and movies that don’t pass the test, meaning they really ignore half the world’s population in the stories. Things that make you go hmmm.

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A Feminist Post

How many people have I driven away with the title of this post? How do you know it won’t be interesting or good just because the title has the word feminism in it? Why judge a blog post by its title?

It is a cliche that one should not judge a book by its cover, but how often do we do just that? That is the subject of this column on sexist covers that men run from. Please note that the author of the column is a man. (True confession: I didn’t read the name of the author and assumed it would be a woman until I got to the part where he says I’m a man. Oops.) He raises some interesting issues on covers and pre-judging books, and shying away from books that are by women, even if they fall into the general category of books one usually likes.

In other feminist news, I picked up a used book at work the other day (this is not news) called Encounter with Books: A Guide to Christian Reading, edited by Harish D. Merchant, published by InterVarsity Press in 1970. I’ve only read the contributor list so far. In this list, as I habitually do, I looked for women contributors to the volume, expecting to find none. Instead of none, I found 4 — of a total of 67 contributors, that is 1 woman for every 15.75 men. Ok, for 1970, not too bad. All the women contributed to book lists under the banner “Humanities and the Arts.” One was a co-author of a list, so only three lists in the book were authored by women only. Those lists are: Drama, Dance, and Children’s Books. Hah. How stereotypical. I’ll get over it soon, but I was a bit steamed last night when I first did the assessment.

And in yet more feminist news, some people are doing a study of the use of feminine pronouns in books using that giant online repository of text, Google Books. Interesting!

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Reading with a Medieval Twist

I noticed that my friend the Libertarian has just started reading Midnight’s Children by Salmon Rushdie. Someone suggested to him that the book was brilliant, and that he would enjoy it, but also suggested he might need a brief background in twentieth-century Indian history and politics to properly “get” the book. I’ve read some of Rushdie’s essays about writing MC which mean that I do want to read the book at some point, but I also feel like I need a bit more history before I launch in. I need to know a bit more about where Rushdie is coming from.

This article suggests that a similar issue might arise in reading Bede, a medieval historian. The blog post is actually the abstract for a doctoral dissertation on reading Bede. The dissertation suggests that Bede wrote with a certain method of reading in mind, reading in depth, not just reading the surface. Indirect quotes, phrases, and allusions to other events (often from the Bible) in Bede’s work point to deeper meanings, beyond the superficial recounting of historical events.  Why would Bede write like that? Because that is how Bede expected his text to be read. If he read other texts, primarily the Bible, in this way, then he surely would write so that his texts could be read on many levels.

Interesting. Might the same apply to, say, nineteenth-century writers? How did they read books and so expect their books to be read? Similarly, how do postmodern writers expect their texts to be (mis)read? Do they write so they can be read this way? Does this explain some things about academic writing in the twenty-first century?

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