Monthly Archives: June 2013

Blog Stats

Stats are kind of fun to look at now and again. Since today is the last day of the first half of the year, let’s look at some stats for my blog.

Searches

Some people find my blog by using a search engine of some kind. WordPress keeps track of which searches led people to The Backlist. Gratifyingly, some of these searches look like deliberate attempts to find the blog. The top five searches that led people to my blog are:

  1. Some version of “How has J.K. Rowling changed the world?” (84 times)
  2. Searches for lists of books for men/guys (54)
  3. Examples of atmosphere or sense of place (36)
  4. Searches about Tom Clancy/the Ryanverse (35)
  5. Some version of “I get bored with reading” (34)

My favourite search term:

dedication of thesis to aunt” YES! I dedicated my dissertation to three of my aunts, glad that the world wide web sends people to my blog because of it.

Posts

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the posts most searched for above are among the posts that get the most hits on the blog. The top five doesn’t quite line up though, so here are the top five blog posts:

  1. Fantasy is not Science Fiction (and vice versa)
  2. How J.K. Rowling Changed the World
  3. Top 100 Books — For Men?
  4. Theology in the Grocery Store
  5. Publishing Scams

So those are your top five posts based on popular hits. I’m not sure what my favourite posts are. I have to think about it. I’ll tell you tomorrow.

 

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Reading on the Bus Again

In my last post I mentioned reading 1984 on the bus. This brought to mind other books I’ve read on the bus. Back in the day, when I worked at McDonnell-Douglas Canada for a summer, I rode the bus from where I was staying in Etobicoke to the plant out at Airport and Derry. There was lots of time to read on the bus. One of the books I read that summer was The History of the Church by Eusebius. I wasn’t planning to formally study theology at that time — I was still studying aerospace engineering. Funny how things work out. I’ve still got my copy of Eusebius sitting on my shelves. It has been joined by many other volumes on Church History. 

Eusebius

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Reading 1984

I finally read 1984, that book everyone read in high school except my class, which read Animal Farm instead. We were the class of ’84, maybe the teacher was being sensitive? Right. So at my advanced age, I read this for the first time. Overall reaction: Meh. I can see why the book has been deemed Important Literature, I can see the prophetic nature of the work, I can see ways that some of the ideas continue to be important in the twenty-first century. I can better appreciate the photos of a young woman reading the book at a protest in Iran. But I didn’t like it. I found the hopelessness too much. I wanted Smith to do better in the end. I think people could do better.

How could people do better? On the bus ride home today, I first read the Appendix to 1984 describing Newspeak (more of that in a moment). Then I turned to my back-up book (I knew I’d finish 1984 before I got home), Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. I’ve mentioned this book in this space before. Today I began to read a chapter called “Practice Poetry.” This is stewardship strategy #8. Why read poetry? The author argued that the most persuasive reason in her mind is “reading and writing are survival skills. If we learn the skills involved in reading closely, attentively, imaginatively, if we understand the demands of a poem and respond to them, we are better equipped to negotiate flexibly, distinguish what is authentic from what is false, and make discerning decisions.” What a great counterpoint to the lit-free world of Orwell’s dystopia. Embrace poetry! It saves the world!

 

A note on Newspeak: In the appendix to 1984, the pared down language of Newspeak is described. In it the idea of a verb/noun is introduced. This verb/noun can then be changed to an adjective or adverb by adding the suffixes -ful or -wise respectively. AHA! This is why I hate the word “impactful.” It is a Newspeak adjective! Flee the formation of Newspeak adjectives! Use real words!!

 

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Tweaking the look

It is about time some things changed around here. I’ve changed the colour scheme of the blog, I’ve added a new page on reading projects, and I’ve changed the Blavatar for The Backlist. Watch for more changes!

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Reading Old Books updated

The year is almost half over. I’ve just added a page for my current reading projects so that you can (if you are bored) follow along with the LOST booklist and the reading old books projects. It was an interesting exercise to go through the list of old(er) books that I’ve read this year. Most are fiction (with three of 27 non-fiction) and most were written in the twentieth century (8 of 27 were not). Surprisingly, most were re-reads (18 of 27). The nine that were new to me were a mixed bag. Some (Barchester Towers, the Graham Greene books, The 39 Steps) were good reads that have me looking for other works by the author. One (Casino Royale) was disappointing. The rest were books I was not really excited about. I thought “No wonder I haven’t read this before.”

Moving forward, I see that I have postponed the rest of the Emily books by L.M. Montgomery for too long. I’ve got more Buchan lurking about, along with Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Arthur Conan-Doyle. True Confessions: I’ve never read Collins, Dickens, or the Sherlock Holmes books. I hope that they will fall into the good reads category.

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More LOST reading

Earlier in the year I made a list of books featured on LOST and started reading through them. I reported on The Chosen and Fahrenheit 451. I liked The Chosen and was not so fond of Fahrenheit 451. I can see why Bradbury is admired and the book widely read. I just didn’t like it so much. I feel much the same about the books on the LOST list I’ve just finished reading, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass both by Lewis Carroll.

True confessions: while I was exposed to some illustrations and excerpts from the Carroll books this is my first time reading them. I’m not 10, so that may explain some of my general indifference to the works. I can see why Carroll’s books are classics: there are some fun games with words, the poetry is amusing, the illustrations are good, some of the characters do amusing things. The thing is, there is no plot. Both the books are framed as dreams. This gives Carroll lots of freedom in the stories. Anything can happen in a dream! Plus, dreams are notorious for vague transitions. The books are full of vague transitions in which Alice finds herself suddenly transported into a new situation. There is a typographical convention for these dream-sequence shifts in the books — a river of ****** mark them. This feels lazy. Instead of producing a plot-driven book with transitions that work, Carroll frames the stories as dreams; transitions can thus be ignored.

I can see why the dreamy quality of the book might be psychologically interesting. I can also see how the dreamy quality of the stories might be appealing if one were on drugs or drunk. I was sober and riding the bus when I read the books. Possibly this added to my indifference. Maybe if I read the books when I was 10 or read them with an 8-year-old, I’d find them more amusing. Ah well, we’ll never know.

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Save the World?

I’ve been watching Heroes because I got three seasons for my birthday (hurray brothers!). In the series, as in so many spy novels or thrillers I’ve read, the characters obsess about saving the world. “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World” was the tagline of the first season of the show.

Last week a friend reminded me that the world is built of small things: individuals, households, neighbourhoods. She wondered aloud whether the Kingdom of God was not made up of a lot of small things: noticing a child’s smile, helping a woman find a gift for her grandson’s baptism, saying thanks for the climbing roses on the house across the street. I think she’s probably right. I tend to miss the small things the world is made of and wonder what my larger Purpose is. Perhaps Purpose becomes evident with attention to the everyday.

What can you do to save the world today? Share a smile, pay a compliment, be a neighbour, write a small blog post. Who knows? Maybe we’re planting mustard seeds.

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Spy Fiction!

Hey! I found a new spy fiction author that I like! It is another backlist to read through. Good times.

Stella Rimington is the former head of MI5, so she writes insider spy fiction. This is spy fiction with a female lead, not lame female supporting characters. There are seven (7) books in the Liz Carlyle series so far. I’m half-way through number one and I’m totally hooked.

How did I find out about this stellar series? The Books and Culture podcast. The what? The Books and Culture podcast. I listen to podcasts while doing dishes. The B&C podcast is about 10 minutes per week, so two or three get me through dishes and dinner prep. John Wilson, the editor of Books and Culture, talks to his sidekick Stan about some books of the week. John reads widely. On the podcast he doesn’t only talk about the kind of books that Books and Culture reviews. He also talks about mystery series and spy thrillers. I like this. I’ve taken notes. Stella Rimington is the first author I’ve tried because John recommended the Liz Carlyle series. I like the set. I’ll be trying more of John’s fiction recommendations. Hamish Macbeth anyone? Oh look! There are 29 books in that series.

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Movies that look Interesting

A while ago I wrote a post comparing Joss Whedon and William Shakespeare and pulling J.K. Rowling into the mix. Unless you live under a rock, you probably know that  Joss and Will are now closely allied in a way that I did not even come close to imagining. I want to see Much Ado About Nothing. Also, people in the blogosphere who are bigger Whedon fans than I are now listing other Shakespearian works that they think should get a Whedonesque twist. Good times.

In other movie news, Superman strikes again, but, the best news of the summer to my mind is the Julie Delpy/Ethan Hawke sequel Before Midnight. Oh Yeah. If you haven’t seen Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, watch them first. I plan to revisit those two, then go see the new movie.

What might tempt you into the theatre this summer?

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Summer Reading Again

A bit ago I posted a rant-like paragraph or two in this space about summer reading. I’ve found other people who are worried by the idea of required summer reading for kids in school. It is a bit of a no-win situation. Some kids like to read and will read all summer. They may be put off books that are required reading that they might otherwise like. On the other hand, some people get turned on to reading because someone made them read a book that they ended up loving.

I think one big issue is the way literature is taught in school. I speak as a teacher, but not a teacher of literature. I like to use novels in my teaching, but I’ve never studied how to talk about books. I just have students talk about books. This seems to work. I’m not saying that studying literature is a bad idea – but I think studying literature and criticism too soon is a bad idea. I wonder if classes can become communities of readers? Maybe that would prevent the studied hatred of poetry discussed in this poem.

What makes summer reading good reading? Is it a book? Are you reading it? Good.

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