camping & Hamlet

Hamlet's BlackBerry

This weekend I went camping for the first time in about eight years. I’ve always liked the idea of camping much more than the reality of camping, as in my mind, weather conditions and insect populations don’t exist. It went better than I expected, and I even had fun. Not sure I’m up for more than one night, though. By the next morning I was ready for the indoors.

One of the things I brought along with me is the book Hamlet’s BlackBerry by William Powers. I’ve been reading it off-and-on since February, and I hoped that during the down times I could finish it up. There were a few of those moments, but not many. I ended up finishing it at home.

The book is one of the most fair arguments for dialing back online activity, or at least creating a space away from the distractions of the internet and focusing on being physically and mentally present, either alone or with other people. I haven’t gotten to the point where I feel pressure to be connected all the time, but I do miss it when I’m not. On the other hand, a part of me was looking forward to disconnecting this weekend, at least for the 24 hrs away from civilization, but I wasn’t quite sure if I was disappointed or relieved to discover I had cell service at the campground.

The Hamlet connection comes from a reference to “tables” in Shakespeare’s play. These were hot tech at the time, and reminded me of something like portable dry-erase boards. Hamlet makes some notes about the things that are bothering him, and feels relieved to get them out of his head and into a device that can store them for him until he his ready to do something with them. I feel the same way about my smart phone and the Remember the Milk app — no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I can usually take that thought that would quickly disappear and make a note about the thing I need to do.

I liked the idea of stepping away from the screens for a period of time. I thought that a 12 book challenge would be easy to complete in a year, but I’m not reading as much anymore, in part because I spend so much time on the computer when I’m at home. I need to start setting aside dedicated time at home that is not on the computer, and not just when I’m cooking, cleaning, or doing laundry.

April & May reading

More fiction this time, which I mostly read in April, but I was too lazy to write this up until now.

Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi is mainly a retelling of the events of The Last Colony, but from Zoe’s perspective. It felt like Scalzi wanted to give a different first-person perspective of the events, as well as filling in the gaps when the protagonist of TLC was not present to witness things. I liked it, but not as much as the trilogy.

Cat of the Century by Rita Mae Brown is the latest in the Sneaky Pie series, and possibly the most disappointing. When she’s not using the characters to be the mouthpiece of her political views, she’s writing vapid and uninteresting narrative. I keep hoping she’ll stop writing this series so I stop feeling compelled to read it, but a note at the end of the book indicates there’s at least one more on the way. I was smart this time and borrowed the book from the library rather than adding it to my hardcover collection as I have done with the previous books in the series.

Heaven – Season Five: War by Mur Lafferty is a podiobook that is responsible for making my gym visits over the past six months much more tolerable, although even that wasn’t enough to keep me going regularly through the holidays. However, I managed to kick start my workout routine again, and with that, finish listening to the book. This is the finale of Lafferty’s metaphysical spec fic series, and while I am sad that it has ended, it was satisfying enough.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell was my workplace’s book group selection for the spring. I don’t think anyone should take this book too seriously, as he tends to find facts to fit his theories and ignores or discounts facts that go against them, but he does make some thought-provoking points about the outside forces that determine if someone is “successful” by his definition of success. I would be interested in seeing some authoritative social science research on the factors he identifies.

January readings

I always do better at the beginning of the year than later on, so I’m not going to crow too much about being on track for reading 50 this year, particularly since two are graphic novels that took less than 20 minutes to read. Nevertheless, here’s the round-up:

The first and last books I read this month are The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony by John Scalzi. Continuing on in the Old Man’s War universe, the first is from the perspective (mostly) of Jane Sagan, although not in the first person like OMW. The second is once again from first person perspective of John Perry. While TLC explains more of the politics of the OMW universe, I found TGB to be more interesting reading due to the issues of sentience and self-hood that Scalzi explores in the story. The fourth book, Zoe’s Tale, is on my reading list for this month.

Star Trek: Art of the Film is one that I read and reviewed for Blogcritics. It’s “is part coffee table book and part behind-the-scenes glimpse at the creation of the film.” Most of what I have to say about it, I said in the review, so check that out if you’re interested.

I started reading the new Wonder Woman comic series last year, and I found that I’m missing the context of an incredible amount of backstory, so I picked up copies of the first two trade paperbacks, Who Is Wonder Woman? and Love and Murder. It’s still a bit confusing, since even though they are the start of a new series, there is still an underlying assumption that the reader is familiar with the history of Wonder Woman. Me, I just vaguely remember the TV show. Anyway, I think I’ll continue getting the trade paperbacks instead of the single issues. It’s more cost-effective, and I need the longer story arcs to keep track of what’s happening.

book swap/sale

I’ve been complaining for years about how many books I have piled up in my house that I haven’t read yet. Well, in preparation for moving across town to a new apartment, I’ve pulled out a bunch of them that I’ve decided I can re-acquire or borrow if/when I get around to reading them. Please do me a favor and take some off of my hands!

The books I have for trade are listed on PaperBackSwap, so they’re only available in the US. I thought about listing them on BookMooch, which is international, but I have a pile of credits over there and almost never get a book coming to me, whereas with PBS, I seem to have more luck.

The books I have for sale are listed on Half and Amazon, but you’ll get a better deal by purchasing them through Half. Two reasons: I priced them lower there because I get about $0.50 more per book due to different fee structures, and you save on shipping if you buy more than one, which Amazon does not do.

Finally, I have some BookCrossing books that I need to, um, bookcross. If you’d like any of them, please let me know and maybe we can work something out.

2009 reckoning

Once again I attempted to read 50 books in a year, and once again I failed. Well, actually, I pretty much gave up on it early on, so it’s no surprise to me that I didn’t get there. Anyway, here are the books I read last year (I read a lot more than just books, but these are all that I’m counting):

  1. Don’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life by Brian Raftery
  2. Vulcan’s Forge by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz
  3. Vulcan’s Heart by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz
  4. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book One: Exodus by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz
  5. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book Two: Exiles by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz
  6. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book Three: Epiphany by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz
  7. Slurp: Drinks and Light Fare, All Day, All Night by Jim Hensley, Nina Dreyer Hensley, and Paul Lowe
  8. Of Mule and Man by Mike Farrell
  9. The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education by Maya Frost
  10. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely
  11. I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago by Hape Kerkeling
  12. Libyrinth by Pearl North
  13. Kilimanjaro: A Photographic Journey to the Roof of Africa by Michel Moushabeck & Hiltrud Schulz
  14. Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights by Kenji Yoshino
  15. Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi
  16. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

My pleasure reading was mostly Spock, and all of the non-fiction was either for review or for a book group discussion. This weekend I went through my bookshelves and pulled about 80 books that I’m either selling or trading away because I haven’t read them yet and will probably get them from the library if/when I ever get around to reading them. The nice thing is that in the process of doing this, I was reminded of books I’ve wanted to read for a long time but have forgotten I have them sitting on my shelves already.

One book down already for 2010, and hopefully more to follow it. In fact, I think I’ll go start on The Ghost Brigade right now.

books read: 2008

No surprise that I did not meet the 50 book challenge again this year, and considering how few books I read in the latter half of the year, I’m not surprised to discover that I read fewer than I did in 2007. Oh, well! I’ve come to accept that the goal will likely not be met, and is simply the carrot I dangle in front of my bookshelf face.

This year featured much more non-fiction than what is reflected in my TBR collection, since I ended up mostly reading books I was reviewing for publications, or in a few cases, books that I was discussing with others at work. I’ve been keeping track of my reading on GoodReads, and you can follow it in real time if you are so inclined.

  1. Open Your Heart With Geocaching by Jeannette Cézanne (non-fiction)
  2. Lipstick & Dipstick’s Essential Guide to Lesbian Relationships by Gina Daggett and Kathy Belge (non-fiction)
  3. Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Space Between (fiction)
  4. The Purrfect Murder by Rita Mae Brown (fiction)
  5. Eccentric Cubicle by Kaden Harris (non-fiction)
  6. Stewards of the Flame by Sylvia Engdahl (fiction)
  7. Wikipedia: the Missing Manual by John Broughton (non-fiction)
  8. Star Ka’at by Andre Norton and Dorothy Madlee (fiction)
  9. How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation by Marc Bousquet (non-fiction)
  10. Scion’s Blood by Pat Nelson Childs (fiction)
  11. Dragon Harper by Anne & Todd McCaffrey (fiction)
  12. Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian by Scott Douglas (non-fiction)
  13. Everyday Cat Excuses: Why I Can’t Do What You Want by Molly Brandenburg (non-fiction)
  14. Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis (fiction) (re-read)
  15. Nine Tomorrows by Isaac Asimov (fiction)
  16. Out Front With Stephen Abram: A Guide for Information Leaders by Judith A. Siess and Jonathan Lorig (non-fiction)
  17. The Starship Trap by Mel Gilden (fiction)
  18. The World Is Your Litter Box: A How-to Manual for Cats by Quasi, with Minor Help from Steve Fisher (non-fiction)
  19. A Year of Festivals by Lonely Planet Publications (non-fiction)
  20. Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty (fiction)
  21. Santa Clawed by Rita Mae Brown (fiction)
  22. slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte (non-fiction)
  23. Smart Blonde: Dolly Parton by Stephen Miller (non-fiction)

#20

I have been collecting Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series in hardcover, but after reading the latest, Santa Clawed, I’m beginning to wonder why I bother to buy the new ones as they come out. The mystery is a hodgepodge of recycled ideas from previous books, and about the only thing that’s different is the bits about what’s going on in the lives of the main characters in Crozet. As much as I like reading about Harry, Mrs. Murphy, and all the rest, I’d rather go back and re-read the good stories than see Brown pump out more half-assed books like this one.

#19

I was doing so well on my 50 Book Challenge goal this year, and then the busyness of this past fall hit and I haven’t taken the time to read books. This one is in fact a book that I listened to rather than read, but I think that counts.
#19

Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty takes place in the near future. Set in an east coast city, the story revolves around the protagonist, Keepsie, and her relationship with the city’s protectors: genetically enhanced human superheroes. Unwillingly thrown in the middle of a conflict between the superheroes and the supervillains, Keepsie and her friends are forced to choose sides or make their own way with their collection of “useless” super powers. As it turns out, their powers are not as useless as they’ve been led to believe, and even the ability to control elevators comes in handy at one point. In the end, this is a story about using your gifts and abilities to the best you can, even when everyone around you believes they (and you) are worthless.

The book was originally released as a (free) serialized audio book, then as a (free) PDF download, and then finally in print (not free) through Lulu.com, before it was picked up and published by Swarm Press in August. Thanks to the efforts of many fans and supporters, the book hit #1 on the Science Fiction best seller list at Amazon the day it was released, even though it had been available in other formats for free. Aside from being a fun read, I think the story of it’s success is a nifty one and for me, added to my motivation to finally read the damn thing.

As a fan of Lafferty’s other works, I highly recommend that you also check out her other serialized fiction. Namely, the Heaven series.

thinking like a user, not a librarian

I should have know that this would be the slippery slope that lead to… a wishlist.

I did something today that was revolutionary. Well, for me, anyway. I tagged an album on RateYourMusic that I do not own, nor have I ever owned. I tagged an album for my wishlist.

I have been treating RateYourMusic as a LibraryThing for music, which it pretty much is, without all the flair and design and integration that LT currently provides. My personal rule (a.k.a. thinking like a librarian) was that I would “catalog” what I owned, not what I wanted or had previously owned. That’s how I roll over at LT, and for my book collection, it makes a lot of sense.

My music collection, however, is much more fluid. I’m less likely to hang on to a CD once I’ve grown tired of it, so I regularly trade out “old” albums for “new” ones. A while back I started tagging albums as “used to own” rather than completely de-accessioning them. Because I’m regularly acquiring new music, I need to know what I’ve already evaluated and passed on, and this is one way to do that.

I should have know that this would be the slippery slope that lead to… a wishlist. Sure, I have wishlists all over the place, from Amazon to the various swap sites I participate in. However, RateYourMusic is supposed to be a catalog, right? And a library catalog doesn’t have wishlist items, right? (Well, unless you count those books that never show up from the publisher/jobber/vendor.)

This is the point at which I stopped thinking like a librarian and started thinking like a user. Having a wishlist mixed in with my have and use-to-have lists means it’s all in one, indexed collection. It feels freeing to let go of the “rules” that keep me from using all of the tools available to me!

#15

Two nights ago I really wanted to read a book before bed, but it was late, and I knew that I would end up reading until all hours of the morning and regret it the next day. So, I scoured the mass market Mt. TBR and found a thin book, which also happened to be a collection of short stories. Yay!

Last night I finished reading Isaac Asimov’s Nine Tomorrows, and as can be expected, it was an engaging read, with each short story providing a different insight into how (in some cases, minor and insignificant) actions and events of now might evolve into the future. Some of the characters in the stories were charged with solving mysteries, but mostly it was left to the reader to figure out what was going on and how humanity got to that point.

The book is a product of its time. The copyright is 1959, and the stories themselves were originally published in magazines in that decade. Understandably, the Cold War and nuclear research play roles in several of the stories. Asimov also explores his (apparent) favorite social science theme of societies where the actions of individuals or the whole can be predicted through mathematical theory.

If you are looking for some bite-sized Asimov, I recommend picking up a copy of this book, if you can find one.