Reading

 

Since retiring I’ve been reading more. I have been tweeting the title and author of each book as I begin them under the hashtag #AmReading. Much to my surprise, those are the tweets that get the most interaction, and not just retweets from the authors. In fact that is a rarity.

So I thought it might be interesting to make a regular post of the books I’ve read over the course of the month. It will help jog my memory and keep me from buying duplicates. Parteimer’s, you know.

I don’t really do book reviews. Why not? One, I don’t feel particularly qualified, and two, I have a hard time saying negative things about people or the works they produce and not all the books I read are necessarily great. So these will generally be unannotated unless the book was truly exceptional or really needed a lot of work. (And I feel bad about the latter.) Otherwise, you can assume I read and enjoyed them, which means yes, they are worth your time and money.

My October Reads

Rain Girl, by Gabi Kreslehnar, a murder mystery – Kindle.

Realm Shift, by Alan Baxter, an action adventure – Nook

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Stienbeck, an American classic – Nook, from the library. A must read.

Forbidden the Stars, by Valmore Daniels, science fiction – Nook, needed a good editor

Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction – Kindle

Tracy’s Hot Mail, by Trevor Belshaw, satire – Nook

Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson, literary – Nook audio

Seven Book Covers, four over three

As the month winds to a close my next book up is an old Agatha Christie novel, but it will wait for next month’s list.

So what have you been reading lately? Have any recommendations for me?
~jon

 

Cover art of Boundary WatersMy friend, Estrella Azul, has a blog post up by the same title as this one. Her post is about the old Guardian survey of 100 famous books. You can pop over to her blog and see which ones she’s read and how many you have in common. But this is not that. Her title simply tickled my muse, and got me wondering about the literal answer to the question.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld. It intrigued me in that it is set in my home town of St. Louis, Missouri. I’d head the author discuss the book on the radio, so when my book club selected it I was more than happy to nab a copy for my Kindle. It is about identical twins, both with physic abilities, and how a prediction one makes complicates the lives of both of them. I did enjoy it, but was left just a little disappointed.

To answer the question more directly, I am currently reading Boundary Waters, by Debra Easterling. I just stated it (still in Chapter One), so it is too early to have formed any opinions. The author spent many years in the Boundary Waters region, so I am looking forward to her description of the area.

I am also currently “reading” Campfire Songs, edited by Irene Maddox and Rosalyn Cobb. As the title suggests, this is a collection of old campfire songs, many of which bring back fond memories from my childhood. I put “reading” in quotes because I am actually just picking out the ones I know and singing my way through the book. My kids think I’m crazy. They’re probably right. Again, I’ve just gotten started and have refreshed my memories on: Get Along Little Dogies, Home On the Range, Red River Valley, and Streets of Laredo. I am embarrassed to say I had to go out to You Tube to find Streets in order to recall the tune. I was singing it to the same tune as Get Along. The words fit, but it sure sounds wrong.

Next up in the songbook is Amazing Grace.

So, to repeat the question, what are you reading right now? Let me know in the comments.

~jon

 

Cover of Less Than Nothing by Jeff Posey depicting a close up of a Native American in full headress.This post isn’t so much a book review as a reconnection.

I just finished reading “Less Than Nothing, A novel of Anasazi Strife” by Jeff Posey. If you’ve followed this blog for a long time, or been a #FridayFlash fan back in the day, that name may strike a bell. Jeff used to post flash fiction related to his WIP (work in progress for those who wonder) and they were always very well received. Good writing begets good reception.

At any rate his WIP is no longer a WIP but a full fledged novel, the aforementioned “Less Than Nothing,” available as an ebook from Amazon, SmashWords, and Barnes & Noble. I assure you, it is very much more than nothing.

Jeff’s posts were usually character studies or experiments to see what worked and what didn’t. I always enjoyed them, even if he sometimes seemed a bit less than satisfied with a given effort. I was one of many who told him I’d buy the book when it was done. Well, I have, and I am not disappointed.

One thing I wondered about was how much I’d enjoy it as a novel. The thing about novels is the reader’s sense of discovery as the novel progresses. Since he posted many shorts related to the work I was not sure how much discovery would be left. I needn’t have worried. While a few of the scenes harken back to those flash fiction stories this is much more than a bunch of shorts bundled together. Jeff has done a wonderful job here of weaving a seamless and complex tale involving many fascinating characters wrapped in layers of intrigue. One word of warning for the squeamish, there is a lot of violence. I would not call it gratuitous, but it is prevalent throughout the book.

I suppose a short synopsis is in order even though this is not a book review.

The story takes place in the desert southwest, near present day Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. It is set just before and in the wake of the 1057 A.D. Crab Nebula Supernova, an event that sets off a wave of violent upheaval in Anasazi society and surrounding areas. In the midst of this crucible Tuwa, a young man discarded by his father as an infant, is thrust into a struggle to free his people from the brutal rule of Chief Warrior (and obvious sociopath) Pokunyesva, or Pok.

After Pok kills those Tuwa loves most, Tuwa and several of his orphaned friends take up with a long distance trader who teaches them to how to survive and adapt in a brutal world. His trading years takes place mainly off stage, and the story takes up when the trader’s business brings them back to Tuwa’s homeland.

Tuwa and his compatriots return to Center Place Valley seeking revenge. They are but a handful of young adults and children who attempt the seemingly impossible – to overthrow tyranny of Pok, and in doing so unleash a series of events which will shake the Anasazi world to its core.

I was gripped by the story of Tuwa and his friends. I had come to know them back in Jeff’s flash fiction days, and missed them. It was such a pleasure to rediscover them, not just as a series of shorts, but a full fledged, fully realized, and very well executed novel. Well done, Jeff Posey. I am so glad I have rediscovered you and look forward to reading you newest works.
~jon

 

Books on a shelfI went to my book club Saturday and enjoyed an evening of good conversation and good food. We always have food at these things. Sometimes we spend more time discussing the food and life in general than we do the book, but Saturday night we spent a fair amount of time on the book. I hated it, so I won’t bother to mention the title or author, but everyone else in the group enjoyed it. In fact one person said it was possibly the best book choice of the year. No accounting for taste. Since I was in the distinct minority, I’ll accept the I may have missed the boat – but I don’t think so. :)

During the course of the conversation, probably somewhere around the third course as a matter of fact, someone made the comment that they read fiction with an eye to learning something new. Not learn something new as in the intricacies of human interaction, but something factual. Considering the book was about Zombies I was a little surprised he found any facts at all. In truth maybe he didn’t, it was a broad statement about reading fiction in general.

That got me wondering: Why do people read fiction?

I know some folks who never read fiction. I can’t imagine living that way, but there they are – walking, living, and breathing. As far as I can tell they are not zombies, though some of them do root for the Cubs.

When it comes to fiction what are you looking for? Are you looking for escape? Do you read simply to relish well written prose? Or, like my friend, do you read with an eye to lean something new?

For me, I’m afraid I’m pretty prosaic. I read fiction for escapism, pure and simple.
~jon

© 2011 by J. M. Strother. Photo by J. M. Strother.

 

5 Thing ThursdayYesterday I wrote about the 100 Books meme going around on Facebook. Sadly, I’ve only read 26 of them, which is nothing to write home about. But I think I deserve credit for reading some great books that were not on the “BBC” list. Today I add five books I’ve read that should be on the list. Feel free to agree or disagree, and to add your own forgotten five.

Here are mine:

The Iliad, and The Odyssey, by Homer: No, not Homer Simpson – Homer, the famous poet of ancient Greece. These are of course two separate books, but if the “BBC” can list all the Harry Potter series as one entry, then I can list these two classics by Homer under one banner. It give me more room to add more books. I have always been a fan of mythology, which the epics surrounding the Trojan War are steeped in. I think there is great value in reading old classics – they provide much of the common foundation for what is written (and often taken for granted) today.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain: This is the seminal work of arguably the seminal American author. How could it not be on the list of 100? Do you mean to tell me the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will have less of a lasting impact than The Da Vinci Code? Get real. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the Code, but in the hierarchy of works of merit there is no comparison. (I could pick many other books on the list that could be booted in deference to Huckleberry Finn rather than the Code). I first read this as a young boy and relished the adventure. It was not until later that I fully understood the deeper social commentary which was its whole point.

The Well At the World’s End, and The Wood Beyond the World, by William Morris: These two fantasy novels, dating from the 1890s, are fundamental building blocks in the realm of high fantasy. Tolkien, and many others, got inspiration from Morris and his works. I read these in the 1970s after reading The Lord of the Rings. While I still prefer Tolkien, I think these two are must reads both for fans of and authors in the fantasy genre.

The Once and Future King by T. H. White: Hello? BBC, ever hear of a little something called the Arthurian Legend? While T. H. White did not father the Arthurian legend he certainly cemented it into modern literary tradition. I’m a little stunned it does not appear on the Facebook meme, nor on any of the other lists of 100 I’ve looked at. (It did appear at place 198 on The Big Read.) The Little Prince beats out The Once and Future King? You have got to be kidding me.

So hard to pick #5 – I still have many that probably deserve mention. But I have to pick one.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: I am ashamed to admit that Ivanhoe is one of those “classic” novels I avoided like the plague in my youth simply because it was a classic. In my rebellious youth I did not want to read things I was supposed to read – I was convinced they would be boring (which is why I did not truly discover Dickens until I was in my early 50s). Once I finally got around to reading Ivanhoe I kicked myself for having put it off. What a great story, and probably just a little dangerous for its time. Like Huck Finn, there was a lot of social commentary in this book. I highly recommend it.

There you have it. My five top picks of books that should have been in the Facebook meme but were left out. What do you think? Good choices? Bad? Do you have others to suggest? Let me know. I might discover some great new reads.
~jon

 

There is a meme going round on Facebook about the top 100 books the BBC thinks you should have read and their supposed belief that most folks have only read six of them. Doubting the provenance of the stated meme, and being the nerd that I am, I armed myself with Google to try and ascertain the validity of its origin. After my exhaustive search (it lasted all of 15 or 20 minutes – am I exhausted) I have determined that while this is a fun meme, and one I fully intend to pass on, it probably did not originate from the BBC – at least not in its current form.

The list seems to be a hodgepodge (god, I love that word) of several lists. Karina, at The Guiri Dispatches,  speculates it may have originated as a variation on the 2003 BBC’s Big Read project (which was a listener’s/reader’s poll). One of her readers counters that the list may be a mutant (my word, not theirs) of the March 2007 book list from the Guardian – Books You Can’t Live Without: the Top 100. (By the way, I have not read all 100 on the Guardian list and am still living, so there might be something wrong with their list.)

Nowhere could I find a definitive link back to the BBC for the current meme. Nevertheless these memes are great good fun and I am going to participate, with bells on. tinkle tinkle tinkle Hear ‘em? So here is the meme from Facebook, despite its questionable veracity:

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here.
Instructions: Copy this into your NOTES.
• Bold those books you've read in their entirety.
• Italicize the ones you started but didn't finish or read only an excerpt.
Tag other book nerds. Tag me as well so I can see your responses! (Or not, after all reading is not a competition!
I'm betting that we're all well over 6 books, and I am curious to see the common ground).

In all my exhaustive research I never was able to come up with where the “only 6″ notion came from. Nor was I ever able to determine who the elusive “I” is.

Below is my annotated response. I (me – Jon, the guy writing this post) really am curious to see which ones you have read, and which ones you know you never will. No need to annotate your responses, though it might be fun.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien: My all time favorite book.

3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee: My all time second favorite book.

6 The Bible: In my attempt to read it cover to cover I made it as far as Exodus.

7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte: I did not expect to like this. I loved it.

8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell: Nothing like a little light reading to brighten your mood. :o

9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens: I’ve read other Dickens’ stuff. How come I can’t get credit for them?

11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott: Bonus points if you know what the M stands for.

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller: Read this as an adult. Must have slept through it in school.

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare: Bits and pieces, here and there. Much prefer to see them as plays.

15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien: Can’t wait for the movie. Go New Zealand!

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger: Not quite sure how I avoided this throughout school.

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger: On my list of things to read.

20 Middlemarch – George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell: I tend not to read books I’ve already seen movie versions of. Even if the book is better the sense of discovery is ruined.

22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy: As a slow reader I can tell you, size does matter. Not even tempted.

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams: I’m a failure as a geek.

27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll: Dude, what were you smoking?

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame: Gorgeous.

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy: I bought this long ago, but never got around to reading it.

32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis: I’ve read several, but not all. Interesting they list The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe separately.

34 Emma -Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini: Excellent, excellent book. I highly recommend it.

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden: I listened to the abridged version.

40 Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne: I’ve got two kids. Of course I’ve read this.

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell: I’m sure I had to read some of this in high school.

42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving: Only because it was one of my book club’s selections. I never would have picked this up on my own.

45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery: Maybe, maybe not.

47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood: My wife read this and warned me off – too damned depressing.

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding: Loved it. Yeah, I know, like this isn’t depressing.

50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52 Dune – Frank Herbert: One of the best SciFi ever written.

53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens: Pretty sure I had to read some of this in high school.

58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley: I know, shame on me.

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon: Terrific. Read this book.

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold: As the father of two girls the concept just sounded too depressing for me.

65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas: It’s all fuzzy… Maybe, maybe not.

66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie: Great title. I mean that.

70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville: Thank God for audio books.

71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens: I may or may not have read all of this in junior high, but am fairly certain I had to read at least part of it.

72 Dracula – Bram Stoker: Holds up amazingly well.

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett: One of those “wussy” books I ended up thoroughly enjoying.

74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses – James Joyce

76 The Inferno – Dante: I keep meaning to. Honest.

77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal – Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray: Don’t you just love that middle name?

80 Possession – AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens: While on my Dickens kick.

82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White: I have fond, is somewhat sketchy, memories.

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Several times.

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery: I was unimpressed.

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams: Just re-read this within the last year or two. Still good.

95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole: Got maybe a third of the way through. I could not stand it. If it wasn’t against my religion to burn books it would make good kindling.

96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute: Simply excellent. I highly recommendable it.

97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas: Started to read this to my daughters but they lost interest about a third of the way through so we never finished it.

98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare: Again, maybe, maybe not. Does “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” count? Read that and it’s the same thing.

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl: Though I do love chocolate.

100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

It looks like I have 26 under my belt – certainly nothing to brag about. I really should have read many more of these. Conversely, I have read many great books they did not have on their list, and they count for something. I’ll follow this post up with one on Thursday of the top five books that should have been on this list. Drop by then to see if you agree, or to add your own.

For links to many more 100 Best lists check out this post from Nicholas Whyte, first dated in May of 2003 and updated in April of ’07. Seems it’s hard to keep a good list down.

P.S. Consider yourself tagged.
~jon

 
Who says Beagles are dumb?

Who says Beagles are dumb?

 
The BOFF is out!

The BOFF is out!

Well, after several anxious moments this morning, I finally have the Best of Friday Flash – Volume One out the door. Yes, it’s true. The BOFF is now available on Smashwords, for $2.99. It looks pretty good, and successfully converted to all supported formats. I’m not too sure on the formatting on some of them, and don’t have an ebook reader to check others, but I thought it turned out pretty well. More on the trials and tribulations in a later post, this is a time to party.

Please help yourself to some of the hors d’oeuvres, have a little of the Champagne (over 21 only – we card). It’s been a long time coming and I am definitely in a parting mood.

To help celebrate, I am going to periodically give away some books (yea, books at a book launch — go figure) during the day. Just leave a comment on this post, then three times today, at random times (including tonight so that we include folks on the other side of the world) I pick a random number. We’ll have three winners. Each winner will receive a copy of the BOFF and a copy of one of our participating author’s novels. A chance for two books for the price of… a comment. How sweet is that?

The prize pool includes Strange New Feet, by Shannon Esposito (who leads off the BOFF with Her Migration), RealmShift, by Alan Baxter, and Prophecy Moon by Laura Eno. Of course you’ll get The BOFF too. Check out the full Table of Contents, or just click on the picture up top to go directly to SmashWords to sample or buy now.

So come on in. Grab a brew, have some chips. We have book!
~jon

Book Launch Party – Day Two

Wow, you guys really know how to party. We’ve been rocking all night and still the music plays on. Just want to let you know you are not too late. There will be a final drawing for a door prize this afternoon (Wednesday) sometime around 4 US Central time, so keep those comments coming. My thanks to all of you who have dropped by with well wishes and party treats, and to everyone who has helped spread the word on the Web.
~jon

 

I had an interesting conversation with the new young turks in my office the other day. One guy just hired on, fresh out of college. The other one is a summer intern. Both are Computer Science majors, and very much into gadgets of all kinds. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that both are avid readers.

They like the same kind of stuff I like: fantasy, science fiction, general fiction, some of the classics. We spent a good half hour talking about everything from Harry Potter (which they grew up with), to Lord of the Rings, to 1984. It was great.

Then I asked them what they thought of ebooks.

Ooooh. Both of these guys frowned and shook their heads, no. They don’t like ebooks. They want a real book in their hands. These are the young readers we keep hearing about that grew up on computers. Blackberries, iPods, Bluetooth, Androids, cloud computing – these guys get it. They’re hip. Yet they don’t want no stinking ebooks.

I was a little stunned.

I did get one one them, I’ll call him Mike, to admit that it would be cool to have an ebook reader for traveling. But other than that, they were dead tree guys, through and through. (Both my daughters are about the same ages, and they like “real” books too.)

Yet Amazon now sells more ebooks than hardbacks. Someone is obviously embracing ebooks with abandon. Eventually I think these guys will too, for the convenience of travel and to do quick text searches. Mike admitted that capability was pretty cool too.

What does this mean for the future of reading?

I think it proves my point: avid readers will end up buying books they really love twice – once as a physical book to have and to hold from this day forward, and once as an ebook for sheer convenience. I also think older readers will embrace ebooks for the ability to change font sizes. The good news here is young turks turn into old farts soon enough.

So stop gnashing your teeth about ebooks killing the book markets. I see bright days ahead.
~jon

P.S. Don’t forget to take my poll on ebook pricing. You’ll be glad you did. Oh, nothing special will happen, but you’ll get the warm glow of knowing you participated. ~jon

Photo by Adrian via Flickr Creative Commons.

 

Two items caught my attention recently. First there was this posting on The Publetariat concerning ebook pricing: Pricing to Fail: Case Studies in Dumb Pricing. Basically, it states that if you overcharge what the market perceives to be a fair price for electronic content, you won’t move many units. Pretty simple economics, really.

Then I saw an article from the Columbia Journalism Review about a newspaper in Massachusetts, The Sun Chronicle, which has started charging their readers for the privilege of commenting on stories. That’s right, they’ve put their comment system behind a pay wall.

My initial thought was, “Well, that certainly ought to cut down on the number of comments they receive.” I was right. According to the article, the number of people who comment has dropped from about 6,000 to just twenty.

Apparently the idea is, by charging a nominal one-time fee (thus eliminating anonymity) all the trolls who typically muddy newspaper comment threads would drop out. This, in turn, would elevate the quality of the discussion. Evidently it worked like a charm. Trolls, it seems, are cheapskates and cowards.

The article states “that removing the option of anonymity encourages a different type of commenter to participate,” and quotes the publisher, Oreste D’Arconte thus: “So far, the tone of the conversation has been excellent.”

Would you be willing to pay to comment at your favorite news site? Maybe some people would. In which case it begs the question: How much do you charge people to comment? As the first article points out, charging too much pretty well dooms the project, no matter how good the end product. The Sun Chronicle decided 99¢ was about right.

I’m fascinated by this idea and am thinking of moving to this model. After all, experimentation is the name of the game here at Mad Utopia. Instead of charging 99¢, I’ll charge $1,000,000. That should work nicely. I probably won’t get many comments, but man, I’d only need one.

So, what do you think? Is it crazy for newspapers to charge for commenting, or is this really a brilliant idea whose time has come? Feel free to chime in. Don’t worry, your comments here are free – for now.
~jon

Photo by drb62 via Flickr Creative Commons.

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