Category archives: Books

Catching up

by Dec. 15, 2010 in Books

Wow, it has certainly been a long time since I posted! In case you were curious, I did successfully complete NaNoWriMo again this year. I'm currently in the processing of editing A Selective History of Max Werner, and hopefully I'll be able to share more about that in the coming months. If you would like to be involved in helping me edit it, just leave a comment below.

I've continued to read, despite my lack of activity here, though at a reduced rate. Still, I have plenty of material for posts, and I'll put the most interesting stuff up soon. I'd like this post, however, to be less about catching you up with what I've been doing, but you catching me up on what you've been reading. What's the best thing you've read in the last few months? What blog posts did I miss that I need to check out? The books section of my google reader currently looks like this:

And I simply know I won't get around to reading all of those. So I leave it up to you to point me in the right direction.

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NaNoWriMo 2010

by Oct. 29, 2010 in Books

This may come as something of a shock, but with my participation in NaNoWriMo next month, I won't have the time, or energy, to post about the books I've been reading. Considering how little I've been posting recently, it's possible that means I will actually have to go back and delete posts in order to post even less than I currently am. Originally my plan was to put together a selection of posts, and give them a publish date so that things would not be entirely dead around here during the month of November. However, it hasn't happened, and now it's too late.

I could always take my daily NaNo writing and post that as a blog entry, but I can't imagine anyone would want to read an entirely unedited 30 part novel. So, sorry again for not posting much around here for the last month, but hopefully NaNoWriMo will inspire me again like it did last year, and this place will become flush with posts once again. I have been making my database entries, though, so if you are interested in seeing what I've been reading, you can always check that out.

Finally, as a sneak peak at …

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Across the Nightingale Floor

by Sept. 23, 2010 in Books, Fantasy, Recommended

Across the Nightingale Floor

One of the things I love about reading is being able to draw connections between the story I just finished and a conversation I'm having with a friend, or some other book I just read, no matter how different the two may seem. Whether it's Tufte's Visual Display of Quantitative Information and getting people to go to church, or the asides of Don Quixote and the Tale of Genji, it's all connected. Or, as Thomas Foster says in How to Read LIterature like a Professor, it's all one story:

"We – as readers or writers, tellers or listeners – understand each other, we share knowledge of the structures of our myths, we comprehend the logic of symbols, largely because we have access to the same swirl of story. We have only to reach out into the air and pluck a piece of it" (192).

Across the Nightingale Floor and C.S. Lewis' essay "On Stories" is yet another example. In this essay, Lewis emphasizes that what makes a story great isn't as simple as a sense of danger or excitement, or not knowing what will happen next. Instead, it is all the elements of that story, combined in their …

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Pleasantly Unpleasant?

by Sept. 13, 2010 in Books

In A Preface to Paradise Lost, C.S. Lewis mentions how the character of Satan can be appreciated as a well-developed and fascinating character while also being thoroughly reviled by the reader. One does not have to actually like Satan to enjoy the skill with which Milton renders him. This started me thinking - do I actually enjoy when something unpleasant is rendered with disturbing accuracy? Do you?

There have been a few books I've read recently that contained successfully developed unpleasantness. First, Blindness by Jose Sarmago consists almost exclusively of the depravity of the human character once any sense of civilization has been taken away. As one of the characters says "This is the stuff we’re made of, half indifference and half malice" (32). Aside from the few moments of beauty and compassion in the book, I found reading it entirely unpleasant.

Next, there is A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe. As I said when I originally reviewed it, though this work is skillfully executed, I hated reading it. Bird's reaction to the (possible) mental handicap in his newborn son was utterly repulsive. I didn't care how wonderful the writing was, I wanted to throw the book down …

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Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories

by Aug. 23, 2010 in Books, Recommended, Science Fiction

Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories

I've never felt the need to defend the enjoyment I get out of reading science fiction or fantasy novels. As a result, though, I've never really considered what it is about these types of books that interests me so much. Fortunately, C.S. Lewis has, and in this collection of essays, he perfectly articulates why such stories are worth reading, writing, and discussing.

It's not worth summarizing each of the essays here (they are so efficiently executed that it's hard to trim anything out in summary), but there are a few points that Lewis makes that I want to highlight.

First, he repeatedly points out that, regardless of audience or subject matter, a good book is simply a good book. If it's not good enough for adult's to read, then why should our children? He also enjoys emphasizing the idea that one should not arbitrarily choose a genre, but should let the story dictate the best means of delivery. These are just two of the many points he raises, and I'm hardly doing them justice. Lewis brings so much warmth and humor to each essay that you should really just read them.

In addition to a collection of fascinating essays ( …

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Canvas or: the One That I Wrote

by Aug. 17, 2010 in Books, Fiction

Canvas or: the One That I Wrote

Last November I participated in National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short). I've always wanted to write a novel, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. The core concept of NaNoWriMo is that, while there is a time for careful writing and editing, there is also a time for boundless creativity. NaNoWriMo is all about output; quantity is emphasized over quality, and it has to be if you are going to finish a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days.

It was crazy, but fun, and at the end of 30 days, I had a novel that I could be proud of. It was coherent and complete, and that's about all I was asking of myself. In the mean time I've done some editing, but the text itself has remained pretty much what is was as of November 30, 2009. Now, thanks to some cool technology, and some risk-free publishing services, I can actually share my novel with others.

Before I continue, let me be honest for a moment. This is not a professionally published novel. If I were reviewing it on the blog I would probably say something like:  "While there are some interesting ideas in Canvas, …

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The Handmaid's Tale

by Aug. 14, 2010 in Books, Recommended, Science Fiction

The Handmaid's Tale

Wow, it's been so long since I last posted that you're probably thinking I decided to read The Tale of Genji all over again. I did not, though, so I promise that's the last reference to the length of Genji that I'll make (in this post). No, the real reason I haven't been posting is due to a combination of being on vacation with no internet, and laziness. I was still reading, however, so let's get to that.

The Handmaid's Tale, sexual pun intended, is set in a futuristic dystopian society and tells the story of a Handmaid - a religiously and politically sanctioned concubine. The Handmaid who serves as our narrator is not a huge fan of her new role in society.

Though Atwood does an excellent job of creating a cohesive, well-realized, and clearly defined society, I would not go so far as to say the events she portrays are believable. I don't think our own society is just one step away from heading down this particular path. That isn't a criticism, however, because I don't think you have to consider this a real possibility to appreciate what Atwood is trying to tell us.

As a matter …

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The Tale of Genji

by July 30, 2010 in Books, Fiction, Recommended

The Tale of Genji

If you've been reading this blog recently, you know that I've been reading (and enjoying) The Tale of Genji.  I'll do my best not to reiterate anything I've said already, but that shouldn't be hard considering there are so many great things happening in this book.

First of all, the briefest of synopses.  The Tale of Genji follows 4 generations of individuals in Japan's Imperial court during the late 10th Century (which is also when it was originally written).  Though Genji is the main character, he is not the only one we get to know in this epic tale.

Ultimately, though, it's not what happens in The Tale of Genji that makes it so appealing (not to say that there isn't a lot that happens.  Here's a quick rundown off the top of my head: sex, rape, death, cuckolding, spirit possession, exorcism, suicide, inclement weather, exile, love, jealousy, infidelity.)  It is the characters, and the reality of their hopes, fears, joys, heartaches, desires, and transgressions that make Genji such a compelling work of fiction.  Or, in Genji's own words:

"Not that tales accurately describe any particular person, rather, the telling begins when all those things the teller longs to …

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Tale of Genji - Update 3

by July 27, 2010 in Books, Fiction, Recommended

Yes, you are seeing that picture correctly - I finished reading The Tale of Genji over the weekend.  I'll do a final post, database entry, etc later in the week, but for now I just want to bask in the glory of finishing an epic book.  Now I'm going to spend a week collecting my thoughts and trying to condense a months worth of reading in a few thousand words....

Quick aside - considering the numerous characters, titles, and interconnected relationships in The Tale of Genji, I'm also considering putting together a few tools to help anyone who wants to read it. More on that if I actually have the energy to compile the necessary data.

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Tale of Genji - Update 2

by July 21, 2010 in Books, Fiction, Recommended

If you are at all familiar with the Summer of Genji reading schedule, you will probably notice that I'm a little ahead of where I'm supposed to be at this point:

There are two reasons for this.  First of all, I really want to finish before going on vacation in the first week of August.  Bringing a book this big onto a plane simply seems absurd.  Second, though, is that the nature of this book begs for it to be read in huge chunks.  There are so many characters, often identified only through generic, frequently changing titles, that if you stop reading for even a day, it's easy to forget completely who you are reading about.

Plus, many of the best moments in the book consist of a subtle shift in the relationship between characters over the course of 50 or more pages.  If you didn't read it all at once, however, it is much harder to pick up on these shifts.  I've noticed several times that the first 20 minutes I spend reading in the evening are slow, and at times dull.  30 minutes later, however, I don't want to put the book down because some enthralling sub …

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