Category archives: Books


by Jan. 4, 2010 in Books, Fiction, Not Recommended

I remember when the movie Blindness came out a few years ago, I thought "what a fascinating idea - everyone in the world suddenly goes blind except for a single woman!"  Once I learned it was originally a book, I decided to forego watching the movie, and decided to just read the book it was based on.  It turns out I was right - it is a fascinating idea, if not repulsive.  Jose Saramago's vision of a society stricken blind is quite disturbing.

Unfortunately, while Blindness is a well-written, fascinating, disturbing book, it's simply annoying and unpleasant to read.  Saramago makes some stylistic choices (which I assume are meant to convey to the reader what it's like to lose one of your senses) that create an obnoxious reading experience.  Combine that with the disturbing content and it's officially not fun on all accounts.  With that said, however, if you love to see the depravity of the human spirit, and want a book structured so that it is purposefully difficult to read, Blindness is for you, and I recommend it with all confidence that you will "enjoy" it.  For the rest of us, don't bother.

"This is the stuff we’re made of, half indifference and half malice" (32).

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What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy

by Dec. 21, 2009 in Books, Nonfiction, Recommended

What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy

When I first received this book as a gift, I looked at the cover and thought "Cool, a book that will show how good and noble video games are!"  However, if I had read even the title a little more closely I would have realized that this isn't an apologist's book on video games.  It isn't meant to show how video games are good for us, and therefore should be played by everyone all the time (though they should).

So what is it?  Just as the title says, it's a book that looks at what video games can teach educators about learning.  After all, Gee argues, good video games are complicated, difficult, long, frustrating endeavors that children and adults will spend hours mastering.  Obviously they are doing something right to produce this type of effort.  The question then becomes, what we can we take from video games and apply to the current education process?  How can we apply the principles of learning so obviously evident in video games to schools?

Throughout the book, Gee goes into detail on 36 different principles of learning, how they are exemplified in video games, and why they are so important to learning.  I may …

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Chart: Measuring Genre Transitions

by Dec. 18, 2009 in Books

On my last chart post, I asked if there were any suggestions for other data graphics and Shawn mentioned the idea of showing the transitions between genres.  In other words, do I typically read Fantasy or Sci-Fi after Juvenile Fiction?

In order to present this graphically, I thought a step line graph might work best.  You will notice that each "step" is a single instance of a book being read.  There are scenarios where two books of the same genre are read in a row, but the first Sci-Fi instance should give you an idea of the size of a single step.

I also ordered it such that genres were near those that are most similar.  Thus, more wildly different genres would be further apart, and would be represented by longer steps in the chart.

As you can see, there are not any obvious patterns that emerge, but that in and of itself is interesting.  It appears that I am pretty varied in my choice of genres and the order in which I read them.  There are some interesting things, though, such as the fact that I always read Fiction after Nonfiction, and seem to enjoy going from something …

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Recent books on CD (and why they aren't in the database)

by Dec. 16, 2009 in Audio Books, Books, Fantasy

I am constantly listening to books on cd in the car.  Literally, all the time.  I do not listen the news, music on the radio, or music on cd.  I don't sit it silence as I make my way to and from work.  There is always a book on, and there is always at least one in queue.  I didn't start keeping track when this book on cd endeavor began (Thanksgiving of 2007, on a trip to Dallas) but if my memory is correct, I have listened to 68 books on cd since then, with 69 and 70 in the car at the moment.  This does not include multiple listens to the same book (which has definitely occurred with books in the Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl series.)

So with that said, why don't I have entries for all of these in the database since that is meant to be a repository of all the books I've read?  This may seem ridiculous, as some have pointed out, but I don't think it's fair to these books to put them in the database.  I don't pay nearly as much attention to them as I do to the books I actually read …

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Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (Heechee Saga)

by Dec. 10, 2009 in Books, Recommended, Science Fiction

Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (Heechee Saga)

Beyond the Blue Event Horizon is a sequel to Gateway which I read (warning - spoilers) at the beginning of the year.  Beyond follows the characters from the first but, if you haven't read the first, that probably doesn't help that much so I'll give a brief outline of the universe in which these books are set.

Humans made their way into space, where they discovered the remnants of an ancient, super intelligent civilization.   Gateway is an asteroid from which people can launch into space in hopes of finding even more technology and thus becoming extremely rich.  Unfortunately, many people simply don't return from these flights.  In the first novel, Robinette Broadhead heads to Gateway to try his luck, and the sequel continues his story.

As I was adding this book to my "currently reading" section on Goodreads, I noticed a link to the author's (Frederik Pohl) blog.  I love the idea of authors blogging, especially if they have lead as interesting a life as Pohl has.  Definitely check it out of you are a sci-fi fan.

Speaking of being a sci-fi fan, you really need to be one to even consider reading this series.  While there are …

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Chart: Pages per Day by Genre

by Dec. 8, 2009 in Books

One of the advantages of having a book database is that you can easily query statistical data in order to look at reading habits in a different way. It also allows for precision that would be extremely tedious otherwise.

After reading The Visual Display of Quantitative Information I realized that my existing selection of charts are, while not worthless, not as informative or useful as I would like them to be. Many of them have chart junk, they rely too heavily on pie charts, they are not focused on data-ink maximization and in some cases the information could be just as easily displayed and understood in a table.  (I still think the charts have worth, so I want to keep them up, but I am also open to any suggestions for improvement.)

So, with that realization, I decided to try to make something that would be more interesting, offer more insight, and conform to the rules of building good data graphics that Visual Display lays out for us. Below is my first attempt. It shows, by genre, the average number of pages read for each entry in the database. Yellow diamonds are books I do not recommend, while blue squares …

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The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

by Dec. 4, 2009 in Books, Nonfiction, Recommended

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

I had a dream about The Visual Display of Quantitative Information last night.  This isn't a normal occurrence.  What was most surprising, however, was that in addition to telling a coworker the title and author of the book, I also proceeded to accurately explain the book's main premise.  I even had some visual aids to help sell the argument.

I took all of this as a sign that I should add it as a featured book, even though I read it back in September.  Visual Display provides the reader with a clear, concise understanding of what it means to create high quality data graphics, and the best way to go about doing so.  I understand you might want to fall asleep even reading this brief description but trust me, it's fascinating.  Not only does it provide you with an actual set of tools to use if you are creating your own data graphics but it also gives examples that range from fascinating and beautiful to, literally, life saving.

Every subject deserves a treatment as loving and engaging as data graphics receive in Visual Display, and you should read them.  Since I don't know of any other subjects that do …

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Olive Kitteridge

by Dec. 3, 2009 in Books, Fiction, Recommended

Olive Kitteridge

I knew nothing about Olive Kitteridge before reading it except that it was a Pulitzer Prize winner and that my sister-in-law enjoyed it when she read it for her book club.  I enjoy going into books blind this way, and try to do it whenever possible.  That's part of the reason many of my descriptions and posts here will be pretty vague.  I don't want to give away anymore than is absolutely necessary to get you interested in the book.

With that said, I'm not going to tell you anything about Olive Kitteridge except that it is a Pulitzer prize winning novel and both my sister-in-law and I liked it.

Okay, that's not all I'm going to tell you, but I won't give away the plot.  What I will say is that it is a refreshing novel that does interesting things with character development and narrative structure that make it worthy of all the praise it has received.  Give it a shot, especially if you love small town American fiction, and I doubt you will be disappointed.

"Nobody knows everything – they shouldn't think they do" (74).

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Grip of the Shadow Plague

by Dec. 2, 2009 in Books, Fantasy, Recommended

Grip of the Shadow Plague

This is book three in the Fablehaven series. If you have read the first two, and are considering the third, it should come as no surprise that I recommend picking it up. So far each book has been exciting, imaginative, and non-stop entertainment.

If you haven't read any of the Fablehaven books and are wondering if you should start, I say yes. From the very beginning, I have been captivated by Mull's books. Plus, they are so quick and easy to read that, if you don't like the first one, it will only take you a day or two to finish the book and realize it's not for you.

They are each full of magic and wonder, and serve as an excellent palate cleanser between books that require more effort as the reader. That isn't to say Grip isn't good, or worthwhile, just that it serves to remind you how fun reading can be, like Harry Potter, and not how beautiful and heartbreaking a book can be the way I Am a Cat might.

Sorry, no quote on this one!

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by Dec. 1, 2009 in Books, Recommended, Science Fiction


The first time I read Dune (this is the second), I remember it made me really thirsty. It also made me want to conserve water, so I stopped showering. I was in college at the time, though, so it was okay, no one noticed.

I didn’t suffer the same level of obsession over water this time through, but I definitely still enjoyed it. I also had a theory, in college, that a connection could be drawn between Dune and Plato’s Republic, but it didn’t come through for me this time. It’s probably still there, I just don’t know my Plato as well anymore. If knowing I liked it enough to read it twice isn’t enough of a recommendation, I will continue.

Dune is a very good book that is as much political infighting and intrigue as it is science fiction. There are definitely strong sci-fi components, but if you are a non sci-fi reader and can accept them, you will probably really enjoy the political aspects of this book. It may not be perfect (so close, though!) but it still holds its own as an enjoyable literary work, that may show non sci-fi readers how good this genre can be. …

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