Thursday, December 30, 2010

Yearly Recap: A Desk, Favorite Books, Stats and a Giveaway

I thought I’d share with you all my new desk! My Mom and I drove down to Kansas City, about a 3 hour drive one way, and picked it up from a furniture warehouse. It’s home safe and sound now and I just love it! My Dad gave me the chair. It came from a public library, which I think is fitting. I’ve been doing most of my homework on the floor and couch so I’m really looking forward to having my own study space! You might spy the strategically placed Kindle sporting John Steinbeck on the screen. I got a Kindle from my husband for Christmas/my birthday/my anniversary present (these 3 events happen within 11 days). Am I spoiled, or what?

Anyways, here are some of my favorite reads of 2010. Click on the links for my review.

1. Most Hyped Book That Delivered: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
2. It Made Me Laugh Until My Sides Hurt: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney
3. Caused a Cascade of Tears: Maus I and II
4. Pure Fun: The Maze Runner (this is my first review! Wow does it stink! lol) and The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
5. Most Beautiful Language: All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy 

And one book which nearly fits in all of these categories is: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This was probably one of the most surprising books I read all year. Here are my reading stats for 2010 which I gathered from my Shelfari profile.
I read 71 Books in 2010.
My average rating was 3.62.
-          Five Stars: 13
-          Four Stars: 29
-          Three Stars: 22
-          Two Stars: 8
One Star: 1
Many of these books were given a half star (3.5) but were rounded up or down (depending on my mood) to fit into Shelfari’s rating scale.

At the end of December 2009 I began this blog not exactly sure what I was going to do with it besides talk about a few books. Well, I read the most books I’ve ever read in a year. I credit blogging for that. Keeping track of what I read has motivated me to read more. I love sharing my bookish thoughts with you all. Equally, I’ve enjoyed reading everyone else’s posts and learning more about literature though your insights!

After looking through my shelves I’ve spied a couple books, Advance Uncorrected Proofs which I won from other bloggers, which I’d like to giveaway. They are Numbers by Rachel Ward and Violet Wings by Victoria Hanley. If you would like to win either or both of these just fill out the form below. The giveaway ends Janurary 28th. The winner will be emailed on the 29th and must respond by the 31st or I will choose another winner. Since I will be mailing the books myself, this giveaway is open to U.S. residents only so I can manage the cost. Extra points for blog posts and tweets (see form). Thanks and Happy Reading in 2011!

Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer

Without much of an opening, I’m going to get to the point… There were too many themes and I didn’t feel the novel adequately covered any of them. Is this book about WWII and the bombings at Dresden, 9/11 and terrorism, growing up, growing old,  post-traumatic stress disorder, family, death, childhood … is it a quest book? A great book is able to seamlessly merge several themes. To put it nicely, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close bit off more than it could chew.

I did enjoy the writing style. It’s rather a stream-of-consciousness narration. The point of view shifts between the main protagonist, nine year old Oskar Schell, and his grandfather (who goes by the same name), and his grandmother. We come to know the grandfather through the letters he writes to his son, Oskar’s dad. He writes about Dresden and what it was like during the bombings. I felt these reflections were the strongest part of the novel. However, these reflections didn’t tie in well with Oskar’s story. The grandfather could have been removed without drastically altering the story. So, I’m not sure what the grandfather is doing in it. 

Young Oskar is a very clever and witty boy – too clever. The prose felt very contrived and pushed the “I’m a sad little boy genius” theme too heavily for me. I’ve no doubt smart boys like Oskar do exist. It’s just that Oskar as a character in this novel didn’t work well for me. Oskar’s quest, which takes him all over NYC, was fun to follow but I didn’t feel his encounters with NYC residents added anything to a story about 9/11, war or grieving.The quest itself may have helped Oskar, but the encounters added very little.

I found myself laughing quite a bit. And that’s a good thing because honestly, I found the book to be a downer. There is very little genuine love between the characters (except perhaps between Oskar and his mom) and very little is resolved between characters at the book’s end. For a book about 9/11 and grieving, etc., I don’t like that what I’m taking away from this book is “funny.”

I’ve been harsh, perhaps. I did enjoy Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close well enough. I read it in a couple days. The novel did make me want to come back to it and turn pages. Final Thoughts: Reading this book felt like putting together a puzzle and I enjoyed the exercise.

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2006 (eBook)     Pages: 368
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: Purchased through Kindle Storefront

Monday, December 27, 2010

Review: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

What a delightful story. The Tale of Despereaux features a teeny tiny mouse who falls in love with a human princess, experiences betrayal and loss, who faces darknesses unknowable with only a needle at his side and hope in his heart for protection. The book is broken into four parts with the first being little Despereaux’s story.  The second is that of a desperate and twisted rat Chiaroscuro’s story. The third book introduces the poor, abused but aspiring farm-girl Miggery Sow. The fourth book brings all the characters together as Despereaux fights for love, Chiroscuro for revenge, Miggery for attention and the Princess Pea, whom Despereaux loves, is in the dangerous middle of it all.

If you like fairy tales you will probably enjoy The Tale of Despereaux. However, this tale is not quite as dark as many classic fairy tales. We have a damsel in distress and a would-be knight in shining armor. The hero constantly runs up against adults who try to stand in his way and block his love for the princess. Other villains surface to interfere and manipulate circumstances. There is a hint of a magical element in the soup because, as Cook says, “When times are terrible, soup is the answer” (232).

I absolutely loved the narrator’s voice. She addresses the reader several times asking questions, making observations and sharing how she would feel were she in a character’s shoes. I found the writing style cute and charming. I read several chapters aloud to my mom as she drove to Kansas City with me to pick up my new desk. She laughed quite a bit because it’s just such a cute story and the characters are dynamic giving me a chance to test out my voices. I think this tale is perfect to read along with young elementary kids. Have any of you read The Tale of Despereaux? What do you think of it?

Publisher: Scholastic, 2006     Pages: 267
Rating: 5 Stars         Source: Used Bookstore

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Review: The Athena Project by Brad Thor

From the inside cover: “When a terrorist attack in Rome kills more than twenty Americans, Athena Team members Gretchen Casey, Julie Ericsson, Megan Rhodes, and Alex cooper are tasked with hunting down the Venetian arms dealer responsible for providing the explosives. But there is more to the story than anyone knows.
The Athena Project is an interesting mix of science fiction, thriller, mystery and historical fiction. What I liked most about this book was the WWII back story of Nazi experiments which resurface in a horrifying way. The all-girl Delta Force team kicks butt all over Europe as they parachute, karate chop, BASE jump, kidnap and breach and clear bad guy hide outs… all while dressed to kill, in both senses of the phrase.  

The characters could have used a lot more development. Most of the time, the girls were little more than stereotypes. I felt this book might have been called “Bond Girls Strike Back.” The Athena team reminded me of Bond girls but with more brains. Do you remember Bambi and Thumper from Diamonds are Forever? The girl body guards whoop 007 up pretty good before Bond regains the upper hand…anyways! The Athena girls are about as shallow as the Bond girls but they get the job done for King and Country…except they’re not British but American. The slim character development was the only major problem I had with the book. I found the story interesting and exciting and there was plenty of action. Do be aware that this is the first of a trilogy; however, I think The Athena Project has good closure and works well as a standalone novel.

Some may recall that I’m not normally a mystery/thriller type of reader. In an earlier post I talked about how the covers don’t usually draw me in. I’ve only had fair success with the genre, generally feeling unaffected to mildly entertained when finished reading. So, I’m not the target audience. Nonetheless, I had fun reading this book. I can envision The Athena Project becoming a movie and won’t be surprised if it does become one someday.

Publisher: Atria Books, 2010      Pages: 324
Rating: 3 Stars                                Source: As a Shelf Awareness subscriber I received The Athena Project for free from the publisher. Thanks, Atria!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Collins did a fabulous job! What a great ending to The Hunger Games trilogy. The plot had many little unexpected moments that thrust Katniss into difficult situations. I felt the secondary characters really came to life in Mockingjay. They all had important roles to play. The love triangle endures until the choice becomes clear to Katniss who, finally able to let the “act” drop for the cameras, can make up her own mind. I think she made the right choice.

I feel like I need to defend Katniss, our heroine. I know most people enjoyed Mockingjay but I’ve seen a few reviews of some who didn’t like it. They thought there was not enough gore or that Katniss became weak and allowed herself to be bullied. I didn’t find either circumstance to be true, especially the later.

What I liked about Mockingjay:

***************************Mild Spoiler Alert*****************************

-It gave a fairly realistic look at what happens to someone who goes through a traumatic experience. The truth is, that unless one is cold hearted, then killing someone, even in self-defense, is going to affect a person. Also, knowing someone you love is in constant danger is hard to cope with. I’ve been a military wife. I know what I’m talking about. But I can’t imagine having to watch someone I love be used and abused.

-When you’re sick physically, emotionally and psychologically it is easier to be taken advantage of. Even if Katniss had been unscathed by her circumstances it still would be difficult to know who to trust and how to act. What was a 17 year old to do? Spit in the face of district 13 who gave her people shelter just because she had suspicions? I don’t think so. 

******************************End Spoiler*********************************
Throughout the series, but especially in Mockingjay, I liked the focus on media. Almost as much as on the battle field, the war for the districts is waged on television. Katniss’ appearances on T.V. cause the balance of power to rock back and forth. The Fourth Estate, the watchdog, a.k.a. the media, is supposed to watch out for the interests of Everyman. But who’s watching the watchdog? I like the opportunities this series gives 
kids to think of larger issues in our society. 

Publisher: Scholastic, 2010           Pages: 390
Rating: 5 Stars                                 Source: I won this book from The Nerd’s Wife! Thanks!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

We Have a Winner!

I'm rather proud of myself. I wrote a Javascript program to generate a random number to choose today's winner! Number six, it's your lucky day! Congratulations to brandileigh2003 who won a $35 giftcard to CNS Stores!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Musings of a Hopping Grad Student

Hmm.... that post title seems questionable. I'll go with it. In this post you will find
This week's Hop question is:  "What is the thing you like most about reading book blogs?  Is it the reviews, author guest posts, articles, giveaways, or something else entirely?"

I really enjoy blog articles. Whether they are fancy shmancy and well researched or a more personal, impromptu piece, I find that blog articles give me a look at the person behind the blog. They also invite comments and can bring out a lot of discussion. I do like book reviews. I view reviews as the staple ingredient of a book blog. But any book talk is good talk. 

I am officially done with my first semester of graduate school! I submitted my final project/paper last night and it's a relief to be done! Here are the top 5 things I enjoyed from this semester:
  1. Meeting lots of new people who share my interest in libraries.
  2. Finding out what exactly librarians do... which turns out to be a lot of complicated things.
  3. Reading about the history of librarianship and libraries.
  4. Writing a paper about video games in libraries. (I would tell my husband I was "doing research" when playing games. He wasn't buying it.)
  5. Creating my own Web page was much "easier" and a lot more fun than I anticipated.
I should add that simply surviving this semester feels like an accomplishment worthy of celebration. I have told my husband he is taking me out tomorrow to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and to eat some Mexican food!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Review: Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton

I was totally surprised by this book and really enjoyed it. First of all, I like books that have layers of narration. So, as in Heart of Darkness, there’s an unnamed narrator quoting the main character (Marlow) the entire story. Or, like in Washington Irving’s stories (i.e. Rip Van Winkle) there’s this guy, Geoffrey Crayon, pretending to be the author who is supposedly writing the book from some documents he found. I love that sort of literary device.

So, when Eaters of the Dead opened by announcing the recovery of a famous manuscript, and that this book was the most accurate retelling of the original account of Ibn Fadlan’s epic adventure of one of the first encounters of an Arab with Norsemen, well, I was eating it up. And the first chapter is actually from a real manuscript which Crichton uses as a way introduce the voice of the Ibn as narrator before taking over the writing process.  

My husband read Eaters of the Dead when he was a kid and remembers it being one of his favorites. So, I decided to give it a try. What my husband didn’t realize, and what I began piecing together while I read, was that Eaters is a retelling of Beowulf. I read Beowulf a couple years ago for a class so some of the names of people and places, like Rothgar (Hrothgar )and Heorot, were familiar. Many names have been changed or altered so I had to wait for the story to unfold before I was like, yeah, this is a sweet retelling of Beowulf! Now, I remember Beowulf being terribly boring. Eaters of the Dead is not boring. It was spooky and sometimes funny.

Some of you may know the movie that was based off of this book – The 13th Warrior with Antonio Banderas. The movie is ok. It’s fairly entertaining. But no surprise, the book is better. It was just a lot of fun to read.  I think I prefer Crichton’s historical fiction books better than his urban sci-fi books. I liked The Great Train Robbery, too. Technically, Eaters is sci-fi but it’s set a long time ago so I’m saying it counts as historical fiction.

If you like tales of sea voyages, Vikings, cultural clashes or good old fashioned sword fights then this book may be for you.

Publisher: Avon, 2006 (orignally 1976)     Pages: 304
Rating: 4 Stars                Source: IC Public Library

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tis the Season for a Giveaway From CNS Stores!

This Giveaway is Now Closed.

The Prairie Library is hosting a $35 gift certificate giveaway compliments of CNS Stores! CSN Stores has over 200 online stores where you can find anything you need whether it be a chic handbag, children's luggage or even cute cookware! Check out the full stores here.

Hurry and sign up because this giveaway ends Monday, Dec. 13th at 11:59 pm central time! Please read the requirements carefully! I've tried to keep it simple.

Giveaway Logistics: 
---Open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only. 
---Fill out the form below. Comments are nice but do not count as an entry. 
--- Must be 18 or older to enter. 
---Winner will be contacted Dec. 14th and must reply by Dec 15th! I will email the winner's information to Jocelyn at CNS Stores and she will email the gift certificate code to you!

For extra points you may: 
---Tweet this exact message: "@Chellebcool is hosting a $35 CNS Stores giveaway at The Prairie Library!" with a link to this post. 
---Devote a post on your blog or website about the giveaway with "Tis the Season for a Giveaway from CNS Stores!" in the post title and a link to this post. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Negative Reviews - Do You Post Them?

I thought this week's Hop question was a good one. I know many bloggers are not comfortable posting a "negative" review. I'm with Jennifer. Everyone's entitled to their opinions and should feel comfortable sharing them on their own blog. But it takes guts to be the voice of dissent and can be a little scary. Here's the official question: "What very popular and hyped book in the blogosphere did you NOT enjoy and how did you feel about posting your review?"

So, yes. I have posted less-than-stellar reviews for popular books. Three come to mind: The Passage (3 stars), A Great and Terrible Beauty (2 stars), and Evermore (1). No one can like everything they read. If you read much you're bound to hit a few duds along the way. But I think even a dud can teach you something about the way you read, the way you think about the content and, more generally, what you like and don't like reading. 

A part of The Prairie Library's function is to provide reviews, not only for books I think are good but bad ones, too. Any review is subjective and I certainly don't think I'm an expert on reviewing (far from it). Another function of this blog is to simply share my thoughts with the reading community. Conversations about disappointing books can be just as fun and robust as talking about good ones. I'm learning to be confident (hopefully not cocky) about sharing my opinions. Opinions change, and I reserve the right to change mine, but sharing them is what this blogging thing is all least for me!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Review: The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

You know you’ve caught the Flare when:
  • Your thoughts are hard to focus
  • You aren’t afraid to drop 30 feet to the ground
  • You’ve forgotten why you ever wanted to escape the Scorch
Thomas and the Gladers left the Maze only to begin another round of trials by WICKED (World in Catastrophe Killzone Experiment D). If you thought The Maze Runner was exciting then you won’t be disappointed with The Scorch Trials.

As Thomas’ memories slowly come back he figures out he is more connected to WICKED than he ever knew. The mind games keep the Gladers in a constant state of confusion and cause Thomas to question everything he knows about himself and his friends. To top it off, the Gladers are informed they have a disease known as the Flare which causes people to lose their minds and slowly mutate into zombie-like creatures known as cranks.

The cranks were creepy and not your typical zombies. Some of the not quite full-blown cranks are still able to talk and groups of cranks roam together in groups according to the stage of the disease. Definitely creepy. As was the setting. Dashner does a good job describing the crispy, sun-baked Scorch which the Gladers must travel across. Some of the descriptions were a little gruesome. This is a violent book. People get hurt and die which only adds to the mystery surrounding WICKED’s intentions.

Like Thomas, I never knew exactly what was going on, who to trust or what to expect. The only thing you can expect is that WICKED is going to run its experiments on the Gladers and will stop at nothing to get the data it’s looking for. I’m with Thomas – how can WICKED by good (no pun intended)? I’m really looking forward to the third book to find out what the trials are all about and how Thomas and Teresa are connected to it all. So, no you won’t get any definitive answers in this book – just the kind of answers that make you ask more questions.

As with the first book, The Scorch Trials is fast paced. Each chapter is short, only 3-5 pages long and ends with a teaser making it a good book for reluctant readers. The prose is fairly simple and linear but the plot is interesting and exciting. Dashner knows how to create suspense. It was the perfect book while I was busy in school and needed something fun to read.

The Scorch Trials is book two in the Maze Runner Trilogy.
Publisher: Delacorte, 2010.     Pages: 368       Recommended Age: 13 and up
Rating: 4 Stars                           Source: IC Public Library

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Saga of Print vs. Digital Continued

In an earlier post I wrote about the alleged end of books. In this post I’ll explore a few reasons why I think digital media are not ready to replace print. Whenever I hear someone say, “People love books. Books will be around forever!” I think that’s a true but over-enthusiastic and simplistic statement. But when I hear others say, “We don’t need these books anymore. Everything should be online! Get rid of these expensive books and the library housing them!” I think that’s someone who a) probably doesn’t read many books and b) does not understand the complexity of digital documents.

Yet it is a relevant question. Do we continue pouring millions of (taxpayer) dollars into libraries – the building, the staff, the PRINT materials – when our world is rapidly changing into an online global community?


The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2009, over 68% of American households have Internet access at home. While that is awesome, what about the other 32% who need to use materials? That’s a few million people we’re talking about. Many libraries restrict the amount of time you get on a computer. If you can’t get your research done in 30 minutes, sorry bucko. This is why print materials are important. They can be taken home for days, weeks and months at a time – for free. No batteries, no technology needed to view a document. Free.

Ok, so what about research libraries. Most of their patrons are highly educated and have easier access to the Internet. So access is not a major problem. Currency is a major issue. Medical researchers need the newest information so they make the best possible decisions for their patients. You wouldn’t want your doctor using books from 20 years ago would you? So, what do we do with all these outdated books? Do we house them for the rare individual doing historical research? They are few, these historical researchers, but a significant minority and important.

Should we take all the old books and digitize them? The old books would be available online/ in a digital format for historical researchers and we could save money by shutting down the book housing facility. But there’s a small problem. It is not possible in the foreseeable future to digitize every book. It takes massive amounts of man power to digitize a collection. It just isn’t feasible right now. Think about the Google Books project. It’s slow going and they must choose what they think are the most important books – they can’t get everything. If we rely on an initiative like Google Books (as cool as it may be) we will lose information from the past. That’s a little scary.

There are issues even Google can’t get around when it comes to making traditionally print materials available in digital format. That’s copyright. It’s enough to make your head spin. Copyright issues alone are enough to hinder universal online access.

Here's the biggest reason I don’t think digital resources are ready to be the next King of Text. There is as yet no way to guarantee that digital resources will be around next week let alone forever.  Preservation issues have haunted the physical book for hundreds of years. We’ve literally had centuries to learn how to preserve paper. But preserving bit streams, those ones and zeros that make up your computer’s memory, how on earth do we save those? It’s not as simple as copy and paste.

Hardware mediums change approximately every 5 years. How likely are you to buy an 8-track, a cassette or a floppy disk? Software is updated constantly. Switching from one hardware/software to another, called migration, is fraught with digital dangers. Documents can become unreadable in part or whole. Eek! Now, obviously companies manage to function with this “acceptable loss” of information. But should we trust all our information to digital repositories with these issues unresolved?

Let’s talk about subscriptions. I subscribe to Better Homes and Gardens. I pay for it, it arrives and I can read it for as long as the pages hold together. Libraries pay huge bucks, thousands of dollars, to subscribe to digital journals they do not get physical copies of. Ok, so what. They don’t want the physical copies because space is an issue. But ownership is an issue. The vendor providing the subscription can go out of business, change its policies or the library can decide it can’t afford the service anymore. All those journals the library paid for go poof! They don’t have a copy anymore. When you buy physical copies you get the text forever (or the life of the paper on which it’s printed). When you buy digital you don’t always get copies so information is lost when a subscription is canceled. This happens. And it’s another reason that digital documents aren’t ready to take over planet Earth.

There are initiatives going on to solve these problems. LOCKSS (lots of copies keep stuff safe) is based at Stanford University Libraries and tries to deal with the subscription issue. It’s a step in the right direction. But for now, print is our only guarantee that information will remain available for years to come. I believe digital issues will be solved (some distant day) and that print will take the back seat. But until then, the book is needed and should be valued and given space in our facilities.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Musings of a Grad Student at The Hop

 "Since Thanksgiving is coming up next week, let's use this week's Hop to share what we are most thankful for and what our holiday traditions are!" Excellent idea! 

At present I am most thankful that I am on break from school! This past week has been incredibly stressful. I had to write a paper, prepare a presentation (oh, how I loathe giving presentations! I thought I was going to puke before I started. Rapid heartbeat. Sweaty palms. Sooo glad that's over!), and choose a research topic (eek!). But it's all over now and I think I chose a great topic - video games in the library. I am thankful that I have the next few days to sleep and read about one of my favorite past times. 

I am looking forward to seeing my family for Thanksgiving. We alternate years between my husband's fam and my fam's gatherings. This year is with the in-laws. As I recall the last T-day at the in-laws, my father-in-law cooked the turkey and it was sooo salty. lol. We managed to eat plenty anyways. I suspect we'll be stuffing ourselves again this year while playing various types of games.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth by Jeff Kinney

Change is in the air. Greg is excited for boy-girl parties and learning about "the facts of life" in his Advanced Health class. But growing up can be a little overwhelming. What's he to do without his best friend, Rowley, at his side? Will he starve to death when his mom goes back to school?  Greg begins to realize that maybe he shouldn't be in such a hurry to grow up. I mean, Greg + Responsibility = disaster waiting to happen.

Greg makes a lot of honest mistakes in The Ugly Truth. In the previous books, Greg makes deliberate plans to cut corners or shirk responsibility. Other times he couldn't help but be a prankster. But in this book we see how hard learning to be responsible is for a free spirit like Greg. The idea is so foreign to him. Greg's growing up whether he wants to or not. He tries and often fails at the most simple of tasks... but isn't that a part of growing up? Slowly, Greg begins to realize how hard being an adult is and how much he has to be thankful for. Of course, Greg does not verbalize this. Instead he gives a sigh of relief when he realizes he has supportive parents to fall back on. But that's what adolescence should be about - testing your wings in a safe environment.

I liked The Ugly Truth more than the previous book, Dog Days. Rowley and Greg are still at odds but they can't hold out much longer. I laughed a lot so if you need a humor break this book should do the trick. My favorite "episodes" were the trip to the dentist, the maid bit, and the miscommunication concerning an elbow.

This is the fifth book in the Wimpy Kid series. You can read my mini reviews of books 1-4 here. They're great books for reluctant readers or anyone with a sense of humor. I wonder if Kinney will continue with a 6th. I'm hoping for one more. Do guys think he should write one  more or should he stop while Greg's young?

Publisher: Amulet, 2010    Pages: 217     Source: IC Public Library
Rating: 4 Stars     Recommended Age: 9 and up

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"The End of Books" by Octave Uzanne: A Short Story Saturday Feature

There's been speculation that the physical book as we know it is on its way out. What with Kindles, audio books and the plethora of articles online, sometimes it feels like print could disappear and the world would still function. This is an issue my classmates and I have been discussing and it hits a tender nerve with me. Honestly, I think it's going to be a long time before digital resources could be in the position to trump print. I have my reasons which we'll begin to explore today and more so in my next post.

This man started it all. Johannes Gutenberg's movable type press, invented in 1439, lead the way to the mass production of books that we revel in today. Many thanks Johannes! Print's role as King of Text has been challenged for quite some time. The print vs. digital saga we're experiencing now is just another skirmish in an ongoing battle for textual dominance. Would it surprise you to to know that people have been thinking about this issue for over a hundred years?

Octave Uzanne  (1851-1931) was a French bibliophile, author, journalist and book snob extraordinaire (see link for photos of his lavish books). If you're a book lover or intrigued by the print vs. digital issue, I think you will enjoy this short story.

I give you "The End of Books."

My Reactions: 
I was surprised at how accurate some of Uzanne’s predictions were. Of course, the phonograph with wax cylinders did not last long. But the idea for audio books is there which I found interesting. However, Uzanne pokes fun at the idea of audio books. He suggests people can’t be bothered to strain their eyes to read (or they’re just too lazy to read) so they listen to books instead. What do you all think of this idea? Do audio books offer the exact same experience that reading a book does? I’ve often wondered about this (hmm… maybe I should research this topic!). What is the same? What is different?

New media brings new possibilities and challenges. Edison’s phonograph made recording audio possible. Uzanne envisions authors becoming narrators and since anybody can talk anybody can record – good writers or not! Surely the quality of self-published material will be far inferior to anything recognized by peers and published by a respectable publishing house. Right? Or, no? What about blogging? Isn’t it the same concept – anybody can publish whether they’re good at creating content or not. Unlike Uzanne, I’ve never bemoaned this fact. I find it exciting that more and more people can reach a greater audience though self-publishing efforts. Good content will, in time, find more readers and the not-so-good content will find less readers. Marketing strategies aside, I think it’s that simple.

What I agree/disagree on with Uzanne:
  • Agree: Other forms of textual media will rise that will become popular (like audio books and e-readers) but they will not utterly replace the book. 
  • Agree: The mass production of books means many will be created that are not meant to last.
  • Disagree: The mass production of anything less than “literature” of the highest quality will lead to the doom of man’s intelligence! Smart people are naturally drawn to nerdy, smart things and won’t stop because someone wrote, and they read, a subpar book (example: I read and relatively enjoyed Twilight. No, my brain has not quit working).
  • Agree: Print is a large, integral part of our industry and will not be snuffed out in only a few years because new media emerged. Even though bookstores have been closing (we are in a recession after all), book publishers are hanging in there and still produce large numbers of physical books.
  • Agree: The aesthetic experience of holding and reading a book cannot be duplicated. Either it’s paper or it isn’t.
  • Disagree: Author as publisher means too much bad literature! Author as publisher means more good literature (that might never have surfaced under other circumstances).
For all Uzanne’s foresight he does not envision the complicated digital world we live in today. My posts live online (via the server who stores them for me) and in a document file on my computer. I have no physical copies. Will Blogger store my blog posts for the next 10 years, my lifetime, forever? What if my computer crashes and I lose all my documents? What about online articles and ebooks?

Keep an eye out for "The Saga of Print vs. Digital Continued." Today’s post scratched the surface of why digital resources are not ready to act as King of Text. In my follow up post I’ll discuss exactly why digital media are not yet trustworthy enough to store all of planet Earth’s information as well as ongoing efforts to remedy this issue.

This has been a Short Story Saturday feature. Happy reading!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Culling the Reader: My Reactions to Lost "Followers"

I wasn't planning on doing the Hop today but this week's Book Blogger Hop question is a good one! "What are your feelings on losing followers? Have you ever stopped following a blog?"
Loosing followers is sad but I realize people's readers fill up, their interests change and my blog may not be what they're looking for anymore. I've lost a few and the first time I was really really sad. I thought about it all day. What did I do wrong? What's wrong with my blog? What if no one's reading my stuff anymore! Then I realized what I care about is a) writing my thoughts out for me because writing does me good and b) getting comments from readers who may say "Nice review" or "I've been thinking about this issue, too." That's the good stuff regardless of how many Google followers I have. 
On comments: I have a separate email just for The Prairie Library. Every time I receive a new comment it goes straight to my email and my Blackberry. So, whether I'm walking to work or watching TV, I see what  you have to say. I LOVE getting comments from you all! They brighten my day. Thanks to everyone who reads my posts and an especially big thanks to those who comment and share your thoughts. You make this blogging experience wonderful!

Do I ever stop following? Yes, on occasion. Usually the blogger stops posting for a month. Or, the content has changed or my tastes have changed. I don't feel bad. If I never read or comment on their posts then there's no use following! I know the blog writer will probably be sad like I usually am but hopefully they'll come to the same conclusions that I have.

Review: A Balanced Introduction to Computer Science, 2nd ed. by David Reed

Have you ever been curious how exactly your computer works? Maybe you’d like to learn a little HTML to have more control over your blog or website? Are you a tiny bit intimidated to learn anything “technical”? Fear no more! Computer Science introduces the basics of computers and computer language and is geared for beginners. You won’t need anything extra, no fancy software, just your computer with a Web browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox. Having Internet access will help but isn’t completely necessary.

This is a textbook so expect each chapter to read like a lesson. There are exercises, some explained and some which challenge you to put new concepts to work on your own. I liked the hands on approach of the textbook and really, diving in and doing the assignments is the only way to really know how to use HTML and JavaScript in your Web Pages. Instead of memorization this book encourages experience.

What will you learn from this book? 
  • The basic architecture of modern computers (like how on earth a computer “remembers” anything) 
  • HTML basics to create Web Pages 
  • The history of computers 
  • The history of the Web (which is not the same thing as the Internet) 
  • JavaScript basics for creating interactive Web Pages
  • Algorithm basics – what are they and how they are used in computers
I don’t think this text makes a great reference book. It’s really for instruction. There are only a few times I felt the instructions weren’t very clear. In these cases the assignments began to assume great familiarity with the material already covered. So, keep up with the exercises! I did like the online resources available, for free, to supplement the text. Often, Reed asks you to access Web sites he's created for instruction so you can see the HTML/JavaScript and build off it.

I’ve used the word “basic” many times. If you’re looking to roll up your sleeves and become a Web designer or computer scientist this text may be too simple for you. But, if you’re a beginner like me, A Balanced Introduction to Computer Science is a good place to begin.

Publisher: Pearson, 2008     Pages: 342 (380 to the index)
Rating: 3.5 Stars     Source: Purchased on Amazon 
P.S. I read this book for a MLIS class.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hop Into My Dream Reading Room

This week's Book Blogger Hop question is "What is the one bookish thing you would love to have, no matter the cost?"  

I would like a reading room that:
  • is sound proof to the rest of the house
  • has a lot of natural light
  • has a comfy reading chair. I like the sedan in this photo!
  • a huge bookcase for my growing collection of books
  • and a really bright, adjustable lamp.
There would be a desk for my computer, a small stereo and ...

the new nook color! I may have to seriously consider this e-reader. 

If you're stopping by from the Hop, hi! What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review: The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

What is a children's book? What exactly constitutes a children's book? Before you continue reading I'd like you to take a moment and list three attributes that you think are essential to children's literature. I'm not asking for what makes "good"children's lit but rather just what makes a book a kids book.

Here are my off-the-cuff conclusions:
  • The writing style must be geared for children. It must be at a level which they can read and understand.
  • The text must engage children with a subject or theme in some way that it highlights the interests of children regarding the subject.
  • The entire book (its format, images and print) must acknowledge the psychological and developmental needs of the intended reader age group.
I realize the first and last points are similar but it was hard to define children's lit. In fact, I don't think I can come up with any more "must have" attributes.

Are there attributes that, under no circumstances, could (or should) never be found in a children's book?

Excepting the logical opposites to my three criteria above, my answer (for now) is no. I think that every issue- social, political, etc. - can be broken down (I don't really like this phrase) in such a way that kids can digest it. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron attempts to do this. It takes some real life issues and scrutinizes them under kid-savvy glasses.

Have you ever encountered a children's book that made you wonder why it's considered a children's book? The Higher Power of Lucky is one of these children's books that makes me wonder at the definition. It seems that many "children's" movies are geared for adults and so are some books.

It was C.S. Lewis who said, "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest." 

And I agree. I think this book is one which may be enjoyed at all ages - a sign of a really good book in my opinion.

Now, The Higher Power of Lucky created quite a stir after it received the Newberry Medal. Librarians were banning it. People were trash talking it. And as is usual, people doing so were often ignorant of the book's message. People were getting hung up on the use of the word "scrotum" on page one (a poor dog is bitten there) and were uncomfortable with young children knowing this word and what it meant.

Personally, I am in favor of teaching children about their bodies and that of the opposite sex. We do not live in the dark ages. Knowledge is paramount to raising healthy well-adjusted people. But at what age to we "reveal" these secrets (that aren't really secrets at all because kids have bodies, too)? When is it age appropriate? I'm not talking about having an in-depth sex-talk with your 3rd grader. But if Lucky, the ten-year-old protag, like most kids her age, is simply growing up and learning about genitalia by incidental means, is it not a good time to be straight forward about the subject instead of being secretive and making the child feel uncomfortable because the adults are talking about something (s)he's not supposed to know? But sex education is not at all what this book is about.

Lucky lives with her Guardian, her out-of-the-picture father's first wife, because her mother has died. Lucky deals with insecurity about her Guardian's affection for her, about (her town) Hard Pan's ability to survive poverty, and about her self-worth. She seeks to create a "higher power" for herself to guard against the day she might hit "rock-bottom" like many of the inhabitants of Hard Pan.

Lucky's best friend, Lincoln, offers a different perspective on the issues surrounding her. He always has a listening ear and some insightful comment to make. He helps Lucky figure out her place in the confusing world of adults. But things come to a head for Lucky and she decides to take matters into her own hands, ultimately leading to an epiphany.

I did like this book. But a part of me knew that if I read it as a child I would not have thought much of it. The text is very well written, beautifully so, while still at a child's level. But some of the themes are so deep that I know I would have missed them and probably thought the book was boring. Besides Lucky running away, there was not much adventure. And I'm sure I would have thought the supporting characters were annoying instead of cute like I do now. This story is a quest for personal enlightenment and growth - not necessarily something kids eat up. However, many kids do like the text. I guess what I'm saying is, it's very literary for a 9 year old.

Is this book for adults? Definitely.
Is this book for kids? Yes and no. I don't say "no" because of the controversy but rather because of the heavy themes.

Tell me, what do you think makes a kids book a kids book? And if you've read it, is The Higher Power of Lucky a kids book? An adult book? Both?

Publisher: Atheneum, 2006     Pages: 134     Source: Purchased on Amazon
Rating: 4 Stars     Recommended Age: 9 and up

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Feeling Fuzzy

I'm not sure it's a good idea to post under the influence of pain killers... but I thought I'd let y'all know I got my wisdom teeth removed and am taking some time off from the blog as a result. Whenever I get sick I always hope it means I'll have time to read. But I am soooo tired I can barely focus on the page. So, not much reading going on at The Prairie Library. The procedure went well so I'll be up and around before too long! In the mean time, happy reading!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Short Story Saturday: "Something Sweet"

The past two Short Story Saturdays have featured the writings of dead white guys. This week is going to be very different in that we will be reading a short story by a woman and an amateur writer. Reading amateur writing is a hit and miss experience for me (well, so is reading "professional writing!"). However, I really enjoyed this story when I found it. I hope you will, too!

"Autumn / Something Sweet / ...Oh, who knows?" was written by Linda Foster and posted May 28, 2010 on Scribophile which is a website that encourages people to write and critique each other's work. The story should take about 10 minutes to read. I don't personally know Linda. I found her story by chance.

--------------------- Spoiler Alert! ---------------------

This short story is exactly what I think of when I think "short story." It is very short, just over 1,000 words, and spends a great deal of time building up to a revelation. I don't know about you guys, but I did not see the end coming.

An important aspect of short stories is diction or word choice. "Something Sweet" requires very careful diction so as not to reveal the surprise until just the right moment. Linda creates action, suspense and setting by focusing on the man's emotions: "With concerted effort, I waited patiently for her to work her way to where I was stationed, near to the back of the store" (emphasis added). His reactions are almost stereotypically vulgar - the ogling and desire - and exactly the kind of attention we suspect this cougar wants.

But what do we know? This woman isn't on the prowl - she's just shopping. And this man isn't hitting on every skirt in the store - he's really just a Teddy Bear! What does this Teddy tell us about humanity? This story reveals how being single is just as normal as being in a hot-and-heavy relationship. Our culture bombards us with messages of romance - soap opera romances, the ideal marriage, the celebrity affairs, passion here, passion there, passion on every channel - but these passionate moments are brief and not the pinnacle of life, or are they?

Love is the greatest thing about life. But what about the rest of life? What about those less-passionate days. Aren't they just as important? What about single people? They lead interesting lives, too. What about the day you climbed that mountain, got that promotion, took that chance that turned out. Or what about that time you made someone's day, received a pat on the back or bought that great bargain? These are the small victories that make every day special.

Love takes many forms. Here we have a passionate woman, living her life passionately - just not the Hollywood version. Her apartment may be messy and maybe she's not a great cook. But she's not in an abusive relationship. She's not wallowing in loneliness. She does have a job and supports herself. And she seems happy.

I hope "Something Sweet" made you smile. Tell me what you thought and happy reading!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Librarian Offline: Are Your Posts Forgotten?

For one of my MLIS classes this semester I read the article “The Web Means the End of Forgetting” by Jeffrey Rosen which appeared in The New York Times Magazine on July 25, 2010. As users of social networking sites, the article should interest book bloggers. The article raises many interesting ideas about an individual’s privacy online and how one’s online reputation affects the real world.

So, you’ve set up of your Twitter account and have a Facebook account, too. And you blog regularly. You have set your privacy controls to limit who can see what. But...

Did you know that the Library of Congress keeps every tweet?

Did you know that a Facebook friend can post a picture of you without your permission and that anyone who is friends with your friend can download that picture and do whatever he/she wants with it?

Did you know that …“75 percent of U.S. recruiters and human-resource professionals report that their companies require them to do online research about candidates, and many use a range of sites when scrutinizing applicants -- including search engines, social-networking sites, photo- and video-sharing sites, personal Web sites and blogs, Twitter and online-gaming sites. Seventy percent of U.S. recruiters report that they have rejected candidates because of information found online…(Rosen).”

The article brings up a question that my classmates have been discussing – is there such a thing as an “off-duty” persona? Librarians are public servants, often in the public eye and know their patrons personally. They are frequently approached in grocery stores and in their homes about library issues. This being the case, Librarians often feel as though they are “on” all the time – constantly watched, constantly scrutinized. Of course, this perception of being “on” changes from person to person and community to community.

There are social websites such as Second Life which have become popular for librarians to hang out on. Many librarians blog about their work places, too. And a few, just a few, have come under fire for speaking their minds about their workplaces. Some librarians have been told to cease blogging about their library or they will be fired (instances of this are explored in Marilyn Johnson’s This Book is Overdue!). This is odd since the library is usually the protector of free speech.

But these scenarios raise the question: Is perfectly legal, off-duty activity our employer's business? Are we not entitled to a private life?

People deserve second chances if for no other reason than that we are human. We make mistakes but we also learn from them and change. In order to get a second chance we need people to forgive us our foolishness. And forgiveness requires a measure of forgetfulness.

The article suggests that online content is not easily forgotten. Once someone puts up a negative tweet about you it is out there forever. Once you post an embarrassing picture of yourself it is, potentially, out there forever. Go to Google now and look up “drunken pirate” and you’ll find the infamous MySpace photo of Stacy Snyder who was denied her teaching degree as a result of this photo. Is her perfectly legal off-duty activity her university’s business? Regardless of how you feel about her activity, doesn’t she deserve a second chance? Shouldn’t she be able to wipe the slate clean and start over? Think about employers who Google her (or you) – will they be willing to overlook her (or your) online reputation?

Think critically about yourself. What political groups are you affiliated with? What religion? What’s your stance on issue “X” that you vocally blogged about? What pictures did you post from last summer? Now what will future employers, who hire experts to identify you online, think about your online reputation?

The article mentions law experts who think individuals should have more privacy protection online so that hiring and firing is not based on online gossip or an embarrassing photo that was only intended to be shared with friends. One expert suggests that individuals should be able to file for “reputation bankruptcy” which would clean the slate every decade much like consumer-reporting agencies. Consumer-reporting agencies are required to give you one free credit report each year. Wouldn’t it be nice if social networking sites sent you a report each year, letting you know where pictures of you are and what comments were made about you, so you had a chance to refute those comments or delete tags of you in photos?

Our world is increasingly shrinking into a global village. It doesn’t matter if you have an account on these websites if others who know you, and post things about you, do. Privacy issues are and will continue to be an area of debate. What can we do if our reputations are largely out of our hands? As the article suggests, show empathy and cut people some slack when you see a tarnished online reputation of someone else.

The Web Means the End of Forgetting” New York Times Magazine, The (NY) - Sunday, July 25, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010

Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Dystopian literature is a unique genre. It is often a subcategory of fantasy or science fiction which is right up my alley. I’ve always been drawn to “make believe” since I was a kid. It was a place where you could be more and do more. Add a backwards society on top of that other-worldly experience and you’ve got yourself one unique dystopia. In Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker, The Island of Doctor Moreau meets Pirates of the Caribbean to explore a bleak future of an unprepared people.

In Nailer’s world, the oil is gone and the “accelerated age” with it. With the addition of severe global warming, North America as we know it is forever altered. We find Nailer, a teenage boy on the light crew, stripping grounded oil tankers of wiring and staples by shimmying through ducts. When he finds a grounded clipper ship, a fast high-tech boat owned by the wealthiest “swanks,” Nailer thinks he’s struck the luckiest scavenge strike of all time. But its cargo proves to be even more valuable than the ship and extremely dangerous.

Nailer is faced with many moral and ethical dilemmas. As is the case is real life, answers are not always clear cut. What if no one would ever know about your decisions? What if you could help someone but it meant betraying someone you cared for? Nailer’s belief in loyalty, trust and family is constantly challenged. Through swamps and shanties, over ocean in luxury boats that fly, Nailer scavenges for a new life out of the rubble around him.

There was a lot of action going on but not enough focus on any one theme or relationship. I could appreciate the writing but the third person narration was a little flat for me. I was never caught up in the read or held on edge. I could see what was coming and the journey wasn’t interesting enough to make up for my foreknowledge. That being said, I do think young teenagers, especially boys, might be drawn to this book. It’s a rough and violent world Nailer lives in so be ready for a colorful cast and carnage. Although not particularly memorable for me, Ship Breaker was a fast and fun read.

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2010     Pages: 326     Source: IC Public Library
Rating: 3 Stars     Recommended Age: 14 and up

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Blogging Promotion: Thou Shalt Hop

How do you spread the word about your blog? That's this week's Book Blogger Hop question. I'm interested too see how everyone goes about it. Do you actively promote your blog? Or, maybe you shared yours with friends and family, who've shared it with their friends and family. Maybe you don't promote much at all but are satisfied with the traffic you get?

At first, all I did for promotion was share my new posts with Facebook friends.

When I began blogging about books I had no idea how many other book bloggers there are - no idea. After I began my blog, I started Googling for other book blogs. I found a few of interest and visited the blogs on their blog rolls.

Eventually, I stumbled upon the Book Blogger Hop. I've found so many new book blogs this way as well as generated traffic to my blog. 

Following other blogger's advice, I  checked out Book Blogs Ning and eventually set up a Twitter account. Book Blogs Ning is great for getting questions answered. And Twitter is really a lot of fun. I've participated in online chats through Twitter for Armchair BEA (book expo of America) and others. I've won books using Twitter, too - just another reason to get tweeting!

I registered my blog with Technorati. I don't get much traffic from it but it's interesting to see how I'm ranked.

Another thing bloggers encouraged me to do was ping. I usually use Pingomatic or Blog Buzzer. I do think this helps.

In the end, commenting (not spamming!) on the Web is a real traffic producer. Staying active by commenting on other blogs and websites does bring in some visitors.

There's a few of my tricks. If this post has piqued your interest, check out my posts on marketing under Scribbles and Scrawls!

Review: The Impostor's Daughter: A True Memoir by Laurie Sandell

The graphic novel is a format I’ve discovered in the past year. The complexity and skill which graphic novelists posses ranges from simple and flat to extraordinarily moving. If you haven’t read a graphic novel before I urge you to give them a try.

“Laurie Sandell grew up in awe – and sometimes in terror – of her larger-than-life father. A former Green Beret with a law degree, a Ph.D, and fluency in several languages… Beguiled and repelled by his outrageous behavior, she grew into a young woman as restless as her father, roaming the globe, trying on her outsized personalities – Tokyo striper, seducers of Yeshiva girls, yogi, Ambien addict.”

This first part of The Impostor's Daughter was jaw-dropping. It was hard to believe the mind games going on in her family. Sandell’s father sounds like a fictional character which is probably why she inserted “true” into the title, just to emphasize that these events actually happened to her.

At times, I didn’t know who I disliked more – Laurie, her father or her mother. I don’t mean to sound harsh. I think Sandell means for the reader to see how selfishly everyone, including herself, behaves. She is honest about her incredible need to be loved by her father which leads her to attempt to be someone just as crazy sounding as her dad is. It’s a roller coaster ride.

“Laurie finally lucked into the perfect job: interviewing celebrities for a top women’s magazine. Growing up with her extraordinary father gave her a knack for relating to the stars… Yet even after meeting so many of entertainment’s most intriguing people, it was her father she still desperately wanted to understand. Her Investigation uncovered a staggering secret: her father wasn’t the man he had always claimed to be, not even close.”

So, you may be thinking, how could anyone ever believe her father was telling the truth? Those are some big claims he makes, after all. There are lots of red flags that make Laurie question him, but within this family dynamic, the truth is buried so deep that it takes all the strength she can muster to uncover it.

While she tries to figure out who her father really is, Laurie must face her own demons as well. She checks herself intro rehab (a place which Ashley Judd recommended to her) and realizes that obsessing over her father has lead her down a path she doesn’t want to follow anymore. It takes a lot of guts, but she confronts her father, her mother and her own addictions.

It may seem a little cheesy, the whole rehab bit, but hey, this is a real person’s life and I’m glad she found a way to deal with the craziness around her.

And this was the good part – she finds a way to forgive and let go of her anger even when it’s totally justified. This is what made the book stand out for me.

I’m not an artist so take this with a grain of salt: I wasn’t too impressed with the drawings. The story flowed really well and I didn’t have trouble following the story-board. But the artwork was flat. It did not add to the story in the way I’ve come to expect from graphic novels. However, I did appreciate the bright colors and style. So, while the art may leave graphic novel connoisseurs unimpressed the story was still worthwhile.
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2009 – All quotes are from the dust jacket cover.
Source: I won this book from Zia!
Parent alert: there are several nude scenes so it may not be appropriate for young children
Rating: 3.5 Stars      Pages: 247