Tag Archive | reading

I Found A Problem With My All-Time Top 10 List

As readers, let’s support women authors
Photo: dregsplod from Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA

In honor of High Fidelity, I have been compiling a list of my own All-Time Top-Five favorite novels.  But I couldn’t limit it to five, because, although I could put five novels in the top slots, I could not dismiss the rest of the list.  But before publishing today, I decided to browse Freshly Pressed, and so discovered a problem with my list (and even more, with my reading.)  Here is my list (Maybe you will see the problem right off, but I didn’t.):

  1. Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen
  2. Grapes of wrath by John Steinbeck
  3. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
  4. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  5. The Book Thief Markus Zusak
  6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  7. memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
  8. 1984 by George Orwell
  9. Last night at the Lobster by Stewart O’nan
  10. Forrest Gump by Winston Groom

I’m a little nervous to tell what the problem is, because I don’t want to diminish the importance of the books I have chosen in any way.  In my opinion, they are all worthy to be there.  All of these books mean something to me personally, and I feel they have great potential to influence society.  For example, number 9.  I am lucky to have had Stewart O’nan as a customer somewhere I used to work years back, so I’m probably a little partial.  However, he is a phenomenal author with the ability to capture the essence of everyday life for the everyday person.  Not doctors, lawyers, private investigators, FBI agents, but in the case of Last Night at the Lobster, restaurant workers.  His work is deep and resounding, and important.

With that said, here is the issue I found with my list.  I read this blog post on Progress on the Prairie and came across the idea that women writers are underappreciated (to say the least) in the publishing world, and in the realm of literary criticism.  Obviously, this under appreciation can affect readership.  So, looking at my own list, I realized that only 2/10 (20%) are by women.

This realization raised some questions for me.  Do I read mostly male authors because of the influence of the education system (many of these authors were read in school, while my literary tastes were forming)?  Or is this, as Progress on the Prairie suggests a problem of sexism within the literary world?  Is it both?  Is it something else entirely?  These questions certainly deserve some digging around on DuckDuckGo.

But for now, it will suffice to say that whatever the cause, I have made a definite commitment to read more women authors.  After all, women are a necessary part of life, and a wonderful part of society.  We have much to contribute, and we should learn from each other, grow from each other, and help each other be heard.

I’m curious to know, what are some of your All-Time Top books (regardless of gender of author)?  And what are some of your favorite works (fiction or non-fiction) by female authors?

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Source: purchased from Barnes & Noble

“Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands-literally thousands- of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.  The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and i don’t know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know they’ve been listening to the sad songs longer than they’ve been living the unhappy lives.”
– page 25, Riverhead Books, 1995

My lovely flagged copy of High Fidelity

What if everything was beyond your control?  What if everything was done to you, not by you, with you, or for you?  What if you lived as a slave to circumstances?  Would you have hopes and dreams? Would you be happy, or would you be miserable?  If you are Rob, the narrator and main character in High Fidelity then no, you do not have hopes and dreams, you are miserable, and you are also discontent and oftentimes a jerk.

It takes losing his girlfriend for Rob to come to this conclusion, and it takes the entire novel for him to sort out his feelings about this realization.  Many who read this book (and who see the American film version) think of this as a story about music, and sex, relationships, and manliness.  And it is these things.  But thankfully, it is not only these things.  In that case, it would only appeal to one audience (men) and that would hardly make it a good novel.

Among many references to pop music, all-time top five lists, and in-his-head narrations and obsessions about situations in Rob’s life (past and present), he takes the reader on an emotional journey of finding who he is, why he really is that way, and who he wants to be.  If we are honest readers, I think there is at least a smidgen (more or less for some) of Rob in all of us, regardless of gender.  Aside from being clever and funny, this book can give anyone a little thought-check, an assessment of the head space, and bring about an evaluation of how one chooses to react to the circumstances of life.

** I read and reviewed this novel by my own choice and was not asked to do so by the authors or publisher.

Three Challenges to Ethics Environmentalism, Feminism, and Multiculturalism by James P. Sterba

Source: Purchased from a used book sale

Although published 11 years ago, this book touches on three issues that are very much relevant today.  I would recommend this book to anyone interested in philosophy, or in any of the three topics presented in this book.  Our society is still struggling with environmentalism, feminism, and multiculturalism in the social and political, and even educational spheres.  This very fact is what makes the implications of these topics on ethics so vital.  In his book Three Challenges to Ethics, James P. Sterba outlines the challenges these topics present to traditional ethics, and his suggestions for addressing these challenges.

This is my first experience reading anything about ethics, and going into this adventure I was a little worried about the accessibility of the text to someone inexperienced with the topic.  There was little to worry about, however.  The introduction was a little difficult, since the author is setting up his reasoning for leaning toward a Kantian ethics.  I had to look up a few terms to see what they meant in the field of ethics (question-begging for example) but a few simple web searches answered any questions I had.  Once into the actual subject matter of the book, Sterba covers the topic in an easy to understand style and does an adequate job explaining his reasons for his stance.

From a personal standpoint, I agree with his stance on all three topics, but some of the ways he proposes to meet these challenges (especially in the feminism chapter) seem a little far-fetched to me.  I would be interested to see if his ideas have adapted over the past decade, or if they remain the same.  I especially liked the conclusion, where he talks about how the field of ethics as a whole meets challenges, and his idea that instead of a war-like confrontation and win/loose scenario, society and the professional/academic arena of ethics should adopt a more peaceful way of “doing philosophy.”  He outlines how the same, or possibly better results can be achieved with this new method, and how it would benefit the field (and in my opinion that benefit would probably filter down to society) as a whole.  Assuming that this is his personal way of approaching situations, I’m sure the past decade of politics and social unrest surrounding these three challenges to ethics would bring about some new ideas and possibly revisions to old ideas for this author.

The book covers the topics of environmentalism, feminism, and multiculturalism from a Kantian perspective and Sterba offers his own revisions to the traditional Kantian ethics on these challenges.  Even if you do not subscribe to Kantian ethics, it could still be worthwhile to read this book, even if only to see the ideas he proposes with these three challenges in order to begin to address them within the views of your own ethical standpoint.  After reading this book, I would most certainly be interested to read other works by philosophers who subscribe to a different ethics (besides Kantian) to see if and how they address these three challenges in comparison to Sterba’s work.

** I read and reviewed this novel by my own choice and was not asked to do so by the authors or publisher.

The Price You Pay: E-books Vs. Print

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons, photo owned by Alonso77

There is a lot of debate going on lately among book lovers about the merits of e-books vs. print books.  Mostly, it boils down to personal preference, with a lot of people valuing both forms of books to varying degrees.  There is also the valid question being raised about whether the appearance of e-books on the scene, and their quick rise in popularity will bring about the demise of traditional books.  But as a book lover, and especially as a consumer, there is a question that looms higher in my mind than both of these questions.  What is the real price of e-books?  Of course, there are the dollars and cents costs, but there are also non-monetary costs that many proponents of e-books give up without a second thought.  But some of us give them up grudgingly, weighing them in our minds with the flat-out cost of the e-books and wonder, “Is this worth it?”

Let’s look at some aspects of the plain old cost of e-books.  The one that hit me right off the bat when I first got my Nook was that most e-books cost the same, or more than their print counterparts.  Now I’m not talking about the classics that are offered for free on most e-reading platforms.  Nor am I talking about the low-priced self-published books.  I’m contemporary fiction, non-fiction, whatever you like to read.  Frequently when I go to buy an e-book, I find that it’s just plain cheaper to go to get the print edition.  With that said, shouldn’t the cost of an e-book be cheaper?  After all, there is no printing cost.  Maybe the cost of translating print into digital is more expensive?  This article helps to answer that question.  But the author doesn’t really cite any sources for his data so I’m leery.  This article  is from a publishing group, and I see what they are saying.  It would explain e-books being similarly priced to hard cover print books, but not their costing more than paperbacks.  This blog post (written by a former publishing CEO) makes a similar argument.  But the interesting thing on this one is the comments.  Read what the responders are saying, and you will see that many think this argument is deceptive and doesn’t make sense upon further investigation.  One commenter suggests that the economic incentive is to buy the print paperback because it is cheaper, and I have to say I agree there.  Yet, as the blogger responds, many people continue to buy the e-book versions.  Why?  I can tell you one reason I have been known to do it.  It’s just more convenient.  I get the book right away without having to leave my house, and I don’t have to worry about finagling another space on my already way-too-full bookshelf.  But I do get the feeling of being exploited every time I hit the “buy” button in these instances.  Are publishers and sellers charging consumers more because they know the high value of convenience in the minds of readers today or are these the legitimate prices as related to the legitimate costs of publishing e-books?

Another way the actual cost of the e-book leaves me, as a reader feeling somewhat exploited is the price difference between e-book vendors.  In a normal consumer setting, if something is cheaper at another store, I will simply buy it there (unless of course I am convenience shopping).  Because of the Proprietary model used by e-book sellers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc., this is simply not possible when purchasing e-books.  E-books contain DRM (Digital Rights Management) to protect the books against digital piracy.  There is a huge debate around the use of DRM that I will not go into right now.  What I do want to say about DRM is that it forces a consumer to read their purchased e-book on a specific platform.  For example, if you purchase a Kindle edition book, you must read it on a Kindle device or on a Kindle app on a computer or mobile device.  If the NookBook is cheaper than the Kindle edition, you must pay the higher price for the kindle edition because you will not be able to read the NookBook on your Kindle.  For example, I want to buy the book The Cutting Season by: Attica Locke.  On Amazon it costs $6.99.  From Google Play it costs $7.29.  From Barnes & Noble it costs $14.99 (all prices listed are current at the time of writing).  I and other Nook owners will be stuck paying the higher price.  I can see the reasons why booksellers would choose to use DRM for e-books (and why publishers would require its use).  But is DRM also hurting the sellers of e-books and e-reader devices?

The pricing differences between vendors have caused many people to decide on a tablet PC rather than an e-reading device.  While a tablet PC tends to cost more than an e-reader, the purchaser gets more diverse functionality, and can download apps for all of the different e-readers.  This allows the consumer to shop for the lowest price e-book without having to buy multiple devices.  The downside is that readers are unable to enjoy the full features offered by some of the companies.  For example, Amazon Prime members are able to borrow a book a month for free from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.  If you are an Amazon Prime member, and own a tablet PC with the amazon Kindle app on it, you are able to purchase and read Kindle books, but you are unable to use your full Prime benefits by getting a free book a month.  For that, you have to actually own a Kindle device.  But then you would be locked in to their proprietary format and not be able to shop for the lowest priced e-book.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons, Photo owner Twice25

What do you think?  Will things like the high cost of e-books, and proprietary lock-ins make readers turn to boycotts or piracy?  Will these issues keep the traditional print book alive?  Or will readers simply accept the new terms of e-reading and pay the price?

The Book Thief By Markus Zusak

Source: Purchased as a nookbook from Barnes and Noble

In The Book Thief, the reader is not taken to a historical setting of the holocaust in terms of widespread horror and tragedy, but instead to the small microcosm of Liesel Meminger’s life on Himmel Street. A microcosm filled with all the same horror and tragedy, but also with love and beauty and words.  This is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany during WWII.  After moving in with a foster family, she suffers with the loss of her mother and brother.  She also suffers humiliation at school for being behind in her education.  As a way to ease her mind, she begins to learn to read with the help of her papa, some paint, and her first stolen book.  As the years go on, and her life becomes more complicated, Liesel’s eyes begin to be opened to the nightmare going on all around her.  But through her friends and her stolen books she learns of the beauty that exists alongside it.

This book literally “tackles” the ideas of love and beauty, tragedy and evil, victory and defeat.  It covers how humans are the workers that bring all of all of these things to reality, and how a person is affected by them.  This can be a tough topic to handle without becoming sappy and cliché, but this book is neither of those.  The reason it is so grounded and believable is because it is the story of a little girl, and her child-like acceptance of the reality around her.  She sees the lack of adequate food, and the Jews marching to Dachau through the same eyes that she sees the beauty of the clouds in the sky.

Zusak masterfully brings his characters to life in this novel.  You will love Liesel and you will love the people Liesel loves.  You will feel like you have walked down her street day after day and met her neighbors.  The feelings that these characters evoke in the reader are the pathways of an emotional journey that will stay with you forever.  Every part of this book, from the author’s choice of Death as narrator, to the way Death is portrayed, to the way Zusak brings his characters to life and makes you love them, to the actual style of the words on the page, is not merely written, but crafted.  You will love this book not just for the story, not just for the characters, but for the beauty of the use of the words themselves.  I highly recommend this book to not only young adult readers but also to adult readers.  This book will certainly open the minds and hearts of anyone who reads it, and will stick with you long after you finish.

** I read and reviewed this book by my own choice and was not asked to do so by the author or publisher.

Spook Country by William Gibson

Source: purchased from Borders

Spook Country is a novel that blends every day technology with a cutting edge use into an underworld lurking just beyond the surface of everyday life.  I think Gibson’s aim in this novel is to show the reader a new world, a spook country, that exists in and interacts in the everyday world, but which most people are completely unaware of. The world this story is set in is our world, but it isn’t at the same time. It is the seedy, steamy side that we don’t see in our every day lives. A world that probably doesn’t exist in real life the same way it manifests in fiction and movies, yet we are all addicted to this high-energy, exciting world of crime and mystery. Gibson is a master at weaving technology into this setting, making it a vital part of it, and he does it without alienating the non-techy reader, yet without boring the technically savvy. Into this setting Gibson pulls Hollis Henry, an ex-rock star turned freelance journalist to whom this world is as strange as it is to the reader. Hollis finds herself employed by a magazine called Node which may or may not actually exist, on assignment to write about an emerging new art form called locative art. She is charged with finding a pioneer in the “production” of this art form, Bobby Chombo. Parallel to Hollis’ story is the story of Milgrim, a junkie (and translator of rare Russian dialects) held captive by Brown, some sort of intelligence agent, who is chasing an information smuggler named Tito who is part of a Chinese-Cuban crime family operating out of New York.

I think Gibson does an excellent job creating spook country, and bringing it to life. I don’t think the story line was the main point of this novel, I think the point is to illustrate the [possible] existence of spook country, and it’s relationship to everyday life through the cutting edge use of everyday technologies like GPS. In this respect, this novel was amazingly well done.

I found myself page-turning from the very beginning, maybe as much to find out how the multiple story lines could possibly be connected as to find out where it was all going. Gibson has a way of drawing the reader into the story while hardly giving any facts about what is going on until the very end. I page turned until the last few pages, and this is where the problem comes in. After I first finished reading, I felt the ending to be a bit weak, which was very disappointing to me. I felt there were a lot of loose ends not tied up, and a general lack of resolution and explanation of the main story line. It felt to me as if Gibson was rushed to end an otherwise fantastic tale. And as a reader I felt like I invested a lot of time into something that just dropped off the edge of a cliff. Yet I still can’t say that I wouldn’t recommend this novel, because I feel like the ending, or rather the lack thereof, was meant to facilitate the knowledge that “real” life goes on, right next to life in spook country, and all the action, and all the grit doesn’t even cause a ripple on the surface of what most of us perceive in our surroundings. And that, is what the author was after in the first place, isn’t it?

** I read and reviewed this book by my own choice and was not asked to do so by the author or publisher.

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