The Bog of Lost Scholars

July 29, 2015

Recent Reading: None of the Above

Filed under: The Castiron Reading Journal — castiron @ 12:59 am

I. V. Gregorio, None of the Above. A high school girl’s identity is shaken when she learns that she has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. And then one of her friends outs her, and things get complicated…. It’s a very interesting and readable book with a hopeful ending, and for someone who’s never thought beyond the idea that male is male and female is female and there’s no ambiguity or gray areas, it’s a good fictional introduction to intersex conditions.

January 4, 2014

What I Learned from a Crappy Book

Filed under: People, Culture, and Society,The Castiron Reading Journal — castiron @ 1:57 am

I like to read self-improvement books — books on decluttering, organization, motivation, time management, and general ideas on how to accomplish more and better things. A few weeks ago I checked out one of these books from the local library; today I returned it unfinished.

To be polite, it did not work for me. To be blunt, it was not even a heap of steaming crap, because a heap of steaming crap could have been composted into a useful and fertile idea. The book took a vague central concept — let’s call it flocculation, to be completely meaningless — and then spent half the book talking about how flocculating would make your life better and make you accomplish awesome stuff; it ignored the fact that there are millions of people who have flocculated and still failed catastrophically. It berated certain segments of society for discouraging people from flocculating, and then gave as a counterexample a friend of the author’s who flocculated while a member of that segment and became extremely financially successful; er, why didn’t the friend use the power of flocculation to change that segment of society, then? And by the time I realized I was in peril of violating my morals re: library books and the wallbanging thereof and closed the book, the book *still* hadn’t really defined flocculating or given any evidence that flocculating actually does anything. I suppose there’s a 0.004% chance that the book got better towards the end, but as I was over halfway through at that point, I decided I didn’t need to read more.

I did, however, get one useful personal guideline:

Any book talking about how you can improve yourself so that you can accomplish great things, but that uses “lose weight” as one of the examples of what you can do with this willpower and strength, is a complete crock.

There are a bunch of things I want to accomplish with my life — write novels, make cool crafts, help good books find their readers, trace my genealogy for myself and my distant cousins, rear my children well, nurture my marriage, dance, learn new skills, gain in-depth knowledge about many different topics, travel, etc. “Lose weight” isn’t on the list any more than “breathe” or “shower regularly” is. (It’s not even on the personal maintenance list, though “eat in the way that’s healthy for my body” and “get enough exercise” are.)

Really, this book is talking about how you should start flocculating because you’ll be able to change the world through political activism or entrepeneurial daring or artistic accomplishments, and then in its list of things you can accomplish by flocculating it includes “lose weight”? (And not even a list that included, say, “get off drugs” or “stop smoking” — “lose weight” is supposed to be an accomplishment like reducing crime in your neighborhood or directing a society-changing film or raising a million dollars for medical research.) Those things don’t even belong on the same spectrum, and this makes it clear that this book isn’t really about how to make the world better; it’s about how to gain the author a fawning crowd and some money.

June 16, 2011

Reading The Wealth of Nations

Filed under: People, Culture, and Society,The Castiron Reading Journal — castiron @ 6:54 pm

For several months now I’ve been working my way through Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations; I’m not quite a quarter of the way through.

Why read The Wealth of Nations? It’s a foundational document of Western economics; it was hugely influential when it was published in 1776, but all I knew about it was the idea of the “invisible hand”.

And there’s a reason most people today haven’t read it. It’s long, and it’s often tedious. (Smith was well aware of the latter; early in the book, he says, “I am always willing to run some hazard of being tedious, in order to be sure that I am perspicuous.”) If my goal was a greater understanding of economics, I’d be better off reading some shorter and more modern works.

But the book has little rewards that make it worth the slog. So many of Smith’s examples still make sense 250 years later and resonate with situations in the modern world. And it’s a huge pleasure to see what makes Smith himself tick — when his tone has been even and rational for a hundred pages, and then suddenly he’s discussing legal restrictions on workers’ ability to switch jobs, the shift in tone jumps off the page. You’re in no doubt that he considers it appallingly WRONG.

At the rate I’m going, it’ll probably be 2014 by time I finish reading the book, and it’s worth the trouble. (And this is a perfect book for reading on an iPod Touch. It’s dense reading, and the tiny screen gives about the right amount of text for me to process in one chew.)

December 2, 2010

Switching to Ebooks

Filed under: Publishing and Writing,The Castiron Reading Journal — castiron @ 12:44 am

I’ve made the switch to ebooks — almost.

Recently I realized that I’m doing the majority of my fiction reading on my iPod Touch. I still have plenty of paper books, I still like paper books, and I still check out paper books from the library, but when it comes to actually making the time to read, I’m more likely to read on my Touch than I am to read the paper book. The Touch is always on me and easy to pull out when I have a few spare minutes. I can go immediately to where I left off; there’s no danger of a bookmark falling out, and because of the small screen size, there’s no hunting across two pages to find where I left off (a constant problem when I was trying to read Foote’s The Civil War, and one reason I’ve only finished the first volume). If I’m reading something huge, like The Lord of the Rings or The Count of Monte Cristo, that’s okay; the book still fits in my pocket and doesn’t weigh any more.

I knew I’d completed the switch when I read Bujold’s latest, Cryoburn, on the Touch. I’ve got the paper book as well; I only opened it once to look at the design and layout. Overall, I’m now an ebook reader…

…but I’m not yet an ebook buyer.

No, this is not a confession of piracy. All the ebooks on my Touch are legal copies. But most of them are free — Project Gutenberg downloads, fanfiction stories downloaded from Archive of Our Own, free sample books from various publishers, etc. I’ve bought a few Baen books and a few books from Fictionwise when it still had a good micropay program, but the total number of ebooks I’ve paid for might not hit two digits.

Why? Because when I buy a book, I want to own the book.

If I buy a book with DRM, what happens when I need to convert the book to a different format, or the DRM authorization server is shut down, or I switch to a new device and discover I’ve used up all the devices I was allowed to authorize the book on? I’ve lost the book, unless I want to break federal law and strip the DRM.

If I can’t own the ebook, then I don’t want to buy it. Baen’s books are great, because there’s no DRM and I can download different formats when I need to. But Baen only publishes a couple of the authors I really love to read.

I have a few hundred paper books that I want to get in ebook format someday. The books I love enough to keep in my house are mostly ones I love enough to pay twice for them, and some of them were bought used anyway, so this’d be a great chance to finally pay the author. But if the ebook comes with strings attached? I’m not that desperate to have it.

September 23, 2009

Recent Reading: Random Romances, and Not

Filed under: The Castiron Reading Journal — castiron @ 11:23 pm

Meredith Duran, The Duke of Shadows. A romance that follows the protagonists from their meeting in colonial India through their separation in a rebellion and their reunion in London four years later. The first part of the book was compelling and kept me turning the pages; it slowed down for me once they were back in London. Worth reading for that first part, though.

Jennifer Crusie, Manhunting and Anyone But You. The first is a romance between a career woman and a slacker man; the second a romance between an editor and a doctor ten years younger than her. Both were great fun.

Amanda Grange, Mr. Darcy’s Diary P&P retold through Darcy’s eyes. It was a fun read, but it didn’t give me any new ways of looking at canon. And the page design looks amateurish — the font for the dates running into the text below? That’s a mistake I’d make; a professional book designer should be doing better than that.

Grace Lin, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. A children’s book in which a girl goes on a quest to save her drab village. Lovely — it reminded me of Hughart’s Bridge of Birds in both the setting and the way random loose ends tie together as the book progresses.

Jennifer Crusie, ed., Flirting with Pride & Prejudice. A collection of fan essays on P&P, its appeal, Austen’s world, etc. None of the essays are strongly sticking in my memory two weeks later, but it was an interesting read.

August 16, 2009

Recent Reading: Romances

Filed under: The Castiron Reading Journal — castiron @ 1:32 pm

Pamela Morsi, Simple Jess. A romance where the hero is mildly mentally retarded. The story is great; it’s interesting to see how Althea’s and Jesse’s love develops. Jesse’s frequent frustration with everyone talking too fast also rings true, based on what I observe of my own son. The details of life in Marrying Stone are also nifty.

One thing that particularly struck me about this story: if you set it today, it’d be harder to make it work. Jesse has cognitive impairments, most definitely, but he’s been able to learn how to hunt, to care for livestock, to butcher meat, to do various farming tasks. He’s perfectly able to carry out the jobs of an adult in his society, something Althea realizes as the story progresses. Today, on the other hand, unless Jesse had been lucky enough to be born on a family farm that was staying afloat or to a family that practiced homesteading in the Rockies, he wouldn’t be able to support a family, and possibly wouldn’t even be allowed to marry.

Loretta Chase, Don’t Tempt Me. I love the characters and the premise, and I overall enjoyed the book, but the last quarter of the book felt a little tacked-on; the villain didn’t really work for me.

July 8, 2009

Recent Reading: Stuff I Picked Up Via Romance Blogs

Filed under: The Castiron Reading Journal — castiron @ 8:06 pm

It’s just occurred to me that all three of these books are ones I checked out due to having read a review on a romance blog.

Ann Herendeen, Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander. A polyamorous Regency romance, involving the relationship between Phyllida, a straight woman; Andrew, a bisexual man; and Matthew, a gay man. Obviously if that description makes you go “ick!”, this book isn’t for you. But it’s a great deal of fun, with lots of humorous moments (the scenes with the founders of the Brotherhood; Andrew’s brother advising him on how to seduce a woman), a bit of adventure, and lots of happy ending. (Perhaps a little over-the-top in happy ending. Entertaining nonetheless.) And I’d love to meet George Witherspoon in person; he’s one of the sweetest characters I’ve ever run across in fiction.

Tera Lynn Childs, Oh. My. Gods. Phoebe’s life is turned upside-down when her mother remarries, they move to Greece…and Phoebe ends up at a school for descendants of the Greek gods. An enjoyable YA novel; while I was reminded of Rick Riordan’s Camp Half-Blood, it’s a very different take on the idea. Phoebe’s story is suitably wrapped up for me, but the world was intriguing enough that I’d like to read more about it; I’ll definitely check out Goddess Boot Camp (and thank you, Ms. Childs, for having that information on your website!). (I’m also curious to find out who Nicole is descended from — I’m pretty sure that information isn’t actually revealed in the first book.

Nora Roberts, Vision in White. I’d tried to read a Nora Roberts book before, but it didn’t grab me enough to finish it. This one, though, worked very well for me. The romance is nice, but what really made it for me was the four friends — their relationships, the business they built, and Mac’s work. I’ll probably check out further books in this series.

June 18, 2009

Recent Reading: How to Write a Novel

Filed under: Publishing and Writing,The Castiron Reading Journal — castiron @ 11:29 pm

Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, How Not to Write a Novel. Numerous examples of what doesn’t work when writing a novel. Entertaining, and “Where Not to Send Your Novel” just capped the reading experience.

May 2, 2009

Recent Reading: Austenalia, Wrede, and the Bitchery

Filed under: The Castiron Reading Journal — castiron @ 7:46 pm

Fifteen years ago, I was a fairly heavy bookbuyer. But after realizing that yes, one can have too many books (I hear a lot of people hissing, but guess what? When there’s so many books in the house that it’s hard to move around? and there’s nowhere to put more shelves? and more books keep being bought by household members? AND you don’t have the time to read 90% of them, so they’re taking up space without giving you any enjoyment? That’s too many books. When my ex moved out and took his book collection, which was about 75% of the books in the house, I was relieved.)….

Anyway. After realizing that yes, I can certainly have too many books, I became a lot stricter about what books I buy. These days, if I buy a book, it’s either 1. by one of my few autobuy authors (basically, Lois McMaster Bujold or a Steven Brust Dragaera book), 2. a needlework book, 3. a book I’ve already read at the library and liked, or 4. a book I’m buying because I like the author’s work in another context and want to support them with a $0.50 royalty payment, whether or not I turn out to like the book itself.

Josephine Ross’s Jane Austen: A Companion falls into category 3. I checked it out from the library, and while I wasn’t able to finish it before I had to turn it in, I found it interesting and enjoyable enough that I wanted to have my own copy. It’s a very readable look at Austen and her world.

Ross’s Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners and Margaret Sullivan’s A Jane Austen Handbook are shorter gift books, both looking at customs in Austen’s time. I found Ross’s book the meatier of the two, teaching me a few things that I didn’t already know (though on further reading Companion, a lot of the same data is in there). Sullivan’s book is a definite Category 4; I love her P&P/Northanger Abbey crossover, The Firstborn, so this purchase is my royalty payment. Handbook is fun and has an entertaining arch tone, but I didn’t find it as educational; many of her lists are simply examples drawn from Austen’s books, rather than supporting material showing that these really are the customs of Austen’s time. It’s cute, but honestly, if I’d read it at the library, that would’ve sufficed.

Two Category 4s that turned out worth keeping on their own merits: Patricia Wrede’s Thirteenth Child, a fascinating fantasy set in an alternate 19th century United States (where the New World never had human settlers due to big nasty magical critters, until the Europeans advanced sufficiently in magical technology) (stands alone, but I’m anxiously waiting for the next book), and Sarah Weddell and Candy Tan’s Beyond Heaving Bosoms, the book that arose from their blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and a hilarious look at the romance genre.

March 26, 2009

Recent Reading: Economics, Biography, and Legal Fanfic

Filed under: The Castiron Reading Journal — castiron @ 7:40 pm

Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational. Ariely, a behavioral economist, shows the flaws in the traditional economic idea that people are rational actors. The book is extremely well-written, and the experiments are fascinating (and in some cases sobering). My one quibble is that I’d have liked to read more on how individuals can work around our tendencies to make decisions that aren’t in our best interest — but that would be another book (and come to think of it, Sunstein and Thaler’s Nudge would be one such other book).

Ariel Sabar, My Father’s Paradise. Sabar’s father grew up in a Jewish community in Iraq, and later emigrated to Israel and finally the U.S. File this under “need to check out again sometime when I’m more able to handle it”. What I read of it is extremely interesting and powerful, and I want to read the rest someday when I’m in a better mental state to handle it.

I’d blogged Pamela Aidan’s An Assembly Such as This but hadn’t gotten around to blogging the rest of the “Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman” trilogy, Duty and Desire and These Three Remain. The first book was excellent, and I seriously considered buying it and the other two rather than waiting for the library copy. But I ended up reading the library copies first, which turned out to be a good thing.

Duty and Desire covers the “missing months” between when Mr. Darcy left Netherfield and when he met up with Elizabeth Bennet at Hunsford. Showing what Mr. Darcy would’ve done during this time is a great idea, but Aidan’s concept of what he might have been up to…. Well, if she were writing what Mr. Rochester had been doing in the months before he showed up at Thornfield in Jane Eyre, I’d have bought it. As a story about Mr. Darcy, it didn’t work for me. And while These Three Remain was better, it still wasn’t as good as the first; it seemed rushed. So I’m glad I didn’t spend money on these, but disappointed that they weren’t worth opening my wallet for.

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