Monday, June 30, 2014

Fun with Kindle Comments

Due to a weird nerve pinch thing that affected my neck, left shoulder, and all along my back, I was laid up an entire workday last week.  Of course this--and the fact that my being left-handed meant I couldn't use my dominant hand for anything whilst being laid up--meant I had to sit in a recliner reading all day. 
*Sigh.*  What else was I to do, aside from complete three books (two of them from start to finish)?

Because of this misfortune I actually cleared my reading pile.  You'll notice I didn't capitalize that "reading pile," because my official To Be Read Pile is not some piffling three books tall.  Ever heard of the Eiffel Tower?  California Redwood Trees?  Mount Everest?  Good, then not only have you received a well-rounded education, but you're also getting closer to imagining how high my TBRP measures.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Taking Sides

Reading all the good books is like a conversation
with the finest people of past centuries. 
~ Rene Descartes

It may seem strange to a person who is more extroverted and less of a bibliophile, but I often feel as if an author is a personal acquaintance of mine, and that reading their works is like carrying on a conversation with them. The author may be dead, or even if they’re alive they may not live in the same country or speak the same language. There is a great unlikelihood* that I will ever have an actual face-to-face conversation.**

This very feeling of closeness, even kinship, with an author, is part of what prompts me to want to read so much. When you are friends with someone, you want to talk to them as much as possible, and if reading is a conversation, then you want to read as much as possible for the same reasons. 

A real complication arises from this, though: when you’re having a conversation with a real person, it goes without saying that sometimes this conversation becomes an argument. And if this argument takes place between you and a book—or even worse, between two books—it’s a bit hard to know how to react.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Let's leave this Untitled for Reasons that Will Soon be Made Clear

Lately I’ve been thinking about titles. To me, books are like their own compact, self-contained worlds. Opening a cover to its first page is like opening a door and seeing the first steps into that world. But what makes you open a book in the first place? We all know “never judge a book by its cover,” and most people who read books know that this isn’t entirely accurate. I have indeed picked up a book just by merit of its gilded letters or some graphics or even the soft feel of its spine against my fingers.

But covers change. Almost every time a book is reprinted the jacket art is different, the font is altered, even the blurb on its back or inside the dust jacket is rewritten. The thing that stays the same—aside from the actual text, and even that is subject to revision, annotation, or abridgment—is the title. 

The title then is the constant that often causes readers—myself included—to pick up a book. After all, most books are stored with other books, not facing out in full glory of their graphic design, but only a sliver of spine showing. Those gilt letters may draw the eye, but it’s what those letters spell out that often clinch the deal.

What I’ve been thinking about recently is how a title can be so evocative, abstract, even irrelevant to the plot, and still make me want to read the book. Most writer’s guides will say a title has to tell the reader something of the plot to “hook” them. I don’t think this is entirely true, because certainly Jane Eyre, Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Deronda only tell you the main character’s name. Other book titles are merely the places where the plot takes place. Anything could happen at Middlemarch or Key Largo. 

Sometimes the author adds a bit of information, by adding “The Adventures of” or “The Chronicles of” to the title. But then, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Vesper Holly, Sherlock Holmes, and Oliver Twist all have very different adventures. And really title padding like “The Chronicles,” “The Story” or “The Tales of” is pretty unnecessary; most readers know they’re reading a story/tale/chronicle. 
Other additions to a name that give hints to the actual plot of the story therein. It’s okay if they don’t give ALL the information.  I don’t need to know where Gulliver goes until I actually read the book.  It’s enough that he travels. We may not know where he got his diploma, but we know that Dr. Moreau has an island. 

Other titles are very obscure. Catch-22 wasn’t a catchphrase until the book. To Kill a Mockingbird doesn’t make any sense whatsoever until you’ve read the entire book. And then it still doesn’t make that much sense. Then again, sometimes obscurity creates a sense of mystery that is irresistible to even a casual reader who happens across it on the shelf. After all, Catch-22 is a better title than “An Impossible Situation,” and I’d be hard-pressed to summarize To Kill a Mockingbird (“Coming of Age Among Racism”?). 

I think some of the best titles are by Jules Verne. Evocative of foreign locations, action-packed plots, these titles seem to peek through the keyhole of the doorway into the book’s world. Around the World in 80 Days doesn’t tell us who, how or why, but still communicates an adventure that is time-sensitive and therefore urgent. Urgent to open that book and read it as fast as possible so that Phileas Fogg can reach his goal. The same goes for Journey to the Centre of the Earth, or From Earth to the Moon, or Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Other books that do this well are Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (“Murder?” you say as you read the title, provoking the classic question at the root of every mystery, “But whodunit?”), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (At first it’s pretty much a case of “just what it says on the tin,” but at second glance you are prompted to ask WHY a Connecticut Yankee is IN King Arthur’s Court in the first place), The Secret Garden (of course now that we’re read the title, the garden isn’t so secret now, is it? But that begs the further question of why it was secret in the first place)…I could go on. 

My point being that a title doesn’t so much have to tell the prospective reader what the plot is, as a title needs to make the reader question what the plot might be.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Little Sister Takeover!

<PROLOGUE: Due to work, family visits and the ever-important Statewide Quilt Shop Hop, I was at a loss as to when and what I would write for this week's blog.  Therefore I am introducing my guest blogger and little "seester," who has often voiced a desire to try her pen at blogging and is ALMOST as much a bibliophile as myself.>

Having a remorseless reader as a big sister is good for when you’re bored—she’ll throw a book right at you and if you’re not concussed at least you’ll have something to do. It’s also good when you are attempting explain a plot point to one of your friends about a piece of literature—I can easily go into “Eng. Lit. Sis’s Lil. Sis Mode” and break down The Three Musketeers into one paragraph, or talk at length about how Victor Frankenstein is really bad at making life decisions.

But having a remorseless reader as a big sister is not so great when she gives you a book to read where the eldest child is the hero and their pesky little sibling hinders their quest/life in some way and if I dare complain about this trend in literature my big sis will brush her nails and chide me on how hard it was to grow up with me!

I understand that literature is filled with annoying little sisters from Lydia Bennett to Amy March to Deryn Sharp!  In comparison with Lydia Bennett—I’m a saint. But not all books have pesky little sisters! [Some cut out the little sister entirely and opt for making the protagonist an only child.] In fact there are quite a few awesome little sisters that show how lucky older sibling are. Which is why I decided to make a list.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Groundhog Day

A while back some coworkers of mine were having a deep and involved discussion of the Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day. For those who aren't aware of the movie's main plot, it's about a cynical and mean-spirited TV news reporter who gets stuck repeating the same day over and over (Groundhog Day) and only can continue with his life once he's become a nicer person and "done the day right." This being a Bill Murray movie he also gets away with a lot of pranks and things before he reforms, and because only he remembers the previous days no one else can hold him responsible for those actions beyond the 24-hour "time bubble." 

"What would you do if you were stuck in the same 24 hours?" was the question up for discussion amongst my peers. Some talked about catching up with the latest shows on their Netflix queue, or learning a different language.

To me, the True Solution is obvious. READ.

I would be at the library reading every book I'd ever wanted to read. Of course I'd eventually have to start time again once I'd finished with that library, because with the time-bubble effect I couldn't actually put anything on hold. But by that time I would have put a sizable dent in my To Be Read mountain of books. And maybe I'd also have learned a different language too. That would be from reading the 400's shelf in the ol' Dewey Decimal system.