Monday, August 25, 2014

The Pirate Queen: A Review

Moving on to my next nonfictional audiobook, ThePirate Queen by Susan Ronald.  It was coincidental I got this book the same day as The Outlaw Sea, because although I do like to read about nautical topics from time to time, it wasn’t because I was in any particular seafaring mood on that specific trip to the library, but simply because those were two of the few audiobooks my library owns that I have not read yet.  (The pile is dwindling dangerously low in that section.)

Source: http://www.the-pirate-queen.com/images/Front%20Cover.jpg
The Pirate Queen is subtitled Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire, and the thesis for this book is pretty plain: Queen Elizabeth used her Pirate Adventurers (basically sanctioned pirates, also called privateers later in history) to buoy up a chaotic and politically precarious Britain into a stable foundation for the empire that was to come.  When Elizabeth took the throne, she was a Protestant monarch of a small island surrounded by powerful Catholic kingdoms, all doubting the legitimacy of her claim to the throne, all thirsty to add her lands to their own empires, and she had very little to work with in the way of money or firepower to fight against it. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Outlaw Sea: A Review

As promised, today I’ll be reviewing The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos and Crime by William Langewiesche.  This book was a perfectly decent nonfiction book, often riveting and mostly well-written, but marred by two and a half flaws.
Source: http://download-audiobooks.net/uploads/posts/2014-02/thumbs/1393346339_9256.jpg 

I picked up the audiobook version from my library without really knowing (or being able to discern from the blurb on the back cover) what it was about.  All I knew was it was vaguely nautical and catalogued as nonfiction.  It turned out to be about four main stories to do with modern seafaring—I say “about four” because sometimes the storytelling was fluid enough to merge one story into another, and other times the “storytelling” stopped while the author went on a tangent about the politics of international shipping companies and policies—and these stories varied from a shipwreck due to the boat being too old, to a case of modern piracy, to the accidental sinking of a ship in the Baltic, to an investigation into “ship-breaking yards” where old ships go to be literally broken up and junked. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Search for the Elusive Thesis Statement

Source: http://yamagazine.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/nonfiction-820-3001.jpg
The general difference between children’s nonfiction and adult nonfiction is that children’s nonfiction is about instruction, and adult nonfiction is about persuasion.  Children’s nonfiction is often centered on facts: if you go to your local library and check out a book on a U.S. president, for example, you should expect to find the simple facts of his biography, not an in-depth analysis of his administration. 

Of course there are facts-only books in the adult section, too.  If you take out a “How to Repair Your Car” from the adult nonfiction section of the library, it’s not going to try to persuade you to repair your car.*  The same would go for other How-To’s, crafts or cooking—although sometimes cookbooks try to persuade you to give up sugar or gluten or dairy.  But then there is another level of nonfiction that isn’t found nearly as often in the children’s section.  It’s the kind of nonfiction book that one might be assigned in college, a book that I mentally have dubbed “thesis books,” because they’re basically long essays that, like all other essays, research papers, or well-written speeches, must include a thesis statement.

See, to write a book on something specialized, like linguistics, one should probably be a linguist.  These kinds of specialists are often working in an academic setting like a college or university, and to get promoted or earn prestige they are expected—even required—to write articles and books about their specialized subject.  From an essay-writing standpoint, a thesis statement is basically a topic sentence, stating what the essay’s goal is.  And while some essays’ goals are simply to instruct or to say a certain topic is important, usually a thesis is really a confession to the reader of what the essay is going to try to convince them of.  It’s the difference between instructional, “In this book I’m going to teach you to cook,” and persuasion, “I’m going to teach you to cook without meat because vegetarianism is healthier.”

Unfortunately some theses are harder to spot at the beginning of adult nonfiction.  From my college days when we were graded on our ability to identify the thesis of every article or book we read, I can tell you the thesis is supposed to be in the first chapter or introduction, and it should be in the first paragraph or the first page. If the author is really ostensible they’ll probably word  it along the lines of “This book will show…” or “Such-and-such a topic is important for us to understand because…”, although generally this wording is avoided because it isn’t Subtle, and to writers nothing is so gauche as a lack of subtlety. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Literary Music


Sometimes things come full circle.  Once at a library book sale my mom purchased a CD by a group called Caedmon’s Call.  It was called Back Home, and eventually after hearing it played in our car several times I asked if I could have it. 

Not only are the songs very good melody-wise, but the lyrics are very poetic.  I’m not much of a musically-minded person—I have only the vaguest idea of what a “bridge” is, for instance—but I’ve read enough poetry to recognize a good lyric when I hear it.  And that’s what Caedmon’s Call’s lyrics are like: poetry.

Now you may ask yourself why I’m reviewing a CD instead of a book.  “This is totally the wrong medium,” you may be saying, “The blog is called ‘Come With Me If You Want to Read,’ not ‘Listen to a CD.’  And even if it were, the name wouldn’t be nearly as catchy.” Well maybe if you wouldn’t keep interrupting me you’d get your explanation.