Saturday, January 31, 2009

a review of Fault Line

Fault Line by Barry Eisler

Alex Treven is a successful Silicon Valley lawyer, on the track to making partner at a very prestigious firm. He has just brought his first client into the firm, a client whose new encryption technology will mean a huge amount of money for the firm. Everything is looking great for Alex...that is until things start to appear to go very, very wrong. And perhaps very dangerously wrong for Alex.
When he fears that his very life may be in danger, Alex is forced to turn, against his wishes, to the one person that he knows he can trust without question, his brother Ben.

There is an incident in their past that divided Ben and Alex and forever changed their family. Since that time and since Ben want off and joined the military, contact between the brothers has been very limited and what there has been has been rather hostile. But Alex hopes that Ben, with his rather mysterious job in the army, will be the one person that he can count on when he starts to mistrust everyone else around him.

Fault Line is a well written, fast paced, believably plotted story with very good characters that go beyond what is often found in novels of intrigue. Perhaps part of that might be owed to the fact that the author Mr. Eisler was a covert operative in the CIA for three years, with experience in such things as hand-to-hand combat, surveillance, and counter terrorism among other things. I am not sure whether some of the episodes described are realistic...but they seem so and they certainly are entertaining.

So, if you enjoy novels with suspense and intrigue, great characters, a bit of a love story...and a fair bit of small arms fire....Fault Line will be one that you certainly will want to put on your list!

Available for Pre-Order From Amazon

Friday, January 30, 2009


Here is a little game to amuse you or drive you nuts depending on how quickly you get it right. Supposedly it is from a second grade Chinese computer class. I just love it when second graders are smarter than me.

But I did get it on the third try. Good luck. :-)

Jump The Frogs.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sure, I can write a book!! ...but who would read it?

An interesting bit of news from Shelf Awareness the other day, that also quotes a very intersting piece in the NY Times by Motoko Rich. Well, not news so much as a timely topic perhaps...
"As other sectors of the book industry fight for survival, 'there is one segment of the industry that is actually flourishing: capitalizing on the dream of would-be authors to see their work between covers, companies that charge writers and photographers to publish are growing rapidly at a time when many mainstream publishers are losing ground.'

But where are the readers? 'For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there's two that should have been published,' said Cathy Langer, lead buyer at Tattered Cover bookstore, Denver, Colo. 'People think that just because they've written something, there's a market for it. It's not true.'"
But not everyone, including those that run the self-publishing companies, see it that way according to Rich.
"During an economic downturn, books tailored to such narrow audiences may fare better than titles from traditional publishers that depend on a more general appeal.

'A lot of this niche content is doing fairly well relative to the rest of the economy because it’s very useful to people who have a very specific need,' said Aaron Martin, director of self-publishing and manufacturing on demand at Amazon."
But in reality, for most, that is a very cozy little niche, since one estimate is that the average number of copies sold of most self published books is 150. Yes, you who dream of being the next John Grisham...150.

But do not lose all hope! There is always the exception to the rule. Rich cites the example of Lisa Genova, who wrote and self published the book "Still Alice". Yes, the same 'Still Alice' you may have seen written about all over the Internet recently and advertised right there on Shelf Awareness by her publisher Pocket Books, who ultimately bought the book for a six figure advance. BTW, it debuted at #5 on the NY Times trade paperback list this week.

So what is your opinion on self published books? Do you read any, do you review them? Three examples that I have read recently come to mind. One is a self published book by a woman that I know. I read it. Not very good. Another is a self published book that I read, and reviewed here on my blog, that I thought was quite good. That deserved the benefits of being picked up by a publisher and getting the added publicity and distribution that would mean. Why has no one picked it up? I don't know. Is it just a matter of luck, of endurance? Because, without doubt, I have read many published books that were much worse.
And the third is a book that was first self published and was then sold to a publisher and re-released. Well, to each their own, but I did not think it was very good. What did the publisher see? Again, I am not sure but congrads to the writer. And good for you for hanging in there! But the fact that it was published does not necessarily mean it was a great quality.

So what is the bottom line, in my humble opinion?
What books a publisher might buy is very subjective. Many bad books are published ( you and I have read some, I am sure) and a few good ones are not published. The reality is as self publishing gets easier and cheaper, it may well become a bigger business. I have seen some bloggers that say they will NEVER read or blog about a self-published book. I hesitate to draw such a firm line. I will admit that are several that I have read and did not have the heart to blog least yet...because they were just so bad. But then, as I know, there is always that gem in the junk pile waiting to be found. Maybe I am hoping for that gem and maybe I hope that if we bloggers find one and talk about it and a bit of a buzz gets going, someone might hear it and give the book the chance it deserves.
I think there are a few good books out there that should see the light of day.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

review of Beat The Reaper

Beat The Reaper: A Novel by Josh Bazell

Doctor Peter Brown is not quite like any doctor you might have ever met...but then Peter...or should we call him Pietro “Bearclaw” Brwna (and no, that is no a typo) is most likely not like anyone you have ever met. He is a man with a past, hence the other name, and quite a past it is. When his grandparents, with whom he lived, are murdered when he was 14, he takes the opportunity, when it presents itself, to get very friendly with some mob folks in an attempt to find who killed them and take his revenge. Let's say he really took to some of those mob ways but now is in the witness protection program and is a doctor at a Manhattan hospital. All is going as well as can be expected, and that is not too good, until someone who know Peter from his past shows up as a patient and recognizes him. Then things really get exciting!

To give you a taste for the tone of the book, a small excerpt. The book opens with someone attempting to mug him, which is really a mistake, because Doctor Peter can surely take care of himself.
“Take it easy, Doc.” he says.
Which explains that, at least. Even at five in the morning, I'm not the kind of guy you mug. I look like an Easter Island sculpture of a longshoreman. But the fuckhead can see the blue scrub pants under my overcoat and the ventilated green plastic clogs, so he thinks I've got drugs and money on me. And maybe that I've taken some kind of oath not to kick his fuckhead ass for trying to mug me.
I barely have enough drugs and money to get me through the day...."

Let's say the mugger was lucky to get out of that encounter still alive, because Pietro has left a lot of not so alive folks in his trail.

Gosh, you want your doctor to have enough drugs to get through the day, right? Yes, Doctor Peter is quite a character and this is quite a book. Part medical mystery...with some really interesting footnotes...part thriller, with appearances by the Mob, Nazis, crazy, scary doctors, part love story, part comedy, it is often very foul and often very funny. It is gross and hilarious, scary and vulgar, sexually explicit and violent...and did I mention, very, very funny.

And contains, near the end, one of the most horrible, unbelievable, 'can't avert your eyes from it' scene that I have ever read. Ever. Bar none.
If you are looking for a fast paced, funny, entertaining book and don't mind being scared to ever step foot in a hospital again, and are not too terribly sensitive to sex, violence and terrible language, this is your book.

By the way, somewhere out there on the WorldWideWeb, I read that the author, the actual doctor Josh Bazell, after selling the book for SEVEN FIGURES, has, this very month, sold the movie rights of Beat The Reaper to a group headed by Leonardo DiCaprio, who is expected to star as Peter/Pietro when the film is made. Hmmm...not sure he will be able to really capture that Easter Island longshoreman thing, but it will be fun to see!

If you are interested in glancing at some other reviews, here are a few you might enjoy.
Shhh I'm Reading...
At Home With Books
Booking Mama

Available from Amazon

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Open Yourself to the Classification.... of Tuesday Thinger!

Is it my imagination (of which I have little) or are these Tuesdays coming faster and faster? Or is it just my excitement at another Tuesday Thinger?
That must be it, because the thought that time is just going faster and faster as I get older and older and soon I will wake up in one of those hospital bed with the crack to raise the feet (who actually wants their feet higher) in a nursing home in Cleveland (and no, I have no idea how I got to Cleveland, but that is sort of the point, isn't it?).
So, before I get distracted again (oh, look! a bright, shiny object...) this weeks question, from the desk of Wendi's Book Corner...

Today's question: Prior to today, were you aware of Open Shelves Classification? Have you helped to classify any books yet? Is this something you are interested in? Did you know that if you classify any books, it will also show you who else has classified the book?

Well, yes, I was! I was catching up reading the LT blog and saw a post about it on 1/20 (which is also my sister-in-laws birthday). Page down, it said, and you will see the classifications. Pick one, be a part of the project...

Ok, let me just say that I have never understood the Dewey Decimal System. Yes, I understand the theory of it, sort of, but I, as a long time library user, have never found it of any use. I wanted a book, or a book about something, or a type of book, and I looked it up in the card catalog...yes, I am that old that I used libraries pre-computer when we used actual paper cards in a BIG file cabinets of cute little drawers filled with little paper cards. Well, anyhoo, it would have a number and I would go off to find the number. But the principle, what those number meant, I had no idea. And didn't care. I figure it was some sort of insider librarian joke.

And to tell you the truth...again...I really am not sure what the point of this Open Shelves Classification is. But it speaks to my inner OCD. I love classifications and I am willing to help...just because it is tidy. So, ever time I look at a book in my library, I try to remember to go down to the bottom of the page and pick a classification for it.

Ok, one thing I really do not get about OSC. There are like 45 'top-level categories'. One for fiction and poetry...and all the rest for non-fiction. Does that seem fair?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Lighthouse's Tale

I offer, for your listening pleasure, my very favorite lighthouse song, music by the group Nickel Creek. It is actually a very, very sad song, but I love it and I hope that you enjoy it.
This might be a fictional account of a lighthouse and it's keeper and their sad story, but I think that it partially captures the sense of history connected to lighthouses which is part of why they interest me.
And every lighthouse has so many interesting tales to tell...

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Best....and the Worst.

Yes folks, it is that time of year again, when the Academy of Motion Pictures announces their nominations for the best picture of the year and they are ((drumrole...))

Best Motion Picture of the Year

-"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
-"The Reader"
-"Slumdog Millionaire"

But that is not all my dear readers. No, indeed! Because here are this year's anti-Oscars, the Golden Raspberry Awards, which celebrate the worst on film this year. No drumroll needed this time I think.

Worst Picture of the Year

-"Disaster Movie" and "Meet the Spartans" The same director directed both the same screenwriter wrote both, so they seem to put them together
-"The Happening"
-"The Hottie & the Nottie"
-"In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale"
-"The Love Guru"

Does it say something that I have seen NONE of them. Not the best and not the worse. Perhaps that I read too much. And that the new season of Lost has just begun. But I do plan to see Slumdog...someday.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

a review of That Went Well

That Went Well: Adventures in Caring for My Sister By Terrell Harris Dougan

When Terrell was about six years old, her younger sister Irene was born and a major change was going to take place in the household of the Harris family of Salt Lake City. From the beginning it was clear that little Irene was 'slow'. Slow to sit, slow to stand, slow to walk, slow to talk. But it was not until she entered kindergarten that the severity of her handicap was realized, when at the suggestion of the teacher, she was taken to the University of Utah for testing. The results and recommendations were difficult to accept. Most like due to oxygen deprivation during a difficult birth, she was brain damaged, with an IQ of about 57. According to the experts, she would never learn to read or write, she would never have the emotional maturity to empathize with people, her explosive temper outbursts had less to do with being spoiled than with the wiring of her brain. While she was outgoing and likely to have many friends she would never have the maturity to marry. She could not attend 'normal' schools and the only option available was the program at the state institution.
Much of what they said proved true, except the last fact.
Having visited the state institution, and at the time, with no other options, the Harris's decided that Irene would stay at home with them. Terrell, her mom, herself suffering from severe arthritis, her advertising executive father and her maternal grandmother, Bammy would try to do their best for Irene. and the rest of the family as well.

The book details the story of Irene and her family over the next 60 or so years, until the present. An important part of that story is how the government of Utah, and other states at the same time, were finding themselves forced, often thought legal challenges, often through the work of family members like Terrell and her father, to offer alternatives to the mentality disabled. Sheltered workshops, group homes and a variety of programs...none of which worked very well for Irene. Finally, toward the end of the book, Terrell, who assumed the responsibility for overseeing her sister's care after the death of her parents, seems to have come to some sort of peace about her relationship with her sister and her expectations about her.

The last part of the book, the last 60 pages or so, is very good. But oddly, until that point, I realized the book was a great deal more about Terrell and her life than about her sister and I had little idea until that point about who Irene was as a person. We follow the author and her childhood experiences, her journey off to college, meeting the man who she would marry, having children. Terrell tells us about her career as a columnist, her interest in acting, some experiences in politics, her involvement in the start of the Sundance Film Festival and a number of famous people she has worked with. The number of times she uses the pronoun "I" starts to be overwhelming. We learn a good deal about her grandmother and her parents, who sound like wonderful people, but for much of the book, we seem not to know much about Irene, certainly very little of a positive nature.

Finally, the focus changes and the book becomes much more interesting. It seems, at some point, the author realized that Irene is always going to be Irene, with the good and bad that includes, and perhaps what can actually change are her expectations for her sister. Sometimes Irene is, without question, very, very difficult. She doesn't like the things her sister thinks she should, or act the way her sister would like. She lies to get her way. She can act out violently. She loves to dress in shorts and Mickey Mouse socks, even in cold weather. She will talk to strangers, or customers in stores or homeless people, often asking if they would like to talk to her ever present dolls.

Terrell finds it embarrassing, but, she realized, these people actually like Irene. A telling story...In order to entice Irene to get some exercise and at the same time allow her to 'earn' some money to have in her pocket, which Irene loves, Terrell went to a neighboring firehouse and talked to the firefighters, getting them to agree to give Irene $1 when she walked the several blocks to vist them and gave them a stack of dollar bills. Some period of time later, Irene told her sister that she was going to have a lemonade stand in front of the house where she lives with her caretakers. Terrell, afraid her sister, a grown woman, would look silly and no one would stop at the stand, drove over to the house, amazed to find that the firemen had driven two trucks over to her sale, making her the hero of the neighborhood kids that got to climb on the trucks and drink lemonade with all those firemen, Irene's friends.

As she wrote in a letter to her sister at the end of the book,
“When you look at the cashier in the checkout line and ask 'How's your day?', she glances up gratefully, smiles, looks into your eyes and tells you. Bus drivers love you. Bank tellers love you...Homeless people all rush to help you. You take a waitress's hand and introduce yourself. I keep trying to make you be more appropriate, but it turn out that they see who you are, way deep down, and they love it....You have no boundaries, and it works for you. I try daily to establish boundaries so that I can be more 'normal'! How come your world is so full of love? How can you just twinkle at people and share each moment as it comes? When I grow up, maybe I can be more like you.”
Of course, she also realizes that when she reads this to her sister, instead of sharing a tender loving moment, Irene will just want to go get a Diet Coke and a pack of crackers from the machine at a nearby gas station, one of her favorite things. And finally she seems able to accept that and just do what she thinks is best for Irene and what she is comfortable with. The problems will continue and new ones will appear and she will just do her best.
“I really don't worry a lot anymore....Because trust me, you siblings or parents: nothing is going to be all right. Sorry. But along the way, we've discovered things to be funny and healing and loving anyway, so that's all right.”
When Irene is at the center of the book it is interesting and eyeopening and at times moving. It makes you pause and wonder what is "normal". The book would have benefited if that had been the focus throughout but the last sections are good enough to give a recommendation.

Available From Amazon

Granted, it's easier than writing the review I am writing....

...and I can't help it, I find these quizzes amusing. So, for my amusement and perhaps yours, The Book Quiz. Books...seems fitting.

So, what book am I?

You're Watership Down!

by Richard Adams

Though many think of you as a bit young, even childish, you're
actually incredibly deep and complex. You show people the need to rethink their
assumptions, and confront them on everything from how they think to where they
build their houses. You might be one of the greatest people of all time. You'd
be recognized as such if you weren't always talking about talking rabbits.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

But people need to know about the talking rabbits!
If everyone 'gets' the same book, I promise never to post another quiz.
Most likely. ;-)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I just like pictues in the snow...

Holly in the snow...

A giant oak...

Toasty Toes Tuesday Thinger

It is chilly outside and there is snow on the ground and I am just home from work. But my toes are toasty because of the wonder fabric...wool! This is an unofficial endorsement of the SmartWool soft, and yet with the warmth of wool. If you happen to work for SmartWool and would like to send me a pair or two for another positive word, I wouldn't throw them back!

But you are here about socks are you? No, you are here for the every informative answer to this week's Tuesday Thinger question concerning a feature of Library Thing, via the wonderful Wendi's Book Corner. So on to the question...

Today's question: Have you ever used the Swap This Book function which can be found on the main page of any book...If so, what do you think about it? If not, are there any other swap sites you utilize to exchange books once you are done? What do you do with your books if you no longer want them anymore?

Well, golly gee! Again, something I have never seen. I have used the links just above it to look for a book to buy on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Abebooks. But I guess I never read the whole Buy, borrow, swap or view part....I never got past the "buy". Hey, that is cool!

I have done a bit of swapping on Bookmooch. I have a lot of books and a small house, so I thought here was a way to get rid of some books, to send them to fine homes, and make a little space for the never ending incoming books. Well, it has not worked out too great. When I first joined BM, I posted a bunch of books and one person requested several the first day. So, I boxed them up and sent them off...and the receiver claimed they never arrived. Ok, I know I sent them and maybe they went astray, but the whole thing left a bad taste. And then I must say that I have some problems finding any book I want on Bookmooch. So actually, this feature of LT might help, since I can see which site might have a book I want without having to search each one. And also where I might dump swap some of my lesser cherished tomes.

Of course, then I would have to sign up at more sites and then there are all those new passwords...and I only have so much room left in my I don't know....

Kitty, how is your memory?

Monday, January 19, 2009

a review of There's a Slight Chance I Might Be Going To Hell

There's a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell: A Novel of Sewer Pipes, Pageant Queens and Big Trouble By Laurie Notaro

If you are looking for a blog that is always entertaining....besides mine of could do worse than to mosy over to see what Michele at A Reader's Respite is up to. Well, the other day, in her always amusing 'Diversifying My Bookshelves' segment, she highlighted a book with a very amusing title and a very amusing cover. Yes, this book right here. And I thought “Hmmm...that looks familiar”. It was because I actually owned it! Never read it, but owned it. So, when there was some discussion in the comments, wondering if the book lived up to it's funny title, I volunteered to carefully removed it from the dangerous TTTBR (Tower of The To Be Read) and let you all know. A funny title does not necessarily make a funny book. But it certainly does in this case. “There's A (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going To Hell” is a very funny book. But more than that, it is a book with some great characters, a bit of a mystery, a great story and one that will keep you entertained from cover to cover.

First...the amusement factor. I would rate humor, be it in real life or in a book (there is a difference, right?) on a scale of one to five. Let's call it the Caite Comedy Calibration Computation.


1.Makes me smile.
2.Makes me my head. Sort of like the Voices.
3.Makes me chuckle.
4.Makes me actually laugh aloud.
5.Makes me laugh, so much so that tears come to my eyes. Makes me think about it and laugh again. Makes me want to explain to someone what is so funny. Makes people stare at me...again.

On that scale, this book is very often a solid 5. And just about always somewhere on the CCCC. Quite amusing indeed.

But this book is not just sort of stand-up routine taken to paper. No, there is also a very nice story as well.

Maye Roberts and her husband had grown up in Phoenix, met and married there and have a nice life and a lot of friends. Well, nice except the crack houses and streetwalkers in their neighborhood. Now, upon her husband's completion of graduate school, he has been offered a teaching job in the seeming charming town of Spaulding, Washington and off they and their dog Mickey go. A nice town, once the home of the world's largest sewer pipe factory, now more a college town with a lot of ex-hippies with rainbow painted houses, college folk and people seemingly obsessed with proper recycling. Poor Maye is really part of none of these groups and is having a terrible time making friends. Try she does, but the book group she joins turns out to be a witch's coven, who want her to dance nekked around a fire and let them give her a bath and burn a lock of her hair. She joins a group of nice vegans, until she is tossed for being seen eating a steak. Most likely because she is not a vegan. Her 'friend date' with a woman she meets at a bookstore ends..well, very badly. She makes quite a show at one of her husbands facility parties, involving a sweater, a very nasty hostess and partial, accidental nudity.
“At what point did I step into another dimension? Maye wondered as she did just that and headed straight for the bar. Is the chh chh chh hallway a portal to the David Lynch version of a work party? Is there a bottle that someone is passing around labeled “Drink Me?” Where are the midgets? If she passed into an alternate universe, there ought to be midgets, goddamn it, dressed as cops pirates, and little maids. The Spaulding living room is a Salvador Dali painting, she decided, and I must be a melting clock wearing a sweater depicting a Santa with no eyes in a sleigh pulled by rabbits. One thing for sure- should any rabbit materialize before her eyes, she would sure as shit follow it down any hole to get out of here, she told herself.”

She sees only one way out of her lonely dilemma, one way to make some friends and fit in and become liked in the community. To enter and win the annual Sewer Pipe Queen Pageant. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. She needs a sponsor, an Old Queen to help whip her 'act' into winning form and when she used her skills from her previous occupation as a journalist to find the perfect Queen who can help her win..well, then things really start to happen and she runs into the aforementioned Big Trouble while making a very special and unlikely friend.
Don't miss the kitten juggling!

I know that this will most certainly not be the last book by Laurie Notaro that I will be reading!! If you are looking for a laugh, this is a fun book indeed.

Available From Amazon

a dusting of snow at 3 A.M.

and later...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

a review of The Dead

The Dead by Ingrid Black

A Dublin newspaper, in the person of the rather sleazy writer Nick Elliott, has received a letter from someone purporting to be Ed Fagan. Mr. Fagan was believed to be a murderer, a serial killer, but after his release from custody due to some police transgression some five years before, has never been heard from again. Now, with this letter, and soon, with the discovery of the body of yet another dead prostitute, many believe that The Night Hunter is back.

Saxon (we never discover her first name) has her own very strong reasons for not believing that this killer, whoever he may be, is Fagan. She is a former FBI agent who gained a bit of fame and success writing several books about serial killers and she was in Ireland, in the process of writing one about The Night Hunter when he disappeared. The newspapers, the public, and even many in the police seem to except the killer and his letters to the press at his word. He says he will kill five women in the next seven days and seems to delight in taunting the murder squad, including Saxon's friend Detective Chief Superintendent Grace Fitzgerald, by recreating the previous murders. But Saxon, called in as in special advisor because of her knowledge of Fagan, must not only help to solve the murders but not allow the police to be distracted by the belief that The Night Hunter has returned.

The novel takes place at Christmastime and the gray, damp, rainy weather of Dublin in winter, and Saxon's love/hate relationship with the city, is almost like another character in the story. A realistically portrayed character, I can tell you, because there is nowhere quite as damp and gray as Dublin in the winter..and I say this as someone who loves both winter and Ireland. But even the city, with her many historic building and the ever present bridges and grand river, is not as good a character as Saxon. She is smart and clever..and often has a very bad attitude, which is great fun for the reader. And in The Dead, she is just one of a fascinating cast of characters, one of whom may just be our killer.

As a blurb on the back cover of the book, from the UK's Sunday Independent, says “I defy anyone to guess the identity of the killer or to put this book down.” Well, I did guess the identity of the killer! Wrongly, twice, and I was not able to put the book down until, at the very end, the truth is revealed. When it was revealed, I saw how I had been misdirected and yet, quite fairly, how a number of times clues were given that could have led me to the killer. If I had picked up on them that is. Clever yet fair; signs of a good, solid mystery book.

The Dead is the first in a series by Ingrid Black (actually a Belfast based husband and wife writing team) that is followed by The Dark Eye, The Judas Heart and most recently, Circle of the Dead. If you enjoy The Dead as much as I did, you will be forced to catch up with the rest....which is a pleasant prospect for a mystery lover!

Available from Amazon

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What font are you?

Come on! You know that you've always wondered what font you are, right?

I have always thought of myself as a Comic Sans...but no, I am a Helvetica. "You're like an industry standard. Classic. Reliable. Okay, maybe a bit boring. But you don't let the haters get you down--after all, you've still got plenty of friends who think you're the best"

How dull. Yawn.......

But thanks for the link to Ask Nicola

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I always make it back for Tuesday Thingers!

See, I wrote a review and posted it! Trying to get back into a blog mindset. I was on some sort of non-reading sabbatical the last couple of weeks and I have discovered it is hard to write a review if you have not read the book. Not impossible, which I sometime think when I read reviews on Amazon...but before I descend into snarkiness, yet me consider this week's TT question from Wendi's Book Corner and try to get some reading in before getting back to my real life task. I have a table in the basement with lines of Nutcrackers soldiers that need help getting back into their boxes to await next Christmas and they ain't doing it themselves. Believe me...I have waited and waited but no, they just stand there staring their creepy wooden stare, with their creepy wooden smiles.

Today's question: A few weeks ago, someone told me about the Common Knowledge feature of Library Thing. The statistics and basic information can be found through a link at the bottom of any page. Currently there are over 869,540 facts that have been entered. How do they get there? We add them!

It took me a while to figure out that you enter them from the book or author page. When you have a book or author page pulled up, if you look at the left hand side, there are a bunch of links you can choose from. One of them is Common Knowledge. If you click the link, it will bring up a section where you can add facts.

Have you ever looked at the Common Knowledge page, or viewed the history of changes/additions? If you were aware of this section, have you added any information? Do you find this information useful or interesting?

Yes, to all the above! This is just the sort of think about Library Thing that I love, totally useless bits of information that I can contribute to myself. 870,100 facts as we speaks...I love it! Ok, they are not useless, just useless to the vast majority of people but either way, I still love them.

Now granted, as with many things, I had not looked at it too closely before and until now have stuck to the more basic entries. I have added to the series info, an author award here or there. But now I see this entry called Disambiguation Notices. I have no idea what that is but I want to! Is that one of those secret librarian things? I also see tremendous possibilities here for time wasting and anyone who knows me knows that I am able to waste vast amounts of time but I am always looking for new ideas.
So I have picked a category....Dedications...and decided that today I am going to go through every look in my library and look for a dedication and enter it in the Common Knowledge. Let's see...1100 books...6.5 minutes each...10 minute break to feed Kitty, my imaginary kitty...a nap of 86 minutes...7246 minutes...120.7666 hours....5.031944 days.
Hmmm...I may need another nap. And a snack. And to call in sick to work.
But it will be all so tidy when it is done and my inner OCD loves the tidy!

Monday, January 12, 2009

review of The Art Instinct

The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution by Denis Dutton

Every human culture, from prehistoric times until the present, has created art. From cave painting to the Sistine chapel to Andy Warhol’s soup cans; from the beat of drums around a fire to Mozart’s Magic Flute to rap music…the forms change but the essence remains the same. For some reason, humans have a deep seated love of beauty and a desire to create. But why? It appears to be a basic human instinct, but does it serve a purpose? Some people would suggest that it does not, that art and the creation of art is useless. I think that Mr. Dutton, a professor of art at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, would suggest quite the opposite. In fact, he argues, art is useful to human culture on several levels and it's continued place in our lives is, at least in part, the result of the connection of art and evolutionary science.

Take for example fiction, from storytelling to the modern novel or play. Fiction takes us beyond ourselves and our limited personal experience and at the same time unites us to the experience of the greater group.
“The ability to imagine scenarios and state of affairs not present to direct consciousness must have had adaptive power in human prehistory as it does in today’s world….This capacity for strategic, prudential, conditional thinking gave to such bands a vast adaptive advantage over groups that could not plan with imaginative details.”
It provides information, it passes on the beliefs and experiences of the culture, it prepares us for experiences we have not yet had ourselves, all things that were as beneficial for our ancestors as they are for us today. The reader of fiction is not escaping reality but escaping from a limited, impoverished reality into a much larger, richer world of human possibility. And among our ancestors, a group with a strong storytelling experience had an advantage of survival over any group that did not.

And what of the visual arts. Beautiful objects, often made of rare materials, taking a great deal of time and a great deal of skill…in what way are they somehow useful? Well, Mr. Dutton argues that this skill and ability very early on served a purpose similar to the huge and beautiful tail of the male peacock. To be able to create such art was a sign of intelligence and health, showed that the creator was successful and committed enough as a provider to have the excess material and time to make these objects and was therefore a good choice as a sexual partner. So his genes were more likely to be passed on.

The idea that these basic artistic expressions are inherent to human culture, somehow a basic human instinct is fascinating. Mr. Dutton’s discussion in Chapter 3 of a set of 12 ‘cluster criteria’ that he suggests define “What is Art?” is, I think, alone worth reading the book for. He lists and discusses these twelve characteristics; direct pleasure, skill and virtuosity, style, novelty and creativity, criticism, representation, special focus, expressive individuality, emotional saturation, intellectual challenge, art tradition and institutions, and perhaps, he thinks, most importantly imaginative experience.

“…objects of art essentially provide an imaginative experience for both producers and audiences. “
To see our connection to art as somehow a result of evolutionary natural selection might seem to risk the danger of reducing it to a sort of biological imperative, a matter of DNA and group memory. But Dutton recognizes that art by it’s very nature ultimately strives to take us beyond ourselves. At it's best, in what we recognize as masterpieces, we are taken to new levels we could not achieve on our own.
“…standing before a masterpiece you are in the presence of a power that exceeds anything you can imagine for yourself, something greater than you even can or will be. The rapture they offer is literally ecstatic -taking you out of yourself. Their sense of exceeding not only what we are but what we can imagine ourselves to be is why we properly call the great works sublime. Theists may wish to attribute all this to the power of God, Darwinian humanists to the near miraculous power of human genius. Both will approach such works as suppliants: we yield to their will, allowing then to take us on a journey they choose for us.”
And yet, we are also connected by art. Our artistic expressions may seem far different than those of those of our ancestors, yet they share a great deal. Like them, we admire the skill and virtuosity, the act of creation, the intellectual challenges, the personal expression.
“And over all this, we still share with our ancestors a feeling of recognition and communication with other human beings through the medium of art. Preoccupied as we are with the flashy media and buzzing gizmos of our daily experience, we forget how close we remain to the prehistoric women and men who first found beauty in the world. Their blood runs in our veins. Our art instinct is theirs.”

Well, perhaps. Interesting ideas; not ones that I am totally sure that I buy into, but interesting and thought provoking. It is a book dense with ideas, which is both good and bad, bad because I am not quite sure who Dutton sees as his reader.
Once, long, long ago in a distant galaxy, I was, in my university days, a philosophy major. The perfect preparation for a career in retail. But back to my point. I have read Plato and Aristotle and Kant and all these fine fellow whose ideas on the philosophy of aesthetics Dutton raises. Granted, not recently, but I have dug my way through them and this is a book that I think most readers, like myself, while interested in the ideas, may find rather hard to make their way through. Maybe I underestimate people, or maybe I am just not in the habit of thinking very deeply these days. I could be wrong....won't be the first time. But I will leave that up to the judgment of the reader.

If you are interested in art, or philosophy or the theory of evolution, there is much of interest here.

Available from Amazon

Friday, January 9, 2009

Congratulations to the University of Florida Gators and their 24-14 victory over Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship for the school's third national football title.

{{Mary Kate, you are so lucky that you didn't hit Tim with your

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

..huh....where was I? Looking for my Tuesday Thinger!

Seems that I only make it here on Tuesday recently. But for there anyone...searching for my insightful and amusing posts and reviews, I promise to be back in the swing of things shortly. I was keeping is a twelve day feast you know...The Twelve Days of Christmas song and all...and is now just over with the feast of the Epiphany and I just now unplugged my Christmas lights. The Niece and her puppy, the world's cutest doggie, have jetted back to college. So, I am running out of distractions. Except that I have a cold and my brain is filled with oatmeal, or so it seems.
But I have saved just a tiny bit of brain power for TUESDAY THINGER! So what is today's questions, via Wendi's Book Corner?...

Did you know that there are 1497 authors participating in LT Authors? If you haven't checked it out, head over for a moment and see if you can find out something new about an author! If you don't have time to go snooping, have you ever looked at the LT Author page before? Did you know that it is for authors and readers alike? Have you ever looked up a favorite or new author on LT to see what they read and if they have left any comments or reviews themselves? Have you ever told an author about LT Authors and encouraged them to check the site out?

Authors...golly, I admire authors. They are my rock stars, my movie idols. I have looked at the LT Authors page before, I think first finding it after noticing some mention of it connected to a new book that I had entered. Or something. OH, the oatmeal is starting to fill my brain...must hurry...getting foggy..

Ok, so one point about the LT Authors. If you look at the list, you will see many with a very small library entered on LT. Some, only their own books. Sorry folks, but I don't approve! I assume you are there to try and increase your visibility and readership. Well, if you want me to look at what you have written, you need to entice me...with an interesting library. Otherwise, as a member of Library Thing, I just feel used.
I am fascinated with people with huge, interesting libraries, so Robert Shearman, with your 11,812 books, you have my attention. Or Ellen Moody, with your 8,825 books, who is the author of 'Trollope on the Net', I admire your library and see that we share 66 books. I did wonder why you are not a member of the trollops for Trollops group. Oh no, it seems the group has been deleted! My, Library Thing is always changing...