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Top Ten Tuesday

toptentuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is my top ten bookish resolutions for the new year.

I’m not sure if I will make it to ten, but here are my resolutions, in whatever number!

  1. Finish Les Miserables and The Count of Monte Cristo. These two books have been lingering in limbo for far too long. Les Mis has been hanging about for more than a year! TCOMC is about 6 months old.
  2. Clear the decks for participation in at least one blog read-along, one classics spin, and one read-athon.
  3. Complete my Bronte Project
  4. Complete my C.S. Lewis Project
  5. Make significant progress on my classics clubs reading list
  6. Finish migrating my amazon reviews to booklikes/wordpress and completely disentangle all of my content from gr/amazon.
  7. The zero-budget year

That’s only 7, but it’ll do for now.

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One bright day in the last week of February, I was walking in the park, enjoying the threefold luxury of solitude, a book, and pleasant weather.

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 41,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 15 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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back to the classics2014

I will be participating in the Back to the Classics challenge, this year hosted by Karen at Karensbooksandchocolate. It has 6 mandatory categories:

an american tragedy A 20th Century Classic (must be published before 1964). An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser was published in 1925.

From Goodreads:

A tremendous bestseller when it was published in 1925, “An American Tragedy” is the culmination of Theodore Dreiser’s elementally powerful fictional art. Taking as his point of departure a notorious murder case of 1910, Dreiser immersed himself in the social background of the crime to produce a book that is both a remarkable work of reportage and a monumental study of character. Few novels have undertaken to track so relentlessly the process by which an ordinary young man becomes capable of committing a ruthless murder, and the further process by which social and political forces come into play after his arrest.
In Clyde Griffiths, the impoverished, restless offspring of a family of street preachers, Dreiser created an unforgettable portrait of a man whose circumstances and dreams of self-betterment conspire to pull him toward an act of unforgivable violence. Around Clyde, Dreiser builds an extraordinarily detailed fictional portrait of early twentieth-century America, its religious and sexual hypocrisies, its economic pressures, its political corruption. The sheer prophetic amplitude of his bitter truth-telling, in idiosyncratic prose of uncanny expressive power, continues to mark Dreiser as a crucially important American writer. “An American Tragedy,” the great achievement of his later years, is a work of mythic force, at once brutal and heartbreaking.

Bleak House A 19th Century Classic. Written by Charles Dickens and published in 1852, Bleak House is considered one of his masterworks.

From Goodreads:

Bleak House opens in the twilight of foggy London, where fog grips the city most densely in the Court of Chancery. The obscure case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, in which an inheritance is gradually devoured by legal costs, the romance of Esther Summerson and the secrets of her origin, the sleuthing of Detective Inspector Bucket and the fate of Jo the crossing-sweeper, these are some of the lives Dickens invokes to portray London society, rich and poor, as no other novelist has done. Bleak House, in its atmosphere, symbolism and magnificent bleak comedy, is often regarded as the best of Dickens. A ‘great Victorian novel’, it is so inventive in its competing plots and styles that it eludes interpretation.

From Wikipedia:

Bleak House is a novel by Charles Dickens, published in 20 monthly instalments between March 1852 and September 1853. It is held to be one of Dickens’s finest novels, containing one of the most vast, complex and engaging arrays of minor characters and sub-plots in his entire canon. The story is told partly by the novel’s heroine, Esther Summerson, and partly by a mostly omniscient narrator. Memorable characters include the menacing lawyer Tulkinghorn, the friendly but depressive John Jarndyce, and the childish and disingenuous Harold Skimpole, as well as the likeable but imprudent Richard Carstone.

At the novel’s core is long-running litigation in England’s Court of Chancery, Jarndyce v Jarndyce, which has far-reaching consequences for all involved. This case revolves around a testator who apparently made several wills. The litigation, which already has taken many years and consumed between £60,000 and £70,000 in court costs, is emblematic of the failure of Chancery. Dickens’s assault on the flaws of the British judicial system is based in part on his own experiences as a law clerk, and in part on his experiences as a Chancery litigant seeking to enforce copyright on his earlier books. His harsh characterisation of the slow, arcane Chancery law process gave memorable form to pre-existing widespread frustration with the system. Though Chancery lawyers and judges criticised Dickens’s portrait of Chancery as exaggerated and unmerited, his novel helped to spur an ongoing movement that culminated in the enactment of legal reform in the 1870s.

agnes grey A Classic by a Woman Author. I will be reading all of the novels written by the three Bronte sisters next year. To satisfy this challenge, I will rely on Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte.

From Wikipedia:

Agnes Grey is the debut novel of English author Anne Brontë, first published in December 1847, and republished in a second edition in 1850.[1] The novel follows Agnes Grey, a governess, as she works in several bourgeois families. Scholarship and comments by Anne’s sister Charlotte Brontë suggest the novel is largely based on Anne Brontë’s own experiences as a governess for five years. Like her sister Charlotte’s novel Jane Eyre, it addresses what the precarious position of governess entailed and how it affected a young woman.

The choice of central character allows Anne to deal with issues of oppression and abuse of women and governesses, isolation and ideas of empathy. An additional theme is the fair treatment of animals. Agnes Grey also mimics some of the stylistic approaches of bildungsromans, employing ideas of personal growth and coming to age, but representing a character who in fact does not gain in virtue.

The Irish novelist George Moore praised Agnes Grey as “the most perfect prose narrative in English letters,”and went so far as to compare Anne’s prose to that of Jane Austen. Modern critics have made more subdued claims admiring Agnes Grey with a less overt praise of Brontë’s work than Moore.

a hero of our time A Classic in Translation

From Goodreads

The first major Russian novel, A Hero of Our Time was both lauded and reviled upon publication. Its hero, twenty-five-year-old Pechorin, is a beautiful and magnetic but nihilistic young army officer, bored by life and indifferent to his many sexual conquests. Chronicling his unforgettable adventures in the Caucasus involving brigands, smugglers, soldiers, rivals, and lovers, this classic tale of alienation influenced Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Chekhov, and holds up a mirror not only to Lermontov’s time but also to our own.

From Wikipedia

The book is divided into five short stories or novellas, plus (in the second edition) an authorial preface. There are three major narrators: an unnamed young travel writer who has received Pechorin’s diaries after he bequeaths them to captain Maxim Maximych and who is implied to be Lermontov himself; Maxim Maximych, an old staff-captain who served with Pechorin for some time during the Caucasian War; and Pechorin himself via his diaries. The stories depict Pechorin as impulsive, emotionally distant and manipulative, capable of extreme bravery but generally bored by his life.

In the longest novella, Princess Mary, Pechorin flirts with the Princess of the title, while conducting an affair with his ex-lover Vera, and kills his friend Grushnitsky (of whom he is secretly contemptuous) in a duel in which the participants stand in turn on the edge of a cliff so that the loser’s death can be explained as an accidental fall. Eventually he rejects one woman only to be abandoned by the other.

The preface explains the author’s idea of his character: “A Hero of Our Time, my dear readers, is indeed a portrait, but not of one man. It is a portrait built up of all our generation’s vices in full bloom. You will again tell me that a human being cannot be so wicked, and I will reply that if you can believe in the existence of all the villains of tragedy and romance, why wouldn’t believe that there was a Pechorin? If you could admire far more terrifying and repulsive types, why aren’t you more merciful to this character, even if it is fictitious? Isn’t it because there’s more truth in it than you might wish?”

guns of august A Classic About War. Sneaking under the rule that a classic must be at least 50 years old, Tuchman’s The Guns of August won the Pulitzer Prize in 1963.

From Goodreads

Historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Barbara Tuchman has brought to life again the people and events that led up to World War I. With attention to fascinating detail, and an intense knowledge of her subject and its characters, Ms. Tuchman reveals, for the first time, just how the war started, why, and why it could have been stopped but wasn’t. A classic historical survey of a time and a people we all need to know more about, THE GUNS OF AUGUST will not be forgotten.

From Wikipedia

The book was an immediate bestseller and was on the New York Times best-seller list for 42 consecutive weeks. The Pulitzer Prize nomination committee was unable to award it the prize for outstanding history because Joseph Pulitzer’s will specifically stated that the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for history must be a book on American history. Instead, Tuchman was given the prize for general non-fiction.

According to the cover notes of an audio version of The Guns of August, “[President John F. Kennedy] was so impressed by the book, he gave copies to his cabinet and principal military advisers, and commanded them to read it.” In One Minute to Midnight on the Cuban Missile Crisis, Michael Dobbs notes the deep impression Guns had on Kennedy. He often quoted from it and wanted “every officer in the Army” to read it as well. Subsequently, “[t]he secretary of the Army sent copies to every U.S. military base in the world. Kennedy drew from The Guns of August to help in dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis, including the profound and unpredictable implications a rapid escalation of the situation could have.”

lucky jim A Classic by an Author Who Is New To You.

From Goodreads

Kingsley Amis has written a marvelously funny novel describing the attempts of England’s postwar generation to break from that country’s traditional class structure. When it appeared in England, Lucky Jim provoked a heated controversy in which everyone took sides. Even W. Somerset Maugham reviewed the book, happily with great favor: “Mr. Kingsley Amis is so talented, his observations so keen, that you cannot fail to be convinced that the young men he so brilliantly describes truly represent the classes with which his novel is concerned.”

Lucky Jim was published in 1954.

The list is, as always, subject to change. But these are my plans for the mandatory six categories. I’ll decide later if I’m going to participate in the optional categories.

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Return to Narnia

It has been a rather long while since I posted on the wordpress blog. I’ve been getting my booklikes page and shelves up and running, and vacillating over whether or not I am going to keep up this blog, what it’s purpose will be, and other esoteric and bloggy questions.

And, 2014 is coming up in a big hurry. My daughter will be graduating from high school, turning 18 in the spring, and heading off to college in the fall. The terror related to paying for college has overtaken my life in a huge way, and I find myself overwhelmed with thinking through lifestyle changes, questions about parenting a teen boy and a girl who no longer lives under my roof, and what my family will look like in less than a year. My Classics Club reading has stalled out a bit, and work has been completely insane.

Also, did I mention, Christmas?

The first thing on my 2014 reading list is the C.S. Lewis Project, which will be administered over on Goodreads. The Chronicles of Narnia are comfort reading for me – and I could seriously use some comfort.

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Logo

Let me begin by saying that I am a Goodreads user. I was a tremendous fan of Goodreads, and moderate an amazing, and wonderful group full of avid, intelligent and thoughtful readers. I posted reviews there, but I’ve never been a power user. I’ve managed to avoid being targeted directly by any disgruntled authors, although my name does appear as one of the Goodreads bullies on the site that shall not be named, nor shall traffic be referred there, on this blog.

So, it was with dismay that I received the information about the policy change on Goodreads last week. Goodreads policy has always dictated that users could name their shelves whatever they wanted. That our Goodreads was ours to personalize, and that we could catalogue our books any way that was useful to us. In response to some hysteria, some extremely poor journalism, and some monumental misconceptions, Goodreads has decided to completely overreact. Content has been deleted, shelves have been deleted, and some of the most active users, who wrote some of the most popular reviews, are essentially being chased off of Goodreads.

I’m not one of those people, but I read their reviews. And their reviews help me choose books – their reviews are often snarky, sometimes over-the-top, but I find them credible. For every negative review, they post two or three positive reviews. Would it be rough to be on the receiving end of one of their negative reviews? Probably – they are critical, and they don’t pull their punches.

But, in my opinion, this is all related to Goodreads mission incoherence, and it is probably only the beginning. They are attempting to balance their desire to sell their data, sell marketing to authors and make a lot of money with their core mission, which was – until now, to give book people a place to hang out and talk about books. And now that Amazon has purchased Goodreads, this desire to monetize their information has become even more overwhelming.

For example, Goodreads has always allowed users to rate books that they have not read, and that they either plan to read or do not plan to read, based on their enthusiasm for the book. This has become increasingly enraging to certain authors who are unable to gin up much enthusiasm for their books, or who have alienated readers and reviewers alike by trolling reviews of their existing books, which has caused users to negatively rate their books based upon their lack of enthusiasm for the author or the book. Author overreaction to bad, or even lukewarm, reviews is a well documented, and not at all pleasant phenomenon to experience.

On the other hand, there are authors like Jamie McGuire whose as yet untitled and actually even unwritten book has an overall 4 star rating with 50 ratings and 82 reviews (find the placeholder page here to see what I’m talking about). The bulk of the reviews involve much excitement on the part of her very enthusiastic fan base. There are some reviews and ratings that counter this enthusiasm by users who are significantly less enthusiastic about Ms. McGuire’s writing and her future publishing plans.

Much of the drama on Goodreads, ultimately, centers around this practice. Negative shelf names are merely a by-product of the negative author/reader interactions. And, authors love getting feedback from their fans that their fans are excited about their forthcoming work, especially in the form of five star ratings. They do not love getting feedback from people who aren’t their fans about that person’s lack of excitement over their planned book, especially in the form of one-star ratings. Neither rating is in any way related to the quality of the book, as (in the most extreme cases) the book sometimes has not even yet been written.

But, you know what, their disgruntlement has a point. Because even though I completely disagree with authors ever going after reviewers, or even after raters, Goodreads is distributing (i.e. selling) the data about their books as something that it is not. Goodreads book data isn’t actually a compilation of ratings from people who have read the book in question. It doesn’t even pretend to be.

So, when Goodreads sells their database information to booksellers as book reviews, the data is, in fact, corrupted. The vast majority of the corruption comes from authors themselves who game the system, using sock puppets, having friends and family post positive ratings of their books regardless of the actual quality of teh book, and from review circles that all five star one another’s books. In addition, a great deal of corruption comes from fans who would rate anything by “x” author with five stars even if it contained nothing more than the author’s meandering thoughts on what to cook for dinner, coupled with his or her grocery lists. These fake reviews, sock puppet reviews, tit for tat reviews, shill reviews and fan reviewers are every bit as useless to the book buying public as the anti-fan reviewers are. It’s just that these “reviewers” help the authors to sell books, so authors don’t want to modify the corruption that is in their favor. They only want to eliminate the data corruption that works against them – and that, at times, is in response to their inappropriate response to negative reviews that actually are about the book.

Goodreads is essentially trying to sell their rating information as one thing, when it is actually something else. Don’t get me wrong. A lot of the book ratings on Goodreads are actually ratings of the book. But, a lot of them aren’t, and that is with the express permission and encouragement of Goodreads. In fact, some of the ratings might be because of something as silly as that the title of the book contains the word “moist” and the user hates the word moist (which is a totally gross word, by the way).

All of this is completely permissible (and even encouraged) under the Goodreads Terms of Service because Goodreads users are told, repeatedly, that Goodreads is a place for us to catalogue our books, our reading, and our plans to read or to not read. It is a place where we can wax eloquent (or not) about books that we are excited about, or books that we are really, super, absolutely not excited about. Personally, I read Beautiful Disaster. I am about as excited for Ms. McGuire’s forthcoming release of the as yet untitled story about her next borderline sociopathic stalker hero as I am about the potential release of Sharknado, the Sequel. If I were being honest, I would rate it 1-star based on that lack of enthusiasm. In fact, if I could rate it negative 10 trillion stars, that would almost begin to express my level of non-excitement.

People (i.e., authors and their fans and families) perceive negatively rating a book before release as unfair. But, if reviews are for other readers, why is that unfair, while rating an as yet unwritten book with five stars is not considered unfair? The answer is that the unfairness question all depends upon your perspective. If you are author-centric, then you may think that it’s plenty fair for you to get positives before release. On the other hand, if you’re thinking about all of the poor souls at amazon.com and smashwords and everywhere else who are going to be sucked into thinking that the book is worth buying because there are twenty-seven superfans on Goodreads who practically pass out at the mention of it, then, no, it’s really not unfair to put some perspective back into the ratings.

In any event, the ethic on Goodreads has always been the wild, wild west of booktalk, where people review books with reference to other books, with reference to Dr. Seuss poems, using iambic pentameter, and .gifs of kittens falling down slides, or whatever, in large part in order to amuse themselves and their friends. Some of it might even qualify as performance art. And up until Goodreads decided that they had an amazing way to make money by selling those reviews to booksellers to help the customers of those booksellers pick books to buy, this was all fine and dandy. The response to a disgruntled author was a very appropriate STFU.

Now, though, what’s a website to do? Because in the end, reviews that are full of .gifs of kittens amuse the user and his/her friends. Reviews that are profanity laden and involve lots of pictures of handsome young men with weird tattoos can be awesome if you are a fan of trite, smexy, poorly-written New Adult Contemporary Romance with tatted-up twenty-somethings. But they do not help anyone – not the bookstore, not the author – sell books to people who show up on a website with a credit card number ready to push a “buy” button.

So, I believe that we at Goodreads are looking down the barrel of some major changes, and this is just the beginning. And not to go all conspiracy theory or anything, but the fact that Goodreads is clearly targeting specific users who are the least likely to comply with any sort of corporatocracy only supports these conclusions. And when you have the Goodreads VP of Communications going onto a website and saying:

“Over time we plan to better use all of the data we have around reviews so that we are putting the best reviews – the ones that will be most interesting and useful – at the top. This is a big data problem, and we are hiring a data scientist to work on it. At the same time, we already personalize how you see reviews – you see your friends’ reviews first and then you see reviews by people you follow, all people that you know and trust.”

See gigaom.com for the full article here

So, what does this mean? Will we see a cleansing of the site, stripping it of all of the things that made it quirky, and weird, and funny, and interesting and, dare I say it, bookish? Because if we do, then ultimately, changing that culture will cause the old Goodreads to cease to exist. It will go all corporate. Sooner or later, reviews and ratings will not be about enthusiasm. They will be about sales.

For those of us who loved the Goodreads that was, it feels like a pretty sad day. For the guys in the red logo polo shirts who would monetize breathing if they could figure out a way to do it, it’s a pretty good day. For the authors, I don’t think that they realize it yet, but they are just cannon fodder, too. Because the corporate guys don’t care if they sell your book. They just want to sell a book.

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cropped-twitter-gravatar.jpgAbout midway through June, I realized that I was unmotivated. I therefore decided to take June off from blogging in the hopes that a bit of a hiatus would re-invigorate me.

And, you know what? It worked.

I’ve been reading up a storm. From my Classics lists, I finished I Capture the Castle, and Middlemarch. I started Dombey and Son. I didn’t even crack The Warden, which was my Classics Spin book, but that is because I’ve decided to read the Chronicles of Barchester next year, so I didn’t want to read it quite yet. I also read several current books: a couple of mysteries by C.J. Box, the newest Neil Gaiman, the second in the Grisha series, Siege and Storm, another installment of The Ranger’s Apprentice out loud to my son, and the June Anne, Anne of Windy Poplars. All in all, it was a highly satisfying literary month. In cataloguing all of my reading, I realize that I have a fair amount of writing to do to catch the blog up, but that’s all right.

MiddlemarchI Capture the CastleAnne of Windy Poplars8505578

I’m still working on Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesin, and am getting ready to begin To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf for a July group read with my goodreads group. I’ll also be reading Moonfleet, by John Meade Faulkner, a children’s classic that had somehow previously escaped my notice.

Moonfleet, which looks like it is chock full of smuggler awesomeness

Moonfleet, which looks like it is chock full of smuggler awesomeness

I’m not quite sure how my level of demotivation reached the epic level that caused me to just take the month off. But it did. And that’s that.

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