Friday, May 02, 2008

The Vexing Issue of Books

A FEW PARAGRAPHS DOWN I'll tell you something about an Internet Book Thing I like. But by way of introduction, here's a list of books, each entry followed by a code I'll explain in a bit:
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (236/9041) n

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (211/8954) r

One hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (183/11973) n

Crime and punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (176/10687) r

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (162/12137) f

Catch-22 a novel by Joseph Heller (158/10886) r

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (155/8789) n

Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra (152/6654) r

The Odyssey by Homer (136/10954) r

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (136/7174) r

Ulysses by James Joyce (135/6255) r

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (132/6267) r

War and peace by Leo Tolstoy (132/5953) fp

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (124/13765) fp

A tale of two cities by Charles Dickens (124/7460) r

The name of the rose by Umberto Eco (120/7706) n

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (119/7719) f

The Iliad by Homer (117/8723) r

Emma by Jane Austen (117/8949) r

Vanity fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (115/3827) r

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (114/7115) n

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (110/4806) n

The Canterbury tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (108/6165) r

Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen (108/18293) f

The historian : a novel by Elizabeth Kostova (108/6447) n

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (106/8595) n

The kite runner by Khaled Hosseini (106/13572) m

The time traveler's wife by Audrey Niffenegger (105/11414) n

Life of Pi : a novel by Yann Martel (105/12692) n

Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies by Jared Diamond (104/7493) r

Atlas shrugged by Ayn Rand (102/5984) n

Foucault's pendulum by Umberto Eco (101/5616) n

Dracula by Bram Stoker (100/6873) f

The grapes of wrath by John Steinbeck (99/7812) r

A heartbreaking work of staggering genius by Dave Eggers (97/6451) n

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (97/9127) f

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (97/5565) r

Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books by Azar Nafisi (96/4404) f

Middlemarch by George Eliot (96/4159) n

Sense and sensibility by Jane Austen (96/8591) f

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (95/5167) n

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (94/11617) p

The sound and the fury by William Faulkner (94/5043) r

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (93/12421) r

Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle I) by Neal Stephenson (92/3525) n

American gods : a novel by Neil Gaiman (92/10319) n

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (91/8871) n

The poisonwood Bible : a novel by Barbara Kingsolver (91/7461) n

Wicked by Gregory Maguire (90/8905) n

A portrait of the artist as a young man by James Joyce (89/6646) r

The picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (89/7165) r

Dune by Frank Herbert (89/9222) n

The satanic verses by Salman Rushdie (88/3251) n

Gulliver's travels by Jonathan Swift (88/4857) r

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (88/5360) f

The three musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (87/4127) n

The corrections by Jonathan Franzen (84/5066) n

The inferno by Dante Alighieri (84/5873) r

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (83/4378) n

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (83/5795) n

To the lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (83/4608) r

A clockwork orange by Anthony Burgess (83/6754) n

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (83/4735) n

The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay : a novel by Michael Chabon (83/5956) n

Persuasion by Jane Austen (82/6479) r

One flew over the cuckoo's nest by Ken Kesey (82/5908)n

The scarlet letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (82/7746) r

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (82/4437) r

Anansi boys : a novel by Neil Gaiman (81/6534) n

The once and future king by T. H. White (81/4293) r

Atonement: A Novel by Ian McEwan (80/6966) n

The god of small things by Arundhati Roy (80/5509) n

A short history of nearly everything by Bill Bryson (79/6266) n

Oryx and Crake : a novel by Margaret Atwood (78/3976) n

Dubliners by James Joyce (78/5530) r

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (78/5385) n

Angela's ashes : a memoir by Frank McCourt (77/6349) n

Beloved : a novel by Toni Morrison (77/5523) n

Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed by Jared Diamond (76/3822) p

The hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (75/2520) n

In cold blood by Truman Capote (75/5473) n

Lady Chatterley's lover by D.H. Lawrence (73/3169) r

A confederacy of dunces by John Kennedy Toole (73/6061) n

Les misérables by Victor Hugo (73/4694) n

Watership Down by Richard Adams (72/6255) n

The prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (72/6363) r

The amber spyglass by Philip Pullman (72/6645) n

Beowulf : a new verse translation by Anonymous (72/6350) r

A farewell to arms by Ernest Hemingway (71/5122) r

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance : by Robert M. Pirsig (71/5554) r

The Aeneid by Virgil (71/5057) f

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (69/4625) r

Sons and lovers by D.H. Lawrence (69/2563) r

The personal history of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (69/4311) n

The road by Cormac McCarthy (67/5099) n

Possession : a romance by A.S. Byatt (67/4128) n

The history of Tom Jones, a foundling by Henry Fielding (67/2131) r

The book thief by Markus Zusak (67/3554) n

Gravity's rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (66/3261) n

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (66/3046) n

Tender is the night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (66/3131) r

Candide, or, Optimism by Voltaire (65/5083) r

Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro (65/4317) n

The plague by Albert Camus (65/4610) p

Jude the obscure by Thomas Hardy (65/2944) n

Cold mountain by Charles Frazier (64/4160) n

Okay: here's the code. r=I've read it. n=No intention to read. f=I intend to read it. fp=I hope to read it. p=perhaps I'll read it. m=I've seen the movie.

The titles are the 106 top unread books on LibraryThing. LibraryThing is an online book-logging service that's come recently to my attention. With it you can easily:
  • find data on books
  • list books (e.g. your own collection, your to-read list, etc.)
  • annotate books as read, with or without reviews or other comments
  • share the above information with other users of LibraryThing.

    I've been reading, buying, borrowing, collecting, selling, and forgetting books for, oh, sixty-eight years now, I suppose. The first book I remember reading — actually recall the act of reading it, I mean — was The Last Flower, by James Thurber. It was published, apparently, in 1939, when I turned four, so that's about right. My Aunt Olive owned it, and its drawings fascinated me. But I distinctly recall that I actually read it, as well as looked at its pictures. I have quite conflicted feelings about the subject of "intellectual property," and don't easily assist those who flout it (or those who defend it, for that matter), but I'll steer you to this in case you don't know the title.

    In the course of those years I've tried various ways of keeping track of my books, for two basic reasons, one embarrassing, the other practical: 1) it's reassuring to see a list of books — "databases" — that might lend some hope for my eventual coming to understand things 2) it's useful to carry a list in order to avoid buying things I already have. And recently a third reason has eventuated: for insurance and inheritance purposes, it seems to be useful to have an inventory.

    I began, of course, with pen and paper. In the middle 1980's I graduated to a computer-based database, which alternated between a Hypercard database and an ordinary text file. What with the rapid obsolescence of one text-processor after another, and the lamented final demise of Hypercard, not to mention the mounting numbers of books, what was once a Good Intention has become a Fool's Errand. But still.

    The most recent high-tech solutions seemed to have been
  • Delicious Library — which reads ISBN barcodes beautifully, but seems to have a clunky way of managing my data
  • Bookpedia — I like the Macintosh interface better, but the damn thing won't read my barcodes
  • LibraryThing — it's web-based, so depends on your internet access; and who knows what will happen if they go out of business? But ...

    LibraryThing seems to be an intelligent alternative to another web-based book site recently brought to my attention by grandchildren — and their parents: Goodreads. This isn't a book listing or cataloguing service, at least not in its apparent primary intent, but a sort of Facebook or YouTube, a web-based social site to bring readers together, to facilitate their online discussion of books.

    I tried Delicious and Pedia for a while; and I signed on to Goodreads; but none of them really did it for me. I think LibraryThing may be the answer. The first result is the addition of a new element on this blogpage, at the bottom of the column over on the right: a display of five random titles from my own bookshelves. There's not much point in that, of course; it's just a silly little random window on something. But it's fun and harmless, and may tickle the curiosity of occasional visitors here (if such there be).

    I've bought a few books lately related to this summer's walk, across the Alps from Geneva to Nice, and today I entered them into a database I'm trying out on LibraryThing to see if it'll be the final solution (dreadful phrase) of the vexing problem of Listing my Books. And having entered them I was able to see who else had them; and that led me to an interesting fellow usernamed Megamorg who lives in Australia, I think; and that led in turn to a discussion of some books, in the course of which I ran into ginnyday, who wrote to Megamorg, a little over a year ago,
    You and I are the only two people on the site who have Greek through Reading. I actually have 2 different copies; the older is more beautiful. I learned classical Greek in the 1960s using this book, which I think is more inspired and inspiring than any other vaguely similar book. I still spend time reading Greek.
    I don't know how things can get much better than this. The idea — of course it is only an idea — of reading Xenophon while walking with an adolescent grandson through the Alps is irresistable. The Vexing Question, that's better, not Issue, Question, of Books — read, not to be read, waiting to be read — leads to this abstract conversation; perhaps to that eventual coming to understand things.

    In the meantime I tote up those recently bought, and intend to set them aside for quick perusal. There used to be a shelf of Books To Be Read; then it became a Case; now it threatens to be a Room.

    Gail Jonas said...

    Another lover of books. I'm tempted to add to your list of books you might be interested in reading, but I think you are sufficiently stocked.

    I'm not recommending that you read the following but want to comment on them anyway:
    1. Richard Ben Cramer's "What It Takes" about the 1988 presidential candidates. Over 1,000 pages long, it's helping me understand the race to the bottom in 2008.

    2. Ha-Joon Chang's "Bad Samaritans - The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism." I started this last night and am finding it very interesting.

    Charles Shere said...

    The Cramer sounds interesting: you sent me to Happy Antipodean's review for further information, and it sounds like a book I'd like to read — or, more accurately, like to have read.

    The current campaign is so depressing; the media drive me nuts with their cynicism and trivialities. I'm reading Barack Obama's
    Dreams from my Father, slowly, since it's bedtime reading, and am impressed with him — but despair at his being elected: there's just too much nuance there to appeal to the manyheaded American electorate, I fear...