Monthly Archives: January 2013

Review – Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book

A friend posted this article on Facebook today.

Ron Howard in talks to direct Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book

I can barely contain my glee. The Graveyard Book! As a movie! Be still my heart.

If you hadn’t realized by now, I’m a HUGE Neil Gaiman fan. OI mean, our first book to review is Good Omens. It even says “Neil Gaiman Enthusiast” on my business card. (Seriously, it does; right next to “World Traveler” and “Librarian Extraordinaire”.)

I felt I should take this time to review The Graveyard Book.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

From Amazon:

It takes a graveyard to raise a child.

Nobody Owens, known as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised by ghosts, with a guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead. There are adventures in the graveyard for a boy—an ancient Indigo Man, a gateway to the abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible Sleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, he will be in danger from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family.

I live in New York and Hurricane Sandy (Superstorm Sandy? Holy-Crap-That’s-A-Lot-of-Wind Sandy?) hit us. We were without power for five days, which suited me fine because I just read by candlelight. As it was dark and the end of October, The Graveyard Book seemed perfect.

The story itself seemed very familiar. A small child, displaced and raised by Others, watched over, episodic… I’m ashamed to say how long it took me to realize that Gaiman had modeled The Graveyard Book on The Jungle Book. That made the story so much richer! I could see all the parallels, and the otherworldly atmosphere of the graveyard was a perfect parallel to the jungle. And the characters! This realization made me love the book even more.

My mother? Didn’t like the book so much. In her own words, “It’s just so fantastical.” Yes, a book about a small child being raised by the denizens of a graveyard is too fantastical for my mother. I believe it needs to be said at this point that my mother rarely reads (don’t ask how it’s possible that a I’m the progeny of a non-reader, I’ve been wondering for years on this point), and when she does she sticks to true crime stories or horribly depressing memoirs. However, I forced her to stick with it and she couldn’t wait to find out what happened to Bod in the end. She was hooked, and loved Gaiman’s descriptive detail once she got used to it.

I’ve contended for years that Neil Gaiman isn’t an author, he’s a storyteller, a bard, a weaver of tales. He transcends “author” and makes the reader part of the story; not in the way of Stephen King, where the reader is written into the story, but in a way where the world in the tale is described so eloquently that it becomes a tangible thing.

In short, you will love this book. I’ll describe it as YA, but it’s rich and vibrant and meaty enough for even the most adult tastes. It’s also very dark, just as Coraline was, but to another level. The opening lines are, after all,

“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.

The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.”

How’s that for a hook?

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Article – Book-less Library

A friend alerted me to this article, and I feel it’s very much related to yesterday’s post.

No-Book Library? BiblioTech is Coming

Yes, a book-less library. And do you want to know something? (Of course you do, my opinions are always the shining highlight of your days.) I’m perfectly happy with this.

What?

Yes, I am a librarian and I am perfectly happy with a book-less library. Heck, I’m a rare books librarian and I’m fine with this. Why? Because libraries are NOT repositories for books, and librarians are not the keepers of books. We aren’t book-hoarding dragons who sleep upon our piles of treasure and regulate who can borrow what.

Libraries provide access to information, and librarians facilitate this. A library is a bastion of knowledge, and nowadays most knowledge can be accessed digitally.

Libraries and librarians need to take the needs of their patrons into consideration in all things; the library is, after all, there to serve the public. If a book-less library optimally serves the public then it’s totally viable. There are issues associated with a wholly digital library, of course; instead of the issue of physical space you have the issue of needing the technology to facilitate patrons. Think on this: in a library that provides information via books, you can fill the building to capacity and everyone will be able to do what they need to do (unless everyone needs to access the exact same bookmy eleventh-grade high school English teacher, I’m looking at you). But in a digital library, you’re limited by the amount of computers you can house. There will always be issues librarians have to deal with, but they always strive to best serve the needs of those they serve.

So a book-less library is still a library and no, the printed book is still not dead.

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Article – The Form of the Book: or, Why the Book IS NOT DEAD

*slams head against desk*

People, can we please stop asserting that e-books are killing printed books, or that printed books are dying or dead? Because they’re not, and this isn’t just me clutching obstinately to a well-loved medium.

I can’t tell you how many articles or posts I’ve seen where someone has announced, “the book is dead!” Part of me thinks they do it to get a rise out of people, like trolls on the internet. If they actually believe this, though, they’re being very short-sighted.

What brings this up now, you ask? Well, first off, I have yet to rant on this topic here (I have yet to rant about pretty much anything here). Recently, though, I read the following article:

Good-bye Books, Hello E-Books

The article discusses how, in December 2012, more e-books were sold than print books. There are a lot of other facts as well, all perfectly accurate as far as I can tell. But after going into these facts, which concern technologies used to access e-books and figures associated to sales, the author offers this conclusion:

“I can read the writing on the wall. The days are numbered for physical mass-market books —even if that number isn’t a small one. Sure, some books, newspapers, and magazines will live on. But, horses lived on after the arrival of the car, too; you just don’t see them very often anymore. The same fate awaits physical, paper-based books.”

No. Just no. Discussing how more people bought e-books than printed books and then concluding that the printed book is dead is like saying, “more people apples than pears last year, thus the pear shall no longer be farmed next year.” It doesn’t hold water. All these stats say is that more people bought e-books than printed books, which shows the popularity of both e-books and the technology necessary to access them.

Actually, I’m more apt to say that magazines and newspapers will cease to exist in print. Their very ephemeral nature melds well with electronic technology; you read them, you throw them away (or you recycle them, if you’re a good person and wish my continued respect). You might save a clipping or an article, but you generally don’t keep the entire publication. If you truly want to save an article or clipping from a newspaper or magazine you accessed through an e-reader or computer, you could save it to your computer or print it (if that EVER becomes possible; let me know if you figure out how to do so), or you could take notes by hand (a shocking idea).

Let me explain to you why e-books will never cause the extinction of the printed book. Picture this: you have a printed book. Now, mentally throw it across the room and slam it into a wall. Walk over and stomp on the book for good measure. Do a spirited flamenco dance on it, for good measure. Now pick it up and read it, because you can; the book is intact. Can’t say the same for your laptop or e-reader, can you? You can do pretty much anything to a book (short of it burning to ash in a fire) and still be able to access the information it contains. You can even soak it in water and you can read it, so long as you dry out the pages correctly. This is one of the reason books have survived for so long: they’re durable.

Let’s try this another way. Remember video tapes? Cassette tapes? I bet you loved those in the ‘90s. Saved family videos on them, saved favorite music on them. Can you watch or listen to them now with ease? Most likely not (unless you’re me, and you still have a functioning VCR hooked up to your TV and a Walkman easily accessible). You can’t access the information on video tapes and cassettes without the right technology. Same goes for floppy discs. It’s hard enough to find something to read a hard disc, but floppy discs? You’d have to go to a museum of technology or someplace that really needs to upgrade their computers.

And that’s the crux: access to information. If you can’t access the information it’s useless. It’s one of the challenges facing libraries and archives today: with so much information requiring electronic technology for access, how do collection policies and the needs of accessing the collection change? While the issue of physical space may not be such a challenge anymore, how do you continue to provide your patrons with information? Other issues arise to take over.

Am I saying electronic access to books and other information will stop? No, not at all, and it shouldn’t. What I am saying is that what we know as the printed book is not near death.

To make this a bit more understandable, let’s stop thinking of print books as print books. Instead, they are physical objects with words inscribed physically upon them. These have existed since the advent of writing. Cuneiform tablets, papyrus, manuscripts, all of these are included under this umbrella. This is the Form of the physical book, the theoretical and general ideal (I’m getting Platonic on your butts; booyah course on Medieval philosophy!). The only technology required to access information here is the ability to read (and the ability to inscribe the information in the first place). That’s it; it requires us. E-books, by contrast, require some form of technology. You depend upon something else to be able to access the information.

And that is why the book is not, and never will be, dead. It will evolve, of course, but it will never cease to be so long as we survive as a species.

End. Of. Story.

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Article – “Secret Lives of Readers”

This is another article a listserv alerted me to.

The history of readership is fascinating (to me, at least). Reading trends can tell you so much about social history and is intimately tied to book and provenance history, which I also find fascinating (because I’m a fascinating person). This article sets forth what the history of readership encompasses and why it’s important.

So go forth, read the article, and realize how your own reading habits affect the ongoing history of readership.*

*Question: Do I even want to know what 50 Shades of Grey says about our society?

Secret Lives of Readers

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Article – Robin Sloan’s Double Dagger Idea

I received this on a listserv last week and thought it interesting enough to share with everyone. I’m hoping I’m giving enough credit where credit is due; let me know if I’m not and I’ll get on that.

~Diana

*On a side note, I just started Mr. Penumbras 24-Hour Bookstore and it’s lovely. I’m identifying with the main character to a scary degree. So far, so good 😉 

**********************************************************************

From: Robin Sloan <robin@robinsloan.com>
Subject: ‡ So, about that dagger
To: abpc@snet.net
Date: Friday, December 28, 2012, 11:50 AM

Ahoy-hoy:

It’s almost 2013. Okay it basically is 2013. For the New Year, then: an idea, a question, and a resolution.

(Remember, you’re receiving this message because you signed up to get ideas and/or questions and/or resolutions from me, Robin Sloan. You can unsubscribe instantly.)

THE IDEA

If you keep an eye on the New York Times Best Seller list, every so often you’ll notice a little notation next to a book’s ranking, like this: †

It indicates that some booksellers have reported receiving bulk orders for the book in question. In other words, someone — some rich benefactor! — is buying whole boxes, almost certainly in an attempt to drive up the book’s ranking.

First, I have to say: I love the use of the typographical dagger there. I know I’m projecting, but it totally implies sneakiness and skulduggery. It even seems to sort of prick the ranking itself, deflate it a bit.

(Second, an aside, which I include because I learned it only recently and I think it’s interesting: the Times rankings don’t reflect a straight tally of books sold. Rather, they’re based on a variety of sales reports, all weighted and balanced to divine some deeper signal: a sense of a book’s commercial vitality, its momentum. Interesting, right? We think of the Best Seller list as being quite old-school — and it is — but really, that approach isn’t so different from Google’s. It’s totally an algorithm; it just happens to be executed by humans. [In my imagination, those humans roam the country in a bookmobile-turned-RV, stopping at out-of-the-way bookstores, assessing the front tables, updating their spreadsheets over assorted truck-stop breakfasts. Yes, I know they actually just live in New York.])

Anyway: Mr. Penumbras 24-Hour Bookstore had a nice run on the hardcover fiction list, peaking at around 22. But I think, in fairness to the other books on the list, Penumbra’s ranking should have carried some special notation of its own. I mean, a book gets the dagger when it benefits from the bulk orders of rich benefactors… but what about when it benefits from the support of a secret society, assembled slowly over many years, such as the very one receiving this email??

It’s hardly fair.

So, I propose a new notation, to be attached to books buoyed by such shadowy networks: the double dagger. It looks like this ‡ and oh I think it’s just perfect. The double dagger stands for the unexpected advantage. Like this: in a dark alley you are beset by a black-clad assassin; he brandishes a switchblade; grins evilly. You shake your head, full of rue, because suddenly you are holding a double dagger, its twin blades warping and flickering — they are made from pairs of steel molecules split apart, one assigned to each blade, both still quantum-entangled — and slicing through probabilities, all of them bloody.

Wisely, the assassin flees.

The double dagger. The secret weapon. I don’t know if the Times will go for it, but me, I love it. From here on out, I’ll always put one in the subject line to remind you what we’re about here. Watch for it — the sharp little ‡.

THE QUESTION

Three months and two emails ago, I asked for your advice on large-group collaboration tools. Several people suggested the website Branch, which wasn’t, at that time, quite what I had in mind. But recently, Branch added a group feature that I think looks super promising. So let’s try it out:

I’ve been thinking about something and I need more ideas than the ones currently available in my brain. I require caroms. Perturbations.

First, some background: I’ve always loved the trope in which a person placed in some new environment finds his everyday ho-hum capabilities suddenly quite super. You know the classics, of course: Kal-El of Krypton discovers that Earth’s bright yellow sun charges his cells like batteries; John Carter of Virginia discovers that Mars’ weak gravity allows him to leap like a grasshopper.

Right now, I am in the business of imagining alternate worlds that might result from a tweak in our own. (Seriously, do you understand? This is my job now.) I’m not looking to make people super; in fact, the subtler the change the better. I’m trying to come up with characteristics of our world that we take absolutely for granted, more on the level of physics and planetary composition than politics or human psychology.

For example, I’ve toyed with the idea of energy being a bit “cheaper” — the laws of thermodynamics being just slightly more liberal. What new things might that make possible? What would it be like to visit that world?

Another example: what if Earth’s plate tectonics worked differently? I’m looking for changes in the bedrock here. Literally.

I’ve found this fun to think and talk about; maybe you will too. Here’s a link to join in — and to the person who clicks it first and is greeted by an empty group, as if I’m throwing a big party and you’re the first to arrive, so it’s just you and me and the snack table: MAY I OFFER YOU AN ENTHUSIASTIC AND AWKWARD HELLO!

http://branch.com/groups/the-double-dagger/join/d0fd5fbdd86

You’ll need a Twitter account to join, but I hope that won’t deter you. If you don’t have one already, you can always just make a little throwaway account. I do believe @AjaxPenubra is still available…

This is totally an experiment: if Branch works well and feels good, we’ll keep using it; if it doesn’t, we’ll keep looking. Feel free to send me your impressions. As before, and as always, you can just hit reply.

THE RESOLUTION

It’s almost 2013, and for me, as never before in my adult life — at least not since I was in college — the year ahead is a blank canvas. But I know what I am about: I will write a new book and I will produce a story-app-something-or-other designed expressly for tablets. If we reconvene at this time next year and I’ve done zero or one of those things: berate me. But why should I fail to do both? There’s such clarity here. And also, sure, a bit of attendant fear: the kind that comes from naked culpability. Why, indeed, should I fail? Can’t blame the bureaucracy. Can’t mutter about office politics. I am the office, and 100% of the bureaucracy is right here, between my head and the keyboard. Oy.

May you have clarity, too, and the culpability that comes with it, and may you paint the canvas of your 2013 — whatever part of it is yours to define — in a way that makes you proud. I’ll report back on my resolutions in a year, and of course I’ll send updates along the way. Thanks, as always, for following along.

From Berkeley,
Robin

P.S. Here’s the link to the group one more time: http://branch.com/groups/the-double-dagger/join/d0fd5fbdd86

P.P.S. If you are serious about Effective Email Marketing™ you always Give Them The Link One More Time™

P.P.P.S. Zombo.com!

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New Years (Literary) Resolutions

We here at The Blog Was Better are looking forward to the New Year. 2012 was rather amazing: living in Dublin, finishing our degrees, the creation of the inseparable duo consisting of our fabulous selves. But 2013 holds much promise, and perhaps more excitingly (for us, at least) many good books. And so, we have decided to make New Years resolutions regarding books, as we know we stand a good chance of keeping these promises.

Being that we are fabulous and horribly interesting, you will of course wish to be privy to such things. As we are benevolent as well as frighteningly amazing, we shall list these resolutions below.

Diana:

  • I resolve to read at least one book per month for pure pleasure; nothing associated with the blog or other reviews, nothing I in any way feel obligated to read.
  • I also resolve to catch up on the (far too many) series that I have fallen behind in due to lack of time. There is no excuse for this; if there is time to sleep, there is time to read. (I say this now, but I will fall asleep randomly in a highly-narcoleptic fashion.)
  • This one is a bit overwhelming, and I’m including it here only as an aspiration: I want to read through all the books I own. I have SO MANY that I’ve bought and want to read, but just haven’t had the time (or another book gets in the way). This is the year I finally read Jonathan Strange and Mr. NorellAmerican Gods, as well as the last two books in the Dresden Files series. For shame I have not read these yet. I’ve owned them for a good while, though, so does that make it better or worse?
  • Finally, I resolve to keep up with this blog. I need an outlet for all the cool things I read, and others need to be more aware of my keen insights.

Meghan:

  • My first resolution involves my work at a library (that counts as a reading resolution, doesn’t it?). That is, it involves me resolving to STOP TAKING HOME LARGE STACKS OF BOOKS EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  My brain is a strange and wondrous place, but it can only read so much. Willpower will be key here, my friends.  The library is a beautiful place, full of shiny and wonderful treasures – i.e. all the books I ever wanted to read ever.  
  • As Diana has, I also resolve to keep up with this blog – obviously, for the sake of the millions of readers who count on my every thought and word. Not at all because I am a sick addict who would love to talk about books 24/7. Nope.
  • Lastly, I resolve to try and get through the rather large stack of books I have sitting on my shelf before buying any new books, with everything from poetry and YA and fantasy to horror and memoirs and non-fiction.  (I am very doubtful regarding this last resolution.  Book stores are my crack, people.) My only caveat is that I am going to force myself to read at least one book this year that I might not otherwise pick up.  Sometimes books can surprise you – thank goodness, for wouldn’t the world be dull if they didn’t? – and I think I’d enjoy a pleasant literary surprise this year.

Have any resolutions of your own? Let us know in the comments!

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News – Upcoming Reading Event

ANNOUNCEMENT!

This spring we shall be reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Why does this warrant an advance notice? BECAUSE OF THIS!

That’s right, folks: come spring there shall be a radio version of Neverwhere! We are very excited. Stay tuned for more information 😉

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