Begin Media Blackout · 21 July 2007
Friends, family, fellow readers. Today I crawl into the dark cave of sensory deprivation. Today I stop visiting your websites and commenting on your posts. Today I don thick earmuffs and dark glasses. Today I stop checking my email. Today I lock myself in my room and hum loudly to myself. For today is the day that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes out, and I won’t have my copy until Monday at the earliest.
My friends have made a pact that we will not speak of to book amongst ourselves until all present have read it, but I don’t trust the media to have the same self-restraint. I’ve heard horror stories of Yahoo! (the host of my personal email account) posting spoilers for American Idol and Survivor in the headlines on the main page. And we all know about the famous spoiler for Book 6 (hint, don’t click the link if you don’t want to see the spoiler).
And so, I bid you a fond adieu and a happy weekend of reading. I will resurface to the world as we know it after I find out all the answers, and look forward to discussing the book with you then.
And lest you think that I’m taking this all a bit too . . . seriously, Nymeth pointed me to Bob who is taking even more extreme measures than I am. Good luck fellow Potter fans! Maybe your weekend be spoiler free.
English Vegetation Strikes Back Against Stereotypes · 28 May 2007
My next review for the Once Upon a Time Challenge will be, The Hawk’s Gray Feather by Patricia Kennealy. I wasn't initially planning to feature this book, but I changed my mind. After spending last week experimenting with English food and reading about the England of the Arthurian legends, I had a lot of ideas for the review that I felt were worth inclusion on the front page.
I also spent last week playing around with the Tiny Story genre in order to ready my final entry for Carl’s Tiny Story Challenge.
The parameters of the Tiny Story challenge were a test of my flexibility as a writer. The goal of the challenge is to write a Tiny Story, 100 words or less. This sounded relatively easy, until Carl threw in the challenging part. You can’t use the same word twice. Since I just completed my linguistics course, I started diagramming possible sentence structures in my head. It's not hard to avoid using the same noun or adjective, in fact, any writer has performed numerous exercises to remove the repetition of certain words from their writing and to make their descriptions more dynamic.
The tricky part of writing 100 words without repeating any is the elimination of common conjunctions and determiners (the, a, he, and, etc.). We have a small number of short words that provide useful grammatical functions. Despite trying to write prose, my first attempts at Tiny Stories resembled poetry, which is in part defined by it’s unusual grammatical structure. We’re used to seeing standard tags that identify sentences. If you take those tags away, everything seems more lyrical. Hopefully my entry is “prosaic” (sorry, couldn’t resist) enough for Carl.
Since it took me a few tries to get what I was aiming for, I decided to post this attempt, which isn't the one that I'll be submitting. The original concept for this story was a feature on native English food and was supposed to go along with the feature on To Say Nothing of the Dog and be an homage food that doesn't have to be bland, but the more I wrote, the more it ended up being a hybrid of my research into the foodstuffs of England and my reading of The Hawk's Gray Feather and a tribute to food that is in no way tame.
It seemed that Arthurian England was channeling itself into my subconscious and demanding a stage on which to be seen. After bowing to the Muse, The Hawk's Gray Feather will now have it's own section, with this Tiny Story as it's Prologue.
Green Man Reborn
Two mist-clad priests strolled through the garden, fruit cradled in each hand, vegetables twined round their heads. I paused, entranced. One sliced pears as offerings, rubbed sweet juices on my skin; baptized me. Strands of peas they strung like pearls encircling both arms. Roots speared each booted foot, vines grew fibrous sinew and melded chlorophyll to blood. Carnelian flowers sprouted, trumpeting perfume out parted lips. Small acorns shined through eyes that saw no more.
Transformed, forever fused with earth. I’d wished but a purloined cabbage.
Bookish Resources · 18 May 2007
Finals are over! Honeyed Words will soon be back to its regularly scheduled program of reading and cooking about reading.
Meanwhile, here are some resources that book lovers may find useful in organizing their bookish world.
One of the great mergers of my interests (books in this case) and technology is PaperBackSwap (PBS). This site is such a part of my weekly routine, I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it before. Perhaps the fates were conspiring to have me delay until the release of PBS version 2.0 this week.
PaperBackSwap is a book swapping site. If you’re familiar with BookMooch (which I have yet to try out) you’re familiar with the concept. If not, here’s a brief rundown. You post books that you’re willing to trade, and you request books that you’d like to receive. You pay the postage ($2.13 for media mail) to send books, and receiving books is free. Seems simple, huh? It is.
When you sign up for your free account, you need to post 9 books into the system before you’re an active member. In exchange for posting 9 books, you get 3 credits. Each credit allows you to request one book. After you use up your initial credits, you have two option. The most economical way to receive additional credits is by sending out books to other members. Every time you successfully send a book to another PBS member, you get 1 credit. Unfortunately, you don’t have much control over when people are going to request your books. PBS works on a FIFO (first in, first out) system, so if 50 people have posted “The Life and Times of PBS Swapping,” and you post the 51st copy, you have to wait for 51 people to request that book before you get to send yours out and receive a credit.
The other option is to purchase additional credits at the rate of $3.45 per credit (this is a recent increase, so the price should remain stable for a while *crosses fingers*). While this doesn’t seem like an outstanding price, it includes postage! For books that are hard to find at used bookstores (and I have a ton of those on my wish list) this is a huge benefit and cost savings over buying new or buying used and paying for shipping.
PBS has lots of features, some of which have been newly implemented. You can create your own Wish List for books that you want and are not currently in the system. The Wish List puts you in line for the book, and by viewing your Wish List you can watch yourself steadily creep toward the front of the line. You can also create a reminder list for books that you’re thinking of ordering but don’t want order quite yet, a “To Be Read” list for books sitting on your shelf, and a “Books I’ve Read” list for tracking your completed reads.
Their site is getting more and more integrated. You can now see which books on your “To Be Read” list and in your transaction archive are currently wish listed by another member. You can write reviews that everyone will see, or you can write notes that are private to your account.
I’ve had pretty decent luck getting books that are interesting to me. While the site does seem to lean heavily towards genre romance and mystery, there are a lot of other books on there as well.
There are a few drawbacks to PBS. There is no instant gratification. Oftentimes, the book I want isn’t immediately available. There are a few books that I put on my Wish List more than six months ago and I’m still not at the front of the line. Even if the book you want is in stock, most members send their books by media mail which can take up to two weeks. Another disadvantage for me is that once I’ve read and enjoyed a book, I don’t want to let it go. This makes it hard for me to accumulate credits by swapping, since I’m always holding on to the book I received instead of sending it back to the system where it is almost assured of getting picked up and earning me a credit.
I compensate by hitting up thrift stores for cheap books and hoping that I’ll luck into something that people will want to swap. So far my guess rate is fair to poor so I end up buying a lot of credits but I imagine anyone willing to release the books that they’ve received would need to purchase few very credits.
If anyone is inspired to go sign up based on this post, I get a free credit if you list my club e-mail address in the referral section. It’s fortrix_enigma at yahoo dot com (spam away ;) ) If you list me, post in the comment section of this post to let me know who you are. I’ll be publishing “The Vault” section of my site by the end of the month, which will be a list of everything I’ve read this year, and referrers will get to pick a book from the Vault for me to review. If that doesn’t entice you I’ll send you anything currently up for grabs on my bookshelf if you post a comment here with the book title and then e-mail me your referral info and snail mail address.
Goodreads appears to be positioning itself as the MySpace of book sites by providing a social networking avenue for readers and authors. If the words MySpace conjure up images that make you want to run screaming, rest assured; Goodreads is nothing like the bloated, ad-filled, spam-ridden experience that MySpace has evolved into. Instead it’s got a simple and slick design, and a user base of people who share a love of books.
Goodreads was founded last year and, according to their blog, has pretty continuously introduced new features to their site. After you sign up for your free account, you can post books that you’ve read, are reading, or will read, then befriend people so they can check out what’s going on in your bookshelf. People can read the book reviews you’ve written and you can sign up to an RSS feed tied to any individual’s bookshelf, so if you just have to know when someone has posted a new review, you will.
Goodreads has very user friendly interface. I'd highly recommend this site to people who don’t maintain a blog that keeps track of their literary diary. Unlike MySpace, which often makes me want to stab it with an ice pick, Goodreads is lean and nimble. You won’t be sitting around for 30 seconds waiting for your page to load while watching rotating quizzes that ask you to identify “Who’s shaved head is pictured here?!”
Goodreads has the option to note that you are willing to trade the book when you post it, but I couldn’t find anywhere that you’d go searching for books up for trade. This is a nice idea, but it looks like it’s not fully implemented yet. Another good idea that doesn’t appear to be working as designed is the blog widget, which should give HTML code that can be used to create a quick list of books you’ve recently read. I tested mine, and it included the books, but it also included some weird numbers. It seems like Goodreads prides itself on tech advances, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they fixed it or improved it soon.
Goodreads also has the ability to import a comma separated spreadsheet into their database, so those who are able to export booklists from other places in csv format would be able to plug their reading history into the system right away.
As a reader that already uses a blog to keep track of my bookshelf, the book list features aren’t what entice me about this site. Perhaps I’ll eventually use it to write short reviews of the books I read and don’t review here, but what I’m really drawn to is the idea of a reading and writing community.
Their budding discussion forums and groups are gaining momentum and activity. There’s also a growing number of potential authors publishing their works to the Internet public and asking for generous readers to offer their critical comments.
Goodreads has signed up 42 published authors (as of this posting) and is actively recruiting more. They’re trying to do for authors what MySpace did for musicians. I know many authors already have their own sites and often their own blogs, but social networking sites provide an opportunity for those trying to get a start in the literary world. A profile can be more personable, and less remote, than a slick website. If you can convince someone that you’re an interesting person on an individual level, you can probably convince them to read a few pages of yours.
This is a site with a lot of potential to turn into something great for readers and authors alike. I’ll be keeping an eye on it as it continues to grow.
At first glance, Library Thing looks like the more established version of Goodreads. It’s got more features, but the same basic ones and a bit more serious tone to it. The focus at Library Thing seems to be about raw data, and less about the conversation.
I didn’t like the interface as much. While it’s also very easy to add books, you don’t have the option to rate and post your review at the same time, meaning that if you want to contribute to the conversation, you have to navigate elsewhere in the site. Partly due to it’s library roots, the site has more of a catalogue feel than a social feel. Again, if you’re simply looking for a way to keep an online account of everything that you’ve read, Library Thing will suit.
Library Thing also has very nice blog widgets, especially the one that seems quite popular with many book bloggers and is a small widget that randomly displays the cover of a number of books (you pick the number) from your Library Thing library. It’s pretty, easy to set up, and polished. If you’re looking for something even less conspicuous, they have a “chiclet” or small image that can act as a link to your library.
Library Thing also has a BookSuggester, which analyzes millions of books and tags within the site, and recommends other books you might want to investigate based on what you’ve read.
An idea that’s more fun, is their “Unsuggester,” a tool that lists books you’d be least likely to read based on a book you’ve already read. I tested this feature with The Sparrow, one of my favorite reads from last year, and unexpectedly got a list of books all tied to the Christian faith. I would have guessed that readers of The Sparrow would be interested in learning more about Christianity after reading it, not less, so I tested out the Unsuggestions for A Game of Thrones. Amazingly, I got another list of Christian titles. Okay, third time is a charm, I entered Pride and Prejudice . Certainly, someone reading Austen couldn’t be considered to have anti-mainstream-Christian feelings? I was told that a book must have more than 75 readers to create unsuggestions. I hereby declare the Unsuggester broken, at least for me.
All of these sites provide great tools for creating your personal book diary and each site offers a unique spin and unique features in addition to simple cataloging.