February 27, 2009

Search Terms: You Delight Me

Every once in a while I like to take a look at the search terms people are using to get to this site. As usual, they are full of wackitude. Please enjoy some recent search terms, with brief commentary appended.

benazir bhutto in swiming pool haha, what? Some kink I don't know about?

boy rotating He must be getting dizzy. How long has he been rotating, anyway? Somebody get this boy a bucket.

old cloocks back then I believe that they told time.

heretic's daughter why capital letters Gosh, I don't know! I'd assume that you were talking about the title proper, The Heretic's Daughter, the capital letters are because that's simply what we do with titles. Otherwise, I don't think that I can help you.

the difference between books and movies I'm going to assume that this is a philosophical inquiry rather than a factual one, because I hope that we can all tell the difference between textual media and visual ditto.

i prefer second hand books Me too!

lists of all books archive All books? A list of all books? Like, ever? Dag, that's a tall order, and I wish you the best of luck in your futile, futile quest.

what's the old kid show with the clock I think that The Polka-Dot Door had a clock in it sometimes. Or are you thinking of The Big Comfy Couch? And what I really want to know is this: is a search term this vague actually working out for you? Because, you know, I've got my doubts.

widow header All black?

qanta ahmed wrote a boring book If you say so. I liked it, although I have to point out that the prose is purple and neither Qanta Ahmed nor her editor seem to know what the word "belies" means, or how to use it.

is this sorted I'm going to go with yes!

February 20, 2009

Review: My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Taylor

Have you ever had one of those books that sat on your wishlist for so long that, when you finally got a copy, you couldn't remember why it was on your wishlist in the first place? And then, when you started reading, you really couldn't imagine why you wanted it, because it was just so terrible? My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Taylor, is exactly that book.

It's really, really bad.

That's really all you need to know, but here's the rest of my review anyway. The basic premise: Jill Taylor, Ph.D., brain scientist, had a stroke, and then got better, and found nirvana through stepping out of her left brain and into her right brain... or something like that. It's a little hard to tell, actually, because it's full of all sorts of sentences like this:
Startled by this ominous illumination, I fathomed the gravity of my immediate situation. (p. 45)

and this:
The memories from my past were no longer available for recollection,leaving me cloaked from the bigger picture of who I was and what I was doing here as a life form. Focused completely in the present moment, my pulsing brain felt like it was gripped in a vice. [sic] And here, deep within the absence of earthly temporality, the boundaries of my early body dissolved and I melted into the universe. (p. 49)

Achieving nirvana through stroke! Yippee! This is a weird little book, my friends, and it's not even well-written enough to make up for that. I couldn't stomach any more than about fifty pages. I wasn't even interested enough to find out how Jill recovered from her stroke. Plus, I'm pretty sure that the illustrations were done in MS Paint. No joke.

I feel like there's more that can be said, but the thought of spending more time talking about this book is making me very tired. Let's all go read books by Oliver Sacks instead, okay?

Edited to add: quite a discussion has begun in the comments here about the issue of style vs. substance/message. I've written a longer follow-up post. Please feel free to join the discussion there.

February 17, 2009

Book Reorganization: The Purge

It's reading week, and since I have some time for things like basic living-space maintenance, I'm starting to do a long-desired book purge. I have four book cases in my room and they are full and overflowing onto my desk, the floor, and other flat surfaces; and recently receiving a gift card for a bookstore (more books!) has made me realize that I really don't have enough space to keep acquiring books without letting some go as well.

Too, I've been thinking about which books I'll take with me when I move out of my parents' house, probably in the next couple of years. One shelf's worth? One bookcase's worth? Almost everything or just the most beloved? It's a hard decision both in terms of space now and future space, but what I think it boils down to is that I don't have space to waste on books I don't love.

So, I purged! First to go were several sets of doubles -- I don't really need two copies of Anne's House of Dreams, do I? Didn't think so. And after that, off go the books I don't love. Adios, everything written by Henry James. Sayonara, Hemingway. Goodbye, random mystery anthologies I'll probably never get to. The Nanny Diaries, I read you a few times and now I don't need to do that anymore.

The end result is that I've boxed up 64 books to get rid of:


They'll be picked up by a local charity that takes your stuff and sells it to Value Village and whatnot. I still have some large piles of books up for reading & review, but I have a feeling that most of those will go the way of the dodo once I've posted about them... so I guess that in a few weeks I'll need new boxes.

You know what? It feels great. Later this week I'll post on phase two of my project, which is actually re-shelving all my books by category instead of all helter-skelter.

Have you weeded your collection lately? How do you decide what stays and what goes?

February 13, 2009

Why I Love Second-Hand Books

Recently I was given a thank-you note for a service I'd performed for my choir, and inside that note was a gift card for Chapters of some certain value. When I thanked T, the purchaser, she said this:
Now you don't have to go to the used bookstores. You can buy new books, that look nice on the shelf.

And I didn't say anything to her then, but I was a little bit flabbergasted by this statement. Sure, new books are okay, I guess -- but I love second-hand books. I don't shop for used books because they're all I can afford (well... sometimes they are, but it's still not the primary reason). I shop for used books because I genuinely prefer them.

Why do I like you better, second-hand books? Let's count:

1) You are cheap, cheap as all get-out. I love that I can go to a used bookstore and get my school reading for $20 instead of $100. I love being able to buy ten books at a time ... at a buck apiece. And being able to get a book for a small cash outlay means that I'm more likely to try out new authors, whose books I may afterwards buy at full price -- if they're good enough!

2) You are used. It might seem strange, but I don't like reading new books. I don't like new books as objects: too shiny, too crinkly, too bright. I like my books to have some character: some dents, maybe some tears, yellowed pages. It's a character thing, and also a mark that a book has been well-read, if not necessarily well-loved. I feel more connected to other readers, somehow, when I know I'm reading something that's been in other hands before.

3) You are found in charming places. I'll go to the big shiny bookstores when I have a gift card or something, but mostly I like the shopping experience at used/discount stores better. One of my favourites has tiny aisles and giant piles everywhere and styles itself the "world's messiest bookstore," an epithet which is probably deserved. Finding a book there is like treasure-hunting.

4) I can treat you badly and not worry about it. I bend corners and use things like mugs and table edges instead of bookmarks, and I throw my books around a lot when they're being moved between my bag and the shelves, or rather from my bag to the floor and eventually possibly onto a bookshelf. Used books are already a little dingy, so hey, what does it matter if I accidentally break the spine?

5) Marginalia, mementos, and other things are enclosed. Sometimes used books come with surprises inside. Old receipts. Photographs. Cartoons. Grocery lists. I found a copy of Alias Grace with a very sweet dedication in it. And my $2 copy of E. M. Forster's A Passage to India has this to say on the inside back cover:
I don't understand -- I still don't really understand why he wants to see other people. Why does he need to kiss them? Yuk. it must be that he needs to put himself in a situation where something could happen and see if he could allow it to. almost as thought he's testing his feelings/love for me. Perhaps he wants to see if he could kiss someone else too. if he feels something when he kisses them then... to me this seems a bit naive. i'm sure if i put myself in a situation where i was with someone i'd always found attractive i'd be able to kiss them. if I put myself in that situation with brooke actually i don't know. has about danielle? I have this feeling if i did it would be disappointing. I'm not sure -- the thought of him kissing someone else makes me want to throw up. I can talk about this forever with everyone and still I feel nauseous when I think about it.

Gee, I'm sorry to hear that! Maybe he wants to kiss other people because he's a big jerk. You know, just my two cents.

6) Did I mention the "cheap" thing?

February 9, 2009

The Gentle Art of the Apostrophe

Many of you will have already seen a report [yahoo news] that the city of Birmingham in the UK has officially dropped the apostrophe from public signage on the grounds that it is "old fashioned" and "confusing". My favourite part of this whole debacle ("favourite" being, of course, a relative term) is the following quotation from one Martin Mullaney, the City Councillor who seems to be at the head of this movement, or at least speaking for it:
"Apostrophes denote possessions that are no longer accurate, and are not needed," he said. "More importantly, they confuse people. If I want to go to a restaurant, I don't want to have an A-level (high school diploma) in English to find it."

Can we look at those last two sentences for a moment? Are apostrophes really that difficult to understand? Is the difference between St. Paul's and St. Pauls so vast as to require a high school diploma? I did French Immersion when I was in public school, so I can't answer this question, but aren't things like this taught in grade school? You know: See Dick's bike! and all that?

Now, I have been called a bit of a punctuational purist in the past and I will largely stand by that designation (despite my affection for using parentheses even when unnecessary, as in this example). But this strikes me as going beyond casual misuse of punctuation and running straight into the loony bin. You might not get all nerded up over the semicolon, but I think that most people will, when pressed, admit that correct and standardized punctuation is a useful and necessary beast.

A letter to the editor in the paper today perhaps says it best:
Re: Apostrophe's loss has purists up in arms, Feb. 5

Im a high school teacher and many of my students agree that apostrophes arent needed because they cant use them anyway and its like a lot of punctuation if you dont use it its proof its not needed.

For other students, however, it's a matter of clarity, precision and finesse; in the most literal sense, they're punctilious in their punctuation.

To whom does the future belong?

- John Caryl, Toronto

To whom, indeed? Somehow I feel that the future does not belong to the good Councillors of Birmingham. What do you think?