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Books, LibraryThing December 11, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Books, librarything, Other, Uncategorized, web 2.0, writing.
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As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m beginning to rethink the way I do book reviews here.  There are several reasons for this. 

First, I began posting the names of books I had just read and some thoughts about those books as a way of letting people know what I was reading, what I thought about it, and possibly starting a conversation.  For some reason, certain book reviews get a lot of hits on this site every day, while others have not had any, ever.  That’s O.K., but I hate to go to the trouble of writing something about a book and posting it if nobody cares.   I realize that this is pretty typical behavior in the blogosphere.  Unfortunately, even the most heavily-seen reviews do not get interesting conversations started. 

And then there is the fact that if you don’t know me, what do you care if I liked a book?  I was tag surfing the other day and came across a review of Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Eco.  The reader hated this book.  I don’t have any idea how anybody could hate this book.  I have read it perhaps seven or eight times now.  I think the only book I have read more often is John Irving’s The Water Method Man, which I read pretty much every year since I was 17.  But more important than that, I’m not sure I would have ignored this person’s review.  Imagine.  Here’s this guy who hates a book, and he turns me off to it, yet I would have loved it. 

And then there is the fact that LibraryThing now exists.  I didn’t know about this resource when I started this blog.  It’s a strange sort of phenonomon, this social intelligence stuff.  But I’m going to be trusting LibraryThing to suggest books for me to read based on the books I say I like.   It’s like netflix does, of course, or Amazon.  But the key thing is that I will be entering books I have already read (unlike Amazon, where you purchase books and they suggest others based on your purchases).  And unlike netflix, LibraryThing doesn’t stand to profit, or at least I don’t think they do, or at least it doesn’t affect the algorthyms at this point. 

So, anyway.  I hope to get a better widget soon, one that shows the covers of books I have read recently, rather than that little button to the right.  But if you click on it, it will take you to my library at LibraryThing.  I have entered some of the first books that came into my head, some of which I read recently.  Most recently, that is since my last book post, I read the entire Riverworld Series, by Philip Jose Farmer.  I found the first two books, To Your Scattered Bodies Go and The Fabulous Riverboat, engaging, but not nearly as interesting as when I first read them as a teen.  The other two, The Dark Design and The Magic Labyrinth, I found incredibly tedious.  Farmer says in the preface to The Dark Design that he intended the whole thing to be a trilogy, but that with 400,000 words he had to break it up and make two more books out of it. 

I guess I think that that is laziness.  I am certain that I read the last two books before.  I even read a book that he wrote afterward, Gods of Riverworld, which assumes you know how the story ended up.  I could not have told you how the story ended up, though.  This was, in large part, because it is so incredibly wordy.  I Farmer had simply cut out his description of characters pouring coffee crystals into water and the crystals automatically heating the water (which appears at least twenty times in the last two books) he could have saved perhaps 3,000 words.  It is forgiveable laziness.  If Farmer was as tired of the whole thing as I was, it must have been difficult to stomach that editing job.  But I imagine with the popularity of the thing in the 1970s and 1980s it would have been difficult to forgoe the advance he must have gotten.

Anyway, LibraryThing quite simply obsoletes my posting of reviews of books about which I have nothing important to say.  Now I will only write in this space about books that made me think, books I really liked, whatever.  For a while, I thought that since they only let you post 200 books for free, I would be forming a very strange picture of my reading habits (200 being a very small sample of my reading).   But I may spring for the lifetime membership, if I hit the 200 limit soon.

I’ll try to clean up the review section soon.  It’s pretty ugly.

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Comments»

1. strugglingwriter - December 11, 2006

Thanks for the link to LibraryThing. It sounds very interesting, and I may try entering some of the books I have read and see what it recommends. Technology is great sometimes.

2. Charles Krause - December 11, 2006

It depends what you think book reviews are for.

To be blunt, no one will probably care if you say “I liked this book”, or “I hated this book”, nor are they likely to discuss much if that’s all you say. Even your comment about The Gods of Riverworld doesn’t really leave much room for comment; I can agree, or disagree.

If a book review is a multi-faceted critical analysis however, not only detailing the story, characterization, internal workings of the book, etc. (with, or without revealing aspects of the plot, although if you do so, then you had best put out “spoiler warnings” around that part of the reivew), but presenting your opinions and why you believe so, then you have some meat for discussion. I might agree with your conclusions, but not your reasoning, I may have interpreted totally different from the way you did, and want to tell you so, and how my take on that facet of the book went.

LibraryThing thing seems to simply “connect” similar books together. It tells us that certain people think ‘Book A’ is similar to ‘Book B’, and it allows up to rate books, but it doesn’t tell us why people seem to think books are good, bad, dissimilar, or similar. That’s where the book reviews come into play.

You could even, if you’re sneaky, use book reviews on LibraryThing to generate blog traffic, by placing a synopsis of your review on LibraryThing and link to your blog entry/book review, “for a more complete analysis” :)

In short, a well written book review can transcend the reviewing reader’s personal opinion (which will probably have limited appeal anyways), but a critical discussion of the work will have broader interest, and possibly spark the discussions you seem to seek.

3. Charles Krause - December 11, 2006

P.S. If you want a template to look at as a guide as to what a complex book review might look like, have a look at the Wikipedia Novels Project guidelines for a book article. It is pretty much how I plan to structure my own book reviews once I start writing them.

4. caveblogem - December 11, 2006

strugglingwriter,

Yeah, this web 2.0 stuff is really fabulous sometimes, especially for people who do research. I was talking to a (very bright) student (who is interning with a group of also very bright people really up on this stuff) the other day who mentioned that he was trying to locate people who had read a particular book and was not having any success searching the blogosphere. I mentioned LibraryThing, which he had never heard of. Researchers haven’t even begun to figure out how to expoit this stuff yet.

5. caveblogem - December 11, 2006

Charles Krause,

Thanks for the links and advice about book reviews and such. I think that I’ve tried consciously to avoid the standard sorts of book reviews that other people write. It’s not that I think these are not valuable–they are. It’s just that I think that there are people out there that pretty much cover this ground, and do it well.

I tried instead to add value in two different ways. For people who know me and trust my judgement on these things (which are admittedly very few) they are a resource. And I also tried to offer a perspective that people won’t get from other reviewers, an interesting and different take on things. This second thing, though, if done well, would require me to know what other people are saying about a particular book, if I really want to be sure that I am offering something different, that is. Perhaps I’m too lazy to do this. Perhaps too stubborn. Perhaps I wrote enough critical book reviews in graduate school to last me the rest of my life. I don’t know. I should have realized that this type of thing would not draw much traffic to this blog.

When I started getting a large number of hits I started to think, too, that much of the traffic was high school and college students attempting to cheat on book reports. My wife teaches literature at a University in New England, so I try to avoid writing things that can simply be stolen by cheaters.

At any rate, I do sometimes read book reviews for entertainment, and sometimes they lead me to purchase a book. But the type of complex book reviews I like to read, the ones in NYRB, The New Yorker, Harpers, The Atlantic, etc., would be way too much work.

LibraryThing does more than just allow people to see what books others like. It immediately allows you to see other people’s libraries and to see collections that are like yours. For example, there are people out there who have a bunch of Terry Pratchett books and a bunch of Paul Watzlavick and some Robert Heinlein and a bunch of Chuck Palahniuk. When I see these types of people, who have peculiar tastes so similar to mine, and yet seem to like others I have never read, that makes me curious about these other authors.

Looking back on what I’ve written so far I realize that I really did not want to write anything at all about the four (aforementioned) books that I just got done reading. There are a lot of things to say about them. There is a wealth of information in them about how a libertarian science fiction writer attempted to deal with race issues in the 1960s and 1970s. There are the interesting questions about Esperanto, the common language of resurrectees on the Riverworld, and how Farmer’s sloppy thinking about free will and predestination, which use a great deal of ink in these novels. does not make any sense in, say, lojban. But I am simply bored by these novels and want to move on, and I wanted to free myself from having to comment on everything I read, which was becoming a habit here.

6. maryjunebrown - December 11, 2006

Oh, thanks for this resource…I am really excited about trying it out. I love how you learn so many new things by reading people’s blogs…thank you thank you! mary


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