Books Read in 2010

This list of books that I finished this year is based on the date I started reading each book. Though they were generally finished in something close to this order, some books took much longer than others. I finished a total of 102 books in 2010. Five of these were re-reads.

I read 85 print books and 17 ebooks (epub) this year. I gave up on 3 print books and 2 ebooks (epub), although one of the print books was really just interrupted. I placed it on my 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge list [see below] and I will begin that one again. I am also working my way through a pdf book, Digging into WordPress v3 which is not included on this list.

My ebook reading is off due mostly to changes in travel and other lifestyle-related issues. I have not become averse to ebooks in any way, they simply do not fit my current lifestyle as much as they once did. All of the ebooks I read this year were epub formatted free books from feedbooks.com (except for the one pdf book).

Of the two ebooks I did not finish, one was Lady Chatterley’s Lover which I discovered about halfway into it that it was an expurgated version. Sara who was also reading it as an ebook found an unexpurgated print copy and started over. Although I was somewhat enjoying the story, I did not find it that compelling so said the heck with it. The other was Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women. While this is an important work, she just droned on and on. There are far better examples of effective literature in this genre, even if few this early.

In August a friend of mine introduced the 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge to begin in September. Here is my post accepting the challenge. Is it really any wonder that mine is a baker’s dozen? Here is my list at goodreads, at Open Library, and the 12 Books, 12 Months tag here on the blog. This small image for 12 Books 12 Months designates a book on my list.

If I wrote a ‘review’ here on the blog I have linked to it after the entry for the book as [Review]. All of the 12 Books, 12 Month Challenge books that I have read so far (7) have been reviewed here. There are more reviews at goodreads but most are simple commentary and I am too lazy to go find them and link them. [Do not get me started on the amount of work required to generate, much less format, the following list!]

I received four of these books via the Library Thing Early Reviewers program. They are identified by “Library Thing Early Reviewer copy” and a link to the review at Library Thing.

I read 31 books of poetry, not including the one for weddings. I also read 2 books about poetry (Oliver and Kooser), not including the one on syntax. The author I read the most by is the poet Mary Oliver with 13 titles (12 poetry, 1 about poetry). The author in 2nd place is Roy Harris with 6, four of which were re-reads. The author in 3rd place with 3 titles seems to be Conan Doyle, all ebooks. Perhaps I missed someone else with 3 titles though. There were several authors with 2 books each in my list: Jim Harrison, Wilkie Collins, Anne Carson, Pablo Neruda, ….

Batchelor. Buddhism Without Beliefs

Buddhism without Beliefs Buddhism without BeliefsStephen Batchelor; Riverhead Trade 1998WorldCatRead OnlineLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

This is the 7th book in the 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge that I have finished. For another view, see my list at Open Library.

I began this back on 22 March and got halfway before stopping back in April or so due to wedding and move planning/prep. I started again from the beginning on 11 December and finished it on 18 December 2010.

I am a real neophyte when it comes to Buddhism.  I read Siddhartha in high school and I re-read it last year; no I am not claiming Hesse wrote a Buddhist text, just that it introduced the idea to me long ago.

I have also read a bit about mindfulness (2 books, I think) and one or two books by Thich Nhat Hanh.  This, though, is my first serious attempt at learning more about Buddhism.  I am not sure where or how I came across this book, although I think it was from a book review of the author’s more recent Confession of a Buddhist Atheist.  But where the book review came from I do not know; I failed to find it in my delicious bookmarks.  It seems I ordered both books at the same time from amazon this past March.

The book is reasonably short and reads well.  I liked that it rejects the religion of Buddhism, founded on historically institutionalized beliefs, in favor of the actions of Buddhism.  It also remains agnostic on the more metaphysical aspects, such as karma and rebirth, for instance.

Contents

  • Ground
    Awakening
    Agnosticism
    Anguish
    Death
    Rebirth
    Resolve
    Integrity
    Friendship
  • Path
    Awareness
    Becoming
    Emptiness
    Compassion
  • Fruition
    Freedom
    Imagination
    Culture

Awakening

The author claims that the four ennobling truths — anguish, its origins, its cessation, and the path — have become “propositions of fact to be believed.”  Thus, Buddhism becomes a religion (5).

Instead, he claims that the four ennobling truths are not propositions to believe; they are challenges to act (7).

Some quotes and ideas that I liked:

Agnosticism

“The power of organized religion to provide sovereign states with a bulwark of moral legitimacy while simultaneously assuaging the desperate piety of the disempowered swiftly reasserted itself–-usually by subsuming the rebellious ideas into the canons of a revised orthodoxy” (16).

“The very term “Buddhism” (an invention of Western scholars) reinforces the idea that it is a creed to be lined up alongside other creeds” (16).

“This transformation of Buddhism into a religion obscures and distorts the encounter of the dharma with contemporary agnostic culture. The dharma in fact might well have more in common with Godless secularism than with the bastions of religion” (17).

Rebirth

“Dharma practice can never be in contradiction with science: not because it provides some mystical validation of scientific findings but because it simply is not concerned with either validating or invalidating them. Its concern lies entirely with the nature of existential experience” (37).

Resolve

“Life is neither meaningful nor meaningless. Meaning and its absence are given by language and imagination. We are linguistic beings who inhabit a reality in which it makes sense to make sense.

For life to make sense it needs purpose” (39).

“The problem is not that we lack resolve, but that it so often turns out to be misplaced” (40).

“A purpose may be no more than a set of images and words, but we can still be totally committed to it. Such resolve entails aspiration, appreciation, and conviction: I aspire to waken, I appreciates its value, and I am convinced it is possible. This is a focused act that encompasses the whole person. Aspiration is as much a bodily longing as an intellectual desire; appreciation is as much a passion as a preference; conviction as much an intuition as a rational conclusion. Irrespective of the purpose to which we are committed, when such feelings are aroused, life is infused with meaning” (40).

“Dharma practice is founded on resolve. This is not an emotional conversion, a devastating realization of the error of our ways, a desperate urge to be good, but an ongoing heartfelt reflection on priorities, values, and purpose. We need to keep taking stock of our life in an unsentimental, uncompromising way” (41).

Freedom

“Freedom is never absolute; it is always relative to something else: freedom from constraints, freedom to act, freedom for others” (93).

“The questioning that emerges from unknowing differs from conventional inquiry in that it has no interest in finding an answer. This questioning starts at the point where descriptions and explanations end. It has already let go of the constraints and limitations of conceptual categories. It recognizes that mysteries are not solved as though they were problems and then forgotten. The deeper we penetrate a mystery, the more mysterious it becomes.

This perplexed questioning is the central path itself” (98).

Comments

All in all I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading Batchelor’s Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, although, without having yet read it, I will say that I prefer the agnosticism of this book. I also look forward to re-reading this one and engaging more fully with some if its ideas.

Borges. Seven Nights

Seven nights Seven nightsJorge Luis Borges; New Directions Pub. Corp. 2009WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

 

I enjoyed this slim volume of essays based on seven lectures Borges gave in Buenos Aires between June and August 1977.

There is a short introduction by Alistair Reid which provides some context and historical information on the lectures. Then the seven essays, in this order: The Divine Comedy, Nightmares, The Thousand and One Nights, Buddhism, Poetry, The Kabbalah, and Blindness.  Some of them are, of course, better than others but all of them are worth reading.

This is the 6th book in the 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge that I finished.

Marshall – Reading and Writing the Electronic Book

Reading and writing the electronic bookCatherine C. Marshall; Morgan & Claypool 2010WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

 

This is my 5th book review for the 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge.

Note: This is in no way a balanced review of this book. I do think this can be a valuable book to read if you are interested in the topic; at least it will be for a little while longer. But it has some issues, and those are what I primarily focus on here.

Table of Contents

  • Ch. 1 Introduction
  • Ch. 2 Reading
  • Ch. 3 Interaction
  • Ch. 4 Reading as a Social Activity
  • Ch. 5 Studying Reading
  • Ch. 6 Content: Markup and Genres
  • Ch. 7 Beyond the Book

Introduction

This book examines “a rather more pragmatic set of issues and developments” and is based on “sources from information science, computer science, and human-computer interaction, but especially on the results of studies I have conducted with colleagues and by myself over the last decade-and-a-half” (8).

Reading

In defense of the sociality of reading, one of her examples is “…, drivers read billboards together as they speed by the landscape, …” (16).  Seriously?  The other examples actually support the claim of reading being social but this is beyond me as to how it can be considered social.

In this book:

“The word eBook can refer to hardware, software, content prepared to be read on the screen, or a combination of all three. In much of this book, when we talk about eBooks, we’re by and large referring to the software—the reader—used to present the content” (33).

“…; after all, no one needs instructions on how to read a book, assuming they are literate” (33-34).  On one hand, “No shit!”  To become literate we learn to read books.  This, also, includes how to interact with the physical book; knowledge of which is needed to correctly operate said book so it can be read once learns to read the language marks inscribed in the book.  So her claim is accurate but also inherently circular with regards to what it means to be literate in our society.  On the other hand, there are plenty of books for which we need training to use, although they are not extremely prevalent.  I am thinking of specialty reference books here primarily.  Also, has she never heard of Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book or similar titles? Reading is not a simple, unitary skill, nor or all books “read” in the same manner.

Interaction

Discussing some early objections to eBooks based on their immutability she quotes Baudrillard:

“The compact disc. It doesn’t wear out, even if you use it. Terrifying. It’s as though you’d never used it. So it’s as though you didn’t exist. If things don’t get old anymore, then that’s because it’s you who are dead (Baudrillard 1996, pp. 32-33)” (39).

That is beyond silly.  They do wear out in several ways, both physically and access-wise.  We don’t even have to get into hardware and format changes here.  Borrow a handful of CDs from your local public library and it is quite probable that at least one is wholly or partially unusable.  Quoting some bad analysis by a French theorist, which doesn’t support the point you are trying to make, is not helpful.

Reading as a Social Activity

This chapter begins with a two-by-two matrix borrowed from computer supported cooperative work that divides the world up by place and time.  It is used “as a simple framework to examine the social side of eBook use. Use that occurs in the same place at the same time implies that people are reading together” (73, emphasis in original).  Other than the stipulation that this chapter is about reading as a social activity I fail to comprehend how one can simply stipulate that this implies reading together.  Based on other examples given to support the matrix, I fail to see why two different people cannot be present at the same coffee house, for instance, at the same time.  Perhaps they are even sitting at the same table but reading different things, nor are they discussing what they read.  This is not social reading (unless we admit the billboard example from above; which I am not admitting). This stipulation, and the matrix, thus overestimates the amount of social reading taking place.

Content: Markup and Genres

§6.1.4 Accessibility is in its entirety three sentences long.

“Accessibility refers to the characteristics of eBooks that allow people with visual impairments to read them. Disability advocates have maintained pressure on eBook content providers and eBook platform manufacturers to adhere to accessibility standards and principles. These standards have been developed for the Web and are documented at http://www.w3.org/WAI/” (125).

Clearly this topic is far larger than this book but I find these three sentences to be extremely shortsighted and a slight to the otherwise enabled.  The WAI Introduction to Web Accessibility clearly states: “Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities.” http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/accessibility.php

“Creative Commons is a licensing alternative to DRM that allows publishers and authors to mark their work to indicate the conditions they wish to apply to it” (129).  Oh really?  There is no reason a CC-licensed book (some licenses anyway) can’t also be DRMed.

In the section on eTextbooks Marshall references the dissertation of Jay Dominick who “makes many interesting observations about the textbook genre before he goes on to discuss his findings about eBooks” (136).  Regarding the economics of textbooks we get the following footnote:

“Dominick makes the important observation that the person purchasing the book (often, the student’s parents) is not the person reading the book. Furthermore, the publisher is selling the book to the instructors, not to the students. The bizarreness of the commercial circumstances that make up textbook economics cannot be overstated” (fn 16, 137).

I wholeheartedly endorse the fact that the textbook market is full of bizarre.  And while we do use “selling” in this aspect I still think that this is highly sloppy writing.  Textbooks are marketed to instructors; they are bought by (that is, sold to) students.

The rest of the discussion re textbooks and eTextbooks is confusing and perhaps even somewhat contradictory.

Overall Comments

The book is well laid out, except for narrow gutters.  It is quite affordable as a paperback.  But it is poorly edited; distractingly so.  Copy editing and proofreading seem to be the biggest issues.  The issues start early and continue throughout.

Examples

  • “Rereading is a meta-type that is included in the table as a reminder that any type of reading may be occur multiple times” (T2.1, 20).
  • “… and the reader buys finished book, …” (21).
  • “… leapfrogging beyond explicit the ratings and reviews …” (93).
  • “Digital materials is easy to copy” (126).
  • “The course packs are heavy and bulky; they materials are usually read quickly; …” (138).

Out of Date

This should not have been a book as it is already out of date.  At best, it should have been an ebook.  There is an ebook but try getting access to it.  Neither amazon nor Google ebooks has one.  From the publishers site you can get 24-hour access to a PDF or a PDF Plus for $20.00.  If you institution has an institutional subscription then you seem to be golden. http://www.morganclaypool.com/toc/icr/1/1

Either way, this book is already out of date.  Some of the reasons why without going into much detail:

  • In the sections on readers the iPhone is barely mentioned at all; the iPod Touch not at all.  In the subsection on navigation I noticed a few things that the iPhone can do that was not mentioned.
  • No mention of epub format
  • No mention of books as apps
  • No mention of iPad
  • No mention of HTML5 and CSS
  • No Kindle’s circulated (144).  This one was true at the time it was written probably but no longer is.

This book is worth reading.  Some of my critiques are minor and clearly a book  (or any other document) cannot comment on something that did not exist before it was published (e.g. the iPad).  Then again, should documents that will be out-of-date as they go to press still be being printed as physical books?

My recommendation:  This book is of value to those with an interest in or need to understand some of the areas it touches upon.  It is also a gateway to the assorted literature(s) of studies on ebooks.

Do your wallet a favor and get the book from the library.