12 Books, 12 Months Challenge Follow Up

A year ago a friend of mine suggested a new kind of ‘book club.’ See my post here for the background. Many of us joined her, and her write-ups of, and links to, everyone’s reading can be found at her blog here.

My reviews and my initial post can all be found here.

Here’s my list (minus my selection commentary):

  • Ronald Gross, Peak Learning
  • Catherine C. Marshall, Reading and Writing the Electronic Book
  • Carol Collier Kuhlthau, Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services
  • Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
  • Michel Meyer, Of Problematology: Philosophy, Science, and Language
  • George Lakoff and Mark Turner, More than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor Metaphor and Poetry
  • Anthony Grafton, The Footnote: A Curious History
  • John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, The Social Life of Information
  • Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse
  • Jorge Luis Borges, Seven Nights
  • Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions
  • George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss
  • S. R. Ranganathan, Classification and Communication

Being me, I selected a baker’s dozen instead of twelve. I managed to read 10 of my selected 13 books. I began another but got interrupted by the start of my spring semester and have never gotten back to it (Of Problematology).  One could, in essence, say I began another (Borges’ Collected Fictions) as I read Borges’ A Universal History of Iniquity, which ends up being the 1st section of the Collected Fictions. Ranganathan never got started.

By the most direct reckoning one could say that I failed as I did not finish my 13 (nor even 12) books. But I do NOT consider it a failure; mostly due to giving myself this leeway in my original post:

Thus, I am going to reserve the right to substitute any book for one on this list.  As I see it I will probably read more than 12 books in the next year anyway so maybe they’ll only be additions. One can hope.

In fact, I consider it a rip-roaring success! Over the last year, I was able to read 10 books identified in advance—some of which have been on my To Be Read list for several years. I would definitely participate in a similar book club again.

As to the out I gave myself above regarding “probably read[ing] more than 12 books in the next year” that was easily accomplished. From 1 September 2010 when the challenge started to the end of the calendar year I finished 33 books (7 were Challenge books) and began 1 which is not yet finished. So far in 2011 (with the Challenge ending tomorrow, 5 Sep) I have finished 75 books (3 were Challenge books), began 2 (1 Challenge), gave up on 2, reread 2, and am currently actively reading 4.

Thus, since the Challenge started I have finished 108 books, 10 of which were Challenge books. I don’t think anyone can complain about the amount of my reading. I certainly am not going to.

My reviews can all be found here.

Many other reviews can be found by browsing the Books category on my blog. Reviews of the following books read during the Challenge period appear on my blog:

  • Abbas, Structures for Organizing Knowledge
  • Martignette and Meisel, The Great American Pin-Up
  • Bauer, jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home
  • Peterson, Understanding Exposure 3rd ed.
  • Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction
  • Sontag, On Photography
  • Armstrong, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life
  • Nardi and O’Day, Information Ecologies
  • Maines, The Technology of Orgasm
  • Plath, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams
  • Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
  • Jewel, A Night Without Armor: Poems
  • Hey, How It Seems to Me

Of course, all of my Challenge book reviews can be found via that Books category link, as can older reviews and other posts related to books.

More, usually shorter, reviews of even more books can be found at my goodreads account. I do not post them all on my blog.

I am posting this ~30 hours before the end of the Challenge as there is no way I can finish Meyer’s Of Problematology, nor can I read Borges or Ranganathan before then. I won’t even consider trying to do so. I am reading other things currently, much of which is homework and must take precedence. All 3 of those are still on my TBR ‘shelf’ and I hope to get to them in some version of soon, as I hope to get to many others.

 

Eliot. The Mill on the Floss

Due to my Victorian Lit class and sitting in on Modern Poetry this term my 12 Books 12 Months Challenge reading slipped a little. But then I remembered that The Mill on the Floss which I read for Victorian is on my 12B12M list.

What to say? I adore Eliot. She is an amazing observer of the human condition, whether individual or group. She is one of the earliest (and best) psychologists and the same can be said of her as a sociologist.

I have not yet read all of her novels but I have read Middlemarch and Silas Marner, along with some of her short stories, like Brother Jacob and The Lifted Veil. I look forward to reading the rest based on my own experience and my Victorian Lit prof also says the ones I have yet to read are all exceptional novels.

I must say upfront that, if read solely as a story, the ending leaves much to be desired. Nonetheless, the ending is fitting in a symbolic sense, although perhaps not on a human level. I am still working out exactly why that is and may need to address it in my final this week. All I’ll say for now is that, in the context of the novel as a whole, it works.

Be aware, this is a tragedy. It may not be epic, nor a study of grand personages, but as a tragedy of the everyday it is superb. [Eliot does comment on this but it is mostly indirect and occurs across several pages so no excerpts.]

Despite it’s being a tragedy, it can be quite humorous, particularly in that dry British way:

“Mr Pullet was a small man with a high nose, small twinkling eyes, and thin lips, in a fresh-looking suit of black and a white cravat, that seemed to have been tied very tight on some higher principle than that of mere personal ease” (56).

“A boy’s sheepishness is by no means a sign of overmastering reverence; and while you are making encouraging advances to him under the idea that he is overwhelmed by a sense of your age and wisdom, ten to one he is thinking you extremely queer” (91).

The whole of Book Fifth: Wheat and Tares,  ch. II, Aunt Glegg Learns the Breadth of Tom’s Thumb (308-25) is pretty funny.

And my favorite bit of humor in the novel, which had me cracking up:

“You don’t call Mumps a cur, I suppose?” said Maggie, divining that any interest she showed in Mumps would be gratifying to his master.

“No, Miss, a fine way off that,” said Bob, with a pitying smile; “Mumps is as fine a cross as you’ll see anywhere along the Floss, an I’n been up it wi’ the barge times enow. Why, the gentry stops to look at him; but you won’t catch Mumps a-looking at the gentry much — he minds his own business, he does.”

The expression of Mump’s face, which seemed to be tolerating the superfluous existence of objects in general, was strongly confirmatory of this high praise (284).

Some of the themes we discussed in class and will perhaps see on the final Wednesday:

  • Contrast the Tulliver and Dodson mentalities, and how played out in Tom and Maggie.
  • Compare the education of Tom and Maggie.
  • Relevance of the town of St. Ogg’s as a character; the legend.
  • Eliot’s reflections on childhood.
  • Tragedy: In what sense is Tulliver a tragic figure? Can this family be tragic? How do Tom and Maggie differ in their reactions to the tragedy? Mrs. Tulliver and her family’s reactions?
  • Hellenism versus Hebraism (ala Matthew Arnold We read a small bit from Culture and Anarchy, in particular a portion of ch. 1 “Sweetness and Light” and of ch. 5 “Porro Unum Est Necessarium” [But One Thing is Needful])
  • Ethics/morality: Intentionalism, Consequentialism, principle, self-interest, Categorical Imperative, natural law, social code.
  • We also discussed relationships: Tom & Maggie; Tom & Philip Wakem; Maggie & Philip; Maggie & Stephen; and so on.
  • Duplicitousness.
  • Sexual sublimation.

I quite enjoyed The Mill on the Floss and I hope to reread it again someday soon at a more leisurely pace and focusing primarily on the story and on Eliot’s artistry.

Gross. Peak Learning

In this post on Personal Learning I said some reasonably positive things about this book.

Now that we have finished the book I want to take most of it back.

As I said, if you want to look at it get it from a library. It is about 80% fluff/extraneous babbling. Of the 20% left which is of value some is so far out of date as to be of no real use. The entire chapter, “Peak learning in cyberspace,” is so out of date that maybe 5% is of use and you, dear Reader, already know those bits and so much more.

We did finish it but we really had to skim much of the last half of the book to sort the wheat from the chaff.

As for the exercises, some were of value and some were so poorly designed towards what was being aimed for that they were useless. Others were so poorly explained that while they were somewhat valuable only after we sussed out for ourselves what would work in helping elucidate the point, we shouldn’t have had to do that work; nor should the author’s explanation of the exercise confused us so badly.

Anyway, my final verdict is that while there is some value in this book it probably is not worth your time and effort to try and drag it out of it.

Brown and Duguid. The social life of information

This is the 8th book for my 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge.

Short version: Librarians, and others in any “information industry,” should read it and ponder its critiques of “information fetishism.”

I bought this book back in May 2005 and finally got around to reading it. I am following it up with Nardi and O’Day’s Information Ecologies which I bought in May 2006. Where this book focuses on the binary rhetoric of “information,” and thus of information technology, Nardi and O’Day focus on the binary rhetoric of “technology.” Nardi & O’Day is 1-2 years older, is cited by Brown & Duguid, and I am hoping they’ll make a nice complementary pair.

Contents:

  • Preface: Looking Around
  • Introduction: Tunneling Ahead
  • 1 Limits to Information
  • 2 Agents and Angels
  • 3 Home Alone
  • 4 Practice Makes Process
  • 5 Learning—in Theory and in Practice
  • 6 Innovating Organization, Husbanding Knowledge
  • 7 Reading the Background
  • 8 Re-education
  • Afterword: Beyond Information

This book lived up to what I thought it might be after seeing so many references to it over the last 6 years. Originally released in 2000 (my ed. from 2002) I would say that it has held up quite well. Although I would love to see it updated, I truly doubt that much of the analysis would actually change. But with the changes in higher ed, and all of the mergers of massive media conglomerates over the past decade plus, it would be interesting to see if and how their take on the issues might change.

Optimism and pessimism “are both products of the same technology-centered tunnel vision. Both focus on information and individuals in splendid isolation. Once agents are set in a social context, both conclusions—sublime and despairing—seem less probable” (xi).

“This book is particularly concerned with the superficially plausible idea … that information and its technologies can unproblematically replace the nuanced relations between people. We think of this as “information fetishism”” (xvi).

“Our underlying argument in the discussion of education and the common thread that runs throughout … this book is that change is not necessarily occurring where, how, or when predicted, nor for the reasons most commonly cited. Hence, we suspect, many people have become increasingly unhappy with the binary simplicities of predictions about new technology” (xxii-xxiii).

Ch. 2 is primarily about bots, ch. 3 about telecommuting, ch. 4 business process reengineering, ch. 5 knowledge management and learning, ch. 6 knowledge as sticky and leaky, ch. 7 paper and documents, and ch. 8 higher education.

Ch. 7 “Reading the Background” provides excellent examples of what documents do, of the social roles they fill, and of the societies that they help to create. Seeing as I approached this primarily as a librarian that is the area I will focus my excerpts on.

“Among many things relegated to history’s scrap heap by relentless futurism have been, …, paper documents. Here, focus on the information they carry has distracted attention from the richer social roles that documents play—roles that may sustain paper documents despite the availability of digital ones. … …, we believe that documents, like other older technologies, probably will not be replaced (when they should be) or augmented (when they could be), if their richness and scope are underappreciated (xix-xx).

Argues that until we understand what documents do—physically and culturally—we will not understand what they are and how to replace or improve them. A narrow focus on the information that documents carry will fail to result in useful change.

“Documents not only serve to make information but also to warrant it—to give it validity. Here again, the material side of documents plays a useful part. For information has trouble, as we all do, testifying on its own behalf. Its only recourse in the face of doubt it s to add more information” (187).

“So documents do not merely carry information, they help make it, structure it, and validate it. More intriguing, perhaps, documents also help structure society, enabling social groups to form, develop, and maintain a sense of shared identity” (189).

“Documents then contribute not only to forming and stabilizing the worlds but also, …, to reforming, destabilizing, and transforming them. The presence of heretics reminds us that the “information” is not the sole contributor here. The orthodox and the heretics both form around the same information or content. They are distinguished from one another by their unique disposition toward that information” (193-4).

“The political scientist Benedict Anderson provides yet another example of the way groups form around documents. He considered networks so large, so diverse, and so spread out that individual members could not possibly know one another. They nonetheless may develop a sense of membership and belonging if they can create an image of the group as a single community with a single identity. Anderson described the communities as “imagined” and claimed that shared documents play an essential part in this imagining.

Anderson argues that such a document culture made a key contribution to the creation of independent nations” (194).

This is an important work and is still highly relevant. I am going to let it simmer for a while in the back of my mind. But I do think it fits well with my slowly awakening thesis that “information” as a foundational concept for libraries and librarians is a dangerous one.

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, ….