Archive for the ‘Books’ Category.
T-shirts with the entire text of great books printed on them. Here is the one for Kafka's The Metamorphosis. My son wanted a George Orwell one but there are none available as of yet. Most seem to be books old enough to be in the public domain, which is likely no accident, though there are a few newer books.
I have not read the book "Go Set a Watchman" nor will I likely. But it seems like a lot of folks are disappointed that the characters and themes in this book are different from Lee's later "To Kill a Mockingbird." Which causes me to ask a question that surprisingly has not been asked in anything I have read, which is: "Maybe Harper Lee didn't publish the novel for a reason." I mean, Lee had decades in which to do so and apparently chose not to. Should we really be surprised that a novel does not represent a writer in the way we expected when the writer themselves chose not to sanction the work by trying to publish it?
Which reminds me of this unrelated bit in a discussion of a recently re-published early work by Ayn Rand
This spectacular claim—that Ayn Rand’s impassioned idealism is a species of murderous fanaticism—comes a bit out of the blue, but Heller hangs it on a rather selective discussion of notes Ayn Rand made in her journals in 1928 about a murderer named William Hickman. Hickman’s defiance after his capture, and the reaction against him—a reaction she saw as being less about the evil of his crime than about his refusal to conform to social convention—caught her attention and caused her to work on a fictionalized version called The Little Street, a project she worked on for a while and then dropped.
Hickman has been long forgotten everywhere else, but he will live forever in the minds of Ayn Rand’s detractors, because they can now cite her notes on his case as proof that she was an admirer of serial killers and probably a psychopath herself, which means that they can now safely ignore every argument she ever made. Isn’t that convenient?
In fact, this is only proof that writers should burn their notes before they die, because inevitably some idiot is going to come along and use your half-though-out ramblings as proof of what you really believed, in contradiction to the thousands of pages of meticulously edited work that you actually published.
Update: This is a really good article sent to me by a reader about the editorial process that led from "Go Set a Watchman" to "To Kill a Mockingbird" which essentially calls them draft 1.0 and draft 2.0 of the same, yet very different, novel.
Since Watchman was written before Mockingbird (even though the time period in the book is later), Harper Lee did not “change” Atticus. The characterization in Watchmanwas the original. It was her first shot. It was Atticus 1.0.
The real story, if you ask me, is that Harper Lee rethought, reconceived, and reconfigured the Atticus of Watchman into the icon of honorableness that he became in To Kill A Mockingbird.
Think of that for a minute from a writer’s point of view. How hard is that to do? I can think of few things that are harder, not just from a practical point of view (the work, the recasting, the reimagining) but from a psychological perspective. How do you manage your emotions? How do you submerge your ego? How do you let go of expectations?
Somehow Harper Lee, God bless her, was able to do all that.
She set aside the manuscript of Watchman (the product of more than two years’ labor) when her editor Tay Hohoff declared it not ready for prime time—and went back to the drawing board.
I would give a lot of money to see Ms. Hohoff’s notes, or the correspondence between her and Ms. Lee, or to listen to a tape of their conversations over the two-plus years it took Ms. Lee to revamp the original story and turn it into To Kill A Mockingbird.
This much we know. Ms. Hohoff advised Ms. Lee to re-set the world of Watchman twenty years earlier. Take the character of Scout from a grown woman and wind her back to a little girl. Tell us the story, not through the eyes of a bitterly disillusioned daughter who had left Maycomb, Alabama and moved to New York City, but from the perspective of an innocent but whip-smart six- to nine-year-old tomboy, still at home, still in awe of her father.
Imagine doing that yourself. Could you? I’m not sure I could.
At the risk of summarizing a manuscript I have not read, it sounds like she shifted the book from a dreary story of what the South was, to a more optimistic story of what it was but also what it could be.
In honor of an anniversary of sorts for the book, I have done a substantial edit on both the printed and Kindle editions of my first novel "BMOC" and it is now on sale through Monday for the low, low price of $0.
Go and grab a copy. As John Belushi says in Animal House, Don't cost nothin'
Even if you don't want it, grab a copy for free and pump up my stats so I can impress my kids.
When I first offered my novel BMOC to readers, a lot of them assumed it was some libertarianish fantasy. Actually, its not a particularly serious book, just your normal everyday mystery for reading at the beach. The unique part of the book is the introduction of a number of oddball business models (I used to make these up as my occupation to share with people at cocktail parties when I got bored).
I am in the midst of a light edit of the book for a re-release (like my last story, we will have a limited time free-on-Kindle promotion, so watch for that). Anyway, I had forgotten this idea I had included for a reality TV show. I think it holds up pretty well.
Gladstone knew that most of Cupcake’s best-known work was in a reality TV show called “Seven Deadly Sins.” In that particular show, eight priests were brought together, tempted each week by one of the seven deadly sins. The viewing audience got to vote each week as to which priest succumbed the most and got kicked off the show. Cupcake was featured prominently in several of the weekly contests, including her now famous take-down of Father Stanley Vincenzo (who had up to that point been considered the shoe-in favorite to emerge victorious) in the “lust” episode.
It is amazing no sharp TV executive has yet snapped this idea up. You are all welcome to it, go and make your fortune.
Remember my hypothesis that in common use, at least on campus, the word "diversity" does not actually refer to ending out-groups, but is just is a code word for shifting the out-group tag from one set of people to another?
Moderates, libertarians, and Conservatives on campus would have done well to have fought back like this 20 years ago.
Update: I love Sarah Hoyt. "We haven’t yet reached the point when “banned by the New York Publishing establishment” is a badge of honor, but unless I mistake my gut we’re not very far off."
Thanks mostly to y'all, my short story String Theory still sits in the top 25 (well, it is at exactly 25) of the Amazon Kindle science fiction and short story rankings. One notch above John Scalzi, and just two notches below David Brin. And one of the only entries at the top of the list that does not have a guy with ripped abs or two vampires making out on the cover. Pretty cool.
My new short story "String Theory" is free for another 24 hours. After that, you will have to sell some of your gold bullion and pony up $0.99. By waiting until the last minute, you get the advantage of obtaining an updated version of the story without a typo on page one (yes, a leopard does not really change his spots in a different medium).
You can get it on Kindle here.
And my novel BMOC is still available on Kindle and as an actual dead-tree book.
My latest short story is listed at $0.99 on Kindle (the cheapest one can list something for) but is available for free through December 24. It's called String Theory and is the result of a fun discussion my daughter and I had combined with a long, boring airplane ride.
And my novel BMOC is still available on Kindle and as an actual dead-tree book. [link fixed]
I keep saying the new novel is coming soon, but it is coming soon if I can get my act together and polish a few things.
#16 #2 for Kindle reads under 45 minutes in the Science Fiction & Fantasy section. LOL. If we could just segment it a bit finer, I might make #1.
One of the most common survey questions, and one that has become a staple of everything from Presidential elections to college interviews, is "What is your favorite Book." This is a question that you and I might (or might not) answer honestly with a friend in a bar, but almost no one answers honestly for publication. The vast majority of the answers are public posturing, selections made to make one look bright or engaged or intellectual, and not honest answers. Presidential candidates get asked to provide their current reading list and I would bet $100 that they have staff members huddle around working on the list that portrays their candidate the best. I would be shocked if even 20% of these 50 answers at the link were honestly their favorite books.
I am not sure there is a way to get an honest answer, but if I had to ask the question, I would ask, "what books have your read more than once?"
PS - I do have to recognize Robin Williams choice of the Foundation novels and in particular his statement that the Mule was his favorite character in fiction. For those who know the books (and the Foundation is definitely on my list of books I have read more than once), the Mule is a fascinating choice for Robin Williams to have made.
I have no data on it, but "Dust" must be up there somewhere. Was looking for a book of that name and found five zillion different ones on Amazon.
One thing I think I have never mentioned before on this site is that in college, I was a fanatical bridge player. I developed this odd social life of bridge in the afternoon and beer pong at night. When I got tired of playing other students, my friend and I would go into town and play the local residents, who were sharks.
Anyway, people new to bridge are always intimidated by bidding, and certainly there is a learning curve there (which I made worse by using the Precision rather than the Goren standard system). But with some time, bidding becomes rote. Only perhaps in one in ten or twenty hands is the last increment of bidding expertise really useful, and then usually only when playing duplicate where even a few extra points really matter.
Once your bidding is mostly up to snuff, the game is all about card play. A good player will play out the entire hand, with guesses as to which cards are held by which players, before the first card is led.
The single best book I have ever read on card play is Card Play Technique by Mollo and Gardener. Thirty years ago there was about one source for this often out-of-print book and I bought a dozen copies, slowly giving most of them away over time. Now, however, it is back in print. If you play bridge, you have probably read this book, but if not, buy yourself a copy for Christmas.
Apparently, a company named "Sumpto" has adopted a business model right out of my novel BMOC (written about 7 years ago). This is a scene where entrepreneur Preston Marsh is interviewing and trying to recruit the protagonist Susan out of business school. They are discussing the business model of his company called BMOC. Half of its business model was that companies paid BMOC to place their products in the hands of influential high school students.
[Marsh:] The real innovation, though is… do you know what a product placement is?”
[Susan:] “Sure. It’s when a company pays to get their product into a TV show or movie – like when Reese’s pieces were used in the movie ET or I guess if you showed Seabiscuit eating Purina Horse Chow.”
“Exactly! And product placements are particularly effective. They act like an ad but they can’t be ignored like an ad. Anyway, we have taken product placements one step further: We get paid by major manufacturers to place their products not in movies but in the hands of the most popular kids in high school, the ones who really lead opinion as to what’s cool and not cool who we…”
“Who you happen to have on retainer anyway.”
“Exactly. But be careful how you think about ‘on retainer.’ The natural reaction is to assume this means money, but in our case it’s not. We keep the most popular people on retainer merely by …”
“Giving them free products,” Susan interrupted again, with growing excitement, “that manufacturers are already paying you to put in their hands.”
This is from Sumpto's web site. (You will have to click through, for some reason even copying it as text is crashing my site, not sure why).
A big hat tip to reader Don, who not only found the site but paid me the indirect complement of having remembered my book. Thanks!
Yet another case when I was 7-10 years too early (at Mercata were were about 10 years too early to cash in on social media as Groupon did with a similar model to ours). But honestly, I was trying to make up quasi-outrageous business models. For god sakes the other two major business ventures in the book were building fountains to harvest the coins thrown in them and selling musical tones for elevators. I had no idea I should have been getting venture funding.
By the way, for the dozens of my literary fans, I am almost done with my next book, which is really going to be good. This novel writing thing really is about practice. Teasers to follow...
I recently discussed a book that sucks, so here is one that does not suck: Wool. I am not sure what makes it so compelling, but I had a lost couple of days when I blew off what I was supposed to be doing and read all of the first five books (the first few are short so that all five are only about 500 pages altogether).
I don't know how many of you read it, but for me Wool seems to echo many themes from A Canticle for Leibowitz. The series are totally different in style and content and story-telling and characters, but none-the-less they both address themes like the recurrence, almost cyclicality, of man's failings and the role of rules (even arbitrary rules) and authority in breaking or reinforcing these cycles.
And speaking of things this novel reminded me of, in the latter parts of the anthology we are introduced in Wool to a sort of instruction manual for the state that is a kind of dark version of Seldon's psycho-history in the Foundation novels.
The whole novel is familiar and highly creative at the same time. Go buy it.
In the current novel I am writing, set in the future, the dollar has collapsed and everyone uses something called "zons" instead, a currency backed not by gold or the full faith and credit of the US Government (lol) but on the stable pricing and the promise of redemption at Amazon.com. Yesterday, reality overran this admittedly small element of my story. I will need to write faster.
Apparently, the home in which L. Ron Hubbard invented Scientology is right here in Phoenix. In fact, it is right by my kids' school and I drive past it almost every day. In the next few days I will take a camera and snap a picture or two.
I was a fan of Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth" (the book, not the movie) as a young adult -- it is a classic example of 1950's pulp science fiction -- though I picked it up a few years ago out of nostalgia and found that it did not wear very well. I do not know much about Scientology, though I wonder why folks who go all-in for it aren't at least a bit suspicious of a religion involving ancient aliens that was cooked up by a science fiction writer.
The whole thing makes for a fascinating story, and I think it would be fabulous book material for someone who is not either a proselytizing Scientologist or an angry ex-Scientologist with an ax to grind.
It appears that a scene in the Fountainhead that I thought was a facetious absurdity actually occurred:
No Cosmo-Slotnick building
Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story (I kid you not).
Some of the reviews are classic, though I am disappointed many of them are "please remove this book." Why should we let this jerk hide? The book up with its amazing irony and spate of scathing review comments is much better than being disappeared.
Well, I finished Reamde this weekend. It was only OK. It is a straight up modern adventure book, like perhaps a Vince Flynn novel, chasing terrorists around the globe. I enjoy Stephenson for his big, sometimes outrageous ideas, his witty prose, and his love affair with the geek culture. Except for the latter, none of this is in evidence in this book. It is certainly a more popularly accessible book, but that is certainly not what I want from Stephenson.
Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash are among my favorite novels. One of the reason I liked them were for the prose he brought to bear on even (or especially) trivial topics. His long passages on eating Cap'n Crunch or getting wisdom teeth removed in Cryptonomicon are classics. I got very little of this kind of thrill in Reamde, made worse by the fact that there were just too many main characters, none of whom were very well developed for me.
At some points, this book held my attention, and at some points it dragged. The book in some ways is almost the same structure as a comedic farce -- a whole bunch of characters who are dragged along by events into increasingly unlikely circumstances. There is no looming event or goal that drives the narrative in a, say, Clancy novel. Its just a lot of falling into one mess after another. Its also a bit unseriousness - it feels like the teens in Scooby Doo chasing terrorists. (One problem is that Stephenson's bad guys are too likable - they are always smart and ironic gentlemanly - so its hard to get as worked up about heading them off as one might in a classic thriller).
Some playwright or critic once wrote (sorry, can't remember the name) that if you put a gun out on the stage in Act 1, someone better use it in Act 3. (OK, it was Chekov, though why he said "gun" rather than "phaser" is beyond me). In this book, Stephenson leaves guns unused all over the stage. In particular, Stephenson comes up with one of his patented interesting-crazy ideas of using an MMRPG to crowd-source security analysis. I felt sure that in the manhunts that followed, that particular gun would be picked up and used to help drive to the climax, but we never hear of it again. In fact, we learn a lot of interesting things about this game in the book, which seems to be absolutely central to the plot, but in the end turns out to be entirely peripheral, an early macguffin to kick start the plot.
Another example is the HUGE amounts of the book go to talking about an interesting social realignment happening in the game, to absolutely no end. OK, so characters have abandoned the good and evil alignments put in by the game masters for a new emergent faction division. I thought sure we would see some kind of real-world parallel to this happening in the book, or some insight drawn from this that helps solve the real world problem. Nothing.
Overall, a disappointing book I would not have finished had it not been by Stephenson.
Postscript: If you become interested in the dynamics of the MMRPG in the book, where there are no character levels (only a skill system) and money and money making is central to the the game, the closest analog I have ever seen is not a fantasy game but EVE Online, a space-based game (also, to a lesser extent, Star Wars Galaxies as well, but that is now defunct). EVE Online probably has the most interesting economy of any MMRPG I have played and I know they employ an economist who sometimes writes articles about his work.
Amazon is promising textbook rentals on the Kindle that could save 80% over the cost of buying new. That is good news, and any competition to break up the cozy and price-inflated textbook market is welcome.
But Amazon is going to have to rethink the Kindle and its software before this is ever going to work. I am a huge fan of the Kindle (though I have switched my reading to the Kindle app on the iPad). But it works best reading a book straight through. Want to page back and find a particular section -- good luck. The iPad app actually works better, with a touch screen slider that allows a little better browsing. But for textbooks, they really need some kind of page navigation like coverflow in the iPod (which I hate by the way in the iPod but would love for pages in a textbook).
I have been an Amazon Prime customer for years, and have been very satisfied to get the free two-day shipping. And they have always done a good job with this, and in the past I have had literally hundreds of shipments in a row arrive on time.
However, two of my last three orders have been late, and the last order, which should have been here on Thursday, still, two days later, has not arrived despite the fact the system says it was delivered June 23 at 12:54.
But it is actually fairly easy to figure out why the service has deteriorated. On both these late orders, Amazon used the USPS to deliver the package. That explains a lot. The USPS has awful, unreliable service and has absolutely no package tracking capability. Not only is it my package missing, but neither Amazon, myself, or the USPS have any way to find out where it is.
This is awful service. I am not only a pretty high-volume customer, but I have paid an annual fee to get premium shipping -- and I can tell you that there is likely no one on Earth who considers the USPS a premium shipping option. If they keep sending my 2-day packages snail mail, there will no longer be any point to being a prime member. Maybe they will offer a super-prime membership sometime in the future that guarantees they will not use USPS (though I suppose I can get this now by clicking the one-day shipping button and paying the $3 or whatever it is extra).
I have bought numerous audio and video Teaching Company courses and have never been disappointed. Until tomorrow they are having a 70% off sale on many of their courses.
A few I have heard and would recommend:
Modern Western Civ (I am doing this one now)
History of Ancient Rome (not rated as well on this site but this is probably my favorite)
I am kind of amazed how long the list is, but I have actually listened to several others I would not recommend or that are not on sale.
Update: Use coupon code VFRC to get an additional $20 if you spend over $50. By the way, I don't get any commissions. I just believe in the product.
Last week I asked readers to help me remember the name of a science fiction book centered around an OCD man who has to carefully follow a specific routine or else reality unravels, an event that leaves the world subtly, or sometimes not so subtly, changed.
The book is called Resonance, and I re-read it this weekend. I had forgotten a lot of it but it really is a terrific, under-hyped book. There is real suspense as the unraveling of the world accelerates and our hero starts to better understand exactly what is going on. What I enjoyed the most was how there were two people in the book who had special, err, powers but who initially totally interpreted what these powers were or how they worked.
I have never seen a paperback version of it, but commenters tell me you can find it in the Baen free library (if so, that is a screaming deal because this is a pretty good book) and it is available on the Kindle.