Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Traditions

I haven't posted much the last few days because of a new cold, busyness, and a medical tradition my family started a few years ago where every Thanksgiving something goes wrong and involves a trip to the hospital. Here's an excerpt from an email I sent to our extended family this morning:

"So this year, we thought we'd gotten away scott free with our annual holiday tradition of visiting the hospital - in '06 is was mom's appendix, in '07 it was dad's fall [where he broke two femurs and a hip], in '08 dad bonked his head and shoulder, but thanksgiving came and went this year without mishap. We thought my mom's hip would be the next medical mountain to tackle, but noooo.... dad had his eyes set on glory this year.

So long story short, dad's happily checking out of the hospital right now and HE IS OKAY AND HAPPY AND HEALTHY. (Those all-caps letters were just in case you opened this email and wanted skip down to make sure things were alright.) He had some trouble with the ol' plumbing and he and I checked into the Hospital yesterday afternoon. He had the brilliant idea of not wanting to worry Mom or Nana so we had to pretend we were sneaking out to do some last-minute christmas shopping.

After five visits with the excellent PA who managed his care, four different nurses who tried to draw blood, three decision reversals of whether he wanted to be admitted overnight, two fainting spells, and one failed attempt to catheterize him, we decided it'd be best to check in for a long winter's nap overnight so surgery could happen as early as possible this morning. Extra points for those of you who caught the "Twas The Night Before Christmas" AND the "12 Days Of Christmas" references in the last sentence.

Anyhow, he was very well taken care of overnight, they operated this morning and removed two rather large kidney stones and fixed that annoying stricture he's had for years. He is happy and feels great and I'm sure after some rest would love to hear from all of you. Make sure to poke fun at him a little bit, especially given the part of the body the poor guy had operated on this morning.

We love you all very much, are very grateful for living close by each other, and for having happy and healthy family this year. (Knock on wood, cross your fingers, and wrap your parents in styrofoam.)

Happy Christmukkah,

RK

Do you and your family have any nontraditional traditions for the holiday seasons?

Reviews: Gathering Storm

In order to paint a picture of what kind of books I'm going to be reading and why, I think it might be helpful to do a bit of retrospective of what books I've read thus far and what I got from them. So over the next couple weeks I'll post a few reviews a day. I'll be culling these reviews from my Goodreads.com page, with minor contexual tweaks.

The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time, #12; A Memory of Light, #1)

(Yes, this is a terrible, terrible book cover.)

The first one is the most recent volume of Robert Jordan's epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. Jordan died two years ago, and so the 13th volume had to be completed by a stand-in, Brandon Sanderson, and supervised by Jordan's wife and editor, Harriet. The Gathering Storm debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and fortunately lived up to the hype.

I was very happy to delve back into this incredibly detailed world to find an amazing new-and-almost-final volume of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series. The latter 5-6 books of the series started to lag, and when each book runs 600+ pages, that begins to be noticeable rather quickly. When the author writing this enormous epic series dies before the series ends, it should be even more noticeable.


But hats off to Robert Jordan's editor (and amazing wife) Harriet and her choice to finish the series, Brandon Sanderson. This could have been bad. Like really bad. Like worse than the worst of the last 5 books. But it wasn't. Sanderson is able to find Jordan's voice so well that it's pretty much indistinguishable which parts had been completed by Jordan and which parts Brandon handled. He was also able to wrap up an amazing amount of loose ends, even for 700+ pages. He did this without seeming too hand-holding.

Sadly, fantasy authors are so verbose that there are still two more volumes of this last volume of the series. 20 years later, we'll finally know what happens. Happily, I still can't wait to find out what happens.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Perspective

If you're looking for some perspective today...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Neil Diamond covers Adam Sandler

This is amazing. I can die now.

Organizing

To read 100 books in one year, you could do one of three things:

1. Don't think about your next book and just pick up whatever looks interesting. Repeat 99 times.

2. Keep to your normal to-read list, but just accelerate a bit.

3. Plan

I'm not a very organized person (but I do like organization - go figure that out). So planning this out seemed like a good idea. What does this entail?

I have a google spreadsheet that lays out books I've added to my list. After I've pre-approved a book for my list, the title goes in the first column. Right now you're thinking "this is a to-read list, and you're boring." But no. There are other columns. This is where I veer off the beaten path.

In addition to the author's name, I have the following columns: own, fiction, nonfiction, dead, nwm, and pages.

  • Little x's in the first extra column, "own," keep track of what I need to buy or borrow, and to make sure I'm reading enough of the books that have been sitting on my shelves for years. Nothing's sadder than a book purchased and then never read.
  • As I started to think of books I'd want to read next year, at first it was nearly all nonfiction. I'm trying to become more informed about the world, so that's where my head went. But I like fiction, and reading fiction is faster for me. So I added a fiction and a nonfiction column, again with x's marking which is which. This way I can pretty easily see if I have a good mix.
  • When I started to add more fiction, it began as a bunch of classics I've been meaning to read. This would be a good thing because it'd help me understand people when they mention Mr. Darcy, Leopold Bloom, or Dorian Grey. But it's also a bad thing because one year of solely nonfiction and classics would turn reading into a chore - so I wanted to make sure I mixed in some modern fiction. Rather than keeping track of publication dates, I added a "dead" column - making a gut check about the author's mortality (sometimes with help from Wikipedia). [I should be better about verification: one Halloween I dressed up as a zombie doctor, calling myself Dr. Heimlich. (He has a maneuver.) The only problem was that Dr. Heimlich was - and remains - alive and well.] The list now contains the one Chuck Palahniuk book I haven't read, as well as some of my guilty pleasures (sci fi etc) to help speed things along.
  • Another thing that becomes quickly apparent when you assemble a reading list is that the authors tend to resemble the management of Sterling Cooper. Not too many women or people of color. This is confirmed when you look at top ten reading lists and other collections. There may be more white male published authors in total, but I am absolutely certain that white men don't produce markedly better books than others. Racism and sexism still exist in the publishing world. So I added a "nonwhitemale" ("nwm") column just to keep track. I wasn't doing too badly before, but I've started to focus a bit more on female and nonwhite (usually international) authors.
  • The last column is for page numbers. After adding monstrosities like Infinite Jest and Team of Rivals to the list, I did some addition and found that 300,000 pages wouldn't be doable for a book critic, let alone someone with a job, a wife, and a rudimentary social life. So to counteract the longer books I do want to read, I kept track of page number so I could add some shorter books to average things out a bit (Nicholson Baker is a great remedy).
This list isn't set in stone, and I take things off when I feel like it. There are 67 books on there as of now, and I don't want to add too many more to leave room for new books, recommendations, and other work by authors I discover I enjoy.

Stepping back a bit, it's kind of fun to be able to plan out your own reading list - it's making me think about what I read for, and what I'm not reading. The spreadsheet helps, as does goodreads.com. Highly recommended site if you're not already on it - perfect for when you read about a book that looks interesting but don't want to buy it immediately.

How do you keep track of books you want to read - or don't you? Any columns I should add?

I suppose I'll find out in a year if planning was a good choice.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Intro

This might be a chronicle of failure, and that might not be a bad thing.

I'm hoping it follows a happy achievement, but I'm just putting it out there, here in the beginning, that in one year's time I could be cursing myself for ever Googling "blogger," clicking on the first convenient search result, letting blogger.com's home page sit in one of my first few Firefox tabs for several weeks before finally starting a blog to chronicle this absurd idea.

And yes, I mean absurd. The idea, if I haven't faint-heartedly/sheepishly/braggatorily/terrifiedly told you already, is to read 100 books in 2010. That's 365 days, 100 books, generously giving me two books to read per week, with some loose change to account for a few nervous breakdowns and occipital lobe seizures. With the average book weighing in at a bit over 300 pages (according to my imagination), that's 100 pages a day. Ish.

To say I've anticipated the first question people usually give in response to this (why???!?!) would be silly - I ask myself the same thing every time I open my google spreadsheet keeping track of my book plan. (More on that later.) But in terms of the reason for this... it's that I like reading. Reading's always made me happy, pushed my brain and curiosity, and given me things to talk to other people about. It's made me get through the quiet hours of only child-dom, inspired me to care about things I wouldn't normally know about, entertained me, trained my vocabulary, inspired me to change majors, helped me land a wife, and made me feel whole. During the periods of my life when I've not read much, I can feel the lacking. When I'm curling up with a book every night (and walking on sidewalks with my nose buried in one, and sneaking a few lines whenever I possibly can), I feel better. So it's mostly because of that. And to be honest, failing at the goal of 100 books in one year wouldn't be the worst thing in the world - it will likely be more books I've read in a year in my life. Finishing in March 2011 wouldn't be a bad thing.

The larger goal is to enjoy it.

And why blog it? Well, if I stop posting all of a sudden, my family will have an idea about my last whereabouts. Additionally, I thought it might be interesting to follow what pursuing a goal like this means, and how I'll invent justifications for failure when I'm at book 59 in October.

Oh, and one final thing - the name Qualiteracy came about because I thought I was being clever and joining the word qualia with literacy. For those who haven't taken a psych course in a while, qualia is the subjective experience of brain function. I'm hoping that this will be a chronicle of the experience of trying to stay literate in a faster, more internet-focused, attention-deficit world that seems to prize idiocy. One more small candle in the dark. Or at least a mirror reflecting legitimate candles.

Or something. Here goes!