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June 28, 2011


So, talk about...summertime.

The livin' is easy.

Sprog#2's SF choices, while I read them at a younger age than 15, bring back more of a pleasant summer reading feel.

My sister just retired from a career as a middle and/or high school librarian. Over the years she's turned me on to some seriously good YA literature.

Highly recommended: The Book Thief. I'm sure kids of about 14 and up can read it, but it's not just for kids. It's just a really good novel.

Talking about teaching reading, my other sister taught me to read when I was about four. I read before I got into kindergarten, and I owe it to my sis.

For my personal summer reading I'm thinking of digging into Mark Twain.

That, and I'm also re-reading for the nth time African Rhythm and African Sensibility, by John Chernoff, which is basically the story of one man's love affair with African culture disguised as a work of musicology. If the topic is of any interest, I highly recommend it.

Summer is when it's dead easy to follow the Michael Pollan diet ("eat food, not too much, mostly plants") and feel like every day is a feast.

What can I say, radishes make me giddy.

radishes make me giddy.

You're so full of whimsy.

Which gets me to my current bugbear, I just got an iPad 2 and have downloaded a few books. Unfortunately, the apple ibook store here in Japan is crap, with nothing but Project Gutenberg e-texts. (not that it's crappy to read that stuff and it's great to read it for free, but it would be nice to actually shop for some books) On the other hand, the kindle i-pad app lets you shop at Amazon, but the kindle versions seem to basically have no attention to the formatting. I got Odysseus in America by Jonathan Shay (Achilles in Vietnam is a must read if you are interested in questions of PTSD) The book consists of looking at the story by Homer and seeing how much the problems that first Achilles and then Odysseus faced are similar to returning Vietnam vets. Unfortunately, the book has large passages taken from the vets he is counselling, and the formatting screws it up totally. In checking other books, a lot of them don't even have an active table of contents where you could jump to the chapter and some have lines that run off the page and the like. I want to buy more books, but $10 a pop basically for them running it thru an app that makes it into a crappy pdf seems a little steep. Anyone else going the book reader route with an ipad, kindle or nook?

Dang, I didn't cut and paste the first part of my comment. The mention of English and Social studies reminds me of some interesting research that can be seen at liveink.com. It is basically a natural language processor for English that returns text in a cascaded format which is supposed to make it easier for beginning readers to handle, but also reduce eye strain for all readers. The ultimate goal, I think, is to be able to put this in an e-reader and get this format with a touch of a button. They are only doing pilot studies with English and Social Studies because they felt that science texts are often too intimately tied to illustrations and graphs and so can't be easily reformatted on the fly.

I would not choose Confederacy of Dunces for middle-schoolers; would perhaps replace it with Catch 22.

Instead of the Heinlein, I'd go with Dune or Niven/Pournelle's Lucifer's Hammer or Brunner's The Sheep Look Up or Willis's Doomsday Book

For my personal summer reading I'm thinking of digging into Mark Twain.

Roughing It is a good place to start.

The effort required to read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in sequence will be amply repaid; and more perfect summer reading can scarce be imagined.

And do not negelect Letters From Earth, which IMHO contains some of Twain's best.

As a kid in the summer all I did was read and go to the swimming pool.

I would come home from the library with ten books, every day. They had a summer reading program where you would list the books you read and they would accuse me of lying when I kept adding ten books every day.

At noon, we'd go to the pool.

Reading books and going swimming, it was a much better life than working for a living, no lie.

I never got over "Old Yeller" either, and I don't think my kids have ever seen it. It's not like they asked and I said no; by the time I had kids there was so much available that I don't think it ever crossed their radar, and I certainly wasn't going to encourage it.

Like Duff, I was once, as a child, chided by a librarian, in my case for taking out books and then bringing them back a few days later, not having read them (so she said).

I said I did read them, and she challenged me to tell her what was in one of them. At that time I was working my way through the Landmark Books, so I droned on to her at length about something or other - Daniel Boone, perhaps - til she told me to get lost.

But I sure never went at a ten books a day rate. In fact, our library had a limit: you couldn't take out more than four books at a time.

For lj -- I got a nook for Christmas but I didn't actually read a book on it til recently. I'm getting more comfortable with it little by little. I've tried some of the free public domain stuff (old classics), but they are crappily scanned in (Celia in Middlemarch became "celiac" at one point). But I've gotten nicely done editions of several old classics for prices like 2.99, 1.99, .99. Also -- after Slarti praised it -- Bill Bryson's "At Home." (Which I have now bogged down in, despite enjoying it at the start.)

I have also enjoyed several things that I've downloaded onto my laptop (never mind the fancy readers) for free, in both html and plain text formats, from Project Gutenberg. Last winter I reread "Bleak House" that way.

The other day I was in my local Barnes and Noble and I overheard a man at the customer service counter say, "I'm an old fart, and I've decided I should plunge into William Faulkner. Can you give me some advice about what to start with, and show me what you have?"

The B&N person said that she wasn't familiar enough with Faulkner to make any recommendations, but yes, they had a bunch of his novels and she would show him where they were.

I bit my tongue (none of my business! I get in trouble talking to strangers sometimes) on a very strong wish to tell him not to start with "The Sound and the Fury."

P.S. I glided over the fact that Doctor Science was talking about reading "Old Yeller." I never read it, I saw the movie when it came out in 1957 (I was 7). I can still see Travis (Tommy Kirk) aim that gun, and I guarantee I would start to cry if I tried to sing "Young Yeller was a puppy, a little lop-eared puppy, 'twas plain to see he had a family tree....."

Good lord.


I got a Kindle for xmas, and absolutely love it. You never run out of books, most of the classics are free (so for example I went through Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer for nothing), I can read a book on the computer at work and when I get home, my kindle knows what page I was on. Get the 3G version, which currently gives free 3G internet (doubt it will last long, and the interface sucks for the internet, but it is free). THe best part is when you are on the plane, the doors are shut, and you realize you have nothing to read. And then realize, you have almost everything ever written. It took about a day to realize that I would never go back to books.

Tell the sprog James is fine, but her view of human nature is pretty dark, and besides, Mr. Hyde has entered the realm of myth. The Killer Angles was said by the author to be a novel, and I'm inclined to take his word for it. For history, I'd read something like "the Great Mutiny," about the entire British Home Fleet mutinying while the French invaded Wales, which for some reason is seldom taught in history classes. As for romance, has your child read no P.G. Wodehouse? He was the master of romantic comedy, and has a prize named after him. Start with "Something Fresh." Sorry, I'm a bookseller, don't get me started.

You're so full of whimsy.


Reading books and going swimming, it was a much better life than working for a living, no lie.


"never go back to books"

The Kindle is nice, sure, but I like the heft and the smell of a book (like the perfume Jane Austen placed between her breasts for her secret crush to enjoy).

I love the essential thing-ness of a book. I love to read the brief explanations about the paper stock and typeface the writer and publisher put so much thought into.

I don't read like I used to because of a concentration malaise I've developed and that makes me sad.

I've been known to carry a gunny sack of books on a plane. I once hijacked a plane to Cuba by threatening to brain the pilot with the three-volume Pleiade edition of "Remembrance of Things Past". I bring a book to movies, but I never bring a movie to a book. I can set a book on the steering wheel on long road trips; can't really do that with a reading device.

Then again, that gives me two ways to doze off. Aghhhhhh! Who's driving this thing?!

I miss reading during summer vacation too.

I miss rousting out the other kids in the neighborhood and my brothers to play some pick up baseball on a rough field trampled down in a meadow surrounded by the woods on any old thickly humid summer Wednesday. Bring your sisters, too. Maybe we can field a full team. Share mitts. Here, use my t-shirt for second base. Thinking to oneself that maybe we can get the pretty neighbor girl, Nettie, to donate her shirt for third base, which gave new meaning to hitting a triple and being stranded on third.

One baseball, the stitching frayed. The big kid keeps hitting it into the trees and off we trudge, sisters exasperated, to conduct a search (O.K. everyone, spread out, in a Moe Howard voice) in a thorny thicket, which might so pleasurably turn out to be an old overgrown berry patch planted many decades ago before the suburbs arrived.

Then, in the silence of the heat pressing in on you, you notice the alarmingly loud cicadas thrumming.

Sweat. Salt. Sunburn.

Same time tomorrow? Anyone have a newer baseball, or maybe just ANOTHER baseball?

How about some kick the can in my yard after dinner tonight. We'll play until the fireflys begin to wink.

Catch them in bottle and set them on your dresser and watch until you drift to sleep.

It seems the world today, all of it, from morning to sunset, even the bits inside your head, is like an eternal Beirut.

Violent, malignant noise from all directions.

I recommend The Phantom Tollbooth for all ages and all seasons, but it's more oriented to middle school and below, I think. My 10-year-old picks it up from time to time and reads it front to back, because she's developed an appreciation for it.

Rocket Boys is a book that is suitable for young adults to adults, and is a good and interesting read, if not entirely historically accurate. It's a good story, even if much of it is biographical.

Catch-22 I read when I was in middle school; ditto M.A.S.H.. I think I'd also recommend much of William Goldman's work; it's suitable, frequently brilliant, and most of it not more confusing than Catch-22. I'd recommend Philip Roth, too, except for the various hazards in Portnoy's Complaint, one of which can be loosely described as 50 ways to love your liver.

Lately I've been catching up with Andrew Vacchs' work, which is probably not suitable for the general young adult crowd unless you want to familiarize them with the wonderful world of pedophilia and other child abuses, not to mention violence, extortion, and various con games.

That's it for me. Life's been busy of late; not much time for leisure reading.

Thanks Count, an astonishingly good memory of my summer days, and I miss them for my grandkids.

We stole my dad's electrical tape and ended up with a black baseball that worked just fine.

I sometimes wonder if it is a mistake to assign to middle-schoolers and most high-schoolers a steady diet of books that were not written for them, and expect them to come up with canned or otherwise approved "interpretations" of what they may not understand. Does this turn them off the habit of reading, which, itself, would eventually train them to the point where they seek more demanding fare? I have no idea, but I can't help wondering.

I see the problem less with the fact that kids are forced to read but what is done then with the read material. In my experience school is perfect in spoiling the fun of even the best book through 'interpretation' (even if it is not vulgary-Freudian). Living authors sometimes even agree. I heard some even object to the use of their books in school because of that effect.

Fer Heaven's sake, A Separate Peace? Still? That was one of our choices in HS in 1967.

Guess it's reached "classic" status.

We stole my dad's electrical tape and ended up with a black baseball that worked just fine.

I grew up in the 'burbs and we played ball in the street. Our baseball diamond was extremely elongated, like 100 feet long and 20 feet wide. We drew the bases on the asphalt with chalk.

If the ball hit an overhead electric wire or any part of a parked car while in play, the official call was "interference" and the at-bat was a do-over.

We couldn't play with a real baseball because if we did it would break stuff. So we played with balls made of sponge rubber. You bought them at the five and dime, they were cheaper than a real baseball but more expensive than a Spaulding. Spauldings, of course, were pronounced "Spaldeen" and were reserved for stickball or punchball.

My street was on a hill, and errors often resulted in the ball heading downhill to the storm drain. If the owner called "dibs" before it went down the grate, whoever hit it or touched it last was responsible for replacing it.

Kids are the original lawyers.

Local library allowed six books to be checked out at a time, so I routinely did, read, and returned a day or two later. Once I actually checked out six, read them all, and managed to return them before the library closed (at 5?) - they were nice enough to accept them and let me check out six more, but made it clear that this was one time only, because it messed up their records when books were checked out and returned on the same day.

Spauldings, of course, were pronounced "Spaldeen" and were reserved for stickball or punchball.

Spaldeens figure VERY heavily in Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude. If you've not read it, its a terrific piece of work, about growing up in slowly-gentrifying Brooklyn in the 70s and 80s.

Stickball: manhole cover as home plate, pitcher's poison when the players are few.

Anyone know about half-ball or Dutchball?

As a middle-schooler, I was inspired by Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time. I've gathered from modern reviews that it has a fair amount of Christian preaching in it, but as a Catholic school kid growing up I just ignored all that. What really got to me was that a (self-assessed) ugly, awkward GIRL with braces could be such a success. It was a message of hope in a world that said I was a failure.

Stickball: manhole cover as home plate, pitcher's poison when the players are few.

No pitcher. Fungo, one bounce.

I also enjoyed A Wrinkle In Time in middle school, although it wasn't assigned reading. Someone had to read my school library's entire science fiction section, and it turned out that someone was me.


There are some badly-scanned ebooks out there, but Project Gutenberg generally has good stuff that's been proofread. If you have a little spare time, you can volunteer with Distributed Proofreaders.
(It's a very small time commitment because people do only one page at a time. And it's just comparing the scanned image with the converted text, letter by letter--you don't have to know how to spell or anything like that.) I'm grateful to them, because badly scanned text drives me up a wall.

It's not just illegally-scanned ebooks that are full of scannos.* Some commercially-published ebooks seem to have been scanned on the cheap and converted without copyediting.

* "amd" is a typo for "and," because m is next to n on the keyboard.
"arid" is a scanno for "and," because the scanner can introduce a gap in the middle of the n.

The thing about pet death reminded me of this.


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