Sea of Noise

Fri, 06 Jun 2008

LibraryThing Top 106 Unread Books

I figured it was time for me to play along with this, since a few do, indeed, show up in the pile of books I own but haven't yet read. (Admittedly, I'm fuzzy on a few of them.) I confess that I would have read more of Jane Austen's books if there weren't so many excellent movies made of them. And the ones I haven't finished will probably get finished someday—I didn't finish Atlas Shrugged the first time, either. I like to read fiction straight through and it's tough for me to get started again when I'm interrupted mid-book.

Below is a list of the top 106 books tagged unread on LibraryThing.

The rules:
bold = what you've read
italics = books you started but couldn't finish
crossed out = books you hated
*= you've read more than once
underline = books you own but haven't read yourself

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Sun, 27 Apr 2008

Self-Storage Costs for My Book Collection

So, I'm planning to move to some as-yet-unknown city for grad school a year from now, and I'm trying to decide how aggressively to prune my book collection. After some initial pruning, I'm at 2001 books. I can probably find another dozen or two that I won't miss much, but I'm basically at the point where I have to ask myself whether the cost of storing them for five years (either in self-storage or via renting a larger apartment) exceeds their replacement cost minus whatever I can get for them at the local used book store.

400-500 of these books are part of my working library (mostly economics, math, and computing) that will need to be at hand in my home or office. But if I keep the remaining 1500-1600 they could be stored at the cheapest facility available. Climate control probably isn't necessarily, but since I'll also be storing my equally-massive LP collection (another weeding-out problem I'll face!), I'm going to assume that I'll be buying climate-controlled space that is as cheap on the margin at non-climate-controlled space. From some quick research, it looks as though long-term storage is available as cheap as $1/square foot.

Let's say that I buy an extra 25 square feet for my books. Assuming I use standard 12"x15" cardboard boxes and stack them four levels high, that's room for 80 boxes. (That might be a tight fit, but I could adjust by using some shelving to get them stacked higher than 4 boxes.)

Here's the trickiest part: how many books can I fit in each box? I happen to have eight boxes full of books right now and on average they're holding 21.625 books. (The biased nature of this sample probably underestimates the carrying capacity of the boxes for my average book, but let's go with it for now.) So this suggests that I can fit a total of 1730 books in a 5x5 self-storage space without getting into elaborate structural engineering to take full advantage of the 10 foot high ceilings some places advertise.

So, we're assuming 25 square feet at $25/month for the five years it should take to finish a Ph.D. That's $1500. Divide by 1730 books and that's about 87 cents per book. Of course, I may not fill the space completely, and there will eventually be some transportation costs to get the books to wherever I end up (as well as cost of capital). I think I can ignore the integer problem, even though technically it means the cost of storage may be zero at the margin. Let's call it $1/book--maybe half that for small paperbacks and twice or more for stuff like atlases.

From one angle, that's a pretty low number. From another, it seems profligate. I suppose the truth is somewhere in between. Certainly, looking at the lifetime cost of holding onto a book, owning some of those cheap sci-fi paperbacks or Dilbert cartoon collections doesn't seem worthwhile. And, while I do re-read many of my books and tend to have broad and obscure tastes not always well-served by the local library, the existence of a thick market for used books via the Internet makes it seem like a distributed peer-to-peer library. Many books--even some that are out-of-print--can be had for a penny plus $3.99 shipping. And, of course, most of these books would net me at least a token amount if I sold them.

It seems that if I'm not sure I'll still want to own a given book five years from now, or if it's one whose price will continue to fall over the next five years, I might as well sell it or give it away. On the other hand, an obscure and/or rare book is well worth the $1 it will cost to store. In the end, I'm not sure how much this analysis really helps: it makes it easier to let go of some books, but it still leaves hundreds in the grey, fat margin of uncertainty.

I guess the next step is to cull some books and get used to the idea of having less stuff. Maybe the real cost of having so much stuff has nothing to do with the price of self-storage?

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Mon, 30 Jul 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Now that I've had a chance to recover from an intensive re-reading of the series and a marathon reading of the final book, it's time to write down a few thoughts while the details are fresh in my mind. I have the feeling I'll be thinking about this series for a long time, though...

Here's a spoiler-free review (save for the broad outline). (If you like it, please give me a thumbs-up on the LibraryThing page for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.)

Far more than any previous book in the series, Deathly Hallows is not for those who haven't read the preceding books. Indeed, I was happy I had resisted the urge to jump in before finishing my re-reading of the previous six books. For the devoted fan, though, Deathly Hallows wraps up the series quite well: masks are removed and accounts are settled.

Whereas each of the previous six books, especially the first four, had their own mini-arc that was satisfying in itself, the pleasure in Deathly Hallow comes from seeing Rowling weave together the threads of the backstory to bring the tapestry of the entire series into focus.

Having read a fair bit of Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces--as well as plenty of fairy stories, legends, and mythology--I felt confident that I knew the broad outlines of the conclusion to the Harry Potter story; and I had guessed the identity of the mysterious R.A.B. and sussed out which team Snape was playing on. My guesses were correct, but that didn't spoil the pleasure of learning the details. Nor did it keep me from being surprised occasionally, e.g. by Dumbledore.

In some ways, I found the story of the "deathly hallows" a bit of a distraction. On the other hand, the presence of a yoni/lingam symbol on the jacket of a children's book (at least in the UK edition) was amusing and got me looking more deeply at the other symbols in the story. Indeed, this was the first book in the series that I felt was solidly more mythical than muggle.

As expected, people (and other creatures) die. I don't fault Rowling for that, but I often felt that their deaths were "wasted"--that they were killed off with little meaning or chance to mourn. I was also disappointed that some characters who played a large role in earlier books were almost unheard from here, though to be fair we do a satisfying bit about other characters. I was pleased, though, that by the end of the story all of the characters were more human (even the ones who weren't, strictly speaking, human).

The final chapter was a shock at first, in that its tone was so different from the rest of the book. (I was reminded of the final chapter of A Clockwork Orange--the one that was left out of the US edition.) But as I lived with the story for a couple of post-Potter days, I realized that it was perfectly appropriate. The Harry Potter story has, at times, been delightfully subversive--even "queer". But, for the most part, the virtues of Harry Potter are bourgeois ones, and the boon he wins is an appropriate one.

Thank you, Ms. Rowling, for an immensely enjoyable seven books!

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Tue, 24 Jul 2007

LibraryThing's New Tagmash Feature

Reason #132 that I love LibraryThing: erotica & zombies tagmash.

Where else would you find such a... useful? feature?

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Mon, 24 Jul 2006

You Know You're Getting Old When...

...the average age of a book in your collection is older than some of your friends!

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Fri, 07 Oct 2005


Here's a fun new site I'm playing with: LibraryThing. Catalog your books, find people with similar interests, then export your data to a CSV file and take it with you. What's not to love?

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Thu, 16 Dec 2004

O'Reilly Open Books Project

Yet another reason O'Reilly is my favorite publisher: the Open Books Project.

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Wed, 06 Oct 2004

Women, Culture, and Writing Erotica

Ann Regentin's essay "And I've Never Been to Mars: Women, Culture and Writing Erotica" considers the way female writers of erotica are perceived:

Erotica writers, like other writers, are often good at getting into heads that are quite different from their own and while some of us are autobiographers, certainly not all of us are and if we're doing our jobs right, it's impossible to tell the difference.

But "women erotica writers are constantly at risk of falling prey to the virgin/whore complex."

Every time an outwardly normal, intelligent woman is found to write erotica, the general response is shocked surprise. How could [Dominique] Aury, known to be modest almost to a fault in public, have written something as incendiary as The Story of O? Surely there would have been some sign, some indication?

[via jrfrench]

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Wed, 29 Sep 2004

Alison Bechdel Interview

Rex Wockner interviewed Alison Bechdel (who draws Dykes to Watch Out For) recently:

Rex: You like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy?
Alison: I love it. It clings to this outdated notion that gay guys really are different from straight guys. I do want to think that there's something special about us. I hate to believe that we really are just like everyone else.

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Tue, 28 Sep 2004

Can You Improve On "Mostly Harmless"?

The BBC is running a contest in conjunction with its new version of the Hitchhiker's Guide TV series: describe Earth in exactly 264 words. [via]

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Wed, 22 Sep 2004

Pillow Talk As A Blog


An example of Bryar in action: Simon Cozens is translating Sei Shonagon's 10th-century classic Pillow Book and posting it in the form of a blog. I can't vouch for the accuracy of the translation, but what a cool idea! [via boingboing]

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Tue, 14 Sep 2004


If you love a book, set it free...

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Thu, 22 Jul 2004


Eric Eldred went to Walden to print and give away copies of Thoreau's most famous work. Bitter irony ensued.

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Reading At Risk

The National Endowment for the Arts reports that Americans who have read literature in the past year are now the minority. Participation has declined across all demographic groups, and overall reading has also declined. Most troubling, the decline is steepest in the youngest groups.

The NEA's alarmist conclusions may be a bit overstated. It's not clear to me that their focus on "literature", rather than reading in general, is appropriate. Also, they cite increased participation in online media, video games, and the like as one reason for the decline in "reading literature", and point to a decline in participation in traditional cultural events as a consequence; but this may simply reflect their prejudice in favor of traditional literary forms and artistic endeavors (e.g. novels and plays) as against new forms (e.g. blogs or shared virtual worlds). Finally, while they point to a correlation between the groups that read literature and the groups that participate in civic life, they do nothing to demonstrate that a decline in reading causes a decline in civic participation.

I am troubled by the trends revealed in the NEA's report; but the NEA could do a far better job of understanding the problem and its causes and effects.

[via plastic]

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Wed, 14 Jul 2004

Tom Swift

Like many sci-fi fans, I read quite a few Tom Swift stories as a lad. (I still remember where they were shelved in my local library...) The Original Tom Swift Series Public Domain Texts handily collects those that have escaped into the public domain. Whether for nostalgia, entertainment, or a look at the way our culture has changed over the past 90+ years, they're worth a read. [via metafilter]

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Thu, 01 Jul 2004

New Haven Book Bank

For our readers in the New Haven, Connecticut area, another exciting source of used books: The Book Bank.

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Mon, 28 Jun 2004

Loompanics Unlimited

Few companies have served the needs of the fringe reader longer or better than Loompanics.

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Fri, 18 Jun 2004

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

Matt Feeney has written a perceptive and provacative review about a provocative book: Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities by Alexandra Robbins:

Dwelling on these public health risks inevitably serves to justify an expansion of authority for campus behavior cops and campus experts in mental hygiene. This authoritarian tendency is ubiquitous in Pledged. Robbins observes that "[e]veryday life in a sorority house generally goes unsupervised. The only adult who lives there is the 'House Mom.' . . ." It's disconcerting to have to point out to a recent college graduate that most sorority houses are populated exclusively by "adults," as that term is legally understood. It's even more disconcerting to register a hankering to impose a more exacting regime of supervision on these adults. But this is exactly what Robbins is up to.

. . .

But this emphasis on top-down authoritarian corrections prevents her from making a much more telling criticism of sororities. The intellectually honest thing would be to admit that some sorority girls have a total blast--and then to acknowledge how that might be the real problem. A university education is supposed to be about the cultivation of certain tastes, the refinement of one's capacity to experience pleasure. It's hard to see how sorority fun accords with this, and, thus, why sororities should be officially recognized student organizations. It would be refreshing to hear a college administrator address the issue of sororities not as an excuse to expand administrative authority over student behavior but to assert the primacy of a liberal arts education in an increasingly corporate university environment: If college women want to form exclusive social groups off campus, without a university imprimatur--a college president might say--they should be free to do that. But a college education should be about the cultivation of those pleasures specifically associated with liberal learning.

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Thu, 17 Jun 2004



In honor of Bloomsday: read Ulysses online.

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Tue, 08 Jun 2004

Fukuyama Reviews Huntington

Francis Fukuyama offers a thoughtful review of Samuel Huntington's Who Are We?: The Challenges to America's National Identity:

I am glad that a scholar like Huntington has raised these issues, since they deserve serious discussion and should not be left to the likes of Pat Buchanan and worse to promote. Huntington poses some real questions about whether the large Mexican immigrant population will assimilate as other immigrant groups have done before them. The most troubling statistics are those showing them moving up the socioeconomic ladder more slowly in the third generation than other groups have. He is right that "culture matters" (the title of one of his previous books), and he is right that the thoughtless promotion of multiculturalism and identity politics threatens important American values. But his book, ironically, offers grist for a rather different perspective on the problem: Who Are We? suggests that the more serious threat to American culture comes perhaps from its own internal contradictions than from foreigners.

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