Sunday, March 31, 2013

3 Rules of Book Etiquette

Adam C. Zern shares a few thoughts on what not to do with your books:

"I admit I can be a somewhat quirky person.  I have some pet peeves that generally do not afflict other people.  For example, gum-popping makes me go into a Hulk-like rage, and often I have to physically remove myself from a situation in which someone is popping their gum before I become too agitated.  Therefore, the several 'do nots' of book etiquette below may not bother others all that much, but I think they're worth taking into consideration.

Reading in the Tub
1.) Do Not Read in the Tub: By way of full disclosure, I have read in the tub before.  Albeit, I did it when I was feeling rather ill and looking for anyway to distract myself.  I, of course, regretted reading in the tub since it's almost inevitable that some moisture found its way on the pages and it bugged me until I finished the book and shelved it.  Unlike oil and water, paper and water mix just fine.  It's just that the result is less than desirable, unless you're making paper mache.  The effects of wet pages can be that they get stuck together, get torn when you attempt to separate them, a swelling of the pages and therefore the book, and a general and overall ugliness of the book.  Reading and bathing are distinct activities that ought not to be combined.

2.) Do Not Dog-Ear: I honestly can't say how many people dog-ear their books.  I haven't for years
Dog Earing a Book
and years.  I have gone so far as to use an old receipt or a scrap of paper to mark my place in a book instead of dog-earing a page.  Not dog-earing a book is a simple way to keep your books in a good condition.  I like displaying the books I have read.  Each one is, in a sense, a personal trophy.  I don't want one of my trophies to be smudged or chipped.  Why would I want the same for a book?  Furthermore, if someone were to ever borrow a book from you, which I very much oppose, you wouldn't want to hand someone something that looks ill-kept.  It's just tacky.
3.) Do Not Bend the Cover or Spine: Perhaps more than the reading sins above, I find this one the most egregious.  A book is not a can of tuna needing to be pried open.  The eventual outcome of such stretching, pulling, and overall abuse is a lame and perpetually turned out book that usually can't stand straight up or be displayed with any degree of pride.  Magazines have flimsy covers because they're intended to be thrown out after a brief reading.  Books have a more sturdy nature and ought to be treated as a possession not as disposable garbage.
Bending cover and spine of a book
No doubt there are other shameful ways to treat books, but these are the most common in my experience.  'As long as they're reading,' some may say, 'who cares how they care for their books?'  Perhaps there is some truth to it, but I care for things I care about it.  And I really care about my books.  If you do as well, I think you'll avoid the above 'don'ts'.  Who knows?  Maybe it will make you appreciate books even more."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Reflections: Hyperion

Adam C. Zern offers some thoughts on Dan Simmons' Hyperion:

"I would imagine that Hyperion is a book that would frustrate a lot of people.  It's 482 pages of, as far as I'm concerned, exposition and back-story.  The conflict and pending resolution established at the beginning of the book is most certainly not resolved by the end of it.  The book chronicles the back-story of 6 characters, in lengthy and detailed flashbacks, which one would expect to culminate into the final conflict of the story.  This does not happen.  Instead the book ends with highly developed characters about to step into the darkness of the unknown and confront the antagonist without their or the readers knowing what the final outcome will be.

I approvingly say most of that.  Although I did feel a little let down the main conflict was not resolved by the end of the book, I wasn't dismissive.  Surely the resolution I was expecting occurs in the follow-up book, The Fall of Hyperion.  I just don't think I'll read it.  For as well written as Hyperion is, the book was just a little too much for me.  Too graphic, too coarse, too profane, and I think too gratuitous.  The author could have easily told his story without providing some of the more base details he does.  As they say, it wasn't my cup of tea. 

I must make mention of one thing in particular when it comes to Hyperion.  The main antagonist, the appropriately called Shrike, is quite possibly the most terrifying villain I have ever come across.  Worshiped by some, feared by all, the so-called 'Lord of Pain' is undeniably unsettling to read about.  Its true motives are disturbingly opaque and remain so at the end of the book.  If I remember nothing else about Hyperion, I will remember the Shrike—more than likely in my nightmares.

In conclusion, I respect Hyperion for its character development and character-driven story.  The writing is great.  And it just wasn't for me.  There are a lot of book series and trilogies to be found, and this is one I more than likely will not finish."

Hyperion won the Hugo Award in 1990.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Reflections: Northanger Abbey

Cortney Howes shares her thoughts on Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey:

"A story of a seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland who has been invited by her neighbors to accompany them in Bath.  Catherine meets many new acquaintances which compete for her affections and presence.  Catherine must decide who is truly her friend and who is not. 

In Northanger Abbey Jane Austen plays with the idea of a Gothic novel but never fully gets there.  She mentions many popular novels by Ann Radcliffe and has the reader feeling as if this book might actually become 'gothic.'  I was disappointed that she did not take this farther.  I think that it would have made for a very interesting book that ties in the classic Jane Austen novel with the classic Gothic novel.  The ending also wrapped up very quickly and felt out of sorts which was disappointing. 

I enjoyed that this book was somewhat different then her other novels though.  There were many villains which made it fun to figure out who was good and who was bad. Although this was not Austen's best work it was very entertaining.  I would give it a 3 out of 5 stars."

Friday, March 22, 2013

Reflections: The Cleansing of America

Robert Sullivan shares his thoughts on W. Cleon Skousen's The Cleansing of America:

"W. Cleon Skousen can be a controversial author for some in the LDS faith; however, I believe if you go into his books knowing that he is presenting his opinion on LDS doctrine and not actual doctrine, you can learn great insight.

The Cleansing of America is a book posthumously published by Skousen’s family. The forward explains that Skousen himself finished editing the book in 2006 shortly before his death. He instructed his family to then publish the book when the United States was facing great economic turmoil and tight political gridlock. Perhaps by surprise or planned, that time came just 4 years after his passing away.

The entirety of the book focuses on the fulfilling of the ‘signs of the times’ or the end of the world. However, the first chapter deals with most of the signs and walks you through the major events. It’s a little gory and very descriptive, but enlightening at the same time. The rest of the book is a set of instructions on how to build the country back up after the initial destruction in the last days. Each chapter is set up as a lecture with follow-up questions for comprehension.

It’s an interesting read, especially for interested Mormons, but I would mostly recommend just reading the first and last chapters as the middle becomes dry. The instructions and descriptions appear to be in an outline form for a 200 level college course on setting up a Zion community.

Overall, on a scale of 1-10, I’d give the book a 7 for piquing my interest and giving me new insight."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

President's Message: Shake it Up

As President of The Thousander Club, I wish to highlight an important guideline (not that there are any unimportant guidelines) for my fellow Thousanders; to wit, Thousanders are encouraged to "read multiple books in various genres and categories."  In our official Welcome to the Thousander Club video I joked: "Don't get stuck in Young Adult."  But let me reiterate that advice without focusing on Young Adult literature—don't get stuck in any genre or category. 

No doubt all readers gravitate toward our favorite genres and topics.  I, for example, have an obsessive fascination with American History and Constitutional Law and have read dozens of books in those areas of interest.  Yet, I've also made a deliberate choice to read books in genres I wouldn't normally be attracted to, and my reading experience has been greatly benefited because of it. 
One way I have found very helpful in keeping my reading choices varied and interesting is to switch between fiction and non-fiction books.  In other words, I'll read a work of fiction and then a work of non-fiction and so on and so forth.  Looking over my list of books I've read, I can see I have stayed fairly consistent with this pattern for some time.  A quick glance at my list from last year reveals the pattern:

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (2012/04/27)

Saturday by Ian McEwan (2012/05/14)

Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty by Randy Barnett (2012/06/05)

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (2012/06/16)

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis (2012/07/01)

The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle  (2012/07/12)

This is just one pattern, of course, albeit I found it very effective.  I do see a need for greater variance in the non-fiction I read.  (As aforementioned, I'm a huge sucker for American History and Constitutional Law and there is plenty to read in those fields).  By alternating between fiction and non-fiction I have found a personally fulfilling cycle that always keeps my reading interesting.  I always know I have something to read next that is different than what I'm currently reading. 

You could do something similar with this pattern with genres as well.  If you are one of those individuals that find themselves constantly returning to young adult, make a commitment to read a book from a different genre—fantasy, science fiction, autobiography, whatever—and then return to young adult.  You're not abandoning what you love.  In fact, you may find you enjoy it all the more since you've experienced something else.

-Adam C. Zern

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What Should a 9th Grader Read?

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on the balance of presenting big ideas to young readers through literature:

"I've recently been pondering the books that many 9th graders read and whether or not it's wise for them to read them. I vacillate back and forth between believing it serves a valuable purpose that they read books which are filled with complicated, consequential, and important ideas so they're introduced to the ideas that matter most and believing they're reading and comprehension skills, to say nothing of their maturity, are not sufficient to actually provide them the ability to appreciate those important ideas. Although I wander between those standpoints I've never felt confident in either.

I think of books like Animal Farm by George Orwell or his darker work 1984. I think about The Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I especially think about a book like Night by Elie Wiesel and wonder what good is being served by having a 14-year old read it, if they fulfill the assignment to read it at all. These are very mature books that deal with some very mature ideas. Most importantly, they include ideas which require a significant amount of context and established knowledge to fully comprehend. Ideas like totalitarianism, communism, atavism, and atheism don't exist in a vacuum and if students don't have some kind of a grasp on these ideas what are they actually gleaning from reading books that have such advanced ideas? Will a 9th grader really be able to appreciate the nuances of Snowball's and Napoleon's machinations?

On the other hand, how can a student ever become familiar with important ideas unless they're exposed to them? I would feel comfortable with a 9th grader reading a book like To Kill a Mockingbird, which deals with some very sensitive issues of race and justice. Is not part of an education being challenged and thinking critically about the ideas that matter most? What better way to accomplish this than through some of our most revered works of literature? With a guide, the teacher, to express the details of those important ideas a student can come to be conscious of and grasp on a higher intellectual level those critical ideas. Is this not exactly the purpose of a 9th grader or even younger students, middle schoolers, reading pretty heady and emotional books like The Giver by Lois Lowry?

And perhaps that's where my lack of belief becomes apparent. I don't trust the guides, the teachers, all that much. Furthermore, I don't trust that students, even seniors in high school, have the reading comprehension skills to understand anything much more complicated than the most basic young adult fiction. No doubt some of my cynicism toward public education is bleeding through here, but I worry that not only are students not learning the important lessons from these important books but I'm especially afraid they're learning the wrong lessons. At the end of the day, however, when it comes to presenting young minds with big ideas through literature, I'm willing to be persuaded in either direction."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Books to Movies: The Prestige vs. The Prestige

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on the film adaptation of Christopher Priest's The Prestige:

"The Prestige the film is one of those films that many people remember to some degree—'oh, yeah, that magic movie'—but can't quite fill in the details.  I saw The Prestige in the theater with eager anticipation knowing it was made by the same filmmaker of Batman Begins.  I was not disappointed; it's a fascinating movie, albeit very dark, which makes the unreal feel disconcertingly real and provides one of the finest revenge stories of all time.  I was surprised when I found out it was based on a novel of the same name by Christopher Priest.  I stumbled across it at the Book Warehouse on the cheap and couldn't pass it up.

The book has the same unforgettable quality.  There are scenes in that book that are forever fastened in my imagination.  The Prestige the novel is creepy but not grotesque; it's thought-provoking without being gratuitous.  It's a good book without being brilliant.  The film and the book feel similar but are, in the end, distinct stories.  The film is far more focused than the book, which isn't surprising considering the time limitations that modern film audiences expect.  Having said that, I wouldn't necessarily say the additional detail and sub-plots in the book make it anymore affecting than if it had a more streamlined story like the film.  Taken together, the book and film coupling is a solid brew of entertainment.  They won't be regarded as classics, but I regard them, especially the film, in high regard.

One nice thing about the film and the book is that they're pretty intriguing stories that exist in relative obscurity.  (Granted, that obscurity is greatly reduced now since Christopher Nolan has become a well-known director making $1 billion grossing films).  There is far more to enjoy and discover than the best-selling books by Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling, or James Patterson, a whole lot more.  Sometimes picking up a book you know nothing or little about pays off, and sometimes it doesn't.  In the case of The Prestige, book and film, I think it's a good bet."

Monday, March 11, 2013

Thousander Must-Reads Vol. 2

A Few Thousanders share their "Must-Reads" for everyone's Thousander List:

Brad Howes - The Giver by Lois Lowry

"My Thousander Club 'must-read' was a tough choice, but I ultimately chose Lois Lowry's The Giver. This book has been called 'a warning within a narrative.' Throughout The Giver, we see what the future would look like when the government gets out of hand and ultimately strips the people of their rights. Following in the footsteps of Orwell's 1984 and Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, The Giver provides a look into society who has conformed to a 'government-dubbed utopia' and one boy's attempt to retain some individuality. The Giver delivers in the same way that Suzanne Collins captivates a young audience and introduces them to the horrors of a dystopian society in The Hunger Games. It's an absolute 'must-read.'"

Heather Baye Stahle - Anthem by Ayn Rand

"Why Anthem is a must read in my opinion is because for one it is a quick read, which means something to me because I have five children, but at the same time has substance and depth to it.  It really made me think about how unique and special each individual is.  That we as humans have emotions, intelligence, and have the right to do so.  It makes you care and feel for characters you don't even know the names to in an instant.   It inspires you to create, to stand for what you believe and to not let anyone take your freedoms away from you.  It made me sad, happy, and hopeful. It also has a fabulous love story for all the ladies out there, which I much appreciated!  Very well written story."

Cliff Ward - Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstory

"One book that every Thousander should read—or have read or have memorized and transposed into a one man interpretive musical rendition—is Anna Karenina. Not only does the book manage to pluck and twinge every single human emotion I’ve ever felt, but it creates a model for all great art. Great art, like Anna Karenina, if read in the proper spirit, has the capacity to bring temporal, mundane concerns and ideas into a spectrum of more universal and probably eternal consequence. This book does this. It tackles the tough stuff. It poses many of life’s most important questions, and by tracing key events (marriage, death, adultery, theological speculation on a haystack, etc.) in the crisscrossing lives of its two most interesting characters, Anna and Levin, it supplies an abundance of material that readers can use to get a start on the answers. Aside from all this serious business, it’s one of those long novels that gets more beautiful with every page. With a story this engaging and characters that endure so far beyond the plot, no serious lover of books can reach literary fulfillment without Anna Karenina."

Friday, March 8, 2013

Stories for Emma

Adam C. Zern shares some thoughts on parenting, reading, and his oldest daughter:

"Emma, my oldest daughter, will periodically ask me to tell her a story.  What follows is usually a frenetic re-interpretation of childhood events with as much hyperbole as my listeners can bear.  After sheer delight, Emma often asks me in her uniquely sober way: 'Dad, is that true?'  I'll often shrug my shoulders and begin the next epic adventure describing how the young Adam C. Zern caught violent Alligators and conquered his world. 

Emma is my reader.  Each night we have to remind her to turn off her bed lamp since she is too absorbed in her reading to realize that the five-minute limit has passed.  Perhaps one of the most sweetly fulfilling moments I've had as a parent was when Emma asked: 'Do you want to read your book in my room, and I can read my book too?'  I sat on the floor as she lay on her top bunk.  I think the only words that were exchanged between the two of us during that hour period were 'I love you' and 'I love you too.'  And I'll never forget it.

I, like Emma, wish Pokémon were real.  I live and breathe stories and am bored by entertainment that doesn't tell me a good story.  I love characters and feelings.  I, like Emma, love to make-believe.  I still see in my head what Emma no doubt parades around in her imaginations.  It is the substance of things not seen with our eyes but felt in our hearts.  Emma once cried when we told her that Pokémon weren't real.  With wobbly confidence, she asserted, mostly to herself rather than to us: 'If Pokémon aren't real in our world, they're probably real on another planet.'  If I remember correctly, my wife and I responded that the universe is a very big place and left it at that.  For Emma's sake, I want Pokémon to be real—somewhere else, somewhere exotic.  If they're not, I pray the story will suffice.  I know from personal experience, stories don't have to lose their potency when one becomes more rational and cynical.

With my eye of faith, I see Emma cradling books and stories as well as her own children when she becomes an adult.  When her children ask her to tell them a tale she better fill it with imagination, hyperbole, feelings, and character; in other words, I hope she tells stories so they fall in love with stories the way she did and the way I did.  For my Emma's sake, for her children's sake, I'll continue to indulge in stories and hope for somewhere else, somewhere exotic where it all might be true."

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Reflections: Faith Precedes the Miracle

Adam C. Zern offers some thoughts on Spencer W. Kimball's Faith Precedes the Miracle:

"In the Latter-day Saint culture, Spencer W. Kimball's The Miracle of Forgiveness is legendary.  Spencer W. Kimball, the 12th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is known for his bold and forward speaking and writing style.  The Miracle of Forgiveness has no shortage of 'straight talk,' and Faith Precedes the Miracle is no different.  Less well-known and less read among Latter-day Saints than Kimball's other book, Faith Precedes the Miracle is a good addition to any Latter-day Saint's library, albeit it's not as memorable as other spiritual works.

Like most books of its kind, Faith Precedes the Miracle is marred by the presentation and organization of the book.  In fact, using the term 'book' may be a little generous to describe what it is. Rather than being a book it's a collection of his many speeches on various topics bound together between two covers.  I never really care for that kind of a setup simply because the chapters seem so disconnected from one another.  I prefer to read a book specifically designed to be so, which I believe lends importance and purpose to the message conveyed.  Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage is a good example of what I'm referring to.

Having said that, there is plenty to love in Faith Precedes the Miracle.  It's a great reference book since President Kimball covers so many topics in this one book.  His remarks on family life are, in my opinion, especially poignant and even controversial compared to today's societal standards.  His unapologetic conviction is refreshing and honorable.

There is much to love, yes, but it's not really all that necessary to buy this book since most of his remarks can be found through other means.  I had already listened to many of President Kimball's talks and, therefore, I was 're-leaning' large portions of the book.  Faith Precedes the Miracle is great as a reference but not as a stand-alone book."

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Thousander Must-Reads Vol. 1

Fellow Thousanders share a few books they believe every Thousander should enjoy:

Marie Teemant - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain:

"Mark Twain once said 'I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.'  It is no surprise The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been banned from so many schools in the United States, but contains the gems of a human education. What I love most about this book is that Twain never has to come out and beat his message over the readers' head. From the time Huck leaves with Jim, to the family feud with individuals desensitized to the loss of both men and boys, to the moment dear Huck declares he will 'go to Hell' for freeing Jim, but so be it, you can't help but see profound thoughts about the human experience. Twain was ahead of his time in showing injustices of backward systems through an intriguing narrative of a boy's adventures. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be read by everyone on their Thousander journey!"

 Sarah J. Zern - The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

"Everyone should have Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place on their Thousander Club list.  It is one of the most amazing examples of not only the innate goodness of the human spirit, but also its capacity to become sour and corrupted.  Set during World War II, Corrie and her family provide a safe haven for Jews fleeing the Nazi regime.  Regardless of what she and her family suffer at the hands of depraved human beings, Corrie exemplifies charity and true, soul-wrenching forgiveness.  My life changed because of this book, and I will never forget it."

Adam C. Zern - The Federalist Papers by Publius

"Still considered to be one of the most authoritative commentaries on the United States Constitution, the Federalist Papers are an impressive collection of writings which provides more than an insight into Constitutional Law.  Publius, the pseudonym used by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, provides profound insights into human nature, the dangers of totalitarianism, the blessings of liberty, and the role of providence in the American epoch.  It is an advanced read compared to many other books and does require some previous knowledge of American history to appreciate, but the Federalist Papers are important enough that every Thousander should have it as a goal to read them."

Other topics of interest:
Thousander Must-Reads Vol. 2
Thousander Must-Reads Vol. 3