Posts tagged with "opinion" - Faerye Net 2008-08-12T12:44:42+00:00 Felicity Shoulders Goodreads vs. LibraryThing 2008-08-12T12:44:42+00:00 2009-02-16T13:58:58+00:00 <p>I first mentioned my two book-cataloging affiliations in the <a href="" target="links">&#8220;Against Friendship&#8221;</a> social networking post:<br /> <blockquote>From there, I also got into LibraryThing, which sadly seems to be superior but is not getting the new membership gestalt goodreads is.</blockquote></p> <p>I thought it was time to revisit the topic and really dig into the pros and cons of the two sites. Now, I do realize there are other book-cataloging websites &#8211; many. But it&#8217;s ridiculous enough to use two, so I haven&#8217;t tried any others.</p> <p>The first thing to address is, why use a book cataloging website at all? Since this discussion is predicated on <em>my</em> use patterns and preferences, it&#8217;s only fair to set them out. Everyone&#8217;s intentions vary, but for me the benefits have been:</p> <ul> <li>It reminds me to go read instead of messing with the internet.</li> <li>It allows me to access my friends&#8217; opinions (or at least star-ratings) on books when I need them &#8211; when I&#8217;m trying to buy Christmas gifts at 2 am, for example.</li> <li>It&#8217;s helped me develop a practice of summarizing my thoughts on each book I read, which made annotating my grad school reading easy and has, I feel, made my opinions on books sharper and better expressed.</li> <li>It provides a central place to save all my well-intentioned &#8216;to-read&#8217; books.</li> <li>It captures data on my books &#8211; to kibbitz over with my Mom at her yearly-book-tabulation time, to keep track of books borrowed or lent, et cetera.</li> </ul> <p><a href="" target="GR">Goodreads</a> was designed as a social networking site for book-cataloging. Its home page is familiar to users of networks like Facebook &#8211; a log of the recent books added, reviews posted, &#8220;friendships&#8221; established by your friends on the site.</p> <p><a href="" target="LT">LibraryThing</a> was designed by librarians. It&#8217;s centered around the collection of book data, and social networking has only gradually colonized it &#8211; as noted in &#8220;Against Friendship&#8221;, it originally had only &#8216;Interesting Libraries&#8217; and &#8216;Private watchlist&#8217; and now has &#8216;Friends&#8217; as well. Its customizable home page, recently revamped, gives pride of place to a search-box that searches your own library of books. By default, the next item down is your recently added books.</p> <p>That gives you the basic difference between the sites in a nutshell: GR is centered on the social aspects, LT is centered on your books. Still, it&#8217;s more than possible to use them in a very similar way. If I had to choose a word to sum up each, I&#8217;d call Goodreads &#8220;simple&#8221; and LibraryThing &#8220;robust.&#8221; Goodreads&#8217; interface is clean, appealing and fairly self-explanatory, and the conceits of social networking have been widely disseminated, so the bar to new user entry is low. LibraryThing can be more intimidating, its wealth of information necessitating and populating many fields all over the screen.</p> <p>That data, though, is fabulous. Unlike Goodreads, which is committed to a categorization system called &#8216;shelves&#8217;, LibraryThing uses tagging. This encourages the user to find her own ways to use the system &#8211; combining fairly utilitarian and obvious tags like &#8220;own, read, fiction, novel&#8221; with the personal and highly useful &#8220;lent to Grandma&#8221; (and subsequent &#8220;read by Grandma&#8221; &#8211; my Grandma&#8217;s local library closed, you see) or &#8220;Box 25.&#8221; In addition, the basic &#8216;library card&#8217; information for your book on LT is well-designed. If your book has an author, a translator, an editor and an illustrator, you can enter all their names and label the r&ocirc;le of each accordingly[*]. You can, if you like, enter the date you bought or checked out the book and the day you started reading it, the date you finished. Goodreads has, by contrast, only &#8220;date read,&#8221; recently expanded from month and year to day, month, year. On Goodreads, book cover is linked to <span class="caps">ISBN</span>, an often inaccurate shortcut, whereas on LibraryThing you can choose from the covers uploaded by other users or a bunch of pretty blank covers as well as the <span class="caps">ISBN</span>-linked Amazon images. LibraryThing has a great book-adding interface that allows you to type the tags once for one group of book-adds and integrates a barcode scanner seamlessly. They have a versatile batch-edit mode for changes, and you can search hundreds of libraries worldwide as well as Amazon, whereas Goodreads only searches the various Amazon sites. If I&#8217;m going to spend time entering data on my books, I prefer to have complete and accurate information, so LibraryThing wins by a mile on that front.</p> <p>Goodreads is free and runs on ad revenue, whereas LibraryThing is ad-free and free up to 200 books, after which you are asked to pay $10/year or $25 for a lifetime membership.</p> <p>Probably as a consequence of the differences outlined above, LibraryThing has <a href="" target="LT">473,080 users</a> while Goodreads claims <a href="" target="GR">over 1,000,000</a>. This despite LibraryThing being founded August, 2005 and Goodreads December, 2006. For the social aspects (accessing my friends&#8217; opinions when I need them) the population difference makes Goodreads the victor &#8211; vast mobs of my acquaintances signed up for Goodreads (many of them, strangers to each other, at exactly the same time, in fact.) The social exchange Goodreads emphasizes is that of opinions, and therefore there are a lot more reviews on Goodreads in general, even if there aren&#8217;t any from your friends on a particular book. There&#8217;s also a nice feature (I was among the users petitioning for its addition) where you can mark which friend recommended a book to you. LibraryThing, being a little more focused on the collection and cataloging of books, generally has fewer reviews (in all fairness, while they have fewer ratings, they display a nice bar graph of them, which is helpful.) I hereby back up my anecdotal &#8216;feeling&#8217; with data &#8211; I chose the first book my eyes fell on (<a href="" target="lt">The Blind Assassin</a>) and found that on LibraryThing 5350 people have entered the book in their &#8216;library&#8217;, 1328 of whom have given it a star rating, and 79 of whom have entered a review. On Goodreads, it&#8217;s harder to determine exact numbers but I believe 9173 people have entered it, 7272 have given a star rating, and about 700 have entered at least a one-word review.</p> <p>Which brings us to another, more delicate topic. I may sound elitist here, but I&#8217;m not running for office, so who cares? Probably as a consequence of the differences outlined above, LibraryThing&#8217;s smaller population is more serious about books. You see fewer, if any, really stupid or careless reviews, and the discussion groups (which I don&#8217;t really do much with on either site) seem to have lively, literate discussion.</p> <p>So, returning to the reasons I use these sites, we see that both are equally good at reminding me to go read, at developing my reviewing skills, and keeping track of my books to read. Goodreads is better for showing me my friends&#8217; opinions on books, and LibraryThing is lightyears better for capturing data on my library. Goodreads has been good about adding features, which has improved the site experience for me and captured more information, but they&#8217;re still far behind LT, and I really wonder if they should try to catch up. There are some limits they would have trouble shedding &#8211; they are really wed to the &#8216;shelf&#8217; model for example, too wedded I think to swap it for tags, and adding tags on top of shelves would be klugey and make it more confusing for new users. If they try to make their site robust, they will sacrifice the simplicity and accessibility that have made them successful.</p> <p>For me, <a href="" target="LT">LibraryThing</a> is the clear winner. It&#8217;s versatile, and allows me to capture all the data I might ever want about my book collection and reading, the first time it comes up. It is fun to explore other people&#8217;s book collections, see library similarities and see the trends and recommendations that so much data produce. (Thanks for getting me started on it, Miss Thursday!) I keep up on Goodreads though, because the social aspect <em>is</em> fun, and I like to see what all my friends and classmates are reading. So I am doomed to keep both accounts, but I hope this blogget helps someone decide which one fits <em>their</em> book-cataloging needs.</p> <p><b>Update, 9/7/2008:</b> As I recently discovered while browsing a used bookstore in Mountain View, LibraryThing is quicker and easier to use on the iPhone, which surprised me.</p> <p>*<b>Updates, 2/16/2009:</b> Goodreads has added multi-author and customizable role support to their book data, although it is not as integrated and easy as LibraryThing&#8217;s. They have added an experimental mobile version of the site, which loads more quickly. Current numbers of users at each site can be viewed by clicking through the links in the relevant paragraph above. On a personal note, Goodreads has risen in my esteem somewhat: they are very responsive to user input and requests, which can lead to quick improvement. I still use both, and plan to continue doing so.</p> "Terrorist" 2008-07-02T10:04:24+00:00 2008-07-02T10:04:24+00:00 <p>By now everyone knows that the US had to <a href="" target="links">pass a bill</a> to get Nelson Mandela and other African National Congress members off the &#8216;terror&#8217; watch list<sup><a href="#fn1">1</a></sup>. In the linked article, even the Secretary of State calls it &#8220;a rather embarrassing matter.&#8221;</p> <p>It&#8217;s not just embarrassing, it&#8217;s telling. Why were these people on the list? &#8220;The African National Congress (ANC) was designated as a terrorist organisation by South Africa&#8217;s old apartheid regime.&#8221; In other words, &#8216;terrorist&#8217; is used by governments to stigmatize those they dislike, and to decrease their credibility in the international community. &#8216;Terrorist&#8217; is an elastic term, meaning exactly what those in power say, no more or less. How else does one explain the broad swath of cybercrimes the <a href="" target="links">Patriot act</a> classifies as terrorism? If making civilians live in fear is &#8216;terrorism&#8217;, why aren&#8217;t authoritarian states around the world labelled as such? &#8216;Terror&#8217; is not the deciding factor; governmental fiat is.</p> <p>One could hope that this example, of a group formed to foment revolution against unjust rule being tarred for decades with the &#8216;terrorist&#8217; brush, might give someone in our government pause, make them wonder how meaningful the term is as it is being used; but I doubt it.</p> <p id="fn1"><sup>1</sup> It is sad that I automatically wrote this as &#8216;watchlist&#8217;, subconsciously believing it had seen enough use to become a compound word.</p> Trade paperback original 2008-04-04T14:45:50+00:00 2008-05-25T19:57:44+00:00 <p>Being the slothful sort of person I am, I&#8217;m still working through a copy of <em><a href="" target="links">Poets &#38; Writers</a> Magazine</em> that my fairy godsister <a href="" target="links">Jeannine</a> gave me way back in December. It&#8217;s the January/February 2008 issue, for the record. I initially began reading it front-to-back (for the thoroughness), but set it aside after finding it to read a little doomy. <span class="caps">USPS</span> rate hikes doom small litmags to early graves! Historical fiction loved only for being nonfiction&#8217;s stepsister! Novel crushed under the wheel of Memoirmobile! At any rate, I closed its pages and planned a less thorough perusal centered on the main article, which promised to unlock the secrets of Literary Agents.</P> <p>Over the last few days, I have read all about Literary Agents, and, as is my wont, continued to turn pages. Soon I found myself reading, with great interest, an article called &#8220;Paperback Writer: Do I want to be one?&#8221; by Steve Almond. It was about the <span class="caps">TPO</span> trend &mdash; the Trade Paperback Original. </p> <p>Those of us who read a lot of comic books tend to think of TPBs as big convenient bindings of delicious CB continuity, unburdened of ads and flimsiness. However, this is only a niche truth. In the greater publishing world, a trade paperback is a fancy paperback, printed on good paper with a larger (and these days, often more texturally intriguing) cover than its &#8220;Mass Market Paperback&#8221; brethren. </p> <p><center><a href="" target="links"> <img src="" alt="A hardback, a mass-market paperback, and two tradepaper titles" title="Figure 1. What we're talking about" border="0"> </a><br /><em>Figure 1. spokesmodel Qubit poses with examples. Left to right: old-school mass market paperback by Roger Zelazny; my first tradepaper novel purchase (memorable by dint of sticker shock); a comic book industry <span class="caps">TPB</span> by the almighty Whedon; and a hardback for comparison. Hardback selected for textural richness.</em> </center></p><p>Thank you, Qubit. For some time it&#8217;s been obvious that tradepaper is getting better play in publishing than it used to. Only the most popular literary titles ever make it to mass-market editions these days, which I thought was a calculated effort to make more money: why put out a $7 edition when you can put out a $12 one? However, I may have been a bit naive.</P> <p>In Almond&#8217;s article, he discusses publishers&#8217; new habit of putting out books in tradepaper <em>first</em>, without recourse to hardcover. Apparently, many authors worry about this, since it does cut costs for the publisher and thus is seen as a vote of no-confidence in the title. However, advantages emerge: many more people buy copies at readings when the book is affordable (some even buy multiple copies; ) bookstores hang onto a paperback &#8220;six months, versus maybe three months for a hardback&#8221; says author Rishi Reddi.</p> <p>And then we got to the line that really prompted this blog post: &#8220;The author of six novels and three story collections, [Jim] Shepard was told by Random House&#8230;his 2004 story collection <em>Love and Hydrogen</em> would be published by Vintage as a <span class="caps">TPO</span> to woo younger readers.&#8221; We then pass onto more negatives, more authors feeling slighted and a probably legendary tendency for big reviewers not to review TPOs. But to me, this line was important. I remember, though I didn&#8217;t understand the larger industry context at the time, arguing with fellow readers over whether hardbacks or TPBs were a more pleasant reading experience. I like TPBs; the increased cover size means a thinner volume, more convenient for my omnipresent messenger bag than a mass-market paperback. They are lighter than hardbacks, and less likely to have embossed letters which show wear. I even like the way they sit on my shelf, the sleek way the Harvest Book editions of Virginia Woolf cozy up to each other in matching harmony. That elegant look may even tempt me to buy a <span class="caps">TPB</span> of a P.K. Dick or a Woolf book when a cheaper edition is available, so that it will match my other volumes.</p> <p>TPBs <em>are</em> cheaper than hardbacks. As a student-author-barista, I&#8217;m not a particularly hardy hybrid; I seldom plunk down hardcover price for a book I need for school, let alone one I want on a whim or at a reading. Mom says she saw a new hardcover for $36 the other day, which is a whole lot of bubble gum any way you chew. There is a possibility that the insertion of TPBs into the cycle is driving or enabling the rise in HB prices, but that doesn&#8217;t change the practicalities on the ground. Even at the more reasonable price point of <a href="" target="links">$22.95 for Murakami&#8217;s <em>After Dark</eM></a> in hardback, I&#8217;m waiting for the $13.95 paperback release in late April. After all, to a struggling grad student with access to the Powell&#8217;s used books inventory, $9 is another book; maybe more than one.</p> <p>I don&#8217;t think I&#8217;m the only one for whom this is true, and I think that young people &mdash; more likely to be carrying books around every day, to be students with long reading lists or generally cash-strapped &mdash; deserve more than a line of consideration in this discussion. The author descends at the end of the article into depressing doomsay: &#8220;As Americans become increasingly frantic, impatient and screen-addicted, the printed word becomes that much tougher to sell.&#8221; Auditors who tell him after readings that they really want to buy a book but can&#8217;t afford hardcover &#8220;do have enough money, of course. But they simply don&#8217;t view a book &mdash; even a book by an author they happen to like &mdash; as being worth more than fifteen bucks.&#8221;</p> <p> Young people, college students, artsy Portland hipsters with bad day jobs&#8230;they have many decades of book-buying ahead of them. You want them to buy books. You want them to read more. You want them to read <em>you</em>. TPBs tend to be beautiful; in my experience, as beautiful and sensuously pleasing as hardbacks, if not more. If you want people to keep buying the printed word, this is a good thing to do: make the physical object pleasing. Price it reasonably. We don&#8217;t just want to buy books cheap; we want cheap books so we can buy more books.</p> <p><font color="#333333"><em>I would love to hear others&#8217; feelings as readers (or as writers) about TPBs versus other formats of book. As I&#8217;ve indicated, I have a real fondness for them. How about you?</font></em></p> Remembrance 2007-09-11T21:04:58+00:00 2008-06-03T12:34:30+00:00 <p>It&#8217;s September 11th again. Today we are told, over and over, never to forget 2,998 people that most of us did not know. &#8216;Never forget,&#8217; I read, and wonder. How do you forget, or hold in your memory, someone you do not know? How can you value them, or their memory, except as individual lives? Those lives are precious both despite and because of their commonness, the humanity we all share and by virtue of which we all claim value, dignity, rights.</p> <p>I can&#8217;t forget these dead, nor can I remember them. They are not my dead, and they cannot live in me as my dead friends, as my dead relatives, as even dead strangers whose words I&#8217;ve loved can and do. Why then am I asked to remember them? </p> <p> Why should I remember those three thousand, and not the <a href="" target="dead">hundreds of thousands</a> dead in Darfur, just as unnaturally? Because of patriotism, or of proximal ethics? If I should remember those dead, rather than the <a href="" target="dead">70,000 dead civilians</a> in Iraq, because the innocents killed in 2001 were closer to me, or shared my nationality, why should I remember them rather than the <a href="" target="dead">over 6,000</a> American women and men who have been murdered by their spouses or partners since the attacks? </p> <p> What if this act of memory to which we are invited isn&#8217;t really about those 2,998? About their names, faces, hopes, or families? What can it accomplish? I can only imagine, as I see another string of Photoshop tributes, that their creators and consumers must get a feeling from them, perhaps akin to what I might feel listening to Beethoven&#8217;s Fifth Symphony or, perhaps more aptly, to Holst&#8217;s &#8220;Mars, Bringer of War.&#8221; The heart expands, and the body floods with primal energy&#8212;with passion. Is it to feel that passion that uninvolved people refresh their horror and stoke their anger up with public acts of memory and grief? </p> <p> Or is it the clarity that passion brings them? The dead I&#8217;ve mentioned are victims of domestic violence, of our own colonialistic folly, of racial hatred and economic powerplays. Systemic problems that evolve and worsen over time. Problems that can only be solved with forethought, deliberation, and reason; often by changing the situation that gave them rise. We as a society, perhaps even as a species, don&#8217;t like systemic problems. We like our villains centralized and clearly labeled, our courses of action smooth and broad. America&#8217;s straightforward charge against a complex terrorism problem has taken us deeper and deeper into confusion and remorse. Perhaps on September 11, 2001, the way lay clear before these passionate rememberists. Perhaps they want to feel that way one more time. </p> <p> For myself, on that day, I felt sorrow and a sick foreboding about what would happen next. I need no prompting and no Photoshopped towers to feel that way again.</p> Against my better judgment... 2006-09-12T17:16:51+00:00 2008-06-08T13:27:04+00:00 <P>I listened to <a href="" target="links">Bush&#8217;s address</a> yesterday, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I really didn&#8217;t want to. I had a very nice recorded book ready to shove in, but sadly, I don&#8217;t feel I have the luxury of ignoring politics these days. I can&#8217;t, in all conscience, ignore politics when my country is hemorrhaging money and credibility, deeply corrupt, and less free by the month. Oh, and when people are actually managing to revive the debate over contraception. Contra-bloody-ception. Oy.</p> <p>At any rate, I listened to the whole speech. It started out reasonably smoothly. The opening paragraphs were fairly well written, and either Bush was speaking a little less choppily and awkwardly than usual, or exposure to his style is getting me used to it. I ended up having plenty of problems with the speech &mdash; it certainly wasn&#8217;t the &#8216;non-political&#8217; speech his handlers had promised, it wasn&#8217;t focused on the occasion it marked, it persistently roped me into a &#8216;we&#8217; I don&#8217;t feel a part of, and it assumed all Americans believe in &#8220;a loving God who made us to be free&#8221; &mdash; but my first and most important problem was the rhetoric of &#8216;civilization&#8217;.</p> <p>The word &#8216;civilized&#8217; first appeared in this context: <blockquote>And we have learned that their goal is to build a radical Islamic empire where women are prisoners in their homes, men are beaten for missing prayer meetings, and terrorists have a safe haven to plan and launch attacks on America and other civilized nations.</blockquote> <p>Is America civilized? Sure, certainly by the textbook definition of &#8216;civilization&#8217; beaten into my head years ago (is it still there? Hmm&#8230;surplus food supply, specialization of labor, formation of cities, and something else I cannot recall&#8230;) it is. Likewise Britain, and Spain&#8230;okay, so countries which have been targeted by terrorists are civilized. But the word has to have some reason for being there&#8212;the fact that it&#8217;s true isn&#8217;t enough, or we&#8217;d have speeches mentioning that America, Britain and Spain are all colored pink on somebody&#8217;s map in geography class. The use of the word &#8216;civilized&#8217; here is serving to imply that the Arab countries from which terrorists have come are <em>not</em> civilized. When I heard that sentence for the first time yesterday, I said out loud, &#8220;Hey! That&#8217;s racist!&#8221; (Yes, I talk out loud alone in my car.)</p> </p><p>When Mr. Bush later said <blockquote>This struggle has been called a clash of civilizations. In truth, it is a struggle for civilization.</blockquote> that also struck me as racist. I recognize that the racist meaning is a few layers under the surface, but the basic problem is this: we spent several hundred years operating on the assumption that Western, predominantly white nations were Civilized and that we had an obligation to spread said Civilization to other countries, which coincidentally were peopled by non-Caucasians. That was called Colonialism. It worked so well that Colonialism is now practically a dirty word.</p> <P>Civilization is a pretty low bar. We humans pretty much all have it these days. And, here&#8217;s what&#8217;s particularly offensive about this kind of Neocolonialist jargon being used against the Middle East: civilization started there. There may be questions about whether civilization only began in one place, but archeology tells us that the first place it occured was, in fact, Iraq. The poor downtrodden &#8216;decent people&#8217; Bush paints as yearning for civilized countries to offer them freedom developed the systems of mathematics that underlie modern engineering and science, and inadvertently ended the European Dark Ages when the Crusaders nicked bits of their culture and knowledge and carried the loot back home. Don&#8217;t condescend to the Arab people, Mr. Bush.</p> <p>And don&#8217;t misunderstand your own, either. We are supposed to believe that Arabic &#8220;people will choose freedom over [terrorists&#8217;] extremist ideology&#8221; when our country is giving up freedoms by the bushelful?</p> <p> <blockquote>We are fighting to maintain the way of life enjoyed by free nations. And we&#8217;re fighting for the possibility that good and decent people across the Middle East can raise up societies based on freedom and tolerance and personal dignity.<br /> <p><br />We are now in the early hours of this struggle between tyranny and freedom. Amid the violence, some question whether the people of the Middle East want their freedom and whether the forces of moderation can prevail.</blockquote></p></p> <p>I question many things, Mr. President. I question foreign policy based on &#8216;secret&#8217; information, I question the erasure of checks and balances, I question a leadership that doesn&#8217;t believe the function of the National Guard is to guard the nation. Most of all, I question whether a nation can in all conscience attempt to impose &#8220;societies based on freedom and tolerance and personal dignity&#8221; on others, when that nation is wiretapping its citizens, eroding the divisions between Church and State, and imprisoning people without trial. I question any society based on fear, hatred, and dogmatic nationalism.</p> Battlestar Galactica Season 2 2006-08-16T14:10:01+00:00 2008-06-08T13:35:16+00:00 <p>I&#8217;ve finally finished Season 2 of <span class="caps">BSG</span>. I have but one sentence:</p> <p><b>What the <span class="caps">FRAK</span> was that?</b></p> It's not a bump, it's a pregnancy 2006-01-23T15:33:25+00:00 2008-06-05T17:36:17+00:00 <p>I get annoyed at the strangest things, but I maintain that, as a linguaphile and degreed English nitpicker, I have every right to care minutely about language. </p> <p>If you shop for groceries, you cannot help but know that everybody in Hollywood is pregnant, just delivered, or is thinking about getting pregnant. Everyone. I fully expect to hear next that Colin Ferrell passed out one night and woke up pregnant the next morning. Everyone&#8217;s pregnant. However, somewhere around Jennifer Garner&#8217;s pregnancy, women stopped &#8216;showing&#8217; and &#8216;looking very pregnant&#8217;, and their enlarged abdomens ceased being &#8216;bellies&#8217;. They are, apparently, &#8216;bumps&#8217;.</p> <p>Whose idea was this, and why is it now the premier pregnancy nomenclature? Does anyone else find it vaguely repellant that Star X is &#8216;seen in public sporting a bump&#8217; in the same way that she might sport a Gucci handbag? Even apart from the clear implication that a pregnancy is just the hottest Hollywood accessory trend, the word is not attractive. Bumps make me think of traffic calming measures, poorly surfaced roads, and being jostled in line. They don&#8217;t make me think of new life in any way, shape and or form.</p> <p>Obviously, I am only the Word Police in my own mind, but this lazy, objectifying and ugly choice of words annoys me constantly, and I know I am not the only one. You are free to think I&#8217;m crazy, but as I am the girl who dreamt last night that David Boreanaz was teaching her ballroom dancing but refused to tell her the names of the steps, I think that&#8217;s a foregone conclusion.</p>