January 2011

In Defense of Oprah's Book Club

I found myself talking about Oprah's Book Club again last night. Which is somewhat surprising, given that I don't follow Oprah's television show, I don't participate in her book club, and I have mixed feelings about Oprah herself. (Up side: amazingly great feminist. Down side: may be single-handedly responsible for the rise of reality/trash television, as well as The Secret.)

But I often find myself talking to snobby bookish people. (Heck, I AM a snobby bookish person, so it makes sense, right?) And inevitably if the topic comes up, they will sneer at Oprah's Book Club.

In this particular case the topic came up because I mentioned that I was reading Jonathan Franzen's latest book Freedom. Of course, Franzen famously expressed his ambivalence about being chosen for Oprah's Book Club when his book The Corrections was published. The Chicago deep-dish pizza hit the fan, things were ugly and chilly for a while, but now Oprah and Franzen are - by all appearances - bestest friends. Oprah chose Freedom for her book club last year, and Franzen was both relieved and grateful for it.

The Catch-22 of Downloading Pirated EBooks

I realize how futile and possibly hazardous it is to say this on the internet, where the motto is "It should be free because I want it to be free."  But eBook piracy hurts authors and publishers, and directly impacts the ability of authors to write more of the books you love.

Sounds vague, doesn't it?  The same old "blah blah blah."  Well, Saundra Mitchell has broken down the numbers for you in a recent blog post titled "An Incident We'd Rather Not Discuss - "Free" Books Aren't Free." 

Mitchell wrote Shadowed Summer, a YA novel that's been on my "to read" list for quite some time.  It's gotten great reviews from some people I respect, and the description sounds pretty great.

Good Things Books Can Do: Book Donations

I know that talking about getting rid of books is anathema to many readers.  And I understand, I really do.  But as I gradually declutter my own overstuffed home, I have come to learn the value of a good place to send something unwanted.

Women's Prison Book Project
A Metafilter post today talked about two "Homes for Unwanted Books," and commenters have added others.  I was particularly smitten with the Women's Prison Book Project, which is a sort of nationwide lending library for female prisoners.  The prisoners ask for books, and the WPBP mails the books out. 

The Huck Finn "N-Word" Controversy

Once again, Family Guy proves to be strangely prescient.  Here's the low-down:

1.    A lot of schools have stopped teaching Mark Twain's classic Huckleberry Finn because of its use of the "N-word."  It occurs in the text over 200 times, mostly because it's part of a main character's name.

2.    A publisher decided that it would A) be to the greater good and B) be extremely profitable if they filled a niche market by publishing a sanitized version of the book.  In this version, the character's name is now "Slave Jim" instead.

This is a difficult issue, because I don't think anyone's going to support use of the N-word in works of literature.  No one - so far as I know - is advocating that more school books should include it.  Surely removing the N-word from a book is a good thing, right?

3 Reasons Why I Didn't Buy A Kindle

Heading into last Christmas season, I spent a lot of time debating whether or not to buy myself a Kindle. 

There are a lot of reasons why I wanted a Kindle.  The most recent iteration of the device is only $139 if you get the WIFI-only version (which I would).  Frankly, that's a small price to pay to never have to get rid of a book again.
(Imagine being able to carry around every single book you have ever read - no, every single book you have ever purchased or been given - in your pocket.  Imagine never having to get rid of a book because it fell in a puddle, or you were out of bookshelf space, or you had to move across the country and couldn't afford to ship them all.)

I debated for a long time, before I finally decided to use the money to get an eye exam and a new pair of glasses instead.  (Which is ironic if you think about it.)  In the end, it came down to three reasons:

Yes Yes Ya'll: Hip Hop...and Now You Know

The historiography of modern American musics has seen a general ratcheting up as of late. Beginning in the nineties – most likely when writers and journalists realized everyone was dying – a series of first person interviews has cropped up. Most entertaining has been Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me. But in its wake have been a bevy of other efforts, some detailing other punk scenes and some various other genres.

In New York, though, the most exciting innovation in music since bop occurred during the latter portion of the seventies. The Bronx, as bombed out as it was, gave rise to a new sort of music and a new kind of star. For something like the first five years of hip hop’s existence, the scene was relatively insular and seemed to mirror the RnB landscape – groups had costumes and routines that would find themselves repeated time and again to young crowds. But just like punk, as hip hop’s major players matured, the music changed.

So, by the time that Kool Herc and Bambaata had made a name for themselves, outside of the five boroughs and within, a sort of popularized version of what had been occurring began surfacing on records.