Monday, July 11, 2005

I sing of books and the man...

Zwichenzug tagged me with the book meme. Of course books are just a format and aren't meaningful in and of themselves.

The book is merely a convenient package to carry around the printed word. But I'd just as soon read on a nice computer screen, a color palm pilot, or better yet, have a heads up display (HUD) projected onto my optic nerve. Or even hear a book on tape while driving.

Fiction is about good storytelling. Fiction was much more important to me when I was younger. Fiction was my great escape during my childhood. Now I am a man obsessed with the world about me. I rarely read for pleasure anymore, which is a shame. There are so many good books to read, but there is so much to be done in the world and so little Neal....

As an information scientist and practicing law librarian, I work with books every day. I like to scan the check-in cart and see what people are reading. I often pick up books and bring them home. I can bring books home faster than I can read them. I crave their knowledge though.

But I don't consider myself a bibliophile. I know some serious book nerds. I say that with affection, one nerd to another. I feel a strong kinship to my classmates in my library/archives/information science program.

I use the phrase bibliographic control to mean having control of and access to the printed word. I frequently cannot find the book I want when I need it. Therefore, by definition, I do not have bibliographic control over my personal book holdings. Now that I've taken two cataloging classes, I've a much better idea of what it takes to chase the illusion of true bibliographic control.

For librarians bibliographic control of books typically involves putting call numbers on (and in) the books and then developing a catalog to search the book records. At this very moment, I have 38 books checked out from UCLA. Which is a reasonable number to my mind. Some of them I have already read and am using in my thesis. Others I intend to read when I get some free time. I know people who have 400 books checked out to them.

Books are easy to copy catalog (you just crib off some other cataloger's hard work)....control of the digital articles I have on my computer is just as challenging. And then there are the print articles I have filed away and scattered about. I'm an information professional, but I too am afflicted by information overload.

The most recent book I've purchased was for class and is titled Information Architecture (Second Ed.) by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville. It is commonly known as the polar bear book. This Wikipedia entry gives the first edition of the polar bear book credit for popularizing the term information architecture. This also happens to be the book I've read most recently.

The last book I purchased for pleasure was The Scar by China Mieville. I read the first chapter, put it down to work on school work, and later lost track of it. I'll find it someday soon and finish it on a plane or something.

That brings me to how many books I own. I have no earthly idea. And since I'm married, I guess I own all the books my wife owns too....I'm going to guess we have about 600 books in our apartment now. Book is a bit tricky to define even. By book I assume one means a single-volume monograph....but does one include monographic serials? There are lots of monographic serials, for instance, my wife has seven volumes of the Proceedings of the Soveriegnty Symposium. They issue a new volume every year after the conference. Is that a book or a serial? Hard to say....

Books are an important part of my life and I couldn't decide how to pick a few out. So I'm going for categories. We'll start with books dealing with war.

  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. This book helped me deal with the feeling of being a sane man in an insane world. The book doesn't offer any answers, rather a whimsical tour of life in a troubled world. It's also the funniest thing I've ever read.

  • Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. Perhaps the best anti-war book ever written. As more and more of our young men and women come back from Iraq with horrible, debilitating wounds, I think this book becomes ever more relevant. Our war stories are full of heroic young men...the disabled vet is shuffled to the side and out of sight.

  • The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.
  • When I was in high school I read Tim's book If I Die in a Combat Zone which chronicled some of the things that happened to him in Vietnam. The Things They Carried is a more mature meditation on the meaning of war and its madness and about coming to terms with your obligation to your country and dealing with what happened to him and his friends in the war and after they came back to the world. This Wikipedia entry does a good job of explaining O'Brien's concept of story truth.
    In the short story, "Good Form," the narrator makes a distinction between "story truth" and "happening truth." O'Brien feels that the idea of creating a story that is technically false yet truthfully portrays war, as opposed to just stating the facts and creating no emotion in the reader, is the correct way to clear his conscience and tell the story of thousands of soldiers who were forever silenced by society. Critics often cite this disctinction when commenting on O'Brien's artistic aims in The Things They Carried and, in general, all of his fiction about Vietnam, claiming that O'Brien feels that the realities of the Vietnam War are best explored in fictional form rather than the presentation of so-called facts. |Link|
  • Jarhead by Anthony Swofford. Spike Magazine has a good review of the book here.

Science fiction books I have loved include:
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson. Neuromancer had a lot to do with my love of cyberpunk and my interest in becoming a cyborg.

  • Voice of the Whirlwind by Walter Jon Williams. As a teen, this book really spoke to me. The main character is adrift in a society he doesn't understand, full of rage, yet seeking a broader context. That was me as a teen in a nutshell.


Some other fiction that springs to mind:
  • The World According to Garp by John Irving

  • The Bourne Conspiracy by Robert Ludlum

  • The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy


  • Some authors I have read so many of their books I couldn't even begin to name them all.

  • Kurt Vonnegut

  • Ursula K. Le Guin

  • Harlan Ellison

  • David Drake

  • David Weber

  • John Ringo

  • Gar Wilson

I also want to mention some non-fiction. I loved Why They Kill by Richard Rhodes.

Massad Ayoob is my favorite law enforcement, self defense, and survivalist writer.


I'm a big fan of history. I've recently read (or had read to me) Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Battle Hymn of the Republic, Confederates in the Attic, and Facing Westward: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building.

I may come back and add to this list later, but those are the ones who come to me right now.

2 comments:

eBohn said...

Geez... can't ask this guy a simple question, huh? ;)

DR said...

Huh. I would have expected the Combat Leader's Field Guide to make the list.