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Showing posts from May, 2012

Summaries and Critiques

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Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Although the protagonist of this novel is a young teen, it wouldn't be fair to call this a children's book or young adult fiction. It has some dark themes. I'd liken it more to Huckleberry Finn or The Island of Dr. Moreau than to, say, The Princess and the Goblin, all of which were published round the same time as Treasure Island by the way, late 19th century. Unlike lots of books written over a hundred years ago that lean toward a more formalized tone or diction, you might be surprised by how smooth a read this is. A solid adventure story. Long John Silver is a strong villain. From start to finish, the tension never lets up. Every scene offers some danger and suspense. Shiver me timbers! And pieces of eight!

Live From the Battlefield, From Vietnam to Baghdad, 35 Years in the World’s War Zones, by Peter Arnett. Arnett has obviously lived a full and exciting life as a journalist. Unfortunately, despite his years of experience, his …

Writing Books

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No writer worth his sodium chloride would claim great writers are born great writers. For one, the wording is redundant and we writers are cautioned against stuff like that. For another, even the music prodigy has to practice her scales. In addition to reading in a general way (or as Faulkner advised: “Read, read, read. Read everything.”) so too the writer needs to read books about the craft. Just as the physics major doesn’t opt out of his math classes, neither should the aspiring novelist disregard instructional books on the mechanics of composition or what constitutes an engaging story.

John Gardner’s book On Becoming a Novelist offers an astounding analysis of the writing process. His teaching experience is vast and authoritative, and he provides exceptional advice and genuine concern for the aspiring novelist. For those who insist the proof of the pudding is in the eating, one of Gardner’s tasty treats is a short novel called Grendel. It’s essentially the story of Beowulf from th…

The Future of Reference Guides

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The miracle of internet search engines has made reference books and other paper journals, scientific or otherwise, nearly as obsolete as microfiche. Unless you’re one of those hermits who hasn’t left his cave yet, you know today’s dictionaries and encyclopedias, hell, the whole Library of Congress, has been converted to the more convenient format of PDFs and other electronic intellectual properties. So whether you want to know the history of cotton or cotton candy or how many ways to pronounce the word ‘argot,’ your curiosity can be quenched with just a few keystrokes.

Published material in physical volumes won't reflect what new discoveries or research might later reveal, and short of a new edition or a future issue or some other addendum, these antiquated formats simply can't compete with their online successors. However, I'm reluctant to burn my reference guides just yet. Some are well organized in ways even the luckiest web surfer couldn't imitate.

Those Who Fought,…