Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books : NPR

NPR recently conducted a reader poll of the Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy books, and the results are out. Keep in mind, it was decided mid-vote that YA novels, such as Ursula LeGuin’s books and the Harry Potter series, would be excluded, a decision I tend to question. That in mind, however, you can read the results here:

Your Picks: Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books : NPR.

The top ten, just FYI:
1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
6. 1984, by George Orwell
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

I voted for a few of these, but not all. My personal list included The Mists of Avalon (which came in at #42), Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series (#29), among others.

A reading marathon: War and Peace out loud in 24 hours

From The New York Times:

In November, the Russian department at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, read aloud all 1,358 pages of “War and Peace” on the 100th year of Tolstoy’s death. It took 24 hours. Kathleen Macfie, a professor of Russian who organized the reading, describes it as a lesson in slowing down: “It’s not part of their generational experience, to share something in real time, face-to-face, in a group.”

Ads in e-books: the marketing world invades the last sacred frontier

It was bound to happen: advertisements in books. Sure, the pulp-y fictions of old had their wares to sell, and mass market volumes often contain ads for, well, other mass market volumes. But thus far we haven’t been inundated with advertising in our reading material. With e-books, that may change.

Marketers are exploring a variety of formats, including sponsorships that give readers free books. Videos, graphics or text with an advertiser’s message that appear when a person first starts a book or along the border of the digital pages are also in the works. Ads can be targeted based on the book’s content and the demographic and profile information of the reader.
Would the random ad or two at the beginning of an e-book be so objectionable, really, especially if it would help lower or erase the cost of that book to the reader? Maybe not, but it’s a slippery slope between accompanying ads and product placement.

Imagine an ad for a sports drink that says “Is your day feeling like the worst of times?” that appears in “A Tale of Two Cities” next to the line “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” or ads for condoms interspersed through “The Scarlet Letter,” says Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey.

Read more at WSJ.

Are textbooks a thing of the past? Maybe paper ones are.

Kindles, Nooks and the iPad (perhaps especially the iPad): while e-reading is the hot new thing this year, it’s the textbook industry that most are predicting will see the biggest impact from e-book technology.

Compared with traditional textbooks, the iPad and other devices for reading digital books have the potential to save on textbook costs in the long term, to provide students with more and better information faster, and — no small matter — to lighten the typical college student’s backpack. (USA Today) At the same time, a robust online marketplace of used books and recent inroads by textbook rental programs give students more options than ever. The prospect of digital books and slow-but-steady growth in free online “open” content loom as developments that could upend the textbook landscape and alleviate the perennial problem of rising prices.

Back in August, Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, LLC (a wholly owned subsidiary of Barnes & Noble, Inc.) announced an expanded textbook rental program; at the same time, the company offers thousands of eTextbooks and the NOOKstudy program.

Some say it’s the iPad that’s making all the difference. A shift to e-books within the textbook industry has been expected for some time, but it’s the arrival of the iPad that seems to have jump-started momentum in that direction. In a recent piece on NPR (The E-Textbook Experiment Turns a Page), Matt MacInnis of Inkling talks about why iPads surpass their paper counterparts: “We give guided tours through complex concepts,” he says. “So rather than seeing a picture of a cell dividing and then having a big, long caption, you can now tap … through all the different phases of cell division and see those things unfurl in front of you.” At Reed College, students tested Kindles last year (the results were lackluster and mostly unsuccessful; students reported understanding the course material less with Kindles than with paper textbooks) and are testing iPads this year. Most express positive feedback with the iPads, though they often cite the cost of purchasing one as prohibitive. Still, as MacInnis points out, when a printed textbook can cost hundreds of dollars alone, students may be swayed to purchase hardware that will allow them to download a chapter from that same textbook for $2.99.

MacInnis says he’ll be aiming straight for the students. He says, “I can absolutely guarantee you that the guy with the book version is looking over the shoulder — with envy — at the guy with the iPad version.” (NPR)

eBook piracy on the rise?

From CNET:

Last January a company called Attributor conducted its first e-book piracy study. And back in May, I mentioned that study in piece called “Is Pad supercharging e-book piracy?” Well, Attributor has conducted a second study more recently and come up with some interesting data.

The company says its key findings are:

  • 50 percent increase in online searches for pirated downloads throughout the past year
  • 1.5-3 million daily Google queries for pirated e-books
  • 20 percent increase in demand for pirated downloads since the iPad became widely available in mid-May 2010
  • 54 percent increase in pirated e-book demand since August 2009
  • Proliferation of smaller sites that host and supply pirated e-books–a shift from larger sites like Rapidshare dominating the syndication market
  • “Breaking Dawn” by Stephanie Meyer registered the most pirated copy searches throughout the study
  • Widespread international demand, with the largest number of searches during the study originating in the United States (11 percent), India (11 percent) and Mexico (5 percent)

Read more:

The Great Typo Hunt

Jeff Deck has a new book (co-written with Benjamin D. Herson) out that’s bound to delight those of us who chortled our way through Eats, Shoots & Leaves —  The Great Typo Hunt, documenting his journey across America, fixing one typo at a time.


In November of 2007, Jeff Deck encountered a sign that would change his life. He had just returned from his five-year college reunion at Dartmouth College, embarrassed by his lack of accomplishment in life, when, walking near his apartment in Somerville, Mass., he encountered a sign that had already stopped him in his tracks multiple times: “Private Property: No Tresspassing.” The extra “s” in the sign had, as he puts it, long been “a needle of irritation” — but now something had changed: He felt the urgent need to correct it.

In the days that followed, Deck decided to give his life some purpose (at least for a few months) and, several months later, set off on a road trip around the United States in order to document our country’s many misspellings. He gave himself the mandate of correcting at least one spelling mistake every single day. Together with a rotating cast of friends, he traveled from the Northeast (“bread puding”) to Georgia (“pregnacy test”) to Wisconsin (“Milwuake Furniture”) while documenting each mistake and each correction on his blog — a mission that taught him about the breadth of America’s language problem and its citizens strongly divergent attitudes toward the English language.

I can’t help admiring Deck’s journey and the inherent nerdy perfectionism behind it. Frankly, I wish I’d been able to go along for the ride. Like Anthony Bourdain, he should contact local grammar nerds for tours of their finest offerings.

Amazon’s new Kindles — $189 and $139 each

The new Amazon Kindle Wi-Fi, above, will sell for $139 but connect to the Web only by Wi-Fi. A new model to replace the Kindle 2 will sell for $189 and connect to the Internet through a cellphone network.

Amazon is stepping up its game, releasing new models of the already-popular Kindle and dropping the price in a big way. Are they poised to dominate this holiday season, or can Barnes & Noble, or the iPad, or even the Sony Reader, give them a run for their money?, the maker of the Kindle e-reader, is introducing two new smaller, lighter versions with high-contrast screens and crisper text. The new Kindles will ship August 27th.
With Amazon’s latest announcement, it is again waging a price war. Barnes & Noble offers a Wi-Fi version of the Nook for $149 and Sony offers the Reader Pocket Edition, which does not have Wi-Fi, for $150.
I bought an iPad because I wanted a tablet device that was more than just an e-reader. But I’m intrigued by the Kindle. I’ve spent a little time playing around with a Nook, in Barnes & Noble, and to be frank I was very much less than impressed. The jury’s still out on the Kindle for me, and I wonder if this new model is an improvement — the price tag certainly is.

Time is on my side, yes it is…

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. 🙂

Today marks opening day of Wimbledon 2010, and it’s off to an exciting start (Federer was just almost eliminated in ROUND ONE, people!). Yes, I am a tennis junkie, but only for Wimbledon, so unless I turn this blog into a tennis forum for the next couple of weeks, it’s unlikely I will have much of a literary nature to say for a bit. Time is not on my side, as this is the busy time of year for working at the museum (sometime in June I usually start thinking about how  much better things would be if I had a couch in my office, and whether it would make sense to just move the cats into the library for the duration). And tennis. And other things. My point is, forgive me if there’s a brief mostly-tennis-induced silence. 🙂

But before I go, speaking of time, my latest read is an upcoming book from Random House, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. It’s got a little of the Hitchhiker’s Guide feeling, though more dry, less absurd. More on that later. Time travel books can be fun, if confusing. It was always a favorite sub-genre of mine, though, back when I was reading a lot of scifi. I have this vague memory of something called The Annals of the Time Patrol that I read incessantly for a bit, and of course Heinlein likes to play fast and loose with timelines. Any personal favorites?

1B1T: One Book, One Twitter — reading American Gods

The Twitter-based crowdsourcing project, 1B1T (One Book, One Twitter), starts today — we’re reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. From Jeff Howe:

“I have a dream. An idea. A maybe great notion. Actually, as Auggie March might say, “I got a scheme.” What if everyone on Twitter read the same book at the same time and we formed one massive, international book club?… The aim with One Book, One Twitter is—like the one city, one book program which inspired it—is to get a zillion people all reading and talking about a single book. It is not, for instance, an attempt to gather a more selective crew of book lovers to read a series of books and meet at established times to discuss. The point of this—to the extent it has a point beyond good fun with a good book—is to create community across geographical, cultural, ethnic, economic, and social boundaries. ”

I know that some public libraries and universities do this; I seem to recall hearing that my own alma mater (Cornell) started a project like this one shortly after I graduated. I’m all for anything that encourages reading, sharing and discussion when it comes to books.

After discussion, rounds of nominations and voting (all of which I’m sort of not sorry to have missed, considering that getting a group of any size on Twitter together to agree on anything must have been like herding my cats away from the Squeaky Mouse), the book chosen was Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I’m ashamed that I haven’t read it yet, and so I say, why not? My copy, duly ordered from Amazon (library was all out! This is good!), arrived yesterday and I’ve read this week’s first three chapters, so I’m ready to get started.

Interested? Read Howe’s blog post, quoted above, here. The Twitter hastag is #1B1T, and you can also follow @1B1T2010.

Favorite love stories

Earlier today I stumbled on Esther Freud’s top ten love stories in fiction. I’ve never thought of myself as a romance reader, but it’s true that many of the classics are love stories from the ages. Ms. Freud’s #1: Gone With the Wind.

“Rhett Butler’s slow, cool devotion to Scarlett through so much of the novel, and the terrible moment when he stops loving her, and she realises she does, in fact, love him, had me feverishly begging fate, or Margaret Mitchell to intervene.” I agree, and also with several entries on Ms. Freud’s list (I was particularly pleased to see Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth — beautiful!).

What would my own short list of favorite romances be? Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina would be at the top of it, I’m sure. Probably my favorite book, it contains two romances: one that ends happily, and one that does not at all — giving us a story about choices, about choosing a love that builds or one that destroys. And I would say GWTW as well, for the very reasons Ms. Freud gives. Another would be Sharon Kay Penman’s historical novel of Wales, Here Be Dragons; along the same vein is Susan Kay’s story of Elizabeth Tudor, Legacy, an unconventional love story but a powerful one.

Which of your favorite books contain the greatest romances?