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Entries in Books (42)

Thursday
Sep042003

Why I Love the Library

LibrarySince my early childhood, one of the places I still love to visit is the public library. I'm privileged with a mom who happens to be a voracious reader, so I suppose the Library was a natural place to end up.

In fact, the library was a regular weekly outing for my brothers and I. On library days, mom would pack us into the car and head over to the local branch, where we'd spend hours and hours looking for and at books. Inevitably, we would come home with a huge pile of books: one pile for mom and another pile for us boys.

My mom's appetite for reading and her love of the library have rubbed off on me, which is a good thing. When I think about it, I love the library because I can find almost anything there: books, books on tape or CD, music CDs, music tapes, videos and movies (VHS and DVD), reference manuals, magazines and more. At my local library, you can even borrow artwork!

For me, the library is also a refuge from the rest of the world. When I spend time in those quiet halls, I feel relaxed. I love walking down rows of shelves, sometimes dragging my fingers along book spines, other times stopping to turn my head sideways, so I can read the book titles. The library even has that distinct scent of oxidizing paper and aging comfy chairs, which to me is very inviting and comforting.

But in the past few years I've come across a great new feature of the library system -- online reservations and requests. I can't recall how I stumbled on the Milwaukee County Federated Library System website, but I'm glad I did. I can use tools on this site to search for any title in the entire system and request it, using my library card number and PIN.

Once an item is requested online, I simply tell the system at which branch I want to pick up the item, and usually a week later, I'm alerted by email that it's arrived. This is a great tool, because I can now get most any book (even new releases) right from a web browser as soon as they cross my mind. Having online access is also helpful for busy times when I just don't have time to stop at the library and browse.

Using the library is also a great way to save cash, especially on fiction novels (what I call "read-once" items). Since I generally read a paperback once and never again, I really don't want a collection of fiction novels cluttering my shelves. It just makes good sense to save $7 (or more!) by borrowing a novel instead. The 3 week deadline also works well, since either I'll have incentive to finish a book, or I'll realize the book is not what I expected (100 page rule) and return it. This works for reference books too, since I can review a book in-depth before deciding to purchase.

As an example, last week I requested Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age after seeing a mention of his work in the Palm Digital Media newsletter. I visited the MCFLS website, keyed in the author's name and book title. Within seconds I'd found and requested the book. A week later, a library alert email told me my request had arrived, so I visted the library to pick it up.

Before picking up my requested book, I went upstairs and checked the non-fiction, new releases and found an interesting book called Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age by Duncan J. Watts. In his book, Watts tries to explain the science of networks and how many of the networks we're part of, yet often take for granted, operate. Often I'll stumble on interesting non-fiction books here, like Silicon Boys, mentioned in my weblog.

Finally, I hit the music CD rack and grabbed 6 world music titles. These included music from Africa, India, France, Portugal and even a selection of tunes from Cape Breton Island. You never know what you might find in those bins!

Then I checked out, picking up my requested book, Diamond Age. Total cost: nothing but the time it took to visit the library (which to me was a pleasure) and a small portion of my property taxes.

So, here's the upshot: if you used to be a library fan but haven't been there for a while, I encourage you to renew your card and check out the library again. If you've never been to the library, find out what you've been missing! You might be surprised! :-)

The library is an amazing place, especially for kids. Now is your opportunity to gain access to a wealth of knowledge and information. Maybe you'll leave your children with fond library memories and positive habits like mine.

I for one hope to make the library as special of a place for my son as it has become for me. That's the least I can do for him.

Friday
Aug152003

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy e-book Deal

HHGTTGHey, great news if you're a fan of the late, great Douglas Adams! Palm Digital Media has now released all 4 of Adams' "trilogy" titles in Palm Reader e-book form: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything and So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.

Even better, when you buy book 1: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you can buy book 2, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe for half price. Same deal applies if you buy book 3, Life, the Universe and Everything; you get book 4, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish for half price. The total for all four e-books comes to about $24 (less for Palm Digital Media subscribers).

If you've never read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and its sequels -- it's a story about an unsuspecting guy who lives in Islington, London, UK, Earth, who's snatched up by a spaceship along with his friend, Ford Prefect, who turns out to be an alien. Through the story Dent learns the truth about the universe and the earth, while meeting kooky characters and finding himself in tough situations all across the universe. Adams provides funny anecdotes throughout the narration of the story.

I recommend The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy "trilogy" of 4 books highly as a great read with many, many laughs. Douglas Adams was a very funny writer, who had a great way of making the future funny and not as picture perfect as other sci-fi writers have the tendency to do. Oddly enough though, the books actually followed the BBC radio series, which Adams did initially (available in audio CD format).

Have a great weekend all!

Monday
Apr212003

The Old Patagonian Express

The Old Patagonian ExpressI love travel writing. I thoroughly enjoy learning about far flung places in the world, their cultures, history, and people. For me it's a real treat to settle into a comfortable chair and experience the travels of a travel writer. It's also an educational experience for an amatuer travel writer, like me.

So what makes a great travel writer? In my opinion, it's primarily the writer's awareness of their surroundings and the ability to express their observations of places, people and events in a way that makes the reader feel as though they are right there, along for the ride.

One travel writer whom I feel has these abilities is Paul Theroux. I've read nearly all of his travel books and have enjoyed each one, though my absolute favorite is The Old Patagonian Express.

The concept of The Old Patagonian Express is quite simple: can someone take a metro Boston commuter train from North America, all the way down to Patagonia on the southern tip of South America? Theroux manages to pull off his goal (sans a few dangerous parts of Central America) while weaving a great yarn about train travel, interesting people and the colorful places he experiences along the way.

What I especially enjoy are Theroux's detailed character descriptions of the people he meets on and off the train, like the Raw Foodist on an Amtrak train in the US Midwest and Thornberry, a fellow American traveller Theroux bumps into while wandering in Central America. The book is filled with many interesting characters that greatly enhance Theroux's story of train travel in Latin America.

I should also warn you that Paul Theroux is often a bit grumpy on his travels, which sometimes gets him into trouble. However I find this gruffness part of his charm. I also like that Theroux bares his grumpy side for the reader, because it shows that a travel writer's life is not always sunshine and ice cream.

So, If you have any interest in trains, travel to South America, or travel adventures but just can't strike our on your own at the moment, I highly recommend The Old Patagonian Express. If you've never read a travelogue before, I encourage you to find a good one and give it a try. Reading about travels makes for interesting reading and can even teach the worldly traveler a thing or two.

Thursday
Apr102003

Microserfs

MicroserfsOne of my all-time favorite books is Microserfs, by Douglas Coupland. The book is about a group of Microsoft programmers (called Microserfs) and their struggles at work and their attempts to find a meaningful life. While it's a fictional account, I get the feeling that Coupland did some serious research and probably conducted interviews with current and former Microsoft employees to help paint an accurate picture of Microsoft culture.

I was most intrigued by Coupland's character development, his detailed descriptions of life inside Microsoft and his dry sense of humor. As a single guy at the time, I could (to a degree) relate to many of the characters lifestyles. I certainly knew what it felt like to pull an all-nighter for a hot deadline and was also very interested in all things tech.

Funnily enough, I originally read Microserfs when it first appeared in the January 1994 issue 2.01 of Wired magazine, long before release of the book. At the time I thought it was just a short story published by Wired, and maybe it was. I don't know for certain if Microserfs was published to promote the book, or whether the short story was so popular that it became a book.

I still recall the evening I first read Microserfs. I'd just come home from work, and was excited about receiving the latest issue of Wired magazine. I immediately found a comfy chair and skimmed the issue (a ritual I still continue to this day). When I came across the Microserfs article, I stopped to read it and was immediately drawn into the story.

Two hours later, I finished the article, thoroughly enjoying the read and wanting more. Little did I know I'd only read a small portion of what was to become an entire book entitled Microserfs.

Four years later, I was at Barnes & Noble and found a book called Microserfs in the discount bin. I checked the book out and sure enough -- it was the same story I'd read in that Wired Magazine with much more to read! I bought the book and devoured it over the next two weeks, enjoying every twist of the plot and nuance of the characters I'd known from years earlier.

So, if you're at all interested in a great story centered around technology, interesting characters and the quirky atmosphere of Microsoft, I can highly recommend Microserfs.

Monday
Mar312003

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

I've found a great little science fiction ebook to recommend called Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. It's written by Cory Doctorow, a writer, blogger and Outreach Coordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The story is interesting because it combines recent technological breakthroughs and potential technological discoveries, then extrapolates how they might find practical application in the future. The story's setting is a future where cloning and brain backup are commonplace, direct wireless connections to the Internet are installed in people's brains and where ad-hoc groups working for Whuffie, a type of peer recognition, have supplanted corporations.

Disneyworld (The Magic Kingdom) is the backdrop in which we find two ad-hoc groups battling for control of the park. The narrator tells the story of this epic battle from his own perspective, revealing the history of the world he's in bit by bit. To me it seemed to have the humor and feel of writing by Douglas Coupland (Microserfs) and Carl Hiassen (Lucky You), two of my favorite writers.

Even cooler, Doctorow has decided to offer his ebook as a free download in a multitude of formats for desktops (ASCII text, PDF, HTML, etc.) and for PDAs too (Palm Doc, PalmReader, iSilo, Mobipocket, etc.). Apparently this idea of sharing his work electronically has been a very popular option. Of course, the paperback book is available for purchase if you prefer that format.