Monday, May 31, 2010

One big, wrong family

Isaac Bashevis Singer received the Nobel for his writings about Jewish life, for the "Polish-Jewish roots" in his writing. "The Family Moskat" picks apart life in Poland from before WWI until the German invasion in 1939. The purpose is similar to that of many "great" novels - view the changes and details of a society or group of people. Here, the Moskats represent Hassidic Judaism as a whole, with each member of the new generation breaking off in a different way.

"The Family Moskat" is a book that, I presume, will mean something different to everyone who reads it - Jew vs. non-Jew, religious vs. secular, conservative vs. liberal, etc. The moral dilemmas reach out to the reader in that everyone is always wrong. Every character is incredibly real in that sense - they all have their glaring faults. It is difficult to find the character with the moral high ground; if one is not doing the right thing, he is saying something else that's terrible.

This made "The Family Moskat" both a fascinating read and a difficult one. It's hard to swallow some of the downfalls, like the amount of adultery committed, or the thefts, or the lies, or even the religious twists and turns. On the other hand, nothing is quite as thought-provoking as poor decisions. So many aspects of the book can be discussed. Like the world he's writing about, Singer's story can be broken down into all its little parts.

One thread continues to hit me. One of the Moskat cousins at some point coverts to Christianity. This puts her in the mind of her family (some of it, at least) as dead. In Judaism, little is as terrible as leaving the faith. Soon, it becomes clear that the conversion does little to help her in the eyes of others (including the husband for whom she converted). On the Hassidic side of things, modern education is blamed for this travesty. Looking at this story from a Jewish perspective reveals wrongs, while looking at this from a culturally liberal viewpoint will highlight wrongs on the other side. Each direction provides the reader with enough food for thought to last several months. "The Family Moskat" is rich in that sense. But like dark chocolate, too much can be a bad thing too.

This is a minuscule epic and an incredible view into the drama of the time. Singer's writing, it seems, developed with his later stories. Perhaps, but this one holds its own.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bookmarking 14 - Beijing 08

In early 2008, this stiff multi-layered bookmark came in the mail. The bookmark served partially as an informational tool for the Beijing 08 Olympics - dates, number of counties, etc. - while also sporting facts to encourage U.S. athletes - "Team USA Athletes: 600+"! The Olympic symbol and "Team USA" symbol are hard to catch among the athletes, but they're there behind the volleyball player and the fencers. A very nice way to promote the Olympics.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bookmarking 13 - Crocheted

Sometimes all that's needed for a great bookmark is a little talent with your hands. Unfortunately, I entirely lack such talent. Luckily, lots of other people out there don't have my talent handicap. Check out these crocheted bookmarks - creativity mixed with practicality.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Dry Results, part 2: The Blog

Check out part 1 here or a compiled list of results here! Spoiler alert - part 2 is pretty interesting. Let's take a look.

I've long suspected that I'm in the minority regarding reviews. When I first started this blog, I decided to separate between book reviews and book thoughts. Though I sometimes write and publish reviews, I do not associate them with this blog. Soon after creating this blog, I realized that I was pretty much alone in this mentality. Almost every book blog I encountered was some form of a review blog. With time, I found many blogs that were different - publisher blogs, news blogs, and a few others that seemed to fall into no clear category. The survey shows essentially this: 73% view their blog as a "review blog", with only 14% explicitly pointing out that their blog is not for reviewing. The remaining 12% are unsure regarding the definition or don't want to apply a label. One respondent wrote "about half", another described it as "reviews and opinions on literature in general".

Genre specialization, and if so:

This number surprised me. I expected a lot more than 31% of blogs to be genre specific. 64%, however, do not view their blog as genre specific, and curiously enough, only 5% weren't sure how to answer or wanted to elaborate (the big bonus of having an "Other _____" option). But here's an interesting point - while a significant majority of blogs don't specialize, 9 respondents who answered either "Other" or "No" then offered a possible genre. And one genre seemed to lead the pack in terms of specialization - more on these two topics later.

Book-world news:

This one was surprising too, but in a slightly different way. 14% seemingly don't do news, while an additional 28% pretty much never post about book-world news. Not a majority, but a surprisingly strong block. 32% occasionally post about book-related news stories, 1-2 a month. 13% are casual posters of news, discussing these matters once or twice a week while 8% are a little more hard-core - 3-7 times a week. A tiny sliver, 1%, post extremely frequently about news - 8 or more times a week. 3% declined to state. These numbers indicate diversity among book bloggers, and fall in a rather standardly shaped bell curve. It appears that the average blogger writes posts relating to book world news on a monthly basis.


This one was... less surprising. 25% of bloggers have seemingly never touched a meme with a ten foot pole, 26% rarely participate in them, and 17% occasionally (but perhaps not too regularly) participate in memes. 24%, meanwhile, regularly do memes - probably a couple weekly meme features. 4% are fairly big meme fans, participating in memes 3-7 times a week. No blogger goes too far, though - no one does more than 8 memes a week. 3% declined to state.

Review frequency:We already know book bloggers are overwhelmingly reviewers. 51% of bloggers post reviews 6 or more times a month, with only 3% never publishing reviews. Which, placed alongside the earlier question, reveals that quite a few of the "Not a review blog" replies are most likely of blogs with an interesting mix of reviews, news, thoughts and anything else. 13% of respondents publish reviews 1-2 a month, 30% get out a fair number of reviews per month at 3-5, and a quiet 2% declined to state.

Blog challenges:Fairly even, balanced responses. 38% participate in no challenges, 26% do 1 or 2 a year, 24%
participate in a fairly large range of challenges of 3 to 10, while 11% go long with 11 or more challenges per year. 1% declined to state.

Book tours:
The dry numbers for this question do not actually provide much information, but upon closer (upcoming) examination, reveal a few interesting points. 61% participate in no book tours, 14% currently host 1 tour on their blog, 15% do 2-3, and 10% do 4 or more. 1% declined to state.

Due to the length of this post, the final round of dry results will come in a separate post next week, so tune in for Dry Results, part 2: The Blog cont., and feel free to link others to the gradually growing compiled list of results!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bookmarking 12 - Cars

This is one of the oldest bookmarks I own for one simple reason - it isn't really mine. This somehow passed hands enough time to make the shiny gold crack, make the back peel and make the bookmark soft and worn throughout, from the slightly shrunken top to the frayed ruffled bottom. The bookmark reads "British Veteran Cars", and true to their description, these cars are not very young. Lanchester - 1897; Vaughall, 1903... Five cars, elegantly displayed.

Quite classy, indeed.

Monday, May 10, 2010

I want this shirt

(And yes, this is another, ahem, subtle hint to read "The Master and Margarita" if you haven't. Because. Seriously.)

(the "Of Mice and Men" shirt is pretty cool too)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Book-doh!-marking 11 - Homer

I bought this angry head maybe six years ago, intending to give it as a gift. I am not really certain who I intended to give it to, though. I kept it in the plastic case, constantly tucked away, knowing it would one day go to someone more deserving. Or so I thought.

Except years later, it's still in the plastic case, still glaring at me and wondering why I'm constantly shoving away old stuff from my brain. Books! Can't trust 'em.

And, interestingly enough, I think this is the only bookmark I own that I have never once used. I suppose Homer is just waiting for the appropriate occasion...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Around the Ferris wheel

As readers of this blog may know, I don't really do reviews. Not here, at least. Still, every once in a while I feel the need to discuss a book (or an author) at length and the rambling can occasionally resemble reviews (rather in the same way that a casual mention might be considered a recommendation). I can only hope these rambles and rants will be entertaining and interesting.

The topic is Joshua Ferris, author of Then We Came to the End and The Unnamed. The reason for the discussion: Jessica of Both Eyes Book Blog and my own bewildered gut. You see, in the case of Ferris, I'm rather in the minority. The simple story is that I liked End and I wasn't thrilled about The Unnamed. The problems began when I realized just about everybody was thrilled with The Unnamed, and a lot of folk weren't so keen on End.

Ferris mentioned in an interview several months ago (hat tip, The Elegant Variation) that "Some of the bad reviews have been perplexing in their lack of sophistication". He complained (for lack of a better word) that critics could not rise about a childish, simplistic mentality and view of the book, essentially saying that they were reading it wrong. The critical review quote included in the interview just seems weird to me (and perhaps unjustly harsh), but it's still an odd, somewhat arrogant thing for an author to say. When I finished The Unnamed, I came to the conclusion that there are a few levels on which the book could be read, namely a simplistic literal level and a few deeper metaphorical ones. I also came to the conclusion that neither method of reading the book is particularly satisfying. One is overly simplified, the other overly analytical and dense. Am I reading without sophistication, or am I the clever odd duck who realizes the truth?

I know many book bloggers (and many more I can't link to) were impressed with this book. Even I enjoyed it, somewhat. I appreciated the metaphors and the depth, I liked the way I got into the characters and the difficult story, and I enjoyed most of the writing, although there were some moments of awkwardness. And I liked the subtlety of the layers, as if Ferris is teasing his readers, hoping they'll pick up on other levels (unless I'm totally off base and am inventing depth where there is none). But at the end of the day, it had too many issues - the fact that the characters never felt quite as close to home as I would have hoped (aside from main character Tim), the way the metaphors/allegories didn't sit well with reality, and the way, as a simplified story, it seemed to lack punch for the whole of the book.

Did I let myself get caught up in the book while I read it? Yes. Do I understand why people like it? Yes. Do I understand why people love it? No. Ferris wrote a good second book, but it's not spectacular. It's special, it jumps out at readers, but it did not succeed entirely at the depth Ferris so hoped for. I cannot compare it to his debut either, which I liked a great deal more, because the two books are different (bonus points for Ferris). The disappointment doesn't come from expecting another comedic-bordering-serious novel, but rather from the less than great execution of a serious Novel-with-a-capital-N.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Dry results, part 1: The Blogger

Round 1 of the Book Blogger Survey results is as simple as can be: the numbers GoogleDocs is kind enough to offer. The final tally of surveyed book bloggers amounted to 292 (a sincere thank you, once again, to all of you) and respondents for the most part offered their details as best they could (several contacted me regarding their "decline to state" answers - one was unclear as to what a "meme" was, and so on). I am aware that this survey is not exactly "scientific" - I received quite a few e-mails also suggesting ambiguity regarding a few questions. All of this will be discussed further in the coming weeks.

To begin with, the answer to my original question.


The initial male/female breakdown I guessed when compiling the book blogger database came out to approximately 60:20, where 20% came out to be blogs with multiple writers or writers of unknown gender. The actual survey results showed numbers that seemed to follow this trend even as they tilted more towards Female. Instead, taking into account the essentially nonexistent number of "Decline to State" bloggers (1 respondent), the final numbers came out as 83% Female and 17% Male.


Participants were a tad less likely to share their age - 3 book bloggers voted "Decline to State". Meanwhile, the results showed a surprisingly varied range in age with one notable exception - book bloggers are not senior citizens. 13 respondents, meanwhile, admitted to being minors, suggesting that the "young people don't read" theory is quite a bit of nonsense (I invite these 13 to offer their own views on the matter).

Literary Studies Background:

This question was meant to help understand how many book bloggers are so-called "well-read" - have studied the great works, have learned how to manipulate the depths of "Ulysses", and so on. The results were actually fairly, shall we say, boring. It was essentially an even split between just plain higher education courses and a literary degree. One respondent correctly pointed out that "college courses" can mean a number of different things in different countries, however I will refer to this fully in a separate post later.


This graph alone really doesn't say much. Not yet, at least. Further analysis should reveal some interesting trends, especially with regards to some of the other survey questions.


I will be perfectly honest: I did not expect these results. I expected many more "decline to state"s (only 2%) and fewer "none"s (a clear 86% majority). More interesting were the freehand comments people left - asking questions such as whether free ARCs from publishers count as "affiliation", for instance. There will be a more complete post on the matter of this question as well.

Here ends the first half of the first round of survey results (covering "The Blogger" part of the survey). Tune in next week for dry results for "The Blog" part and a few more in-depth posts*.

*Once again, sharing and linking to the results is absolutely welcome and encouraged. Questions, comments, complaints can be e-mailed to [the name of this blog] at [gmail].