First Snow of the Season!

A little early, and rather wet and sticky, and for sure it won’t stay, but exciting nonetheless!


LibraryThing on a Saturday Afternoon

It’s raw and grey outside, but inside it’s warm and snuggly with the molasses-tinged scent of baking beans wafting through the apartment. I’ve just finished cataloguing my books on LibraryThing. I clock in at 620 books. It’s hard to believe I once had all these books stuffed onto three six-shelf bookcases in a studio apartment. No wonder I could barely move in there; I had books stacked two deep on the shelves and situated in small piles all over the rest of the apartment. Now I have a one-bedroom apartment with the three bookcases, one big built-in bookcase, and one smaller bookcase that doubles as a telephone stand. All are, unfortunately, full or near full. Bad news if I continue to acquire books at the rate I’m accustomed to! I’ve reset the blog widget to randomly display three books from my library instead of recently added books. As I was writing this, the widget was displaying The Golden Compass, The Slave Power, and one of my editions of Utopia.

I’ve always been fascinated by other people’s books. Examining someone’s bookcase can give a great deal of insight into his life and interests. I’m known for scouting friends’ bookshelves when I’m at their houses, checking out what they’ve got. Of course, most of my friends have history books—fine collections of Renaissance Italian materials or medieval European history for example. One friend even has a stellar collection of romance novels (which she lends out to interested parties, with tea and cookies). What intrigues me most about LibraryThing is the ability to check out other people’s bookshelves virtually. If you look at mine, you’ll see that about a third of my books are early American history. If you add in my other history books, modern America, European history, and Latin American history, and a view stray Asian and African history books, you’ll see that over half my books are history books. Pretty geeky, I guess. I have some fiction here, but most of my fiction and other history (mostly Latin American history, European history, and biography) are still at my parents’ house.

I like the community of LibraryThing too. How else would I know that a librarian in Dublin, Ireland owns 48 of the same books I own? Or how else would I know that the three users who own Phyllis Richman’s The Butter Did It also all own Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop? I like the Zeitgeist feature too…it bears little resemblance to the New York Times bestseller list. Among the most frequently owned: the Harry Potter books and The DaVinci Code, but also Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby, and Guns, Germs, and Steel. Among the most reviewed: The DaVinci Code, recent Harry Potter, but also Freakonomics, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, and Memoirs of a Geisha. It seems America’s reading tastes go beyond cheesy novels Renaissance artists and secret societies…who knew?

Friends, Bloggers, Lend me your Posts!

History Carnival Button

I will be hosting the next History Carnival on 1 November, right here at (a)musings of a grad student.

Please, email me your nominations for recently-published posts about historical topics, researching or teaching history, etc, at: rgoetz[at]fas[dot]harvard[dot]edu.

The History Carnival is not just for academics and specialists and entries don’t have to be heavyweight scholarship! But they do have to uphold certain standards of factual accuracy and integrity in the use of sources. If you have any further questions about the criteria for inclusion, check out the Carnival homepage.

You should include in your email: the title and permalink URL of the blog post you wish to nominate and the author’s name and the title of the blog. Please put “History Carnival” in the title of the email, so it will pass through my junk mail filters. You can submit multiple suggestions, both your own writing and that of others, but please try not to submit more than one post by any individual author for each Carnival (with the exception of multi-part posts on the same topic).

The Sci-Fi Movie Canon

I complained below, bitterly, about Time Magazine’s deficient literary canon. John Scalzi, author of the Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies, proposes his own canon of sci-fi movies. I’ve bolded the ones I’ve seen. I have to say, generally I’d rather read sci-fi than watch it (Joss Whedon’s excellent new film Serenity being one of the exceptions). I’m an agnostic on most of his choices and I haven’t seen very many of them.

Here’s the list:

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!
Back to the Future
Blade Runner
Bride of Frankenstein
Brother From Another Planet
A Clockwork Orange
Close Encounters of the Third Kind

The Damned
Destination Moon
The Day The Earth Stood Still
Escape From New York
ET: The Extraterrestrial
Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers (serial)
The Fly (1985 version)
Forbidden Planet
Ghost in the Shell
The Incredibles

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version)
Jurassic Park
Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior
The Matrix
On the Beach
Planet of the Apes (1968 version)

Solaris (1972 version)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
The Stepford Wives
Terminator 2: Judgement Day

The Thing From Another World
Things to Come
12 Monkeys
28 Days Later
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
2001: A Space Odyssey
La Voyage Dans la Lune
War of the Worlds (1953 version)

Another Best Book List

Critics for Time Magazine have picked what they call the 100 Best Novels in English since 1923. It’s a puzzling list in many ways. Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret is on the list. Why? If you’re going to pick a children’s book for such a list, why not anything by Madeleine L’Engle or Susan Cooper? The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe made the list, but not Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, or any of the other Narnia tales. Moving beyond children’s literature, why The Grapes of Wrath and not East of Eden? Why The Sun also Rises but not For Whom the Bell Tolls? Why Beloved but not Song of Solomon? There are only two Faulkner novels on the list; arguably every Faulkner novel should be on it. Where are winners of the Premio Quinto Sol, Bless Me, Ultima for example?

I suppose this is why I had Top 100 or even Top 1000 lists for literature. How can you say that these are the top books? You can’t really.

I’ve read exactly 25% of this list (see below) but I wonder, does that make me deficient?

1. Animal Farm By George Orwell
2. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
3. Beloved by Toni Morrison
4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
5. The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
6. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
7. A Death in the Family by James Agee
8. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
9. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
10. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
11. Light in August by William Faulkner
12. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
13. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
14. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
15. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
16. 1985 by George Orwell
17. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
18. Possession by A.S. Byatt
19. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
20. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
21. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
22. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
23. Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston
24. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
25. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

More Library Thing Fun

I have finished cataloguing what I would call “academic books.” That is, all my history books, plus reference materials, dictionaries and grammars (English,Spanish,and German), and textbooks. I am now at the 400-book mark, although I have more than that. Library Thing counts boxed sets as one book, so I actually have more like 415. This count does not include, of course, the European and Latin American history and biography remaining at my parents’ house.

So, the next Library Thing project: commence putting all my fiction (serious and fun) and my non-history non-fiction in.

I suspect that once I’m done I’ll have over 600 books in my apartment. That isn’t so bad now that I have a one-bedroom apartment. But just think: at this time last year all those books were stuffed into a studio apartment. Yikes.