Monday, January 10, 2011

Slow Reading Review

Slow Reading by John Miedema

Slow Reading examines the research in voluntary slow reading, from the earliest references in religion and philosophy, to the practice of close reading in the humanities, and the recent swell of interest associated with the Slow Movement. It looks at the diverse angles from which slow reading has been approached in education, library sciences and media studies. Research in psychology and neurophysiology provides a tentative explanation for the ongoing role of slow reading. The theme of locality in the Slow Movement provides insight into the importance of physical location in our relationship with information. Most of all, Slow Reading represents a rediscovery of the pleasure of reading for its own sake.

Miedema's tiny volume is meant to be a scholarly argument for reading: reading for pleasure, reading for comprehension, reading as escape. In five essays, he picks apart different aspects of speed reading and its associated trends, and argues that slow reading is as valid in modern times as speed and efficiency.

It's clear from the outset that this book was meant to be academic, and while it is clear and readable, it often requires concentration from its readers (which, I suppose, was intentional). So, readers should be aware that this is what they're getting into with this book.

This isn't to say that Miedema's work is without emotion or art. He often speaks of the inherent sacredness of reading, its therapeutic powers, and its timelessness as both deliverer of information, and pleasant hobby. He also makes resounding and compelling arguments for libraries and their use in modern times. His proposed make-believe book, A Librarian's Guide to Getting Lost would be an excellent next project for him. I would love to read it.

However, there are times when Miedema shows his prejudices on this topic. This book was written just before the current boom in eReaders, and so he doesn't understand them as well as he would now. However, he argues that they could never replace books because they have too many "bells and whistles" and that they, like hypertext online, are too distracting to allow true concentration. To me, this seems to be a bit of projection. I'm pretty old school about reading: I really don't like reading lengthy texts online either. However, I adore my eReader because it feels like reading a book, and it allows me to carry two hundred books in my purse. It would be interesting to see what Miedema would write a year after receiving a current-generation eReader as a gift.

The real shame is that this book was written as an argument at all. When Miedema speaks about slow reading, books, and reading and writing in general, he becomes almost rhapsodic. That is the book I wanted to read: a gift from one bibliophile to another. But then, that's my prejudice. Miedema writes one hell of an essay, and makes some excellent points all through the book. It's a quick read (har har) but a deep one, and any problems with it do not outweigh the importance of what Miedema's saying here. If you're feeling rushed, and want motivation and justification to take a breath and enjoy your life for once, Slow Reading will give you that and much more.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Jane Austen: A Life Revealed Review

Jane Austen: A Life Revealed by Catherine Reef

Jane Austen’s popularity never seems to fade. She has hordes of devoted fans, and there have been numerous adaptations of her life and work. But who was Jane Austen? The writer herself has long remained a mystery. And despite the resonance her work continues to have for teens, there has never been a young adult trade biography on Austen.

Catherine Reef changes that with this highly readable account. She takes an intimate peek at Austen’s life and innermost feelings, interweaving her narrative with well-crafted digests of each of Austen’s published novels. The end result is a book that is almost as much fun to read as Jane’s own work—and truly a life revealed.

This little book is both a love letter to Austen and her fans, and a fine introduction to Austen for young readers. Reef begins with a quick and savvy trick to draw her readers into Austen's time and place, and into the world of her novels. She then proceeds with a light and loving touch through Austen's life, using her novels as a framework. This volume also includes pictures and illustrations, which are useful for cultural and historical context.

I'm a big advocate of drawing younger readers to Austen's work. I wish I had met her when I was a teenager: her heroines (for the most part) are far more interesting than those in the majority of teen fiction. What's striking about this book is that Reef doesn't "dumb down" her writing. Her prose is clear and uncomplicated, but she has no compunctions about drawing the reader deep into a literary world, and explaining a radically different social setting. As a reader who has read far too much about Austen, I was never bored, and was pleasantly entertained by Reef's retelling of The Lady's life.

My one complaint was Reef's emphasis on Austen's flirtation with Tom LeFroy, which I thought might have been influenced by Becoming Jane, and also by a desire to make Austen a more sympathetic figure. I personally don't see much evidence that this romance was a great love affair in Austen's life, and I don't like the idea of it being treated as such. However, pedantic grumblings aside, I'm willing to acknowledge that there really is very little we know about Austen, and some elaboration can be forgiven.

Overall, Reef does an excellent job making the little-known life of a well-known woman clear, readable, and absorbing. A superb introduction for young readers, and a treat for fans who want a fresh look at Austen's life and times.

Jane Austen: A Life Revealed is scheduled to be released in April 2011.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What I Read Last Year

I fell short of my yearly goal of fifty books, but I got a lot more writing done than I usually do. Partial win?


1) A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
2) The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
3) The Big Book of Sex Toys by Tristan Taormino
4) Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving by Betty Dodson
5) Radical Ecstasy by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy
6) Underneath It All: A Girl's Guide to Buying, Wearing and Loving Lingerie by Jennifer Manuel Carroll and Kathy Schultz
7) The Innocent's Progress by Peter Tupper
9) The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
10) Over 100 S&M Sex Tips by Lisa Sussman*
11) Dare... to Have Anal Sex by Coralie Thinh Thi*
12) The Illusionist by Francoise Mallet-Joris
13) Cheri and The Last of Cheri by Colette
14) Like the Knave of Hearts edited by J. Blackmore
15) 1901: A Steam Odyssey by Lionel Bramble
16) Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor
17) Pink Box: Inside Japan's Sex Clubs by Joan Sinclair
18) Gerald's Game by Stephen King
19) Open Your Eyes by Paul Jessup
20) Like a Vorpal Blade edited by J. Blackmore
21) The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography by Angela Carter
22) Love and Friendship and Other Stories (Juvenilia) by Jane Austen
23) I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister, 1791-1840 edited by Helena Whitbread
24) Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders by Josephine Ross and Henrietta Webb
25) Elementary Erotica edited by J. Blackmore
26) New Blood by Gail Dayton
27) Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach
28) Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction by Susan Blackmore
29) Confession of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor
30) The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
31) No Priest But Love: The Journals of Anne Lister from 1824-1826 edited by Helena Whitbread
32) The Convent of the Pure by Sara M. Harvey
33) The Labyrinth of the Dead by Sara M. Harvey
34) The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
35) HebrewPunk by Lavie Tidhar
36) An Occupation of Angels by Lavie Tidhar
37) The Frugalista Files by Natalie McNeal
38) Jane Austen: A Life Revealed by Catherine Reef
39) Ariel by Sylvia Plath
40) Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente
41) The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
42) The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister edited by Helena Whitbread

Short Stories

"The Call of Cthulu" by H.P. Lovecraft
"The Haunter of the Dark" by H.P. Lovecraft
"The Burial of the Rats" by Bram Stoker
"The Cold Embrace" by Mary Elizabth Braddon
"The Colour Out of Space" by H.P. Lovecraft
"Derelict" by Albert Berg
"The Diary of Philip Westerly" by Paul Compton
"The Doom of the House of Duryea" by Earl Peirce Jr.
"The Doors of Death" by Arthur B. Waltermire
"The Dreams in the Witch House" by H.P. Lovecraft

Graphic Novels

Shekhar Kapur's Snake Woman 1: A Snake in the Grass by Zeb Wells and Michael Gaydos
Snake Woman 2 by Zeb Wells, Dean Hyrapiet, Vivek Shinde, and Michael Gaydos
Snake Woman 3: Tale of the Snake Charmer by Zeb Wells and Vivek Shinde
Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams
Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli

*Reviewed for my now-defunct adult store gig.