Jun 1 2010

“¡Viva Data Libre!” (The Texas Tribune)

All Bookbread can say is muchas gracias for this streamlined collection of public data on the State of Texas, including many metrics helpful for understanding the SBOE and the twilight of textbooks in Texas. This is true twentyfirst century journalism.

The Texas Tribune contends: “We hope to have about 7 million records available to the public by year’s end.” Memorial Data | The Texas Tribune.


Jan 18 2010

Mere List Making

At American Fiction Notes, Mark Athitakis lists five reasons for not posting lists of “best books of the year” or any other such lists on his book blog. Bookbread fully supports Athitakis’s proactive approach towards list containment in the book blogosphere even if he has to create lists to do it.

Athitakis also includes some ideas of list making as a potential kind of art form and even spirituality:

Lists contribute to a culture of filthy linkbait whoring that just plays into Arianna Huffington’s greedy goddamn hands. Every person who gets access to a Web site’s stats knows that lists bring in traffic. This is naturally seductive, but ultimately contributes to an online hivemind of short attention spans, which is death on sustained commentary.

All of which is to say that I was a tad cranky.

I might’ve calmed down a little had I read Albert Mobilio’s consideration of Umberto Eco’s book The Infinity of Lists before the holidays. Lists can, he argues, have a kind of art to them, if approached in the right way.

A list is an intimation of totality, a simulacrum of knowing much, of knowing the right much. We select our ten best big-band recordings, all-time basketball starting fives, mysteries to read this summer; add up the people we’ve slept with or people we wish we had; index our movie-memorabilia collection; count our blessings; list reasons for not getting out of bed. We jot these accounts on envelopes, store them on hard drives, murmur them under our breath as we ride home from work—it’s no accident that many prayers are really nothing more than lists.

Bookbread can’t vouch for lists existing as types of art forms — though the listing of statements in Wittgenstein is rather elegant — but when it comes to mental nutrition, there is no doubt that certain lists (in the form of that dreaded c-word “canon”) carry a practicality that cannot be denied. As Harold Bloom observes in The Western Canon (1995), “An Elegy for the Canon”:

Who reads must choose, since there is literally not enough time to read everything, even if one does nothing but read.

The question them becomes: what is the difference between the reader’s choice and mere list making?

[NYR: Umberto Eco]


Jan 14 2010

The Library of Topless Misfits

Something’s rotten in the mental state of Danzig:

Danzig mentions The Lost Books of the Bible (1928), which Bookbread has somewhat read.

[NYR: Montague Summers, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Gustav Davidson]


Jan 12 2010

Tagging & Indexing for Books

Over at the University of Rochester’s Three Percent, Chad W. Post suggests:

I could be completely wrong, but it seems like it would be incredibly helpful for recommendations and the like if people more actively created interesting tags and sub-categories for books.

Post proposes that a transition towards tagging for books (a proliferation of genre fragmentation for fiction) offers potential benefits to readers and publishers. Basically he claims that because the status for fiction genres allows ambiguity to run rampant–and this is despite the Gospel of Niche-Marketing we’ve heard all our lives–surely some dusting up is in order when it comes to categorizing works of fiction.

On the other hand, as Post points out, this metastasizing of product labels leads only to more meaninglessness:

None of these [tags] are useful. (“Sex”? Seriously? Like theres a book out there thats not about sex?)

Clearly Post, and most readers, desire “useful tags.” But doesn’t Amazon already do this? Absolutely. Readers and customers create their own product indexes for the world’s largest online retailer, yet even Amazon’s system is subject to abuse, as these tags for a book by Beth Ostrosky Stern demonstrate.

Post concludes:

it seems to me that readers would be the first group of people to be inventing interesting and creative neologisms to define what it is that they’re into. Shouldn’t there be some catchy tag that links Antunes to Cortazar to Calvino?

But wouldn’t a proliferation of tags more or less give readers what it gave the music industry: a clownish cycle of exclusivity, tired ideals bent on listening with “virgin ears,” staid arguments over first-discoveries accompanied by belated mainstream-ness? No doubt this country’s universities would approve.

[NYR: Antunes, Calvino, Cortazar]