Tag Archives: Reading

One Courageous Human Tries to Read a Book From Every Bookcase in the Library

manPet care, military history, even the reference shelf: this guy is going to read a book from each of them. Robert Sedgwick wants to expand his reading, and to promote his local library. He decided the best way to do this was to read a book from each bookcase in the library – there are 133 bookcases, by his count – and blog about it here. He’s on book 43. He has over 20,000 books to choose from.

As with any self-imposed Herculean challenge, one must set oneself some rules:

Firstly, he defined a bookcase:

‘For my purposes a bookcase is a set of parallel horizontal shelves with vertical sides. As soon as you cross a vertical line it’s another bookcase. Tables of books laid flat I will treat as one bookcase.’

Then a book:

‘I will only read English prose/poetry books, so things like telephone directories and dictionaries which are not meant for reading I won’t consider as books, likewise audio cds and recordings of people reading books are not for this project. If there are no valid books on a bookshelf then I will ignore that shelf.

If possible I will not read any book or author I have read before and I will select books at least 150 pages long. I’ll only break this rule if there is no other choice on the bookshelf.

My intention is to stick to the adult library and not to select books from the children’s section.’ I think it’s a shame about the kids’ section, but never mind.

He also states that if he is utterly loathing the chosen book he reserves the right to abandon it and choose a different title from the same bookcase. Very wise.

He began at the front door and is working his way around the library in an anti-clockwise direction, gradually spiralling into the centre. He’s been through true crime, thrillers, young adult and book of the week. You can take a virtual tour of his chosen library here  to get a sense of what he has in store.

As a person who works in libraries I have two things to say about this:

1. Everyone should look around sections in the library they don’t often visit – there are hidden gems and Dewey-decimal quirks that mean you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Ask the people working there for recommendations – we know where the buried treasure is (and we’ve read half of it)!
2. Also, keep going back to your favourite sections because libraries are constantly getting new books, either brand new or circulated from around the county. They don’t all go on the ‘new titles’ section to make sure you go to the shelves and see the older stuff too. We want you to take out a new book and an old favourite!

Much to applause to Robert for promoting libraries and reading like a champion. Follow him @1stofftheshelf and follow his library @DorkingLibrary.

dorking

What do you think of Robert’s idea? Could you do it? Is there a section you’d never consider taking a book from? Comments please!

 (This was first published here, and this version has some updates. I’m the author of both versions.)
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How to Read Literature by Terry Eagleton

What makes a work of literature good or bad? How freely can the reader interpret it? In this accessible, delightfully entertainingHow to Read Literature book, Terry Eagleton addresses these intriguing questions and a host of others. In a series of brilliant analyses, Eagleton shows how to read with due attention to tone, rhythm, texture, syntax, allusion, ambiguity, and other formal aspects of literary works. He also examines broader questions of character, plot, narrative, the creative imagination, the meaning of fictionality, and the tension between what works of literature say and what they show. Unfailingly authoritative and cheerfully opinionated, the author provides useful commentaries on classicism, Romanticism, modernism, and postmodernism along with spellbinding insights into a huge range of authors, from Shakespeare and J. K. Rowling to Jane Austen and Samuel Beckett.

That’s what the synopsis says. This book is clearly competent – it is written by a well-known literary professor and commentator and generally I love this sort of book. When I’m not reading literature, I’m reading books about literature. So I thought the best way to review it would be to see whether it lives up to its own hype.

I do agree that it helps to answer those initial framing questions with strong examples and intelligent points. I also concur that it was entertaining. I liked the author’s wit and sense of humour, though I feel that his frame of reference might not be universally relatable. I think this reviewer sums it up: ‘I think he’s trying to be funny. I don’t know because his type of humour is not my type of humour. I can see when he’s being funny, and I can imagine people laughing, but my reaction is “…. OK”.’

This brings me to the claim of accessibility. I think for the wholly uninitiated, the vocabulary may be challenging and new terms aren’t always explained. However, it is worth persisting. The analyses are illuminating, giving proper recognition to the formal features of literature. Eagleton’s writing is at its best when he guides the reader through a great range of examples: his talent and passion shine through. He covers a huge amount in a reasonably sized volume from the intricacies of technical aspects to over-arching themes and critical perspectives.

Overall, although I wouldn’t be quiet so enthusiastic with my adjectives, the synopsis does reflect this amusing and thoughtful book. The questions it asks are worth debating and add to the ongoing conversation  about how to determine the value of literature.

What does make a work of literature good or bad? What makes a book literature? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments!

Many thanks to NetGalley and Yale University Press for the copy.

 

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Advice for Students: The Wisdom of Graduates!

I think the best advice comes from experience, so  I asked my friends, acquaintances and the lovely people of the Internet how they coped with university life and what advice they would give to current undergrads. Here is their collective wisdom! Thanks everyone!

(p.s. Please add yours in the comments!)

New addition from Sorcha: ‘YOU ARE NOT A NUMBER!  Now is the time to start developing your own personality. If you want to party every night – fine! If you don’t – fine! Live on the edge of your comfort zone – it’s the best time to find out what your comfort zone is – but don’t live beyond it. You are the only person you have to live with for the rest of your life so you are (in the end) the only person you have to answer to – that, and the police!

Reading/essay writing? Read as many essays as you write. Twain, Swift, any of the modern essay writers – you get to see how the good, the bad and the ugly write essays, so get to see how it (should not) be done.’ I think that’s such excellent advice- thank you for your contribution!

Ricky wrote: ‘My advice would be to use your first year wisely. It doesn’t count towards your degree, so is the perfect opportunity to find your own style with which you’re comfortable, to make mistakes and learn about university expectations for when it really counts.’ I’m not sure if this is true of all universities, but is certainly the case at many. It’s definitely worth using this time well  and gaining the skills that will make subsequent years more manageable.  

Peter says: ‘The things I learnt, sometimes the hard way, was to leave yourself plenty of time, research something you

Honey on toast will make your essays better. FACT.

find interesting / relevant and get a friend or proofreader to read through it as well. This was my survival guide to third year!’ Great advice, and very on message! 

Sara has 3 excellent points: ‘1- the thinking is the most important bit-spend a few hours with research books closed,

computer off and just a piece of paper and pen to doodle out your ideas.

2-tell people what you’re going to say over and over again. It’s an essay, not a James Patterson, so while it is important it is engaging, cliffhangers and plot twists should be avoided in favour of clarity

3-honey on toast.’ The perfect blend of sugar, carbs and comfort to keep you going! 

Clare gives this vital advice: ‘When you’re researching and you find something useful, always write down where it came from – there’s nothing worse than reading that perfect quote in your notes and not being able to reference it!’

From Holly: ‘Always give yourself at least 24 hours before the deadline to print your essay — I don’t know about anyone

WWOD? What Would Orpheus Do?

else but our uni printers were a mare. Also, once it’s printed, channel the mythical lyre-player Orpheus when he was given the chance to save his beloved Eurydice from Hades: don’t look back. Just hand it in.’ This was absolutely true for my uni too, I’m pretty sure physical fights broke out over printers on deadline day! Also, what a reference! If in doubt, I always think what would Orpheus do?  

Jonathan adds this: ‘from someone who has 3 college degrees and wrote more 20 page papers than should be allowed, I have one tip that was not brought up yet when writing a paper. Write it as if  you were going to tell a story. Know your beginning, know your ending and figure out how you are going to get from A to Z. Use plenty of examples, quote, use APA style, and use examples. However, the most important thing? Read-understand what is asked of you. Understand the assignment. Lastly, when possible, choose topics you enjoy, that interest you. My grad school thesis was “parental rage in youth sports” I looked at the many examples of parents who became violent because of their child playing sport and I concluded that there are 2 main causes… My thesis was 76 pages…but you don’t have to worry about that till you get to grad school!’ Marvellous points: I especially agree that you must make sure you fully understand what is being asked of you and keep to that brief. 

I’m afraid for want of space I have to paraphrase the quality, extensive advice from Rachel: ‘First if you’re a psych, nursing, or anything to do with APA use, use and use!  Even just in your citation every bit counts! 
As to more general tips.

1. Please don’t be like my friend (well a few of the friends I have had throughout the years) and edit every single sentence or paragraph as you write. Wait until the very end! If you do you’ll get nothing done.
2. Don’t let a teacher influence the writing. I held my writing up and I didn’t want to do it or wasn’t as motivated because I hated my teacher, bad idea: nearly failed the class.
3. Essays actually take time, more time and even more time. don’t wait till the night before! Do it as soon as you can, because you’ll regret cramming it in to a space of a few hours! 
4. Research a somewhat popular topic. I am very known for searching stuff there is no research for, or else very little.

So you think flip flops are better than sandals? Prove it!

also, a bad idea, especially in APA when they ask for only peer reviewed journals. 
5. Make your intros interesting, and don’t put a note there telling people you’re going to screw with their heads. If you plan to great but don’t tell them. We read an essay in class like that last semester and after that we had no interest really in reading it any more.  But about intros, start with a good topic sentence, lead, hook, whatever you want to call it. but you want one so we don’t all fall asleep! 
6. REVISION! The most crucial part of writing! Make sure you edit edit edit after you write. the most important thing to writing is editing, and it is the most important and takes the longest in the writing process, read it aloud, have someone else read your paper aloud, have a friend edit it, wait a day till you can edit and catch mistakes, use spellcheck, whatever!
7 Evidence! make sure you have evidence in your paper don’t just say stuff without backing it up. If you think sandals are better then tennis shoes and tennis shoes are better then flip flops, great! write it down and prove it to us, with some research!

8. THESIS! If you write a paper, somewhere in that paper you need some sort of claim summary sentence to tell us what it’s about!
9. Conciseness is key! 
10. Conclude! that’s important, while your favourite sci-fi action horror comedy can get away with a cliff hanger, you can’t!  End it. Summarize it, put some sort of closing statement that lets people’s minds rest!
11. Some things to avoid at all costs in academic writing: writing your paper like this post, it’s not okay for ‘!’ to appear in your paper: don’t do it! You’ll either sound, overly angry, angsty, upset, or something like that! Don’t ask your readers questions throughout your paper and don’t talk directly to them. Stricter academic writers don’t like you even using contractions. So don’t. Don’t write like you are speaking and don’t use text chat.
12. Plagiarism is NOT okay! Also cite correctly, use in-text citations, put everything that are another person’s exact words in quotes, don’t quote too large of a bit otherwise it would sound like you’re filling space, and irrelevant. 
13. Don’t mimic.’ See the full version here.

Thanks so much to everyone who shared their brilliant thoughts! If any of you would like me to put in links to your blogs or anything, do get in touch. Is there anything we haven’t covered? Tell us in the comments or send me a message!  The more contributions the better!

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