Friday, May 31, 2013

Armchair BEA 2013: Non-Fiction

You can find links to other blogs taking part here.

“Oh, crumbs!” I thought, “I don’t read non-fiction!” So, yet again, I turned to Goodreads for some inspiration – seriously, where would I ever be without it? A quick look through the Popular Non-Fiction shelf reminded me of a few titles that I thoroughly enjoyed. They are somewhat diverse, but that is just how my reading wanders about.

Please note: all descriptions are from Goodreads.

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

Full of spleen, this is a hilarious, invigorating and informative journey through the world of Bad Science. When Dr Ben Goldacre saw someone on daytime TV dipping her feet in an 'Aqua Detox' footbath, releasing her toxins into the water, turning it brown, he thought he'd try the same at home. 'Like some kind of Johnny Ball cum Witchfinder General', using his girlfriend's Barbie doll, he gently passed an electrical current through the warm salt water. It turned brown. In his words: 'before my very eyes, the world's first Detox Barbie was sat, with her feet in a pool of brown sludge, purged of a weekend's immorality.' Dr Ben Goldacre is the author of the Bad Science column in the Guardian. His book is about all the 'bad science' we are constantly bombarded with in the media and in advertising. At a time when science is used to prove everything and nothing, everyone has their own 'bad science' moments from the useless pie-chart on the back of cereal packets to the use of the word 'visibly' in cosmetics ads.

C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too by John Diamond

Shortly before his 44th birthday, John Diamond received a call from the doctor who had removed a lump from his neck. Having been assured for the previous 2 years that this was a benign cyst, Diamond was told that it was, in fact, cancerous. Suddenly, this man who'd until this point been one of the world's greatest hypochondriacs, was genuinely faced with mortality. And what he saw scared the wits out of him. Out of necessity, he wrote about his feelings in his TIMES column and the response was staggering. Mailbag followed Diamond's story of life with, and without, a lump - the humiliations, the ridiculous bits, the funny bits, the tearful bits.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

A deliciously funny, delectably shocking banquet of wild-but-true tales of life in the culinary trade from Chef Anthony Bourdain, laying out his more than a quarter-century of drugs, sex, and haute cuisine--now with all-new, never-before-published material

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

Perhaps the most readable and accessible of the great works of scientific imagination, The Origin of Species sold out on the day it was published in 1859. Theologians quickly labeled Charles Darwin the most dangerous man in England, and, as the Saturday Review noted, the uproar over the book quickly "passed beyond the bounds of the study and lecture-room into the drawing-room and the public street." Yet, after reading it, Darwin's friend and colleague T. H. Huxley had a different reaction: "How extremely stupid not to have thought of that."

Based largely on Darwin's experience as a naturalist while on a five-year voyage aboard H.M.S. Beagle, The Origin of Species set forth a theory of evolution and natural selection that challenged contemporary beliefs about divine providence and the immutability of species. 

Armchair BEA 2013: Ethics

You can find links to other blogs taking part here.

I can just hear you thinking: “Ha! What on Earth do bloggers have to do with ethics? We are all just lovely people chatting about books. We do not need to even consider being ethical!” When I first began my blog I would have had those very same thoughts, but then came . . .

This was the mother of all scandals and it hit the blogging community shortly after I began blogging seriously. At the time, I was blissfully unaware of The Story Siren and her website, because I was not reading much YA fiction, and I would never have thought that plagiarism could be such a problem. If you somehow missed this online version of World War III, then this post from Cuddlebuggery is a good place to start (you will need to scroll down to get to the article).

To condense the story into its barest bones, The Story Siren found some interesting advice for bloggers on the web and copied it without crediting the original authors. She then made the whole mess much worse by refusing to acknowledge her plagiarism and the whole community fell into a form of nuclear meltdown as the lines were drawn between those for and against her behavior. I have to admit that I was shocked by her attempts to avoid apologizing for her plagiarism, something that I do not think she has done sincerely, even now. I was even more surprised by the countless people who thought that what she had done was not a problem and who would proceed to mercilessly persecute the bloggers who had asked her, quite politely, to acknowledge their hard work.

It was a very unpleasant event that left me wide-eyed and wondering if I was ever going to survive in such a vitriolic and amoral community.

As I mentioned in my introductory post, I have a background in education and have spent many years studying at university level. This means that I am very familiar with the issue of plagiarism, but it also means that I know how very simple it is to avoid it. There is nothing hard at all about not being a plagiarist.

All you have to do is give other people credit when you use their work!

As I said, this is not rocket science, and so I was amazed that someone would be impressed enough with a post that they would copy the ideas by rewording them and not simply quote them with links to the original. If something is worth copying, then why not acknowledge it? It seems simplest to share the love and say, “Look at this great article that I found!” Even more unbelievable was the attitude that The Story Siren could basically take anyone’s work and pass it off as her own, with no need to apologize when she was called out. The idea that she was somehow the victim of this whole debacle would have been laughable, if that had not been the opinion expressed by her and many of her supporters.

So, do we book bloggers have to be concerned about ethics? The simple answer is, “Yes!” If you decide to make use of anything that has been produced by someone else then you should really credit them and their effort. This applies to anything that you can transmit on your blog. Was that graphic available for use free of charge, or did you simply copy and paste it? Did you see someone else’s idea and adapt it without asking them or acknowledging where your inspiration came from? If you are in any doubt at all, give credit where it is due: nobody is going to complain that you are adding too many credits to your posts!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Armchair BEA 2013: Literature

You can find links to other blogs taking part here.

As with the post on Classic Fiction, I was not sure that I actually read any Literary Fiction, but good old Goodreads came to my rescue.
Literary fiction is a term that has come into common usage in the early 1960s. The term is principally used to distinguish "serious fiction" which is a work that claims to hold literary merit, in comparison from genre fiction and popular fiction. The name literature is sometimes used for this genre, although it can also refer to a broader category of writing.
On the whole, I do not read General Literature, because I am too busy reading all the genre fiction that I love so much. However, I do occasionally pick one up as part of the reading for my book group or for other reasons. I am more likely to choose titles that have elements of my favorite genres of Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror or Mystery, even if those elements are minor to the overall story, so I feel like I can recommend them in this post.

Please note: all descriptions are from Goodreads.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Marriage can be a real killer.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

Kindred By Octavia Butler

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana's life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

You can read my review here.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
A chilling and vividly rendered ghost story set in postwar Britain, by the bestselling and award-winning author of The Night Watch and Fingersmith.

With The Little Stranger, Waters revisits the fertile setting of Britain in the 1940s - and gives us a sinister tale of a haunted house, brimming with the rich atmosphere and psychological complexity that have become hallmarks of Waters's work.

The Little Stranger follows the strange adventures of Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country doctor. One dusty postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, he is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand and handsome, is now in decline - its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more ominous than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become entwined with his.

You can read my review here.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones is the story of a family devastated by a gruesome murder -- a murder recounted by the teenage victim. Upsetting, you say? Remarkably, first-time novelist Alice Sebold takes this difficult material and delivers a compelling and accomplished exploration of a fractured family's need for peace and closure.

The details of the crime are laid out in the first few pages: from her vantage point in heaven, Susie Salmon describes how she was confronted by the murderer one December afternoon on her way home from school. Lured into an underground hiding place, she was raped and killed. But what the reader knows, her family does not. Anxiously, we keep vigil with Susie, aching for her grieving family, desperate for the killer to be found and punished.

Sebold creates a heaven that's calm and comforting, a place whose residents can have whatever they enjoyed when they were alive -- and then some. But Susie isn't ready to release her hold on life just yet, and she intensely watches her family and friends as they struggle to cope with a reality in which she is no longer a part. To her great credit, Sebold has shaped one of the most loving and sympathetic fathers in contemporary literature.

World War Z by Max Brooks

Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.

Most of all, the book captures with haunting immediacy the human dimension of this epochal event. Facing the often raw and vivid nature of these personal accounts requires a degree of courage on the part of the reader, but the effort is invaluable because, as Mr. Brooks says in his introduction, “By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of personal detachment from history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn’t the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as ‘the living dead’?”

You can read my review here.

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