Further Adventures with eReader on the iPod touch

For some reason I’m getting more hits on the iPod touch eReader eBook post than anything else I’ve written lately, so I must assume that the iPod touch and eReader are a hit combination.  Since I wrote that post, eReader has come out with version 1.2 that offers many nifty new features and they’re promising 1.3 real soon now.  Also, the eReader.com site, a spin-off from fictionwise.com, seems to be expanding daily, which implies another kind of success.  eReader software isn’t just for the iPod, there’s also versions for Palm, PocketPC, Windows Mobile, Symbian, Windows, Macintosh and OQO systems.

When the Kindle came out stories about it on the blogosphere were more common than stories about Sarah Palin today.  Using the iPod touch and iPhone for an ebook reader hasn’t garnered that much notice.  I prefer the larger screen of the Kindle, but never wanted to carry it around.  The touch/iPhone is designed to commute wherever you go, and wherever you go you can now read your book when you get there.  That’s pretty cool.

The screen of the touch/iPhone is better than PDAs and most other smart phones, so for a portable reading device it does very well in the visual department.  The screen is physically about one fourth to one third the size of a paperback book page, but the number of words varies because you have several font size settings.  Even though the screen is smaller than the Kindle, it’s brighter and sharper.  Overall though, the Kindle’s screen is much nicer to read from because of it’s perfect size.

Flipping pages is much nicer with eReader on the touch/iPhone than with the Kindle or the eBookman I used to have.  You can set eReader to swipe or tap for page turning.  I set mine to tap, so I just touch the right side of the screen to page forward, and the left to go back.  Having a touch screen greatly reduces the need for buttons.

My 1st generation touch has 2 buttons, and the newly released 2nd generation touch has three, adding a volume control and tiny speaker, something I wanted.  I’m quite anxious for another button though, an on/off switch for the Wi-Fi for the iPod touch.  The wireless system drains the battery fast.  My touch will drain in 1-2 days even doing nothing if the wireless is on.  I now have to go through several taps to turn the wireless on or off.  An even more sophisticated solution would be software that turned the wireless on when I sent a request out on the Internet and turned it off after a set period of time.

The iPod touch is about four times heavier than a Nano, and much bigger, so it’s more of an effort to carry around, but still just 4 ounces, or 120 grams.  It fits in my shirt pocket like the Nano, but its very noticeable there, whereas the Nano is unfelt.  I’ve started carrying my touch some, but I’ve got to admit I’d rather carry the Nano.  Whether I carry the touch all the time will depend if I get completely hooked on it.  99% of my use is for listening to audio books, so unless I start using the touch more, I might go back to my Nano.  I think I’ll need several months to grow into the iPod touch, to know if I regularly need all of its features.

The frequent low battery message is what keeps me switching back to the Nano.  I can get a lot more time if I shut off the Wi-Fi, but that’s annoying to keep up with.  Another way to improve battery life is shut off the screen.  This is only good for listening to music and audio books, but eReader does have a feature for showing white text on a black background.  I wonder if that saves energy.  The claimed battery life improvements in the 2nd Generation iPod touch makes me wished I had waited a month to buy a new iPod.  I certainly wouldn’t buy a 1st generation touch now unless it was very cheap.

One way to adapt to the touch’s battery weakness is to buy a cradle and leave it on it whenever I’m not using it, but with the battery supposedly only good for 400-500 full cycles of charging, would that be good for it?   The iPod touch loses it’s charge so fast when the Wi-Fi is on that I’m thinking mine is either defective or it has a serious flaw.  The Kindle, even with the broadband on lasts four or five days.

The iPod touch also does not seem as robust as the Nano.  Upgrading to iTunes 8.0 crashed it completely and I had to do a restore, which took a bit of fiddling to get done.  I kept wondering why the touch was always backing itself up, well now I’m glad it had.  The restore loaded my upgrades, settings, eReader books, and extra applications, but not my music and audio books.

I bought the iPod touch because I wanted walk-around access to the Internet.  I was also thinking of buying the Asus Eee PC for the same reason.  After a few weeks of ownership I’ve learned that I don’t actually need to access the Internet that often when I’m away from my work or home computer.  It is fun to play with the touch while reclining in my La-Z-Boy, but weirdly the best function I’ve found for those idle moments is cleaning out old email.  Browsing the web on the touch’s 3.5″ screen is the coolest I’ve seen on a small device, but it’s not any fun in practicality.  Good for emergency searches.

When it comes down to it, the real use I have for an iPod is audio books.  I spend hours and hours every week listening to audio books, and the Nano is far superior for that task.  The best thing I love about eReader is getting free classic books, but not to read.  When you listen to books you never know how many names and words are spelled.  Having the text on eReader makes a great supplement to audio books.  It’s not something I use often, but it’s very nice.

Audio books have ruined me for reading printed books, so when I do read with my eyes it’s mainly email, RSS feeds and the web pages.  That makes the touch good for email and RSS feeds if they are nearly all text.  HTML email is better read on a big screen.

The iPod touch is a novelty that I may or may not get addicted to carrying around.  Buying it made me glad I didn’t rush out and buy the iPhone.  I love the Internet as seen through my 22″ Samsung LCD.  But anyone who grew up carrying a Gameboy around will probably find the touch a fantastic device.

Jim

Has Reading With My Ears Ruined My Desire To Read With My Eyes?

I have hundreds of unread books sitting on my shelves wagging their tales anxious to be read, but of the 28 books I “read” so far this year, only one was read with my eyes.  And that one, Marsbound by Joe Haldeman, was read as a magazine serial.  Had it been available on audio at the time, like it is now, I wouldn’t have read any printed books this year.  Of the 39 books I read last year, only two were printed.  Before I discovered audio books on digital players through Audible.com in 2002, I read on average 6-12 books a year.  After digital audio, I’m reading 35-55 books each year.

I read more audio books now because, one, I can multitask reading with walking, driving, doing the dishes, eating alone, and other quiet mindless activities.  Second, I listen to more books than I read because I’m enjoying them more.  When I was kid I was a real bookworm, often reading a book a day for weeks at a time.  I discovered a lot of fun books back then, but I have since reread some of those books on audio and discovered I missed a lot from reading too fast and poorly.  Third, audio books got me out of my science fiction rut and into a wider range of literature because listening gives me the patience to read books with my ears that I would never take the time to read with my eyes.  Fourth, and this is the most important, I think I experience books better through audio because I’ve discovered I’m not a very good reader, and the quality of audio book narrators have constantly improved in recent years and I flat out prefer listening to a great reader than doing a botched up job myself.

Now, the the question is:  Has reading with my ears destroyed my desire to read with my eyes?  When the seventh Harry Potter book came out last year I raced through it like everyone else, so I know I can still enjoy eyeball reading, but the whole time I wished I had waited for the audio edition to arrive from Amazon. 

To force myself to read a book with my eyes, I bought Incandescence, a new novel by Greg Egan.  I was in the mood for some cutting edge science fiction and it wasn’t available on audio.  And, I am enjoying reading it.  I read slower than I used to – that’s something listening has taught me.  But as I go through the sentences I can’t help but think this book would sparkle far greater if I was hearing it read by a fine reader.

So, have audio books become a crutch?  Or have I just discovered a better way of experiencing books and have become addicted?  If EMP killed off all the iPods in the world I think I’d want to try and recreate audio books in the old fashion way.  I’d want someone to read to me, or I’d want to learn how to read aloud and try to dramatically present stories like the narrators I love so much to hear.

Yet, if this return-to-the-19th-century catastrophe happened I might end up reading more books because all the computers and televisions would be out of commission too.  I started reading like crazy in junior high school when I outgrew Gilligan’s Island and I wanted to break away from my family unit.  I had lots of time and even though I had plenty to do, I preferred the laziness of reading.

In our society, literacy is a virtue, but being a kid gorging himself on science fiction does not confer a lot of social status.  It was plain old escapism.  If iPods and Audible had been invented in 1965 I would have grown up listening to books, and I would have listened to better books than I had been reading.

I’m currently listening to The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.  That’s one book I would never read with my eyes, but if I had read it and The Age of Innocence at 13, I would have had a much better understanding of those scary junior high girls.  I think I’m a much better person at 56 for reading Wharton.  That wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for audio books, and I was an English major during my college years.  I had a hard time reading classic novels – I kept hoping they’d assign fun modern novels, but they didn’t.  If I had gotten to hear the classics back then I would have been a much better literature student.  I know this is true because when I took three Shakespeare classes I listened to the plays on LPs and aced my exams, plus I admired the writing so much more.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting you should give up reading with your eyes.  I think many people are better than I am at reading.  I just discovered late in life, at around 50, that I was a lousy-ass reader.  When I do read now, I do try harder try to hear what I’m seeing.  That requires reading slower and thinking about the dramatic quality of the sentences in front of me.  I wish I could read like Jeff Woodman or Jim Dale, but I don’t.

Last night I pulled down several novels that I’ve been meaning to read and read a few pages from each.  I admired the writing but I realized I would never read them.  Middlemarch, Vanity Fair and Call It Sleep are just too dense for me to read with my eyes.  I brought them to work today and put them on our book give-away table.  They disappeared in a few minutes and I hope they have found good homes.

Audio books have greatly enriched my life.  I truly don’t think they have ruined my urge to read with my eyes, because that urge was already fading.  Without audio books I’d probably continue reading 6-12 books a year for the rest of my life.  Before I turned fifty I was thinking I might only read another 200 books before I died, and wondered why I owned 1,200 and was buying more all the time.  I’ve already listened to more than that planned 200, so audio books have already expanded my reading lifetime. 

My desire to “read” books is greater than any other time in my life, but strangely I’m going to stop buying books, ones printed on paper, that is, because they will sit on my shelves, unread, and I’m feeling way too guilty to add any more lonely unread pages.

Jim

iPod touch eReader eBook

I just bought an iPod touch 8gb for $199 refurbished at the Apple Store.  I’ve been wanting a carry around Internet device and the iPod touch is very elegant.  It took nothing to set up – just typed in my Wi-Fi code and I was connected.  I immediately upgraded it to the new 2.0 software so I could have the Exchange client.  That also worked smoothly.

And I’ve already gotten my first App, the eReader, which lets me read ebooks on the iPod touch.  The eReader allowed me to log into my Fictionwise.com account and access my Bookshelf there.  That’s the great thing about Fictionwise, it remembers your purchases and will let you download any book again, even in a new format.  I’ve had ebooks I bought from Fictionwise on a eBookwise 1150, Kindle and now the iPod touch.

The eReader on the iPod touch offers crystal clear type, but small, so it’s not as comfortable to read on as the Kindle.  However, after buying the Kindle I discovered I’m not much of a book reader any more, and that I’m really an audio bookworm instead.  It’s extremely easy from within the eReader program to jump to sites like Manybooks.net, to find free or commercial ebooks.  eReader has it’s own URL entry box to take you to places that provides PDB formatted books.

From inspiration to reading, it only took me about a minute to find and download “The House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton.  That’s the next audio book I plan to listen to, so I thought it might be fun to read it while I listen to it.

Even though I’m primarily an audio book person, it will still be nice to have visual books on the iPod touch for times when I’m at loose ends somewhere away from home and want to read, but that brings up the next issue.

Carrying Around the Internet

The advent of smart phones inspired me to want a way to carry around the Internet for 24×7 instant access to information, but I never could stomach the idea of paying their large monthly bills.  I’m currently on a  pay-as-you-go plan with T-Mobile and I add $50 worth of minutes about every 4-5 months.  It’s wonderful not having a cell phone bill.  When small mobile Wi-Fi Internet devices showed up on the market, I thought they were a good compromise – not perfect, but pretty good.  So I started researching.  I finally decided on the iPod touch when I saw it for $199 refurbished.  I like it, but I’ve got to learn how to carry it around.

I currently carry a 2nd generation iPod Nano in my shirt pocket.  The iPod touch might be too heavy to put there.  I carry my cell phone in my left front pants pocket, so the iPod touch could go on the right side, but I worry about it getting damaged, so I’m thinking about a small iPhone holster for my belt, but my pants are already overburdened with keys, wallet, phone, change, handkerchief, and sometimes voice recorder, so that I’m constantly hitching them up.  Carrying around another device is going to be annoying.  An iPhone would have been ideal because one device would replace two.

The obvious solution would be to start carrying a purse, but I think a bandolier would be better, although my wife already thinks seeing my white iPod headphones permanently hanging around my neck is nerdy enough.  I wouldn’t be bothered by any statement my carrying a purse would make, but so far I haven’t seen one I really liked.  I’d want something like a small sleek messenger bag made of leather, but if I’m going to start carrying a purse, why not plan to throw a few more items in, like a camera or a Eee PC, which means I’d want a bigger bag.

Also, I haven’t decided if the iPod touch is the perfect portable Internet device.  I can browse the net fairly easy with it, with some sites a lot more readable than others.  The iPod touch provides a convenient way to read and delete old emails, but it’s primary function would be to look up data, like movie times, weather info, or trivia, and listening to audio books.  I’ve wondered if I jumped up in size to the 7″ Eee PC if it wouldn’t make a substantially better carry around Internet device.

You don’t realize how important a keyboard is as a human-machine interface until you hunt and peck on the iPod touch.  The iPod touch certainly does a lot with it’s 3.5 inch 480 x 320 pixels screen.  I think it will take me weeks to truly explore the potential of this device.  Sooner or later I will want broadband access, because I figure in five years everyone will carry around the Internet.  I just don’t know what the device we will carry will look like.

Part 2:  Further Adventures of eReader on the iPod touch

Jim

The Golden Age of Science Fiction is 56, Again

It is so easy to get distracted while writing.  My goal the other night was to focus on what it means to search for sense of wonder books in late middle age, but I got sidetrack from this intent by reminiscing about Clifford Simak’s City.  We science fiction fans often agree that around age 12 is when discovering science fiction is the most exciting.  But should that be so?  And is it true for everyone?  Indeed, it is easy to become jaded as one gets older, as well as becoming better educated, more cynical, sophisticated, and, dare I say it, more discerning.

Does that mean we are destined to outgrow science fiction?  I have to admit that I find it very hard to discover new SF&F to enjoy.  Furthermore, I’ll admit that when I reread some of my favorite books from my golden age of discovery they often fail to bring me back to the good ole days.  The thrill is gone.  And when I do reread books that I still love I’m worried that I’m just wallowing in nostalgia, and not appreciating the story for its own merits.

Is the power of science fiction at its greatest potency when viewed by twelve year olds because they are wild-eyed, full of enthusiasm, and anxious to discover everything exciting about the world, or because children are easily manipulated by the slight-of-hand of fantastic stories?  At 12 our critical x-ray vision isn’t very strong, so we tend to welcome everything with believability.  I know it’s just entertainment, but when I was a kid I wanted to believe in science fiction.  It was my religion.

To play devil’s advocate to my own supposition, I should admit on cross examination that I read with great excitement the Harry Potter novels and the Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.  There is a clue here.  Those are young adult (YA) novels.  Furthermore, my all-time favorite novels to reread are Robert A. Heinlein’s twelve YA novels.

The mature of the literary world have often sneered that science fiction is crude pulp fiction for adolescents.  I don’t know how mature I am at 56, but I still find excitement in the concept of science fiction, and want it to be an art form for all ages.  Now this could be avoiding adultification on my part, and I may not be alone, because look how successful Harry Potter books have been with my fellow boomers.  Many of the blogs I read about science fiction are written by old guys like myself fondly looking back to their favorite books.

There is a boom in YA fiction, being read by kids and adults.  I know plenty of middle age people who have found a renewed excitement for reading through YA novels.  So, is it the age of the reader, or just the YA subject matter that stir up our minds?  YA writers know how to target their audience with stories that resonate with the teen years.  Science fiction and fantasy, whether marketed as YA or adult fiction strongly appeals to youthful readers.

This finally brings me to the question I want to ask:  If literature can be targeted to the formative years, can it also be targeted to the waning years?  When I first started reading Old Man’s War by John Scalzi I thought, “Hot damn, science fiction for old guys.”  If you’ve read the novel you’ll also probably guess my disappointment in the change of direction it eventually takes.

As a boomer seeing my golden years glow on the horizon, I want those years to be a new golden age of science fiction.  I wonder if there’s a market for sunset science fiction?  Who knows, maybe I have a bad attitude towards aging, but I can’t help but thinking I’ll have 15-30 years of wrinkly freedom.  It won’t be like being young, but it doesn’t have to be all about dying either.

I think the excitement of reading YA fiction is the quality it brings to thinking about the future and exploring what we can be “when we grow up.”  One reason many people turn away from fiction is because growing up turns out to be a dud in relation to our YA fantasies.  Adultification sets in and dreams dissipate with compromising.  One of the tragic beliefs of youth is we’ll have lots of time to pursue our dreams after high school, but college, jobs and marriages kills that dream fast.

If I retire and have 15-30 years of free time, I’m going to have that free time I wanted in my youth.  I might not be fit to do anything, but I shouldn’t give up.  What we need is RA fiction, Retired Adult fiction that inspires us to do something with those years of freedom.  Fishing, golfing and shuffleboard are philosophical lacking, so I want sense of wonder ideas for my elder years.

Hell, maybe J. K. will write a series about a Hogwarts Retirement Home.  Or Victor Appleton II can be resurrected to write about the adventures of a geezer Tom Swift.  However, this time around I want maximum sense of wonder with less fantasy.  I can believe fantasies about a robotic Jeeves becoming a geriatric companion easier than I can believe being downloaded into a cloned body.  I’d love to read more stories about the possibilities of mental rejuvenation.  I’m not against physical overhauls, but so far medicine only seems to produce scary people with rigid faces.

What we need is the idealism of the 1960s for octogenarians.  Let’s see some creative utopian assisted living homes.  And does anyone write erotica for the wrinkled?

Science fiction original sold me the Brooklyn Bridge on Tau Ceti.  It’s easy to fool kids that rocket travel is just around the corner.  This time around I want science fiction writers to really wring their imaginations and bring about another golden age of SF.

Jim

Roping A Wayward Mind

In the excellent essay, “The Myth of Multitasking,” Christine Rosen opens up with this 1740s quote from a Lord Chesterfield to his son that I can’t stop thinking about:

There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.

I wished my kindergarten teacher had started every day of class with that lesson because it’s obvious that I have never accomplished anything significant in my fifty-six years because I’ve always been trying to do two things at once.  I’m a jack of all trades, master of none kind of guy, and it annoys the hell out of me.

This morning’s activities will well illustrate my need for focus and the pitfalls of multitasking.  After my shower I started ripping CDs with my second computer, rolled out my exercise mat and started doing my yoga-like back exercises while daydreaming the opening scene of a novel I’d like to write, while another part of my mind kept reminding me to work on the short story I had been fleshing out in my imagination yesterday while exercising, and thoughts of three or four blog ideas buzzed like bees around these main ideas hoping to get more bio-CPU cycles themselves, while I was also trying to remember who I wanted to see today, where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to do with my Saturday.

If I followed Lord Chesterfield’s advice I would have had a single-minded Zen-like focus on my exercises and my back would be much better for it. (I just jumped over to put a new CD into the burner and ran to the kitchen to feed our cats.)

After my exercises I got up and checked my email and stats on this blog page and followed a link to a web site that mentions John Scalzi’s comments on fame, followed the link to Scalzi’s site and then found a link to Wil Weaton’s site where he discusses fame and then I found a link to Stephen Fry’s site, also about fame, but a very long well thought out essay.  This gave me an idea to write a blog post about how it’s more rewarding to read a famous person’s blog than to actual meet them for a few minutes.

(Next CD to rip, which requires getting up and using the computer on the opposite side of the room.)  Before I could start writing that blog, while doing a previous CD change, I got the idea I wanted to reinstall my Roku SoundBridge, so I could play MP3s on my computer through my stereo in living room, and got up and went looking for it.  While tearing through two closets trying to remember where I put the Roku, I got ideas for several projects dealing with organization.  I have boxes and boxes of wires for stereos, computers, televisions, DVD players, etc. that I really must organize one day.  I was slightly distracted by the tight squeeze of clothes hanging in the closet, making it hard to get to all the boxes and remembering my promise to my wife to throw some worn clothes out, when I finally found the Roku.

(Next CD)  I was surprised by how easy it was to put the Roku back into service but I discovered something interesting.  The Roku was listing the music from both my computers, iTunes on the main machine, Windows Media on two machines, and FireFly media server on the second machine.  This revelation inspired me to write a blog about the most efficient way to serve up MP3 files in a home network.  (Next CD)  I wondered if I booted up the laptop if it would see that machine too.  (A pause to go pet a sick cat and think about a blog about the pet healthcare crisis.)

As you can see my mind is very far from Kwai Chang Caine’s focused mind in the old Kung Fu TV series.  (I’ll stop the annoying interruptions about the CD changes and other diversions while writing, but you get the idea about how I’m constantly trying to multitask.)  If I was a Kung Fu master, I wouldn’t own a wall of CDs and be trying to convert them to my computer library because I wouldn’t be into owning things.

If I was a real writer, with a focused mind, I would get up each morning, work on my novel and not think about about a dozen blog ideas, or another dozen short story ideas, or even worry about organizing a CD collection, or care about my clothes closet or boxes of wires.  I never finished a novel because, like Lord Chesterfield says, I’m trying to do more than one thing and there’s not enough time in a lifetime to do all that.

On the other paw, I am pretty good at multitasking if I’m willing to accept that I do so many things in a half-ass way.  I have four clunky websites (not counting several I manage at work).  I read about fifty books a year, and see a hundred movies on DVD and at the theater, and watch several hundred TV shows and documentaries.  I have a big collection of computers, books, magazines, CDs, gadgets, and other crap that I maintain and help do my part to keep the economy going.  I read a zillion web pages every year, and my Karma level is excellent on Slashdot.

Task Switching

Now over at 43 Folders, Merlin Mann offers his opinion in a podcast also called The Myth of Multitasking.  Mann’s take is multitasking is impossible for humans, that people aren’t parallel processing machines like supercomputers, and the best we can do is be very good at task switching.  Furthermore, it’s his belief that some people are good at task switching and others are not.  The implication being that some people can easily bookmark their place when they switch tasks.  Mann also believes once you discover you can’t multitask, you will lose the anxiety over getting so much done and focus on getting the job at hand accomplished.

My theory is the human brain is a fantastic bio-computer that parallel processes on vast scales, but the conscious mind is just one thread that runs on top of everything else that can’t really multitask, but like Mann suggests, can task switch.  Whether this is a good feature of Human 4.0 is yet to be proved.  Maybe multitasking will be a prominent feature of Homo Superior 1.0, but for now we have to decide what’s the optimal operating expectations for who we are now.

Attention Span

Should I trade all that fun chaotic juggling to be just a guy focused on writing a novel?  Is it even possible for me to be Mr. Zen Lit Man?  This brings up the second lighthouse beacon of an article I read this week,  “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr in The Atlantic Monthly, that only fuels the fire of my desire to seek a simpler focused life.  Mr. Carr confesses that Google and the Internet living has reduced his ability to read long works.

If we could multitask, the length of any working process could be infinite, but if we can only task switch, then the critical factor is the time segment devoted to each task.  What Mr. Carr is suggesting is the Internet is making us used to living with short task segments and we’re losing our ability to process longer tasks.  This is an interesting idea, but I have to ask:  Did people have the knack for focusing on longer tasks before the Internet?

Long before Google, magazines and newspapers were featuring shorter articles with lots of side-bars, and short attention getting blips of information.  Television, with sitcoms and more and more commercials started dividing up our attentions starting back in the 1950s.  The car radio has long had buttons to quickly switch between shows for those weak of attention.  Imagine what the television clicker has done to our minds?

I too have found that I can no longer read hours at a time on a single book or long essay.  I had a different theory as to the cause of this, and assumed I had been corrupted by audio books which allows me to listen to other people read long books.  I justified my laziness by pointing out that those people are much better readers than I am, and that I learn so much more when I can concentrate on their readings.

So now I have two theories to test.  There might be many reasons why I can no longer read books hours at a stretch.  One that comes to mind is comfort.  I get back and neck strains, and my eyes weary quickly.  Large print helps, but to be honest, I genuinely prefer audio books.  After reading Carr’s article I will strongly consider my continual effort to multitask or task switch as a cause of attention deficit.  I will admit that when I read too long on anything I get antsy for new input.  The Internet might support my addiction for keeping multiple threads of thought going.

Conversely, if I’m going to be a real writer, as opposed to a blogger, I’d need to focus on one piece of writing at a time, and keep focused on that piece, draft after draft until it’s perfect and I could sell it.  In other words, I’d be forced to do ONE thing for weeks at a time.  I don’t know if I could handle that.  Task switching might be natural, and the ability to focus on a single task may be a special talent.  My friend Mike who is also a programmer says when he programs he feels like he’s in a deep well and all distractions are far away.  I truly envy him for that gift.

I can’t take a crap without reading a magazine while thinking through a handful of ideas about what I’ll do when I pull up my pants.  What if I got up this morning and just worked on writing that short story I’ve been meaning to finish for years.  The one I come back to the most often?  And what if when I needed to consume or evacuate I’d continue to think on that one story.  It certainly would help if I lived in a studio apartment with little beyond a bed, desk, writing equipment and four white walls.  No wonder Pride and Prejudice was so great, there just wasn’t that many distractions back in Jane Austen’s time.

I guess the real question is whether or not I could do the focused thing just one hour a day?  It’s an obvious compromise of where to start.  However, I think real writers probably sacrifice a giant pile of fun diversions to get a quality book finished.  Maybe I just don’t have that kind of mental makeup.  If I found a magic lantern and the Genie granted my wish to concentrate, would I be happy trading in a year’s worth of active diversions to produce one science fiction novel?  That scares me.  It sounds boring and lonely.

Dedication to Details

Last night I saw an episode of Nova about making Japanese samurai swords, and Friday night I saw a documentary that included a piece about a Chinese guy making traditional bows and arrows.  In each case, these were complicated skills handed down from the past and required the artisan to devote his life to his work.  Both documentaries pointed out that these acts of devotion to extreme details were being destroyed by modern culture.  Few people in our society dedicate as much of their time to a single-minded objective, but there are some.  Olympic athletes, classical musicians, and other successful people in any discipline.

There is always the chance that multitasking and Googling is common in society because that’s how the brains of most people work.  If I had a brain for single minded focusing I would be a person pursuing something very focused.  We see all those enchanting martial arts fables, like Kung Fu Panda where a slob of a mind can be polished into a diamond-point jewel of focused attention.  Is that really possible?  Maybe such training is possible if we start as children, but I doubt it for middle-aged adults.  Can I and others improve our minds with incremental improvements, especially late in life, well I think there’s plenty of evidence for that.

We know that doing the crossword puzzle or the sudoku will exercise our brain, so I would imagine reading long articles from The New Yorker and The Atlantic will condition our mental focus towards longer attention spans.  I would also assume we could follow Lord Chesterfields’ advice by starting the day by making a short list of things we want to do, and then work on them one at a time.  My closet is still a mess, but if I stuck with it, focused my mind, and only worked on my closet, it would be finished with an hour’s effort.

A New Theory of Multitasking

I think some kinds of multitasking are possible and aren’t bad.  I wouldn’t want to sit and burn CDs until I had finished all 1500 of them.  I think I could safely work on cleaning out my closet, listen to an audio book and burn CDs and be a success if I finished the closet in a reasonable amount of time and did a perfect job.  Actually, this may be a form of true multitasking, because my mind would be focused on the audio book story, and my body would be working to organize the closet and rip CDs.

People can do two things at once physically, but it’s uncommon – like rubbing your abdomen in a circle with your right hand and patting your head with your left.  I can’t sort speaker wire and switch out CDs, so that would be task switching.  But is it task switching or multitasking to listen to a book and do something physical that doesn’t require much mental processing like walking, doing the dishes, sorting wire or swapping out CDs?

The Good Old Days

I think many people would like to return to the good old days of a less hectic life.  They feel that life would be better if they didn’t have so many programming events demanding time slices.  Makes me wonder what my Main() loop looks like.  The belief is we’d be happier with fewer function calls and more time where our CPU usage falls to 0%.  Personally, I’d be philosophically happier if my log files showed more completed jobs, and fulfilled if I routinely shipped some fine 1.0 products.  I have learned that achieving a zero email inbox is very satisfying.  I don’t think we need to become Amish or Tibetan to find happiness.  I do think that learning to tame the mind is a worthy goal and all these mental lessons that are a byproduct of computer usage and Jetsons-fast living is helping us evolve.

I am reminded of some odd advice.  A modern day guru, or maybe it was a comedian, suggested getting up every morning and pistol whipping yourself if you had crippling fears of being mugged.  I wonder if I got up every morning and focused my mind intently on any kind of mental exercise, if I wouldn’t build up some focusing muscles?  If my flitting attention ever settles down to allow me to pursue such an experiment, I’ll let you know the results.

Jim

Pulp Fiction

Long ago, before Quentin Tarantino’s great film, before I was born in 1951, before television, there was pulp fiction.  It was called pulp fiction because of the grade of paper the stories were printed on was called pulp, and a whole entertainment industry was built around selling magazines with short stories and serialized novels wrapped in crude color reproductions of what is now called pulp art.

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When I was young I often met older science fiction fans that collected these magazines, but surely, most of the kids of the generation before me, who grew up loving to read pulp fiction, must be very old, if still living, and the pulp fiction generation surely must be dying out.  Yet, over at Fantasy & Science Fiction they are running an article, “The New Nostalgia: The Classic Pulp Story Revival” by Dave Truesdale that chronicles how several small press publishers are keeping the pulp fiction tradition alive with quality hardbound reprints.  This article is well worth reading on many levels because it renews memories of a few old authors and their best stories and informs about the sub-culture of the small press publishing.

Pulp fiction has also been kept alive by the legacy of comic books and their impact on the movies with all the classic super heroes being reinvented every year, and reoccurring pulp action films like the Indiana Jones series or the remake of King Kong.  Comics are the direct descendants of pulp magazines that featured cruder art and stories for the younger readers on the same pulp paper.  Pulp fiction was never literary but a few fine writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler came out of the tradition.  Most of the prose was purple and all action, and aimed at the poorly educated, often featuring very politically incorrect attitudes about race, gender, ethnic groups, and foreigners.  Society and the well bred looked down on the lowly pulp fiction fan.

Evidently, old pulp fiction is finding new younger readers through the popularity of action movies, reprints and inherited nostalgia.  When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s much of the best pulp fiction, including mysteries, westerns, science fiction, adventure, spy, thrillers and other genres were reprinted as cheap paperbacks for 25 and 35 cents, but now the buy-in price are $40 deluxe volumes.

There was always a tremendous vitality to pulp fiction, which explained why titles included words like astounding, thrilling, amazing, wonder, adventure, fantastic, and that wink-wink keyword, spicy.  Science fiction really is a child of pulp fiction, and I think many readers hated the change that the New Wave brought to the genre during the 1960s, where emerging writers tried to force science fiction out of the gutter and into the classroom where the revolutionaries wanted it to wear literary robes.  Today science fiction is often represented in the minds of the public at large by Star Trek and Star Wars, but those stories owe a lot to two pulp fiction superstars:  E. E. “Doc” Smith and Edward Hamilton.

If you want to sample classic science fiction pulp stories, and not spend too much money, I recommend tracking down copies of two anthologies:  Before the Golden Age edited by Isaac Asimov and Adventures in Time and Space edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas.   These books collect some of the best SF short stories from 1931-1945.  You can find both at ABEBooks.com, but watch out, both fat original hardback anthologies were often reprinted as multi-volume paperback books, and it would be worth your while to use the advance search and specify hardback editions, thus saving you on total costs and postage.  These two books will give you a great education about the foundation of science fiction.

The URLs linked to these titles also give you table of contents for the stories which if you are really hoarding your gasoline dollars might find on the web for free.   Now, as you read the stories, consider these issues:

One, are they still fun to read?  Are they as fun as reading Harry Potter or any of your other current favorite writers?  Second, do the ideas seem stupid, in the light of modern knowledge?  Third, do you notice why I call them politically incorrect?  Fourth, can you tell the difference between pulp fiction writing and modern MFA writing (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), or even modern genre writing (Charlie Stross and John Scalzi)?  Fifth, are these stories worth preserving?  Sixth, are they worth your reading time over reading newer stories?

All fiction from 1900-1950 is thinning out fast in our collective memories, and few stories from that era get reprinted.  I’m not just talking about pulp fiction.  If you can, find a copy of Best American Short Stories from before 1950 and some original pulp magazines.  Most of the contents from either will never have seen print since the original publications.  The small presses that are reprinting classic pulp fiction stories, are really just rescuing one story in a thousand, maybe one in ten thousand.

Looking at the periods 1800-1850 and 1850-1900, only the rarest of stories are still read by modern readers.  Baby boomers can remember the famous books they read from 1950-2000, but how many of the following generations know about those best selling titles?  My guess is the pulp fiction nostalgia is for the boomers who can remember reading pulp fiction from its first generation of reprints.  I would imagine, out of all the genres only a handful of novels will become classics, like The Maltese Falcon, Tarzan of the Apes, Conan the Barbarian, and Riders of the Purple Sage.  But how many kids under 16 discover these tales?

I occasionally enjoy reading an old pulp story and appreciate these small press publishers bringing back old favorites by Leigh Brackett, C. L. Moore, Robert E. Howard and Jack Williamson that I first discovered in used editions of Ace Doubles.  I think my identity is partly based on pulp fiction, and I feel I help keep these old friends alive by continuing to read them.  I know all of my generation and the stories we loved will soon pass on and be forgotten, but it’s pleasant to think a few of the stories will survive and future generations will enjoy them and wonder about their fans.

Jim

Old Books Versus New Books

I’ve been working on my website, ClassicBooklists.com, that attempts to identify the best all-time books through comparing recommendation lists and looking for consensus.  As a byproduct of this endeavor, I’m reading a lot about classic books.  The obvious question comes up:  Should I read the old highly-praised books or should I read what everyone else loves to read at the moment?  For example, the last two books I bought from Audible.com were The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the new Pulitzer Prize winner by Junot Díaz.  If I followed Harold Bloom’s advice, the sage of western lit, the choice is always between known quality writing and untested new stories, but then I’d miss out on one of the most exciting novels I’ve discovered in years.  There could be dozens of canon-worthy writers getting published today but we won’t know that for decades, until the academics give us the signal to start reading.

Bestsellers

Most books are sold hot off the presses and people love to read the latest books on the bestseller lists.  Personally, I consider it great fun to read a book that I can discuss with other bookworms and this usually means keeping up with the new.  And I take gleeful pride in my rare discovery of a book before Entertainment Weekly puts it on their The Must List.  There is certain pleasure in keeping up with pop culture, and I think people naturally prefer the new in things.  And that’s okay.  Besides, sometimes a movie or Oprah will make an old book a bestseller again, and throw the past a bone.

If you track such things, most books disappear as they age.  Their best shot at finding readers are when they are new.  Classic books are like bestsellers of time, but few actually make the hit parade compared to all the titles that slip off into oblivion.  Classic titles come and go out of fashion and damn few stay permanently in print.  By reading an old book you help keep it on the All Time Bestseller List.

Academics

Without the demands of an English teacher, would anybody read the classics?  Would anyone be reading James Joyce, John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, and other literary oldies if it wasn’t because they were forced-fed them in high school and college?  Jane Austen and William Shakespeare have major fan clubs that keep their stories popular with the public, but how many people discover Milton or Dante on their own?

And why do books get so much academic support over music, dance, paintings and other art forms from history?  We’re made to read old books in school but old music and paintings don’t get equal blackboard time.  Sure, we force years of English classes on our kids so they will master language, writing and communication for practical reasons, and maybe the English teachers just sneak in as many of their old favorite inspirations as possible, like promoting Catcher in the Rye.  How active would university English departments be if they didn’t have technical writing, creative writing, ESL majors, and the basic freshman courses?

Can you imagine what our culture would be like if our schools only taught job skills?  Okay, film majors and aspiring writers taking creative writing courses would study old books a bit because it’s practical to recycle the classics occasionally.  Brad Pitt was a great action hero in Troy, and Reese Witherspoon showed off a range of acting talent in Vanity Fair, but they did much better job-wise with Oceans Eleven and Legally Blonde.  And when Will Smith got people to watch I, Robot, they didn’t bother to film the actual classic SF stories.

The Movies

And speaking of the movies, how many people read old books because they saw the film first?   I know films have gotten me to read several library shelves of books.  I have no proof, but I would bet that Hollywood has gotten more kids to read classic books than English teachers.  How many people would go out and read James Joyce if HBO converted A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses into several seasons of television with the production quality of The Sopranos?

Movies may be the best salesmen for books, both new and old than any other form of literary promotion, except television.  Little Women and Pride and Prejudice get remade almost once a decade.  Movies brings the classic words to the screen along with visuals that help us see the classics, and that’s a big sell.

The question is:  Do seeing the classics on the big screen equal reading the classics on the little page?  You know how I vote, but am I right?      

Superstar Writers

Many people buy new books by their favorite writers, and some writers become superstars of the reading world.  Again, I’m not against this because I want my favorite writers to get rich and keep typing out books I love to read.  How many millions of us are now anxiously awaiting J. K. Rowing’s first non-Harry Potter novel?  And if you haunt bookstores you know there’s always hordes of new writers to discover.  But here’s the problem, why waste time taking a chance on a possibly bad book when there are so many Perfect-10 tomes waiting to be read? 

Time and waiting helps.  If you wait until the end of the year then reviewers will make their best-of lists and if you compare enough lists, the year’s best books will be revealed.  If you wait longer, you can catch The Best Books of the Last 25 Years lists, or The Best Books of the Century.  But who wants to wait.  Most people buy books by following their favorite authors or trying books written by superstar writers that catches the public’s attention..

Harold Bloom came down almighty hard on J. K. Rowling and Stephen King, where he claimed thirty-five million book buyers can be wrong about Harry Potter, and that giving Stephen King a National Book Award tarnishes all the rightful past winners.  I’ve read the Harry Potter books twice, and will probably reread them again in the future.  I’d hate to have missed out on them.  From the long list of Bloom’s Western Canon I hope I can pass on a few classics to have time to enjoy Harry Potter.  Of course, the fact is I don’t always know what I’m missing.  What if there are old and forgotten books far more exciting than the Harry Potter novels?

The Great Books

I keep throwing out the name Harold Bloom, but that’s only because he’s the point man for the philosophy that believes knowledge of the great books equals quality education.  He calls his best-of-list, The Western Canon. That idea has been around a long time, and was especially promoted by Mortimer J. Adler, one of the editors of The Great Books of the Western World put out by the Encyclopedia Britannica.  Their theory is simple – knowledge of the great books equals an Ivy league education, and one publisher even produced The Harvard Classics to promote the idea.

There was a serious backlash to this idea because these canonical books were mostly written by old white men.  And many people didn’t cotton to this reading list because the books were old and musty – and just not much fun to read.  But is reading old books like eating spinach and broccoli, and reading J. K. Rowling like eating Ben and Jerry’s?  If you want your mind to grow up strong and fit, should you put so many old titles into your reading diet?

Are the seven plays by Sophocles really that much more deserving of my reading time than the seven Harry Potter books?  Bloom thinks our culture is going down the drain, and if you’ve ever seen the Jay Leno skit, Jaywalking, you’ll probably agree.  If people actually tried to study Bloom’s Western Canon they’d have little time for any other kind of reading, and publishers should just as well stop cranking out new books.  But what if Bloom is right?  Would America be better educated if CBS, NBC and ABC only showed Shakespearean plays and other dramas from the Western Canon?

Hell, I don’t know, but it’s an interesting idea, but that’s all it will ever be, just an idea, because our culture will never exchange pop culture for classic culture.  Maybe it shouldn’t even be an either or thing.  If all you ever read is fantasy and science fiction, you’ll never know much about contemporary culture, or history.  But if all you read is the Greek and Roman classics, then you’ll still be ignorant of contemporary culture and speculation about the future and the creative universe of fantasy ideas.  Also, there might even be value in reading bad writing.  How can you understand the American West without knowing about the dime novel?

The obvious answer is to be well-rounded in your reading, and read from all time periods.  But do the hard core classics of The Great Books get equal time with the latest Charlie Stross novel or the latest YA fad like the Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Series?  And what if you flat out hate the classics?  Should you be forced to read them like taking bad tasting medicine, telling yourself that it’s good for you cultural health?  Recently I tried reading The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, a title on Bloom’s list, but I found it unbearable.  And how many people really want to read Socrates, Plato and Aristotle for fun?

My reply requires an analogy, and one many people might not even be familiar with, but I will try anyway because I think it’s very apt.  Throughout the twentieth century we have found places in the world where tribes of primitive people still live.  It happened just recently in the Amazon.  Anthropologists do not like it when we pollute their pristine lost cultures with modern ideas because it usually shatters these lost tribe’s psyches.  The green jungle folk who have hidden out from civilization know so little of history and science compared to us modern folk who live in concrete jungles.  But do we really know that much more? 

But this is a perfect analogy to cultural literacy because the half-ass educated of our population have primitive minds compared to those who are well educated.  And it is no less mind-shattering to the tiny world view souls living in the big modern society to be hammered by mind-blowing ideas of a bigger universe.  Why do you think fundamentalists of any religion act the way they do? 

No one living in America believes they are ignorant and backward, because how can that be when we’ve got five hundred TV channels and the Internet stuffing our minds?  As long as you just read pop genres like science fiction and mysteries, your knowledge of the larger world of literature is no bigger than believers in cargo cults.  Most science fiction readers and computer geeks like to think they are Slans, but what if that’s the blue pill path, and the Western Canon is the red pill?  A twisty bit of weirdness for sure.

Remember those aborigines?  Just because we read books doesn’t mean our brothers and sisters living in nature have empty minds – yes, they would have a hard time surviving in our cities, but we’d have a hard time surviving in their habitats.  Reading in the Western Canon doesn’t make you a superior person.  Classics do not provide superior forms of fun and entertainment.  They aren’t even the best way to study history.  All they provide is a multiplex view so whether you’re a cool cat from Manhattan who hangs at the trendiest drinking holes, or a nature man living in the Amazon knowing all the best watering holes to hunt dinner, you’ll have a sense of perspective.

Artistic Knowledge 

Knowledge comes in all flavors.  There’s scientific knowledge, which tests reality systematically, and historical knowledge that evolves over time, and engineering knowledge that comes from necessity.  Artistic knowledge is one person’s inner view of how things work in reality.  All the old books are really is a series of people over time giving their opinions.  It becomes a collective view of reality.  Artistic knowledge isn’t like scientific knowledge – and one of the many weaknesses of the Western Canon is it doesn’t include paintings, dance, sculpture, fashion, music, and other crafts and cultural artifacts of the times.  And more than that, it doesn’t collect the knowledge from cultures outside of the Western world.

Reading Skill

Reading the old books isn’t easy.  Many are boring to the modern mind, and some are almost impossible to read.  You can’t just jump into Paradise Lost and get hooked on the story like you can with the TV show Lost.  It can be hard to identify with what’s going on in an old book.  I’m sure, to some kids reading To Kill A Mockingbird it’s too far a jump into the past to grok.  I love the book King Dork because the protagonist makes fun of all his teachers who believe the secrets of adolescence are in The Catcher in the Rye and try to force it on their students.  It’s like Dorothy Parker’s classic definition of horticulture, “You can lead a whore to culture but you can’t make her think.” 

Hell, I know plenty of kids from the youngest two generations that can’t watch a black and white movie, and it’s no wonder they can’t answer Jay Leno’s basic cultural history questions.  More than once I’ve heard a young person say they love old movies, and I’ll ask them to name a few, and they will throw out titles like Caddyshack (1980) and Back to the Future (1985) with great nostalgia.  Is it any wonder they can’t fathom Grand Hotel (1932) much less The General (1927).  Reading Charles Dickens and Jane Austen is probably like trying to read a book in a foreign language to these kids.

The Cultural Time Barrier 

Could it be, for some readers, maybe even most readers, just enjoying books from their own time is a good enough form of literacy?  To many parents, just getting their kids to read anything is a triumph.  Our own times are rich and diverse.  We know so much more about the universe now than people did fifty years ago, much less five hundred or five thousand years ago.  It is rather interesting that so many people can enjoy The Bible, a collection of stories that span centuries of pre-history but they won’t try to make up the gap between the first century and the twenty-first.

History is a boring subject for most people, and if you can’t enjoy a Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn screwball comedy from the 1930s, it’s doubtful you’ll see the humor in The Pickwick Papers from the 1830s.  Maybe there’s a cultural time barrier like the old sound barrier and it takes a certain speed to break on through.  Why do so many young women today love Jane Austen when so many others don’t?

There’s always the theory that trying to force feed the classics on children when they are in school destroys any chance of those kids ever enjoying reading a book.  But has the Harry Potter fad ever proven to create a new generation of bookworms?  There are those who believe that books are a dead art form, and movies are the new art crown of creation for the masses.  Or maybe the bookworm gene only shows up in a small percentage of the population anyway.

None of this answers the question:  Should we read old books.  And should we believe Harold Bloom when he says certain books are far superior to modern reading fare and we shouldn’t waste our time on crappy writing?  Except for the first Harry Potter book, I couldn’t find any comments from Bloom on the later entries.  I thought J. K. Rowling’s writing improved with each new book.  I also have to ask if Bloom’s dislike of Harry Potter reflects a failure on his part to come forward in time and enjoy the current pop culture.

I could believe that Harold Bloom is right and that J. K. Rowling is a bad writer, except that there are books on the Western Canon list that I consider bad writing for one reason or another.  I thought The Crying of Lot 49 was particularly weak on characterization, plot and emotional conflict.  Bloom’s main nail to hammer regarding Rowling was her use of cliché phrases, but there are plenty of books on his list that would be guilty of that fault too.  Bloom likes to focus on word by word, line by line, paragraph by paragraph writing quality, but I think he forgets that storytelling always trumps writing ability.  I’d even say characterization trumps writing ability.  Shakespeare turned some catchy phrases but that wasn’t his skill that kept people coming to see his plays all these years.

Really great stories are timeless, just look how often ancient tales are recycled for modern movies.  The classic science fiction novel Dune is set in the far future, but the characters feel like people Homer knew, and I don’t mean that cartoon Homer.  The reason why so many young women love Jane Austen is because she tapped into the psychology of women at a level unaffected by time.  The reason why Charles Dickens can even make atheists feel teary-eyed over Christmas is because he could play his readers’ emotions like a Geek playing Halo.  Ditto for J. K. Rowling and Stephen King.  I think that’s a skill that Bloom doesn’t credit enough in his tally of writing talents.

And this may hint at why most people can’t read outside of their time.  The writing reflected in the works of the Western Canon represent great feats of intellect, but they communicate little emotionally to the modern reader.  To enjoy reading older books requires emotionally resonating with people from the past, and that’s not easy.

Escapism

If your goal in picking up a book is to escape the worries of daily life, then it doesn’t matter when the book you select comes from.  If you have a lineup of favorite mystery writers that consistently keeps your mind off things then why try anything new?  For pure entertainment, contemporary writers can’t be beat.  I feel the best new writers have distilled the writing techniques from the past and have truly honed the art of storytelling to baroque levels of diversion.  Many of these writers are using all of history for their storytelling canvas.  Some even have the writing chops that would impress Harold Bloom.  Both in creative writing and creative non-fiction, some of the best writers are surfing the breaking waves of literature.  There is always more great contemporary writing, both literary and genre, than any bookworm yet born can handle.

I bet you didn’t think I’d say that?  I’m trying to be real and honest here while promoting the reading of old books.  I’d go so far as to say if you’re only going to read a few books, try and read the best contemporary books first, even if they’re just escapist nonsense as long as they get you to read for fun.  It’s my theory that learning to read for fun is more important than reading for an education.  If you get hooked on books it will be like other drugs, eventually you’ll crave the harder stuff.

Scholarship

Most people do not want to be English professors and turn their fun hobby into ghoulish book autopsies.  However, many readers often enjoy becoming amateur scholars on pet subjects.  If you’re a fan of mysteries you might eventually want to learn how they evolved starting with Edgar Allan Poe.  I have had a lot of fun learning about the Classics of Science Fiction.  If you enjoy Masterpiece Theater on PBS, it’s easy to take up the study of the English novel.  If you like to argue then studying the Greeks and rhetoric will help you win more verbal battles with your friends.  You have to have zero curiosity about life not to wonder how various ideas and practices got started.

Take the current oil crisis.  Our society is shifting from cheap energy to expensive energy, and hopefully renewable energy, but it’s a stressful time, and we may have to experience a terrible economic downturn.  Surely, there must be other times in history where people had to endure quick economic and social change – so how did their society handle it?   Try reading The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  Or read Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser for a story about someone trying to shift from simple rural life to living a new life in the big city.

The thing about studying the past, even for fun, is that it teaches a lot about living in the present.  Read the Old Testament, it was never about religion, that’s a later interpretation, but about nation building and the psychology of creating an organized society.  The history of books is about mankind striving to get somewhere, and that somewhere is now.

Jim