Thursday, August 31, 2006

Back to School

I always think about school as September approaches, even though it's been more than 12 years since I attended school regularly. If I had a lot of money and a lot of time, I would love to get an MBA. But the cost scares me. And the math scares me. There are many reasons I was an English major -- math is just one of them.

But here's an interesting alternative: The Personal MBA. The Personal MBA was created by Josh Kaufman, who's a marketing executive. It seems like just a list of books -- but it's a pretty interesting list, covering personal development, operations, sales, those dreaded financial topics, etc. The site also offers a forum for other "students" taking the Personal MBA course so you can chat.

I've already chosen a few of the books from the list that I'd like to check out: Mastery; Now, Discovery Your Strengths; Getting Things Done (which has its own tag category over on Lifehacker); Poor Charlie's Almanack; Getting to Yes; Flawless Consulting; and American Business, 1920-2000. And that's just a sample; there are 42 books on the list.

Obviously, a list of books does not an MBA make. But it's a great place to start.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Monday, Monday

Not anyone's favorite day of the week, probably. But to get your reading week started, here's the New York Times Bestseller list. (Seriously? Paperback Advice is its own category?).

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Cost of Education

Here's a new idea: college textbooks for free. What's the catch? Advertising, of course. Freeload Press, a Minnesota-based startup, has developed an interesting idea. Make textbooks available in PDF form for students to download. The company makes its money by advertising placed within the PDF.

Reaction has been pretty good so far, though limited. Right now, Freeload Press's inventory is about 100 business and finance-related books. But they plan to expand.

Working at a public university, I know how much textbooks cost college students. And that's on top of already out-of-control tuition costs. My guess is that most students will put up with the advertising to avoid paying $100 or more per textbook.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

All Good Things...

Well, I finally finished The Historian on Monday. I was glad to finish, to see how the story ended; but sad as well. When you get so wrapped up in a book and look forward to picking it up whenver possible, it's hard when it's finally over. But it's a great read and I highly recommend it.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the book got me thinking about vampires, Dracula, Bram Stoker, etc. I had visions of a long post with tons of interesting Web sites on all things undead -- and quickly found that our good friends at Wikepedia had already covered the topic in depth for me.

The most important thing to remember is the distinction between vampires (their mythology and folklore), the character of Dracula as created by Bram Stoker, and Vlad Tepes (also known as Vlad Dracula or Vlad the Impaler), a prince of Wallachia and defender against Ottoman expansion. They are three separate things that often get mushed up in all sorts of ways. For example, there's no evidence that Vlad Dracula was a vampire (ironcially, he impaled his victims), and the jury is still out on how much Stoker knew of the infamous ruler when creating his fictional character. (By the way, get the e-text to Stoker's novel here.)

Then there's popular culture, which has had almost a continuing love affair with Dracula since his debut in 1897. The Wikepedia article on Dracula does a great job of summarizing both the major and minor impacts the caped one has had on popular culture. In addition to the movies (Bram Stoker's Dracula is my personal favorite, although you gotta love Christopher Lee in all those Hammer movies), there are video games, comics, cereal (yeah Count Chocula!) and children's television (Count von Count from Sesame Street).

One interesting thing I did learn: According to folklore, one of the ways to get rid of a vampire is to simply sprinkle some holy water on the grave. You can understand why Hollywood kind of ignored this. Why just have your hero sprinkling water when you can ram a stake through the vampire's heart and cut his head off?!

Monday, August 21, 2006

New York Times Bestseller List

There was a time that I received The New York Times on Sundays. It was great -- it would take me the entire day to read the paper. Often, I'd still be reading portions on Monday. My favorite section, of course, was the Book Review. It made me feel smart just to read it.

Of course, it's always good to know what's on the bestseller lists. Starting today, I'll be posting links to the New York Times bestseller list every Monday. Here's the first one. Enjoy.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Very Scary!

I have to say, I'm loving The Historian. I've devoured almost half of it in the last four evenings, and I can barely put it down to go to sleep. A great story well told. Old manuscripts, ancient archives, plucky graduate students and the search for vampires -- even the big guy himself, Dracula!

Needless to say, this has inspired me to seek out more information on those creepy bloodsuckers. Stay tuned for a future post on Vlad the Impaler.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Geeky girl that I am, I was very excited when it came time to enter one of my favorite plays into my LibraryThing catalog. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf has been my favorite movie ever since I can remember (or at least my favorite drama. who can have just one favorite movie?). My copy of the play is just about as cherished as my copy of the movie.

Edward Albee's play can best be described in one word -- searing. I hate to even try to describe it. You really need to experience it to understand it. It's the story of George and Martha (he's a history professor at a small college, she's the college president's daughter), a couple living somewhere on the edge between love and hate. In an alcohol-fueled, middle-of-the-night party with a new junior professor and his wife, secrets are shared and lives are shattered. The play caused quite a stir when it debuted in New York in 1962. Its subject matter and use of language were shocking to audiences in a pre-Kennedy assassination world.

The movie version of 1966 is famous in its own right. It starred Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (for those younger readers, they were the Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt of their day), along with George Segal and Sandy Dennis. It had any number of things against it: the debut movie of director Mike Nichols; dispute about whether Elizabeth Taylor could handle the weight of the material; the fact that it was shot in black and white; and not least of all the subject matter and language.

In fact, the movie was hugely successful. All four actors were nominated for Academy Awards (Taylor won for Best Actress, Dennis for Best Supporting Actress). Many have said it is Taylor's finest work -- and I humbly agree. It was one of seven nominations that Burton received in his life -- without ever winning one. This site has some interesting trivia about who might have been cast in this movie.

Part of the brilliance of the movie, in my opinion, is the near perfect adherence to Albee's play. There are a few more scene changes in the movie, but Ernest Lehman's script wisely sticks very close to the original. Seriously, how could you even want to change a line like Martha's to George: "I swear, if you existed, I'd divorce you."

It's interesting that most of the sites I found refer to the movie as much as the play. Since the movie version is so famous and was produced near to the time the original play was, it's not a suprise. Check out FilmSite's wonderful summary and Culture Vulture's great essay, and this entry from GradeSaver that puts the film into context with world events.

For true fans, be sure to check out IMDB's site. It's got some color stills that I've never seen before. If you haven't seen it yet, be sure to add it to your Netflix queue.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Swap, Trade or Catch and Release

I have to admit, I'm one of those book owners who really doesn't like loaning out my books. I mean, I will, to certain people. But I have to be pretty sure I'll get them back. I have a couple out right now that I might not ever see again (fortunately, the books aren't among my favorites. But still).

A recent post on LifeHacker mentioned BookMooch, a Web site that allows you to swap books with others. I'd sort of heard the idea before. When I thought it might be something to blog about, I did a little searching. A few quick searches found several sites. It seems like a pretty crowded market. It will be interesting to see if they all survive in the long-term.

They all work pretty much the same. You list books you want to swap and gain points, which you can then use to "purchase" books you want. So the more you list, the more you can get. The members do the mailing. You can give feedback just like on eBay. In addition to BookMooch, there's PaperBackSwap, FrugalReader, and Bookins. BookCrossing is where the catch and release comes in. The idea is to register books on the site, giving each book a unique ID. Then you leave the book behind in a coffee shop, give it to someone else, donate it to a library, etc. When the next person picks up the book, they can log in to the site using the book's unique BCID (BookCrossing ID) and track where it's been and leave comments. TitleTrader adds the option to also trade CDs, DVDs (and VHS tapes), video games -- even magazines, which should set them apart a bit.

Few of these sites charge a fee; although PaperBackSwap has already indicated they'll be adding a membership fee at some point in the future. It should be interesting to see how all of these sites shake out.

Even if I were willing to give up some of my books, I'd end up with the same total in the end -- which wouldn't do much for my storage space.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The ISBN Gets Bigger

I don't know about you, but when I'm entering books into my LibraryThing catalog, I always use the ISBN if the book has one. Sure, you can search by title. But I'm so anal, I have to be sure I'm entering the exact edition.

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. The ISBN is "a 10-digit number that uniquely identifies books and book-like products published internationally" according to -- who else? -- the U.S. ISBN Agency. The fine folks over at Wikepedia informed me that the ISBN system was started in the U.K. in 1966. Most standard 10-digit ISBNs follow this format:
  • a single digit to identify the country of origin
  • a three-digit number to identify the publisher
  • a five-digit number to identify the exact title
  • a single digit checksum character.

I first learned about ISBNs when I worked in a bookstore during college. After looking up so many titles, I actually started to recognize the publisher codes. Fortunately, my brain has now been filled with other, more useful pieces of information.

Two things I didn't know until today: there is a fee to obtain an ISBN. And starting January 1, 2007, ISBNs will expand to 13 digits.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Back to School

It's been a shamefully long time since I posted, so here goes. Not exactly about books, but book-related. It's nearly that time of year again -- school starts soon. L.L. Bean has a neat guide for picking out book bags for kids and teens. They also have a design-your-own feature that most adults should find pretty cool. Check it out at L.L. Bean's Book Pack Guide.