2015: My Year in Reading

All of the data that follows was collected by me using a combination of Google Sheets and Google Calendar. Once again, I elected not to track pages read—too much discrepancy between formats to generate meaningful comparisons.

A complete list of all the books I read in 2015 is at the bottom of this post.

I read 66 books in 2015. Fiction titles outnumbered nonfiction by 2-to-1:

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Bridging the Digital Divide: A Matter of Equality

I spoke to a gentleman recently about the efforts of public libraries to bridge the Digital Divide, both in terms of offering broadband internet access to those who otherwise don’t have it, and teaching digital and information literacy to those who need it.

This gentleman told me that he thinks the internet is useless. He’s been online, tried the social media thing, wandered around the web, and he sees no value in any of it. He concluded that it’s all just a flood of unreliable, unverified information, and people being mean and wasting time. He believes that we’d all be better off without it.

He told me that he can’t understand why we work so hard to provide access to something that people don’t need and shouldn’t be using in the first place. I don’t believe this man was intentionally exclusionary or prejudiced—he sincerely couldn’t understand why anyone would value something which, to him, is so obviously value-less.

Rather than argue with this gentleman’s opinions regarding the supposed value of the internet, I responded:

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Book Review: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Orbit, 2015
Cover art by John Harris

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie satisfies my hopes for her Imperial Radch series. It’s a worthy conclusion to the story of Breq Mianaai / Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen.

I admit I had reservations going into this third book of the series. The first novel showed so much promise but the second was strangely limited and left much to be desired. I really couldn’t get a sense of where the concluding volume would go.

Ancillary Mercy is a well-balanced amalgam of its predecessors. It takes place in the same location as Ancillary Sword but brings back the galactic scope of Ancillary Justice. It presents an ending which manages to be believable and appropriate, but also unexpected and compellingly unresolved.

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Do Public Libraries Promote Democracy?

In his book, Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library, Dr. Wiegand challenges the traditional theory that public libraries are institutions which promote an informed democracy. He correctly points out that it’s “hard to prove that American public libraries are essential to democracy.” I’m certain it’s difficult, just as it’s difficult to prove many of the intangible benefits that libraries present their patrons.

Public libraries were conceptualized in large part to provide citizens access to information and “useful knowledge” which would help them to become more informed voters and civic actors. This theoretical framework is a political version of Ben Franklin’s ideal of the “self-made man”.

But historical data of public library usage makes it abundantly clear that very few people use their library this way. The maintenance of an informed democracy via access to “useful knowledge” isn’t something our patrons are all that interested in.

So it’s appropriate and useful to question this orthodoxy.

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Book Review: Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs
Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs
Quirk Books, 2015

Overall, I’m very happy with Library of Souls, the final novel in Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series. It starts out at a dead run and doesn’t slow down until the end. It builds to a truly gigantic climax of staggering proportion.

It’s exciting, a surprising and worthy conclusion to the story.

It’s also laugh-out-loud funny at several points. There’s an unexpected influence of Monty Python at work in this installment and it’s very effective. It allows the ridiculous to coexist seamlessly with the horror and constant danger, which is ultimately what empowers the reader to go along for the ride.

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Book Review: Part of Our Lives by Wayne A. Wiegand

Part of Our Lives by Wayne A. Wiegand
Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library by Wayne A. Wiegand
Oxford University Press, 2015

I recently read the book, Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library by Wayne A. Wiegand. Rather than write a typical review of it, I want to share a letter that I sent the author.

(TL;DR version: This book is wonderful and every public librarian and public library user should read it. I think it’s important.)

Dear Dr. Wiegand,

I’d like to thank you for writing Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library. Before I proceed to explain why I want to thank you, I need to spend some time voicing a complaint about something you wrote in your introduction. Bear with me—the extent of my gratitude for your work won’t be clear without this context.

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Dante’s Divine Comedy, Terza Rima & Why the Limerick Is the Greatest English Poetic Form

I took a class on Dante’s Divine Comedy in college. The class was taught by a visiting professor from the University of Padua. He talked about Dante the same way English speakers talk about Shakespeare, only even more so. The Divine Comedy is widely considered by native Italians as having invented the modern Italian language. This professor spoke of it as the purest and most perfect expression of his “mother tongue” (see footnote).

He spent significant time analyzing the terza rima structure of the work. In particular, he stated that many native Italians consider it to be, once again, the greatest expression of their language. It’s perfectly suited to Italian: the cadence captures the robust, rounded, plosive earthy lilt and rolling quality of it; Italian is one of the most rhyme rich languages in the world, and the complex rhyme scheme of terza rima is calibrated to make the most of that fact. Moreover, terza rima doesn’t work well in any other language. It’s purely Italian.

This got me wondering if there’s a poetic structure equally well suited to English, a structure as deeply native to English as terza rima is to Italian.

I’ve concluded that the limerick comes closest.

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Are We Really Living in a Golden Age of Information?

Information professionals like to crow that we’re living in a Golden Age of Information. More information is available to more people than ever before in history, and it’s easier to access than ever.

The standard response is to point out that there’s more bad information than ever before. A whole lot of the information currently circulating around out there isn’t reliable.

This is true. But it’s also true that there’s more good information available to us than ever before, too. Just as bad information has increased, good information has increased alongside. I believe this firmly and I’ll stand by this statement.

But I’m not sure if the increase in good information is keeping pace with the increase in bad. It may be the proportion of good-to-bad has become more unbalanced. It may be that good information is being increasingly overwhelmed by the bad.

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