Archive for February, 2006


I read a lot. As an English teacher, part of my reading addiction is work related. However, since I was young I have found that reading is something that allows me to block out everything else. The only other “escape” I have found is alcohol and playing the guitar. The former was toxic to me and my well-being. The latter is a growing passion.

Anyway, there are lots of sites popping up helping you organize your stuff. The first one I tried was Listal, but I found that it was geared to organizing all kinds of media. It didn’t speak to the bibliophile in me. Then I found LibraryThing.

It’s a dead simply site with all the required Web2.0 goodies: ajax, tagging, comments, reviews, ratings, sharing, etc. I have only begun putting my books in and seem to have been limiting myself to new purchases and the few books sitting within arm’s reach at any given moment. There are hundreds on the shelves behind me and in the bedroom which need to be put into my catalog.

The site is free for a certain number of books and the pricing for larger accounts is reasonable. It seems that this is a one-man show and is not necessarily “built to flip” so perhaps it’s worthy of a purchase.

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I’m not going to rehash what those who are smarter than me are saying, but cocomment is pure genius. I have forever wanted an easier way to track, remember, and follow up on all the various comments that I make on blogs. With the advent of much of the blog content being consumed by RSS, there is a need for a way to track your interaction with those sites since you don’t habitually visit those sites.

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New Senior Class

Our English department is developing new electives for our seniors to take. These are year-long classes that each teacher develops based on their own personal interests in literature. They range from outdoor writing to science fiction to Greek myths. My class will focus on contemporary literature, predominantly novels. For the purpose of the class, I am defining contemporary as nothing older than 20 years ago and a significant number of the novels are within the last 5 years. The poetry is a bit older.

What follows below is the short write-up I put together to give to my department head. Let me know what you think.

Contemporary Literature Roundtable

Time creates perspective and history tells us that it is impossible to name a movement of art or thought while living within that movement. Accepting that as a given, we will try to take a circumspect view of the literature of the last 10-20 years. This will include poetry and fiction from several genres including graphic novels and children’s literature. Our goal is to arrive at some understanding of the interests and pressures affecting today’s writers. Not for those with short attention spans.

First Trimester

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Book 1: The Golden Compass (Northern Lights in UK)

Book 2: The Subtle Knife

Book 3: The Amber Spyglass

Excerpts from John Milton’s Paradise Lost and William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience as needed.

A fantasy trilogy that features as its literary heart a rewriting of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Touches on themes of bildungsroman, myth, religious tolerance, sin and redemption, loyalty, and honor.

Second Trimester

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathon Safran Foer

Deals with themes of history, familial obligation, linguistics, wordplay, the Holocaust, myth, cultural differences, and the search for place. Recently made into a movie.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

A love story complicated by the uncontrollable time travel of the husband in the marriage. Tackles the gnawing sense of loss and regret we have all felt as part of our emotional responsibility while also dealing with how much do we know or want to know about our loved ones.

Little Children by Tom Perrotta

Skewers the beautiful façade of modern suburbia. Through subplots of infidelity and a pedophile returning home, Perrotta mirrors the lives of children against the lives of adults attempting to recapture that childhood invigoration.

Third Trimester

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Limited, yet unique point-of-view drives this novel of the disintegration of a family at the hands of modernity. A flailing protagonist wanders through a maze of deceit which he can’t even see.

Parasites Like Us by Adam Johnson

Satire dealing with academia, science, fear mongering, biological terrorism, consumerism, and love.

Watchmen by Alan Moore

Graphic novel (originally published as individual comic books) dealing with themes of nuclear threats, moral responsibility, and other geopolitical issues. Also provides and interesting view of narrative structure based around the metafiction it uses as ephemera.


Contemporary poetry will be interspersed throughout the second and third trimesters as needed thematically or as mental breaks from the fiction. Some poems may not be within the prescribed time scale, but it will be published in the timeframe and should be from the past 50 years or so. Poetry including Billy Collins’s Sailing Alone Around the Room, Kenneth Koch’s New Addresses, Wislawa Szymborska’s Poems New and Collected, Fernando Pessoa’s A Little Larger than the Universe, Seamus Heaney’s Opened Ground: Selected Poems, and other work from the last 10 years (all provided by me).

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The astute Michael Arrington over at TechCrunch has gathered up a collection of most of the sites in the relatively new space of Real-Time aggregation of blog content. Some are focused strictly on blogs and some mix mainstream press into the stream.

It seems that user interaction with this news, either in the form of comments, syndication, voting, etc., is the real feature being developed here. Everything else is simply a sort of “vertical” (to use a pre-bubble term) search engine focused on a particular arc of sites in the ethersphere.

I have collected these links in a tag called “newsmass.” It echoes not only the noun form of “mass” as sin size or amount, but also the verb form indicating the gathering of content. News is perhaps a little more specific than it should be as not everything in these sites falls under the journalistic definition of “news.”

These space interests me from a democratic stance especially. It makes it easier for that small blogger to get his, perhaps, compelling content read by more people. As the government of the U.S. seems to be working to limit our civic freedoms, it’s good news that everyone’s voice can be heard more easily. That’s an idealistic view and a more visionary goal than pragmatic milestone, but I think that a driving vision along those lines could help one of these sites break out.

In the end, all of the movements so far in what I begrudgingly call Web2.0 seem to have been toward user empowerment. That’s not my definition of Web2.0, but it does serve as way to get my head around the concept. If any of those tools get the information to the masses that the mainstream media continually ignore, like the Downing Street Memo, then they could all be doing a great service.

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