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A book is a literary compass that has the potential to direct our thoughts and actions:

"Everything we read stimulates our mind to think, and what we think determines what we desire, and desires are the seedbed of our actions. Given this iron law of human nature--from reading to thinking, to desiring, to acting--we are shaping our destiny by the ideas we choose to have enter our minds through print." - Fr. John Hardon, S.J., The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan

Welcome to my own personal exploration of life through reading the great books of the world.

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Location: Spokane, Washington, United States

"Every soul that uplifts itself uplifts the world." --Elisabeth Leseur

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Master and Commander Audio Book Review

Simon Vance does a superb job reading every character in Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander except one: the central character Jack Aubrey.

I just finished listening to Blackstone Audio's unabridged version of Master and Commander, and the book keeps getting better each time I experience it. I first read it about ten years ago, then a few years after that I listened to Patrick Tull's unabridged audio recording from RecordedBooks.com.

This time around I didn't get so bogged down trying to understand the naval jargon, so I was able to concentrate more on the characters. If you've never read any of O'Brian's books, you're missing out on some fantastic characters and compelling stories.

But Simon Vance just didn't read Jack Aubrey correctly, in my opinion. Vance read him with a deep voice that sounded overweight and pompous, rather than forceful and commanding. I realize that Aubrey is a big man, and Maturin is constantly harping on him to lose weight, but Vance's reading went a bit beyond what was necessary. I much prefer Patrick Tull's gravelly, rough voice.

However, Vance's overall narration was excellent, and I would still recommend this recording to those who can't get a hold of Patrick Tull's superior reading. And speaking of the late Patrick Tull, I'll end with a video of Tull reading from The Reverse of the Medal, and one of the most powerful scenes in the whole series. Warning: the video contains a strong vulgarity and gives away some of the plot, so take that into account before watching.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:59 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Monday, July 30, 2007

What if the Simpsons Were a Live Action TV Series?

For those of you who just can't get enough of the Simpsons:

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posted by Nick Senger at 7:11 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Scare Your Friends with These Gag Books

From Matthew at Gizmodo:
This toy is shaped like a row of books, and includes a sensor that triggers spooky noises and pushes out one of the books when someone walks past.
Read more about the books or order them at Things You Never Knew Existed.

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:03 AM 3 comments Links to this post

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Become a Simpsons Cartoon!

Check out the very cool Simpsonizeme site where you can upload a picture of yourself and become transformed into a Matt Groening-inspired cartoon. You can modify your hair, clothing and more, similar to creating a Nintendo Mii. You can even add backgrounds, like this picture of me standing in front of school:

Ultra cool! A very big tip of the hat to Tim at Assorted Stuff.

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:45 AM 1 comments Links to this post

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Top 10 Henry David Thoreau Quotes

I was looking at my commonplace book and was again struck by the eloquence of Henry David Thoreau. Here are some of my favorite Thoreau quotes, most of them from Walden:
  • I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.
  • ...to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and the future, which is precisely the present moment
  • Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.
  • In short, I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one's self in this earth is not a hardship, but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely.
  • The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life.
  • The adventurous student will always study the classics...For what are the classics but noblest recorded thoughts of man. They are the only oracles which are not decayed.
  • Books must be read as reservedly and deliberately as they were written.
  • A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips;--not represented on canvas or marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself.
  • How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!
  • If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:06 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Friday, July 27, 2007

Literary Allusions in The Simpsons

Continuing yesterday's post to celebrate today's release of the new Simpsons movie, here is a list of 10 episode titles with literary origins:
  • Homer's Odyssey
  • The Call of the Simpsons
  • The Telltale Head
  • The Crepes of Wrath
  • Simpson and Delilah
  • One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish
  • A Streetcar Named Marge
  • The Last Temptation of Homer
  • Much Apu about Nothing
  • The Old Man and the Lisa
Also, eHow.com has some good ideas for how to plan "The Simpsons" premiere party.

And finally, there's this cool video from Zack Kim playing the Simpsons theme song on two guitars at the same time:

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:54 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Thursday, July 26, 2007

New Free Business Opportunity for Stay-at-Home Moms

I know many of my readers are stay-at-home moms who blog, so I thought I'd share with you a new online business opportunity that my wife and I recently joined. It's free, it's simple, and it takes away the "business game" that I hate playing. It's called MY POWERMALL and it's completely free.

Normally I wouldn't intrude on my literature posts with something like this, but I really think it's worth it for you to look at.

The best way to find out about the business is to watch one of the movies and explore the website.

MY POWERMALL is not just for stay-at-home moms, either. Other people can benefit from it as well:
  • Non-profits like Catholic schools and parishes
  • College students
  • Anyone looking to enhance their income with a free online business
I don't do things like this very often, so please forgive the off-topic post and ignore it if it's not for you. But it might just be something that could help you out financially.


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posted by Nick Senger at 7:57 AM 1 comments Links to this post

Marge Simpson Imagines a Catholic Heaven

The Simpsons movie comes out tomorrow, so here's a short clip to mark the occasion:

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:44 AM 1 comments Links to this post

Monday, July 23, 2007

Possessed by Books

I've known some bibliomaniacs in my time, but Archdeacon Meadow has got to be one of the worst afflicted:

Archdeacon Meadow accumulated so many books that he was forced to sell a considerable portion of his collection. But as their auction proceeded he experienced such passionate anguish that he left the room and returned again in disguise to begin bidding for his own books.

--Otto L. Bettman, The Delights of Reading: Quotes, Notes and Anecdotes

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:05 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Sunday, July 22, 2007

How to Make an Origami Book

As you're relaxing today, why not try your hand at making this really cool origami mini-book:

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posted by Nick Senger at 8:52 AM 5 comments Links to this post

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pictures from Our Notre Dame Trip

Under Notre Dame's Golden Dome

I've posted some pictures of my trip to Notre Dame at Flickr.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:52 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I Write in Books - And I'm Proud of It

One of the comments I often get from people who have read my book ROMAN Reading is "I could never write in my books." It's hard to get people to understand the value and pleasure of writing comments, thoughts and reactions in their books. But now I have a book to recommend to them: Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books by H. J. Jackson.

I found this book in the Notre Dame bookstore, and I couldn't be more excited to read it. From the back cover:
Imaginative and amusing, this book will be a pleasure for anyone who cares about books and reading. H. J. Jackson examines all varieties of marginalia, from casual scribbles to lengthy arguments, and introduces us to annotators both celebrated and unknown whose jottings in book margins reveal much about themselves, their relationships with other readers, and their passionate involvement with books.
I love the phrase "passionate involvement with books." I think many readers are passionate about their books, but writing comments and reactions in books really shows a reader's involvement.

I hope to read Marginalia in the next few weeks. I'll let you know how I like it.


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posted by Nick Senger at 6:46 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Former Student Gives a Homily

We're back! Our week at Notre Dame was fantastic, but there's nothing like sleeping in your own bed.

We had an uneventful trip home, praise God. On Sunday we drove through Helena, Montana to celebrate Mass at the cathedral there. I had never been there, and I was awestruck by the amount of marble and stained glass. Helena is not exactly on the way to anywhere, but if you ever get the chance, stop in and take a tour of the cathedral.

I'm currently uploading all of my pictures to Flickr, and I'll link to them when I'm finished (What?--You didn't think you'd get out of seeing my vacation pictures did you? At least you don't have to think of a flimsy excuse to avoid coming over to my house to watch the slide show).

When I got back Sunday night I was disappointed to learn that I missed Deacon Matt Nicks' first homily at my home parish of St. Peter's. I wrote about Matt's ordination a while back and was looking forward to hearing him. Fortunately, thanks to technology, I still got to hear it, even though I couldn't be there. Our music director records all of the parish homilies and sends them to me as mp3 files so I can upload them to our Keys to the Kingdom podcast.

If you'd like to listen to Deacon Matthew's homily from last week, click here to download the mp3 file. If you like you can also subscribe to the entire podcast.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:35 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Our Last Days at Notre Dame

It's Thursday night in South Bend and our week at ND Vision is almost over. My son and the other teens that came with us have had a fantastic time...and so have we adults. Here are some more highlights of the past few days:
  • Sitting awestruck as 225 teens spent an hour together in Eucharistic adoration
  • Praying/chanting morning prayer and Vespers in the lady chapel at the Notre Dame basilica
  • Gazing open-mouthed at all the beautiful works of art that decorate the campus and its buildings
  • Praying the rosary with over 225 teenagers at the Notre Dame grotto
  • Enjoying the presence so many young, enthusiastic, spirit-filled Holy Cross priests
  • Eating some of the best food in the world each and every meal
  • Talking over lunch with Kevin, a young seminarian who has just finished his freshman year and has given up a month of his summer to mentor the young ND Vision participants
  • Visiting the Notre Dame bookstore six or seven times, wishing I could just bring a tent and camp out there for a few days
  • Trying unsuccessfully to find and shake hands with Ralph McInerney, Notre Dame professor and author of the Fr. Dowling mysteries
  • Visiting the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend
  • And most important, getting to spend some quality time with people who have an intense love of working with Catholic teens
A couple of more quotes I will take with me as I leave this conference:
  • Catholic teens are not "the Church of tomorrow;" they are "the young Church of today."
  • "Joy is suffering that's been worked through."
To anyone with high school students, and to all youth ministers, I highly recommend this week at Notre Dame. I've met people from New York, Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, Illinois, and various other places, and all of us have been impressed by the quality of the program and of the college students leading it. We'll be back.

The conference officially ends tomorrow at noon, after which we will load up our vehicles and try to drive 600 miles to St. Cloud, Minnesota. Please pray that we have a safe three days on the road as we return to Spokane. When I get back I'll post some of the pictures I've taken and then get back to writing about books and reading. I've picked up a couple of volumes from the Notre Dame bookstore that I'm anxious to write about.

Thanks in advance for your prayers.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:28 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Notre Dame Trip Days 3 and 4

Now that I've finally figured out how to connect to the wireless network here at Notre Dame I can give a quick update. First things first: yesterday.

Two words: Chicago. Traffic.

We left Jackson, Minnesota on time at 7:00 a.m., then around 2:00 p.m. got bogged down for two hours trying to get through Chicago. We were trying to avoid the Ryan Expressway because the official site said it was under construction, so we took what we thought could make better time on another road. Instead we became the incarnation of that old hobbit saying, "Short cuts make long delays."

And if it wasn't the traffic it was the electrical storm. Sheets of water came pelting down on us as we rolled through Illinois, and we were surrounded by dozens of flashes of lightning. No one's car was hit by lightning on this leg of the trip, though, so we counted ourselves lucky.

We rolled into Notre Dame at about 8:30 p.m., exhausted and two and a half hours late. We were afraid the youth group had missed important orientation information, but the ND Vision people were great and got the kids right into the keynote speech. ND Vision even ordered sub sandwiches for our teens (and for us!), since we hadn't had time to stop for dinner.

The rest of us got settled in by about 11:00 p.m., and woke up fresh and ready to attend our conferences.

My favorite line from the keynote speech last night:
  • "Build a man a fire and he stays warm for the night; set a man on fire and he stays warm for the rest of his life."
The campus here is absolutely beautiful. I've got room for over 1,000 pictures on my camera's memory card, and I may just take that many before we leave on Friday.

And the campus bookstore is almost worth the drive in itself. I've never seen such an incredible section of religious books. I spent an hour in there today, and I imagine I'll go back a few more times before Friday. So far I've only bought a hat for myself, but that's only because I was too overwhelmed to get anything else.

I'm going to have to bring this to a close. Sorry for the rambling nature of this post, but I need to run to dinner and don't have time to make it more coherent.

Tonight I'm going to attend the rosary at the Grotto, then Vespers in the Basilica. And I hope to get to Morning Prayer tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. I'll let you know tomorrow what they were like.

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posted by Nick Senger at 2:18 PM 2 comments Links to this post

Monday, July 09, 2007

Notre Dame Trip Day 2

Today we're in the small town of Jackson, Minnesota, after driving 660 miles yesterday. The weather was much nicer today--no one was struck by lightning. Highlights from yesterday's travel:
  • Mount Rushmore: An awe-inspiring sight to those of us who had never seen it before.
  • A brief glimpse of the badlands: we could see the edges of the badlands from the freeway. I'd like to come back some day to take a closer look.
  • Sights we didn't get to see, but wanted to: the corn palace in Mitchell, SD, 1880 Town, the Reptile Gardens
We leave for Notre Dame in about an hour. We crossed into the mountain time zone on Saturday, we went into central time yesterday, and by the end of our driving today we'll be in eastern time. Today's drive is shorter, 588 miles. More updates later.


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posted by Nick Senger at 3:59 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Trip to Notre Dame, Day 1

I woke up this morning in Sheridan, Wyoming, after driving about 660 miles from Spokane, Washington yesterday with 13 teenagers, and 7 chaperones. Highlights of our first day of travel:
  • Stopping at Lincoln, Montana's 10,000 Silver Dollar Bar
  • Attending Mass in Billings, MT with my parents. The young priest at St. Pius X Parish went to school with the deacon I wrote about a couple of months ago.
  • Chasing a huge electrical storm across southern Montana. I really enjoy watching Montana thunder storms, but not while driving through them. One of the minivans in our group was struck by lightning. Everyone was fine, but they were a bit shaken up.
Today we head across South Dakota to Mount Rushmore and then on to Minnesota before arriving at Notre Dame tomorrow night.

I'll keep updating as time and technology allow. Thanks for all your prayers.


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posted by Nick Senger at 5:01 AM 3 comments Links to this post

Friday, July 06, 2007

Human Animation in a Soccer Stadium

For all of you soccer fans out there (and you know who you are):

Tip o'the Hat to Gizmodo.

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posted by Nick Senger at 3:46 PM 2 comments Links to this post

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Caravan to Notre Dame!

My son and I will be heading to Notre Dame next week for a 5-day conference called ND Vision. We're driving across the country in 4 rented minivans with 13 teenagers (yes, 13!). We leave Spokane, Washington at 5:00 in the morning and for the next three days I'll be trapped inside a moving snack zone. The cars that drive beside us will see the vans surrounded by a cloud of orange BHT fumes. I won't even begin to describe what it will smell like.

What is ND Vision? Here's how the people of ND Vision describe themselves:
ND Vision is committed to helping young people recognize God's call in their lives and respond to that call with courage and faith.

Since 2002, thousands of high school students have come to Notre Dame's campus to take part in this unique experience. In 2007, participants from across the nation will join together at ND Vision to ask important questions about life, faith, their own gifts, and the ways in which we are each called to be the change we want to see in the world.
I'm actually very excited to be going. Besides getting some quality time with my oldest son, I'm also going to be able to attend the special program for adults, ND Vision CYM.

The drive is also going to be fun. We're stopping in Billings, Montana where my parents live, and we're also going to stop at Mount Rushmore, which I've never seen.

I'm sharing this with you because I may not be able to write any posts next week. I'm trying to find out if I'll have Internet access while I'm there, because I'd love to write about our experiences, but if there's no access then I'll just have to wait until we get back to tell you all about it. I'll take pictures and keep a journal to remember everything, but I hope I'll be able to write from Notre Dame.

Do you have any recommendations for places to see while we're on the Notre Dame campus? I know we'll see "Touchdown Jesus," but what else should we be sure to see?

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:08 AM 2 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Berserker Death: RIP Fred Saberhagen

Fred Saberhagen , one of my favorite science fiction writers, passed away from cancer on June 29, 2007 at the age of 77. Saberhagen is probably best-known as the author of the Berserker series, a set of science fiction stories about humanity's war against self-repairing killing machines that roam the universe with the sole purpose of eliminating all life. Saberhagen used his Berserker stories to explore what it meant to be human, and several of them were based on works of literature such as Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" and Melville's Moby-Dick.

Saberhagen was also Catholic, and if you can find a copy of his First Book of Swords, there's a fantastic afterword written by Catholic science fiction/fantasy critic Sandra Miesel (co-author of The Davinci Hoax) who summarizes his major works and explores his recurring themes and values.

I highly recommend the following books for any science fiction/fantasy fan (especially teenagers):

The Berserker series:

As mentioned earlier, the Berserkers are machines that scour the universe obeying their directive to destory life. Consider the opening paragraphs of "Without a Thought," the first Berserker story:

The Machine was a vast fortress, containing no life, set by its long-dead masters to destroy anything that lived. It and many others like it were the inheritance of Earth from some war fought between unknown stellar empires, in some time that could hardly be connected with any Earthly calendar.

One such machine could hang over a planet colonized by men and in two days pound the surface into a lifeless cloud of dust and steam, a hundred miles deep. This particular machine had already done just that.

It used no predictable tactics in its dedicated, unconscious war against life. The ancient, unknown, gamesmen had built it as a random factor, to be loosed in the enemy's territory to do what damage it might. Men thought its plan of battle was chosen by the random disintegrations of atoms in a block of some long-lived isotope buried deep inside it, and so was not even in theory predictable by opposing brains, human or electronic.

Men called it a berserker.

You can see echoes of the Berserkers in the Cylons of the new Battlestar Galactica series. Some stories read like horror tales, others like sword-and-sorcery fantasy, and still others like space opera. The Berserkers books are truly a landmark science fiction series.

Empire of the East

Empire of the East is a blend of science fiction and fantasy set in a post-apocalyptic future. Warriors wield swords and wizards wield magic, and citizens occasionally come across an remnant of the Old Days, like flashlights, hand grenades or tanks. The book was originally published in three volumes: The Broken Lands, The Black Mountains, and Changeling Earth. Sandra Miesel describes the series in this way:

Saberhagen's Empire takes place in a post-catastrophe North America whose culture is vaguely medieval. Wizardry dominates this demon-ridden age while the rare bits of technology surviving from the Old World are objects of superstitious awe. (afterword, The First Book of Swords)

The story is epic and imaginative, from its boy-hero Rolfe to the giant beast Draffut. Saberhagen is at his finest in this series. It appears that Saberhagen added to the original series with the 2006 publication of Ardneh's Sword.

The Books of Swords and The Books of Lost Swords

As a dedicated fantasy reader in my younger days, I could never get enough of magic swords: Arthur's Excalibur, Frodo's Sting, Elric's Stormbringer, I loved reading about enchanted blades. So I was in pure sword heaven with Saberhagen's Swords series, where there is not one magic sword, nor even two or three, but twelve enchanted blades made by Vulcan, blacksmith to the gods.

In The First Book of Swords we learn that the gods have created twelve magic swords, each with a special power and a corresponding curse. For instance, the sword Coinspinner brings good luck to its wielder but is easily lost or taken; Wayfinder shows its bearer the quick path, but adds danger to the journey. Other swords include Sightblinder, Farslayer, Soulcutter and Townsaver.

The gods then cast these swords across the world to watch mortals fight over them. Taking place in the same world as Empire of the East, Saberhagen's two Swords series are not so much a continuation of the earlier story as much as they are new stories within the same environment.

There are two different Swords series, both with similar titles. The first series has been collected in one volume titled The First Swords. The second series, known as the Books of Lost Swords, is eleven books long, and (almost) each sword gets its own story. Saberhagen appeared to run out of steam on the final book, but all in all it's an entertaining series.


Fred Saberhagen may not have been the most well-known fantasy/science fiction writer, but he is certainly worth reading. And I haven't even touched upon his Dracula series, which some say is his best work. I haven't read the series yet, mostly because I don't particularly care for vampire stories, as you may remember from my review of the first Harry Dresden book.
I'd love to hear from any of you who've read any of his Dracula stories.

As I bring this to an end, I'll leave you with a description of Fred Saberhagen by Roger Zelazny, from the Prologue to Empire of the East:

Fred is a genial, witty, well-informed individual, with a wonderful wife named Joan, who is a mathematician, and the three best-behaved children I've ever met: Jill, Eric and Tom. He likes good food and drink and conversation.

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Virtual Travel for the Literary-Minded

(cross-posted at Teen Literacy Tips)

The English Department at San Jose State University has created Literary Locales, a web site that links to over 1,000 pictures of "places that figure in the lives and writings of famous authors." It could be organized more effectively, and some of the links are broken, but there are some great images indexed there. It's a terrific site for those studying or teaching literature.

Take a look at some of the destinations:
There are hundreds of links, and you could spend hours virtually visiting these literary locations.


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posted by Nick Senger at 6:28 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Greatest Science Fiction Novel of All Time?

I've been playing around with StumbleUpon, and I came across The Modern Library's List of 100 Best Novels. There are two lists, actually. The first was created by the Board of The Modern Library, and the second compiles the results of their readers' poll. What first struck me is how at odds the Board seems to be with the readers. Take a look at the first five positions, with the Board's choice listed first, the readers' choice second:
  1. Ulysses by James Joyce vs. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald vs. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  3. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce vs. Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard
  4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov vs. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley vs. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Did you notice item number three on the readers' list? I had to do a double-take when I saw Battlefield Earth there. Now, I first read Battlefield Earth when it was originally published, sometime in the mid-1980s I believe, and I have to admit I loved it. At the time I was in my late teens and I knew nothing about Scientology or Dianetics. I just enjoyed the rip-roaring space-opera action. It's still a guilty pleasure of mine, but the third best novel ever written? I don't think so. It's certainly not the greatest science fiction novel ever written. It's not even the greatest space-opera science fiction novel of the last twenty-five years (Ender's Game is a greater novel, in my opinion, and there are many others.).

It looks to me like someone stuffed the ballots, especially when you consider that two more of Hubbard's books made the list. Still, for those of you who only know of Battlefield Earth from John Travolta's travesty of a movie (which I still refuse to watch--ever), give the book a chance if you're looking for a fun, action-packed sci-fi shoot-em-up for the summer. It's one of those feel-good, Rocky-type stories.

But back to the lists. One thing I've come to understand over the years is that book lists tell you a lot more about the person who made the lists than about the books on the list. I'm sure if you click around this blog and look at all of the lists I've posted you can get a pretty good idea of what kind of person I am. If we happen to have a lot in common, then my lists might be useful to you. If we don't have much in common, you probably won't find much to your liking.

Still, I do love lists. I love reading them and I love creating them. And I love arguing about other peoples' lists. :-)

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:32 AM 4 comments Links to this post

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Your Sunday Inspiration

Here's your inspirational video for the week:

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posted by Nick Senger at 3:36 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Dave Barry Meets Barbara Bush

How did Barbara Bush help Dave Barry to become a humor columnist? Watch and listen as Dave himself tells the story (Video courtesy of FreeIQ):

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:38 AM 0 comments Links to this post