Friday, March 27, 2009

Lexicons in literature

I am currently reading "Anathem" by Neal Stephenson. Stephenson's writing is, well, it is *not* concise as can be seen by this 935 page volume. It is, however, extremely clear and well-written. The way he uses words amazes me. He creates his own vocabulary to describe the futuristic world where this novel takes place. For example, he uses the word "saunt" to mean a person that is a combination of a saint and a savant. The context gives absolute clarity to the term while you are reading - and makes me wonder why we don't have many of these words in our parlance already.

So my question is, why would one include a lexicon in a book when crystal clear definitions for the terms have already been given? Stephenson's lexicon is interspersed throughout the story. Some are at chapter breaks and some right in the middle of a scene (for lack of a better word). I personally find this to be quite irritating. I am compelled to read the definitions because I am afraid that I will miss something vital to the story if I do not, and yet I rarely learn something that he has not already revealed through his diction. I would be tempted to see them included as footnotes - but know that I would still stop to read them in the same manner. For me, it would be best to put them at the end in a glossary that I could read if I wanted to, or if I had a question about the meaning of a term. With all that said, however, it is a really well-written book and has some interesting ideas for archivists and philosophers - as well as musicians, mathemeticians, scientists... Just read the book.

Another interesting question, or thought really, is also raised in my mind as I read this book. Has Stephenson created a new genre with his latest creation? This work is what he styles as speculative fiction, as opposed to science fiction. It definitely contains some science, and it is fiction - yet it is more than that. To hear what Stephenson himself has to say about this potentially emerging genre, click here.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Book Talking

Yesterday was the last class session for LIS 569 (Book Lust 101) with Nancy Pearl. It was a fantastic class, by the way--if you haven't taken it yet, you should definitely try to at some point.

Anyway, one of the things we learned in the class was the importance of book talking in readers' advisory. I'm not all that comfortable with public speaking in general, and book talking is (in my opinion) even more difficult than "regular" public speaking (giving formal presentations and stuff like that) because you don't want to sound like you're giving a speech; the goal is to sound as natural as possible--as if you're just having a conversation with the audience.

During the class when we first began discussing book talks, Nancy gave us "17 things to think about"--useful hints and tips for doing book talks. Here they are (somewhat paraphrased):

  1. Before you start talking, take a deep breath and let it out. (Believe it or not, this is really important and it does help.)
  2. Smile. :)
  3. Do the book talk in a way you feel comfortable. There is no right or wrong "style" to give a book talk. The most important thing is to be yourself.
  4. Show enthusiasm! You are trying to "sell" the book to your audience. On a related note, don't book talk something you didn't really like or that you haven't read yet. The audience can tell you're faking it.
  5. Try to get to a point where you're not reading from your notes. Speak as naturally as possible; have a conversation with the audience. If you have notes, keep them short. Know how you're going to start and end the talk, but try not to have a script.
  6. Don't overprepare. If you try to memorize your entire book talk, you'll either sound fake or freak out if you lose your place.
  7. Maintain eye contact.
  8. Ignore the distractions in the audience (people texting, sleeping, etc.).
  9. When you're preparing your book talk, ask yourself what the "takeaway" of the book is. What do you want the audience to remember? Make sure there's at least one detail for them to grab onto. And don't put in minor or irrelevant details. You don't want your book talk to feel cluttered.
  10. Try to give the audience a sense of who you are and what you like to read.
  11. Use language that the audience would use. This goes back to being "conversational" in your book talks.
  12. Keep it short. Don't talk about the plot for more than 1 or 2 sentences. And don't give away plot twists or the exciting stuff.
  13. Try to convey what your own feelings were when you were reading the book. People like to hear about how you personally connected with the book.
  14. If you are good at reading aloud, incorporating a passage into your book talk is a good way to hook the audience. But if you're not good at it, or you're too nervous, just don't do it.
  15. Another way to do a hook is to start with a question. "Have you ever wondered . . . " Other good phrases: "Imagine . . . " or "If you like to read ____, here's another . . . "
  16. Don't make your closing line "I really loved this book." Find an unusual way of ending the talk that brings everything together.
  17. If you're book talking a lot of books at once, have a handout with a list of the books with space underneath each one for notes.