What are you reading?

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PicassoIII
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by PicassoIII » 31 May 2010, 14:17

Number 6 wrote:
Hugh Akston wrote:I once listened to Charleton Heston reading Old Man and the Sea. There was so much testosterone in the car that I grew a mustache in 45 minutes. And a second pair.
Win.
That goes in the file for future use as a sig.
Damn straight.

We've been cleaning out the basement which still has boxed books from my parents'->dad's house. In the 'classics' box there were a few good finds including Hemmingway.
Bestest of the best so far is a paperback of Mill's 'On Liberty'; cover price 85cents. Having never read the whole thing i've been meaning to and was just gonna do it online. My dad had marked it up and made notes, half in ukrainian and half in english. Noting he used his pre citizen surname spelling this dates it to the late 50s early 60s.
*sniff*
Also found a receipt for parking @ McCormick South, Jan 64 .... 50c.

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Taktix®
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Taktix® » 02 Jun 2010, 05:15

GinSlinger wrote:
Taktix® wrote:I'm half-way through John Adams by David McCullough. It's a very pleasing read, especially given the constraints of its genre...
Would that genre be biography . . . or history?
History.

I know you have more expertise in this, but to me, it seems that historical writing walks a fine line between lacking in detail and fucking boring...
"Guilty as charged. Go ahead and ban me from the mall." - Ellie

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Number 6
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Number 6 » 02 Jun 2010, 11:14

Jadagul wrote:Eliezer Yudkowsky--an AI researcher who used to coblog with Robin Hanson--seems to have written a Harry Potter fanfic. A fanfic which asks what would have happened if Harry were a child prodigy nearly-perfect Bayesian rationalist. I have laughed so hard that I cried, multiple times. And I'm like a quarter of the way through.

http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5782108/1/H ... ationality
The first chapters are fun, and surprisingly well written (this is fanfic, after all.) However, this stumble made me laugh: "Harry was breathing in short pants." I assume he also breathes when in trousers....
" i discovered you eat dog dicks out of a bowl marked "dog dicks" because you're too stupid to remember where you left your bowl of dog dicks."-dhex, of course.
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D.A. Ridgely
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 02 Jun 2010, 11:20

Number 6 wrote:
Jadagul wrote:Eliezer Yudkowsky--an AI researcher who used to coblog with Robin Hanson--seems to have written a Harry Potter fanfic. A fanfic which asks what would have happened if Harry were a child prodigy nearly-perfect Bayesian rationalist. I have laughed so hard that I cried, multiple times. And I'm like a quarter of the way through.

http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5782108/1/H ... ationality
The first chapters are fun, and surprisingly well written (this is fanfic, after all.) However, this stumble made me laugh: "Harry was breathing in short pants." I assume he also breathes when in trousers....
Perhaps he'd put on a few pounds and was panting from wide breadth.

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Pham Nuwen
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Pham Nuwen » 04 Jun 2010, 15:22

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart

Goddamn this book is interesting . . . and fucked up. Tale of two graverobbing brothers having all kinds of weird and wacky adventures.
Goddamn libertarian message board. Hugh Akston

leave me to my mescaline smoothie in peace, please. dhex

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GinSlinger
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by GinSlinger » 04 Jun 2010, 15:32

Taktix® wrote:
GinSlinger wrote:
Taktix® wrote:I'm half-way through John Adams by David McCullough. It's a very pleasing read, especially given the constraints of its genre...
Would that genre be biography . . . or history?
History.

I know you have more expertise in this, but to me, it seems that historical writing walks a fine line between lacking in detail and fucking boring...
It may be. I think part of the problem is that, well most historical writing is actually for "professionals." That that isn't (e.g. McCullough) really isn't. So, yeah there's a pretty broad spectrum available.

As to boring, well, you can either have all of the details filled in or wonder why none of it is making sense. An historian often has to repeat details that even to them seem silly to repeat as not all the audience is prepared for the specialty.

I think it's pretty amazing that the lay public reads some of the same things as professional historians do. It's not like people are eager to snatch up the next issue of Optics and Einstein's Universe or whatever journal thoreau sits on. 'Course Warren would say that that's because LIB ARTZ!
Last edited by GinSlinger on 04 Jun 2010, 17:46, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Number 6 » 04 Jun 2010, 15:56

I'd love to read that journal. The problem is that I wouldn't understand it. It's not just that I'm not an optical physicist, it's that most of what Dr. T and other Evil Phizicks types do is expressible only in mathematical terms. And I lack the math to be able to follow the discussion. In other words, I don't speak the language. History and other subjects, OTOH, are written about in normal language. That makes the concepts easier to approach.
" i discovered you eat dog dicks out of a bowl marked "dog dicks" because you're too stupid to remember where you left your bowl of dog dicks."-dhex, of course.
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Stevo Darkly
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Stevo Darkly » 04 Jun 2010, 17:53

Number 6 wrote:I'd love to read that journal. The problem is that I wouldn't understand it. It's not just that I'm not an optical physicist, it's that most of what Dr. T and other Evil Phizicks types do is expressible only in mathematical terms. And I lack the math to be able to follow the discussion. In other words, I don't speak the language. History and other subjects, OTOH, are written about in normal language. That makes the concepts easier to approach.
I hear you. As a science fiction fan, I sometimes try to read papers about fringe physics (Heim theory, propellantless propulsion, speculations about FTL, etc.). Some of it seems to be written by respectable folk -- NASA had a Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program to pay attention to that stuff, until it was closed for lack of funds -- even if it's probably wrong. Or about stuff that's on more solid ground, like the latest ideas on how planets may form around stars. But those papers might contain pages and pages of mathematical symbols that I don't even recognize. So mostly I read the intros and the conclusions and try to get the most basic gist of them.

I can usually get more out of a paleontology or zoology paper. I've absorbed a lot of the technical terminology by now, although many of the anatomical terms are still beyond me. But most of it is in something similar to English, and at least there's no math, usually.

Informal articles that summarize research findings, penned by scientists who can write and have a sense of humor, are even better, even if they contain some technical terms. I kind of enjoyed this:

Testing the flotation dynamics and swimming abilities of giraffes by way of computational analysis
"I don't know if you can call it a stereotype when I was in a room full of people actually doing it." -- Keith S.

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GinSlinger
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by GinSlinger » 04 Jun 2010, 17:56

Yes, that's true Number 6. But lit crit articles/books are also in English, but I rarely see them in B&N or on the main page of Amazon. Same really can be said for philosophy--there's a section for it in most bookstores, but not as big as for econ (lay econ) and certainly not the size of history. Or, for a better example of what I'm saying, I saw that John Adams book in an airport bookstore, same with Superfreakanomics, but never once have I seen Foucault (not even in pendulum form).

Straight-up polisci titles are the same. The politics section of your typical bookstore isn't filled with what Rachel read in grad school, but rather Glen Beck.

History is different. Every time (well, virtually every time) someone asks what I do, and I tell them the truth, their response is along the lines of "I used to hate history when I was in school, but now I can't get enough [or, simply enjoy it]. Have you seen the new book on Andrew Jackson [or Indian Removal, or, interestingly enough I was asked if I'd read 1688, which I haven't yet, but not for lack of trying (right Rachel?)]."

So, I'm not sure (I have my theories) why, but history is different. As is (in recent years) economics. Of the US's "public intellectuals," historians and economists seem to rank higher than rocket scientists, or (anti-GM excepted) biologists.

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Number 6
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Number 6 » 04 Jun 2010, 18:56

Well, lit crit might be ignored because so much of it is bullshit. But otherwise, I think you make a good point. I've never thought about that before, but now that you mention it, I agree.
" i discovered you eat dog dicks out of a bowl marked "dog dicks" because you're too stupid to remember where you left your bowl of dog dicks."-dhex, of course.
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by GinSlinger » 04 Jun 2010, 19:15

(I may just be paranoid (that does not mean they're not out to get me (though it doesn't mean they are, either (or, does it?)), but I hope that agreement wasn't of the brow-beaten variety (hey, it's been known to happen).)

Anyway, this subject actually nicely abuts something one of my colleagues and I were just speaking about--jargon and theory. Since the "cultural turn," a lot of history has been increasingly theory driven. For some that's a good thing. But, for a number of reasons it ain't my bag. One of those reasons was co-majoring in polisci as an undergrad and watching the navel-gazing devolve into inaction. All prose eventually came to be explication of theory, and none devoted to substance. Well, history wants to go that way. Shem can tell you about this (in case you don't believe me (Shem, IIRC, considers himself a social historian, which makes him redeemable (maybe even good) in my book)). The "cultural" or "linguistic turn" I believe may be what makes lit crit unreadable by the general audience (now dhex can school me on how wrong I am). I think history is still read by a broader audience (and, hell, isn't that what lib arts should be?) because it's approachable by a lay audience and that seems to rely on it being relatively (or, dog-willing, completely) free of overt theory of the type that propagates jargon.

And I'm all for it.

But, to return to the original purpose of my posting on this subject, What, Taktix, would you have us do?

That's not sarcastic. That's a plea from someone who wants people to read my future work.

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Rachel
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Rachel » 04 Jun 2010, 19:48

GinSlinger wrote:Yes, that's true Number 6. But lit crit articles/books are also in English, but I rarely see them in B&N or on the main page of Amazon. Same really can be said for philosophy--there's a section for it in most bookstores, but not as big as for econ (lay econ) and certainly not the size of history. Or, for a better example of what I'm saying, I saw that John Adams book in an airport bookstore, same with Superfreakanomics, but never once have I seen Foucault (not even in pendulum form).

Straight-up polisci titles are the same. The politics section of your typical bookstore isn't filled with what Rachel read in grad school, but rather Glen Beck.

History is different. Every time (well, virtually every time) someone asks what I do, and I tell them the truth, their response is along the lines of "I used to hate history when I was in school, but now I can't get enough [or, simply enjoy it]. Have you seen the new book on Andrew Jackson [or Indian Removal, or, interestingly enough I was asked if I'd read 1688, which I haven't yet, but not for lack of trying (right Rachel?)]."

So, I'm not sure (I have my theories) why, but history is different. As is (in recent years) economics. Of the US's "public intellectuals," historians and economists seem to rank higher than rocket scientists, or (anti-GM excepted) biologists.
Somehow, I feel this is a not-so-subtle effort to get me to post more. I'm trying! But I just lost an entire post again. And it was well thought out too.

Anyway, I was basically agreeing that history is more accessible than a lot of subjects, including political science. It always seemed (to me, anyway) that you don't WANT to be mainstream in political science. You don't want them to sell your book at Barnes and Noble. John Mearsheimer probably went down in esteem at UChicago after Tragedy of Great Power Politics became popular. (Though to be fair, that book is a tragedy, so whatever) And yeah, you'll find Hobbes and Machiavelli in the philosophy section, but almost everyone in political theory is doing what's termed "third-level theorizing" now, and they've moved away from actual political theory.

I know nothing of the history publishing field, but in political science, it's all about the journals. These aren't accessible to the average person, not because of a level of difficulty of the terminology, but because most of them are so incredibly subject specific that they become uninteresting to all but two people. I mean, I guess that's true of any academic field, and I'm probably biased. But almost anything you see in the political science section of Barnes & Noble isn't "real" political science, and almost any "real" political science you wouldn't want to read. I'm trying to think if there's anything I read in grad school that I could actually recommend someone else read. Maybe "Concept of the Political" but again, that's because I'm very biased and think everyone should read Carl Schmitt.
No lie I'm fucking tired of glorified false histories-JasonL

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dhex
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by dhex » 04 Jun 2010, 20:50

i saw will in the world in the port authority bookstore a few years back when it was on the times bestsellers list. also could probably find some harold bloom. but that's about it. (i find it a little hard to believe you've never seen foucault's pendulum in an airport bookstore, though.)

i generally don't disagree about literary criticism and it's frankfurtization, but i am not an expert. but it does tend to be heavily balkanized and politicized, which is both reasonable and not. though if one has to read commies, walter benjamin is apparently the best commie of them all (according to my wife). i've only read criticism as it relates to authors i know very well, because as rachel pointed out, it's largely written for people who already know the deal. or if they don't know specifically about the author, they understand the framework being used to discuss and contrast their work. since i only really forwards and backwards know (i.e. enough to teach a college class) the works of ws burroughs and henry miller, i don't read a lot of lit crit. what i do read often seems to either lionize or miss the point on the way to a personal attack or seven, with some exceptions, but perhaps such errors are unavoidable.*

however, i also can't deny that it's simply no surprise that americans wouldn't read literary criticism. getting them to read literature first is hard enough. we also don't have a shared canon anymore (and that's not really a totally bad thing), which is a major roadblock. you can't make references to certain foundational works because you can't be sure your audience has actually read them. you can't even necessarily hope that someone made a reasonably close film adaptation.

as ginslinger pointed out above:
The politics section of your typical bookstore isn't filled with what Rachel read in grad school, but rather Glen Beck.
more to the point, people read for pleasure, for plot, for "and then..." moments and shocks and surprises. reading about reading is often be tedious, and it's not fun in the common sense. you have to really love the shit out of literature in both concept and practice - and believe it has something to teach about life - to even begin to entertain such an idea. i love literature more than most americans, but i don't need to get all up in that shit for the most part. hell, i can barely read critical works about music i love, and not just because almost everyone who writes about what i like is a genuine frankfurt school and bizzond style marxist of some kind or another.

so rachel, why should everyone read carl schmitt?

* every thanksgiving jesse walker posts a thanksgiving prayer by burroughs, and every thanksgiving patiently explains around post 20 that burroughs was not a trust fund communist cocksucker** but rather a fuck off and die decentralist gun-loving cocksucker.

** because everyone that creates art who isn't named heinlein is a communist.***

*** well, because they took a college course once and there were marxists there and no one shot them!****

**** this tendency goes away almost entirely if reason does one of their "the libertarian themes of author/genre xyz" pieces, oddly enough.
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Jadagul
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Jadagul » 04 Jun 2010, 21:29

Number 6, Stevo: if it makes you feel better, I wouldn't be able to follow the math in those journals either. Math has split into such broad collections of topics that no one can even keep track of all of it; there are entire major fields I know nothing at all about, and most of the math used in quantum is in those fields. Changing subfields generally takes like a year of reading to build vocabulary and figure out what everyone else is talking about (this is how you get comics like http://abstrusegoose.com/272 and make sure to keep clicking on the comic images).

Now, I'll claim the same thing happens in most academic disciplines. My uncle recently published a philosophy book that I've been reading, and what I'm noticing is how similar reading it is to reading a math book, complete with terms that have incredibly specialized definitions sometimes completely at odds with the way normal people use them. It's easy to miss this, because philosophers used specialized vocabulary like "sufficient reasons" which sounds like it could be ordinary English, and mathematicians use specialized vocabulary like "trivial complex line bundle" and "coefficient homomorphism" (to pick random phrases off the sheet in front of me) that sound much less like regular English, even before you get into the symbols. But most fields are doing the same thing. Same thing for lit theory etc.

So the question would be why history and economics have avoided this. In econ, I have two guesses: first, that it's plugged deeply enough into the policy and economic apparatus that economists regularly need to explain themselves to people who aren't economists. (That is, if you're doing advanced work on tensor algebras/alternative consequentialist paradigms/queer theoretic readings of Browning, the only people who want to listen to you are other people working on the same project. If you're doing advanced work on the stock market, not so much. This is probably why the applied mathematicians are much better at explaining themselves than the pure guys like me). Second, to the extent economists have adopted a jargon, it like philosophy sounds like real English. And people who care read it, and then misunderstand what people are saying because they assume it means the plain English meaning. (This came up a bunch on the PBS thread about behavioral econ. "Rational" means something very specific to a game theorist that's somewhat at odds with the ordinary meaning).

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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Hugh Akston » 04 Jun 2010, 22:32

See, my sense is that both economics and history have fallen prey to the same navel-gazing aphasia that every other academic discipline has. A friend of mine is pursuing her (public) history PhD and finds that much of the discussion in her seminars revolves around how to interpret documents and artifacts, and very little of it around what historical events these things represent. Further, she reports that there is a common attitude among her contemporaries and even professors that people who write books about things that happened in the past aren't doing real history.

Similarly, the few academic economists that I have interacted with don't usually know what general level the DJIA is at. They are more interested in their economic models, which are based on hypotheses taken from the real world, but play out frictionless in a vacuum. Their parallel reality is usually closer to our dimension than most academic disciplines (*cough* LitCrit *cough*), but they still seem to regard the popular texts at Borders as a bastardization of the form.

Philosophy has fallen down the rabbit hole of conceptual/linguistic analysis and I fear that it will be a long time before it returns. Renowned philosophers can get away with releasing books that actually argue for a particular substantive position, but those tend to lean heavily on the "wisdom from a philosopher" style of writing rather than a more accessible form of logical argument.

Every academic discipline has intellectuals who act as ambassadors between the real world and their respective jargonverses, and they are the people who deserve more credit than they get for keeping academic pursuits alive in the public imagination.
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Jadagul » 04 Jun 2010, 23:09

Hugh Akston wrote:See, my sense is that both economics and history have fallen prey to the same navel-gazing aphasia that every other academic discipline has. A friend of mine is pursuing her (public) history PhD and finds that much of the discussion in her seminars revolves around how to interpret documents and artifacts, and very little of it around what historical events these things represent. Further, she reports that there is a common attitude among her contemporaries and even professors that people who write books about things that happened in the past aren't doing real history.

Similarly, the few academic economists that I have interacted with don't usually know what general level the DJIA is at. They are more interested in their economic models, which are based on hypotheses taken from the real world, but play out frictionless in a vacuum. Their parallel reality is usually closer to our dimension than most academic disciplines (*cough* LitCrit *cough*), but they still seem to regard the popular texts at Borders as a bastardization of the form.

Philosophy has fallen down the rabbit hole of conceptual/linguistic analysis and I fear that it will be a long time before it returns. Renowned philosophers can get away with releasing books that actually argue for a particular substantive position, but those tend to lean heavily on the "wisdom from a philosopher" style of writing rather than a more accessible form of logical argument.

Every academic discipline has intellectuals who act as ambassadors between the real world and their respective jargonverses, and they are the people who deserve more credit than they get for keeping academic pursuits alive in the public imagination.
Oh, most economists don't pay attention to the stock market. But most economists work on something that's relevant to someone, whether they intend to or not. So there are 1) a whole bunch of people who professionally explain what the economists have done to non-economists who need to know, and 2) a whole bunch of people who train as economists because of the practical implications. This keeps things at least somewhat grounded.

As for philosophy, I'm pretty convinced by Rorty's argument that linguistic analysis is basically all that modern analytic philosophy is capable of. Still fun, though. (Remember that as a pure mathematician I'm professionally a navel-gazer extraordinaire).

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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Eric the .5b » 05 Jun 2010, 00:12

Dhex, stop the Heinlein misrepresenting.

Gortel Heinlein was a total commie bastard.
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by dhex » 05 Jun 2010, 07:33

google returns zero results and suggests a misspelling?
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 05 Jun 2010, 10:33

Jadagul wrote: As for philosophy, I'm pretty convinced by Rorty's argument that linguistic analysis is basically all that modern analytic philosophy is capable of.
Of course, the meaning, let alone truth of this assertion depends significantly upon its analysis. (*grin*)

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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Andrew » 05 Jun 2010, 11:53

I finished The Maltese Falcon this morning. I haven't seen the movie (yes, I'm an uncultured clod), so I wasn't too sure how it was going to turn out, but it finished just as I had hoped. Also, it was a lot of fun on the way. I agree with the esteemed Mr. Ridgely that the writing is a bit dated, but it's still excellent (and if Chandler improved upon the style, then I'll have to read some of his stuff). The only slow part in the whole book was the history of the falcon (only a page or two); it came across like the background of a magical item in a bad fantasy novel. Other than that, though, it was fast-paced and fun, and I'm looking forward to The Thin Man.
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Jadagul » 06 Jun 2010, 03:27

Andrew wrote:I finished The Maltese Falcon this morning. I haven't seen the movie (yes, I'm an uncultured clod), so I wasn't too sure how it was going to turn out, but it finished just as I had hoped. Also, it was a lot of fun on the way. I agree with the esteemed Mr. Ridgely that the writing is a bit dated, but it's still excellent (and if Chandler improved upon the style, then I'll have to read some of his stuff). The only slow part in the whole book was the history of the falcon (only a page or two); it came across like the background of a magical item in a bad fantasy novel. Other than that, though, it was fast-paced and fun, and I'm looking forward to The Thin Man.
On a random note: am I the only one who regularly looks forward to exposition and infodumps in the novels he's reading? Especially in fantasy and sci-fi, I usually find myself waiting anxiously for the next big chunk of exposition about the setting.

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Stevo Darkly
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Stevo Darkly » 06 Jun 2010, 06:15

Jadagul wrote:On a random note: am I the only one who regularly looks forward to exposition and infodumps in the novels he's reading? Especially in fantasy and sci-fi, I usually find myself waiting anxiously for the next big chunk of exposition about the setting.
No, I am the same way, especially about fantasy and SF. I like to know about the background and worldbuilding. It adds to the plausibility of the setting, as well as the exoticness, or epic sweep (with references to ancient events and faraway places) or whatever it is I'm after when I read these kinds of stories.

It can be bad if done to excess, especially if it's done in the form of a lecture to someone who presumably would already know the information. ("Captain Storm turned to his copilot. 'As you know, Jim, this airliner we're about to fly to London is a Boeing 747-E, powered by four Pratt & Whitney JE-172 turbofan engines...' " Or it's a clumsy and obvious attempt at shoe-horning in some exposition: "Mona said to her husband, 'I think you need to have a talk with Johnny, our oldest son.'") But otherwise, I enjoy it, especially if the author is particularly gifted at making the info dumps and "lectures" entertaining, like Heinlein or James Blish.
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Fin Fang Foom » 06 Jun 2010, 08:27

Government Pirates by Don Corace. It's about eminent domain abuse and Kelo amongst other things. While the author is trotting out a lot of horror anecdotes about eminent domain abuse and skeezy dealings between city governments and developers, it isn't very good. For one, it's not written very well. (There is no cause, ever, for using exclamation points. And its written at about a third grade level.) Second, it isn't reasoned very well so far. (He starts out about complaining about courts and "activist judges" and judicial review. He doesn't seem to understand what those things mean or how exactly eminent domain abuse could be avoided without courts (as opposed to courts that rule in a different manner).)

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Re: What are you reading?

Post by dhex » 06 Jun 2010, 09:33

On a random note: am I the only one who regularly looks forward to exposition and infodumps in the novels he's reading?
that's completely baffling to me, but as per that long ago thread on the old forums that's why no one goes to salman rushdie cons and dresses up like saleem sinai.
"i ran over the cat and didnt stop just carried on with tears in my eyes joose driving my way to work." - God

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Re: What are you reading?

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 06 Jun 2010, 10:11

dhex wrote:
On a random note: am I the only one who regularly looks forward to exposition and infodumps in the novels he's reading?
that's completely baffling to me, but as per that long ago thread on the old forums that's why no one goes to salman rushdie cons and dresses up like saleem sinai.
Yeah, in general I take didactic passages as a sign of bad prose fiction writing. Admittedly, the difference between sci-fi and fantasy is in large part that the former must at least pretend to be possible without recourse to mere magic, but I'm much happier with the author when I go "huh?" at first and then as the novel progresses shift to an "aha!" thanks to more subtle and contextually plausible exposition of whatever the underlying technology or science, real or not, happens to be.

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