Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Goodreads, and My OneNote Wiki Trick

The ol' cut-and-paste maneuver has transformed my life, yet again!

First, I started using the Goodreads web site (http://www.goodreads.com) to track my books.  When I say "my" books, I'm not using a strict definition of ownership; my tracking entries include books that have penetrated my gray cells at some point, whether I've owned them, borrowed them from the library, obtained them and later exchanged them at a Little Tiny Library, pre-read and re-gifted them, found them at a yard sale and resold them, donated them in overstuffed bags and collapsing bankers' boxes to some Friends of the Library sale or Goodwill, flung them against the wall after a screamingly bad paragraph and broken their little spines, or used them for fireplace kindling when we've run out of sticks.

The titles, thus entered, are categorized into books I've read, books I'm reading -- several at a time, usually, in various states of perusal --, books I intend to read, and books I've started but set aside, either indefinitely or permanently.  It's way more fun than it sounds; if you include your childhood Dr. Seuss and Hardy Boys treasures, as I do, your personal catalog can be very large indeed.

Why do this?  It's something akin to a line from the movie "Clockwise", spoken by the time-obsessed Headmaster played by John Cleese: "The first step to knowing who you are is to know where you are and when you are!"  To this, I would add: what you've read, seen, listened to, or otherwise experienced.  No doubt, The Baseball Encyclopedia or one of its competitors now has an app where you can track all the games you've attended; recalling and entering that data could keep me occupied for weeks!

Tracking books I've read has been both fun and motivational; I'm eager to recall what I've read and even more eager to finish reading books to expand my list.  It can also be social, if you learn that an acquaintance also has a book-tracking obsession.  (Friends and readers of this blog are welcome to view my collection, such as it is; my current reading list can be found in a sidebar to this blog.)

Still, even with Goodreads, something was missing from this rare instance of semi-obsessive organization on my part: the ability to ascertain at a glance when in a favorite author's career a particular book was written, and in what sequence.  I'm pretty sure Sue Grafton wrote A is for Alibi before B is for Burglar, but I'd have a harder time putting Carl Hiaasen's Sick Puppy, Tourist Season, and Double Whammy in the right order.  This is oddly important when you find a copy of, say, one of John le Carre's George Smiley spy novels on a thrift store shelf and want to know if he already knows what you know he will know.

Enter Microsoft OneNote and Wikipedia.  I looked up the Wikipedia entry for Carl Hiaasen, scrolled down to his bibliography, highlighted it, and cut-and-pasted it into its own page under an Authors tab in OneNote.  Now, rather than doing a Wikipedia search every time, I click into OneNote on my Windows 7 system tray, and with two more clicks I can see that Tourist Season was Hiaasen's first solo novel.  Easy and quick.

This isn't a patentable idea -- is it?  Surely not, but it's made my reading life more enjoyable and organized.  Now, if I could only keep my bookcases as tidy...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My First Smiley

Call for the Dead, master spywriter John le Carré's first novel (1961), introduces George Smiley, the rumpled, curmudgeonly British operative, to a generation of suspense enthusiasts.  Short and squat, Oxford-educated, shrewd yet scarcely able to defend himself in violent encounters, Smiley is the anti-Bond, a dogged Inaction Hero without a hint of handsome, with only a reluctant, undashing dash of derring-do.

Structured as a simple mystery, with a murder investigation at its core and only tangential reference to geopolitical intrigue, le Carré's story presents Smiley and his surrounding cast in sharp relief, without the shadowy double-crosses and moral murkiness of his later novels.  Accordingly, this book is an easy read, save for a few quid worth of English colloquialisms, with simple exposition, only a handful of characters to follow, and several recapitulations of "what we know" as the unfolding proceeds. 

Invitingly, Call for the Dead draws the reader into the Smiley oeuvre with this initial foray into the world of old-school spycraft.  The beleaguered agent's life will soon become vastly more complicated.


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