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To Open The Sky

The Front Pages of Christopher P. Winter

Welcome to the Random Roster of
Rarely Rude, Risible or Ribald Reviews!

(Alliteration — Ah luvs it!)

In reviewing these books, I strive to do three things: to convey an idea of what the book is about; to assess how well it achieves its objective(s); and to enumerate its errors, whether of spelling, grammar, syntax, or fact. The last is motivated partly by ego-gratification, but I hope it also reinforces the desire on the part of authors and editors to avoid such mistakes.

I have communicated with a number of authors, and their responses have almost universally been favorable. I conclude that I must be doing something right. Of course, I am not immune to mistakes; I have made some fine ones. But when I become aware of a mistake, I fix it — sometimes with fanfare.

I am beginning to add reviews of films, TV shows, and videos. There will be no errata lists for these, but I will describe continuity errors (plot holes) when I observe them. Otherwise, these will closely resemble book reviews in content (but not in format).

Welcome, then, to my reviews section. It now holds over 450 entries, counting reviews of both books and videos.

Lists of available reviews, organized by topic(s) of books

Anthropology Astronomy Biology
Business Computers Economics
Electronics Environment History
Inglish Learning Linguistics
Medicine Memoirs Physics
Politics Reference Works Religion
Science Space Technology
Visual Media (Films, videos, and printed works about them)
Fantasy Fiction Mainstream Fiction Science Fiction

For those who like to look for authors by name, I provide a list.

Recent changes

With the advent of my full ownership of this domain, I have reorganized the reviews section. Reviews for each topic now reside in their own folder, which makes maintenance easier. These are linked from the 24 entries in the Topics table.

I have moved the reviews of books about sex into a sub-folder of Anthropology — still with the disclaimer, unnecessary though it probably is. Also, I have merged the "Space Visionary" reviews, previously separate, into the "Space" list where they appear just like other books in that category. But I retain their different format, and have marked them with lime-green backgrounds in places to make them distinctive.

I have dropped the humorous tone that I previously used in this Introduction. But I can bring it back. And I will, if you don't behave.

I have deferred any plans for a database function.

I'm keeping the "highlights" page for books that I feel are especially worthy of note. An example would be Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: It is memorable both as an account of his life and as philosophy. (I read most of it, years ago, but don't yet have a review.) The Snapshot reviews, too, are still around. What follows those links, below the separator, is old copy in need of revision.

 
Current reviews by category:
    TOPIC O/L O/H
Anthropology:   25 n/a
Astronomy:   13 n/a
Biology:   7 n/a
Business:   4 n/a
Computers:   4 n/a
Economics:   2 n/a
Electronics:   0 n/a
Environment:   32 n/a
History:   23 n/a
The Language Formerly Known as English:   2 n/a
Learning:   7 n/a
Linguistics:   0 n/a
Medicine:   8 n/a
Memoirs:   19 n/a
Physics:   5 n/a
Politics:   78 n/a
Reference Works:   0 n/a
Science:   28 n/a
Space:   26 n/a
Technology:   32 n/a
Fantasy fiction:   1 n/a
Mainstream fiction:   13 n/a
Science fiction:   58 n/a
Visual Media:   2 n/a

The books reviewed here are, for the most part, randomly selected; but their topics are not. The current set of topics is shown in the sidebar, along with approximate counts of titles for each. Expect this to vary as the reviews section evolves.3 Each topic links you to the appropriate section of the recently reorganized reviews roster. (I'm preserving the old roster for those who prefer one list sorted by authors' last names.)

These categories reflect my current interests. Most are self-explanatory. Into "The Language Formerly Known as English" go any titles relating to grammar, spelling, syntax, vocabulary, or word origins — in short, the rules and lore of the language we speak in the United States of America, whether we call that language English or American. I created it for Lynn Truss's book Eats, Shoots and Leaves, but I expect to add more titles soon. You'll note that many titles are listed in two or more categories. The new roster, organized by category, lists them in each relevant place.

My goal is to keep the number of categories at around 30. Therefore, I've rejected the traditional selections. For example, I lump archaeology, psychology, sociology and related topics in with anthropology. "Medicine" includes not only diseases and their treatments but human anatomy, physiology, genetics, biotechnology, life extension, and anything related to exercise, fitness, health and nutrition. Astronomy includes the closely related specialties of astrophysics & cosmology, as well as astrobiology and SETI. "Biology" excludes human biology but otherwise gets everything except environment & ecology.

For biographies, look in "Memoirs". For anything related to engineering, transportation, or energy production, look in "Technology" EXCEPT if it has to do with electronics or space — those have their own categories. In like fashion, "Science" takes everything scientific except for the separate sciences I've listed here.

I now lump anything happening during the current Presidential administration into "Politics". The category "Current events" is gone. A new category was needed for fantasy fiction, as distinguished from science fiction. I also added a category for economics, as different from business topics like the short and bitter history of Enron. And for reviews of television shows, movies and DVDs, "Visual media" was added some time ago (but so far its only review is of a book.) Finally, "Reference Works" (unpopulated so far) makes a new multiple of three: a total of 24 categories.

Selection of Titles

The non-fiction choices, which are most of the titles reviewed, result from random browsing in bookstores and libraries, a reference found in e.g. a paper, or a recommendation I picked up somewhere. I used to read a lot of science fiction, but I seldom do so today; so the fiction titles on the roster are mostly ones I enjoyed enough back then to revisit so I could review them properly. It's a fairly safe bet that they all would be on anyone's "Top 100" list. Very roughly, my cutoff date for heavy reading of science fiction is 1970.

And finally, then or now, I almost never read mainstream fiction. The titles I review in that category, therefore, were chosen because of some special characteristic. For example, the events of 11 September 2001 restored Oriana Fallaci to my attention. I realized that I had a book by her (If the Sun Dies — non-fiction) that I had never read. I corrected that omission and went on to read Interview with History and everything else by her I could find (a novel and a novelette). And it was worth the effort, even if it did cut into my non-fiction reading.

(Elsewhere on my Web site I also review books concerning what might be called space development or space exploitation — that is, the expansion of human presence into the solar system, the ways that might be achieved, and the nature of human activities in that frontier of nearby space. I select these titles carefully for quality of content: How well do they explain the topic they are written about?4 That section is called "Visions of a Space Age"; it is linked in the Main Menu. I'll probably be merging these titles into the main reviews lists.)

Books about Sex

Yes, I read and review books about sex.5 These are non-fiction titles for, as explained above, today I'm more interested in real possibilities. Currently there are more than twelve reviews in this category. The better to control access, I've placed them in a separate section, with appropriate warnings on entry.

NOTE

There is no pornography here. You will find frank discussion of behaviors and characteristics. You will find passages that are in themselves titillating. However, I present them in an analytical context. The only images are those of book covers. So I repeat, I do not consider the contents of this section pornographic (though there is one cover that could be described as "punnagraphic".) A link to the gateway is below.

So many books, so little time

My policy is never to review a book without reading it thoroughly and marking errors (or key passages) with Post-it ™ notes. Alas, I have not always held to this standard. In my list of more than 160 written reviews, some are incomplete and others are skimpier than they should be. I might simply defer putting these deficient reviews online until I can get the book again and do a proper job on it. Realistically, this is not likely to happen, as people are continually writing and publishing new ones.6 So I have set up a list I call "Snapshots" for the rush jobs. If I do manage a full review of one of these neglected books, I can easily promote it to the main roster.


1 I was a member of the Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society. At their general meetings, a pun tax of 25¢ per pun is charged.
2 What was that you said about the "two-bit humor"? <grin>
3 As I add reviews, I will at some point be forced to divide them into categories, so that the files can be moved into separate folders for ease of management. The question of how to categorize books can be a vexing one. Australia's Danny Yee, on his site (perhaps the most extensive collection of reviews on the Web), has 17 categories just for fiction titles. He currently breaks his non-fiction into (by my count) 76 categories. His list includes distinctions I would lump together, as well as his personal interests and obligatory, transient ones (after 9/11/2001, interest in Islam became obligatory for almost everybody).
4 I consider the book's production quality as well; but I will tolerate some defects in this area: missing or misplaced captions on pictures, grammar and typographical errors, and the like. Again, it is pointless to set firm, quantitative limits on this.
5 Or perhaps I should call them "Books about Sexuality". The longer word imparts an aura of detachment and suggests that discussions will be kept on a purely intellectual plane. Nah; sex it is.
6 As if we didn't have enough already. <g> It makes me want to cry out, like the fellow in the old Bic Pen commercial, "Stop writing!"
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This page was last modified on 7 March 2017.