Wednesday, September 30, 2009

October Reading

Where did September go?

This was a slow reading month and I didn't end up getting through as many books as I'd hoped since I wasn't very far into The Magicians at the start of September. I did make it through Havemercy by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett, Soulless by Gail Carriger and Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre, but I've only just begun Fire by Kristin Cashore. It was a good month though - Havemercy was just my kind of book and Soulless and Doubleblind were both tons of fun. The Soulless review is almost complete - I just finished a rough draft of it a minute ago so hopefully I can get it up tomorrow night.

Fire and Medicine Road (by Charles deLint) were on my list for September so finishing up the former and beginning the latter will be first on my list. After that, I'd like to read something I don't recall seeing reviewed before - perhaps Night's Master by Tanith Lee or My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due. Then it will be on to Tempest Rising by Nicole Peeler. After that, I refuse to plan - it will all depend on how much of the month is left at that point.

What's everyone reading/thinking about reading this month?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Review of Havemercy

Havemercy is a collaborative debut novel written by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett. In July, an indirect sequel (i.e., a related book with a different set of main characters, some of whom were introduced in the first book) called Shadow Magic was released. On its own, Havemercy has a satisfying ending, but as one of my favorite reads of this year so far, this character-driven fantasy/steampunk novel has me eager to read more by Jones and Bennett.

There are two main storylines that eventually merge in Havemercy, each focusing on two characters somehow brought together as the result of two separate scandals offending the same foreign country. One of these disgraceful situations was caused by Rook, a dragon rider in Volstov's Dragon Corps. The wife of the diplomat from Arlemagne was perfectly happy to go to bed with him - until he tried to pay her afterward. Since the Dragon Corps are the main advantage Volstov has in its hundred year long war against Ke-Han, punishing them too harshly is out of the question. However, some measures must be taken to appease Arlemagne for mistaking a diplomat's wife for a common prostitute. The solution is bringing in Thom, a bright student from the 'Versity, to teach a sensitivity training course to the Dragon Corps. This task proves to be far harder than Thom anticipated - the Dragon Corps is rather spoiled, and Rook in particular takes a strong dislike to their new professor.

The other scandal involves Royston, a well-known magician who was in a relationship with Erik, a foreign prince from Arlemagne. Since the prince's country is not as accepting of homosexuality as Royston's, Erik betrays Royston once the connection between the two is discovered. He blames his entanglement with Royston on seduction by magic, even though Royston's ability has nothing to do with charm. To appease the nation of Arlemagne, Royston is then exiled to his brother's home in the countryside. While he is there, he meets the children's tutor Hal, a very intelligent young man who is perhaps better suited to city life and a 'Versity education than the country life Royston despises.

When the war against the Ke-Han takes an unexpected turn, it is up to these four very different men to use their unique positions to aid Volstov.

The main reason I picked up Havemercy was that I kept hearing it compared to Sarah Monette's The Doctrine of Labyrinth series, which I'm sure you are all shocked to hear once again is one of my all-time favorites. There are definitely similarities - the emphasis on more character development than plot, the story told through the first person perspective of multiple characters, the setting being background without a lot of explanation, the contrast between the viewpoint of an educated person and an uneducated person who both grew up in the slums, and the inclusion of a gay wizard. However, it wasn't quite as strong as Monette's series, which had more vivid characters (but then, Monette's characterization is first-rate and rarely matched). My personal preference is for darker books, too, and this was lighter than The Doctrine of Labyrinth series.

Havemercy was definitely well worth the read for fans of character driven fantasy, though. It is one of those stories in which the protagonists take the forefront and the plot is secondary so readers who prefer lots of action and adventure may be disappointed. That's not to say that there is no action or adventure, but most of it is toward the end and felt rather rushed. As a reader who enjoys characterization the most, I didn't care and found reading about these four very different men the main reason for reading this book.

Toward the beginning, I liked Royston, Hal and Thom but could not stand Rook, the obnoxious young dragon rider who thought a bit too much of himself and stirred up trouble. He was horrible to women and homosexuals, mean to Thom and overall pretty awful - yet he also had the most interesting point of view and by the end I found him my favorite to read about other than Thom. This was because Rook was brutally honest - he had no qualms about restraint or politeness and he never held anything back. Plus, as the character who had a connection to the mechanical dragons, he was the gateway to that part of the world, as Royston was to the magical side of it. By the end, Rook had also grown somewhat, which helped, although he still has a ways to go and I wouldn't say I actually liked him even then. He also had the most unique voice since Hal, Royston and Thom were not all that different from each other despite their diverse backgrounds. All three of them had a more literate voice and a thirst for knowledge and learning, so although they were different, their narrative voices were not as distinct as Rook's ungrammatically correct, vulgar one.

The story of Thom and Rook was definitely my favorite over Hal and Royston's. As one of the most important people to the safety of the realm, Rook could do whatever he wanted and get away with it so Thom certainly had his work cut out for him when it came to teaching Rook some manners. I love a good conflict and their tale had plenty of that, as opposed to Hal and Royston's, which quickly wrapped up any sort of conflict. Also, I found Thom and Rook's parts had a lot more humor than Hal and Royston's, who both tended to be more serious in their thoughts. One of my very favorite scenes was the role-playing sensitivity training session/competition Thom did in which each member of the Dragon Corps had to pretend to be everyone from "The Arlemagne Diplomat's Wife" to "That Whore Rook Insulted the Other Day for Having Ugly Breasts" to "That Kid Ghislain Hit on the Head When He Dropped Merritt's Boots out the Window."

The world is a combination of fantasy and steampunk - there are magicians with various powers who built the mechanical dragons that are the big advantage Volstov has in the war. The main glimpse of the dragons we get to see is on the few occasions when Rook is out with his dragon, the titular Havemercy (who really has very little to do with the book in spite of that). Although these dragons are not truly alive, they seem very much so since they can converse and their riders do form emotional attachments to them. I would like to know more about the setting since several aspects are mentioned but not fully explained, such as how exactly the magicians get their powers. Since there is another books set in this universe, it may be explored in further detail later, but in this book at least, the setting, like the plot, takes a backseat to the characters.

Although it is not the best character-driven novel I've ever read, Havemercy is an excellent debut and well worth reading for those who prefer a slower paced look at some different characters to heavy action, a fast-moving plot, or massive worldbuilding. I'm very much looking forward to reading more from Jones and Bennet, particularly the sequel to this book.


Other Reviews:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Bibliophile's Seven Deadly Sins

By popular demand, here is the complete list of the Bibliophile's Seven Deadly Sins:

1. Destruction

This is the BIG sin and however one destroys thine book is how they shall be repaid if they were terrible enough to go to bibliohell. Destruction includes but is not limited to burning, bending back the cover, breaking the spine, tearing out pages, staining pages, dropping the book in water, shredding pages, and running it over with a lawn mower.

2. Sloth

With all these book piles bibliophiles tend to collect, it can be very easy to get behind on one's reading by succumbing to this sin. Getting too far behind can result in drowning in the book pile, or in very extreme cases, being devoured by the mass of angry, neglected books never to be seen or heard from ever again.

3. Marking of pages

The defacing of a book with a writing implement is forbidden. The one exception to this rule is in the case of getting your books signed by the author. Therefore, I will not be confined to a single room and forced to write every single word from the Bible on the walls for all eternity for getting my copies of The Orphan's Tales duology signed by Catherynne Valente this past weekend. When writing the text, every time a mistake is made, the damned must erase everything and begin all over again.

4. Disorganization

This includes two big no-nos: alphabetical impurity and the mixing of kinds. Books by authors shall be kept together in alphabetical order with all the books in a series in the proper order. Mixing of kinds is only permitted in cases where greater sins would be committed by keeping hardcovers and paperbacks apart, such as if you have part of a series in each. Committing disorganization will lead to book filing in a library containing sentient, hyperactive books that hate to stay on the shelf forevermore.

5. Skimming

Thou shalt not skim but must read every word. Those who become distracted and miss a word must reread the same paragraph over and over until every word is caught and committed to memory - or spend their entire afterlife reading and rereading The Eye of Argon without skimming a single word.

6. Spoilage

No spoiling the best parts of books for others. The penalty for this sin is being visited by annoying imps who taunt you by telling you about what happens in all the books you never got to read before you ended up in bibliohell, especially when the new book in one of your favorite series comes out.

7. Prejudice

Do not judge a book by its cover. Or its genre. Or anything else, except perhaps, in very special circumstances, its author. A life of book prejudice will result in an eternity spent reading books with the most horrifyingly embarrassing covers in public places - without even the consolation that the contents of the book do not match its cover.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jeanne and Spider Robinson Winner

The Jeanne and Spider Robinson giveaway is now over. The winner of a signed copy of Variable Star, the Stardance trilogy omnibus and Very Hard Choices is:

Shellie N. from Arizona

Congratulations, Shellie! I hope you enjoy the books.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BBAW Day 3: Reading Meme

For those who don't know, this is Book Blogger Appreciation Week. The official site has blogging topics for each day this week. I've been busy and missed them all so far, but I'm going to do today's and I'm hoping to do at least tomorrow's too, which sounds like fun. (It's writing about a book you loved that you discovered on a book blog - it would be very hard to choose just one, though!)

So here is today's topic - some questions about reading! Feel free to answer them all (or your favorite questions) in the comments.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?

No, never. I'd probably get crumbs all over my book if I did that and that would be one of the bibliophile's seven deadly sins. However, I do like to drink coffee or tea while reading. My favorite summer drink for reading is an iced mocha latte. The rest of the time, it could be any number of things - a cafe mocha, raspberry mocha or vanilla latte (or cinnamon if I can find it - that's really my favorite).

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

Writing in books is one of the other seven deadly sins of bibliophiles; therefore, I do not practice it.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?

I used to remember which page or chapter I was on. Since my memory is no longer quite what it once was, I now use a bookmark.

Laying the book flat open?

Only very rarely, very loosely so it's not even close to flat, and if I'm putting it down for two seconds or less. My books tend to still look new when I am done reading them, and I'm very careful with them.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?

Fiction. I don't have the attention span for - what were we talking about again? Oh yeah, non-fiction.

Hard copy or audiobooks?

Hard copy since I've never listened to an audiobook in my life.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?

If I have to, I can put the book down but I usually try to read to the end of the chapter or at least a stopping point if I really need to stop (other stopping points being when there are extra page breaks in the middle of a chapter).

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?

That depends on how convenient it is to do so at the time. If I'm reading before going to sleep, no. Otherwise, I often do. I leave the computer around for just this purpose when reading Elizabeth Bear's novels (not only do I end up looking up a lot of words but using Google a lot in general to look up references when reading her books).

What are you currently reading?

Havemercy by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett. I'm almost at the end and LOVE it. It's not quite as good as Sarah Monette's The Doctrine of Labyrinth series, but it's one of the better books I've read this year.

What is the last book you bought?

Well, technically, the last time I bought books was a book order in which I bought several books with a gift card. So the last books I bought are:

Night's Master by Tanith Lee (in expensive hardcover and it was misdelivered today! Augh!)
Black Ships by Jo Graham ($5 trade paperback bargain book!)
Hart's Hope by Orson Scott Card
Alanya to Alanya by L. Timmel duchamp
Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs

Or if you want to go by last book I bought that I actually have in my possession at the moment, that would be Jasmyn by Alex Bell, which sounds really good.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?

Normally I stick to one book at a time. Once in a while, I read multiple books but usually only if I need a break from the book I'm reading or am reading a short story collection instead of one cohesive story.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?

No, not really. Anywhere quiet, preferably next to a coffee.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?

That's tough. Since I like reading more about my favorite characters, I'll go with series, but I really like stand-alones too if they're good.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?

Just one? Guess I'll go with Sarah Monette and The Doctrine of Labyrinth series.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)

I would love to organize them by author's last name, then chronological order (but with all the series books together so if the author wrote another book in the middle of the series it's not interrupting the series flow). Since my space is limited, I'm subjected to just cramming them in wherever there is room, though, which means I have the hardcovers and trade paperbacks together and the mass market paperbacks together. The authors and series are together if they will fit that way, though.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Review of The Magicians

The Magicians, written by Time magazine book critic Lev Grossman, debuted at #9 on the New York Times bestseller list and is currently #21. Although the ending isn't quite what I would call a cliffhanger since the main loose ends from this book are tied up, it also seems to be leading up to another book. Grossman has confirmed that there will indeed be a sequel in an interview.

Seventeen-year-old Quentin Coldwater is one of the most brilliant students in his high school. In spite of his genius, he is not particularly happy, but he is hoping that college will be just the change he needs. In the meantime, he keeps dreaming of Fillory, a magical land from a series of books written by Christopher Plover. Quentin has read these books several times, knows them inside and out and is quite obsessed with them. He believes that life would be so much better if only it were like the world of Fillory:
In Fillory things mattered in a way they didn't in this world. In Fillory you felt the appropriate emotions when things happened. Happiness was a real, actual, achievable possibility. It came when you called. Or no, it never left you in the first place. (pp. 7)
Instead, Quentin will have to settle for Princeton, assuming his interview goes well. However, when he arrives for his interview, no one answers the door and he discovers the man he was supposed to speak with is lying on the floor, very dead. He and his friend James call the paramedics, and one of them convinces Quentin to take an envelope with his name on it from a table. When Quentin leaves and opens the envelope, he finds the first page is entitled The Magicians, Book Six of Fillory and Further. Before he can read any more, a gust of wind blows the page from his hand. Quentin chases after it and suddenly finds he is somewhere else.

"Somewhere else" is not Fillory as Quentin first hoped but actually upstate New York. Soon Quentin is ushered into a room with several other people taking the strangest entrance exam he has ever seen - the words disappear, sometimes even in the middle of a question. He makes it through all the entrance exams and is invited to be a student at the Brakebills College of Magical Pedagogy, the only school for magicians in the United States. It's all Quentin has ever dreamed of so of course he accepts - only to find that learning magic is not all he's ever imagined it to be. It's tedious, dangerous and not the secret key to happiness he's been waiting for.

The Magicians follows Quentin from his life immediately before Brakebills, through his five years as a student, and part of his life after graduating from the magic school. It plays with several familiar fantasy elements - everything from learning magic is real to discovering another world to dungeon crawls and D&D. Yet all of these have a different feel than the norm - they're darker and more realistic (yes, I said realistic about a fantasy story - as in, Quentin's response to magic rings true more than a lot of other similar stories). I particularly enjoyed the exploration of what might happen if a real teenager found out magic was real once the initial wonder wore off. In spite of its unusual subject, Brakebills was very much like any other college - the work was tedious and often even boring, some of the professors were annoying, and the students spent a lot of time drinking and partying. Magic didn't make the students' lives more wonderful and in one instance messing up a spell had very dire consequences, resulting in a terrifying experience for the class involved and a great tragedy for the entire school.

The Fillory books are very reminiscent of The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Basically, some young children find a magical land in the walls of their aunt's house, have adventures, defeat villains, and become heroic kings and queens. This is the world Quentin wants to live in, but he finds that real magic is not the same as the stories said it would be.

Part of the problem is a typical human condition - Quentin tends to quickly get bored and think if only he had something else, his life would be better and he'd find that elusive happiness he's been seeking for his entire life. In the very beginning, he thinks that college may be the change he's looking for and then he ends up studying to be a magician. It's amazing and everything he ever dreamed of - at first. Eventually he finds that in the end, he's still not happy. Graduation and a hedonistic lifestyle of partying with his friends doesn't change that, either. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence for Quentin, whether he's looking to the future or toward another woman when he becomes less enthralled with his long-time girlfriend, a very talented, studious lady who cares for him very much.

This is not a happy story and it can be quite devastating at times. It is told with a wry sense of humor which adds at least a little bit of lightness. Although I'm a little concerned about what this one says about me, I did enjoy this conversation in which fellow classmate Josh informed Quentin that he was not at all surprised when another students went a bit crazy:
"Are you kidding? That guy was a mystery wrapped in an enigma and crudely stapled to a ticking fucking time bomb. He was either going to hit somebody or start a blog. To tell you the truth I'm kind of glad he hit you." (pp. 107)
My main complaints with The Magicians is that it did drag in a couple of places, especially during the time right after graduation when Quentin was not doing a whole lot other than sleeping all day and drinking. The first part of the book where Quentin was studying at Brakebills was more interesting to me than the later parts of it. Also, I didn't absolutely love any of the characters and my favorite had a rather depressing end. This isn't really a flaw since it works with the story being told and I don't think Quentin's supposed to be particularly lovable, but my favorite books are the ones where I enjoy reading about the characters. This was one I enjoyed more for its sense of humor and take on what would happen if an intelligent, easily bored person discovered magic.

The Magicians is a more thoughtful examination of what would happen if a group of young people discovered magic was real and applied themselves to studying it. It's a more disturbing, darker look at the type of story many of us grew up reading in which children discovered a new world and rose to be heroes. It's not one I'd read for the main character, who really was not that sympathetic later in the book, but I did enjoy reading a more "realistic" version of this familiar archetype.


Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews:

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Giveaway Open Worldwide

I noticed the post about the giveaway for the Spider and Jeanne Robinson books didn't actually say who could enter. It has now been updated to say that it is open to anyone in the world. Since many of you probably already read the post a few days ago and won't be going back to it, I just wanted to make a new one to let people know!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Book Giveaway for Spider and Jeanne Robinson

For anybody who didn't catch my review of Variable Star almost a year and a half ago, I'm a big fan of Spider Robinson. Though I haven't read as much of her work, Jeanne Robinson's collaboration with Spider on the Stardance trilogy is also exceptional. Well, word is that Jeanne is fighting a rare form of cancer, and the couple is running low on cash. That link has several ways that you can help, but being the of-limited-resources types that we are, Kristen and I focused in on one: Amazon clickthroughs for their books.

Of course, I already have many of their books, so what to do with them? Give them away, natch! I have three books to give away (bought via Spider's affiliate program): The Stardance Trilogy Omnibus (hardcover), Very Hard Choices (Spider's new book released in August, paperback), and a hardcover of Variable Star signed by Spider! Note that the last is a used book which is supposed to be in very good condition, but if it arrives to me all beat up I will give the winner a choice of substituting my like-new hardcover of Variable Star which is (unfortunately) unsigned.

To enter, send an email to fantasycafe AT novomancy DOT org with the subject line "Spider and Jeanne" containing your mailing address. Mailing addresses will only be used for sending the books to the winners and emails will be deleted once the contest is closed on Sep 18th. That's all it takes, though getting the word out about Jeanne's post that I linked above would be much appreciated as well. Giveaway is open worldwide; you can enter no matter where you live.

One other note: Though it's nice to buy their books, if you're buying off Amazon anyway you can still make sure a bit of your purchase gets redirected to them. I made a bookmarklet that will turn any product page into one that shows up as coming from Spider Robinson's affiliate account. To use it:

1. Drag this link to your bookmark bar (or right-click and add bookmark, depending on your browser): Robinsonize Amazon Page
2. Go to Amazon and find something you were going to buy anyway, then hit that bookmark before you add it to your cart.
3. The page should reload, but it now contains the code for Spider's account.

I know that the book blogging community spends a ridiculous amount of money at Amazon, so if even a tiny portion of it can be redirected it would help.

Thanks, and good luck winning!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Review of The Drowning City

The Drowning City
by Amanda Downum
384pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 5.5/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: N/A
Goodreads Rating: 3/5

The Drowning City is Amanda Downum's debut novel and was just released on August 25. It is the first book in The Necromancer Chronicles series, and the next two books are scheduled to be published approximately a year apart (The Bone Palace in 2010 and Kingdoms of Dust in 2011). Ever since I saw the cover quote from one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Bear, I've been dying to read it - and the actual cover plus the description about necromancy and spying didn't hurt either. Unfortunately, it failed to connect with me even though there are a lot of positive aspects about it.

Necromancer Isyllt Iskaldur arrives in Symir with a mission - to start a revolution before the Empire decides to invade her own country. Her master sent her, along with a bodyguard Adam and his partner Xinai who is originally from Symir, to find one of the native groups dedicated to overthrowing the emperor. As a practitioner of magic, Isyllt makes contact with the local mages and pretends to study with one of them. In reality, her new teacher Vasilios is sympathetic to the cause of dethroning the current ruler. His apprentice Zhirin is secretly (or so she thinks) involved in a relationship with the leader of one of the peaceful rebellious groups and Vasilios asks Zhirin to introduce Isyllt to her companion.

Meanwhile, Xinai decides to get in touch with her people and becomes involved with one of the more violent revolutionary gangs, who will do anything to get their way - even if it means involving those who should remain dead.

This is a difficult book for me to review because it's one of those I had very mixed feelings about. Basically, I struggled through the first third, thought the next third was ok, and ended up liking the last third of the book. Since I thought this novel had quite a few strengths, it's hard to point out why exactly I wasn't that fond of it to begin with. When rereading early parts of it for this review, it was decent enough so perhaps I just wasn't in the mood to read it at the time. Regardless, the fact is I really didn't particularly care about any of the characters or what happened for about two thirds of the book. Yet, I found that parts of the ending did leave me haunted by the fates of a couple of the protagonists so I did care at least a little about them by the time I was finished... even if I was tempted to put this one down for good several times.

One of the novel's strengths was the writing. The prose was spare with some concise yet vivid descriptions. Infodumps are kept to a minimum, and Downum throws readers right into the story without explaining every little detail of the backstory. Background information is slowly revealed, which is a style I personally prefer to knowing a bunch of details about the world and characters right up front.

I did not find the actual story held my attention at first. Although I do like politicking and spying, I thought the plot moved rather slowly in the beginning. There was a lot of meeting contacts and introducing new characters, along with a side plot in which Isyllt performs an exorcism that I didn't find all that interesting.

Although it never made me feel like I knew the characters, some of them were likable enough. Even though she had good reason for it with the death of her family long ago, Xinai was a bit too cold-hearted for my taste, particularly since I never felt like I was seeing underneath the surface of her character. However, I liked Zhirin and Isyllt and was very intrigued by the powerful, mysterious mage Asheris. Zhirin was idealistic and naive but also sweet and courageous. She could have easily been spoiled with her upbringing but she was quick to jump in and help out her cause. Isyllt was the main character and was therefore the one who was developed the most. Her experiences made her colder and pragmatic than the young Zhirin, yet she also had past sorrows that made her sympathetic. As a necromancer, she was feared and that made her a bit of an outcast.

Downum is not easy on her characters in the tradition of more realistic fantasy instead of the kind where everyone lives happily ever after. They are not invincible, and by the end of the book most of them have had it pretty rough. There are consequences to being part of a revolution and no major character comes away from it unscathed.

The world introduced in this first volume is intriguing. Its not the typical medieval European setting but an Asian one in which technology has advanced to the point of having guns, although some do still use swords, knives and other pointy objects for weapons. I'd like to know more about the types of mages. Zhirin has an affinity with the river and her power comes from water. As a necromancer, Isyllt can talk to ghosts and perform exorcisms, although she has some other powers such as communicating over distances using a mirror.

Overall, I have a lot of conflicted feelings about The Drowning City. The world and writing were both strong, but the characters and plot failed to connect with me until late in the novel. By the end, I was vaguely curious about what would happen next but probably not enough to seek the next novel with all the other books that are out there waiting for me to read them.



Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Technical Supplement: The grrm

A brief technical supplement in support of our proposed new unit, the grrm.

The grrm is a unit of change over time. Specifically, it measures the degree of warping of a shelf under a constant weight per distance over a given length of time. In terms of quality, more grrms represent a shelf that bends more under stress. In standardized units, 1 grrm can be described as:
1 degree of deflection under the weight of a full shelf of ASOIAF (books 1-4) over a given amount of time. Standard constants for weight and time are given below.
Obviously this definition requires a bit of explanation:
  • 1 degree of deflection
    This angle is measured between the nadir of the bowed shelf and a horizontal line perpendicular to the sides that represents where the shelf would be if it were not warped. Note that this is not just the distance that the middle of the shelf has dropped, so a 1cm drop will represent a smaller angle for a 1m wide shelf than one that is only .6m. This helps represent the fact that a longer shelf is more difficult to keep flat, and if it only deflects the same amount as a short shelf it is probably of higher quality than the shorter one.

  • A full shelf of ASOIAF books
    Of course, everybody should fill their shelves with ASOIAF, preferably as many hardcover copies as is necessary to completely fill the shelf. However, in recognition of the fact that many people will only have three or four copies of the series in hardcover (or even-gasp-one) this requirement can be averaged to a standard amount of weight distributed over a certain length of shelf space. Unfortunately, the provisional nature of this unit and the varying editions of ASOIAF prevents us from defining this quantity precisely. While it has been proposed that the official values be based on a reference set of first edition hardcovers kept in a hermetically sealed vault in George R.R. Martin's library, preliminary values are as follows:

    - A Game of Thrones: 4.572cm wide, 997g
    - A Clash of Kings: 5.334cm wide, 1088g
    - A Storm of Swords: 6.35cm wide, 1360g
    - A Feast for Crows: 4.064cm wide, 1088g

    These values yield an average density of 223 grams per linear centimeter, also known as the golden grrm. When establishing the grrm rating of a shelf, this weight should be evenly distributed across the entire length of the shelf in question. Again, please note that these numbers are preliminary and will be revised if and when George R. R. Martin measures and weighs the copies stored in his hermetically sealed, climate controlled vault. (If anybody knows him to ask him, please feel free to report back the results in the name of SCIENCE!) Upon the release of future books, the average will be updated and all shelves previously measured should be destroyed, replaced, and retested.

  • A year
    This is, well, a year. Not to be all Euro-centric or anything, but we're going with the 365.25 day calendar. Bowing is not likely to be a linear process, so ideally the first year should be used so results are comparable across tests. Otherwise, this is pretty much just a year.
Testing using exact weights may be problematic. Anywhere outside of a NIST laboratory, occupying (some might say 'wasting', but that seems a bit judgmental) an entire shelf with standard weighting instruments just for the purpose of determining the quality of your shelf is likely to be impractical. In deference to those who wish to test their shelf but do not have the space to sacrifice to proper methodology, this proposal suggests calculating a normalized grrm rating by comparing the actual weight and length figures to the standard constants defined by the grrm. There are a number of engineering problems with this procedure, but frankly, SCIENCE! is no fun if there's not a home game. All we ask is that, when normalized grrm figures are presented publicly, they should be acknowledged as such and never compared to standard grrm ratings.

Other testing guidelines:
  • Shelves in a bookshelf that are structurally different from other shelves in the same unit should be tested separately. This is most common with the top and bottom shelves, which often have better support than middle shelves. When a single grrm rating is reported for an entire bookshelf, it should be the result of testing on the middle shelves.
  • Whenever a book is removed from a shelf that is undergoing testing, another book of identical weight should replace it. Empty spaces on shelves, even for books that are currently being read or as organizational space set aside for future books by an author or in a series, is not permitted during testing.
  • The grrm is only applicable for long-term testing (thus the inclusion of the time component). Instantaneous destructive stress testing is covered by a related standard, the Erikson, but that is beyond the scope of this document.
The first application of the grrm is in Kristen's bookshelf review below.

Something Different: Bookshelf Review

Some of you may remember that a little while ago I mentioned I would be doing a review that is a bit different. CSN Office Furniture kindly offered to donate a bookcase for me to review and how could I refuse an offer like that? I asked them for recommendations for a bookcase that was sturdy since most of my shelves are bending under the weight of all my hardcover books. They recommended me cases made by Winsome or Sauder for these purposes, and I ended up settling on the Camden County Three-Shelf Bookcase by Sauder.

I received my bookcase very promptly but did not end up getting it up immediately because it was so hot here (90F is hot in Maine, really!). It cooled down enough to assemble it last week and over the weekend I moved a bunch of my hardcover books onto it (trying to keep series and authors together but unfortunately without alphabetizing since I still have to double stack books on some shelves and now have a total of 9 bookcases scattered all throughout the apartment).

Technical Details
  • Planked cherry finish
  • Two adjustable shelves
  • Sturdy 1" thick shelves and uprights
  • Quick and easy assembly with patented twist lock fasteners
  • Overall Dimensions: 44.25" H x 36" W x 13.875" D

According to my husband (who put the case together for me last week once it cooled down enough here to do more than sprawl in front of the fan), the bookcase was very easy to assemble. It required a hammer and a screwdriver and used the twist lock connectors, which don't seem as though they would be as sturdy as real cams, but when moving it around it did not seem weak or like it would come apart easily. He did tell me to make sure I added that it is frigging heavy, and I can attest to that since I helped him move it a few times.


With its cherry wood finish, the bookcase is definitely very nice-looking yet it is practical and holds a lot of books. It's larger, more attractive, and sturdier than any of my other bookcases (not that this is difficult since I tend to buy cheap bookcases from Target - I can't afford to be flashy with so many bookshelves). Only time will tell but with its one-inch thick shelves it is a lot hardier than my other bookcases and will hopefully hold up better under the strain of those thick books. Though calculations suggest otherwise...

To properly estimate the effects of hardcovers on a shelf over time, my husband is proposing a new unit and testing procedure known as the grrm. Based on the golden grrm value of 223 grams per linear centimeter, the center shelves which are 34" long should be able to hold about 19.25 kg or 42.4 lbs. However, the manual that came with the shelf said the middle shelves were only rated to hold 35 lbs without bending. That suggests that even though the shelves are an inch thick, they're probably still going to end up bending if you load it with hardcovers. The bottom shelf is rated at 55 lbs so that should be all set, even if I did put my George R. R. Martin and Steven Erikson hardcovers on it. (For more information, see the exciting technical supplement detailing the grrm.)

The Camden County Three-Shelf bookcase is a lovely case that is sturdier than the cheap bookcases I normally buy (priced at approximately $100, it had better be - edit: oops, just checked and it looks like the price has increased). Even so, the middle shelves may still bend if used exclusively for hardcovers. Since the estimated weight a case may hold is often less than the actual weight, it may hold up better than expected, but I'll have to report back after some time has passed.