This page explains some ideas behind aolib.com and shares some thoughts on
the single most important subject of aolib.com — the Book.
I think it's fair say that the ultimate value of aolib.com
hugely depends upon it's ability to help you find
good books, and we made (and keep making) great efforts to
So what's a
good book? There are many answers to that
question, some of them are trivial, some less so... Some people would rate
highly almost any book about a subject that are interesting to them,
personally, even if that book is relatively poorly written. It is also pretty
obvious that the value of a book (just like that of a piece of music) does not
depend upon whether it is
new. What else can be said?
All I can do is to share my personal opinion, and it boils
down to the following.
I would say that the book is good if it creates a consistent
world, and submerges its reader into it. Please note the word
— this is the essense of what Umberto Eco had to say on this matter. I do
not think that I would ever be able to say it better than the Master, so here
is a quote from Postscript to The Name of the Rose:
... To tell a story you must first of all construct a
world, furnished as much as possible, down to the slightest details. If I were
to construct a river, I would need two banks; and if on the left bank I put a
fisherman, and if I were to give this fisherman a wrathful character and a
police record, then I could start writing, translating into words everything
that would inevitably happen.
As you see, as soon as one's invented world has been furnished
just a little, there is already the beginning of a story. The problem is to
construct the world: the words will practically come on their own. Rem tene,
cerba sequentur: grasp the subject, and the words will follow. This, I believe,
is the opposite of what happens with poetry, which is more a case of verba
tene, res sequentur: grasp the words, and the subject will follow...
And, finally (this is my favourite):
It is necessary to create constraints, in order to invent
freely. In poetry the constraint can be imposed by meter, foot, rhyme, by what
has been called the "verse according to the ear."... In fiction, the
surrounding world provides the constraint. This has nothing to do with realism
(even if it explains also realism). A completely unreal world can be
constructed, in which asses fly and princesses are restored to life by a kiss;
but that world, purely possible and unrealistic, must exist according to
structures defined at the outset (we have to know whether it is a world where a
princess can be restored to life only by the kiss of a prince, or also by that
of a witch, and whether the princess's kiss transforms only frogs into princes
or also, for example, armadillos).
The works of Umberto Eco, of course, represent examples of
good books depicting
real (in the above-described sense), or
consistent worlds. Another great property of Eco's books is that they, as
mathematically precise as they are, still contain some enigma,
and more often than not, reader gets involved into an astonishing
investigation... Are Umberto Eco's books
serious? You bet. After reading
The Name of the Rose, you will know how an abbey functioned in 14-th century
— down to the last bit. But do
serious books have to be boring?
Umberto Eco recons that No, and I wholeheartedly agree.
The ultimate example of an amazingly reach and (of course)
consistent world... or maybe not even of a
world but of a
universe, is War and Peace by Leo (Lev) Tolstoy.
Interestingly, the translation of the Russian word
peace is not quite correct... Before last major
community (also very close to
world) were heterographs (a
subclass of homophones), and Leo Tolstoy used the one that meant
community. After the reform (which almost always is synonymous with
simplification) there remained a single word, a homonym that
combined all meanings. And later translations always have it as World and
Peace, even though that is not what Leo Tolstoy meant... And, most importantly,
not what the book is — a true world, or rather universe, in its
The second class (but by no means
second rate) of
good books are those written by good storytellers. Their worlds may or
may not be consistent (or may even be drastically inconsistent), but their
narratives catch your imagination nonetheless. More than 30 years on, I still
remember how this piece from The Hound of the
A man's or a woman's?
Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his
voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered.
Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic
gave me creeps (and it seemed like Watson felt the same:
confess at these words a shudder passed through me., for which I could not
blame him, as of all people I understood him so well...) As you might have
guessed, I regard Arthur Conan Doyle as one of
those Masters of Words, whose narratives sound so smooth and compelling
(however plausible – or not – the story per se really is)
that you happily let them totally grasp and submerge you, and they only let you
go after you turn the very last page...
English language is lingua
franca of our time — just like Latin language during Middle Ages.
Maybe even much more than that; with Internet being ubiquitous, the power of
English language to instantly connect millions (or should I say billions?) of
people is truly unprecedented in the history of mankind. English is my third
language, and I can certainly appreciate that power, which made
universe so much bigger, and made me so many friends.
So what do you do to master a language? That is, to
understand not only
overall meaning, but also hidden connotations,
should there be any?
This is what I did: I read books. Many books. That has started
more than 20 years ago, so I had to use
dead tree dictionaries — I
had two of them by my side: a small one (5,000 entries), and a big one (35,000
entries). Every time I stumbled upon a word I did not understand, I searched
small dictionary for it, then (if I couldn't find it there, or suggested
did not fit the context) I searched the big one. In the small
dictionaly, I made tabs (one per letter) with a razor, like those in a paper
phone book, to make look-up as quick as possible, and yet it was slow —
BUT it was the way to learn reading.
Why? Well, this is what Chinese philosopher Confucius had to
I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.
In other words, you learn to do something by actually doing
it, and we at aolib.com try to help you in the process — explanation for
every word is just one double-click away. Wikipedia or Wiktionary look-up is just as
simple, you do not have to mess with thick paper dictionaries anymore, as I
Oh and by the way, I do not imply that I had mastered
English — well, not yet. I need this site just as some of you. In their
1994 interview, the founders of id Software said:
We write the games we want to
play (emphasis by id Software). While I most certainly do not compare DOOM
to aolib.com, the latter is the site I want to use — and I do
believe it turned out to be at least a little bit better because of that...
One last advice to those who are going to use aolib.com for
educational purposes. In my opinion, one can only do really well what
he/she really likes. That is, if you want to learn to read and
understand written English well, do not try to pick
right books (like
recommended readers) — pick interesting ones, which might as well
be A Discourse of a Method for the Well Guiding of
Reason and the Discovery of Truth in the Sciences by René Descartes — as long as it is interesting
And whatever you are looking for, I wish you to find
that at aolib.com.
I wouldn't go as far as saying that the days of desktop
applications are numbered. However, desktop applications as we know them
will cease to exist or transform beyond recogtnition, and rather sooner than
later. The writing is on the wall, as they say. As for me, it's been there for
quite some time, long before the news about the Google Chrome OS
broke. The niche where
classic desktop apps will stay untouched longer
than anywhere else has to do with special needs such as highest possible
performance, lowest power consumption, etc.
Don't overestimate those needs though. Even Quake II had been ported to
Google Web Toolkit already, so the niche we're talking about is not going
to be all that big. And it most certainly won't include such things as ebook
readers. Granted, offline portable readers still make... some sense, because it
is still possible to get into an area without Internet coverage, but
that is being changed so quickly. Nowadays, you stay connected even in Moscow
That is why aolib.com does not host books in FB2, MOBI, and/or
other formats for ebook readers — we just do not
believe in them.
In our opinion, nothing can beat online experience with its instant
availability (no installations),
invisible and thus effortless upgrades,
unprecedented accessibility of any external resources, and great many other
Ultimately, Web sites will converge with applications,
implementing more and more applications' traits, such as high degree of
customization. That is the future, and we will take you there. In fact, we are
already on the way; just have a look at our users'
profiles or site skins... And we have great
companions for that journey — our books.
The Aolib.com Editor.