Questus Libris

Getting the Books: A Collection of Reviews


The Class Website (

I got most of the texts from this source. Fantastic.

Score: 10/10

Sakai (

Honestly, it worked perfectly, but I have to dock a few points because it’s Sakai.

Score: 1/10

S-Town (

The website doesn’t allow you to play/pause the podcast with the transcript open. This wouldn’t be a problem if the transcript saved your position, but closing and reopening the transcript always brings you back to the top of the text. On the other hand, very pretty website.

Score: Please scroll to top of page to see score

Audible (

I forgot to unsubscribe after my free trial and was charged an extra month.

Score: -$15 (+tax)

Netflix (

My roommate says he does not appreciate all of the new suggested shows he’s receiving on his account.

Score: >:(

Is There Any Deal ( and GG.Deals (

Great sites for tracking deals on video games. Unfortunately, the publishers of Life is Strange are flooding the markets with different versions/editions/bundles. This makes it a little tricky to find the correct text when searching for deals.

Score: 93/100 (Total Score), 5.5/10 (Home Page), 8.0/10 (Search Function), 3.22/5 (Design and Art Direction), 5/7 (Deals)


S-Town Review

I really enjoyed listening to S-Town. Brian Reed digs deep into the life of John B. and Woodstock, Alabama and reveals a lot about the nature of people. Specifically, I was surprised by how much insight the podcast gives into the difference between truth and personal knowledge and how we try to reconcile this discrepancy. This can be seen most apparently when the narrative follows the conflict between Tyler and Reta.

Brian confirms that Tyler and Reta consistently report the same facts in their retellings of the story. However, the two parties walk away from each incident with different conclusions. This paradox occurs because a person’s knowledge of the external world is always filtered through past knowledge, experiences, and personal biases. Tyler established a very close relationship with John and his mother before John’s death, but Reta sees a stranger seemingly taking advantage of her relatives. Neither side has all the information, so they fill in the blanks with assumptions. People base their beliefs on the world as they know it, and not the world as it is.

This information asymmetry also reveals the failings of S-Town’s journalism (and journalism in general). Brian’s goal in the beginning is to uncover the truth behind a potential murder and its coverup in Woodstock. In the end, he realizes that no murder ever occured, despite almost everyone in the town telling him that the suspected killer confessed to the crime. After hearing snippets and rumors, the townspeople transform a story about a fight into something much more sinister through a big game of telephone. Journalism is based in large part on interviews with people, but S-Town reveals that these testimonials can be wildly inaccurate.

Sometimes, despite Brian’s best efforts, a conclusion can’t be reached. Did John leave behind gold and where is it? Who is right, Tyler or Reta? Did John have mercury poisoning? All of these questions are left unanswered because conclusive evidence couldn’t be gathered. In the case of mercury poisoning, we have testimonials from John’s horologist friends and professional opinions, but it’s been too long since John’s death to verify his mercury levels for sure. I think Brian realizes the danger of giving the reader incomplete information. He tries to remind the reader of alternative possibilities whenever an outcome is uncertain and admits when he doesn’t know something. In this way, he allows readers to fill in the blanks, but also makes them aware that they’re doing so.

Brian’s apparent awareness of how his journalism might be misinterpreted also leads me to the problems I have with the podcast. At one point Brian reveals John’s off-the-record story about his relationship with a specific man. Brian decides to tell this story and states several reasons for doing so. He says:

First, since John died, two other people who knew him well have told me the same information on the record. Also, John was very clear that he did not believe in God or an afterlife. So John, in his own view, is worm dirt now, unaffected by this. And lastly, what John disclosed, and where it led me after he died, helped me understand him so much more. And I think trying to understand another person is a worthwhile thing to do.

The first point seems obviously flawed. Just because John shared the information privately with two close friends does not mean John is ok with sharing the information publicly. The second reason has some validity, but while John may be dead and unaffected, other people’s memory of John is very much alive and can be affected. I think the third point is valid, but also subjective. Additionally, Brian seems to tell this story with little care for the other man’s well being. He publicly reveals that a married man living in the southern US had, at one point, a romantic relationship with John. This is obviously dangerous and could ruin his life. I don’t believe Brian adequately protected the man’s identity, and I don’t think Brian could have except by omitting this section from S-Town. It’s not difficult to imagine the man’s wife, upon listening to S-Town, could deduce that her husband was the “anonymous” individual that Brian interviewed. At this point, Brian should be well aware of how giving away even a little bit of information about someone can lead way to dangerously inaccurate rumors.

I also think Brian imposes too much of his own opinion into some parts of John’s life. Brian paints John’s tattoo (church) sessions as a form of cutting – indicative of some sort of mental illness. In a Vox review of the podcast, Aja Romano talks about needle play as a sexual fetish. In this context, John’s ritual could be seen as an act of pleasure rather than a form of self-harm. However, Brian uncharacteristically fails to mention alternatives to his assumption.

S-Town demonstrates that truth is easily distorted and beliefs don’t run parallel to facts. It also shows how this makes S-Town’s very own journalism a challenge. Though Brian Reed does his best to overcome these issues, S-Town still fails in some aspects.

Vox review:


The Night Circus as a Narrative About Free Will

When reading (or listening) to The Night Circus, it’s easy to put ourselves in the shoes of Celia or Marco. The circus and the people in it revolve around them. We tend to have the same perspective in our lives. We like to view ourselves as the agents of change and others as static objects. We conjure up our own brand of fortune telling: “He’s useless. He’ll end up living in his parent’s basement.”, “She’s so talented. She’s bound to be successful.”, etc.

These thoughts stem from insecurities about our own futures. We see ourselves in Celia and Marco, but not as agents of change. Just like Celia and Marco, the most formative events in our lives happen when we’re very young. The magicians are bound by a spell made by their guardians without their consent. We are born in specific times and circumstances to specific parents. While these events don’t seal our fate in quite the same way as a spell, they do drive our futures in a direction that we have no control over. Our origins shape the opportunities we have available to us, so every choice we make is limited to a selection defined (directly or indirectly) by our birth.

This theme of causal determinism is also shared among other character in The Night Circus. Widget can see the people’s’ pasts but has no power to alter them, Poppet can see the future unable to act on it when it matters. Isobel comes to a realization about the difficulties of timing. It’s not enough to want/choose to do something; one also needs to be at the right place at the right time. Though talented and powerful, these characters are rarely able to make meaningful choices. Instead, things just seem to happen to them.

The one character that is different is Bailey. He represents our ideal self. Burdened by his father’s wishes, his mother’s indecisiveness, and his own coming of age, it seems that Bailey’s only two options are to take over the farm or go to college. But in fact, his future is unrestricted. When Isobel tries to read his fortune, she fails because all the cards are laid out in front of him. Bailey even manages to thwart a mistake in timing. When he leaves to join the circus, he misses it because it leaves early. However, he chases after it and creates his own opportunities. Bailey accomplishes what we wish we could – he is able to leave his past behind him and chase wholeheartedly after his dream.

Morgenstern is saying that it’s possible for us to do this too, but with one caveat. Bailey’s actions are a leap of faith; he has to leave his home to chase after an unknown goal. When he follows the reveurs, he has no idea what it means to join the circus and has no assurance that he’ll actually find it. In the end, Celia tells Bailey that she doesn’t know what will happen when ownership of the circus is transferred to him. In order to take control of our futures, we must also be willing to sacrifice safety/security and step into the unknown. Free will and an uncertain future come hand in hand.

While I think this a deep and nuanced commentary on free will, there are some problems with this analysis. There are cultural and social factors that can’t be so easily shrugged off. Even if someone wants to be like Bailey, and abandon their past, they can’t (immediately) change how other people view and treat them. It’s one thing to forget your personal history – it’s another thing to make everyone else forget it too.



A review of Melville’s writing and language in Pierre (2 stars out of 5)

Melville’s writing in Pierre is like the rambling of a small child. Sentences run off in bouts of senseless drivel, meaning obscures itself in language reminiscent of third grade thesaurus abuse, and uninteresting points repeat themselves over and over again. The long and winding sentences made me constantly lose focus. Here are some selected examples that really grind my gears:

“And now, by irresistible intuitions, all that had been inexplicably mysterious to him in the portrait, and all that had been inexplicably familiar in the face, most magically these now coincided; the merriness of the one not inharmonious with the mournfulness of the other, but by some ineffable correlativeness, they reciprocally identified each other, and, as it were, melted into each other, and thus interpenetratingly uniting, presented lineaments of an added supernaturalness.” (IV, V)

“laterally obstructed by insinuated misgivings as to the ultimate utilitarian advisability of the enthusiast resolution that was his” (VI, I)


While often they are overbearing and nonsensical, children sometimes possess a powerful simplicity. They can cut through the crap, and deliver often-overlooked ideas. For example, Hold On by Tom Waits is inspired by this line from his young daughter: “But it’s so hard to dance that way / When it’s cold and there’s no music.” Similarly, Melville sometimes provides direct and meaningful messages with simple language. Here are a few examples of my favorite lines in Pierre:

“For, whatever some lovers may sometimes say, love does not always abhor a secret, as nature is said to abhor a vacuum. Love is built upon secrets, as lovely Venice upon invisible and incorruptible piles in the sea” (IV, IV)

“then Pierre’s enthusiastic heart sunk in and in, and caved clean away in him, as he so poignantly felt his first feeling of the dreary heart-vacancies of the conventional life” (V, I)

“while vaguely to his secret self Pierre revolved these strange revealings; but now he was all attention again as Isabel resumed.” (VIII, IV)

^(I really just like the alliteration here)

“For there is no faith, and no stoicism, and no philosophy, that a mortal man can possibly evoke, which will stand the final test of a real impassioned onset of Life and Passion upon him… For Faith and philosophy are air, but events are brass. Amidst his gray philosophizings, Life breaks upon a man like a morning.” (XXI, II)

The love deep as death—what mean those five words, but that such love can not live, and be continually remembering that the loved one is no more?” (XXIII, I)


I loved Pierre and I hated it. I wished Melville wrote less ambiguously and more directly. Underneath the grotesque word choice and lengthy incoherence, there were a few meaningful and inspiring ideas.