31 December 2010

Meme: My Life in Books and some Statistics

I don't normally participate in memes, but I liked this one and I figured people might just be interested in some stats...so that'll follow too.  Oh yeah, this was ganked from Lizzy's Literary Life.  Some of the books on the list may not be from the blog, because I started it in March, so keep that in mind.  I'll go ahead and link to my blog posts or reviews where available if you want to revisit them.

My Life in Books 2010.
Answer the following questions using only books read in 2010. Do not repeat your answers.

* If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Planet of the Apes
* Your favorite form of transportation: Leviathan (note, my first car was named Ahab from Moby Dick)
* Your best friend is: Binky the Space Cat (not posted yet, review on Goodreads)
* You and your friends are: Packing for Mars
* What’s the weather like: Murder on Ice
* Favorite time of day: Night
* If your life was a: Fluke by Christopher Moore (sorry, no review or post, it was a great book though!)
* What is life to you: A History of Ghosts
* Your fear: (Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents
* What is the best advice you have to give: Everybody Marries the Wrong Person
* Thought for the Day: I Know I am But What Are You?
* How I would like to die: Smoke and Mirrors (note: there are a lot of posts for this one since it's a short story collection)
* My soul’s present condition: Obscene in the Extreme

Numbers, they are crunchy 
 Total Read: 136
(These include books I read this year, but did not blog about)

Review Ratings
19 didn't like it
28 didn't like itit was ok
43 didn't like itit was okliked it
32 didn't like itit was okliked itreally liked it
14 didn't like itit was okliked itreally liked itit was amazing (my current rating)
Audio Book: 11
eBook: 2
Print: 123

ALA 2010: 12
Publisher/Author: 5
Goodreads: 7
Forgotten Bookmarks: 6
Borrowed: 2
Library: 104
Bought: 0, yeah, I spent $0 on books this year...no, I take it back, I spent $5.00 on books this year because I bought a nice copy of The Scarlet Letter.  I just haven't read it this year.

Male to Female Ratio, plus editor for short story collections
Male: 75
Female: 60
Editor: 1

Books in Series, Monographs, and Collections
Series: 28
Monographs: 105
Collections: 3

2010 Favorites (linked to blog where available, otherwise Goodreads*)
Non-fiction: At Home, The Meaning of Wife, The History of White People, and Packing for Mars
Fiction: Fahrenheit 451, Little Women and Werewolves, Elantris*, Firmin, and Planet of the Apes
Series: His Dark Materials, The Hunger Games, Soulless (aka The Parasol Protectorate). Note: series linked by author tag.

Day 279: At Home

At Home: A Short History of Private Life.  ISBN: 9780767919388 (ARC - published October 5, 2010).

There was another chapter earlier in this book that discussed why salt and pepper, of all the spices, were the ones we kept on our tables.  The answer is pretty simple: they're the spices that displayed wealth in the old days  Why we still keep those two instead of others is probably a different question, and not one that Bryson seems to have answered.  If he did, I was distracted by all the other fascinating details and information he was cramming into this book (in a good way; this book does a lot of work for its "mere" 400 pages).

Although I do like salt and pepper, I would have to say that the two I am most attached to are garlic and red pepper flakes or hot sauce.  I'm a bit of a hothead.  I often tell people that if I'm not crying at the end of the meal, then it didn't do it's job.  This is less true of meals that aren't supposed to be hot, but I rather like the feeling a mouth full of fire gives me.  I have pretty much always been partial to garlic, to the point where I made sure I had some with me at all times throughout my undergraduate career.

Yes, that's right.  I carried garlic powder around with me in my backpack at Antioch College.  In fact, it came in use several times in class because I find the smell of garlic powder very calming and there were some Dudes who had a tendency to say very stupid things.  Also, hippies sometimes smell bad.  At the very least, the food at Antioch sometimes tended to be a little, uh, lacking in flavor.  This is kind of the nature of cafeteria food, and food in general in the Midwest.  It's a fact.  You just try finding food even remotely spicy in this region.  The garlic powder was very useful in turning a somewhat flavorless meal into something more palatable.  Of course the cafeteria provided garlic powder as well, but by keeping my own I ensured its freshness, quality, and immediate availability.

This was also the time I started drinking tea.  Because I tend to be picky about new foods/beverages I made sure I always had tea I would drink by bringing my own into the cafeteria.  Some people carry around pharmacies in their bags, I carry around an emergency food prep kit.  This is the way of the fatkid.

I have become increasingly more fond of red pepper flakes as my roommate uses them frequently (mostly on pizza).  They certainly add a very wonderful flavor to most foods.  I imagine if I had to make up another food doctoring kit, that red pepper flakes would probably be included.  What about you, my spicy readers, what would you want included in your food doctoring kit?  Are there spices you are particularly attached to?  Ones that you avoid like the plague?  I'm not fond of cilantro or anything related to it, myself.  Please, share, let's make a meal of it!

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: This ARC was received from a publishers booth at ALA 2010.

30 December 2010

Day 278: At Home

At Home: A Short History of Private Life.  ISBN: 9780767919388 (ARC - published October 5, 2010).

There is a whole section devoted to dress for the Dressing Room Chapter and how fashion has not only been ridiculous but lead to serious illnesses and even death.  My fiance does not get fashion.  He is not capable of snappy dressing on his own and is only just presentable when his mother and I help him dress up (some of this is due to inability to afford nice clothes/not enough effort put into thrift store shopping).  At one point I was talking to him about what care of dress expresses to potential employers and how a very outdated suit or dressing habits would send the wrong signals.  His response was to get flustered and say in a raised voice, "Well that's just stupid."

Well, yes.  It is stupid.  Fashion is a completely arbitrary set of rules, usually dictated by people of wealth or power, or at the very least publicity whoredom.  On the other hand, dressing allows us to express ourselves in a certain way.  Without fashion, that expression would actually have less meaning.  There are different fashions for different subsets of people, and by donning one over another we tell people, "I am more comfortable associating myself with this than with that."  Of course it also means that people will judge us positively or negatively based on how we are dressed and their associations of other people wearing those clothes.  For instance, I still have a very hard time taking anyone seriously who wears baggy jeans anywhere below their waist.  Also, low rise jeans are tacky, no one wants to see your ass crack/thong combo.

Basically, as ridiculous and unnecessary as fashion seems, it does have its place in our society.  And of course there are ways around the dictates of fashion by buying clothes that have classical lines.  If people are careful with their dress clothes purchases, they should be able to wear the same suit for at least 10 years before it needs replacing, and that's really only because in 10 years your body shape will change enough that at the very least the suit ought to be taken in for an alteration.  In the meantime, you may need to buy a new tie or dress shirt to keep up with current trends in collars/buttons/colors/decollete.

However, looking good is always in fashion, and if you and your friends think you look good in something, by all means keep wearing it.  And I do recommend getting the opinion of honest friends, because we all form attachments to clothes and just because you think it looks good, doesn't mean that your friends aren't going to gasp in shock and horror for wearing that terrible shoulder-padded sequined number to the New Year's Eve Party.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: This ARC was received from a publishers booth at ALA 2010.
EditorNote: Fashion is still stupid. :P

29 December 2010

Day 277: At Home

At Home: A Short History of Private Life.  ISBN: 9780767919388 (ARC - published October 5, 2010).

 So I was recently rejected for yet another job after having a really good in-person interview.  Unfortunately I lost out to a candidate that had 15 years of experience.  This is something that I cannot compete with.  I can be the smartest, most easy going, most adaptable and capable person and may even be a better fit for the job, but a company, or in this case organization, would be foolish to pass on 15 years of experience.  And this is why I will lose over and over again.

Which leads me to talking about being homeless, at least in the sense that I have nowhere to really call "home."  I currently spend my time bouncing back and forth between my roommate's, who is allowing me to stay with her pretty much free of charge, and my in-laws-to-be's, who can't really afford to support a fifth person and don't have the room to do so anyway.  I don't think my roommate ever thought I would be unemployed for so long, and certainly no one else in my family has either.  So here I am, essentially homeless, although not shelterless.

Really, being jobless right now wouldn't be so terrible if I could still support myself.  If I were able to contribute to my room mate's household more (I do drive her places, try to help clean up, etc.) or even have a place on my own I actually think I would be more productive with my job searching and emotional well being.  Unfortunately because I don't have a place that I can really feel 100% comfortable there are compounded feelings of guilt associated with not having a job.  Not only am I worthless because all I do all day is file paperwork for free in the hopes that someone will select me of all the other schmucks filing paperwork to do the same thing for money, but also because I feel I am an endless drain and burden on the people I care most about.

In the meantime, I'm in a situation that I don't much care for.  As much as I love my room mate and would gladly live with her in more traditional arrangements, I feel that I don't really have the right to be here.  I can't bring in any of my furniture or decorate, or rearrange things, or properly run around naked whenever the hell I want.  One of the things that got me really excited when I got call backs from jobs in the beginning was looking for apartments in the area.  I loved thinking about what I could afford and what new furniture I would buy, how I would set up the office/guest room area and the bedroom.

I have been desperate to set up my own home and really settle down.  Not necessarily forever, but at least for the next five years.  Instead, here I am, almost 26 and I have no idea if tomorrow my room mate will say, "You know what, you've been here long enough and I think you need to leave now."  And if she did say that, I would agree with her, because really, I have been here too long, and I have not felt at home anywhere in over two years.

I haven't quite finished this yet, but you can find a good review on Goodreads from one of my guest bloggers, Marybeth Cieplinski.
LibsNote: This ARC was received from a publishers booth at ALA 2010.

28 December 2010

Day 276: Dan Walker (guest blogger)

Watchmen by Alan Moore.  ISBN: 9780930289232.

I picked up on a subtext while reading this through.  In Alan Moore's vision of 1985, World War Three is a specter hanging over everyone's shoulder, and once Russia invades Afghanistan, the shadow of impending armageddon looms heavily over the secondary characters.

It made me wonder how I would handle the end of the world.  Living where I do, it's very unlikely that I'd be hit by an atomic bomb, unless they were being dropped willy-nilly: Cleveland is too far away and Akron really doesn't need to be bombed.  I mean, just look at it.  But fallout, nuclear winds, or nuclear winter would eventually rear their ugly heads and I'd be up shit creek.

So how to take it?  I've always thought that if I knew it was coming, I'd just try and get out and do everything I could before the final curtain call: have sex, eat stuff, go places, see things.  Heck, travelling like that could potentially take me outside a blast radius, to somewhere relatively unaffected by whatever force is currently destroying civilization.

On the other hand, I'd like to think that I'd be one of those people who would knuckle down and prepare for a long haul underground.  By the time the bombs dropped, it would no doubt be too late, but hey, I used to belong to an apocalypse cult, kind of.  But that's a story for another time.

...Or maybe right now.

My friends and I, during my senior year of high school, were obsessed with World of Darkness roleplaying games, the kind that make you run around outside with your arms crossed over your chest shouting words like "Obfuscation!" and "Celerity!" at people desperately clutching their wrists.  Anyway, when other teens were fussing over social status and whether their zits were coming back for prom, we were forming a werewolf pack, which gave a structure to our Big Plan.  One of my friends had had a vision of impending doom that would "change the world as we know it" (we later thought it pertained to 9/11, but hindsight always validates augury), and his plan was to squirrel away books about farming and other knowledge that would be useful in rebuilding a society.  We were going to get in shape and learn all kinds of skills and... whatever, it never worked out and the apocalypse didn't happen until we were out of school anyway.

The point is, that kind of thinking, plus a mile-deep concrete bunker and some seeds and canned food, is all you really need.  That's resourcefulness.  It's also the kind of thing that you pretty much have to be a paranoid conspiracy nut to prepare in time for Ragnarok.  But it's not like the world is gonna end any time soon, right? 

Dan Walker (pseudonym) is a writer from Northeast Ohio, who would be teaching ESL if he wasn't unemployed temporarily working at a bookstore. He received a BA in Creative Writing from Wright State University in 2004 and a Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language from Kent State University in 2009. He will make some lucky librarian a wonderful husband someday. 

LibsNote: Post originally written on October 7, 2010 so the regular author could slog through Bill Bryson's At Home.

27 December 2010

Day 275: Lament

Lament by Maggie Stiefvater.  ISBN: 9780738713700.

Oh boy, more relationship fucked-uppery.  I get to dissect yet another wrongheaded idea about relationships.  Why are these all written by women? Why do some of the worst examples of relationships come from young women?  This is just one of the things I had issue with in Lament.  It's kind of a biggie though.

Luke is talking to Deirdre and she mentions that James (her best friend) is jealous.  Luke's response is that James had "plenty of chances, he blew it" and something along the lines of 'I love you more, anyway.'

I'm sorry, I take offense to that. Afterall, James is the one who has behaved like a gentleman throughout this entire book.  Just because James didn't tell Deirdre he loved her within the first week of meeting her, does not mean that he doesn't love her or that he loves her less than Luke.  All it means is that James actually took time to develop a relationship with Deirdre, rather than rushing her into doing anything physical and getting hormones confused with emotions.

And for teenagers there are many reasons not to reveal affections.  Might it be possible that James didn't want to tell Deirdre because he preferred to maintain their friendship over having a "chance" at being in a romantic relationship with her?  Gee, which of these two guys sounds more mature?  And why is the more mature one sneered at by the older (granted soulless) guy?  I'm sure Luke didn't do a whole lot of dating while doing the bidding of his fairy mistress, but you would think he would learn something through observation at least.

I'm sort of confused as to why Deirdre didn't at least stick up for her friend James when all that sneering was going on.  I think if it was one of my male friends who liked me I would at least remind Luke that my James had some obvious good qualities or else I wouldn't have spent the last five years or so being his friend.  Just brushing off that kind of relationship as no threat just because Deirdre didn't have any romantic interest in James at the moment is prototypical asshole behavior.  It's like saying, "I'm so hot, I can just pop into your life and within a week you will be crawling on your knees and years of friendship cannot compete with my hot, studly body."

I am not saying all of this because I want Deirdre to end up with James.  I think that would be a better relationship for her.  It would be the mature relationship, but Deirdre is obviously not ready for a mature relationship.  Unfortunately she is so immature that she doesn't realize she is playing at a love that will get her hurt.  If I could stand the characters in this story I would consider reading on just to see if I'm proven right.  Unfortunately I feel I've already tortured myself enough.  If someone who's read it already wants to email me the end result of the second book, go ahead.

Honestly, I don't have a problem with stuff like this being written.  I do think there is a problem with not at least addressing some of the issues involved in the kind of relationships presented by these teenage love triangles.  I am going to cringe for saying thing, but for this very reason I think it might actually be a good idea to teach Twilight in schools.  If you open up the discussion about the wrong behavior in these relationships we might get some very intelligent and relationship savvy young women.  Also, copy editing these works might be an enjoyable task for high school students as opposed to the typical grammar exercises.

My review can be found at Goodreads.  I also found Donna's review at Bites to be pretty accurate.
LibsNote: I received a free copy of this book from a publisher's booth at ALA 2010.  Yes, I am still reading through that stack of books.  Also, my fiance wants it noted for the record that the juxtaposition of the knife blade with the title makes it look like "LAME NT".  I kind of have to agree with that assessment, and would do so regardless of whether or not I liked the book.

26 December 2010

Day 274: Lament

Lament by Maggie Stiefvater.  ISBN: 9780738713700.

I got quite a shock from this book, one that I expect I will receive in person someday.  I don't expect to stay in Ohio for the rest of my life, or even in the next five years, so there is a possibility I will have to be exposed to that most horrible of things: fairy minions that want to date me smoking in restaurants.  Yeah, this is set in Virginia, and along with a few other states in the US, they still allow smoking in restaurants apparently (something I tend to forget).

Of all the things that Ohio has done right, banning smoking in bars, restaurants, and hospitals is at the top of the list.  I actually remember this going into effect and being SO FREAKING EXCITED that I could actually sit in a bar a drink a microbrew without worrying about how long it would be before I started having minor breathing problems and had to go home.  And the idea of eating around secondhand smoke is entirely unappealing to me.  This has become true the longer I have been away from my father.

You see, I have a bit of a past with secondhand smoke.  My father smokes cigarettes and was the only adult in my family that smoked around me.  One of the things that made it easier for me not to pick up smoking was the discomfort it always seemed to cause him.  He never looked relaxed when he was smoking, which was so at odds with the cigarette commercials that came on TV at the time.

By the time my parents were separated I was thoroughly addicted to secondhand smoke.  It got so bad that when my father started spending less time at the house I would stare at the pack of cigarettes he left on the table and think about smoking one.  I wanted a cigarette even though I had no desire to become a smoker.  I could even taste it and feel it on my lips.  I had dreams about smoking.  I even had withdrawal symptoms, mostly headaches and dry mouth.  There were times I actually had to go out with smokers and hang around them so my headaches would go away.

I was thirteen when my father left the house.  Ten years later, I am now disgusted by the thought of even being near someone while they smoke.  Sometimes the smell of cigarette smoke on someone's clothes will make me gag.  It still surprises me to see so many people my age and younger who are smoking.  I do believe that taking it out of restaurants is a positive step on our country's health.  There is no reason to expose a large number of people to that kind of thing, and if people really need their after dinner cigarette they can always go out to their cars and smoke.  In the meantime, it means kids see it less often and it is hopefully becoming more abnormal than normal. 

I think it's rather a positive thing that I had to pause while reading Luke's request for the non-smoking section, because even if smoking isn't disappearing, at least its public presence and acceptability is.

My review can be found at Goodreads.  I also found Donna's review at Bites to be pretty accurate.
LibsNote: I received a free copy of this book from a publisher's booth at ALA 2010.  Yes, I am still reading through that stack of books.  Also, my fiance wants it noted for the record that the juxtaposition of the knife blade with the title makes it look like "LAME NT".  I kind of have to agree with that assessment, and would do so regardless of whether or not I liked the book.

25 December 2010

Day 273: Smallworld

Smallworld by Dominic Green.  ISBN: 9780956492531 (eBook).

In Smallworld there is an advanced technology with which you can record your personality or the personality of a loved one.  You can also program the personality of someone who is dead or that you've never met by teaching the handheld device how the supposed person would respond to certain situations.  I've always found this technology a bit hard to swallow.

I'm assuming this technology would rely on an AI unit of some sort, which means it would learn and probably change over time.  Ideally if you had five different Personalities they would be almost completely different people after fifteen years, although they would still have the same base memories and might be able to see why and where the others had changed, etc.  But the fact remains that the longer you use the personalities the less they stay like your loved one and the more they would come to resemble yourself, or at least your perception of your loved one.  The AI would undoubtedly be influenced by whoever uses it the most as it would be able to take fewer cues based on the uploaded personality on things like current events and new scientific discoveries, etc.  Therefore even a relatively "pure" personality download would become corrupted as it imprinted new information.  True, it might not react exactly the same as the person using it, but it would be more prone to go along with the thoughts and ideas it had been exposed to, at least regarding new information.

On the other hand, it would be super awesome to be able to talk to the personalities of celebrities I will never have the opportunity to meet.  I would love to carry Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett or Octavia E. Butler around in my head.  I would die with joy to be able to sit down and talk with my grandfather or grandmother again, to have some little piece of semi-life and wisdom left of them.  Although I'm actually more interested in meeting the people I never have a hope of meeting, so as much as I would like to have my grandparents around to tell me all the family history I'll never know, there would be that niggling thought in the back of my head telling me "it's not them," which would only make me miss them more.

I have no real desire to leave my own personality behind.  It's just not something I'm interested in doing.  I have dozens of journals and that should provide you with enough information to guess and ponder over who I am and was.  I have these blog posts which give you a very good idea of what I think about and how.  By now you probably have a good grasp on my sense of humor and sensibilities.  And I don't like the idea of "my" personality out there roaming around without me.  It would get into trouble and say things it shouldn't.  If anyone is going to do that, it ought to be me so I can at least own up to them and try to fix whatever problems arise from my big dumb mouth.

You know what hell would be?  Sitting in a room trying to talk to two or three of my personalities.  Oh god, someone could write a torture scene about that.  I would actually very much worry about someone who would find that scenario appealing.  I would hate it, because then I would find out exactly how argumentative and uninteresting I can actually be.

Merry Christmas, may you never be stuck in a room talking to yourself over the holiday.  Love, LibsLIB.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: I was contacted by the publisher and asked to review this book in exchange for a digital copy.  However, that digital copy is currently available (as of this posting) for free download from Fingerpress.  If you want to know more about the company, I also conducted an interview with the founder Matt Stephens.

24 December 2010

Day 272: Smallworld

Smallworld by Dominic Green.  ISBN: 9780956492531 (eBook).

Mount Ararat is a tiny, tiny planetoid with roughly 20km of livable surface.  The only ones left alive from the 60-something settlers that originally arrive on the planet is the Born-in-Jesus family, their adopted children, and the hermit known as Uncle Anchorite and his service bot.  The Born-in-Jesuses have quite the large family, between their natural fecundity and the unfortunate death of most of the adult population.  Let's just say there are a lot of "kids say the darnedest things" moments sprinkled throughout this work.

One of my favorite lines was between one of the younger children when she declares she has an invisible friend named Beezlebub.  When asked what the friend looks like she responds with, "Nothing, he's invisible."  Other than the fact that some people out there are severely worried for this fictional child's fictional soul, this is hilarious and one of the things I will miss out on by not having overly precocious children of my own.  And invisible friends are definitely one of those strange and wonderful phenomena that I think I would enjoy observing in my own children (at least up until the age of about 11, at which point I would become worried).

I don't think I ever had the opportunity to have an invisible friend.  This was mostly prevented by having a twin.  About the time he stopped being a playmate and more of a pain-in-my-ass, I learned to read and did so voraciously.  Not only did this method provide me with hours of entertainment, it also allowed me to spend lots of time in my room alone without my family worrying about my social development.  I did Pretend a lot.  Oh god, this is going to be one of those posts where I embarrass myself...yeah.  So... one of the main things I used to Pretend, especially in the car, is that I was part of a Family Matters/Full House-style sitcom intro.  And omg, shut up, I know for a fact that I am not the only one who did this. Sitcoms were hella popular in the 1980's and 1990's.  We all wanted to be that kid on the Wonder Years or Boy Meets World and supposedly be set for life.  I know I wanted my parents to pay as much attention to me as they did those kids on TV for a full uninterrupted thirty minute segment.  Although the amount of time that sitcom-parents spent with their sitcom-kids in non-TV-watching scenarios would have been even more preferable.

In other cases I spent my time Pretending to be an explorer of some type.  I did a lot of digging and looking for rocks.  It wasn't particularly physical, but it did involve a lot of walking and looking at nature, such as there was on an Air Force Base.  I often created games in my head, some that led more towards profit than not, such as, "How many trash bags of cans can I pick up and take to the recycling center?"  But for the most part I never invented a friend for myself.  It probably would have helped me with the loneliness in some ways, but after the first couple of moves and finding out that I would never be anyone's best friend, I didn't really want to be around people at all.  Books were a good way of having an "invisible" friend that I wasn't judged for, and if something bad happened to one of my favorite friends I could flip back to the beginning of the book and start reading all over again.

What about you, reader?  Did you have an invisible friend or did you rely on some other method?  What was your invisible friend like?

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: I was contacted by the publisher and asked to review this book in exchange for a digital copy.  However, that digital copy is currently available (as of this posting) for free download from Fingerpress.  If you want to know more about the company, I also conducted an interview with the founder Matt Stephens.

23 December 2010

Day 271: Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl

Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl by Daniel Pinkwater.  ISBN: 9780547223247 (ARC - published June 7, 2010).
"Sometimes as you go from one place to another, step into a room or out a door, you suddenly get a mental picture of how you might appear to someone seeing you for the first time." Page 29 (published copy consulted).
There are some days where I really want to know how I appear to other people, and other days where I know I'm better off not knowing.  On some level I already know how I appear to other people: I'm a fat woman, dressed in shabby, but clean jeans and t-shirt.  What goes from there depends on the day.  Most days I'm in a fairly good mood so people probably have a better opinion of me on those days than others.  It is easier to have a positive opinion of someone who already seems to have a positive opinion of themselves.  It's almost unfortunate that it works out that way since those with negative opinions could probably use the ego boost.

Then of course, there's the company I keep.  I imagine when I go out to the store with my room mate and we buy a cart full of cat food, kitty litter, and health food we probably get some people pegging us as a lesbian couple.  Sure, we fit the stereotype, or at least one of them, but it is interesting to me that people could perceive of me as something I'm not, even though I'm guilty of doing the same thing.  Somehow I don't think our world would be any better if we knew how we appeared to other people.  Look at the people who have approval ratings and magazine articles about them.  They aren't particularly well adjusted or happy people for the most part.  I think maybe I'd rather wonder how I appear to others, than to actually know.

My review can be found at Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free ARC was obtained at ALA 2010 from publisher's booth.

22 December 2010

Day 270: Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl

Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl by Daniel Pinkwater.  ISBN: 9780547223247 (ARC - published June 7, 2010).

There are a lot of heavy duty concepts in this little YA book.  I think most authors probably wouldn't even have attempted to write this for fear of being unable to explain something like alternate planes of existence to a 10 year old.  Pinkwater not only manages this perfectly, but he does it in a way that is easily digestible and interesting.  Nor does he over explain it.  He gives us just enough information for the sake of the story and then moves on.

I have to say, I respect the hell out of someone who can do that.  Especially since he also introduces the theory of relativity, destiny, and existentialism into the mix.  As someone who has been exposed to these topics and spent a bit of time pondering them, I doubt that there is a better age than 10 to expose people to these concepts.  Who else but a 10 year old would be able to accurately picture multiple planes of existence present all at once and yet undetectable on our current plane of existence?

Really. We might actually advance these theories and produce some very fine and imaginative minds if we could introduce these concepts to people sooner.  Why wait until college level when we're already on the way to cementing our brains into neural pathways of "Conceivable" and "Inconceivable?"  Maybe if we threw concepts like this at people young enough their brains would stay elastic for longer, or at the very least be able to stretch further than those of the current generation of thinkers.

Adults aren't incapable of doing this kind of thinking, but we can't do it with the same amount of ease and freakish inspiration that young people seem to have unadulterated access to.  It's almost too bad we can't cram more information into those brains, that our current advanced sciences pretty much require decades worth of study, because if we could set those young minds on our problems I bet they would come up with some pretty fantastic solutions.  And why don't we allow these young people to solve problems?

Why do we ignore the better part of our society's brain power just because of their age?  You never know, the best idea that ever happened probably happened in the brain of an 8 year old and was lost because mommy and daddy were too busy discussing bills to encourage little Johnny or Jill to actually go out and build a battery that runs on brussels sprouts and sunshine.  And looking at the political leaders of today, I can't help but wonder if maybe it would be better to have our country run by 10 year olds.  At least then we would have an excuse for all the petty bickering, although somehow I get the feeling the Zadroga Bill would have passed much quicker under a much, much younger Senate.

My review can be found at Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free ARC was obtained at ALA 2010 from publisher's booth.

21 December 2010

Day 269: Matt Stephens of Fingerpress (interview)

Mr. Stephens contacted me in early December to announce the creation of his new publishing house Fingerpress, along with several titles he thought I might be interested in.  I thought I would take the chance to interview him, because how often is a new publishing press created?  The interview was conducted over e-mail due to the Ohio-England time difference and busy schedules.  Minor changes were made, but for the most part the interview is left intact.

A bit of background information about Matt Stephens:
I've written some non-fiction (IT) books published by Apress, NY, as my main background is in software development. One of these books (Extreme Programming Refactored) is highly satirical in nature, and caused quite a stir as it set out to slaughter a "sacred cow" in the programming world. I think it had a beneficial effect on the IT industry, as it caused people to question the snake oil that the "fashionable software gurus" at the time were selling.

That said, I'm passionate about both reading fiction and writing. Writing and programming have always been these two opposing disciplines in my life, competing for my time. Authoring the IT books was a way to bring the two disciplines together, so they could become complementary.

The decision to start Fingerpress began as a nagging thought in the back of my mind: as soon as I realised that it was possible, I almost had no choice in the matter. I wanted to start a nimble, agile publishing company that will take full advantage of the online world for marketing and distribution, and of course for engaging with the reading community. It's a business partnership with my wife Michelle, which so far has worked really well. Michelle's chief role is as Acquisitions Editor, sifting through the slush pile and picking out the most promising manuscripts - the ones that hit the right balance between originality, readability and (hopefully) having that commercial edge.

I still do IT consultancy and run training courses in software design, partly to pay the bills but also because it's my "other passion". You'll see that we're publishing IT books in addition to the fiction.

The Interview
LibsLIB: You started this press as an individual, how have you financed this endeavor and have you come across any difficulties while starting up Fingerpress?
Matt Stephens: With my partner Michelle, we've really started Fingerpress on a shoestring budget, financing it from our own pockets. It's been an interesting exercise in finding cost-effective ways of producing and marketing books. I like to think that we're a progressive company with a focus on connected, on-line marketing (e.g. our new Facebook page). But you could also take the viewpoint that we're using Internet marketing because it's the cheapest way to do it. Either view is fine by me, though!

LibsLIB: Where did the name Fingerpress come from?
MS: Just a play on "book press" and fingers. It seemed apt, as fingers are kind of essential to hold a book and turn the pages when you're reading (whether it's a print book or an ebook). They're like an invisible tool; we forget about them so easily when we disappear into a book's world, and yet it's the fingers that are holding that world while we read.

LibsLIB: You currently have four fiction works and one IT book, do you have a favorite? Why?
MS: They're all my favourite! Of course I have to say that, but if I had to choose one, it would probably be Dominic Green's Smallworld, as I'm a massive science fiction fan. Dominic's something of a hit in the short story world, but his novel was languishing undiscovered on his website. I contacted him, because I was looking for something that stood out from the mountain of submissions we were receiving. The book reminds me of something by Douglas Adams or Stanislaw Lem, even; but it also has its own originality.

Our "mainstream" books were selected by Michelle, and I became closely involved in the manuscript editing process. The Cyclist really opened my eyes to the kinds of dilemmas that went on during World War II. This French assistant Chief of Police is harbouring a young Jewish girl, the same age as his own daughter; and everything's fine (if a little precarious) until he decides he wants to bring a German officer to justice for assaulting and murdering a young woman. At that stage he's putting the lives of his own family at risk, in the name of justice. It sounds heavy, but it's also a fast-paced read; real war-time adventure.

And then Maria's Melody was written by this incredible woman who grew up in post-war North Germany but now lives in a remote part of Scotland. It's a memoir of her impoverished childhood as part of an outcast family, with an alcoholic father who would beat the children senseless, and an adulterous mother who was also prone to violent outbursts. But what really makes the book is how the children just accept their lot and get on with being children; they find happiness despite these quite awful grown-ups. I found the book to be a very rewarding to read; and editing it brought me that much closer to the story, of course.

LibsLIB: I noticed that you plan to make your sci-fi title Smallworld available for free on eReader, are there plans do to this with other titles?
MS: We'll be watching Smallworld closely to see if giving it away for free generates book sales. It certainly worked for the likes of Cory Doctorow; the theory is that an order of magnitude more people discover the book than would have otherwise, as it's freely available, and we encourage people to forward the ebook around. As long as a certain percentage of those people then buy the print book, then it's working.

So we're holding off from doing the same with our other books, until we see what happens with Smallworld.

LibsLIB: Was this a decision on your part, or the author's, and why?
MS: I was keen to see if giving a book away could actually make money. I suggested it to Dominic [the author], who (to my pleasant surprise) really liked the idea.

LibsLIB: Are there any upcoming titles we should be aware of, that you are excited about?
MS: The next novel lined up is Magic And Grace by Chad Hautmann, who was previously published by Penguin Books. It's almost a romance, but written with a contemporary wit; the style is reminiscent of Douglas Coupland, all wrapped up in a sunny Florida setting.

We also have - unannounced, so this is something of an exclusive! - the start of a fantasy trilogy for the Young Adult market, Colandra's Quest. A bus explosion catapults a man to the Celestial Hall. When the guardians realise their mistake, he is returned to Earth, but in returning with his body, he uncovers a demonic plot to take over the Universe. So there's intrigue and existentialism, with plenty of action and supernatural interventions. I'm actually really excited about this series.

LibsLIB: What kind of editing process do the books undergo through your press?
MS: We have an "in-house" copy editor based on Vancouver Island who gives each book an initial once-over. After that I do an in-depth edit, which might involve asking the author to make structural changes to improve pacing, character development etc. Then it's back to the copy-editor for a final pass, and then everyone scans the galley proofs for typos and layout errors. We also ask several people to "test-read" each book at various stages, and give their feedback.

LibsLIB: Who is your editor? What kind of works are they looking for?
MS: At the moment we're closed for submissions. We have plenty enough titles lined up for the next year or two, at least! But when we re-open the gates, Michelle (who does most of the acquisitions) will be looking to fill out each of the "lines" we've established: contemporary romance, historical/wartime drama, science fiction and fantasy. I'm also on the lookout to publish something that combines horror with steampunk, but it'll have to be highly innovative with top-notch writing.

LibsLIB: In our previous conversations, you mentioned a large number of submissions, do you have a number? And within what time frame did you receive said submissions?
MS: We were receiving 30 or 40 submissions a week, over a couple of months. There was some excellent material that we sadly had to turn away, just because of the sheer volume of submissions. But the other 98%... everyone seems to feel that it's their right to be published, which strikes me as odd; novel writing is a discipline that takes years to master. Not everyone feels it's their right to have their paintings hung in the Guggenheim, for example.

LibsLIB: As a small press, what do you offer readers that the larger presses don't?
MS: We're providing a showcase for talented writers who otherwise might not have had the break they deserved. We're also publishing established writers (Chad Hautmann and Dominic Green, for example). So really, we're all about the writing; good reads, with a sharp edge.

LibsNote: Look for posts about Smallworld soon.  In the meantime, go get your free digital copy from Fingerpress.  Available in ePub and PDF formats.

20 December 2010

Day 268: a general update

Hello friends,

It's been quite the adventure lately with the house sitting and the snow and things.  I've been doing a lot of reading.  This post means I've finished about a third of the books I brought with me on this trip.  Most of those were from my Forgotten Bookmarks win.  This next batch is mostly from ALA.  Yes, I'm still working through my ALA 2010 books.  It is insanity.  I think if I manage to read through all of my stash before I head back to Bowling Green, I'll treat myself to Justin Cronin's The Passage on my Nook.  I've been wanting to read that one for awhile and I'm itching to read something that has received rave reviews that I can also spend a good deal of time with.  If this happens, expect to see a number of guest posts while I plow through the 800 pages of vampire fun.  On with the reading list!

Smallworld by Dominic Green.
This was offered to me by Fingerpress.  I haven't read any good sci-fi in awhile and I'm interested to see what someone who normally works in short fiction does with the extra pages.  I also snagged an interview with the founder of Fingerpress, Matt Stephens, so look for that too.

Lament by Magie Stiefvater.
She's popular.  And the book was free at ALA.  The cover is quite fetching, so I grabbed it.  I haven't read Shiver, etc. yet.  If I like this one I may track them down.  I'm nervous that the fairy aspect will just come off as silly, but there are some authors who can make compelling fairy tales that aren't childish.  Unfortunately the top one that comes to mind is Shakespeare...  Okay, I just made myself more nervous.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson.
Another ALA.  This one is actually an ARC that I am late in reviewing.  I lent it to my someday-to-be mother-in-law and she got it back to me right before I started NaNoWriMo.  There was no way I would be able to finish a 300-page non-fiction and give it the attention it deserve with the NaNo-crazies.  So I'm reading it now, and it's late.  But I'm not under contract with the publishers, so there.  Mom loved it, by the way.

Murder Out of Wedlock by Hugh Pentecost
This is part of the Forgotten Bookmarks win.  I actually wasn't going to read this one since I wasn't entirely impressed with Pentecost.  The writing wasn't terrible though, and I'm in a freakin' blizzard.  I will read what I can.  Also seems a shame not to read a free book.  So lonely, so neglected.  I get the feeling I will be raging on this one almost as bad as Murder on Ice.  I'm glad most of my reads are from ALA this time.

Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl by Daniel Manus Pinkwater.
I can't recall ever having read any Pinkwater before.  I have a sneaking suspicion I will enjoy his sense of humor.  It might have something to do with the fact that he likes poking the catalogers.  "Pinkwater varies his name slightly between books ... allegedly, he claims that he does this in order to annoy the librarians who have to catalogue his books."(source)  What can I say, I think every librarian needs to be poked now and again.

The Clearing by Heather Davis.
This is yet another ALA review copy that is "late".  This one isn't my fault though!  The conference was in June and this was published in April.  It doesn't look very impressive, but I recently read a review from Donna at Bites that made me a little more excited about it.  Hopefully I will enjoy it as much as she did!  The main character and I share a name, which might be kind of weird.

19 December 2010

Day 267: Confessional

Confessional by Jack Higgins.  ISBN: 9780002229173.

Oh what the hey, let's talk about Jesus.  'Tis the season after all.  There is a really wonderful moment between Liam Devlin and Russian pianist Tanya Voroninova that takes place in the Louvre.  It goes something like this:
(referring to El Greco's Christ on a Cross, although may actually refer to Christ on a Cross Adored by Donors)
"I was not raised a Christian," she said.  "I see no savior on the cross, but a great human being in torment, destroyed by little people." 
As someone who does not profess to the Christian faith, I can still admire the suffering, teachings, and life of Christ.  They still hold meaning and value for me, in the same way that the teachings of any religious leader might.  Jesus provides a good example of what it means to be a good human being.  In addition to this, I can respect and love him as a son if God, if not necessarily The Son of God.  For me, that is what the Christmas season represents.

Even with all the seasonal wrapping paper of Santa Claus and Christmas trees and maxing out credit cards, I still mostly see Christmas as a means of celebrating the common humanity we all share.  This is not an easy thing to do most of the time, as some individuals but their needs and rights above others in a way that makes them downright unpleasant to associate with.  Some days, remembering the things that Jesus went through without calling down the wrath of God upon his fellow man is the only thing that keeps me from calling my fist down upon their heads.  This is why I find calling upon Christ in times of need, despite not believing in him as my savior, to be so comforting and powerful.

So to everyone who has wished me a Merry Christmas so far instead of Seasons Greetings/Happy Holidays, thank you, it's pretty much prevented me from raging my poor angry little heart out.  I hope that your Christmas is a good one, and I hope that the days you spent ignoring Hanukkah, Kwanza, and other religious holidays were also good days.  In other words, Happy Holidays, regardless of what you celebrate, because it means I still hope you have a good day for the ones that you don't.

My review can be found on Goodreads.  Well...at least I'm giving attention to books that don't have much.

-I won this book from Forgotten Bookmarks as part of one of their giveaways.  It is not related to publishers, authors, or publishing industry, and I'm under no obligation to provide a review.

18 December 2010

Day 266: Confessional

Confessional by Jack Higgins.  ISBN: 9780002229173.

My fiance and I had a brief discussion on the phone last night about why I dislike mystery novels so much.  Strangely the things I dislike about mystery novels tend to translate better in Fantasy novels, at least as far as my tastes in literature are concerned.  Let's boil down mysteries into the pulpy pulps they are, shall we?  The main elements of a mystery novel, that are also usually present in fantasy:
  • A shadowy organization, usually connected to the government or some other authority figure/powerful group.  
  • An unusually with-it hero or heroine.
  • Some pretty good back-up and/or a friend/sidekick who is only slightly less with-it than previously mentioned hero.
  • A seemingly unsolvable crime/situation to attempt to stop and/or solve.
So...  Why fantasy novels over mysteries?  For me, I think it's because fantasy tends to be less about the plot and more about the character development or world building.  In some fantasy novels the world is even more of a character than the characters. Sci-fi/fantasy geeks will know what I'm talking about.  But with murder mysteries the entire thing is mostly plot driven, and since the plot focuses around a "mystery," the author can't get too deep into the details without giving the entire thing away.  Nowadays people are so used to the twist ending (because it's all been done before), that we get shiny, sparkly action-y stuff like Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code to distract us from the lackluster writing and the fact that Robert Langdon thinks he's hotter stuff than he actually is.

Meanwhile the shadow organizations in fantasy novels have the freedom to be entirely more devious than the shadow organizations set in the "real world."  In fantasy, they can be plotting to overthrow anything from a small village to the entire world to heaven itself.  They are not limited to the simple greed and deviousness of base human desires.  The organizations can also be more complex by adding in elements of magic, special powerful items, dangerous creatures, etc.  And fantasy can get away with it because we've already dispensed our disbelief yay-much, so that it's really not much more of a stretch to believe that the King's jester is actually his bastard child in disguise and is plotting to kill off the legitimate male heir and marry his half-sister in some kind of weird incestuous takeover.*  Meanwhile it is just too hard to swallow the idea that an ex-marine cop of a small town in Canada all on his lonesome is actually capable of rounding up a small group of terrorists who have kidnapped some rich girl involved in a feminist group's protest against beauty pageants.**

Fantastical heroes are just better in fantastical settings because that is where they belong.  Sure, it's great to have a really well informed detective on the case who also happens to be badass at kung fu, but it just doesn't happen all that often in real life, and when you're already throwing in these crazy plots to overthrow the president or assassinate the pope it just makes me want to do this:
I could really be any one of these people in response to murder mystery herp-derp.  I hope this didn't make anyone's browser crash, this is why I don't include .gifs often.
It really is beyond me how there are people who only read murder mysteries.  There are only so many "realistic" plot twists you can use, only so many character types that are believable, and only so many motives you can give your characters or organizations for committing crimes.  Then again I'm sure there are people out there who find fantasy just as redundant and repetitive.

What are your thoughts?  Are you more of a mystery or a fantasy person?  WHY do you like mysteries?  I sincerely want to know.  PS: I recognize I'm currently reading a bunch of very outdated novels, etc.  Can you recommend some newer ones that I might actually like?  Before you start, I've already read Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  It was okay.

*I made this plot up, as far as I know it does not actually exist... but I might be willing to read it.
**A very loose summary of Murder on Ice...which I hated, for many reasons.

My review can be found on Goodreads.  Well...at least I'm giving attention to books that don't have much.

-I won this book from Forgotten Bookmarks as part of one of their giveaways.  It is not related to publishers, authors, or publishing industry, and I'm under no obligation to provide a review.

17 December 2010

Day 265: Kyle B. (guest blogger)

The Four Fingers of Death by Rick Moody.  ISBN: 9780316118910.

While I was not a huge fan of The Four Fingers of Death, there were a few parts that really spoke to me. Moody’s narrator’s wife dies near the beginning of the book from a disease that slowly kills off her lungs. Near the end of her life, she sinks into a haze, while the narrator struggles to describe by saying there was going to be a “last time,” and that had to be important. That segment tore me apart.

I’ve been witness to some “last times,” and I’d like to talk about them a little bit here, thanks the anonymity afforded me by the Internet.

I was always close to my grandmother as a child. The woman believed in me, if there’s any better way to put it. We shared a lot of things, like a love of books and stories, of questioning things and sorting them out, and food. I think I was probably about 13 or so when she passed away after a long struggle with cancer. The night before she died, I was woken up after midnight by a crowd of people coming to our house. My grandmother, in recognizing how close she was, had gotten as much of our family as she could together so we could be together in those last hours, and she wanted to see all of her grandchildren again before she died, especially me. She hugged me with all of her self.

She brought with her a small box of things about her past; it was as if she wanted to rip back the curtain on who she was as a person before any of us were around, before it was too late to be known. The most distinct part of this memory is a moment when she got out a birthday card she had received years before, and asked me to read off her birthdate from it. Whether it was my being sleepy or what, I couldn’t read it, and I couldn’t remember the date offhand. Her face fell hard, and she held me tight against her, asking how we could care about each other so much and I didn’t know her birthdate. I know I apologized and somehow pulled it out a moment later, but I could see she was afraid that even those people who knew her best didn’t know her. She left that night, and I don’t remember what her actual last words were to me – just that bit before. I still have the yearbook and those cards she left for me after she died, and I still think about that night.

I like animals of most all types, but one of my family’s cats had a particular affinity for me. I taught her to sit, to beg, and speak, like a dog, and she would perform none of these tricks for anyone else. She slept on me at night and would wander the house crying if I spent the night elsewhere. As she got older, she developed diseases as animals sometimes do, and none of us were surprised when she started having serious problems in her early teens. After midnight, she didn’t sleep on my bed one night, and we found her crying, laying in the hallway having suffered a stroke of some sort.

My whole family was out there before I was, and when I came in and tried to sit down on the floor with them to see what was going on, she looked up at me. It has never been more apparent to me that an animal is trying to communicate; I am never going to forget how she pled with her eyes for me to do something to take the pain away. This cat scrapped to get her front paws under her and started dragging her helpless lower body toward me, crying the whole time. I swept her into my lap and held her close until she was unconscious. We took her to the vet, and she passed away before there was much else we could have done.

These are irredeemably sad stories, but they’re true “last times.” And last times are always horribly, achingly sad, but I think we need them, and we need to remember them. When we’re sad, we can grapple with the aches of being human and having all our longings in a way that doesn’t make sense when we’re happy. We have a clearer sense of ourselves in compassion, and sympathy makes us stronger people together. In whatever sense it means, these “last times” make us the humans we are.

Kyle B. is some guy you've never heard of, but he's okay with that. He's a writer and journalist (also both a lover and fighter) that graduated from Kent State University a few years ago, with some slight gainful employment since. He loves to read but pretty much puts a new book back on the shelf if a couple of the first words on the jacket are "murder mystery" or "romance."  

*Post originally written October 7, 2010 to allow the regular author to catch up on her own reading and writing...or sleep.

16 December 2010

Day 264: Murder on Ice

Murder on Ice by Ted Wood.  ISBN: 9780684181349.

Knowing that this book was written over 25 years ago, and being able to put it in that context, still makes me want to throw every copy into a wood chipper.  I wouldn't actually do it; somewhere, someone out there might actually be studying misogyny, mascho-ism, and/or homophobia in murder mysteries, and this would be right up their research alley.  By the way, that is a study I might be interested in reading, especially given how large the female readership is for murder mysteries.  I don't understand it either, someone please tell me why mysteries are "fun" to read.

Anyway, at least in 1984 Wood through his character Reid (written in very telling first person) blatantly tells us that he associates feminism with man-hating.  On some level, I have to say he's right.  If feminism is about man-hating, it's about hating a very specific kind of man.  Mostly men who say things like this,
"I might have guessed. Like all good man-haters, Nancy Carmichael had put on blue jeans." 
Or this,
"I also guessed that it wouldn't take long to turn her off her man-hating, she seemed too warm a woman for her lifelong separation from us all."
Or this,
"It wasn't true [that she was still a virgin after being raped], but it was the best thing to say even though just telling her made me feel dirty and unshaven and uncouth.  I felt the old familiar disgust growing within me."
That people ever thought these things about women and in such a confident and uncaring manner should piss everyone off.  It should make everyone hate the man (or woman!) who thought them, or at least be as disgusted as Reid feels talking to the rape victim.  If those passages made you feel a bit like vomiting, or made your blood pressure rise, chances are you are a feminist.  It means that you respect women enough to know that wearing blue jeans in a snowstorm does not mean one hates men; that feminism is not a "phase" that women go through just because a man did something completely horrible to them and they'll forget it in a few weeks, months, years; and/or that no one has the right to blame or judge a rape victim for what happened to him or her.

And I get really angry at people who insist that feminism equals man-hating, because in the long run it really doesn't.  Feminism is about creating the kind of men (and women) that we can feel good about loving.  It is about promoting the idea that women are more than just appliances with vaginas and treating us like the people we are instead of vacuum cleaners that can make a sandwich and perform fellatio.  Sure, we can do all those things, but you can also go fuck yourself with a razor blade.  Just because you can treat a woman like crap, doesn't mean you should, and a feminist knows that treating a woman like a human being with rights, thoughts, and ideas of her own is a good and desirable thing.  For everyone.

*Note, this is the cover for the 1995 version, rather than the 1984 copy I was reading.

My angry, but accurate review can be found on Goodreads.

15 December 2010

Day 263: Murder on Ice

Murder on Ice by Ted Wood.  ISBN: 9780684181349.

For those of you who don't know, I'm currently in Northeast Ohio for ThanksChristmasGiving, and it is snowing.  It is snowing a lot.  About the same level as in this book on the night that Nancy Carmichael is kidnapped from a beauty contest by a feminist group, or is she?  The premise of this book is enough to make me want to talk about the weather and the convoluted plot is twisted in ways that make me want to leave Ted Wood stripped and running naked in the snow, just as he did one of his characters.

So as of the 13th I have been snowed in.  I am currently house sitting for a couple of friends with dogs and cats and chickens.  Those last two require some going outside, with the chickens being the most intensive outdoor caretaking activity.  At some point I will have to make myself shovel the driveway, but since I'm not driving in this weather there doesn't seem to be a point.  Let's just say I'm not looking forward to that and I hope, hope, hope that we get a couple of warm days before my friends get back.

I have to say, I really kind of like taking care of the chickens.  I get a somewhat perverse pleasure from collecting their eggs.  Something along the lines of, "Hah! I have to get out of bed at 7am, but I also get to eat your babies!  Mwahahaha!"  This becomes less pleasant when I have to go out twice a day, once early in the morning to let them out of the hen house, feed them scratch (seeds and such), and give them fresh water, which comes in a 2 gallon canister.  The canister is actually one of the more annoying aspects of taking care of the chickens, especially in winter.  It comes in two parts: the bottom part where the water flows out, and the top part, which keeps the water covered and hopefully free of chicken poop, dirt, whatever.  They still manage to poop in the water (and I've even found feathers inside of the canister, explain that one).

It is a bit of a trick getting the water out without spilling it all over the place, and most likely on myself.  I've found that filling the top part and holding it upside down in a football hold works best until I get it where it needs to go.  Then I flip it around with little to no water splashed over my already snow covered pants.  That's just taking the water out to the chickens.  At night, I go out to put the chickens up for the night, check for eggs (only 1, jerks), give them their shell makin' food, and bring in the water.  Oh, and I check the mail.

On the 13th, it was so flipping cold that the water in the canister froze after I had unplugged the heater it was on and set it in the snow to close the coop door!  I'm sure the metal of the canister facilitated in the cooling process, especially since I set it in the snow, but this was less than two minutes.  Needless to say I am staying inside as much as possible, and my someday-to-be mother-in-law had to pick up my fiance because the roads were just awful and I have a bitty Kia Rio.  On the one hand I feel guilty about making her come out, but on the other hand, I'm not dead by the side of the road (note: neither is she).  I am thankful that I don't have to be anywhere in this weather; to those of you who do, please be careful.  To those of you who don't have this kind of weather and have never experienced it, I have a snow ball or two with your name on it.  It's yellow and about the size of a Volvo. 

*Note, this is the cover for the 1995 version, rather than the 1984 copy I was reading.

My angry, but accurate review can be found on Goodreads.

14 December 2010

Day 262: The Final Judgment

The Final Judgment by Richard North Patterson.  ISBN: 9780679429890.

One of the characters is a draft dodger.  I won't tell you who, because it's a tiny bit of a spoiler and not really relevant to this blog post.  In any case, about ten years ago, when the War on Terrorism started, I considered myself to be a conscientious objector.  After having many, many years to think and reflect on it, that's less true.  But my thoughts are very complicated on this issue, and so we will delve into them here.

I believe less in the widespread violence that a World War, or even a war between countries, brings.  I believe more in personal violence.  I have always backed the idea that if elected leaders want to go pick on another country, they should do it cage match style.  That's right, instead of declaring war and sending everyone over to go die in the trenches, you put two people in a cage and let them have at it.  At the very least they could theoretically elect Champions to take their place, but only if that person is both willing and believes in the cause (their families should be compensated appropriately).  Think of how much money and time we would have saved over the last 10 years.  Think of how much the terrorists could have humiliated our country if they had just defeated our champion.  There's more to gain on both sides through this method.

Even citizens of our own country might have the chance to reckon with the government when they're in the wrong.  All they would need to do is champion their own idea or find someone to champion it for them.  This might not be ideal since inevitably the rich will be able to back the better champions... but I don't see how it's any different from now.  The only difference is rather than backing the best liar or the trickiest dick, we'll be backing the most muscled person we can find and s/he will be the ones literally fighting for our rights.

Having said that, there are some wars where it is worth sending masses of people to their deaths.  I think World War II is one of those that you cannot possibly argue against.  The US Civil War is another one.  Those are wars that relieved mass suffering and where people died in order to improve the lives of future generations.  We learned something from those wars, even if it was only that humans are monsters and there's something worth fighting for.  This is not to say that I don't think terrorism is worth fighting against, but I really don't think that the way we've gone about it has been anywhere near productive.  I know I don't feel any safer, and I have absolutely no desire to travel anymore thanks to the ridiculously invasive "safety" measures being instituted in our airports.

The only thing this war has really done is to make me want to take a page from Bin Laden's book.  And before you misconstrue that, I mean it in the sense of hiding in a cave for the next ten years.

Tomorrow I talk about the snow. OMG, so much snow.

My review can be found on Goodreads.

13 December 2010

Day 261: The Final Judgment

The Final Judgment by Richard North Patterson.  ISBN: 9780679429890.

This is not a particularly unique thought or question to be asked in the book, but perhaps because I've been house sitting for someone in a rural setting it left a greater impression on me.  It wasn't even all that important to the book, but Lib's LIB is about my thoughts and not necessarily what the author thought was interesting.  Poo-poo, author, poo-poo.  

Why do we whisper in the dark?  Most of the predators that we have left to stalk us would hear us anyway, and would be more likely to run away if we were loud than not.  Yet there's still this tendency to lower our voices.  Some of this might be common courtesy, although if you ask my mother-in-law people are abandoning that left and right.  I'm inclined to agree with her, although less with her surmise that it was and is inevitable.  (I at least hope people will eventually get tired of being rude to each other.) 

I don't know about you, but the dark has always been more fascinating to me than the daylight.  There's something about not being able to see the things around me clearly that makes me think differently about them.  Nothing has really changed, except my physical perception, but somehow that is enough.  I usually find myself more creative at night; I get good ideas, even though I'm often too tired to follow them.  Of course, in the daylight those good ideas are sometimes rejected, but I like to think they wouldn't come to me without that change in perception.

I think we whisper in the dark so we don't disturb those ideas.  I know people who are night owls who enjoy their schedule specifically because they know they have all the time in the world to sit and think and truly develop their ideas without interruption.  We also do secret or private things in the dark.  Not that we're limited, but it's easier to find the time to do them when the day is over.  We don't have to worry about sneaking away or being caught or not completing our tasks for the day.  We can do those secret, private things without the extra guilt of having dirty dishes in the sink or stealing time at work.

Maybe we whisper in the dark because we want to keep it the way it's always been: different from the daylight.

My review can be found on Goodreads.

12 December 2010

Day 260: PushBack

PushBack by Alfred Wellnitz.  ISBN: 9781450234320. 

This blog post has been waiting for me all day.  I just don't want to write it.  But this is a Librarian's Life in Books and, because I read it, it gets a spot on the blog.  Damn you project, sometimes you are no good for me.

The nature of this book requires that I give a brief summary before I start going off on a tangent.  So here we go.  In 2033, the world goes to hell in a hand basket because the US dollar crashes (we are not told why) and hyperinflation occurs ($50/gallon of gas).  Eventually the United States divides itself into smaller nations, the main focus of this book being the southern states (mostly Alabama and Georgia) which are now known as the Federated States and are supported by the Russians as part of their bid to expand their energy empire.  The Federated States are basically run by neo-Nazis who institute an Ultimate Solution to wipe out black people, they hate Mexicans and what not too...but apparently they are not as much of a problem...even though they were earlier in the book.

Possibly the scariest tactic used by the Federated States was when John Renner was on a plane with a woman, whom he of course later had sex with.  She confessed to being an unwilling spy for the Federated States.  Apparently they track the movements of their citizens and if their travel plans coincide with suspected terrorists they are given missions to gather information.  The woman Renner met up with either confessed in order to get more information or because she didn't believe in the Federated States's agenda.

Either way this is a mostly effective means of gaining information and controlling a population's movements all while scaring the shit out of them.  If you want to travel you have to be prepared to accept these assignments, if you don't accept the assignment, they will kill you or your family, or at the very least confiscate your property and kick you out of the country.  These made-up people are batshit, they will do that.  But just think, you wouldn't even need a special spy program if you used this method.  If you terrorize your own country people you can get them to do almost anything for you.  Sure, a few may defect, leave the country, mess with the data, but these are the people you would end up killing anyway because they won't get in line, so no real loss there!

Really, this was an ingenious and terrifying idea on Wellnitz's part.  I sort of wish he had run with it a little more instead of only letting it play for a few measly pages.  Maybe I'll have to borrow and alter it for my own use, just to have fun with it and see how it plays out.  I'm giving myself chills over here. I really hope there aren't any countries actually doing this, even on a voluntary basis.  It's just too damned sneaky and I don't think I'd trust any country that asked civilians to spy without training and proper compensation.

*Note: Won free copy as part of Goodreads giveaway.

 My review can be found on Goodreads.
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