29 December 2011

Post 463: The Discovery of Jeanne Baret

The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe by Glynis Ridley. ISBN: 9780307463531.

I'm always impressed when an author manages to make history engaging. Not that history is boring, but it's difficult to write what daily life was like in an interesting manner in order to set up for the more fantastic events that sometimes happen in the lives of individuals. Not only has Ridley accomplished this, but she has also managed to include how and why she interpreted primary documents the way she did.

I think this is something the up-and-coming scholars have trouble with. I know I had difficulty in interpreting historical information when I was working on my undergraduate thesis, but it is also important to realize that historical figures were people first and people always have ulterior motives in how they present themselves and why. This kind of analysis is just as important for interpreting information today. That trusted news source? They're still trying to sell you something, whether it's a subscription to the Sunday newspaper or to hold your interest long enough so that they can charge their advertisers premium prices for airtime. Hell, even I would sell you something if I could figure out how to monetize this blog in a way that would be a) worth the effort and b) not so incredibly annoying as to drive more traffic away than my crazy ideas already do.

I think people sometimes forget that even the most honest and well meaning of human beings are still human beings. We want to believe that our heroes are like the ones in the movies, but the movies are even less realistic than the news, although the line seems to get blurred more and more every day. The truth is not always what is presented to us in whole cloth; a story can easily be edited to give us details we will find inflammatory or mollifying depending on where it has been cut. So for those who think history is boring, I would say it depends on your view of it. While the excitement may not reach National Treasure heights,* for some of us there is still the thrill of the chase as we put on our detective hats to determine motive and opportunity for historical figures altering details of the story and present day historians for presenting them a certain way.

In the case of Baret, there were several persons on the ship who were determined to obscure when her identity as a female was revealed to them. Yet Ridley has sorted it our and given a plausible and likely reason for when Baret's identity was revealed; what it meant for Baret, her crew mates, and the officers on board; and how it affected the rest of her voyage and life. The chance to finally give Baret credit for her botanical and other scientific work must feel a bit like tracking down a surviving relative in order to return a family heirloom. While some of its original meaning may be lost, the story of its return becomes part of the legacy. Although Ridley has taken liberty in imagining how Baret must have felt, I took less issue with this than I would have otherwise because it made real the danger she undertook to accomplish what she did.

My review can be found on Goodreads.**
LibsNote: Review copy provided by publicist.
*Give or take Nicholas Cage's deadpan "acting" style.
**Since this post is fairly reviewy I will be adapting it for my review on Goodreads, just fyi so you don't feel like you're wasting your time if you choose to read both.

26 December 2011

Post 462: That's Disgusting

That's Disgusting by Rachel Herz. ISBN: 978039307647 (eGalley - publishes January 23, 2012).

Interesting choice of cover design, especially if you've read this book and realize what that face subconsciously signals. Strangely, this was not the original cover, which had a cute tiny snail creeping along on top of the black text box. Snails weren't heavily mentioned in the book, but it was a much more appealing cover. Anyway, makes you wonder who vets these and whether Herz had any say in it. Honestly, you can almost smell or imagine whatever it is that made this lady make the "poopy" face.

While I was reading this, I kept thinking about moments where someone else was disgusted and I wasn't. One of the more interesting ones was when I was volunteering for an Air Force closed channel news and media center. During this period, they took footage from an airplane crash. I happened to be in the room eating lunch while they were reviewing the footage. I was casually watching the edits when they realized I was in the room. Not only were they shocked that I was still there, but that I was also chowing down on a chicken sandwich. My tender age of about twelve also shocked them. In any case, I was chased out of the editing room by some very perturbed and squicked adults.

So why wasn't I grossed out enough to at least stop eating while I was watching this footage? Am I morally depraved because I was capable of looking at carnage without being grossed out? Did I "like" this kind of footage or in some way find it appealing?

The answer to the last two questions is no. I did not enjoy watching the footage, but neither did it bother me. For one thing, I was at an age where death did not seem applicable to me. I knew I would die some day, but that day seemed impossibly far away to my twelve year old self. According to Herz, being reminded of how vulnerable we are to death and/or bodily harm is something that can cause disgust. However, the human bodies that I saw on the screen did not look like bodies to me any more than mummies look like human bodies. Certainly there is a resemblance, but there was little recognizably human left to the remains. Had I been able to make out facial features, or had there been a perfectly untouched body part among the charred flesh I may not have been able to stomach the sight.

Finally, I believe my curiosity was raised more than my feelings of disgust. This was the first time I had seen real dead people. This sounds cold and callous on my part, but in some ways this is the reality of human beings. We are interested in things we haven't seen or experienced before, and we are likely to explore them, even at that risk of offending someone else. Had this been a plane full of people I knew, I might have felt differently, but they were all strangers, and there was not much I could offer to them other than prayers and the hope that their wishes regarding burial were both possible and fulfilled.

More recently however, I was exposed to a house that had been hoarded. That thoroughly disgusted me because the exposure was more direct. I felt disgusted being in the house, or even thinking about being in the house. Yet, I can watch an episode of Hoarders with a sort of fascination and only minor triggers of "yuck." It is interesting that things that we would find disgusting when faced with them directly are less disgusting when viewed from a distance or under other circumstances.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Advance Reader Copy provided by Netgalley.

24 December 2011

Post 461: a general update

Two more posts left for the year unless I decide to do a year in review, which I probably won't. Hope everyone is having a happy holiday, whichever holiday that may be. I will be attempting to enjoy it by holing myself up with a book and trying to avoid a mass cleaning of the house, or some other form of familial chaos. Now it's time for books and such.

That's Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion by Rachel Herz.
Finished this one already. Not bad, but a little heavy on the gender studies... which I have trouble accepting as accurate because it's terribly difficult to determine which gender differences are genuine biological or sociological differences. And since we will never be able to ethically raise children in a sociological vacuum it seems we will never have the answer to that question. Still worth reading, but mostly for the first chapter (which primarily talks about cultural foods) and the "harder" scientific information regarding what happens physiologically to our bodies when we are disgusted.

The Discovery of Jeanne Baret by Glynis Ridley.
This was a great book for anyone interested in how historians interpret information and account for any prejudices or ulterior motives in their resources, particularly primary documents. Ridley made this transparent without hindering the narrative of her work in any way. Baret was the first (known) woman (in recorded history) to circumnavigate the globe, particularly in a scientific role. There wasn't quite as much information on Baret's botanical work as I was hoping for, but her biographical details are incredible nonetheless.

The Kitchen as Laboratory: Reflection on the Science of Food and Cooking edited by Cesar Vega, Job Ubbink, and Erik Van der Linden.
I had a chemistry professor who taught a course on cooking as/with chemistry. It was after I was able to take a class with him because I had already chosen my major, but I've always loved the idea. For one thing, teaching chemistry through cooking is likely to make it far more applicable and interesting, and for another... who doesn't like eating? Eating science just makes it 20% cooler.

Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A. S. Byatt.
I am unfamiliar with Byatt's work, so I elected to read it when it showed up on Netgalley. From the description this sounds a bit like Pan's Labyrinth with Norse mythology and Nazis... and as a book instead of a movie. My interest, it is piqued. 

22 December 2011

Post 460: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. ISBN: 9780385340991.

Quite frankly, I think the reason this book was so well received among book bloggers and serial* readers is mainly because it is a love letter to reading. There are several book or reading related quotes that I think most of us would agree with, or at the very least be able to understand. Some examples include,
"Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books." Page 53.

“That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive - all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.” Page 11-12
There are many others you can browse, just look at some that have been cherry picked by Goodreaders.

People who are drawn to reading seem to be attracted to it because of how it makes us feel. It is a means of connecting with people in our distant, but not too-distant, past. The experience of reading has changed little from its inception, and one can easily imagine a past reader having a similar experience or reaction as a present day or future reader. I think this is the overarching reason some people dislike eBooks so much. There is a technological divide and disconnect from our past when we read digital books. Most people in the past couldn't fathom the idea of digital books, much less the issues surrounding them (inability to lend, DRM, etc.) and the people in the future will likely have much better eReaders or technology with which to consume books than I can dream up.

I can understand their concern. Look at another central activity in this book: letter writing. It was more or less the same for ages, now you're lucky if you even get a Christmas card (and even luckier if it wasn't written on the computer). But there are people who still** hang on to letter writing, who enjoy having pen pals or trading art, stamps, and other non e-mail-ables through the post. Paper books are still more accessible, easier, and cheaper to read than their digital counterparts. And of course, they add a touch of romance to the reading experience. Sometimes literally.

Nikki from Vulpes Libris writes a heartwarming review.
LibsNote: Library sale table.
*If you have read at least four books in the past month and are currently in the middle of another, chances are you are a "serial" reader.
**I'm currently looking for pen pals by the way.

19 December 2011

Post 459: Uglies

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. ISBN: 9780689865381.

I could go for the obvious and talk about my feelings regarding "ugliness," but then how will you know I've read the book (you're all judging me aren't you)? But frankly, we could have that discussion more or less anytime, or you could ask me about it in the comments. No really, that's what they're there for.

Instead, a moment in the book that really stuck me was when Tally returned to Uglyville for the first time. She was comparing her situation to that of her friend (and boring, obvious love interest), whose home was destroyed:

"[...] her city still existed, right in front of her eyes--but emptied of everything it had once meant." Page 353.

I don't often get a chance to return to a place I've lived before, but whenever I do it's never quite the same. While I was a student at Antioch, I always looked forward to returning to campus. It was a place I could see old friends and get caught up on what everyone did on co-op, or meet new friends (usually friends of friends). Everyone was easy going about relationships, because it was hard not to be. You never knew who was going to be on campus when you got back, and people avoided changing their co-op schedules because by the time you got done with the approval, you usually wanted to change it back (romantic relationships at Antioch were also somewhat easy going, and who wants to see their ex when they don't have to).

I thought I would always be able to return to that, that the students of every generation would be similar and welcome me, not necessarily as a friend, but as a comrade,* as someone who was likely to have had a similar experience and perhaps had relevant knowledge to their situation. However, even as a recent alumna, with friends still on campus, I discovered that this was not the case. Granted, I found myself returning twice before my graduation ceremony,** for memorial services. The first was for one of my mentors, who left an indelible mark on Antioch College and inspired a slew of young people to enter the library profession, and the second was for my room mate.

The first was easier to take; not everyone was as affected. Although many of the people I was close to were saddened by the event, he was long past retirement age (work literally killed him, he stressed his heart to keep the library open during a severe snow storm), and it was not completely unexpected that he would die "soon." My room mate's death completely changed the way I looked at the campus. There is no way I can even think about Antioch without some memory of Matthew popping into my head. Every time I glance at my degree, or wear one of my shirts, see an update from a classmate on my Facebook page, it is impossible not to have that bittersweet sensation of wanting to go back, and knowing that I never can. Thinking about those years will always be happy and yet never not be sad. And that brings its own sadness with it.

A good review from Rebecca Reads points out some of the flaws, Goodreader Lisa also points out some flaws but has a slightly more favorable opinion of the book.
LibsNote: Purchased from Last Exit Books with personal funds.
*Definition: a person who shares in one's activities, occupation, etc.; companion, associate, or friend.
**I graduated a semester early. 

15 December 2011

Post 458: His Majesty's Dragon

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik. ISBN: 9780345490728 (eBook).

This book reminded me of Anne McCaffrey's work for several reasons, although the prominent one is probably the notification for it arrived in my inbox hours after hearing about her death (thank you, Twitter). The book was extremely enjoyable and brought me right back to my first encounter with dragons as characters. While McCaffrey's dragons usually don't talk to people other than their riders, and do so only telepathically, Novik's dragons are full fledged characters, and seem much more independent from their riders.

But there are still striking similarities, almost to the point where Novik's work is borderline fan-fiction. I do not intend this statement as a disservice to Novik's writing, which has merits of its own, but to express the reflections I had while reading her work. It really brought back the excitement of reading about dragons and their interactions with humans. The fact that Novik's world is set in the past, rather than the future and another planet makes it all the more interesting to see how she explains the development of history with dragons (this is possibly my favorite aspect of altered histories).

Furthermore, while McCaffrey seemed to focus mainly on female characters as protagonists, it seems she sometimes did so to the exclusion of other characters. Instead, Novik's protagonist (and his dragon) are male, but her female characters are also extraordinarily well-rounded and vibrant without the whole cookie-cutter of being tough... cookies. The women of the Aerial Corps may share some similarities in character, but they are usually the same similarities that the men share, making them characteristics, not of tough women, but of military culture and training. Furthermore, these women are not emotionless (or emotionally conflicted) ice queens, they are passionate about their work and play, and her inclusion of an age range of these women is particularly enjoyable. In fact, this is one of the few books I've read that has been feminist without actually having a female protagonist within recent memory. I think that's something McCaffrey would approve of, and I know her readers will likely enjoy these books with heartfelt nostalgia and hope that McCaffrey's legacy will be continued by other writers, even outside of Pern.

PS: Anyone who wants to buy me the series gets to be my best friend for life. Bonus points if you want to read it with me and have a discussion about it.

I first heard of this title through things mean a lot, and generally agree with her sentiments (at least regarding the first book). Also, Queen of the Nerds Felicia Day liked it. So there.
LibsNote: Library copy.

12 December 2011

Post 457: The Whole Story of a Half Girl

The Whole Story of a Half Girl by Veera Hiranandani. ISBN: 9780385741286 (eGalley - publishes January 12, 2012).

This story is spot on in dealing with a parent who has depression: the erratic behavior, the changes in relationships, broken trust. That Sonia, the protagonist, is also dealing with her own uncertainties regarding her identity and transitioning into a new school and young adulthood... or at least teenagerdom. My own father had a similar mental break down at about the same age, so this story was somewhat triggering for me.

Although I did not have to contend with the racial issues Sonia dealt with (her being half Indian), I did feel out of place with my classmates since I was always the "new kid." Being a military brat was always somewhat lonely, especially while attending public schools where some kids had been best friends since birth. In some ways this became more pronounced as I grew older and it was harder to "break in" to these relationships in order to form my own friendships, but with age comes wisdom and I realized they had traded a bit of freedom for their loyalty.

As difficult as it was for me to grow up without long term relationships, it has given me an advantage in that I was able to form an identity without as much influence from my peers. Unlike other people my age, I knew and even expected that my peer group was likely to change, if not in their interests and tastes, then because I moved schools. Knowing that I would never really fit in made it easier for me to avoid following the crowd. The few times I tried to fit in never worked out for me, so while I may have been the only one in my class to admit to liking The Scarlet Letter and reading or doing homework in my spare time (i.e. lunch/between classes), at least I was never surprised by friends moving to college and never speaking to me again.

I had a lonely upbringing, but perhaps that is what has made my current existence more bearable. I am simply used to it.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Advance reader copy provided by Netgalley.

10 December 2011

Post 456: a general update

Yeah, nothing's going on. Blah, blah, books and shit.

The Whole Story of a Half Girl by Veera Hiranandani.
I had to flip screens about five times to get the author's name spelled correctly, which I hopefully did. I can't recall what drew me to this book, possibly the father's unemployment and the subsequent throwing of the protagonist into a situation where she is now a misfit. I have a soft spot for misfits. Also, I was yanked out of a good school and ended up somewhere I really didn't want to be. Maybe I'll talk about my reaction to that.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.
I always want to spell that as Westerfield. No idea why. Anyway, it's dystopian, it's about perceptions of beauty and the extremes to obtain it, it is obviously things I like. I liked the premise enough to risk actually buying the first book in the series. (You guys do realize how cheap I am right?)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Anne Barrows.
Before reading the description (just now), I actually had no idea what this was about. I just knew that the blogosphere and book clubs and some word of mouth went crazy about it at some point in the last three years. People on my Goodreads friends list seem to agree it's pretty good, and I was able to buy it for less than ten cents from my library sale. So good job marketers, I picked up a book I had no idea I wanted until I saw it for the right price.

His Majesty's Dragons by Naomi Novik.
It's almost like Westerfeld's Leviathan series (minus the cross dressing) with a bit of McCaffrey's Dragon Riders of Pern. I first learned about this novel from things mean a lot, once again proving the power of blogs to get people to read books. I put a hold on this eBook and got the notification shortly after learning that Anne McCaffrey died. It was a bit spooky, and reading this I feel like there are some definite parallels, although the main character is male (many of the secondary characters are well rounded females though!). It's pretty good so far, and now that I am done blogging for today I think I'll go finish the 60 pages I have left to read.

08 December 2011

Post 455: Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. ISBN: 9780399149863.

Er, I think this might be one for the fans. Or people who don't understand women very well. Or something.

Unlike some people who thought the logo phobia/allergy was ridiculous, I actually thought it was pretty interesting. Sadly, Gibson doesn't actually do much with it. We don't know why  or how Cayce came about this phobia, and apparently it doesn't even "work" in foreign settings, because logos don't have any affect unless they're in English... I don't know, it only seemed to appear when it was convenient or Cayce started being too boring (which I think happened way more often than Gibson thought was the case...).

But imagine having a phobia of certain logos? What if you had an extreme aversion to the Starbucks logo? You wouldn't be able to travel to any of the major cities in the United States (or any of it really), and there were more than a few locations in various European cities when I lived there in 2005-2006. In fact, there are currently 55 countries that have Starbucks locations (there are even a couple in China). What was really interesting about Cayce's condition though was that we could actually use people like this in our world.

We are so inundated with advertisement all the time, that if it caused people physical and emotional distress, maybe there would be places where it wasn't allowed. Maybe we would get a break from the nonstop sell-a-thon that is life in America (and increasingly the world). Wouldn't it be nice to go to school and not have to see a myriad of corporate advertisements? The park? The zoo? The library? It's gotten to the point where I wish my brain had an Adblock. Sure, I like learning about new products to see if it's something that I can use, but most of the companies that can afford media spots have products I already know (and usually don't care) about. You can't usually reach me through the internet (seriously, Adblock, bitches), I rarely listen to the radio, and I don't have TV. Actually, one of the few ways you can get to me is through mail, which I will actually look at. And ad placement in TV and movies just pisses me off (I'm looking at you Disney; I saw what you did to the Muppets,* assholes).

There's even talk of discounted eReaders that have advertisements. What? No! Reading is one of the few forms of entertainment where there's almost no advertising at all (or at least it's pretty clearly demarcated with ads for other books in the back). Occasionally authors will mention products in the book by name, but unless companies have started paying authors to do this (I will stab someone), it is less product placement than detail.

But here's a challenge for you: mark down what time you finished this post, then tell me how long it took before you saw a logo, advertisement, or product placement. Was it before you even finished that sentence?

Kirkus Reviews adequately captures the meh-ness I felt in reading this book, although I disagree with their assessment of the logo-allergy. I just think Gibson didn't give us a good reason for Cayce having it. Goodreader Karou pretty much sums up my feelings on why I didn't hate or like this book.
LibsNote: Bought with personal funds from library sale table.
*I still recommend seeing it, but it was definitely cheap and tacky. The Mini-Cooper closeup felt especially insidious.

05 December 2011

Post 454: Divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth. ISBN: 9780062024022.

Dear YA authors, you write awesome books. But then you throw in abbreviated romances that make no sense. Please stop doing that. You're scaring the readers who aren't ready for that kind of relationship and boring those of us who know that's not how love works.

Moving on.

Divergent was pretty awesome other than the divergence from the plot that I mentioned earlier. The world is set up so that different factions have control over different aspects of society and take on certain human character traits. For instance, Candor is full of (obviously fictional) lawyers who attempt to seek out and tell the truth at all times.

Children are raised in their parents' faction, there are no inter-faction marriages and apparently children outside marriage is not a thing in this series. However, when children turn 16 they are allowed to choose a different faction (if they want), and then everyone under goes an initiation into the faction. Before and after the choosing, you are required to live by the standards of the faction you're in (if you are Candor you take on those traits, and if/when you switch to Abnegation* you would then take on those traits).

I found this aspect of the book more interesting than others, not so much because of the different cultures and expectations, but because humans aren't that simple and I enjoyed seeing how various characters dealt with suppressing other traits in order to fit in with their faction. Most of what we saw was obviously Beatrice/Trice since she was the main character, but even her brother, who seemed to be an archetypal Abnegation, was able to hide aspects of his chosen Erudite faction. Had Roth focused more on how we are conglomerates of these factions and are stronger for having (and recognizing) a mix in every human being, I think the story could have been more interesting as had more depth. As it was, it was a nice diversion from Thanksgiving holiday prep and chaos, but tasted a bit more like fluffy dessert than a full meal, which I suppose is fine if you don't mind empty calories.

I found this book through Eve's post at Vulpes Libris, but agree more with the Jessica's review from Sci-Fi Fan Letter.
LibsNote: Library copy.
*Somebody used the thesaurus.

01 December 2011

Post 453: Bonk

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. ISBN: 9780393064643.

I was surprised that Bonk was focused on the perceptions people have of scientists who study sex and their methods. It seems Roach has gotten a little better over time with balancing crude humor, interesting facts, and no-less-interesting-but-not-quite-what-most-readers-are-looking-for research stuff.
But even people who have a remotely open interest in sex are sometimes seen as perverted. For instance, I'm a big fan of sexual innuendo,* and while I have a healthy sex drive, those two things are correlations rather than directly related to each other. I may be able to make innuendo or sexual jokes more frequently than someone who doesn't think about sex as much, but having a low sex drive would not make me less interested in sexual research, humor, and other aspects of sexual behavior.

I almost feel like we should be more worried about people who don't have an interest in sex. I'm not talking about wanting to have sex, but the topic itself. As a biological function it is far more interesting than many of the other things our body does. It is a core of who we are as living beings, and the one thing we share with every living thing on the planet. Even mold spores have sex... kind of. Our bodies are geared towards it in a way that affects our higher brain function, and the equipment itself is pretty fascinating even outside of the actual erotic context.

Sex is one of the things that I think we can all agree on being a good thing, even if we don't agree on the particulars of when or how it is a good thing. And the beauty of it is, you don't even have to talk about sex between humans for it to be interesting. With all the different aspects of fertility, mating rituals, and physiology, people should be able to find something of interest that is also appropriate based on the situation. Maybe my openness about sex makes me a weirdo, or even a pervert, in the eyes of certain people, but at least I know the difference between a vagina and a vulva and don't have to ask my gynecologist what a cervix is.

Check out Kirkus Reviews, and from the blogger realm Fyrefly's Book Blog and The Book Lady's Blog do a wonderful job at reviewing Bonk.
LibsNote: Bought from Capitol Book and News from personal (and very limited) funds.
*This morning I had a dry throat and the first thing that came to mind was, "If you had a French boyfriend, having a frog in your throat would have a completely different meaning." Yes, I am a dirty old man at heart.

28 November 2011

Post 452: The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. ISBN: 9780385534642 (ebook).

Morgenstern did something a little unusual in this book, and for some people it worked better than others. Rather than including all of the description in the narrative, she set aside somewhat introductory chapters each time a new part of the circus was going to be involved in the story. If the Cloud Maze was going to appear soon, Morgenstern would first give us a chapter in 2nd person, which allowed us to "explore" the circus without the interference of the story. Yet the story enriched the setting in the same way that a TV show about how candy is made might enrich the taste of the candy. You can enjoy one or the other independently, but knowing that it takes 500 pounds of sugar and a modified jet engine* to make your candy might make you appreciate it more. Whereas you might be interested in a show featuring said candy, it definitely helps if you are already invested.

So while the description chapters might have been slow or distracting for some, I viewed it more as a mirroring of how the Night Circus, or a circus in general, is set up. While the typical circus takes place under one tent and has multiple shows, the Night Circus takes place in many different tents. Yet both contain an element of exploration, allowing patrons to visit a variety of booths or view different shows, or at the very least focus on one element out of the chaos of clowns, acrobats, and motorcycles in flaming cages.

Taken altogether these elements are somewhat hard to keep track of. One could easily get lost if their eyes didn't focus on one point or another, or they decided to try to visit every single tent or carnival game. It might be possible, but much of the depth would be lost unless we allow ourselves to take some time, or accept that we will not be able to see everything. Meanwhile, Morgenstern wants us to see everything, and so she has divided things up for us into smaller, more easily digestible portions. We can have our cake and our ice cream and our candied apples and our marzipan and eat it too: the portions are just going to be meted out for us.

So while this conglomeration of vivid world building with loosely tied plot may not blend well on everyone's palate, it does at least afford the reader a chance to try a little bit of everything under the tent(s), and if you'd rather just sit down and watch the show, well, you can do that, but then you'd also miss out on the chaos.

Although I enjoyed this book much more than Nicole Bonia, her reivew at Linus's Blanket covers many of the strengths and weaknesses of The Night Circus.

LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.
*I am writing hyperbole, I don't actually know of a candy made this way. However, if you do, send it to me and I will eat it.

24 November 2011

Post 451: The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. ISBN: 9781440697661 (ebook).

I have serious guilt issues about being white, you guys. And this book was all, "Nnnnnnggghhh, dammit Skeeter, you have no clue what is going on, do you?" There were even times where I wondered if the author understood what it meant for her, as a white person, to write this book. This book does an amazingly fantastic job of looking at the issue of race from the white (and totally unaware) viewpoint.

In fact, the story is mostly framed by the white point of view. Even though we do get to see glimpses from Aibileen and Minny about what their lives are like, they still seem to ring somewhat hollow in comparison to the richness and attention given to the development of Skeeter's character. Perhaps that is okay, but it would have been awesome if perhaps there was a suggested reading list (like this one) that provided a more accurate and in depth look at things from the Black American point of view, because The Help is definitely a whitewashed fairy tale version of the risks these women would have faced, along with ignoring other uncomfortable subject matter. On the other hand, this is the way white people deal with their guilt about subjugating and oppressing other races, so it makes sense that it would show up in this way in our literature.

If you're thinking about bitching to me about how it's Thanksgiving and you don't want to read stuff about race, I am going to glare at you and point you to an Indian reservation and ask whether you should be thankful your ancestors stole land, raped Native women, and gave children smallpox infected blankets. Also, calm down, I am getting to that.

One of the few authentic and redeeming passages of the book involved a brief moment between Skeeter and Pascagoula. Skeeter thanks her genuinely for the first time and it surprises Pascagoula. But I doubt that it ever occurs to Skeeter why that was surprising, and mostly it has to do with the general invisibility of women of color in this society unless someone needs a scapegoat. Even in the novel we see this, as white women try to figure out if they're in the book and if they should fire their maids. Then of course there was Minny who did not allow herself to melt into the background because she was "mouthy," which left her open as a frequent target despite her desirable skills. It seems even the novel took the stance of, "Well if she would have just kept her mouth shut..." Yet Minny is the one who has truly risked herself for the publication of Skeeter's book. While this is eventually recognized, it's almost too little too late.

So, to sum up, thank the people in your life who serve you, because they probably don't want to do it, and you have probably behaved like an asshole to them at some point. It's easier to say thank you and mean it than to prevent the people who make your food from serving you shit instead. And that, my friends, ought to be the real meaning of Thanksgiving (enjoy your pie).

The Reading Ape writes an apt reflection on the issues brought on by (reading and liking) The Help (while white).
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.

22 November 2011

Post 450: general update

So, uh, I am apparently catching up on some popular fiction that I missed earlier this year. The Help and The Night Circus are the two biggies on this list with the last three being from previous years (or YA) and therefore being somewhat less important. Or not. I like to read randomly and rapaciously, possibly even rabidly. I am a strong believer in reading outside of one's preferred genres... which I've been doing a lot of because publishers and whatnot are all, "Hey, hey, you wanna read my book?" And my typical response is, "Er, yeah, okay, that sounds interesting enough." So, these are all actually books I wanted to read, if only because everyone else is talking about them, and I don't want to feel like Mindy Kaling. I already feel like that in real life, thank you much.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
 I finished this one a while ago. I have conflicted feelings about it. For now I will say it was an entertaining diversion, but there is a whole lot of discomfort regarding Skeeter's naiveté about race relations (even after figuring out she had issues with them) that makes me really, uh, leery about saying I outright liked the book. It was a good read, and I hope Stockett tackles a different issue in a way that I can wholeheartedly like for her next book.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
The blogosphere went ape shit over this one. It was good. It definitely got a little overblown, but I can see the appeal of it. I think I'll be talking about joining the circus. Because I totally did that (Antioch is almost more circus than educational institution).

Bonk by Mary Roach
Sssssssssssssssssex. This book is about it. How you doin'?

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson.
 Sounds a bit like a techno-mystery novel. I dunno, it was one of those library sale buys. One of the people I talk to on Twitter said it was pretty good. Twitter always has good information, right?

Divergent by Veronica Roth.
I've started this one already. It's actually pretty good. Dystopian fiction is perfect for Thanksgiving with the family right? Especially when the premise is based on choosing one of five factions at the age of 16 that will determine how you live the rest of your life.

21 November 2011

Post 449: Sunset Park

Sunset Park by Paul Auster. ISBN: 9780805092868.

Sunset Park is about the kind of people who would take over an abandoned house in New York. We see who they are through various vignettes from the viewpoints of the four people involved in the house, as well as a few involved in the life of Miles, the house's newest member. Each person has their own reasons for occupying the house on Sunset Park (hello title): running away from their past, trying to complete a dissertation after being kicked out of a rent controlled apartment, etc.

The idea of occupying an abandoned property has always appealed to me, and given the number of empty houses in this country it seems a shame to let them go to rot and rodents. But empty houses I can understand. Sometimes a house just doesn't get sold, it stands vacant too long and becomes less and less appealing, or the economy tanks and the people who can still afford to buy can buy in much better areas. What really pisses me off is vacant and unused businesses.

I've always felt that chain stores that leave vacant properties should be held more accountable for empty store fronts. Particularly the massive ones, or those that have required additional infrastructure (roads, traffic lights, strip malls, etc.). More people than not can afford to buy and repair a crumbling home; not so many can afford to buy 108,000* sq. ft. of soul crushing fluorescent lit retail hellscape. And if a shmuck like me did buy it, what the hell would I do with it?

But what if we actually required retail chains to properly reoccupy or dispose of big box stores? Maybe we'd get some pretty neat projects going on in those empty stores. Perhaps the local governments could require them to retrofit the space for a homeless shelter; it might still smell like soul crushing despair caused by capitalism, but at least this time it would actually benefit someone. Or even just turn it into a bunch of basket ball courts or an indoor jogging track. Or raze the building and return it to green space, a community garden even. While one or two or even a row of abandoned houses may be an eyesore, at least those were never built with the intention of being left behind and emptied. For the most part those houses did not start as a drain on tax payers via tax cuts and concessions to those who built the properties.

Oh, and why are we letting corporations take away our homes to begin with? Those fuckers can't pay their bills either.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided via the FirstReads Program on Goodreads.
*This is likely a conservative estimate given the source.

17 November 2011

Post 448: The Printmaker's Daughter

The Printmaker's Daughter by Katherine Govier. ISBN: 9780062000361 (eGalley - publishes November 22, 2011).

There has been some not-so-recent kvetching about the trend of titles with [Occupation]'s [Female Relative]. I agree, there are a lot of more of them than there probably ought to be, especially considering there aren't many male-titled counterparts. But in this case, I think it was appropriate. Mostly because Ei* never really got out from under her father's influence and reputation. The other reason is because this book is more about her relationship with her father: even after he dies she struggles to form her identity without him. In the novel, Ei's father is not an easy man to get along with. He is selfish and has affected mannerisms (such as refusing to count money), which prevent Ei from having a healthy and respectful relationship with him. Despite this, she recognizes how much he has taught her and reflects on this throughout the novel.

My own relationship with my father, as much as it pains me to say so, continues to influence who I am and how I view myself. In the past I have been the daughter of a reasonably successful restaurant owner. Then he sold his share in the restaurant and my mother joined the military. This reduced me to being the daughter of a man with erratic employment. Currently I am the daughter of an unemployed man with bladder cancer who hasn't called me in about 8 months. That he has been an unsuccessful and miserable lump of a human being for most of my life has not weighed lightly on me, especially given my own ongoing inability to obtain a motherfucking J-O-B.

One of the most painful things about being unemployed is that I in no way want to be associated with my father, and yet our circumstances are not terribly different at the moment. I imagine it is difficult for people not to conclude that it was only logical I should end up in a similar situation, especially given my brother has also seemingly followed in my father's footsteps.

Yet, the three of us have gotten there in very different ways. While I'm not going to say I ended up where I am now through absolutely no fault of my own, I will say that much of my situation is due to prolonged hope that I would eventually get a good job in a terrible economy. Had I realized how optimistic I was being, I would have signed up for a temp agency from day one and applied to countless numbers of shitty jobs in between applying for the more desirable jobs. But I didn't do that, because who could fathom that someone who has done everything else right would be unemployed for two years?

Meanwhile, both my brother and my father seem to be able to find employment if they want it. My brother has a criminal record for throwing bricks into a former employer's window, and possibly other charges I don't know about. My father has been known to walk off of jobs or become so erratic in his performance that the company has to fire him. They can get these jobs, but they usually can't keep them. Whereas I am so fed up with looking for work that I would practically consider it a vacation to work even the lowest of jobs. Yes, right now working at McDonald's sounds like it might be a bit of heaven.

At least for the first month.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by Netgalley.
*Her name in the book is represented as "Ei" but more commonly seems to appear as Katsushika Oi, the daughter of Hokusai.

14 November 2011

Post 447: The Complete Maus

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman. ISBN 9780679406419.

I wasn't planning to throw this during this set of books, but the library notified me that my hold for The Help came in and so I couldn't read the next book in the lineup fast enough to post it, and I don't want to be put in the back of the 200+ person line. But you probably don't care, so moving on.

From some reviews* I've read of this book, some people feel that the method of story telling is a bit too blunt and is therefore insensitive in relaying the horror of the Holocaust. However, given that this is told mostly from the viewpoint of Art Spiegelman, I felt this tone was appropriate, and it was much easier to relate to his perspective than to that of a survivor. Stories from survivors are important, but Maus is also important because eventually there will be generations who won't even have known someone who survived the Holocaust and/or WWII. As someone coming from that background, this story made more sense to me on a personal level than some of the direct stories I've read. A lot of that comes from the fact that Spiegelman stops his father during the narrative and asks him the questions that I would want to ask a survivor, but would never be able to unless I already had a relationship with one.

Additionally, this offers a candid look at how the Holocaust has affected more than one generation, as well as the lifetime repercussions. Many survivor tales end with rescue or death and a tiny bit of epilogue: "And then things were better." But Spiegelman's work shows that the suffering didn't really end with the Nazi regime. Vladek (Art's father) continued to suffer from mental and physical health issues stemming from his malnourishment, emotional stress, and physical abuse while in the camp. This behavior has an obvious negative impact on Art, his wife, and Vladek's current wife Mala, while Anya (Art's mother) committed suicide from dealing with her own Holocaust experiences.

That these experiences are relayed in a back and forth interview style does not make Vladek's story any less powerful, but merely changes it and adds the impact it has had on his relationship with his son. The cartoon style of drawing, while seemingly childish and trivializing in its animal depictions, actually captures the inhumanity of the experience and in some ways makes it easier to process the information relayed. Yet, Spiegelman does not allow the animal depictions to stand alone. He reveals that this is a coping method by showing later story arcs with various masks covering both animal and human faces as an indication that while the story may seem simplified through this method of telling, there are layers hidden beneath that should be taken into account.

Matt Guion of moderate YouTube fame has reviewed this story in two parts. I will embed below the LibsNote, or you can click here and here. His review of Part II is particularly interesting.
LibsNote: Library Copy.
*I'm sorry I can't link, but I can't seem to find them or remember who wrote them.

10 November 2011

Post 446: Theft of Swords

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan. ISBN: 9780316187749 (eGalley - publishes November 23, 2011).

With as much as I bitch about the formulaic tendencies of Mystery novels, many fantasy novels suffer from the same issue. Theft of Swords definitely suffers a bit from formula: most of the plot elements are fairly predictable, there's a bit of Side Quest Syndrome, and the female characters are, uh, flaky, even the ones who aren't supposed to be. But somehow this doesn't bother me as much with fantasy books and there's probably a good reason for that: It's not my world.

Most mystery novels are set in present day or recent history, which I am both familiar with and have a personal vested interest in. The idea of all females being vapid and indecisive is frustrating and obnoxious. However, in fantasy I can kind of let that go a little more and say, "Well, they're referring to a society that purposefully keeps women from being anything but decorations, so..." I know it isn't true, but it does make it easier to not get so angry I throw the book across the room. Also, there tends to be less victim blaming with the Princess in Distress type in fantasy novels (because they are valued as plot points) versus the same type in Mystery novels (because they are devalued as being "sluts" who were "asking for it" or meddling shrews).

Additionally, mystery novels typically don't have unique background elements to hold my interest. Fantasy novels on the other hand, even if they have formulaic elements, usually have different interpretations of elves, dwarves, dragons, magic, etc. Sometimes I like to read fantasy novels just to see how that interpretation works out, much for the same reason I like discussing religion (particularly with people who are not strongly attached to specific religious ideas). And I'm more interested in a society, even if they are full of macho misogynists, than I am in following one misogynist as he tries to discover who murdered and killed the husband of a smokin' hot broad he'd love to bang, but won't because he's a "good guy" and already has a smokin' hot broad for a girlfriend.*

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by Netgalley.
*I know not all murder mystery novels are like this, but I've read enough that have similar problems to not be interested in most of the genre's offerings.

07 November 2011

Post 445:The Prague Cemetery

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco. ISBN: 9780547577531 (eGalley - publishes November 8, 2011).

I've had a rough day and probably shouldn't be blogging, but here I am. So forgive me if this is a bit self-pitying and perhaps a bit morose. My life isn't exactly sunshine and puppies these days.

One of our main characters/narrators is Simonini, an intelligence agent of sorts, who begins keeping a diary because he discovers he is losing time. In the diary he reveals that he enjoys having secret identities because it gives him a sense of superiority for people not to know who he really is. I imagine that to some degree, all of us enjoy that little secret, even without the false beards and glasses. It is somewhat gratifying to know that there are people out there, however close they are to you, who do not know that you are interested in dressing up as a cartoon character on the weekends or that you still play with Barbies or that you once went to jail for stealing your grandmother's medication and tried to sell it at school.

There are aspects of our personalities and histories that represent who we are more at one time than at others. It makes more sense to us to hide those when they no longer become relevant, or to wait to present them to someone we feel "deserves" to know who we are. But sometimes holding onto that secret can be terribly lonely. And it's not that we don't want people to know who are, but that we don't want them to judge us negatively or assume things about who we are based on information that is only relevant in the sense that it influenced who we have become, rather than who we actively are. I believe that's why sites like Post Secret are so popular.

That Simonini has no desire to share himself with anyone (he actually manages to trump Holden Caufield with the amount and kinds of people he hates), is undeniably sad. What I find sadder is that the current consensus (at least on Goodreads) seems to be outright hatred for Simonini rather than pity. He is constantly alone, always looking to betray or be betrayed, or at the very least profit off of someone else. He is so alone that the only person he can turn to when he begins losing days and memory is himself, and he's not even certain he can rely on his own diary. While I may find myself increasingly alone in this world, at least I know that there are people that I can trust with my secret aspects, even if I choose not to at the moment.

My review can be found on Goodreads. Kirkus has a good overview of the book without giving too much away.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by Netgalley. Published previously in another language.

03 November 2011

Post 444: The Corn Maiden and Other Stories

The Corn Maiden and Other Stories by Joyce Carol Oates. ISBN: 9780802126023 (eGalley - publishes November 6, 2011).

I think I'll be focusing on the two stories (of seven total) about twins in this collection, "Death-Cup" and "Fossil-Figures." For one thing, they're two of the stronger stories in the collection, although "Death-Cup" has the weaker ending and they share a similar theme regarding self worth versus perceived worth. Interestingly, they're also the only stories that contain a hyphen in the title, as if Oates is stating that without one of the pair the other is meaningless, but I'm probably reading into that.

In "Death-Cup," we have the twin pair Lyle-Alastor. Lyle is the beloved nephew of his recently deceased and well-off uncle, whereas Alastor is the charming, manipulative, money-grubbing nephew of same uncle. Like most of us with siblings, Lyle observes Alastor's behavior and wonders why he gets away with it. Some of us have also observed coworkers and other peers behaving similarly. It feels completely discouraging and frustrating to do the right thing in these situations, because even if you warn people your own Alastor is capable of presenting himself in such a way that these issues become negligible to the victims. Of course Alastor is going to pay us back; of course Alastor didn't mean to drive his cousin crazy after seducing her at the age of fifteen; and yet, someone is responsible for those actions. Alastor not only believes that he is not responsible, he also manages to make others believe he is not responsible, leaving the Lyles of the world utterly frustrated.

Meanwhile in "Fossil-Figures," Edward-Edgar start out with one twin diminished, while the other grows in ability and stature. Edward stagnates at home, becoming weak physically, supposedly destroying his parents' marriage, and becoming more and more removed from the outside world. He loses sight of his self-worth, seeing that, of course, Edgar is the "better" twin, the one more deserving of recognition, love, and happiness. Even where Edward is successful, it is because no one has come into direct contact with him; he is a nameless, faceless entity creating artwork and it is the artwork that receives the recognition instead of Edward himself.

What these two stories have in common, besides the hyphenated title and the twins, is that everyone is a combination of both twins. We almost always see ourselves as Lyle/Edward instead of Alastor/Edgar. For one thing, it is easier to feel sympathy for those we see as being the better people, but only in stories are twins people sides of a coin to each other. The person who feels like Lyle/Edward one day may the next day suck up to his boss in an Alastor/Edgar fashion and receive praise or recognition they may not actually deserve. Why so many writers, and people in general, feel the need to present this in the form or perception of twins is beyond me. Duality exists just as much in individuals as in twins, and often it is seen in twins where it does not exist. I am not successful because my brother is not and vice versa, we are combinations of characteristics and often we have both at the same time in varying degrees. To relegate that to one or the other simplifies our human quality and turns us, and your characters, into caricatures.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by Netgalley.

01 November 2011

Post 443: a general update

I hope everyone enjoyed Zombies and Lovecraft. I know I did, well, except Jack Barnes is still an asshole. What's more awesome is this week proved that book bloggers DO sell books. I have proof! Granted, the conversation took place over Twitter, but I wouldn't have read Lovecraft if it weren't for my blog. So, Barnes and Noble, where's my 10%?

THE UNDENIABLE PROOF (if you have trouble with small fonts you can click the image)

So yeah, let's move some more books, people. Also, if you've bought/read a book because of my blog, I'd appreciate comments that you have done so. Oh, and follow me on Twitter already. Geez.


The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates.
I have not, to my knowledge, actually read any Joyce Carol Oates. This looked fascinating and it was on Netgalley. And yes, I have read a lot of things from Netgalley recently. That tends to happen when they actually have books I'm interested in. It hasn't happened much lately, so Netgalley titles will probably drop off until summer; summer tends to be a big publicity push for fall titles. This is apparently an unplanned continuation of Spooky Shit I Read. Looks good though.

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco.
Again, a first for a particular author I've been meaning to read that popped up on Netgalley. This appears to be a plotty plot of twisty turns and turny twists. Cloak and dagger are makin' out in the darkest closet, ya'll.

The Printmaker's Daughter by Katherine Govier.
I really need to start writing notes to myself about why I want to read these, because I cannot remember. Lemme look at the description, brb. Okay, it's about the daughter of a Japanese printmaker who should be famous in her own right for her artwork, so Govier wrote a novel about her... that identifies her as the daughter of a printmaker rather than as a printmaker herself. Yep. Anyway, looks interesting.

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan.
There will be actual cloaks and actual daggers in this novel, as it is fantasy, and fantasy has those things. Appears to be a bit of mistaken identity with Our Dashing Heroes being mistaken for king murderers. Sometimes I will read anything.

Sunset Park by Paul Auster.
I won this from Goodreads. Auster is another author I've been meaning to read. I think I'm going to decline forming expectations about this one. I am afraid it will be far more pretentious than what I like, but I hope to be wrong about that.

31 October 2011

Post 442: Z

Z: Zombie Stories edited by J.M. Lassen. ISBN: 9781597803120 (eGalley - published October 4, 2011).

Zombies. People might wonder why I like them. Or why anyone likes them. I can't speak for everyone, but maybe some of my answers will work for you.

Zombies are the ultimate plebeians. They are The People's Monster. Anyone and everyone can be and/or encounter a zombie. Depending on what type of zombie is being presented, there are usually no complicated rituals or circumstances involved in becoming a zombie and they appear wherever people are, usually starting in the cities and spreading out as delicious zombie chow becomes scarce. Because of this, zombies are as diverse as the people they feed on. It is not unbelievable to have scientist zombies, Viking zombies, or hillbilly zombies. Someone could reasonably write zombies in space without it being totally out there (it's certainly no crazier than murderous Leprechauns in Space*).

Meanwhile, it seems to take more work to become a werewolf or a vampire. Becoming a vampire is notoriously difficult. Chances are if you don't work at it, you have been made a vampire in order to act as stake fodder and gopher for an older, more established vampire, which means you won't be living for centuries and centuries like you planned. Werewolves are depicted mostly as being fairly lone animals (interesting considering that wolves are pack animals), not to mention it's awfully difficult to survive being mauled by a bloodthirsty animal in order to become a werewolf yourself.

Not zombies though. Anyone and everyone can become a zombie. There's no real pecking order either. Whoever gets to the brains first is usually the zombie that eats them. It's the one society of monsters where you don't have to worry about who's in charge or who has more power. You all start as walking corpses and end in the same condition. The zombie who eats the most brains is not the wealthiest zombie because zombies don't need to eat anyway.

But ultimately I find zombies interesting because there are so many different things you can do with them. Originally, a zombie was simply someone who has been raised from the grave with lessened mental capacity. Romero added the flesh eating element, and of course there's now the possibility of viruses (manufactured or not). We can plop zombies into all sorts of settings and see how people react to them. Zombie stories are a bit like lab rat experiments in that way and because of this they are an excellent means of reflecting how humans really react without the binding of social mores and law. We get the chance to both be and face the monster with varying levels of humanity, and that is highly appealing to me.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided via Netgalley.
*Holy shit, Guy Siner, why are you in that movie?

27 October 2011

Post 441: Double Feature (H.P. Lovecraft)

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward* 
At the Mountains of Madness*
by H.P. Lovecraft.

According to these two stories, which happen to be the only Lovecraft I've read so far, curiosity kills and/or drives the humans mad, which is unfortunate since it's a pretty strong natural adaptation the cat. This is terrifying because it means even the most well meaning of humans could unleash unspeakable terrors before the rest of mankind could even step in and say, "PER ADONAI ELOIM, ADONAI JEHOVA, ADONAI SABAOTH, METRATON. Bitches."

Lovecraft himself incites a curiosity in me, where even though I know Bad Things Are Going to Happen, I can't help but want to learn more about Joseph Curwen from The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (henceforth CDW) and the abandoned civilization from At The Mountains of Madness (AtMoM). Lovecraft's near detached narration style, while dry at first, actually lends itself quite well to the sense of unease I felt while reading the stories. By recounting information in a factual, but detailed manner, Lovecraft removed any emotion from the narrative, instead making it read almost like a scientific observation.  The fact that the details themselves are so interesting and draw the reader in make his stories powerful in a way that a more "readable" style of writing wouldn't. Let's take a look at the individual stories.

Poor Charles Dexter Ward is your average upper class gentleman, highly intelligent, with a tendency toward eccentricity and an interest in history. Replace his gender and make him about 60 years old and you have every librarian's challenging genealogy problem, because as humans we feel like we have to know who and where we came from and if you found a big, dark family secret, wouldn't you dig deeper? For instance, in my family there's suspicion that my paternal grandmother was hiding Native American blood; someday I will probably attempt to track that down despite the fact that she would never, ever, ever want to be associated with being Native American anymore than I really want to be associated with someone who happens to be a bigoted Southern Baptist (and yet I am, and I claim her anyway). That's because ignoring the problem only dooms your ancestors to repeat mistakes or unknowingly defile or insult a cultural heritage that they rightfully ought to have claim to. Because Charles Dexter Ward's ancestor was erased from history, he was doomed to the same actions as Joseph Curwen simply out of curiosity. Had he been forewarned as to why Joseph Curwen was blacklisted in his community, the curiosity to seek out hidden knowledge and perform secret rites might not have been so strong.

Meanwhile AtMoM actually attempts to correct this problem. At first attempting secrecy, William Dyer and his surviving compatriots remain mum on what they found in the frozen Antarctic depths, but as new expeditions are gearing up they have come to the decision to reveal all. Yet the very details Dyer reveals of the incredible city he found only made me want to see it for myself. It was like being given a very fuzzy photograph of what you can tell is an incredibly beautiful location and then being told that it's located on a planet with an arsenic heavy atmosphere. Just because I know I can't go there for safety reasons doesn't mean I still don't want to see, it just means I have to be off my rocker to actually do it.

By the way, Lovecraft provides an excellent quote for leaving Shit Where It Is in the earth. I'll share it with you and imply that if he knew about fracking, Lovecraft would have definitely written a story about it.

"It is absolutely necessary for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth's dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be left alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests."  Page 94.

I'm not saying that oil companies want to wake the Elder Gods, but... I'm pretty sure if they did they'd still find a way to profit.

Goodreaders Chris and SoL did an excellent job of reviewing The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Goodreader Brian gets points for his review of At the Mountains of Madness. Yes, I was lazy and decided not to try to find blog reviews, okay.
LibsNote: Most, if not all, of H.P. Lovecraft is in the public domain. I downloaded my copies from Many Books.
--Wonky header, because well, I didn't have any better ideas for how to do this and I don't get paid enough to spend hours on it.

24 October 2011

Post 440: Dust

Dust by Joan Frances Turner. ISBN: 9780441019281.

On the surface this appears to be a somewhat creative, but not entirely mind blowing novel about zombies. The zombie narrator was a bit novel at the time this was written, but it seems to be growing in popularity, and  underneath the skin of zombie exterior lies a subtext crawling with life. Dust is not a novel about zombies; it's not even really a coming of age novel. It is a novel about privilege very cleverly disguised as those other things. This book is about Indians Black Americans deaf people Others in zombie clothing. And it seems a lot of people have missed that.

Dust presents us with a group of... people who have their own culture, food, rituals, and language. These people are seen as Savage, Stupid, Undesirable, and Needing Correction. And while there are a number who do hunt human flesh, there are other groups that only feed on animal flesh, yet the entire population is negatively categorized. So certain scientists seek to create a disease which will correct the zombie problem by making them look more like humans... and they "succeed."

Unfortunately having a zombie look like a human doesn't really solve any "problems" for the humans. Instead, now they have non-decaying, super strong, ultra-hungry zombies AND a disease that affects humans in similar ways so that they essentially wiped out both peoples. Humans: making stupid decisions for everyone since forever. Meanwhile, the zombies, or at least the gang we're introduced to, were happy living in the forest spending their days hunting, talking to each other, dancing, and beating the ever loving crap out of each other as some sort of weird-to-us form of bonding.

And that's the problem with privilege. What appears weird-to-us may be perfectly normal and healthy for another society that has functioned that way for hundreds of years, and all of a sudden removing that function could be detrimental to both societies. Which is not to say that some things shouldn't be changed, but there is perhaps a right way and a wrong way to do so. Forcing someone to convert to a certain way of life (Spanish missionaries and Native Americans immediately come to mind), is not the best way to get someone to change and causes plenty of strife. However, working within the culture to promote change and allowing them to create their own cultural reasons for doing so will be healthier and last longer than forced change. I am not suggesting that murder and rape be allowed in cultures that do not consider them crimes, etc., but that there should be an amount of understanding about why and how those things came to be widely accepted and to assist in making changes, rather than coming in and strong arming a country into a certain set of moral values. We lose things that way. We have lost a whole plethora of knowledge regarding subsistence living, craftsmanship, and who knows what else because our ancestors came in with guns blazing and ready to claim land and resources at any cost.

Not to side with the zombies in every case, but if they can and will live without human flesh, what benefit is it to us to kill them other than we don't want to share resources?

One of my favorite bloggers, Trisha, at eccentric/eclectic gives good reasons for why she didn't love this book. Destroy the Brain has a much more positive review, which I am more in agreeance with. Additionally, it looks like a great zombie/horror resource.
LibsNote: I bought this sucker from the library sale table as one of three books for a quarter. Too cheap not to buy.
*I am not comparing anyone to zombies, there are simply similarities in the treatments of the Other by those who view them as such from a position of privilege. Also, my focus on Native Americans probably stems from reading this around Columbus Day. Correlations, they happen.
**Also, my opinions on influencing other cultures change depending on what's being done. I'm weird about what I find acceptable versus what I don't and it changes based on why a society does what it does, etc. For instance, not a fan of female circumcision, but if an adult woman decides to remove her clitoris I can't really object to it despite health concerns.

20 October 2011

Post 439: Brains

Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker. ISBN: 9780062000309 (eBook).

Maybe I would have liked Jack Barnes the zombie a bit better if Jack Barnes the human wasn't such a reprehensible human being. It is truly difficult to root for a bloodthirsty monster when said monster also has entitlement issues, illusions of grandeur, the morals of a honey badger, and an ego and inverse depth of the Grand Canyon.  In other words, he is a tenured professor who hasn't had his ideas challenged in a very, very, very long time. Oh, and he doesn't like women all that much. I mean, not as people.

The problem with Jack Barnes wanting "rights" for zombies is mostly in the phrasing. I can't really argue with denying rights to a sentient creature, even if said creature happens to crave my flesh. Barnes happens to be one of a handful of sentient creatures out of a horde of the mindless varietal we're more accustomed to; he is a privileged zombie. We'll call him zombileged. Or not. That's still a crappy portmanteau, disappointing, I love a good portmanteau. And that's just the problem. People who have lived a life of privilege sometimes feel they are, ahem, entitled to "rights" because they don't understand the difference between a privilege and a right. Technically, Barnes does not have a right to eat human brains because he does not require them for his survival. He should, as much as I hate to say it, have the right to live because he is a sentient being, and so long as he is able to live in a way that honors other sentient being's desire to live, there is no reason to discontinue his existence.

Unfortunately, Barnes, for all of his supposed intellectual power, does not understand this. Instead, he attempts to contact survivor communities to set up a "mutually" beneficial arrangement through which humans could potentially earn the "honor" of becoming a zombie; meanwhile the human community will provide the zombies with choice undesirables. You know, like criminals, the insane, the old, and the handicapped... because experimenting chewing on those people and leaving the rest of the "normal" and "healthy" population alone is better than having a society where everyone is valued an unhealthy population. The fact that Barnes feels that offering the humans a chance to become a zombie is a good trade (instead of maybe offering to hunt down and kill the mindless zombies so the humans can rebuild), shows another sign of privilege and entitlement.

Jack Barnes cannot fathom that maybe humans would rather die than become zombies, because he is a zombie and he is the best thing on this god damned planet. That Barnes does not have the balls to die as a human being does not even occur to him because he truly believes the world would be a darker place without his "contributions." This is a case of effectively blinding oneself with the gleam of gold leaf on shit. All Jack can see is the gold, and others might be fooled, but the rest of us can smell the shit and we don't want it. So while Barnes goes around using up resources (brains) he doesn't really need, he is forcing others to suffer so that he can continue existing in his new and "improved" state.

And this is where Becker went wrong. Had Barnes come to the conclusion that being a zombie really kind of sucked, or at least been as good as being a human, I might have hopped on board. But Barnes thinking he was better than everyone else throughout the entire novel was beyond aggravating, especially after he brushed off his wife's anger over "an affair of no consequence with a graduate student, a dim meaty woman with breasts the size of a newborn's head, both of which, breast and metaphorical infant, I'd gladly eat now." (page 15). The same wife who we later discover had several miscarriages (speaking of metaphorical infants) likely cause by her anorexia, which Barnes sickeningly finds attractive in a woman. In his own words, "I adored anorexics. With their low self-esteem, desire to please, and rigorous self-disciple, what's not to like?" (page 112). Ugh. Just ugh.

A Monster Librarian bit into this and decided it didn't taste so great. Goodreader Mae also loathed the narrator, which seems to be the consensus of people who hated this book. I actually wish it had been written from nurse Joan's point of view.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.

18 October 2011

Post 438: Dayna Ingram (Interview)

This interview took place over instant messenger between myself and the author of Eat Your Heart Out, Dayna Ingram on October 13, 2011.  The interview has been edited for flow, to fix typos and capitalization, and to make us both sound less like prats, but for the most part is intact. Links added by blogger and not necessarily endorsed by Dayna. 

Dayna Ingram grew up in Ohio and has since moved to the Bay Area, where she spends most of her time workin’, schoolin’, and forcin’ her dog to wear sweater vests. For more info on her writing projects, visit thedingram.blogspot.com. Her new novel Eat Your Heart Out will be available from Brazenhead sometime in November.

LibsLIB: It's been about a year since I last interviewed you. What have you been up to since then?
Dayna Ingram: Let's see. I moved to berkeley, I got promoted at work, I wrote some more things....I am one more semester away from graduating....ummm... I discovered Battlestar Gallactica somewhat to my detriment, as I put off a lot of important things to watch it, such as bathing and sleeping.

LibsLIB: Your last novel was self-published, while this one is going through a small press, what have your experiences with that been so far? Do you prefer one over the other at this point or is it too early to tell? 
Dayna: Selling a manuscript is more exciting because it's like, "Hooray! A stranger likes my story and thinks other people will too!" It's nice to have someone in your corner, and Alex Jeffers (the editor/publisher of BrazenHead) has been great. One thing that's the same with both self-publishing and small press publishing (at least in this case) is that there is still no marketing budget. BrazenHead will send out review copies, but that's it. So I'm still grass-rootsing it.
LibsLIB: Do you get to choose who receives review copies, or does Jeffers make that decision?
Dayna: He does it. I could maybe make suggestions. But I can also send copies on my own to places. I'm not entirely sure, to be honest. I don't want to step on any toes, I'm so new at this!
LibsLIB: If there was one person you could make sure read Eat Your Heart Out, who would it be?
Dayna Michelle Rodriguez.I'm going to send her a copy. Maybe her intern/personal assistant will like it, at least

LibsLIB: What exactly is your fascination with Michelle Rodriguez?
Dayna: That is like asking me why I love butter. Butter is delicious. She is fierce. She is a strong, sexy lady. She fought some zombies in a movie one time. And I have a thing for bad girls, you know this.
LibsLIB: You dedicated your novel to her, in your own opinion, flattering or borderline creepy?
Dayna: Haha, I thought it was funny. Who do you think Renni Ramirez is? I'm just solidifying the image for the reader. But it might be a bit creepy.

LibsLIB: Speaking of Renni Ramirez, do you consider this a lesbian novel with zombies, or a zombie novel with lesbians? 
Dayna: A lesbian novel with zombies. There's a lot more focus on the lesbians. If it was a zombie novel with lesbians, I think I would have killed off a lot more characters. For the gore factor.
LibsLIB: You decided to go with the classic slow moving, mindless zombies, is that your ideal zombie, or do you like other zombies as well?
Dayna: That is my ideal zombie, especially if I were running away from one. I like that zombie best because it's super creepy, being stalked by something so slow and smelly. It's also easier to underestimate those types of zombies, and that's when shit starts getting real. I love the zombies in Left 4 Dead (the game) that explode zombie-attracting goo on you, though. That's a pretty cool survival tool for the species. If you can call zombies a species.

LibsLIB: Do you have any favorite zombie movies or books?
Dayna: Yes. My favorite zombie book is Max Brook's World War Z. I think he took a very cool angle on it, oral histories of the Zombie War, that allowed him to explore a lot of different aspects of a zombie outbreak in a realistic way. My favorite zombie movie is Shaun of the Dead, because it managed to make me laugh, make me cry, and creep me out a bit. Not since Steel Magnolias has that happened.

LibsLIB: Do you feel that LGBTQ are underrepresented in the zombie genre? What do you think including them has to offer in terms of storytelling?
Dayna: Yes, I think they're (we're) underrepresented in all literature and media. I recently Googled "lesbian zombie novel" and got only one hit that had anything to do with zombies, the rest was all lesbian vampires. In terms of storytelling, I think it just adds something for a reader to relate to, or just be aware of. "Hey, gay people fight zombies too!" Eat Your Heart Out might have been just as sexy if one of the main characters was a man, but they're women, so, hooray! I would like to plug the website AfterEllen.com right now, which is an entertainment website for and by LGBTQ peoples. A quick search of that site will show anyone just how very little we are represented in the media.

LibsLIB: You have some unusual names in your book (Biff Tipping, Carmelle Souffle), why did you include such unusual names and how did you come up with them ?
Dayna: I must confess that is a result of having written the first draft of this for NaNoWriMo. I didn't have time to second-guess names, and they just sounded good at the time. Biff Tipping sounds like beef tips to me, and he's kinda big and beefy, and Carmelle Souffle is all creamy and delicious. I really like food.

LibsLIB: If you had to pair Eat Your Heart Out with a particular food and/or beverage, what would it be?
Dayna: Chocolate cake that you must eat with your face (no hands).What did you eat while you read it?
LibsLIB: I don't eat much while I read, I think I remember eating black licorice.

LibsLIB: Are you planning to participate in NaNoWriMo again this year? What will you be writing about and do you have any advice for other NaNoers?
Dayna: Indeed I plan to! I am going to work on a novella called BLAM!, which borrows heavily from Noir traditions and has a little fun with sex and gender. My advice is: don't plan what you are going to write too far ahead of time. Focus on immediacy: What do you want from this immediate scene? What do you want to express here? (Expectations amount to pressure and pressure amounts to not writing!) And don't get discouraged if you are behind by, like, 10,000 words with two days to go. There is this magical potion called 5-hour Energy.... It's also good to have buddies to write with, and encourage each other. But that's true in all things. Also throw in a bunch of crazy extra words and adverbs, you can edit them out later.

LibsLIB: Is there a NaNoWriMo novel you'd like to see someone else write?
Dayna: Zombie Unicorns!!
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