28 February 2011

Post 338: Pump Six and Other Stories

"The People of Sand and Slag" in Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi. ISBN: 9781441892201 (audiobook).

In this setting, the environment is now toxic to non-modified people and animals. Said people and animals have been genetically altered not only to survive the toxins (slag), but also to be able to eat anything (namely sand). The story follows three hands for hire who discover a non-modified dog. The moral question raised by the story is "Do you allow such a creature to continue living?"

This is an animal that has no way of surviving on its own, despite the fact it seemed to be doing so before it was found. The implications are that it was either very lucky or someone had been taking care of it. Even under the care of the three it still manages to get poisoned, sick, and hurt. They have absolutely no idea how to care for its injuries because they all heal rapidly and can even regrow limbs (there was a disturbing scene involving this feature, by the way). With this knowledge in mind, would it be responsible or even humane to sustain the life of this creature?

I could argue both sides and neither would be wrong per se. I do lean more towards killing the dog, not because I'm a cold hearted bitch, but because it feels like The Right Thing To Do given the setting that was presented by Bacigalupi (whose name I'm finally getting good at spelling).This is a world in which non-modified animals are considered ugly because they don't have hands. It is a world in which people implant knife blades and luminescence into their skin. It is a world in which nothing grows on its own and where nothing can take care of itself without the modifications. If you don't have them, you starve or die from poison. Non-modified animals are kept in zoos, but even those aren't really necessary as bioengineers can simply recreate the animals from DNA samples. It is both cheaper and easier to do this than to maintain a menagerie of animals in this world.

There is no place for the dog. It has no natural food supplies, mates, or relevant survival skills. It would be like keeping a species alive on life support even though it's brain dead and has no chance of making even a partial recovery. This would be a terrible loss, but if that is the world we end up creating, then it is a loss we have forced upon ourselves and every other living creature on the planet.

An excellent review from another Goodreads user can be found here.
LibsNote: Copy borrowed from my library.
Also, if you are curious about steampunk and/or this particular volume you can actually read the first story for free over at Google Books. I freakin' love previews.

27 February 2011

Post 337: Dan Walker (guest blogger)

Lord of the Flies by William Golding.  ISBN: 9780140283334.

This post is going to be equally about the novel and an article that I read recently.  If you read it, make sure you click the two follow-up articles the guy wrote.

What got me thinking about this article in conjunction with the novel was the way the boys treated Piggy.  He's the fat, awkward kid, a serious mama's boy, always speaking his mind to try and get things to work the way he thinks is proper, and so he gets picked on and shunned a lot.  There's a scene where a very tense moment is diffused by someone poking fun at Piggy; it comes off as business as usual, and everyone relaxes.

So, yeah, I was bullied in school, and I won't even begin to guess why.  I remember being laughed at and called names, spit on, and occasionally beaten up on my way to or from school.  That last one was the worst; it didn't happen often, but it did cause me to alter my route to school.  I do hold it accountable for my cynicism, however.

The silly thing is, I never told anyone about anything that happened.  I actually went to great lengths to keep people from finding out what had happened to me.  I can't even begin to understand why I didn't tell anyone.  The best I can guess is that maybe I thought there was something wrong with me and that's why I got picked on all the time.  It's that internalization that keeps bullying something tolerated.  Like the guy in Single Dad Laughing says, the bullied have voices and need to use them.

Still, the treatment I received could have been a lot worse in some ways.  I knew a girl in middle school who was picked on far more publicly, and far more often than I was.  I actually tended to avoid her because she was lower on the social ladder than even me.  Also, the physical abuse I underwent never really did any lasting damage, although I did experience something Single Dad Laughing described, where hot girls would ask me out and then laugh in my face.  That left scars, that have only just recently begun to heal.

It also could have been much worse, because I at least had people to turn to, and I think that's really the most important thing for someone who's being tormented in school.  In high school, I made friends with a bunch of other social outcasts, and we banded together, and we turned our collective ostracized status into something that allowed us to feel better about ourselves.  We didn't need anyone but ourselves, we were better than the 'normals' because we made an effort to be different.  That kind of mindset has sort of warped me for later life, but at the time, it was a most necessary survival mechanism.  My friends gave me a way to be myself, and they gave me something to live for.

I think anything else I could say on the subject is said much better by the article, so I'll just say, if you were holding off on reading it until you finished reading this post, go back and read it now.  It's worth it.

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. 

*This post was originally written October 16, 2010 to give the regular blogger a break.

26 February 2011

Post 336: Dan Walker (guest blogger)

Lord of the Flies by William Golding.  ISBN: 9780140283334.

I first read this book in tenth grade, and I remember really, really liking it until we started to discuss the symbolism (and I know I'm not the only one who felt this way).  What really appealed to me at the time was the surface story: about a bunch of kids having to fend for themselves, living off the land, and forming a society outside the influence of adults, even if it fell apart.

I was really into books like My Side of the Mountain when I was a kid.  I'm not sure what it is about survival stories that's so compelling.  I mean, if I had to go through a situation like that, I'd most likely wind up like Piggy: fat, whiny, ineffectual, striving to maintain decorum, and ultimately, dead.  I'm certainly in no shape for taking care of myself in the wild.  I don't know a whole heck of a lot about cold weather survival, what things to eat, how to hunt...  Like most people, I'm simply not prepared for roughing it.

To be honest, as much as I like visiting parks and forests, I kind of hate being outside.  There are two reasons for this.  The first is the sun.  The sun hates my eyes.  The sun hates my skin.  I don't know that I've ever suntanned, because I usually just turn red and start peeling.  It's unfortunate that we kind of need the sun for living and stuff, because it's really inconvenient.

The second reason is bugs.  Spiders aside, I'm not what you'd call bug-phobic, but I really, really, really hate it when bugs think they can just walk all over me.  There's something about having a bug land on me that makes me react as if I have seen a spider.  I will do anything to avoid coming into contact with most bugs, and I will do anything to get them off of me once they've landed.  I blame mosquitoes for this.

That all said, there is at least one thing that I like about being outside: eating stuff.  I get a serious thrill out of being able to pick fruit outside, whether it's from the blackberry bushes in my backyard, the apple trees at the other end of campus, or that plum tree outside where I work that doesn't produce plums anymore because it's got some kind of disease (when it did produce, they were great).  Even if we're talking something that I've grown, like a carrot, I just find something supremely satisfying about being able to pull something out of the ground, or off a branch, and consume it.

Of course, you have to be careful.  I once tried eating a puffball that was growing in the backyard and boy was that nasty.  I still gag a little when I think about it. 

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. 

*This post was originally written October 16, 2010 to give the regular blogger a break.

25 February 2011

Post 335: Dayna Ingram (guest blogger)

Pariah by Bob Fingerman. ISBN: 9780765326270.

There's a moment very early in this book when a certain character is resting peacefully on the window ledge of an apartment building, inconveniently surrounded by zombies. He chats with his wife, he smokes a cigarette. Oh shit he falls out the window! He becomes a victim first of gravity, then of hungry zombie hordes. This guy right here is totally me if I ever find myself in the midst of a Zombocalypse.

I am the poor sucker who will be killed not by zombies but by my own stupidity, or susceptibility to gravity, which is more or less the same thing. I am the idiot who will avoid being bitten for days, maybe even weeks, and then I'll forget to lock up the garage, or I'll scrape my knee on a rusty nail, or I'll run out into the middle of the street trying to save a stray dog. I'll bust the heads of a writhing, unquenchable mass of gooey, drippy dead dudes, only to trip and fall down a well on my way back to safety. I'll shoot my own undead mother in the noggin' and then step on a live wire that's been downed in a shallow puddle on the sidewalk and go to my grave regretting only that I forgot it had rained or that I forgot how electrocution works.

You read me right. In the event of a Zombie Apocalypse, I would not hesitate to shoot the reanimated corpse of my own dear mother. I guess I'm pretty proud of this inner knowledge. Whatever idiotic things I may do in the quest to not be eaten by my former friends, neighbors and countrymen, I will never die due to a misplaced sense of compassion/empathy/sympathy for my zombified loved ones. Because, as the old adage goes, there's no

Remember that, loved ones. If the Zombocalypse comes, maybe don't beep me.

Dayna Ingram is a writer and student living in the Bay Area. She received her BA in Creative Writing from Antioch College in 2008, and is currently working on her MFA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. She works at Half Price Books, where she buys more books than she can reasonably hope to read in a lifetime.  She is also the author of Sleep Like This.

Dayna's review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: guest blogger did not disclose where she got the book from. Also, I am not a good candidate for saving your or my own ass during the Zombocalypse either. I'm both slow and callous.

24 February 2011

Post 334: Wizard's First Rule

Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind. ISBN: 9780312857059.

Richard Cypher is kind of annoying because he's just so darned good at being good. There's also this weird disconnect between how devoted he is to the truth and the amount of deception he uses to achieve his ends, especially as the book comes to a close. There is something that doesn't sit well with me about someone who is supposed to be trustworthy deceiving anyone, and he does this throughout the story. On the other hand, it's sort of appealing in a Trickster/Brer Rabbit sort of way. We kind of like the guys who purposely break the rules for their own benefit as long as it doesn't actually hurt anyone else.

Seriously, you know you love it when someone files a fraudulent claim that the insurance company actually pays out.

Anyway, Richard kind of throws out a bastardly line to Darken Rahl at Rahl's defeat. I think it says a lot, not only about Richard's personality, but about anyone who is in the least bit sneaky, gossipy, or ambitious enough to step on your head for personal gain. Here's the line:

"Once you teach me something, it's mine to use." Page 563.

This is Richard telling Rahl that he's the one who taught him how to defeat him. Rubbing-one's-face-in-it is so attractive in a hero. But this is actually really excellent cautionary advice as well as an empowering motto. Once you have any kind of information or skill you can use it any way you choose to and no one but you can stop you from doing it. However, that goes for everyone else too, so maybe you should be a little extra careful about who you tell whatever secrets to.

I think we all learn this lesson the hard way. We have that one friend, or friendly person, we think we can talk about a mutual friend with and then we find out said person has blabbed everything you said to the very person you didn't want to know. It's not necessarily that you had any malicious intents or feelings towards that person, but you're not going to have warm happy feelings about everyone all the time and it is normal to want to vent. You can be as upset about this as you want, but ultimately, you were the person who gave that information out.

This is becoming more and more of a problem as information becomes more and more global and easier to access. It's harder to recover from making those mistakes because now all of your friends know what you said about Cindy getting pregnant or that Josh has an STD. You might lose a whole circle of friends rather than just the one you offended before you even have the chance to explain yourself.

In some ways I really don't envy kids growing up today with access to Twitter and Facebook. They have the opportunity to royally screw up their social and professional lives before they've even really learned what they've done. Maybe this will lead to everyone growing much thicker skins and better communication skills in the long run... but from what I remember of teenager relationships, the first instinct is to immediately take offense, consequences be damned.

My review can be found at Goodreads.
LibsNote: Copy checked out from my local library.

23 February 2011

Post 333: Wizard's First Rule

Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind. ISBN: 9780312857059.

So, we have a fairly typical example of the "Chosen One" trope here. I think most people are probably somewhat familiar with the altered storyline of Goodkind's novels thanks to the Legend of the Seeker show. This mostly made me think about why Chosen One myths and story arcs are so appealing to us.

Really, they're some of the oldest and most popular stories: Hercules, Jesus, Moses, and of course the more modern Neo from The Matrix. Why do we still feel drawn to these stories?  Do they fill our need to feel special, like we might one day be the one to fulfill a prophecy? Or do we like the idea of putting the responsibility of saving our asses on one person?

I think I'm going to go with that last one. I don't know many people who actually want to be responsible for saving the world. If that were the case, we'd have a lot more people actually speaking up over atrocities. Somehow we have become comfortable with the idea that we don't really have to worry about fighting off evil unless God or prophecy or something taps us on the shoulder and says, "Hey, you're up." We like these stories because we prefer to have a champion, someone who will fight for us rather than having to do it ourselves and risking our own lives or families or TV time.It's too hard to get involved; most of us don't do anything more intensive than signing our names to a petition. There's nothing wrong with that really, except that how much "evil" has slipped into our political system while we weren't watching?

In some ways, it feels like Obama definitely took advantage of our hopes and dreams for a Chosen One. It felt like he was going to be The One to change the world, to beat the snakes from the grass, and to return us to Better Times. But it doesn't really work that way in real life, does it? Obama can't be the Chosen One because there's no such thing. He's doing what he can in the political situation he's in. We can hope for more, but we shouldn't expect godlike powers and sudden endless prosperity. This is really just one example of many problematic issues that come from the Chosen One mentality.

Sometimes I wonder if we might be better off having never introduced this trope into our storytelling arsenal. It would mean reducing Jesus to a mere mortal and a son of God rather than The Son of God, but maybe that's okay. Maybe we don't need The One to save us (from anything). Maybe we just need a couple of regular people that we can relate to to step up and change the world so we can step up behind them. Why are we so willing to wait for The One when we can be one of many working towards fighting off evil or at least what we perceive as wrong? Should we really ask The One to give all for us when we feel like signing our names is a sacrifice?

And another thing, how many Chosen Ones can you name who are female? I'll give you a head start with She-Ra and Lyra from His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman.

My review can be found at Goodreads.
LibsNote: Copy checked out from my local library.

22 February 2011

Post 332: Pump Six and Other Stories

"The Fluted Girl" in Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi. ISBN: 9781441892201 (audiobook).

In this story, two young girls have been taken from their family and physically altered so they can become Stars. Stars are able to earn "market share" and may eventually earn enough to buy their own shares (i.e. their freedom) and set up their own Fiefdom. Fief rulers are able to run their Fief pretty much any way they want to, and most take complete advantage of that, with the little people being at the complete whim of the rulers.

The alterations that have been inflicted on the girls is extreme. They have been forced to take treatments that have stunted their growth, their bones are so brittle that they can barely walk without fear of breaking one, and holes have been inserted into their bodies to literally turn them into musical instruments. And despite their young years, they have been sexualized and forced to perform in a sexual manner for the entertainment of Fief holders in the hopes of someday being Stars themselves.

I was pretty grossed out but the whole story, but the more I thought about it, the more familiar it seemed. If you take away all the futuristic alterations and situation, it isn't really all that "new." We do that to child stars today. Look at the Miley Cyruses, the Britney Spearses, the Lindsey Lohans, the Mary Kate and Asheley Olsenseseses..es... and even the Drew Barrymores and Judy Garlands. Fame ruins people and the sick thing is that the more ruined and broken these children become the more entertained we are. Some of them turn their lives around, but they all struggle to come to terms with either the pressure of spending a majority of their life in the limelight and then losing it or trying to figure out how to stay there. By the very nature of the business they have to undergo surgeries and crash diets, and they do crazy and harmful things to themselves. Why do we think that's okay?

Why do we think it's moral to consume any kind of entertainment that ruins the mental and physical well being of children? Maybe we just don't want to think about it. We don't want these to be real people, because if they're real people we have to be accountable for what we've done to them. Maybe we didn't sign the contracts with the companies to make them the Stars, but we buy the CDs and watch the TV shows. We read the magazines and take on the harmful language and call one of the Olsen twins "fat" when neither of them is nowhere close. We love seeing those Stars shoot up so high and bright, but even more we love seeing them crash and burn, and when they're done they're done. Most haven't been set up to work in the real world even if a company would hire them for anything except PR and exploitation, so the only thing they can do is work and work and work their young years and hope to set up their own Fiefdom record label, clothing line, perfume, whatever. Or they get mismanaged and left with nothing and are forced to appear on reality TV shows as sad, broken people trying to hold themselves together the only way they know how.

I'm not sure how Hollywood got exempt from child labor laws, but I wonder why no one has raised these questions. Are we so in love with child stars that we can watch them lose fingers to the Hollywood machine? Or do we love children and put an end to the maiming and disfigurement of people who can't legally sign their own contracts? It's bad enough what adult starlets and stars go through to maintain their fame, I don't see how anyone can feel good about putting those pressures on someone underage.

An excellent review from another Goodreads user can be found here.
LibsNote: Copy borrowed from my library.
Also, if you are curious about steampunk and/or this particular volume you can actually read the first story for free over at Google Books. I freakin' love previews.

21 February 2011

Post 331: Waiting for Daisy

Waiting for Daisy by Peggy Orenstein. ISBN: 9781596910171.

I've always thought that the whole infertility industry is a bit shady. It is so incredibly expensive, there are so many different methods, and when it comes down to it there are probably very good biological reasons why certain people can't conceive. It is unfortunate and sad, and I am in no way saying that these people have inferior genes or shouldn't be parents, but I find it troubling when people put their own futures and health (marital, financial, mental, and physical) at risk in any one pursuit. I have similar feelings towards professional athletes who build up their bodies only to break them in horrendous ways, or people who invest all of their money in the next big thing that doesn't pan out. Sure, the payoff could have been big, but they didn't leave room for disaster, for the big misfortunes life might throw at them. And yes, I'm aware that my own life is kind of a big misfortune.

Part of me wonders if the infertility industry, the things that people do to get pregnant, are only prolonging the pain. Of course someone could end up with exactly what they want, a healthy child, but what about the people who ruined or nearly ruined their lives and still didn't get a baby in the bargain? Maybe if they had been told, "No way in hell are you having a child," they could have accepted their situation and made the best of it. How many people have been given false hope and spent years being crushed over and over again?

Personally, I don't know if I could handle the trauma. I think being told I was infertile would be enough. Sure, I don't have as much investment in having a child because I don't want one and don't foresee myself wanting one anytime in the future... but I'd like to know I have the option. Then again if I found a doctor who would tie my tubes, I'd be in his office by tomorrow and paying the credit card bill for the next 10 years. I am a bit conflicted like that. I guess when it comes to biology I kind of feel like the best thing to do would be to listen to my body. If my body tells me I shouldn't have biological kids, then that's probably a good idea and even if I want them really badly, no amount of injecting myself with hormones and fertilized eggs is going to make me happy if I don't actually get pregnant. Even then, there's a chance I'll have lost everything I wanted to share with that child (my house, my partner, my sanity).

So if I'm still blogging in 10 years and find out that I can't get pregnant, someone please remind me to reread Orenstein's book. She is a much stronger person than I am, also I'm pretty sure she was slightly insane for at least three of the years she was trying to get pregnant. Really, this is a good book for anyone to read, regardless of fertility issues.

Great review over at Kirkus.
LibsNote: Copy checked out from the library.

20 February 2011

Post 330: Waiting for Daisy

Waiting for Daisy by Peggy Orenstein. ISBN: 9781596910171.

Warning: I'm going to get fairly personal and graphic about a possible early term miscarriage.

There is a moment during Orenstein's third pregnancy where she says she feels a filament of life connecting to her child. When she loses the child she has to come to grips with the loss. One of the ways she does this is through the ritual of Mizuko kuyo, which is designed to offer comfort and repentance to those who have lost children under the age of seven or who have had miscarriages or abortions. She also talks about the disconnect between how women are supposed to react to their miscarriages versus general feeling of whether or not the fetus obtained personhood. I'll use her own words as they are more striking than my summary,

"All of this [attention and preparation for a child at such an early stage in pregnancy] encourages a mother-to-be to see the fetus as a person, at least in the psychological sense, at an ever-earlier stage. You tell friends, Names are bandied about. The baby feels real. Yet, if the pregnancy goes amiss, that personhood is abruptly revoked and you're supposed to act like nothing ever happened."  Page 132.

Before about May 2009, I might not have understood these words. I would have understood that of course a miscarriage is a very unfortunate and heart-wrenching thing, especially when the child is wanted, but at five weeks? At five weeks it has barely even reached the size of a sesame seed. How can someone possibly feel emotional attachment to something that small and insignificant, something that is likely to miscarry on its own at this stage if there are any cellular issues? But I get it now, and I'm ready to talk about it.

Two years ago I was busy finishing up my second to last semester in graduate school. I was signing up for my last round of classes and working two part-time jobs in the university library. A month earlier I had skipped a period, which is highly unusual for me, and a month before that my boyfriend (soon to be fiance) and I had a condom failure. I did take the Plan B pill for the condom failure, and it is likely that it affected my cycle, but there is also the slight chance that I was pregnant. I remember finally getting my period after starting my first round of birth control pills (which were prescribed after two home pregnancy tests and bloodwork at the doctor's office just to be extra sure). The bleeding was much heavier than it had ever been since I was 14. During one of my work shifts I went to the restroom, felt some very painful cramping, and passed a ball of tissue that was about the size of a newborn kitten.

It was distressing. It was so distressing I did not allow myself to think that it might have been, could have been, a potential child. I couldn't do it, not for at least a year. And I had been frequently nauseous the previous week or so, but chalked it up to introducing new hormones into my body...along with one too many margaritas the one time I actually threw up. It still makes me sad to think that it might have been a child, even though two years later I am in no position to even take care of myself. I mourn the potential of that being, regardless of whether it even was a fetus or just something in my head. I did and do still have a psychological connection to that moment and that unknown being.

I still do not want a child in my life. I don't see myself as being a biological mother, although the idea has become less scary over the years. But I do still feel pain and conflict over what might have been. I don't regret the decision not to bring a child into the world, if a child it was, because I could not have provided the life it deserves no matter how much love I could give it. I do mourn that potential child in the way that I mourn the loss of any potential life, whether at the age of 99 or barely born. Death of any sort is a sad and troubling thing, and the death of an unborn child is always sad, even if it is sometimes necessary.

I am pro-choice. I don't know if I would ever take the steps to have an abortion, because I have not been in that situation myself. I do know that I want to have the option to make that choice. I might need to someday. There is no birth control method that is 100% effective, short of sterilization (which they won't do to most women who don't have children), so I need to know that I have the right to terminate a pregnancy should all attempts to prevent one fail. This does not mean that it will be an easy decision for me if it happens and I make that choice. But I know, no matter what I choose, I will always wonder if it was the right thing to do.

Great review over at Kirkus.
LibsNote: Copy checked out from the library.

19 February 2011

Post 329: Fallen

Fallen by Lauren Kate. ISBN: 9780385738934.

I really love it when people make up books in fictional books, especially when they are of the non-fiction variety. However, this is the first time I have encountered a fictional non-fiction book that was assigned its own call number. I am slightly impressed by the fact that Kate went that far in creating her book. Although, since I'm a librarian there was something about the call number that seemed way off to me. This is not me trying to be snarky or anything, this is me really enjoying the professional knowledge floating around in my head. Since I'm not using it any other way right now, I might as well entertain myself and others.

Anyway, here's the entry in the card  catalog, which was well done, by the way:
Grigori, D. The Watchers: Myth in Medieval Europe. Seraphim Press, Rome, 1755.
Call No.: R999.318 GRI
For those of you who do not spend a lot of time in academic libraries, this call number system comes from Library of Congress. It is primarily used for larger systems. The first letter tells you what "schedule" the book belongs to. Most do not correspond with the subject matter, although the first part of the alphabet is mostly dedicated to humanities. There are irreverent librarians out there like me who are always amused by the fact that religious texts are located in BS. Music is handily in the M's. Z is dedicated to all things bookish (repair, award lists, Z is basically the meta section). Most of the books in religion are in the Bs; this includes church history, which this fictional work would probably be nearby.

So what's in the R section? That's mostly devoted to medicine. So if you happened to really like this book and want to follow in Luce's footsteps, going to your public library would be your first mistake. Instead take a look at your local college library. As long as you aren't at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, you should be looking at Library of Congress instead of the more familiar Dewey Decimal system. Next, instead of going to the R section, consider going into BR which is more geared toward religious history, I think that might help you out more.

Speaking of other nerdy things I like to do with call numbers, searching the previously mentioned University of Illinois's catalog for the longest possible Dewey Decimal number is the best fun a librarian can have. I think the longest one I found was 9 decimal places. Can you beat that?

I thought this was a fairly good review by another Goodreader. I rated it three stars, although the last star is more of a waffle, the ending is really what pushed it over into 3-star territory. This is pretty much a fluff book.
LibsNote: Library copy. Yay, free books!

18 February 2011

Post 328: Fallen

Fallen by Lauren Kate. ISBN: 9780385738934.

I can't really talk about major plot elements since anything I would want to talk about in depth would be too spoiliery. I mean, I could, but even fewer people would read this entry. I will say that I liked the little details that were put into this novel. While it does share some of the same plot elements and issues with Twilight, it is much better written and our characters are a little more well defined. For instance, I learned what Luce's favorite foods were when she had a picnic with her parents at the boarding school. This information was introduced in a fairly natural way, rather than weird and awkward "dating game" questions, like Edward asking Bella what her favorite color was and her giving a non-answer 'Brown, at least today, it changes because I have no real personality.'

I was also excited to see that one of Luce's favorite foods was okra pickles. Why okra pickles? Because it is one of the few things I like about the South. Strangely, I did not actually discover the joys of okra pickles until Thanksgiving 2009. My fiance and I were visiting my mother and she had them as a snack. Ever since, I have introduced as many people as possible to the deliciousness that is the okra pickle. The okra actually has very little of its own flavor, so if you like the taste of vinegar and pickling spices, this is the way to go.

Personally, I'm pretty fond of the texture of okra. It has the perfect shape and there is something infinitely satisfying about the feel of the tiny white seeds popping in your mouth. It really is an underappreciated foodstuff, so it was nice to see something I enjoy show up in a book that others seem to be enjoying. This book was not quite as delicious as my favorite snack, but it was a quick read and the last four chapters or so were a pretty good set up for what should be an excellent sequel, maybe.

PS: my favorite brand is Talk o'Texas. Man, I freakin' love okra... I might just be losing my mind.

Obey the okra.

I thought this was a fairly good review by another Goodreader. I rated it three stars, although the last star is more of a waffle. The ending is really what pushed it over into 3-star territory. This is pretty much a fluff book.
LibsNote: Library copy. Yay, free books!

17 February 2011

Post 327: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. ISBN: 9780307589385 (eBook).

There have been questions about Skloot's methods for obtaining information from the Lacks family. Some of her methods appear to be borderline pestering and manipulating/exploiting the family further. I'm going to look at it from the side of the researcher, since that's what I'm somewhat familiar with.

There aren't a whole lot of people who are just going to give you personal information, especially when they know you'll be publishing it. You have to be pretty damned smooth and charismatic in order to get people to drop their guard enough to tell you their life story, or even someone else's life story sometimes. Because of this sometimes it is necessary to develop a relationship, especially if the person or people you're working with have been hurt as the Lacks family obviously has. Regardless of whether Skloot's actions were actually moral, it does seem that her actions ended up benefiting the Lacks family overall by giving them a forum in which to air their grievances.

Whether or not Skloot badgered them, they were badgered by other media sources. The fact that Skloot was willing to give the Lacks family time to open up and learn to trust her demonstrated that her heart was at least in the right place and that she did have the family's best interests in mind. I do not know whether the remaining Lackses would say their interests and trust have been kept, but I do know they are receiving more benefits from their talks with Skloot than they ever received from the medical profession.

It is not often that history and/or journalism can help in such a way. Sometimes the only benefit that occurs when the interviews are over, the research is done, and the paper written is that the subject regains some level of personhood. In that sense, I believe Skloot achieved that goal. Henrietta Lacks and her family are very real people in this book. If Skloot steamrolled and cajoled the family, at least this time it was done with less harm than those who swear "First, do no harm." While medical science has certainly profited from HeLa, as have so many others, is it worth the harm that has been done to the Lacks family? Especially since Henrietta Lacks may have agreed to everything if someone had asked permission and explained what they were doing and why. What is the harm in asking?

An excellent review can be found from another bloggin' librarian over at ricklibrarian.
LibsNote: Copy downloaded from my public library. Ask your local library if they carry eBooks!

16 February 2011

Post 326: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. ISBN: 9780307589385 (eBook).

I think the idea of someone doing anything to your body (regardless of whether it is still attached to you) without your permission is a bit disturbing. I know this is a bit at odds with my views about what happens to my body after I'm dead as far as organ donation and then disposal of my remains, but organs typically don't last forever and disposal means it is trash and theoretically no one should want it. Taking tissue samples from my body and using them in ways that I, or the donor, have no knowledge of is and should be highly objectionable to everyone involved.

Curing cancer? This I have no problem with. Finding a cure for cancer and charging people thousands of dollars for it when you know only a small percentage of the population can afford it (especially if it costs pennies to produce)? I am not as okay with. Using my tissue samples to develop biological weapons? I am morally opposed to.

The chances of this actually happening to my cells are probably pretty slim. But the medical world probably does have my samples on file somewhere. I donate blood, I am a woman and have therefore forcibly donated cervix cells in order to obtain access to birth control, and I've had a biopsy on my thyroid. I have never received confirmation that those samples were destroyed or no longer exist, and now that they are outside of my body they are no longer "mine."

It is not so much that I want to profit from discoveries made from my cells. I believe that everyone has an obligation to progress areas of science that will make critical improvements in the quality of life. I do believe in making those benefits available to as wide a number of people as possible. There is no humane/Christian/compassionate argument for allowing another person to live in suffering in order to make a profit. I am not arguing for free medicine; doctors, health insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, and test subjects and specimen providers should be fairly compensated for their contributions to medical science.

But how "fair" it is for CEOs of pharmaceutical companies to make their high-end salaries when they are not so much in charge of curing cancer as they are in running the company that produces the cure for cancer and then figuring out how much money they can make off of it? There is something deeply, deeply wrong with viewing the healing of the sick in this manner, just as surely as it is wrong to take something from someone's body and then state that they have no claim over what happens to it. This would be a lot like an author publishing her book and then immediately losing all rights to it. While she has to suffer the slings and arrows of praise and criticism alike, at least she doesn't have to do so without a paycheck attached to her efforts. In the case of Henrietta Lacks, it was if they chopped up her novel and spit it out in a million variants. Not only was she never fairly compensated for each variant, she wasn't even asked if that variant could exist in the first place.

Let's make this personal: how would you feel if your cells were used to cure cancer? No objections there, probably. But what if they were used to make human clones? What if they were used to make designer babies? What if they were used to create a biological weapon to wipe out people of a certain ethnic background?

I have news: you don't have that right. And if you have ever given any tissue samples, someone probably has your cells and has every legal right to do those things (although hopefully most of those would not reach the human testing stage).

An excellent review can be found from another bloggin' librarian over at ricklibrarian.
LibsNote: Copy downloaded from my public library. Ask your local library if they carry eBooks!
Oh, if you prefer fiction, but still want to read about some of the issues raised by Skloot, Michael Crichton's novel Next is actually really fascinating, pseudoscience aside.

15 February 2011

Post 325: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin. ISBN: 9780062048745 (eBook).

Spoiler Alert: I don't tell you whodunnit, but I hint at whodidnt.

I really, really identified with the character of Larry Ott. I was never accused of murdering anyone, but I certainly felt and understood the pain of not fitting in and being looked at like I had done something wrong. If anyone should get anything from this book it's how valuable the concept "innocent until proven guilty" really is.

Ott's financial, educational, and social life was pretty much ruined by the ostracization of the town. Granted, he was the weird kid to begin with, but had he been left alone long enough to finish high school, he might have gone on to college where his "strange" habit of reading, interest in snakes, and knack for "odd" scientific facts would not have been unusual. Instead, Ott was harassed right out of high school because people still believed he committed the crime, even though a body wasn't found. What surprises me is that Ott didn't sell all of his father's property and leave town after serving in the military.

I suppose that kind of abuse sticks with some people in different ways. By the end of the novel things have changed for Ott, not necessarily that the town has come to accept him wholeheartedly, but he finally decides not to live as a victim of other people's perceptions anymore. His way might have been braver than mine in the long run. Instead, I left the places where people threw trash at me from their pick up trucks or called me a devil worshipper or invited me to parties only when they needed beer money or a place to crash. It only took me 5 years to escape from that situation, whereas it took Ott 30 years to learn to cope with his.

Then again... It looks like I may be thrown back into the snake pit soon.

My roommate is moving and I can't afford to live on my own. So I'll be moving back in with my mother, who settled in the very place I never wanted to set foot in again. Looks like everything I worked for ended up in the garbage anyway.

There's an excellent book review by Bookmarks Magazine. I'm not sure why it repeats on their page, but you can also follow their reviews on Goodreads.
LibsNote: eBook downloaded from my library via Overdrive Media.

14 February 2011

Post 324: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin. ISBN: 9780062048745 (eBook).

There are a few people in this world who are so passionate about their preferred entertainment/enrichment media that they can get me to read, watch, or otherwise consume almost anything. Nancy Pearl happens to be one of those individuals, and she tricked me with her tricky tricks into reading this murder mystery. My regular readers will know the issues I have with murder mysteries, but not only did Nancy Pearl's enthusiasm and energy for this novel make me interested in something I probably wouldn't have picked up for myself, but... she was right about it.

This is probably the best reason in the world to be widely read and to have professionals who are widely read. Just because I don't like mysteries as a genre, doesn't mean that I can't enjoy them occasionally. The things I don't like about mysteries don't apply to ALL mysteries, and so I was really glad that I got to hear Nancy Pearl talk about this title, because otherwise I would have just walked by it. It has a lot of the things I don't really get excited about (a southern setting, an emphasis on race relations, no female characters worth mentioning), and yet somehow seeing Nancy's face light up when talking about it made me scribble down the title in the back of my journal. If there's one thing that woman can sell, it's books, and she does a good job at it.

So what made this different from other murder mysteries, other than it was recommended by someone I trust and appreciate? Well, it is definitely more centered on character development, which is something I find most murder mysteries lack. Some authors actually have very well developed characters, but choose to feed us bits and pieces of character over the course of a 10+ book series so they can keeping milking said character, or they just reveal the same character traits over and over again.

Franklin also seems to actually love language. I mean really love it. The vocabulary in this book is strikingly rich and varied compared to similar novels. And you can tell he really enjoys his setting in the way that he describes the town, the trailer park, the stacks of mail and paperbacks in Larry Ott's home. I'll give you a sample, this is the second paragraph:
"It'd stormed the night before over much of the Southeast, flash floods on the news, trees snapped in half and pictures of trailer homes twisted apart. Larry, forty-one years old and single, lived alone in rural Mississippi in his parents' house, which was now his house, though he couldn't bring himself to think of it that way. He acted more like a curator, keeping the rooms clean, answering the mail and paying bills, turning on the television at the right times and smiling with the laugh tracks, eating his McDonald's or Kentucky Fried Chicken to what the networks presented him and then sitting on his front porch as the day bled out of the trees across the field and night settled in, each different, each the same." Page 1.
What wonderful words I would have missed out on if it hadn't been for Nancy Pearl. Is there someone out there whose recommendations you read even if it isn't in your chosen genre? What's the best/most surprising book they recommended for you?

There's an excellent book review by Bookmarks Magazine. I'm not sure why it repeats on their page, but you can also follow their reviews on Goodreads.
LibsNote: eBook downloaded from my library via Overdrive Media.

13 February 2011

post 323: a general update

Yeah, I ditched Republocrat. I knew I wouldn't be able to read it without giving myself an aneurysm, and so I stopped for the benefit of everyone. Let's see, I've got some stuff lined up, but I'm also way overdue for a break. The last one I took was sometime in November, I think, and that was still a working break. I have a couple of applications that are due at the end of this month that I have little to no desire to work on, so at some point I'll need a hiatus from the blog just to get those done. If you're interested in being a guest blogger, let me know (acampb8@kent.edu).

I'm going to do a fairly long list for this one, because on February 5th I went out to support my library in solidarity with all the people in the UK whose libraries are threatened. Also, it's been a long time since I just went into the library and grabbed an armful of books. Oh, and I put holds on eBooks and those became available more quickly than I realized they were going to. Almost none of these were actually on my to-read list. I am a bad person.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin.
This was recommended to me by an awesome librarian. You'll hear more about that in the blog post so that's all you get to know for now. It posts tomorrow, so you won't have to wait long.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
This has actually been all over the place from NPR to the Colbert Report, and ALL OVER the book blogosphere. I'm excited to finally be able to read it and I am sure it's worth all the hype.

Fallen by Lauren Kate.
This was a title I made note of during ALA 2010. I'm pretty sure I got it from one of the many catalogs I picked up. It's gotten some good press on the book blogs. We'll see if I agree. Looks like it might be Twilight-esque... so... this title might be dropped in favor of something more substantive and enjoyable (for me).

Waiting for Daisy by Peggy Orenstein.
I was browsing in the library and saw that they had this autobiography. After reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter (which has blown up in the book world, and is doing really well), I saw no reason not to read this one as well. I love the discussions Orenstein has started on Facebook and Twitter. She's very in touch with her readership, which is something I appreciate. Anyway, I liked her writing style and especially enjoyed the chapters where she interacted with her daughter, so why not read a whole book on it?

Three Hands for Scorpio by Andre Norton.
Okay, so I've kind of feel like I've been in a reading slump lately and I really just want some familiar authors. I like Andre Norton's work with other authors, but I haven't read a whole lot of her individual work. I've also been starved for some science fiction. For some reason I've been neglecting that genre since starting this blog. Maybe because I don't follow enough sci-fi bloggers? Hmm...

The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie.
I absolutely loved Haroun and the Sea of Stories so the idea of spending a little more time with a Rushdie novel is a pleasant one. I have no idea what this is really about, but the title sure is catchy. Also, shiny cover, shiny!

Wizard's First Rule (Sword of Truth series) by Terry Goodkind.
So uh, I started this on audiobook, made it almost halfway through and then it expired on me (checked out from my library). So I went ahead and placed a hold on the book. I think I might enjoy reading it better because the narrator of my version, Sam Tsoutsouvas, had some vaguely Microsoft Sam inflections going on. It was tolerable as long as I was doing something else, but it also had the tendency to either annoy me or make me tune out completely. Ah, the importance of choosing the right narrator and the right reading inflections.

12 February 2011

Post 322: A New Birth of Freedom

A New Birth of Freedom: The Visitor by Robert G. Pielke. ISBN: 9781936021239.

First off, Happy 202nd Birthday to President Lincoln, who I am sure would love blogs and his recent resurgence in fame between this and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. For some reason I get the feeling Mary Todd would have really loved Vampire Hunter. That Grahame-Smith kid just has a flair for writing like other people.

Since this is part of a blog tour, I'm going to tell new visitors, this is not going to be a review. I don't write reviews on my blog, those are over at my Goodreads account. I have also started linking to my reviews, or reviews I agree with at the bottom of my posts. Otherwise, what you get here is a reflection based on my reading of a particular book, its themes, characters, quotes, or some combination thereof. This post will be focusing on my experience with alternate histories.

While I've always been fascinated with alternate histories, and I think most of us have, I did not really become aware of exactly how fascinating it could be as a literary device until about the seventh grade. At the time, my mother was stationed on Guam, going through a divorce, and preparing to move, and I had switched schools yet again. One of my many distractions from this was to read a lot, which coincided with one of several book reports my literature teacher assigned. I was already reading Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus. This is another novel which uses time travel to create an alternate history where there wasn't one before. In some ways I feel it uses it more effectively than A New Birth of Freedom, but I will say that Lincoln is an infinitely more sympathetic character than Christopher Columbus. What can I say, it's easier to like a guy who freed the slaves, at least in The South, than someone who put Native Americans in chains and introduced them to syphilis.

I've certainly read many alternate history novels since then, and watched loads of movies (I am a sci-fi movie junkie). But none of them really stick out in my mind. However, with the advent of steampunk as a genre we see way, way, WAY more novels being published in the alternate history genre. Most of these don't actually involve time travel, which in some ways I think makes them even more fascinating. Possibly one of the most interesting early examples of steampunk I've come across is the Age of Unreason series by J. Gregory Keyes. I'm not going to say it was the best series I've ever read, but I loved Ben Franklin as a character and Keyes did an excellent job of making the blend of technology, supernatural, and history work.

Perhaps my two favorites in the genre that I've read recently were the aforementioned Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter novel (which is pure alternate history, unsullied even by time travel) and Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate which is most certainly steampunk with plenty of vampires, werewolves, and ghosts thrown in, as well as just enough Victorian era romance to make a young girl of any age ever-so-giddy. It's an amazingly fun romp.

None of these, however, has insectoid aliens, which is definitely something that A New Birth of Freedom has going for it. While I may not have been crazy about Pielke's human characters, perhaps with an exception of Pierce, I am fascinated by the giant locust people and their time traveling abilities. Had the novel had a little more of the Pests and a little bit less of the pest Blair, I would have loved this novel. As it is, I don't think this is a strong example of an otherwise very robust genre. I do think that the last third or so of the book is much better than the preceding two-thirds, and I have suspicions that the second book will be more deserving of the investment of time to read it.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by Tribute Books so I could participate in the book blog tour. If you would like to read what other participants have said, click here.

11 February 2011

Post 321: The Water is Wide

The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy. ISBN: 9781453203897 (eBook).

In The Water is Wide, Conroy comes to recognize the values of television as a medium through which we can have shared experiences. In this case, the shared experience is the movie The Wizard of Oz. Of all the possible movies that the kids could have been exposed to, this is a really good one, but what do we have today that almost everyone has been exposed to in order to have those common experiences?

It seems that pop culture is changing so fast that it instead of "popping" it flashes. It is there one moment, and in the next it is gone. What's the last movie that you saw that you think will make a lasting impression on you? Was it anything this year? Can you say the same thing for art? Books? Advertisements? Clothing? TV Series? It all seems so disposable. In some ways this is a good thing, because advertisers and creative teams have the chance to try a whole bunch of new things and see if they stick, but the problem with that is that they don't stick around for very long even when they are moderately successful (Farscape, Heroes, Dead Like Me). Or they have the problem of sticking around far after they lose their appeal; or even worse, they never had any to begin with because it was a poorly formulated and/or executed idea because Someone thought it would make a whole lot of money and pushed it before it was really developed.

Then again, it seems that Making Money has caused its own problems. In order to be able to push More on the consumer they have actually given us too many options. By providing ten thousand flavors of family drama, vampire romance, train wrecks in the form of reality TV shows, and whatever else your brain could possibly think of, there is almost no way for there to be any front runners. We don't have the kind of common culture we had back in the day because it's hard to watch the same shows as your neighbor when you both have 200 channels to choose from. This is of course the same with reading material, movies, etc.

Is this a good thing? Or is it just the way it is? If we were to have a core of common knowledge, what should it be and who should decide?

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free review copy provided through NetGalley.
If you like memoirs, this is a good one.

10 February 2011

Post 320: The Water is Wide

The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy. ISBN: 9781453203897 (eBook).

There was an excellent moment in this book when Conroy realizes he's being an asshole. I kind of really love these moments, because I've had enough of them in my life to know the utter shame and embarrassment and genuine regret of behaving in a way that shows the world what a big asshole I am. I don't necessarily mean to be an asshole, but by thinking I know better than someone else or my cultural/educational/whatever beliefs are somehow better than someone else's, it sometimes happens. This blog is full of those moments, and I sometimes have to eat my words with a healthy dose of foot sauce.

In this case Conroy has discovered exactly how extreme and how ingrained the belief of ghosts is in the people of Yamacraw. He attempts to "cure" some of the children of this belief by telling them a dwarf ghost lives in his house. When the children scream their little heads off he comes to this conclusion:
"I was still not taking their phobia seriously and was trying to think of a way to eliminate this nonsense once and for all. I did not realize that I was not dealing with nonsense but with a culture, a history, and something very kin to religion."
Ah, the beginning of understanding. It is a wonderful thing.I myself had the opportunity to experience something like this at a young enough age that I did not in fact have to experience the culinary delight that is me eating my words.

When I was about eight years old we moved to a fairly isolated island out in the Pacific Ocean. While this is not quite the same as an island off the coast of a southern state, it does have its parallels in the sense that Guam developed its own spiritualist culture. It is a culture that is still present today.

While living on Guam I had the privilege of taking a class on the history of Guam. I say it is a privilege because I believe children who are now brought over to the island for tours with their military families all go to the Department of Defense schools, which probably does not include the culture of the area. I feel I actually learned more about Guam than any other place I lived (besides perhaps Germany) because of this class. The teacher instilled a very healthy dose of respect in us for the taotaomoa (tao rhymes with ow in this case). We were told to ask for permission to enter the boonies before ever stepping foot away from civilization. There are very real things in the boonies that can harm you, possibly the most dangerous being the boonie bees, which are pretty ferocious. Check these suckers out, they look as mean as they are.

Rather than scoffing at the very idea of asking some dead ancestors sending overly aggressive bees or angry wild boars my way, I decided to play it safe and take their customs very seriously. I think in the case where you are living in someone else's culture that this is the way to go. It doesn't matter if you think it's silly that someone thinks taking a picture will somehow steal their soul, it's not your soul and you don't mess with something like that. It's too bad that Conroy did not respect this, and honestly having a healthy dose of ghosts and spirits probably serves the very good purpose of keeping villagers close to the village at night. This is very important on islands and other isolated areas that don't have the best access to medical care and may not even have the resources for a full fledged search party. As long as the tradition isn't beating the devil out of a child, I say it's probably okay to allow a native population to keep their beliefs, to even be proud of them, and to respect them while you are in their home and on their homeland.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free review copy provided through NetGalley.
If you like memoirs, this is a good one.

09 February 2011

Post 319: Pump Six and Other Stories

"Pocketful of Dharma" in Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi. ISBN: 9781441892201 (audiobook).

 Uh... Spoiler Alert. I just can't talk about the issues I want to without giving away the story, sorry. There's a link to this particular story at the bottom through Google Books preview, so feel free to read it first and then read my post. Fair warning, the story is about 24 pages.

In this short story, a beggar boy is given a task to deliver a data cube. Along the way he discovers that the data cube holds the personality and memories of the Dalai Lama (he has a Twitter account by the way). When the boy learns that the cube will likely be used as a bargaining chip with China he has to decide whether or not to keep the cube for himself or to destroy it and release the Dalai Lama's soul to be reincarnated.

I'm not going to tell you which option he chooses, but I can see where both would be appealing to someone who has so little. On the one hand, the boy might be able to find his own worth by Doing The Right Thing (at least as we perceive it) and having the knowledge that he has done so when others in his society behave in a less moral and/or charitable manner. Or he could achieve a similar goal through the materialistic means of actually keeping the Dalai Lama in his pocket. In all the world, no matter how much richer or better off everyone else is, this tiny beggar boy has something no one else has and cannot have and that makes him unique.

Since the beggar is living in a world where the downtrodden tend to remain that way (Bacigalupi tends to favor writing in this kind of a world), this is the only way that the beggar can actually prove his worth to anyone else. He might actually be more worthy if he released the Dalai Lama's soul, but then he would have no way of showing anyone and no way of reminding himself. And before you judge the boy, remember that we all have something that we cherish that we feel represents our worth and best qualities. It may be something small, like an engagement ring, or something big like a sports car. It might even just be a piece of paper that represents the time and money spent in gaining a certain knowledge.

So, what's your Dalai Lama? And if you were required to, could you let it go?

An excellent review from another Goodreads user can be found here.
LibsNote: Copy borrowed from my library.
Also, if you are curious about steampunk and/or this particular volume you can actually read the first story for free over at Google Books. I freakin' love previews.

08 February 2011

Post 318: Dan Walker (guest blogger)

Nemesis by Philip Roth.  ISBN: 9780547318356.

One of Bucky's initial points of self-loathing is that his eyesight is too poor for him to be able to fight in World War II.  So his friends ship off to Europe while he's stuck at home, a 4-F minding a playground.  I want to make it clear, this really gets him down.

Me, I don't get that.  I've always believed that going into the military was a death sentence.  That's a bit harsh, of course; it's more like playing Russian roulette, there's just a chance that you'll die.  Personally, I've never wanted to take that chance and I don't understand why people do.

I'm not a big patriot, and I'm certainly no nationalist.  I try to support our troops and all that, but deep down, I think they're all crazy.  As far I can tell, everyone in the military is in some way suicidal.  I cannot find any other way to explain why they would want to go to war, because I'm one of those people who doesn't believe that there is anything worth dying for.

See, when you die, you stop.  Anything that you were fighting for, you can't fight for anymore.  You're useless.  Your potential as anything but fertilizer is zero.  So that's one less person trying to hold off the invaders, one less person who could one day cure cancer or invent the warp drive, one less person to love and care about others.  What's the point in dying for something?  Isn't it better to keep fighting, to keep working toward whatever ideal you stand for?  You certainly can't trust others to do it once you're gone.  We may put a lot of emphasis on last requests, but it's not like there's any kind of binding contract for others to carry out your wishes.

I'm sure I'll get a lot of flak for this, but I don't care.  I guarantee that as much as I don't understand the military viewpoint, those who do won't understand mine.  Call me a coward if you want, that's fine.  I just think this is something that needs to be said, because no one ever seems willing to say it. 

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: This post was originally written October 11, 2010 to give the regular blogger a break. 
Dan borrowed an ARC of Nemesis from me. I received it from a publisher's booth at ALA 2010.

07 February 2011

Post 317: Two Moon Princess

Two Moon Princess by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban ISBN: 9781933718279.

So, this book did something a little different with the "tomboy princess" trope. Rather than Andrea wanting to a knight through the entirety of the novel, we find that really she just doesn't want to be a "lady." She has only chosen to be and trained as a page because in her world it would have given her more opportunities to contribute. Once she crosses over into our world, she sees that there is another option available and that all she has to do is escape to another world in order to have the freedom she desires.

In some ways there are problems with this, and in other ways it is completely understandable. Here's the thing: by leaving her world the way it is in order to improve her own lot in life, Andrea doesn't even consider that maybe she could have stayed on her world and tried to improve the lives of every woman. Perhaps she could not have accomplished much in her lifetime, but at least she could have stayed long enough to ensure that her history was recorded accurately. She was heavily involved with the peace efforts between her kingdom and uh, that other kingdom that I learned almost nothing about. I think if I had been that involved I would want my efforts to be recognized.  At least this way women and young girls might have an example to follow. Then again I guess they didn't really teach girls much history on Xaren-Ra, so perhaps it doesn't matter after all.

The point is, yay for Andrea, but it might have been nice to have her at least think about the conditions of other women on her planet. Instead, we see her go through only as much character growth as is necessary for her to get what she wants. Sounds to me like she's still stuck in princess mode, only now she can have even more of what she wants without really having had to work for it. She didn't even struggle with learning the language because her people have "amazing" memory capabilities. This is great and all, but actually freeing yourself from repression takes a lot of work and I think Andrea might have appreciated her freedom a bit more had she actually realized how much our world struggled to get where it is today, and how much further it has to go.

But as I mentioned earlier, it was nice to see that Andrea realized that she didn't so much want to be a knight, as she wanted the option to be more than a marital bargaining chip and embroiderer. This is a good touch because too often in this trope traditional femininity is sneered at and looked down upon. Of course, it still happened in Two Moon Princess, but it felt by the end of the novel that Andrea didn't have a problem with it so much as she just really didn't want to be associated with a group of people who didn't do anything. I think if she had stayed longer in her world she might have come to the conclusion that it wasn't because they didn't want to contribute, so much as they were not allowed to. Unfortunately, Andrea had some big old blinders on and they never really came off.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free review copy received from Publisher's booth at ALA 2010

06 February 2011

Post 316:Two Moon Princess

Two Moon Princess by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban ISBN: 9781933718279.

"I knew knights did not really fight for us ladies. If they did, they would have the courtesy of asking first whether we want their help." Page 279.

Chivalry is such a difficult issue in today's society. I don't think that chivalry is dead, nor do I think it should die, but it should reflect today's values if it is going to be practiced. And let me tell you, I do think it should be practiced. Chivalry is more than just bowing to or standing in the presence of a lady, it's about how we treat each other on a day to day basis. The fact that chivalry has been usurped almost totally as a means of condescending to the "weaker" sex is disappointing and inaccurate. It encompasses such traits and values as courtesy, generosity, valor, honor, justice, etc.

I posit that these are values that should most certainly be encouraged in men especially, but also in women. How often have you been behind someone and had your arms full and they ignored you? I've had it happen to me several times before and no matter who it is I'm always disappointed. Just recently I had an especially distressing experience when my car battery died while at a crowded grocery store. It's not that I expect people to help me out of these situations, but the fact is that I had two or three people actually make comments to me about it. They were not offers of help, but obvious excuses. It was plain that they felt guilty about not helping me, but it didn't change their behavior at all. The first was a young woman, roughly my age, and her excuse was "My battery is on its last leg." The second was a man in a big, almost brand new red shiny truck who said, "I don't know nothin' about cars." Even after I told him all I needed was a jump he kept walking. That one actually pissed me off more than the first, because you can bet if I had huge tits that guy would have at least tried to help me.

While neither person was particularly unchivalrous, it might almost have been better had they not said anything to me at all. It felt like they were almost going out of there way to be not helpful in order to say to themselves, "Welp, at least I tried to help someone today." No, no you didn't. If you didn't have the time to stop and jump my car, I understand that, but stopping to make an excuse doesn't feel to me like you don't have time. It just sounds like you don't want to help.

I think the reason this behavior annoys me so much is that I have stopped to give someone a jump before, I do hold open doors for the person behind me (regardless of how full their arms are), I give up my bus seat for the elderly, the infirm, or the heavily pregnant. It just makes me wonder how we could grow up in more or less the same culture and have such vastly different ideas about what is polite and what isn't. And this is why I would like to see the return of chivalry, or at the very least politeness as a code of conduct. I think it's something we could all benefit from in both practicing and receiving.

May I hold a door for you?

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free review copy received from Publisher's booth at ALA 2010

05 February 2011

Post 315: Bottled and Sold

Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water by Peter H. Gleick. ISBN: 9781597265287.

I hate the fact that there are people who don't recycle. I hate that recycling in most areas of this country is anywhere from difficult to nearly impossible. Really, we have no excuse for this. Everyone could have a curbside recycling program. It is better for us in the long run, because the less plastic and whatnot that ends up in our landfills the longer we can use those landfills. Ideally we wouldn't even need those, but every culture has had its communal trash heap. But the problem is not just recycling, we're hardly even reusing anymore.

That's right, there's that third R in the cycle that doesn't really get stressed as much. I'm sure that most people interpret the Reuse as once the item is recycled then I can reuse it, but recycling itself takes up a certain amount of energy and resources. If you can reuse that plastic bottle three or four more times before recycling it, that means you automatically reduce that container's carbon footprint. I constantly reuse plastic bottles, refilling them with tap water. I dislike the fact that I rely on plastic bottles to occasionally quench my thirst, but having that bottle in the car on a long road trip is cheaper and more convenient than having to stop at the gas station every time I'm thirsty. However, when I'm done with the bottle I don't automatically toss it. Rather than buying another 6 pack of ginger ale or similar beverage,* I take it with me to the rest stop and fill it up with water. I do this at least three or four times per bottle assuming they haven't been left in the hot car (which will degrade the plastic). On the rarer occasions that I purchase soda for home use, I will sometimes buy the plastic bottles and then keep them in the fridge for anywhere up to two months, swapping and filling them with water.

My preferred method of delivery for soda is still fountain drink or glass. The glass bottles don't actually have to be melted down to be recycled as long as they are still intact, so they are far more eco-friendly than plastic will ever be. They also don't affect the taste of the beverage as much as plastic containers. And of course with fountain drinks I only use one paper cup (although I think burger places, etc. ought to allow and encourage use of personal containers) and get as much as I want. Since I usually refill at least once, this is much less waste than the plastic bottles. We really ought to be thinking of other things we can do to reuse all those cans and bottles and jars before recycling them, and we should definitely do so if we have no intentions to recycle them at all.

PS: I am a huge proponent of book recycling. I think it's one of the best things ever invented and people have done some really amazing things with them, like turning them into purses, works of art, furniture, and much more. What is your favorite thing to recycle, and what do you do with it?

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free digital review copy provided by NetGalley.
*I prefer clear and low/no caffeine drinks when I'm driving because it is already difficult to stay hydrated in that environment. If I need caffeine I usually spring for a cup of coffee and use it as an excuse to stretch and rest my eyes from the road.

04 February 2011

Post 314: Bottled and Sold

Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water by Peter H. Gleick. ISBN: 9781597265287.

You know what, I'm not a big fan of advertising. I don't find the majority of it useful in selecting what company I'm going to buy something from. Many of the products that get advertised the most heavily are practically indistinguishable from each other and so the only real difference comes out to a preference in price and packaging. Because of this, II consistently buy off brand soda, toilet paper, ready made foods like macaroni and cheese, and other products because it means I'm not paying that extra thirty cents to have an annoying ad campaign run on my tv, pop up on my computer, or distract me while I'm driving.

The idea of having to advertise water is especially ridiculous to me. Given our biological need to drink a certain amount of water a day to feel well, why does anyone feel the need to push it on us? Certainly there are many options of what kind of water to drink, whether it's tap water, Poland Spring, Dasani, or some health nut eco-friendly brand, but if I need to drink water I'm probably going to go with the most easily accessible and cheapest option. I need at least 64 ounces of water a day to sustain my bodily functions. Given that water comes in anywhere from 16.9 ounce to 24 ounce bottles, even at the larger 24 ounces I'd still have to buy three bottles to get my daily recommendation. Since I can't find pricing information for the 24 oz, I'm going to go out and take a look at the vending machine at my apartment. Be right back.

Okay, now I need a cup of tea because my fingers are too cold to type. The things I do for you, readers.

So, my apartment complex has a Coke vending machine that sells 12 oz cans of Coca Cola (2), Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, Mello Yellow, Sprite, and 10.1 oz bottles of Dasani Water (2). Everything costs $0.75. However, let's pretend that my water has been shut off, for whatever reason. I would have to pay $5.25 in order to meet my daily requirement for drinking water. Sure, I could go to Walmart or Meijer and buy the 24 pack of 20 oz bottles for about the same price, but multiply that by the average number of days in a month, and now I'm spending $157.50 on water.

Somehow I doubt that the majority of that money would actually go to the production or testing of the water. I'm less interested in drinking bottled water and more interested in having greater access to safe, clean tap water. If bottled water is cleaner and safer, then the answer is not to buy bottled water, but to be pissed off that we're paying taxes and utilities for something that is not being delivered. You know what would be a great way to get revenue to rework and improve water facilities? Taxing bottled water. Problem solved, I'm awesome.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free digital review copy provided by NetGalley.

03 February 2011

Post 313: First Contact

First Contact, or, It's Later than You Think by Evan Mandery. ISBN: 9780061966187 (eBook).

What would you do if you were the president and the Ambassador of an alien alliance came to earth and said, 'We have come to enslave your planet and turn it into a dry cleaners. Please have our pants done by Friday'? I don't know about you, but once I knew for sure it was a joke I would probably laugh my ass off, if only in relief. And really, it's a pretty funny joke. Maybe not the kind of joke you would usually tell when meeting a species for the first time, but it's no worse of a snafu than throwing up in a tuba during a state dinner.

In First Contact, the president didn't handle the joke as well as he could have. Mostly, he took offense to it. Perhaps humor is the wrong way to approach any alien species (regardless of who is on the receiving end). Humor is one of those things that requires a great deal of knowledge about a particular culture in order for it to be really successful. One needs to know several things, such as recent and not so recent politics, popular culture, awareness of any sort of political correctness issues, and the intricacies of the native language, for a joke to go off well.

For instance, I personally find dead baby jokes hilarious, but they make some people extremely nervous. You may still get a laugh out of someone with the dead baby joke, but it may not be the good kind of laughter. This is probably why dead baby jokes are not so popular anymore; there are an awful lot of people who get offended about theoretical babies being theoretically put in a blender and then theoretically eaten as chips and dip. The reason I find it hilarious is because it is such a cultural taboo to do such a thing to a baby that the absurdity of imaging someone do this makes me laugh at the very wickedness of it. Other people do not have my sense of humor, which is why I don't tell that kind of joke in certain crowds.

But can you imagine an alien species coming to Earth and telling a dead baby joke? That would likely offend even me, mostly because I wouldn't be sure if that was actually acceptable behavior on their planet or not. This makes me appreciate native humor all the more. While people native to the culture may have an advantage, they still have to balance all the levels of acceptability with what is funny and what isn't. It might be why I find the Daily Show funnier than something like South Park, although they are similar in the sense that the both present social commentary on current politics and pop culture through humor. I personally find the Daily Show funnier because I think they actually try to preserve a balance between offensiveness and good natured ribbing, whereas I don't see that kind of care with the South Park humor. They're both good shows in their own way, it's just that one does a better job of knowing who to tell dead baby jokes to.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: eBook downloaded from my local public library.
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