31 March 2011

Post 367: For the Win

For the Win by Cory Doctorow. ISBN: 9780765322166.

The best idea presented in this book: if corporations are multinational, why are labor unions still local? In fact, why is any kind of protest still local? I haven't seen any kind of mass protest about corporate behavior at all. Then again, the news channels are also corporate owned, so maybe there has been and it just wasn't big enough or long enough to get my attention.

But we do have the ability to set up some very major and damaging protests. I'm sure you've all heard of the "don't buy gas" day that occasionally pops up on Facebook. While this is a good start, it's not going to actually affect the market. People will simply buy gas the day before or after and so the gas consumption will stay the same. It's the same for Buy Nothing Day.

But what would happen if we went a little farther? What if we had don't buy gas month? This wouldn't be practical for most of us since we work in different cities or towns than where we live, but you could certainly reduce your gas consumption within that month. People could get together for carpooling or figure out bus/subway schedules.

What about Christmas? If you refused to shop at a big chain store, they would certainly feel the hurt. Can you imagine the panic Walmart would feel to open up to an empty store during one of their big door buster sales? Where before there were mobs willing to trample each other, now there is only the sound of a large empty store. Queue lonesome western music and tumbleweeds.

And if we have corporations like Walmart, etc. who won't allow unions to contact their employees on store grounds, why not try and go through Facebook? Why not try to use the internet to have a bigger impact, to promote change?

We can't keep doing things the way we did them 30 years ago. It's not going to work. The big guys can take a hit from one store, from one state, and especially if it's just one day. But it doesn't have to be like that. There are good reasons to have a global protest; if only we had the leaders to step up.

Presenting Lenore gives a positive review, despite being a non-gamer. She is both gushy about the awesomeness and realistic about the weaknesses of the novel. Stacked also had some good things to say about it without having blinders on.
LibsNote: Library copy. However, it is also available free and legally at Craphound (Doctorow's website).

28 March 2011

Post 366: Pump Six and Other Stories

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

How far would you be willing to go against your culture in order to bring about the change you felt was necessary for your family, your village, your city, your country? Would you go and become a priest of a religion from a country your country was at war with?

It's a hard question to ask, but what if it was necessary? What if you, and only you, believed that it was honestly the best way to improve the lives around you? This is exactly what Raphel has done. He left his Jai village and learned to become a Keli "Pasho". When he returns, he is greeted with pride by some of his family members, save for his grandfather, who fought against the Keli and says he would gladly do so again.

WWe are faced with serious cultural issues which are preventing us from moving forward as a nation, a people, and as a species. It feels like we are a country full of five year olds who have wet the bed. We know that the bed is going to get cold sooner rather than later, we know that it will be uncomfortable and start to smell, but right now that urine is impossibly warm and it is so hard to get out of bed. We are ashamed to admit that we have wet the bed, and no one remembered to turn on the nightlight for us.

I was watching the Colbert Report the other day and the guest was Nobel Prize winner Jodi Williams. The smartest thing she said was, "I believe when there are more different types of humans in a room having a discussion, different ideas for resolution will be had. When you have a bunch of white dudes sitting around a table you're going to have a bunch of white dude ideas." (~5:07) So why are we so afraid of cooperation among political parties, races, religions?

Why is it so hard to take the step to learn about new cultures and incorporate the good aspects into our own? Is it really such a betrayal to step in and say, "Hey, this isn't working anymore, maybe we shouldn't keep feeding those Christians to the lions persecuting those Muslims"? When exactly did our culture get to be so bad for us? And what would you like to see 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.

27 March 2011

Post 365: a general update

So. I'm not going to be posting every day anymore.

I was thinking about going in depth about why I wouldn't be posting anymore, but I don't think it's really necessary, and long-winded explanations about being burned out about reading and my personal/professional/family life getting in the way or not getting in the way is kind of boring. Let's just say I decided I wanted to see if I could post every day for a year and I did. And now it is time to try something new. So from now on I will be posting twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays. This means you will get a post tomorrow and then you will not get another one until Thursday this week. And that's how it's going to be.

There are several practical reason for doing this; for one, I think my daily posting schedule is possibly scaring off readers who don't want to read a slightly less than 1500 word essay every day. Also, this will allow me to read longer books without fear of getting behind, and I will not be required to make two posts a book. I think I will continue numbering my posts, simply because it is useful to me personally.

Please feel free to let me know if you like this change, or if you would like to see others. On with the reading list for the next block (which may take longer for me to get through, at least posting-wise).

For the Win by Cory Doctorow.
I'm not a gamer, at least not of the MMORPG variety. I will admit I do casual gaming, I like puzzle games and am more than a fair Tetris player. But of course I know gamers and they are generally interesting people when they have additional interests outside of the game. Doctorow is also an author that came on my radar relatively recently after seeing him as a panelist at ALA 2010 for a science fiction discussion. He seemed intelligent, very pro-library, and he can totally rock the Creative Commons like whoa.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart.
I've heard mixed things about this. The blogosphere generally seemed to like it, but a few bloggers who I have personal respect for were more "meh" about it. Goodreads does state that this is "A refreshing satirical romp for hip fiction readers." Ah, dear reader, we all know how incredibly unhip I am. Is it still for me?

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.
I read quite a few (boys') coming of age stories when I was growing up and I have developed a fondness for dystopian fiction, as many of us have recently. I expect to like this, although I may have outgrown the more basic plot devices of the coming of age story. I have heard this is overly violent, but that typically doesn't bother me.

Invasion by Mercedes Lackey.
It has Superheroes and Nazi aliens...apparently. I picked this up from the ARC shelving truck at my library. I generally like Mercedes Lackey and this looked like it was something different from her. I have no actual idea what it's about. I'm honest like that.

The Spice Necklace by Ann Vanderhoof.
I picked this up as an ARC at ALA 2010. I haven't gotten around to it until now because it was published in June 2010 (before the conference) so I figured reading it later wouldn't really matter much anyway. This is one of those combo memoir/travelogue/recipe book deals. I've never read one of those, so it should be an interesting experience at the least. It is set in the Caribbean, which is an area I don't know very much about.

26 March 2011

Post 364: The Ground Beneath Her Feet

The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie. ISBN: 9780805053081.

I'm quite fond of existentialism for a number of reasons. I like that there is a name for wondering why we are here and what that means and that every person who has asked that question has a completely different answer that for that question. One aspect of existentialism involves the Self and how we both manifest and perceive the Self, and of course how others perceive it. Rushdie makes it sound much less Annoying Undergraduate Philosophy Major though,

"[W]henever someone who knows you disappears, you lose one version of yourself. Yourself as you were seen, as you were judged to be." Page 509-510.

These two sentences contain a fairly complex idea in a very digestible form. It touches on the topic of Self (as an identity and a being) as well as the Other and how the Self is assigned an identity and a being by the Other, which in turn influences the Self.

Yeah, I read a lot of philosophy in college despite being a history major, and this is what it has done to my thought patterns. Boiled down, I like the concept that Rushdie is presenting here because he is stating that you do exist outside of yourself. However, that existence is more of a perception in the sense that the Other has seen you a certain way and has categorized you accordingly. This has interesting implications: it means that you lose bits of your Self as Others fade away, but it also means that those bits of Self were not necessarily accurate. Still, they represented aspects of your personality or moments of interaction with the Other frozen within someone else's Self.

Okay, getting away from the philosophical speak, because it is pretentious and kind of annoying. This concept appeals to me because I have always viewed identity to be fluid. The Amy Campbell that is here today is not the same Amy Campbell that was here ten years ago (thank god), and will be a different Amy Campbell in another ten years. It is the old Heraclitus adage, "You cannot step in the same river twice." He does not mean that you can only step in the Mississippi River once, only that it is not the same river. Even as you stand in the river, it moves around you and becomes a different bit of river and will never be the same river you stepped into again. Just because there are not noticeable or drastic changes, does not mean that the change is completely negligible.

The things that do make that river seem stable are landmarks, banks, borders, and other methods of observing and measuring. This is exactly what other people do for the Self. Underneath the currents we are (or should be) constantly changing, bringing in new water and shifting sand and wearing away rocks, but the Other observes and only sees that we run North to South through such and such acreage. While this may not seem like an important service, it is actually quite valuable.

It solidifies our identity, or aspects of the Self, in our minds. Through the reflections of the Other, we are able to see more clearly exactly which attributes we have. We can instinctively know things about ourselves, but it is through the eyes of the Other that we learn what those things mean and whether or not we can or should change them so as to present an aspect of ourselves that we find more in tune with our Self. When we lose those extra versions, it can be both a good thing and a bad thing. In some ways it frees us to be more than what was perceived, but if it was validating to the Self it can be detrimental to lose them as those validations are often harder to replace than the damaging or false perceptions.

This is such a lengthy and involved novel that it is hard to focus on one thing to write the review about. However, I found Meredith Dias's evaluation of Rushdie's themes in this novel to be very helpful in digesting this epic.
LibsNote: Library copy.

25 March 2011

Post 363: The Ground Beneath Her Feet

The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie. ISBN: 9780805053081.

This is going to be another music post, but this time I'll include a quote from the text (because it's Rushdie and you deserve them).

"A nation at war deserves to hear the music that's going mano a mano with the war machine, that's sticking flowers down its fun barrels and baring its breast to the missiles. The soldiers are singing these songs as they die. But this is not the way soldiers used to sing, marching into battle bellowing hymns, kidding themselves they had god on their sides; these aren't patriotic-bullshit, get-yourself-up-for-it songs. These kids are using singing, instead, as an affirmation of what's natural and true, singing against the unnatural lie of war. Using song as a banner of their doomed youth." Page 266-67.

As little as music matters to me nowadays, what music I do listen to tends to be folk music. There are several ways to define folk music,* but for me folk music must have one or two elements. It must cover a topic or issue current to the time it was written and/or it must use instruments and techniques that are fairly accessible to the poorest of musicians. Ideally these songs can be sung with voice alone, or at the very least accompanied by a portable instrument (hand drum, guitar, etc.).

There are a few musicians out there who are covering modern topics in the pop realm, but most of these are vague enough that if you listen to Katie Perry's Fireworks or Lady Gaga's Born This Way thirty years from now, people will (at least hopefully) have no idea what they're referring to. Also they will hopefully wonder what Perry's obsession with sparkling boobs is, because I know I do.

Meanwhile, there are artists out there who are writing about current political, economic, and social problems that are easily placed within a very specific time frame. My favorite is Steve Earle. I particularly like Rich Man's War and Amerika V. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do). Earle keeps within the basics of my definition. You could easily strip away all of the music and even the least trained of singers could manage to learn the songs and perform them reasonably. He does not use a wide vocal range; one could remark that his voice is a bit mumbly and they wouldn't be wrong, but his lyrics are easily understood and relatable.

Hamell on Trial is a bit darker than Earle and possibly a bit more cynical. It's sometimes hard to tell when he's being cynical and when he's just using irony/sarcasm to get his point across. He also tackles issues of parenthood after having a questionable past, which is something I think my generation will have particular issues with. Listen to Inquiring Minds for a sample (that particular video and song drops the F-bomb).

So, why isn't this music on the charts? Well. It's not as easily consumable, I suppose. Topics change so frequently in this country, or at least it seems that way because it's not like we've been at war for 10 years or anything. But we're so much more ADD about it. Nothing holds our attention. But I'd like to see this change. I would like to see popular musicians take a stand with their music and unequivocally say, "Look, this is stupid, and things need to change." Maybe in the '60's we saw musicians rise to fame because of their outrageous and political lyrics, but now we need those who rose to fame because their music was digestible enough to start throwing a bit of acid into the works. We can only eat so many of your sugary pop songs before our brains turn to mush. I'm sure this is good for musicians financially, but not so much artistically. Where is the challenge or pleasure in selling music to the brain deficient?

Somebody, please write me more than a love song.

This is such a lengthy and involved novel that it is hard to focus on one thing to write the review about. However, I found Meredith Dias's evaluation of Rushdie's themes in this novel to be very helpful in digesting this epic.
LibsNote: Library copy.
*Despite the fact this is a Tripod site I decided to link to it anyway, because they use and link to scholarly resources.

24 March 2011

Post 362: The Ground Beneath Her Feet

The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie. ISBN: 9780805053081.

I cannot talk about this novel without talking about music. It is the center of the book, it's motivator and even a metaphor for the human condition and love, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah.

However, I don't really care for it.

It's not that I don't like it, but if I wasn't able to hear tomorrow, music is not one of the things I would miss. I would have felt differently about ten years ago, but it was a bigger part of my life back then. Nowadays it seems to be more of a nuisance than a life enriching art form. This might have more to do with the kind of music being foisted upon the public and sold to teenagers than anything else, but really I've just become less interested in it in general.

When I was growing up music was always playing in my house. My father had nearly impeccable taste in music: Frank Zappa, The Rolling Stones, The Band, BB King, Vanessa Williams, Stevie Wonder, Natalie Cole, and hundred of others. His vinyl collection was pretty impressive and we listened to it about as frequently as we watched television in my early years. Sundays seemed to be a day almost dedicated to playing his record collection. As I grew up my music tastes diverged a little bit: I started listening to the early rap (notably Dr. Dre, Coolio, and a few others), and while we were in Oklahoma I also listened to a bit of country. But my roots are and were still firmly planted in the early rock and roll, so even the country I listened to sounded closer to rock and roll than the more twangy cotton-mouth version you can hear on CMT.

By the time I moved to Alabama, without dad, I started listening more to the Blues intermixed with alternative music and metal (KoRn, Smashing Pumpkins, Iced Earth, Jag Panzer, Nirvana, Metallica). My classmates and teachers found this a bizarre mix. One of my teachers was especially confused about why I liked the Blues, as she found them "depressing." I found it difficult and somewhat ironic trying to explain to an African American woman raised in the South why singing about heartache and oppression was sometimes the only way to help me forget it, if only for five minutes.

Sometime during college, music just started meaning less to me. No, that's not quite true: sometime in college, most of the music that was being played on the radio stopped meaning anything to me, and the rest began causing emotional distress. So much of my early life was attached to music that I cannot now detach certain people, emotions, or memories from certain songs. It's not that I don't like these songs anymore, but for the most part I cannot handle the mental distress it causes. Songs like "Hallelujah" or "Mad World" or "Searching for the Ghost" by the Heartless Bastards never fail to put me in tears by the end of the song. Even Christmas carols get me going more often than not.

You would think this would drive me to the more insipid songs, the bubble gum pop that assumes I didn't learn my days of the week and expects me to believe that a 16 year old knows what it means to be in love forever. Instead it just makes me wish the whole world would go quiet, if only for a few days. Maybe it would give us time to think about how stupid everything is right now.

This is such a lengthy and involved novel that it is hard to focus on one thing to write the review about. However, I found Meredith Dias's evaluation of Rushdie's themes in this novel to be very helpful in digesting this epic.
LibsNote: Library copy.

23 March 2011

Post 361: Dan Walker (guest blogger)

You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers. ISBN: 9781594487736.

One of my ex-girlfriend's friends has prosopagnosia, and meeting her was when I first became aware of the illness. Of course, being me, I immediately began to wonder if I had it. I've come to the conclusion that I don't, but I do feel like I have a hard time remembering people's faces.

In high school, I used to be able to recognize anyone by looking at their back. I don't know how I did it, but hair, clothing, height and weight were much easier traits to use in noticing someone in the halls. Maybe it didn't help that I grew to be six-foot-four, and most faces were below my field of vision. I don't think I do this to quite the same extreme anymore, and I have to wonder how I kept such a running catalog of everyone's back.

Lately, I have had opportunities to reflect on my problems with faces. At my workplace, I've been tasked with keeping track of the parking lot, which means I see a lot of the same people every day. I apparently have an amazing talent for recognizing license plates (we keep track of the people who don't pay us by the end of the day), but when it comes to people, it seems to take forever for me to be able to recognize them.

One girl in particular comes in all the time and tends to stay later than she's supposed to, so we make arrangements for her with the towing company. The only way I ever recognize her is by her license plate, which is a vanity plate and thus easy to remember. It's easier to tell who she is when she's wearing sunglasses, because that's how she looked when I first met her, but even then it takes a while for me to figure out who I'm talking to. The fact is, she looks too much like every other white, preppy, lightly tanned girl with perfect skin that I've ever seen.

There's a second side to this issue, though. I'm measuring my ability to recognize other people versus their ability to recognize me before I recognize them. The fact is, my face is pretty unique, and it could just be that I'm far more memorable than most, because ain't nobody else looks like me.

I got to thinking about this due to the part of the book where the author starts telling people about her prosopagnosia. A lot of people didn't believe her, and her psychiatrist told her that was because they wanted to believe that they were unique enough to be memorable. I find this funny, because, brother, you don't want to be unique, take it from me. I can't ever get away with anything, because if anyone sees my face, they'll remember it. Not to mention I'm pretty creepy looking (as Amy will tell you), so I can't do things like offer candy to my customers the way another of the parking lot attendants does. She's a kindly, grandmotherly type, but I'm more of the "Would you like some candy little girl? It's in the back of my black-windowed van" type. At least, that's what my face is.

So, yeah, having someone not recognize you can kind of be a blow to the old ego. But be careful what you wish for; sometimes anonymity is a thing to be revelled in.

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: Copy won from Goodreads Giveaway program.
*This post was originally written October 30, 2010 to give the regular blogger a break.Yeah, it's taking me awhile to read The Ground Beneath Her Feet.

22 March 2011

Post 360: Dan Walker (guest blogger)

You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers. ISBN: 9781594487736.

About 30 pages into this book, I said to myself, "Goddamn everyone in this woman's life has mental illness of some kind!" Her mother is the best example; she suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. I couldn't help but compare the woman to my ex-girlfriend's mother, who I had the "pleasure" of meeting one weekend around Thanksgiving.

I wouldn't go so far as to say she's paranoid schizophrenic, but she definitely has some problems. She drove us to her house up north, a trip that took twice as long as it should have because she refused to use highways. Everything was backroads, 5 MPH under the speed limit. She just seemed to be scared of everything (including me, which was kind of amusing), and it really made me pity her. What must life be like, when you're constantly holding back because of fear?

Well, it's actually really hypocritical of me to be asking that, because I've always held back because of fear, mostly fear of failure. I will tend not to do things if I don't think I can get them right the first time, or if I don't think I'll thoroughly enjoy myself. When I saw my ex's mother's driving habits, I told myself I wasn't going to be like her, but unfortunately, I am. Amy's been helping me take more chances, but when you've had a lifetime of acting a certain way, it's hard to break the habit.

And that's all a set of fear-based behaviors like that is: a habit. When your rituals keep you safe -- you haven't come to any harm in doing them, after all -- the need for doing them is reinforced. When I was a kid, I used to spend a lot of time worrying myself sick, because I thought that, magically, it would affect things that I really had no control over, like the weather. I have even battled bouts of my own paranoia. Most recently, I would spend hours lying awake at night, absolutely certain that every creak I could hear in the house meant that someone had broken in. I would get up and grab the sword I keep under my bed (it's never been sharpened) and stalk down the stairs very slowly, only to find that nothing had changed since I'd gone to bed. This is actually apparently something I get from my mother, who will have periods where she has to get up in the middle of the night and check to make sure the doors and windows are locked. I finally put an end to it by sleeping with a fan running, even in winter, so that I can't hear anything.

Fear is a great motivator, but like all things, it's best in moderation. It's one thing to lock your windows at night, but you cross the line when you start nailing them shut.

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: Copy won from Goodreads Giveaway program.
*This post was originally written October 30, 2010 to give the regular blogger a break.Yeah, it's taking me awhile to read The Ground Beneath Her Feet.

21 March 2011

Post 359: Plastic

Plastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel. ISBN: 978547152400 (eGalley - Publishes April 18, 2011).

My grandfather would have owed his life to plastics had he been born much later than 1917. He was a premie, and no larger than the towel lined bread pan they kept him in to keep him warm in the oven. He had a very low chance of survival, a chance that would be much higher today now that they can keep even the smallest of premature babies alive with plastics. Had my grandfather needed a blood transfusion or nutrient bag, he would have been out of luck because the tubing just wasn't small and delicate enough for an infant that tiny.

Strangely his life was dominated by plastics anyway. Although they didn't come into wide use until the late 1940's, my grandfather's whole life centered around working with plastics. He went to the University of Chicago where he earned a PhD in Chemistry. He later went on to work for various chemical companies including Dow and Amoco where he likely worked with at least a few plastics in his time.

Later, his wife's life would be saved by a dialysis machine as well as other countless plastics when she underwent a mastectomy for breast cancer. His grandchildren's first toys were plastic, and even my mother had Barbies (in fact she was the first generation to have the doll). In fact, my brother spent time in a plastic tank as a newborn so they could monitor his breathing.

It seems somehow fitting that a man whose life started so tenuously worked with a material that would have automatically increased his chances of survival if only he had been born in the late 1960's.* And how troubling it is that those same plastics have been shown to be potentially harmful in later developmental stages? Does it mean we stop using plastics in NICU and other medical procedures? No, but it does mean we can find better plastics or materials. One might say that lives depend on it.

My review can be found at Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free review copy provided by Netgalley.
*This is when Neonatal ICU's were set up; they did not begin using plastics until the 1980's, at least according to Freinkel's research.
**Oh, if you have a strange fascination with my grandparents, you can read about my paternal grandfather here... or at least about his dog.

20 March 2011

Post 358: Plastic

Plastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel. ISBN: 978547152400 (eGalley - Publishes April 18, 2011).

I've always kind of hated plastic bags. It's almost visceral how much I hate them. Reading this book didn't so much tell me why I hate plastic bags, so much as it put those feelings into words for me. I hate them because they are everywhere and they get everywhere and there is pretty much no way to get rid of them once you have accumulated them.

And yes, I am one of those people that collects plastic bags. It drives me crazy because I don't feel like I can just throw them out. They are disgusting are annoying pieces of trash, but a lot of energy went in to making them, and the idea of throwing something away that I've only used once for non-hygiene purposes bothers me to no end. But then I end up with a cabinet full of plastic bags that I can't possibly use as fast as I obtain more. Certainly I use the reusable bags whenever possible, or just skip bags altogether, but the convenience, oh that seemingly convenient inconvenience that plastic bags provide.

It is so much easier to walk into the store with nothing and walk out of the store loaded down with those flimsy diaphanous puffs of white bag loaded down with even more plastic packaging containing my food or other recently purchased products. How wonderful it seems when I am walking the 60-100 feet from storefront to car, and really not even that if I'm using a shopping cart. Sometimes their usefulness is only really from cart to trunk and then the very short walk from my parking space to my apartment (look Ma, no stairs!). Honestly, in the situations where I go to the grocery and forget my reusable bags, I could easily just ask the bagger/cashier to put them directly in the cart. When I get home it is not overly difficult to run in and get a bag for that short transport from car to refrigerator. So why don't I do it? Because it's easier. And so I am stuck with more plastic bags than I know what to do with and a cat who poops in volumes, but not enough to fill all of those bags.

You know, I kind of miss paper bags. They might have taken up more space to transport,etc. but they take up less space under the kitchen sink. They are easier to reuse as long as they don't get wet. I miss the smell of them. People talk about missing the smell of books; shopping just doesn't feel the same with plastic bags. Paper had this sort of dark earthy smell to it. Even though my fruit often came in its own plastic, it felt a bit like pulling something out of the earth when I removed it from that dark, crinkly bag.

And we were more likely to reuse them too. There were infinite uses for paper bags. Not only were they convenient as small trash bags or even temporary trash cans, but we often used them to wrap presents after designing our own wrapping paper with stamps and markers. My mother frequently used paper bags to make sewing patterns that were far more sturdy and durable than the flimsy ones provided by the pattern companies. We used them as book covers for my textbooks (why buy them?). They were used as shelf paper, they were way better than newspaper for drying wet shoes, and often they were more fun to draw or color on than regular paper.

Apparently paper bags are just as bad or worse than plastic, but when you're done with a plastic bag... It really only has one more use: bathroom/small trash bag or Pet poo collector.

My review can be found at Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free review copy provided by Netgalley.
There's a great blog that was mentioned in this book about a woman who is trying to eliminate her use of plastic and has greatly reduced her use. Read about it at My Plastic-free Life (formerly Fake Plastic Fish).

19 March 2011

Post 357: Plastic

Plastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel. ISBN: 978547152400 (eGalley - Publishes April 18, 2011).

Freinkel did an interesting experiment in which she wrote down everything she touched that was plastic in a day. It's quite illuminating. In fact, I've probably touched about 20 items made of plastic or that have plastic components and it's only 10AM. Here's my list, in no particular order:
  • Pillow (filled with poly-fibers)
  • Coverlet
  • Pajama pants
  • T-shirt
  • Underwear
  • Menstrual pad (sorry, but it's honest)
  • Toilet seat
  • Tooth brush
  • Toothpaste tube
  • Hair tie
  • Coffee grinder
  • Coffee pot
  • Cell phone (aka alarm clock)
  • Birth control pill packaging
  • Plastic coated box for a day-by-day calendar
  • Kitchen counter
  • Trashcan
  • Carpet
  • Linoleum floor
  • Nail polish (my fingernails are painted at the moment)
  • The Wall (and anything else painted)
  • This computer and its cords

This is only after about an hour of being awake and most of those I touched before I even got out of bed. There are some days where I wake up and I reach for my eReader and don't move unless I have to pee. There are things I'm probably leaving off just because I forgot I touched them or I touched them with something other than my hands and therefore I was less aware of it. If I had taken a shower this morning or eaten breakfast I would have increased the number of things I touched drastically. There would have been the refrigerator, the bath tub, my shampoo and conditioner bottles it comes in, my hair brush, my towel, the shower curtain.

Plastic is in almost everything we touch and interact with, yet only 80 years ago that wasn't true. It is amazing how invasive and adaptable plastic is. And if you asked me which of the objects I mentioned earlier that I feel most guilty about, I would actually have to say my birth control pills.

I don't feel guilty taking them: it's been a blessing not to worry as much about pregnancy and to have shorter and more reliable cycles. But I have always hated how much plastic packaging goes into providing me with reliable birth control. Not only am I given the punch out cardboard/aluminum foil/plastic pack, but every time I fill my script I am also given a brand new sleeve of plastic to keep them in. Those sleeves come with new warning labels on them (made of plastic) and come in a plastic resin coated paper bag with more stickers inside so I can change the days of the week to accurately reflect my pill schedule.

I will say that the off-brand packaging is slightly better than the original Orthotricyclen dial packs (in that awful shade of vaguely flesh-tone pink). At least the plastic sleeves are a little less obvious, a little more travel friendly, and I can tear them up and use the sheets that don't have my prescription info as book marks. But it's still not great. I wish they didn't automatically give me a plastic sleeve when I fill my script, because I really don't need it. Having one is nice, but having 12 is just unnecessary.

I would potentially feel guilty about my cell phone, since the industry encourages us to get a new one every few years, but I've had mine for about 4 years now. I haven't even had to replace the battery yet. It looks crappy, and it has no other function than as a phone,* but I spent $90 on it with the corporate expectation** that I would only use it for a year. There's something wrong with that.

How much plastic have you touched within the first hour or so of your morning? Is there something you feel especially guilty about owning or using? Or do you just not think about it?

My review can be found at Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free review copy provided by Netgalley.
*Okay AND an alarm clock, timer, and very clunky calculator.
**My editor asked me to clarify what I mean by corporate expectation. It means that there is the expectation that the technology will be out-of-date or irrelevant and/or that consumers would want a new phone regardless of the continued functionality of their current model. This mostly applies to electronics, but we see this pattern in car buying and clothing as well.

18 March 2011

Post 356: The Abused Werewolf Group

The Abused Werewolf Group by Catherine Jinks. ISBN: 9780152066154 (eGalley- publihses April 4, 2011).

There were a couple of moments in this book that I really didn't like. I could talk about a number of them, like how Toby tuned out a doctor because he didn't understand how information about epilepsy was relevant to him, or the moment where Toby's friend asks why they don't just leave their dirty laundry for his mom to do, or how epilepsy and/or having seizures would be great because you could get away with anything...

Instead I'm going to talk about how Toby at least on some level thinks that certain groups of people are "asking" for harassment or bullying. Yep, Toby is just the greatest. Since the book isn't out yet I can't quote exactly, and keep in mind it may not appear in the final version, but the gist of the scene was Toby has just woken up in the hospital after being found in a dingo pen. The police have come to ask Toby questions about what happened, Toby doesn't remember anything, so the police suggest that maybe he has a enemy at school or someone who pulled a prank on him. Toby denies this, and then goes on in his narrative to say he's not a geek or a nerd or one of those other groups that is a "natural born target".

*Sigh.* I guess I can't blame Toby for thinking this way, because throughout the book he is a very self-centered 13-year-old boy, but I can be upset by his mentality and the problems surrounding it. No one is a natural born target. In order to become a target, someone has to be aiming at you and only assholes, murderers, and war criminals target people. I think I was particularly upset to read this little bit of victim blaming mentality because of the incident that happened recently in Cleveland, Texas. I just want to say something, because apparently people just don't understand:

Nobody. NOBODY wants to be raped, harassed, threatened, abused, beaten, or otherwise physically, mentally, or emotionally harmed no matter how they act, dress, who they love, or any other qualities or attributes they might have.

If you have ever caught yourself thinking that anyone deserved harm who had not first caused harm to others, then you need to seriously rethink exactly why you have those thoughts and feelings. Because you may not think you sound like a crazy person, but you are going down that path. And no one wants to end up sounding like this.* / **

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free review copy provided by Netgalley.
*I don't have a problem with prayer, I have a problem with the idea that God KILLING PEOPLE because they are atheist somehow makes him a GOOD and AWESOME God and that it is something we should ask him to do. 
**edit: Supposedly this is someone who made a trolling video. Personally, I didn't think it was funny, and I find it suspicious that she was not upfront about her activities before being harassed. 

17 March 2011

Post 355: The Abused Rescue Werewolf Group

The Abused Werewolf Group by Catherine Jinks. ISBN: 9780152066154 (eGalley- publihses April 4, 2011).

When I think of an Abused Werewolf Group I think of people getting together in a church basement, drinking subpar coffee, and whining about how much it sucks to be a werewolf. I envisioned people talking about how hurt they were when their spouse hit them with a rolled up newspaper after sniffing well...what dogs sniff. Or maybe how someone just couldn't help the urge to chase a car and ran after it for six blocks before the owner of the car pulled over and threatened to run the werewolf down.

Perhaps I watch too many bad movies. I mean, I grew up on stuff like My Mom is a Werewolf and Teen Wolf. I kind of expect camp from a title like this, and I was disappointed when it didn't have any.

Unfortunately, it seems the paranormal has been co-opted by the YA/romance brigade. Vampires and werewolves have to be sexy, or in the case of this particular novel they're presented as just being regular people...most of the time. In some ways I wish I could point a finger and blame one particular author for the demise of the monster genre, but it's just not true. Certain authors have done horrible things to the quality of writing in today's YA market, but that's a completely different bitchfest. Instead I would say that movies have actually done the most harm to the literary genre.

I know, right? Movies always ruin books. Well, not really; there have definitely been some adaptations that I haven't completely hated, and some that I've even preferred. But movies have made Monsters less scary over the years.

Much of this is due to the limited technical abilities: camera, lighting, make up, etc. It is hard to make a convincing and scary monster when you're limited to grandma's old fur coat, some grease paint, and a crummy camera. There are certainly some excellent early werewolf and other Monster movies out there, but let's face it, there aren't as many as there are cheesy Double Feature make-out movies. Those of course evolved into the campy monster movies and B-films. Now instead of running away from our monsters we're too busy falling in love to remember that the whole point of them is remind us of how monstrous humanity can be. We always did like the bad boys, I just wish we weren't so enamored with the man-eaters.

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

16 March 2011

Post 354: Rage

Rage by Jackie Kessler. ISBN: 9780547445281 (advanced reader copy - publishes April 8, 2011).

Yesterday, I mentioned that I probably would have been very attuned for the role of War at the age of 16. Today, I am obviously quite a different person. My hormones have settled, and are also maintained to some degree by birth control pills. While I may not be able to control my emotions as much as I like, I do have a lot more control over my reactions and the way I process those emotions than I did as a teenager.

If I had to choose which horseman to be today, I would probably lean more towards Pestilence. This might seem a strange choice, but out of all of them it would at least allow for a chance for some of the population to survive in a more even manner. Famine might allow for some survivors as well, but only whoever can afford food. Pestilence is a little more equal. Pestilence can hit the wealthy and the poor, the black and the white, the educated and the ignorant with more or less the same force. Depending on the disease the have-not group may even be in a better position to survive it, therefore upsetting the social order and allowing for change or improvements in society that never would have happened otherwise.

It just seems that there are more positive aspects to Pestilence than there are to War or Famine, yet it is still a somewhat proactive component of the Apocalypse. I imagine when I'm older, just being Death will be right up my alley. But the inevitability of it seems a little too bleak for me just now. While the other three offer some means of avoiding or overcoming their grasp, everyone faces Death. I'm just not at the stage of my life where I'm willing to cut anyone down completely. No matter how dire my personal circumstances seem to me, I think other people have a good chance at making a worthwhile life for themselves.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free ARC provided by publisher via Netgalley.

15 March 2011

Post 353: Rage

Rage by Jackie Kessler. ISBN: 9780547445281 (advanced reader copy - publishes April 8, 2011).

When I was about Missy's age (16) and a little bit younger I had some major anger issues. I was pretty much a bottle of anger waiting to explode and I pretty much had no outlet to get rid of it. At school I wasn't allowed to get up and leave when these fits of anger surged through me and when I was at home I wasn't really allowed to do much of anything while my brother was around.

Unfortunately, I never knew when my anger would surge, which was when it usually got me into trouble. Most of the time it would hit me during class when I would have the overwhelming need to hit someone, something, anything. These urges were often inexplicable. I would just have the urge to be violent and I wanted to yell and scream until it passed. It usually did after a few minutes regardless of whether or not I actually screamed or hit anything, but for those moments I was unable to concentrate on anything else. My breathing increased, my heart rate increased, and I had to literally grip my seat or desk in order not to reach out and punch my closest classmate.

At home this got me into more trouble. At the time my brother was still living with us, so he would actually provoke me into these fits of rage. He seemed to know exactly how and when he could do it, and I would completely lose my shit. All higher brain functions just completely shut off and there was nothing to stop me from yelling and screaming, and there were occasions when I had no choice but to hit him back when he was physically provoking me.

I'm no longer quite that angry, and in fact the rages that came over me faded almost as soon as I got out of the public school and my brother was sent to live with my father. It came back as passive-aggression when my mother and I moved from Alabama to Mississippi and I was once again in with the general population, but I no longer had quite the same reaction. I don't know if other people had these super aggressive urges when they were going through puberty, but I like to think that at least a large enough population does that we ought to be worried about it. If I had had even a sliver less of self control, someone could very easily have been hurt.

I think we especially need to see if other girls are feeling this way, because we aren't encouraged to be angry or aggressive. The fact that I was having these feelings was very confusing for me because I hadn't been taught how to cope with them. It really felt like someone or something else was taking over my body and I had absolutely no control. I wonder how many other teenagers are going through this right now and don't know how to talk about the subject. I know it was probably the number one reason I yelled at my mother that she didn't understand me when I was growing up. And maybe she wouldn't have. I have absolutely no idea if she had these rages hit her or not, I don't even know if my friends had them. For all I know I was just completely psycho when I was 14-17.

But yeah, I definitely would have gotten behind the role of War at that age if I had been tapped to be a rider of the Apocalypse.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free ARC provided by publisher via Netgalley.

14 March 2011

Post 352: The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. ISBN: 9780759527737 (eBook).

Lindsey is the sister of Susie, who was murdered at the beginning of the book. She's taking it hard, because the rest of her family is taking it hard and murder isn't exactly something that's easy to get over. In fact, most violent crime is pretty difficult to cope with, even when there isn't a death involved.

About six months after Susie is murdered, Lindsey goes to summer camp. During Summer Camp For Smart People, there is an annual competition. This year the theme is "Commit the Perfect Murder." This begs the question, how sensitive should we be when creating games or competitions like this? Granted, no harm is meant with these kind of things, but invariably it will cause some distress to people who have lived through violent crimes or had close friends or family members who have been victims.

For instance, there's a radio station that does weekly "Office Muggings" in which they surprise an office with mugs and other goodies. But is the use of the word mugging really appropriate? A lot of people have been mugged, and it's a very distressing experience that comes with a lot of residual pain. I'm not sure I would personally be okay having someone come into my work place and yelling, "THIS IS A MUGGING!" when I had previously lived through a version in which I was held at gun point.

But...there are games like Clue, which involve solving a murder. There are even murder mystery games that are occasionally hosted by libraries or other organizations in which the murders are actually reenacted (they often get someone to play the corpse/victim). This is good clean fun for most people, but it is a little insensitive. And do we really need these games, etc. to be focused on violent crimes? Why can't we focus instead on theft? Granted, that still ruins lives, but is not quite so personal. How much responsibility do we have to other people to consider what they may have survived and to not cause distress? Our world is too big to know everything about everyone, no matter how hard we try. Do we do our best to prevent distress, or do we go ahead with our plans and apologize later if someone is offended/hurt by it?

On a completely unrelated note, Happy Pi Day!

Great review over at Publisher's Weekly. As a note, I mostly liked this except for one spoiler-ish scene which ruined my dispensation of belief.
LibsNote: Library copy checked out via Overdrive Media.

13 March 2011

Post 351: The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. ISBN: 9780759527737 (eBook).

The interesting thing about having Susie (the murdered girl) as narrator is that she was cut off in the midst of her adolescence. She had just had her first kiss and was looking forward to high school and the possibility of college. Susie becomes engrossed in the life of her family, as well as the first and only boy she kissed.

Many of us remember the importance of our first kiss, and I imagine if I had been killed shortly after receiving it, I might be inclined to pay attention to the person I shared it with. As it is I don't really dwell on it much. To be honest, my first kiss was not as special as it could have been. But maybe there's an upside to that too. I sort of wonder if the emphasis of the first kiss has been, well, overemphasized. Certainly it is a right of passage and an important marker towards adulthood (for some anyway, I was 10 for my first close-lipped and 13 for my first French kiss). But does it need to be a life shattering event?

The truth is, most people are going to have regrets about their first kiss. The chances of it being perfect with the perfect person are really, really slim. We can stack the odds in our favor by ensuring that it's someone we at least like and respect and will hopefully continue to like and respect in the future, but the thing about the first kiss is that it happens when we are young. And our young selves are incredibly stupid and lacking in judgment.

Having said all that, even though my first kiss wasn't all that special, I don't really regret the way it happened. I don't have to dwell over Tommy Nextdoorneighborton for the rest of my life, wishing I could punch his face in or have another kiss like my first. No matter how many good moments I had with past boyfriends, my present and future partner(s) deserve the opportunity to create good moments with me as well. Holding up the "first" as a particularly special moment seems completely arbitrary.

Not that I'll hold it against you if you're particularly fond of your first kiss. But I think it should be special for its own merits and not because of its place in line.

Great review over at Publisher's Weekly. As a note, I mostly liked this except for one spoiler-ish scene which ruined my dispensation of belief.
LibsNote: Library copy checked out via Overdrive Media.

12 March 2011

Post 350: The Caveman's Valentine

The Caveman's Valentine by George Dawes Green. ISBN: 9780759542099 (eBook).
"Hemorrhoids. Cockroaches. And Warts. Lonely nights. Smoking's ravages. AIDS. All the ads promised relief from these things, but where was the relief from these ads?" Page 112*
The crazy man asks a good question. Ads are so prevalent in our lives that they have to shout louder and be ever more invasive just to get our attention. We even have ads showing up on our social media sites, not just as sidebars, but as actual profiles where they try to "connect" with us. Maybe...just maybe advertising has gone too far.

Don't get me wrong, I love learning about new products and what not, but I also miss the days when a man had no idea what the hell Vagasil was because they only advertised in women's magazines. If you ask me, those were good days. And really, I don't need to know about erectile dysfunction. Grandpa having sex is of no concern to me and really, I'd rather not be reminded about it on the rare occasion I catch the news.

And let's talk more about Facebook. I do follow certain companies on Facebook because often it's a good way to get information about specials or deals or sometimes even hiring opportunities, but then there are the companies that try to present a persona to you and don't give more information about their products. For a while I was following a national pizza chain and pretty much every post was "I'm watch Jersey Shore tonight and having pizza. I'm watching American Idol. Gee that thing with Kanye West sure was funny, I laughed so hard I almost threw up on my pizza!"

Look, it's great that you want to try and connect with your customers on a more personal level, but tell me more about your product. I already know I like eating pizza and watching TV at the same time, what I don't know is that you donated X amount to charity or that one of your pizza delivery guys has put over 100,000 miles on their car in under three years delivering pizza. These things are a little more relevant and little more interesting. I stopped following that particular company because I wasn't learning anything from their ads.

Maybe I wouldn't have such a problem with their prevalence in my life if they weren't trying to sell me something without actually telling me why their product and/or company is better. How many times do I have to sit through an ad and wonder what the hell it's for before the logo actually flashes on the screen? It might be nice if advertisers were actually required to include relevant information in their ads. Don't have anything new to say about your product? Well...maybe we don't really need to hear about it.

I have to say, with as little TV as I watch and the adblockers on my internet browser, I am very rarely overwhelmed with advertising when I'm in a familiar situation. I don't know how people get through a regular day being bombarded by advertising from TV, radio, internet, buses, and all the rest. I get tired just thinking about all the bright colors and screaming. Oh hey, you think they'll ever put ads in leased eBooks? Yeah, that'd be fun.

Good review over at the LA Times. Sorry bloggers, I just liked this one better than anything else I found.
LibsNote: Copy checked out from the library via Overdrive Media.
*For eBook page numbers I use what is listed on the digital page if available. Otherwise I refer to the page bar at the bottom of my eReader.

11 March 2011

Post 349: The Caveman's Valentine

The Caveman's Valentine by George Dawes Green. ISBN: 9780759542099 (eBook).

There is something distressing in realizing that I have more in common with a homeless person than with someone who can afford three houses, expensive cars, and accessories that cost more than my entire wardrobe. Many people seem to be under the impression that homeless people are lazy or stupid. This often isn't the case. While I haven't made it a habit of knowing hundreds of homeless, working or spending a great deal of time in a library tends to bring more encounters than usual.

They do run the range from Caveman crazy to just obviously homeless, but otherwise quiet. The latter you might mistake for a regular person, except for the disheveled appearance and overwhelming stench. A few of the people I have known to be homeless are actually very intelligent, some even having doctorate degrees. It's just that something went wrong somewhere along the way, and once you're at the bottom it isn't as easy to claw your way back. Making money seems to require having money, and it's awfully hard to get hired when you can't afford an interview suit or a place to take a shower and shave.

This is doubly impossible when you have mental problems factored in. Mentally ill people have a harder time holding a job because they require medications to function anywhere close to normal. Occasionally a certain balance of chemicals will stop working or a person will think hope that they've been cured and they will go off the meds. There are often side effects with these medications that no sane person would want to live with. And so the good periods in their mental health are wiped out and if they were employed they end up having to start all over again.

I sort of feel like employment is my medication, and I have been off of it for way too long. No one's going to give me a job because I don't have a job. It's not that I wanted this to happen. But here I am. And it really feels that I'm only moments from living on the streets.

Meanwhile, people like Charlie Sheen and Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton and whoever else can't seem to get rid of their money no matter how hard they try. But that's okay, let them keep that extra couple thousand dollars in taxes, me and the rest of the losers are fine over here.

Good review over at the LA Times. Sorry bloggers, I just liked this one better than anything else I found.
LibsNote: Copy checked out from the library via Overdrive Media.

10 March 2011

Post 348: The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Mark Zusak. ISBN: 9780307433848 (eBook).

There is a moment when Liesel walks into her first library. It's a private library, but I think most of us who are readers and lovers of books can appreciate her joy that there is such a room, and that it is filled with walls and walls of books. There is something very powerful about that much potential and that much dedication filling a room. I say potential because until you open the book, it is just sitting there. Libraries are awe-inspiring because they represent what you could have if you had the time, energy, and effort to absorb and comprehend the words inside the book.

I will admit, eReaders are less inspiring in this way. It is amazing to be able to fit a library of 1500 books (or more) onto an eReader, but it is something different to see spines on a shelf. But the fact remains, if you aren't reading or haven't read those books they aren't much better than paperweights. This is why I feel so disappointed to hear some of my favorite authors bemoan the eReader and deny allowing their books to be made into digital copies.* I understand you want your readers to have the same experience with literature that you had, but isn't it better to have readers to begin with?

I don't think the book is going away. It it still the easiest and best method for preserving text and pictures. But it would be foolish to deny that eReaders do not have some part to play in the future of reading, even if it is only a stepping stone to The Next Thing. There is of course concern that children aren't using their imaginations with new children's book applications, and this is a valid concern. But there is undeniable power and appeal in having access to millions of works for reasonable prices and almost instantly. It is easier for me to take my eReader on an airplane than it is to find room in the measly carry-on they allow for several paperbacks (I finish one about every 2-3 days on average, you do the math for a week's vacation).

So if eReaders make reading easier, why are so many authors against it because it is "not a book"? I can tell you the eReader fits in my hand much like a book would, although it is not as hefty. And my leather cover evokes many of the same memories a traditional book binding would. I get the same amount of pleasure from reading on a digital screen as I do on paper. They are certainly different experiences, but when it comes down to it, I am more interested in the story inside of the book than I am the physical container.

True, I don't like reading in front of a computer screen, but the eReader is small and requires the same amount of light as a book and manages to create a similar intimacy. I wonder how many of the authors have judged eReaders without even picking one up. They really ought to. It would sort of be like a librarian refusing to transition from typewriter to keyboard. Just because this isn't the way they did it when you were growing up, does not mean you get to opt out of the change. You don't have to like it, but you do have to accept that it's happening and either work with those changes, or risk being passed up for promotion.

I don't want libraries to disappear. I don't even want libraries to become "bookless." I don't think that will happen anytime soon. We are still awed by the physical presence of knowledge, and I think we need those sacred places. But libraries do have to change, just as everything else does.

An awesome video review can be found on bandgeek8408's channel.
LibsNote: Copy checked out from my library via Overdrive Media.
*Although I can more easily understand their concern for pirated copies once they've been digitized.

09 March 2011

Post 347: The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Mark Zusak. ISBN: 9780307433848 (eBook).

I really loved the smattering of German throughout The Book Thief. I love the German language. I don't speak a whole lot of it, but I know enough that I could probably find my way to the Bahnhof (train station) or buy some food. I have found pantomime to be incredibly useful no matter the language, and it tends to elicit laughter from everyone involved.* In fact, I miss hearing German in my daily life.

I think a lot of Americans have the wrong idea about foreign languages. There are people who think just because they can't understand another language that it automatically has no value, but there is a kind of music to it. I would listen to my German coworkers just for the pleasure of hearing foreign vowels and consonant combinations in a very familiar pattern (the rhythm of the German language is very similar to English). I found this translated to other languages the longer I was away from Germany.

In fact, I distinctly remember sitting at a table at Antioch with some Polish exchange students and they were speaking to each other in Polish. When they realized that I couldn't understand them, they turned to me and apologized.

"Oh, no," I said, "please continue, I lived in Germany for 10 months, so I'm used to it, and to be honest I miss hearing a random smattering of languages during the day."

So, even though I already knew the meanings of the words Zusak threw in and then (usually) translated for the reader, it was still wonderful reading them again. It was wonderful to hear them in my head, and shape them with my mouth, to chew on them again. And even if they have the same literal meaning as they do in English, there is a definite difference in the connotations the German words bring to mind. Perhaps they are not the intended connotations of the language, but autobahn automatically sounds different to me than highway. Authobahn brings up images of sports cars and tunnels and hills and valleys. Meanwhile highway reminds me more of deserts and tumbleweeds and endless, mind-numbing boredom.

It doesn't matter that there are problems and inaccuracies with both of those words and the connotations created in my head. The fact remains that I have them and I like to think that most people attach different feelings to different words. That is why I like hearing foreign languages spoken. In some ways it makes it easier to understand the meaning of the words spoken, even if it just means I know someone is talking amiably to a friend, or kvetching to a coworker. The fact that I don't know the words does not mean I do not know the context of the emotion, unless their inflections and/or body language are completely different. But I also get to add foreign words to my vocabulary and so I am able to relish the emotions, memories, etc. that these words evoke. The same sentence could very well paint completely different pictures in my head depending on the language it's spoke in.

The cat is black.
Le chat est noir.
Die katze ist schwarz.
El gato es negro.

They are all images of a black cat, but for instance I see the French cat sitting in an open window at night with a ribbon tied around it's neck and a large bottlebrush tail. The German cat is in the barn earning his keep by chasing away all the mice. Maybe I'm the only one who does this, but I guarantee that expanding your mind in this way makes life infinitely more fascinating. I can stay inside my head for hours thinking about words and language and painting all sorts of different emotional and visual pictures. Does anyone else think this way?

An awesome video review can be found on bandgeek8408's channel.
LibsNote: Copy checked out from my library via Overdrive Media.
*I have stories about a Frenchman trying to get the idea of "turkey" across to me, and me trying to get the idea of the word "asshat" across to yet another Frenchman. What can I say, French wine is very drinkable.

08 March 2011

Post 346: The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Mark Zusak. ISBN: 9780307433848 (eBook).

So I mentioned in my general update that I like stories told from the perspective of Death and/or his minions.I especially like this Death, he has a sense of humor I feel I jive with. He understands the necessity of his role, but he also seems to take some amount of pride or at least care in his work. In this story, Death is less the agent of The End and more like its janitor. I especially like this because it takes away any sort of decision or direct guilt on his part. This is particularly powerful in Nazi Germany, where almost everyone had some role to play in the death of so many people, even if it was only as someone who kept their heads down and tried not to draw attention to themselves.

It makes a very nice contrast in displaying true helplessness or lack of choices versus what is perceived. We see the Nazi soldiers who take an active role in antagonizing and torturing the Jews; we see Liesel and her foster parents who recognize the wrong and assist Jews whenever possible, but still throw Heils in order to escape ostracization; and then there is Death himself who has absolutely no control over the lives of humans. And yet it is Death who was given control of the story.  The least powerful "person" was the only one left to say, "This is what happened."

I like this for a number of reasons. For one thing, it takes away the right to tell history from the usual winners. One might say that Death always wins at the game of life, but even Death recognizes that he's not really playing that game. In fact, Death sometimes sounds bitter that he doesn't get the chance to really live or die. His "life" isn't  a neat story with a beginning, middle, and end, but rather a never-ending conglomeration of other people's deaths. He can piece together bits and pieces of a single life from various intersections of others' deaths in one persons life, but without the aid of Liesel's words he would have been otherwise unable to experience The Daily Moments: Liesel's struggles to learn how to read, Papa's accordion music, the nightmares, her friendship with and love of Rudy Steiner. Those Moments are what make life and yet Death only catches the rare glimpse of them, because for most of us Death is not a daily part of our lives. We may have to live with the aftermath, we may carry a small piece of him around, but most of us do not see it every day.

But the lives that Death is able to piece together and create a whole from seem to be all that more important to him. He seems to understand that Liesel and everyone else is made up of bits of good and bad. He calls Rudy both a fruit stealer and a bread giver with almost the same amount of respect for each title, perhaps because each requires a certain spark of Human Spirit that Death admires. This is something I forget to appreciate, and so when Death narrates, it tends to be both a literal and metaphorical reminder of what is important in life.

An awesome video review can be found on bandgeek8408's channel.
LibsNote: Copy checked out from my library via Overdrive Media.

07 March 2011

Post 345: Dan Walker (guest blogger)

The Bloodlight Chronicles: Reconciliation by Steve Stanton.  ISBN: 9781550229547.

There's a scene at the very end of the book where the main characters are chopping down a tree. This is in no way going to spoil the plot, by the way, because it has absolutely nothing to do with anything. You don't expect trees in cyberpunk novels. But this scene got me nostalgic for my younger days, cutting down trees in my grandparents' backyard.

My paternal grandparents owned two acres more or less at the edge of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (a wonderful place, by the way, if you like parks). Their backyard was four times as long as it was wide, and sloped down the entire way into a series of two tiers. The first tier was just normal lawn, but as the ground gave way toward the rearmost part, the trees sprung up everywhere, and the land turned marshy. Every year or two, my entire extended family would get together to chop down trees in the marshy area and have a bonfire.

These were not mere saplings, either; everything back there was full grown and had been around forever. We went after diseased trees first (I recall the willows in particular didn't last long), but eventually it just became a ritual to take out something that grandma and grandpa didn't want there.

We would make a day of it, usually playing bocce or croquet (with wickets set so that you had to really whack those balls uphill to get through them*) before getting to the dirty work. Then out would come the chainsaws and hand saws, the work gloves, the riding mower and its wagon hitch. I was allowed to drive it when I got old enough, but mostly I just enjoyed riding around in it.

Our target chosen, the adults would set about making cuts in the trunk to weaken it enough that it would fall. Picking the right direction was imperative, to keep it from flattening any of us or getting tangled up in shorter trees.  Invariably, one or two would be stubborn and refuse to topple despite the constant cutting, which was always hilarious.  We rooted for the designated lumberjack, who was on a razor's edge, ready to run the moment the trunk started to give.  Then would come the unmistakable sound of a falling tree: a crack, a groan and the endless crashing as it toppled to the ground. Twigs snapped, bark ripped, large limbs sometimes buried themselves deep into the mud.

Felling a tree is an amazing experience. Suddenly, the sky has changed, you can see more of it. The tree's shadow is gone, the area brightens up. There is an incredible, primordial stillness that settles around the death of a tree. I remember the pungent smell of freshly exposed wood, and being covered in saw dust and wood chips. If we were felling a maple, sometimes we would sample the sweet sap, although that too was full of sawdust and wood chips. I would stand on the horizontal trunk and walk its length, even if I was small enough that I needed dad's help getting up and down, and take stock of fungal infestations, insect colonies, and odd formations in the bark.

Chopping the tree up was where everyone was able to pitch in, either sawing or trimming off smaller branches, or carting the brush and logs around with the mower. Of course, most of the behemoth would be destined for the bonfire, which we liked to build high and burn long into the night. We would roast hot dogs and marshmallows and have a great time, going home smelling like wood smoke, a scent I still love to this day.

Lately, I've been having some weird ideas about trees, admiring them in, well, a tree-hugging sort of way. We tend to think of them as simply part of the scenery, and I sort of understand why: contemplating each of these monsters as a living being is kind of mind-blowing. They've been around for decades, often centuries. They were here before we were, they'll be here after we're done. They don't care about a whole lot; they just sort of hang out and try to get as much of the good stuff as they can. Killing one is sort of a travesty, even if one intends to use a tree for something constructive or if it was suffering from disease. Still, cutting a tree down with your bare hands is one of the most primal things a person can do, a perfect example of humankind's power over nature. I imagine we felt only a smidgen of what the American settlers did, as they cut through swaths of forest to build and heat their homes on the frontier. I consider it a way of communing with nature, of participating in the end cycle of life, and I recommend everyone try it if they have a chance.**

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 March 1, 2011 to give the regular blogger a chance to recover from a horrendous cold.

LibsNote: I received an ARC directly from the publisher and passed it on to Dan. My posts about the book are here.
*That's what she said.
**Preferably with purpose, LibsLIB does not condone random acts of tree mauling.

06 March 2011

Post 344: Lift

Lift by Kelly Corrigan. ISBN: 9781401395056 (eBook).

I love my mother.

She makes it almost impossible some days, because we are both incredibly hard headed. Strangely, we manage to be hard headed in completely different ways. I like to do things alone, to work out my own problems, and to work with people I know I can rely on and/or am reasonably sure I have some control over. My mother likes to forge ahead into projects without doing much research in advance, working out problems as they come up instead of anticipating them. She sees instructions more as guidelines, and gives a lot more faith to minions coworkers or underlings than I am likely to extend. What can I say, occasionally astrology fits, and I am most definitely a Capricorn.

This gets us into trouble. We also have things we are adamant about not talking about. For me, it's my present. My present is a big dark hole of suck right now with no foreseeable end or way across. I am circling the drain of disaster and I'm not sure if or when someone is going to add a little more water to the sink, stopper it back up, or just let me slide down into nothingness. On the other hand, it's the only thing my mother wants to talk about because she's obviously (and rightly) concerned about it. The problem: it's the last thing I want to think about and I especially don't want someone in, uh, her stage of life telling me how to "fix things." We are in different professions and we have had different crises hit at completely different times in our lives. Even if her advice is valuable, it is a big, hard, gag-inducing horse pill to swallow. Basically, I don't want my mother giving me advice or telling me to go do this or go do that or talk to these people who help people find 100k a year jobs.

ARGH! I know you think highly of me, but librarianship is not a 100k a year job, these people are not going to help me!

On the other hand, my mother refuses to talk about her past. And to some point this is why I don't want to talk to her about my present. It is impossible for me to see my mother as a 26 year-old because I never knew her as such. By the time I was reasonably aware, my mother had a well-established home and family and "I have no business knowing about who she was before that happened." She treats her past as some kind of sacred thing that I have no right to, and maybe I don't, but she's cheating me and herself out of a much closer relationship.

My mother will probably never write a letter like Corrigan's, one in which she exposes all the uncertainties of parenthood, all the nagging questions: "Am I good enough to be a parent, am I doing this right?" But I very much wish she would. I would prefer that she sit me down one day and tell me how much of a hellion teenager she was, or how scared she went on her first date, so that I can have those memories of her and ask questions. I know she won't ever share those with me, but I wish I had more to tell my nephew about his grandmother than, "She was a nurse, we moved a lot, and she was angry all the time up until she divorced her husband. Then she calmed down, got really interested in drinking good wine, quilting, yoga, and feeding stray cats. Nope, sorry, I know nothing about her before the age of 35."

At the very least, I wish she would write me a letter, so I have something. Some days, I just look at photos of her from before I was born, and I have no idea who she is.

You get no review for this one because there's no way to do it without it sounding more saccharine and trivial than it really is. Some works are short enough to just be read.
LibsNote: Digital copy checked out from my library via Overdrive Media.

05 March 2011

Post 343: Reading Jackie

Reading Jackie by William Kuhn. ISBN: 9780385531009 (eBook).

I think this book appealed to me so much because the chances of me leaving a (widely read) memoir or record of my life are pretty slim. On the other hand, I do have copious notes on the books that I've read over the past seven years now. Some of those are even interspersed with journal entries to actually give context to what I was reading and why I may have copied down certain passages, but the fact remains: you can only conjecture at what my readings meant to me at the time I read them (outside of my blog anyway). I think the same thing applies for this book, Kuhn certainly makes some interesting and probably even accurate inferences based on Jackie Onassis's publishing list, but I would be surprised if they were all right.

People say they can tell a lot about a person based on what books they read and/or have in their library. That may only be true for people who form attachments to physical objects and have the space and inclination to fill one. If you looked at the books I have waiting to be read in my bedroom right now you would (wrongly) think that I love 20 year old murder mysteries, plus the year-or-two-old publications I picked up from ALA 2010. However, if you look at my Goodreads list you might get a better accounting of my actual reading tastes. Tie that in with my blog and you actually do have a fairly intimate portrait of my reading, what it means to me, and how it connects to my life, and even then I am selective about what I choose to write about.

I am not always forthcoming about exactly what I think because a public forum is not always the best place to hash out ideas or follow certain tangents. Sometimes that needs to happen in private, sometimes I need to sit quietly with the thoughts a book brought to me and pick through them. Other times I want to share them with you and hope that you share your thoughts as well. I still strongly believe that reading is primarily a personal and intimate pursuit, but I also believe reading has the opportunity to connect us to each other by opening channels for discussion on difficult topics. It is much easier to talk about the pain of a character than our own pain, even if it's what we're really talking about.

I found a couple of great reviews; the first one by Jaylia at Goodreads, another by a blogger at Beth Fish Reads, and then my favorite professional source Kirkus Reviews.
LibsNote: Library copy from Overdrive Media.

04 March 2011

Post 342: Reading Jackie

Reading Jackie by William Kuhn. ISBN: 9780385531009 (eBook).

One of the things I wish had been explored more was the idea that Jackie chose to edit certain works that she wanted to learn more about. This information was taken from a Publishers Weekly article published 19 April 1993. This is certainly how I approach much of my own reading. I may never get the chance to go to India, but I can learn about the culture and the politics by reading works from Indian authors or non-fiction works about the area. I may not need to ever poison someone, but isn't it interesting how many different ways you can do it and how accessible poison really is? I'm probably never going to fly a plane, but I can easily imagine what it might feel like when it is described well enough.

This is possibly the best reason to read, and we make these decisions all the time. Even for pleasure reading there has to be some motivation behind choosing a particular title. We may originally be drawn by the title or the cover, but those things still give us some information about the content of the book (at the very least they tell us what the marketers think the target audience is). Sometimes I need that exotic setting, sometimes I need to know how or why something happened, sometimes I just need to know why everyone else is reading it.

That last one gets me into a lot of trouble. I consistently read things out of my preferred genres. But I like new things, and occasionally I come across books I love that I never would have read otherwise. I like my adventurous reading habits, and I like other adventurous readers. Not only is it fun to see what influences branch across genres, it's easier to see what storytelling elements and techniques actually work for me, which I've found is actually a better indicator of how much I will enjoy a story than whether or not it's literary fiction or memoir, etc.

How often do you think about why you're drawn to a certain book? What do you think you would learn about yourself and your reading habits if you started paying attention to that?

I found a couple of great reviews; the first one by Jaylia at Goodreads, another by a blogger at Beth Fish Reads, and then my favorite professional source Kirkus Reviews.
LibsNote: Library copy from Overdrive Media.
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