30 April 2011

Post 377: a general update

So I've been in Alabama for over a week now. The public library is not nearly as terrible as I first thought, but it is still much more limited than the library I'm used to. So I'll be participating more in various Bookswap sites. I'm already on Bookcrossing and I'll probably swap through Goodreads and maybe sign up with Paperbackswap as well. If anyone has book swapping sites you really like, let me know. I am interested. So, reading list.

Extraordinary, Ordinary People by Condeleezza Rice.
I actually have a small secret crush on Condeleezza. I think she's a smart woman who made some unfortunate political choices. I think if I met her I'd like her and so I'm interested in what she has to say. Anyway, I first heard about this book on The Daily Show. She is absolutely charming and very well-spoken in the interview. She's the kind of person I'd love to have a cocktail or glass of white wine with.

Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail by Caitlin Kelly.
Miss Thang who had a hot journalism career loses her job and has to go into the retail world. It's a book about that.

S'mother: The Story of a Man, His Mom, and the Thousands of Altogether Insane Letters She's Mailed Him by Adam Chester.
Dude, I had to flip screens several times to make sure I got the subtitle right. Are you sure your mother is the crazy one? In any case, I feel your pain man. Crazy moms are hard to deal with, but thanks for the schadenfreude. Let's be friends and trade crazy mother jokes.

The Girl Who Was on Fire edited by Leah Wilson.
This is a collection of essays about The Hunger Games series. I really love deconstructions of novels and whatnot that add to the level of thought. Perhaps this means I need to join a book club and share ideas and things with a bunch of 30+ women. Which I am cool with. Anyone know of a good book club in Alabama? Bueller? Anyway, I was interested in this book, but not planning to go out of my way to get it when the PR person e-mailed me and I was all yeeeeeees!

The I Hate the 21st Century Reader: The Awful, Annoying and Absurd - From Ethnic Cleansing to Frankenscience edited by Nate Hardcastle.
Come on guys, you are breakin' my literary balls with these subtitles. I'm in a weird mood today, can you tell? Anyway I picked this up on a whim because I had book credits and why the hell not? Given that this was written in 2006, I wonder if it's as bad as predicted. Also, this era kind of sucks ass. Word.

The George Carlin Letters: The Permanent Courtship of Sally Wade by... Sally Wade (for some reason Carlin doesn't get a byline).
This a collection and reflection of all the sweet, smart, and sometimes smutty letters Carlin sent to long time girlfriend Sally Wade. I saw this in the grocery store and was happy and surprised to see that the library in Alabama actually carried it. I'm feeling a little lonely right now, so reading someone else's love letters is the perfect fix? Especially when it's from a man I greatly admire for his intellect and dirty, dirty mouth.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.
I once ordered this on Netflix and the first time the disk was sent to me it was all scratched up. Then I ordered it again and it was scratched again. So I guess the story must be pretty good because people are watching the hell out of the movie. But yeah, I like names, names are important, especially when you've named someone or something because of a particular significance. So I am interested.

On another note, I think I've decided to intersperse audiobook reflections in between regular posts assuming I'm not behind (which I am very much not since switching to this schedule). So you'll get a bonus post every now and again as I finish those up. Wooo! ... I need to go take my chill pill now.

28 April 2011

Post 376: I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive

I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive by Steve Earle. ISBN: 9780618820962 (eGalley - publishes: May 12, 2011).

I've never done heroin or any opiate. I am actually terrified of trying most drugs, even natural ones like shrooms or marijuana. I don't know how to prepare them, and given the questionable morality of those selling those substances, I'm not sure there is or should be such a thing as a trusted source.

I worry about a society that seems to embrace drug use as a reasonable alternative to god/spirituality. There are certainly cultures which incorporate the use of drugs to reach higher states of spirituality, but that involves rituals and very specified times when it is acceptable use drugs.

Instead, many people seem to have replaced god or their spirituality in favor of a drug of choice. Rather than trying to attain that heightened feeling of awareness or oneness or peace or contentedness or bliss on their own, they take the easy way out and use whatever pharmaceutical or herbal means are at hand. This is incredibly damaging to the spirit and the body, regardless of your relationship or lack thereof with god. By the way, I have a somewhat different meaning for the word "god" than the traditional Judeo-Christian term. I am not referring here to the Guy in the Sky, but whatever your core values and beliefs are regarding what is Good and Right in the world and How We Should Treat Each Other as People/Living Beings. "God" is just a lot shorter than all of that mess.

I understand that reaching that feeling of bliss/spirituality is very difficult. Some religions train a little bit better than others to reach those heights. Some people are better designed to get there through the simple act of prayer or meditation. The rest of us have to work at it and I have to say it's been a long time since I've felt the touch of god. But then I haven't exactly been reaching out for much of anyone's touch lately. But reaching god through the easy way isn't the same as getting there on your own. There's less of a journey and I think it's more rewarding to reach that state through your own powers. It feels more real and exhilarating. Granted, the only other method by which I've felt that is alcohol, but I imagine even with the harder drugs it feels like something is missing.

The whole purpose of being connected to god is to know that there's nothing between you and him/her/them/it. Drugs are definitely something that can get between that clear conversation and complete relationship. And so while I don't really consider myself religious, I would say that god is a big reason why I've never touched recreational drugs.*

My review can be found on Goodreads. There's also an excellent article and interview by the Los Angeles Times.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley.
*I don't have a problem with people who make the choice to use drugs occasionally, but I know that it tends to interfere with most people's lives more than they even care to admit. Because of this I prefer not to spend a lot of time with people who use drugs on a regular basis. And if you're wondering, I do think marijuana should be legalized. You won't see me using it though.

25 April 2011

Post 375: The Cellar

The Cellar by A.J. Whitten. ISBN: 9780547232539 (eGalley - publishes: May 2, 2011).

So, I love zombies, but not like that.

I do appreciate that the zombie wasn't automatically made sexy, but instead used glamour (magical Haitian zombie is magical). Because rotting flesh is not typically appealing.

So why zombies? Why do I like them, why do so many other people like them?

For me, there is no monster that so accurately depicts something that humankind is afraid of. We are all afraid of death in some form or another. We are afraid of growing old, we are afraid of not growing old, we are afraid of what will happen to us when we're gone, and nothing could be more terrifying (at least to me) than finding out that not only is there a life after death, but that it involves me uncontrollably eating people until I rot away. The only saving grace behind this fate is the idea that my brain/soul/cognizance goes away and the only thing left is my animated corpse.

However, an ambulatory corpse is no picnic for the living either. We have a set order to things in our mind. People who die stay in the ground and get eaten by the things that eat things in the ground that have died. They're not supposed to become eaters themselves. And what's frightening is that there doesn't seem to be a reason for them to eat in most cases. If they don't eat to sustain themselves that puts them doubly out of the natural life cycle (both of staying down when dead and eating when hungry).

Ultimately, this is the real appeal of monsters, any monster, to me. When you strip away the flesh, what you get is probably the best representation of what we are actually afraid of. Zombies=death, werewolves=animal nature of humans, vampires=lust (for blood and sex), Frankenstein=what man can/will do with science. The fact that we can give these fears literary form in order to defeat them is possibly the great invention of mankind. By doing so we not only put our fears to rest, but actually create something in the process. These stories may not completely allay our fears, but they do give us a sense of control over them and how we deal with them in our daily lives.

Just whatever you do, don't fall in love with the monster. You might find yourself living with fear.

My review can be found at Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

21 April 2011

Post 374: Afterword

Afterword: Conjuring the Literary Dead edited by Dale Salwak. ISBN: 9781587299896 (eGalley - publishes May 1, 2011).

After reading this book, I think I've decided I don't want to meet any dead authors. For one thing, they don't really seem keen to talk to anyone. Most of the essays present authors as being as elusive as, if not more so than, when they were "in the ground" dead, and so really, what's the point?

But here's the thing, there are very few authors out there that I want to meet. Why? Because I am so afraid that they will be huge assholes, which will make me enjoy their work less on principle. Or that they will have a really obnoxious voice or verbal tick and I will not be able to read their work without hearing their voice inside my head. While this is somewhat pleasant for some authors (Neil Gaiman comes to mind), it is less so for others. In fact, one of my professors in undergraduate managed to bring in an author for a text we were reading, and after that I could not help but hear the author's somewhat nasally voice and tendency to pause in odd places. It pretty much guaranteed that I wouldn't be reading any of her books until I forgot what her voice sounded like and her other mannerisms.

There's another reason I don't like knowing much about the author. Once they've written the book, and I've read it, it's mine. Or at least partially. Certainly they've done all the work of creating it, but I have to do all the work of consuming it and determining how it fits into my worldview. I know I'm in the minority here, but I honestly believe in the potential of the written word to improve the lives of anyone willing to put a little effort into it. I don't think books have to be the best written or the most thought provoking to have said effect; it helps if they have those qualities only because people go into the book with a certain mindset.

I feel that if I know the author and speak with him or her about what s/he meant with whatever metaphor or character trait, then I am missing out on a valuable opportunity to form my own opinions and theories. Those theories that I work for are often more satisfying and enjoyable because I not only get the pleasure of reading the author's work, but also of collaborating with the author. The author has drawn the lines, but I get to color them any way I want to.

How annoying it would be to have some dead author looking over my shoulder to make sure I colored the sky blue when I want it to be green.

Writing may be a personal endeavor, but the results are public (assuming it's published). That means we have not only the privilege, but the right and the duty to interpret the work in a way that makes sense to us as individuals and as a society. And authors should allow this to happen, because as isolated and lonely as writing claims to be, reading is a far more personal a matter. If authors do not step back and allow readers to form their own opinions, well, it will blow up in their faces and will probably look something like this. If your writing is really your baby, those apron strings will be cut at some point.

My review can be found at Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

18 April 2011

Post 373: Lamb

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. ISBN: 9780061161087 (eBook).

Because I rarely go to church, I forgot that Easter Sunday is on the 24th and so didn't mean for this particular reading to coincide with the holiday, but this leads me to an amusing Easter anecdote. About ten years ago I attended a church in the Deep South. Recently the local theatre had put on a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream and so the gift shop was selling sets of horns, like Puck's.

One Sunday I decided I was going to wear my new set of horns to church. The Sunday I chose? Easter. Completely by accident. Had I been anywhere but a Unitarian church, I would have been screeched at and chased out of the building. Instead, everyone thought it was really cool and assumed I was celebrating the Pagan fertility aspect of Easter rather than the Christian rising from the dead, etc.

Anyway, the thing I liked about this book is that it presents Christ as an actual human. It is too easy to see him as a perfect person, as the son of God, and a Savior, but what really makes him so special is the journey he took to get there. Therefore I appreciate that Moore filled in the 30 year gap in the Bible, and not only showed us Christ's tumultuous childhood, but also presented him as a seeker of knowledge. As a lifelong seeker of knowledge myself, this appeals to me for several reasons.

For one, it implies that Jesus's teachings weren't just handed down to him by God to give to the people. That would be too easy, there's no learning or reflection involved in that path. I think it is difficult to be a compassionate person if one merely accept tenets of faith rather than understanding the reasons behind them. You can know not to covet they neighbor's wife, but if you don't know why it's bad then it won't do you any good except that you might be less inclined to break the rule because you're afraid of what someone told you will happen when you die. However, if you understand that coveting someone else's wife will cause strife in the community and ruin your own home life, you will be more accepting of that rule (if you are a sane and logical person) because it has immediate consequences and is in place for a reason besides determining who gets into the Sky Lounge.

By having Jesus travel to India and several other countries to learn how to be the Messiah, Moore is espousing one of the tenets of my faith, which is the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Jesus had to learn for himself what was True and of Value. His search took him on both a physical and spiritual journey so that he could form a core of teachable values, etc., that would be applicable to his people at the time. And if we wish to walk in Jesus's footsteps, we must do the same. This does not mean we should all fly off and study Jew-do (as Moore put it), but it does mean we should take the time to deeply reflect on what we have been taught to value in religion, and determine if it is actually valuable to us, or if perhaps it is time for change. Here I will let Moore's Jesus speak for me,  

"Confucius is like the Torah, rules to follow. And Lao-Tzu is even more conservative, saying that if you do nothing you won't break any rules. You have to let tradition fall sometime, you have to take action, you have to eat bacon." Page 202.*

So with that, I hope you all have a Happy, Thoughtful, Irreverent and Bacon-filled Easter.

Great review (as usual) from The New Dork Review of Books.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.
*For eBooks I use the page numbers provided in the document. Otherwise I use what the eReader assigns.

14 April 2011

Post 372: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. ISBN: 9780307272119 (eBook).

So I watched the movie (Swedish version) and read the book because I wanted to compare the storytelling technique. I'm going with the movie on this one, and most of that probably has to do with the translation.

In some ways I kind of liked the stilted language of the translation because it read much like I imagine a report from Salander would read. Unfortunately, there was a huge disconnect for me between the characters actually being people rather than being long dead subjects in a case report. It felt like everything had already happened, so it was nearly impossible to get invested in the characters. On the other hand... this made it much easier to read about all of the violence that happened to Salander. Seeing it happen on screen... was traumatic. Far more traumatic than I was expecting it to be, and some of that had to do with the accelerated plot and the ability to actually connect with the characters.

But then, the movie I think actually softened Salander's character a bit. Not that I think this is a bad thing to do. In some ways it made her feel stronger to actually see her in pain, as opposed to the narrator doing the text version of a monotone play-by-play report of her pain. I'm not sure if the text could really be stronger than the movie at this point. I don't know how powerful the language is in the original language, but it takes so long to get invested in the plot, much less what the characters are actually doing.

By the end of the novel I was definitely invested in what was going on in the Vanger family, but mostly in the "Jerry Springer" train wreck kind of way. So I don't think I'll be continuing the rest of the series via book. This is one of those times I'm definitely going with the movie over the book. Are there movies that you think are better than books? Do you agree with me on this assessment?

Also, sorry this was review-ish, but... I had nothing on this. All of these people are pretty damaged and I've already talked about how I feel about open relationships.

A good review can be found over at Age 30+... A Lifetime of Books. I liked it, but probably not enough to continue the series.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.

13 April 2011

Post 371: a general update

If this was on your reader before, please ignore that. I apparently really cannot use a calendar because I was looking at 2012. Yeah. Okay, so I decided not to make you wait until Thursday for a general update, because that's just not fair. These will occasionally pop up in between regularly scheduled blog posts. Oh, and I decided not to read Invasion by Mercedes Lackey, et al., because I started the first three pages and couldn't stop wincing. Just a little too corny for my tastes. So I left it somewhere so it could torture please someone else. Also! I am moving. I am a huge failure mcfailureson, and because of this I am forced to do penance in Alabama. I have already checked out their library and...

Help. ;_;

I don't want to go, it's like an information desert out there. *sigh* Well, it just means I will have to be more creative with my book obtaining methods.  On that note, I've signed up for Bookcrossing, so feel free to check out my wishlist there, or just look at my To-Read list in Goodreads. I'd be willing to set up a regular swap, although I don't buy books often. But if you're feeling generous and want to send me something, shoot me an email (acampb8@kent.edu) and I'll give you my mailing address.

Now that I'm done whining and begging, books!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.
Yes, I am finally getting around to reading this. Shush, the wait for the eBook was something like 60+ people. I am not expecting to love it, but I at least hope I like it. Whether I continue with the series very much depends on whether I think it's worth it and whether or not I can get my hands on the next in the series for cheapo.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore.
I freakin' love Christopher Moore, okay? And I will be all depressed when I move to Alabama, so... yeah, I need my irreverent Bible Thumber-jabbing quotes, alright? The last time you had to put up with a Moore book was all the way back in November, I think we can live with this.

Afterword: Conjuring the Literary Dead by Dale Salwak.
An ask and answer of, "If you could have a conversation with any dead author, who would it be?" etc. I've always sort of wondered what my answer to this question would be, and with so many recently dead authors this question has become even harder. Maybe I'll figure it out reading this, or maybe it will just add to the list.

I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive by Steve Earle.
I am fond of Steve Earle's music, so I figured I'd check out his writing. It's already been well received at Kirkus, and they tend to know their stuff.

The Cellar by A.J. Whitten.
I don't remember requesting this from Netgalley, but there it is so I musta done. Possibly I was attracted to the cover? Perhaps it was the monster angle hinted at in the blurb. We may never know, but I'm going to read the thing anyway.

11 April 2011

Post 370: The Spice Necklace

The Spice Necklace by Ann Vanderhoof. ISBN: 9780618685370 (ARC - published May 26, 2010).

For those of you who don't know me personally, I freakin' love food. It is my favorite thing about traveling, or even just being in a new place. I am always excited to try a new restaurant or show off a favorite local eatery to friends. I am a strong believer in trying almost anything and everything once, and possibly more than once. I'm an adventurous eater when I can't be an adventurous anything else and most of my fondest memories are centered around eating.

I'm not talking about your run-of-the-mill grab-something-and-go kind of eating. That doesn't make for very memorable experiences. If your favorite meal memories take place in a McDonald's, well... I highly recommend checking out your local greasy spoon and trying something different. It may actually be healthier for you, and if it's not, at least you won't be hungry again in half an hour. Anyway, the experiences I'm referring to are the ones that include a little extra something: when far flung family members are brought together, first dates, especially exotic experiences that someone is not likely to forget. And the food to go with it.

Possibly one of my earliest food memories is in Mexico. My family and I were living in California at the time (so, between ages 4-8), and we decided to drive across the border for a quick vacation. During that time we were swamped by the heat, the flies, and the poor begging for pesos. But we also enjoyed the bright colors, bartering with the vendors, and sitting down in a relatively cool and clean restaurant where I was served a salad with amazingly buttery and earthy tasting greens and wafer-like slices of some weird crispy I Don't Know What.

Well, I wasn't about to leave Mexico without figuring out what it was. So when the waiter came back I pointed to my plate and asked what it was. He came back out with something that looked like a cross between a potato and an onion and a turnip complete with long leafy stalks. He told me its name was Jicama (the word sounds a bit like a hiccup).

This first encounter reinforced my positive experience with foreign and/or unusual foods. Unfortunately, during the time I was touring tropical islands with my family, I wasn't much into seafood. This is slowly changing, and I would be more than happy to return to Guam and/or Hawaii as well as visit other tropical climates. This is especially true given my recent penchant for and pleasure in eating spicy, spicy food (I scare some people with my ability to eat hot foods, although I'm nowhere close to the level of some chili heads). Seriously, I love the feeling of my tongue on fire. And you thought librarians were boring.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Advanced copy received from vendor booth at ALA 2010.

07 April 2011

Post 369: The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. ISBN: 9780763639310.

My fiance and I thoroughly enjoyed the antics of Manchee, the talking dog. Mainly because my fiance enjoys poop humor, and so the phrase, "Poo, Todd" has been incorporated into the repertoire of Things We Say To Each Other. And Danny hasn't even read the book yet, although he's enjoyed passages I've read aloud.

I think part of the appeal of this book for me was that the talking animals weren't shown as particularly smart. The fact that they added to the stream of Noise without usually contributing anything of value fits in well with my human preconceived notion that most animals do not have thoughts far beyond their bodily functions, the registering of pain, and noticing various stimuli. Manchee was good at remembering and reminding Todd of certain concepts, like promises he made, etc. but for the most part Manchee thinks how we expect a dog to think. And in some ways that is far more refreshing than turning him into a Mr. Peabody and Sherman type of caricature. Whether thoughts for more advanced animals (monkeys, elephants, dolphins, etc) would have held true to this is in question because we don't meet any of those on Todd's planet.

It does ask a question, and the asking asks an answer: would having a talking animal make their inevitable loss more or less devastating?

I could see it both ways. On the one hand, part of the thing we love most about pets is having someone in our lives that doesn't judge us. But what if those pets do judge us and our human brains just can't comprehend how they are doing it? What if the thought that runs through your dog's mind when you cry on his fur after a bad break up is, "You sure do smell bad today"? Pets wouldn't be so pleasant to keep around.

But a thought pattern like Manchee's? One which is so simple and uncomplicated and just there? That would be devastating. You can see how much Manchee loves Todd, even though through the first third of the book Todd is complaining that he never wanted Manchee, etc. But Manchee loves that boy and seems to know that Todd doesn't mean it, and perhaps Manchee, being a dog, doesn't care. So even though it would be fun to hear what my cat is thinking (Bite, bite, bite, Curtain! bite!), I don't think I would want to. If only because it is already hard enough to lose a pet.

Presenting Lenore has an excellent short review if you are spoiler-phobic. Roxanne, another Goodreader, managed to sum up my general feelings about the end of the book, also without being too spoilery.
LibsNote: Library copy.

04 April 2011

Post 368: Super Sad True Love Story

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. ISBN: 9781400066407.

On the surface I really disliked this book. Lenny Abramov is your pretty typical schmuck who believes all the bull hockey that's been fed to him about his role as a man, son, and lover of women. And since people are plugged directly into the um, Internet-network-thing, he's been fed a lot of bovine ice sport euphemism for poop.

Meanwhile, there's our uh, love interest? Object of desire and affection, or at the very least status and unobtainable youth? Eunice is both incredibly shallow and self-involved, but still obviously is able to care for others, if in her own shallow and self-involved way.

There's also not a whole lot going on in this book to really be interesting... On the surface.

However, if you view Lenny's story as a search for authenticity it all of a sudden becomes a much more poignant and less distressing story. Basically, Lenny starts out as a schmuck because he is a schmuck, at the beginning. However, he is in a completely superficial world. Earlier I wrote about how important it is for the Other to influence how you view your Self, but that isn't helpful when there is no self-reflection, and indeed when a society avoids self-reflection like the plague.

By the end of the novel, Lenny has started moving away from the societally accepted norms. Once he makes this choice, I start to, not like, but at least, respect Lenny. Because he was the only man in a world of artifice trying to be more. In this sense there are parallels to Catcher in the Rye (although Caulfield was avoiding being authentic in an authentic world under the premise that being a teenager is more authentic than being a phony adult) and even Ibsen's A Doll House, where Nora had to completely reject society's pre-conceived notions and form her own.

So maybe this is just a reiteration of an old idea, one where we toss away what society says is right and determine for ourselves what is right, but it seems to be a necessary function of growing up becoming more authentic people. After all, who wants to live in a world of Facebookin' phonies?

Greg over at  The New Dork Review of Books pretty much captures the back and forth of my like-dislike of this book. He's also the reason I actually added this book to my list, despite its luke-warm undertones.
LibsNote: Library Copy.
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