30 July 2011

Post 409: a general update

So, I went to the library earlier this month and picked up two books. Then I got them home and I was like, hm, I detect a theme. Which prompted a second library trip to get two more books on the same topic. So here we're going to have a random robot themed week here at Lib's LIB, because why the hell not. I mean, I'm going to be replaced by robots anyway, so fuck it. Good luck getting an automaton to wipe your fines. PS: please pronounce robots as "row-butts" for an increase in entertainment value (or just read the entire thing as Dr. Zoidberg). You're welcome.

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson.
Son of a bitch, I just realized I've been tweeting the title as "Robocalypse." Oh well. Shoot me. Wilson can get a refund on whatever money he paid me to advertise his book (that would be nothing, by the way). So yeah, it's like World War Z only with robots. Some of the characters are written like stereotypes of stereotypes, but complaining about wooden characters is like complaining about Arnold Schwarzenegger's acting in... well, anything. You picked up the action movie version of a book, so what you're getting is a compelling plot and some explosions and some special effects. What, you want more? It does its job. If you want acting, go rent Bicentennial Man (no seriously, it's aged remarkably well and is a good movie despite the cheese factor). Also, shout out to a fellow Tulsan, whoo! Go T-town!

The Most Human Human by Brian Christian.
Not exactly about robots, but about the thing we would put into their "heads" if we were going to build the ultimate robots. I first saw this on the Daily Show (which I need to start watching again, but even the funny news is fucking depressing). Have I always italicized that? I don't know, it's a blog, you get consistency in pieces, not the entire thing. So this is a book about a competition to create the most human computer, but humans also compete to be crowned the most "human" human, hello title. So it'll be interesting to read about what characteristics people see as being more human than others and what computers do well as far as mimicking us. Computer programmers, I dare you to write a program that will write my blog posts for me. Bring it, bitches.

Genesis by Poul Anderson.
It is nearly impossible to find anything at my library in Alabama. Their catalog is a mess and their collection is also a mess. So I just kind of had to hope and pray that I could either stumble across something about robots, or that what was in the catalog was actually in the collection and where it said it was. I didn't quite get I wanted (I really wanted some Philip K. Dick, but who doesn't want Dick?), but I got something. This covers the uploading human consciousness into computers (and I am assuming robots) thing. The cover is a bit wacky, but then sci-fi covers are kind of like that.

Rapture for the Geeks by Richard Dooling.
This was published in 2008 and I'm sure it became obsolete almost as soon as it was published, but hey, someone's gotta write this stuff. You poor technology writer bastards. In this slim volume, Dooling theorizes what might happen when computers get smarter than us. Personally, I hope they turn us into pets and perform upgrades. I so want robot hands, like a Jedi boss. I'm pretty sure this is the first time this book has circulated. Popping library book cherries kind of makes me sad, because it means I'm the only one who has enjoyed or suffered through them. Please put a smile on a librarian's face and de-virginize a book... um, not literally. That would make me do the opposite of smile. Also, paper cuts.

28 July 2011

Post 408: What Language Is

What Language Is: And What It Isn't and What It Could Be by John H. McWhorter. ISBN: 9781592406258 (eGalley - publishes: August 4, 2011).

Sometimes I like reading non-fiction because it reminds me of what I already know, but have sort of buried under all of the other "things I know." For instance, I know that writing is technically a representation of language, but this book reminded me of that, and then it went a step further and blew my mind. McWhorther gives examples where not only has the written language been affected by the spoken, but vice versa. One example he used was a country where the written language was considered the "real" language whereas the spoken language wasn't (I can't remember which country, my bad). That is just about the very definition of unbelievable. Why is the more formal (and complicated) version considered real when it isn't even used to communicate on a person-to-person-in-real-time basis?

I've always found writing, the fact that we can understand it and even interpret it in different ways, fascinating. It definitely makes it challenging to choose the correct word to indicate tone and meaning, whereas speaking allows for a range of vocal inflections, and if you're in the same room there's always body language to assist with interpreting meaning. Writing requires a lot of assumption when reading it. For instance, if I state something sarcastically in my blog, you have to know that I'm being an asshole instead of just contradictory. I can give you certain textual clues, like including emoticons or italicized text or maybe even a footnote, but writing does lack a great deal of information that you would otherwise get from spoken language, which of course is why writing will always only be a representation.

But what an awesome representation it is! How many of you actually think in words rather than pictures? What do you think we did before we had writing? First of all, if we saw a tree, we wouldn't think of the word "tree"; but our brains automatically identify things, and with the identification comes the words. If I was speaking with someone and didn't know how to read or write, instead of seeing the word "tree" in my head, I would probably just see a tree, and then as they described it the tree would get closer to matching their description. Our brains still do this, but go through the additional step of picturing the word first. At least, this seems to be the way my brain works, which is probably why words are so important to me.

Don't get me wrong, I don't care about words dying out or falling out of use. For the most part I don't care about kids not knowing the difference between they're/their/there; it's annoying to me, but whatever, it doesn't hurt me that they don't know that. I do care about communicating effectively through writing when I do not have the opportunity to speak. Part of that is because I am a very deliberate thinker. I am not a slow thinker per se, but I like to evaluate all of my options and mull over an idea before opening my mouth. I don't like to look stupid, and if I say something stupid, I at least want to be assured of the opportunity to clarify my statements. In writing I don't always get that opportunity and so I try to be more careful of what I say.

If tomorrow the World Linguistics Council for English decided to change how English was written, I wouldn't mourn it. I would adapt and learn how to write according to the new standards of grammar and/or spelling. Because I want to be able to communicate. I may not be able to adapt to it immediately, but just as I have learned that because I think it should be spelled "sandwhich" doesn't mean that it's correct, and if I want to be certain someone will understand I meant "sandwich" as opposed to "sand which," I need to conform to the structures of the time. Do those structures need to change with the language? Should we simplify our writing to reflect changes? Do we really need to be that hung up about they're/their/there? Maybe not. Maybe we shouldn't care. Maybe this poor ability to remember grammar rules is a good thing and we can get over ourselves and just communicate already.

Nah, that shit still pretty much annoys me.

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

25 July 2011

Post 407: Sex on Six Legs

Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love and Language from the Insect World by Marlene Zuk. ISBN: 9780151013739 (eGalley - publishes August 2, 2011).

This is a case of the subtitle being slightly more accurate than the title, unless of course you are referring to sex as in "That species of ant is like sex on six legs." Perhaps you would be more comfortable with a different analogy: "That 1963 Thunderbird is sex on wheels." This colloquialism likely refers to an attraction to or interest in an object that we normally reserve for the act of sex... er, the interest reserved, not the object.

Zuk's primary thesis seemed to be that insects deserve our sex. Um, or interest rather, because insects are so... not sexy. Zuk claims that they are just too alien to anthropomorphize, and so they are perfect for human study. They aren't cute puppies rolling around playing with each other, so we aren't going to say, "Aw, Fluffy tackled Spot because they're playing," when really it's territorial or aggressive behavior. But here I think Zuk somewhat denies the human ability to relate to anything if they put their minds to it. She seems to even ignore this trait in herself after espousing her own fondness for crickets and how ingenious and fascinating they are.

What I would be interested in knowing is why and how some people are able to anthropomorphize things like insects. It would make sense for some community members in our pre-"civilized" society to be able to extend their circle to include what more discerning cavemen might consider "the other." If you encountered another group of people, who were physically and culturally different than you, it would be beneficial genetically to incorporate that group of people, or at least their genetics. Additionally, the people who are more easily able to anthropomorphize animals were probably the ones who began domesticating animals. Being able to see a similarity in an animal is the first step to curiosity, which would lead to a desire to experiment with incorporating those into the family as well. Of course, that kind of behavior can get you killed too.

I suppose it makes sense that the stranger an animal or person (not necessarily of the human variety) is, the harder it is to accept them as being "like us." It makes it harder to understand their motivations or behavior if they look like us, but don't act like us, and equally hard if they act like us but look nothing like us. Given that we already have problems figuring out each other, it is amazing that any of us are capable of anthropomorphizing anything. I wonder if perhaps somewhere down the line it will be discovered that there's a mental disease, perhaps the coin side to psychopathy,* in which people are too easily able to form human connections... with animals. I am not indicating bestiality here, but perhaps anthropomorphizing animals to the extreme is just as likely to harm as the reverse. I'll let professionals decide on whether or not that should be acted upon, but it certainly is interesting to think about.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by Netgalley.
*Here I am primarily referring to the psychopath's inability to empathize with their fellow human beings, which to me is an indication that they likely have trouble seeing people as "like me/us."

21 July 2011

Post 406: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow. ISBN: 9781598879377 (audio book).

I'll be honest, I wasn't going to post about this one. I listened to it back in May, and since it was an "extra" book I didn't feel obligated to post about it and I couldn't really come up with anything to write about. What did I have in common with a half-Danish, half-Black American girl?

And then I had to correct someone about using a racial slur and I was very strongly reminded of a scene in the book. Nella, Rachel's Danish mother, is speaking with her employer and friend when she uses the word "jigaboo." Nella did not realize this was a racial slur, English being her second language, and was appalled to learn that she had called her own children this word. Although my situation was a bit different, I've been on both ends of the Calling Out and know exactly how it feels to be on the receiving end of this kind of situation.

There is no expression for the amount of horror I felt at realizing I was perpetrating racist behavior. It brought me to tears to realize I was not above that kind of behavior, even if it was done in ignorance; maybe especially because it was done in ignorance. It is not a comfortable thing to be Called Out, it is not pleasant, it is not nice. There is a great deal of shame involved, whether this is the intention of the party doing the Calling Out or not, because it is hurtful to realize that you in turn have been hurtful to someone else on such a basic level. It is, however, necessary. This is not an aspect of Antioch College that I found to be "toxic," regardless of the shock it produced to the system. Rather it was more like being slapped out of a bad dream I didn't even know I was having. Maybe I wouldn't have remembered it if I woke on my own, but I also wouldn't have learned from it if someone hadn't taken it upon themselves to slap me in the first place.

And let's not be coy, Calling Out is an act of emotional/social/political/mental violence, but so is allowing the kind of behavior that prompts it. Calling Out ideally reduces the number of incidents that occur in the future that may silently go on hurting people who have already long been hurt by a tradition of racial/sexual/gendered/sized slurs, behaviors, and stereotypes. It is hard to call someone out for this behavior, because no one wants to cause that kind of anguish to someone. Many people get very defensive because they don't realize that it is not necessarily calling them a racist, but that they have ingrained behaviors that have been caused by racism and therefore they need to work on Their Shit, as we called it at Antioch.

Everyone has Their Shit they need to work on. We are all Works in Progress, but we can't possibly see our own flaws all the time and we can't possibly fix something we aren't aware is broken. So today I tried to help someone with Their Shit. They were watching someone on the news and he happened to be a black man spouting Republican lines, the person then commented with, "What a fucking Uncle Tom."

I did not immediately respond, mostly because I was shocked. This is a person who is close to me, who I respect, and who I really do not wish to pick fights with anymore than I have to. On the other hand, a Calling Out was necessary in order to correct this person's behavior so that the person did not make future mistakes and realized that Their Shit was out in the open. I agonized a bit over the decision, but realized that if I was having that argument, I probably needed to go ahead and do it, because if it was agonizing me, it would bother someone else.

The person was accepting of the criticism, if not necessarily for the correct reasons. Instead of saying, "You're right, that's some fucked up Shit," we had a discussion about how the Black American* Republican was acting like an Uncle Tom, and how it still wasn't right to use that term because it was racially denoted rather than indicating that the person held ideas based on their own experiences and ideology, regardless of whether it was right or wrong. The person finally agreed not to use the term because it offended me; while this is not exactly a Win it's not a loss either. The person did not learn that the behavior was unacceptable because it categorically treated someone, or a group of someone's, as subhuman: in this case denying them personhood in the sense of holding them responsible for their own thought processes rather than insisting that they are reliant on the Republican party to think for them. It doesn't matter if that's actually what happened, because they still have enough awareness and intelligence to decide whether they will believe that information or not, calling some an Uncle Tom is just a step up from calling them a monkey instead.

And before you use patsy...

For once I agree with and managed to read through the New York Times Book Review. A rather spoilery, but really good review, is over at Bookroom Reviews.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.
*I prefer the term Black American because it doesn't automatically negate heritage from other black-skinned regions (i.e. black people come from more places that Africa). It's not a perfect term, because it also negates the fact that many Black Americans come from a mixed racial heritage, but I feel it is slightly more accurate than African American. Here is someone who uses the word Black or Person of Color to describe herself. It demonstrates exactly how difficult language can be when something like race comes into play.

18 July 2011

Post 405: Breathless

Breathless by Dean Koontz. ISBN: 9780553907148 (eBook).

I'm pretty sure this book is called Breathless due to sheer number of plotlines that all come together at the end and decide to punch you in your soft, fleshy midsection. And I'm talking about the kind that involve mindless violence and not startling intellect.I was not impressed by his wordsmithing, but rather totally confused and then mauled by it before I could get back to my feet.

For at least three fourths of the book I wanted to rewrite just about every sentence. They were awkward and stilted. Chapter three came in and slapped me with a murder when I was least expecting it with absolutely no lead up. I know it's been done in other books, but this was really a "Rocks fall everyone dies" sort of moment, also known as, "Well, something has to move this shit bucket of plot along." Where did the rocks come from? I don't know, probably the same place as the plotline for Breathless, which I'm going to say originated in a flying unicorn anus.* Because I can. The joys of not being published in The New York Times Book Review. Although I might actually subscribe if they published a review that included the phrase "flying unicorn anus." Hm, I should probably hyphenate that so that you don't think it's the detached anus of a unicorn, but I'm not going to.**

If you think me mentioning unicorn anus is funny/obnoxious, I just want to point out that Koontz writes the words "oscillating butt whistle" in the same sentence where one character is debating the merits of keeping an intelligent but "plain" looking woman in his post-apocalyptic sadist love stables. To that I say, Mr. Koontz, your face is an oscillating butt whistle, and I don't care how educated your character is, a fart is a fart is a fart is pfffftttbllllllffffft.***

So enough of the fart joke review. Even though I don't agree with some of the weird mystical pseudo science stuff going on this, I will give credit where it's due. I did like Lamar Woolsey's**** take on the fluidity of science. From the man who gave you the oscillating butt whistle, take it away Koontz:

"When a sciencist tells you that 'the science is settled' in regard to any subject... he's ceased to be a scientist, and he's become an evangelist for one cult or another. The entire history of science is that nothing in science is ever settled. New discoveries are continuously made, and they upend old certainties." Page 254.

Koontz via Woolsey goes on to discount several major scientists, and how their theories, while useful, are unequivocally wrong even though they are still being taught in school. I'm pretty sure this is all set up so that Koontz can go into this whole "I made fictional characters, god can do that too...only real" sort of thing. But whatever, I don't really care if Koontz's science-y arguments are valid or not, his outlook on science is not necessarily a bad one.

There is however a problem: if the science isn't settled, then we can't agree on the rules that govern our universe. For instance, if half of the population says that gravity is what holds us to the earth and the other half says it's the noodley appendage of the Flying Spaghetti Monster on top of our heads, one theory is going to be more right than the other. Since we can all scientifically agree that gravity is the more likely answer, that's how we agree to view our world. This does not prevent you from privately believing that the FSM is preventing you from flying off into space, but it does prevent you from getting funding for your new flying machine based on those principles.

So great, science is ever changing. I get that. I respect that. I love that about science. But we still have to agree on something, on some rules or values or else society is going to get all confused. Even if the theory of gravity is completely and utterly wrong, until someone else comes up with a better, more universally accepted answer, that's what holds us to the earth. Strangely, the Bible has had "similar" discoveries, but most of those have been by powerful old white dudes who at least supposedly abstain from sex and wear funny headgear... Wait a minute...

Collateral Bloggage manages to point out all of the myriad faults of this book, while still stating he liked it. I agree that the main characters were enjoyable, but there were so many subplots I sometimes wasn't sure who the main characters were... until the end.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.
*I am sure that including "anus" in my blog will make for some very interesting search term retrievals/hits. Yeah, sometimes I include terms just to see where my blog pops up... like a boner...
**You're welcome.
***I should not be allowed to blog past my bedtime. Also, I'm pretty sure that sometimes I blog almost solely for my fiance/editor's sake.
****This name is entirely too close to Hedley Lamarr.

14 July 2011

Post 404: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me

Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir... Of Sorts by Ian Morgan Cron. ISBN: 9780849946103.

I haven't always been pro-Christian in the past. I wouldn't say I was anti-Christian either, but I was very... reserved about making friends with and/or interacting with Christians. I had some very bad experiences with some rather close-minded adherents of the faith, and sadly they colored my view of the group as a whole for much longer than I like to admit. There were even times when I made the attempt to interact with Christians with the idea that I might convert to the community at least, if not the faith. One particular interaction sticks out in my mind as being especially harsh. A friend of mine had asked me to attend a meeting at someone's house where there would be plenty of singing and some informal prayer and discussion. At one point it somehow came up that some of the members believed that if you didn't believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, you shouldn't even sing the songs. This seemed so completely petty to me, that I shut up for the rest of the meeting, locked down, and pretty much didn't talk to anyone. If God belonged to everyone, it didn't make sense to me to hoard words and songs of praise to Him just because I wasn't a believer in my heart yet.

Stuff like that made it more or less impossible for me to ever become a Christian, and if they were trying to spread the word of Jesus, they totally fucked up with me on that count.

It wasn't until college that I met someone who might have been able to convert me again, and in a sense he did. Not necessarily to being a Christian, but to at least trying to be more Christlike in my dealings with my fellow human beings. And I can tell you, it is not easy opening your heart. I'm of course talking about Matthew, my room mate, and his parents as well. Matthew loved God, he carried God with him every day, I never saw him kneel and pray because his every breath was a prayer to God. He was a tender soul who loved everyone; even, it seems, those who hurt him the most.

We had been room mates for a couple of semesters when I finally asked him, despite my trepidation at learning the answer, if he thought I was going to hell. His answer was not only a kindness, but also I think the only answer he could give. He told me, “I don't know.” This is the same answer that Cron gives to his alcoholic and emotionally absent father on his deathbed, and I think it's the only answer that someone who is trying to live a Christlike life can give.

Had Matthew answered with anything other than what he did, I might have felt or always wondered if he was lying to me. Or even worse, if he had told me he thought I was going to hell, we would always have had that wall between us and not been able to experience the love we did have for each other. The love he showed to me in that moment has been one of the greatest gifts, and while it may not have brought me to God, it did allow me to accept the love and friendship of his followers where I once may have turned it away. He taught me what it means to be a Christian, even if I cannot follow the faith. I can only hope that others will take this into their hearts and their lives and, like Matthew and Cron, learn to say, “I don't know,” when it comes to saying who does and does not go to hell.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy sent by publicist.

12 July 2011

Post 403: a general update

Meh, my personal life is full of failures and boredom, so let's just skip that. My blog got a whole bunch of hits last month, which was awesome sauce, but those have dropped off. I don't know why, but stats are fun. Also, someone did a search for, "I had no idea poop was such a problem for librarians" and clicked my blog. At the moment I appear as the second Google search result, just below the Wikipedia article for "Shit." Oh, to be so close to greatness; my life goals are now complete, readerlings. Speaking of shit, I'm readin' stuff.

Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir... Of Sorts by Ian Morgan Cron.
Publisher was all, you wanna book? And I was all...ehhhhh Jesus? Maybe? And then there was this link to a chapter and I perused it ya'll, and then it was like... Okay! Publishers sending me books makes my blog senses tingle, which are bit like spider senses, only less cobwebby... I'm lying about the cobwebs. So, this is a thing about a guy whose father is in the CIA and the Lying Liars who Lied About Lying, uh, or, you know, how do you know who your dad was if He Has A Secret Identity? I are excite, with slight reservations about possible Religious (beat-you-)Over(-the-head) Tones.

Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love, and Language from the Insect World by Marlene Zuk.
Bugs are Sexy... or perhaps... Sixy. But no, I have ALWAYS been fascinated by bugs. I could watch them for hours. I even took an entomology class at Antioch College with the amazing Jill Yager (she discovered a whole CLASS of insects, I mean, awesome). And it's almost high summer in Alabama, so why not immerse myself even more in the swarms? Fucking mosquitos...

What Language is: And What It Isn't and What It Could Be by John H. McWhorter.
That is an awkward subtitle, yo. Then again, that is an awkward last name, my sympathies there, McWhorter (especially if that rhymes with quarter). I had a professor who claimed there was a difference between language and Language. The former often was dead or out of use (i.e. Latin or Victorian English respectively), while the latter requires common and "widespread" usage, must change, and must acquire new words and adaptations in structure, etc. I am vaguely hoping that this will also discuss when slang or abbreviated forms of a language become their own Language, for instance internet speak versus "standard" English: are they even the same language? Wtf, for serious, lol, like, you know what I mean!!!11!!!?

Breathless by Dean Koontz.
Um. I don't know. I haven't read any Dean Koontz before. Someone in high school told me I should try his books. Yeah, here I am, ten years later. I'm awesome.

11 July 2011

Post 402: Thoughts Without Cigarettes

Thoughts Without Cigarettes by Oscar Hijuelos. ISBN: 9781592406296.

Hijuelos gets down on himself an awful lot in this memoir. In fact, this whole memoir is almost a tribute to his lack of self-esteem, first as a Cuban (because he doesn't look Cuban and loses his ability to speak Spanish), then as a teenager (because he is a teenager), and finally as a writer. Strangely I think the whole, "I'm not good enough" pathos works really well for most writers, to the point where it becomes so ingrained in their psyches they may not even realize they have it anymore.

Why this tends to happen is a mystery to me given the sheer amount of ego it requires to be able to pursue the publication of a novel, poetry, or other forms of fictional work. Yet when it comes time to write, at least for me, it's almost sheer Id. When I write, my higher sense of self is very seldom engaged. In fact, I tend to get downright silly when I've been writing. My fiance/editor began discussing this a bit the other day. Part of the reason I get so goofy when I write is that my brain disconnects a bit from the ego and goes into "creative problem solving" mode. Rather than looking at writing as a means of telling a story, my brain sees it as more of a loose ended puzzle in which I have to find the most satisfying answer. Since my brain is a strange place to live, it often comes up with solutions to the problem for its own sick and sadistic pleasure. This is a bit like giving a 10 year old boy endless ammunition for a cap gun and the keys to the Monster Studio after he's eaten a pound of sugar. However, for as many weird and completely unusable scenarios as this 10 year old comes up with, occasionally he really hits on something that is so good it's scary.

Of course, I feed my 10 year old a steady diet of literature, non-fiction, pop culture, and real life experiences, and there's also the adult who comes in and beats his butt when he gets out of line. My Editor is definitely a parental figure, and a punishing one, and I think that also tends to be fairly common for more serious writers... or at least the professional ones. At this point I am in Conjecture Land, so feel free to tell me if any of this is not the case for You As a Writer.

I think perhaps writers (in order to be good), have to be extremely harsh on themselves when it comes to the editing process. I know I've taken out complete passages, rewritten endings and beginnings and middles, removed commas, and totally changed everything, just to get closer to the meaning of the story. I am probably exceptionally harsh on my writing, which is probably why I have very little desire to actually do it. My super-ego Editor is such a harsh bastard, that the Id often kicks him in the knees and takes his pop gun and pixie stix home until the cranky jerk goes to sleep at 8pm. The very process of getting my Editor to shut the hell up is so tiring that by the time I'm ready to let my Id-kid out, the Ego is telling me it's time to go to bed already. The Ego isn't much help in writing either, always telling me, "Gee, if you start writing about Victorian era London, you're going to have to do a lot of research about transportation and clothing and history!" Even my Ego is a god damned librarian.

I'm curious about other writers, regardless of whether you consider yourself a professional. How well do your Ego, Id, and Super Egos play with each other? Do they prevent you from writing more often than not? I'm not necessarily a Freudian, but in this case the terms do apply to the way my brain works in this instance. If you have better/other terms you prefer to use, that's fine, but for the sake of conversation please make them easy to identify.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Books received through the Goodreads First Reads program. If you sign up with Goodreads, feel free to friend me/follow my reviews! Also, something about Twitter.

07 July 2011

Post 401: Kiss Me Like a Stranger

Kiss Me Like a Stranger by Gene Wilder. ISBN: 9780312337063.

I am amazed by this book. Gene Wilder writes like Gene Wilder. I don't know if it's just because I've grown up with his movies and can watch Young Frankenstein five times in a row or what, but I could hear his voice while I read this book. He has a very unique inflection and for some reason he was able to write in a way that it translated to print. Even more amazing was the fact that I could also hear the voices of Sidney Poitier and Mel Brooks (two other great men I've more or less grown up with).

I loved reading about was Wilder's incorporation of sense memory into his acting technique. This is mostly because he focused on The Producers (one of my favorite movies) for that particular chapter. Reading about how he got into character for the opening scenes made it easier for me to see exactly how brilliantly he managed to pull those off. For instance, he got himself all hopped up on Hershey's chocolate bars to give himself that nervous energy. While this may seem a bit like cheating, you also don't see that nervous energy until Max Bialystock (Mostel) really starts going after him. And then he tells us that he used the memory of a dog he lost when Bialystock takes away Bloom's blue blankie. It just about ruined that scene for me, except that it's so neurotically funny and knowing that Wilder actually flipped out for that scene in some ways makes it all the more astounding.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this memoir is that he starts us off on the therapist's couch. By including us in that setting it almost feels like we, the audience, are part of his catharsis. As if, even in his most private moments, he still needs an audience to observe his recovery and still needs that affirmation of love or at least recognition from us. While this may not make for an actual full recovery, that Wilder is aware of, it makes him all the more human and vulnerable. I was almost disappointed when he dropped the therapy set-up, but then he was also moving into a different part of his life where he fully recovered from a marriage he entered because he was expected to, to a marriage he entered just because he loved a woman (and wanted to be a father to her daughter) and finally to the part where he recognized he loved and wanted to be married to Gilda Radner.

The therapy device almost reads a bit like schtick, but not in an over-the-top manner, more it makes all the ridiculous things that Wilder recounts to us seem less out of place and less over-the-top than they might otherwise. Certainly there are moments where I would step back and say, "This guy is crazy," but the fact that he was in treatment made that both obvious and somehow not as insane as it could have been. So while my mother (who read this book after me), had trouble accepting that Wilder sometimes acts like a douche bag (he cheats on his first wife, although the marriage had ended, and chastises Gilda when she's sick for being short tempered), I can be more forgiving because I saw that as an extension of his own illness and his inability to create a healthy relationship due to said illness.

Have you known someone who you admired and later discovered they had a mental illness? Did it change your perceptions of them or explain some of their Mad Brilliant behavior?

As always, I enjoyed the review at Kirkus Reviews. My mom also read this book and said she thought less of Gene Wilder, apparently this is also the feeling the review at Reading: It's All Good had as well.
LibsNote: Library Copy.

04 July 2011

Post 400: I'm Feeling Lucky

I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 by Douglas Edwards. ISBN: 9780547416991 (eGalley - publishes July 12, 2011*)

Although I didn't start using Google on a regular basis until maybe around 2002, Edwards started at Google at about the same time I started using the internet. He was about 40 when he started at Google, and I was about 14, in a way, I grew up with the internet; he ain't heavy, ya'll, he's my brother. I thought it might be interesting to do a little Internet History of my own, for my younger readers who have no concept of the internet without Google. And us old fogies can count our blessings that someone besides librarians recognized the value of search.

1998, Google started up as a company rather than the sitcom-like "Two Guys in a Dorm Room" thing. At this point the internet was just on my radar. In fact, I had no idea how email worked and I vaguely remember my brother showing me how to sign up for an email account. I was 13. Our keyboarding teacher managed to teach us a bit of HTML, which I believe was pretty progressive at the time and it was pretty much the first in-school computer lab I remember having access to.

By 1999 I was a regular user of Yahoo! services, mostly their chat and email. I would occasionally play Backgammon with men from Turkey who were very distraught to find they had been beaten by a 14 year-old American girl. I'm pretty sure Yahoo! search was my major go-to point, although I probably used HotBot and Altavista as well. At this point, chat was still pretty new and hadn't been taken over by spambots, so I actually managed to meet quite a few people from all walks of life. I even used Yahoo! classifieds (before it was 18+) to find a friend or two. Parents everywhere are mortified by that statement, but it worked out okay. Google had moved into its first Palo Alto offices.

By 2000, we were using AOL and finally had our own computer that was capable of accessing the internet (Dial-up, friends, dial-up). It was a Compaq, haha, remember those guys? It cost about $2000. Within a few months we would switch service providers because AOL sucks balls. At this point Yahoo! had begun using Google for their search (Yahoo! was technically a directory at that point and so you had to have some kind of search know-how). I'm not sure if I noticed then, but I had little need for more than the simplest of searches as most people were not using the internet to make purchases yet, and social networks weren't a big thing. I was still mostly using the internet for chat.

In 2001 I had switched from the public school to a magnet program. I often arrived at school early enough that I would go to one of two or three computers in the library and I would hang out with a friend searching the internet and checking email. At this point I'm pretty sure Google was on my radar. I was still using a Yahoo! email account and a Hotmail account. I was also running two websites on Angelfire with my minimal HTML skills: one for my angsty poetry and the other for my church Youth Group (this was before their pop-up ads became mandatory). I'm pretty sure that one still exists, but I've long since forgotten the password and the email account is no longer active. Word. Google created their image search in the latter half of 2001; this improved my life greatly as I could now search for images when I needed them to add to my website rather than stockpiling what I thought I might need.

Google news rolled around in 2002, shortly after September 11th made everyone realize that an aggregated news system might actually be awesome. I had moved to Mississippi and freaking hated my life. But Google searches made everything better and it was becoming more acceptable to actually cite online sources in research papers. Although we still primarily relied on print resources, Academic Search Complete was available to us. I don't believe most of the results had full text though, so in some cases it was still more "convenient" to use a print index. OMG, you kids have NO IDEA, so quit your whining that libraries don't have everything full text and go photocopy some shit.

In 2003, I pretty much stopped using everything on Yahoo! except for their messenger. Hotmail was my primary email account, and I'm fairly certain I dropped Yahoo! in favor of making my Antioch College email address my "non-spam" account. Hotmail's spam filter was slightly better than Yahoo!'s, but that was a bit like saying it was better to be eaten by a piranha than a shark. Google acquired Blogger, but I was still over on Livejournal. I still have my account, but only because some of my friends still occasionally post there, and a webcomic I really like only uses LJ to post updates.

I got my Gmail account in 2004. I must have been a fairly early adopter because I vaguely remember begging someone for an invite, not to mention I chose an email address based on a pet name given to me by a boyfriend. Google pushed out Gmail in April 2004. By July I had broken up with him, but was already so attached to my email account I couldn't change addresses (because SO MUCH is connected to it). I still have the same email address even though I haven't had the boyfriend for 7 years, more than 3x longer than I was with him.

In 2005 I went overseas and email was my primary contact with what was going on at my college. I was also taking classes online with my super amazing academic advisor, and working as a volunteer and co-op student in a military library, so not only was I using their internet to keep in touch, but also for research, for my classes as well as the occasional patron. At that time our small village didn't have broadband and apparently Germans are concerned about what effect satellite waves might have so that was also not an option (also it was brand new and expensive). Google Maps was created and was by far superior to Mapquest, although I still think "Mapquest" when I think of online directions. Stupid branding.

I won't cover the next five years, because that's where the book ends and this is already a long post. I will tell you I didn't get in to social networking until my second to last semester at undergrad (Summer 2006), this blog is just under a year old, and I didn't start Twitter until maybe four months ago. But it kind of makes you think where we'd be without Google. I kind of wonder if it would be as powerful a tool as it is today without the dedication their engineers have put in to providing such a strong search tool. So thank you, Google, for providing me with better access to information.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by NetGalley.
*Appears to be available as Kindle eBook already, and possiblly through other digital eBook providers.
**Check out Google's Timeline, they also have a bunch of their Doodles, a fair number that I remember.

02 July 2011

Post 399: Lost Voices

Lost Voices by Sarah Porter. ISBN: 9780547482507 (eGalley - publishes July 4, 2011).

Oh look, I'm posting off schedule. I promised I would on occasion. Mostly I decided to go ahead and post this now because... I forgot to mention it when I made my general update. I knew I forgot to mention one of my eGalleys, and since I have time in my schedule, you get an extra post this round.

I liked that Porter took a darker turn with the mermaids in this. They were a bit of a throwback to the original mermaid mythos of cruel and heartless women who lured sailors to their deaths. However, Porter also adds to that mythos by giving us a possible reason for why they would do such a thing and how the creatures originated to begin with, rather than assuming that they are simply creatures of the deep, as alien and yet still familiar to us as the ocean itself must have been.

Instead, Porter's mermaids are less alien than alienated. They are formerly human girls who have been abused, none of them are physically older than the age of eighteen; the youngest are referred to as "larvae," and often become orca chow. The fact that the mermaids treated the larvae in such a way made them immediately familiar, as we humans have a similar pecking order and a desire to not be around whatever group is undesirable to our specific group.

This twist in the mythos definitely made it easier to tell a story, but by also presenting the mean-spiritedness as a choice for mermaids I sort of wonder if Porter went with the less interesting storyline. Perhaps instead of subsisting on food, as these mermaids do, it would have been interesting if they sustained themselves by taking the souls of living men (by sending them to their deaths with their song). In this way Luce's choice would not have been between singing, not singing, or trying to control her voice, but of deciding whether her attempt to hold on to her humaneness was more important than holding on to her life.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided via NetGalley.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...