19 March 2012

Post 491: The Partly Cloudy Patriot

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell. ISBN: 9780743548137 (audiobook).

Sarah Vowell is a big old nerd. Nowhere is that more apparent than in The Partly Cloudy Patriot, and especially in the essay titled "The Nerd Voice" in which she states, "The internet is the nerd Israel, a place to speak and listen to spectacularly specific concerns." She of course read this to me in a 'nerd voice', of which she has been naturally gifted with, and that made it all the nerdier, my friends.

But she continues on in the essay to state that those specific concerns have a root in nerd culture for a very specific reason: they help nerds connect to other nerds. The internet has sort of made it easier to connect with people in general, and has even made being nerdyif not coolthen at least socially acceptable. Also, it is easier to blend in now that everyone uses computers and has some common internet culture (mostly in the form of memes).

Yet she goes on to analyze the failings of the Al Gore campaign in 2000, and suggests that if only he had hired Joss Whedon and had run his campaign like Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with her self-deprecating humor, he might have had a fighting chance. Since this is a conversation I could very much see myself having with a particular college friend turned author of lesbian zombie novels, I basically did a big old nerd laugh and shook my head, because, holy god, someone is nerdier than anyone else I know on the face of the planet. But she brings up another point, about nerds focusing on a specific topic and allowing that topic to guide their conversation to mutual interests, "Being a nerd, which is to say going too far and caring too much about a subject, is the best way to make friends I know."

However, there is an unspoken danger in this that she does not discuss. There is such a thing as being too nerdy, especially about a particular subject. While knowing a lot about any given subject can gain you a sort of nerd cred within your subject's community, outside of it... well, you just look like a crazy person. It's all good and well to know what that thing* on Jabba the Hutt's shoulder in A New Hope is called, but if you know details about its eating and mating habits, and THAT IS ALL YOU TALK ABOUT, you might just be going too far. The problem is not that you know this information; the problem is that you have no other areas of interest.

Making connections with people via specific interest is a good thing. It is perfectly acceptable, and let's be honest, it's a hell of a lot more interesting than talking about the weather. And you learn more about a person based on their preference of Captain Kirk over Picard than whether they like pizza or chicken fingers. Well, assuming you know what liking Captain Kirk even means as far as personality goes, but if you ask that question to begin with, chances are you do. But eventually you will run out of things to talk about. There are only so many variations of, "Gee, that was a great episode of Thundercats, didn't you think it was great when Lion-O spanked Vultureman? Also, Cheetara is totally doable." Talking about a specific subject will only get you so far, and it is difficult to go from acquaintance to friend when you are not willing to participate in additional interests. So, to my nerdy readers, it's great that you are into Subject A, there's nothing wrong with being fanatical about Subject A, but keep in mind, you're scaring off all the people who aren't into it. You may also even be distancing yourself from people who are into it by not asking Bob how his pet turtle is doing. Other than that, keep go ahead and dork out with your spork out. Public service announcement brought to you by the Council of More Socialized Nerds For a Better Tomorrow.

S. Krishna's review of the audio version is more or less in line with mine, except for the being able to get used to Vowell's voice thing, but They Might Be Giants and Stephen Colbert made up for it. The Book Lady breaks it down more by topic with brief excerpts, just in case you aren't sure if you want to read this already.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.
*I always want to call it a Kevorkian Lizard monkey lizard, which I know is totally wrong, but also kind of hilarious. Honestly, Kevorkian just sounds more sci-fi to me.

15 March 2012

Post 490: Pop When the World Falls Apart

Pop When the World Falls Apart: Music in the Shadow Doubt edited by Eric Weisbard. ISBN: 9780822351085 (Advance Reader Copy - publishes April 9, 2012).

I haven't been big into music since I was about 18. People seem to think it's strange that I don't really have a "favorite" band or singer, or even genre anymore. There are music genres and performers that I'm certainly drawn to, but I don't really listen to music everyday. It is not a central part of my life, and I think Pop has helped me figure out why.

Music is a central part of determining who we are socially and culturally, and I don't particularly care to be solely associated with one set of friends or any particular culture. As a society we are already so politically and culturally divided that it is nearly impossible to get along with other groups of people. My lack of interest in music is not really an attempt to no longer enjoy life, as some people seem to think, but instead is a means of trying to connect with more people, without the barrier of certain cultural aspects getting in the way. I am willing to listen to pretty much any music that is on the radio, simply because I desire to experience as much of life as possible. Do I have preferences? Yes, of course. There are songs I like and songs I don't like, but within each music genre I have been able to find exceptions.

Another reason I don't seek music out like I used to is that I no longer have a disposable income. After I moved to college, I preferred to spend my money on experiences. I wanted to use it for something that would become a memorable experience, whether that meant buying a six pack of beer to drink with a friend while we talked philosophy, or going to see Snakes On a Plane with half a dozen nerds. My not intentionally listening to music stems from the same reasons I dislike identifying myself as a Democrat and/or a liberal. While my political leanings are mostly in-line with that group of people, I have met some wonderful Republicans who I would prefer to keep as friends and have intelligent discussions with as opposed to just having a group of friends with similar interests and beliefs. I don't want to hear the same opinion over and over again because it causes me to stagnate as a person and as a thinker. Certainly there are topics that I cannot or will not discuss with certain friends just because they are extremely sensitive issues, but having that awareness also helps me to address those topics with compassion and openness when I am able to discuss them.

So it's not that I don't love music, it's that I've chosen to become part of a broader community, and giving up listening to specific genres has given me the opportunity to participate on a level I might not otherwise get to. In the meantime, I also get exposed to more kinds of music than I would otherwise, just less frequently.

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

12 March 2012

Post 489: Dan Walker (guest blogger)

Soulles by Gail Carriger. ISBN: 9780316056632.

I found this novel refreshing in its portrayal of vampires and werewolves.  It was something akin to what I 'grew up on' regarding those two genres.  The idea at the bottom is that these supernatural beings are people first, monsters second.  Sure, werewolves completely lose control of their higher brain functions during the full moon and would just as soon tear you apart as look at you, and sure vampires still need blood to survive, but these, shall we say, defects do not prevent them from fitting in with civilized society.

When I say I 'grew up on' vampires and werewolves, I'm talking about two years at the end of high school, so I wasn't exactly a little kid.  One October, my friend James said, "Dan, you're coming to Game with us," and there was simply no saying otherwise.  I was introduced to White Wolf's World of Darkness live-action roleplaying games, specifically Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse.  Friday nights, I would gather on campus with about thirty other people and we would run around with character sheets in our back pockets, playing make-believe that we were bloodthirsty, if angsty, creatures of the night.

I have no delusions that this was a terribly fulfilling way to spend my Friday nights, of course, but it was a lot of fun at the time, and perhaps more importantly, White Wolf's take on supernatural horror has colored my perceptions of them ever since.  When it comes to werewolves, I'm simply a werewolf fan.  I go to movies to get a good transformation scene and cheer on the puppies, whether they're ripping people apart or trying to save the world.

Portrayals of vampires tend to irritate me more.  Mindless, killable leeches are not interesting, and mopey uber-goths are annoying.  There seems to be little deviation in mainstream media from these two tropes, Twilight aside.  Those who hide out in the shadows tend to moan about how the world hates them, and they're monsters who must feed on others, and they never wanted this curse, blah blah blah.  Me?  I always thought there would be at least something enjoyable about being bitten by one of these guys.  I mean, it can't be all doom and gloom and what have I become, right?

Vampire and Werewolf, the games, were always about being people first, who had cool powers.  Sure, we didn't want any normal people to find out what we really were, but that was because they all feared us.  Werewolves and vampires were misunderstood, and the fearful, destructive humans would just try to kill us all, like they did in the Dark Ages!  Was this marketed towards outcast teenagers who got off on feeling like special snowflakes who could rip the heads off their tormentors?  Absolutely.  But that doesn't change the fact that World of Darkness really did focus on the humanity of the supernatural monster, even if it was quickly slipping away in the night. 

Dan Walker (pseudonym) is a writer from Northeast Ohio. 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 is currently the editor of Lib's LIB.

LibsNote: Dan was reading a personal copy of the book.
*This post was originally written March 15, 2011 to give the regular blogger a break.  She finally got around to using it after being sleep deprived for 3 days in a row. Yeah.

10 March 2012

Post 488: a general update

I now have a zoo pass thanks to my babysitting activities. It is awesome. I can go to the zoo and hang out whenever I want. And I get free train rides! There is nothing I don't like about this. In other news, there is no other news.

Pop, When the World Falls Apart: Music in the Shadow of Doubt edited by Eric Weisbard.
I'm not exactly a big fan of music, and especially not pop music, but I love talking about it and how it fits into the American psyche and historical context. I enjoy the scholarship of something that is supposed to be light and fluffy, but ends up having a deeper meaning if you put some effort into it. I believe that as much as life abhors a vacuum, humans abhor and absence of meaning and will therefore apply meaning to things, even if they were originally meant to be meaningless (have you seen the theory where that song Friday is actually about the JFK assassination?).

Ghost of the Ozarks: Murder and Memory in the Upland South by Brooks Blevins.
I'm not typically into true crime stories, but I kind of liked that title. Yeah, I pretty much just like the word Ozarks.

Doc by Mary Doria Russell.
Loved The Sparrow so when this came up for review on Netgalley I was all over it. It's also gotten reasonable reviews on the blogosphere.

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell.
I've heard good things about this author with her not too distantly published Unfamiliar Fishes (2011). Another drawing factor is that I'm listening to it on audiobook and Stephen Colbert makes an appearance. Unfortunately most of the book is narrated by the author, who has a voice that grates on my nerves. Luckily I usually only listen to audiobooks when I'm doing handiwork (i.e. am being crafty) and so there is something else to focus on other than how annoying I personally find the narrator's voice. Also, there's music by They Might Be Giants, which is pretty sweet.

08 March 2012

Post 487: The Ask and the Answer

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness. ISBN: 9780763644901.

I was not terribly impressed with the first book in this series. It was good, but it wasn't amazing. The Ask and the Answer, however, is pretty amazing. This is possible the best book I've ever read that personalizes the effects of war on individuals. There are a few different kinds of people that Ness explores in this novel. None of those people are outright bad or evil, but there are a few who are so wrapped up in their idea of what society should be that they ignore the cost and/or condition of human life in their quest to achieve that idea of perfection. Others believe that the loss of human life is good for the moment if only to achieve freedom in the long run, and so they commit actions they might not otherwise be capable of because they believe they have been provoked into doing so by circumstances. Meanwhile you have the typical good, ordinary person with no power who commits atrocious acts because they are following orders.

The point is, Ness has done a wonderful job at showing how normally ordinary people can behave in surprising ways during times of war, both for good and bad. He has done this in a surprising way, one that kept me guessing about who would end up being good, evil, or somewhere in between. Mistress Coyle was perhaps the most interesting and the most disappointing in terms of where she ended up on the scale. It's easy to want to like the revolutionaries, the freedom fighters, the firebrands, without really thinking about the harm they cause in pursuit of their goals, but Coyle is so duplicitous in her campaign that it is impossible to trust her intentions. She becomes less likable as the story goes on, and by the end of it I really would have liked to have tied both Coyle and Prentiss together and see if they exploded from the contact. Then we had Todd, who I wanted to take by the shoulders and shake really, really hard until he saw what he was doing.

But ultimately the best part was how well Ness characterized the way in which the relationships with the people who were attempting to control others affected the relationship between Todd and Viola. Although Todd and Viola both had a more intimate relationship with their leaders in government than most of us do, it was easy to see how the dishonesty they were presented with changed their relationship with each other. It is easier to become distrustful of everyone if the people who are supposed to have your best interest in mind are neglectful or even blatantly disrespectful of your health and well being as opposed to what will promote their own personal, greedy self-interest.

A truly moral candidate would be honest about what they support and why, and today would be considered completely unelectable, assuming they were even able to raise the money in order to run. Yet these are the people we need the most to try and run for office, and they are the people we need to elect. I can get behind a Republican who is against gun control for personal reasons, or even one who is against abortion, but a Republican who has the best interests of his or her constituents in mind will not be as likely to completely disregard the repercussions of a complete ban on abortion or a lack of legislation for gun ownership. Because when it comes down to it, none of us want our fellow humans to suffer, and so we agree that under certain circumstances a person who would otherwise have access to a gun should not be given that access. And while we may not want a person to have to have an abortion, we understand that it is sometimes necessary and we extend our sympathy and condolences to said person.

And this is something that has been forgotten on both sides of the line. My examples are what they are because I am simply more familiar with what I feel are wrongs done to me as opposed to how I have mistreated others.

Wonderful review over at things mean a lot. You can also read my post about the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go.
LibsNote: Library copy.

05 March 2012

Post 486: 24 Girls in 7 Days

24 Girls in 7 Days by Alex Bradley. ISBN: 9780142408346.

This book is about a guy named Jack Grammar who decided he wasn't going to go to his prom alone. The only problem is that he's incredibly awkward around women. His friends then place an advertisement in the school newspaper as a joke, but it's a joke that ends with him dating several candidates with the idea that he would pick one to go to prom with.

I was in a situation myself where I decided to go to prom last minute. I also didn't want to go by myself. I was in a school that I didn't really like and hadn't really made any close friends in the two years I was there. I did have a few acquaintances and people I liked well enough. So I ended up going to prom with one of them, and since there were no expectations of what the night "had" to be, it was quite a bit of fun. Michael (my date) and I went to Waffle House before prom and had dinner there, we drove my mom's scraped up Ford, and we made plans to leave and go do something else if prom completely sucked. It didn't suck, but neither was it the best of times or the perfect ending to my high school career. The best thing about having gone to my senior prom is that I don't regret not going, and that's really all I can ask of any high school experience.

Jack, on the other hand, took an opportunity to learn more about himself and become more confident when speaking with the opposite sex. By dating a number of young women in a short period of time he was able to see a variety of good qualities in potential partners and evaluate how they might fit with his lifestyle and who he wanted to be as a person. Of course, during this process Jack learns that the girls he dates are usually just as nervous as he is about making a good impression, etc. That he took that to heart and became a more compassionate, empathetic person who apologized for behavior that came off as cruel earlier in his dating situations is a bit unrealistic from someone so young and socially awkward, but not totally impossible. It would be nice to see this book in the hands of more young men and women just embarking on dating and learning to relate with each other on a romantic level.

I'll go to say that I still more or less agree with Bandgeek8408's review, I am just not quite as enthusiastic about it as he is. Let Matt know that Lib's LIB sent you!
LibsNote: Bought from Books-a-Million with personal funds. On sale for a dollar. That is how I roll.

01 March 2012

Post 485: True Grit

True Grit by Charles Portis. ISBN: 9781590206508 (eBook).

I believe True Grit might be the first western I've ever read. I'm not typically into westerns, movie or book version. The heroes are a little too clear cut, the heroines are a bit too reliant on their menfolk, and those who don't wear white skin are depicted as poorly as those who don't wear white hats. True Grit seems to be somewhat of an exception, and since I more or less enjoyed the movie I was willing to give the novel a go.

Interestingly, Mattie is kind of a reflection of the western (genre) dichotomy. At least at the beginning of the novel, she has a very clear cut idea of what is right and what is wrong. Her worldview is what gives her "grit," but also shows a bit of naivete in the face of danger, as well as the realities of the world she lives in. In this case, that is a world where the law is not readily enforced because there is a lack of information on what those laws are and a lack of enforcement agents. Cogburn and LaBoeuf each represent the kind of agents that were available. While LeBoeuf's heart was likely in the right place, both were interested in the fortunes that tracking down outlaws would bring them, and LaBoeuf was also interested in the swagger prestige it would bring him.

As Mattie becomes more accustomed to the motives and behaviors of Cogburn and LaBoeuf, her ideals begin to become more realistic, but also remain idealistic, which is part of what makes her such an appealing character. Even though she learns to accept that Cogburn and LaBoeuf had and have different reasons for joining law enforcement agencies, she still respects that they do their job to the best of their abilities. So while their motivations may not be respectable, the fact that they deliver criminals to justice is still seen as respectable in her eyes, and she comes to respect these lawmakers as men and not idealized figures.

Yet, Mattie also has a wise(ass)ness to her that would be unusual in almost any 14 year old of past or present. She seems to have an innate knack for business, and also displays a willingness to put herself in a situation in order to prevent others from being in said situation themselves. In a way, Mattie almost personifies the qualities of a western, which makes True Grit a very interesting story for those interested in the genre, but perhaps not interested in a simplistic dichotomy.

Dayna Ingram has a nice review on her Goodreads account. Yes, that Dayna Ingram.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.

27 February 2012

Post 484: A Journey to the Center of the Earth

A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. ISBN: 9781581163207 (audiobook).

I don't normally talk about book related movies, but when I do, I talk about The Rock's nips. Seriously, what was up with that? I mean, sure, it's nice to see that kind of nipple action on someone who wasn't female for once, but then there were plenty of booty and cleavage shots of a supposedly teenage girl (luckily the actress is legal, so ogle away). But the one thing that Journey 2 did do well, was to make me want to read the books of Jules Verne. Which is pretty good considering I wasn't thrilled with the idea of seeing it, but the 9-year old I was with very much wanted to see it.

After reading listening to the book, I can fully understand why so many movies have been made. The storyline is still remarkably modern given the fact it was written in 1864. While the equipment used by the professor and his nephew might now be a bit primitive, in some ways that make the adventure more accessible to regular people, and the story therefore becomes all the more engaging because somewhere in the back of our minds it makes us think, "I could do that." I can imagine exactly how thrilling a story like this must have been when it came out. Although there was still a bit of frontier left in the West of the United States, most people would have felt their world entirely too cultivated to provide that much excitement, and even then the danger was an unwanted side effect. Yet, Verne may have inspired them to do some safer adventuring in the form of scientific discovery.

Even now, nearly 150 years after the book was written, I'm half tempted to go into my backyard and dig a hole until I find something neat. Failing that, I will definitely pick up another Jules Verne book, and hope that you will too.

Yeah, this post is short, but it has NIPPLES! Also, the movie wasn't terrible, but it also wasn't particularly cerebral, and the treatment of native Palauans is um, questionable at best. Of the two that we, the audience, spend any time with, one isn't much more than a sex object and the other is presented as a (lovable) buffoon, and neither actor is a native Palauan.

Wordsmithsonia has a wonderful review of this book, including a brief statement on his expectations of the novel. PS: Nearly any adventure loving 9-12 would love this, and is the perfect age to be introduced to this kind of classic.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.

25 February 2012

Post 483: a general update

Uhmmm... Valentine's Day sucked this year. I dealt with a 4-year old's melt down of epic proportions and then demolished copious amounts of chocolate in an attempt to make myself feel better. Yeah. That is my life right now. Oh, um, the 4-year old wasn't mine, I've gotten into a kid sitting situation, which is more fun some days than others. I am somewhat glad I have no chance of becoming pregnant any time in the near future.

Uh... Books!

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne.
I was going to read some book about evolution and toxicity, which was interesting, but also way over my head in terms of science-speak. I felt incapable of judging how solid the science was in terms of being able to review it, so instead I was all... Oh look! A book I've been meaning to read for ages now. So I read Jules Verne instead, and I kind of feel like I made the right decision. If only there hadn't been so much science in the science book, I could have talked about how awesome oxygen is and how our bodies have learned how to make it so it doesn't kill us. I also like rain, but only when it's dry.

True Grit by Charles Portis.
I watched the movie not too long ago and was all, hm, I bet that book doesn't suck. Also, someone on my feed reader told me it didn't suck. It was probably Ready When You Are, CB. I'm about 40 eReader pages in, and I am enjoying it, although I have the same unique inflection reading it as the movie did and I kind of wonder if I would like the book as well if I couldn't hear the voices of the characters so well.

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness.
I read The Knife of Never Letting Go ages ago, and so now I'm going to work on the second book of the series. Mostly because the library here finally got a copy. Slow library is sloooooooow. Also, I was busy reading other things. OTHER THINGS. Poo, Todd.

24 Girls in 7 Days by Alex Bradley.
This comes recommended by Bandgeek8408. He's never lead me wrong with reading projects before. Never...

23 February 2012

Post 482: Making Rounds with Oscar

Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gifts of an Ordinary Cat by David Dosa. ISBN: 9781441721235 (audiobook)

This is a book about Alzheimer's disease and end of life care in disguise of a cute and cuddly book about a special cat. Don't get me wrong, there are some wonderful moments with Oscar the cat that help pad the moments where Dosa goes into depressing or difficult territory. I was impressed with Dosa and this book for doing the same thing that certain topical children's books do. I'm talking about books like Heather Has Two Mommies or the various children's books that are now out about divorce. Dosa tackles emotionally complex issues surrounding aging and memory loss, but does so in a way that is comforting. What is more impressive, is that he also broaches the topic of the need for improvement in health care, end of life care and treatment, and for doctors to be more open and forthcoming regarding hospice in terms of what it is and when it should be considered an option.

I will admit that I do not have a great deal of experience with nursing homes. What little I have had was frightening and confusing. The first time I went to a nursing home was for my paternal grandmother when I was about 14. She had a somewhat severe case of dementia at the end of her life which was likely caused by complications from diabetes. There were moments when she did not recognize who I was, she would cry uncontrollably, or at best would simply not respond or act like we weren't in the room. This was especially distressing for me since I was grandma's favorite, mostly because I was her much desired girl (I was the last grandchild born and she had no daughters). Part of the reason it was so unsettling is because I wasn't prepared for it, and so I wasn't expecting a bunch of elderly adults to do things like run into walls or yell and scream for no reason, and those were the patients I didn't know.

My next encounter with nursing homes was a bit better. For one thing I was older and my maternal grandparents were in slightly better shape mentally and physically than my paternal grandmother. My grandpa had undiagnosed Alzheimer's, and my grandmother had balance issues, cancer, and struggled with organ failure several times before she passed. My mother's family also transitioned from assisted living to hospice care, which made it a bit easier for me to cope with.

The difference between knowing what to expect a person's medical condition to be and the unknown is drastic. The surprise of it can be hurtful and shocking, whereas if a person understands how a disease works, it might be easier to adjust to it, as well as appreciate what the afflicted person is capable of, rather than focusing on what they have lost. This book does much to prepare people dealing with Alzheimer's, in one way or another, for what will come next and provides steps that can be taken to make it easier for all parties involved. And it does so in a way that is not as brutal as a brochure or pamphlet from a doctor's office.

There's an excellent review at Bookworm's Dinner.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.

20 February 2012

Post 481: Sex on the Moon

Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History by Ben Mezrich. ISBN: 9780385533928.

Thad Roberts, via Ben Mezrich, poses the question of whether something labeled "trash" can theoretically be stolen and whether, if it is trash, it is immoral to steal it. Generally I am of the opinion that if someone has obviously thrown something away then it almost more immoral to leave the item in the trash if it can still be used. Because we live in such a wasteful society, it is our obligation to try and reduce the amount of waste we create. If that means going through the garbage and saving what you can without harming yourself or others around you (i.e. not hoarding or feeding other people rotten food) then I would say go for it.

However, as always, there are exception. I would say some of these exceptions include body parts, corpses, tissue samples, etc. and scientific research. The first because the idea of someone being able to claim parts of my body without my permission is ultimately wrong, regardless of whether or not those body parts are still attached to me. This is especially true in the day and age where cloning is possible. I wouldn't want someone to steal cells from me, only to turn around and create a living, breathing science specimen from what is essentially my daughter/twin... er... just because I wasn't using my egg cells and had/have no intention to do so.

And I would say scientific research and specimens because ultimately those belong to the scientific community, and therefore to everyone. The idea of stealing property from a communal organization that intends to benefit the advancement of science, which ideally improves our lives or at least our knowledge and understanding of the world, is so completely wrong on so many levels. Sure, we can feel saddened and disappointed that the scientific community chooses to lock up and store non-pristine moon rocks in a safe that no one will ever see, but the way to express that disappointment is not to take those items. At the very least, the scientific community was doing an excellent job of preserving those specimens for a time when perhaps they could be ownable, or at least displayable. That Thad Roberts considered himself such a special snowflake that he should own a piece of the moon just because he could displays such a vast level of arrogance and entitlement that it is worrisome to know that those levels even exist. That he also tampered with the specimens shows a blatant disregard for authority and the scientific community and those said community was trying to benefit.

While we as individuals may not like everything the scientific community does, we do agree that they are typically the most knowledgeable in regards to their particular field of study. We do this through government regulation, licensing procedures, and through peer review of other scientists who have been through the first two. Had Thad Roberts really respected the community he worked in, he should have been able to question scientists in charge until he was either satisfied with the reasons for the containment of the moon rocks, or until he was able to figure out another, legal means of sharing the moon rocks with museums, etc. After all, questioning and reasoning is what scientists are supposed to do.

This book would have induced less rage if Ben Mezrich didn't write like he thought James Bond was the most awesome example of manly manhood on the face of the planet. Apparently there are also massive factual errors according to Becca. And I mostly agree with Andrew Shuping's review. But I now wonder how much of a sociopath megalomaniac Mark Zuckerbeg actually is versus how he appears in The Social Network (which was based off of Mezrich's book), and how much is Mezrich and/or how he writes his characters...
LibsNote: Library copy.

16 February 2012

Post 480: Holding Our Worlds Together

Holding Our World Together: Ojibwe Women and the Survival of the Community by Brenda J. Child. ISBN: 9780670023240 (eGalley - published February 16, 2012).

One of the best things about reading/researching history is the discovery of stories. Child has done an excellent job of including brief stories about the people she's written about. They make her narrative more lively, and give a more accurate picture of who the Ojibwe people were and are rather than a collection of facts or traits they all happen to share with each other.

Somehow stories make people more real to us than facts and figures. While we may know on a theoretical level that war is hell, it's different to hear the body count and know what weapons were used than to hear a personal account of a solider who has lost a leg to gangrene and seen most of his platoon die. Facts and figures are good at telling us the scope and scale of history, but do not work as well to impart the meaning of that history. That's one of the things I appreciated about my Antioch education, and particularly about my academic advisor. Whenever I took a class with her, I could be sure that she would include a good mix of facts and some additional readings or assignments so we could really get the feel of period we were studying.

One of the projects she assigned was an oral history. Since I took multiple classes with her, I actually had this assignment a couple of times. Each time I learned that people are greatly affected by the laws and expectations of their times. The first interview I did was of my philosophy professor, who told me many stories of his wild and crazy behavior in the 60s(?). Meanwhile, I did another interview of a woman who told me about the trouble she and other women faced in procuring birth control and/or abortions and how they felt about it. To this day I believe in the importance of these stories to capture and impart what the cold facts can't. What most of you don't realize is that your stories are and will be just as important as the ones we've already heard, so share them.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: eGalley provided by Netgalley. Review held until after publication date by request of publisher.

13 February 2012

Post 479: If Walls Could Talk

If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley. ISBN: 9780802779953 (eGalley - publishes March 7, 2012).

In a rare bit of conincidence, I finished this book on the same day that I worked with the teens at church. They're watching Dances With Wolves as part of their curriculum, and since a lot of teens miss out on the good movies of yesteryear in favor of watching a lot of bad movies of this year, the Religious Education Director has decided that they will pretty much be "forced" to watch the whole movie. Also, their DVD player is broken so it is incapable of doing scene selection and whatnot. Special times.

In any case, in the early chapters of this book Worsley writes on the general lack of privacy and how people basically slept in the same room and if you wanted to have sex, you either hoped everyone was polite enough to look away or you waited until the weather was nice enough to roll around in the hay/on the hillside (and still hope no one walked in on you). While watching the movie with the teens, this very incident showed up on the screen. Basically Kicking Bird (Graham Greene) was getting it on with a lady friend in the teepee where a bunch of other people were sleeping and White Dude John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) goes creepster on them and watches, until he gets caught and the couple stares back until he finally has the decency to be all, "Uh, oh yeah, I should turn over and pretend like this isn't happening..."

I found it interesting that the teenagers' response was to the couple was pretty much, "Ew." We weren't at the discussion part of the curriculum yet, so I'm interested to talk to them more about the idea of privacy and morality in a communal living situation, but given that these were Unitarian kids I don't think that the idea of sex bothered them so much. For one thing, the couple was completely covered, all of the "action" taking place under a buffalo hide, and it wasn't particularly gratuitous. This was obviously a very different cultural phenomena that was common place in the Sioux culture, but that John Dunbar was experiencing for the first time. From Dunbar's perspective they were the ones being aberrant, but given that Dunbar was an intruder on their way of life, he was the one behaving against social mores by invading the couple's privacy.

While I don't necessarily think we should go back to sleeping in communal quarters or give up the privacy of our bedroom behaviors, it might be nice if we readopted some of the common courtesies that went along with those conditions. For instance, a person's sexual behavior is not something for you to observe, criticize, or otherwise be involved with unless you have expressly been invited to do so, regardless of whether that behavior occurs in public or private as long as it occurs between two consenting adults. It would be preferable that this behavior occur behind closed doors so as not to make others uncomfortable, but if you are uncomfortable with watching a couple make out, well... if possible walk away. Your discomfort and confusion is not an acceptable reason to invade their privacy or disrupt their activities because you find them "gross" or "immoral." Having said that, there is a time and a place for everything, and those kinds of public displays should be limited to be as non-disruptive as possible, but that's where the whole consenting adults thing comes in, and most reasonable adults have a good understanding of what is and is not appropriate behavior in the particular society they've been raised in.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: eGalley provided by Netgalley.
Edited after posting for minor grammatical/word choice errors.

11 February 2012

Post 478: a general update

Some of you are probably not wondering why/how I've been so busy lately. I mean, really, how hard is it to read 2-3 books a week and write two blog posts with enough time to get it to your editor before he goes to sleep the night before? Well. Um. Apparently when you actually do things with your time, it's pretty hard. Anyway, the last few weekends in January I was attending a tutoring workshop to teach and adult learner how to read, and on Monday, February 6th I met with my student for the first time. It felt pretty awesome working with him, and he made improvements  in his reading within the session. And when we met again on the 8th he had made significant improvements from the previous session. Even though he's doing most of the work, it kind of made me feel like a superhero. What's more is he's a pretty cool guy and I genuinely enjoy working with him. I thought for sure he'd be all curmudgeonly, but he's waaaaaay laid back. So yeah, teach someone to read, it's better than anything ever.

Also, uh, I had this weird dooble in my ear that I had removed recently. The theory is that it was a wart. It's gone now, but they had to cut it off and then cauterize it. So yeah, my ear is a bit gross right now because I have to put Neosporin on it and avoid using q-tips and what not so it won't get infected. NNnnghhhh, waxy ear is waxy. And slightly achy. Achy doesn't look like it's spelled correctly. Anyway it is distracting and that was probably way more information than you wanted to know about any crevice on my body. The internet is for TMI.

Oh, hey. Reading. Yeah, let's talk about that.

If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley.
So far it is not dissimilar to At Home by Bill Bryson, only it is not so long and more on topic and has less to do with the things in the home and more to do with what people did in the home. Also, more focused on Georgian and medieval time period. 

Holding Our Worlds Together by Brenda J. Child.
For real this time. Because this is February and I can actually post it this month without making the publishers all disappoint.

Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich.
Conspiracies are made for gettin' it on with the ladies. Um. I dunno. Sounds like some dude promised his NASA intern girlfriend the moon, and then she was all, "Bitch, I can get that for myself, I don't need you OR YOUR PENIS," and then was all, "Doot do doot doot, breakin' into NASA, stealin' all the rocks." Vague description is dancing around the subject because DANGER WILL ROBINSON SPOILER ALERT. So I have no idea what this book is about, but oooooh look, catchy title! I hope there are boobs. No, I don't take any medication. Why do you ask?

Making Rounds with Oscar by David Dosa.
First there were patients with Alzheimer's. D: But then there was a kitty. :D Then there were interviews with the spouses and/or children of Alzheimer's patients. D: But then there was a kitty. :D That's about as far as I've gotten with the book so far. So, um, yay kitty! And boo Alzheimer's disease.

09 February 2012

Post 477: Enchantments

Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison. ISBN: 9781400063475 (eGalley - publishes March 6, 2012).

I owe you a general update, but for now, have a thing! Enchantments is told from the point of view of Masha, one of Rasputin's daughters and the playmate of the Tsar's only son. It's a sort of weird but effective blend of historical fiction/coming of age/autobiography, with journal elements thrown in. She knows that we "know" he was either a devil or a miracle worker with heightened sexual appetites, strange powers, and an amazingly robust constitution.

However, instead of learning more about Rasputin, we are presented with yet another illusive facet of who he may have been, as seen through Masha's eyes. While Masha may have had a better understanding of her father than the average daughter, her eyes were still tinted with the love (and/or other emotions) a daughter has for the man who took part in creating her. Instead, we learn more about Masha herself as she comes to terms with her father's sexuality, in somewhat graphic and slightly uncomfortable detail, and recognizes (and fears) that she may have similar sexual appetites.

Additionally, Masha has a penchant for providing relief to the tsarevich through her fantastical stories, much as Rasputin enthralled her with his own stories. Indeed, we never see Rasputin painted so clearly as when Masha is telling one of her stories, further blurring the line between the man her father was and the myth of Rasputin. But although the reality may be blurred, one can almost sense the underlying truth in Masha's stories, which capture the essence of who Rasputin was to her and how she perceived him. That she shares these, and similar stories with the tsarevich, gives us insight into how her world view has been affected by having as unique a man as Rasputin for her father

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: eGalley provided by Netgalley.
I'm posting this without editing again. I've been busy, you guys. 
*Post post-edited on Feb 10, 2012.

06 February 2012

Post 476: Spellbound by Beauty

Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies by Donald Spoto. ISBN: 9780307351302.

In his intro to this book, Spoto says that Hitchcock's genius cannot be denied, just as his faults cannot either. Hitchcock ended his life lonely and isolated due to his controlling manner and unwanted sexual advances (also because of his weight according to Spoto, but there are plenty of large people who are happy, so that seems more like Spoto's prejudice coming through).

I'll admit that at the beginning of the book, most of Hitchcock's antics didn't seem that bad. Salty language and innuendo have become somewhat common place, and some of the pranks, etc. seemed relatively harmless. As the book progresses though, we see Hitchcock take it to higher and darker levels, putting his actresses in harm's way both physically and emotionally. Hitchcock was downright abusive and at a time when there was no recourse for women to avoid this kind of behavior, they had to risk assault and hope to come out of the job and/or a long contract relatively untouched, or be blacklisted by studios for breaching contract. Had anti-harassment legislation been in place at the time Hitchcock was alive and working, his actions may have been curtailed early enough so that he never even attempted some of the more disturbing pranks or controlling behaviors.

What amazes me is that there are still people who believe that sexual harassment in the workplace isn't really a big deal. There are people who believe that those regulations are unnecessary and that women who are uncomfortable can and should just go find another job. These people are completely out of touch with reality, and it's no big surprise that most of them are white men who are usually wealthy. For some reason they don't come to the conclusion that if harassment is allowed in one workplace, then it is allowed in every workplace, and so without regulation a woman might leave one bad situation without any guarantee of improvement. And if this kind of behavior takes place at work on the verbal level, what might happen off the job?

Giving people a legal right to tell someone that they are uncomfortable regarding certain language or behavior does not lead to a less productive work force. Having been in a work related situation where I was being made uncomfortable and even actively harassed, I can tell you that that made me less productive, and the company retained someone who was more interested in harassing me than doing his job. Had the situation been addressed satisfactorily, maybe both of us could have moved on and been more productive and we both would have benefited from it. Instead, it worked more against him than it did me, because the more annoying he got, the firmer I had to be in my rejection to the point where I couldn't even talk to him, much less be his friend. Which was too bad, because he was obviously a very lonely person, and I didn't have a problem with him except for his inappropriate behavior.

On the flip side, I have this problem to some degree as well. I am a touchy person. I like touching people, and I like flirting with everyone regardless of their or my sexual orientation. I have learned to reserve this to some degree for people I know a little more, but I try to check in every now and then, and if someone tells me they're uncomfortable I make an effort to stop. It works out better for everyone involved, because you get to keep your friends.

A possibly Hitchcock-biased review from Alfred Hitchcock Geek. Other than that, not a whole lot of good reviews. I would say read it if you're interested in Hitchcock, but with the understanding that Spoto may have issues of his own. He did after all refer to Alfred Hitchcock as "Hitchcock" throughout the book while doing the disservice of referring to the female actresses by their first names. Yeah. I caught that Spoto.
LibsNote: Picked up from swap shelf.

02 February 2012

Post 475: Cold Sassy Tree

Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns. ISBN: 9780385312585.

Possibly one of the best books I've read recently. It's sentimental without being overwrought. What's more, the characterization of Southern life in the late 1800's and early 1900's is fairly depicted, rather than being painted as what would have been the most glorious time in Southern history had it not been for the "damyankees." Burns recognized the poverty among whites and blacks and the poor conditions they faced, even as she focused on a more well-to-do family for her main story line.

What was more impressive was Burns' ability to tackle the weirdness that is hospitality, vibrant gossip culture, and a dislike of outsiders in the South. You would think that the last two things would be counterintuitive to the first, and that people would realize it, but that's one of the big differences in culture between the Southern United States and the rest of the world. Having been an outsider in the South I can tell you that unless you are somehow related to people who are already down here, it is still pretty difficult to really become a part of the community. This is especially true if you in any way do not conform to the standards of the community. Eccentricities are allowed for the locals, but heaven forbid you prefer to stay home from church on Sunday to tend your garden if your family hasn't been around for 8 generations and you're not related to half the congregation.

Miss Love faces exactly this dilemma when she decides to marry Rucker Tweedy, the general store manager and Will Tweedy's grandfather. When Miss Love moved to Cold Sassy she was welcomed into the community, despite being a Yankee, because of her skills as a milliner and because she more or less fit into the proscribed role expected of an unwed spinster. After marrying Rucker, hardly three weeks after his wife dies, she is treated coldly by the almost the entire town, even those who previously liked her.

Nothing had changed about Miss Love except for her marital status, yet because she married a man who chose to marry shortly after his wife died, she was the one who was seen as money grubbing or having otherwise questionable morals. Certainly the town was scandalized by Rucker's decision, but he was a long standing member of the community and known for his strange views on life in the first place, and the townfolk were able to blame his new marriage on grief. Sadly, women in the South (especially outsiders, whether Yankee or just "unusual") are still expected to adhere to these kind of proscribed rules and are ostracized if they don't.

It doesn't just happen to women in the South, but it does seem to be more accepted here - mostly because there's nothing you can do about it. Everyone here has either known each other since kindergarten, or is from somewhere else and therefore just as much of an outsider as you are. As I mentioned before, gossip is an expected part of nearly every social circle, which makes it even easier to separate the outsiders because you have to know who's who to make any sense of it. Yet it is a traditional and culturally important means of communication and passing along news, which not even Facebook has managed to kill (and probably won't). But I have never understood how Southerners (or anyone) could be so proud of their hospitality while including embarrassing or hateful content in their gossip with the intent to ostracize a person. It is a contradiction I have never been able to come to terms with, but one that Burns has managed to capture in Cold Sassy Tree.

An excellent, if lengthy, writeup is available at Litwits.
LibsNote: Purchased with personal funds from library sale table.
*Edited after posting, because I didn't get to it in time for my editor to send it back prior to posting. You so needed to know this.

30 January 2012

Post 474: The Portrait

The Portrait by Iain Pears. ISBN: 9781573222983.

First off, I would like to thank Stephen Colbert for his inadvertent Colbert bump of my blog. His recent interviews (1 and 2) with Maurice Sendak have given me some seriously awesome hits on my post regarding the banning of In The Night Kitchen. Check out the interviews, and my blog post. Naked boy penis Colbert Stephen Colbert Bump Herman Cain. At least I'm blatant about my search result manipulation.

This book. It was surprisingly good. No doubt it is probably more pretentious than some people will care for, but I rather enjoyed it nonetheless. It's the one-sided conversation of Henry MacAlpine with his subject and art critic William Naysmith, a central figure in MacAlpine's life in terms of influencing both his art and his personal life. While it may sound like a fairly dry read, Pears manages to write MacAlpine in such a way that the reader is constantly trying to figure out how justified MacAlpine is in addressing Naysmith in alternately placating and accusatory tones. The relationship is not so different from what most of us are familiar within the context of the child-parent relationship where the adult or soon(ish)-to-be-adult child is struggling to define the power dynamic of said relationship in order to break free from it.

Granted, many of us are unable to fully escape from the restriction of the child-parent relationship, although ideally there is an eventual realization on the part of both parties that old roles have to be abandoned in order to have a more sustainable adult relationship. Most of us are still working on that with our parents, and many of us never actually get there, certainly not while our parents are alive. Of course, death ends the struggle, but does not resolve the problem. It seems that it is harder to resolve conflict or come to terms with a parent who is especially critical. I have witnessed this in my own family, both with myself, and with my mother's father.

In any case, what Pears has exposed in this monologue of a conversation, is that it is difficult for the "child" to achieve or even feel they are capable of achieving success in their lives until the conflict with the critic has been resolved. Some people suffer from the very inability to resolve this relationship, either because they have waited too long and the critic has passed, or because the critic is unreceptive to being confronted. In Naysmith's case, he was a passive and captive audience, silenced once and for all by MacAlpine to accept a dose of his own medicine. For this reason, it doesn't even matter if MacAlpine's assessment is accurate or particularly harsh, because it is critical to MacAlpine's development as a full-fledged and well-rounded adult artist to first reject Naysmith's previous behaviors and judgments found lacking, and then to confront Naysmith with them and ask for retribution. While MacAlpine's final tactics were more extreme than most of us will take with our own personal critics, perhaps he has the right idea in theory, if not execution.

I greatly enjoyed Goodreader Mike's review of this book. Bookmarks Magazine also give a wonder, and short, review.
LibsNote: Bought with personal funds from library table.

26 January 2012

Post 473: A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin. ISBN: 9780553897852 (eBook).

You guys, my blogging schedule is all sorts of messed up. I was working on a post for Holding Our Worlds Together when I realized that I need to post that in February and not January because the publisher asked me to hold review until publication date. D'oh. And so I'm not quite finished with this book, but since it's a big long epically epic ...epic, I am going to be pretty general anyway... or at last try to. So, warning, if you are overly sensitive about anything even remotely spoilery, I will be talking about things that happened in the previous book in as generic terms as possible.

So at the beginning of the book there is lots of discussion about this big red comet that has appeared in the sky and what it means. At this point the realms has dissolved into chaos for... reasons I can't tell you, but let's just say that a situation has arisen in which Who Is The Leader has been thrown into question. So all of these potential leaders see this comet and say to themselves, "Oh look, it's a sign." Which is bad pretty much anytime your leader relies on signs and whatnots to tell them what to do.

Now, I'm not totally against taking signs into consideration. Certainly it's no worse than flipping a coin to determine what you're going to do if it's between two more or less equal choices. But uprooting an entire people and dragging them across a continent or picking a fight with another country because God Told You To really only works out in the Bible (or similar texts), and that still usually only works well for the people in power.

Fighting wars has always been at the discretion of people with money power money. Someone with money who really wants to take advantage of a certain kind of market will create that market, and nothing is more certain than needing a whole shitload of stuff to go hurt other people in other places. That's why people with money and/or power who believe in signs on top of wanting to manipulate the market/other people/anything are so scary. Not only are they willing to do whatever is necessary to carry out the perceived will of the wind switching directions, but they are actually capable of doing so and fucking the rest of us in the process.

I have always found the idea of god communicating through signs to be somewhat questionable to begin with. Signs are easily interpreted in a variety of different ways by many different people (such as Martin's red comet for instance). If we have a few too many such people in high positions relying on signs who also have influence, they could very well bring about the end of the world just by proclaiming that they see the signs for it. But it seems to me that if god were truly to communicate through signs, at the very least he would want us to interpret them in the way that would be best for everyone and not our own benefit. Which raises the question of the usefulness of signs to begin with.

You know what, you don't need a link to a review, because there are so damned many of them. So far I like the series and would recommend it to most everyone.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.
So, uh, I totally wrote this at 11:15PM the night before, it's probably going live unedited. I apologize in advance.

24 January 2012

Post 472: a general update

Hello. You missed my birthday.

No worries, I spent Saturday with my mom, her boyfriend, and my brother eating friend chicken, asparagus, lima beans, biscuits, and chocolate cake. Sunday I had plans to spend it with people I've been kid/house/pet sitting for. Last week I made sugar cookies with the four year old. That was fun times. It's sort of weird being of the age to have children, yet not having them and having no possibility of having them and not really wanting them anyway. Er, yeah. I kind of have no reason for living right now, so on second thoughts, it's okay that my birthday was ignored.

Enough with the quarter life crisis.

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin.
I am making progress in this series. The books are long so it's kind of hard to find time to read them, even though once I start I tear through pretty quickly. This is a library eLend, so I have to finish it up by the 23rd, or else get put at the back end of the list which is currently (as of the 12th) 28 patrons long. It could be worse, but let's just say this is near the top of my git-r-done list.

Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies by Donald Spoto.
This was up for grabs on a swap shelf I sometimes peruse. It looked interesting enough, and while Hitchcock films are usually a bit slow paced for my tastes, I still enjoy them now and again. In any case, I'm always interested to know a little bit more about Hollywood before bat-shit crazy became a thing. Okay, so that was always a thing, but let's just say it's at a whole different level nowadays. Winning.

The Portrait by Iain Pears.
Another of those authors that people seem to like/talk about that I haven't read.  grabbed it from the library sale table for 25 cents. I'm interested to see how Pears tackles the Critic-Artist dynamic, especially given the loose friendship the two subjects have.

Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns.
Another library sale table grab. This one was on my feed for a while last year as it was handed around to various book bloggers by word of mouth. Since I am in small-town The South, I will be able to judge, at least somewhat, its authenticity as being a book that "deftly captured the subtle crosscurrents of small-town Southern life."

23 January 2012

Post 471: Dan Walker (guest blogger)

The Book of Tomorrow, by Cecilia Ahern. ISBN: 9780061706301.

Our narrator almost redeems herself right off the bat by telling us that she realizes now, cast out of her previous, glamorous life into relative squalor in the countryside, that when she was living in a huge mansion with all the stuff she could ever want, she was pretty much an insufferable, spoiled brat. That redemption didn't pan out for me in reading the book, but at least it gives me a jumping-off point to talk about the one thing that gets me angrier than anything else: economic inequality.

The tl;dr is: I hate rich people. I kind of can't help it. Racism, sexism, oppression, environmental destruction; they don't get under my collar nearly as much as someone suggesting that anyone at all can solve their problems with money. I encountered this a lot in college, and the worst part is, I don't think that these people do this to be mean. They're thoughtless, yes, selfish perhaps, but they simply are ignorant of the problems that people without a lot of money have to face. Things like, "I can't get that book for my class because I have to feed myself this week." And that lack of malevolence is the hardest part, because you can't hate someone for not knowing. For not trying, yes, but first you have to educate.

Unfortunately, no one's doing the education. Rich kids get brought up in gated communities and private schools with other rich kids. They never have to go anywhere outside their little spheres of money because everything is provided for them. When they grow up, they expect everything to be provided for them because that's just how they were brought up. It takes a serious wake-up call to break someone out of that mindset.

This is what I say to people when they suggest things like, "We shouldn't overtax the rich because they made that money and they deserve it." Well, when mommy and daddy buy them everything all their life and they just inherit the money, do they really deserve it? Someone on a message board cheesed me off big time once by suggesting that, yes, they do, because they "carry on the family name." Ignoring the fact that only sons would be worthy of such an inheritance, I found that statement unspeakably ridiculous. Carry on a family name? So they get rewarded for simply being born? No one cares what your name is if you lose everything and wind up on the street. The American dream is not to be born into a wealthy family, but to build an empire and become rich through hard work and dedication.

Of course, the American dream is dead. It's a myth at this point, and its perpetuation just leads people to set their dreams high and suffer disappointment as they crumble. We may all be created equal(ly), but that doesn't mean we all have equal opportunities. The circumstances you grow up in are the ones you're most likely to stay in. We like focusing on the success stories, the people who rise from nothing to become these famous stars or lead multimillion dollar corporations, but they stand out because they're the exceptions. For every one of those people are hundreds of thousands more who are in the ghetto, who will have kids who stay in the ghetto, and the cycle will continue.

And that's what's always made me so angry, I think. My family was working-class, not so poor that we couldn't afford to have nice things every once in a while, but often living above our means and too poor to do things like save money or buy really nice things, like say, extra cars. And now here I am, stuck in a crap, dead-end job that just barely pays enough for me to make payments on my student loans, with no real out in sight, while some bimbo who can't be arsed to remember her teacher's name is going to go through college -- paid for by mommy and daddy -- go into business and make a ton of money while never having to lift a finger. Yeah, I think that would make anyone a little mad.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no way around this except to make these people go from ignoring the poor to hating them. I'm a big proponent of wealth distribution, but honestly, I don't think that goes far enough. I want to see salary caps. No one really needs to make more than $100k, as far as I'm concerned, maybe $200k if I'm feeling generous. Because, yeah, I'm sure running an entire company is hard work, assuming you're actually doing some kind of work, but you sure as hell don't deserve hundreds of millions of dollars a year (plus multimillion bonuses!) for working your slaves to death and exploiting everyone you can lay your hands on just so a room full of rich stockholders can get richer.

Dan Walker (pseudonym) is a writer from Northeast Ohio. 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 is currently the editor of Lib's LIB

LibsNote: This post was originally written January 30, 2011 to give the regular blogger a break. 
Dan Walker received a review copy from the FirstReads program at Goodreads.
This was posted late because I totally planned to get something written, but SHIT HAS HAPPENED that needed taking care of. Should be back next week.

19 January 2012

Post 470: Dan Walker (guest blogger)

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. ISBN: 9781594487569 (advanced reader copy).

The whole illegal immigrant debate is still raging in this country, and if there's one thing that really gets under my nerves, it's a single phrase that keeps being repeated by those who are seemingly anti-immigrant: "They should learn English!"

There is, frankly, a war on foreign language going on right now. I keep reading anecdotes of Americans being offended by the fact that others are speaking languages that are not English around them. This is completely ludicrous. Worse are the related movements trying to keep government documents and voting ballots from being printed in anything but English. Should immigrants learn English? I would say yes; I certainly wouldn't want to live in a country where I couldn't understand the predominant tongue. But the one thing that these people do not understand is that it takes a lot of time to learn a language.

This is one thing I really liked about Girl in Translation, is that we get to see the parallel language development of Kim and her mother. They emigrate from Hong Kong speaking very little English; by the middle of high school, Kim is talking like a native speaker and still has to translate for her mother. Her mother tries learning English around that time, so she can take the naturalization test, but it's a real struggle. I don't know if she actually passes the test, but at the end of the book, she's still not speaking it very well.

The struggles of immigrants to learn English if they've had little or no training in it in their home country are really poorly understood here. Even if they've learned English already, a second-language setting does not provide the cultural context and constant immersion in the second language necessary for someone to really be able to function in a society that speaks that language. Plus, there's cultural shock, differences in body language and inflection that are not always taught, and things like having learned British English and then trying to survive in America. So shouldn't we throw these people a bone, so they can function in their native tongue while they're still learning, especially considering that it's much harder for adults to learn languages than it is for children? Isn't it more important to make sure that people have their civil rights properly explained to them than to push an agenda of "our language or the highway"?

I think for those with the latter sentiment, their viewpoint comes from a lack of understanding and sympathy. This comes directly from the piss-poor status foreign languages hold in the US. For most Americans, foreign language class is something to be tolerated for two years during high school, and maybe another two years in college to satisfy liberal education requirements. They have no need to get anything but a passing grade because even if they go to another country, "Everyone speaks English anyway." This isn't necessarily untrue, but the fact is, few appreciate the cultural understanding that can stem from a serious study of a language, and that lack of seriousness leads to a lack of understanding about how hard learning a language can be (not to mention, they learned theirs while their minds were still plastic enough to absorb it all).

With our current focus on math and science education, I'm sure foreign language is going to continue to fall by the wayside, and I don't know what could really be done to change cultural views on language. What I will do with these last few sentences is give a little advice to any American who wants to make a language-learning decision that will actually be useful to them. Here are a few good languages to try and learn if you have to learn any:

  • American Sign Language. No, it's not just making hand gestures to substitute for English words. ASL has its own grammar, which can be bizarre and complex to someone who's only familiar with English. Even if you never leave the United States, ASL is the one language that will most benefit you at home. You will always encounter people who can't hear very well or at all, and there is always a need for interpreters.
  • Spanish. Kind of a no-brainer, and another "I don't want to leave the country" language. The importance of Spanish is of course increased the further West one travels.
  • French. Less important, but hey, maybe you'll go to Canada one day. There are even places like Louisiana and Maine where people still speak French. French can also teach you a lot about English, because we've got a TON of French loanwords.
  • Mandarin Chinese. Now we're in the category of "useful for business." A billion+ people speak Chinese, and Mandarin is the prevalent dialect. If you're going into something like international affairs or business, this is an A-1 doubleplus good choice for a language. It's hard to read, sure, and sometimes hard to understand, but the grammar is easy at least. I don't know much about Cantonese, but it's another good choice (and completely different from Mandarin, despite being called a 'dialect').
  • Latin. Some consider it a cop-out, since it's a dead language and all, but it's amazing how much you can learn about English from another language, just like with French. Latin formed about half the building blocks of English, and it's still very useful in the sciences.
  • Arabic. Duh. No language right now can get you employed faster. I'm pretty sure the government even has programs where they'll pay for you to learn Arabic so you can be a translator.
So there's a sampling. Just remember, learning another language is far easier when you're well acquainted with your own, so pay attention in grammar class!

Dan Walker (pseudonym) is a writer from Northeast Ohio. 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 is the current editor of Lib's LIB. 

*This post was originally written December 9, 2010 to allow the regular author a break and/or a chance to catch up on her own reading. Because A Clash of Kings is a long ass book, okay, guys?
**Danny received the ARC from me, I received it from my public library and they g0t it directly from publishers.

You can see Amy's thoughts on A Girl in Translation here.

16 January 2012

Post 469: Scarlet

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen. ISBN: 9780802723468 (eGalley - publishes February 14, 2012).

I rather like the inclusion of women in stronger-than-they-normally-get roles in stories with Medieval settings. There were actually quite a few women who held powerful roles, though normally as high ranking noble women with extremely dead husbands or as pre-beatified saints. The latter were women who often fasted, or hid their eating habits, as proof of their religious purity, that they could sustain themselves strictly on the spirit of Christ... or sometimes his body, as a few were known to eat only Communion wafers. The noble women were often seen as far more threatening, as hardly anyone really wanted to live the life of a saint, which by definition was difficult and full of burdens. Therefore more women were inclined to want a life of nobility, preferably with a weak and gullible, or at least permissive, husband... old or dead were good too, so long as there was an heir.

I found it interesting then that Gaughen combined these two archetypes of women into one "Will" Scarlet. Although I doubt it was done purposely, the combination of eating disorder and noble birth was intriguing. At a time when the Roman Catholic church was still the only game in town, Scarlet might have been the pinnacle of womanhood, except that she ran away from her family, dressed in men's clothing (for which she could have been killed), and joined a band of randy men living in the woods.

Yet somehow she has found not one, but two men to fawn over her and one to obsess over wanting to capture, kill, own, and marry her... in no particular order. We have the commoner who treats her like a loose woman by positioning himself in a physically aggressive manner, often backing her up against a tree, leaning over her, etc. Then there's the "dishonored" honorable nobleman who calls her a whore and a tease. With choices like these, it's a miracle that Scarlet has any desire at all to be with a man, much less that she'd actually have a preference for one. But lucky for us, dear reader, Scarlet has a guilty conscience and believes she is unworthy of a "good" man, so of course that is exactly what she ends up with.

There was a lot of potential in this book, and while I don't expect my heroines to be so blindingly perfect that they aren't humanly possible, it would have been nice to see Scarlet have the balls she claimed to have and actually stick up for herself.

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

12 January 2012

Post 468: The Last Werewolf

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. ISBN: 9780307595089.

I've mentioned previously that I like monsters because they show the monstrous parts of our humanity: the lust, the violence, the lack of control over our emotions and impulses, etc. Werewolves more than most monsters speak to our primal and "out of control" nature, the beast lurking just beneath the surface, so you would think that a book that explored not only that topic, but what it means to be the end of a species, a cornered wolf if you will, would hit all the sweet spots for me. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Rather than wanting to spend more time with 200 year old Jacob Marlowe, I found myself giving a shit about as much as he did about his death.

But unlike most monster novels of yore (and why did he not deign to reflect at least on Dracula?), Marlowe doesn't attempt to cope with the monster while trying to remain human. Instead, he separates himself even more so from humanity, not by removing himself from it physically, but emotionally. He willingly, and even proudly, recognizes that he has done so, but assures us, dear reader, that he makes amends for it monetarily. 
No worries, he can check out of humanity and slaughter a person a month for the 400 years (or more) he is pretty sure werewolves can live. Here, I will math for you. That would be 4800 people, assuming he killed only one a month and did not turn anyone else into a werewolf. This is by no means a holocaust, but there have certainly been pre-bomb battles with lower death counts. But Marlowe is not a particularly introspective werewolf despite his unusual-for-the-species journal keeping habits. He is more logical than anything, which further separates him from his human-animal nature, as if he can conquer both by providing us with sound reasoning as to why he prefers to fuck women he hates and drink/drug himself into a stupor more often than not, oh yeah, and the killing, totally justifies that he kills innocent humans.

I suppose part of my disconnect from Marlowe, besides his general disconnect for his former species, is that he is able to control himself as a werewolf, at least to a certain extent. Most werewolves are presented as fairly mindless (but intelligent), hyper-vicious, and over-sized anthropomorphic wolves. Duncan presents his werewolves as being aware of what they are doing in wolf state, and able to time and even plan attacks. That Marlowe stalks and stakes out his prey in human form is somewhat questionable. If he feels he can and should offset his karma financially, why does he not target people who are likely to irreparably harm others?

Marlowe's hyper logic does not seem to extend to this particular question, and certainly with 175 years of killing as a werewolf it must have occurred to him at some point, but the fact that the topic isn't even broached just makes him feel like even more of a detached sociopath than he sets himself up to be. Which makes the rest of the novel fall completely flat on its ass when Marlowe all of a sudden finds himself wanting to live again because he can feel again. I just don't buy it. You don't get to be a sociopath for over a hundred years and all of a sudden find yourself falling in love and wanting to live again.

Meanwhile, Duncan ignored the more interesting tidbits he threw at us, such as a potential explanation for werewolf existence, which Marlowe might then have actually reflected on in relation to his soon-to-be extinction. But no. We get bloody sex romps and passive journal entries instead. That all being said, I didn't absolutely hate the novel, but a more involved narrator would have been nice.

I think I was interested in the novel more for the author than the actual work. Rewatching this interview, you can kind of see why (he kind of looks like he'd be a werewolf). Sadly, Greg Zimmerman and New Dork Review of Books pretty much nailed the meh-ness.
LibsNote: Library copy.

09 January 2012

Post 467: When She Woke

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. ISBN: 9781616201180 (eBook).

Spoiler Alert: This is going to be a compare and contrast post, so if you haven't read this book or The Scarlet Letter, I'm going to go almost straight to the Maury Moment with the Baby Daddy reveal.

Although When She Woke (WSW) covers more topical issues of persecuting children out of wedlock, I think The Scarlet Letter (SL) is still the stronger, and more relatable story. For one thing, Hester Prynne (SL) is forced to keep her child and live with the emotional and financial burden of raising a child without a father in a time where that was nearly impossible. The fact that Prynne was able to make a living for herself and avoid more than social ostracism within the Puritan community is more of a testament to her resourcefulness than Hannah Payne's (WSW) access to resources (namely family and funds). Where Payne is able to tap into her baby daddy's influence without revealing his identity, Prynne was unable to do the same in such a small, close-knit, and pre-internet society.

I felt like Dimmesdale from The Scarlet Letter was a much more sympathetic tragic character than his When She Woke counterpart Aidan Dale. Dimmesdale was just as isolated from the community as Hester Prynne by his position of moral authority as minister, so much that it took a physical toll on his well being. Meanwhile, Dale actually has a wife and gains even more prestige while Payne is hidden away and "chromed" red. While I'm certain Dale must have suffered some guilt and remorse regarding Payne, we don't see him much in WSW, and so it's harder to connect to him sympathetically, and sometimes he even comes off almost villainous, even when he's paying off assisting Payne so she is better able to endure her years of chromitude.

In short, I like The Scarlet Letter more because the relationship between Dimmesdale and Prynne is far more complex than that between Dale and Payne. For one thing, Pearl adds a whole new level of complexity that Dale/Payne's aborted child doesn't, and while Dale has a wife, Jordan presents Dale as someone who could very easily leave his lustless relationship for the more exciting one with Payne. I don't really regret reading Jordan's work, and I don't think it's a horrible story, but I would much rather have gone into it without constantly being reminded that it was a derivative of The Scarlet Letter. In this way Jordan almost set herself up to fail, because it needed to be 300x better than the original in order to blow me away, and it didn't even come close.  But, it did make me want to reread The Scarlet Letter, so I'll be doing that soon.

Also, I apologize, but this is definitely a half-assed post. I read WSW about a month ago and just let it sit because I wasn't particularly moved by it. Also I wrote this the day before posting. I'd totally give myself a generous C- on this.

A glowing review from Bookalicio.us for those of you who think Hawthorne is a pretentious schmuck who couldn't write his way out of a paper bag. Goodreader Jeanette pretty much sums up my feelings about the book.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive.

07 January 2012

Post 466: a general update

News! There's not a whole lot of it, other than my awesomest Christmas present was getting my teeth cleaned. It's a big deal when it's been ... so long I don't want to tell you how long it has been. Dental place was hella shady, they didn't do x-rays but told me I had a dozen cavities. My mom and I were all *eyeshift* uh... So I just got back (Jan 5) from a place we decided to follow up with and they were all, "lol no, those are stains, but your gums are lookin' rough." So hurray for no cavities! And... well, let's just say my New Year's resolution is to fuckin' floss like a god damned adult already. Serious business. Floss you guys, it's important. ಠ_ಠ

Reading is also important. Do that too.

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan.
I read this a while ago and its been sitting in my brain for a bit now. It's a dystopian take on A Scarlet Letter. It did some interesting things, but it probably would have been better had Jordan just used A Scarlet Letter as a jumping off point and written a completely new work of fiction. I'm a big fan of the Letter, and this did not hold up. I'll discuss my reasoning in my post. There will obviously be spoilers, mostly involving Dimsdale torture... you did have to read this book in high school, right?

Holding Our World Together by Brenda Child and Colin G. Calloway.
I have a weakness for Native American history, particularly when it is written by Native Americans. Particularly when it focuses on the often neglected contributions of minority women. So this hits a bunch of triggers for me. I am excited to read it. 

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen.
One day I will read the original Robin Hood stories (or at least the written version of them). In the meantime, this is a version in which Will Scarlet is a fiesty pants wearin' lady. If there is a love triangle in this I will be disappoint. Ladies like more than men falling over themselves and beating each other up for female attention. Anywho, it looked interesting. Am hoping it is not Mary Sue'd like crazy.

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan.
I've been interested in this book for awhile now. So when I actually saw it on the shelves of my local library in Alabama, which traditionally has almost no investment in books containing sci-fi or supernatural elements, I was excited. Also, Justin Cronin (The Passage) did a great write up of it in the New York Times Book Review, and a good portion of the blogging world was excited about it. My first impressions of it are, "Eh, this is probably more of a dude book." Not that I am into "chick books," but the emotional detachment of the main character is just sooooo appealing and makes it soooo easy for me to invest in the book. He's kind of a big wet dog-smelling blanket with a constant hard on. I'm sure someone on the internet actually sells those.

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