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.
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