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.
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