31 May 2008

Starship Troopers

Last night I finished up Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. First off, it is significantly better than the god-awful movie. No dumb love story, no cutesy, bouncy girls, no goofy happy ending. Not that it has an unhappy ending. It is actually a very simple story. War, and the training for it. I went into it expecting a lot of politics and political theory but it wasn't as much as i thought. Heinlein articulates the side of military might, the shoot first ask questions later, firm father discipline. He writes a damn good defense of the position. But it is a good book even without the politics. Training for war, future suits, weapons and battle tactics always make good reading for me. It is a 5 for me.

I got an Early Review copy from LibraryThing. Well, I won a copy and should receive it shortly. I am super excited and intend to read it as soon as I get it. The book is On a Day Like This by Peter Stamm.

28 May 2008

His Dark Materials

Today I finished The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman. I loved it. I love this series. This series is a 7. I am using this as one for my YA challenge as well as OUaT2.

As The Subtle Knife ended darkly, this one starts out grim. Lyra, our heroine, is lying in a drugged sleep. Her mother, Mrs. Coulter, has kidnapped her and they are hiding in a cave. Will is searching for Lyra with the help of angels and the Iorek, king of the ice bears. When they find each other, they must journey to the land of the dead. Everyone is trying to get the pair, the Authority in Lyra's world, Lord Asriel, Mrs. Coulter. We get battles, ghosts, angels both good an evil, more Dust, love. Evil characters redeem themselves and characters die fighting for their beliefs.

Now I am going to say something I hadn't expected to say so soon. I like these better than Harry Potter. Please don't hurt me. I love Harry, and his world, and the last books were so mature. But I feel like the His Dark Materials series is stronger and deeper. You could pluck any of Pullman's side characters and I want to know about them. With the exception of The Marauders, I don't feel the same about Rowling's secondary characters. Lyra and Will are more grown up at 12 or 13 than Harry and Ron and Hermione are until close to the end of book 7, when they are 17 and 18.

I definitely want to read these books again in a few months.

27 May 2008

Book about SEX!!!

This post is going to be about sex. No, not about my lack of ability to get any, but about a book about sex. Bonk, by Mary Roach, is about sex. Sex researchers, studies on sex, bizarre inventions that came out of studies on sex, etc. It was really interesting and not at all titillating. You don't get all excited reading it. Mostly I was cringing. The various remedies for ED are particularly bad. Metal. Bendable insertable metal. That's all I am going to say about that. She details a lot of studies, some of which she even participated in! I have to say I might have signed up for some of the studies given the opportunity. Definitely a 6.

I really liked her previous two, Stiff and Spook, and I think this one is as good. They are all relatively short books and informative. It sounds stupid to say "it really makes you think" but Roach's books do make you think. She's made us think about what happens to your body when you die, about the scientific basis for the afterlife, about our hangups and prejudices about sex. I can't wait to find out what she wants us to think about next.

25 May 2008

Ren Fest


I went with R to the Renaissance Festival Saturday. It was a good day all around. No sunburn, yummy turkey leg, beer, kettle corn and lots of entertainment. R posted pics on his flickr page so I am showing them off! Click on any to see!

The joust referee.

Dancing gypsies!

Girl fight!

Fire!

Friday night we went to see Indiana Jones. We both liked it and I can see why it was number one this weekend since at least 3 showings on Friday were sold out. I liked it ok but it really could have been SO MUCH BETTER. Even with the same story, just adjusting what the characters said and did would have really improved it. I loved Marion for the first 10 minutes or so she was on screen but then she didn't have anything to do but make googley eyes at Indy. Just giving her a little more to do and say would have helped. I liked Mutt well enough though the whole swinging vine scene with the monkeys was way too much of a play for the kids.

I really liked the whole opening sequence. The secret warehouse in Area 51 and nuclear test were great. But why have the CIA guys hassle Indy if the movie isn't going to do anything with that? If they just wanted to fill us in on what he did in WWII and after it could have been handled better. I really thought Indy was going to be fighting against the US government and the Russians based on that scene. After that beginning though they really did tone down the violence. In Raiders we get melting faces and the suggestion of torture, in Temple of Doom we get hearts pulled from chests and child slavery. Even in Last Crusade the we get multi-generational sex and book burning. In Skull we get Russians who turn into dust as they get sucked into an inter-dimensional portal. woo hoo.

Lastly, if they wanted to set a movie in Meso-America, why not have Indy facing the Nazis hiding out in South America? Weren't there some dictators down there at that time? We could have had a movie more like Temple of Doom with Indy involved in some local problem and saves Bolivia or Nicaragua.

So Ren Fest gets a 7 and Indy a 4.

22 May 2008

Thriller and Politics

One of the reasons I've stopped reading thriller/crime novels is that they tend to be the same: The cop/FBI agent/CSI/private detective finds evidence of murder/serial killer/rapist/child sex ring. Gruesome and/or poignant scenes describe the killings/victims. The hero has some personal flaw or disorder (PTSD, alcoholism, anger issues, paralyzed) which he must overcome to continue the case. The powers that be don't think there's a crime/think they've caught the right person/feel the hero is "crossing the line" so he is pulled from the case. Another awful crime happens. Then the hero is called back to the case or sometimes he goes off on his own (or with the help of the attractive love interest) and stops the bad guy. Sometimes there's a twist where the love interest is killed or perhaps the bad guy is one of the hero's superiors/acquaintances.

But yesterday, due to getting an extra 3 hours off work, I read Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. It is outstanding. I can pretty much guarantee any 440 page book I power through in one day i enjoy. The premise is that in 1953 a serial killer targets children. Normal, right? But this one takes place in the USSR, where there is no crime but state crime. So the murders are explained away as accidents, as one crazy person, as homosexual mania in their individual cases and there is no nationwide system to even discover the connections. Leo, our hero, starts as a MGB agent who investigates (if you can even call it that) people accused of being traitors. He falls from grace and then attempts to redeem himself by solving these crimes. While there are several poignant scenes where the murderer lures the children to their deaths, this book destroys the formula. It isn't so much about the murders but about life in Stalinist Russia. The paranoia, the oppression, the want and lack of personal control are far more scary than the crimes. I can imagine an America where liberals are arrested for speaking out against something (because my mind can't always run in the optimistic mode) but I can't imagine one in which my parents or brothers would be arrested or punished for my doings. I give this one a 6 and hope the author continues to write about this culture.

This morning I finished up Takeover by Charlie Savage. A completely different sort of book, it frames the Bush presidency and the decisions made over the last 7 years as based on a consistent policy of expanding presidential power. This policy is based on the Unitary Executive Theory. It basically says the president should have total control over everything in the executive branch and that is was unconstitutional for Congress to pass anything that would influence executive control. This theory, if applied, would mean that nothing in the executive branch could be apolitical or independent. If the president wants a lawyer to prosecute someone for something and he doesn't, the lawyer can be fired. If the president doesn't agree with the findings of a scientific report, he can ignore them.

When viewing Bush's term in this manner, so much makes sense. The signing statements, the purges of departments, the hiring of cronies all align with this theory. For giving me a coherent way to view Bush's bullshit, I give it a 6.

20 May 2008

In Defense of Food

Finished Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food today at work. At only 200 pages it gives a great overview of how to shop and what to eat. His premise is summed up several times: Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants. The first part of the book is about nutritionism, or the idea that we can reduce foods down to their component nutrients and, if we could just find out which ones in what ratios, that would solve our diet-based health problems. The second section deals with the problems in the Western diet and how food trends (moving from quality to a focus on quantity, moving from whole foods to refined versions) that most benefit industry hurt human beings. In the third part he breaks down his solution further with various suggestions, some of which are: buy whole foods, shop on the edges of the supermarket, go to farmer's market, if grandma couldn't buy it we probably shouldn't either, slow down, don't eat alone. While i don't know if anyone could follow all the suggestions, especially all of the time, he makes a very strong case and i am encouraged to continue changing how i eat. Definitely a 7!

There is so much information in this book. He lists several websites for more resources; I'll list a few here to spread the word!
Find Good Food--great general resource about eating local, recipes, even tells you what's in season when!
Eat Wild--finding grass fed meat and wild veggies.
Local Harvest--find farmer's markets, local farms, CSAs, even strange stuff like alpaca yarn!

Enjoy!

PS
I get up at 4:30 on workdays though, so i am always going to snag cereal, or a muffin, or a bagel for breakfast.

18 May 2008

WG 4


This week’s theme: Choose a political or social issue that matters to you. Find several books addressing that issue; they don’t have to books you’ve read, just books you might like to read. Using images (of the book covers or whatever you feel illustrates your topic) present these books in your blog.

I need to get this post up! when I first read the blurb at Weekly Geeks I thought "I'll do the dumbing down of America" but now 2 people have done that. Then I thought "I could write about local food or going green" but now there are two of those posts as well!

So I am writing about being an atheist. In case you hadn't realized, I am. This to me falls under a political issue because other people make their religion political. My lack of religion is more of a big deal in Tennessee than it ever was in south Louisiana. I guess in Louisiana it is just kinda assumed you're Catholic unless you advertise otherwise so it's no big deal. Nobody asks what church you go to or who your pastor is. While there are more Catholic churches there, the total number of churches is a lot less than in Nashville. People are so pushy about it here. I really think they must give out a big tv at some churches to the person who brings in the most new people each year. I don't want to be preached to at the grocery store, or the library, or while walking in my neighborhood. When I had to fill out paperwork for my gall bladder surgery a few years ago the admit nurse got on me for not filling out the religion box.

"Everyone needs a religion," he said as he started to launch into his speil.

"Put down Catholic," I said, wanting to preempt the lecture and figuring if I did die in surgery my mother would feel better knowing I had the last rites.

All this ranting to say that I think that my anti-religious feeling has grown in the last 7 years due to both where I have been living as well as the political climate. While I have plenty of problems with religion in general (promoting group-think, blind obedience to those in a position of authority and magical thinking being the biggest) it is really the conservative sections of all types that get me going. My suggestions are a mix of things.




Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I've read this one, and did enjoy it, if you can say you enjoyed a story so full of pain. Explores the author's experience with conservative religion, in this case Islam, and how she came to not believe in it. It is disturbing and not for the squeamish.



The End of Faith by Sam Harris. I highly recommend this to anyone. I read this before i started blogging and it really stuck in my thinking. Pointing out a lot of reasons why religion is damaging to humanity, Harris also censures mainstream religion for tolerating and even helping the extremists by not getting rid of the more useless parts of their holy books (stoning disobedient children? selling your daughters to slavery?).



Atheism Explained: From Folly to Philosophy by David Ramsay Steele. One I have not read but is on my list. Based on the blurbs, it both dismantles various pro-God arguments and also builds on the atheist arguments.


Everything You Know about God is Wrong edited by Russ Kick. He's the editor of the various Disinformation Guides, which are great. Another I haven't read, this popped up on my radar because it features a Neil Gaiman comic about a biblical atrocity that could have sent the publisher to prison!


The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America's Founders by Forrest Church. Not one I've read either but on my wishlist now. Want to read what Jefferson, Washington, Adams and others actually wrote about church and state issues? This is a compilation of their writings.

So I would think any of these would be great reads. If you want to jump into some really militant atheism, which i have personally enjoyed, try recent ones by Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens.

I really have to thank Dewey for framing this theme this way. It made me figure out how to add picture in particular places! So since I now know how to do this, here's a bit of Tennessee for everyone!

15 May 2008

BTT for 5/15



Following up last week’s question about reading writing/grammar guides, this week, we’re expanding the question….
Scenario: You’ve just bought some complicated gadget home . . . do you read the accompanying documentation? Or not?
Do you ever read manuals?
How-to books?
Self-help guides?
Anything at all?





Big complicated gadget that I don't know about: heavy skim. I won't read cover to cover but I will keep it around to make sure I know what I'm doing. If i get something i already know how to use like a camera I wouldn't read it at all probably. I do read furniture instructions usually.

How to books: really only cooking books on any kind of regular basis. I know I've read a few dog training books, books on scrapbooking and photography but i don't really practice my other hobbies much so i don't read those a lot.

Self-help: hmm. I am trying to read books on depression. The problem is I really can't get to into them because reading about the symptoms, the automatic thoughts, etc, makes me start thinking my own bad thoughts and I have to put it down. Same for the couple of relationship types books I have attempted. I read the little example stories of people/patients and I think about how bad off these people are and how I have no right to feel bad. Which makes me feel bad. It is rough.

14 May 2008

WG3

This week's is about books you loved as a child. This, for me, is going to be a very weird list. I remember reading little kid books at maybe age 5 or so. I remember reading adult novels, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, at age 8 or so. I don't know that I had much of a "proper books for my age" stage. I remember reading a few and liking them, like Stuart Little and The Hobbit, and I remember not particularly caring for some, like Nancy Drew and Judy Blume and Sweet Valley High. I didn't get into comics until middle school so they weren't a big deal when i was really young.


So here's a random list of things I do remember loving very much and reading multiple times. Yes, I was a strange kid. I know I am forgetting a ton of books that i probably loved.

The Westing Game by Ellen Rankin, The Shining and The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsberg, some greek mythology book with intricate illustrations and was half non-fiction history and half the stories of the various gods, the Scary Stories Series, the Lone Wolf series (a game book like the choose your own adventure books but with hit points), the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Reading some of the other Geek posts, i have decided i need to use more pictures on my blog. Expect more color as soon as i figure out how to put a picture in, not just at the top of the post.

13 May 2008

10 out of 100

More work on the 1001 list. Mee at Books of Mee is hosting a challenge on the 1001 Books list. For this, you read 1 out of each section of 10, skipping any sections that you have already read a book from. End date is October 31.

01-10-skipping, I've read The Plot Against America
11-20-Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd
21-30-The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor
31-40-Youth by JM Coetzee
41-50-Don't Move by Margaret Mazzantini
51-60-Nineteen Seventy Seven by David Peace
61-70-skipping, read House of Leaves
71-80- Cryptonomicon by Neil Stephenson, also on my TBR challenge.
81-90-Amsterdam by Ian Mcewan
91-100- skipping, read Memoirs of a Geisha

Speaking of the 1001 list, I finished Foundation by Isaac Asimov yesterday. Also a book on my TBR challenge. This makes the fourth I've read by the author. Caves of Steel and Naked Sun were both murder mysteries and I, Robot and Foundation are more a series of short stories that are linked. I really liked Foundation. In a weird way it reminded my of heist/con movies, like the Ocean's series or Confidence. We see certain events but aren't given enough to figure out exactly what is happening until we get the "gotcha" moment when the plan comes together. The characters know much more than the reader and we don't really see into their heads. It works well though. The Foundation starts out as a way for a brilliant scientist to get a large group of people out to the far reaches of space in order to begin an Encyclopedia (woohoo Hitchhiker's guide) of human knowledge. His name is Hari Seldon and he is a psychohistorian. There's math involved too as he is able to predict out various crises that his group will face and sets up things that allow the group to solve them. My synopsis isn't making too much sense; the book explains it much better over a chapter or two. This is a 5 and I'll definitely pick up the next one in the series sometime!

So I will close off this post with a quote. I never put in quotes from books in their own review at least but this one stood out by its repetition as well as being very applicable to current events.

"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent"

11 May 2008

Weekend Update with Melanie

Movie first. R and i went to Speed Racer on Friday night at the IMAX theater here. Yes, I have since read the bad reviews. But what did they expect from a PG movie about a cheesy cartoon that includes a pet chimp? High Drama? We went to the 9:40 at night showing and we had a bunch of people our age in line, as well as several dads with kids between 8-12 who all seemed very excited. I personally really liked it. It was a candy-colored explosion. It was fun. Ridiculous car races, a great Evil Villian (though i did want to yell "England Prevails" a few times), good chemistry between the actors. Nice to see Matthew Fox as something besides intense Dr. Jack from LOST. Christina Ricci is still hot, John Goodman seems to have lost weight? A nice 5.

Speaking of V for Vendetta, R and I were headed to Noshville for breakfast (though as we slept late it was about 11 and we both felt like lunch when we got there. I had the best roast beef sandwich and they have incredible coffee too.) and saw a few teenagers walking downtown, one of whom had on a Guy Fawkes mask! R of course had to cheer at them and the kids waved back. Had a really good weekend with R in general, which makes me feel good. :)

Finished up Out of the Silent Planet by CS Lewis yesterday evening. It is a short little sci-fi book published in 1938. I liked it well enough. It is a solid first book in what i think is a trilogy. Two Englishmen, Weston and Devine, build a spaceship and kidnap a third, Ransom, to present to the natives of Mars. Ransom runs off, meets the locals and learns their language and customs. There are three different sentient beings on Mars: Seroni, who are tall and slender, the Hrossa, who seem to be a sort of bear-seal, and the Pfifltriggi, which are frog-ish gnomes. Ransom is told by an eldil, a sort of angel/spirit, that he must meet with the Oyarsa, who is sort of the god of the planet. So he does, we get more bad impressions of Weston and Devine, and then Earth trio get sent home. The theme that runs through the book is how Earth, and men, are bent or fallen. The Oyarsa of Earth became evil and that is why men are what they are. These are spiritual aspects which i am beginning to believe must carry over through all of Lewis' work. Do I see it because I am aware of it? If I didn't know about CS Lewis' religion I do think I would have seen it in the Narnia books. This one is a 5 i think.

07 May 2008

Last Post Today I Swear!!

So Carl V at Stainless Steel Droppings had an interesting conglomerate post, the first section of which was on literary tattoos. The article he linked to concerned both people's tattoos of literary works and a short story that the author tattooed onto over 2000 people, one word at a time. I had never thought about getting words tattooed on myself until that moment (i prefer black and white mandala type things when i was considering getting one) but i knew immediately what i would get:

By heaven, I think my love as rare as any she belied with false compare

Any guesses what it's from?

hmmmmm





What type of Fae are you?

WG Week 2 and Progressive Politics

For the second week of the Weekly Geeks challenge the idea is to try, going forward at least, to link to other people's reviews when you review a book that is the same. I feel like I am making it sound more complicated than it is. So I am announcing I intend to do this but I don't know how much I really will be able to. I tend to read on my own sort of whims, incorporating a lot of older stuff and not necessarily the newest best sellers or most raved about blogosphere books. I read a lot of politically progressive books as well as other non-fiction which doesn't seem to be as popular to write about.

Soooo, speaking of progressive non-fiction, i finished George Lakoff's Whose Freedom this morning at work. It is a 7. It discusses the differences between what liberals and conservatives are saying when we speak of freedom. At only 266 pages, not counting the suggested reading and endnotes, it manages to perfectly articulate the progressive mindset. It shows what we think and outlines the base framework as to WHY we think what we do. In short: progressives/liberals believe in a nurturant parent model for the family, the basis of which is empathy, and apply this model to their political decisions. We also have a more innate grasp of big pictures, systemic causation and complex systems. The book also breaks down conservative thought, which is based on the strict father model. In this model the father is the boss, must be obeyed and must protect the family himself. This model is an "every family/person for themselves" type, which gives credence only to direct causation and discounts complex causes.

The second section of the book describes how Republicans specifically and evangelical conservatives have applied their models to the country. It gives a wonderful breakdown of the Bush presidency's decisions and how they work with the model. It really gives great explanations as to why conservatives are threatened by homosexuality, evolution, science in general, and non-Christian religion (or no religion).

I cannot recommend this one more highly. If you are liberal it is a great way to be able to explain your own mind to others. If you are conservative but concerned about the way the country is going this book walks you through why you may be more supportive of progressive policies if you view them in a "big picture" way.

I've also read Moral Politics and Don't Think of an Elephant by this author. Moral Politics is more scholarly and longer but still good, while Elephant is more about changing the debate and setting up progressive frames to replace conservative ones.

On another note, signed up for another challenge. This is the 1% Well-Read Challenge. The idea is to get through 10 of the 1001 Books list by end of February, 2009. No list for this one either, i am just going to wing it. I am working, though not too diligently, on the list and am at 81. WooHoo!

05 May 2008

The Movie Marathon has Begun!

May is off to a great start. Hit Iron Man today after work since I had a rough weekend and couldn't make it out before. Iron Man wasn't a comic I ever read; I believe the character may have wandered into a few of my X-men comics at some point but I really know almost nothing about the comics. I loved the movie. Robert Downey Jr was wonderful; I am so glad they didn't cast some young dumb face in this role. For a comic book movie it had some great themes: redemption, the purpose of life, loyalty. Sure, the effects were cool but this isn't an effects-based movie. It is character driven. Definitely a 6.

Going to catch Speed Racer on IMAX Friday night.



03 May 2008

so

I am not going to call BF "BF" any more. I guess if i end up referring to him i guess I'll use "R". We've been separated for a while now but we are just in a sort of "holding pattern" with no resolution in sight. So I just have to accept it. I'm not good enough for him. He's almost definitely not going to want me around like i want him. I love him but he doesn't love me the same. He says he loves me and wants to spend time with me, and we do, and i just have to be content with that. that has to be good enough because I screwed up so badly i don't deserve anything better. I regret everything I've done for the last 9 months, every decision was wrong. This is just how it is.

01 May 2008

Girls Rock

So before i go on my mass media movie binge, diving into an orgy of bright lights, colors, superheroes, explosions, fast cars, talking animals and guys with whips, I decided to take in one more real movie. Another documentary, Girls Rock! is awesome! It is a film about the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, OR. Over a week of day camp, girls from 7-18 learn to play instruments, create a band, write songs, scream, dance and meet plenty of non-traditional female role models.

On the surface this could be just a fun, cool movie about kids making music. It is truly so much deeper. It is one thing to read the statistics about girls' self image and another to see a girl, maybe 10 years old, who is literally afraid to scream, to be loud. To hear the 15-yr old talk about how much she hates herself. To hear the 7-yr old's really dark lyrics or how sad the 8-yr old is because she's shunned at school. We get to see them change, open up and become free to be themselves. By the end the 8 yr old makes friends, the 15 yr old is ecstatic "I'm interesting! I'm amazing!" and I just cried. I hope these girls hang onto the experience when they go back home, that they use those memories to boost themselves up going forward.

So this is a 7. I recommend it to everyone but especially to anyone who has a daughter, no matter the age. My niece is just 3 and i am going to get this one for her parents at Christmas. As the group has a camp in Murfreesboro, just 20-odd miles south of Nashville, I also sent all the camp info to my mom and little sister, who's 13. It really looks like an incredible experience.