30 May 2011

A Passion for Books

All weekend I helped some friends move. I was wiped out and spent a good bit of today reading. I finished up A Passion for Books, edited by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan. It is full of quotable bits. It is a collection of essays and stories and cartoons and editorials. The intro by Ray Bradbury is a wonderful start. The essays specifically on how to collect books weren't all that interesting to me and, as the book was published in 1999, i would imagine that much of the information is outdated, especially with the internet available now. But overall it is quite a nice book. a 5 from me.

29 May 2011

Old-School Spies

Friday night i finished The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John LeCarre. I was quite pleasantly surprised. I guess i had expected a 60's James Bond type story, with gadgets and tuxedos and yachts. Instead, the story is hard, and cold, and very truthful feeling.

Leamas is an agent for the British CIA. At the beginning of the book he sees his best secret agent shot down trying to cross the border between East and West Berlin. He's called back to London, the Circus as he calls it, where he gets stuck in the Banking section to coast until he can retire. Unfortunately, he starts drinking, perhaps even skimming cash, and gets fired. He spirals further downward until a Communist agent gives him a chance to defect.

The story went places i didn't expect and packed a lot of feeling into its barely 200 pages. It felt very dark and gray and twisted, in the abnormal psyche way, though the book is not without plot twists. Recommended.

So I give this a 6 and it counts for the 2011 Challenge under the "Way Back When" category. Also, since it's been on my TBR stack since August 2010 it works for the Off the Shelf challenge too.

26 May 2011

The City and The City

I finished China Mieville's The City and The City today. I only knew it was a detective story when i started and i really feel like it is a book best not spoiled. So I am going to pull the amazon blurb:
The city is Beszel, a rundown metropolis on the eastern edge of Europe. The other city is Ul Qoma, a modern Eastern European boomtown, despite being a bit of an international pariah. What the two cities share, and what they don't, is the deliciously evocative conundrum at the heart of China Mieville's The City & The City. Mieville is well known as a modern fantasist (and urbanist), but from book to book he's tried on different genres, and here he's fully hard-boiled, stripping down to a seen-it-all detective's voice that's wonderfully appropriate for this story of seen and unseen. His detective is Inspector Tyador Borlu, a cop in Beszel whose investigation of the murder of a young foreign woman takes him back and forth across the highly policed border to Ul Qoma to uncover a crime that threatens the delicate balance between the cities and, perhaps more so, Borlu's own dissolving sense of identity. In his tale of two cities, Mieville creates a world both fantastic and unsettlingly familiar, whose mysteries don't end with the solution of a murder --Tom Nessley

If you don't like twisty books, or detective stories, this one isn't for you. i looooved it, but it is a difficult book to talk about without giving something important away. a 6!

25 May 2011

The Future is Going to Rock!

One reason to read much of popular science writing, at least the physics/astronomy side, is that it is all so wonderfully optimistic. I want to be optimistic (see second half of blog title) but frequently just can't convince myself that the future will be better than today.

So i liked Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku. He explains the future trajectories of several different technologies. Things like computers, robots/AI, energy (quite a long chapter), nanotechnology. Can't wait until the walls are wired and transform into tv screens when necessary, when i can surf the web in my contact lenses (literally, the contacts will have wifi, projecting the internet into your eyeball), when i can ride that space elevator. We may be at a point where if we can just live long enough we may not have to die before we want to because in the next 30 years there will be so many advances in medicine that the length of your lifespan will be a personal decision. Imagine programmable matter, replicators, smart clothes that monitor your health, mag-lev self driving cars. Even without jetpacks, the future sounds awesome!

a 6, and it counts for the 2011 Challenge in the Hot off the Presses category.

24 May 2011

A Game of Thrones Reread

I finished up A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin this weekend. I have read this before, not sure when though. Probably around the time A Feast for Crows came out. I was prompted to reread it because I needed to reread the series for when the new book comes out in July as well as because the TV series is just so fun.

What can i say about this series? It is intricate, epic, sad, thrilling, funny, touching. I had forgotten bits, like exactly how Viserys died, but remembered other bits. I had remembered I loved Arya Stark and Jon Snow but I had forgotten how much i liked Tyrion Lannister.

This counts for the Once Upon a Time challenge as well as the TwentyEleven challenge for the "Back in the Day" category. I have a couple library books to finish then i will move on to A Clash of Kings. just 7 weeks until A Dance with Dragons! We will be getting a hard copy and a Kindle copy so that B and I can read them at the same time! He's reread the first 3 and working on A Feast for Crows right now.

23 May 2011

Unwritten: Dead Man's Knock

Yesterday i finished The Unwritten Volume 3: Dead Man's Knock by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. Many things become clear, or clearer at least, as Tommy and his friends Lizzie Hexam and Savoy, the reporter, go back to London in the hope of finding Tommy's father. The bad guys do bad things, Tommy finds some strength, and Lizzie gets a backstory.

Lizzie's backstory is great; it is a "choose your own adventure" style comic. It was quite fun and i reread that section three or four times to go through the different permutations. I am really enjoying this intertextual series. This gets a 6 from me and counts for the Once Upon a Time Challenge.

21 May 2011

The Scariest Book I've Ever Read.

Yesterday I finished what is now the scariest book I've ever read. Isn't it strange how what scares you changes?

The first book that was the scariest book ever was The Shining. I read it, in retrospect, way too early. I don't think i was past 11 and maybe a year or so younger. I was young enough that I kinda still thought that hedge animals might actually come to life and try to get me, that ghosts might lurk in the closets or on the playground. Adults are such a mystery to children at that age as well; the idea that my nice normal dad, that anyone's nice, normal dad, could go batshit crazy and try to kill you was also terrifying. Throw in that Stanley Kubrick shot of the blue twins in the hallway and you've got my nightmares.

When I was a few years older I read Red Dragon. That was then the scariest book I'd read. My fears at 13 revolved around sex and death, particularly bad death, and the Other from Outside who could sneak into your home and brutalize and murder you terrified me. Strangely, Silence of the Lambs wasn't as bad, perhaps because there are a couple strong female characters in that one.

Now, as an adult, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is the scariest book I've read. I won't rehash the plot but the idea of living in a totalitarian, Christian conservative patriarchy is about the most frightening thing i can think about. Scarier than war, or peak oil, driving everyone to the country to survive by subsistence farming. I love my father, and my brothers, and my boyfriend but i can't imagine being subject to them, forever, without any freedom or ability to act on my own.

Particularly frightening bits

  1. The President and the Congress are murdered which the military and the "Sons of Jacob" blame on Islamic terrorists, then use the threat of terrorism to suspend the Constitution
  2. Women are the property of their fathers, brothers or husbands. When a man has reached a high enough status he's given a wife, and if high enough he earns one or more Marthas, who are the housekeepers and menial servants, and a Handmaid.
  3. Women are not allowed to read. at all, not even the Bible. In fact, other than doing the daily food shopping, Offred doesn't seem to be allowed to do anything; it seems her job is to sit in her room until called upon for the Ceremony or her walks. I can't imagine how boring that would be. The Wives knit and garden and can visit each other while the Marthas do the cooking, cleaning and other household tasks. At least they have something to occupy their time.
  4. The mental rape experienced at the Red Center. The way her life is erased.
  5. The fact that throughout this book I was gauging myself: would i try to escape and risk death? could I be mentally strong enough to be the hypocrite that could mouth the right words and go through the motions without going crazy? would i be brave enough to be true to myself, knowing i may be executed or sent to die in a polluted wasteland? would i give up and just become one of them?
Extra super scary: the fact that this book is in the top 100 most challenged list of the ALA, mainly for being anti-Christian and its sexual content. Atheist rant: oh yes, i can see how all those conservative Christian republicans would be very worried about anything that makes patriarchy and enforced uniformity and belief look bad.

So, read this. a 7.

15 May 2011

The 13 Gun Salute

The Thirteen Gun Salute, by Patrick O'Brian, has jumped up to be one of my favorites in the series. It starts in a way that O'Brian hasn't used before; the story starts with the men beginning their voyage then flashes back to show how they ended up setting off. At first Aubrey is captaining the Surprise on a trip to South America where Maturin is going to try to foment some dissent against the Spanish. However, when word of the trip leaks out, Aubrey and Maturin are given a new mission: to take an envoy, Fox, to the West Indies. It is similar in structure to the third novel HMS Surprise but very different in execution. We see two different sides of Stephen Maturin: the naturalist, full of wonder as he communes with orangutans and the animals he finds in Malaysia and the spy, ruthless and almost cruel as he deals with enemies to the crown. I was absolutely shocked how the Andrew Wray storyline played out. This book is another that ends in a major cliffhanger; i wonder how the next will begin. a 7 from me and i highly highly recommend this series!

in other news, my reading has dropped off a bit. I'm reading A Game of Thrones on B's Kindle and listening to The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood in the car. After those two, i should have the next Aubrey-Maturin book to listen to, The Nutmeg of Consolation, and think i will try to read something short before going to A Clash Of Kings. Is anyone else watching the Game of Thrones show? B and I are loving it and both super excited about the new book out in July (smack in between our birthdays by the way); i believe we will be buying two copies.

I also signed up for the library's summer reading challenge. Reading five books between June 6 and July 16 and you get entered to win one of 2 Nooks or passes to various Nashville landmarks, most of which I've not seen. Last year the prizes were rain barrels and a tour of the water plant, neither of which i was particularly interested in.

B had the day off but the weather was gross so we didn't go to the Renaissance Festival. We did go to the Frist and see an exhibit on Vishnu which i believe i enjoyed more than he did. We may hit the fest on Memorial Day. Anyone already have Memorial Day plans?

09 May 2011

Maybe I should come up with a list of cute titles then i would have some to use when i can't think of a title


Last night I read First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth by Marc Kaufman. it is a fast 190 pages giving an overview on several subjects like astrobiology, extremeophiles on earth, the hunt for exoplanets and various SETI programs. If you watch a good bit of Nova, Science channel and Discovery channel most of the information won't be new. Kaufman has a good style that really conveys the wonder of the scientists and their excitement at the possibilities they want to uncover. While the book is not written specifically for the young adult group, i think it would be a good one for kids at that reading level with any interest in science. maybe even for the ones without an interest! a 5 from me.

Image from Nasa's Hubble Telescope.

07 May 2011

3 Plays

I found out my library lets you download audio books so I decided to try to listen to some at work. The actual book that i had never read didn't work well at all; i have to actually think at work now (yay) and couldn't follow it. I tried a Shakespeare play next and that worked wonderfully. I've either seen or read them before so i am familiar with the story that even if i wasn't paying super close attention i never got lost.

I listened to King Lear, which had Kenneth Branagh as the Fool. The sound effects were great, especially the storm scene. This isn't one of the plays i prefer but it was a good recording. Lear is just not a very good hero in my estimation, and the two bad daughters so awful, I've just never liked the story much.

Then I listened to Hamlet, a 1948 radio play recording remastered. I have to say i didn't like it. The acting was fine but the recording was weird. The volume varied a lot over the course of the scene and frequently dropped very low at the end of the scene and i'd miss the last line or so. Also, they used a narrator for parts, like the sword fight at the end, which just seemed weird.

Lastly, I listened to Macbeth. I felt this one was quite good. It is a play i've seen a couple times live as well as several movie versions. Pick up Kurosawa's, it is fabulous. The female characters in this one were particularly strong. The witches were great and the way they were recorded the witches sounded like they were all around you. Lady Macbeth was wonderfully crazy.

The biggest problem I had with all of these audio books is something easy to get rid of: each play was made up of two or three long tracks rather than many short ones. Why not have one track per scene? My player won't let me pause a track, listen to something different, then pick up the original track in the same place; i have to start that first track over or fast forward to the part i want. I had never really thought about that before as on most CD audio books the tracks are only 5 minutes long at most. Overall, I am glad i tried it out but i think i will save books for exercise, not work. I did knock out another 3 for the Shakespeare Challenge though!

02 May 2011

Thursday?

I finished The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton this weekend. I definitely did not understand it. The basic premise is that a policeman infiltrates an anarchist group, becoming one of the 7 leaders, each named after a day of the week. When one of the others reveals himself as a police officer too, they team up to take out the other members.

I think part of my problem is i know so little about the mindset of post Victorian but pre-WWI England. Anarchists? aren't they just like hippies? i guess not. I've read up on the book a bit now and apparently there's Christian allegory there, which i can see in retrospect. And it certainly had the nightmare aspect, in the sense that parts felt very disconnected and strange but not exactly scary. I feel like I was just not quite cool enough to get this one. a 4 and it counts for the Off the Shelf challeng.

01 May 2011

Audio Book and Pure Horror

This past week i finished Patrick O'Brian's The Letter of Marque. I thought it was a great installment. It wrapped up some plotlines that had been dangling for the last few books and set up several new ones. There are some great battles, particularly the cutting out of the Diane, which all raise Jack's reputation for luck to extraordinary heights. A very good volume in a fabulous series! a 7.

now, i have some graphic, disturbing images to share. at least, they are disturbing to book lovers!

B was rereading Game of Thrones. He often sits out on our porch and left the book out there by accident. here's what happens if you let a book get absolutely soaked through.

he said when he found it the book was running water like a sponge. the cover came off as it dried. This is actually a little better; when it was fully wet that curve in the spine was much worse because the book was actually fatter.

Yucky, right? We'll get another copy from McKay's.