Why hello, there. So there was a storm in the city this week. I don’t think I can say much about it that hasn’t been said.1 So instead, here’s what I was doing in the hours before Sandy hit: I was at Books of Wonder, getting a chance to tell Bruce Coville that his books shaped my childhood, changed my life, and meant the world to me.
Many years ago I wrote an overview review of some of his books that meant the most to me as a kid. Shortly after I wrote that blog entry, I went about tracking down some of the ones that I’d lost over the years — specifically the AI Gang trilogy, and upon rereading them, I remembered exactly how much I loved them and how viscerally I identified with Wendy as a kid. (Short! Smart! Loud! Messy! Oversized sweatshirts! Not a morning person!), which was why, out of the 32 Coville novels still on my shelf, I brought those to the signing.
Anyway. There are two points to this blog entry:
1) The AI Gang trilogy has been out of print for decades, but Mr. Coville let me know he’s just released them as ebooks. They’re pretty cheap and definitely worth a read, if you enjoy stories about how a gang of smart kids saves the world. If you read this blog, that’s very likely up your alley. JUST SAYIN’.
2) Getting to meet a writer whose books I have been reading and loving literally since I learned to read was an amazing, overwhelming experience (he was super, super nice, btw, of course), and one I probably would not have had if not for Books of Wonder, an awesome store that is currently seeking some financial help. For more on how great the store is, here’s Jess’s blog entry. I hope you’ll consider donating.
#20: The Maze Runner by James Dashner: it’s YA scifi, so my review is over at AV. But even that’s pretty short, because I just didn’t have much to say about this one. Which I know is odd, because I’m generally supremely long-winded.
The Five Fists of Science by Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders. A rather steampunky graphic novel in which Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla and others team up to use science! to fight Thomas Edison and some demons. I really love the concept of this, and wish I had any clue what happened in the last third. Someday I could write a very long post about how the comic/graphic novel format doesn’t really work for me as a reader, through no fault or weakness of its own. But that was in full force here: when 95% of the cast is middle-aged white guys in tweed suits, I can’t tell who’s who. The climax was done in very dark, low-contrast colors and I couldn’t figure out what was happening. But with that said, I was entertained. I’ve always been a Tesla fan, and loved seeing his quirks, and basically all of Twain’s dialogue made me laugh.
Jurassic Park by Michael Chrichton. Maybe I’m skewed because I knew this is a movie long before picking up the book (though not a movie I know well, I’ve only seen it once, many years ago), but this read to me like a book written specifically to be adapted into a movie. Which is fine! It was incredibly readable and I mostly enjoyed it, with the note that, while it seems kind of silly to complain about gender roles in a book that’s more than 20 years old now, there were only two female characters who appeared in more than one scene. One was the botanist, who seemed to know her stuff, but who didn’t do anything for the plot except look sexy and act as the make-shift nurse because… I guess none of the guys could do that? The other was Lex, the little girl, who was horrible. The boy was smart and inquisitive, loved dinosaurs, and was able to get them all out of trouble, or at least hold things steady, when necessary; Lex was obnoxious, threw tantrums, got them further into trouble, and even after seeing people get mauled and killed and having been almost killed herself she never seemed to realize that maybe being quiet was important. Aside from hating her as a character, I was pretty annoyed by the gender roles, and put off by the overwrought, “Look what your science has wrought!” moral. But on the plus side: dinosaurs, yay!
Hey, I really like long post titles!
Will you all think I’m shallow if I say I don’t read much non-fiction? I mostly read for entertainment, and about 80% of my reading is done on the subway as I commute to/from work. That means that, in the morning, I’m bleary-eyed and haven’t yet had coffee (it’s all I can do to manage simple things like getting out of bed, showering, and getting dressed for the first 45 minutes or so after I wake up; coffee gets made and consumed at work), so it’s much easier to just stick on my iPod and stare at the wall than it is to open a book. On the way home, it’s about a 50/50 shot whether I want to open a book or just play games on my iPod. So the book has to have really caught my attention to make me want to crack it open at all.
Fiction holds a serious advantage over non-fiction in that regard. Most fiction — stories, basically — is designed to make you want to come back to it, to wonder what will happen the characters and if it’s all going to turn out okay in the end. Wondering about those things makes me more likely to fight my internal laziness and pick up the book. Non-fiction, on the other hand, has to be something I’m really interested in, or very compellingly presented (or both) to get to that point.
For example — or, I guess, non-example — Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past by Ray Raphael. I picked this up because it looked interesting. And it was! But the thing is, I know how the Revolutionary War ended1 so there weren’t a lot of narrative questions gripping me and bringing me back for page after page. I enjoyed it well enough. I quite liked some of the myths that Raphael dissected, and getting a glimpse at the actual events they were based on. (Though I wasn’t 100% sold on the book’s main conceit, that the stories that have evolved hide the real and very patriotic acts that led to the country’s founding; some of the arguments towards that were more convincing than others, but overall the actual history segments of the book were more interesting to me than the arguments made about patriotism.)
But ultimately… I don’t know. I feel bad even putting out there that I didn’t finish it, because the book was interesting! I feel comfortable giving it 3 stars on GoodReads, regardless! But after a couple weeks during which I kept it in my purse, but never pulled it out, I decided it was time to set it aside and move on. (This is not helped by my own neurotic rule of reading only one book at a time; growing up, if I read multiple things at once, I tended to get the characters and plots confused, which made things pretty difficult. So basically, for a couple weeks I wasn’t reading this, but wouldn’t let myself read anything else, and so didn’t read anything at all. To combat this, I’m confessing it to the internet, and moving right along with my life.)
On the other hand, my sister handed me Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels a few days ago, and I devoured it. I’ve only read a handful of romance novels, and only occasionally skim the Smart Bitches website, but I do love good media and cultural analyses. And despite its very casual tone, this book is that. (In fact, I loved its casual tone. I tend to be turned off by a Look How Academic And Serious This Book Is tone.) The book gets into sex and sexuality as presented by romance novels, in a wider cultural scope — for example, the way rape in romance novels fell out of common use with the rise of the “No means no” mantra, and how that changed the genre as a whole. They delve quickly into race and the segregation of African-American romance novels, which I wish they’d spent more time on. And they get into the structure of most of the books, which I looooooooove. (I am kind of obsessed with narrative structure. IDK.)
The book included a lot of frills (games, puzzles, illustrations) that I don’t think it needed, but they didn’t take away from it, really. Overall, it was smart and very entertaining, and reminded me of why I was an American Studies major, back in the day. It’s an insightful look at a part of the culture that is often dismissed, and it not only looks at romance, it spends a lot of time on why the genre is dismissed, and why people the people who love it embrace it anyway.
- Hint: Rebels won. USA! USA! … Errrr, I’ve been watching a lot of Olympics lately. Sorry. ↩
I’ve been on vacation for a few days, and it has been wonderful. This is my first-ever “adult” vacation, which is not nearly as racy as it sounds; all I mean is that it’s the first one I’ve ever planned and paid for by myself. I took a few days off of work, flew down to Georgia, and visited one of my best friends. (Also the World of Coke. It was like returning to the mothership. I am basically a walking brand advertisement to begin with…)
Anyway, another lovely thing about travel-heavy vacation? Hours of uninterrupted reading time! Aside from the books in my previous post, I also finished Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld and reviewed it over at AV. Enjoy!
As for me, back to work tomorrow. Boo. But at least I feel nicely recharged!
Most of the books I read are either not things I have enough thoughts on to bother writing reviews of, or fold into the genres we review at AV. But here are a couple that don’t, that are worth talking about:
Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma
Fade-in on thirteen-year-old Dani Callanzano. It’s the summer before eighth grade, and Dani’s stuck in her nowhere mountain town with only her favorite noir mysteries at the Little Art Movie Theatre to keep her company. But when a big secret invades the scene in real life, Dani decides to bring the truth to light.
Full disclosure: I picked this book up because the author, Nova Ren Suma, is a lovely person who I know from a forum and have met for coffee once. Generally, when browsing, I lean more towards scifi/fantasy (shock, I know), but I think I probably would have picked up Dani regardless, because the title is catchy, the cover is gorgeous, and the idea of a tween girl heroine who loves noir movies is awesome.1
The book stands up. It’s very voice-y, and Dani is a great character. She’s interesting, but not always very nice, striking a great balance as a character who was often selfish and inconsiderate, but still likable; whose motivations are always clear and make her bad behavior understandable, even sympathetic. But what really stood out to me were two elements. First, the setting, a small town in upstate NY. Hey, I’m from one of those! I kept smiling at the descriptions throughout. My town is actually even more rural and much smaller than Dani’s, but it’s also a town where all the adults know who all of the kids are, where someone might see you when you’re hiding and call your mom because everyone knows everyone’s business.
Then there was Taylor. Taylor had been Dani’s best friend growing up, but they’d grown apart; Taylor was kind of weird and nerdy, and Dani was frustrated with her for not getting that maybe the friendship was past its sell-by date. The friendship story arch was great, but it also made me cringe and have to read through my fingers like I was watching a horror movie, because I am Taylor. Or at least, I was when I was in middle school.
Actually, that got me thinking: I’ve always read scifi/fantasy as escapism, and someday I’ll probably write a much longer post on that.2 But reading about the relationship between Dani and Taylor drove that home to me: genre fiction is much further removed from my own experiences, and I’m much more comfortable reading it. But the fact that it made me cringe is, I think, a testament to how right the book gets things.
Liar, by Justine Larbalestier
I was born with a light covering of fur.
After three days it had all fallen off, but the damage was done. My mother stopped trusting my father because it was a family condition he had not told her about. One of many omissions and lies.
My father is a liar and so am I.
But I’m going to stop. I have to stop.
I will tell you my story and I will tell it straight. No lies, no omissions.
That’s my promise.
This time I truly mean it.
There isn’t nearly as much to say about this one. Or rather, there is. There’s lots and lots to say about it, because I’m not going to.
The author put out a plea for people not to give out — or read — spoilers. I sort of shrugged that off originally; I don’t really seek spoilers, but I’m generally indifferent when I stumble upon them.
You don’t want to be spoiled for Liar.
It’s a psychological thriller, but not at all what I expected going into it, even though I’ve been reading the author’s blog since before she began writing it and had also read all of the promo material. All of the elements within it are laid down brilliantly; I can’t say I saw the (first) big twist coming, but there was enough there that, blown away as I was, it also all made sense. The rest of it? I’m still trying to pin down what was truth and what was lie, and who actually committed the crime.
I finished it and handed it to my best friend almost immediately, so she could read it and I’d have someone to discuss the ending with. It’s already on my reread list. And, having read nearly everything else by Larbalestier,3 I feel pretty confident in saying it’s her best book.
- I’ve always found noir to be a really intriguing genre, and one I’ve always wanted to know more about; the book also reminded me that I should really look into that sometime. ↩
- Okay, given my track record, I probably won’t. ↩
- I’m making my way through her non-fiction about scifi, and haven’t read the short story collection she edited, but have read everything else. ↩