Posts Tagged ‘books’

It’s time for SCIENCE!

December 2, 2010 - 5:08 pm No Comments

Well, almost.

First I’m going to share with you a delightful but simple wintertime treat (for those of you north of the equator) that you should enjoy while reading this blog.  I hope you like coffee.  And joy.  It doesn’t have to be covered in bees.

FIRST!  Set a cup of coffee to brew or press it or use your espresso maker or however ya fix your caffeine fix.

Get a cup, a teaspoon of sugar, and a packet of cocoa.  Preferably with marshmallows.  Dump cocoa and sugar in cup.  Pour coffee on top.

Scrape marshmallows off of top, eat, mix thoroughly, be happy.  Oh, yeah, then read the rest of this blog.  Which starts now.

I. Love. Science.  I was an English major with a creative writing concentration, I only took my mandatory amounts of science in high school I belonged to the English, drama, and jazz clubs, and I. Love. Science.  You will never not find me watching The Universe or crushing on Michio Kaku or wearing my Periodic Table of the Elements shirt or reading about Einstein.

Which brings me to installment’s book: The Quotable Einstein collected and edited by Alice Calaprice.

This is a quick read.  Yes, yes, it’s several hundred pages long, but it’s exactly what it purports to be: a collection of quotes by the man himself, Albert Einstein, who was generally a great guy except he was really bitter about women so don’t take anything he says about us at face value.  He was also a friend of Sigmund Freud so let’s blame his mom and move on (I’M KIDDING).

This collection paints a deeper picture of Einstein as a man who realised he was just a man and did his best to quell any sort of belief that he was anything more than human.  It also portrays how firmly Einstein stuck to his beliefs, many of which were unpopular at the time.  He believed women should be allowed to have abortions up to a certain point, much as we do now.  He believed homosexuality should not be punished, he loved America but saw how it suppressed it’s minorities and spoke out against it, and he was an avid pacifist, believing only in violence when it was to protect oneself.  This isn’t surprising giving the atmosphere he grew up in: pre-WWI Germany was already a hotbed of conflict, more so than many of us realise, and for Einstein, himself a Jew, it was imperative he leave that behind.  Indeed, he rescinded his German citizenship and became a Swiss citizen very early in life, before he was naturalised in US many years later.  For many of these beliefs, though weak and obvious they may seem now, he was suspected of Communism and questioned in the McCarthy hearings, to be subsequently dubbed by Mr. McCarthy as an “enemy of America.”  Incidentally, that was about the time that America decided they weren’t buying that shit anymore.  Einstein had already said previously in a letter, “I have never been a Communist.  But if I were, I would not be ashamed of it.”

The book also delves into more personal subjects: Einstein had an amazing sense of humor, loved music, played the violin, and enjoyed the company of his family pets very much.  Once, during a particularly bad rainstorm, his tabby “Tiger” was upset that he could not go outside.  Einstein commiserated with the creature, saying, “I know what’s wrong, dear fellow, but I don’t know how to turn it off.”  (That’s right, Doctor.  Everyone talks to cats.)  The volume also includes snippets of his letters to his first and second wife, including the period in between where his first marriage was falling apart and he sought comfort in an affair with his soon-to-be second wife, Elsa.  Clearly he was not a perfect man, but if he was, I doubt half of us would be able to relate to him at all, for as hard as that can be already.

My only complaint with the collection is that, in an effort to be thorough, Ms. Calaprice has included several iterations Einstein made of the same quote.  While it’s good to see an attempt to be sure that the most important quotations were included, there are several occasions where this gets distracting.  This is perhaps most obvious in the case of the “God does not place dice” quote.  While it is true that this is something Einstein believed firmly and repeated so often that Niels Borh was prompted to respond, “Stop telling God what to do!”, it is not necessary that the reader see every single instance wherein Einstein restated his belief.  The most eloquent or succinct iteration would have been just fine, and this is a problem which occurs with several other quotes in the book.  It is a problem which becomes very distracting very quickly, causing the reader to pause and say, “Wait, I caught that and the editor let it slide?” which is never something you want to hear said about a book.

Beyond that, though, the book is a good, clear insight into the mind of Einstein through the man’s own words, and I recommend it to anyone interested in his science, life, or personality.

With that, I leave you with these choice Einstein-ian quotes (and hopefully some of that cocoa left over):

  • “With fame I become more and more stupid, which of course is a very common phenomenon.”
  • “Personally, I experience the greatest degree of pleasure in having contact with works of art.  They furnish me with happy feelings of an intensity such as I cannot derive from other realms.”
  • “I have no special talents.  I am only passionately curious.”
  • “That worst outcrop of herd life, the military system, which I abhor…  this plague-spot of civilisation ought to be abolished with all possible speed.  Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism – how passionately I hate them!  How vile and despicable seems war to me!  I would rather be hacked into pieces than take park in such an abominable business.”
  • “I do not believe that civilisation will be wiped out in a war fought with the atomic bomb.  Perhaps two-thirds of the people on earth would be killed, but enough men  capable of thinking, and enough books, would be left to start out again, and civilisation could be restored.
  • When asked why people could discover atoms by not the means to control them: “That is simple, my friend: because politics is more difficult than physics.”

I have a policy.

July 8, 2010 - 11:30 am No Comments

If I’m reading a book, which are at about a standard of 300 pages, give or take, and I find myself about one-third of the way through with no real emotion or curiosity for the rest, I put it down.  I let it go.  It may sound fickle, but there are So Many Books and So Little Time.  Obviously, I’ll give consideration if a book is 700 pages long, and if it’s less than 200 I’ll probably finish it at any rate, having only lost between 1-3 hours on it.

I am (was) reading two books, and feel nothing for them.

The first one is, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, The Black Death by John Hatcher.  As I mentioned before, it’s very dry, and distant, with very little character development.  Now, it’s a history, mostly, and I really like reading flat-out history texts, so I didn’t think that would bother me terribly.

But here’s the thing. The full title of the novel is The Black Death: A Personal History. There’s a five(ish) page preface which is pretty much just Hatcher ranting about how this isn’t just a flat-out history text, and that he wanted to get a story involved.  That there had been enough histories written.

Mr. John Hatcher, you have failed.  I’m sorry.  I’m over 100 pages in, and the facts are great, and the details of how this one tiny English village related to the rest of the world is just splendid, but everyone knows all of that already.  I am over 100 pages in and I. do. not. care. who. lives. or. dies.  And when there are actual, real characters involved, you sort of have to care.

In sum, it’s not a novel.  It’s a strong history, a weak story, and I couldn’t tell you the first thing about any of the characters involved.  So I quit.

The second book on my I Don’t Give a Damn list is An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England by Brock Clarke.

I wanted to like this.  I wanted to like this soooo bad.  The title is clever, and it is not a metaphor.  The author’s name is Brock Clarke.  Brock fucking Clarke.  That’s up there with Chuck Norris.  The narrative is clever, it’s witty, it’s a really great picture of a washed-up guy who made some mistakes and is turning his life around, it’s a really fresh look at the idiosyncrasies of suburbian life.

But I’ve read this book before.  It was called A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore, except Arsonist’s Guide lacks all of the fantasy, and… well, okay, the death thing.  But mostly the fantasy.  And the readability.

It tries way too hard.  It feels like it’s going for the joke.  There is so much crammed into one long, whining paragraph that it’s more funny if you skip half of it.  It wants to feel incidental and hap-hazard and it kind of does but not in the good way.  It just feels sad, and you’re constantly embarrassed for this guy, not in a “NO DON’T GO IN THERE” way or a “YOU DIDN’T JUST SAY THAT” way, but a “OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE YES I’VE HEARD THIS BEFORE NO I PROMISE I GET IT PLEASE STOP” way.

It’s on the nose, and the whole point was to be tongue-in-cheek, which is a completely different part of the human face.

So I quit.

Next time! Brisingr by Christopher Paolini!  Would have done it this  time!  But it really didn’t fit the theme of the post!  Because I like it!

People of the Book and The Black Death

July 4, 2010 - 12:48 am No Comments

As promised, I did finally finish Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, and let me tell you, it’s just as amazing as my previous post, written at about the 2/3 read mark, would lead you to believe.  In an effort not to repeat myself, I’m actually going to skip reiterating the plot points and make mention of a few other things that really stood out to me.

First of all, this book is absolutely brimming with strong female characters.  For all of the pain and torment most of them have suffered, the female protagonists seem to be the strongest, most noble characters one could hope to come across in such a text.  They are not perfect by any means, and often they allow themselves to be weak, but that’s what makes them strong, in the end.

Second of all, the book is inspiring.  The sheer coming together of religions for a common cause, even though (or perhaps more because) it was completely a non-issue to those involved in the rescue of the book, the displays honesty, of respect, and of understanding are really an inspiration.  Even if all of the characters are fictional, the journey the book took, the number of times it had to be saved, is fact.  It really happened.  So whether or not the events went down exactly as Ms. Brooks speculated or not is only half of the story.

Third, it’s simply amazingly well-written. It switches easily, un-jarringly between main character Hanna Heath’s first-person slang-laden Australian internal dialogue to other POVs, sometimes third person, sometimes first.  It doesn’t interrupt the story at all, and actually serves to enhance it.  Point of view is something I’m really sensitive toward in books, so the fact that this didn’t throw me off or even bother me at all is a tribute to its fluidity.  In addition, Hanna’s internal narrative, when situations allow it to be, is absolutely hilarious, drawing away (but not discounting) some of the darkness from more heavy sections before and after her internal monologue.

I have to be honest: I picked up this book because the cover had glitter on it (oh don’t even pretend you’ve never done the same thing) and it ended up being one of my favorite books of 2010 so far.

The book I’m working on right now is John Hatcher’s The Black Death (you know, for lighter, summer reading material).

I’m about a 1/3 of the way in and I want to avoid saying anything which might change in the remaining two-hundred pages (but come on, it’s the goddamn plague; we know how it’s gonna end) but what I have to say is this: this book is so. incredibly. dry.  It’s an historical narrative, but it is very historical and very little narrative.  There is a non-fiction, italicized insert at the beginning of every chapter, and to be honest, with the way the actually prose is written, it feels kind of redundant.  It’s good for explanation, but I feel like if the narrative is this flat, the disclaimers could have some how been worked into the body of the story itself.

That being said, it’s not a bad writing style, it just feels like its doing itself a disservice by having blatantly un-story segments followed by the story, which is written in almost the same voice.  The content is heady and dark enough, pressing enough, to carry the story by itself, but I almost feel like it shouldn’t have to.

Finally, a note on the blog: I failed to mention this in the previous post, but I’ve instituted the use of categories; they can now be found in the sidebar.  So if you’re looking for something specific, you won’t have to fumble through all of my posts about food to get to a particular book review.

Stay tuned: next time I’ll be talking about An Arsonists’ Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England and, if I can just man-up and finish it, the third and final installment in Christopher Paolini’s Inheretance Trilogy, Brisingr.

Hope my Canadian friends had a great Canada Day, and I hope my American friends find an excuse to blow something up later today (they always do…).

A BLOG ON THIS BLOG ABOUT THIS BLOG

July 1, 2010 - 6:36 pm 4 Comments

Meta subject is meta.

As you may have noticed, this site now has a new layout!  Now, I really really like it, and if I use pictures as headers instead of trying to smoosh the text around it with alignment, even using book covers doesn’t look so bad (see: two posts down).  But I’m wondering, is it too narrow?  I’ve always been opposed to really narrow layouts; it kind of makes the reading seem chunky (does that makes sense?).  So let me know: what do you think?  Too narrow?  Is that orange too bright (actually, kiss off about the orange, I like it). Let me know in the comments.

If, alas and alack, the layout doesn’t work, fear not; I collected many more yesterday and can easily switch it out.  I just wanted something a little more summer-y and this was the only one I could find (well, okay, the only one I could find that didn’t FUCK UP MY ENTIRE SITE’S FORMATTING).

Also, I finished People of the Book today, so blog on that probably tomorrow.  Had to put Anansi Boys and History of Violence down for a little while since I have a whole group of books which must return to library land in 14 days which have not yet been read.

All for now; enjoy this gorgeous summer day (if you’re somewhere that it’s gorgeous, and also summer).

I have successfully renewed my library card; Neil Gaimen, graphic novels, and book restoration.

June 24, 2010 - 4:47 am 5 Comments

And, after paying off $16 in fines that I didn’t actually have but didn’t feel bad about because a) it was my fault that I didn’t know when my card expired and b) the library really needs that money right now anyway, I went and checked out some new books. I got most of the things which were recommended to me, but some where out (Ubik by Phillip K Dick for one) and some didn’t seem to exist (Carmichael’s Dog by R.M. Koster, which could be find neither in the Carnegie Library nor the inter-library loan system, so I did suggest they purchase it), but in the end I ended up with far too more books than I will have time to read and that is never a bad thing. This may have been due to the newly-proffered baskets a la very small shopping carts the library now supplies so that you don’t have to balance your books under your chin, which truly was the only think that kept me from taking out twenty books in the past, as I have a very small chin-to-crook-of-my-arm ratio, which only allows for about 6 hardbacks or 10 paperbacks.

Anansi Boys
Already I’ve delved into Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, one of the very few novels by him which I have not read (due to the fact that I previously thought it was permanently checked out, then found out that no, it just lived in the teen fiction section), and I am finding it very silly. I completely empathise with Fat Charlie, though perhaps not in such a severe way: my dad is that dad who is and will always be cooler than you and when you you throw a party all of your friends from high school show up begrudgingly so when they find out, no, he has a real job now and can’t come drinking on Thursday nights. So there’s that.

History of Violence
I also have started the graphic novel A History of Violence, written by John Wagner and illustrated by Vince Locke and though I’m only about 70 pages in, I expected to me much more grabbed by it than I am being (no I have not seen the movie but I do want to, mostly because I would let Viggo Mortenson do horrible things to me). Nothing really against it so far, I’m just the type who has to get into things early on or else I shove them in a corner and let them starve (this is why I can’t have children). For something that’s reputedly a psychological thriller and also, um, a graphic novel, I thought I would be a lot more into it by now. But we’ll see.

People of the Book

And finally, I’m still reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks who won the Pulitzer for her work, March.  It is truly amazing.  It’s a fictional story about the Sarajevo Haggadah, an early Jewish seder book, rare and priceless in that it was very finely made and included illustrations (haggadahs are usually boring and utilitarian, my Gentile friends, and nearly no Jewish books were illustrated because for a very long time that was taboo, much as most Muslims consider images of  the prophet Mohammad, PBUH, to be false idolatry).  It tells how the book was created, where various stains and markings on the book come from, and how the book came to be bound in it’s current form, not to mention how it survived the Bosnian War, rescued many times over by people of all faiths, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not so much (one story line involves a very alcoholic Vatican priest and a Rabbi with a severe gambling problem).  The main plot, if you will, is about the woman restoring the book in the present day, who reminds me very much of Temperance Brennan, played by Emily Deschanel of Bones fame.  But, for as into this book as I may be, it does get very heavy and dark at times, and I had to put it away for a while because I was absolutely overcome by one of the stories of persecution of the Jews during the Inquisition.  There’s a particularly graphic depiction of a form of torture which involves making a person swallow a very long piece of linen inch by inch and then pulling it back out of them, and I had to take a breather.  That surprised me.  I’m usually very okay with violence and horror and just god-awful gore and nonsense, but that was a bit much.  When I am through, however, this book will probably have a whole blog dedicated to it (as it’s shaping up to already) because it is just so wonderfully crafted.

That’s it for me for now; I’ve gotten about six hours of sleep in the past two days so I’m going to try to catch some shut-eye.  See you all on the morrow.

Reblogged for truth.

June 21, 2010 - 7:57 pm 1 Comment

Censorship causes blindness.

That wonderfully clever image right there was taken (stolen, whatever) from The Book Project, an amazing book-themed blog by my dear friend @ReinaDeLaIsla (yes, all of my friends live on Twitter). Her whole blog features censored or challenged books, including a lot of dystopian fiction which is one of my favorites. If you enjoy what you see here, I really suggest you go check out her blog. I’m currently scouring it right now for more current reading material.

Didn’t get to make it to the library today, but tomorrow, oooooh, tomorrow. Books.

Sug-freaking-gestions!

June 21, 2010 - 1:45 am 4 Comments

Say the subject cheerfully, not angrily.

But yes. Tomorrow I am renewing my library card and planning to take out very few books of my own choosing, since I want to get some suggestions from you! While I’m really not too picky when it comes to genre on the whole, I do like sci-fi, historical fiction, things which will induce nightmares, and things about science (which is different than sci-fi in that I mean non-fiction). But really, the only things I am opposed to (and not even strongly if the rest of the reading is good) are things written in the first person (I’m a freak), modern romance, and fluff.

@mylifeasateacup has suggested the works of Mieville to me, so those will probably be what I snag once I do get my reading privileges invoked.

Please note that my library also has a wide array of graphic novels and magazines (as well as music and movies and a freaking cafe, god I love Carnegie Main) so don’t hesitate if that’s what’s on your mind.

And finally, if you’re from the Pittsburgh area (or even if you’re not), please be aware that our libraries are about to suffer some major blows in funding due to bureaucratic bullshit, so if you have the time, please go to http://www.carnegielibrary.org and do what you can. You don’t even need money. Write a letter. Anything. Please.

Thanks, dudes and dudettes!

Books and books and books.

May 5, 2010 - 11:44 am 3 Comments

As you may or may not have assumed by the title, I myself am a huge fan of reading. Thanks to the wonderfully magnificent Kristen at http://carnivaloftherandom.blogspot.com (be more awesome, curb the suckage), who I am constantly pleased to have as a friend, I’ve decided, since I can rarely otherwise decide on a blog-worthy topic lest I go on and on about what I had for lunch, I shall blog about the myriad books I rescue from the library.

The thing being.

I rarely have much to say about most books, unless they’re particularly good (or particularly bad). As such, I’ve devised a system. Each time a receive a book, be it from the library, as a gift, or actually having spent my hard-earned money, I’ll update a list. Books that are particularly good (or bad) will be blogged about on the whole; otherwise, I will simply update the list with the title, author, a brief summary, general thoughts, and whether or not you should give it a look-see.

I’ll split the list up into four categories: Currently Reading (self-explanatory), Finished (also pretty clear), Back to the Bin (books I wasn’t interested in enough to continue reading after 50 or so pages), or Waitlisted (books I’ve got with me but haven’t yet started). I’m including the Waitlisted category in case I pick up something good that you, yes you, reader, recognize and can leave a comment like “Make sure you get to (whatever book),” since a lot of the time Waitlisted books end up going back to the library if I can’t get to them quickly enough.  I typically take out way more books than I’ll ever have time to read; that way, if a disproportionate number of them are Back to the Bin or shorter than normal, I don’t have to sit around twiddling my thumbs should I actually run out of them.

I believe I’m also going to start doing the same thing with albums, but that’s another blog post for another day.

So, without further adieu, here is this installment’s list:

Currently Reading

  • *Omega Minor by Paul Verhaeghen: I’ll be honest, I’m eighty pages in and I’m not really sure what this book is about.  So far, we’ve covered Nazis, quantum physics, sex, behavioural psych, and lush descriptions of the German country side.  That being said, this book is almost 700 pages long with some of the tiniest print I’ve ever seen.  It’s huge, it’s elaborate, and it has a tendency to digress.  Of course, I love it.  If you’re into that sort of thing, give it a good, strong chance, but if you can’t abide by translations, pointless banter, or a hearty helping of the f-word, pass it up.
  • *Dagon and Other Macabre Tales by H.P. Lovecraft:  Look, it’s Lovecraft, do I really have to get into this?  Of course, this is a collection of his less-popular works, so I’m actually probably going to give it a good, solid review when I’m through with it.  Until that point, it’s Lovecraft.
  • *Halting State by Charless Stross:  I’m really enjoying this.  The plot involves the theft of the contents of a bank in a World of Warcraft-esque world called Avalon Four, and how, since these games are so invasive to such a wide and important market, this could drastically upset a real-world economy.  It’s set a bit in the future, has lots of UK slang, and is in the second person.  If nothing else, it’s a really strange read, with a lot of good, nerdy humour.

Finished

  • *Mister B. Gone by Clive Barker:  If the words “Clive Barker” didn’t get you, then the opening sentence should: “BURN THIS BOOK.”  A story told by the world’s most incompetent demon, who is the book.  That’s right.  Is the book.  If I say too much more, I’ll give something away, for sure, so all I can say is, if you have a free few hours (that’s all it took me, both because it’s not terribly long and also because I didn’t put it down for hour-long stretches), read it.  It’s worth it.  It’s funny as hell.  This may get a full review at a later date, if I can find a way to do it without spoiling the whole thing.
  • *The Neverending Story by Michael Ende: I had a deprived childhood.  I’d never seen the movie.  I’d never read the book.  This was sitting on the shelf, I nabbed it, and finished it quickly.  It’s a story (for those of you who were as deprived as me) about a world known as Fantastica and how humans influence this world, and vice-versa.  I will say this: the first half of the book, the story of Atreyu, was one of the most compelling pieces of YA fiction I have ever read.  The second half, the story of Bastian, I could have taken or left.  The kid is simply too trite and whiny, and in such a fashion that he makes you want to strangle him.  Avoiding as much of a spoiler as I can (once again, for the six people who’ve never seen the movie), I almost wanted him to fail.  I wanted someone or something to kill him just so I could say, “HAH! SEE? YOU’RE A FUCKING FAILURE OF A HUMAN BEING.”  Maybe the movie is different, I still haven’t seen it.  I say read it, but if you find yourself in the second part and completely unmoved to finish it, don’t bother.  You’re not missing much.

Back to the Bin

  • *Sorceress by Lisa Jackson: This was a smutty romance, so I wasn’t expecting much.  It’s not even that the story was particularly bad; on the contrary, it could have been a legitimate novel if the author’s style wasn’t so amateurish, the characters so flat and obvious (and for those of you who think all romance is that way, you’re sorely mistaken, I promise).  Actually made it a hundred pages in, then put it down one night before bed, and never cared to pick it up again.
  • *The One Marvelous Thing by Rikki Ducornet:  A collection of short-stories.  Not much bad to say, her style just didn’t tickle my fancy.  Too abridged.

Waitlisted

  • *The Word of God by Thomas M. Disch: This man wrote The Brave Little Toaster.  I didn’t know there was a book.
  • *A Visible Darkness by Michael Gregorio
  • *Unfinished Tales (Of Numenor and Middle Earth) by J.R.R. Tolkien: Yes. I’m one of those people.
  • *The Endless Forest by Sara Donati
  • *Angel Time by Anne Rice: Her latest work.  Got a few pages in, but wasn’t in the mood.  It feels very like The Witching Hour, at least stylistically.  Will try again later, but it goes back to the library today.

All for now! More books (and music and movies, very possibly) later!

[EDIT: On a style note: apparently bullet points don't work in this theme, so the asterisks are there as place keepers so I don't have to edit this post should I change the theme.]