20 March 2011

With a Little Help by Cory Doctorow

[Note: I wrote this review while at work, mostly while listening to the book. As a result the tense varies between present and past. Whatever.]

I’m listening to this on audio. It was a free download and each story is read by a different performer. I listen to it while working in the back at the library. I must confess that since I’m at work while listening to this book, my attention is rarely focused properly upon the story, therefore I can listen to a story and not have any clue what it was about or who was in it. I have found that the reader has quite a lot to do with how well I pay attention to the story. The first one, meh. The Neil Gaiman-read story, “The Right Book,” caught my ear a bit, but the first one I *really* listened to was “Scroogled,” read by Wil Wheaton.

“Scroogled” is about what would happen if Google succumbed to evil. I’m not gonna lie, it made me second-guess my overwhelming reliance on Google products. The thought dies quickly of course, and I am currently writing this in Google Docs. So it goes.

“Human Readable” was very interesting. I have a feeling I would have understood it a bit more if I was listening to it in a place where I could give it more attention, like in the car rather than while working. Again, the reader may have had something to do with my interest. The first third is a love story and then the relationship ends when the woman chooses her career over her love life and moves to D.C. At that point the story follows her fight for getting a new law pushed through, an effort that puts her at odds with her ex. Very interesting how their relationship plays out throughout the course of the story. Also, there’s an Ewok.

I pretty much ignored “Liberation Spectrum” while working, but “Power Punctuation” was dead fun. It’s great and really fast-paced. The story is told from the point of view of a country bumpkin who finds himself moving up quickly within the corporate infrastructure though he doesn’t really understand what’s going on. The story is in the form of letters to his mom. I love his watch that gives him advice and feedback and tells him what he needs to do at work.

I had no idea what was happening in “Visit the Sins.” Something about being able to shut off while being awake and therefore not really being present. This is just the kind of story that would totally hold my interest if I weren’t busy doing actual work while listening to it. This happens all too often for this audiobook, sadly.

“Constitutional Crisis,” much like Felicia Day’s The Guild and some of Wil Wheaton’s blogs, makes me wish I actually knew a bit more about gaming. I never had a game system until about a year ago when I bought a Wii from a friend. It sits in the living-room mostly neglected unless I want to watch something on Netflix streaming. I didn’t play DnD growing up because I never knew anyone who did, though what I’ve learned about the game tells me that it’s totally something I would have been into in middle school. Totally.

“Pester Power” is another story that I only half listened to, yet I still managed to enjoy it. Same goes for “Chicken Little.” There was mention of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and a cartoon called “The Stupor Salesman.” This alone makes me dig the story, hahaha. As I picked up with the story the following Friday working in the back, I found that I gave it more attention. This may be because I was working on more or less mindless tasks at my desk enabling me to give more attention to anything I may be listening to.

“Epoch,” is flying right over my head as I read my email. The biggest thought on my brain is how hungry I am, making it hard to focus on anything else really. Thankfully, my lunch hour begins in fifteen minutes. Big Mac Spam sounds wonderfully awesome in that wonderfully frightening sort of way.

“I’m Only In It for the Money” is the afterword by Doctorow’s agent. I dig honesty in chapter/afterword titles. He talks about publishing economics and how it’s total bullshit for the most part. He also hopes that the model Doctorow uses will be helpful for the other authors he represents as well as for Cory in the future.

Parental Advisory

My parents came for a brief visit this weekend. It's the first time they stayed with me since I moved out over two years ago. Mom stayed with me once when I was living in the Heights, but never the both of them together. It was a fun time. Daddy noted that they really should have done this sooner. Duh.

We did a little bit o' shopping and then had dinner. The service was a bit slow, but the waitress got a good tip anyhow. (This always happens when I'm in charge of the tip: I tip a regular 20% even if it's undeserved and I always overtip cabbies because I have no idea what's appropriate for them. Oh well.) We came back here after that and watched a movie. Then Mom went off to bed and Daddy and I played cards--I clobbered him. We watched another movie and headed off to bed ourselves.

In the morning we had breakfast and chatted and all that. Another game was played and Daddy lost with an even larger score than the night before. Poor Daddy.

Then they left.

I finished reading a book.

Then I got bored.

So it goes.

15 March 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This isn't the sort of book I would ordinarily pick up but I noticed its popularity at the library and decided to make it our February book club selection. When I told the group that we would be reading it, one of the ladies got quite excited. She had already read it, and though she didn't plan on re-reading it, she very much looked forward to our discussion the following month.

I soon understood why. As I said, I would never have picked this book up on my own, but listening to the audiobook in my car had me wishing for longer stoplights and surreptitiously sitting an extra minute or two in the car before turning off the engine.

More people turned up for this book club than for those in the past months. Maybe it had something to do with the weather. Maybe it had something to do with word of mouth. I know of at least one regular who got a new lady to come based on the awesomeness of this book.  Most of these women experienced desegregation and the Civil Rights movement in their own lives. Granted, we're in Illinois, so nothing was so structured as in the South, with the Jim Crow laws. The women shared stories from their own lives and the discussion was indeed quite lively. I easily recommend this book to anyone, especially those like me for which it may be a bit out of the comfort zone.

P.S. "Watch out for the chocolate pie." -- The only input the woman who had already read it gave to those of us who hadn't read it yet. Hahaha.

11 March 2011

Curling up With a Good Book

Today's Bug Comic is me all over. I mean, who can sit in a normal position and rad comfortably? No one, that's who.


10 March 2011

Scat by Carl Hiaasen

I read this book in order to book talk it to the fifth graders at my school. It kind of reminds me of something Michael Crichton might write if he were an environmentalist what with the devious dealings of a corporation, but this book is funnier than Crichton's work. I liked the book and will probably check out more Hiaasen books in the future. Perhaps I'll even learn how to spell his name correctly on the first try. Back to the book talk--I never ended up giving it, somehow or another, but I wrote up some notes to read to the students anyhow:

The book opens in a classroom with a really tough and intimidating teacher, Mrs. Starch, giving a student named Duane (whose nickname is Smoke) a hard time about not having his homework done. The next day the class goes on a field trip to the Black Vine Swamp. Smoke doesn’t show up for the field trip. Smoke’s dad is an out-of-work piano player with a vicious pet Macaw that speaks in three different languages. Nick, a kid whose dad has been posted to combat duty in Iraq, is excited about the field trip and hopes to see an endangered panther while they’re in the swamp. He hears a scream, which he’s certain is a panther and then a fire breaks out. The students are rushed out of the swamp, away from danger, but Mrs. Starch goes back in for a girl’s inhaler. She never comes back out. Days later the police and fire marshal are still looking for her as well as whoever started the fire in the first place. Smoke is the prime suspect but there’s more going on than a simple case of arson. There’s an oil company drilling where it shouldn’t and a stranger who seems to be causing trouble of his own in the swamp. This book is both funny and suspenseful and definitely a lot of fun.

04 March 2011

Time Traveleres Never Die by Jack McDevitt

This book falls squarely into one of my greatest areas of interest--time travel. I think perhaps I watched Back to the Future too many times growing up, but not nearly as often as I watched Indiana Jones. Though I don’t seek out stories with Indy, I seek out stories with time travel quite frequently. Many of my fantasies and daydreams involve time travel (okay Indiana Jones too): Where and when I would travel? Who I would meet? How would I affect a change on history? A great icebreaker is to ask what person/band from the past would you like to see perform live? The resulting answer can lead to hours of conversation. Trust me.

Actually, I started this book on audio in my car sometime last summer and didn’t like the reader, so I stopped after just one disc. A few months later my dad bought the book (though I hadn’t mentioned it to him) and I recently borrowed it from him after he had finished reading it. Before I had begun the book, we got into a conversation about time travel (which is normal for us) and he used an example from the book about the father’s assistant having a heart attack, which was Time/The Universe’s way of preventing her from creating a paradox.

I have this theory about time travel, in which paradoxes cannot exist because if a person goes back in time, whatever he does has already happened by the time he steps into his time machine (or uses whatever mechanism) to travel back in time. In other words, his actions in the past merely fulfil history; they cannot skew it. A great example of this is in the first Terminator movie: Kyle Reese’s best friend is John Connor and Connor sends Reese back in time to protect his mother before he is born. This has to happen. It could not be anyone other than Reese. Reese has to be the one to protect Sarah Connor because he has to conceive John Connor with her in the past. Had he not done so, John Connor would never have existed. Reese fulfilled history in Terminator by traveling back in time. Jack McDevitt appears to subscribe to a similar theory of time travel in this book, though the characters do not initially understand this paradox-preventing view of time travel.

Shel and Dave are the two main characters. Shel’s dad has disappeared and Shel soon learns that he has gotten lost somewhere (somewhen?) in time. So they set out looking for Shel’s dad using the device of his design. The device is small, looking like a Q-pod, which I assume is similar to an iPod. No bulky TARDIS or DeLorean for these guys. This makes it easier to hide their method of travel from the people they encounter on their travels, which proves very very handy on some occasions. (The encounter with Cesare Borgia comes to mind.)

At some point the characters start just having fun with it. They can travel anywhere at any time and they take advantage of this, usually together, but occasionally on their own. At one point they settle down in their seats at the Globe Theatre and chat with the fellow sitting next to them and the play starts. Hamlet. Opening night. I shut the book at this moment and emailed my dad. I was just so jealous of Shel and Dave that I had to stop reading for a bit. Daddy told me that he had a different reaction: he just got more and more eager, his mind racing to what he would do if he had access to such an extraordinary device. Of course, this is what I’ve been doing all my life, but I remained in wonder of the descriptions in this book. There’s a scene at the death of Socrates which actually brought a tear or two to my eyes. I read Plato’s dialogue on the matter in college but I guarantee you I was never so moved by it as I was by the same story here. (Which is slightly blasphemous, I admit.)

As should be obvious by now, I highly recommend this book. It’s not only clever, it’s very well written and just a plain old damn good book. Read it!