Monday, December 24, 2007

Beyond the Wall

I haven't been reading much lately. Pretty much since Thanksgiving I've been so busy and just out of sorts so no book sounded like anything I wanted to read. I did quite a lot of Sudoku and got myself totally addicted to watching Heroes on Netflix, but no books.
But I've been feeling better and life has slowed down now that school is out, all the shopping us done, Ryan's birthday is over, and all I have to do now is cook Christmas dinner,(currently in the oven) and enjoy the fruits of all my work.
So, in the midst of my stress I went to the library and got a few books, to depressurize with. This is the first one I've read and while it was interesting, it didn't help my stress much. The book is sort of an autobiography of a person who was moderately autistic as a small child, and has gradually improved, so now would be classified as having Asperger's Syndrome, the same thing that Ryan has.
The subtitle is "Personal experiences with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome." I have been researching more about Asperger's because I want to help Ryan and the rest of the family as much as I can. But sometimes reading these books I just feel overwhelmed with all the stuff that I am not doing, or look, this guy's mother did this good thing or similar feelings. I am so glad for David, who can give me a better sense of perspective when these type of feelings threaten to overwhelm me.
The most interesting aspect of this book was his progression. He was severely autistic enough that as a very young child his parents were advised to put him in an institution. Which they did not, even though it was very difficult for them as they also had two other children, one who was moderately retarded.
He learned to talk, learned to function enough to go to regular public school, but was bullied horribly in elementary. His life got progressively better as he has gotten older. The interesting thing to me about Asperger's and many forms of autism is that the people who have these conditions can get better. Though that is not the right terminology. They aren't sick, or even disabled in the sense we usually think of, they are just different. They feel differently, sense things differently and as far as we can tell, even think differently than the majority of people. So the process of "getting better" is really one of assimilation and learning to deal with the preferences of the majority population.
I can see that in Ryan. There is nothing "wrong" with him, he just doesn't think or process the way I expect him to. Dealing with him involves re-examining a lot of assumptions of how we react and think. Assumptions that are very deeply held, until Ryan asks "Why?"

The Book of Fate

I had actually forgotten about this one, but I found it when I was cleaning out under the bed. That's where a lot of my books end up. I was having a mommy's night out in Nov. and the book stores close early in the winter, the library closed early so I ended up buying a book from the grocery store, which has such a great selection of the kind of books that I read.
This was one of those political thrillers, sort of like Tom Clancy but without the extra hundred pages of weapon and tech. specifications. It was also another one of those blame the Masons for everything types,. though that was just a cover for the real bad guys, who were normal bad spy guys.
So it was a book, pretty suspenseful but nothing extra ordinary either. I think I've read some other ones by this author, but I'm not sure. In fact, when I bought this one it took me probably fifty pages to remember that I had already read this one, and relatively recently too. So not one of the most memorable things I've ever read.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Guards! Guards!

Have I mentioned before that I really like Terry Pratchett? I almost always have a Pratchett novel in mid-read somewhere lying around.
This one is good starting from the dedication:

They may be called the Palace Guard, the City Guard, or the Patrol.
Whatever the name, their purpose in any work of heroic fantasy is identical: it
is, round about Chapter Three (or ten minutes into the film) to rush into the
room, attack the hero one at a time, and be slaughtered. No one ever asks
them if they wanted to.
This book is dedicated to those fine men.


And a few other good quotes:
Say what you liked about the people of Ankh-Morpork, they had always been
staunchly independent, yielding to no man their right to rob, defraud,
embezzle and murder on an equal basis. This seemed absolutely right, to Vimes' way of thinking. There was no difference at all between the richest man and the poorest beggar, apart from the fact that the former had lots of money, food, power, fine clothes and good health. But at least he wasn't any better. Just richer, fatter, more powerful, better dressed and healthier.
The food was good solid stuff for a cold morning, all calories and fat and
protein and maybe a vitamin crying softly because it was all alone.

Guards! Guards! Terry Pratchett. Harper Torch. 1989

The Whispered Secret

This is the second of the Leven Thumps books. I don't know how many there are. I think our library has at least one more. This one was very like the first book.
I still like the books, though a stylistic detail is starting to bug me. The author likes to use a lot of simile and metaphor in his writing, to the point it gets distracting. A few well placed unusual metaphors make a book seem interesting and new; a constant barrage of them gets old after a while.
There were some details I particularly enjoyed: an almost quote of scripture (though it was in an odd place); Leven growing because "offings grow through experience"; and Geff's most horrifying experience was being placed in Clover's pocket. Those references don't make any sense unless you have read the book, at least the first one, but I don't want to write enough to explain them.
While moderately enjoyable, this is definitely more of a children's book and series.

Leven Thumps and the Whispered Secret. Obert Skye. Shadow Mountain. 2006

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Stuff of Thought

This was really interesting. The author is a professor of psychology at Harvard. He has written a number of other books about language and how it works. This one was about how language reflects how our brains work.
I felt like I really learned a lot about the ordering of language. The way he groups categories of nouns, verbs, etc. according to how they are used and how they can be formed into sentences makes much more sense than the traditional ways of organizing language that you find in a prescriptive grammar, or that we all learned in school. In fact, one of my lowest grades was in my required English grammar class at BYU.
I don't think I'm going to go into how cause and effect seems to be mirrored in language, and not just English, but many others. Mostly because I would have to read the book again in order to properly summarize it. So if you are interested, look this one up in your own library.
There was one point I really liked. He has a chapter discussing swearing; why, how, common themes among all languages. One point he made that I had wondered about was why swearing is so forceful and unpleasant. He said that when a person swears, he forces anyone in hearing range to think about something disgusting or extremely unpleasant. It is a means of social aggression, which is why young men, in the "swagger" phase, are notorious for using it. He also said something which I have thought for a long time, but he said it so nicely:

Language has often been called a weapon, and people should be mindful about
where to aim it and when to fire. The common denominator of taboo words is
the act of forcing a disagreeable thought on someone, and it's worth considering
how often one really wants one's audience to be reminded of excrement, urine,
and exploitative sex. Even in its mildest form, intended only to keep the
listener's attention, the lazy use of profanity can feel like a series of jabs
in the ribs. They are annoying to the listener, and a confession by the
speaker that he can think of no other way to make his words worth attending
to. It's all the more damning for writers, who have the luxury of choosing
their words off-line from the half-million-word phantasmagoria of the English
lexicon.

The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. Steven Pinker. Viking. 2007

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hatch's Order of Magnitude

I actually bought this book for Ryan, because he is constantly asking what is the biggest, smallest, best, worse, whatever. It is basically a book of lists, starting from one end of a scale and moving to the other. For example: Amount of Sleep
  1. Wink
  2. Power nod
  3. Power nap
  4. Afternoon nap
  5. REM cycle
  6. A good night's rest
  7. Sleep like the dead
  8. Coma
  9. Permanent vegetative state
  10. The Big Sleep

So stuff like that, completely arbitrary because it is made up by the author with a minimum of research, but I thought he would like it. But David noticed some categories I had missed while browsing, so I needed to go through it more closely, with a black Sharpie in hand, e.g. levels of chastity, breast size, and levels of affection, male and female. So I will remove a few pages and hope he doesn't mind a few black marks in his book.

So it is included in this list because I have now read every word including some that no one will read again out of this particular volume.

Hatch's Order of Magnitude: Methodical Rankings of the Commonplace and the Incredible for Daily reference, by a Man of Extraordinary Genius and Impeccable Taste. Michael Hatch. Writer's Digest Books. 2007

No Graves as Yet

This is a novel set just before WWI and while on the surface it was a mystery, it also explores the idea of what kind of peace would be worse than entering a war.
A young man's parents are killed as they are traveling. His brother reveals that the father was bringing a document to him; one that would reveal a terrible plot that would destroy England and blot its honor forever. So the plot revolves not only around who killed the parents, but what is this terrible plot and how does it relate to the events in Yugoslavia. The murder of the parents happens the same day that Archduke Ferdinand was killed and sparked the beginnings of WWI.
It is interesting to me to read these type of novels that take place just before an important event. We all know what happened in the end, but the characters fret and worry about whether Britain will enter the war, and think the "Irish Question" is more important. Afterward it is hard to remember the how things were before the war changed everything.
I have been interested in British history and WWI really changed a way of life more that any other war. Think Mary Poppins. That smug, secure, upper class existence was gone after the war, then the depression, then the next war. The first half of the Twentieth Century was cataclysmic to England. Things changed dramatically in the US too, but not as fast, and we were going up. Great Britain was losing a lot of her institutions, social habits and a lot of her empire.
This is the first in a series. I will probably read the others too. I like Anne Perry. She has led a very interesting life and now she is LDS. She writes a monthly column on the LDS website Meridian that I read occasionally.

No Graves as Yet. Anne Perry. Ballantine Books. 2003

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Time Traveler's Wife

This is not the type of book I usually get. But I was at the library by myself so I took a few minutes and read it for a while and got hooked. I don't usually read relationship driven novels because they are usually an exploration of how two people can send each other over the edge. Or if not dwelling on unpleasant people who make terrible choices, they are overly sentimental and saccharine. You know, killing people off unexpectedly so as to make you cry and feel like you've had an emotional experience.
Anyway, this book talks about a man who is an involuntary time traveler. It is sort of like an epileptic seizure, caused by stress usually. He disappears from where he is and reappears some when else; naked and penniless because nothing travels with him.
He meets a girl when he is 28 and she is 20, they fall in love, and marry. The complication is that after this point, when she becomes important to him, he begins time traveling back to her childhood. So he meets her when he is 28 and she is 20, she meets him when she is 6 and he is 36. This could have been done in so many wrong ways but it is handled beautifully, for the most part. He helps her with her homework, teaches her chess, refuses to say anything about the future and tries to be patient.
She does not want to be patient and so some of the tension of the novel begins. It follows a more or less chronological line, as Henry bounces in and out like a superball. How the relationship develops, as Claire grows, as Henry deals with his own issues, and as the complications of turning up naked and alone in various places build up the story just pulls you in.
I think this may have been made into a movie, but I'm not sure. It was probably rated R because a naked man is one of the prominent features of the story.
And how you deal with death is handled with care. The loss of parents, friends, and the foreknowledge of our time traveler is not ever sappy but agonizing and moving.
I must say, as I got closer to the end, and the point where Henry's death, which he knows about, (obviously,) I couldn't put it down. I stayed up way too late and then I cried for the last 50 pages.
There was an irritating incident with an ex-boyfriend of the wife after her husband dies that I don't think was necessary. And more sex and language than I would like to have seen. Honestly it was right on the edge of what will make me put a book back I'm glad I can skim quickly and skip that stuff. Of course, not having it in there at all would have been better.

The Time Traveler's Wife. Audrey Niffenegger. MacAdam/Cage. 2003.

P.G. Wodehouse

This book is one of those omnibus editions, it has five Wodehouse novels:The Return of Jeeves, Bertie Wooster Sees It Through, Spring Fever, The Butler Did It and The Old Reliable. P.G. Wodehouse is one of the authors that everybody hears about but not so many people read any more.
They are really funny, but slightly dated. They were mostly written in the 50s and have that same feel. The plots tend to be similar, revolving around marriage and money. It is sort of like Jane Austen on laughing gas, all giddy and trying not to take serious things very seriously.
This would be a much better book to own than to check out from the library. Wodehouse is very funny, but trying to read all this in a short amount of time so as to return it to the library, things get repetitive. I've noticed that almost all authors have favorite phrases and metaphors, which isn't unexpected, but when you read several books in a row this can get irritating.
When I was on bed rest while pregnant with Bridget, I would have David bring me all of a given author at a time from the library. I could tell the really good ones easily, because their style didn't start to grate by the time I was done with the stack.
David had never read Wodehouse before and I knew he had picked it up because I could hear him laughing from downstairs. So I will probably get him a single Wodehouse novel, since I have to return this one to the library, I've already renewed it once.

Five Complete Novels: P.G. Wodehouse. Gramercy Books. 1983.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo

I got this book to read to the boys. I had heard a lot of good things about it. But since the book we are reading now is a bit old for them (The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents- very good) I will probably not read it with them now.
OK, now a week after I wrote the above sentence. We are going to Salt Lake for Thanksgiving and I got the CD version to listen to in the car. We will see how it goes.
I liked this book a lot. It is a subtly LDS book. It was published by Shadow Mountain, which is an imprint of Deseret Book, but there are no LDS references in it. But it has themes and attitudes in it that are very LDS.
Instead of God there is reference to "fate. Which I think is sort of weaselly but a common thing when trying to adjust a book for the mass market. But the attitudes about trials and suffering and why you are placed on the earth and what being alive is for all dovetail nicely with LDS doctrine. David thought I was reading things into the book, but so what if I felt that some things were uplifting then they were. Author intent doesn't really matter in a case like that.
I don't know if this is a nationwide book or not, so someone that lives away from Utah, leave a comment and let me know if you find out.
Harry Potter has really help the cause of good YA literature. As someone on a newsgroup that I read occasionally pointed out, YA fiction is where the really interesting things are happening in fiction right now. I think a lot of books like this one would not have been published if it weren't for Harry Potter. There are some that maybe shouldn't have been anyway, but on the whole it is a good influence I think.

Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo. Obert Skye. Shadow Mountain. 2005

First Among Sequels

I repent of some of the bad things I've said about my library. They have gotten both of the new books I've been interested in lately. I bought Making Money, but I've resisted this one and felt very virtuous about it and it was at the library the last time I went. I was quite surprised. And I must say the only reason I had not bought it was because the local bookstore didn't have it, so I'm not that virtuous.
I really like Jasper Fforde. He has a very odd sense of humor, a vivid writing style and a wholly new take on the interface between the reader and a work of fiction. The Thursday Next series (this is the fifth) are about a woman who can enter fiction and joins the inter-fiction police department, "Jurisfiction."
The world he has created is one where books are popular like movies are. In some of the earlier books Richard III by Shakespeare is done with audience participation, like the Rocky Horror Picture Show. A crooked politician almost buys an election by presenting England with a long lost Shakespeare play, Cardenio. And there is a branch of detectives for literary fraud and similar issues.
If you love fiction, and are familiar with some classics and the way things are "supposed" to go in fiction you will enjoy these.
The first four take place in the eighties. This one takes place fourteen years later. The protagonist has three children, including a stereotypical teenage son. Though what he does with this stereotype is entertaining. Nothing is just a stereotype or cliche in Jasper Fforde.
Having raved this much, I must say, I didn't like this one as much as some of the others. It wasn't bed, just not my favorite. And Jasper Fforde does write like a non-LDS person, so there are some bits of swearing and such. But I sure like the way he thinks.

Thursday Next in First Among Sequels. Jasper Fforde. Viking. 2007

Friday, November 2, 2007

Good Night, Mr. Holmes

I had a mommy night out last night, went to the library and got some books. This was was pretty good. I read it all last night. It is amazing what having some time to myself does for my mood and motivation.
This was a sort of spin-off book. It is based in the world of Sherlock Holmes. The author took the story A Bohemian Affair by Arthur Conan Doyle and then wrote a novel expanding the character of Holmes's opposite in the story. I don't stay opponent because it wasn't that confrontational but she outwitted Holmes in the story, which is unusual.
You have to be a pretty confident, or clueless, writer to take on something as venerated as Sherlock Homes, but I think she did a pretty good job. It wasn't something that will be saved as wisdom of the ages or anything but a nice story, interestingly told. I found it a bit far-fetched in some aspects but that is par for the course.
I think a lot of writers choose the late Victorian period to write in because issues that are of interest to people today were just starting to develop and it is much easier to write a period novel and leave out the sex, language and violence that peppers today's novels. I think that is why Anne Perry writes Victorian mystery novels. She is LDS and she can talk about a lot of issues with compromising principles. I know that there is a lot of pressure from the publishing business arm to put that so-called "crowd-pleasing" stuff in and period novels can avoid this.
Not to say that they all do, but I think that it is one sanctuary for authors, so I read this kind pretty often, along with other "sanctuary genres" like Young Adult and Science-Fiction and Fantasy, (the safety value of these has declined dramatically but they seem easier to sort) and Middle-Age Woman mysteries (the ones with recipes and pets featured prominently). Though I really can only read the last category when I am feeling brain dead or while pregnant (though those two are synonymous) because they are incredibly formulaic.

Good Night, Mr. Holmes. Carole Nelson Douglas. Tor. 1990

The Greatest War Stories Never Told

I picked this one up for Ryan, he has been into "war stories" lately. The school librarian gave him a war stories book that had him worked up for weeks. She said she has an animals in war book he might like too. She is in our ward which is handy since my boys bring books home, take them to their rooms and I never see them to make them go back to school.
I'm glad I decided to read it first. It was connected to a series on the History Channel so it was just a page per anecdote and only took me about half an hour to read. But some of the stories were not what I would like Ryan to be reading. Like the one about Theodora, Empress of the Byzantine Empire, who started life as an "exotic dancer."
I did like the one about the CIA spending a ton of money to develop a way to use electronically implanted cats as listening devices, then when they let the prototype out of the van, it immediately got run over by a car. That ended the project pretty quickly.
I hate stories that say "never told" or something like that. You expect it to have lots of new stuff, but I had heard most of these stories before. It was more like greatest stories not brought up regularly on the news but hanging around here and there. Oh well, a quick browsing book, not for eight-year-olds though.

The Greatest War Stories Never Told. Rick Beyer. Collins. 2005

A Sorcerer and a Gentleman

I didn't like this one very much. I kept reading petty much only because it was around in the places where I read. I have been to busy to do much reading lately. I actually finished this one over a week ago.
Some books try to be "avant-guard" or intellectual by messing with the conventions of fiction story-telling. Some, not many, succeed. This wasn't one of them. The author tries to create suspense by artificially ending scenes then making you wait for the middle of the next chapter to find out what actually happened. It does make you keep reading to find out what happened but it is also very irritating. If I was telling you a story then quit in the middle and then called you a week later to talk about something unrelated and then dropped in the middle of the conversation, "Oh yeah, about that thing I was talking about last week, here's what happened." It would have the same effect.
There was also a person who was developed like she would be a major character then killed off-screen (so to speak) and dropped in a couple of paragraphs. And an abortion. Only a mild curiosity in what was going to happen kept me going, then it didn't really end, just the fuzzy conclusion of a book obviously intended to start a long series. I haven't seen any other books by this author, so I don't think the rest of the series turned up. No great loss.

A Sorcerer and a Gentleman. Elizabeth Willey. Tor. 1995

Monday, October 29, 2007

Clothed With Charity

This is one of the Women's Conference books. I really love these books but I can't pay twenty-five dollars for each. But I found this one at the used bookstore. You can also get them on good discount from Deseret Book after a year or two.
I had almost forgotten to enter this one on the list because I read it really fast one weekend. I try to be good reading my scriptures and the Ensign and stuff, but these books always feel like water to my parched soul. There is just something about the stories and the life experiences of all these women that mean a lot me.
A lot of the articles in this book were about writing; writing in journals or writing about scriptures or just writing to write. Since I have started this and have been making the best effort towards journal writing since my mission it felt particularly pertinent.
Just talking about it makes me want to reread it again, more slowly to drink it in again. But that will have to wait until after Halloween. Making costumes is occupying most of my time right now.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Pinhoe Egg

This is the newest book in the Chrestomanci series by Dianna Wynne Jones. I really like her books. They are technically YA books, so have to make an effort to find them but its usually worth it.
She has good plotting and realistic characters, for a book about magic at least. She tends to deal with issues pretty squarely too, a nice middle ground in a category (YA) that either tends to gloss over bad things or dwell on them in the interests of "realism."
The Chrestomanci is an enchanter who is in charge of magical law-keeping. As the ultimate authority in magical things he is a good foil for talking about ways of dealing with authority. Someone in most of these books needs help but is too afraid of authority for various reasons to go to the person who could help them. Aimed at teenagers it is a good theme I think. But it also talks about the things adults do to undermine the trust and authority they have. A lot of her books could be modeled on D&C 121 now that I think about it.
In this one there are communities of witches who have stayed under the official radar for hundreds of years and a lot of the effort in the communities goes into avoiding the Chrestomanci's gaze. Since they live very close to him that takes some doing. Then the matriarch of one of the families goes a bit batty, dementia we assume, and things get really bad. It makes you glad we don't have magic in real life. The idea of a sorcerer getting Alzheimer's or a stroke is frightening.
A good story, I enjoyed it. David stayed up way to late to read it. I have rubbed off on him. I read a bit less than I used to and he reads way more. And we both get stuck in books now instead of just me. So I try to get things that won't make me want to stay up until all hours of the night to finish. It is too hard the next morning.

The Pinhoe Egg. Dianna Wynne Jones. Eos Books. 2006

The Atlantic 150

This isn't a book. It is the 150th anniversary edition of a magazine I subscribe to called The Atlantic. Normally I don't write about the other things I read; magazines, the newspaper, the books I read with the kids, or I would never be caught up, but this edition really impressed me.
The Atlantic was founded to write about the American Idea, so for this issue, they got many people to write short essays on The Future of the American Idea. I really enjoyed reading them. There were some I disagreed with, some I really liked and some that made me think. They deliberately put contrasting ideas next to each other: for example, a famous atheist is next to the author of the Left Behind series. They were so short that even the ones you really hated were too short to make you upset, just enough to start thinking of your own reply.
It made me wish I could have a week uninterrupted to write my own version. They asked for reader submissions and will publish the best ones in a coming issue. If I were a teacher my class would be writing them. If I had child-free writing time I might be too. But as I started thinking about it I feel like my thoughts are too scattered to write a coherent 200 word essay about something as huge as the American Idea. It is still wandering around in my head, but very unformed.
The website has additional essays, I haven't looked at them yet, but I plan to. So if you happen to spot this magazine at the library, pick it up and read the essays, they will give you something to think about for the rest of the day, if nothing else.
Oh, and just a note, I changed the comment section, so you don't have to sign in to leave one, just in case anyone is interested. Thanks.

The Atlantic. Nov. 2007. pp 13-62.

Making Money

This was my birthday book. The newest Terry Pratchett. When we lived in Las Vegas, the library was very good about getting new books quickly, so I could read the latest Terry Pratchett quickly and be patient enough to wait for the paperback. The library here tries but is so much smaller that only really big new books show up quickly. And I am not patient enough to wait until the paperback comes out to read it even the first time. My spending on books has gone up since we moved here.
David didn't like this one as much as Going Postal. It sort of has the same main character, Moist Von Lipwig, but the plot isn't as tight and it rambles a bit. But I think the main character is really the person working behind the scenes in the book, Lord Vetinari. He manipulates Moist in very specific ways and is more of a protagonist than the obvious hero. There were some bits I really enjoyed, the glooper, the four gold? (no that word isn't gold, its thousand!) golems and some normal Pratchett phrases that stick with you. There was an unfortunate running joke that was too crude for my tastes.
I liked it, but it wasn't nearly one of my favorites. No quotes this time. Typing one handed with a baby on your lap is too slow.

Making Money. Terry Pratchett. HarperCollins. 2007

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lords and Ladies

Another Terry Pratchett. I generally have several lying around half-finished. This one is VERY loosely based on Midsummer Night's Dream. The witches are the main characters and so is the tiny kingdom of Lancre. A few quotes:

Much human ingenuity has gone into finding the ultimate Before.
The current state of knowledge can be summarized thus:
In the beginning, there was nothing, which exploded.


Shoot the dictator and prevent the war? But the dictator is merely the tip
of the whole festering boil of social pus from which dictators emerge; shoot
one, and there'll be another along in a minute. Shoot him too? Why
not shoot everyone and invade Poland?

Lords and Ladies. Terry Pratchett. Harper Torch. 2002

Going Postal

I love Terry Pratchett. Anyone who has heard me talk about books knows this. I have been busy and just rereading things that I had lying around half-finished. But I decided instead of explaining each Terry Pratchett book, because there are going to be many, I would just put in some quotes from each book. So here goes. Basic premise of Going Postal is Moist von Lipwig, con man, is almost hanged and offered a chance to redeem himself by re-establishing the postal service. Sounds simple but it is a great book, one of Pratchett's best.

You can't treat religion as a sort of buffet, can you? I mean, you can't say,"Yes please, I'll have some of the Celestial Paradise and a helping of the Divine Plan but go easy on the kneeling and none of the Prohibition of Images, they give me wind." It's table d'hote or nothing, otherwise. . . well, it could get silly.

And there was a fight going on. More or less. But in some ways, at least, time had moved on. You couldn't just haul off and belt someone with an ax these days. People expected things of a bar brawl. As he went in, Moist passed a large group of men of the broken-nosed, one eared persuasion, bent in anxious conclave:
"Look, Bob, what part of this don't you understand, eh? It's a matter of style, okay? A proper brawl doesn't just happen. You don't just pile in, not anymore. Now, Oyster Dave here -- put your helmet back on, Dave--will be the enemy in front, and Basalt, who, as we know, don't need a helmet, he'll be the enemy coming up behind you. Okay, it's well past knuckles time, let's say Gravy there has done his thing with the Bench Swipe, there's a bit of knife play, we've done the whole Chandelier Swing number, blah, blah, blah, then Second Chair--that's you, Bob--you step smartly between their Number Five man and a Bottler, swing the chair back over your head, like this--sorry, Pointy--and swing it right back onto Number Five, bang, crash, and there's a cushy six points in your pocket. If their playing a dwarf at Number Five, then a chair won't even slow him down, but don't fret, hang on to the bits that stay in your hand, pause one moment as he comes at you, and then belt him across both ears. They hate that, as Stronginthearm here will tell you. Another three points. It's probably going to be freestyle after that but I want all of you, including Mucky Mick and Crispo, to try for a Double Andrew when it gets down to fist-fighting again. Remember? You back into each other, turn around to give the other guy a thumping, cue moment of humorous recognition, then link left arms, swing round and see to the other fellow's attacker, foot or fist, it's your choice. Fifteen points right there if you get it to flow just right. Oh, and remember we'll have an Igor standing by, so if your arm gets taken off, do pick it up and hit the other guy with it, it gets a laugh and twenty points. On that subject, do remember what I said about everything tattooed with your name, all right? Igors do their best, but you'll be on your feet much quicker if you make life easier for him and, what's more, it's your feet you'll be on. Okay, positions everyone, let's run through it again. . ."


And one last one: "Peas are known for their thoroughness."

Going Postal. Terry Pratchett. Harper Torch Paperback. 2005

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead

Isn't that a great title? This is a mystery of the type I don't usually read because police procedurals tend to have too much gore and sex and everything else you can think of but the title hooked me and I didn't know that author.
And yep, it had too much of what I don't like but was a very well written book. The detective has glimpses of Civil War ghosts that comment on the current case and make him doubt his sanity. A new item in the old "quirky detective" category. The funniest comment I've ever read on the conventions of detective fiction was in The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde who has his characters discussing which plot device they will use next, "Number 26 or Number 37? Isn't that the one where I get suspended then solve the case on my own, discovering it was my superior officer all along?"
The conventions are observed in many cases in this novel, but the writing is so good it gets away with things that are simply annoying or boring in a lesser writer. I don't think I will be reading any more of this author's books because I don't like the graphic crime in this style of books but he is very good.
And I do know about the conventions. I did my senior thesis on the changing styles of police procedurals over the years, using Ed McBain as an example. He died recently but wrote police/detective novels for close to forty years and you could definitely see society's downward trend in them.
In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead. James Lee Burke. Hyperion Books. 1993

Simple Genius

Spy thriller. That pretty much sums this one up. Nothing surprising or revolutionary. Worse than Tom Clancy at his best, not as bad as Tom Clancy at his worst.
Not much else to say about this one. I was having a rough week when I picked this one out and read it. I try to be more discriminating, but sometimes I'm not.

Simple Genius. David Baldacci. Warner Books. 2007

The Serpent and The Rose

The little blurb on the top of this book almost made me put it back: "FORBIDDEN MAGIC, FORBIDDEN LOVE." I honestly wonder who does the blurbs on the back of books. I think more good books are done in by a bad back cover than any other reason.
Despite that I brought it home from the library and it was a good story. David read it too and got into it; he stayed up late to finish it.
It is a bare bones plot of the war that began with the destruction of the Knights Templar but with that as a base and lots of magic added. Since it starts with vaguely Christian imagery David was annoyed when some Earth Mother magic was introduced. I guess it didn't bother me that much because that is one of the trendy things to do in fantasy and I've seen it a lot. I enjoy books that that a true Christian theme and work with it, like The Doomsday Book I've already mentioned. This was not of that caliber and it is pretty unusual to see honest religious thought in a novel. I think writing nice Earth Mother type things is easier and you can do whatever you want without dealing with any theological minefields. In other words, I think it is so common because it is easier. The same reason that type of general "spirituality" exists in our own world, it is easy, not a lot of rules or commandments, just do what you like and think slightly elevated thoughts occasionally.
This is the first in a trilogy. I will probably read the others. I have a hard time finding things I like, so I mostly go for things I don't actively dislike. A poor way to choose books, but the things I would prefer to read, especially when I am feeling mentally alert, aren't available so much. This is a small library and Deseret Book's books are expensive. I would like to read the biographies of the prophets and the new books that come out from the apostles, but the only things that get to the library are some of the more popular LDS fiction, which I don't like much. Oh well.
The Serpent and the Rose. Kathleen Bryan. Tor Books. 2007

The Blue Girl

I like Charles de Lint, he writes faintly New Age-y novels set in Canada. They usually involve mortals interacting with fairies and other mythical creatures in a modern city setting.
This one is a Young Adult novel, with the protagonist being a teenage girl. She moves to the city and is making some big life changes: leaving her former gang-banger lifestyle for a more sedate one. Since this is her choice, there is a lot said about choice and inner strength and believing in yourself and that type of stuff. As far as YA novels go it was pretty good, not too preachy, but getting the message across.
I like de Lint's use of fairies in an urban setting. They go to clubs, hang around musicians and cause trouble in purely modern ways, as they have adapted to humanity's changes too. And the bad soul-sucking fairies in this novel are repelled by the color blue. As the heroine finds out when she accidentally overdoses on some protective magic and gets turned completely blue. Good thing its near Halloween. And I've never read a book where the bad guys are conquered using blue paint, but it works pretty well.
It was a pretty good book. I think I would have liked it better twenty years ago and that a literate teenage girl would enjoy it.

The Blue Girl. Charles de Lint. Firebird Imprint of Penguin Books. 2004

Ethan of Athos

This is another book by Lois McMaster Bujold, sort of side book in the same series I have been reading. Of all of the books, this is my least favorite. The plot wasn't as entertaining and the issues she wanted too explore weren't dealt with very effectively.
The main reason I didn't like it was the annoying use of a cliched idea. The concept of changing something about society to discuss issues within our own society is very well known and used often. It works especially well with science fiction and fantasy since that is one of the basic premises. But blaming some sort of catastrophic and bizarre shift on a fringe religious group gets on my nerves, especially when it is done clumsily.
Taking all the women out of a society so you can look at reproductive policies when cloning or artificial methods are the only ones available could be done in a lot of ways, but I really didn't like this version of it.

Ethan of Athos. Lois McMaster Bujold. Baen Books. 1992

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Life in the 20th Century

This was an excellent autobiography. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. has written some relatively famous historical books. I have one of them that I enjoyed. He took the same rigor that he uses to write his historical books to his own life.

Unusually for an autobiography he checked his facts and sometimes points out where his memory does not match recorded history. He also talks about how articles or books that he wrote in the Thirties and Forties stand up to history. Since he is a historian, he brings in a lot of the period, the ideas and feeling for each year, that I have rarely seen in biographies.

I honestly thought about buying this book after reading the first third, because he talked about the history and feeling of the Twenties and the Depression in ways I had never seen before. By the middle of the book his liberal tendencies got to be overwhelming so I no longer thought it was something I wanted to own and reread but I was still impressed by his ability to see the people in his life as they appeared to him then and who they ended up being in the years to come.

His description of the years right before WWII were especially interesting because he described to mood in ways I had never heard before. I knew that there was some isolationist sentiment before Pearl Harbor, yet the extent of it was new to me. In his words:
There have been a number of fierce national quarrels in my lifetime -- over
communism in the later Forties, over McCarthyism in the Fifties, over
Vietnam in the Sixties -- but none so tore apart families and friendships as
the great debate of 1940-41. Though historians have dealt ably with
the policy issues, justice has not been done to the searing personal impact
in those angry days...."You could get away from the war for a little while,"
Jeffery Wilson muses, "but not for long, because it was everywhere, even in
the sunlight. It lay behind everything you said or did. You could taste it in your food, you could hear it in music." And so it was for many Americans.

In my experience the war itself eclipses the tension before it. It is an interesting contrast to the war in Iraq. We are not so fully devoted and obsessed with the war. It is easy to avoid and many of us do not know people who are involved. The wholehearted commitment to the war then may have been a reaction to the tensions involved before. Also he mentions that going into the war many people were doubtful of the outcome. Hitler had not had a defeat. Nazi Germany looked like an unstoppable monolith. I think the feeling of military invincibility that resulted from our victory and the Cold War has caused some national problems we are still dealing with.

This book won the Pulitzer Prize and it was well deserved. From the little I have read, Pulitzer prize winning books, especially nonfiction, are worth reading.

A Life in the 20th Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Houghton Mifflin. 2000

Ghostlight

Truth be told, I sometimes read books because I just need something to read, while I'm putting Bridget to sleep or eating alone. This was one that I wouldn't have finished if it hadn't been there. I have heard critics call a bad performance "phoning it in." That applies to this book I think. Bradley has written some books that are supposed to be very good, The Mists of Avalon for example: this wasn't one of them.

The book is about magic and reconciliation with lost relatives. But it seems that instead of researching authentic mythological traditions, or inventing her own completely, she just took remembered shards of a bunch of different systems and used them as they popped into her brain. It felt like very sloppy writing and the main character was of the type you want to reach into the book and slap. I think there might be a sequel but I won't be reading it.

Ghostlight. Marion Zimmer Bradley. Tor Books. 1995

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Candyfreak

I don't often read a book that makes me sorry for the author. This guy teaches writing at Chapel Hill and decided to write a book about the thing he loved the most; candy. So he toured as many of the small, independent candy factories that would let him in and wrote about it. I must admit, the way he described some of the candy made me want to hunt down the website and order some. But at the same time, a book written by a man who admits that his love for candy is a substitute for the real thing is pretty sad.

I was entertained, and even learned a few things, but mostly I hoped that the author could used this book as a therapeutic way to move on with his life and find some better ways to use his time. He seemed very lonely, poor guy.

Candyfreak. Steve Almond. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill 2004.

Talk to the Hand

The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door.
I must say, I think I must live in a much friendlier place that the poor author does. Of course she lives in a city and I live in a tourist town so that is to be expected. An entertaining book, she has a number of things I had to read to David. She has been thinking about this a lot I expect, so it is remarkably rant free (not completely, but considering her strong views she does pretty well.)
She thinks about the origins of a lot of the drop in civility today: "Egalitarianism was a noble aim, as was enlightened parenting, but both have ploughed up a lot of worms. . . . It has become a modern tenet that success should have only a loose connection with merit, and that when 'the people' speak, they are incontestably right." p 33. And also "Benjamin Rush, in 1786, writing, 'Let our pupil be taught that he does not belong to himself, but that he is public property.' These days, of course, the child is taught to believe quite the opposite: that public property, in the natural way of things, belongs to him." p 36
A quick read, although the one downside was the common referral to 'Eff' which is a huge symptom of rudeness in society.


Talk to the hand. Lynne Truss.Gotham Books 2005

Mirror Dance

This is another one of the series about Miles Vorkosigan. The plot summary sounds sort of stupid, but it was a pretty good read. He has a clone twin, made without his knowledge. Evidently the two meet originally in a book I have not read yet. In this one the clone brother steals one of Miles' spaceships and goes on a mission that is a personal crusade of sorts. This goes horribly wrong and it takes the rest of the book to fix everything.

Not only is there an interesting plot, but she uses this book to talk about identity and family and what makes you who you are. This is normal, or at least expected, in a book about clones. What struck me the most was the discussion of "genetics as destiny" that she begins to investigate here and works with more fully in Cetaganda. In talking about power, the men have the obvious, military power, but it is the women, the "grandmothers" who control the marrying and raising of the next generation.
She also has the invention of a "uterine replicator," a means to carry a child to term without the physical risk as an additional cultural manipulation. How would sexual politics change if women didn't have to spend the time physically being pregnant? Since pregnancy is personally awful, I think it would be a great idea, but in our imperfect world it is better that we cannot do such a thing and don't even have a chance of learning how in the near future. I revel in the opportunity to raise my children and I can see the influence I have on them. Those who sacrifice the raising of their children in behalf of their personal achievements do not realize what they are losing.

Mirror Dance. Lois McMaster Bujold. Baen Books. 1995

The Spirit Ring

I have been working through the books by this author at the library. This is different from the other ones by her as it is fantasy instead of science fiction. It is set in Medieval Italy. She even mentions in the back of the book the three main inspirations and sources for the novel. They sound interesting. Especially the biography of Cellini. I have thought about reading more about him anyway.

She has a bit of romance, a bit of magic and a lot of political intrigue. This was quite an exciting period in Italy's history. Before Machiavelli, but not before being machiavellian. I have decided that one of the reasons I like Bujold is she writes very sympathetically about people of faith. It was nice to have the churchman not be the evil villain. He isn't the hero either, but since the hero gets married at the end of the book, that would have been hard anyway.


This reminds me of the book I read in the last while that is one of the best pictures of faith and what help from The Lord really looks like in a time of crisis: The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. A modern person goes back to the Dark Ages and gets caught in the plague. People dying all over the place does not make for a jolly book, but in the end, the churchman who is faithful to his flock and to God teaches the agnostic a very important lesson. I cried through the end of this book, and I even cried while I tried to tell David why it was so good. This is a book, like Ender's Game and a few others, that I really felt deserved the awards it won.



The Spirit Ring. Lois McMaster Bujold. Baen Books. 2000

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Vorkosigan's Game & Cetaganda

These are the continuation of a series I started last month. They were pretty good. Evidently some of the short stories and other novels in this series have won the Hugo. I don't know that they were that good, but I enjoyed them.



The main character of these books is the son of the main characters in the first two books. His parents are attacked by poison gas while his mother is pregnant with him and as a result he is born with stunted, brittle bones. due to wars of the past, His society is paranoid to the point of superstition about "mutants" so he has an extra hard time.



All this serves as background for some very well plotted stories. The ones dealing with Miles Vorkosigan feel like running downhill, one thing leading to another in a very wild sequence. Very enjoyable space/military sci-fi, doesn't take itself too seriously.



Vorkosigans's Game. Lois McMaster Bujold. Guild America Books. 1990

Cetaganda. Lois McMaster Bujold. Baen Books. 1996.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Top Ten

This book I picked up quick at the library and had I had more time to look at it I probably wouldn't have brought it home, but I skimmed through it quick and didn't really learn anything new, though I did have the foresight to actually write down the books in it that I do want to read.

The editor of the book asked a bunch of writers to give their top ten list of the best books of all time. Then they went through and gave a brief summary of each book and played some other games with the numbers, like top ten American, British, of the twentieth century, comic novels, etc.

I say I didn't really learn much because as an English major I had already read a number of these, or at least heard about them. I don't really like most fiction, especially contemporary fiction. I find that as our society has become more open and permissive authors who consider themselves to be "Artists" have to go lower and lower to shock and get the reaction they want.

I read for enjoyment, I do not need a "thought provoking" look at sin, guilt, immorality, drinking, abuse or any other justification for wallowing in the mire that these books generally give. For example, the book Lolita by Nabokov was on the best ten of all time list and I personally have no desire to know more about that book.

I know a lot of people like the true to life thing and find catharsis in those stories. I also know that people who have had trauma in their lives like to see others in their situations, but so much of modern fiction, especially those books which are considered "literature" is so much muck and reading them and perhaps writing them is so much justification for things that should not happen. Antiheroes, existential philosophy and just plain wrongness is praised, rationalized and examined in a way that makes me retreat to Sci-Fi and Fantasy and non-fiction where studies of morals and guilt can be done in a way that doesn't try to make consequences for wrong decisions seem unjust and the actions of an uncaring God.

I decided to avoid any book recommended by Oprah or any other public book club for that reason. I have read Beloved and I know that Toni Morrison is writing what is relevant to her and her background, but I need books that lift me up, not drag me down.

And, after all, I like to read for entertainment and learning. Perhaps I'm just shallow, but I don't feel a need for "soul-searing" examinations of life. I have the scriptures, I have my family, and I have real life dilemmas. But for those I can pray and find the answers through communication from a Source that no human written book can equal. These "great" books are second best when it comes to understanding myself and other people.

So I won't be writing about the hot, new book on Oprah or the newest self-help or any of that. But then, I warned any readers of this blog at the beginning that this is really just a way to get my brain working and not a recommended book list at all.

The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books. J. Peder Zane ed. W.W. Norton & Co. 2007

Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception

I finished this one a week ago, but If I start with Eat the Rich, I guess this would be the next one.

This is the fourth in the Artemis Fowl series. They are children's books. I read a lot of Young Adult novels. They are creative, fun and don't have the language and sex that "adult" novels seem prone to. Its not always safe but the YA section seems to be where more interesting things are happening.

I wouldn't say this a a great book, but its OK, good for a weekend read or when I'm holding a very cranky, sick child that won't go to sleep. A lot of "breaking wind" jokes that I didn't notice the first time I read this for some reason. Something a twelve year old would really like. It has good pacing and a good plot, and an author not afraid to kill major characters, but doesn't just casually use extras as cannon fodder either.

On another book note. I just found out that Robert Jordan died yesterday. It is a weird feeling when an author you are fond of dies. It's like mourning for the books he hasn't written rather than for the man, since I only knew him from the dust jacket of his books. Of course, since this particular man had written 11 books in a 12 book series, it is definitely a mixed emotion and I haven't really sorted out the difference between how I feel and how I ought to feel.

Artemis Fowl :The Opal Deception, Eoin Colfer. Hyperion Books for Children. 2005

Friday, September 14, 2007

Eat the Rich by P.J. O'Rourke

This is the book that gave me the idea to start a blog, because I had to keep telling David about the things in it and it made him stay up way to late, which wasn't very fair.

I like P.J. O'Rourke because he tells stories in a voice a lot like I imagine my father telling them. So if my Dad took a year off of work to learn about economics, this is something like what he would say. I also chose this book because I want to learn about everything, and it is easiest when you learn with humor. I am willing to read any nonfiction book if presented in a humorous, interesting way.

If, 10 years ago, (the book was written in '97) you wanted to know about how world economics worked where would you go? O'Rourke goes to Wall Street, Albania, Sweden, Cuba, Moscow and Hong Kong. He has studied and read a lot, or at least a lot more than I have the time or inclination for. He compares capitalism in the first two countries, socialism in the third and fourth and just talks about miscellaneous unusual events in the last two.

After reading this I have learned about the Law of Comparative Advantage, and why it works, but doesn't make sense and that managed economies don't work because no one, including economists, know enough to run one completely. I also feel that I got a glimpse, very briefly, into what type of world the millennium and united order could bring us, using the type of economic rules we already know. That last came more from thinking about the ideas that he proposes than from anything revolutionary in the text.

This is a list of six things that O'Rourke proposes lead to economic prosperity as a nation:
  • Hard Work
  • Education
  • Responsibility
  • Property Rights
  • Rule of Law
  • Democratic Government

Though property rights are definitely not going to be to a conservative's liking in the millennium, all of the others would advance and grow. I especially think that number five would improve the lot of most of the world's people. This is something I need to learn more about. I also would like to learn more about what has happened to O'Rourke's test cases in the last ten years.

I am not an economist, neither is P.J.O'Rourke, but he had some good ideas, those sparked off some good (?) ideas in my head. That is one of the things I love about reading; expanding my repertoire of ideas by building on those of other people.

Eat the Rich A treatise on economics by P.J. O'Rourke, 1998. Atlantic Monthly Press

Freedom

So, mostly for my own amusement, but partly so I can share my own personal obsession (isn't that what blogs are all about?) I have decided to start a blog. All blogs need some sort of basis, to at least avoid the appearance of complete narcissism. This one is the books I read. I read like an alcoholic drinks, incessantly, furtively, and moderately ashamed of my own lack of self control. I have always wanted to keep a list of the books I have read, for curiosity if nothing else, now I have decided to write about each one as I finish it.

Some will be old, some new and some reread for the umpteenth time. I don't intend this to be a "YOU SHOULD READ THIS" or avoid, or whatever type of thing, I just want to share and record the ideas that come with each volume.

If you read this often you will become acquainted with certain authors who I return to again and again. Their books have become old friends and comfortable companions when I need to relax. Terry Pratchett, Jasper Fforde, David Weber, J.K. Rowling will all show up in the course of a year, as for others, I don't know, I am a creature of whimsy in most of my selections.

As for the topic of freedom, Terry Pratchett writes, "No practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences." (Going Postal p. 15) I am open to comments and suggestions, but remember, my children often read over my shoulder, so nothing you wouldn't want them to see and repeat. If after a week or two I have posted eighteen times you are free to accuse me of not having a life, I plead guilty. If, after a week or two I don't post at all, I plead guilty to being the mother of five children and horribly disorganized, so, oh well I tried.