Welcome to my bookshelf

I am a voracious reader who is constantly found with her nose in a good (although sometimes not so good) book. I felt the need to share my experiences and suggestions, so here it is. Recommendations and comments are most definitely desired.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Down With the Man

Currently Reading: For the Win

Pg 141: "Envy, not greed, was the most powerful force in any economy."

Pg 351: ""Controlling yourself is overrated...there's something to be said for letting go."

I haven't done the quote thing in awhile and this book has so many that it is hard to choose from. Imagine being a peasant in China or India, and what is your job, why playing RPGs for money. This is an incredibly unique book that focuses on an activity that is occurring as we speak, but virtually unknown to the masses. People are paid to play these games or paid in real money for gold or items in the game. You think, why would someone pay for that? It is amazing the power and draw that these games have, not to mention the social aspect. Your friends all play, but you aren't at their level. How can you level up quickly? Pay for someone else to do it for you instead. These virtual economies are driven by what is mentioned in the first quote, envy. You want to be as awesome as that guild master. I am totally drawn into the story and rooting for the little guys who are trying to unionize and fight the big companies. It is really a social commentary on what happens to workers in sweat shops in developing countries and the inequities throughout the modern world. Cory Doctorow is one of my favorite authors. Partly this is because his stories all take place in an imagined, yet all too real world, but also because he seems like someone I can relate to. He is just a nerd too. The math in this book is amazing too. I seem to have a theme going on. Will my next book be mathy too? Who knows? But of course, as I always tell my students, math is life. It is everywhere and without it, we would be nothing.

The second quote is just another personal mantra for myself. I am getting back into some bad routines and want the ability to let loose and give it up for awhile. Eek! Too scary.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Beauty of Black and White

Currently Reading: Contact

I can't believe I haven't read this book before. It is amazing. See, math is important. One of the best things about this book, for me, is how real it is and true to the physics and mathematics of the world in which we live. All of Sagan's concepts and ideas are possible. And how amazing if they actually occurred. I am one who believes that we are not alone. Who or what else is out there, I cannot say, but there is no way that we are unique in this vast, ever expanding universe. This concept has been touched upon and imagined by hundreds of authors, but Sagan does an incredible job in explaining not only the scientific implications, the the humanistic ones as well. Religion and politics play a large role in what ultimately happens with the story. Each person brings a different perspective and set of ideas to the table and each has plausible arguments as to why they are right. This is something to consider no matter what the topic. When humans are involved, so are their emotions, ideologies and experiences. You cannot discount anyone, but you also must face and interpret the facts. My life revolves around the rigidity of math, but I do so in an environment rife with human emotion. I am a math teacher. X was 5 and he said it was 8. That is incorrect. But still, what are the underlying implications of his incorrectness. Is something going on at home? Will his mother email me tonight? How can I defend my counting his answer wrong? These are all things I have to consider. And while I wish it could all just be black and white, the reality is that all the world is a shade of gray. Sagan's story is far more dramatic than my own, but still very similar. In fact, at the end, the main scientists are forced to forge the scientific and mathematical answers and instead, cater to the emotions and politics of those in charge. It is hard for us left-brainers to swallow, but if we want to keep doing our left-brained things, we have to make sure that we are allowed to in this right-brained world.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

New Perspectives

Currently Reading: Left Neglected

This book is literally about someone who gets "left neglect" which is a condition in which her brain does not register anything on her left or the left of anything. If she reads a book, all she sees is the right side of the page. She can still feel things on her left, but really has no idea that her arm or whatever is there. It is really a unique condition and it is so sad that this career driven family woman, used to having multiple things on her plate, is reduced to rehab and having to relearn everything from getting dressed on up. The main character is in a car accident and suffers a brain injury which causes the condition. Throughout the novel, we learn more about her motivations in life as well as how her priorities have gotten all out of whack. I have no idea what I would do in her situation. It is heartbreaking and scary. Her life as she knows it is over. I am only halfway through and am interested in finding out what she decides to do when she recovers or if she even recovers at all. How can you go from one set of norms to another? How does your mind adjust? It is a frightening thing to think about.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Breathtakingly Awesome

Currently Reading: The Imperfectionists

Pg 64: "Who said I was short? I'm a minimalist."
(Now my new catch phrase)

I read page one and was totally lost. I read page two and knew I was going to love this book. So here is a story, or rather a series of stories, about writers, columnists, and others connected to an international newspaper based in Rome. All the stories take place in the present day and could really be considered a set of short stories, but interspersed between the individual tales is the story of the origins and hardships faced by the newspaper as a whole from beginning to end. It was amazing the way that Rachman was able to connect the stories and yet keep them all unique at the same time. Each writer has his own personality and we are able to glimpse a day or two of their personal lives, while experiencing their professional lives through the other stories. Characters pop up periodically throughout the stories, but the voice is unique in each one. Absolutely fantastic. Funny at times, soul wrenching at others. There were a few characters I enjoyed more than others and some that I could relate to better, but each was himself and therefore appreciable all the same.

I seem to have a thing for books about writers. Just look at my list of favorites. Most of them are connected to writing or the arts in general. What is it about these creative souls that intrigues me so much? Is it envy? I would love to write something myself, but have never been able to really get started. Or perhaps it is simply my love for the written word that makes me appreciate these people and their life experiences. Maybe I should be taking notes for future reference.

Anyways, I feel like I should be saying more since I loved this book so much, but I guess the best thing I can say is you must read this book and experience it for yourself. Second hand just won't do the job. Now I am off to my next hurdle, The Wheel of Time series. I have decided to give it a go. I probably won't be reading them all consecutively, but am excited about seeing how they are organized and how they differ from the other epics I have read. Most certainly a departure of the real life tales in The Imperfectionists. I wonder if there are Orcs? We shall see.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What's mine is mine. Or is it?

Currently Reading: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

What really belongs to us? Sure you can say that this is my car and this is my house, but when it comes to more abstract things, the lines become blurred. Things such as ideas and simple cells cause so much contention and argument. This book follows Henrietta Lacks' cancer cells as they move about the medical community, solving problems and curing diseases. I know, how can a cell solve problems? Well it is really more about the people who analyze these cells and use them in their research. Ms. Lacks' cells were taken from her at Johns Hopkin's and given away to medical professionals across the globe because of their unique nature. They were basically immortal, replicating and growing at a rate never seen before. They were useful in that scientists could conduct experiments on and with them and never run out. They were called HeLa cells and lauded as a miraculous find by all those in the know. The problem is that those in the know were not members of her family or community, but rather doctors, many of whom were unaware of the history behind the cells. Her family finally discovers that her cells have been used and made millions over the decades and are distraught that they were never told what was happening, much less aware that the sample was taken in the first place. So it makes me think, was it wrong? Must there be consent? I believe that her cells were used only for good and almost want there to not be the need for consent if it is going to be used for good. How could they be harmful? I am still unaware of all the nuances, but this idea requires more research. I know I for one would be happy to give whatever scientists needed to cure Polio (which her cells helped with) or stop cancer. I was left with mixed feelings. Is there a case for informing patients? Obviously it is best practice, but is it completely necessary? Should money exchange hands? Much to ponder on.

Now a literary note, this book, in the manner of Mary Roach's books, tells a nonfiction story in such an approachable manner that you are able to focus on the people behind the facts and really feel a part of the drama. Another must read.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Not So Different

Currently Reading: The Bradshaw Variations

As much as I love books about crazy, excited events, I am often even more intrigued by stories about everyday life. This book follows the families of three brothers as well as their parents. It mainly revolves around the middle son, but the others play their part as well. Each chapter focus on the events of a different family as they simply live their lives. We get a glimpse of their thoughts and feelings as things happen to them. Nothing ridiculous, but rather everyday events such as a job promotion or a commute on the train. There is something so sad and yet so satisfying when reading about how others experience the same conundrums as ourselves. In some ways, this book reminded me of Virgina Wolfe's Mrs. Dalloway. In that one, we simply follow Mrs. Dalloway as she carries out everyday, mundane chores over the course of a day. We see what a "normal" life is like and can relate to her thoughts and actions. This one also fits with the extension of Mrs. Dalloway, The Hours since it also focuses on emotions and the feelings of different people in a relationship, be it romantic or simply a father and his daughter. Truly a prolific glimpse at one family and their place in the world.

Coming up soon, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. That one will certainly not be about the everyday comforts and tasks.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Government: Past and Present

Currently Reading: The Cupcake Queen

This one was one of the recommended books at the high school where I work and so I had to pick it up. I have just started, but it is turning out to be cute. Typical teen drama stuff, but entertaining nonetheless.

What I want ot talk about though is my last book, Spring Moon. On the cover one of the comments is "A Chinese Gone with the Wind" and that is a totally true statement. When we meet Spring Moon in the first chapters she is just a young girl instilled in a traditional Chinese household. When the tale concludes, Spring Moon is in her nineties and living in a communist ruled nation. This book was amazing in that it followed the lives of the characters through their experiences with the political changes taking place in China in the early 1900s. How different it was at the beginning and the end and how interesting that no one was truly happy with either situation. There will always be the odd man out. Everyone thinks he or she knows what is best for an entire nation of people, but these ideas are always affected by our own circumstances. I have come to the conclusion that no form of government will ever be perfect, nor is one particularly better than others. There are arguments for democracy of course, but the way it is carried out now in most countries, still leaves people out in the cold and still allows power hungry people (mostly men) to take control of everyone's lives. In this book, you could clearly see that when the elite were in power or when the "masses" were in power, people still suffered. It was often the same people suffering under both feudalism and communism too. Anyways, back to the plot and whatnot. If you don't typically like reading books about the trials of young, foot-bound women, this is not that type of book. Yes, they have their feet bound, but in the course of the reading, this becomes taboo. Why? Because this book is actually a political book and not a romantic notion of China's past. There is even a works cited page at the end! Definitely on my recommended reading list.

Now, back to cupcakes. Far less enlightening, but my brain needs a break.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Piecing Together the Clues (and the pie)

Currently Reading: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

This is going to be a short and sweet post about a short and sweet book. I have wanted to read this one for awhile and was totally excited to see it on the library shelf. It is about an amateur detective who is just a young girl in England in the 50s. She is incredibly precocious and has an interest in chemistry. She uses all her wits to solve a murder mystery before the police. Little Flavia is so unique and such a fun character to follow around on her quest for the truth. She relies on science and observation to help solve the crime, while participating in her own little pranks as well. (She has two nasty sisters). It was fun, entertaining, and definitely worth the read. I am excited because it seems that this is just the first of her misadventures and plan to seek out the next when I am at the library again. As I've said before, I love having familiar characters to relate with and get to know. Next on tap is some feudal China, nothing too old, late 1800s, but they were still pretty feudal back then. It is called Spring Moon.

Oh and yes, pies are part of Flavia's mystery.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dreams and Aspirations

Currently Reading: A Table by the Window

Pg 98: "We don't read simply for the endings, Miss Reed. A book is like a train trip. The journey is as important as the destination."

So many fantastic books and so little time! I love the library! This quote really spoke to me and reminded me about one of my previous posts where I discussed getting lost in the lives of others. Books allow us to take so many journeys that we may never have the chance or opportunity to do in our real lives. We can live in other times and other places and experience life there, if only for a moment. It is so wonderful that there are so many creative and enthusiastic authors out there willing to help us in our travels and provide so many interesting experiences.

This book is about a young woman with a troubled past. She has managed to escape it, but parts of it come back when she inherits a house from her grandmother, someone she had rarely seen through no doing of her own. She is amazed by all the stories and memories that others have of her grandmother, but also sad because she never had the opportunity to experience the same. Carley Reed is at a crossroads and ends up staying in the small Southern town to seek out her dreams. She is currently working on starting her own cafe in this town (thus the title I think). So many neighbors are willing to help and she is finding her place in this small town, so different from her former home in San Fransisco. I can relate with some of her trials as she was a teacher before making the move. I'm not sure that I would have the courage to go after a dream like her. It is brave, but at the same time, I am resentful towards her. How dare she desert her students! Today I finished a class and thought, "I love my job." It brought tingles down my spine. I guess what I have to accept is that what is good for one may not be good for all. To each his own and whatnot. I am excited to see how things work out for Carley and wish her luck in her own endeavor same as I hope to have in my own calling. We shall see how Annabel's Cafe works out in the end. (It is not operating yet so far in my reading, but the grand opening is just pages away I am sure.)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Alas, poor Leonardo

Currently Reading: Lucky Leonardo

So this one is all about a psychiatrist who is actually in need a psychiatrist himself. In fact he does see one often and relies quite heavily on his listening skills. Leonardo is really just a regular guy who is down on his lucky. His problems are similar to ones faced by many people each day, but what makes this story entertaining and funny are the different ways that Leonardo faces these issues. One thing after another, we follow Leonardo through his personal tale of woes. Divorce, lawyers, unruly children, crazy mothers. Poor guy. You feel sorry for him, but also feel like shaking him at the same time. Get a grip man! But every time Leonardo seems to come to a solution, something new stands in his way. All in all an entertaining tale and I am looking forward to seeing how Lenny's life ends up.

On a literary note, this is written by a former editor of the Harvard Lampoon. I tend to enjoy novels written by people who did not necessarily start out to be novelists. Journalists, editors, columnists. They often seem to write better stories that literature majors. Perhaps this is due to their having been part of the everyday world as well as knowing how to best reach people. Sometimes the biggest word isn't the best word. I intend to seek out other works by this author, who is Jonathan Canter by the way.