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, March 25, 2012

Long Lost Cousins

Currently Reading: Half Brother

We romanticize our pets.  Seriously, when you see the woman who carries her dog around in a purse and buys "Muffy" bejeweled collars, it makes you pause.  But think about even the dog named Rover who lives next door, he is still doted upon as much as Muffy.  People spent thousands of dollars taking care of what are essentially, animals.  Does that make them lesser than us?  Scientifically, yes.  It is funny because we squash bugs and eat cows, but then idolize those who have become common pets.  What about snakes?  Some people have them as pets and yet some people eat them.  It is historically know that people eat dogs in many countries.  Why are we outraged by this?  It is a fine line to walk between what is an animal to be used in any means and what is an animal to be treated with respect and in a human fashion.  Half Brother brings this, and many other, ideas to the forefront in its telling.

Awww!!
Ben Tomlin gets a new brother when he is thirteen.  The difference between Ben's new brother and the typical new arrival to a family, is that Zan is a chimpanzee.  Ben's father has been granted permission to acquire a young chimpanzee to study in an effort to see if they can learn a language.  While it has been proven that chimps simply cannot speak our language (they lack certain physical requirements), Dr. Tomlin hopes to teach Zan ASL, American Sign Language.  The project starts out grandly, but hits a snag when a linguist joins the party.  It is decided that Zan is not actually using language when he makes his signs for anything from hug, up, doll, come, good, there, etc.  He isn't properly using language fluidly and creatively making sentences and so the project is brought to a close.  Of course in the meantime, Ben actually begins to see Zan as his little brother and is distraught when Zan is taken away to a ranch (of sorts) in Nevada.  I won't ruin the rest of the tale, but I will say that this is an excellent read for anyone, be they pro animal rights or not.  It raises issues beyond the above mentioned and the characters go through many changes and face many challenges throughout the journey.

In some ways, this reminded me of Next, another book regarding using animals in scientific experiments, by Michael Crichton.  One more that I would recommend especially for the background knowledge you can glean about the scientific process and thoughts that go into planning and implementing a study.  Again, where do you draw the line?  Lots of fodder for thinking.  The mark of a fabulous read for sure!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Retirement Plan

Currently Reading: Packing for Mars

Pg 264: "Brave and anal: the ideal space explorer.  Though you don't find "anal" on any of those lists of recommended astronaut attributes.  NASA doesn't really use words like anal.  Unless they have to."

Mary Roach, in addition to being the queen of non-fiction for the layman, is the consummate transitioner.  Note: that is not a real word, but most certainly describes Ms. Roach.  Each of her chapters ends with a wonderful sentence or two clearly leading into the topic of the next.  And since she is hilarious, many of these cause you to giggle as you move on to the next page.  Just one of the many things that make Roach's books not only approachable, but enjoyable as well.  If you are wanting to find out more about something such as what happens to cadavers in the "afterlife" or the history of sex, check out one of her informative texts.

This one is all about space exploration and all the things that go into actually putting a human in space.  Roach delves into the often overlooked aspects of space exploration such as how the suit gets designed, how reasonable zero gee assignations are, and even what the astronauts get to eat while orbiting the globe.  This book was not only extremely enlightening, but encouraging as well.  How wonderful to a space buff like myself to know that people from all areas of study are contributing what they can to make space exploration easier and more reachable of a goal for humans.  She completely immerses herself in the topic of the book, doing massive amounts of research and even traveling across the globe to see the ways that other countries are approaching this topic as well.  It seems that Roach must put her life on hold and completely become an expect (or at least seek out such experts) so that she can give her readers a complete picture of what goes on behind the scene.  I even discovered why my bones protested so much when I attempted to start to run again, but way over did it.  They just weren't ready for so much strain!  They had atrophied!!  I had no idea what was actually going on and while I enjoyed learning about the space program, how cool to pick up a little tidbit that relates to other aspects of my life as well.

Mary clearly thinks that space exploration is something that we need to take more seriously these days.  The book ends on the topic of traveling to Mars, something I plan to do for my retirement, that is, I am going to retire to the Mars colony.  On page 315, she notes that "the tougher question is not "is Mars possible?" but "Is Mars worth it?"  An outside estimate of the cost of a manned mission to Mars is roughly the cost of the Iraq war to date: $500 billion."  It is incredible to Mary (and myself) that we are totally OK with spending that much to cut off human life, but not to extend the reach of the human species itself.  In my humble opinion, it seems that the future (aka Space) is far better deserving of such funds.  Imagine my delight when, at the end of the book, Mary leave us with this thought:

Yes, the money could be better spent on Earth.  But would it?  Since when has money saved by government redlining been spent on education and cancer research?  It is always squandered.  Let's squander some on Mars.  Let's go out and play.

Hear hear.  That's all I have to say.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Acceptance

Giving up??
Currently Reading: Breathless

When do you reach the point where acceptance is easier than fighting something that is so unfortunately true about yourself?  That is what the main character of this book is fighting.  It's not so much something about herself, but really more about her family, which I suppose you could argue is an inherent part of one's identity anyways.  Katie is the sister of a young man who has a mental disorder.  His condition causes him to get so out of control that her parents end up sending her to a boarding school so that she doesn't have to experience his mood swings and erratic behavior.  You might think this is a good thing, but really everyone is just trying to cover up the issues that plague not only Will, the brother, but the family as a whole.  When Katie gets to school, she begins by telling people that there was an accident involving her brother.  It's not her fault that they assume he is dead, is it?  She spends the next three years swimming on the school team, working hard to get good grades, and really, simply finding who she is when she is not labeled as the sister of the "freak".  Katie enjoys this, but at the same time, can't help but feel she is living a lie.  In the end, the true story comes out and she discovers who her real friends are at this posh, elitist school.

So I guess the theme of my blog post tonight is how long do you try to hide the truth, wrapping it up in a pretty exterior or ignoring it all together?  All of us have something about ourselves that we don't necessarily like, but that is something we simply are powerless about.  It reminds me about something I mentioned in an earlier post, the whole AA serenity prayer, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference".  Now of course you know I am never advocating prayer (gasp...of all things!) as a solution, but the sentiment, at its core, does speak to an ability that all of us need to discover about ourselves at some point.  My bag of clothing that doesn't fit depicts my own little journey of acceptance that I have had to go through lately.  While I am not at the point of giving up yet, I am certainly hopeful that by now, I am ready to accept that things will never be as "perfect" as I would like them to be.

Katie is a flawed, but worthy character who eventually accepts her brother as is.  This means she doesn't idolize him as she did in the past, but she doesn't totally shun him as many others have done in the past.  She, and eventually her whole family, accept the fact that they are not perfect, as a group or even as individuals, but together, they can survive and thrive through their combined support.  I hope that at some point we can all find that peace with ourselves and our loved ones.  It is so much more solacing to accept than fight some things.  Now don't go giving up and hoping on any bandwagons, but really, moderation in all things, even emotions, seems to be one of the keys to finding serenity.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Jedi and Whatnot

Currently Reading: Apocalypse

This one is the last in the Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi series and believe it or not, it actually wasn't half bad.  The Star Wars books have been a little disappointing lately in that they are glossing over or completely changing established facts of George Lucas' imagined universe.  Don't laugh, but there is a dorky parallel with what happened to the series, Yu-Gi-Oh!.  In the beginning, the characters had to use their wits and come up with solutions through quick thinking and determination.  Later on, the characters always ended up having some ridiculous card that magically did everything and anything they needed it to in order to win.  No more trusting the heart of the cards and using some crazy card combinations.  No, it was all about that one spectacular play.  It's like their decks had a million cards in them that ever changed, regardless of what actually happened in the story.  So now back to the Jedi, the same thing has been happening here.  Some lore or new Force technique appears at exactly the right moment to save the day and all characters come out unscathed.  Now I'm not saying no one dies or anything, but it has been a long time since an important character has been killed off in an appropriate manner.  I'm sorry, but from what they have put them through, Luke, Han and Leia should all have been six feet under ages ago.  Way too many liberties have been taken with the limits of the Force not to mention the tolerances of the mortal body itself.

Now what made this one a bit better?  Well, it did finally require some finesse to be performed by the characters, left things a little more realistic in terms of their conclusion, and actually gave enough pages to each of the viewpoints so you didn't feel like an ADD adolescent bouncing from one scene to another.  I think part of it is that this book's author was a seasoned veteran who actually had some good Star Wars books under his belt, and also that he was allowed to go over a paltry 300 pages or so, something the others in the series have stuck with pretty much the whole time.  I'm not going to go into all the goings on in this book because I doubt many of you have been following the story line (or are quiet as big of a geek as myself).  Needless to say, for those of us who are die hard fans, it was well, adequate.  We are sadly far away from the tomes of Timothy Zahn and Michael A. Stackpole, but at least not so far that at least the Force is still with some of us.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Shrieks of Laughter or Fright?

Currently Reading: Boomsday

Pg 114: "I don't much personally care for him either, Mr. President, but slice him or dice him, he is Mr. Pro-Life."

Sounds like the rationale for half the republican voters out there, eh?  I won't get into my personal thoughts on this topic too much, as I want to get to the book, but it needed to be posted.  The other half of GOP fans can replace Pro-Life with Pro-Guns or Pro-God and that completes the main reasoning behind so many of the ridiculous politicians "representing" us today.

So onto the book...  As you can tell by the increase in posts, it is Spring Break!  This means loads of reading time!  Hooray!  Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could get paid to do this?  A girl can dream...  Boomsday is the latest in my desire to complete all of Christopher Buckley's books.  This one is, of course, also political in theme, revolving around a young lady who starts an underground movement to encourage the aging Baby Boomers to "Transition" themselves in an effort to decrease the national debt.  What is this so called Transitioning you ask?  Well, it is voluntary suicide (ideally at age 70) aimed at limiting the demand on the Social Security coffers.  Cass proposes this idea initially on her blog, but it is swept up by some prominent political players and in typical Buckley fashion, chaos and mayhem ensue.  Lots of laughs interspersed with poignant ideas cause one to not only get pleasure out of this book, but get some thoughts to chew on as well.

I have to say that Buckley is one of the few authors who really gets me to laugh out loud.  Seriously, I almost spit out my Diet Coke at a few points.  The ridiculousness of the situations in which him characters find themselves, as well as the dialogue between some of them are hilariously scary.  How does he come up with this stuff?  Is he really that cynical?  I think that Christopher Buckley would be one of those "five people you want to have dinner with" for me.  I would love to pick his brain regarding his own personal experiences or even just sit and listen to him rant.  I wonder if he has a blog himself?  Hmm... some investigation is needed.

Bottom line is, if you like to laugh and have an open mind, pick up this one when you are feeling low because, as Buckley so disturbingly relates, things could be oh so much worse.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ungood

Currently Reading: Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress

One of the things that I like best about young adult fiction is that they never cease to surprise you, pulling in some literary reference or complex character development when you least expect it.  Now I am most certainly not saying that they are all worthy of the term "literature" but several are and I highly encourage you to give them a shot.  Heck, even if it is just picking up The Hunger Games before you see the movie, it may be worth your time.

What was fun about this one was not only that the main character, Brett, is a charismatic and likable young lady, but throughout the book she uses many "upper level" words and then there is a definition supplied right after it.  I know, you're thinking how stupid that sounds, but each time she defines a word, it provides more insight its usage as well as deepens her character.  I did know all the words, but they were ones that you would wish our young adults would use more often.  From my own experiences with these kiddos each day, a nuanced vocabulary is one of the things that seems to be going by the wayside along with the ability to spell or write in cursive (not that I am a pro at either of those myself).  Their world is filled with colorful curses or abbreviations such as the ever popular LOL or MROMS.  I gave a quiz the other day and had to tell almost half my students what the word "initial" meant.  Sigh...  What happened to us?  Why is having a varied lexicon no longer something that is encouraged amongst our students?  The cursive and spelling thing can be explained away by the ever increasing use of technological tools for word processing, but seriously, I see no reason for the vocabulary decline.  Now a days we can find various blogs and online articles using intelligent speech, not to mention the ease of a dictionary and thesaurus available at a right click while writing a paper.  If nothing else, we ought to be better speakers what with all the references abound.  Bah!  Before you know it, we will be reduced to Newspeak.  (Cupcakes to those who get the reference ;)  For a hint, see my previous blog entry).

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What's in a Name?

Some of my "flair".
Currently Reading: In Other Worlds

Pg 148: "Now it appears we face the prospect of two contradictory dystopias at once - open markets, closed minds - because state surveillance is back again with a vengeance."

Margaret Atwood.  Yet another of the authors I mentioned being multifaceted.  This book is actually a nonfiction work by one of fictions most prolific authors.  She has noted that much of what she writes has been listed as "science fiction" and decides to take on that genre by looking into what actually determines how we make that classification.  What really is science fiction?  Is it the science or the surrealism that makes bookstores stock a book on this shelf?  It seems that much of what we term science fiction is really just anything that isn't "realistic".  Atwood makes the point that everything from possible futures to lightsaber waving Jedi fall under this generic category and that really, it is a genre make up of many subsets.

In Other Worlds is split into three sections.  The first is what Atwood describes as her initiation into science fiction, but is really rather a look at its definition and the various stories that make their way into the category.  Superman and Big Brother, Eloi and Wookies.  How are they related?  How are they different.  I found that I agreed with much of what she says about how science fiction has been mutated over the years to contain such varied works.  Really, should those near future dystopias be included?  What about space operas?  Shouldn't they be more fantasy rather than scientific fiction?  I have always wondered that myself.  I would never put Margaret Atwood and Aldous Huxley in the same category as say, Kevin J. Anderson or Arthur C. Clark.  Their plots and morals are just so different.

The second section is a series of reviews and discourses that she has published over the years regarding many science fiction stories or books.  She talks about works by Ursula K. Le Guin and George Orwell and even H. Rider Haggard and Kazuo Ishiguro.  I was pleased to find that I had read many of them and am now eager to read more because, as my button relates, I most certainly do love me some science fiction.

I am not quite to the third section, which is promised to be some new novellas and short stories by the author herself, but I am excited to see what new tales she tells and how they will relate to her iconic world first brought to us in Oryx and Crake, continued in the Year of the Flood.

All in all, this is an informative and entertaining nonfiction offering from one of fiction's finest.  Margaret Atwood most certainly is one of this century's literary treasures.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Time Warp

Currently Reading: 11/22/63

Pg 132: "When you put on a clown suit and a rubber nose, nobody has any idea what you look like inside."

I just liked that quote and so had to include it here.  So true and really, when you think about it, almost all of us dress up and play a part at some point in our lives, hiding any and everything about ourselves that we wish to keep secret from the rest of the world.

So, I mentioned Mr. King in my last (lamentably long ago) post, and it sticks even now that I have tackled his latest tome.  And truly a tome it is with over 800 pages!  My arms certainly got a workout, but it was worth the pain.  Has there ever been a time when you wished you could go back in the past and alter an action or decision that you wished you had not made?  I know I certainly do, and in this book, the hero, Jake, gets to do just that.  Or at least a version of that.  He goes back in time not to change something about his own past, but about the past of the entire country.  How would things be different if JFK had not been slain on that fateful November day in Dallas so long ago?  Jake has been tasked by the keeper of the time portal, a dying diner owner, to fix the event which changed the course of American politics in an incredibly profound way.  The weird thing about this portal is that it only takes people back to one date in time, years before 1963.  Jake has to invent a life and eventually make his way to Texas in order to carry out his duty.  While on the surface, it doesn't seem too hard, Jake ends up finding friendship and love along the way, causing him to want to forgo the presidential rescue and quietly enjoy himself instead.  Needless to say, Jake does end up saving President Kennedy and comes back to the present day.  At the end, you are left feeling sorry for him because Jake, as the main character, should be the one to reap the benefits of his journey.  I don't want to spoil the end for those of you who are brave even to pick up this one, but we do get a bit of satisfaction in the end after all.  This is yet another extraordinary story from Stephen King, filled with historical details and complex characters.  Really a far cry from some of the terrifying horror stories he is know for, but a far better example of his genius.  I will say that I couldn't help but think of "It" when I read the above quote though :)

Other notable reads that I just haven't had the time to blog about:

The Cradle in the Grave by Sophie Hannah discusses the ambiguity behind proving whether an infant dies of SIDS or is murdered by a caretaker.  Totally interesting story telling from the point of view of someone researching for a documentary on some recently exonerated women.

Anna Quindlen shares her love of literary London throughout "Imagined London" and gives us a brief tour of that ubiquitous setting for so many of our most beloved tales.

In "State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett, indigenous peoples and our intrusion on their way of life raises questions that cause the reader to pause and consider how far doctors should go in the name of science, not to mention bringing up some interesting points regarding reproduction and other woman issues.