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.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

It's the Little Things

Currently Reading: The Age of Miracles

Pg 96: "Even beauty, in abundance, turns creepy."

Pg 266: "It still amazes me how little we really knew."

The universe is truly an awesome thing.  It is astonishing how so many little things work together in harmony to keep everything working.  One feature out of place and the world as we know it suddenly changes.  In The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker allows us the opportunity to follow along with Julia as she finds her way in an frighteningly changed world.  The Earth's rate of rotation has slowed.  That's it.  No one knows why.  There wasn't an asteroid collision or other astronomical disaster.  They just woke up one day only to find that what was a "day" had suddenly changed.  People take this news in different ways.  Some commit suicide, convinced that the apocalypse is upon us.  Others, such as Julia's father, treat life as the same, going to work and carrying out their daily routines.

As the rotation continues to slow, day becomes night and nature cannot keep up.  By the end of Julia's tale, the sun stays in the sky for hours upon hours, causing harm to people exposed to its rays.  Once it finally sets, crops are forced to deal with incredibly low temperatures and eventually, it becomes impossible to grow crops without synthetic aid.  The world's governments attempt to convince people to continue to follow the standard 24 hour day despite what it looks like outside.  Most agree, with a few discenters.  These folks create their own communities, but eventually, even humans are unable to adapt to a new timeline.

The Age of Miracles gives readers an interesting perspective on this phenomenon.  Julia's daily life is undoubtably different from that of an adult, free of many practical worries and frets.  Still, this outsider's view is almost more powerful because it is questioning and adaptable.  Why are authority figures making these decisions?  I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel and marveled at Walker's ability to get out of the gate so quickly.  This is her first novel and was written while working her normal nine to five job.

The book makes one pause and consider the wonderment of the world around us.  How much we take for granted!  Things that never cross your mind throughout the course of a day are so powerful in creating the harmony required to keep us going.  I find myself even looking closer at the biological interrelationships necessary for life.  Each day, scientists learn more about what makes life possible for us and what makes the universe what it is.  I am envious of those making these discoveries and grateful for their effort in keeping us laymen in the know.  If nothing else, it makes me more cognizant of each and every moment because who knows when one little thing will slip out of place, causing it all to unravel.  Hopefully the world will keep on turning.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mickey Is A Stooge

Currently Reading: Makers (or Why Cory Doctorow Hates Disney)

Pg 89: "Deciding what to make is always harder than making it."

That alternate title was totally given by me, not anything provided by the author, but I think it fits.  Anyways, onto the story, which is amazing by the way.  As with all Doctorow works, the reader is constantly bombarded by ideas that seem oh so novel at first and yet also quite obvious.  All his arguments make complete sense.  Cory Doctorow is definitely a man for the people.  His main projects tend to focus around the idea of common property and those who have innovative ideas but are constantly thwarted by "the man".  In Makers, Lester and Perry are two out of work engineers who simply want to make things to share.  Profit is not their motive.  "Coolness" seems to be their underlying goal.  Why not make a mechanical calculator that takes inputs like disembodied Barbie heads and creates an output of brown M&Ms?  Come on guys!  It's cool!  In fact, their inventions prove to be so cool that they are suddenly famous and find themselves overrun with fans.  This new status quickly brings their creations to the attention of those wanting to make money and the game begins.

What is abundantly clear throughout the whole book is that Lester and Perry simply want to make things and share those things with whomever wants it.  They also don't mind people piggy-backing on their ideas and taking them in a new direction.  This does not bode well at their neighboring creation station, Disney World.  It's funny because when you first think about Disney, what comes to mind are all the awesome advancements they have made in the world of animation.  Unfortunately, from Doctorow's perspective, they are also very protective of their achievements and don't like to share.  "Borrowing" is acceptable, but only if they are the ones doing the borrowing.

This is a trend that we have seen a lot lately.  Technologies are advancing at such a fast pace that it is difficult to figure out who developed what first.  I'm sure a recent court case comes to mind for most of you.  In Lester, Perry and the author's minds, there is not a need for someone to come out on top.  Ultimately, it ought to be the user who is the winner, not the faceless corporation.  It is the reason so many artists and creators have flocked to Creative Commons for licensing.  Remixing is a good thing!!  And when you come right down to it, doesn't everything come from something else?  There are very few completely original ideas any more.  You start with basic components that have already been made and then adapt them to suit your new need.  Apparently this is OK if you are starting with components you created yourself, but again, this leads to more issues.  How small do you have to get to find something you have completely made up yourself.  Someone had to figure out how to mold plastics and make microchips.

So back to the book.  I am not quite finished (it's only about 400 pages, but they are dense ones) and am enjoying it quite a bit.  Mostly because I am a geek and this stuff is right up my alley, but also because Cory Doctorow is such a good writer.  He manages to make outrageous yet lovable characters and while the world in which they live is bizarre at time, it is still a place you can picture in your head.  A place you could imagine yourself in one day and so are the situations.  Doctorow always address current issues that we can and should be thinking about each day.  These are things that affect each and every person's life, but things that many people don't realize or choose not to notice.  He is definitely one of my favorite writers.

I use the term writer and not novelist because Mr. Doctorow is not only a creator of fiction, but a fantastic journalist and nonfiction writer as well.  He is one of the editors for Boing Boing and I highly suggest taking a look at the site sometime.  You will be amazed by awesomeness.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Egresses

Currently Reading: The Portable Door

Pg 146: "Life at J.W. Wells & Co. might be deeply weird, but it was peanuts compared with the fathomless craziness of being human."

So about a quarter of the way through this book, I had my blog idea all decided.  I hadn't written in awhile and planned a posting that could encompass many of the books I had read since last I shared with you all.  The plan was this: talk about work.  All sorts of books revolve around the main character's job, often times focusing on how crappy it is.  So, hooray!  Initiate Plan A!  And then of course the portable door came into play and all my scheming fell to the wayside.

The Portable Door involves not so much everyday setbacks, but rather mystical and monstrous inanity because, unfortunately for our young hero Paul, J.W. Wells & Co. are actually a group of gremlins, warlocks, and dragon slayers.  Not necessarily my usual fair, but nevertheless, I persevered, hoping to find a gem or two along the way.  Alas, this was not the case.

Was the book bad?  I don't know, but I do know that it did not live up to the expectations arisen by the blurbs on the cover.  The basic story involves all the typical plot devices.  Paul needs a job so he goes out for an interview.  He meets a young lady who unfortunately does not return his affections.  He gets a job and though he has no idea what he actually does, he goes to the job day after day and is repeatedly faced with weird little happenings around the office.  Paul then finds out the true nature of the company, but due to the fact that the fine print of his contract says he cannot leave, he is left carrying out odd tasks all while figuring a way to get out of his predicament.  Chaos ensues.

Once reaching the back cover, I was left not so much unsatisfied due to the conclusion, but due to the meat of the novel.  Now don't get me wrong, a fluff book is always a fun little adventure, but I don't know if this was even fluff.  It seemed uninspired, trite, and a little boring at times.  Tom Holt has written several other works, but I have feeling that I will not be seeking them out.  Oh well, they can't all be winners I suppose.

I will leave you will a little joke from the book though.  Feel free to list your answers in the comments section.  This was my one take away from my reading.

"When is a door not a door?"  (Pg 242)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Remixing

Currently Reading: Shadow Show

The concept of remixing, hacking and simply straight up copying has been in the news a lot these days due to copyright lawsuits and all that.  It really is about taking something that has already been made and molding or adapting it to suit your needs.  Musicians make remixes of already produced songs, but make them their own through varying beats and altered lyrics.  Hacking in the technological sense often implied breaking into a piece of software code and altering it to perform some other function or work in a way best suited to their desired outcome.  This book can be described as a remix of sorts, at least that is my impression thus far.

Shadow Show is a collection of stories written by authors both famous and obscure, who were influenced in some way by the late, great Ray Bradbury.  Some of the tales feel eerily familiar to stories such as The Veldt, There Will Come Soft Rains and The Lake.  Others are so far removed in time and subject, yet still retain a connection to Bradbury's work.  I am enjoying revisiting his writing in this unique way and am awed by the influence he had on such household names as Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Audrey Niffenegger.  It makes me want to revisit these books which a scattered about my bookshelf.

One of the things I enjoy the most about each story is the afterward written by its author.  They speak a bit to not only their own story, but the unforgettable experience of encountering a Bradbury tale for the first time.  It's hard to believe that one man could be so influential to so many of these award winning authors, but there you have it.  I find myself relating to the feelings and inspiration related by all of them regardless of age, sex or nationality.

To get back to my original thought about "borrowing" and the like, this collection of stories includes several that are cleverly veiled remixes of Bradbury's own stories, not simply inspired by them.  So now onto the important question, is this wrong?  No one blatantly pawns off Something Wicked This Way Comes as their own, but follow the plot line and characters quite closely.  When is it no longer simply taking inspiration from, but rather copyright infringement on intellectual property?  It's a gray and murky area for sure.  Oftentimes you cannot move forward without climbing upon a foundation created by someone else.  Each iteration may be different, but bits and pieces stemmed from another person's work.  As technology continues to advance so rapidly, I have a feeling we will be seeing this issue arise more and more often.  And no, I don't know the answer.

What I can say, is that I am very glad for this collection of remixes because they not only pay hommage to an amazing artist, but they bring me back to my own experiences with the original novels and stories and I can derive pleasure from them once again.

I was quite excited to discover this book now as this video had recently been shared with me.  It highlights some of the extraordinary remixes that have been influential in their own right.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Decisions, decisions

Currently Reading: Divergent

There seems to be a trend these days in young adult literature.  More and more, science fiction type stories with a female protagonist are appearing on bookshelves and Kindle libraries.  Divergent is yet another of these.  Now don't get me wrong, I am loving this theme of girls kicking butt in the possible near future, but one of the things that is bugging me is that they are all series.  This sucks for someone who reads as much as me because I'm always left waiting.  Yes, some may argue that's a good thing and all that, but seriously, does it always have to be a trilogy?  Thank goodness for my friendly school librarian or I'd be broke!!

So back to the actual story.  Divergent takes place sometime in the future (no actual date is given) around the Chicago area.  It has been decided that what makes countries or divisions of people go to war with each other is not differences of race, religion or politics, but actually disparities between their human dispositions.  Therefore, the population has been divided into five main factions: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful) and Erudite (the intelligent).  Each group lives by their decided virtue and provides a particular service to the community as a whole.  The Dauntless provide protection for the city, the Amity fill roles such as doctors and nurses, the Abnegation serve as selfless political leaders and so on.  Children are raised by their families in their faction, but attend school together.  At the age of 16, they undergo a test that helps figure out where they fit the best and then they decide where they want to continue their lives.  Most often, students are either proven fit for the faction they are already a part of or given maybe one alternative.  Occasionally though, one is labeled as Divergent.  This means they define characteristics of many factions, making it hard to pinpoint where they belong.

Beatrice, the story's heroine, is Divergent.  Having grown up with Abnegation as her family, Beatrice decides to join the Dauntless (ironically enough, a very brave choice).  Her initiation is harsh, but through it, Beatrice, now calling herself Tris, finds friends, love and a new viewpoint on life.  What she does not find though is a sense of belonging, something she so desperately desires.  As a Divergent, Tris finds her thoughts varying based on the situation at hand and cannot fathom being forced to live life by a particular set of norms.

At the same time Tris is processing through her initiation, certain factions are starting to plot against each other, proving once again that peaceful harmony between people cannot be forced.  At the end of this book, Erudite launches their attach against Abnegation using Dauntless members as unknowing pawns in their army.  Luckily enough, the mind control does not work on the Divergent so Tris and her fellow Divergent friend Four (aka Tobias) find themselves hunted, no longer belonging to any faction.  To be factionless is the worst thing anyone can imagine.

So now you see why I am miffed about the whole series thing.  I need to know what happens next!!!  I'm sure as you were reading this synopsis you were thinking about how much of it parallels The Hunger Games or even the Matched books.  And of course, you are right.  The idea of certain groups being labeled and segregated is in both series as well as the idea of using complex personality tests in order to determine where one belongs.  What makes this series different though is the idea of choice.  Yes, individuals begin life in a certain faction, but at some point, their future becomes up to them.  I am intrigued by this idea and appreciate its inclusion in this new and upcoming genre.  As a reader, we are given a glimpse of why Tris and others made their decisions and this inner dialogue helps make the characters more authentic.  I also found myself wondering what choice I would make.  It reminds be a bit of those personality tests about what color you are or what animal you would be represented by.  The thing I don't like about them is that while there is almost always a group you show the most affinity for, you often embody a few characteristics of the other groups as well.  How nice that we are able to live in a society where we can be Divergent.  Still, it raises some interesting questions.  Which faction do you think you belong in?  What about the rest of your family?  Would you sacrifice live with your loved ones in order to "fit in"?  Something to ponder as you read this tale and even after.  I am still wondering about it even now.

Oh and yes, I did change the blog design.  This one seems a bit more easy on the eyes :)