Posts By: Louise

The Yellow Wallpaper
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

February 6, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman Book Cover

★ ★ ★ ★

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman | January 1892 | Project Gutenberg | Public domain

First published in 1892, The Yellow Wallpaper is a very short novella, which traces a woman’s descent into madness, when she is subjected to the Weir Mitchell Rest Cure and forbidden to use her imagination or undertake any activity.

My goodness, what a creepy/depressing piece of literature this is.

It’s clear to the modern reader that the narrator is suffering from some form of mental illness. Postpartum depression, perhaps, or an anxiety disorder. Of course, in the Victorian era (when this short story was written), a woman with these kinds of problems was simply labelled “hysterical” or was said to have a nervous condition.

The narrator’s husband, being a physician, is the one who has diagnosed her with a slight hysterical tendency and ordered her to take a rest cure in the countryside. Thus she must spend all day every day under his direction, and her schedule consists of nothing much more than brief walks in the garden, meals, and solitary time in the room with the yellow wallpaper.

She hates this yellow wallpaper, with its irritating and repellent pattern which has been stripped off the wall in some places by previous occupants, and she begins to obsess over it.

The poor woman is not only anxious/depressed, but she has absolutely nothing to do to occupy her time. She is not even allowed to write, much less have any useful exercise or roll in the running of the household. Her own baby is being nursed by someone else. Her husband infantilizes her and tells her that she would get well if only she had more self-control. This, as much as any preexisting mental condition, is what ultimately drives her over the edge of sanity.

It’s amazing to me how much of a punch can be packed into a short story of only 15 pages. I couldn’t help but feel sadness for this woman who slipped so quickly into severe mental illness, exacerbated by the patronizing treatment she’d been subjected to.

This is a tough one to rate, partly because it’s so short and partly because it’s brilliant but not in any way a favorite of mine. I won’t personally re-read it (it is very disturbing!), but I do want to recommend it to anyone interested in the way mood disorders were handled in the late 19th century.

This is a selection from my Classics Club list, and counts towards the Women’s Classic Literature Event.


Links:


Publication information: Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Salt Lake City, UT: Project Gutenberg, 2008. EPUB.
Source: Project Gutenberg Ebooks, www.gutenberg.org/ebooks.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Backlist Love | A Novel About a Blogger in Texas

February 5, 2016 Backlist Love, Books 0

Backlist Love is an informal series on “older” books that I hope you’ll find interesting. These aren’t so much reviews as quickie recommendations, so check out Goodreads or your favorite book review sources if you want more info.

BLL_TXblog



Lone Star Legend by Gwendolyn Zepeda (Grand Central Publishing, 2010)

Lone Star Legend

If she can find the time, Sandy Saavedra will stop to breathe. New management has turned work upside down and her father’s upcoming marriage — something he forgot to mention to Sandy — means there’s no peace at home, either. But it’s okay. No matter what’s thrown her way, Sandy can deal. Because Sandy has a secret, and his name is Tío Jaime.

A short drive out of Austin delivers Sandy into the wide-open spaces of the Hill Country, to the front porch of grandfatherly hermit Tío Jaime. There, in the company of pepper plants, a shaggy dog, and fresh squeezed lemonade, the old man imparts down-to-earth advice. Overbearing boss? Work smarter; she’ll leave you alone. Disrespectful boyfriend? Pack your bags; a real woman tolerates only a real man. His simple perspective reminds Sandy she can make her own choices – something she’s been forgetting lately.

Feeling inspired, Sandy posts their chats online. But as she introduces the world to her personal Eden, her own life heads straight to hell . . .

Why I liked it

My fond feelings for this book may be colored by its status as one of those books I devoured like a starving person after not being able to read for pleasure during an intense semester at grad school. Anyway, this is a fun contemporary fiction with a fun kind of “Texican” flavor to it and a fairly satisfying character arc.

Who I’d recommend it to

Anyone who needs a quick, fun-but-not-too-fluffy read, especially if you’re looking for something beyond plain ol’ white bread chick lit. But you don’t have to take my word for it… the Texas Library Association included Lone Star Legend on its Lariat List (Best Adult Fiction of 2010) a few years ago.

Links

backlistlove_redux

From Silk to Silicon
by Jeffrey E. Garten

February 1, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

Garten_FromSilktoSilicon

★ ★ ★ ★

From Silk to Silicon: The Story of Globalization Through Ten Extraordinary Lives by Jeffrey E. Garten | March 2016 | Harper | Hardcover $29.99

This is the first book to look at the history of globalization through the lens of individuals who did something transformative, as opposed to describing globalization through trends, policies, or particular industries. From Silk to Silicon tells the story of who these men and women were, what they did, how they did it and how their achievements continue to shape our world today.

This is the story of globalization in historical and personal terms, starting with Genghis Khan conquering vast swaths of Asia and to build a massive empire and concluding with the efforts of more contemporary characters like Margaret Thatcher, Andrew Grove, and Deng Xiaoping. Each individual profiled in this book had some huge impact on the way our modern world works.

I knew very little about Genghis Khan, Henry the Navigator, Cyrus Field, or really any of the other people featured in this book before reading it. Each chapter is really a broad summary of each person’s life with particular emphasis on their contributions to globalization, rather than an in-depth biography. But I’m intrigued now by these people and plan to find more books about them, or maybe track down some documentaries or something. The details of their lives must be fascinating.

Of course, not every person profiled here is what I’d call “admirable”… not by a long shot. They were conquerors and capitalists and probably other questionably-virtuous things that start with the letter C. War, slavery, and questionable ethics in general abound in their stories What they all have in common, saints or sinners or something in between, is that they actively transformed the world in irreversible ways.

The book entirely “readable” in that you don’t have to be a historian or economist or whatever to understand the language or the salient points. (See above re: my unfamiliarity with most of the highlighted people.) One of the things I really liked about it was the inclusion of maps. Maps! I mean, I like maps in general, but in this case they really were necessary for me to be able to visualize the spread of each profiled person’s impact on the world.

I’m afraid I can’t personally comment on the accuracy of any of the information in this book because I am not a historian of any kind, but the author is an economics professor at Yale and former international trade official for the federal government, plus he’s been widely published in the topics of global economies and politics… so I’m inclined to believe that what he has to say in this book is probably accurate. Garten is also careful to qualify statements when the historical record is incomplete or when scholars disagree on the details, and I very much appreciate that kind of intellectual honesty.

– – –

Please note: I received an e-ARC from the publisher for review via Edelweiss. From Silk to Silicon will be released March 1, 2016.


Links:

Publication information: Garten, J. E. From Silk to Silicon: The Story of Globalization Through Ten Extraordinary Lives. New York: Harper, 2016. EPUB. 
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss. 
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science
by J. Kenji López-Alt

January 31, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

LopezAlt_TheFoodLab

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Keni López-Alt | September 2015 | W. W. Norton & Co. | Hardcover $49.95

Ever wondered how to pan-fry a steak with a charred crust and an interior that’s perfectly medium-rare from edge to edge when you cut into it? How to make homemade mac ‘n’ cheese that is as satisfyingly gooey and velvety-smooth as the blue box stuff, but far tastier? How to roast a succulent, moist turkey (forget about brining!)—and use a foolproof method that works every time?

As Serious Eats’s culinary nerd-in-residence, J. Kenji López-Alt has pondered all these questions and more. In The Food Lab, Kenji focuses on the science behind beloved American dishes, delving into the interactions between heat, energy, and molecules that create great food.


López-Alt is a director and columnist at Serious Eats, one of my favorite food websites. Almost every recipe or technique I’ve tried from SE has been worthwhile, so I had high expectations for this cookbook. I was not disappointed!

First, here’s something you need to know about me: I love science-based anything. If someone is going to put the time/effort into trying out different techniques or gathering data on the most efficient use of X, I am happy to read all about it. (See my review for Cooking for Geeks for another example of excellent food experimentation.)

Here’s another thing about me that affects this review in particular: I enjoy cooking (and enjoy eating good food even more), but I’ve been in a cooking slump lately. This is due to a number of factors: schedule changes, high-stress events, finally coming to terms with the fact that my spouse just does not enjoy about 80% of the stuff that I like to eat, and other stuff like that. So when I do cook these days, it’s almost always going to be something tried-n-true and not too labor/time intensive. So that’s a huge part of the appeal of this book for me — the recipes have already been thoroughly tested and a great many of them happily do not require the cook to spend hours in the kitchen (although several do, if that’s your thing).

Beyond that, though, this is also a “book-book” as well as a cookbook. In other words, it isn’t just a collection of recipes. Personal anecdotes, investigations of various methods, and informative graphs/charts abound.

As an example of exactly how thorough López-Alt gets in this book, let’s take the section on making chicken stock. He explains a bit about the history of making/using stock and the various versions of it before jumping in to the experimentation. What part of the chicken makes the tastiest stock, or the most gelatin-y stock: wings, legs, breasts, or the leftover carcass? What is the best method for clarifying the stock or removing extra fat? What is the best storage method and how long can it be stored? And then: what kind of soups make the best use of this perfect homemade chicken stock?

Of course, you can use the traditional method of throwing a bunch of stuff in a pot and simmering it for a few hours, or you can just buy the dang stock from any grocery store, but that’s not the point. If you want the best possible chicken stock that makes the most efficient use of your time and kitchen resources, The Food Lab can tell you how to do that — and more importantly, WHY you should do it this way.

The thing that pushed this into 5-star territory for me, though, is the physical qualities of the book. There are a ton of full-color illustrations, the pages themselves have a nice thickness and a slight gloss to them (helpful for messier cooks like myself), and the binding is sturdy and — best of all — the book lays flat so that the pages stay open to whichever recipe you need with no struggle. These things are all signs of a cookbook constructed with real attention to detail.


Links:

Read My Own Damn Books Challenge Image

This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge.


Publication information: López-Alt, J. Kenji. The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2015. Print.
Source: Purchased from Barnes & Noble.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Foundation
by Isaac Asimov

January 29, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

Foundation by Asimov Book Cover

★ ★

Foundation by Isaac Asimov | October 1966, originally published 1951 | Avon Books | Paperback $1.99 (Used)
This book is one of 50 titles on my Classics Club list.

For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future — to a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire — both scientists and scholars — and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for a future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation. But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. Mankind’s last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and be overrun — or fight them and be destroyed.

Kiiiinda disappointed in this one.

I had high expectations… maybe too high. Really, this is one of the (if not the) sci-fi classics that defined and elevated the genre beyond pulp in the mid-20th century. But now I’m left feeling confused as to why exactly so many modern SF readers still rate this book among their favorites.

It’s supposed to be an epic space opera (well, the first book of it anyway) with a focus on compelling, universal themes/ideas. And I guess it is? There is very little in the way of character development, so the entire plot revolves around the long-term revelation of the nature of humanity, especially in terms of scientific curiosity and governance/social control. The pace of the story is quick, covering decades in mere chapters, so the story necessarily can’t be about the individual characters (but rather the fate of Man as a whole).

– – –

Which brings me to my primary problem with this book: it’s all about Man. There is literally not one single woman with any impactful dialogue whatsoever. There is one woman with a speaking part, who exists only as an incidental appendage of her spouse and who spends all her brief page time complaining about her husband like some kind of midcentury housewife cliché. Of all the anachronistic little things that served as constant subtle reminders that this book was a product of the 1950’s, this was the thing that I found most jarring.

Is it fair to judge a 65-year-old novel by the standards of modern culture? Not wholly, no. I can respect that Foundation had a huge impact on the SF genre as we know it. I can certainly enjoy Asimov’s imagination and engaging storytelling skills. And, as I haven’t read any further in this series nor read anything else by Asimov yet (for shame! I know), I have to be fair about withholding judgement on the author’s intentions/beliefs in general (which some brief web surfing indicates were comparatively feminist for his time, anyway).

It’s just that the near-absolute lack of any women at all in this particular book is just so surprising that it pulled me right out of the story. That “suspension of disbelief” threshold, so important to the enjoyment of well-written SF, was crossed and my suspension was suspended, so to speak.

I certainly wouldn’t be surprised by a novel of this era that featured some two-dimensional damsel in distress, doting mother, femme fatale, or some other trope version of a lady companion/sidekick/love interest or whatever. Women had been featured as such in stories for hundreds of years before Foundation, and I knew better than to expect a Princess/General Leia or Lieutenant Uhura here. It’s the focus on a 99% male cast of characters — for no apparent reason — that baffles me.

– – –

My other problem with the book is that… well, I just had trouble caring at all about the plot. It’s as though the author wanted to show us this massive, complicated world, but zoomed too far back with the telescope so that all we can see is the general shape of things, with a few intriguing details here and there if we squint a bit.

All that said, the dialogue and the setting/event descriptions are great, though the latter are far too sparse. It might seem like an odd complaint, but I really think this book should have been longer and a bit slower paced, with more time spent on that fascinating world-building! Of course, Asimov was writing in a time when genre novels were far less frequently allowed to be the door-stoppers that they often are today.

– – –

This brings me to my decision to not read the remaining books in the series, at least not anytime soon. My understanding is that there are a few more lady characters and the plot twists get to be considerably weirder in the following books, but I’m just not interested in trying them out right now.

Have you read Foundation, and did you care for it? If so, what do you think I’m missing about the appeal of this book???


Links:

Read My Own Damn Books Challenge Image

This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge. (Bought before the new year.)


Publication information: Asimov, Isaac. Foundation. New York: Avon Books, 1966. Print.
Source: Local used bookshop, Galveston Books.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Movie Musicals Challenge –
On the Town

January 26, 2016 Just for Fun, Movies 0

This is first musical film I’ve watched for my Movie Musical Challenge.

I chose this one to watch first for a couple of reasons: (1) I’ve never seen it before, even though it features both Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, whom I love in just about everything I’ve seen them in, and (2) it was on Netflix.

on_the_town_1

On the Town is the story of three sailors who have just 24 hours of shore leave in New York City, which none of them have been to before. They start off sightseeing, but soon get distracted by all the interesting girls that cross their paths.

Gabey (Gene Kelly) becomes obsessed with Ivy Smith, a.k.a. “Miss Turnstiles” (Vera-Ellen), who he mistakenly thinks is some kind of big celebrity. Ivy Smith is ridiculously described as a homebody who likes high society, goes out with Army boys but really likes the Navy, paints while she dances ballet, a frail flower who is also a great athlete… who apparently spends her free time beating up piles of dudes while wearing short shorts, in Gabey’s imagination anyway.

(Which, can I just say, I super admire the athleticism required for her intro dance routine!)

Gabey’s obsession leads the boys to scramble all around town looking for the illusive Ivy Smith. The three sailors pile into the back of a taxi driven by Brunhilde (Betty Garrett). Her shift is over and she isn’t really supposed to give them a ride, but she takes an immediate liking to Chip (Frank Sinatra) and decides to try to get him to go out with her. She protests at first that her intentions are entirely innocent, but then she pretty much immediately plants a big smooch on him and starts up a super goofy song’n’dance routine about how attractive she thinks cavemen are.

OK, the bit in the museum was quite cute until all the vandalism and racist caricatures started happening. I mean as much as I would like to have a sexy dance party in that outfit in a museum….

Anyway, after knocking down an entire dinosaur skeleton, the group decides to split up to “look for Ivy” in three groups: Chip and Hildy, Ozzie and Claire, and Gabey on his own. Of course, Chip and Hildy head back to her place and apparently have a fine time (after she kicks out her annoyingly oblivious roommate). I guess and Ozzie and Claire found some place to do a bit of necking, too.Gabey finally tracks down Ivy while she’s taking a dancing lesson, and proceeds to be a complete creep.

He apologizes and starts telling her all about his hometown, which she finds charming (because, spoiler alert, she is also from his hometown). They have a really, really cute little dance scene together and agree to meet for a date later that night. The pals all meet up at the top of the Empire State Building, where Frank Sinatra sings one of my favorite songs in the whole movie, “You’re Awful” (which is really more romantic than it sounds).

The group then decides to go out for a bit of evening fun, and does a really crazy number called “On the Town” which was honestly not my cup of tea. Did MGM have some kind of military-promotion agreement left over from WWII or something? The song started off being about how cool NYC is, and ended up being basically a derpy commercial for the Navy.

All the themed clubs with the cute little dancers were sorta fun but also sorta… racist? Black girls making that minstrel show mugging face during the “Dixieland Review”? East Asian girls singing with a stereotypical accent at the “Shanghai Floor Show”? Ew. I mean, I know it was 1949 and that’s just how things were, but it makes a modern viewer a little uncomfortable.Sadly, Ivy has to ditch her date at 11:30 pm in order to be on time to her job as a dancer at some kind of burlesque show. She can’t bring herself to tell Gabey about it and she just disappears, throwing him into another obsessive spiral of despair over her. His distraught imagination takes us into a weird little musical-within-a-musical recap of the whole story so far, which did feature some extremely impressive dancing (including the sexiest damn barre session ever) but otherwise seemed kind of out of place.

But the “You Can Count on Me” song that Gabey’s pals (+ Hildy’s awkward roommate) perform to cheer him up was pun-tastic and hokey and derpy and amazing. It definitely ties for my favorite number with “You’re Awful” except that it’s less romantic and more slapstick.Ozzie and Chip can’t stand to see their friend so depressed so they decide to chase after Ivy. Unfortunately, it turns out that the police are after them because of the aforementioned destroyed dinosaur, plus Hildy’s cab company owner is accusing her of having stolen the taxi… which she proceeds to drive like she did steal it to get away from the cops.

They do eventually manage to find Ivy, who is embarrassed that Gabey has now found out that she’s just a struggling small town girl instead of a high society big city dame.

And then we turn to cross dressing for the lulz. Our trio of sailors tries to get away from the police by joining the “cooch dancers” but they don’t manage to get away with it for very long. They end up in the back of the Navy’s very own paddy wagon. The show concludes with the girls begging for leniency and singing the praises of the United States Navy, which I guess somehow works because everyone is still in that WWII era “anything for the boys in uniform” state of mind.

on_the_town_2
Overall, I’m VERY glad I watched this. What a great movie to start this challenge with!

If you’ve seen this one, what did you think of it? And if you haven’t seen it yet, do you think it sounds appealing?

 


Reevaluating My Reading: Author Origins

January 24, 2016 Books 0

I’ve been seeing more and more buzz about diversity in the book world lately, and I got curious:

How diverse are my reading habits?

There are lots of ways to measure this. Author or character gender, LGBT orientation, ethnicity or culture, disability or mental illness, and on and on and on. Today, though, I just want to focus on origin.

Where are my books coming from?

Edited to add: This has nothing to do with that current Kirkus kerfuffle. This post was scheduled well before that started. And frankly, it confuses the hell out of me.

– – –

Discussion

Skip this section and go straight to the results below if you’re not interested in the method behind the madness madness behind the method….

I decided to focus on author origin / place of publication rather than character origin or book settings, simply because many books take place in multiple countries or even completely made-up worlds.

Some authors were hard to pin down. Many writers prefer to protect their privacy online and there was no information about where they call home. Others were born in one place but lived most of their lives in another — Laura Ingalls Wilder being an extreme example of this conundrum. When I couldn’t find any information about an author’s specific location, I simply used the country where their book was originally published instead.

I also had to decide what to do about series or multiple books by the same author. I ultimately decided to count each series only once per year, even if I read several books from the series in one year. Likewise, books with multiple authors are only counted once if both authors are from the same country, but twice if they worked together across borders.

In other words, this evaluation does not reflect the actual number of books I’ve read. It’s all about the authors!

– – –

Results

For all the books I’ve read in the past five years (from 2011 to 2015), here’s the breakdown by country:
authororigins1

 

Hm. Looks like I only managed read a few books from countries where the main language is not English. Of the non-English-speaking countries, the most heavily represented (with 6 books) was Japan.

Here’s the breakdown for the good ol’ US of A:
authororigins2

 

Many states were represented by only 1 or 2 books on my lists, which is why this pie has so many tiny slices. Only Texas, New York, California, Massachusetts, and Utah were represented by 10 or more books. Oh, and “America” as a general category (representing authors of unknown origin that published in the US).

– – –

I knew my reading has been mostly by American and English-speaking European authors. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that many of the Americans claim New York or California as home. Looks like the state with the biggest share of my American pie chart (ha) is Texas, and there’s a specific reason for that: in 2014 I had to read a great many books by Texas authors for a book list committee.

What am I going to do with this information? I don’t know yet. My planned reading for 2016 pretty much fits in with this pattern. But maybe in the future this will serve as motivation to try for a little extra diversity in my book diet.


Backlist Love | Two Books about Evolution

January 22, 2016 Backlist Love, Books 0

Backlist Love is an informal series on “older” books that I hope you’ll find interesting. These aren’t so much reviews as quickie recommendations, so check out Goodreads or your favorite book review sources if you want more info.


BLL_Evolution

Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin (Pantheon, 2008)

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins (Bantam Press, 2009)

Your Inner Fish

Why do we look the way we do? What does the human hand have in common with the wing of a fly? Are breasts, sweat glands, and scales connected in some way? To better understand the inner workings of our bodies and to trace the origins of many of today’s most common diseases, we have to turn to unexpected sources: worms, flies, and even fish.

Neil Shubin, a leading paleontologist and professor of anatomy who discovered Tiktaalik — the “missing link” that made headlines around the world in April 2006 — tells the story of evolution by tracing the organs of the human body back millions of years, long before the first creatures walked the earth. By examining fossils and DNA, Shubin shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our head is organized like that of a long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genome look and function like those of worms and bacteria.

The Greatest Show on Earth

Charles Darwin’s masterpiece, On the Origin of Species, shook society to its core on publication in 1859. Darwin was only too aware of the storm his theory of evolution would provoke but he would surely have raised an incredulous eyebrow at the controversy still raging a century and a half later. Evolution is accepted as scientific fact by all reputable scientists and indeed theologians, yet millions of people continue to question its veracity.

In The Greatest Show on Earth Richard Dawkins takes on creationists, including followers of ‘Intelligent Design’ and all those who question the fact of evolution through natural selection. Like a detective arriving on the scene of a crime, he sifts through fascinating layers of scientific facts and disciplines to build a cast-iron case: from the living examples of natural selection in birds and insects; the ‘time clocks’ of trees and radioactive dating that calibrate a timescale for evolution; the fossil record and the traces of our earliest ancestors; to confirmation from molecular biology and genetics. All of this, and much more, bears witness to the truth of evolution.

Why I liked them

First, Your Inner Fish was required reading for a class I took on evolutionary biology, and frankly it’s the best nonfiction book I’ve ever been “forced” to read for school. It’s engaging from page one and easy to follow even if you know next to nothing about evolution or paleontology. Shubin manages to cover a lot of scientific ground within a narrative of his own experiences out in the field.

The Greatest Show on Earth was just something I picked up because, honestly, I thought the cover was pretty (yeah, shame on me, whatever). I feel pretty ambivalent about Dawkins in general, but in this book in particular I think he does a pretty good job summarizing the evidence for the evolution + natural selection and debunking some of the more common “Young Earth” creationist and “Intelligent Design” arguments in a very accessible, sometimes rather funny way.

Who I’d recommend them to

It might seem odd to start this section with a negative, but I absolutely do not recommend the Richard Dawkins book for creationists, at least not for creationists who are just making their first foray into the study of evolutionary biology. Dawkins gets very snarky and is not shy about his atheism, and I fear that this can detract from his actual arguments. Putting science newbies on the defensive right out of the gate is not a good way to help them understand this complicated issue. Rather, I recommend this book only as a “refresher” for those of you who are already at least somewhat familiar with / accepting of the theory of evolution.

Neil Shubin, by contrast, is not out to ruffle any feathers. Your Inner Fish is more focused on describing the physical evidence for evolution than fighting anti-science philosophy. I would recommend this book to anyone who’s even a little bit curious about how a giant fish with legs (and its ancestors, and its cousins) somehow morphed into the huge variety of terrestrial animals, include humans, extant on our planet today.

Links

Your Inner Fish

The Greatest Show on Earth

 

backlistlove_redux

The Circle
by Dave Eggers

January 18, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

Eggers_TheCircle

★ ★ ★

The Circle by Dave Eggers | October 2013 | Vintage Books, an imprint of Knopf Doubleday | Paperback $15.95
When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America — even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

This book was chosen for a community-wide book club, Galveston Reads, sponsored by the local public library and some local foundations and businesses. This program always includes several themed events and book discussions, which I look forward to participating in this year.

I can see why The Circle is so popular. There’s even a movie based on it due out in 2016, starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks (which I’m very much looking forward to seeing). Comparisons to dystopian classics Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four are apt, except that this time the boogeyman isn’t Big Government or Big Industry — it’s Big Tech.

– – –

It is flawed, mind you. I got the feeling that Eggers was trying to be subtle about the moral of the story at first — that allowing the encroachment of technology into private lives is perilous — but I personally thought it was immediately obvious and got to be a bit tiresome. And I’m a librarian, for heaven’s sake, practically a card-carrying member of the Privacy is Fucking Important League. So perhaps my impatience with this is merely a function of being steeped in the issues on the daily?

And I have to admit that I bristled 2 or 3 times at the descriptions of the young, hip techies — including our supposed heroine, Mae — just blindly accepting whatever shiny new thing their company asked them to swallow (quite literally, in one instance… except it wasn’t even a consensual swallow, which I know sounds dirty, but it just bugged me, and I’d better stop talking before we get into Spoiler Territory).

Maybe I’m just a little touchy about all the “Millennials blah blah this,” and “Snake People blah blah that,” swirling around in the media these days, but the assumption that pretty much everyone, but especially almost all young adults would just unquestioningly accept some of the shit that went down in The Circle really rubbed me the wrong way. Things like SnapChat exist primarily because there is already a widespread  understanding of the need for some level of privacy or erasability among the up-n-coming generations.

Mae, the main character is… annoying in a sympathetic sort of way. She’s self-centered and often purposefully oblivious to actual human communication, ready to lie (even to herself, especially to herself) in even the most ridiculous circumstances (even when she’s being “transparent”, especially when she’s being transparent), and she has terrible taste in men. Unfortunately, she genuinely thinks she’s doing the right thing in most situations, she wanted so badly to get out of her home town that she took a huge risk to make it happen, and she often wishes that someone else would make important/confusing decisions for her… which I all find embarrassingly relatable.

Speaking of terrible taste in men… there was one “twist” in particular that I didn’t find at all surprising, and I won’t say too much about it in order to avoid spoiling the plot for potential readers — except to say that it should be obvious to just about anyone who isn’t an oblivious idiot like Mae. Once I had this figured out, nothing at all about the rest of the novel was a surprise. There are some plot holes related to this particular revelation, too.

– – –

So… why 3 stars? Because despite all of that, I practically devoured the book. I stayed up too late reading it and couldn’t stop thinking about it after working through a few pages during my lunch break.

Even a week after finishing it, I kept thinking about it. I got more and more irritated with the premise and the bleak assumptions about human nature, but I kept thinking about it, and that’s something.

The plot pacing is addictive. The insidious way that a giant tech company can fool the world (starting with itself) into believing that it cares is depicted in a perfectly creepy way (… and yes, I’m writing this on a Google platform). Warts and all, it’s still a well-written, provocative book.


Links:

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Publication information: Eggers, Dave. The Circle. New York: Vintage, 2014. Print.
Source: A gift from my local public library for Galveston Reads.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Books Are Not Sacred Objects

January 17, 2016 Books 0

Every once in a while, I see something like this….

“They’re actually throwing books out?!”

You can’t avoid it, hanging around the bookternet….

“I don’t get why would anyone cut up a book like that just for a craft project?!”

People love books, get attached to them….

“Why would they tear off the covers and toss them in a dumpster?!”

And no one wants to see their fav things mistreated….

“Can’t you just donate them to a library or school?!”

Especially when it comes to beloved authors or subjects….

“You’re removing it from the library… but what if someone wants to read it someday?!”

… sigh …


Something that anyone who works with books learns sooner or later is:

Books are not sacred objects.

Oh, sure, some individual books might be considered sacred. Any illuminated manuscript or limited-run first edition of a classic becomes an object with special worth. And someone might have individual books that are sacred to them personally. A beloved childhood collection of fairy tales or a gift from a good friend. But each and every book in the world can not be considered a sacred object.

The ideas held within those books might be considered sacred. The very idea of “book” might be sacred. The general concept of an object that contains thoughts that can be passed from person to person, even across centuries and different languages and cultures — that, surely, is sacred.

But.

  • That pile of mass market paperbacks that’s been taking up precious shelf space at the corner book store for the past year?
  • The series that you’re not even interested in but that your well-meaning grandmother continues to buy for you that are gathering dust in your closet?
  • That outdated textbook in your college library’s reference section?
  • Those books from an author that was popular 2 years ago that are now only lingering, unread in the fiction section at your already over-packed public library?

Don’t cry over those books. They might now be worth more as craft projects or recycled paper than they are as books.

Book_of_Kells_1

The Book of Kells? Yeah, OK, that one might be sacred.

– – –

“But what about donation?” I can hear you ask. “Surely someone out there would be grateful for them. There are starving children in Africa… starving for books!”

And sometimes, yes, donation is an option. Many libraries and schools might be happy to accept donations of books, provided that they’re (a) in good condition and (b) fill a hole in their existing collections. And even if they don’t want to keep the books, they might have a way to sell them for money that can help with other needs.

However, when you’re donating a book, you need to think about whether anyone really would be interested in reading it. You’re obviously not — so why are you getting rid of it? If you simply don’t have room or didn’t enjoy it, OK, cool. But if it’s a medical reference from 2 decades ago? If it’s an obscure vanity published collection of bad poetry? If it is literally falling apart? … What makes you honestly think that any other person would truly be in need of that particular book?

BetterWorldBooks_logo

If you’re serious about donating books, check out
Better World Books

– – –

It’s hard to get used to the idea that any given book might be unwanted, not needed, worthless. I know, I had the same problem once upon a time when I was but a little baby librarian.

It might help to try to separate the content of the books — whatever story or information or history that can be read there — from the physical items themselves. If the content is worth anything but the book itself is beat to bits or badly translated or whatever, you can probably find that same content in a better-condition binding or more accurate translation.

And if the content itself isn’t worth anything? Yeah, that happens sometimes, too. Again with the outdated medical reference example — that content is no longer worth consuming, and its container isn’t precious in and of itself. Let it go.

– – –

Bradbury_F451

 

Some of us who deeply appreciate books fear that potential-yet-improbable future of Fahrenheit 451, when all books are dangerous and the readers of the world must rescue them from the bonfires of intellectual oppression. I get that fear. It’s a valid fear, given that such things have happened in real life in the past. Even in present-day America, some people still try to ban or censor books that contain concepts that don’t neatly fit within their particular worldviews. So, yes, this is a problem that we have to be vigilant about. But it doesn’t mean that every book is sacred.

I hope this all makes sense and doesn’t just come across like the ramblings of a caffeine-deprived bitter old hen (because it might actually be that, but we’ll keep that between you and me).

Thoughts? Have you ever had to struggle with this idea? Or do you entirely disagree? Talk to me.