E-Book Predictions

July 31, 2009 at 3:30 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 2 Comments

I wrote this six months ago and never posted it for some reason.  Let’s see if it still holds up.

I’ve been thinking about e-books.  I’ve been thinking about them because I’m going on vacation soon, and at 33 I know myself well enough by now to wish I had a Sony Reader, even if only for that week.  Last year I brought five books to Cancun, and they took up a good quarter of the space in my luggage, not to mention the weight.  I am simply not capable of traveling without “backup” books, much less any books at all, and the nightmare of being stranded in an airport with nothing to read – it’s not to be borne, that’s all.

Anyway.  I have some predictions about where e-books are heading, and I thought I’d share them.

  • Theme music.  Naturally if such a thing were to be developed, it would be possible to turn it on and off.  So far every other type of electronic multimedia has theme music, from web sites to video games, and many audio books have it too, in spots at least.  I imagine some people would pay an extra buck for the “soundtrack” version of very popular e-books, especially thrillers.
  • Tags.  By this I mean references.  Imagine being able to read a book, get stuck on a foreign phrase, touch it, and have the correct pronunciation pop up.  Imagine if an unfamiliar name came up, and you were able to touch it and go to an encyclopedia entry on the person.  With a photo!
  • Links.  For instance, a reference to a character or event in another book by the same author, or for that matter, a book by another author.  If I were a sly e-book marketer, I would even link to a purchase point for the referred book.
  • Bonus material.  We’re seeing this already with the PS editions from Harper Perennial.  In an electronic format, there’s room for more things of the variety of what we see on DVDs.
  • Children’s e-readers.  There’s probably already something like this out there, though I imagine it’s not as slick as the Sony Reader.  But so far everything else in the world comes in a Barbie version, so why not an e-reader?
  • Custom colors.  We got lollypop colored iMacs and rainbow iPods.  Give it ten years and you can have a hot pink Kindle too.  (Gee, man, I hope they’re working on a makeover for the Kindle already…)

These things probably sound distracting and obnoxious to those who do not like the concept of e-books.  Those who do, though, are already wired and are used to these sorts of features on their computer.  It’s a straightforward transition.

I remember working in tech support at the time that the Palm Pilot first came on the market.  You know, the first one.  They were amazing.  The Palm model I have now is light years beyond that model, and it came out a scant four years later.  Eight years after that, it’s such an antique that the guys at work tease me: “That’s not a PDA, that’s an abacus.”  The PDA itself is nearly obsolete due to smart phones.  I firmly believe that these e-readers are going to undergo a similar revolution.  They’re only waiting for a transition to a better form of marketing for e-books.  Just wait.  More people are going to start using them, and then it’ll be an upward spiral.

Book Group Breakup

July 30, 2009 at 2:58 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 8 Comments

This is a bit of a scandalous post.  I feel assured that it’s safe to write, though, because only one person in my book group reads my blog.

What do you do when the people in your group are divided in their reading tastes?

Our group seems to be split into what I’ll call literary and contemporary readers.  It’s a pretty firm split.  When we pick more challenging material, suddenly a large number of the group doesn’t show up for the meeting.  Yet when we’ve chosen things that were more appealing to that part of the group, the other part has found them a bit, well, pedestrian.

It seems like this is an impediment to the marriage of true minds.

What’s frustrating is that this is a really nice group.  Everyone seems to like everyone else, we put on an amazing potluck, and we laugh a lot.  As far as spending a pleasant evening hanging out with a group of girlfriends, it’s great.  It just seems like maybe a book group isn’t the right venue.

The question is, how do we approach this?  We’re actually meeting tonight to choose books for the next several months.  Not everyone will be able to attend for various reasons.  It’s a little fraught, because somebody is going to be disappointed no matter what gets picked.  Do we choose something that the literary crowd will find boring, for the good of the group?  Or do we pick something challenging that the contemporary readers won’t bother to finish, or show up to discuss?  To me it doesn’t seem so much like a matter of being judgmental on the other side as just somewhat incompatible.

What do you think?  Are we on a sure path to disaster and hurt feelings?  If the more literary crowd drifts away or reforms as a different group, will the contemporary crowd continue to meet?  Is it possible to announce a formal split without resentment?  Or should we count on an inevitable scattering of energy and figure a core group will remain a couple of years down the road?  We’ve been together about a year and a half now.  Advice?  Opinions?

Where Do I Get My Books?

July 30, 2009 at 11:17 am | Posted in Book Blather | 8 Comments

I’ve seen this going around and I thought it was interesting, so here goes.  Here is a list of the last 20 books I read and where they came from.

Beloved – Toni Morrison.  Local library.

The Urban Hermit – Sam MacDonald.  Local library.

The Able McLaughlins – Margaret Wilson.  Bought on Amazon after scrounging around for free electronic copy.

Disappearance Diary – Hideo Azume.  Local library.

Many Lives, Many Masters – Brian L. Weiss.  Mom lent me.

Shakespeare Wrote for Money – Nick Hornby.  Neighboring county’s library.

Population, 485 – Michael Perry.  Local library.

Beat the Reaper – Josh Bazell.  Local library.

Why is God Laughing? – Deepak Chopra.  Local library.

The Father of All Things – Tom Bissell.  Local library.

Crimes Against Logic – Jamie Whyte.  San Francisco library.

So Big – Edna Ferber.  Local library.

The City and the City – China Mieville.  Friend’s library copy.

Welcome to Lovecraft – Joe Hill.  Local library.

Weetzie Bat – Francesca Lia Block.  Local library.

The Blue Guide to Indiana – Michael Martone.  San Francisco library.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth – Carrie Ryan.  Friend’s library copy.

The Strain – Guillermo Del Toro.  Local library.

Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York – Gail Parent.  San Francisco library.

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven – Susan Jane Gilman.  Local library.

The Big Skinny – Carol Lay.  Local library.

This is somewhat depressing.  I am pulling from the library systems of at least three counties and using an additional person’s library card.  From this sample it would appear that I only buy 5% of what I read, but in fact it’s far less than that.  Only six of the books I read this year were “mine” and three were mooched.  I only paid full price for two, and one of those was electronic.  So I “bought” 2% of my reading material and paid for .7% of it.

I did buy two books off my list, but those were for gifts, so I’m not sure whether they count.

You may have noticed one thing that’s missing from my list, and that’s ARCs.  I did read an ARC this year, but it wasn’t sent directly to me; it was cadged off the original recipient.  I have an ARC I got from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, but I’m in trouble with them because I haven’t read it yet.  I’m in very little danger of having my “reviews” swayed by authors or publishers because I’m such a procrastinator about reading anything in paperback.

My library usage is shameless.  We can check out up to 30 books and have 20 on hold at any given time.  We can also borrow up to three from our SuperSearch system, pulling from neighboring counties.  I am lucky enough to also have access to the San Francisco library, because they will give a card to anyone who lives in California State.  Naturally I make the most of this situation, so I always have those 23 books on hold, typically about 20 checked out, and another 6-8 from SF.  With a bit of organization and a bit more obsession, it’s possible to read all sorts of things without remunerating the deserving artist one bit.

Zombies vs. Vampires vs. Werewolves

July 29, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 1 Comment

They’re out there. So close to human, yet with that spine-chilling difference. And no, I don’t mean monkeys. I’m talking about the undead and their ilk.

Why not monkeys, though? What’s behind the current craze for all things vampire, or any other fantastic being?

These trends come and go. In the 90’s I seem to recall it was aliens and angels. Now we’ve got pirates versus ninjas on the one hand, and vampires versus werewolves on the other. I’d like to get to the bottom of this thing so I can figure out what trend is coming up next – and cash in on it!

I read something recently suggesting that vampirism fans tend either to identify with the vampire or with the victim. Vampires are immortal, and for some reason they always seem to be rich, sexy, charismatic, and fashionably dressed. Who wouldn’t want that? The victims, evidently, who are swayed by the idea of surrender. I gotta confess that neither of these tropes does it for me. Equality or nothing.

I just read The Strain, a terrific vampire book that has very little in common with Twilight. Strain vampires behave more like zombies. (There’s some overlap here with I am Legend). Personally, I find zombie stories much more frightening. The theme behind zombies is the inevitability of death. Notice how zombies always move really slowly, yet catch up with their victims anyway? The Thriller video scared me witless as a child (and evidently I never fully recovered). The decomposing dead, with their rotting clothes and graceless gaits, wanting nothing more than to drag us down with them… Brr! What’s scarier to me is the way the zombie story represents the need for social conformity. “One of us! One of us!” Somehow I don’t think anyone really fantasizes about wanting to be a zombie. Or date one.

Werewolves are possibly the most interesting. The body goes through unstoppable physical changes, and the personality is swept away. Does this remind anyone else of being a teenager? The Incredible Hulk is really a werewolf story, too. It’s compelling to think one of our deepest fears is being carried away by anger to the point that we are no longer recognizable as human. There’s a sense of abiding loneliness, of becoming a social pariah, knowing it, and not being able to do anything about it.

Those who saw Pride and Prejudice and Zombies may have noticed that the newest upcoming offering by Quirk Books is not a vampire book, as expected, but: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Here I think we’re moving away from the type of paranormal character with which readers can identify. I’m not seeing cryptozoology as a strong draw. It seems to me that readers, especially younger readers, want to identify with the protagonist.

This is what bothers me, and how I can tell that I’m becoming an old fogey (at 34). You’ve got vampires out killing people while simultaneously violating any idea of an afterlife with rewards for good behavior. You’ve got pirates, who have all sorts of fun subverting any sense of rewards for being a net economic contributor. You’ve got ninjas, to whom all physical and societal boundaries are meaningless. Where are the ethical considerations in this? It makes me miss superheroes.

My Week in Books

July 28, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 1 Comment

Can it be that I was still finishing Beat the Reaper the last time I posted a list of what I was reading?  I guess 11 books is a bigger stack than I realized.  Anyway, here’s the rundown.

Beat the Reaper was yet more awesome than I even hoped.  It ended with one of the most stunning scenes in literature.

Why is God Laughing? is a book by Deepak Chopra with an introduction by Mike Meyers.  It would be a good gift for anyone who likes Mitch Albom.  It had a bunch of jokes which I’ve been trying out on my long-suffering coworkers.

The Father of All Things was amazing.  I’m going to read Tom Bissell’s collection of short stories, God Lives in St. Petersburg, in the next couple of weeks or so.

I read Crimes Against Logic with my man Rocket Scientist, and we’ve been riffing off it for two weeks.  We had issues with it, but it’s definitely gotten us talking.

So Big is one of my favorite Pulitzer winners so far.  It’s easy to see why it’s been adapted into film so many times.  I have no idea which version to watch, though.

The City and the City by China Mieville was exactly what a sci fi fan hopes for.  It’s based on a really cool concept, it’s set in a fully realized universe, and it has a gripping plot.  I’m gonna read Perdido Street Station next year.

Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft is the first of what looks to be a trilogy of graphic novels written by my crush, Joe Hill.  This is the real thing, baby.  The illustrations are fantastic, but the script would hold up on its own, which I think is rare for a graphic novel.  What’s next, Joe Hill?  A board game?  What medium can’t you do?

Weetzie Bat is something you should all rush out and read as soon as possible.  When I found out this gem of a book was the first of a series I felt like it was my birthday all over again.

The Blue Guide to Indiana was a funny little book.  It’s a farcical travel guide.  There should be more of these.  I imagine it would only be funnier for people who’ve been to Indiana.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth was our Family Reading Hour book last week.  It set us off on a protracted discussion of disaster planning.  Look out for a later post on zombies, vampires, werewolves, FEMA, and you.

The StrainThe StrainThe effin’ Strain!  I am telling you right now, this is a world-class horror novel.  You can just see it as a movie already.  Guillermo Del Toro definitely has the cinematographic eye.  Chuck Hogan could, no doubt, write anything.  Holy smoke what a book.  I wish I could read it all over again, but now I know all the plot twists.

Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York was sort of the female Portnoy’s Complaint.  It’s a sort of anti-chick lit.  It’s still readable, though a touch dated, but it manages to be quite funny in spite of its morbid subject matter.

I’m about a third of the way through Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven.  It is superb.  It’s the fishy pale underbelly of travel.

My stack is starting to sway a bit in the breeze.  I’m behind in my Pulitzers, and I have one that’s four volumes down the list from the San Francisco library, where it’s due this Saturday.  I could read it out of order; I could renew it; or I could skip the first two volumes of Louis Bromfield and just read Early Autumn.  I’m also supposed to have Sodom and Gomorrah finished – if I don’t get through it I’ll never finish Proust, and we can’t have that.  What to read, what to read?

Daisy Chain #5

July 24, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Posted in Daisy Chains | 1 Comment

The Protector’s War -> The Bookshop:  Suffolk Punch horses – I’d never heard of them before.

The Bookshop -> Ghost:  Poetry of William Blake.

A Reliable Wife -> The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie:  Poison.

The Burning Plain -> Beloved:  Spiderwebs to treat wounds.

Ghost -> Tethered -> Fun Home:  Mortuaries.  Plus I read How Not to Die, about being a medical examiner.  My bookshelf is scarier than Jeffrey Dahmer’s!

Tethered -> Beloved:  Locks of hair tied up and found on the ground.

The Urban Hermit -> Disappearance Diary:  Guys with jobs who eat really pitiful food.

Booking Through Thursday: Preferences

July 23, 2009 at 11:16 am | Posted in Book Blather | 3 Comments

Here is my response to this week’s Booking Through Thursday:

Which do you prefer?  (Quick answers – we’ll do more detail at some later date)

  • Reading something frivolous?  Or something serious?

Serious.  I switched to chick lit when I was in college, but then I was trying to learn Latin and Attic Greek at the same time, and I feared my brain would explode.  Now that I’m back to normal, when I try to read or watch frivolous movies, I automatically start thinking about Darfur.

  • Paperbacks?  Or hardcovers?

Hardcovers, preferably well broken in with the library’s signature plastic cover.  My dad prefers paperbacks, the same mass market size I loathe, and he can’t stand trade paperback size.

  • Fiction?  Or Nonfiction?

Nonfiction!  Nonfiction all the way.

  • Poetry?  Or Prose?

I’m going to say prose, though I love poetry.

  • Biographies?  Or Autobiographies?

Both.  Though I’ll read just about anyone’s memoir (is there a clear demarcation between the two?) but I’ll tend only to read biographies when I am seeking out information on the subject.

  • History?  Or Historical Fiction?

I hope I don’t have to tell my readers this.  History.  The real thing, baby.  I’m talking archaeological diagrams, fiber composition studies, grave find catalogues, the works.

  • Series?  Or Stand-alones?

Stand-alones.  I have read several series, but I have trouble keeping focused enough to get through the whole thing.  It took me 15 years to finish LOTR, three years to get through A Series of Unfortunate Events… I’m still working on Georgia Nicholson and the Outlander books, though I love them.

  • Classics?  Or best-sellers?

A bit of both.  I tend to shun best-sellers unless they are getting a certain type of critical attention.  Pure snobbery in action, but what can I say?  Most mass-market fiction just doesn’t do it for me.

  • Lurid, fruity prose?  Or straight-forward, basic prose?

Straight-forward and basic, unless I’m reading literary fiction.  Left to my own devices, I read mostly nonfiction, and mostly because for me it’s easier to get through.

  • Plots?  Or Stream-of-Consciousness?

Stream of consciousness.  I’ve always loved it.  When I read something plot-based I keep looking for the hole.  We watched The Knowing last Friday with my mom, and we were chasing the plot around for days, realizing new problems.

  • Long books?  Or Short?

Long books.  Unfortunately this year I’m stuck with mostly short, because I’m trying to hit 500.  234 to go!

  • Illustrated?  Or Non-illustrated?

Both.  If it’s a memoir I want to see baby pictures, at the minimum.  I must have at least one author photo.  If I’m reading history, I also like to see photos of relevant people, buildings, artifacts…  On the other hand, fiction with illustrations will make anyone looking over one’s shoulder think it’s a children’s book.  Which in my case, it often is.

  • Borrowed?  Or Owned?

Borrowed.  Where in the sam hill would I put all the books I read if I had to keep them in the house?

  • New?  Or Used?

Used.  Actually I get really paranoid about cracking the spine on new books.  I also break out in hives when I think about spending that kind of money.  If I’d bought everything I read this year new, I would have spent $3800 already, and that doesn’t include Mt. TBR.

Two-for-One Review: “Many Lives, Many Masters” and “Crimes Against Logic”

July 23, 2009 at 10:01 am | Posted in Nonfiction, Two-for-One Review | Leave a comment

These books might seem, at first glance, like strange bedfellows for a Two-for-One Review.  I have to do it, though, because on our trip last weekend my man Rocket Scientist and I found ourselves reading these books at the same time.  Every time I would nudge him and have him read a few lines, he would laugh and point at his book, because it seemed to be addressing something relevant.

Product DetailsProduct Details

Many Lives, Many Masters is subtitled:  The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives.  I read it because my mom wanted me to.  When I gave it back to her, I said, “When you offer me a book and ask me to tell you what I think, you should make sure you really want to know.”  See, my degree is in history, and my family often calls upon me to critique things like the costuming in historical movies.  I read a few reviews of this book, and none that I could find seemed to address this book from an historian’s perspective.

Let me start right out by saying that I am not a debunker.  In fact I’m a big old New Ager.  I believe in reincarnation.  Why not?  Frankly I don’t think it matters in the slightest what happens after death.  It just doesn’t.  We’re here now and we need to make the most of it, because when we do die, we’re definitely not going to carry on just as we are here on earth.  Who cares what’s next?  There’s no way to prove it, and nobody agrees, so let’s move on to things we can agree on, like having less stress in life.  And if we’re bothered by something, it doesn’t seem to matter whether it originated in a past life experience or not.  The fact is that we’ll have to accommodate our reaction to the bad experience one way or the other.  Maybe I have a chronic pain.  Is it related to a spear wound my spirit received in 963 AD?  *shrug*  My problem is, it’s bothering me now.  Back to the review.

Weiss’s patient makes some specific comments about things that happened in different time periods.  (Most of her regressions seem to involve general comments about hair and eye color and family composition).  There is a pretty basic problem with trying to “prove” reincarnation by “verifying” past life regression information:  if it’s based on verifiable facts, it’s open to criticism, because the person could have heard of that information somewhere; if it’s not verifiable, well, then we can’t verify it.  We would need someone to say something under hypnosis that was then verified years later by a brand-new archaeological dig, or a rediscovered document that had never before been translated into that person’s language.  The deeper problem is that when someone in this context does make a statement that can be verified, we’re under an obligation to do so.

“Elizabeth” says (p. 41) that she wore clothing “made from animal skins” in “Kirustan Territory” in the Netherlands.  In 1473.  To quote a famous scientist, “That’s not even wrong.”  Look, clothing made from woven fabrics predates written history.  The 15th-century Dutch definitely wore what we would consider to be real clothes, and anyone – even a rural villager – who ran around in skins would have excited commentary.  Look at some of Jan Van Eyck’s paintings, for example.

One of the underpinnings of this book is that “Elizabeth” knew things under hypnosis that she couldn’t have known at all, or didn’t know when she was conscious.  On page 111 she starts talking about Egyptian deities, and mentions Hathor.  Dr. Weiss is amazed.  Yet she came to him for therapy in the first place after visiting an Egyptian exhibit at a museum!  These hypnosis sessions occurred in the early 80’s, so Weiss’s belief that Elizabeth had never been exposed to ideas like reincarnation or karma seems odd.  Anyone who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s could hardly have missed exposure to album and book covers, posters, movies, magazine articles, and overheard conversations, many of which must have dealt with unconventional spiritual matters.  It was the zeitgeist.  Say I’m wrong and she was hermetically mentally sealed against all things New Age – Weiss’s belief that Elizabeth learned private personal matters about him through psychic powers really kinda belongs in a separate book.  Proof of psychic powers doesn’t simultaneously prove reincarnation, though that would be cool.

On pages 167-8 Elizabeth is talking about being a soldier.  “I hear them talking about Moors… and a war that’s being fought…. The year is 1483.  Something about Danes.  Are we fighting the Danes?  Some war is being fought.”  First I have to ask if this is the same lifetime in which she was wearing animal skins in the Netherlands, because that was 1473.  Second, I have to ask what on earth we are talking about here.  If there had been a medieval war involving both Danes and Moors, I’m pretty positive we would know about it.  In the 15th century, there were Moors in Spain, sure, but warfare in Denmark was limited to its quarrels with Sweden.  “Danes” usually refers to Vikings, who were lost to the depths of history by the 12th century.  When I had my man Rocket Scientist read this paragraph, his eyebrows about shot off the top of his forehead.  We giggled helplessly while the other plane passengers tried to ignore us.

What laypeople don’t always understand about history, especially recent history like the late medieval period, is that it’s backed up by many overlapping sources:  books, diaries, letters, paintings, archaeology, dendrochronology…  It gets progressively harder to miss large-scale events the closer we get to contemporary times.  It’s important to learn about history because it puts the present in context, and it helps us avoid the mistakes of our forebears.

On the other end of the skeptical spectrum is Jamie Whyte’s Crimes Against Logic:  Exposing the Bogus Arguments of Politicians, Priests, Journalists, and Other Serial Offenders.  We can only applaud Whyte’s desire to bring critical thinking skills to the masses, and we wish to assist in whatever way we can.  We do, however, want to ask Mr. Whyte about his audience.

See, there’s this phenomenon we call “preaching to the choir.”  If you want to exhort people to believe something, they tend to fall into three categories:  already agree with you; neutral and prefer not to be bothered; and The Opposed, who know what you’re selling and hate you for it.  Whyte addresses this issue in his section on Begging the Question.  There are people out there who cherish their irrational beliefs.  If you want them to discard these beliefs, you have to meet them in the middle.  How are you going to motivate your opposition to buy, read, and be converted by your book?  Take them seriously and set the debate using their terms.

Like most skeptics, Whyte appears to take atheism for granted.  Ten pages in, he tells us:  “Most of my friends… claim to believe in a “superior intelligence” or “something higher than us.”  Yet they will also cheerfully admit the absence of even a shred of evidence.”  So you’re saying there is nothing in the universe greater than the conscious human mind?  Then how do you keep breathing while you sleep?  Does the conscious human mind organize and propel galaxies?  Come on.  If you think the human brain is so powerful, have you ever tried to get a song out of your head?

On the same theme, that there simply must not be a divine universal power of any kind, Whyte addresses the problem of evil (p. 85).  There can’t be a god because of the inconsistency of an all-powerful, all-good being that allows evil.  Skeptics and believers are never going to agree on this – it’s another case of begging the question.  Who defines evil?  Is a hurricane evil if no beings are harmed?  What makes it ‘evil’ is the fact that people live in its path and some of them die.  That’s our perception.  People have died from choking on food.  People die.  If nobody died and the birth rate remained constant, I guarantee people would wish for death eventually!  I believe evil derives from free will and human perception.  If a deity controlled our every act and thought, there would hardly be a point in living.  But these are religious/philosophical beliefs.  To me there is very little point in debating these topics.

Whyte trips over himself a bit when he uses the Declaration of Independence as an example of illogic.  He says it isn’t self-evident that all men are created equal and entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  (I should mention that he’s not an American, a fact of which I’m sure he is quite glad).  Undoubtedly he is right – our Declaration is a beautiful piece of outrageous rhetoric – but where would we be if we had to compose every decision like a mathematical proof?  “We hold these truths to be backed up by rigorous double-blind psychological testing, that some people tend to resent slavery.”  Erk.  Similarly he takes issue with an element of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  He even points out that it’s illogical to write off a belief just because Hitler believed it.  Um, could you not have found less controversial examples to teach us logic?

The section on Weird Ideas (p. 91) takes the cake.  Whyte writes off numerology, astrology, and homeopathy, among other things, saying we know they’re just weird.  Now, how is this going to convince anyone who believes in these things to stop believing in them?  I happen to think it’s weird for people to wear uncomfortable shoes to work, and even weirder for everyone to work a 40-hour week when the amount of work required varies from person to person and day to day.  Not everyone agrees on how to define weirdness.

Somehow there must be a path between being too credulous and too logical, between Shirley MacLaine and Mr. Spock.

“Beat the Reaper”

July 21, 2009 at 8:26 am | Posted in Fiction | 3 Comments

Beat the Reaper is the first of what will undoubtedly be many books by Josh Bazell, who has somehow successfully blazed a trail between the territories of comedy and thriller.

Product Details

You’ll know right away that the main character of Beat the Reaper works in the medical field.  Two pages in, you’ll also know he’s not your average doctor.  In no way will either of these facts prepare you for chapter 23, which I read with my jaw actually hanging open.  Holy smoke!  Don’t skip ahead, though.  You won’t want to miss a word of this lightning-paced novel.

I Want to be Nick Hornby

July 20, 2009 at 3:19 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 4 Comments

…only still a girl and with a full head of hair.  If that’s okay.

I just read Shakespeare Wrote for Money, and I’m wishing Hornby was still writing his column of book reviews.  I find myself with a two-page list of titles I now feel compelled to read immediately, which would take me a bare minimum of six weeks even if I didn’t plan to read anything else.  Bah.

Anyway, it seems that reviewing a stack of things at one time is a pretty effective method of dealing with either irregular posts or large volumes of material.  It turns out I only review about a quarter of what I read.  I wouldn’t want to give the impression that the other books aren’t interesting.  Possibly some of you are curious what on earth I was doing reading a particular title.

So here’s a brief rundown of what I read last week and what I’m currently reading.

How Not to Die – Jan Garavaglia.  I learned a lot from this book.  I had never heard of the TV show or “Dr. G” – I was just curious about the title.  It’s entertaining, and it should satisfy all you CSI gore fans.

The Burning Plain – Juan Rulfo.  This was a title mentioned in The Top 10.  I’ve just been going through all the titles off this list that aren’t readily available at my local library, and this one came up.  It was really dark.

Tethered – Amy MacKinnon.  This was an ARC that was lent to me, and had been sitting in my TBR pile for about a year.  We did a Booking Through Thursday on this topic, and I realized how absurd it was to put off reading a book under 300 pages for that long, especially when it didn’t belong to me.  So I finished it.  Weird and engaging.

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins.  We spent two weeks reading this ARC for Family Reading Hour, unfortunately interrupted by our non-custody week right in the middle.  Love it!  Where’s #3?

The Beats – Paul Buhle and Harvey Pekar.  I ran across this in a search for graphic novels on my library’s website.  It was utterly fantastic.  Now I have a new-found interest in Beat poetry.

Beloved – Toni Morrison.  It’s truly incredible how many “best of” lists include Beloved.  It won a Pulitzer, and was short-listed for the National Book Award, and it’s on the Entertainment Weekly list of new classics, and Time’s 100 Best Novels, and 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.  What a truly strange story, though.

The Urban Hermit – Sam MacDonald.  Laugh riot.  I actually bothered to review this one.

The Able McLaughlins – Margaret Wilson.  The sixth winner of the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel.  (The category has since been renamed).  I put off reading it for the longest time but was pleasantly surprised with it.  Reviewed.

Disappearance Diary – Hideo Azume.  A graphic memoir about the manga artist and his struggles with alcoholism and homelessness.  This book is groundbreaking and really stunning in so many ways.  The material is so shocking, but the art is so… cute.  It’s sort of like Requiem for a Dream done by Hello Kitty.

Many Lives, Many Masters – Brian L. Weiss.  My mom passed this to me when I was home for Christmas last year.  Since we were visiting for my birthday, I figured I’d read it on the plane and give it back.  Now that I’ve read it, I don’t want it on my shelves anyway.  I’m going to review it in tandem with another book later this week.  It’s astonishing the lack of inquiry that seems to be involved in reviews of this material.

Shakespeare Wrote for Money – Nick Hornby.  Natch.  If you’re going to read it you might as well start at the beginning and read all three volumes, starting with The Polysyllabic Spree.

Population, 485 – Michael Perry.  The first book I’ve given 5 stars in a while.  It was stupid of me to read it while traveling, though, because the ending was a real tearjerker.

Beat the Reaper – Josh Bazell.  I have maybe 40 pages left of this, which I will obviously finish as soon as humanly possible.  It depends on the ending, but I smell series all over this one.

The Father of All Things – Tom Bissell.  Part history, part biography, part memoir?  We’re reading this as part of the book menage over at Citizen Reader along with Population, 485.

So Big – Edna Ferber.  I’m 40 pages in and loving it.

Freedom’s Battle – Gary J. Bass.  This is the last book in a stack I’ve been reading to complete a challenge.  I think I’m about 75 pages in.  I had to put it reluctantly aside to meet some other deadlines, but it’s working its way back up.

Normally I don’t have so many different things going at once, but I went out of town and things got a little screwy.

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