Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Corydon and the Island of the Monsters

by Tobias Druitt

Aw, I hate to give a bad review, but the only reason I finished this book is that it is very short. I kind of had to force myself to read it.

It's about a deformed Greek boy who turns out to have an immortal father, gets driven out of town into the wilderness, where he hooks up with a bunch of mythological creatures, travels to the underworld, and defeats a bunch of idiotic guys who are trying to become heroes by slaying the so-called monsters, who actually show more humanity to Corydon than any of the actual humans in the book — so I thought it would appeal to the eight-grade mythology geek still trapped somewhere inside me, but somehow it didn't. It just came off as sort of dumb, excepting a few clever revisions to the familiar tales of Greek mythology and the fact that the story pits the Chthonic gods against the Olympian gods.

There will be at least two sequels; I will not read them. Maybe someone who's even more into mythology than me (and still in eighth grade) will enjoy them.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Fly on the Wall: how one girl saw everything

by E. Lockhart

I just could not resist the premise of this book: a quirky sophomore feels the ordinary frustration girls have trying to understand boys, so she idly wishes she could be a "fly on the wall" in the boys' locker room, and her wish comes true long enough for an in-depth study of the anatomy and sociology of high school boys.

It's a short book, a very quick read, without heavy drama or lessons (well, a little divorce for seasoning), totally possible to read in one sitting. I loved the protagonist's sense of humor and her butt-rating system, but I could have done without her insistence on calling the other naughty bits "gherkins." Overall, I was a bit shocked by the book's frankness — and I ain't easy to shock — but I wasn't complaining.

Boys Be, second season

by Masahiro Itabashi

This is a great series of vignettes about the love lives of teenage boys. Do I have to say anything else? It's on DVD too.

You don't need to read them in order. Best for older teens: ranges from cute crushes to peeks at panties and all the way to actual nudity.

I've read volumes 1, 4, 8; not sure which DVD I watched.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

It's Kind of a Funny Story

by Ned Vizzini

As a hypochondriac, I have very little sympathy for the symptoms of other people. I find it particularly difficult to empathize with people who suffer from depression, because their complaints sound like things we all go through, to some degree, and I tend to feel as if they're over-reacting and/or being self-indulgent. I know, of course, that's not true, and I want to understand (as much as possible), which perhaps explains the appeal of books about depression.

This book, written immediately after the twenty-something author's own brief stay in the psych ward, chronicles a teen's rapid and (to an outsider) sudden descent from mere depression to suicidal ideation (the technical term for wanting to kill yourself). At first, the descriptions of the kid's thought patterns and mental states (tentacles, cycles, etc.) made me feel as if I were getting somewhere in my quest for greater understanding; ultimately, however, they amounted to nothing more than how's when I was really looking for why's. Why does a negative experience or emotion make one person have a crappy day and make another person seriously consider jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge? For that matter, why can most of us shrug off a crappy day (or even a few) while others fall into a paralyzing depression?

Even though I didn't find what I was seeking (should I be depressed about that?)(sorry, that isn't funny, is it?), I'd say the book was pretty good overall. It's well-written, the pacing is good, the conclusion is hopeful without being sappy or too optimistic. If you don't mind books that leave you feeling a bit drained and/or melancholy, if you want an intense emotional experience, if you liked The Burn Journals, give this book a try.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Cult of Personality: how personality tests are leading us to miseducate our children, mismanage our companies, and misunderstand ourselves

by Annie Murphy Paul

Did you know that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (you know, the test that tells you you're an ENJF or an INFP, etc.) was created by a housewife? A very well-educated housewife, admittedly, but definitely not someone participating in the research-based and peer-reviewed world of academic psychology.

As a matter of fact, as revealed in The Cult of Personality, there's little to no empirical evidence that any personality test is anything other than a parlor trick. Well, OK, that's an exaggeration, but even the ones that seem to have a more scientifically rigorous origin — the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, for example — aren't very good at diagnosing what they were designed to detect, let alone all the other uses they've been given since their creation.

On the other hand, the very well-informed author does a crack job of sympathetically analyzing the enduring appeal of personality tests, to professionals and laypersons alike, even while exposing the careless misuse of personality tests and the flaws of the test creators themselves.

Want to take some personality tests, just for fun? Try, the new name for Emode, a Web site mentioned in the book. (I took a test to see how hip I am, and it told me I'm a bookish go-getter; my movie star double is Benjamin Bratt, which is quite a bit more of a compliment.)

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Lonely Ring Finger

(Only the Ring Finger Knows, vol. 2)

by Satori Kannagi

OK, this is weird. I've seen — and frowned upon — novelizations of movies and television shows. But this is weird: the novelization of manga.

Not only that, but it's also the manga-ization of Victorian romance, complete with the I-love-you-so-much-I-hate-you-because-I-think-you-don't-like-me-but-you-secretly-do plot and the deliciously agonizing frustration of characters who never say what they mean and never understand what the other is implying. But instead of the poor yet intelligent and respectable middle daughter alternately pursuing and being pursued by the grotesquely rich (though still young and handsome) lord of the manor, this is manga, so it's the awkward but cute sophomore boy and the gorgeous most-popular senior boy in a torturous high school romance. How could I resist?

After the thrill of reading Play Boy Blues, and the tamer but still tingly Boys Be series, I was worried I'd be disappointed by the lack of pictures. (There are a few illustrations, but nothing too racy.) My fear was unfounded. Aside from the occasional awkward translation — and the aforementioned deliciously agonizing frustration — reading this book was time well-spent. Intense, romantic, believable: what more could one ask for?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Montmorency and the Assassins

by Eleanor Updale

The third installment in Updale's series about reformed (or is he?) criminal Montmorency is another rip-roaring read. Although it's been quite some time since I read the other two, I'd say this one's better than the second and nearly as good as the first. Assassins is the thickest of the three, but it was so hard to put down I still managed to finish it in only a few days — despite the demands placed on my attention by my mother and my sister in Las Vegas in 100+ degree weather.

Though this story is set 20 years after the original, the interval hasn't slowed our hero. On the other hand, like a well-aged wine, the themes have matured and become even more young adult-y: antique pornography, anarchism and class struggles, murder, murder, murder, workaholism, and a mysterious paternity that strongly implies a generous sexuality on the part of the mother, to name a few.

The book's pace seemed a bit off, with the major crisis happening with only 30 pages left for denouement, yet somehow the author makes it work. And then she goes and throws in a very hurty ending that made me almost cry. I saw it coming, but I didn't want to admit it to myself, and it still hurt.

The other two books in the series are Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? and Montmorency on the Rocks: Doctor, Aristocrat, Murderer?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Decoding the Universe: how the new science of information is explaining everything in the cosmos, from our brains to black holes

by Charles Seife

The title is a mouthful, and the book is a brainful. Although the author does a great job of "dumbing it down" for the layperson, it's still pretty heady stuff, so don't bother reading this if words such as cosmology, entropy, and quantum send you into paroxysms of frustrated boredom, or if they trigger your fight-or-flight instinct.

Most people (including me) who hear "information science" are going to think about computers, or maybe libraries. Decoding the Universe reveals the origins of info science in the world of telephony (how many phone calls can you fit on one wire?) and its probable future as the fundament of all other sciences. In the process of coming to understand information as a concrete property of matter and energy, you'll also learn a lot about entropy — it's a lot more than what your high school physics teacher told you.

My personal theory of black holes was enriched by the information found in this book.