Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Amazing Life of Birds (the twenty-day puberty journal of Duane Homer Leech)

as discovered by Gary Paulsen

How could I resist a book with the word puberty in the title?

It also has a really well-designed jacket. The inside, however, was a disappointment. Far from being "discovered by" the renowned children's/young adult author, it's all too obviously written by an old man trying — and failing — to write in the voice of a 12-year-old. At least it's short.

This book is cataloged as young adult fiction, probably because of the subject matter, but it could easily be juvenile. (Not in the sense that I'm juvenile for laughing when someone says poop.) Even though I didn't especially care for the writing, this might be a good recommendation for a boy just beginning puberty or a slightly older teen who needs a quick read.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Story of Stone

by N.M. Browne

I had this book checked out from the library for a very long time before I finally read it. Would that I had waited forever! (OK, it wasn't terrible, just not thrilling.)

Thematically, with its archaeology/anthropology, exploration of class and gender issues, and the whole mankind vs. nature thing, it's suggestive of the work of Ursula Le Guin with hints of Princess Mononoke. The writing was decent, but the parallel storylines were uneven to the point that I considered skipping some of the "present day" sections. Other than that, I'm not sure where else the book went wrong. Maybe it's just too derivative; it's kind of a rip off of Enchantress from the Stars. But now I think about it, the flashback parts were pretty awesome — almost as awesome as Ursula — so I'll give it half a thumb up and recommend it for those who are heavily into soft-science sci-fi.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

by Marisha Pessl

Imagine if The Secret History were written by John Irving, and you've got a bit of an idea.

Perhaps a reflection of the book itself, the reviews were all over the place; I wasn't sold on reading it until after the third review I saw. (Plus, when confronted by a young author's first novel that is getting lots of press, there's that feeling, sort of the opposite of Schadenfreude*, best summed up by a quip attributed to Gore Vidal: "Whenever a friend of mine succeeds, a little something in me dies.")

So then the book shows up, and it's HUGE, and there's a waiting list, so I won't be able to renew it. With trepidation, I plunge in — hey, the water's fine! Despite the term-paper-like parenthetical references, which I'd expected to be annoying, it's breezy reading with a compelling story and a protagonist whose appeal somehow outshines her dad obsession and adolescent social ineptitude. (Or maybe I just like her because I'm a nerd too.)

I also had the good (mis)fortune to be a bit under the weather on a rainy weekend, which allowed me to immerse myself in the book, reading for hours at a stretch. I never lost the thread, my attention never wavered, and I managed to get in a pretty good guess at what the ending would be; still, the finale is so twisty, my prescience didn't spoil it. Either way, it was good preparation for the Final Exam, in which the reader is invited to draw conclusions and theorize about what really happened in the book.

*Some claim the opposite of Schadenfreude is mudita, a Buddhist concept of sympathetic joy or pleasure in another's success; but if Schadenfreude is joy in the misfortunes of others, its true opposite is sadness in the good fortunes or success of others, which has been translated variously as Erfolgtraurigkeit, Erfolgstraurigkeit, and Gl├╝ckschmerz. Anyone else have a word for this?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hold on Tight: an Insiders Novel

by J. Minter

So this book, the whole series, is ridiculous — and I love it. Five high school guys in Manhattan, all obscenely wealthy and painfully gorgeous, and they have problems too, just like you and me. How adorable is that?

Actually, it's just terrible. Note to the author: If your character wants to find a cause, and you decide his cause is going to be penguins, you might want to do a wee bit of research and find out that penguins do not live in Alaska.

But who cares, right? It only takes a couple of hours to read one of these books, so it's easy to overlook the fact that the author and publisher spent about the same amount of time on it. In fact, the pulp factor is a big part of the appeal. It's trashy. It's hedonistic. It's the world according to teens.

Pass It On, the second book in the series, is better than this one. I haven't read the other four.

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

by Sam Harris

This is the most important book I have ever read. This is a book I am actually going to buy. (I've bought only two or three books since I started working at the library six years ago.) I cannot say enough good things about this book — although reading it was a bit unsettling, and despite the fact that some people will be upset or offended by the book and what I have to say about it.

In a nutshell: religious faith, in addition to being entirely irrational and obviously unjustified, has been and is the source of many bad and scary things in the world (the Inquisition, suicide bombing, &c.); given the technology available today and the current strife among the world's major faiths, religious belief has the potential to destroy the world as we know it and perhaps put an end to mankind altogether. We need to stop constructing our lives around 2,000-year-old fairy tales and stop teaching our children to mimic the same absurdity. We need to agree on a reasoned basis for ethical and harmonious living with one another that does not resort to a fictitious supreme being.

And on and on — much more eloquently, of course. This is all mostly stuff I know already, but it can be an eye-opener when it's laid out in front of you all at once. The biggest lesson I took from The End of Faith is that I am not obliged to "respect" or "tolerate" anyone's ridiculous religious beliefs. (We don't "accept" alternative beliefs about algebra or traffic laws, do we?) In fact, if I have any obligation it is that of a rational person to point out the error of religious belief. (No can do at work, of course, though I wonder if I could get away with saying, "Sure, I can show you where the mythology books are.")

On a completely different topic, the author, Sam Harris, is hot. (And, no, I'm not mixing him up with the eponymous Broadway actor. Check out this photo of the author.)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same-Sex Love

by Will Roscoe

This book was stupid. I didn't read the whole thing. Jesus, schmezus. Cool cover, tho.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Book meme

I saw this on someone else's blog and thought I'd give it a try. If you have a blog, you should do it too. That is, after all, the point of a meme.

A book that changed my life:
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason made me realize that I have an ethical obligation to point out to people that their religious faith is foolish and dangerous.

A book I’ve read more than once:
The Swiss Family Robinson, when I was in middle school or thereabouts.

A book I would take with me if I were stuck on a desert island:
The Swiss Family Robinson, so I could figure out how to stay alive.

A book that made me laugh:
Real Ultimate Power: the Official Ninja Book — see my recent blog entry on this book.

A book that I wish I had written:
Lunar Park or Cloud Atlas: a Novel; both are amazingly well-written, imaginative, and deep.

A book that I wish had never been written:
The Bible and all its sources, the Koran, etc.

A book I’ve been meaning to read:
Ah, there are so many; I'll go with Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative, by the author of "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint."

I’m currently reading:
Hold on Tight: an Insiders Novel, which is ridiculous teen fluff, but I swear I'm going to read something serious next.

The Wave

by Walter Mosley

At just over 200 pages, this science fiction book could pass for young adult. I'm used to sci fi being longer, and I was worried by the slimness of this volume. Having read it, though, I think this is how sci fi ought to be: vast in scope, but focused like a laser.

I haven't read any of Mosley's other work, so I wasn't sure what to expect. His style is very clean and crisp — except for a few idiosyncratic fillips and phrasings — and indicative of his beginnings as a mystery author.

Zombies and primordial ooze; homeland security goon squads and torture chambers; and a billions-of-years-old cosmic romance are woven together into a fast-paced narrative in which loyalties are tested and long-buried secrets are revealed.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Prince William, Maximilian Minsky, and Me

by Holly-Jane Rahlens

OK, first of all, I don't care how big the print is or how much blank space there is on the page, YA books are not supposed to be 300 pages long! (Unless they're really, really, really, really good.)

This book, sadly, is not. A sweet, nerdy Jewish girl with a crush on Prince William gets pre-bat mitzvah basketball lessons from a hunky 15-year-old punk rocker — should be great, right? Another great concept poorly executed: the protagonist's voice is unconvincing, and the whole things seems forced even while the overall structure is loose and sloppy.

Real Ultimate Power: the Official Ninja Book

by Robert Hamburger

Hi, this book is all about ninjas, REAL NINJAS. This book is awesome. My name is Robert and I can't stop thinking about ninjas. These guys are cool; and by cool, I mean totally sweet.

That kind of says it all, doesn't it? Well, actually, you can go ahead and add some crazy wailing on the guitar, huge boners, hilarious illustrations, a diaper-wearing babysitter, and...hippos. These are just some of the things on the mind of our totally pumped (ADHD) 10-year-old escort into the mysterious — and sweet! — world of ninjas.

In conclusion, this book is so awesomely funny, I almost crapped my pants.