Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Books Read in 2015: "The Mysterious Stranger" by Mark Twain

I kept thinking about this short novel and the character of Dr. Manhattan while reading "Watchmen".

Monday, September 28, 2015

Books Read in 2015: "A Separate Peace" by John Knowles

So this was a bit of a personal challenge to myself. A few months ago, we read some YA novels in the book group that I'm a part of, and everyone came up with a bunch of titles that we thought were particularly memorable. Someone brought up this book, and I had a really strong reaction against it. The more I thought about it, though, I couldn't remember exactly what it was that I had disliked about it. I suspected that it may have been that I had to read it for not just a class but TWO classes; once in junior high and again the next year in high school. 

Since there is often no surer way of wringing the joy out of anything than forcing someone to read something for a class that they have no choice but to take, and because I've had good experiences in re-reading things that I read once upon a time ("The Crucible" comes to mind), I thought that I'd find a copy of this and give it another shot.

It started out fine. I got to the part where Phineas first gets hurt and all was well. I got about halfway through and thought that I was going to have to apologize to the person who had brought up the title in the book group. There were some interesting things going on that I hadn't remembered, some characterizations and psychological explorations that I probably hadn't picked upon way back when. 

Then things went wrong. Characters acted in ways that didn't make any sense. The strange, half-assed Star Chamber like trial came out of nowhere and had no real consequences for the people who'd brought it about. I *still* don't understand why any of the characters involved thought it was either a good idea or necessary. Then the Big Shocking Development that was supposed to change everything was tossed off so casually, and the person who revealed it seemed more concerned about exculpating himself than he did for the care of his charge, that it was a reminder of just how goofy it had come across the first (and second) time that I read it. 

Anyway, I gave it a shot, but the students who are still subjected to this every year continue to have my sympathies. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Books Read in 2015: "Zeroville" by Steve Erickson

Recommended by Karina Longworth on her "You Must Remember This" podcast (which I also heartily endorse).

The best way I can describe this is "Forrest Gump" meets Peter Biskind's "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls". Really good, especially if you like late-1960s through early-1980s American film. I started making a concordance to keep all of the references straight.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Books Read in 2015: "A Wrinkle In Time" by Madeleine L'Engle

The book I read a while back, "When You Reach Me", had a character within it reading this book, which made me realize that I've never read this series. Not bad, although it ends a little abruptly. I've got the other three queued up, and I'll see if I can get around to them.

Always tricky with a series, whether you can judge the books as individual works or if you need to think of each as a chapter in a larger work.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Books Read in 2015: "Project 17" by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Didn't love it. I kept turning the pages, because I hoped that all of these frustrating pieces were going to come together in a satisfying way, but they didn't.

It's a YA book that I read for the book group that I'm part of, but it's not something that I would say transcends the genre. On the other hand, I'm not the target demographic. For the right person, it's probably a nice bit of entertainment.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Books Read in 2015: "When You Reach Me" by Rebecca Stead

The book club that I've been participating in chose this as lighter fare for a summer read. Not something I would have known about otherwise (it's a YA novel), but I wound up enjoying it quite a bit. It's a period piece, set in 1978-1979, but not especially twee about it. I can't help but wonder if setting it at that time makes it close enough that kids can relate--it's not a totally different and inconceivable world--but allowed the author to put characters face-to-face in order to talk things out, or at least have them do so over the phone, because there was no other way to do so. In a contemporary novel, she'd simply write out transcriptions of texts, Tweets, and Facebook messages. 

Friday, May 08, 2015

Books Read in 2015: "I Don't Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-star" by Judy Greer

You may know Judy Greer from such roles as Kitty Sanchez on "Arrested Development", or as the voice of Cheryl Tunt on "Archer". Doubtless you've seen (or heard) her somewhere, even if you can't quite place where, hence the clever and appropriate title of her book.

The book is a nice enough read, a pleasant collections of stories and essays about growing up in Michigan, going to school in Chicago, moving to Los Angeles, and working as an actor while maintaining friendships and a family. As an insight into the world of the working character actor (a term I use with great respect and affection), it's interesting in just how normal Greer comes across. Too many people assume that every actor they see on screen lives in a mansion and makes millions of dollars a year, or they lap up stories of deluded and talentless people who move to Hollywood with vague notions of becoming famous as supreme act of revenge and no means to do so. As Greer mentions at one point in reply to the well-meaning question who gets from those people who recognize her, "Why aren't you getting bigger/better roles?", it's not like there's some checkbox she forgets to mark on an application. It just hasn't happened. Not yet. But she's grateful to get to work at all. (She actually has a chapter about all the mean and insulting things people say to her when they're trying to compliment her. Her suggestion is to just say, "I like your work" and to leave it at that.)

Judy Greer seems like a very nice person. And that might be part of the problem with the book. While it's nice enough, it lacks some bite. This isn't a kiss-off to Hollywood; she's still a working actor, after all, and can't bite the hand that feeds her. So no backstage gossip, no tell-all secrets about the leading men she's seen up close, no debilitating addiction and thus no triumphant story of recovery. But what she does write about is done in a pleasant and engaging manner, and I'd be curious enough to read what she has to say in volume two.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Books Read in 2015: "This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All" by Marilyn Johnson

You don't hear the term "cybrarian" bandied about much anymore. I think they've just gone with "digital librarian".

If you think of this as a collection of related essays rather than a single volume with a single thesis, it's a bit easier to take. Some are good, some seem like squandered opportunities, some are just overwritten, and one seems to be a very optimistic take on the potential of "Second Life" that does not seem to have borne out. But Johnson does have a great deal of affection and respect for libraries and librarians and that shines through. Most of the sins seem to come from eagerness, which shouldn't be discouraged.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Books Read in 2015: "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief" by Lawrence Wright

This book has been on my "to read" list for a while, and after watching the HBO documentary I decided to give it a go. It was good, although I've read a lot of the background information in other books about Scientology, so there wasn't much groundbreaking on that front. (I'd recommend Janet Reitman's "Inside Scientology" as a better overview of the history of the "church".)

But each time another one of these books comes out, a little bit more has changed. Some high ranking official has "blown" (i.e., left the org(anization)), or a high profile celebrity member who once touted the LRH Tech and regarded skeptical outsiders as "suppressive persons" and religious bigots has quietly moved on. Or not so quietly. This book actually started as an article in The New Yorker, "The Apostate", about writer/director Paul Haggis's very public separation from the church after more than 30 years of membership. Testimonies like his are the greatest strength of the book.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Books Read in 2015: "The First Bad Man" by Miranda July

Strange and weird and disturbing and unsettling, and yet also sweet and tender and hopeful. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Books Read in 2015: "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson

Listened to this one while, appropriately enough, walking around and exploring our new neighborhood. Not quite a walk in the woods, but still. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Books Read in 2015: "Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes" by Stanley I. Kutler

This was a slightly odd experience. I listened to it as an audiobook, and while it wasn't quite dramatized, it was read by multiple voice actors, each playing different roles. It wasn't really an audio verité production, but there wasn't a lot of dramatic interpretation, either, because they were obviously trying to kinda-sorta recreate the original recordings. Interesting to me, in my weird obsession with Nixon and Watergate.