Friday, April 28, 2006


Well, I'm enjoying this break. I'm limping along through three or four books right now, and, while I wouldn't call it blissful, it's definitely fun.

Let's see. I'm reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I'm on page 150. Another book would be winding up right now, and he hasn't even gotten to school yet. He just got off the hook at his hearing. A lot of people in Harry Potter's world seem to act like idiots mostly because if they didn't, there wouldn't be enough conflict. This is just one of the many ways in which His Dark Materials is superior to Harry Potter, with apologies to the Potter fans out there. And wouldn't you rather have a daemon than an owl?

Another way Pullman is better than Rowling is one of the chief things I notice, for good or ill, in fantasy novels: do I really belive and feel deep down that this world you're building runs smoothly when you're not there to manipulate it? Harry Potter isn't as bad as a lot of other books--some Neil Gaiman, for example (I'm looking in your direction, Neverwhere), is bad like that. But the way that the muggle world and the wizard world overlap, sometimes clashing and sometimes slipping by each other, seems a little inconsistant. Everything has a clever name, but not because they're charmed by clever names; rather, because Rowling is making them up. You can't actually image a factory that produces the crazy candies, or an artisan brewing butterbeer. What are really the rules and limitations of the portraits that move? I guess you could just plant all that under the label of Too Fantastic. But angels and witches and armored bears are fantastic. And I believed that those witches and bears lived in the arctic and flew on cloud pine branches (the witches) and hunted seals and fought Tartars (the bears).

Also, it's fun to say panserbjorn.

That's all I have to say about that.

It turns out The Kalahari Typing School for Men could arguably be the place where the Mma Ramotswe books jump the shark. The repetition of things you know from the rest of the series is getting boring. The respect paid to the polite and methodical mannerisms of the characters is wearing thin (they refer to Mma Makutsi's score at Botswana Secretarial College as her "97 percent or whatever it was." Where's the respect?) . The financial hardships seem a bit feigned, and it's taking longer with each book to get into the plot. The first three books were wonderful, though, and I highly recommend them.

Still reading Girl Meets God, and starting to enjoy it in between bouts of loathing. There's a real vibe of "look at me and my delightful HUMILITY," and I just don't like or respect the writer or (and here's the key problem) her faith. I guess there's something about writing a book about your faith that is innately braggardly, but I didn't feel this way about Ann Lamott.

There are two others that deserve their own entries, so a teaser: A Brief History of the Dead (on audiobook) by Kevin Brockmeier, and Uglies by Scott Westerfield.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

I Cried and Cried

I'm setting myself free. I'm still reading Girl Meets God, though I've taken a few days off. It's so painful. I'm finishing The Amber Spyglass, and it's so good, and I haven't cried yet, but that's only because I can only read three pages at a time before the T stops, or there's a staircase to climb, and it breaks the flow of my inevitable weeping.

So while I'm muddling my way to the end of G vs. G, I've decided not to challenge myself much for the next month or so. This means: the two Harry Potters that I'm behind on, The Kalahari Typing School for Men, Uglies (hopefully before it's due on Monday), maybe a reread of Shining Through. There's a weird chance that this list might include a book I've been avoiding, The Kiss, which I expect to be bizarre, but which I've had on and off my list so many times I just want to get it over with. Oh, and also The Remains of the Day. And, if you want to count comics, rereading the Hellboy I'll get back from my brother this weekend, plus Barry Ween Boy Genius. I think I might need to wait a while before I can get into From Hell, though I might try.

By the way, for the record: we're back at a count of 57, and that in no way includes the books Ruth's about to lend me, or a number of other upcoming possibilities.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


I'm not not not enjoying this book, but I expected that. I'm reading it for the express purpose of commiserating with someone who read it and hated it and needed to complain.

This is going to be one of those reviews that make me hope the author doesn't google herself very often. The book is called Girl Meets God and the author is named Lauren F. Winner. It's about a girl who was raised Jewish, converted to Orthodox Judaism early in college, and then converted to Christianity, I think, at the beginning of grad school. This sounds interesting. This is a promising book.

I almost can't believe how non-spiritual this book feels. There's a great deal of detail about how one celebrates Judaism and what it feels like to be "courted by a very determined carpenter from Nazareth." There's a lot about learning, reading, converting, praying, choosing a house of worship--both for Judaism and for Christianity. The girl is clearly an overachiever. She spent high school reading about Judaism--all the time. She converted. When she felt Jesus in her heart, she got rid of everything relating to Judaism that she'd ever owned, like breaking up with a high school boyfriend. But there's no feeling there--there are the details of doing, but there's no feeling. There's no sense that having this religion changes the way she interacts with the world, except to talk to others about religion. Or to decide how they fit with her, or to, at least subtly, judge them. There's nothing about her personal relationship with God and the world, except that she believes in Christ.

She reminds me of Wendy Shalit--VERY much. Remember Wendy? She "came out" as a conservative during Coming Out Week in college. She believes in Modesty and Women Empowered through Subordination. I hear Wendy in Lauren. It's exhausting.

Also, she got an Anne of Green Gables reference wrong, referring to "Gilbert and Annie." It might be a typo, but dude, you just don't go there.

There's more, but it's so bad you almost can't wrestle with it. It's self-righteous, superficial, and intensely NOT touching.

And I'm still reading! I LOVE to whine.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

My Own Personal Life Coach

On the topic of Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck, I can say many things. I could wonder over the idea that everyone will be rich if they find what they were meant to do (the way I figure it, in her ideal world there are a lot of people who get real personal satisfaction and pleasure from janitorial work), but I'll move beyond that.

I'll point out the most interesting bit, which is the last five chapters, where she describes the process of going through a major life change. It starts with a catalytic event, good or bad, possibly something that happens to you (e.g. your spouse dies) or something you do (like deciding to move for a year to a foriegn country). This destroys your sense of identity, on some level, and you begin to proceed through her little diagram. Square one: mourning the old you and making through one day at a time. Square two: dreaming and idealizing whatever your new life is going to look like. Square three: the long hard climb of turning your new circumstances into a life--learning to do and be what you need in your new life. And finally Square four: your new and happy life is settled and yours to live. What I like about this is not that it's profound, but that it allows you to look at those feelings and realize that they're normal--when you have big dreams that don't materialize into anything, that's because you're in stage 2, which is not the right place for that.

Before you think I've gone all self-helpy, I'd like to point out that the whole reason for the preceding thumbs-up type analysis is because I'm about to get to the Crazy, and I don't want you to think this was an awful book. It was amusingly written and had some useful bits. It wasn't for me, because it really wasn't for someone whose only problem in reaching her goals is laziness and/or procrastination. But I know people this book is written for.

Except, of course, for the Crazy. Martha Beck is a Believer. She's not Christian (anymore--try Leaving the Saints for accounts of her being Touched by an Angel and falling out with the Mormons), but she Belives in a Higher Power that Speaks to her through her Intuition and also Fortuitous Circumstances. She belives, for example, that generosity is important in a happy life, and that good things come to people who are generous. I agree with this. I believe that generosity connects you to the world around you in positive ways, and that those connections are likely to yield good things. But what Martha Beck believes goes along with her list of anecdotes: after giving money to a good cause, a large and unexpected check will ARRIVE IN YOUR MAIL. Seriously. A paycheck for a job you don't remember doing. An inheritance from someone you don't know and won't miss. A lottery you didn't know you entered. Something.

I can't go on. Just, be aware that this book is not terribly practical. It's very much for people who don't feel happy feeling happy, or who can't get in touch with their feelings. I am very much in touch with my inner child. She spent a lot of time trying to convince me to be more open about my emotions. I think I speak for all my coworkers when I say: that would be a very, very bad idea.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Take a Memo

To: Stephen King
Re: Cell, etc.

Action items:
1) Get editor. During action scenes, the multitude of tiny details that you insert for the purpose of verisimillitude are more problematic than anything else. Case in point: during zombie-driven riots, a man runs past our hero carrying "a brown cardboard carton with the word "Panasonic" stencilled in blue on the side." It's exhausting.

2) I know your life was changed by your first book sale, Stevie, but it's not quite the same for comic book writers. I am not knowledgeable about this subject, but I can tell you this. First of all, you don't generally sell "your first graphic novel." Most comics are serialized. And if you did sell a graphic novel instead of a concept for serialization, it would probably not be for a life-changing amount of money. Neil Gaimon is rich, your hero is not.

3) I'm never READ The Dark Tower, and even I can tell that your hero's great masterpiece is based very closely on The Dark Tower. Dude, it's not cute when you pay homage to yourself, it's just weird.

I whine because I love. Seriously, you're like the Steven Spielberg of horror--even when I know what you're doing, you can make me feel exactly what you want me to. (Your fantasy, on the other hand, is generally craptastic.) Still, please use your powers for good, not for pointing out DURING A ZOMBIE-DRIVEN BUS CRASH that the Red Sox toured Boston in duckboats after they won the World Series. You're weakening your own case. I'm losin' the love, I really am.

We'll discuss these points at the status meeting. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Perfect Storm of Zombies

I don't know what possessed me to pick Stephen King's Cell for my audiobook this month, and then to start it two days after The Worst Zombie Dream Ever. I'm not really afraid of zombies during the daylight, when I'm an adult and I know there's no such thing. But it has been my fear since childhood that while I'm sleeping everyone in the world but me will turn into a dangerous beast (before zombies it was dobermans) while I sleep and I'll have no one to turn to.

So I'm walking across the Public Garden listening to the opening paragraph of the book, which takes place in Boston. And the main character is walking down Boyleston Street. Hey, I'm almost right there! And he's carrying a bag from the store Small Treasures. Hey, that's probably based on Small Pleasures, where I got my engagement ring! Cool, even a little spooky. And the gift in his bag is for Sharon.

I stopped the book. It was just too much--the zombie dream, the imaginary guy right up the block from me with a gift for me from a store that I shop at ONLY THERE WILL BE ZOMBIES!!! This is really very not cool.

I'll listen to it. I'm a grown-up. But oh, I'll be really scared.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Self Help Makes Me Proud

Among other things, I've been reading a self-help book called Finding Your Own North Star: Reclaiming the Life You Were Meant to Live. The author, Martha Beck, is the same woman who wrote Leaving the Saints and Expecting Adam, both of which were very interesting and really engaging. They also wreaked a little havok on whatever passes as my spirituality. So I'm reading about how to find what my Essential Self really wants to do in life.

Seemed like a good idea. I have a good job, but I wouldn't call it a calling. I don't know that I have a calling, though I think it might just be to hang out with Mike, have a bunch of fun friends, and rear some cool kids. The book does not seem to help me; it's really meant for tense workaholics who can't listen to their inner child and stop to smell the roses. The idea is that you'll be more successful and happy doing something you love, even if it's not the world's definition of "success." By that definition of success, I'm doing pretty well. Mostly (according to these quizzes) I'm a pretty happy person.

Also still reading Postville, which is interesting but too long and too personal. His research is really interesting and he recounts a lot of great experiences and meeting interesting people. But he doesn't really clarify "the connection" he seems to want to draw between the Iowans in this tiny town and the Hasidic Jews who have moved in and opened a successful kosher butchery. It's really more about the author's relationship with his Jewish heritage. And even that is mostly a lament about how he's not really Jewish enough if he lives in Iowa.

And I'm almost done with Self Made Man, as well. I think one of the flaws of the book is that a lot of her observations are snide observations of an elite liberal-arts educated New Yorker hanging out with people who take their bowling league seriously, or people who sell coupon booklets door-to-door. She learns more about being working class than she does about being male, through most of the book, and even then, there's a lot more pity than you'd see from someone who really learned something. But she sort of redeems herself by having a nervous breakdown after the whole experiment. And there are some really interesting observations about dating--I think that chapter was by far the strongest, at least in part because she was interacting with other New Yorkers (or at least urbanites) in that chapter.

Upcoming: Girl Meets God (after which a hiatus on religious books, but someone I know from a message board wants someone to argue with about it, so I offered to give it a shot), Mission to America (okay, after THAT a religion hiatus, but at least it's a novel), and, after Easter, a couple of Harry Potters. Stay tuned!