Thursday, May 25, 2006

Off My Books

I'm off books. It's so weird. I don't know what to do with myself. I'll sit in my living room, flip channels on the TV, read the catalogs from Crate & Barrel. I'll wander around. I made some horrid tzatziki (hint: don't use nonfat yogurt). I can't pick anything up.

The History of Love, for book club, is going all right. I read it on the train, and while I don't get it at all, it's pleasingly written and not entirely nonsensical. I'm not really into it, though--I don't quite get the point.

I put down Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince mostly because I started reading it immediately after finishing The Order of the Phoenix, and I don't think that was the best idea. They're very different books, and I found the change in tone dissatisfying. Also the sense of starting at the same old place was frustrating.

1776 is promising, but it's so much like schoolwork. I read a page and realize I didn't take in any of the information on it.

A Brief History of the Dead, the audiobook, is still going well. I'm still enjoying it, and I'm curious about how it's going to end. Although the majority of the story, in the city of the dead, is kind of hard to pin down, as it doesn't have a whole lot of tension. The tension of the Antarctica scenes, though, is plenty.

I tried to pick up The Remains of the Day, and that might work. I have the new book Ruth lent me, whose name I forget. I went to reread the good parts of By the Sword, but I think I've outgrown Mercedes Lackey. I think I need a ripping adventure story. I need Pirates of the Carribean, the novel (that's a metaphor--I don't want a novelization!).


Monday, May 15, 2006


I've been meaning to write about Uglies for a while. This weekend I finished Pretties, the sequel, and I'm actually somewhat less interested in talking about it. I might not even read the final one, Specials, when it comes out. Pretties was weaker, the structure that worked as a surprised in Uglies feels awkward when you see it coming. Things get more dangerous, which is something that makes me uncomfortable in the middle of a series.

Well, maybe not. That was never what bothered me about Harry Potter. But I guess there's no feel from Uglies that the characters feel the change, feel things mounting.

But what I thought was interesting about Uglies was the premise. In the future, at the age of 16 everyone is given surgery to make them pretty. The idea is that there is a biological imperative to be drawn to beauty. Beauty is clear skin, large eyes, full lips, symmetrical features. These are things that indicate good health to us on an instinctive level, and they are evocative of small children, inspiring protectiveness. So the point of this surgery is to equalize people, to eliminate subtle but irrelevant psychological predispositions as a factor in life. It also makes you healthier, stronger.

The story is, not unexpectedly, about people who have fled this life to maintain their natural individuality. They live in the woods, eat meat, their hoverboards run on solar power. One girl is torn between worlds. The usual. But the main character, Tally, who wants to be pretty, has a number of arguments with her friend Shay (in favor of staying ugly) that are really interesting. Of course, I'm supposed to automatically understand that staying unique is better, but Tally/prevailing wisdom has some really interesting arguments. And beauty and society are very fully realized themes here. Tally falls in love with someone who never had the operation, and has to learn that he's not ugly. She develops a role in a new community and has to reexamine her role in her old community.

I could be giving it too much credit, but I thought it was really thoughtful for what it was--YA action story.

But I probably won't read the third one. It'll be called Specials. Specials file their teeth; I just can't go there.

Friday, May 12, 2006

No Time!

Can't blog now! Harry's in trouble! He's been caught with his head in Umbridge's fireplace, but Hermione seems to have a plan. The illustration at the top of the chapter appears to have given it away!

ps. The Minuteman system won the Battle of the Library Reserve Systems. Also thank you, biology M.A.A.M.N. (Master of Arts Any Minute Now) krm for confirming that you can't kill the entire population with a 24-hour virus.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Sweet Hereafter

Many folks have read The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, which was an excellent book (her memoir Lucky is great, too). But there's something that I had a problem with, which comes back to me now that I'm listening to A Brief History of the Dead, by Kevin Brockmeier.

First, other triva about this book. The reader is the same guy who played the lawyer in My Sister's Keeper. I'm now deep enough into this audiobook thing that I know voices. He wasn't my favorite, but he's doing a pretty good job here, I must say. Also, I'd like to complain about the idea of the entire population of the Earth being killed off by a virus that kills you within 24 hours of contracting it. There are people in Darkest Africa or the Amazon basin who would never get this virus. I cannot accept this; I could have it was addressed more directly, but it was brushed over. If 28 Days Later taught me anything, it's that a fast-acting virus might not even make it across the channel.

But the main point: how do you feel about heaven? I can get along with the idea of the book taking place of heaven, but I don't feel comfortable with the idea of the afterlife being a city. Where people from all over the world, those who lived on islands, in Mongolia and Tibet, everyone ends up in this city. It shifts shape and size to accomodate, but it's all city. Also, people who live there have jobs. They cook and eat food, run restaurants or print local newspapers. They have apartments and buy shoes for fun. It's a very material life, and there is neither an explanation of things like "who's manufacturing these shoes?" nor a dreamy mystery about these issues. I'd accept the latter. But it's not even a question--the afterlife is much like life.

(As Mike says, "If I get to heaven and find out I have to get a job....eugh.")

Now, of course this is only the first stage of death. You live in this city until the last person who remembers you dies, and then you vanish--move on to The Next Big Thing, I presume. I can't quite tell if I'm not supposed to have figured this out, but I hope I am, because I have. The epigraph completely gives it away; it's about the African distinction between the dead who reside within living memory, and the honored dead who are considered "ancestors."

I just can't get in line with the metaphysical being brought so closely in line with the physical. It's acutally kind of boring to me. It makes things smaller than I believe them to be.

But to tell you the truth, what really bothers me is the idea that a bunch of guys on an Arctic outpost died of a virus that kills you within 24 hours. Doesn't. Make. Sense.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Two Libraries Enter...

So I've pitted the BPL against the Minuteman Library Network. I've been waiting for Pretties for almost a week now from the BPL; I'm at the top of the list, but there are only three copies in the system. There are about ten copies "On Order," but that doesn't mean much. It can take up to a month to go from "On Order" to "Received--In Processing," and then it can take over a week to finish the "processing" part and get the darned book.

Ah, but Minuteman put it in the mail for me on Saturday, the day after I requested it. The only problem with that is that Minuteman has a slow transit system--once something's in Transit in the Boston network, it rarely takes more than two days to get to you. Minuteman can take a week, though this could be due to the branch I use. It's closed on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and I suspect, though I'm not sure, that the Somerville West requests actually go through the Somerville Main branch, adding at least a day to the process.

We'll see which library blinks first.