Monday, November 30, 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Too Easy For A Clever Title

I mean, really, how many variations can we come up on for a post title about the book SuperFreakonomics? I'm thinking "She's A Very Kinky Book," but then I didn't want to scare off the PG-13 readers. So I'm rising above that, kids, rising above.

This book is a lot of fun to read. It's fast paced, with all kinds of interesting factual tidbits, and I love factual tidbits. I especially like when there's a lot of analysis done on my factual tidbits, and lordy then but this is the book for me. Observation after observation, details into the lives of prostitutes and psychology researchers and ER doctors.

One thing that's required, though, is to take everything in here with a grain of salt. Here's the thing: as an introduction to a way of thinking--the economic way of thinking--this book is great. I sometimes get offended at how people doing psychological economic analysis try to reduce everything to motivation, because the language used to talk about motivation sounds so morally void, but if you forget about all the moral/ethical connotations of the language and remember that we're talking about and using the language of economics, I can let that go.

But for all the elaborate research they do, sometimes they seem to jump the gun on getting to their conclusion. Example: the claim that drunk walking is more dangerous than drunk driving. This is based on a ton of data about number of drunk driving accidents/fatalities per year, number of drunk walking accidents/fatalities per year, number of miles driven drunk, etc. And then, to make a conclusion, they make one "little" assumption: that the proportion of miles walked drunk to total miles walked per year is the same as the proportion of miles driven drunk to total miles driven per year.

Now, the anecdote is still interesting, and it's still educational to follow the logic process through and learn how to use data as an economist does. But please don't tell me that I should let my friends drive home drunk instead of walking because it's safer. It's not just amusingly counter-intuitive, it's downright wrong.

Sometimes my logical criticisms and my icky-feeling criticisms get mixed up (especially when they try to quantify morality), but I'm going to let all that lie and say how much sheer fun I'm having reading this book. So debunk away; I won't vote based on their findings, but I'll read their next book, guaranteed.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Common Theme

I've been trying to articulate what's going on that kind of annoys me with the two Jennifer McMahon novels that I've read. My attempts to put it into words have never quite hit the issue quite on the nose. Whenever I describe the problem, someone comes up with a book that fits that exact description but isn't so damned troubling. So let's try this again.

Her first book, Promise Not To Tell, confused me a little when I was reading it. It was a strange mishmash of older-woman-reflecting-on-her-troubled-childhood, returning-home-to-take-care-of-Alzheimer's-suffering-mom, murder, ghost story, and probably some other stuff that I'm forgetting. I remember saying to Mike that if I could figure out if this was the kind of book where a) the ghost might be real, b) the hallucinations of the demented woman might be real, and/or c) the murderer is going to be one of the innocent-seeming-yet-recurring-for-no-particular-reason townfolk, then I would enjoy the book better.

In the end, it turned out the book was all three. The end was satisfying, kind of, and it made me suspect that if I had known it was going to be that kind of book, I would have enjoyed it more. So when I saw Island of Lost Girls on the shelf, by George, I thought, I can test my theory!

My theory, sadly, appears to have been wrong. I didn't hate Island of Lost Girls, but I was just as adrift about what was going on. It's the bones of a mystery novel with the flesh of an introspecting, coming-to-grips-with-troubled-childhood thing, but the graft is poor and neither one really works.

The thing is, I think there are a lot of great mysteries that are all about the main character, where the mystery itself is practically a MacGuffin, just an excuse to tell the story. I feel like I'm maligning those books when I complain about this one. But it's a real flaw here. The ending of the book made me feel like the author thought she was writing something entirely different than what I was reading--I was reading a book about a directionless young woman who witnesses a kidnapping and starts poking around like an amateur detective in order to try to feel like she's making something of a life she doesn't know what to do with. The author seemed to think she was writing a mystery, in which the question of who did it is a strong support for coming to know the characters and circumstances.

Ugh--I still feel like I'm not explaining this well. It wasn't a bad book, but it wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. If I think about the mystery plot alone, it was actually a pretty good story. But the vitality of a mystery was missing, somehow.

Also, I have no idea why there's a frog on the cover. Whole book is rife with rabbits.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Quota Failure

I have to say, writing a novel is really eating into my reading time. I've only finished three books so far this month--it's really quite sad. On the upside, though, I'm right up to quota on my word count for my awful, awful, awful novel.

So I finished Taking Terri Mueller, which I have been looking at with interest on bookshelves for, literally, over 20 years. I remember it in my middle school library. The cover is positively iconic--the girl in a puffy vest, long hair pulled back at the sides, standing in a phone booth. I really enjoyed it. It was a thoughtful, emotional book about a girl who finds out as a teenager that her mother is not dead, as she had thought, but that her father took her in a custody dispute when she was young.

The book does an excellent job of dealing with the reality of the situation without getting into blaming. At various times I wanted to yell at the characters for doing such horrible things to each other, but the book doesn't dwell on that. And it really makes you think about how far we've come on subjects like divorce--co-parenting is not unheard of, and fathers have rights, too. (Though don't get me started on my brother's friend who lost a custody battle when his awful ex moved a thousand miles away, in spite of her own mother testifying on his behalf.)

Anyway, I read the book in honor of the late, great Norma Fox Mazer, whose Silver has always been one of my favorites. She was an iconic name of YA writing, even though I haven't read that many of her books, and she passed away recently. So thank you for much, Ms. Mazer.

I'll keep you guys posted, and I'll be back in December with more regular updates (God, I hope!).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'm Doing It Again!

Help! Stop me! I just started two new books today! Augh!

Does My Head Look Big In This?, by Randa Abdel-Fattah, about an Australian Muslim girl who decides to start wearing the hajib to school, and Taking Terri Mueller, a classic I've never read by Norma Fox Mazer, in honor of her recent passing. Silver is one of my favorite YA books. We'll miss you, Ms. Mazer.

I have 300 more words to write tonight. Company of Fools is due Friday; Forest Born is due Saturday. Help!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Still Reading

I feel like I've been reading Company of Fools forever. I kind of have--not forever, but I've had it for months. I renewed it as long as I could, returned it, checked out another copy, and renewed that until it's due next week. And I'm still just over halfway done. It's not that it's a hard read, but it's very dense, and very emotionally dense. It's a road trip book, I guess, kind of. Across England, during the plague. It's grim and mysterious and fantastic and really quite lovely. I often have to put it down after only a few pages to digest what just happened. It's a long-term book, I'd say--everything unfolds very gradually, and it's incredibly rich and layered because of that.

The story is about a group of travelers who happen together and are trying to find a place to spend the winter, safe from the plague that is spreading quickly across the country. So far they haven't, and they're still on the road. It's an amazing portrait of the time--musicians, relic-sellers, storytellers, a painter, a midwife. I wish I had more time to read it. I might just have to return it and check it out yet again, just to keep going.

Sadly, this means my count for the month is low. I'm also sort of reading Island of Lost Girls, by Jennifer McMahon, which appears to be another not-bad book from the author of Promise Not to Tell. I think I'll like this one better, having read the first one and knowing that yes, this is the kind of author whose ghosts are real and whose murderers are one of the many potential suspects we meet along the way.

I'm also trying to get into Forest Born, the new Shannon Hale. It's just that Company of Liars has me so caught up, I don't have time for other books.

And, for the record, I'm right on track with my word count--15,300, shooting for 17,000 by the end of today. It's really awful, guys. Really.

I just got a sense of deja vu, and now I have the feeling that this post is basically the exact same post I wrote a week ago, since I'm reading the same books and all. But the baby's crying, so I'm going to post it anyway and hope you'll all forgive me. I'm planning a Personal Library Renaissance for December, so that'll be good for a laugh, right?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

What I've Been Busy With

Sorry I haven't been blogging--I've been writing. My NaNoWriMo work is just horrifically awful, but I'm really trying to take the approach that this is the point. It's okay if it sucks--the point is to do it. I really think I'm a better writer than this, but the only way I'm able to make myself do it is just to go, so go I shall, and may God help the English language.

Today, though, I was busy having a library adventure--I led my first every storytime at the Chinatown Storefront Library. And may I brag a bit and say I rocked the joint? It was a small group--two kids stayed for the whole thing, and two others dropped in for part of it. But I read Bear Snores On, which I know by heart and which has the easy laugh of a good snoring sound effect. Plus, Laura Jean Miller did all the prep work, so I had a little song to sing, a game to play, and a craft project all lined up. One of the kids was very shy, but another was all about making animal noises with me when we did the second book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? And Shirley, who did the Cantonese translation that makes our storytime bilingual, was great, doing animal imitations with the best of them. For a small group, we had a lot of fun, and I totally knocked my first storytime out of the park. Thank you, thank you.

I'll be back with an update on what I'm reading shortly. Right now, I have to go back to writing the love story of a mysterious girl who may or may not be a gypsy and the young lord of the manor whose title rests heavily on his rippling, manly shoulders. I swoon--not from romance, but because (did I mention?) it's SO BAD.