Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Salon: September Update

September was a good month for my blog. I finished up my Coursera MOOC in Fantasy and Science was a wonderful experience, but it was exhausting! I posted reviews for many of the books required for this course: 

I was going to take the Greek / Mythology Coursera course,  but have decided that it covers the materials way too quickly...I don't think I can do justice to so much amazing literature in just 10 weeks. Therefore, I'm going to return to my focused study of Paradise Lost. Expect more posts soon! :)

The last 11 days of September, I led an email discussion of Sandi Rog's new book Walks Alone for the ACFW Bookclub. I have loved every Sandi Rog book I've ever read. Walks Alone is a christian fiction historical romance about a young woman in post-Civil War era who travels alone from New York to Denver and is kidnapped along the way by a band of Native Americans. Although she is filled with dread and fear, she soon discovers that they have a side to their story too...and she begins to fall in love with her kidnapper. I admit that when I read the description I thought it to be a bit trite, but I gave the book a try anyway because of my love for Sandi Rog's books. I'm so glad I did. :) It wasn't trite at all. It was a really cute book.  My review of the book is here

On my blog, the last week of September was dedicated to Aarti's A More Diverse Universe blog tour. She did an amazing job, and I really appreciate the effort she put in to the tour. For this tour, I reviewed:

And, of course, I reviewed books that fit into none of these categories:

Sadly, I only had time to post one opinion article--it was about the creationism / evolution debate

In an attempt to become more active in the blogosphere, I also joined a few other blog activities such as R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII, The Classics Club, The Orange Prize Project, and The Complete Booker.

I will be starting out October with posts for Banned Books Week. Book Journey has organized a blog tour in honor of the week. I will be blogging about 4 banned children's/YA books during that week. From October 20 - 31, I'll be leading an email book discussion of The Embittered Ruby, by Nicole O'Dell for the ACFW Bookclub. You're all welcome to read the book and join in the discussion! This month is dedicated to Christian YA literature, and as you can see on the ACFW Bookclub website, we discuss two books a month, and you're welcome to choose either one of them. Besides my hope of getting farther into my study of Paradise Lost, here's a list of books I hope to read in October: 

Surprised by Joy, by C. S. Lewis (IN PROGRESS)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J. K. Rowling 
Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor (IN PROGRESS)
The Magician's Nephew, by C. S. Lewis
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
Interview with a Vampire, by Anne Rice
The Poisoner's Handbook, by Maxwell Hutchkinson
Pride and Prejudice: A Norton Critical Edition, by Jane Austen (IN PROGRESS)
Blood and Other Cravings, ed. Ellen Datlow 
A Book of Horrors, ed. Stephen Jones
House of Wisdom, by Jim Al-Khalili

Friday, September 28, 2012

Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor

2012 Book 139: Who Fears Death
written by Nnedi Okorafor, narrated by Anne Flosnik

Reason for Reading:
 This is my fourth book for The Diverse Universe blog tour, in which we are reading speculative fiction books written by authors-of-color. Who Fears Death was a Nebula nominee in 2010 and won the World Fantasy Award in 2011.

My Review

This book takes place in a post-apocalyptic Sudan, which is peopled by two races--the dominant Nurus and their "slaves" the Okekes. Onyesonwu Ubaig-Ogundiwu (whose name means "Who Fears Death?") is a the daughter of an Okeke woman who was raped and brutalized by a Nuru sorcerer and his genocidal army. Onyesonwu was considered "Ewu," a mixed-race child who brings bad luck and violence wherever she goes. Despite Onyesonwu's mother's lucky marriage to a kind man, the girl spent most of her younger years feeling insecure and angry at the world. However, as Onyesonwu grew, she inherited the powers of a sorcerer...angry powers that she couldn't control without the help of a teacher. This story is the coming-of-age of a young sorcerer destined to wreak vengeance on a violent father. 

I am having a really difficult time deciding what rating to give this book. Okorafor's writing was powerful (as was the reading by Flosnik). The story was compelling, though a few sections dragged for me--these parts could have been cut out to make a shorter book with no loss to the story. The genocidal violence and rape were described in disturbing detail, though these details were tactful and necessary. Okorafor used a post-apocalyptic setting to write a powerful story about issues (like genocide, female circumcision, and oppressive sexism) that are current problems in parts of Africa today. In fact, the most powerful part of the story (the consequences of human brutality) were disturbingly realistic and representative of the world many of us Westerners choose to ignore today. But, as disturbing as this book's content was, there was also a ray of hope and optimism. And behind all of this darkness and light, there is the story of a girl who wants nothing more to love her man, her friends, and her mother despite all odds. (Well, ok, she also wants revenge...)

About the Author:
Nnedi Okorafor is the American-born daughter of Igbo Nigerian parents. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is a professor of creative writing at Chicago State University. She has written several YA fantasy novels. Who Fears Death is her first book for adults.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N. K. Jemisin

written by N. K. Jemisin, narrated by Casaundra Freeman

Reason for Reading:

First of all, let me thank Morphi who recommended this book a few weeks ago when I said I was reading authors-of-color...-of-speculative-fiction for the Diverse Universe Tour. This is EXACTLY what I needed after reading all those heavy literary works. This book was fun brain candy, but it also had some interesting messages as well. :) 

My Review:

When Yeine Darr's mother dies, she is called for an unexpected interview with her estranged maternal grandfather, the ruler of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Under the guise of adopting her into the family, her grandfather's twisted family holds Yeine against her will in the city of Sky. Presumably, she is a third contender to take her grandfather's place as ruler--but what are his motivations for accepting her (as outcast) into the family? On top of that, Yeine is also being seduced by the charms of the "gods" of Sky...and one of them is the ultimate bad-boy. These gods have been treated as slaves by Yeine's family for two thousand years, and they want their own piece of Yeine's new life. Yeine must weave her way through a maze of deceit to decide who her allies are. I loved this book because I was in great need of some brain candy right about now. It's light, fun, long as you approach it like brain candy, you'll really love it. :) Despite it's fun fluffy nature, Jemisin manged to weave in messages about unbendingly dogmatic religions, slavery, women's rights, and abuse of power. These messages do not overpower the story, but they're there if you want to think about them. In my mind, this was a perfect mixture and just what I needed right now. :)

About the Author:
N. K. Jemisin was born in Iowa city in a year un-noted by Wikipedia. ;) She grew up in New York City and Mobile, Alabama. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is her debut was considered for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards the year it came out. I look forward to watching as Jemisin's writing develops. :) If her first book is so good, then perhaps her writing will get even better as time progresses!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Zone One, by Colson Whitehead

2012 Book 138: Zone One

written by Colson Whitehead, narrated by Beresford Bennett

Reason for Reading: I read Zone One for A More Diverse Universe blog tour, which aims to increase awareness of authors-of-color...-of-speculative-fiction. (Is that the correct punctuation for that term?) Zone One is particularly fitting for this blog tour, since it is being considered for this year's Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Though this book is a "literary" zombie novel, so of course it is, by definition, genre defying. ;) I also read this book for a the Surreal September LibraryThing theme read, and for the  R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII challenge.

My Review

This post-apocalyptic book takes place in on Manhattan Island (Zone One), where Mark Spitz and his colleges work as "sweepers." Their job is to remove all the straggler-zombies from the area and bag them for disposal. This book isn't plot driven so much as world-building-driven. Whitehead uses beautiful prose to describe the "reconstruction" of America. As spell-binding as his sentences are, however, this flowery language distracts from the few action scenes...making this book not so much about zombies as about compulsive and overwhelming mediocrity. I don't mean that Whitehead's writing is mediocre--not in the slightest!--but that the book is about mediocrity. The mediocrity of Mark Spitz is described in beautifully pregnant prose. In fact, Mark had "unrivaled mediocrity" and all the "advantages this adaptation conferred in a mediocre world." The zombies themselves were a metaphor for the mediocre masses of Manhattan. Many of them harmlessly flipped non-existent burgers over ovens that had broken down long ago. They window shopped in front of boarded up displays and vegged in front of dead televisions. Thus, the book had a rather dark view of humanity...that we are descending irrepressibly into mediocrity. 

On top of that mediocre metaphor, Whitehead flirts with an allegory for the post-Civil War reconstruction. He compares the "untold Americans" who were not a part of the reconstruction to "slaves who didn't know they'd been emancipated." I pondered the meaning of this slave metaphor for a long time. Did Whitehead mean that these slaves hadn't been told about the reconstruction? That there were untold numbers of them? That nobody would ever tell their story? Maybe he meant all of that? Following through with his mediocre-zombie metaphor, it seems that Whitehead meant that America is filled both with mediocre masses who live like zombies and their slaves...slaves of technology, slaves to the whim of the mediocre masses, slaves to the unpredictability of a fickle universe. 

I had a hard time reading this book because of all the flashbacks and literary musings--I don't recommend people listen to the audiobook version due to these unexpected and frequent changes. I probably would have enjoyed it much, much more if I had physically read it. :) I think this is an excellent work for its meaning and its prose, but it's going to get bad reviews from the zombie-fiction-lovers out there, because, in the end, it's not really about zombies. 

P.S. After writing that review, I've decided to give it 4 stars because it made me think...I was originally going to give it 3.5 stars because it was difficult for me to get through, and I didn't immensely enjoy it. :) But that may have been the fault of my choice of medium (audiobook).

About the Author
Colson Whitehead was born in New York City in 1969, and he grew up in Manhattan. After graduating from Harvard, he wrote for magazines and has published five novels. On top of that, he's quite handsome. :D

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami

2012 Book 137: Kafka on the Shore

Written by Haruki Murakami; Narrated by Sean Barrett and Oliver Le Sueur

Reason for Reading: In order to increase awareness of speculative fiction authors-of-color for A More Diverse Universe blog tour, I have read and reviewed Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami, which is Japanese magical realism / surrealism. This is one of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and it won "best novel" for the World Fantasy Award in 2006.

My Review

Kafka on the Shore follows two seemingly unrelated characters whose stories collide in surreality. The first character is a 15-year-old runaway boy who has renamed himself Kafka Tamura. Kafka runs away from his father for reasons that slowly reveal themselves as the plot thickens. He ends up in an obscure library, where he must overcome a dark curse. The second character is Nakata, an old man who suffered an injury as a child and lives as on a stipend for the mentally disabled. Nakata may not be very smart, but he can talk to cats, and he has an uncanny ability to accept surreal events at face value, thus providing a unique perspective to the strange plot twists. Kafka on the Shore highlights the extreme effects alienation can have on a person's psyche. It had some VERY dark undercurrents (and even one scene of brutality that was quite shocking). It was a fascinating story, but after thinking about it for several days, I'm still unable to figure out quite what it meant. Perhaps it was only an expression of dark loneliness and nothing more? Whether I'm missing the deeper meaning or not, I greatly enjoyed reading my first Murakami book, and look forward to reading many more of these fascinating works. 

About the Author

Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan in 1949 to parents who taught Japanese literature. Murakami was greatly influenced by Western culture. His "modernist" books invoke an interesting mixture of classical music, Western literature, and Japanese culture. Like many surreal / modernist writers, his novels depict alienation, loneliness, and trauma.

Final Comments

It's interesting that I followed up The Blind Owl with Kafka on the Shore. Both are Asian surrealism (which I haven't read too very much of) and both have explicit use of the Oedipus complex. Is the Oedipus complex a common characteristic of surreal literature? Or a common characteristic of Asian modernist fiction? Or maybe the Oedipus complex is a defining characteristic of alienated characters? Maybe it was just a coincidence. I guess I'll see as I read more of these types of books. :) I have decided to include Kafka on the Shore in the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII challenge because of the unexpected dark undercurrents. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Blind Owl, by Sadegh Hedayat

2012 Book 136: The Blind Owl  

Written by Sadegh Hedayat; Translated by D.P. Costello; Introduction by Porochista Khakpour

Reason for Reading: 
In order to increase awareness of speculative fiction authors-of-color for A More Diverse Universe blog tour, I have read and reviewed The Blind Owl, by Sadegh Hedayat. Although The Blind Owl may not be considered speculative fiction by critics, I felt that the surreal nature of this book fit with the spirit of speculative fiction. 

My Review
In this surreal novella, an unnamed protagonist unburdens the deadly weight on his chest by confessing to his own grotesquely owl-shaped shadow on the wall. 

"in order to explain my life to my stooping shadow, I am obliged to tell a story. Ugh! How many stories about love, copulation, marriage and death already exist, not one of which tells the truth! How sick I am of well-constructed plots and brilliant writing!"

In his mind-spinning narration, it is difficult to tell when the events described are cloaked with opium, veiled with madness, or are simple truth. This novel is deeply disturbing in many ways. It narrates horrific events, certainly, but it is the manner that they are conveyed that is frightening. His imagery is surreal. His repetition is hypnotic. His words are oppressive. 

"Only death does not lie. The presence of death annihilates all superstitions. We are the children of death and it is death that rescues us from the deceptions of life."

The imagery and symbolism used by Hedayat portrays his personal marriage between Western and Eastern culture. Although this book is considered the essence of Persian literature, there are signs of Poe and Kafka. The Blind Owl bled, vomited, and wept Freudian symbolism. 

This was an amazing book, and highly recommended to people interested in Persian fiction or in modernist fiction. 

About the Author and Book: 
Sadegh Hedayat (1903-1951) was one of the two fathers of Persian fiction, and sole father of modernist Persian literature. He was born to an aristocratic family in Tehran, and grew up during a turbulent time in the history of Iran. After WWI, the country underwent "modernization" and "Westernization." As always happens with modernization, many people felt oppressed by the loss of culture and the loss of what makes them THEM and by the adoption of foreign values. Hedayat was apparently not one of these people. In 1925 he left Iran for studies in Europe. After short-lived attempts at studying engineering, architecture, and dentistry, he dedicated his life to studying Western literature and to learning Iranian folklore and history. From 1937 to 1939, Hedayat lived in India. The Blind Owl was first published in 1937 in Bombay, India with the label: "Not for publication in Iran." At the time of publication Iran was suffering from the oppressive later years of the reign of Reza Shah. Free press was limited, the middle class was ruled with an "Iron Fist," and the bureaucracy was falling apart under corruption. 

In Hadayat's later years, his writings attacked the monarchy and the clergy of Iran, which he felt were leading to its downfall. However, he felt alienated by everyone around him in Iran, and moved to Paris. In 1951, he gassed himself in his apartment by plugging all the windows and doors with cotton. He left money for his burial in plain view. 

The introduction to The Blind Owl, written by Porochista Khakpour in the Costello translation is well worth reading. She tells about her history with the her father wouldn't let her read it when she was a child because it had lead to so many suicides among Iranian youths. I get the impression that Khakpour's family was of a melancholic nature and was strongly affected by books of this nature. I found The Blind Owl disturbing, but I didn't experience any inconvenient urge to off myself after reading it. 

Personal interpretation that will contain middle-of-story SPOILERS:

I generally roll my eyes whenever the phrase "Oedipus complex" is introduced into an interpretation. However, in this case, I think "Oedipus complex" is exactly what Hedayat was aiming for. The ONLY character named in the entire book was his mother. He described his mother's dancing in sensual detail. He obsessed sexually about all maternal figures in his life, including his aunt and his nanny. He admits to marrying "that bitch" his wife because she reminded him of his aunt (whom he worshiped with an almost sensual passion). He viewed his mother, nanny, and aunt as sexually unattainable...but that view was extended to his wife. He insisted that he had never slept with her. That he had gone mad from her denial of him and her promiscuity with flea-ridden brutes off the streets. I interpreted these obsessive delusions as false. I assumed that he had, indeed, coupled with his wife, but in his madness repressed those memories and created new delusional memories about other men. (On a side note, I'm not even certain his wife was his aunt's child...she may have been the daughter of his nanny...but I don't know why that would matter?)

The Oedipus complex extended towards his feelings for his father, his father's brother, and his father-in-law. He seemed to fear and loathe the very idea of any of these men--they had, in fact, merged with each other in his own mind. Worse, they had merged with his own self-image so that he feared and loathed himself--probably for his unsatisfied sexual desires towards maternal figures. 

Of course, I don't think the entire story was about an Oedipus complex...that was just the theme that jumped out at me on my first perusal. The story was about a man who was isolated from the rest of the world. A man who would never belong. A man who had no one to unburden himself to as the world around him crumbled into surreal chaos. The isolation was likely a reflection of Hedayat's own feelings of alienation. The world crumbling around him was likely how he viewed the socio-economic failure of Iran. 

I'm sure this is the type of book that you find something new each and every time you read it...even if you meticulously study it for years.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

2012 Book 135: The Martian Chronicles
Written by Ray Bradbury, Narrated by Peter Marinker

Reason for Reading: Fantasy and Science fiction Coursera Course

My Review 
This is a collection of Ray Bradbury's Mars colonization stories which were originally published in pulp magazines over a period of a few years. They are independent of each other in plot, but it is fascinating how Bradbury managed to pull them all together in a cohesive whole which told a story in itself. This book is considered the bridge between classic pulp science fiction (which targeted lowest-common-denominator audiences) and the more thoughtful and sophisticated modern science fiction. The stories have the same raw imagination as pulp, but each one tackles one or more social issues as well. The stories are fast and fun, and yet intriguing.

My favorite story is about two missionaries bent on saving the Martians from sins that we humans haven't even imagined yet. The philosophical discussion of sin and the ironic use of Christian symbolism meshed surprisingly well with the sf-pulpy imagery. Bradbury also touched on evils-of-colonization, race-relations and xenophobia, and name but a few issues. I was also impressed by Bradbury's expectations of "the future" (1999 - 2020). Unavoidably, some of his themes were dated--we no longer worry about nuclear holocaust and (I hope!) lynch mobs are very rare in the US these days. He didn't foresee the civil rights movement or the cooling of the arms race. Despite this lack of foresight, he showed that humans never change. We may think we're living in an enlightened age, but xenophobia still exists and we're still willing to destroy the history and of an old land in order to set up our new world. Yes, I did feel that the stories tended to be a bit on the dreary side, but for some reason it didn't bother me so much because it was made palatable by Bradbury's fantastic imagination.

This is a fantastic classic that any science fiction fan should read. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

2012 Book 134: Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman 9/14/2012

Reason for Reading: Fantasy and science fiction Coursera

My Review:

On an exploratory trip in "savage" lands, three young American men find a country composed entirely of women. As these men learn about the history and culture of Herland, they are at first dismayed but later impressed at the asexuality and absolute social perfection of these women. For the first time, they notice the flaws in their own society and feel ashamed. 

I'm having a really hard time deciding what to think about Herland. I tend to prefer plot-driven novels, or at the very least character-driven novels. Herland was neither plot- nor was concept driven. Gilman was trying to convey a set of principles using an allegorical dialog. Gilman felt that women are subjugated by their sexuality. Because their economic happiness depends on their ability to attract men, they resort to jealousies and obsessions with fripperies. In Herland, there are no men...therefore they do not depend upon their sexuality to land them a desirable place in life--they depend only upon hard work and virtue. Since there are no men, they have no reason to be jealous, catty, gossipy, or hysterical. Thus, they are perfect. 

My major shock was that I'd previously had the impression that Gilman believed in the healthiness of sexuality. I believed this partly because of a comment in the introduction to the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader, ed. Ann J. Lane, which suggested that Gilman was deeply sexually attracted to her first husband, but that he had felt overwhelmed by her expressions of desire in their Victorian-valued home. However, the women in Herland are completely asexual. They have no sexual desires at all (not surprising, since they have no men). I find it disturbing that Gilman might have been suggesting that sexual desires (outside procreation) may be a male phenomenon? It's also possible that Gilman felt the men had something to teach the Herlanders after all...they could teach them about healthy sexuality. At first, I interpreted the story this way. But after further thought, I decided that useful men are completely out of character in this book. I think she actually intended to convey the idea that sexuality-only-for-procreation was the most sensible and healthy alternative. But I could be wrong. The jury's still out on that one. :)

In her comments on Herland, Fence objected to the focus of the women on maternity. This issue (like the sex-only-for-procreation issue) is in stark contrast with the views of today's feminists. There's nothing wrong with maternal feelings, but most feminists feel that women should have a choice about maternity...and they may not WANT to be mothers. I think there's a little irony with Gilman's focus on maternity in Herland. She, herself, suffered from the censure of society after she left her daughter under the care of her first husband. Of course, the fact that she divorced her husband for "no good reason" exacerbated the censure (for more on that, read my comments on "The Yellow Wallpaper"). Perhaps the focus on maternity in Herland was expressions of guilt for her inability to care for her daughter due her own illness. I know depressed people DO tend to be wracked by misplaced guilt. 

At some level, I approved of the socialist views displayed by Gilman's allegory. I thought it was wonderful how everything was shared among the whole...there was no poverty and there were no insanely rich. This made the socialist education system work perfectly. Educating the children was considered fun by both the children AND the adults. Education was not a burden, but a joy which all members of society shared. However, I think the only way a socialist society like that would work is if everyone is equal in skill, and devoid of individuality and self-serving jealousies. These women WERE devoid of such horrific traits, but they were also really boring and annoyingly perfect.

For the most part, I did not enjoy reading Herland. I found the dialog grating due to the sickening perfection of the women and the irksome sexism of the men. The men's characters were very flat--their purpose was simply to present a contrast to the perfection of Herland. The three men came in three stereotypical varieties: gentlemanly to the point of sexism, brutishly sexist, and imperfect-but-somewhat-objective observer. Other than these characteristics, the men had no personality at all. The women also lacked character partly due to their obnoxious perfection, but also due to their nature as a social "we" instead of being unique individuals. In other words, the perfection and socialism merged them into one character with many names (with the slight exception of Alima who  brought Terry's brutish behavior on herself by having a "far-descended atavistic trace of the more marked femaleness, never apparent till Terry called it out.") In other words, the presence of men brought out the bad characteristics of women? Of COURSE they did. ;) 

See? Herland needed these men so that they could catalyze atavistic femaleness. This trait could then be bred out of the next generation. Men ARE useful after all! 

Seriously, though, the eugenics of Herland was a little disturbing. The officials of Herland apparently got to decide who was worthy of giving birth to none, one, or *gasp at the honor* TWO children. The officials also got to choose how much influence the mother had over the child's rearing. I didn't view this process as racist since I assumed they were all of the same race (at least, they were all white by the time the men arrived), but according to Wikipedia, "Gilman also believed old stock Americans of British colonial descent were giving up their country to immigrants who, she said, were diluting the nation's reproductive purity." So I can't discount the possibility that she DID mean that the women of Herland bred out the "less desirable" races. 

I think Herland was an interesting thought experiment, but I personally didn't enjoy reading it. If your'e interested in concept-driven allegories, especially feminist and socialist allegories, then this is the book for you. :D

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Believing Brain, by Michael Shermer

2012 Book 133: The Believing Brain, by Michael Shermer (9/13/2012)

Reason for Reading This book is longlisted for the Wellcome Trust Prize which "aims to stimulate interest, excitement and debate about medicine and literature, reaching audiences not normally engaged with medical science."

My Review: 
In The Believing Brain Michael Shermer, the founder and editor of Skeptic Magazine, shows the reader how and why we believe. He begins the book with a discussion of religious beliefs, providing a few examples of life-altering religious (or irreligious) experiences, including his own. I found these stories engaging and enjoyed Shermer's philosophical discussion. Then Shermer defines "agenticity"--the tendency to assume patterns have meaning and intention (an outside agent) instead of seeing them as non-intentional or even random events. He describes the cellular mechanics of our brains and why we would have evolved "agenticity," and then provides many examples of how we see patterns even when they don't exist. This part was pretty funny. I enjoyed his examples. Shermer describes how we can become convinced that our own beliefs are accurate and unbiased, how confirmation bias leads to unconsciously ignoring data that contradict our ideas while noticing in minute detail all the examples in which the data confirm our ideas. This leads to a political discussion of liberals versus conservatives versus libertarianism (because, after all, we simply MUST hear about Shermer's libertarian beliefs!). The final third of the book describes the progress of scientific beliefs from world-is-flat to the multi-verse (again, Shermer inserts a commentary about what HE believes, which seemed a small digression from his main point). This third of the book also describes how the scientific method works. I found the final third of the book less interesting than the first two thirds. It seemed a little less organized than the first two parts, but that may have been because my mind was wandering since I was already familiar with the material he covered. In the end, this was a fun and interesting read, but nothing I'm going to read again. 

This is the first book I've read on the Wellcome Trust Prize longlist, so I can't say how it compares to the other books. I think it made medicine fun and interesting and would make medicine more accessible to fresh audiences. However, I think this book might not be the BEST choice because many people in the general public (at least in the US) are offended by skepticism. And Shermer expresses no qualms about his skepticism. Therefore, I think his message about medicine won't reach much of the general public because they will be too stuck on his "offensive" skepticism. Mind you, I'm not saying he WAS offensive, IMO. But I am only offended with skepticism when it is mixed with judgmental comments about those who believe. Shermer was very respectful of those who believe, he just poo-pooed their beliefs. ;)

The Complete Booker

I have joined The Complete Booker blog challenge so that I can keep track of and discuss books that have won or been nominated for the Man Booker Prize. 

Booker Prize
The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje (1992)
Life of Pi, by Yann Martel (2002)

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (2009)

Booker Shortlist
A Bend in the River, by V.S. Naipaul (1979)
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)

In the Country of Men, by Hisham Matar (2006)
Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel (2012)

Booker Longlist
The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman (2001)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, by Mark Haddon (2003)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke (2004)

Skios, by Michael Frayn (2012)
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce (2012)

The Orange Prize Project

I've decided to join the The Orange Prize Project to help keep track of all the Orange Prize winners / nominees that I've read. Here's my list so far:

Orange Prize Winners:
Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2007)
The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller (2012)

Shortlisted books:
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (2010)

Longlisted books:
The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd (2002)
The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold (2003)
The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger (2004)
The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Safak (2008)

The Septembers of Shiraz, by Dalia Sofer (2008)
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (2010)
Translation of the Bones, by Francesca Kay (2012)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Classics Club

I've been doing a lot of wavering back and forth about joining The Classics Club. The point of this club is to “unite those of us who like to blog about classic literature, as well as to inspire people to make the classics an integral part of life.” To join the club, you have to choose at least 50 classics that you want to finish within the next 5 years. Then, as you complete them, you make a blog post about your progress. I wasn't sure if I wanted to join, because I knew that I would read more than 50 classics in 5 years, but did I want to stick to a specific list? However, I decided that I can probably do this. So here goes:

  1. Flatland, by Edwin A. Abbott
  2. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
  3. Emma, by Jane Austen (3/18/2014)
  4. Persuasion,  by Jane Austen
  5. Pride and Prejudice,  by Jane Austen (Norton Critical Edition) (10/18/2012)
  6. Sense and Sensibiltiy,  by Jane Austen (1/15/2013)
  7. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury (9/14/2012)
  8. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
  9. Marrow of Tradition, by Charles W. Chesnutt
  10. The Last of the Mochicans, by James Fenimore Cooper
  11. On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin
  12. A Christmas Carol (12/22/2012)
  13. The Old Curiosity Shop, by Charles Dickens (12/31/2012)
  14. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
  15. Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell
  16. Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (9/13/2012)
  17. Twice Told Tales, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  18. The Blind Owl, by Sadegh Hedayat (9/23/2012)
  19. Green Mansions, W. H. Hudson
  20. Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), by Jerome K. Jerome (12/17/2012)
  21. Amerika, by Franz Kafka
  22. Metomorphosis,  by Franz Kafka
  23. The Trial,  by Franz Kafka
  24. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  25. Surprised by Joy, by C. S. Lewis (10/9/2012)
  26. Tales of H. P. Lovecraft
  27. Palace of Desire, by Naguib Mahfouz
  28. Palace Walk, by Naguib Mahfouz
  29. Sugar Street,  by Naguib Mahfouz
  30. Paradise Lost, by John Milton
  31. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
  32. Utopia, Thomas More
  33. Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov (11/29/2012)
  34. Perrault’s Fairy Tales, Charles Perault
  35. Complete works of Edgar Allan Poe, by Edgar Allan Poe
  36. Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
  37. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  38. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
  39. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  40. The New Annotated Dracula, by Bram Stoker
  41. Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
  42. The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, Maria Tartar
  43. Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
  44. Silmarilion, by J. R. R. Tolkien
  45. The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien
  46. The Island of Doctor Moreau, by H. G. Wells
  47. The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells
  48. The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells
  49. A Room of Ones Own, by Virginia Woolf
  50. Orlando, by Virginia Woolf

Children's and YA Classics

Five years from today will be 9/11/2017

October 2012 Meme
November 2012 Meme
December 2012 Meme
April 2013 Meme

To see all the classics that I've reviewed so far (even prior to joining classics club), click here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Rose Daughter, by Robin McKinley

2012 Book 132: Rose Daughter, by Robin McKinley (9/9/2012)

Reason for Reading: More light reading. :) I chose this book because I had just finished reading Beauty, by Robin McKinley and I wanted to compare her two versions of the Beauty and the Beast story. They had a lot of similarities (both were rather canonical retellings rather than "twists." But they were also very different. In the end, I think I enjoyed reading Beauty more, but I found the ending of Rose Daughter more satisfying.

My Review
Beauty and her two sisters were living in the lap of luxury with their successful father when suddenly everything changed. Her father's business failed, and they were left destitute. They made a new beginning in Rose Cottage, where things weren't quite what they seemed. The coming of Beauty's family to Rose Cottage was the first step to opening an ancient curse that would change their lives forever. This was an adorable little story...just as enjoyable as McKinley's first retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story. I was skeptical that McKinely could tell the story twice but, although there were some similarities, the two stories were very different. THIS Beauty used her magical gardening capabilities to change the world...