May 31, 2008

Six Things

Egad, I've been tagged. First, here are some six things:

Six Random Things About Myself:

1. You know how people can roll their tongues? I can do that. I can also roll my tongue upside-down (like an inverted 'u'). What you have to do is brace the sides of your tongue against your bottom teeth, and then pop the top up. Go on, try it.

2. I love teacups. I love how delicate they are, and how fun to drink tea out of, and all the different patterns. I don't have a large collection -- okay, so far I only have three -- but they're the first thing I look at after books whenever I'm in an antique shop or suchlike.

3. As far as I am able to remember, I more or less taught myself to read, with Garfield cartoons of all things. I used to sit in the sun-porch and page through them. I'm not sure when looking turned to reading, but somewhere along the way it did. (Isn't it amazing that people learn to read, when you think about it? All these weird shapes suddenly turn into things with meaning -- and then the whole world opens up.)

4. I have written two and a half rather awful novels, thanks to NaNoWriMo, which I discovered in my last year of high school. I think that some bits may have had their moments, but taken corporately, gosh they're bad. But it was a good experience: I met lots of cool people who also submitted themselves to that particular flavour of insanity, and got to write a lot as well. And perhaps some of the better bits may be salvaged to other projects.

5. I have a thing for stationery and journals. Especially journals. I love looking at the covers, I love cracking them open for the first time. I love seeing rows and rows of them in the shop, and picking out that special one to take home. And I love filling them -- but only for a while. Usually I only get about a quarter of the way through, or less, before it goes on the shelf and I wonder about getting a new one. I'm just a user, I guess.

6. I can, haltingly, play the Rubber Ducky song from Sesame Street on the piano.

May 17, 2008

New Arrivals

I went on another bookstore outing today, this time to the excellent discount bookstore. I got three new books:

1) Asleep, by Banana Yoshimoto. Her name is Banana. How cool is that? I have no idea if it's her real name or a pseudonym, or a half-pseudonym... but still. Banana. (If you must know, I didn't buy the book just because of her name. The book also looks quite good. But yes, a good chunk of it was on the strength of her name.)

2) Deception on His Mind, by Elizabeth George. I was a little afraid that I might have read this book already, because they all have those sort of nondescript "Ooh, I'm a mystery book!" titles, but I flipped through it and I don't think that I have. I've been reading through her series over the past couple of months, and I was well pleased to find another.

3) Fall on Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald. When I was in first year, Ms. MacDonald came and spoke to a bunch of us. I don't remember much as far as her talk went, but she read an excerpt from this book. It was quite astounding excellent, and I've been meaning to read it (in the vague sort of way that I mean to read a lot of books) since then. Today, though, I actually remembered. That it was $6 instead of $15 also helped!

Lovely, lovely books. It will be hard to decide which to read first.

May 14, 2008

Bookstore Outing

My summer course started on Monday, which necessitated a trip to the bookstore yesterday to pick up my new textbooks. We have two: The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction (7th ed.), edited by Richard Bausch, and Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism, by Jane P. Tompkins.

I went to the university bookstore and so was nicely overcharged -- which I've come to expect there since it's the campus bookstore. But pricing aside, boy, do I love hanging around there. I love bookstores.

On this particular trip, I got to the store at maybe quarter after five, and found my books after wandering around for a while, syllabus in hand. This took a bit longer than usual because I kept forgetting that Ba- comes before Br-, not after it. Good job there, self. But I located the two texts in time enough, and then happily wandered for a while. Eventually I ended up in a convenient chair, reading the second half of Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi. Have you read Persepolis? I'd only read the first half, and so I sat down and had a read for a while. I was surrounded by books, Radio 2 was playing, and I was reading a wonderful graphic novel ... it was quite nice.

Eventually I snapped out of it. My stomach reminded me that I still needed to get home to dinner, and I still had to buy the textbooks I had picked out. I put Persepolis back on the shelf, and, seventy dollars later, wended my way home. But it was really nice while it lasted.

(Not so nice: hearing a fellow classmate announce tonight that the Norton is buyable at another store near campus for $30 less -- and I can't return the one I have because I took the shrink-wrap off already. Bah!)

May 12, 2008

Tell Me

I've been thinking lately about why we read. You see, P is basically a non-reader, and so I sometimes find myself trying to explain why, exactly, books and words and such mean so much to me. How many different reasons do you think there are for people picking up books?

Why do we read?

Why do I read?

I read because I've always read -- almost as long as I can remember.

I read because the books are there.

I read because I'm bored.

I read to find out what other people are like.

I read to find out what I am like.

I read because I'm addicted to words.

I read to be entertained.

I read to be enlightened.

I read to imagine the past and the future.

I read because it is comforting.

I read because I need information.

I read because there's nothing better to do.

I read because there's nothing worth doing more than reading.

I read so that I can write better.

I read so that I can write more.

I read to have something to talk about.

I read to have something to aspire to.

Why do we read?

Why do you read?

Tell me. Let's compile a list.

May 7, 2008

Review: The Sweet Hereafter, by Russell Banks


Title: The Sweet Hereafter
Author: Russell Banks
Original Publication: HarperCollins, 1991.
This Edition: Vintage Canada, 1997.
ISBN:067697094X

One snowy day, a school bus plunges through a guard rail in the small and poor town of Sam Dent, New York. Almost all of the children die. Half of the town's children are gone. Many of the survivors are permanently injured. The Sweet Hereafter tells the story of Sam Dent as the town comes to grips -- or doesn't -- with the aftermath of the accident.

The story is told through the voices of a series of characters: Delores Driscoll, the driver of the bus; Billy Ansel, a widowed VietNam vet who loses his twin children; Mitchell Stephens, esq., a negligence lawyer drawn to the town in hope of finding a lawsuit there; Nichole Burnell, a grade eight student who survived the accident but is now wheelchair bound; and finally, Delores Driscoll once again.

Banks does the telling-through-different-voices bit extremely well. It's quite excellent, in fact. Each of the above-listed characters speaks in a different manner from the others. This quality is somewhat rare, I think -- I find that usually when authors attempt this, they tend to end up with a handful of characters who, for better or worse, all seem to speak and think in the same way. (This happens on screen, too; think of Gilmore Girls. Ever notice how the entire town spoke like Lorelai Gilmore? Exactly.) But Banks has managed to come up with four characters who not only behave distinctly, but act and speak distinctly as well. It's superbly done.

May 6, 2008

Review: Virus Games, by G. L. Sheerin


Title: Virus Games
Author: G. L. Sheerin
Original Publication: 2008
This Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9781934454046 / 1934454044

Ever since I posted about receiving this book to review, a number of weeks back, I've been receiving 3-6 search engine hits every day for the phrase "virus games book gl sheerin." Perhaps there is an internet buzz over this book of which I'm not aware -- but the constant sameness of the search phrase makes me wonder about that. Mr Sheerin, is that you?

At any rate, Virus Games is a shortish novella aimed at young readers, particularly boys, in maybe the 9-12 age range. According to the promo material I've seen, Sheerin wrote this book to fill two needs: to address the reading gap between boys and girls, and to fill a deficit of young adult books incorporating, or about, technology.

Here's the back jacket:
Peter Dempsey hates computers. He detests looking at monitors, can barely type with two fingers on a keyboard, and considers his PC 101 class a torture chamber. But when a fateful bolt of lightning gives him the ability to see just who lives and works inside our computers, Peter might have to change his mind.

Peter befriends the "packets" who live in his computer and begins to learn about the secret world alive inside the internet. Packet World isn't always friendly, though. A new super virus has just been unleashed, and Peter and his packets realize they might be the only ones who can stop the "bullies" from shutting down the Internet, and Packet World, forever!

This story does have a lot of strengths. The plot progresses at a fairly reasonable pace, intersperced with a number of faster-paced dramatic moments. The writing is accessible and -- though I'm definitely not part of the target demographic -- I wouldn't hesitate to pass it on to a younger reader.

Probably the best feature of Virus Games is Sheerin's rendition of "Packet World" -- ie, the insides of our computers as seen by the creatures who inhabit them. He writes extremely imaginatively on the subject, creating several types of computer creatures (Packets) and fleshing out their world and their routines. Checkers, Guiders, and Dumpy Packets travel through Tunnels (the internet), hang out in holding areas and crunchers (hard drives and software applications), and, more importantly, help Peter to not only complete his homework assignments, but to save the very internet itself from an extraordinarily malicious virus. The battle scenes between the good Packets and the Bullies (Packets infested with a virus) are actually fairly tense -- and fairly brutal.

It's a cute story. And there's definitely room for a sequel. I would like to know more about the mysterious and sinister Professor, for one thing.

This is not to say that the book is flawless. I found the premise -- a typical, modern, North-American ninth grader with not just a disinterest in but an almost pathological hatred of computers -- extremely hard to swallow. I know, I know, I'm supposed to suspend my disbelief. It's really hard to do in this case, that's all I'm saying.

Stereotypes also abound. We've got the jolly fat kid, the superficial rich folk, the doofus cheerleader sister, the happy but gullible parents, the unloved and therefore evil antagonist . . . and so on. It's a little hard to swallow, although perhaps much of that is because I'm reading this as an adult.

The last problem, I think, is that the book reads extremely anachronistically. Peter Dempsey has two best friends, Fats and Billy. They bonded over their mutual love of baseball cards. Jenny Dempsey gets a ride to school every day with junior cheerleader Mary Sue. Little details like that add up and make me wonder; except for the computer-related content, Virus Games reads a little like it was written thirty or forty years ago.

But again, this is not to say that the book is all bad. It's fine. It's not fantastic literature by any means, but Sheerin has come up with an interesting storyline and the inside-the-computer bits are creative and fun. This could be a good choice for a younger reader, particularly one interested in computers.

May 3, 2008

April Books

Well, kiddaroos, here are the things I read in April, with some brief commentary occasionally appended. As usual, an asterisk denotes a first-time read.

*A Place of Hiding, by Elizabeth George. I do like Elizabeth George books. I'm not sure how we'll they'll hold up on re-reading, because they are mysteries and because I haven't yet read enough of them to need to re-read any of them, but they are very clever and quite enjoyable. A little gritty, though.

*Making Money, by Terry Pratchett. Haha! The main character's name is Moist von Lipwig! Is there anything else you would need to know before reading this book?

*Atonement, by Ian McEwan. Hmm. I will let my review speak for itself.

*The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells.

Unshelved, by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum. This book is the first collected collection (eh?) of Unshelved strips. If you are not reading Unshelved every day, you really, really need to. Please to enclicken here.

Library Mascot Cage Match, by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum. This is the third collection, ditto.

Read Responsibly, by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum. And, as above... and as the above of the above. You know.

*Thud!, by Terry Pratchett. I think this is probably my favourite of all of the Discworld books I have yet read. Yes, Pratchett writes silly fiction -- but underneath those funny bits are lots of serious, incredibly smart things. Plus, this novel contains within itself what must be a most excellent children's book.

*Dining with Death, by Kathleen Molloy. Again, I'll mostly let the review speak for itself -- but I want to say that this is one of the best books I've yet read as a result of having this blog up.

What Would Dewey Do?, by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum.

*Lolita, by Vladimir Nabukov. I read this book over the course of about a month and a half, for roughly two sessions of forty or so minutes each per week (I was reading it in a non-lending library in between classes). And the library in which I read it is the closest thing yet I've found to my ideal: stone walls, high ceiling, dark wood bookshelves built into the walls, leather couches and chairs, two fireplaces, giant bay windows for sitting near or in, near-complete silence ... marvellous.

*Men at Arms, by Terry Pratchett.

*The Ovum Factor, by Marvin L. Zimmerman.

*Hogsfather, by Terry Pratchett.

*Mort, by Terry Pratchett.

*Maskerade, by Terry Pratchett. This one I also really, really enjoyed. There is an opera ghost. It is excessively amusing.

*Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett.

*Playing for the Ashes, by Elizabeth George. Another excellent George novel. The only thing was that it's full of cricketing terms, which I found rather bemusing.

What Would Wally Do? by Scott Adams. This is a really poorly put-together anthology. Strips appear out of date (for example, a three-day series appears in the book as Day Three, Day One, Day Two) and mess things up. But I was bored, so I read it. So it goes.

Piercing the Darkness, by Frank Peretti. I really like this book. You know, it's really really hard to find Christian fiction that isn't just a giant ball of syrupy, cheese-ball goo. But this novel is quite enjoyable. It's fast-paced, and very well written.

Clearly, this was a big month for reading certain types of books over and over. I got through two Elizabeth George novels, four Unshelved books, and, yes, seven Terry Pratchett novels. Three of us here at home are reading through the entire Discworld series; we still have about twenty books to go, and so I don't expect this pattern to change any time soon.

In terms of reading for challenges, I finished twenty books in April, putting me to 37 books total since I started the 100+ Reading Challenge.  (The goal of this challenge is to read at least a hundred books in the space of a year -- that's 1.9/wk -- and if you like this sort of thing I encourage you to click through and check it out for yourself. It's fun.)

What were the best books you read in April? Were there any worst books?