Saturday, December 26, 2015

Book Review: Statisticity by Yaron Glazer

68. Statisticity by Yaron Glazer

What first strikes me about this book is the beauty and ease of its presentation. I don't usually read e-books. This time, I received the e-book from the author for review. I never expected to say this about a digital book, but it is a work of art. It has "pages" that turn forward and back with the click of an arrow on either side. Each page contains only the amount of prose that comfortably fills the screen and not an iota more (I read on a laptop, so I can't speak for tablets or e-readers). The best part of the setup, though, integrates well with the content of the novel. The story is set in a dystopian future China and uses both futuristic and Mandarin-derived terms that would be unfamiliar to the modern reader. Although many of the terms can be deciphered from context, especially for the habitual science fiction reader, readers of Statisticity don't have to suffer through the disorientation that led me to put down novels such as William Gibson's Neuromancer. If you want the experience of orienting yourself in an unfamiliar world though, you can still have it. That's the beauty of the design. Each term can be clicked on and will illuminate its definition, and sometimes the "wiki" as well. The same terms might show different information at different points in the story. Some characters who are not otherwise introduced in the text come with a picture and "Party profile" if you click on their names. If you click on the name of a place in the story, you will be shown its location on a map--and then you can easily click to return to your spot in the story. However, you can ignore all these opportunities and read like a regular book--but you would be missing the chance to experience the world in a way similar to how the characters interact with each other. That brings me to the interesting part about this dystopian future China. Citizens of this police state are forced to live the majority of their lives online, in the Party virtual world known as Zhongguo. "Offline" is an exotic world that requires a visa. Most people spend their lives in modules, "Offlining" only to sleep, eat, and take care of basic bodily functions. Our heroes, of course, have other ideas. When I first started reading, the story reminded me most of Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, and, it occurs to me now, it also bears some resemblance to The Matrix. However, Glazer's book lacks the youthful optimism and zany geekery of Cline's book as well as the superpowered action sequences of The Matrix film. This is a more dismal look at climate change and the impact of virtual technology on society.

Gamer geeks and coding aficionados may get more out of the  lingo and story, but as a mere science fiction fan, the technobabble was mostly intelligible. There were also some amusing science-y metaphors--"spreading out like radioactive isotopes moving through vascular tissue." The focus is more on concept than plot or character, but the writing is solid and the dynamic reading experience keeps it interesting. Recommended to fans of hard sci-fi and dystopia.

Received for review from the author.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Book Review: Wild

66. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

After I finished Wild, I had a profound desire to go and buy Adrienne Rich's The Dream of a Common Language. It is the one book that Strayed does not burn for fuel during her months-long hike on the Pacific Crest trail. She doesn't even need to read it so much as finger its pages, dreaming of what she already knows is inside.

Wild is not a perfect book. It is very much in Elizabeth Gilbert's vein of done rather than perfect. Strayed's lyricism and authenticity is shown to its best advantage not in her memoir, but in the columns she wrote as Dear Sugar printed in Tiny Beautiful Things, which was my favorite of the two books. Yet, while I was reading Tiny Beautiful Things, which I bought because I already knew I liked the Dear Sugar columns, I decided to finally read Wild as well. I meant to read it when it came out, and then I meant to read it when the movie came out, and then I read so many negative reviews about how whiny the book was that it fell toward the bottom of my TBR list.

I get those reviews. I get how this book could come across as whiny. But it's a memoir about a woman who's lost her mother and who's lost her way and who is struggling with that. There is going to be whining.

Strayed didn't bother me. She didn't come across to me as unusually selfish or hateful or entitled. She comes across as human and full of mistakes, and to me, that was genuine and comforting. I cared about how she felt and about her struggles. Sure, when she filled her backpack (aptly named "Monster") with accoutrements and books and accessories and toiletries, I thought, "Okay, come on, when is she going to realize it's too much?" And she keeps on stubbornly lifting that heavy backpack off beds and tables and the ground (because it's so heavy she can't pick it up to put it on without leverage) through miles and miles, and I would never do that, and no hiker or backpacker I know would ever do that, but she does it (until, finally, thankfully, one of the other hikers helps her purge a bit and she starts burning pages she's already read). It's stupid, and dangerous, especially as she hikes over desert, and later icy mountains, but it's recognizably human, even if I personally don't relate. I also don't relate at all to her heroin usage, because I'm sure I would never do something like that, but still, it's a human thing to do, and it's a way that humans react to pain.

I also realize that I would be way too chicken to ever hike the PCT. I've hiked small parts of the AT, and the idea of hiking larger parts of it, or possibly even all or most of it one day appeals to me. From the way her book made it sound, I've probably done more hiking and backpacking than Strayed had done when she set off. But I would never have the chutzpah to hike the terrain that she did, and she not only survived, she persevered. Overall, it's an interesting and inspiring and very real story, and I think anyone with an interest in hiking the PCT or who wants to find comfort in another's struggle with love and loss should take a look at Wild.

There are hints in the memoir of the wisdom and lyricism of Dear Sugar, and from the way it seems that Strayed internalized it, I wonder if The Dream of a Common Language found its way into both.

Books Read in December

 Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic came out this year, and fit with my slew of reading books about writing. Once I had finished, I knew I could no longer put off her bestseller: Eat, Pray, Love. I bought Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed at the same time because I enjoyed the Dear Sugar columns (the book is a collection of the columns, originally published online),  and after that, I finally had to read her memoir, Wild. Gilbert and Strayed both discuss writing and life and spiritual awakening, and though their perspectives differ, they are similarly inspirational. Reviews to come.

64. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

65. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

66. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

67. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

1. I've finally gone over to the dark side: my parents got me an ereader for Hanukkah. At this point I've been tempted for a while, and between all the free classics available in eformat and so many books for review that are only available in eformat, I couldn't resist. I always thought I would get a Nook, since I used to work at B&N, but Kindle won out for reasons, and my main objection, that they used to not accept any formats but their own, has since changed. So far, I've managed to get it set up and "purchased" a free copy of Under the Lilacs; regular use has yet to commence.

2. To my everlasting relief, I managed to get my library card renewed after all. I went back to the library and talked to a different librarian, who was perfectly happy to renew my card using my work ID that proves I still work in the county. Crisis resolved!

3. Per the last two items, once I figure out how to borrow ebooks from the library, THERE WILL BE NO STOPPING ME! MUAHAHAHAHA!

4. I'm taking off work early today to go see Star Wars with my boyfriend because I love him that much (I like Star Wars, but not enough to see it on opening day otherwise. I'm more of a Trek fan). However, I have a cold, so if I start coughing in the theatre, he is going to pretend not to be associated with me =(

That's all, folks! Look forward to reading yours!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Top 15 Best Books I Read in 2015

Happy Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish!

I couldn't choose just ten, so I chose fifteen of my favorite reads this year. Each of these books changed my way of thinking this year and continues to linger in my thoughts. Many carried over from my list halfway through the year, and some I read in the past couple months.

1. Kindred by Octavia Butler

2. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

3. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

4. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

5. Dispatch from the Future by Leigh Stein

6. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

7. The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

8. The Bondwoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts

9. Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

10. Brave New Girls Ed. Mary Fan and Paige Daniels

11. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

12. Cinder by Marissa Meyer

13. The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen

14. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

15. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Friday, December 11, 2015

5 More Absurd Ways to Judge Books or More of What I Learned from Paring Down My Library

1. All the books with Queen Elizabeth I on the cover made it into the keep pile.

2. Almost all of the philosophy went into the discard pile, with the exception of Wilde's Soul of Man Under Socialism.

3. 41 books I have never read made it into the keep pile, although Ms. Kondo advises that unread books will continue to go unread. The truth is, I have picked up and read (and loved) books after having them for years, so I'm not ready to give up those that still bring me joy.

4. I have now given away every book from my course on eighteenth century British literature except Belinda by Maria Edgeworth. Although I got rid of a few books recently, Pamela and Moll Flanders were flung out the second the class was over. I don't know why, but while I love sixteenth, seventeenth, and nineteenth century British literature, the eighteenth gives me the heebie jeebies for the most part (or just makes me yawn).

5. Books that were given to me by people who are no longer in my life went into the discard pile. It didn't matter even if it was a book that in other circumstances I would really want to read. Again, more sadly, the physical copy of that book embodied the person who gave it more than the content. I guess that's the corollary to the insta-keep books given to me by loved ones, which included books I would not have read otherwise.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Winning NaNoWriMo

I won! I'm a winner! I wrote 50,364 words in 30 days...actually, in 28 days. It's been incredible to learn, to prove to myself, that I can do this. I can write 4,000 or 5,000 words in a single day even, if I have the time.

This is not to say that what I wrote was good. It's an Anne Lamott-esque draft, as I mentioned before. But, as Elizabeth Gilbert says, better to be done than perfect. Not that I'm done. After I won NaNoWriMo, I read Gilbert's Big Magic and I'm now almost done with Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things. These books offer such different pictures of being a writer and yet they jibe in a way that makes sense.

I am not done. The novel I began on November 1 is not finished. It's not a novel that is meant to see the light of day, but it is meant to be finished. I set a goal to finish 75,000 words by Dec. 14th. Right now, I don't know if I will meet it. My draft currently sits at around 60,000 words. but no matter what happens...60,000 words!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Books Read in November

Since I was focusing on NaNoWriMo for most of November, I didn't get a huge amount of reading done and it was all nonfiction, except for books I finished at the very beginning of the month. Therefore, I got in both an sf book for Science Fiction Month (Ancillary Mercy) and a few books for Nonfiction November.

I'll let you know in December, but I have also probably finished Book Riot's Read Harder challenge and Popsugar's 2015 Reading Challenge. I heard about the latter toward the beginning of the year and decided to see if my reading would complete it without purposefully doing so. I only saw Book Riot's challenge more recently, but I think I will similarly have completed at least most of it without trying.

61. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

I started reading this awhile back, in slow stages, and finished as I was beginning NaNoWriMo. It's a series of vignettes about writing, life, and Zen Buddhism that are helpful for putting you in the mood to feel inspired and un-self-conscious about your writing. I would highly recommend this book to any writer.

62. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The life-changing aspect is still under investigation, but this book about cleaning is surprisingly inspiring. It's translated from Japanese, which I didn't realize at first, and so, in retrospect, a lot of the comments she makes about her clients make more sense. However, whatever country (or planet) you're on, her advice about letting go of your overabundance of things makes sense. The book focuses on discarding, in particular categories in a particular order. The method is one that I have personally found very freeing--you judge each object by picking it up, touching it, and deciding whether or not it gives you joy. I can attest that I found this effective. She also wrote some thoughts that I found particularly freeing, like the idea that a gift or a card has done its job as soon as it reaches you and that it is okay to let go of gifts from loved ones because they would not want them to be a burden to you. She claims that all of her clients who have followed this method faithfully have never relapsed, which is a huge claim that I intend to put to the test. So far, I have gotten through clothes and books. We'll see what happens!

63. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Although I've wanted to read this book for years, it turns out it's a marrow bone that's been sucked dry. Many of the great Hemingway quotes seem to originate from it, so I was constantly getting deja vu while reading. I was also getting deja vu because the writing style was very familiar to me, exactly like a certain type of pretentious (usually male, sorry!) writer, who, of course, have based their styles on Hemingway. So, thanks Hem, for that. I do love this hilarious observation that Hemingway makes about Fitzgerald: "It was hard to accept him as a drunkard, since he was affected by such small quantities of alcohol." What a jab between fellow alcoholic writers!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What I Learned from Paring Down My Library or 5 Absurd Ways to Judge Books

As you may know, I recently reduced my personal library from 700+ books to 449, using the KonMari method from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Although Ms. Kondo whittled her own books down to a Hall of Fame of 30, this number feels comfortable to me. I always wanted a substantial home library, and I feel better knowing that I consciously chose each one of these books, and can continue to do so. As I went through my books, I kept tally marks of books in each genre, paperback and hardback, and also wrote down the names of those books that especially touched me, my "Hall of Fame." My Hall of Fame consists of 46 books, so if I ever need to reduce my collection further, I know what I want to keep.

I also learned a number of other absurd facts about my preferences in books, which I will share for your amusement and edification.

1. I dislike Dover Thrift editions. Every single Dover Thrift edition I owned ended up in the discard pile.

2. However, I am extremely attached to Puffins Classics editions. Every single one of my old, torn Puffins Classics editions made it through the purge, including books for which I have duplicates.

3. The largest genre I own consists of international literature paperbacks (62). I was surprised because I had not realized I was that worldly of a reader, but then I realized I was counting British and Canadian as international, and I own all of Jane Austen's (9, including duplicates) and most of L.M. Montgomery's oeuvre (10).

4. I don't care about owning plays. As a devoted theatre fan, I had purposefully built up a library of esteemed plays. Every single one of them ended up in the discard pile, except for Cyrano de Bergerac. I'm not counting Shakespeare here, since he fits into my 16th/17th century British literature genre (yes, I have enough of those to have a genre).

5. Almost every single book that ended up in my Hall of Fame is there not so much because of the content, but because that particular physical book was given to me, or recommended to me, by a loved one. That was an incredibly powerful realization.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

1. I'm more than 70% done with my NaNoWriMo word count!!! I think my novel may need to go over the 50,000 words, but it looks like I'm going to win on my first try! I rigged it a little, since I've purposely avoided doing it until such year as I had enough time. Also, I got some advice from a friend who's done it in the past that really helped. She told me to get as far ahead as I could in the first few days, and that even if I write, say, 4,000 words in one day, don't use that as an excuse not to write the next day. When she told me that, I laughed because I thought there was no way I could write 4,000 words in a day, but I surprised myself by writing 4,000 words the very next day and over 5,000 on one other day. Keep in mind, this is definitely an Ann Lamott-esque first draft, but 38, 769 words and counting!

2. My library reduction project has been started and completed! Using the KonMari method as outlined in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I went from 700+ books in my personal library to 449. The piles of books are still on the floor and I still need to come up with an organizational method, but now, each and every one of the books I own has been chosen by me. And that is a really amazing feeling. I also learned all kinds of interesting things about my preferences in books, which I'll probably talk about in a separate post.

3. I'm also using the KonMari method for tidying up the rest of my life. The method starts out with clothes, which was easy for me, since I hate clothes, but books are second, and that is obviously huge for me. On to komono (miscellaneous items), papers, and, what I'm dreading most of all, sentimental items. I'll let you know if it works!

4. The library system that I've been using for my entire life recently demanded proof of residence, and while I work and spend almost 100% of my family and social life in that county, I technically no longer live there. I am really upset. Besides the fact that I'm emotionally attached to my library card, which I've had since I was five (did I mention I'm dreading discarding sentimental items?), it's an especially good system where I can almost always get what I want, unless it's super brand new. I stalked the web catalog of the library nearest to my residence, and it took 12 tries to find a book that I want that they actually have available. Boohoo. =(

5. I celebrated paring down my library by...ordering myself new books! Okay, actually, they are more pity party books because I ordered them when I was really upset about the library thing. Needless to say, neither of these books are available at my local library. Also, I bought the Japanese flower print spiral notebook because I am really happy that I realized I specifically like using spiral notebooks of this size with inspiring images on the cover (a side effect of the library tidying, wherein I also discarded never-used journals).