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!