Monday, October 29, 2007

party like it's 1999...BC

Year of Living Biblically
by AJ Jacobs
pub 10/09/07

This title is ok. I wanted it to be really good. I also want people who show up in the store looking for a religious title to pick this up by accident, but only because I don't always behave biblically myself. I just think it would be amusing.

Jacobs blesses us with another bio-book a la 'The Know It All' wherein he takes on a quest to better himself. In this case, having fathered a child, he suddenly realizes that his overwhelmingly secular life might have left him devoid of the ability to raise his son in a moral way. He decides that he wants to follow bible law as closely as possible for one year (9 mos OT, 3 mos NT), even if it ticks off his 1-week-out-of-the-month unclean wife, who gets back at him in a pretty amusing way at one point, managing to deprive him of all adult sized seating options in their apartment.

I found all the bible tidbits he mentions in the book to be more interesting than the description of his journey; but that's me, all about the dorky details. I also liked his inclusion of his various spiritual gurus' interpretation of various bible laws and passages, some of them very sensible and some off the wall...I'm sure where each interpretation lands in the spectrum will vary by individual, but there's of range to choose from here.

I think I could have handled the title better if he hadn't decided to try to follow biblical law so literally and so carefully that he became a bit of a cartoon...a year's worth of scraggly beard, wearing all white and eventually progessing to Jesus robes, carrying around one of those canes that becomes an emergency chair so that he wouldn't have to sit anywhere 'unclean.' (Though as a self-described huge germ-aphobe, he might just keep that one up). In many cases, he seems to find that there's an underlying idea to each law that's helpful, such as more parenting for his son, and that the literal law may be going overboard, aka 'The Rod' (that when spare spoils said child, supposedly. The bible doesn't quite say it that way, but it does say 'rod.').

Despite the fact that his personally story didn't really grip me, I did read this book in two days, which is a pretty good for me (i'm in the wrong job for being a slow reader, but i slog on). I guess that means something in there was pulling me along.

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posted by ~e at 11:14 PM


Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Rather Unlikely Heroine

Title: Northanger Abbey
Author: Jane Austen
Bookmark: The ribbon attached to the book. Gotta love the permanent bookmark.

The overall plot of this novel - girl goes to Bath with friends, girl meets new female friend, new female friend has a brother, brother is an obnoxious twat who pesters girl, girl falls for someone else, girl and said someone else live happily ever after - is entertaining enough, but the characters are what makes this book so fun.

The father of Catherine's true love is an overbearing, verbose individual who never lets anyone else speak and in fact, spends a lot of time speaking for them. His strict adherence to schedule borders on autistic, so anal is he about what time they must eat, what time they must depart, and so on. The brother who pesters Catherine (he is after her hand in marriage, oddly, when he seems too obsessed with himself to care much about anyone else) lengthily enumerates the specifics of his various possessions, describing in excruciating detail the particulars of his horse, of his chaise, etc. It's best to skim those parts. The friend with whom Catherine travels to Bath is a rather vacuous woman who is far too obsessed with her clothes to maintain a steady opinion about anything else.

I also was amused by Austen's characterization of the heroine, Catherine. She's not really all that much of a heroine, but Austen makes it explicitly clear that it is Catherine's hope that she would be a heroine. She thinks about what a heroine would do, what situations a heroine would find herself in, and so on.

Humorous characters are one of the best parts of an Austen novel.

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posted by Kate at 3:58 PM


Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Title: The Men I Didn't Marry
Authors: Janice Kaplan and Lynn Schnurnberger

I don't so much go for the mid-life crisis novel where the book opens with a couple dropping the youngest kid off at college and then the husband informing the wife he's leaving her for a pre-existing girlfriend. I think I still identify more with the college-student kids than the actual heroine of this book. However, there's apparently an audience for this sort of crap, because this is the second book like this these authors have put out. Whatever.

Title: You Suck: A Love Story
By Christopher Moore

Didn't really suck me in (hah). Plus it's written in first person, and I often dislike that.

Title: Queen of Babble in the Big City
By Meg Cabot

I liked 'Queen of Babble' and didn't really see the need for a sequel - the relationship issues seemed contrived, and I didn't like the messing with the initial happy ending.

Title: Knock Off
By Rhonda Pollero

Main character was too ditzy (even for me).

Title: The Accidental Florist
By Jill Churchill


Title: Remains to be Scene
By R. T. Jordan

Eh. Major characters not very likeable.

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posted by ket at 5:31 PM


ket in an alternate life

Title: Beyond the Body Farm: A Legendary Bone Detective Explores Murders, Mysteries, and the Revolution in Forensic Science
Authors: Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson

I think this is some of the most interesting stuff out there. This book is a non-fictional account of several forensic cases that Dr. Bass was involved with over the past 30+ years. He’s possibly the most respected and senior forensic anthropologist out there; he headed the University of Tennessee’s ground-breaking programs for decades, and was responsible for the creation of the world’s first body farm, where they study how bodies decompose (the basis for all the stuff you see on CSI and similar programs where they do things like determine time of death based on what bugs are on the body because years of observation have allowed them to standardize the life-cycles).

Bass walks you through several cases, each using a different specialty, including analyzing cuts on bones, identifying body parts resulting from major explosions, making DNA-identifications, facial reconstruction, determining cause of death of a burned corpse, and so on. Ridiculously interesting – it’s stuff like this that makes me want to go back to school (seriously, why didn’t I go for the major in Anthro, rather than my minor??). Bass has also written some fiction, which I haven’t read but I’m guessing is much like what Kathy Reichs writes (aka the basis of Bones – another group of books that make me regret some schooling decisions…). It’s nice to get a realistic picture of what goes on with forensic cases, rather than the formulaic and delusional version presented to the masses on TV (“Sure, we can get that DNA processed and matched in about 20 minutes!”). It doesn’t get very graphic, so the squeamish ones out there should only be marginally uncomfortable with the subject matter, but it’s definitely detailed enough for the crazy gore-lovers like me to be happy. I’ll be tracking down the rest of his books ASAP.

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posted by ket at 5:26 PM


less helpful than I hoped

Title: The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One
By: Margaret Lobenstine

I think this applies to me. But I also think that I’m doing just fine in my life, thank-you-very-much, and therefore didn’t really get into the book and only read about 10 pages. Plus I’m too busy with my varied interests to sit down and figure out how to use them to change my life, or whatever the book’s supposed to help me do.

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posted by ket at 5:08 PM


usually I identify with the heroine, but in this case, not so much

Title: The Hunt
By: Allison Brennan

Miranda was kidnapped as a college student, was tortured and raped, and somehow escaped the killer by falling into a river. He likes to torment his victims by telling them to run (after several days of the torture) and then he actually hunts them, like deer. He does this every few years, and Miranda’s the only one to ever get away. She, of course, decided to join the FBI so she could bring the bastard down, but was thwarted by her former lover, Quinn, an FBI agent who worked on her case, who thought she was to emotionally tied to the Hunter. Therefore, she remains in her small Montana town, acting as the local search-and-rescue guide and leads the hunts for the girls (more realistically, their bodies) each time the killer strikes.

The authorities, including the sheriff, a rebound boyfriend who didn’t work out because she’s still in love with Quinn, obviously bring back her former lover several years later, and they work together to bring in the killer. Which they do. And he and Miranda live happily ever after – or as happily as one could expect for people brought together by torture, rape, and murder. Oh, and the killer is a weirdo falcon-watcher who had an incestuous relationship first with his mother, and then later with his sister, who also happens to be married to the local judge.

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posted by ket at 5:07 PM


who comes up with these??

Title: After the Night
By Linda Howard

This one was weird. Faith comes from white trash family that everyone in town hates; her mom’s having an affair with the local big-shot, and her dad and older brothers are mean drunks. One night mom and the big-shot disappear, and everyone thinks they ran off together (this would be "the night"), so the next day, in retaliation, big-shot’s son, Gray, comes to kick them off the corner of his family’s property where they’ve been squatting for years, and he experiences “inappropriate”thoughts about Faith, who, at the time is 13 to his 19. Fast-forward several years…

Faith made good in the world, though the rest of her family didn’t. She hasn’t seen her mom for like 15 years, but she just heard that she showed up at Grandma’s house. Rather than go there and ask mom why she ran away and what happened to Gray’s dad, it’s obviously a better choice to go back to the hometown where everyone will hate her to find the answers. And Gray’s still there, running the local bank or something. His sister, Monica, has a semi-irrational hatred of Faith (it’s not like she encouraged mom to sleep with her dad) and tries to kill her. Plus Gray’s mom has been hiding in her room and has some mental issues. Gray’s dad’s former partner is in love with his mom, but since she’s emotionally unavailable, he sleeps with Monica and calls her by her mom’s name.

Gray, of course, both hates Faith because she looks just like her mom the slut and is drawn to her (perhaps because she looks like her mom the slut…). So he tells the grocer to not sell her food and then goes to her house and practically rapes her. I mean, she argues and then succumbs to his overwhelming charm. This happens repeatedly.
And then it all comes out in the end that dad’s partner killed him because he actually was planning to run away with Faith’s mom, and then paid her off, which is why she’s been in hiding for years. And even though Faith looks just like the slut who broke up the family, Gray’s going to marry her and Monica and his crack-pot mother can just deal with it.

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posted by ket at 5:05 PM


Sunday, October 21, 2007

White Out

Title: Snow Crash
Author: Neal Stephenson
Bookmark: Southwest boarding pass to San Diego

Hiro continues, whipping the sword around sideways, cutting the businessman’s body in half just above the navel. Then he leans down so he’s looking right in the businessman’s face. “Didn’t anyone tell you,” he says, losing the dialect, “that I was a hacker?”

Then he hacks the guy’s head off.

~ Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

Yeah, that’s cool, even if it only takes place in cyberspace.

Snow Crash, written by Neal Stephenson, defies description. I should’ve written it up ages ago, because now I’ve forgotten many of the details. But the plot involves computer viruses, Sumerian myth, religious fundamentalism, and one giant man who throws a wicked spear and is wired with a nuclear bomb. The action takes place half in reality and half in a cyberspace world called the Metaverse. Neither is a particularly appetizing locale.

It’s always dark in the Metaverse. The buildings cluster around a single road encircling the cyberspace globe, illuminated with fluorescent lights like a hyperactive Strip. People entering the Metaverse take the form of different avatars. You can look like anything: yourself, a movie star, or even a giant walking penis.

The real world isn’t much brighter. Capitalism has run amok. Citizenship is bought from local franchises, and actual United States territory has shrunk to the size of a shopping mall. Corporations control everything, and their hired security forces make Blackwater guards look like prudent paragons of propriety.

Hiro Protagonist (yeah, he’s the good guy) is a pizza delivery boy – a Deliverator – for CosaNostra Pizza while in the real world. But in cyberspace, he’s a famed hacker and master sword fighter. One night, he’s cruising the Metaverse social scene when an unfamiliar avatar offers him a hit of something called “snow crash.” Hiro refuses, but his friend Da5id accepts. The result is that Da5id’s brain crashes, leaving him a drooling human vegetable in the real world. Snow crash operates like a virus, one that can be downloaded from a computer to the hacker mind.

Frankly, I didn’t understand much of the computer theory behind Snow Crash, but it was one hell of a ride. Hiro goes on a quest to determine the origin of the snow crash virus and to prevent it from decimating the world’s technocratic elite (i.e., hackers). Somehow, it all goes back to Babel and speaking in tongues. Odd, and Stephenson sometimes writes like a pedantic smart ass, but it’s definitely worth the read.

And ladies, here’s something interesting: three different guys approached me about Snow Crash while I was reading it on the train. That’s definitely more than my Jane Austen anthology usually ropes in. The book must be a dude magnet.

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posted by Elizabeth at 11:12 PM


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Soaking Wet

Title: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen
Bookmark: Pittsburgh area bus schedule (it's $660 for a yearly pass!)

I am not quite sure what possessed me to read this, and even worse, I am now plodding along through Northanger Abbey. The classics? Me? Really? Yikes.

I may have read this in high school - I can no longer remember. However, it wasn't until college that I watched the fantastic BBC mini-series (all at one day, in fact) starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. This time around (if there was indeed another time) I couldn't read more than a paragraph without picturing scenes from the mini-series.

And I have to admit that I'm horrendously disappointed that the scene from the mini-series where Mr. Darcy goes swimming in his lake and then runs into Elizabeth Bennet while soaking wet is missing! BBC apparently took a few liberties, but I, for one, do not mind that they added that in.

As for the book, who can really say much about the great Jane Austen that hasn't already been said? I enjoyed it, I took comfort in the fact that I'm not stuck sitting at a ball waiting for someone to introduce me to an eligible gentleman, and I'm glad that I learned more than singing, drawing, and sewing.

The characters are, of course, extraordinarily entertaining - Mr. Bennet and his love of silly people and their antics, Mrs. Bennet who is one of the most ridiculous characters I've yet encountered, Jane with all her endless goodwill towards others, Kitty and Lizzy and their complete and utter dingbatedness (best word I could come up with/make up - sorry). The list goes on.

Overall, a delightful read. :)

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posted by Kate at 7:21 PM


Monday, October 08, 2007

The Arrogant Camper

Into the Wild
by: John Krakauer
bookmark: an occasionless greeting card

People seem to form some sort of mental link between Jon Krakauer and me. In a way, it makes sense. I'd rather be outside in even the worst conditions than inside on the best of days. He writes about people outside under the worst conditions. We're both climbers, though he's better than I'll ever be. He has been to Everest. I have seen an IMAX movie on Everst. (the topic was Everest--I wasn't watching it there) The last time I read one of his books, it was at the constant behest of four or five people. This time, only two were involved.

I think they were trying to piss me off.

Lest you take that the wrong way, let me first explain something: the book is great. There's a reason people recommend Krakauer so much: he's fantastic. Anything the guy writes is fascinating, and if it's not something you'd otherwise be interested in reading, he somehow manages to hold your attention anyway. As far as the book review part goes, this is good stuff. Give it a try.

If you're one of those people (like me) who isn't convinced by a simple declaration of worth and need a synopsis, take a look at the trailer for the new movie. Kid wanders off into Alaska, dies alone. Except he wandered for almost two years before reaching Alaska--I was two thirds of the way through the book before Christopher J. McCandless crossed the border of the Last Frontier. Two years of bumming around the western half of the country, hitching rides, wandering through the desert, living off sacks of rice, and not calling his family once.

Now we're getting into the "piss me off" part.

If members of the McCandless family ever see this post, I'm going to apologize in advance for the following:

Chris was a dick.

He was an arrogant, self-aggrandizing little tool who felt his life of camping out at the fringe of society was nobler than that of anyone else who was A) making money, B) not a strict adherent to his own version of Thoreau and Tolstoyan ideals, or C) living at a permanent address. He hated his family because his father made a mistake before Chris was born, and rather than mention that mistake to his dad or talk about it like a rational person, he instead decided to never speak to his parents again. His state of mind reminds me a lot of one of my cousins, a dirtbag philosophy major who instills in me visions of great violence and divine might at every chance meeting. He holds an unshakable belief that he is right in everything, and once posited a ridiculous theory about the Great Eastern Blackout of August 2003 that nearly caused me to kill him with my mind. Luckily for him, Dad was between us, and I was afraid the force of the thought-wave may liquefy the poor man.

I generally side with the Alaskans. Most of them hold that McCandless was one of those Contiguous Statespeople who think that Alaska is just another fun adventure to be had, and go tromping up there expecting great fun and a couple meese, without any idea of the enormity of Alaska's wildness. I've done a lot of camping in my life, some of it in fairly remote, forbidding places. None of them were Alaska, but I can save that until later. Because before I went to ANY of those places, I planned a head a little and made sure I'd have the food and resources necessary to survive. I took the appropriate tools. I didn't eat anything I found unless I could positively identify it.

And I let somebody know where I was going. Call your mother, Chris. Don't be a jackass.

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posted by reyn at 6:09 AM