Thursday, April 26, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Gamechanger (aka Pottermore)

I just wanted to quickly share this from the Shatzkin Files :


I got a chance to visit with Charlie Redmayne of Pottermore. He was a bit bleary-eyed at the Digital Minds event on Sunday because the site had opened to the public that weekend. When I saw him on the show floor during the week he had just benefited from a full seven hours of zzzs, and he was enjoying his status as a game-changer.The key to Charlie’s disruption was his willingness to substitute watermarking for DRM. He said it definitely made him nervous to do it, but he couldn’t see any other way to achieve what he wanted for Pottermore. He had to be able to sell to any device; he wanted to be able to allow any purchaser complete interoperability. There was no way to do that and maintain DRM. His technical infrastructure is awesome. It stood up even though the average length of engagement by each user was three or four times what they had projected and the traffic exceeded expectations as well. But the most startling early news was what he reported about piracy. 
Apparently, Potter ebook files started showing up on file-sharing sites pretty much right away after they opened. But before they could serve any takedown notices, Charlie says the community of sharers reacted. They said “C’mon now. Here we have a publisher doing what we’ve been asking for: delivering content DRM-free, across devices, at a reasonable price. And, by the way, don’t you know your file up there on the sharing site is watermarked? They know who you are!” And then the pirated content started being taken down by the community, before Pottermore could react. And very quickly, there were fewer pirated copies out there than before.

This is a game changer, folks. Right now, it's just J.K. Rowling and a handful of others who have the brand to pull this off. But if publishers want to survive long term, they'd be well served to think long and hard about how to leverage their catalog in a way that works for publishers, authors, and readers alike.

Jetting Across the Pond

I looked up and realized that I'm going to London on Saturday - holy cow, where did the time go?

I booked my ticket in December and frankly have not thought much about the trip since then. I'm going with my mother (her first trip to the Mother Isle), who is nothing if not an amazing over planner, but she has been remarkably quiet on the subject. But when I asked what plans she had arranged, lo and behold, she'd already booked several fun filled days. A lot of these plans are places that I've been previously, but hey, in my second favorite place on Earth (don't worry, Southland, nothing can ever replace you in my heart), I'm happy to revisit "old to me" sites.

In planning a month's worth of fun into a week, the discerning traveler is forced to make some tough choices. Do we go to Brighton or Bath? Do we take the full tour of Westminister Abbey, the Tower, or both?

With this in mind, there are some things that are non-negotiables and some that are not. A lot of these categories are dependent on your nationality, predeliction for history, and love of food. For this American, history-loving, foodie, I can tell you the one thing that I would politely suggest that you don't worry about if you only have a week in jolly old England: Stonehedge. Now, before you object, let me state that I have been to and admired the site in person:


It was lovely. There were big stones, green meadows, and lots of sheep. All around a picturesque and appropriately awe-inspiring. It is also in the middle of a gigantic plain with not much around it, aside from Salisbury (for which the plain is named). Salisbury is also a wonderful town with a wonderful cathedral.

But if you only have 5 days in a country, do really want to spend all that time getting out to the middle of nowhere to look at a bunch of rocks for 10 minutes? For me, the answer is no. If you're staying for a few weeks and want to make a day of it, by all means do so. If you are going to the solstice celebration, go for it. Otherwise, I'd say skip it. Spend the day in Oxford, Cambridge, or any of the other more action packed areas.

I'd say the same thing about Versailles, but that's for another day and another trip.

Anyways, I'm excited to get some much needed rest from crazy pants times at work and to enjoy my second favorite country with my favorite mother. I'll be offline starting tomorrow, so see you on the other side!

Are there any big tourist spots that you think people should skip on a tight schedule? What destination most thwarted your expectations?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Top Ten Favorite Characters

As always, the Broke and the Bookish have a great Top Ten Tuesday prompt - what are you top ten favorite fictional characters? This an interesting question, because while it is probably closely tied to your top ten favorite books, it also leaves the possibility for a great character to break out of a so-so book. So, without further ado, my unranked list:

  1. Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre: What I love about this eponymous heroine is that she subverts both contemporary and current expectations of who she should be and how she should act. In her own time, she definitely is not behaving as a proper woman should. In our time, she can come off as too staid or subdued. In truth, she is a woman who acts according to her heart, head, and beliefs. I hope someone can say that about me when I go!
  2. Hermione "Book BAMF" Granger from the Harry Potter series: Let's face facts- if you ever thought Hermione was in danger of dying in the HP series, you weren't paying very much attention to the dynamics. No Harry? No hero. No Hermione? No plot propulsion. Miss Granger is the only way the story moves along, because she's the only one who routinely is figuring out what the hell they need to do next. She is the sassy brains of the outfit and I love her for it. For those of you with the extended addition of Deathly Hallows (Part 2), there is a great documentary with Jo Rowling about female characters in the series. 
  3. Stevens from Remains of the Day: This sad and unaware butler just makes me want to give him a hug. His complete denial and lack of awareness makes for some very funny and completely tragic moments in this amazing book. The film adaptation is wonderful, and I don't begrudge them giving him a slightly more hopeful send out than the book seems to. 
  4. Miss Havisham from Great Expectations: Where did Dickens come up with his crazy characters? We could have a whole list of just Dickensian people (the Pale Young Gentleman, anyone?), but this wizened old bat is my favorite- especially her demise. You can't help but hate and love her all at once.
  5. Fosco & Mr. Fairlie from The Woman in White: Raych at Books I Done Read has freed me to fully let my fan flag fly for these two crazy creations. Fosco, because he's maybe the closest thing to pure evil I've ever seen on page who still works as a rounded character, and Mr. Fairlie, because he is just so deliciously weird.
  6. Captain Hastings from the Hercule Poirot mysteries: What I love about Hastings is that we've all been there- we've all been the clueless, dopey one at some point. Alas for this brave captain, most of us are able to see when we've been a boob and laugh. Poor old Hastings just keeps at it, much to Poirot's and our amusement.
  7. Lucy Pevensie from the Chronicles of Narnia series: Lucy is basically what every girl should hope to be: brave, kind, wise, loyal, and adventurous. 
  8. Harriet Vane from the Lord Whimsey mysteries: I've discovered that I don't much like the Lord Peter books that don't contain his sassy paramour. I love that she doesn't take much guff from the pompous hero, but beyond that, Dorothy Sayers has some really thoughtful things to say about modern womanhood through this flawed but lovable woman.
  9. Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings: Do I really need to say anything? Sam makes me want to be a better person and a better friend. 
  10. Bernie Wooster from the Jeeves & Wooster series: Jeeves may be the brains, but Wooster is the lovable idiot of this pair, and his hilarious social commentary and general lack of any sense makes me laugh out loud. 
So that's my list... I think next week may be my list of my least favorite characters, or characters I love to hate.

Who are your favorite characters in literature?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An Ode to a Restaurant and a Guitar

It's not hard to spot the child of a hippie: they are comfortable with tie-dyed paraphanelia, they show their approbation by saying "I dig," they refer to the Vietnam War as 'Nam.

They also, if the hippie parent truly loved them, have a deep knowledge of the era's music. A.k.a. some of the best music of all time. This here hippie child was raised without full awareness that there was popular music created after 1975 and I thank God for it. My favorite band is, and always has been, the Beatles. I can quote obscure The Hollies and Creedance Clearwater Revival lyrics and understand the profound difference between The Who and The Guess Who. I know the power of The Monkees' theme song.

But out of all of the musical gifts my father gave me, one of the most precious to me is the love I have for a certain folk musician named Arlo Guthrie. Son of famed musician Woody Guthrie, Arlo is superior in every respect, for this humble music lover. Arlo is sassy. Arlo isn't afraid to be funny. Arlo rhymes "pickle" with "motorcycle" (pronounced "motor-sickle"). Arlo sings maybe the most poignant American folk song ever recorded ("City of New Orleans"). Arlo gave us a 20 minute opus entitled "Alice's Restaurant."



This song is really more of a spoken word story set to music, but whatever it is, it is awesome. You've got "the Man" out in full force, Vietnam, VW microbuses, and littering - what more could a mid-60s folk artist hope to cover? It is so awesome that it was turned into a movie, which I have not yet seen. I am a little afraid to see what they've done to it...


Anyways, if you want to see the lyrics, I've linked to full ones in the title below, and I've included the chorus/some of my favorite parts of the story. But if you've never heard this song, do yourself and humanity a favor, and go take a listen. He's performed/recorded it live a few times, but the version I grew up listening to and that I like best is from the original eponymous album (Alice's Restaurant) and is 18 minutes, 37 seconds long. 


Alice's Restaurant
by Arlo Guthrie


This song is called Alice's Restaurant and it's about Alice, and the restaurant, but Alice's Restaurant is not the name of the restaurant, it's just the name of the song, which is why I call the song Alice's Restaurant. 


You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
Walk right in it's around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
...
We got up there, we found all the garbage in there, and we decided it'd be a friendly gesture for us to take the garbage down to the city dump. So we took the half a ton of garbage, put it in the back of a red VW mircobus, took shovels and rakes and implements of destruction and headed on toward the city dump. Well we got there and there was a big sign and a chain across the dump saying, "Closed on Thanksgiving." And we had never heard of a dump closed on Thanksgiving before, so with tears in our eyes, we drove off into the sunset looking for another place to put the half a ton of garbage.
...
...didn't get up until the next morning, when we got a phone call from officer Obie. He said, "Kid, we found your name on an envelope at the bottom of a half a ton of garbage, and just wanted to know if you had any information about it." And I said, "Yes, sir, Officer Obie, I cannot tell a lie, I put that envelope under that garbage."
...
And they was using up all kinds of cop equipment that they had hanging around the police officer's station. They was taking plaster tire tracks, foot prints, dog smelling prints, and they took twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us.
...
We all stood up and Obie stood up with the twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures, and the judge walked in sat down with a seeing eye dog, and he sat down and we sat down. Obie looked at the seeing eye dog, and then at the twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, and looked at the seeing eye dog. And then at the twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one and began to cry, 'cause Obie came to the realization that it was a typical case of American blind justice and there wasn't nothing he could do about it.
...
Came to talk about the draft
...
"KID, HAVE YOU REHABILITATED YOURSELF?

I went over to the sergeant, said, "Sergeant, you got a lot a damn gall to ask me if I've rehabilitated myself. I mean, I mean, I mean that I'm sittin' here on the bench, I mean I'm sittin' here on the Group W bench cause you want to know if I'm moral enough to join the army, burn women, kids, houses, and villages after being a litterbug." He looked at me and said, "Kid, we don't like your kind, and we're gonna send your fingerprints off to Washington."

Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Books Like Whoa: The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes (2012 Book Challenge)

He blinded me with science!


The Age of Wonder
by Richard Holmes

Procured from a certain ginormous online audio bookseller

Procured in December 2011

Finished on February 19, 2011

Format: Audio, narrated by a fabulously austere British dude

Why I gave it a try: I heard the author on Radiolab, and the story he told was so interesting that I figured I would check out his book. I am a sucker for narrative nonfiction and interesting science, so this was right up my alley (see episode here)

Summary: Holmes has taken us back to the tipping point of scientific knowledge - not just in the intelligentsia or academic elite, but increasingly among the general populace. Focusing on Britain (and a little France thrown in), we see inauguration of the Romantic Era of science and literature with Joseph Banks' voyage with Captain Cook to Tahiti and follow along as one brilliant mind after another come to the forefront of their respective fields. 

Thoughts: I know that this kind of book is not everyone's cup of tea. A lot of folks do not subscribe to the notion that nonfiction can be interesting or pleasurable - likewise, there are folks who are adverse to the idea of adults reading fiction because it is too frivolous. To both of these groups I say: Poppycock! I defy you both! You are both dunderheaded ninny-muffins! (okay, trying to calm down from yelling at imaginary people...) Readers who refuse to read non-fiction and vice versa are depriving themselves of wonderful experiences based on past negative experiences. So let me be clear: non-fiction can contain some of the best writing, with the highest levels of escapism, and the craziest characters you can imagine. And it's all true (or based on truth, depending on your level of skepticism), which ups the interest factor.

All that being said, this was narrative non-fiction par excellence. Holmes managed to weave the "narrative" part of the non-fiction into a highly satisfying world that leisurely meanders through the various lives and discoveries of scientists at the turn of the 19th century. Anchoring the framework on a bloke named Sir Joseph Banks (not the clothing store proprietor, to my knowledge), we examine the innovations in botany, astronomy, chemistry, and physics on both sides of the English channel. The writing was all you could ask for, from any genre of literature, and he succeeded in making the various mini-biographies sing together to tell a broader story.

Aside from the specific discoveries and inventions (did you ever stop to think about how thrilling hot air balloons were to the first crowds who watched them? did you know about the Endeavour expedition and all the kinky things that went on in Tahiti?), I was struck by 3 aspects of the era's culture that I hadn't fully considered. First, I was amazed at the degree to which every day people were interested in and aware of the advances in science of their day. I can't really imagine an applied chemistry book or a detailed scientific account of an exploration topping the bestseller's list today, but this is what was going on back in the day. Second, as a result of this pervasive cultural awareness of the burgeoning scientific revolution, the scientists that were making these discoveries were a major part of popular culture. I wish this had been better emphasized in my English classes on Romantic era literature. Having this kind of background makes that era's cultural outputs have a much richer context (think of Shelley's Frankenstein).

Third, as is reflected in the title, I was struck anew as to how we came to call this period the Romantic period. Jammed between the Enlightenment and Rationalism, this was a period of time when as a culture, we allowed ourselves to be taken up in the wonder and beauty of the natural world. There was a sense of, "hey, can you believe that someone has figured out how to keep lanterns from exploding in mines using chemistry- what else is possible?!" I mourn the fact that we've lost that sense of awe and respect for how the human mind can manipulate the laws of nature. That idealism and humility have been replaced with cynicism and arrogance when we size up our technological capabilities. The other day I was in the car with some colleagues, hundreds of miles from home, on the 4G MiFi internet I have at my fingertips, working on powerpoint report, when I looked up and remarked, "Isn't it amazing that I can be talking to someone in Dallas on my computer while I'm riding in the car in Chicago?" The others just kind of smiled weakly and went back to their own thoughts, but I am constantly amazed at what our applied sciences have brought to human life.

This was the biggest point of interest and gratitude that I have coming away from this book - it reminded me of all that we have accomplished and what kinds of crazy people it takes to "boldly go where no man has gone before." Sometimes people who are familiar with my religious leanings are surprised that I like popular science stuff so much - to me, it makes complete sense. I see the natural world as the tapestry that God has woven together and it is my pleasure and duty to marvel at the stitching.

I really loved this book and if it sounds at all like something that you are at all interested in, you should definitely give it a try. 

Rating:

6 - Why are you still reading this review? Go pick this one up NOW

Do you like narrative nonfiction? Has a narrative nonfiction book ever changed your mind about a topic or person?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Donde Esta el Fiction Pulitzer 2011?

I love me some ruffled feathers. Especially literary ruffled feathers. For the first time since 1977, the good people of the Pulitzer prize decider committee have declined to award a prize in the fiction category. There were 3 nominees for 2011:

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

On the face of it, this lack of prize awarding is a big ol' smack on the face. Actually, under the face of it, I'd probably say the same thing, but to be clear, the way this usually ends up happening is that no one book gains a majority and so no award is given. There have been some incidents in the past of this happening- in fact, in the early part of the century, this seemed to happen with some frequency. Mostly it was because of the split vote, but it has also happened on occasion due to a sort of prize censorship.

In this year's case, my theory is that panelists were torn between 2 impulses: to honor and encourage a newbie with a lot of promise, or to honor and commemorate the posthumous work of a literary hero. I'm referring here to Swamplandia! and The Pale King, respectively... I'll leave Mr. Johnson out of the running, due solely to the fact that this the first time I've personally heard of his book mentioned in a prize forum.

I suspect that what happened was that since neither book was either author's best work, there was no clear winner between the judges' knee jerk instincts, hence the split vote. Both books had marked flaws that were noted by nearly all of their reviewers. Swamplandia! suffered from over large canvas and a messily concluded plot; The Pale King was not completed at the time of DFW's suicide. Had either work been a little bit better, I'm pretty sure we'd have a 2011 Fiction Pulitzer winner.

But the real question is this: how did these 3 books become the shortlist? Were there really not stronger books in 2011? If not, let's all hope that 2012 is better year for books.

For more commentary on this turn of events, see the good folks at Book Riot.

What do you think of the Pulitzer brouhaha? 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

How Not to be a Jerk on a Plane (or You Are Not Special)

I talk a lot about travel on here. That's because I spend a good chunk of my time these days waiting for, boarding, sitting on, and disembarking planes. It's not so bad- I actually spend less time commuting now than I did when I was working in town. Due to the frequency of my travels, I've seen my fair share of jerks and idiots. It seems that proximity to an aircraft brings out that side of people. If you don't want to fall prey to these urges, here are some tips:

1) You are not special: Don't take up overhead storage with your jacket or small bag until all the roller bags are stowed. Oh my lordy - this is my biggest pet peeve by far. So here's the thing... some genius at the airlines decided to start charging to check bags. Okay, fine. They are a business and that's their prerogative. However, they did not increase the overhead bin storage when they made that decision. Which means that plane boarding is now a bloodbath of space scrambling for everyone who is trying to carry on their bag. Things get ugly quick. Especially when the slowly forming mob realizes that some oblivious passenger has put their bag in horizontally and stuffed their jacket in next to it. We paid the same amount of money that you did to be on this flight. Why do you get to take up 2x as much space as everyone else on this plane? Answer: you don't. Spare yourself the embarrassment of the flight attendants calling you out and just hold the thing in your lap until everyone's bag is stowed. It's the sand and stone thing - you gotta put the big stuff in first and then the small stuff will fit in around. Also - you only get to put one bag in the bin. Suck it up and put the other one under the seat in front of you. I, for one, will shamelessly call you out on it if you don't.

2) You are not special: Don't be rude to someone reclaiming their assigned seat that you were trying to take over. We all want to "self-upgrade" to a better seat. It's cool. I get it. But you can't get mad when the correct seat holder shows up. And you really can't get accusative and demand to see the correct seat holder's ticket as proof that they in fact have the right to oust you from your ill-gotten gain. And then you really, really can't be rude and pouty the rest of the flight to the person who made you move. Sorry, buddy, but if you don't pay for it, you can't have it.

3) You are not special: Don't be surprised, angry, or loud when they are serving Pepsi instead of Coke. I understand this frustration - I am a Coke girl myself (I think it's a Southern requirement, yes?), but some airlines have negotiated deals with Pepsi. This is your cross to bear, I'm afraid, and getting mean with the flight attendant won't make that Sierra Mist magically change into Sprite. If it's that important to you, all of my United flights have Coke products, so book with them.

4) You are not special: Don't lean your seat all the way back. I think a lot of people don't really see this as a problem. I probably wouldn't either, if not for 2 experiences. First, Tim runs a tight ship and he would never let me put my seat back when I was little. Pops thought it was rude, so I never grew up expecting to be able to do that. Second, on my first trip to Italy, I had the misfortune to be seated in the very last row, in the middle section, in the middle seat. Next to 2 sweaty European businessmen. In front of the 4 toilets. (yes, you can imagine how delightful this flight was). Now, to paint the picture for you, by sitting directly in front of the bathrooms, I had zero ability to lean my seat back. The children in front of me, however, did have this ability and their parents did nothing to stop them from doing so - all the way back. It was 8 hours of being pinned to my tiny seat with no course for escape. Lesson learned? If everyone on the plan leans back, a few people are going to have truly miserable flight experiences. Stop the cycle, lean back a little bit if you must, and try to think about the poor person in the back of the plane.

5) You are not special: Don't charge up the aisle past the people in front of you to deplane. This is America. We queue up, like our Northern European ancestors of yore. Wait your turn. (I'll give a pass on international flights where this may not be the custom... God help you if you're in a free-for-all to get off the plane. That's a stampede waiting to happen)

6) You are not special: Don't crank your music up so load that everyone around you has to listen to it. I like Rhianna and the whole spectrum of rappists as much as the next person. Do I want to hear you jamming out to "Super Bass" at 7am? Not so much. Please adjust your volume accordingly.

7) You are not special: Do behave like a polite, human-raised adult, no matter how frustrated or uncomfortable you are. I have to remind myself of this every time I'm in the airport. Let's be honest - the air travel experience is about the same as the cross-country bus travel experience these days, except you don't have to strip down and get exposed to radiation to be able to board a Greyhound. We all are unhappy and tired by the time we get to our planes. But we're all in the same boat (or plane, really, I guess) and we all have a choice to make. We can be bitchy and rude, or we can collectively choose to put our big girl panties on and act like adults. I don't always succeed; however, I really try to remind myself of this whenever I'm getting prodded or inconvenienced.


As a final point, this is a super interesting article about what TSA could do better.

What annoying habit do you wish people would lay off when they are traveling? 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Books Like Whoa: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz (2012 Book Challenges)

A mysterious interlude....



The House of Silk
by Anthony Horowitz

Procured from a certain ginormous online audiobook retailer

Procured in February 22. 2012

Finished on March 10, 2012

Challenge?: For the "What's in a Name?" challenge

Format: Audiobook, admirably narrated by a Mr. Derek Jacobi, of PBS Sherlock Holmes' fame

Why I gave it a try: I first heard of this book from the crew at The Readers, who both loved it, and hearing them describe it made me think it would be right up my alley. I do love me some Sherlock Holmes fun

Summary: Good old Watson is actually old. He's in the home, surrounded by other elderly people and nurses, and he can't help but think back to the days when he was a crime fighter of daring-do alongside that great detective mind, Sherlock Holmes. There's one case that was so scandalous, so secretive, that he has never committed it to the case book before. But now that all the people involved are dead except for him, he figures he should go ahead and write it all down so that it's not forgotten. The mystery is mysterious, so I don't want to go into the details all that much. Basically, there are 2 interwoven narratives (kind of 2 novellas, really) that all wind around to the same place. We start with an art dealer who's being stalked by a possible deranged Irish-American killer and we're off to the races..

Thoughts: First, let's give props where props are due - Horowitz does a damn fine job channeling Doyle. The tone, language, and characters are dead on and I am truly impressed at how well Horowitz steps into Doyle's shoes. We did have some pacing issue - in the middle, things are dragging a bit and they seem to consist a lot of Watson fretting. That was another unusual element of the story - for plotting reasons, Sherlock disappears for a good hunk of the novel. I'm not sure if that is Horowitz's solution for being able to extend the plot out longer than the usual short stories (hard to make things go too long when you have a mystery solving machine hanging around) or if he was shy about directly channeling Sherlock for too much of the book, but either way, it makes Watson a much more central figure than normal stories.

As for the slights of hand that Doyle is known for, some are more successful that others. Some of them, I was like, really? That's a "mystery?" But when he hits it, he hits it hard, and there are 2 beautifully Sherlockian moments - one when he sizes up where Watson has been, and one in an escape montage.

The biggest questions the book raised for me are spoiler-y, so I've included my thoughts on that at the very end. Read ahead at your own risk...

You back? Okay, good. So, as you can see, I don't quite know what to make of the book as a whole. I really enjoyed it, for the most part, but I am torn about whether or not I "liked" it. Does that make sense? I guess I mean that I was engaged in the reading experience, I respected what he was doing at a sentence level, I thought that the overall project was well executed. That being said, the way things resolve makes me feel very conflicted. However, just because I don't "like" something (i.e. Mondays or wars) doesn't mean that I can't enjoy the work as a whole, so I think it's safe to say that I did enjoy this book, I did think it was well done, and I would recommend it.

That being said, I want more people to read this book because I want to be able to talk to them about it! I think this would probably make for a pretty good book club read. So do it - read it and let me know what you think. Please?

Rating:

5 - It's really good; well written and pleasurable 

How do you feel about modern writers channeling or sequeling works in the canon? Do you think that you have "like" all of a book in order to ultimately enjoy it?

Indiebound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

SPOILER!

SPOILER!

SPOILER!

ARE YOU REALLY SURE YOU WANT TO READ THIS?

OKAY, I WARNED YOU...

SPOILER!

We spend the whole book wondering what the heck the eponymous House of Silk is. You get a vague impression that it might be some kind of drug ring or maybe a murder club or something. As things go on, you realize it has something to do with kids, so I was thinking, "Oh, they must have these street urchins as slaves! They are holding them in this life of crime and they can't get out!"

Well, I was right that they are slaves and can't get out, but not what they are being held for. Basically, you find out that the House of Silk is a brothel for pedophiles, and these street urchins are sex slaves for pervy, uber-wealthy men. So that's pretty shocking by itself, but the way the place is described and the different rooms that are in there... it just made me sick. So sad, so disturbing, and, alas, so real. There really are places like this in the world, where they don't have to bother hiding things half as well as the characters in this book do. And then he brings it full circle into the story that got the whole book started.

I will grant Horowitz a tip of the hat, because once you find out what the big secret is, you can go along with all his "oh, this case was too crazy pants to talk about at the time" spiel that runs throughout the narrative. However, I was just not expecting it to go so dark... I'm not sure whether or not I like it. Part of me respects that Horowitz is trying to bring his own point of view to the world. The other thinks that Conan Doyle never went as dark as this book does, and it's a little jarring and out of place for what the audience is expecting.

Back to your regularly scheduled programming...

END SPOILER

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Restful Easter Weekend

Folks, Frankie be tired. Or rather, Frankie been tired. Since the Christmas break, I hadn't taken any vacation or holidays, and I was starting to go a little crazy. So aside from my general love of Easter, which is well documented, I was very ready for my long weekend. I flew back on Wednesday night so that I could go to the church's Sedar dinner with my sweet friend McKenzie. I was up and at 'em at the grindstone on Thursday, but I received some lovely Easter flowers from my parents that cheered my day considerably:


Grown up version of an Easter basket- I like! I finally was able to unplug from work in time to go to the Maundy Thursday service, which is pretty much my favorite of the year. Love it. Seriously - it's the service where we reflect on the Last Supper and the last moments that Jesus had with his best friends. Going to the Sedar definitely upped the significance of the various moments for me this year, but I love that service either way. The intimacy of the foot washing and reflecting on the security that I have in what Jesus has done ("this is My Body broken for you") makes me pause and appreciate. John Yates was focusing on a specific figure from the Passion story at each service this year, and Thursday's was Judas. Set against the tenderness of the Last Supper, Judas' rejection of Jesus becomes even sadder.

On Friday, I got to sleep in without looking at my work email (paying for that on Monday, BTW - triple digit emails- yikes), slowly got ready, and then went to the "Around the Cross" service on Good Friday. It goes from 12pm - 3pm to commemorate the hours when Christ was on the cross. While I was there, John covered Herod (the man who trifled with Jesus), Barrabbas (the first man who Jesus died in place of), Symon of Cyrene (the man who suffered with Christ), and Mary (the mother of Christ). It was such a gorgeous day when I got out that I couldn't help but mourn a little bit over our beautiful historic church:





I bucked myself up and went to my favorite cafe and got the world's most delicious turkey sandwich (Falls Churchers! Get thee to Natalia's and get one, stat!)


I met a friend to talk about life and then I went home and read in the backyard. It was a textbook perfect day...



And I was happy...


Until, of course, I went to the Good Friday Requiem service and was appropriately depressed. (We also talked about Mary Magdalene, which was thought provoking and not as depressing)

Flash to Easter... I went to the early service and admired the beautiful flowers:



And totally didn't cry at all over the message. No. Definitely not. Ahem.

After services, I went home and made a completely yummy and not-at-all-ugly hummingbird cake. A Southern favorite- I slathered it with my pecan cream cheese frosting and took it to my aunt's house for Easter lunch. Which was basically everything you think of when you think of Easter lunch... you forget how amazing honey baked ham is. I am so blessed whenever anyone cooks for me, but when it's as delicious as her food always is, I feel especially spoiled.

I don't share all this because I'm trying to act like my life is perfect and I spend my weekends in spiritually rapturous bliss. I get emo and real on here often enough that I hope you don't think that's what I'm trying to do. But I do want to take time to celebrate when I am able to fully enjoy something, like a weekend that has left me restored and ready to tackle the week's battles instead of drained or dreading another week.

I am rested. He is risen. Hallelujah!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Books of the Planes (Volume 4)




Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (a hipster college guy who appeared to be on spring break)



Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin (businesswoman with the most perfectly coiffed afro I have ever seen)



State of Colorado Radioactive Materials License (the guy sitting next to me - words can't explain the level of confusion and anxiety this induced in me)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Rereading Harry Potter (Books 1-3) (Favorites Edition)

I have embarked on a massive Harry Potter reread as a restorative from a boarderline traumatic The Hunger Games series binge...





Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
by J.K. Rowling

First Read: I tore through all three in 1999, in time for the release of The Goblet of Fire

Format: I wanted to try the Harry Potter audio experience, which is as wonderful as everyone says it is. Jim Dale is an excellent narrator, though I will always hear Alan Rickman as Snape. These were really fortuitously timed... I had received the first 2 books on audio for Christmas, and just when I was wrapping them up and thinking about ordering the next couple, Pottermore store launched! It is super easy to download the audio from there and you can download up to 8 times on you/your family's devices.

Thoughts: I am a re-reader. I know a lot of people find the idea of reading something you've already read before odd and unpleasurable, but half the reason I love to read is finding books that I will enjoy and reexperience for years to come. One of my favorite series of all time is, unoriginally, Harry Potter and it is something of a comfort blanket whenever I am feeling blue or if I'm just in a reading slump.

I don't know how much anyone cares about HP these days, but I can't help but want to talk about my new-to-me discoveries, so I hope you will indulge me.


That being said, here's a rundown of my overall impressions...
  • I don't mean to ruin these books for you. And I think it is a lot less noticeable when you are reading rather than listening. But J.K. Rowling is an adverb addict. Someone mentioned that to me in passing and now it's all I can hear. Everyone's dialog tags are riddled with unnecessary descriptors... people seem to be particularly fond of saying things "darkly."
  • It never occurred to me before, but all of these books are basically mystery plots. There is some unknown element, plot, or unpleasantness that Harry & the gang are trying to root out before Lord Voldemort or his cronies have a chance to succeed. I never read them this way the first few times around- I was more focused on the action/adventure component- but that clearly is the structure. With that in mind, it's been enjoyable to pick out the clues and appreciate the truly subtle way that Rowling inserts bits of important information
  • Each book has a "MacGuffin," albeit a more fleshed out one than, say, The Maltese Falcon. For Book 1, it's the safety of Philosopher's Stone. For Book 2, it's the location of the Chamber of Secrets. For Book 3, it's the location of Sirius Black. 
  • J.K. Rowling seems to have some kind of subconscious association between humor and weight - she seems to use an inordinate number of fat/thin descriptions for people of derision. 
  • Professor Dumbledore is kind of an ass. I never read him this way before, but he obviously thinks a lot of himself and his own opinion. He's also got a pretty intense god complex, the way he orchestrates so many of the situations... and what kind of adult sets a kid up to confront a loon with an evil spirit manifested on the back of said loon's head? I'm kind of glad to see this characterization played out consistently through the series, because that does inform the way the 7th book unfolds nicely, and I can see the set up for Dumbledore's hubris with Deathly Hallows much more clearly with hindsight. 
  • The authority figures end up being a little bit straw-manish. McGonagall is supposed to be all stern but she's constantly letting them off lightly. Same for all the parental figures, and Snape, who would gladly let them have it, is never allowed to really unleash his retribution upon them. I'm not sure if it's the "hey this is Harry Potter we're talking about!" syndrome that all the adults seem to have, but no wonder Harry and the gang become cocky scoff-laws. They never get in trouble for it!
  • These are funny books! I forget that usually, but these are some of the only books that consistently make me giggle. The descriptions, the situations, the dialogue - Rowling has her young adult audience's sensibility in mind and the humor is a welcome addition to young and old readers alike.
  • The first and second books have basically the same stakes and structure with only slightly different particulars. I know I mentioned that they all have similarities with their stakes (MacGuffin) and structures (mysteries), but the first two are too similar in the particulars. In the past, this had led me to believe that Chamber of Secrets was my least favorite of the series. However, upon rereading, I realize what I was responding to was a story that felt too similar to the first one without the "ooo, this is shiny and new" factor. In reality, the second one is significantly better (and now that I see how it prefigures the ultimate outcomes, I like it even more) than the first one. The problem is that she should have mixed up the particulars more, as she goes on to do in subsequent books. 
  • As I remembered, the 3rd book is the first of the series that plays better to a more mature audience. This, I assume, is meant to reflect the increasing maturity in her core readership, but it also makes it a better book that has a more interesting structure (the last 1/3 of the book is the progress and then rewind/replay of one montage) and more interesting ideas (how to do you respond to betrayal? what does it mean to keep your personal integrity in complicated moral situations?). I generally recommend that new adult readers start with Book 4, but rereading Prisoner of Azkaban has made me think that maybe 3 is as good a starting point. 
  • I flipping love boarding school novels. I eat them up like a carnivorous wildebeest. These hit those pleasure buttons so well. It makes me wish I could go back in time and be British and go to boarding school. Can anyone help me accomplish this?
  • Did I mention what a great narrator Jim Dale is? He is. For reals - a tip of the audio hat to you, sir.
  • Basically, these are frothy confections of delight for kids and a deeper, richer chocolate mousse for adults. There's a reason that young people love them and I thank God for what J.K. Rowling has done (and hopefully will continue to do) for getting young people reading. But beyond that, especially by the third book, Rowling is exploring themes that are not only universal, but universally interesting and important. This time around, what I am particularly drawn to is the persistence and necessity of hope, and the power those of us who have hope possess over those who want to crush it. 
And finally, as a little treat for those so inclined to biting humor, this pretty hilarious article about how to write the great American novel has a great little shout out to Miss Hermione Jean Granger.

What do you think about the Harry Potter series? Do you like to reread old favorites?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Books to Read in One Day

Thanks to our friends at The Broke and The Bookish for another thought provoking Top Ten Tuesday idea! This week is the top 10 books you read in one day... I love these types of reads. The oh-my-gosh-I-can't-stop-until-I-find-out-everything-that-happens kinds of books. The books that make me miss meals and appointments. These are as rare as an exotic bird but equally beautiful when spotted.


Looking at the list, it's interesting to me that it isn't always the plot that draws me in, but more often then not, it is the connection I have with the characters that keeps me turning the page.


1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: I picked this up one morning before class to start. I ended up skipping all of my classes for the day to finish it. This is definitely a character connection example, since I don't really remember a lot of what actually happens in this book other than at a high level. Beautiful and sad.

2. & 3. Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: I read both of these in 24 hours last weekend after seeing the movie. My brain is still messed up from it. Holy crap - by using the present tense and making the stakes so high for all of the characters, you just can't help but be sucked along for the journey.

4. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie: I've read many of Ms. Christie's books in one sitting, as I do my best to save them for when I am traveling. That being said, this is the first one that really hooked me- one of her more famous plots, what else do you expect?

5. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend: I read this at the end of last year because it had me laughing out loud. The eponymous hero is such a completely clueless nitwit that you can't help but cheer for him in all of his middle class teen trials and tribulations. It's hard to get a hold of here in the US, but there's a reason it was the best selling book of the 1980s in the UK.

6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling: I read most of the Harry Potter books in one sitting, but this was the first time I did so after doing the midnight purchasing experience. Such a great book and such a fond memory

7. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: This ubiquitous mass market confection is a best seller for a reason. The writing and plausibility may be scraping the bottom of the barrel, but the plot is a no-holds-bar thrill ride. I managed to polish this off on the plane back from Italy with a kid sticking his elbow in my ribs the whole time.

8. Maus (Volume 1 & 2) by Art Spiegelman: I picked this up from the library a few weeks ago- as my first adult graphic novel, I wasn't sure what to expect. What I got was a captivating memoir of horror and fear, alongside a truly sad picture of a father/son relationship.

9. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows: One of my all time favorite books, I refused to do anything else with our family on vacation in Santa Fe until I finished this up. It's the kind of book I finish and say to myself, "Damn. I wish I wrote that."

10. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis: And finally, I couldn't not mention one of my all time favorite books and all around amazing allegory. This was one of the first ones I read of Lewis and has been instrumental in my understanding of life and faith ever since. And it's a ripping good tale.

What about you? What was the last book you read in one day?