Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Summer Reading Snippets

Classes have just begun for my last semester before graduation and it looks like my grad school is going to go out with a bang.  In addition, because I work in a school library I don't need as detailed reviews of adult books for my own purposes.  So, to save time and catch up after my summer full of lots of travelling but little productivity I'm just going to review these books in quick snippets.  Ready, set go!

This was the first book I read during my trip to Scotland as my friends eagerly pushed it into my hands, and I must say that it did not disappoint.  The story follows a 12-year-old who supports himself through selling marijuana (although he doesn't use it himself) and solving crimes.  He seems to specialize in catching pedophiles thanks to part of his own troubled past in the foster care system.  This book does require a healthy suspension of disbelief because the narrative voice doesn't really ring true as being that of a 12-year-old.  The whole plot is much more believable as the fantasy of a 12-year-old with his past than as any sort of reality.  Still, the classic dark, noir style of the narration and its contrast with the age of the protagonist is actually part of why I enjoyed the novel so much.  Is it realistic?  No.  Do I care? No.  Amazon seems to advertise this as for ages 13 and up, but it read like an adult novel to me.  Yes, it's not very graphic in its depiction of violence and pedophilia but there's enough described and hinted at that if I'd only give it to mature, older teens.  Nickel Plated by Aric Davis.  Buy it or check it out

I have always been a fan of the absurd, and as far as I'm concerned Jasper Fforde rivals Dali in his ability to paint absurd landscapes.  This book, set in a world where your status is determined by your ability to see color, is the most unique dystopian premise I have ever read.  Those with high color perception end up in positions of power whether they deserve it or not (the latter being most often the case) while those who perceive the world as nothing but shades of grey are doomed to a life of hard labor.  All the little touches of Fforde's absurd wit delighted me and quite often led me to quote passages aloud to the friends I was staying with (this is I'm sure part of the reason why I usually live alone).  However, as much as I enjoyed the novel I did feel like the end took a rather abrupt turn that threw me off-kilter, and not in a good way.  Still, I look forward to the next installment and seeing what in the world will make its way out of the dark recesses of Fforde's brain and into the light next.  Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.  Buy it or check it out.

I feel like writing a review of this novel is a bit pointless because most people have already made their mind up one way or the other about whether or not they are going to read Austen novels and I doubt anything I say will change that.  Still, for what it's worth, I really enjoyed Persuasion.  Emma and Elizabeth are the types of women many like to imagine themselves to be with their ability to boldly exchange witticisms at dances and act with confidence and conviction.  While the protagonist of this novel, Anne, is the type of woman who enjoys imagining herself to be Emma and Elizabeth.  Anne endures trying relationships with silence and patience and tries to content herself with what she has while dreaming of what might be.  She has the wit to think of cutting remarks, but not the boldness to say them aloud.  She entertains herself with her sarcastic portraits of those around her, but she does not entertain others with her sardonic wit except to her closest confidants.  Persuasion was not the most dramatic Austen novel I have read, but it was the most touching.   Persuasion by Jane Austen.  Buy it or check it out.

 This novel is unlike any other detective novel I have ever read.  In many ways the 12-year-old detective mentioned above is a more typical fictional detective than Inspector Imanishi.  I'm used to detectives with a permanent swagger in their walk who throw themselves headlong into danger in their pursuit of justice.  While Inspector Imanishi gets his information through polite requests and quiet determination.  The case occasionally goes cold and he works on other things for a while.  He shows concern over the amount of the police station's resources he is consuming in his trips to track down his leads. But the subdued nature of his investigations did not make it any less gripping.  Instead of unnecessary and unrealistic action sequences there are added details about the lives of the people involved in the case and the fascinating artistic set that they belong to. The details of life in Japan at that time are also interesting.  This was a great vacation read in that it leads you on the kind of trip you'd actually enjoy: exploring another country and observing its culture at a leisurely pace.  I'd recommend it to anyone interested in 1960s Japanese culture or a different take on police procedurals.     Inspector Imanishi Investigates by Seicho Matsumoto.  Buy it or check it out.

Overall I thought that considering the billing of this collection as one for geeks many of the stories seemed surprisingly mainstream. I loved the opening story about a Star Wars and a Star Trek fan who wake up in the same bed after a drunken night at comic con.  I also loved Cassandra Clare's story for showing that while guys like Heathcliff may be entertaining in fiction they're not what you should be looking for in real life.  The tangled romantic webs of the quiz bowl story, the quiet knight LARPer, and Wendy Mass's touching astronomy story were more highlights.   Unfortunately the theatre geek story was a premise I've seen done before and it ended up annoying me, and as much as I love Rocky I could take or leave the story about it.  I'm normally a huge Westerfeld fan, but his story didn't do much for me either and there was at least one story in the collection that I couldn't be bothered finishing.  I didn't much like the comics in-between the stories either.  I'm not sure if they were meant to be funny, but if so they didn't often succeed.  They seemed to mostly reinforce geek stereotypes instead of transcending or subverting them.  While some of the stories could be enjoyed by teens as young as 6th or 7th grade, many of the stories are for much older teens.    I'd say the collection overall is for a high school aged audience at the youngest.  Geektastic edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci.  Buy it or check it out.

 This was the summer reading for my job, and it was very interesting. Unfortunately even though it was the summer reading for my work I doubt they'll be implementing all the recommendations and a lot of the advice consists of things that are beyond most people's control.  For example, I'd love to take a nap every afternoon, but unless my employer allows for nap time that isn't going to happen and it seems a bit mean to have us read a book saying we'd perform better if we did a, b, and c and then not allow us to do a, b, and c.  Still, there are some tips in there that anyone could use about things like the myth of multi-tasking and even if all the content isn't useful it is all interesting.  It is also written in a clear style with many entertaining anecdotes and although it is at times repetitive at least it states its reason for being so.   Brain Rules by John Medina.  Buy it or check it out.

 I saw a description on the DVD for the miniseries that was based on this book that called it something along the lines of Pride and Prejudice with a social conscience and I thought it very fitting and well-put.  This novel follows the story of Margaret, the son of a minister whose dissent causes him to quit his profession and move his family from a comfortable country home to an industrialized city in the North of England.  There's the kind of high romance with misguided first impressions that you'd expect from an Austen novel, with additional themes of the effect of industrialization on England as Margaret makes the acquaintance of a family who works in one of the factories and ends up on the front line of a strike trying to reconcile the masters and the workers.  Even though I already saw the miniseries (which I also recommend) and so I knew what was going to happen, I still found myself caught up in the story and eagerly turning the pages to read what would happen next.  I only heard of Elizabeth Gaskell this past year at the recommendation of a friend of mine, and I don't know why she isn't more well-known.  This is the first book of hers I've read, but based on it I think she definitely merits more fans and attention.  North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.  Buy it or check it out.

 This delightful novel kept me laughing throughout my final, and delayed, flight home  in a way that only Wodehouse can.  If you have read Wodehouse, you will know what I'm talking about and if you haven't, then I suggest you take two Jeeves stories and call me in the morning.  Trust me, you'll feel much better.  This particular novel is missing that character, but he is replaced by a full cast of tangled web-weavers practicing to deceive each other in the most delightful way imaginable.  In addition to the usual bumbling antics of British aristocracy that you'd expect from Wodehouse this novel also contains professional trouble-makers and con-men. If you're a fan of dry, British humor you won't be disappointed.  Hot Water by P.G. Wodehouse.  Buy it or check it out.

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