Monday, July 30, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

Ahhhh! A very satisfying end to a wonderful series.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Book 1 and 2 down -- onto book 3

I've re-read Harry Potter books 1 and 2, and I started on Book 3 last night. Man, those books are heavy (especially if you have the hardcover). I think I'll need a crane in order to keep Book 7 up to my face so I can see it! I am hoping to get to Book 7 by Sunday--- so back to the reading grindstone.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism by Roy Richard Grinker

Dense, but interesting book. Grinker is a social anthropologist whose daughter is autistic. One of his most interesting theories, I believe, is that there really isn't an autism epidemic -- he argues that the way psychiatrists and psychologists define autism has changed over the years, and that's why more cases are being reported now. He also argues that a diagnosis of autism in the U.S. allows kids to get access to more and better treatments than other diagnoses would. What's also interesting is the time he spends looking at how autistic people (and their families) are treated in other countries -- in Africa, Korea, and India.

Two sections that stuck with me: "Anyone who tells you that psychiatric diagnosis is a strictly scientific exercise is fooling you. In making a diagnosis, doctors consider the educational options, the treatments, the economics, even the sensitivities of the parents, who may prefer or dislike certain diagnoses." (p 135)

And, "In the view of anthropologist Arthur Kleinman, a disease occurs when something is wrong with our bodily organs or systems, whereas an illness is the experience of negative or unwanted changes in our bodies or our ability to function in society. Autism is thus both a disease and an illness, and it cannot be otherwise." (p. 230)

I found Grinker's perspective fascinating. One doesn't think of a disease as having social factors involved, but clearly, especially with respect to diseases that can't always be easily measured, they do.

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Very cute! I enjoyed it a lot. Thanks to Meredith for recommending it.

An embarrassment of riches

Okay, I finally caved in and went to buy Harry Potter Book 7. My plan was to skim books 1 - 6 quickly, so that I could dive in and read Book 7 before some well-meaning soul (or TV show, or magazine article) accidentally tells me the ending.

So I picked up Book 1 last night to skim it. But I forgot one thing -- J. K. Rowling is a darn good writer, and the books are written really well, and the descriptions are awesome... and I just don't think I can skim them! I want to savor them. Even if it means that I will still be reading Harry Potter when I'm 80. Even if it means that I'll have to wait to read Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde, which is tantalizing me with its presence by my bedside. Even if I did just go to Borders last night and buy ANOTHER book, which is now on the large, teetering "to be read" pile by my bedside.

Now if you'll excuse me, I must get back to reading.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter - a bone to pick

No, I haven't read Book 7 of Harry Potter yet. And yes, I definitely plan to do so. But first I have to re-read books 1 - 6 and refresh my memory (given the abysmal retention rate of what I read)
But that's not my bone to pick. I was reading the Newark Star-Ledger this weekend and they were talking about the Harry Potter books and how they've started a resurgence in the popularity of fantasy fiction for kids and teens. I'm not arguing with that statement, but THEN they said something about how there are all sorts of Harry Potter "knock-offs," including the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman (the first one of which, The Golden Compass, will be coming out as a movie later this year.)
All right, first of all -- the first Harry Potter and the first one in this series by Pullman came out in THE SAME YEAR -- 1997 -- so one can hardly accuse Pullman of riding on Rowling's coat-tails. (Not only that, but Pullman was a well-respected published children's/teen author well before then, with his Ruby in the Smoke trilogy.)
Second, I would argue that the word "knock-off" sounds derogatory, like the Pullman books are second-rate to Harry Potter, which they are not -- I think they are just as good.
Come on, Star-Ledger -- do your homework. It's great that Harry Potter opened the door for more great fantasy being read by kids and teens, but let's call HP what it is -- a "gateway book" to all the other great fantasy books that were published before and after it -- and not give it credit for what it's not. It wasn't the fantasy book upon which all other fantasy books are based.
I will now get off my soapbox.

Reading Rampage!

I had a reading frenzy this past weekend. But just in case you're jealous at the amount of time I have to read, I'll tell you that in a week, I probably won't remember half of the plot of what I have read. That's because when I'm in a mood to do some escapist reading, I don't usually stop to savor the books that I'm reading. I get excited (because they're written well) and I start reading faster and faster until bam! I'm at the end of the book and I'm not sure what happened. There's a lot of skimming happening. So my retention levels are very unimpressive.

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

The second book in The Dresden Files -- pretty good, but as with the first book, I had to close my eyes and skim some of the more gruesome descriptions of how people die. Ech.
These books are entertaining, and I'll keep reading them, but I think I do like Tanya Huff's Blood Price series (about a PI in Toronto and her vampire sidekick solving supernatural crimes) better.

Y: The Last Man Volume 9: Motherland by Brian K. Vaughan (graphic novel)

I was all excited because I thought this was the last volume in the series, but from the way it ended up, I'm pretty sure I'm wrong, because there are still a boatload of loose ends to be tied up. As usual, this was an excellent (if violent) read and a good addition to the series.

Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich

Highly amusing brain candy. I just love reading the hilarious descriptions of Stephanie's hapless exploits, her bad luck with cars, and her crazy family (especially Grandma Mazur, who refuses to go anywhere without her ".45 long barrel named Elsie. It wasn't registered, and she didn't have a permit to carry concealed. Grandma thought being old gave her license to pack. She called it the equalizer.")

See what I mean? Funny as heck. I don't read an Evanovich book for the plot, I read it for the funny descriptions and the crazy situations Stephanie Plum always seems to get herself into.

The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

I finished The Queen of Attolia and was pretty disappointed in it. It was very violent and it didn't end up at all the way I had expected it to. In fact, I disagreed with the author very much about how it ended! Still, the characters were compelling enough that I wanted to find out more, so I did read the third book in the trilogy, The King of Attolia -- and boy, was I glad I did. I think I liked that one the best of all three. A lot of libraries have these books shelved in the children's room, but the more I think about it, the more I believe they'd be better off in the teen section.

Boy Proof and Queen of Cool by Cecil Castellucci

I didn't like these teen novels as much as I liked Castellucci's teen graphic novel, The Plain Janes, which I recently read. These novels actually felt like they might work better as graphic novels.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci (graphic novel)

This is Castellucci's first graphic novel but she has written several teen novels in the past. I picked up this graphic novel in Borders the other day as I was browsing that section, mainly because it looked interesting. And it was - I really enjoyed it. I am now planning to work my way through the other books that this author has written. And I hope that there will be sequels to The Plain Janes.

The Essential Hybrid Car Handbook by Nick Yost

An interesting, if brief, overview of several different kinds of hybrid cars currently available, and what's in development at the major automobile manufacturers.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (juvenile)

Wow, thanks to Tara and Meredith for recommending this book to me. I really enjoyed it. In fact, I couldn't put it down and stayed up too late last night finishing it. And then when I got into work this morning, I immediately checked out the sequel and started reading IT at lunch. If you like fantasy and adventure stories, you might want to try this -- wow.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Slipknot by Linda Greenlaw

This is the first foray into fiction by Greenlaw, who has written several nonfiction books about the sea and being a boat captain. It's not bad for a mystery, though I found the narrator's coyness about why she has returned to Maine a bit annoying. (Note to narrator: Don't keep dropping small bits of information about the mysterious happenings between you and your former mentor: just spit out what happened so we can all process it and move on. I get that you're tortured, I really do. You don't need to bang me over the head with it 46 times throughout the book.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Storm Front by Jim Butcher (first in a series)

I really enjoyed this book, and it was a lovely way to spend a warm summer afternoon. Harry Dresden is a wizard living in Chicago trying to eke out a living. He sometimes does consulting work for the local police force. They call him in to investigate some murders that were done by magic, and he gets entangled in some nasty stuff and has to figure out how to get out alive. This is the first in a series, and I'm looking forward to reading the others.
One review that I read said you'd probably like Jim Butcher's work if you like Laurell K. Hamilton and Tanya Huff. I am not a fan of Laurell K. Hamilton -- her stuff is too violent for me -- but I am a big fan of Tanya Huff, and I can see some similarities. (Blood Price, Tanya Huff's book about a tough-talking Toronto P.I. and her vampire sidekick, was recently made into a Lifetime TV series. The series is okay, but Huff's book is better.)

A League of Ordinary Gentlemen (documentary movie)

First let me say that I adore Netflix. I like documentaries a lot but can rarely find them in the local video store, but Netflix has a huge supply of them and they'll mail them right to me. Plus, they will then recommend other documentaries I might like, based on what I've already rated. That's how I stumbled upon this gem. It's a look at the Professional Bowling Association (which was failing until some retired Microsoft executives bought it for $5 million and began to revive it) and the players who bowled in the 2003 season. (Did you know that in the '50s, bowling was more popular than football on TV? It hasn't always had the reputation as a dorky sport that it is desperately trying to overcome now.) I found this documentary to be very entertaining and informative.

And after we were done watching it, Trisha and I turned on the Wii and did some bowling of our own!

The Dip: A little book that teaches you when to quit (and when to stick) by Seth Godin

Well, the book certainly is little, I'll give it that. However, to me it seemed a bit too simplified. To paraphrase: in anything you want to do you may encounter a Dip, a cul-de-sac, or a cliff. Quit before you start if you are going into a cul-de-sac or a cliff, but keep pushing through the hard stuff if it's a Dip, so you can get to the other side and be the best. Certainly interesting advice, but Godin doesn't really back it up with info on how you'll know if you're headed into a dead end or about to fall off a cliff. He just says to stay away from those, and lean into the Dip, and when you get to the other side, voila, you'll be the best!

So -- my review is "eh."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Thirst and Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver (poems)

I am not usually a big fan of poetry, but I came across a Mary Oliver poem when I was reading Oprah Magazine the other day and it really spoke to me. So I checked out these two thin volumes of poetry from the library. I think Mary Oliver really does a good job of reminding us how wonderful the world is -- that we should keep our eyes and ears open to all the magical things that are happening around us. This is a good lesson to learn, in this very-often grim world.

The Perfect Thing: how the iPod shuffles commerce, culture, and coolness by Steven Levy

Ever since I read Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution I have been hooked on Steven Levy. This man is terrific at humanizing the people behind technology. I loved Insanely Great, his story about the origins of the Macintosh, and his current book about the iPod revolution is great as well. Here's an interesting factoid: the book was designed with random "chapters" in order to simulate the shuffle function of the iPod.
If you love your iPod or even if you are just curious about what all the fuss is about iPods, you'll probably enjoy this interesting and well-written book.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Home and Office by D. Shipley & W. Schwalbe

Very interesting, indeed. The book discusses the ways in which email is similar to other correspondence, how it is different, and what the pitfalls of email can be. It also discusses email etiquette (when to CC someone, when to BCC them, what kids of things are appropriate to send via email). It's written in a down-to-earth, easily accessible style. I enjoyed it and I learned a lot.

Monday, July 02, 2007

How to Handle Difficult Parents: A Teacher's Survival Guide by Suzanne Capek Tingley

This is a short, honest, thoughtful, to-the-point, funny book. Offering practical tips on how to deal with parents who exhibit "helicopter mom" or "caped crusader" behaviors, it shows teachers how to set and maintain boundaries, and in what situations to pass the baton to school administrators. I'm not a teacher and I still learned a lot from it, but I'm sure it would be even more useful to teachers. Highly recommended.

Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man who Dared to See by Robert Kurson

First let me say that I have been a big fan of Robert Kurson ever since I read his previous nonfiction book, Shadow Divers, an excellent book about a group of New Jersey deep-sea divers who found a U-boat off the coast of New Jersey where no U-boat should have been. Their quest to identify the U-boat was really gripping and interesting.
This new book tells the story of Mike May, who was blinded at age three by a chemical explosion. In his mid-40s, he learns that there may be an experimental surgery that can allow him to see again. Should he have the surgery? There are risks involved, true, but Mike May is no stranger to risk -- he held the World Paralympic Downhill Skiing record for almost 20 years. The story of Mike and his family as they journey down this path is really interesting and engaging. The story of what happens (and what doesn't happen) after the operation is intriguing as well. I really enjoyed this book.