Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Read recently

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier - I was checking my Google Reader to find out where I learned of this book (I think it may have been in the print Globe and Mail, in the end) and noticed that, like, a dozen blogs I follow talked about it. This is a densely-written book; it's not narrative non-fiction, let's just say! For those interested in what coding, the structure of the Internet and languages like MIDI are doing to us, our communications/connections with others, and the creative process as a whole, this is a must-read. Lanier argues that the sacrifices we make when using social media like Facebook ("online collectives") are going unnoticed, and are cause for concern. He also worries that the early idea of the Internet as a revolution in terms of innovation, communication and democracy will not come to fruition; instead, as the LJ review describes his view, Lanier sees an emerging online culture (the hive mind!) that "undermines the foundation of the knowledge economy." Also highly recommended for musicians, bloggers and social media enthusiasts, or, frankly, anyone who has been bullied by an online anonymous blog commenter. Even if you don't agree with some of his opinions, Lanier is a fascinating debator, and an interesting person (early virtual reality pioneer; now a researcher for Microsoft.

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell - Not quite as good as What I saw and how I lied (one of my Favourite teen books of 2009) but still good. Blundell is a master at creating a charged atmosphere. Read a review written by a real kid here. In her latest, Blundell sets her sights again on New York of the 1940s and 50s, this time focusing on Kit Corrigan. Kit is an aspiring dancer who moves to New York City; she is soon offered an apartment by the mysterious and somewhat scary father of her (ex?) boyfriend, who reminds her that he owes her. What she owes him for (the "strings attached"), and how their two families are ultimately connected, is revealed throughout the course of this engrossing book. A suspenseful, moody read, with interesting tangents about New York's Lido girls, Browns University, and Irish-American immigrants.

Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz - Seriously, I love Lisa. I think I want to marry her (Megan, I'll fight you for her - duel at high noon?). This is no Spellman Files, but it's a quick, fun read. I read this on the bus, and it reminded me that there are 3 reasons why I don't read on the bus:
  1. Hardcovers are too heavy to lug to work along with lunch, agenda, etc. I'm not a packhorse!
  2. I get ill sometimes
  3. I forget to get on the bus/off the bus/sit in the terminal while multiple buses go by, smirking to myself like a nutter.
Thanks for making me do #3, Lisa.

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis - An adorable book for 8-12 year old girls set in Regency England and featuring three quarrelling sisters, two highwayman (real/not), secret family magical powers, romance, the clergy, and a flying teacup. What more can I say? See image at right!

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton - I picked this up off our Express Collection because I kept reading about it but had somehow not actually made a move yet to read it. It's creeeeeeepy, in a gothically good kind of way. This would be the perfect read-alike for Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, or Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale (which reminds me, I am now reading a third book running along the trope of younger woman interviews older woman about secrets: The Spoiler by Annalena McAfee. ANYWAY...). Despite agreeing with parts of the somewhat nasty (albeit hilarious) review from the Guardian (a taste: "manifestly absurd, yet written with an infectious bibliophile glee that somehow neutralises all cynicism"), I think this book was kind of a lark. There isn't much of a mystery here, really, since it's all kind of clear to the reader (much like The Little Stranger, where I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, and then, um, it didn't). Nevertheless, a few surprises along the way, and some generally great vicarious introspective moody ramblings around the English countryside. Oh, and a lurcher, too (part greyhound).

Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt - An understated, thoughtful reflection on depression; again, read about this one variously here, here and here. The conceit of this novel is that Winston Churchill's depression (which he called his Black Dog) is actually here incarnate as a black dog. Said canine (who prefers to be known as Black Pat) shows up at the door of one Esther Hammerhans, an unhappy librarian (I know, cue sterotype here; but really, she's not that bad....). Although I thought the talking dog thing could be potentially very annoying, I was drawn in by the fact that Esther is initially as mystified and upset by (and indignant about) Black Pat as I was. Following her as she figures out who he is, and why she is "stuck" with him, is an interesting journey. The scenes between Black Pat and Churchill, and eventually one brilliant scene between Black Pat and Clementine Churchill, are especially well done.

Currently reading: When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman. Not sure the whimsy in this one isn't going to prove to be too cloying. Stay tuned.

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