Friday, September 28, 2007

A new contest

Over where the night is always bright, Amy Ambulette, the winner of my contest, is having a contest herself, a contest called the Moonlight Ambulette Keep Trying Even Harder contest.

Write something!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A meme from Kimbooktu

Here is the original post.

1. Hardcover or paperback, and why?
Pocket paperback for easy toting and myopic night reading

2. If I were to own a book shop I would call it…
Buy Some Damn Books! I believe that it is very important to use punctuation in place names.

3. My favorite quote from a book (mention the title) is…
I have no idea. I am terrible at rememberign quotes. Plus, I kind of hate people who trot out quotes from books in conversation when they can't think of anything good to say. Quotes are for private time people!

4. The author (alive or diseased) I would love to have lunch with would be …
Well, who would I most like to talk to, who would make the best lunch companion and who could afford to pay for my giant, delicious lunch? Is there one person who is all three? I'd love to have lunch with Shelley Jackson, Maureen F. McHugh, Muriel Spark (her disease is failure to still be alive), MFK Fisher (ditto), Alan DeNiro, Julia Child (and again), Jason Lutes and Stephen King could pay the bill.

5. If I was going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except from the SAS survival guide, it would be…
A huge one, maybe a Norton Anthology. Then I could quiz myself with the questions after each story until Jesus came to save me.

6. I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that…
made books cheaper

7. The smell of an old book reminds me of…
Thrift stores. Delightful!

8. If I could be the lead character in a book (mention the title), it would be…
One of the first cyberpunk characters? One that doesn't die at the end?

9. The most overestimated book of all time is…
I guess it depends on what time you are in.
eta: Those Chronicles of Narnia book are pretty bad and yet everyone seems to get all misty when they are mentioned.

10. I hate it when a book…
Has embarrassingly terrible female characters.

I am supposed to tag five fine booky folks so here goes:
Moonlight Ambulette, 50 Books, British Adventuress, More Coffee Please and My Tragic Right Hip.

Did you know that the word for web page in Dutch is "webpagina?" Well, now you do.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

This is Ham, the first chimp in space:

Image from the Great Images in NASA library.

I wonder if he ever got lonely up there, tough stare and tiny space pants aside? This reminds me of the MFM story "Laika Comes Back Safe" that uses that other famous space animal as a springboard to talk about mysterious attraction and loss. At least that's how I remember it. As we all know, Laika didn't come back. It was a good story.

In non-40-year-old space news, today is my birthday.

Monday, September 24, 2007

For those of us uncomfortably aware of the possibility of getting lost in the early nights of the coming seasons, a beautiful poem about SAD.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I hope to return to the land of the blogging soon. I have been feeling rather ugh and more likely to kick over the many stacks of books on my floor than pluck a book from one. This could be the mentally monopolizing effect of the otherwise interesting nonfiction book I am reading now (and the fact that nonfiction takes me twice as long to read). It could also be that when I get home I am often too tired to think and rarely am able to resist the lure of cotton blankets and vivid dreams.

My push to finish writing about books I have already read is that because of the Brooklyn Book Fest I now have six or so new books to enjoy, minus the copy of Mothers & Other Monsters I bought for a loaner. That Gavin Grant is a charming man and I enjoyed the chat we had at the Small Beer Press booth. His booth companion, whose name I can’t remember, was also a nice guy and they were both helpful while I chose books to try out. I appreciate people who understand thriftiness.

I breezed by the rest of the booths and missed all the speakers. I was there with B and my mother and the Fest was the last thing on our list before my mother had to get back to her bus. So, alas, no journotasticness from me that day. Truthfully, it was nice to just go and enjoy it without having to take notes and try to find people.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Reading and Eating are Perfect Together

My books are so often smeared with chocolate, stained with tea or spotted from the drippings of oily crumbs that I know I should be embarrassed, especially when the book is borrowed from work or a fresh copy from the library.

I can't say that I am embarrassed though, the joys of a solitary (or similarly book-bedecked companionship) meal with a good book are just too good to deny.

Thinking about this because of this, via James Tata.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Aiding and Abetting: A Novel by Muriel Spark

Another summer reading book by the unmatched master of the sentence, Muriel Spark. Another short review from me for a short book.

AA is a re-imagining of the Earl Lucan story that gripped the UK in the seventies and beyond. Basically a story about class and privilege, the Lucan case consists of a few major facts: Lucan was a gambler, his nanny was attacked and murdered in his home, his wife was brutally attacked soon after and then Lucan disappeared, likely aided in his escape by his rich friends. Occasional Lucan sightings in exotic spots like Australia and North Africa continued to feed the story for years later but the erstwhile earl was never found.

Spark takes this very real story and fictionalizes it. Her main creation is another mysterious person, a popular and expensive psychiatrist named Hildegard Wolf who practices in Paris and has an enviable love life. I like Hildegard because Spark has filled her out well; each time she appeared I the book I saw her in my mind vividly. As her story is revealed, she becomes more interesting and the way she becomes tangled in the Lucan affair is nicely invented. Of course Spark invented it all, besides the facts of the case, and it hangs together so plausibly, so perfectly that I thought about it alongside being thoroughly entertained.

Although I say above that Spark is a sentence master, there was no one line (or two) that I felt would capture the charm of AA. But the secret may be that in this sweet little mystery story, Spark breezily covers class issues in Britain, identity, crime, growing up and getting away with it. And just because it goes down easy doesn’t mean that her take on stuff won’t be working away in the back of your brain for some time. It is not her best but it is a perfect summer read or maybe a good book for a cold winter night.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Family That Couldn’t Sleep by D.T. Max

Last night, sluggishly chugging up to New York from Philadelphia I finished The Family That Couldn’t Sleep by D.T. Max. I got the book at work and will now return it to the shelf of review copies and lonely hardbacks near the window, but it will be returned by someone very satisfied, unlike, I imagine, most of the others on that shelf.

TFTCS is about fatal familial insomnia that is exactly what it sounds like, an inherited disease that causes an insomnia that kills you. One day, usually in middle age, after all the baby-making is done, the victim’s pupils get really small, they start to sweat uncontrollably and they never really sleep again. It is a horrible way to die—as the body shuts down, the victim remains conscious, in fact they can never escape consciousness, expect maybe into a half-sleep that doesn’t refresh or into hallucinations that terrify more than they comfort. Members of the pseudonymous Italian family that harbors FFI know at this point that their loved one is going to suffer and die, and they also know that there is nothing to do to stop it. When FFI brains are autopsied they are full of holes and sometimes full of clumps of dead protein strands. Only forty families in the world are known to have FFI, but as Max’s book deftly shows, the story of prion diseases, of which FFI is one of a handful including mad cow disease, is complicated, important and fraught with intrigue and strange characters.

The introduction to this book left me cold. I am not sure why. However as soon as the chapters began I was immediately drawn into the story of the Italian family whose story frames the book and the larger story of the discovery and investigation of prion diseases, misunderstood because they are not alive like viruses or bacteria, they don’t have a clear transmission path and they don’t have an easy or uniform presentation. I learned so much from this book and was entertained thoroughly for the weeks I read it.

It is hard to come up with a passage to quote for you to show Max’s elegant style. This book was great for the way he presented the story, allowed for interesting digressions and made scientific concepts easy to understand and fit into a larger discussion of the way medicine and science work in the discovery of new diseases. As I read, questions that arose were answered, avenues I never thought of were peeked into and unexpected details popped from the story and into my imagination.

Short review: I loved it and loved the surprise of loving it.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

kimbooktu is putting together a list of bookish links on her site. If you want to be included, go there, check it out and then email her.

Sine she was so nice as to include me, I guess I'd better hurry up and write her a description of this circus of cerebral delight.

Back List Boogie

Approximately one million years ago I received a couple of sci-fi-y books from Soft Skull Press to get me primed and ready for Jamestown. They were Under My Roof by Nick Mamatas and H2o: A Novel by Mark Swartz. Both are thin, quick reads and neither really got me in the good spot.

The better of the two was UMR. It is a YA novel, but could definitely be enjoyed by adults, and was by many. In a post-apocalyptic USA, a psychic teen watches his world crumble then reform into an action-packed dream when his father decides to play out his midlife crisis by seceding from the country. His bargaining chip is a homemade atom bomb hidden in a garden gnome. In the beginning, having a country is like having a popular but mediocre rock band; people appear from everywhere to get in on the action, but few see the rebellion for what it really is. Because the kid can read his father and everyone else’s thoughts, he knows, but doesn’t quite know what to do. I think this is an apt metaphor for adolescence and maybe a ten to twelve-year-old would be really into the crazy stuff that happens and the character’s ability to eavesdrop on people’s thoughts.

I am going to do Mark Swartz a great disservice and attempt to review his book even though I don’t really remember it. It does say something that I was unwilling to re-read this book for a fresh look. The plot goes something like this: in a world without potable water, where artificial water-like drinks are heavily advertised and rarely drank, a scientist discovers a natural fungus that seems to exude more fresh water than the seawater it takes in. He is only a pawn in the water wars and knows it, but his doesn’t stop him from trying to be an agent of his own fate. This does not go well for him. The scientist character lacks a total personality which made it hard to root for him and the secondary characters, a natural water activist, a PR lady, weren’t that intriguing either. I suppose the world Swartz built was meant to carry the novel but it didn’t.

These two books aside I am still excited and surprised by much of Soft Skull’s catalog. They are in more financial trouble than usual so go there and buy some books. While you are at it, buy Heredity by Jenny Davidson for me.