Tuesday, March 20, 2007

february book reviews---really late


So my goal for this year is to read 3 books per month, 36 books total. Last year I read 24 (my goal was to read 26, or one every two weeks). I may be goal-ridden to the point of joylessness, but whatever. I am not doing so well this year. It’s probably because of Beadwork.

“The Queen of Attolia” by Megan Whelan Turner

This sequel to “The Thief”, which I read last year, might not have been as good as the first one… but that’s only because it has the same main character, and it would have been really difficult to have as big a surprise at the end as the first one did.

I read it after the boy did (he’s 12). He was quite impressed by the suffering that Eugenides went through – almost going blind, losing his hand, etc. There wasn’t a lot of boring exposition in this book – that’s why I love kids’ books: they don’t have long boring sections, but if they need to explain something they tend to get to the point. I wonder if it’s the editorial decisions they make when deciding the target market for a book that I am appreciating here. But, kids’ books tend to start with a bang and then drive relentlessly towards a conclusion. Or maybe I only read good kids’ books, and lots of good quality adult literature has the same quality.

She also left things to the reader’s imagination. Without ruining anything, there was for example a scene where Eugenides is in a battle, and is being watched from afar by someone else. The whole time there’s another character with him, and I as a reader kept yelling at the viewer, I know who it is! This is the sort of thing that makes a book a page-turner for me, because I want to know if I’m right.

One thing that I particularly liked was how the world seemed alive. Garth Nix books often seem like there are about 12 people in the whole world. Not so with these. I think next Garth Nix book I read will probably be “Sir Thursday”, since I bought the boy “Lady Friday” on Saturday.

The boy bought me the sequel to this one, “King of Attolia”, for Christmas. So, I guess I’ll be reviewing that soon. It's on the pile.

“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman

I recently read an interview with Neil Gaiman where he talked about audience, and he said the only thing he thought about in terms of audience was perhaps age. That made a lot of sense to me reading this book, because there were a lot of cultural references – music, TV etc., which might not make sense to someone who is considerably younger or older than me. It does make me wonder what the shelf-life of novels is these days. Most of them don’t last that long, I guess.

I loved this book. It moved along really nicely without a lot of boring exposition about peasants in Russia or anything. A lot of the characters were easily recognizable as archetypes but with quirks so they weren’t too boring. The background of the main character was always ambiguous, but obviously the author more details than he needed to share. Like, he knew way more about how Shadow wound up in jail in the first place than he felt the need to share.

The acknowledgements section at the end name-dropped a couple of people I’ve heard of before, which is always a nice gift. Apparently Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett read drafts of this book.

The ending tied up all the loose ends very nicely. It dealt with the dead wife in a delicate way, and Shadow returned to Lakeside and tied up a whole bunch of loose ends very quickly and logically.

“The Economics of Attention” by Richard A. Lanham

It took me forever to read this book. It was around 270 pages long, but seemed longer. It was dense with tons of name-dropping from ancient (Greek?) philosophy, most of which were above my head. The chapter early on that discussed Andy Warhol’s and Christo’s (and Jeanne-Claude’s) art was interesting, but I wish more of the book had been like that, with concrete real-world examples. Maybe I wasn’t the intended audience, though I can’t guess who were. For someone who claims to be interested in style, the style of this book was leaden. It felt like someone who is wearing so much jewellery they can’t barely move.

There were some interesting ideas, but there were a few things I disagreed with. The chapter on copyright outlined the general problem of copyright as we move into the future (to sum it up, copyright has the potential to stifle innovation, which it is meant to protect), but didn’t delve into any sort of solution to the problem.

The chapter on education was one great big rant about Richard’s own personal experience as a professor. Notable to me was the last note in the acknowledgements at the back, which was a thank you to UCLA for the opportunities provided by their early retirement system. It only addressed higher education and mentioned only in passing the idea of applying Lean Manufacturing principles (I took a course on applying the Toyota CanBan system to R&D a couple of weeks ago, so this was perhaps in my “atmosphere of thought”) to education. I would have loved to see that chapter also address “lower” education, like primary, middle, and secondary school, because everyone is subjected to those. Certainly I think education should be a life-long activity and more accessible to all, but

The book ended with a section about “Why there isn’t more Economics in this book”. This seemed an apt question, as both economics courses I took in university (intro to Micro and Intro to Macro) involved little to no math. The author had a serious chip on his shoulder about “not being allowed into the Economics club” due to his lack of math, but I thought it might have been due to his lack of ability to conceptualize science. Economics is, after all, a soft science, and that’s got different requirements than anything in Humanities. Not that there’s anything wrong with an English degree. I have one of those.

Bridge to Terebithia (movie)

I read the book when I was about 10. The boy hadn’t read the book, but he saw the commercials and asked to "see a new movie, in the theatre". Afterwards, he remarked that the commercials had made it seem more like “Narnia”, but he still liked it.

There was something that didn’t quite work about the imaginary creatures part of Terebithia (before the end when Jess brings his sister over). It wasn’t that the animation was bad or anything… though it seemed like the frame rate on the effects was backwards or something. Fantasy play-acting the way kids do (or used to before they watched TV and played video games all day) doesn't translate well to the screen. It came across as kind of condescending. I would have liked the filmmakers to believe in it more. As it was, it seemed too “Blair Witch” to me.

I had some trepidation about how they would handle the part where Leslie dies -- the movie had Disney involvement, after all. But it was kind of the point of the book, and they plowed on through it. Jess’s confusion about the whole thing was really poignant. I cried, of course. Apparently the book is the seventh most challenged book in US school libraries. I wonder if that's because of the death, or because of the sacrilegious discussion of whether Leslie (who is athiest) will go to hell.

I guess I'd better get started on my March reviews now, as I've read two books already. Oh, and figure out how to put pictures on again, since the link broke when I "upgraded" blogger. Grrr.