Oryx and Crake

Hello all! Hope you enjoy my first blog post.

It took me a while to figure out what to write about. I need the content to be relevant, enjoyable, and “somehow related to Fontana Regional Library.” The process of elimination went like this: Books-Genre-Fiction-Science Fiction-Speculative Fiction-Climate Change Fiction-Margaret Atwood-Oryx and Crake.

Oryx and Crake is a 1984 of the 21st century. While Big Brother was imagined and eerily predicted by George Orwell in the 1940s, Margaret Atwood has imagined a future that is just as bizarre and frightening–a future that is both far-fetched and all too real. From gene-splicing to environmental degradation, this novel is captivating. Add a love story to this dystopian imagining, and the result is a stellar read.

Before I get started on my review of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, I must let you in on an important detail: HBO is in production stages of adapting Atwood’s MaddAddam book trilogy into a series. If nothing else, reading this futuristic, dystopian novel will have your mind churning as you try to envision its adaptation to television. The series is in production under director Darren Aronofsky who also directed films such as Black Swan (2010) and Requiem for a Dream (2000). Check out the latest write-up here: http://hbowatch.com/margaret-atwood-talks-hbos-maddaddam/

Oryx and Crake is the first book of Margaret Atwood’s trilogy titled MaddAddam Trilogy. Published in 2003, Oryx and Crake falls under the subgenres of speculative fiction (spec-fic) and climate-change fiction (cli-fi). Oryx and Crake is a novel set in the future. It is not, however a bright and shiny future that is reminiscent of The Jetsons, but something we’ve come to expect in our contemporary imaginations of the future–bleak. The setting is straight up Mad Max, The Road, apocalyptic type stuff.

At the start of the novel, we meet Snowman. Snowman is the last remaining human in a world destroyed. He is also the narrator. It is only through flashbacks that we meet any other humans or any other glimpse of the world before destruction. One intriguing aspect of this future world is that it is hard to pinpoint an actual moment in time that this is taking place. This future world could be as close as tomorrow or as far away as centuries. That uncertainty of time and future is one of the characteristics of speculative fiction and sometimes climate change fiction. There is a constant evaluation of whether or not this could happen to us now–whether or not we are already on our way to the world spread out on the pages of Oryx and Crake.

Snowman is between past and present as he indulges the audience in flashbacks of times past. The world he visits through memory is well on its way to destruction. Consumption by humans is at an all-time high while resources, ethics, and morality are at an all-time low. Gene splicing is rampant. While the practice started as an advancement in medicine, it quickly spiraled out of control when corporations began experimenting, buying patents, and developing products and procedures. Genes are spliced to have glow in the dark wallpaper, sea anemones spliced with chickens that quickly produce large amounts of poultry, organisms that grow skin so that humans can replace their old skin, etc. Each corporate gene splicing venture is labeled a quippy name–a reality we have all come to live as advertisements bombard every aspect of our public and private lives.

The tone of this novel is immediately environmental as well as political. While Snowman scans the beach around him in the first few pages, he notices various plastic bottles bearing advertisements, labels, etc. Even though the former life of Snowman (who we later learn to be Jimmy) is over, there are still many remnants of the past. There are still ubiquitous instances of advertising, branding, labeling.

Each technology becomes obsolete eventually–it is what makes a void of possibility for another world, reality, way of life. This is where Crake and Oryx come in. They are a part of Snowman or Jimmy’s past. We learn of Crake (otherwise known as Glenn) when Jimmy (Snowman) is replaying his past. He met Crake in school where they became friends through their enthusiasm for genetic studies. Glenn and Jimmy spend time together after school live-streaming videos of all sorts, playing games titled “Extinctathon” or “Blood and Roses.” “Extinctathon” is a game that gives the player scientific names of organisms, and the player must guess whether or not the animal is extinct or not. “Blood and Roses” plays like a trading game where “Blood” is the category under which the atrocities throughout human history are listed, and “Roses” is the category concerned with the advancements and positive outcomes throughout human history. These games are where Jimmy and Glenn name themselves Snowman and Crake (two extinct creatures in “Extinctathon.”

They finish high school and go to university where Crake (Glenn) fully immerses himself into genetic bioengineering studies. Crake progressively grows disillusioned and critical of the world around him as resources are poisoned, animals become extinct, human population grows, and genetic engineering is used predominantly for superficial reasons. Crake has something up his sleeve. He has been working on this project tirelessly until it reaches perfection. The end product is a group of human-like organisms appropriately called “Crakers.” They do not eat meat. They are not ashamed of nudity. They are non-violent, curious, and kind. They have no understanding of life before destruction. The Crakers are Crake’s legacy–his attempt to rid the world of problems caused by humans.

The Crakers are Snowman’s only companion in the world after destruction. While so similar to humans, they are so different. The Crakers view Snowman as something intriguing and bewildering and vice versa. What came before the Crakers and after is what this book is all about. Atwood paints this eerie future in a way that can be described as watching a car crash or blooper reel in slow motion. The story is just as much about how we got there as it is about where we end up.

Check it out!

LD

Dialogic Reading

We all know that reading aloud to young children is very important.  Children literally soak up the words like sponges when they are read aloud to on a regular basis.  Usually that involves the adult doing the reading and most of the talking.  So, how do we adults take a step back and let the children supply the words?  One way is to use “Dialogic Reading”.  This is a strategy that can be used to give children an opportunity to be more of a part of the early reading process.  Think about the word “dialogic”.  It comes from the word “dialogue”.  Dialogue means to talk.  Therefore, dialogic reading involves children talking about books.  The adult becomes the facilitator for interacting with the book.

According to The Word Gap: The Early Years Make the Difference (Colker, 2014), “by three years of age, there is a 30 million word gap between children from the wealthiest and poorest families”.  Further, “Vocabulary development in the preschool years impacts children’s later reading skills and school success.”  Children’s vocabularies develop not only from listening to stories but also from interacting with others and books.  Dialogic reading can help support closing this word gap and increase chances of children’s reading success.

In the book Supercharged Storytimes: An Early Literacy Planning and Assessment Guide, the authors state that, “Dialogic reading is an interactive reading technique that uses the practice of asking children questions about a book.  These questions encourage talk about the story and the pictures.”  (Campana, Mills, & Ghoting, 2016).  The framework for dialogic reading comes from D.S. Arnold and Grover J. Whitehurst.  One strategy that can be used involves the acronym PEER (see below)

Prompt the children to tell you something about the book by asking a question.

Evaluate the children’s responses by saying something like, “That’s right!”

Expand the children’s responses by repeating what they said and adding information to it.

Repeat the beginning question for the children and give them a chance to answer with the expanded detail.

Along with the PEER strategy, there is also the CROWD strategy.  Grover J. Whitehurst wrote an article “Dialogic Reading: An Effective Way to Read to Preschoolers” published by Reading Rockets at http://www.readingrockets.org/article/dialogic-reading-effective-way-read-preschoolers.  He outlines the 5 types of prompts that work well for use with dialogic reading.  They include:

Completion prompts:  provide a sentence and let the children fill in the last word (this technique works well for rhymes).

Recall prompts:  ask the children questions about what has happened previously in the story.

Open-ended prompts:  ask the children to describe what is happening in a story.

Wh-prompts:  asking the children questions that start with who, what, when, where, and why.

Distancing prompts:  ask the children to relate a piece of the story to things they have experienced.

Learn more about the PEER and CROWD strategies at:  https://raisingareaderma.org/program/dialogic-reading/

Make sure to give children plenty of wait time when they are responding.  Our adult brains can process so much faster than a child’s brain, that we sometimes forget and rush through when if we just gave a few more seconds, the child would have come up with a great response on their own.  So, take a quiet, deep breath and count to ten at the very least.  Counting to 20 may be even better.

What kind of book works for dialogic reading?  Any children’s picture book will work for dialogic reading including wordless or nearly wordless picture books.  Better yet, books the children have heard before are excellent choices.  Repetitive reads are very popular with young children.  One book I recently used with a group of children was Rain! by Linda Ashman.  Here is an example from the beginning of this wonderful book.

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As you can see, the first 2 pages show an illustration of the setting with no text.  I began with asking the children:

  • What do you see happening?
  • Where could this story be taking place?
  • What do you do on rainy days?

 

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Here is an interaction between the two main characters near the end of the book.  I prompted the children with:

  • What is the boy doing?
  • Who is he pretending to be?
  • Why did he do that?
  • What do you think will happen next?

A great video that shows a dialogic reading interaction can be found at:  http://community.fpg.unc.edu/connect-modules/resources/videos/video-6-8

Consider giving dialogic reading a try the next time you are reading to a child. You might also see it modeled at a Fontana Regional Library Storytime the next time you visit one.

Letters from (and to) the Front, Part I

Recently I was prowling the book donations at the thrift store where I volunteer  and I came across a copy of  War Letters:  Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, edited by Andrew Carroll.  The Legacy Project, which is the source from which these letters came, was founded in 1998 as a gathering place for veterans and their families to donate correspondence written by members of American armed forces to and from their families while on active duty.   Since its founding  the Legacy Project’s name has been changed to  “The Center for American War Letters,” and it’s collection is housed at Chapman University in Orange. California.  War Letters was made into a documentary on PBS’s American Experience, which can be watched on YouTube.

 Coincidentally, I was reading Drew Gilpin Faust’s Mothers of Invention : Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, which contains excerpts of letters written by Confederate women to their husbands on the front.  Also, in my home library I have a copy of Tracy Sugarman’s My War: a Love Story in Letters and Drawings.  Unfortunately, that book is not in the NC Cardinal system, but a large collection of his letters to his wife is preserved on the Library of Congress website, so I decided to include his book in this blog. One other book that excerpts from letters written by soldiers serving in the Union army in the Civil War is Earl J. Hess’   The Union Soldier in Battle.  The first part of this blog will have excerpts from letters from the Civil War and World War I, the second letters from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Separation in families during wartime can be traumatic both for the member of the armed forces being away from his or her family and the family at home.  But these days email and social media help to shorten the distance with almost instant communication and air travel makes leave at home realistic despite long distances to the site of deployment.  Imagine being a woman in the Confederate south, where the postal service left something to be desired, hearing about a major battle and not knowing for weeks, or even months, if your loved one is whole or not; or even alive or dead.  Faust cites a letter from a woman who tells her husband she wishes him to be wounded or suffer an amputation, so he comes home deformed, and not be attractive to other women in a culture where there was a shortage of men.  In World War II, distance was a problem in correspondence traveling from home to the various fronts, and vice versa, especially when  there were armies and naval forces that were on the move.  In some cases the soldier or sailor would receive a “Dear John” or “Dear Jill” letter ending a relationship.

The contents of letters depended on their origin.  Dr. Faust discovered that women left to manage large plantations, while their husbands were off fighting, doubted their ability  to take the man’s place running complex business and cultural environments.  Some of these women hired old white men to manage the slave laborers, while others did it themselves, trusting the black slaves to help with the planting, raising, and harvesting of the crops.

 The letters Dr. Hess uncovered had to do with men writing about combat experiences about which the southern women were totally divorced from, at least if they lived far beyond the armies.  A New York regimental surgeon replied to a question from his wife as follows:  “You have asked for a description of a field after the Angel of Death has passed over it; but I do no more so than I can give you an idea of anything indescribable.  You must stand as I have stood, and heard to report of battery upon battery, witness the effect of shell, grape and canister–you must hear the incessant  discharge of musketry, see men leaping high in the in the and falling dead upon the ground…hear their groans…see their eye grow dim in death, before you can realize or be impressed with its horrors.”

Confederate Captain William Harris Hardy gave his wife the following description of combat:   “All the firing had ceased, everything was calm and still after the awful storm save the awful shrieks of the dying and wounded which were great came from every quarter in every direction.  Cries for help, for water, brother calling brother, comrade for companions.  In ten feet of where I lay was a Pennsylvania Yankee with his bowels shot out….  We left before daylight.  I don’t know what became of him.”

In War Letters, a World War I ambulance driver, George Ruckle, wrote this description to his family:  “I’ll never some of the sights I saw and how bravely our men and the French bore their wounds.  Men with arms and legs torn off would never utter a groan during the whole trip to the hospital.  At one place some new batteries came up their horses were picketed  in a clump of trees.  I saw a shell land in the middle of them and the next minute there was pile of 50 or 60 dead horses.”

On the other hand, soldiers of the Civil War era could  not describe what they saw on the battlefield, either because they didn’t want to relive the experience or they didn’t want to scare their correspondents.   Illinois soldier wrote this: “I shall not attempt to describe what I saw, of dead wounded and suffering .  It would be an absolute  impossibility  and if it were possible my heart would shrink from such a task.”   Another Illinois soldier phased it this way, “a scene that it impossible describe either to a writer or artist”

At the of the war to end all wars, Lt. Lewis Plush reflects on his memories of the war to his parents  as he sails back to the United States:  “There was a war,  a great war, and it is over.  Men fought to kill, to maim, to destroy.  Some return home. others remain behind on the fields of their greatest sacrifice.  The rewards of the death are the lasting honors of martyrs for humanity; the reward of the living is the peaceful conscience of who play of life and plays it square.”

A man for all genres?

Genre fiction is probably the most popular of what circulates at a public library.  Mysteries, romance, science fiction, fantasy, etc. always have devoted readerships.

Many authors are known for the kind of genre they (mostly) write in – the late Louis L’Amour, although he wrote in a few other genres, will be remembered (and still read) for his Westerns.  Agatha Christie wrote some romances but is famous for her mysteries.

One contemporary author, however, seems to be trying very hard to play “genre bingo” (see Chris’ blog from last summer).  He’s written juvenile fiction, contemporary mysteries, science fiction, young adult superhero novels, and high fantasy. He has stand-alone novels, series, and even finished a highly popular high fantasy epic series that was started by another author.

This author is Brandon Sanderson.  He first came to attention with his first novel, a stand-alone fantasy called Elantris.  (available also as a CD Audiobook)

He next ventured into the territory of a fantasy series, called the Mistborn saga.  (that series now has seven titles as of 2016).  As you might guess by those numbers, the series was highly successful.

But before he’d even completed his original planned trilogy, he shifted gears and started a children’s series, the Alcatraz series, about a young hero whose special gift is that he’s very good at breaking things.  Many libraries bought the first book because it was titled Alcatraz versus the evil librarians. There are now 4 books in that series, again a measure of their popularity.

His next work was another standalone fantasy called Warbreaker.  This was followed by the announcement that Sanderson had been chosen to complete the extremely popular fantasy series The Wheel of Time.  Its creator, Robert Jordan, had passed away but had time to complete notes and recordings on how to complete/resolve the series.  Sanderson was chosen by Jordan’s widow and editor, and his work in completing the series has received acclaim.

While completing the Wheel of Time, Sanderson began another high fantasy series of his own called the Stormlight Archive, which is planned to be a ten-book series.  So far, two have been published.

In 2012, he started a contemporary mystery series with a radical protagonist who suffers from a split personality disorder.  There are two books in that series.

In 2013, Sanderson began a young adult series with the title The Rithmatist. Later that same year, he started another YA series, this time in the popular superhero genre, called The Reckoners series.  That trilogy was just completed this year with the title Calamity.

Sanderson has been a top 10 New York Times bestselling author, has won several major awards, and also teaches creative writing at the university level.  His fantasy novels are admired for his unique takes on magic and magic use, while his mystery and YA series are known for their sometimes surprising characters and plots.

If you’ve been counting, he has been published in 6 areas/genres – fantasy, science fiction, mystery, superhero, Young Adult, and children’s.

Fontana Regional Library has about 24 of his titles, in formats from eAudio to eBook to CD Audiobook, and even print.  If any of this sounds interesting, try one and let me know what you think!

Keep moving forward

Heya folks,

As both Cornelius Robinson and Walt Disney said, one  must “Keep Moving Forward!”  I’ve not done a blog before, but YOLO, to quote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. So, I’m going to give it a shot.

I like to read, and I read a lot. So hopefully I’ll have enough subject material to share.  I don’t have any great themes ready yet, but I’m reminded of how Bill Gates and Paul Allen got their big break.  They had launched Microsoft, but I believe they were a bit unready when IBM came calling and asked the young software company to provide the operating system for their Personal Computer.  Microsoft had acquired an operating system called QDOS for Quick and Dirty Operating System, and that ended up being MS-DOS (the PC’s operating system) and the rest is history.  So this will start out as a QD blog, and hopefully move forward from that.

Many folks have heard of or seen True Blood, an HBO series that ran seven seasons and garnered both an Emmy and a Golden Globe.  Not me, never saw an episode.  But the creator of the books behind the series, Charlaine Harris, spoke at a conference I went to last year, so I decided to read some of her titles. Although she’s written SIX series including the one “True Blood” was based on, I picked her most recent series on which to cut my teeth (no vampire pun intended).

It started with Midnight Crossroad,Product Details

 

continued with Day ShiftProduct Details

 

and just concluded with Night Shift.Product Details

 

So what’s it about?

Characters: a friendly witch, a “good” vampire, a female assassin for hire, an internet psychic who is also the real deal, and other perhaps even more strange residents of an extremely small rural town.

Setting: Midnight, Texas – a middle of nowhere, “wide spot in the road,” “sneeze and you’ll miss it” town.  By the end of the trilogy it will become as much of a character as the macabre inhabitants.

Audience: mystery readers, supernatural aficionados, and/or folks who grew up or spent time in miniscule rural communities.

Essentially, the residents of Midnight do what they can to keep their town and themselves “off the map” despite forces almost, but not quite, beyond their control.

I’d recommend all three books of the trilogy, as there really was not a drop off in quality in my opinion.  It wraps up fairly neatly, with the multitude of mysteries and questions raised in book one almost all answered by the conclusion of the third and final title.

Check out the first book (in print, Large Print, or in eBook format) from FRL and let me know what you think!

Paul Fussell

Paul Fussell was an American scholar best known for his writing about World Wars I and II.  He was a veteran of the latter conflict as a 20 years infantry officer who served in Western Europe after D-Day. He was wounded, after which he received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.   After the war, Fussell resumed his education, eventually earning a PhD in English literature.  His writing on that subject is more of interest to academics, but his books relating to combat have reached a broader audience.  The Great War and Modern Memory,  Wartime:  Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, The Boys’ Crusade:  the American Infantry in Northwestern Europe, 1944-1945, and Doing Battle: the Making of a Skeptic are the most important of these. The first two that show the contrast between the cultures of the two wars will be the focus of this essay.

The Great War and Modern Memory is probably Fussell’s best known work.   It outlines the British experience in World War I and how that influenced writers, especially poets, reliving that part of their lives.   Fussell, as he does in all his books in this vein, writes about the frustrations the lower ranks have to put with in the combat environment.   According to Fussell that war is ironic; for example, battles seldom go the way planners think they will.  At the battle of the Somme in 1916, for example, the Allied artillery pounded the German positions leading generals to think that foot soldiers will be able  to walk into German trenches unopposed.  Instead, the infantry marched into withering machine gun fire and the British took 6,000 casualties on the first day.

The war was not fought the army veterans who commended the British troops who were sent to France expected.  Cavalry was useless against machine gun fire and the infantry tactics had similar success against artillery fire.    New weapons such as machine guns,  gas, airplanes, and tanks  were new ways to kill and maim.  These new killing machines kept large armies from advancing and the war on the Western front stalemated to trenches with a no man’s land in between.  Fussell writes a lot about the influence that conflict had on poets and other writers who romanced the war.   He notes the war poets, such as Siegfried Sassoon, Thomas Hardy, and Wilfred  Owen,  contributions to the Oxford Book of English Verse.

Fussell’s does in writing non-fiction what some authors, such as Heller in Catch 22 and Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five, did  in fiction.  Of course Fussell is a veteran of combat in Europe in 1944-1945, where he was a young second lieutenant in the infantry.  He dedicated The Great War and Modern Memory to the sergeant who was killed beside him in France in 1945.

After reading Fussell’s books, the difference in the American culture in the twenty years between the two wars is obvious.   In the movie theaters, talkies had arrived.  Radio brought news and entertainment into people’s homes.   Celebrities who once was seen only in the big screen now were heard on the radio on a weekly basis.  Big band leaders such as Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman had their own radio shows.  Hollywood produced patriotic films, some involving combat starring John Wayne who never served in the military.  Meanwhile,  in Britain, the BBC kept broadcasting educational programs while the bombs were falling on London during the blitz.

Acronyms, which were a holdover from the New Deal, were popular, especially in the military:  SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) or my favorite COMAMPHIBFORSOPAC (Commander, Amphibious Force, South Pacific).   There were some others which made their way into civilian language, FUBAR, for example.

The big difference between the American experience in the Great War and World War II was that the American government decided when to declare  on Germany in 1917, but Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor took that decision out Roosevelt’s hands in 1941.   Once in the fight, Americans had put up with shortages at home and rationing.   Not to the extent it happened Britain, where rationing continued until 1954.

A green reporter encountered an infantry squad on the front line in Europe and asked what they would say to the people at home:   “…Tell them it’s more serious than they’ll  ever be able to understand…. Tell them it’s is rough as hell,   Tell them it’s rough.  It’s rough, serious business.  That’s all. That’s all….”

The Grand Finale

I’ve done over 50 blog posts in my career here at Fontana Regional Library. 50! Seems like a lot. The reason I bring this up is because this post that you are reading right now is my last. I am leaving the library and we are moving across the country (2,674 miles to be exact). And by we I mean me, my wife Christina, who co-wrote the early blogs, and Bellatrix.

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No, Bella, you can’t keep that table.

So then, what shall we talk about? I thought of a few things, like talking about my favorite books once again, or reminiscing about previous posts. I discarded those ideas, because they don’t take us anywhere. Been there, done that.

Next I thought about the identity of the blog, and specifically my posts. What have I been trying to achieve? What was the point? The answer is obvious. Glaringly, blindingly obvious. The answer is books. Sure, I ventured off the beaten trail a few times (and note how I am avoiding referencing previous posts. They are there. You can find them yourself if you want), but the main focus was always books. It is always gratifying when someone likes or shares or comments on a post, but when someone says they read one of the books I suggested? That is sublime.

I already said I wasn’t going to prattle on about books I already prattled on about, and a couple of posts back I talked about the miscellaneous titles I hadn’t gotten around to talking about yet. So what am I going to talk about? Nothing. Okay, that is a gross oversimplification. If you think you are getting out of this without me slipping in some of my favorites, you are crazy. What I really mean is that I am going to let others do the talking.

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No, not the squirrel talkers.

I asked a few of my co-workers if they wanted to suggest a title or two, or three, or four in one case *coughEmilycough*. The idea is that while I may not be around to give you reading recommendations, there are lots of other people who are. Remember, these are their words, not mine.

Kristina (Macon County Public Library)

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

I picked this up while thinking ahead about an upcoming League of Women Voters book and movie display, since one of the characters is a former suffragette, and I thought it might complement the Carey Mulligan/Helena Bonham Carter movie we’ll be showing.

This quiet little book just ended, and burst my heart wide open! Books that make me cry are highly recommended.

Charles (Macon County Public Library)

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

I have not laughed so much at a book in quite some time.

Serenity (Albert Carlton-Cashiers Community Library)

Feed by Mira Grant

One of my go to not quite guilty pleasures is the Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant. First book is Feed. It’s a great little commentary on media and politics wrapped up in a tasty zombie horror shell.

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Fed and sleeping.

Karen (Hudson Library)

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

My favorite recommendation no matter the age, teen and beyond, is Bryce Courtenay’s classic The Power of One.

Emily (Hudson Library)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Emily at Hudson recommends Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – and not just because they share the same name! Station Eleven is well-written, easy-to-read, and considers the importance of Art as an essential part of survival in a post-apocalyptic (so to speak) world.

Your Heart Is A Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

This spectacular work covers a single day at the WTO protests in Seattle and forces readers to empathize with characters they would not normally identify with – which is arguably an essential function of great literature.

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

A refreshing spin on “Snow White” with a beautiful book cover!

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems

Fun for the whole family!

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Different weight classes.

Stephanie (Jackson County Public Library)

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

It saved my life.

Christina (Funemployed)

Pulp Fiction directed by Quentin Tarantino

I have a lot of favorite movies and books, but there aren’t many that have actually affected me in such a way that I remember the first time I experienced them. In fact, I can only think of two.

For both times, I was in high school. The first memory was when I was fourteen, and was out walking with my friend. Neither of us had a car or even a license, so we ended up walking to the movie theater (we had missed a bus to something and therefore had all day to kill). After buying a ticket for a PG movie, we snuck into Pulp Fiction (don’t do this at home, kids!).

My friend and I sat in a mostly empty theater, stunned by the violence, unforgettable characters, and sharp dialogue. We laughed when others gasped and left the theater grinning from ear to ear. I remember thinking, “when I create something, I want to have an impact like that”. It’s still one of my favorite movies.

Brain Droppings by George Carlin

The second memory involves my favorite all time comic, George Carlin. I was in a bookstore with two friends (one was the Pulp Fiction fellow sneaker), and we spotted Brain Droppings. Curious, I picked it up and began reading it out loud. Soon we were all hysterical, and I made a beeline for the checkout counter. I ended up reading most of it to my friends during lunch but had to stop because we were laughing so hard our stomachs began hurting. I still have the book, and it still makes me laugh.

Chris 

Blackstar by David Bowie

It was quite startling to listen to Bowie’s final CD and realize that as much credit as he was given we may still have underappreciated him. An astounding piece of work.

Okay, that last one was me. I want to thank everyone for contributing, and hope some of you readers read some of their reading recommendations. I know I will.

Speaking of thanks, there are a few personal ones I want to pass out. I would beg your indulgence, but this is still my blog, so I can do what I want. First, my wife Christina, without whom none of this would have happened. Sounds cliche, I know, but I wouldn’t have started blogging at all if she hadn’t done it with me. Plus she has had to listen to me bounce ideas off of her ever since. Thank you, and I love you. And a shout out to our cats, Bellatrix, Scrambles the Death Dealer, and Siouxsie, who if nothing else provided plenty of pictures for the blog.

Thanks to Don, the first blog admin I had. He provided lots of support and help as I started writing, not to mention spending an inordinate amount of time figuring out how I could use spoilers in a post.

Thanks to all the other Shelf Life in the Mountains blog contributors, especially the current ones, Amy and Stephen. Besides her excellent writing, Amy is also the “looks” of the organization. By which I mean she created the new logo, and she creates the images for each new post that we use on the library website. Thanks Amy! And Stephen…well Stephen just keeps going like clockwork. I feel like that in 50 years from now he will still be educating and entertaining us with new posts.

Finally, thanks most of all to the readers. Whether you are a long time aficionado or first time peruser, I want to thank each and every one of you for taking a few minutes (or a bunch of minutes when it comes to some of my posts) to take a look. None of this happens without your support. We have had readers from near and far, and I hope all of you got something worthwhile out of it. Thank you all.

Scr
I already thanked you, Scrambles!

 

Just one more thing. I promise! It is easy enough to find bestseller lists and classics and such. One thing I always liked was being able to point people towards good books they may not have found otherwise. So I conclude with a list of some of my favorites, many of which I think not enough people are aware of. No Commentary, just a list and a final bit of wisdom: keep reading!

Silk by Alessandro Baricco

Lexicon by Max Barry

The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell

Hyperbole and a Half  by Allie Brosh

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Here by Richard McGuire

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

bellas-nicknames-jpg

 

 

 

 

GALLIPOLI

This is a post I’ve done before, last year in fact.  But, this past Monday,April 25, was the 100 years anniversary since the Allies landed troops on the Gallipoli peninsula, primarily  the Anzacs, men from Australasia and New Zealand.   Memorial services were held this week those two countries, as well in London, where the Queen placed a wreath at Cenotaph on Whitehall.   Gallipoli has family connection for me.  My uncle Patrick Morrison, served in the Gordon Highlanders, part of the troops from Great Britain that were stationed there, in addition to the men from the South Pacific.   These are the reasons I thought it appropriate to repeat it.

The Gallipoli campaign was a side bar in 1915, the second year of the First World War .  Gallipoli is a peninsula in northwest Turkey on the west side of a waterway leading from the Black Sea past Istanbul (it was called Constantinople in 1915) to the Adriatic Sea.   Because Russia was fighting on the side the Allies in the Great War, Turkey chose to side with the Central Powers and blocked Russia’s outlet  through the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles to the Adriatic Sea.   To restore Russia’s outlet to the west, and to take the focus off the stalemate on the Western Front, the Allies planned an attack on the Gallipoli and the Dardanelles in the spring of 1915.

The chief advocate of this plan was Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty¹.  At first, a fleet of obsolete  British and French battle cruisers and battleships would attack the Turkish forts lining  both sides of the Dardanelles, and with accompanying minesweepers would force their force way to the Turkish capital.  But, with help their German allies, the Turkish army had strengthen the fortresses and laid mines in the waterway. As a result, the naval attack failed:  three ships were sunk, one with over 600 men on board, and several more damaged.

The next step was to land troops on the Cape Hellos end  of  the peninsula and it’s western shore, where Churchill and his colleagues didn’t think there would be much opposition.   But the Turks were dug in the high cliffs overlooking the beaches where the landings were taking place. The Allied force, including members of the French Foreign Legion, Anzac troops from Australia and New Zealand,  as well as British forces from India and the Western Front, was pinned down as soon as it landed. The casualties were high at the outset and continued   in this vein for the next eight months. The planning for this expedition was faulty, and the commanders chosen to lead it  were not given the resources necessary to carry out the objectives of their mission.  As a result, two  offenses, one soon after the landings and one in August,  failed with even heavier casualties. Eventually, like on the Western Front, Gallipoli devolved into a stalemate with both sides ensconced in their trenches, until February 1916, when all Allied personnel were withdrawn.

The British Government, looking for a scapegoat, after the initial attack, sacked Churchill from his post as First Lord of the Admiralty,  but kept him in the government.   The August failure toppled the government and Churchill,  who was also out, was offered a command in the Western Front in Belgium.    At end of the war, he was eventually was posted to the Colonial Office, where he presided over the founding of  the modern Iraq.  In writing about Churchill  during World War II, Max Hastings said this, “Churchill believed himself exceptionally fitted for the direction of armies, navies, and air forces.  He perceived no barrier to such a role in the fact, that he possessed neither military staff training nor experience of higher field command.”²   In this context, he evidently didn’t learn his lesson after Gallipoli.  More on Churchill in my next blog.

¹The political head of the Royal Navy.  The person holding this office was a Member of Parliament, part of cabinet and served under the Prime Minister.

²Max Hastings, Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940-1945, p. 102.

John Keegan, The First World War, Pages 234 -249

Martin Gilbert,  The First World WarPages 105-06, 140-41, 146-153, 161-171, 180-85, 188-91, 207-11.

Carlo D’Este, Warlord, Pages 237-262

William Manchester, The Last Lion,  Pages 511-576

The Marshall Cavendish Illustrated Encyclopedia of World War I:  3: 716-732, 761-777  4: 1130-1141

Line of Fire:  Gallipoli (Video)

ISDKWYATA: Even More Acronyms (and books)

I received a lot of good feedback on my first post about acronyms. Several people mentioned other ones that they use or see with some frequency, so I figured a second venture into the world of initialisms was warranted. See what I did there?

It has been argued that what are commonly referred to as acronyms are not acronyms at all but are really initialisms. This argument might have some technical legitimacy, but not much. Most reliable sources give the word acronym a wide and broad meaning, and general usage certainly does. Enough so that I think that initialism proponents don’t have much of a letter to stand on.

Padlock
The rules of grammar are well guarded.

I will not only define these acronyms, but also use them in a sentence about a book. Unlike last time, these are mostly books I have not talked about before, so I will try to work in some mini reviews as well.

YMMV  

Your mileage may vary. A way to say that other people may not have the same reaction to something that you did.

“YMMV, but I found Prep to be a terrific read. Honest, heartfelt, uplifting, and painful. And avoids the horrible cliches one expects to find. One of the best books I’ve read recently.”

OMW

On my way. Like letting my wife know I am heading home from work.

“OMW, but not like in Divergent, where the Dauntless often jump on and off of moving trains. BTW, Divergent is a YA dystopian novel that works better when it explores class structures and the nature of our true inner selves than it does at the action packed ending. Of course, YMMV.”

SMH

Shaking my head. Showing disbelief and/or disdain at the actions or words of others.

“SMH that some people haven’t read The Girl with All the Gifts, a zombie-dystopia-action-horror novel that is much more than any of those things. Is a child who is a monster still a child?”

An accomplished head shaker.
An accomplished head shaker.

WNTT

We need to talk. Usually a warning that a Serious Conversation is about to happen. Might precede a breakup, for instance.

“WNTT…about why you haven’t read All Other Nights. Sure , it might not be in any of the genres you typically read, but that shouldn’t stop you. Jewish historical fiction set during the Civil War, ultimately it is a story of the extreme lengths a man will go to escape some things and run back to others.”

AFAIK

As far as I know. Indicates you think you know the answer, but you haven’t fact checked it.

“AFAIK, The Sandman: Book of Dreams is the only true prose collection of stories based on the Sandman graphic novels. And it is better than one would suspect from such a collection. Some real gems in there, from authors both known and unknown, but admittedly aimed at readers familiar with the source material.”

YKI

You know it. Affirmation of statement, sort of like “you betcha!”

“Is Silver Screen Fiend a good read? Woo woo woo, YKI! Patton talks about his obsession with film, and muses on how it affected him and his life. I like how he, as many of us do, reflects on what an idiot his younger self was. Note that while he lists out all the films he saw, he does not go into any great detail about them. Also, I do have an interesting Zack Ryder story you can ask me about in person.”

Been there, seen that.
Been there, seen that.

FIFY

Fixed it for you. A way to show that you corrected an error someone made, or more commonly a way to mock someone else. For instance, if you posted that The Adoration of Jenna Fox is not a good book, I might reply like this:

“The Adoration of Jenna Fox is not a good book. FIFY. It is a story of a teenager who awakens from a year long coma after being in a car crash to find that her loving and supportive family now is hiding secrets, namely secrets about who, or what, she really is. It is not a great book, but it is a good one.”

PM

Personal message. Basically telling someone to contact you privately.

“I’ve had mixed feelings about this series lately. PM me and I’ll fill you in on the details. I did think Archmage was a solid entry. For those not familiar, it is Dungeons and Dragons fantasy, and you’ll really want to be familiar with the previous books to fully enjoy this one.”

IDK

I don’t know. Admitting you don’t know something, which we should all probably do more often.

“Are cruises fun? IDK, I’ve never been on one. The people in Day Four do not have fun, as their cruise ship is mysteriously stranded out at sea, and things keep going from bad to worse, both from supernatural events and  the actions of people. Like a fair number of horror books, the ending does not quite match the build up, but it is still a worthy read, and a good crossover book, meaning all readers and not just horror fans will enjoy it.”

I think he does know.
I think he does know.

TBH

To be honest. Letting people know you are being straightforward with them. Often in conjunction with a statement that might be surprising or controversial.

“TBH, I am not sure reading Preacher was a good idea. Now I am hooked on another series, and there is even a TV show coming out.”

TL;DR

Too long; didn’t read. This tells someone that while you are responding to them, you did not read all of what they had posted, presumably because it was a wall of text or such.

“This blog was totally TL;DR. You know what isn’t? The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil Gaiman. A take on Sleeping Beauty, it isn’t very long. It gives the tale enough edge to appeal to adults, while still staying appropriate for most children. Plus it is gorgeously illustrated by Chris Riddell.”

ISDKWYATA

I still don’t know what you are talking about. A reference to how bewildering unknown acronyms can be. I made it up for this blog, but feel free to use it. Viral, FTW!*

“ISDKWYATA, like at all, especially when you mention The Seven Deadly Sins Sampler, which the library doesn’t even own! It is a collection of short stories, two for each of the deadly sins, and it features a sinfully delightful collection of authors. Faulkner, Atwood, Chekhov, O’Connor, etc. And then you come across one you don’t recognize, like Bobbie Ann Mason, and then you read her story Shiloh and realize it might be the best in the book.”

FTW! is more dramatic than checkmate.
FTW! is more dramatic than checkmate.

*FTW. For The Win. One fun thing to do with acronyms is make up your own versions. Forget The Waitress! Fang Toothed Walrus! Formidable Tea Wizard! Okay, we’re done here.

 

 

10 More Books I Read

The books keep piling up. Most of my posts have a theme to them, such as zombies, or cats, or weddings. It is easy enough to fit books into categories. The problem are those books that don’t quite fit into these niches. This helped give birth to Random Book Day, but that isn’t until November, and I already have a bunch of books lined up. If I wait much longer to talk about them I will forget all about them and have to read them again, and I have far too many books on my to-read list already to do that.

So here you are. Ten books that altogether share only one thing in common, which is that I read them. I think I may have mentioned a couple of these before, but not in any detail. Feel free to fact check me on that.

She will fact check your fact checking.
She will fact check your fact checking.

The Children of Men, by P. D. James

I spilled coffee on this book, or, to be technical about it, my thermos leaked coffee onto the book. Which means I had to buy it and am now the owner of a well read and coffee stained former library book. At least it is a good book. And it is nothing much at all like her other books.

What would happen to society if everyone, every single woman in the world, became sterile? How would people continue to conduct their business and live out their lives? How would the government (in this case, Great Britain) handle it? And then what would happen if years later a single woman managed to get pregnant? What lengths would people, and the government, go to to protect her, or to obtain her? Dr. Theo Faron, an Oxford professor and our narrator, has to answer these questions as he is caught squarely in the middle of the story.

The story is taut and plausible. It is slightly dated, being from 1992, primarily in the changes in technology since then, but overall that only detracts a small amount from the enjoyment of this dystopian marvel. I haven’t seen the film version yet, simply because I haven’t gotten around to watching it.

Children

Whales on Stilts, by M. T. Anderson

I’m not sure where I heard about this one. Perhaps it was featured on this site. In any event, it is the first in a series of children’s novels, which is known as Juvenile Fiction in library jargon. The book (and series) stars three friends: Jasper (an inventor who has a PhD), Katie (who fights monsters), and Lily (who is just a normal girl). And by girl, I do mean girl, as the three of them are still in middle school. Their world seems much the same as ours, except for things like, oh I don’t know, an army of whales on stilts.

Their madcap adventures may seem a bit, ahem, juvenile to adults, but even if they are not for you they are a great series to point younger readers towards.

Astonishing X-Men: Gifted, by Peter David

Bonus points to those who are now saying “wait, those comics were written by Joss Whedon (yes, that Joss Whedon), not by Peter David”, who is a very accomplished comic writer in his own right. Well, you are correct, to a point. Whedon wrote those comics (available from the library in graphic novel form here), but David wrote the novelization.

Yarp, it is a novelization of comic books. You don’t see that very often. In this case it is understandable, because the Gifted storyline is so good. Full of action, drama, and humor, it is a story that doesn’t really require you to have read any other X-men beforehand. The novel tells the same story. You essentially exchange the art of John Cassaday for David’s prose. The story stays the same, so the question is which format do you prefer? Because you really should read it sometime. It is that good.

Larger than life.
Larger than life.

Sandstorm, by James Rollins

Oh, the power of social media! Rollins himself recommended, on social media, that I should read this book. Of course that is his pen name, and maybe it wasn’t really him but an intern or publicist or the like, but it did happen. He followed me, and I replied that I guess I needed to read one of his books, and he suggested Sandstorm. And, thankfully, it turned out to be a pretty darn good book. Others must agree, since it spawned a series that numbers 12 titles to date.

This is an adventure novel, sort of an amalgamation of Indiana Jones and Jason Bourne and Lara Croft. And it works! The heroes are heroic, with ample skill sets, and are faced with challenging challenges that has the reader wondering how they will ever triumph over the bad guys. High tech mixed with a dash of other-worldliness makes for a fun read.

Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It, by David M. Ewalt

I think the key part of the title is the word “people”. Dungeons & Dragons has been around in various editions for over 40 years now, and a great many people, boys and girls, men and women, have played it. That is not just rhetoric. In my days I have played with people ranging from 8-45ish, with about as many females as males. The stories I could share! But won’t, since we are here to talk about this book.

Ewalt sets out to show the evolution of the game, and more importantly highlight some of the people who have both played it and shaped it over the decades. He accomplishes this in an approachable manner. That being said, this isn’t for everyone. It is probably too specific for the general reader, although it does work well for a casual fan, or someone just wanting to learn more about what the big deal is. For hardcore players, it might be a little light. I enjoyed it, so there is that.

Street cred.
Street cred.

The Child Thief, by Gerald Brom

Speaking of Dungeons & Dragons…Brom first came to real prominence as an artist for D&D products, notably the Dark Sun line. His gothic fantasy art has since appeared in many places. I even have a signed print at home. He has also delved a bit into writing, and this book is one of the results of that.

It is a retelling of Peter Pan. A thoroughly un-Disneyfied retelling of Peter Pan. Brom creates such a dark, immersive version of Neverland that when the characters return back to New York near the end it is jarring. This is not a children’s book by any means. It also features terrific color illustrations, bringing the varied cast to vivid life. And if you want something even more dark, track down Brom’s The Plucker, a book about toys that will give you chills.

Strata, by Terry Pratchett

In my youth I was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club (thanks, Mom!), and got my hands on lots of great books. One of these was Strata, which I really liked, but didn’t make me read more by Pratchett, because he was still largely unknown at the time. Years and years later I finally got into his Discworld books, and belatedly realized this was the same guy. Indeed, Strata is sort of a precursor to Discworld.

The main character is a woman named Kin, who works on terraforming planets. A neat little side bit is how these workers hide out-of-place artifacts in these new worlds they are creating. Anyway, Kin gets pulled into what is essentially a hunt for buried treasure, and winds up on a flat Earth, where she encounters what seem to be actual magical creatures. Uncovering the secrets is delightful, both for her (in the end, when she is no longer in danger of being killed), and for the reader.

By the way, the book club still exists.

This image makes sense. Trust me.
This image makes sense. Trust me.

The Short-Timers, by Gustav Hasford

You might not have ever heard of the book, but you probably have the movie. This is another book, much like Strata above, that I read  eons ago and then rediscovered much later. The book is based off of Hasford’s experiences in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. The title refers to those troops who are nearing the end of their deployment.

There are three main sections to the novel, covering boot camp, the Tet Offensive, and finally an encounter with a sniper. The book is raw and honest. The title really comes into play at the end, giving the events an even more tragic feel.

The movie version was done by some guy named Kubrick, and is titled Full Metal Jacket. The movie is not as different from the book as one might think, considering the director, and maintains the same feel as the novel throughout. I had originally read the book before the movie was made, and then saw the movie with no idea it was based on source material I had read, so that was a fun “hey, wait a minute…” film going experience.

Under A Graveyard Sky, by John Ringo

Yeah, so, zombies. I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Ringo’s books over the years, notably his Posleen series, so I was first a bit hesitant to pick up his take on zombies. Obviously I did go ahead and read it, and am glad I did. One thing that interests me with zombie books is the different approaches to them that authors take. In this case, Ringo clearly set out to create a more plausible and realistic zombie scenario, and he succeeded admirably.

This book is set in the real world, if you will, and centers around a former paratrooper named Steve and his family. Forewarned that a biological disaster was occurring, he is able to get his well-prepared family onto a boat. Not only do they survive the initial outbreak, but they eventually start leading rescue and recovery efforts. There are four books in the series, with an anthology volume on its way, so plenty of zombie mayhem is to be had.

As for the setup, these zombies are much more akin to the infected in 28 Days Later than to the more classic Romero zombies. Ringo envisioned how they could come to be, and then extrapolated that out to how they would act both short and long term, and he did it well. I also appreciated that the characters are well versed in zombie lore, even though they are fully aware that these are not actually zombies.

In the end, if you like zombie books, or perhaps even militarily themed books, you’ll like this. If not, you’ll probably want to pass.

Spoiler: none of the story actually takes place in a graveyard.
Spoiler: none of the story actually takes place in a graveyard. And wait, is that a wolf? Who chose this image?

Tigerman, by Nick Harkaway

I’m a big fan of Harkaway, and Tigerman did not disappoint. The setting is the island of Mancreu, a former British colony, and the site of an ongoing ecological anomaly disaster. Sergeant Lester Ferris is the last official British presence on the island, and he serves as a sort of unofficial police officer. Along the way he befriends a curious 12 year old called Robin, who is a big fan of comic books. This comes in handy, because when various world powers try to use Mancreu’s unique lawless status in order to do naughty things, Ferris has to become a hero to stop them.

This actually starts out innocently enough, as Robin helps him create a costume that he can use to unofficially investigate a theft. Things get out of hand, of course, in part thanks to video footage of his exploits getting onto the Internet, and Tigerman is born. This is a great rollicking adventure story, and one that asks some interesting philosophical and ethical questions as well.

Okay, well, I never know how to end these things, so I’ll just remind you to keep reading what you love to read, and every now and again try reading something else.