Friday, December 28, 2007


Author: Frank Herbert
Published: 1965

I love this book. Every time I read it, I realize what I missed before, what I didn't remember, and what I learn anew. The world Herbert created is just fantastic, insanely detailed.

I love my copy of this book. Original paperback. In time it will fall apart. I should treat myself to a nice hardcover version; then again I would miss holding it close while reading, like my very own copy of the OC Bible.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

American Gods

Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: 2001

Excellent novel. The conceit of gods being brought to America by the immigrants from around the world is done perfectly. I continue to be amazed by how well this English bloke portrays American characters and the landscape and culture of the U.S.

I must address an issue as it was raised in the other blog and for better or worse stuck in my mind as I read American Gods. Is this a better book than Anansi Boys? I'm going to punt and say it is a different book.

In my humble opinion (I don't claim to be very good at analyzing or even reviewing books) Anansi Boys was a much lighter tale. Intended or not by the author, it seemed to have a lot more humor and, despite the dangerous situation one of the boys finds himself in near the end, I never felt like any of the characters faced serious threats at any time.

In American Gods, however, the entire enterprise seemed very grave. There was a point maybe mid-way through the novel when I thought not only may all of these 'good guys' wind up dead, they may even lose! The tension is maintained from beginning to end.

Hard for me to say, therefore, that one was better than the other since I enjoyed reading both of them but for different reasons.

I will risk wading into analytical waters. I think from a technical perspective, Anansi Boys is better written. This shouldn't be too controversial, the novel is four years removed from American Gods after all.

The earlier book seemed to have a lot of passive sentences in the early going. There were also a lot of actions by characters that seemed to just take up space rather than move the story along or better defining the characters. At one point I wondered how many more times Odin was going to excuse himself to use the bathroom. Maybe I'm missing something in those moments but I found myself thinking "Okay, let's move along now."

But these are minor points. American Gods is an excellent read.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Against The Day

Author: Thomas Pynchon
Published: 2006

The man can write, no question. After over a year of stalking then slogging through the latest by Pynchon, I have to cry 'Uncle'. I made it through about 325 pages, but to quote the famous line from Engineer Scotty: "I canna take na more!"

Beautiful prose, incredibly researched. The tipping point came on a paragraph describing the steeple of a church in some remote, Colorado town at the turn of the 20th century where one of the characters was getting married. An entire paragraph on the steeple. I got the sense that Pynchon not only could clearly see that steeple but probably knew how the paint was made and had background notes regarding the life of the backstage character who cut down the tree for the freakin' wood!

Beautiful. Exhausting. I give. Maybe I'll finish it some later time in my life.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Anansi Boys

Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: 2005

From published reports and reviews, I expected no less than perfection. Expectations were met.

As I predicted, Gaiman is the kind of author who makes me want to give up writing because there is just no point, is there? My efforts will fall short and besides he's here on earth, writing these things which means that people need not seek out more entertaining, witty, hilarious works because such works don't exist.

On the other hand, as one can tell from the Wikipedia entry, Mr. Gaiman is a renaissance-dude multimedia rock star. It's like trying to compare one's 21st century made for late-night television infomercial handy gadget with the efforts of Da Vinci.

Best not to think about it and just continue on one's way.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Housing The Airship

Author: Architectural Association
Published: 1989

Very nice oversized book with beautiful photos and diagrams. The features of sheds, the term used for constructing and housing airships, are described in detail.

The styles varied widely within and between countries as engineers explored different functional ways to contain the mammoth dirigibles. The photos, many full and two-page, all in black and white, show the scale of these enormous vehicles.

Very cool.

Friday, October 5, 2007

How We Talk

Author: Allan Metcalf
Published: 2000

Covering accents and curious local terms, Metcalf conducts a tour of the U.S., region by region. Also has a section on ethnic accents and slang, and also how well, or poorly, accents are portrayed in the movies.

Among the interesting facts, I learned why nearby Woods Hole is called a hole (term for a bay or channel), what Southerners mean by butter bean, and how the milk shake got the name 'kabinet' in Rhode Island (just be sure to ask for a frappe in Massachusetts if you want ice cream in it).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lighter Than Air

Author: David Owen
Published: 1999

An illustrated history (lots of pretty pictures). A few technical tidbits and pointers to contemporary airship companies, most of which have since gone bankrupt.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Airship

Author: Basil Collier
Published: 1974

Very dry account of the history of airships. At times, it goes into excruciating detail, especially in accounts of airships used by Germany in both World Wars.

In a sense, very objective and academic, but in no way tells a story about the craft. Useful for some technical data, but very much outdated info.

Friday, September 21, 2007


Author: Pete Jordan
Published: 2007

Very cool memoir by a very lazy man. Pete Jordan gets into dishwashing (aka suds busting or pearl diving) because it requires little training or thought, he gets free food, and he can quit whenever he wants to.

He sets himself a challenge to wash dishes in all fifty states of the U.S. Along the way with his 'zine, he learns about the proud role dishwashers have had in forming unions in U.S. history and fighting for workers' rights. Not to mention the various celebrities who have busted suds on their way up the ladder of fame.

The descriptions of the 'Wash Tub Buffet' might leave some queasy. His lack of work ethic is extreme, but is balanced by a very thoughtful set of plongeur ethics. In the end, he works as hard as any one, and discovers a place where he is over qualified for the simple task.

Green Plastics

Author: E. S. Stevens
Published: 2002

There is a lot of science in this book. Skimming those sections is okay. The point still comes across that plastic materials can be made not only biodegradeable but also compostable. What is required is markets and the will.

Interesting to learn that the problem with plastics is not their feedstock necessarily, although the petroleum, natural gas, and coal are limited resources. The toxicity of the stew is due to the additives included to make the plastic stable and durable. The danger of leaching later is compounded by the difficulty to recycle some plastics due to the additives fouling the plastic stew during reprocessing.

Stevens makes the point that current plastics are simply over-engineered for their purpose. A sandwich bag doesn't need to last 50-100 years. Some applications for plastics could be re-engineered right now to starch based products which have very short shelf lives.

And corn starch is, as of the writing, the cheapest and therefore most economically viable option. I thought I had read about problems composting corn starch, but searching around proved my memory faulty. This seems to be the way to go in the short term. Some kind of new 'chasing arrows' labeling system is needed though so that mass produced products will have a clear indication of their compostability.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Big Papi

Author: David Ortiz with Tony Massarotti
Published: 2007

About what I expected. Not an in depth analysis of Ortiz' life, but honest and upbeat. The auto/biography (a third of the chapters are by Massarotti) doesn't go into much detail about Ortiz' childhood. It does cover the last three seasons in some detail, and some key at bats over the years.

Good, quick read, especially for a Red Sox fan.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

Author: Samuel R. Delany
Published: 1984

This year I read The Left Hand of Darkness which does well to portray the otherness, for lack of better vocabulary, of a truly alien human culture. Stars In My Pocket ... by comparison is like being in an alien culture. It is like reading an account in English translated from Russian about the gift economy of an aboriginal people. The book describes human beings, but in a culture and technology that is, to paraphrase Clarke, indistinguishable from magic.

This book is mind-blowing.

At times, it is a hard read, the jargon and alien cultural references so thick it is difficult to keep up. There are rewards when the mists lift and the story unfolds further. And several cool moments.

The Story:
Humans mix with aliens on thousands of worlds. Human behavior remains that, elevated and tolerant here, ignorant and violent there. A political struggle is heating up, an entire planet's worth of people are boiled away. Gender references are generically female (e.g. people are referred to as women, a reversal of mankind in a way) and are specified only when the narrator feels the need to clarify his relationship with he or she. Or needs to describe, if you will, the naughty bits.

The heart of the novel is about intense, pure, sexual desire. The two men involved are oblivious to the storm that roils around and ultimately separates them.

Cool moment number one:
In the city of Morgre the tracer cooperative "form the primary advisory council for the domestic and industrial boroughs that govern our complex." The tracers provide vital information about what is going on, past and present, that informs the culture.

They do this by collecting and cataloging the city's trash.

Cool moment number two:
Technology is incredibly advanced, mind-computer interfaces the norm. Passwords are thought out as a string of numbers/words/tastes/smells. At one point, an ancient recorded personality asks to be shut off. The main character hesitates, not knowing the proper sequence to think; tomes of ancient knowledge must be consulted. The personality makes it simple:

Push the off button.

I started reading knowing there was a second book which might have to be read. I finished this knowing I had to read the second book.

Except Delany hasn't finished writing it! It's been 23 years, man. Polish off that puppy!

Friday, September 7, 2007

How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy

Author: Orson Scott Card
Published: 1990

In the first half of the book, a very slim volume and a quick scan/read, there are interesting bits. Some history of SF, the distinctions between SF and Fantasy and why they are important and why, ultimately, they don't matter much. Pleasant to read.

The second half pretty much focuses on how to write, though not as much about how to write SF and Fantasy.

Which brings up the second book (this is a two-for-one bonus post!): Characters and Viewpoints.

Cheryl Mills cautioned me it was quite basic stuff, and it was. A curious choice on Card's part was many (many, many) examples from movies to explain points about writing fiction. Okay book, very much for the beginning writer who does not know the difference between first and third person.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Web Design on a $hoestring

Author: Carrie Bickner
Published: 2003

Nice book on getting a website done well, quickly, and cheaply. This goes against on of my favorite sayings: The job can be done well, quick, cheap. Pick two.

It all depends on how much one charges, doesn't it? Having the tools and skills and organization can certainly get the job done well and fast.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Guatemala, Belize, and the Yucatan

Editor: Huw Hennessy
Published: 2000

Tourist guide on the Mayan areas of Central America. Picked it off the shelf at the library for a quick overview of ancient Mayan culture. Background research for a character in the next novel. Not sure whether to research more, as the list of to-do items is long.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Radio Freefall

Author: Matthew Jarpe
Published: 2007

Google failed me here. I seem to recall a quote from Asimov, something about how all great science fiction stories have a mystery at their heart. But, since I can't locate the quote, it could have been the Dalai Lama who said it for all I can remember.

This much I know. The first half of Radio Freefall, in my opinion, is all about solving the mystery of who done what. The rest is an accelerating roller coaster of conflict resolution. And it's all fun.

Hard science fiction fans should love this book. Cyberpunk fans should love this book. Heinlein fans (I hear) should love this book. With good reason. It's a well written book.

Monday, August 6, 2007

YOU: The Owner's Manual

Author: Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz
Published: 2005

Final book for my summer reading challenge. Information about the body, inside and out, is presented very well with amusing cartoons, side bars, bullet points, and off-beat writing. It has a rather heavy emphasis on vitamin and mineral supplements. Seems like much of the dosage can be gotten through diet. Overall, very good book. I learned a lot.

Now for putting it all into practice.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Yoga Basics

Author: Mara Carrico
Published: 1997

This is book #2 for my three volume summer reading challenge. I've dabbled in yoga and like it, but can't seem to practice consistently. I keep reading books like these to be inspired.

This is well written, very much for the beginner. The pictures are okay. There are a few that show incorrect position which is always helpful for solo practice. The section on breathing is well done. Since this is a library book, I'll have to take some notes.

Friday, July 27, 2007


Author: Emma Bull
Published: 1994

Set in the shared universe of the Borderland, the main character, Orient, has a gift for finding things. This talent gets him drafted into a police investigation. Clues are followed, elves are implicated, innocents die, and the guilty get caught.

This novel followed Bull's Bone Dance which had very clear gender bending issues and themes. With Finder I found the same themes, though more subtle. The main character is male, yet is teased several times for not being a manly-man. Whether this is because of his talent, his friend (female elf), or his borderline emotional stability, is not clear. The cop is a strong female character who is very much in control of her emotions and the investigation. The two have a bit of a fling, yet it is Orient that is left hearbroken. A refreshing change of roles, I must say.

Two books down, two thumbs up. Looks like I'll have to read all the rest by Ms. Bull.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Complete Food and Nutrition Guide

Author: Roberta Larson Duyff
Published: 2006

Published by the American Dietetic Association, and book one of three towards my summer reading goal.* It is a hefty tome, close to 700 pages, and more complete than one might need. But if you are confused about how to navigate through a supermarket, or what appetizers might be a healthy choice in a Greek restaurant, perhaps this is just what you need.

Well written, nice amount of bullets, sidebars, and myth-busting factoids to keep it interesting. One criticism is the book makes the FDA sound like it can do no wrong. So, bring a shaker of salt (just not too much, have to watch sodium intake).

The information on nutrition was interesting and prompted some meal-time changes on my part. We eat healthy anyway, but one statistic worried me. Calcium is good for teeth and bones, we all know that. The body deposits calcium to build those bones and teeth, but only until about age 30-35. Okay, I can deal with being past the deposit stage.

But wait, the body still needs calcium all through one's life. If it doesn't get enough, it starts leaching it out of the bones! Thus, the bones become porous, as in osteoporosis. Thirty years after your bone-account is full, you fall, break your hip, and die.

Um, why didn't someone tell me this in my 20's when I could have been saving more! Back then my fluid intake consisted mainly of beer and coffee! Oh, and by the way, alcohol and caffeine inhibit the body's ability to absorb calcium. Well, I probably wouldn't have listened back then anyway.

So, the lesson for today: Drink your milk, eat your yogurt, and sip your soy smoothies every day!

*The theme of the summer adult reading program at the local library is "Gray's Anatomy". My goal is three books on health, nutrition, and exercise.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

A Stainless Steel Rat Is Born

Author: Harry Harrison
Published: 1985

Packaged in a trilogy for the famous series, this book recounts the beginnings of James DiGriz, intergalactic rogue. Equal parts satire and silliness, the novel was very amusing. What I like about Harrison is he doesn't (in the two books I've read) write hard SF. No explanation of FTL, no excuses for mixing high tech with medieval style societies. It's just plain fun to read.

Maybe that's why I write in a similar way. I want to create something I'd want to read.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Liquid From The Sun's Rays

Author: Sue Greenleaf
Published: 1901

When I visited the Library of Congress I wanted to find a SF book that couldn't be found elsewhere. Liquid From the Sun's Rays is not the first SF book written by a woman, but a very early one that is not in the utopia/dystopia category so popular around the turn of the 19th century. And very obscure (here is the closest relevant link I could find).

The story reminded me of gothic fiction, not because of elements such as horror and ghosts, but more of the many turns of the plot, stock characters who die and re-appear, as well as mysterious events and letters.

I had to read quickly since I had limited time (you cannot take books out of the LOC). The key element was "Memory Fluid" (aka "liquid from the sun's rays") which not only killed all the bad bacteria in one's body (bestowing very long life) but also restored to one all the memories from one's previous lives. This became a problem for someone who in a previous life was known as "The Kansas Plunger", a notorious confidence man who cheated thousands out of their money. The question is, can this man who admits to his past life crimes, be held responsible for them?

Alas, this is not what takes up most of the novel. There is a coup in a former-Mexican state (which has been annexed to the U.S.), issues regarding giving the "Memory Fluid" to anyone else, a strange case of love unrequited, another fluid that allows levitation, and a lot of talk about light, the divine, the universal, past sins, and so on (getting the drift here?)

In the end, the artist-previously-known-as-the-Kansas-Plunger is convicted, but the judge dismisses all charges. Love is still unrequited, some die, some live, and the coup is defeated.

Strange eh? But that is not the most interesting part of this book. The dedication is enough to make one wonder, not only about the novel, but about the author. It read:

"With sorrow in my heart
much pity for the weak
who put obstacles in my path
wishing my life a perpetual
slough of despair
I respectfully dedicate this volume"

Now, tell me there isn't a story behind those sentiments!

Monday, June 18, 2007

This Immortal

Author: Roger Zelazny
Published: 1966

The novel started as a novella with the title ...And Call Me Conrad. The novella shared the Hugo Award in 1966 with Dune (and as much as I like Roger Zelazny, I find that fact astounding, even if there was no separate category for novella back then).

This book is heavy on clever dialogue and big ideas, a little light on plot and character development, and very deep on mythology (much of which went over my head). And with this book, I begin rebuilding my Zelazny collection.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Gone Tomorrow

Author: Heather Rogers
Published: 2005

Subtitled, 'The Hidden Life of Garbage', covers much of the same ground as 'Garbage Land', though with more emphasis on the manipulation by companies to promote disposable items over refillable and bulk purchases. I'm often sceptical of claims of corporate manipulation, mostly based on the fact that we have free will as human beings and if we choose to be lazy and wasteful then bad on us.

For example, this book does document some things like disposable drink containers for which companies make large profits in the U.S. while in other countries in Latin America and Europe, the culture returned to or never gave up refillable containers. Bad on us U.S. citizens for letting it happen. Fixing the problem, on the other hand, could be a challenge since we've ceded so much power to those companies.

On the third hand, there is the whole Keep America Beautiful (KAB) anti-littering cabal, pushing for some 50 (!) years the idea that waste is the problem of consumers, not the companies that create the products. On the fourth hand, aren't we? I mean, if we didn't buy those cute Dora the Explorer bath sets with the toxic-to-the-environment PVC head/body molded around the shampoo bottle, then companies would stop making that crap. On the other hand...

Maybe I should stop now. I'm getting dizzy.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Windows Vista Unleashed

Author: Paul McFedries
Published: 2007

At close to 800 pages, this is not a quick read. Some parts were fun, others rather scary. The only reason to read this book is if one has gotten a new computer. Because Vista just isn't going to be fat and happy on last year's model.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Bone Dance

Author: Emma Bull
Published: 1991

A good read. Felt like I had one foot off the ground for the first half of the book as the protagonist's gender is in question (which is developed in a very interesting way in the second half). Reminded me, strangely enough, of A Fistful of Dollars. Yes, strange association. The similarity is in how Sparrow retreats with broken wings (if you will), heals up, and returns to fight the bad guys. Another author I'll have to read more of.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Garbage Land

Author: Elizabeth Royte
Published: 2005

Something about books about garbage seems to inspire sub-titles. Or perhaps it is just a feature of non-fiction. This book uses "On The Secret Trail of Trash". With it, I seem to be mining, chronologically at least, a wealth of trashy information.

Royte uses (or perhaps better is recycles - did I use that joke already?) Rubbish!* and Waste and Want for sources, as well as the ever present EPA statistics. Better, she gets her hands dirty, following the path each of her waste/recycle streams take. Royte pals along with the san men (term used by the sanitation workers she meets), harrasses corporate waste flacks, visits various recycling companies, and even follows (above ground) the waste pipes to sludge treatment plants.

Just when all this information has me in a mixed state of fired-up-mad and deeply-depressed, Royte flips it all over by reminding readers that municipal solid waste (MSW) makes up only two percent of all trash generated in the United States. Add in a few notes about how recycling may only be making us feel good about all the consumption we do and I'm ready to throw in the towel, almost.

Perhaps the most enlightening fact! is that "... for every 100 pounds of product that's made -- product that hits the store shelves -- at least 3,200 hundred pounds of waste are generated. ... In other words, we throw out stuff just to make the stuff we throw out." p. 239

Kind of makes the whole issue of pounds per person per day (and the supposed increase thereof) rather moot. The book does add fuel to the fire on my opinion of the EPA. Sure, they try and protect the public, but they are also influenced by business. Emphasis is on recycling and reuse. The links on reduction are much more about source reduction of packaging. The only nod towards actually buying less is a link to an outside website, use-less-stuff.

What I took away from this:
- Reduction is much, much better than reuse and recycle.
- Plastic is evil.
- Don't sweat it if the occasional yogurt cup finds its way to the trash can. Or if the odd plastic bag is foisted on you.

*At one point, Royte mentions William Rathje's statistic on the leachate from the Fresh Kills landfill to NY's director of landfill engineering: "Instantly, Gleason turned apoplectic. 'What he did is ... he made it up! It's not a statistic. Rathje studies trash in Arizona!'" p. 95 I guess the book hit a nerve for some people.

! Most depressing was the curtain being lifted on the 'Crying Indian'. The famous commercial was burned into my brain in my youth in the 1970's. That was the spirit of the time, Keep America Beautiful (KAB), clean air and water, recycling, etc. However, KAB was created by beverage and packaging companies. The comercial is clever slight-of-hand to push responsibility from the creators of one-time-use products and and packaging materials onto the users of those products (i.e. those terrible litterbugs). And the Native American in the commercial was really a Sicilian American named Espera DeCorti.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Waste and Want

Author: Susan Strasser
Published: 1999

Long Winded Post. Hang on! :-)

The subtitle of the book is 'A Social History of Trash'. It is very well researched (hundreds of footnotes) and very academic. I can't take issue with most of the facts presented (well, maybe just one). The conclusions may be argued with.

The book covers several centuries of U.S. history with a focus on the late 19th, a time of post-industrial innovation and booming population. An age of innovation and cultural change that has only sped up over the past century. The theme is that our so called throw-away culture and our wants and desires are created and manipulated by corporate advertising (I'm simplifying here but bear with me). Our mounting garbage piles are due to these influences and our current wasteful culture.

I would counter there is evidence that our growing volume of garbage is due almost entirely to our growing population (and computer printers; paper makes up over 40 percent of what is in landfills). More people, more garbage. The problem is not that we make more of it per person than our recent forebears (human beings have always made more garbage than they could recycle and reuse), but that we've done such a poor job of managing it lately. Fortunately, that trend seems to be reversing thanks in part (irony here) to corporate waste management monopolies.

One data point that Strasser highlights at the end of the book is from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This states that the amount of garbage that Americans produce has increased steadily over the past forty years or so to a current level of 4.5 pounds per person per day. What the EPA uses to determine this data is called 'materials flow methodology' and can be found described in an EPA publication which is updated every two years or so.

The problem, I am convinced, is that this methodology is flawed. This was pointed out in the book Rubbish!. The problem is the EPA is estimating what is thrown away based on "... the average lifespan of different products." (pp.17-18 of '2005 Facts and Figures' PDF document). What the Garbage Project found, based on hundreds of samples excavated from landfills in different parts of the U.S., was that products are reused (e.g. garage sales, used goods stores, charity donations, hand-me-downs, refurbished and re-sold) or salvaged (primarily scrap metal) at a far higher rate than the EPA assumes. The Garbage Project had limited but convincing data that the amount of garbage finding its way to landfills in terms of pounds per person per day has been pretty steady and maybe even declined slightly over the past 50 years. The book doesn't state a number as a fact (they're scientists, they say the 'data suggests') but reading between the lines, I come away from 'Rubbish!' with a figure of about 2 pounds per person per day.

In short, I trust the scientists with their grubby hands in the actual garbage flow rather than the bureaucrats with their fancy calculations.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Author: Tobias Buckell
Published: 2007


Expectations can be a problem. The cover and write-ups of this book describe it as taking place in the same universe as Crystal Rain. That was a big, flashing, red signal to me that said 'Not A Sequel'.

And it wasn't, to begin with. New characters to get used to, a plot building and building to a grand crescendo at the middle. And then ...

It's a sequel. Threads are connected. I was a little disappointed in that some previous characters, likeable and well developed, are mentioned but don't appear. Then there are others that are never mentioned. The story of Crystal Rain centers on fighting off the invasion of the Azteca. This is completely undone in Ragamuffin, in a matter of pages.

Ragamuffin is a very good book, and I would guess very accessible to new readers. I'm not one of them. I'll read it again, later, without the baggage.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage

Author: William Rathje & Cullen Murphy
Published: 1992

The book details the work of the Garbage Project at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Very interesting information about the history (U.S. and ancient) of trash, landfills, and the value for archeologists as well as sociologists.

Very glad I read this first (I have a growing list of research on the subject) as it dispels many myths about U.S. consumption, landfills, and their contents which I've run into already in the next book I'm reading. Some things such as:

  • Evidence of trash has accompanied all human activity going back to the dawn of mankind.
  • Contemporary Americans (20th century on) are not that much more wasteful historically than prior generations (and even slightly less wasteful than some under-developed countries).
  • Disposable diapers, the bogeything of trash, make up less than 2% of the contents of landfills.
  • The biggest item in landfills by weight and volume is paper, clocking in at over 40%, which has increased steadily since the advent of computers.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Reading Like A Writer

Author: Francine Prose
Published: 2006

The subtitle of the book is "A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want To Write Them". Less a 'how-to' than a 'how-to-be-mindful', Prose stresses that rules and guidelines are often broken. Her examples lean heavily on the literary, and can be humbling (I've read that example sentence by Samuel Johnson five times and I still don't get it).

I expect, having read this, there will be some 'aha!' moments as I read the work of others. As in, 'Ah! Yes, the flow of the paragraphs, speeding up, slowing down, and that one line like a caught-up breath'. In a way, I've tried to avoid that, thinking it would reduce what I'm reading to more mechanical deconstuction. On the other hand, maybe I could learn something.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Author: Bruce Sterling
Published: 2000

I've had mixed results in reading Sterling. He co-wrote "The Difference Engine" which was okay, but not the earthshaking novel one might expect in collaboration with William Gibson.

Sterling's book "Distraction" suffered, in my opinion, from a right turn in the narrative that left me wondering, and wanting, a U-turn back to the main plot. Never happened.

"Zeitgeist" does a similar turn, but gets back on track, at least enough to have a satisfactory ending. It also has a few laugh out loud moments, all the more surprising and enjoyable as I just didn't expect them based on Sterling's prior work. A good book, and a tip of the hat for his very creepy-prescient mention of the Taliban andOsama bin Laden. Maybe he missed with the rest of the buckshot but boy, did he nail that one.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Lifehacker: the book

Author: Gina Trapani
Published: 2007

The subtitle is "88 Tech Tricks to Turbocharge Your Day". This is the kind of library book I can't resist when it appears in the new releases section. It's a double whammy because it covers tech stuff designed to better manage one's time. Nevermind that most of it I'll never use, and half of it won't work on my aging computer. But I find it fun to read.

The book's website has a lot of links to the Lifehacker site (I guess you could just go there as well) where many of the tips can be found.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Author: Jon Armstrong
Published: 2007

The debut novel by Jon Armstrong, Grey is something else. It's Neuromancer in an Armani suit. It's Romeo and Juliet wrapped in a Clockwork Orange. It's about the ultra-wealthy, the ultra-violent, and the ultra-chic.

I can't wait for Armstrong's next book.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Take Joy

Author: Jane Yolen
Published: 2003

A book about writing by a prolific writer. Best read in small doses; not a primer or a how-to as much as a collection of best-practice and this-works-for-me (Jane, not me).

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Old Man's War

Author: John Scalzi
Published: 2005

After reading the book it is clear why it is popular. Old time space opera with a modern feel and sense of humor. Solid writing joins very good pacing and a knack for twisting what might be mundane (e.g. the names the characters give their BrainPals). Did I mention humor? One particularly nasty culinary alien species with a taste for humans is given a name that brings to mind a currently popular, perky, female who has many cookbooks and cooking shows.

More interesting was how I read the book. The text is in first person, for the most part past-tense. This is what I'm using in my current novel project. However, the text does go into present tense on occasion, notably in the very beginning and end, but also here and there where a description is needed to imply ongoing action or semi-permanence (not the best description, I realize). It would be interesting to go through the book and find all the instances of each tense. All it takes is time...

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Busting Vegas

Author: Ben Mezrich
Published: 2005

Enjoyable detour into non-fiction. A quick read (quick for me anyways, which means a few days), interesting view into gambling, casinos, and a group of MIT students who found a way to win a lot of money at blackjack.

Sunday, April 1, 2007


Author: Terry Pratchett
Published: 1997

A nice tonic (with djinn) after more serious fare. The residents of Discworld are off to war, some with more enthusiasm than others. This is the fourth book I've read by Pratchett, all of them consistently entertaining.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Screwtape Letters

Author: C. S. Lewis
Published: 1942

Originally a series published in a newspaper, the letters are from one demon to his nephew. The uncle advises the younger demon on the best way to tempt a human to doubt the teachings of Christianity. This is one of the few books I put down without finishing (seems to happen more lately than in my youth). Within the velvet glove of the prose is an iron fist of Christian proselytizing. After a dozen chapters I had to throw in the towel.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Salt Roads

Author: Nalo Hopkinson
Published: 2003

Interesting tale that has three main characters, women of African descent, at three different time periods: late 1700's slave plantation in the carribean, late 1800's Paris, and then a real curveball into 300 AD, Middle East. There are also some gods which can take residence in the women. Very well written (I'm not doing it justice here, but then this isn't really an attempt to review books as much as keep track of them). I think it would have been more successful by just focusing on the two main characters without adding in the Middle East. On the other hand, I could be missing the point on that. One caution: contains very racy scenes which may challenge some people.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories

Author: Oscar Wilde
Published: 1887 - 1889

Plenty of wit and hilarity but also, to my surprise, many stories in the fashion of a fable with a moral at the end. Also, quite a few make a stand for the poor and destitute, quite contrary to my impression of Wilde's work.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Bill, The Galactic Hero

Author: Harry Harrison
Published: 1965

Bill is swept up into the galactic army in its fight against the Chingers. Hilarity ensues. Amusing satire bordering on the silly. Reminded me quite a bit of Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.