There's a lot to explore in the field of autism, and Silberman did a yeoman's effort for a complete layperson. There are so many misconceptions -- sucThere's a lot to explore in the field of autism, and Silberman did a yeoman's effort for a complete layperson. There are so many misconceptions -- such as the idea that "autism" is a single diagnostic entity, or that there is some explosion in people with autism, or that vaccines (or GMOs or gluten or the pseudoscience du jour) causes autism. So the idea that there could be a book to systematically explore autism and related topics was deeply appealing. However, this is not that book. Silberman's work is so uneven that it's hard to even analyze as a single volume. There are very intently focused parts (mostly, the history of Asperger, and the way in which he isn't a Nazi) and very shallowly explored parts. The use of illustrative individual case histories is helpful, but with such a shallow lens, people blend together.
Some key topics that Silberman touches on will be very interesting to people who have not been previously exposed to the issues: the fact that the autism spectrum is and has always been a spectrum; the intrinsic nature of autism to the personality of autists and the embracing of autism by many adult autists; the idea that "autism" is not necessarily a disorder, but that in many cases is a personality style that could be embraced and that the increased incidence of autism is almost completely accounted for by changing diagnostic criteria. Most of these topics have been widely explored elsewhere, and perhaps the most interesting: neurodiversity, is giving only glancing treatment by Silberman. Overall, the history portions were interesting and well done, and the rest would have benefited from more exposure to the topic....more
I guess the best thing I can say about Divergent is that it's not quite as dumb as I thought it would be. In conclusion, not everyone is only Brave, SI guess the best thing I can say about Divergent is that it's not quite as dumb as I thought it would be. In conclusion, not everyone is only Brave, Smart, Kind, Selfless OR Honest, it's just that everyone agrees that only one of those choices is the highest priority, except for Mary Sue Tris (and (view spoiler)[Her mother, her boyfriend and a bunch of other random people (hide spoiler)]) who wants to be selfless and brave. Also, these are very narrowly defined, so if you want to be Selfless, you have to be so selfless that you don't even look at yourself in a mirror or wear anything other than gray and if you want to be brave you have to engage in physical combat, live in a compound built of precarious ledges, jump on to moving trains and get tattoos. There is no other way to be brave. Also, apparently society fractured this way to prevent violence and murder never exists anymore because...reasons.
So, yes, super dumb premise. I did like the idea of people self-segregating into value-based societies that are more important than vertical relationships, though. It was kind of fun to explore and I wish it had been filled out a little more to discuss in parallel the way that the internet and class distinction is segregating people by political belief in actual real life.
Also, the book was readable and fast-paced, even though kind of nothing happened. But I won't be moving on to the next book (unless I also find that for $2 at the used bookstore): I found none of the characters to be more than caricatures and I don't have a lot of faith that the world building isn't going to sucl.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
What a satisfying, scientific tale. Walter Alvarez of the eponymous "Alvarez Hypothesis," the hypothesis that a large impact caused the mass dinosaurWhat a satisfying, scientific tale. Walter Alvarez of the eponymous "Alvarez Hypothesis," the hypothesis that a large impact caused the mass dinosaur extinction could have written many different types of books about his work. This is a deeply humble book that seems to be equally about How To Do Good Science as it is about the deeply fascinating scientific work that Alvarez has done.
The story is just so freaking cool -- both the human and geologic aspects. How could we possible understand what happened to the planet 65 million years ago? Alvarez, as a postdoc, sets out to Italy looking for evidence of plate tectonics by measuring magnetic drift, as anticipated if a plate shifted rotationally. Instead, he finds that the magnetic data from his region is too poor to pick up such subtle changes and he can only detect magnetic reversals. Then he realizes that the particular region he picked happens to have other clues in the rock bed (forams) that can be used to date magnetic reversal events, which has never been done before. However, forams were living organisms, and in the process of using them for dating, they noticed an abrupt boundary of absence of large forams, consistent with a mass extinction. Each step along the way is so nicely laid out -- not the way the lay public views science: hypothesis, easy test, confirm results, new hypothesis, the end!. But the real way: totally different hypothesis, interesting observation, new hypothesis, accidental discovery, new hypothesis, need to invent a brand new assay, and endless repeats. To do their work they ended up inventing new ways of performing neutron activation analysis, blowing up the conventional geologic belief in uniformism, rather than catastrophic events and discovering potentially periodic impacts on the earth (the downside to an old book -- the 1997 view of the Nemesis star has largely been discredited, but the discrediting was nearly a decade of work for the astronomy community and has led to new interesting hypotheses about the solar system)
Alvarez is deeply humble about his role in all of this, instead highlighting the many multidisciplinary collaborations he was engaged in with his work. That's another great facet to the book, to hear about all of the geologists, astronomers, paleontologists, archeologists and oceanologists involved. He also discusses the false roads they go down (they only discovered extraterrestrial material in the first place because they had a hypothesis that a nearby supernova was responsible for the mass extinction, a theory they nearly published due to bad data) and circles back when the evidence that pointed them one way later gets solved by something else -- like the shocked quartz that suggested an oceanic impact, which were later explained by secondary impact from debris. Finally, in what turns out to be a prescient move, instead of criticizing his main rival, who believed in a volcanic theory of extinction, Alvarez confirms that there is evidence to support the involvement of volcanic activity at the Declan traps in the extinction event, which would not become part of the mainstream wisdom until 18 years after the book was published.
There are only two major downsides to this book: one is the first 33 pages of front matter about the story as we know it and how science works is relatively dry -- Alvarez should have jumped in with his personal story and then circled back. The second is that 19 years have passed since publication and new discoveries have been made -- read with google handy!...more
On the one hand, Gladstone has created something entirely unique, here: a magico-legal thriller about apotheosis set in a steampunk theocracy. So far,On the one hand, Gladstone has created something entirely unique, here: a magico-legal thriller about apotheosis set in a steampunk theocracy. So far, so good. I love a lot of the little touches: the Seril/Justice story in particular is extremely well-done, as is his handling of the workings of magic. I found the wry humor in several parts charming. Gladstone's characters are a little thin, but well-loved and the ensemble cast overall works well. On the one hand, the ruse of "character X is so naive, I have to tell them about setting point Y" is over-used and very obvious; on the other, it gets the reader up to speed quickly on the (really lovely) world-building.
However, there are some books one can only get through on a plane. This is one of them. Gladstone shifts perspectives approximately once every 2-3 pages and it's completely jarring. This is especially true because there is so much world-building that the reader has to keep in mind, that to remember "OK, she's using the Craft for which she needs her special knife and blah-glyph and there are clouds, so it will be less powerful" for long enough to get back to the scene where that information is relevant is difficult.
I *might* read more books from the series, but only if the perspective-shifting is substantially better -- it's too bad, because it does overwhelm the otherwise good writing....more
It's January, and I'm already off my fiction/non-fiction schedule, but it's OK: I have an excuse! I have writing a major grant and I need something waIt's January, and I'm already off my fiction/non-fiction schedule, but it's OK: I have an excuse! I have writing a major grant and I need something warm, comforting and relaxing to support me through and I've been saving Enchanted Glass for just such an occasion. Enchanted Glass is the last book that Diana Wynne Jones wrote before she died, and DWJ is, of course, my favorite.
In the process of reading this, I ended up enumerating all of the DWJ books and plots to one of my friends, which I think helped me appreciate EG -- it has several of the key themes of her life's work: Andrew's memories of childhood are fuzzy; many adult authority figures are untrustworthy -- not that they don't believe in magic, but that they're straight malevolent; people are embodiments of mythical or fictional characters (in this case, Oberon -- cleverly calling himself "O. Brown", Titania, Mab and Puck.) It's nostalgic and it certainly filled the niche I was looking for.
On the downside, it felt raw to me. Plotlines drop, which I can't remember from any other DWJ book; there are some very jumpy parts and the beginning drags somewhat. Fans of DWJ will overlook it, but objectively, unfortunately, it's not that good....more
The first thing to say is that I'm someone with a relatively hypoplastic sense of humor. Very little makes me laugh out loud, and I usually find the iThe first thing to say is that I'm someone with a relatively hypoplastic sense of humor. Very little makes me laugh out loud, and I usually find the idea of comedy kind of intimidating, because I never know if I'm finding it as funny enough. But even for someone as humor-stunted as myself, Yes Man is quite funny. Ever wonder what would happen if you said yes to the random pan-handlers, and spam e-mailers and signature-collectors and advertisements and dozens of other offers we're bombarded by? The idea is so simple, and Wallace has a beautifully dry sense of humor.
The other promise -- that I would find Yes Man insightful or thought-provoking -- didn't pan out, though. As a woman trying to make my academic career work I get the opposite advice, all the time: "Learn to say no." And Wallace did nothing to convince me that I shouldn't be working harder on not stretching myself too thin. Would it be fun to spontaneously go to Singapore? Yes. Can most people handle the major work, family and financial consequences to more spontaneity? Probably not. I had a lot of second-hand anxiety about Danny's financial straits when reading...maybe for independently wealthy mid-twenty somethings emulating this experiment is possible, but for the rest of us, taking out and using dozens of credit cards is more nightmarish than a life lesson.
Finally, the first half had an affected naivete that was neither interesting, nor convincing. We all know Nigerian princes offering millions of dollars is a scam. Say "yes" if you feel you have to, but it's tedious when you pretend to believe that there is anything real to the situation.
Overall, I found the book light and fun, but I was happy it was him and not me....more
You know how sometimes the end can completely ruin the rest of a book? It's like that, only in this case, it's really the entire second half slowly prYou know how sometimes the end can completely ruin the rest of a book? It's like that, only in this case, it's really the entire second half slowly prepares you for the way the ending is a fizzle.
I started Find Me knowing that it's ranking on goodreads was awful. But it sounded so freaking cool, that I had to do it anyway. In fact my to-read notes were: "A woman immune to the impending amnesia-plague uses it as a chance to rewrite her life, but supposedly it's terrible?" As billed. OK, that's not fair: the first half was far from terrible. In fact, while I don't think even the first half would have wide-based appeal, I thought it was fantastic: just a touch of surrealism, beautiful language, The central discourse --the interconnection of current self and the people we've been in our lives; how memory matters (or doesn't) and whether we choose to be who we are or are shaped -- was interesting and I felt van den Berg really had a lot of new ideas on this well-worn topic and certainly a new way of showcasing. A side note on "beautiful language:" I think there's a fine line between "lyrical" and "purple prose" and often the more beautiful the language is purported to be, the less I like this book; van den Berg steers well-clear of this problem. She is a master of English. Her sentences are gorgeous, thought-provoking and clear. They build her story, rather than detract from them. It's honestly the only reason I finished part two -- she's truly superlative.
The second half, though, is rough. It's basically a travelogue through the post-apocalypse, although just how apocalyptic is kind of unclear. The problem is that without a solid plot to support everything else, the surrealism and existentialism become overwhelming and repetitive. This part both drags and is actively painful to read. I kept hoping it would get better, but it doesn't: it just ends, all of a sudden, after completely abandoning narrative and leaving a very surreal passage. I'm not even totally sure what happened in the end....more
This book is some brilliant ideas executed quite poorly. In trying to be a literary thriller, Descent really succeeds at neither genre. Nonetheless, iThis book is some brilliant ideas executed quite poorly. In trying to be a literary thriller, Descent really succeeds at neither genre. Nonetheless, in this failure, which is his debut novel, Johnston brings some rather unique ideas.
The bad news first: this is yet another abduction/serial sexual predator novel. Why is this even a thing that exists? Also, stranger abduction practically never happens in real life, which makes the profusion of novels on the topic extra strange. But further, this novel doesn't really spend much time on the abduction. I came to the novel having seen it compared to Gone Girl, so I thought it was a mystery and tried to read it as such -- paying attention to all the details. Unfortunately, that way lies utter madness: there simply is no conclusion to the vast majority of storylines. Why is Grant missing two fingers? Who was the alleged rapist that grabbed a ride with Sean and whatever happened to him? Why was Sean also called Dudley? What happened to Angela after Faith died and was the story she told the real story of the drowning? None of these questions have clear answers, except maybe the first (he was drunk, the end.) and the last (yes, apparently, as billed.) Even the idea of this novel as an exploration of a family after tragedy falls flat as Angela's story gets dropped completely after only two chapters, and Grant and Sean's stories don't really come together until they settle in with the Kinneys. Finally, as many reviewers have already noted: you can either feature multiple timelines or multiple narrators, but not both, especially when you refer to your protagonists only by gender 95% of the time.
The good news: there are so many cool ideas here. Johnston really wanted to look at the shockwaves of tragedy and the idea of vignettes of separate coping mechanisms had potential. I loved the idea to make it seem like the story of the "every-man" by referring only to characters as "the girl" or "the boy" and this was one of the most successful themes as it carried through also into Caitlyn's dissociative episodes in which she was watching someone else narrate her story. Johnston is also very into the idea of good luck, bad luck and religion as a result of experiencing bad luck, and this came through strongly, if heavy handedly, with nice parallelism with the story of Angela and Faith as well as the Kenney brothers.
Overall, a fairly weak and not very enjoyable novel, but an ambitious one. I will definitely consider reading his second effort....more
Let's recap briefly: Rainbow Rowell wrote a book (Fangirl) about what it was like to be a Big Name Fan and in order to capture this experience she madLet's recap briefly: Rainbow Rowell wrote a book (Fangirl) about what it was like to be a Big Name Fan and in order to capture this experience she made up a fictional Harry Potter series, which the protagonist of Fangirl wrote a fanfic about. Then, Rainbow Rowell decided to actually write this fictional Harry Potter series, which is Carry On. Meta'ed out yet?
But, honestly, this kind of makes sense, because the Simon Snow snippets were the best part of Fangirl. Rowell is nothing if not wicked clever, and it shines the most in the way that she used the fact that everyone knows and understands Harry Potter to include huge swathes of background in a couple of paragraphs, which gave her inversions and subtle changes context. One of the coolest feats of literatures someone's pulled off in awhile, but I was worried that it was not particularly sustainable in a stand-alone novel.
Good news, bad news? The way in which Harry Potter provides a context and background to Carry On is probably the strongest part. The whole book exists in a dialogue with Harry Potter and the two most interesting themes of the novel grow from here: 1. Doesn't it kind of suck to be a mage in a magical/muggle world? The way HP is set up, you can only be a wizard if you're a wizard (you don't get the basic education required to be anything else.) What if you want to be a doctor or a mathematician or a chef in a big restaurant? Suck to be you: wizarding world or bust. But in the HP world, no one discusses this. Rowell actually explores this concept and how much magic destines people. 2. If you're a mage in a magical/muggle hybrid world, and you get to go to magic school, the rest of life is a downhill slog of hiding and never being around your people. Another thing Rowell does great is evoking the culture and community of teenagers and it's really on show here: the sadness of graduation is clear in a way that Rowlings did not succeed at. 3. I love the loyal opposition. That you can be boyhood enemies and play kid games, but if there's going to be a war and its going to be real, how does that change and mature your enmity. Because so much of childhood opposition is the loyal opposition: the person you depend on to antagonize you and play the foil. So, cool. This part is fun.
Bad news: The book reads like Harry/Draco fanfiction. Not that I read fanfiction (only pro-singularity propoganda, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.) But still. So still some good news, in that those of us who have spent the last 14 years and 7 books growing to love the Harry Potter characters will be invested off the bat. But on the downside, very little actually happens. Literally, the first 20% of the book is HarrySimon wandering around HogwartsWatford looking for Baz. The majority of the rest is Simon and Baz mooning at each other. Also, it reads to me like Cath actually wrote it, i.e. that it was written by an 18 year old girl: Is falling in love with your sworn enemy actually a thing that happens in real life? Just one minute you're fighting and the next you're swooning and then a second later you're "snogging"? OK... Also, I talk a lot. I think in words. I need to talk to process my thoughts. My friends get sick of hearing me think out loud. Both the thinking and the talking. I get told "most people don't think that much; they just do" a lot. In Rainbow Rowell's world, I am both basically selectively mute and impulsive. Her characters talk about everything always and at length (usually sounding like self-important teenagers in their word choice and punctuation.) I have never in real life met someone who articulates quite so many thoughts, and definitely not a 17 year old boy who does so.
Finally, despite having read approximately 20 pages of Baz's thoughts on Simon's hair, I still have no idea why they actually like each other in anyway. (Besides the hair. It seems easier to have your boyfriend wear a wig than to date your sworn enemy because he has nice hair.)
So, in conclusion, its a fun romp, with interesting commentary on the world of Harry Potter and school fantasy in general, and it's the only book you'll ever read that's a fictionalized version of a fanfic of a fictional novel, so there's that....more
Here's the thing: the first third of this book is absolutely swoon-worthy. I loved Cath's entry into cOh, Fangirl. I almost hate to write this review.
Here's the thing: the first third of this book is absolutely swoon-worthy. I loved Cath's entry into college. So much resonated so well: The slow development of a friend, then a couple friends, then a whole social world. Her fear of the cafeteria. The way that casual acquaintances such as that-friend-of-my-roomate can insidiously become close friends. The way that casual acquaintances can become all of a sudden close friends through platonic one-night stands. The juggling of the academic expectations with all of the other life expectations that blossom in college. All of these things Rowell depicts so well and the nostalgia was so strong and so sweet. My only criticism of this first third was that to be true to my experience, I would have loved to see fandom depicted in Cath's real life: my undergrad timeline with regard to Harry Potter was slightly different than Cath's with Simon Snow (Order of the Phoenix came out between my sophomore and junior years, Half-blood Prince the summer after undergrad and Deathly Hallows on my first call of medical school) but nonetheless, being a Harry Potter fan and an all around geek was a major part of my in-person social life in undergrad. Despite this small criticism, though, I was a major fan(girl) of the first third -- easily one of the best college-life books I've ever read.
Then, everything changed -- yucky romance plot! To be fair, I adore epic platonic stories; I crave platonic relationships in literature; I'm basically the inverse of a shipper in that I was deeply, personally invested in the platonic relationship between Cath and Levi. Deep, important platonic relationships between (straight) men and women are almost never depicted in literature, so when they are and they're positive, I horde them. Therefore, I wanted to cry when Rowell put them together, and my love for Fangirl never recovered. After my adoration for and identification with the Cath of the first third, I literally felt personally betrayed by their relationship. And when I recovered from that emotional reaction, I still felt that the last two thirds was lacking the magic of the first.
-Reagan is basically the best character ever. Nuanced, assertive, abrasive but caring -- basically the person I wish had been my undergrad roommate. She is virtually absent after her reaction to Cath and Levi getting together -Levy is just not that interesting as a romantic interest. He's too perfect and featureless. -Wren frustrates the heck out of me. Not the character, but her depiction. It is so shallow -- she reads like an Afterschool Special on the risks of drinking. Not interested!
I did like the Simon Snow bits, and I really enjoyed the snippets of Carry On, Simon. I love the technique of snippets of a book within a book, left for the reader to fill in the details. Also, after some discussion with Jon, I liked the way that Cath's major writing assignment was dropped for hundreds of pages to jump in again and punch her in the face -- my anxiety about its absence was a pretty visceral recollection of what having a major assignment like that was like in my own life. Probably not a pleasant writing technique, though.
I can't help but recommend this to people -- the first third was so freaking good, but don't be me! Stop at page 150 and imagine how amazing the rest could be....more
I almost gave up on this book when I realized that there was (view spoiler)[magic (hide spoiler)]. It seemed like cheating -- I loved Broken Harbor foI almost gave up on this book when I realized that there was (view spoiler)[magic (hide spoiler)]. It seemed like cheating -- I loved Broken Harbor for its grittiness and realness and I was worried that would be lost in The Secret Place. But it turned out that for me, the key to really getting Tana French books was embracing the magical realism here. The mental gymnastics I had to do to reach a place where magical realism was okay for me in her books led me to realize that there's a flavor of magical realism in all her books. Not literally, of course, but her books are to traditional murder mysteries the way that magical realism is to traditional fantasy: they aren't about murder, they use crimes as a lens to reflect upon the traits in real life that are difficult to explore in pure "literary" fiction.
And in that context, French is a genius. The Secret Place uses its central mystery to explore the tight friendships of teenage years, and how empowering and close they can be. The four main characters are depicted perfectly, achingly nuanced -- almost like someone that I've known and drifted away from myself. The overall effect was one of extreme, almost overwhelming nostalgia, so much so that the ["br"]>["br"]>...more
Jon billed this to me as a combination of Matilda, a zombie film and Never Let Me Go. Honestly, that's pretty spot on: there's a first part that is baJon billed this to me as a combination of Matilda, a zombie film and Never Let Me Go. Honestly, that's pretty spot on: there's a first part that is basically a zombie in the Matilda-genre, followed by a longer second part of Matilda in the zombie genre.
The whole idea is a really unique take on the zombie genre, and Carey does a great job using a lot of the old standbys of survival horror to set the scene where he can, allowing most of the prose to really focus in on the protagonists. Using an ensemble cast really allows the idea of zombie sentience to sign -- without the point-of-view of Melanie, a lot of what happens in the book would lose its ethical greyness, but without the point-of-view of the humans, the survival drive would not be felt as well, either. The five characters and their relationships between each other really complement each other nicely. By using zombies, rather than a brand new concept of some sort, Carey frees up a lot of time to focus on the existential (or as he calls them, ontological) ideas of the novel: what makes a being a person, what is free will, what people owe to humanity.
Finally, the science, as far as I could tell (not being a mycologist) was very nicely done. It's rare to find science fiction that actually hits science and is simultaneously interesting. I don't think that using Ophiocordyceps isn't a unique idea (I assume -- given that Ophiocordyceps species that actually exist are already called "Zombie Fungus"; I don't actually do zombie usually) but the details that Carey adds, were interesting, plausible, and added to the plot. My one nitpick is regarding the final piece: (view spoiler)[that vertical transmission of Ophiocordyceps results in children who are neurologically intact was something I'd guessed from about 25% of the way in, if not sooner, so I don't really think discovering it justifies dissecting children. Caldwell was depicted as a brilliant scientist, who only did the necessary harm, but that really fell flat for me at the end. Yes, it was just a hypothesis, but her dissection didn't really expand beyond the hypothesis in any way, and an MRI of Melanie's brain would have been just as good. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
So there's a genre of book about a child protagonist who has one (or many) precocious quirks. And it sounds like it would be too twee to be acceptableSo there's a genre of book about a child protagonist who has one (or many) precocious quirks. And it sounds like it would be too twee to be acceptable, but somehow I'm addicted. And in the same vein as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet we have 100 Sideways Miles. Finn Easton measures time in the distance the Earth has traveled in its orbit (20 miles/second), makes frequent references to the Knackery, and refers to his seizures as "blanking out." And he is so real and so endearing that it never feels twee.
The central premise of the book is one giant metaphor for coming of age: Finn's father, the famous writer Michael Easton, wrote a book about aliens that come to Earth through Lazarus Doors and used Finn's name for the protagonist, as well as several of his physical characteristics (his :|: scar from when a horse landed on him, his heterochromia) and personality quirks. Only these aliens are Not Human. Finn is not sure whether he is a real person or just an alien from his father's book -- and on a greater level is trying to figure out whether he's normal and how he fits into the world. I'm a sucker for a coming of age story, and this one is done well. (For no good reason, a huge network in my hippocampus is dedicated to recognizing Night Journey stories -- a coming of age genre made up by my high school English class that doesn't exist in the real world.)
Finally, it's worth noting that there are few books that allow characters of color to have a narrative of their own that doesn't revolve around their ethnicity. Julia Bishop is a refreshing counterpoint as a character of color, who's allowed to develop her own personality and her own story. ...more