Good things come in small packages, so the saying goes. Or is that: big things come in small packages? Whatever. The point is that Quidditch Through t...moreGood things come in small packages, so the saying goes. Or is that: big things come in small packages? Whatever. The point is that Quidditch Through the Ages, itty bitty though it may be, is a wonderful addition to the Potter 'Verse. As someone who fell instantly in love with Rowling's (unfortunately fictional) sport, I really enjoyed reading more about the history and evolution of Quidditch, as well as the various teams and the amusing anecdotes regarding the same. My favorite was the story of the Wigtown Wanderers; any team who intimidates the competition by way of meat cleaver has my support. Your mileage may vary, of course, but the best thing about this book, I think, is that every Potter fan will find something to enjoy.(less)
The Gashlycrumb Tinies is a work of utterly fantastic macabre hilarity. It's one of those books yo...more"N is for Neville who died of ennui."
The Gashlycrumb Tinies is a work of utterly fantastic macabre hilarity. It's one of those books you cackle maniacally over while flipping through it after a run-in at the local Mega-Mart with some snot-nosed brat screeching and howling because Mommy wouldn't let him get that ridiculously expensive new toy or some treat with 20,000 grams of sugar.
And it never loses that special ghastly charm. Quick, simple, and simply hilarious, it's enjoyable no matter how many times you revisit it. Because really, even if you're someone who generally adores children, I dare you not to snicker darkly over such abecedarian dactylic delights as: B is for Basil assaulted by bears; and T is for Titus who flew into bits.
I dare you.
Go. Read. Laugh. You won't be sorry. (And if you are, then I implore you, please, venture out and find yourself one of those elusive yet magical things known commonly as a Sense of Freaking Humor.)(less)
The Demon-Haunted World should be, in my opinion, required reading for any literate human being with a modicum of intelligence and the responsibility...moreThe Demon-Haunted World should be, in my opinion, required reading for any literate human being with a modicum of intelligence and the responsibility of being a contributing member of society, especially a society as awash in fantastic claims, pseudoscience, misinformation, and an overwhelming tendency toward credulity as ours.
Thus spake Dr. Sagan. Accordingly, he applies this and other tools of critical thinking at the heart of the scientific process as he examines such phenomena as UFO sightings, alien abductions, crop circles, faith healing, and "channelling", among other various religious and so-called New Age notions. More important, however, than his arguments against the veracity of these claims--some of which may seem outdated to readers after more than a decade since the book's original publication--is that Sagan, drawing on many recognizable influences on the public consciousness, as well as personal experiences with colleagues and acquaintances, draws our attention to the startling variety of ways in which we allow ourselves to be "bamboozled," as he liked to say, by pretty or flashy claims that prey on our hopes, our fears, our desires, and even our deep-seated neuroses.
By demonstrating just how often and how easily so many of us--even those who should really know better--can be led astray from the path of reason, as well as reminding us of the very real dangers (as evidenced by our relatively recent history) of allowing ourselves to slip back into superstition and belief in baseless claims, Dr. Sagan illuminates the reader to the dire necessity for all of us to hone a healthy sense of skepticism. But the aim of The Demon-Haunted World is not only to inform the reader, but also to instruct; in what I believe to be the most important part of the book, the "Baloney Detection Kit", Sagan clearly and carefully delineates the methods of critical analysis, which equips us with the tools to judge the credibility of various claims and phenomena for ourselves.
As someone who was already familiar with these methods, however, my favorite part of Demon-Haunted World was not the Baloney Detection Kit, but the correlations Dr. Sagan drew between the current alien abduction phenomenon and historical accounts of visitation by demons. I literally grew up hearing stories about UFO sightings and alien encounters; as a member of Gen-Y, they're as much a part of my consciousness (whether I like it or not) as McDonald's, AIDS, and the internet. Thus, I've spent rather more time than I would prefer contemplating the idea and drawing my own conclusions about whether or not a bunch of sexually deviant extraterrestrials are really beaming people up and poking around their no-no spots for some nefarious purpose. Yet somehow it never occurred to me that there might be a connection between reports of spacefaring rapists and the incubi/succubi of old, and I'm eager to explore these correlations further, as well as the possible psychological reasons hinted at by Dr. Sagan. I can only hope that he expounded on this idea further in one of his books I've yet to read.
Despite these positive points, though, I must admit that I wasn't all that fond of Demon-Haunted World. At the time, I had recently finished The Varieties of Scientific Experience and Cosmos, both of which instantly achieved status as two of my favorites, so I ventured into reading yet another of the late, great Dr. Sagan's tomes with high expectations. Perhaps for that reason more than any other, I found myself rather disappointed. For me, this book lacked a lot of the awe and majesty of science present throughout Cosmos; instead of his characteristic and inimitable way of presenting science that makes it not only accessible, but also seem like a hell of a lot of fun actually, his tone in Demon-Haunted World conveyed to me a feeling of science being an absolute imperative. And while I agree that science is vitally important, and I share the wish that more people would take an active interest in it, not everyone wants to be a scientist. The world needs historians and writers and musicians and teachers and librarians (etc., etc., etc.) too, Carl. (But I still love you. RIP.)
Furthermore, I was a bit disappointed with his overall tone regarding things like television shows, such as X-Files. First of all, I would like to think that most people are intelligent enough to realize these shows are fiction--nobody is taking X-Files as gospel, okay? Secondly:
"Imagination will often take us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere."
For a man who has previously put so much importance on imagination, Dr. Sagan seems in Demon-Haunted World to have little patience for people actually using theirs. Perhaps, though, I'm overreacting; I do tend to get a little tetchy when people treat, or appear to be treating, fiction as if it has no value. (It does, especially sci-fi and fantasy, but I won't expound upon my arguments here.) So I'll give Sagan the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was not actually attacking fiction and, more specifically, fictional television, as such, but merely focusing heavily (and perhaps even exaggerating) on their more negative aspects in order to make a point about the quality and presentation of science on television at the time.
All in all, though, the intrinsic value of The Demon-Haunted World far outweighs its negative points. I think it's a great book that teaches an important lesson, and I recommend it to anyone who's interested in refreshing or sharpening their critical thinking skills in defense against the outrageous phenomena, corporate consumer propaganda, deliberate dissemination of misinformation, pseudoscience, and general superstition rampant in our society. Actually, come to that, I also recommend it to all the gullible twits who buy that crap wholesale; they're the ones who really need to hone a healthy sense of skepticism.(less)
Vonnegut summarized this book far better than I ever could when he said:
"Find here a major fraction of this stunningly valuable legacy left to all of...moreVonnegut summarized this book far better than I ever could when he said:
"Find here a major fraction of this stunningly valuable legacy left to all of us by a great human being. I miss him so."
As do I.
The Varieties of Scientific Experience is largely a transcription of Professor Sagan's (and he truly deserves that title) 1985 Gifford Lectures, which may sound, to the uninitiated, rather dry and uninteresting. However, as I read this book I found myself wholly engrossed, as if he was speaking directly to me. Not only are his arguments, theories and points for consideration as relevant and evocative today as twenty-five years ago, but Sagan also, in his inimitable way, once again succeeds in relating higher scientific and theological concepts in a way that is both eloquent and accessible to the common person.
Intelligent, insightful and poignant, Varieties is both an entertaining and thought-provoking read. I would recommend it to anyone who, in our increasingly enlightened age, struggles with how to reconcile prevailing religious beliefs, or the desire for spirituality, with what we know to be logical or true through science.(less)
I'm not sure what I could possibly say about Cosmos that hasn't already been said by countless others in the 28 years since its publication, and likel...moreI'm not sure what I could possibly say about Cosmos that hasn't already been said by countless others in the 28 years since its publication, and likely in a far more intelligent and eloquent way than I ever could. But upon recently reading this book for the first time (which may seem a bit belated, but I am, after all, only 23) it instantly became one of my favorites, a status not easily attained by any book, and so I feel compelled to say something, to expound upon its many virtues and why it has endeared itself to me so completely.
"One glance at [a book:] and you hear the voice of another person--perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time."
Perhaps prophetically, this is exactly the effect the late great Dr. Sagan acheived with this book. Through the power and fluid elegance of his prose, while reading Cosmos I could almost hear that familiar and somehow majestic voice (which in large part, I believe, made the PBS miniseries of the same name so wholly entrancing), as if the two of us were old friends having a leisurely, albeit profoundly intellectual, chat over coffee. Not exactly what one might expect from a book largely concerned with science, but this is just one of many qualities that makes it not only endearing to the reader, but also--and perhaps more importantly--accessible, making even the smattering of complex equations seem casual and undaunting.
Aside from the beauty of its prose, which is at times poetic in its depth and its eloquence, Cosmos is also wholly engaging and fascinating in the depth and scope of its subects. Sagan succinctly and expertly covers everything from the birth of stars to the birth of science, the origins of life on Earth to the possibility of life on other planets, and our far distant and recent (in the grand cosmic scheme of things) past to the possibilities for our distant future. And yes, because science is constantly evolving and, as Dr. Sagan states, self-correcting, some of the information and theories covered may now be outdated, but I still believe that Cosmos is well worth reading. Not only can it serve as a friendly, accessible, and engrossing jumping-off point for we common folk who are interested in delving deeper into science but may feel a bit intimidated, it is also, if nothing else, worth reading for the beautifully poignant and evocative insights and the oft-philosophical tidbits contained therein.
"We are the local embodiment of the Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars...."
My only complaints about Cosmos are these: the last two or three chapters lag just a bit, incorporating several topics that seem extraneous and unnecessary, and somewhat lose the smooth, easy flow present throughout the rest of the book; and though I feel that, in the current world political climate, the section discussing nuclear arms is still as relevant today as then, I can't help but think that anybody above the age of 12 and possessing a fully-functioning cerebral cortex is already aware of the potential consequences of nuclear war (gamma burst, radiation poisoning, junk in the atmosphere, nuclear winter, death, doom, destruction, we get it already). However, I can concede on this last point that, at the time of publication, the aftermath of a full-scale nuclear war was perhaps still a pretty hot topic. And in the grand scheme, these negative points make up only a negligible fraction of this otherwise fantastic book, and do not in anyway detract from its intrinsic value or from its overall enjoyability.
All in all, Cosmos is a thoroughly enthralling read that takes you on a breath-taking journey from the inception of the Universe to futures that may never be, and allows us to ponder--when considering our own epic journey from starstuff to "assemblages of a billion billion billion atoms contemplating the evolution of atoms"--what it truly means to be human and what our place, our purpose, is in the vast expanse of "this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky".(less)
I kind of love my coworkers. Some of them. You make one Zombieland reference in the break room and suddenly you're embroiled in a serious discussion...moreI kind of love my coworkers. Some of them. You make one Zombieland reference in the break room and suddenly you're embroiled in a serious discussion about your plans for the zombie apocalypse and trading weapons tips and book recommendations. Of course, I'd already had this book on my "to read" list for quite a while before it was mentioned at the Round Table of Fearless Zombie Killers, but when one of my brothers-in-arms lent me his battered copy (by way of pitching it at my head while I was on a call with a customer, the little shit, I'm tripping him when the zombies come) I no longer had an excuse not to read it, despite the fact that I was already in the middle of reading about four other books. But really, if the zombie apocalypse were to happen tomorrow, what's going to help me--Two Gentlemen of Verona, or this?
The Zombie Survival Guide is a thorough run-down of the best and worst methods of weathering a zombie-related catastrophe, from a short encounter to a years-long siege. It details the ideal terrain, weather conditions, vehicles, fortifications, and most importantly, weapons. There are sections that discuss not only the most effective ways of avoiding the undead legions, but also of eradicating said legions, as well as long-term survival in the eventuality of a post-apocalyptic Crapsack World where the zombies have won. If a non-sentient species can really be said to win anything, as such, but let's not get into that now. The point is that the amount of thought Brooks put into this--the amount of careful, logical consideration of the subject and all its related aspects--is pretty amazing, and even a little mind-boggling. Clearly, Brooks is nerdlier-than-thou.
So imagine my surprise when I happened to glance at the back of this book and noticed that it's listed as humor. Humor? Really? I didn't find anything particularly funny about it, myself. It may contain a few amusing lines here and there, but honestly, I've read funnier throw-away quips in Stephen King novels, which sure as hell aren't categorized thus. Not that there's anything wrong with humor, of course, don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of it, naturally, but this book? Is not it. And I can't help but feel like, in this case, its being listed as humor is a little demeaning to the idea behind a book like this, because it says, "This is something improbable, therefore it is silly and amusing and not to be taken seriously." But what makes it that much different from any other book whose premise is improbable and outlandish and even, maybe, unscientific? Despite what we're apparently meant to believe, this book is science fiction at least, and speculative fiction at best. And personally, I think it's our best bet for not ending up as snacks for a bunch of dead guys with the munchies.
My only problem with this book is that Brooks based the entire work around his fictional zombie virus Solanum, and therefore focused solely on a single type of zombie. If this had been any other book--like his World War Z, for example--I wouldn't have minded, but I happen to feel that, if you're going to call your book the Zombie Survival Guide, you should offer the reader guidance for surviving whatever type of zombie they may, however improbably, face. I mean, maybe I'm asking too much, and probably I should just let the book be without imposing my own inclinations and desires on it, but regardless, I can't help letting it color my opinion of the book. Hence why I adjusted my initial rating from five stars to four. Sorry, Max.
Other than that, however, I can't find much at all wrong with this book. I even enjoyed the "historical" accounts at the end. At first, I thought that section was extraneous and detracted from the non-fiction reference style of the first quarter of the book, but by the time I finished, I'd changed my mind. I like how each story allows for a more detailed example of the principles laid out in the first part of the book. And I thought it was a nice touch how the apparently increasing frequency of zombie encounters over time lends the work a sense of exigence, like this could happen any time--you could wake up tomorrow and find yourself in the zombie apocalypse--rather than just being something amusing to think about.
All in all, the Zombie Survival Guide is an interesting, insightful, and useful read, which I would recommend to zombie enthusiasts everywhere, as well as anyone who hopes to last more than five minutes if and when the End Times come.(less)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is my absolute favorite book of all time.
While the story is set at the turn of the century (1902-1919) and contains many hist...moreA Tree Grows in Brooklyn is my absolute favorite book of all time.
While the story is set at the turn of the century (1902-1919) and contains many historical elements that may feel alien to the modern reader, the message that is subtly and intricately woven into the fabric of the story is one that I feel not only transcends the ages, but also one with which many of us can identify.
The protagonist, Francie, and her family represent the sort of wonderfully complex characters who come alive in the reader's mind as fully as if they were old friends. Detractors say that Francie fits the depressing Pauper archetype, who spends the vast majority of the book being beaten down by her unfortunate circumstances. For me, however, she unfolds into a delightful character who is easy to love; a heroine who strikes a delicate balance between sinner and saint, full of humor, wit, compassion, strength, imagination and a unique perspective on the world around her.
Altogether, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a fantastic book that is engrossing, evocative, poignant and inspiring.(less)
High Wizardry is probably my least favorite of the Young Wizards series. It was a fun, fast read, but much of the story seemed rather extraneous. Larg...moreHigh Wizardry is probably my least favorite of the Young Wizards series. It was a fun, fast read, but much of the story seemed rather extraneous. Large portions of the narrative are taken up with unnecessary descriptions of an outdated OS, most of which I could have done without, and overall it simply lacks the same quality of layering as in So You Want to Be a Wizard and Deep Wizardry. As a result, it didn't even seem like anything important started happening until around the latter third of the book, and I came away feeling like there could have been a lot more to the story than there was.
Also, the majority of the book centers around Dairine. I actually kind of like her (except for her name, which sounds like some kind of low-fat dairy product or something), so this wouldn't really have bothered me if not for the fact that Nita and Kit got so little screen time. I love their dynamic, and I really enjoy watching them come into their own both in their wizardry and as individuals in that coming-of-age sort of way that's just right and not too clichéd or cheesy. But more than that, I've become so invested in their ongoing adventures through the first two books, and in their struggles against the Big Bad, that I felt rather cheated by Duane making them little more than a sideshow in Dairine's Ordeal circus, especially considering that this appeared to be such a critical turning point in the fight against the Lone Power.
That being said, I actually loved the latter fourth of the book. Not just because Dairine takes about ten levels in badass and lays the smack-down on the Lone Baddie--although that is pretty awesome--but largely because it's such a powerful story of change and redemption. It has always bothered me how many writers (and people in general regarding real life) seem to operate on the principle that, once a person crosses a certain moral event horizon, they can never turn back. You can't change; you're damned forever. But here's the thing: people change all the time. They don't always change for the better, and oftentimes it might not be very noticeable, but they do change. And I adore Diane Duane for straying from the well-laid path and instead conveying the idea that, even if you're the biggest, baddest motherfucker in the whole of time, space, and the entire freaking multiverse, you can change. It won't be easy, and it won't undo the damage you've done, but you can still make that choice and work to redeem yourself.
Whatever my other issues with this book, there's an important story here that needed to be told. Kudos to Ms. Duane for having the vision to tell it, and for doing it beautifully.(less)
Okay, I’ll admit it. Deep Wizardry made me want to be a whale. For serious.
I admire the hell out of Diane Duane--I daresay I even worship her--for the...moreOkay, I’ll admit it. Deep Wizardry made me want to be a whale. For serious.
I admire the hell out of Diane Duane--I daresay I even worship her--for the way she conveyed the experience of being a whale. There was no awkwardness at all (except in the beginning, for Nita) and nothing seemed forced or silly. It all felt perfectly natural, and comfortable, and utterly fantastic, as if I could truly imagine what it would be like to be a whale. And by the end of the book, it seemed so normal for Nita to be in whale-form that whenever she was in human-form it felt unnatural. Hell, it felt unnatural for me to be in human-form.
I’m really sad that I can’t spend my days swimming around and singing tales of glory and sorrow in whalesong and hugging other whales by brushing them with my flukes or whatever.
But that’s beside the point.
The point is that I absolutely loved Deep Wizardry, and if I had to choose, I’d have to say that I liked this better than So You Want to Be a Wizard. Duane’s style in this book is fantastic. You can definitely see a difference between DW and its predecessor, but in a good way, like she really came into her own during the interim. I absolutely adored her mixture of simplicity in places where it’s not only necessary, but achingly perfect, and lyrical elegance in others, which come together to weave a story that’s both beautiful and heartbreaking.
And Nita and Kit really came into their own, too, which is another highlight of the book. The action was not quite as fast-paced in this as in SYWBW, allowing Duane the opportunity to really flesh out Nita’s and Kit’s personalities--their strengths, their flaws, their idiosyncrasies and charming little nuances--without disrupting the flow of the story. And I loved that because this is a very powerful and touching story, on several levels, but I don’t think that it would have hit me so fully and moved me the way it did if I hadn’t felt so close to the characters. However, both Nita and Kit (who didn’t get a lot of character development in the first book) really grew on me throughout DW; I cared about them, in a way that I don’t typically care about a lot of characters, and my heart literally ached for them toward the end of the book. I felt Nita’s despair, her turmoil, she and Kit’s courage, their triumph, their joy, everything, and that made the book just that much more beautiful to me.
The only thing that I didn’t care for was that Nita’s parents turned into raving psychopaths in this book. Okay, well, maybe not psychopaths as such. But her mother was definitely annoying to nth degree, what with her raging hypochondria (was this an epidemic among women in the 1980s? I’ve noticed a trend), and her father was no better, considering he didn’t seem to even attempt to be rational about the situation. I mean, I know that some YA writers will blow situations out of proportion because that’s how their target readers see them--kids often view their parents’ decisions as being insensible, unfair, and even outrageous. But I don’t think that’s the case here, and despite being a grown-up myself, even I don’t see the logic in taking your family (plus one) to the beach for vacation, then throwing a holy fit when the kids spend so much time...*gasp*...ON THE BEACH. And how dare they go swimming! You’re not supposed to go swimming when you’re at the beach!
Oy. If I ever spawn any miniature humanoids (though I shudder at the thought), I hope I don’t end up like that.
But I can conceded that this was probably a necessary bit of ridiculousness to facilitate the Big Reveal, even though I think it could have been handled a bit better. And since Nita’s parents end up being pretty cool at the end, once they figure out that Nita and Kit are not, in fact, out doing the nasty, but just doing wizardry (and working a crazy powerful spell that once blew an entire tectonic plate and continental landmass to shit, and battling against the ultimate Big Bad, the Lone Power, who’s basically Satan except he exponentially took a level in Badass, but whatever, at least they're not having THE SEX), all is forgiven.
All in all, Deep Wizardry is absolutely beautiful, a compelling story with great action, fantastic imagery, interesting characters--especially Ed! I never thought I could adore a shark so--and a message that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. If you like fantasy, do yourself a favor and read this book.(less)