The Girl With All the Gifts is a surprise favorite for me this year. My literary catnip is authors who can make me empathize with unlikeable characterThe Girl With All the Gifts is a surprise favorite for me this year. My literary catnip is authors who can make me empathize with unlikeable characters, which this book has in SPADES, my friends.
Melanie is a child genius who’s locked in a military compound with other orphans in a United Kingdom that’s been ravaged by a viral outbreak and hunted by legions of “Hungries.” All she knows of the world is limited to a tiny classroom and its small band of teachers and military personnel who march the children from one daily task to the next.
When I first picked up this book, I was like “OK, dystopian post-apocalyptic blah blah blah, whatever.” I read a few pages on my e-reader and forgot all about it. Then I crossed paths with the audiobook and decided to give it another try. And holy flying bananas, I LOVE it. It’s like Kazuo Ishiguro meets Max Brooks with rad lady characters. And references to Greek myths. And just the right amount of creepy sciencey stuff. Whether you like to read for character, language, action, or setting, this book is bound to hit one of your sweet spots. Best yet, Carey nails the landing with twisty outcomes that I never saw coming.
As narrator, Finty Williams is the bee’s knees. She has the range to make characters seem like monsters in one moment, and misunderstood heroes the next. And also a cute British accent. Read (or listen to) this!...more
Interesting, important critique of the dangers of centralized social media. Reminded me of other anti-tech stuff that other novelists have put out oveInteresting, important critique of the dangers of centralized social media. Reminded me of other anti-tech stuff that other novelists have put out over the past decade, like Mark Helprin and Jonathan Franzen. I think Dave Eggers does it best of these three, but he still seemed so swept up in the passion of his argument that the narrative came off feeling strained. And even in a satire I want my characters to have a bit more depth. Mae, poor Mae, and let's not even get started on her antler chandelier-making ex-boyfriend, Mercer.
But I liked The Circle even though it creeped me out, which is what it set out to do. So, job well done! These are old arguments framed in new ways that are still important for our age to consider as we grow into the tools that we hope will make us better via the "extended mind" theory of cognition. I still see beauty in social media, and The Circle reminds me to be selective about who I trade my data to, and for what....more
Holy crap you guys. When this book came out last summer, I felt like the general reaction was "Ohmigod, there's, like, a time warp in this book and itHoly crap you guys. When this book came out last summer, I felt like the general reaction was "Ohmigod, there's, like, a time warp in this book and it's totally cooooool.” I skipped right past it on the shelves, and SHAME ON ME. The Age of Miracles is like a haiku, deceptively simple and profound in how the story unfolds. Walker writes without many quirks or tricks, adopting a speculative premise to explore the basic human experiences of loss, disillusionment, and coming of age, all while dropping poetry and wisdom on your ass. I cried at the end, and books do not make me cry (unless they’re by Rob Sheffield). Emily Janice Card narrated this one brilliantly, absolutely nailing the tone of wide-eyed teenage Julia -- and her bitchy friend Michaela, too. I think this is my favorite audio performance of any novel, ever. Anyway, I can’t even. Just go listen to it already. ...more
I know, I know... I was supposed to love this! The audio performances were phenomenal, and it was a cool book, but ultimately I think World War Z is bI know, I know... I was supposed to love this! The audio performances were phenomenal, and it was a cool book, but ultimately I think World War Z is best for people who love action and world-building stories. And points for lots of juicy speculative elements, too.
For me, though, the story's structure as oral histories came at the cost of more interesting character development and wordplay, the two things I usually love most in books. So while I enthusiastically liked this, I wouldn't put it up there with my favs. Glad I gave it a shot....more
Some book clubs plan their reading list and meeting schedule a year in advance. Friends, that is not my book club. We’re what I’d like to call "charmiSome book clubs plan their reading list and meeting schedule a year in advance. Friends, that is not my book club. We’re what I’d like to call "charmingly" disorganized; we often don’t know when or where we’re going to meet until the day before.
So when we spontaneously decided to meet at the Taproom this Tuesday to talk about Michel Faber’s Under the Skin , I knew I had to get reading… fast. Because books about Scottish alien cannibal women do not lend themselves well to spoilers.
You guys, Under the Skin is the most fun I've had reading since Gone Girl in June. Part morality tale, part horror story, and part dystopian sci-fi, it's a lightning-paced read with a serious literary backbone, featuring an embattled, tough-as-nails heroine. Better yet, it taps into pop-culture's beloved hitchhiking motif, but in totally new and unexpected ways. I promise you'll want to hitchhike even less after reading this book.
Although I don’t typically read horror or sci-fi, I loved Under the Skin. It’s a genre-bending tale in the vein of some of the best science fiction classics out there: 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451; the genre is such a great vehicle for exploring those big juicy human questions, and Faber writes with such economy and control. And if you’ve ever been in a book club, you’re hip to the fact that they’re fabulous for getting you to pick up stuff you might not have read on your own.
You might already know Michel Faber as the writer behind the awesome historical mini series The Crimson Petal and the White. But he’s about to enter pop-culture consciousness in another big way — Scarlett Johansson is slated to take the screen as the leading lady in the film adaptation of Under the Skin, due out next month. If you want to read the book first, here’s a tip — the audio version is worth it for the Scottish accents alone....more
**spoiler alert** Let me start out by setting something straight. For the record: I enjoyed reading Ready Player One. This in spite of the fact that I**spoiler alert** Let me start out by setting something straight. For the record: I enjoyed reading Ready Player One. This in spite of the fact that I typically go for the same navel-gazing fare that makes bookish hipsters swoon. I don't play videogames. I grew up in the 80s, but hell if I know much about retro gaming culture. Yet there's something irresistible about Cline's exuberant, dungeon-masterly hero quest, and I was hooked til the bitter end.
But Ernest Cline: what the f***? In the book's last 50 pages, the four characters who've known each other virtually in the OASIS finally meet each other IRL. We learn that Art3mis is beautiful although insecure. Shoto is the token Asian non-character whose token Asian buddy gets rubbed out halfway through. Or is that Daito? Nevermind, doesn't matter.
And then there's Aech. Let's revisit the scene:
"A heavy set African American girl sat in the RV's driver seat, clutching the wheel tightly and staring straight ahead. She was about my age, with short, kinky hair and chocolate colored skin that appeared iridescent in the soft glow of the dashboard indicators. She was wearing a vintage Rush 2112 concert T-shirt, and the numbers were warped around her large bosom."
OK, so she's got big breasts. Whatever. Fast forward to Wade's reaction:
"A wave of emotion swept over me. Shock gave way to a sense of betrayal. How could he -- she -- deceive me all these years? I felt my face flush with embarrassment as I remembered all of the adolescent intimacies I'd shared with Aech. A person I'd trusted implicitly. Someone I thought I knew."
Aech has clearly crossed a line for Wade, who lives within a privileged framework that gender and race are fundamental aspects of personhood, and that to perform a gender or race other than those you were assigned at birth is tantamount to betrayal. How convenient for Wade, who just happened to be assigned "white male" in the being born lottery.
But oh my god, this is the f***ing virtual OASIS! With wizards and cat people and stuff! Haptic suits!! Let's remember that Shoto and Daito look nothing like their avatars, but no big deal. Meanwhile, Wade's panties are in a monumental twist just because his best friend is missing a certain manly appendage and tweaked her RGB.
Wade defines and inscribes Aech with the attributes "fat" "black" "lesbian" "chick" because he's invested in the privileged heteronormative assumption that it's "regular" to be a skinny white straight dude. Thanks, Robinson Crusoe. Meanwhile, Aech represents all that is opposite or "other" -- the transient dark enigma that's somehow subverted the IOI's panoptic gaze.
But then Wade decides he's cool with it. 'It's OK dudes, I've got African American friends.' Ultimately, Wade has an enlightened epiphany that allows him to understand why Aech would want to perform white maleness in a Virtual. F***ing. Reality:
"In [Aech's mother's] opinion, the OASIS was the best thing that had ever happened to women and people of color. From the very start, she had used a male white avatar to conduct all of her online business, because of the marked difference it made in how she was treated and the opportunities she was given."
Oh, really. Because at the end of the day, we'd all just be so lucky to pass as straight white men. Nevermind black power, second wave feminism, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.... the practice of radical subjectivity. Nope, Wade's so right: we'd rather just assimilate and pretend we're all bros. Bitch, please. ...more
A friend told me that this was a "formative book" for him, which made me wish that I'd read it when I was younger & less formed! I think Lois LowrA friend told me that this was a "formative book" for him, which made me wish that I'd read it when I was younger & less formed! I think Lois Lowry managed to write an amazing little novel that asks what humans stand to gain (or lose) by going through the experiences of conflict and suffering. Its definitely a little painful, but in the very best way....more
Wow, so I just finished reading Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, and what a ride! For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure yet, let me bring you up toWow, so I just finished reading Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, and what a ride! For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure yet, let me bring you up to speed: Tally Youngblood lives in a futuristic society where all the teens get mandatory plastic surgery when they turn 16. Turning everyone from “Uglies” into “Pretties” is supposed to eliminate all the insecurity, jealousy, inequity and general suffering in the world. But of course, it can’t really be that easy…
It is a pretty silly book, but it also has otherworldly addictive powers. The feminist in me wants to throw up when Tally must make a huge sacrifice in order to save the world and be validated by an older and wiser guy–who, incidentally, is always “touching her shoulder softly.” But I think one of the reasons I actually liked this book is because it walks that line that so many young women have to walk, between wanting to be fearless, independent and "off the grid" awesome-warrior-women, yet still longing to be that pretty girl with pretty things that we've all been conditioned to want to be since girlhood.
There are also some pretty chewy ethical dilemmas, and I loved the rad futuristic toys: hoverboards, crash bracelets, wallscreens, SpagBol, etc. ...more
This is most of all a love letter to books, and their expression of dreams and ideas. This is also a warning cry about people who destroy books becausThis is most of all a love letter to books, and their expression of dreams and ideas. This is also a warning cry about people who destroy books because they hate dreams and ideas -- the sort of people who love only control & death.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about ideas in books and speech, and the necessity of dissent. Here, the author evokes a world in which those who love ideas are silenced and persecuted. This world is dark, bleak and scary -- and it is also a parallel to the repressive communities and institutions within our own very real world.
But Tahar Djaout's last book feels so unfinished. In some ways this makes the book more powerful, because it serves as a reminder that Djaout was actually murdered by religious extremists before the book was published. In other ways, though, I think it makes the narrator's terror, anger, love and conviction feel diluted and broken. These were still just half-jotted down notes. There are completely beautiful passionate bursts, though, and this is what will keep you under Djaout's spell....more
This is so not the same book I remember reading when I was 14! I remember really loving it because of the anti-censorship and book-loving themes. ThisThis is so not the same book I remember reading when I was 14! I remember really loving it because of the anti-censorship and book-loving themes. This time around, though, I was super surprised how elitist and hateful the story seems! A bunch of Harvard hobos hide out by the railroad tracks while the rest of the world is destroyed by nuclear war. . . really???
I can understand the use of heavy-handed approaches when tackling a topic of heavy philosophical import, and here Bradbury is questioning our ability to maintain critical thought in the age of 30 minute TV segments. So Fahrenheit 451 isn't about censorship at all -- its about why Hamlet is superior to Superman, a claim that I'm going to go ahead and challenge!
Bradbury's canonization of dead white guys is also troubling, as well as his view of women just in general ~ no wonder Montag's wife wants to kill herself! Instead of trying to reach out to her after a traumatic suicide attempt, Montag laments her stupidity and ridicules her friends. The only positively portrayed female in the book is Clarisse, the crazy 17 year-old who smells like strawberries. Ah, this must be because all women turn into stupid hags when they pass their twenties!
Anyway! It is written beautifully, and Bradbury does raise some interesting philosophical dilemmas. After all, isn't the whole point of anti-censorship to read and discuss even the ideas you do disagree with?...more