I was lucky enough to hear A.S. King speak when she visited our Library in August 2015. Eventually, after much fascinating talk, one of the moderatorsI was lucky enough to hear A.S. King speak when she visited our Library in August 2015. Eventually, after much fascinating talk, one of the moderators got around to asking her about her newest book, I Crawl Through It. "What's it about?" We all laughed, as we had earlier established how difficult it can be to neatly summarize a King novel. But then King's expression turned serious and she said, "It's about the way teens have to deal, daily, with both intruder drills and standardized tests - and how messed up that is." I had already been planning on reading King's new book, but now I knew I had to read it now.
A.S. King's particular brand of magical realism edges far more into surrealist territory with this slim novel. If you're not used to surrealist literature - and we just don't have that much modern surreal literature to consume - you're going to need to let go of some expectations. Like, the expectation of understanding it all. Let me tell you right off the bat, don't bother questions like, "Is China REALLY a walking digestive system, though?" And "yeah but what is Gustav sitting on when he's working inside the imaginary helicopter...is he just hanging in midair?" Those are not the important questions, but it can be tempting to get tripped up on them. Instead, let the strange metaphors King uses work on you as you read, and think about the important questions. Like how we survive trauma, and then keep on surviving, day to day, as the memory of the trauma fades but its effects linger. How do we connect with people in a world packed full of things that are violent, senseless, or both? And how do we expect teens to deal with all of that when adults haven't figured it out, either?
King's book doesn't (can't) answer those questions. But works of literature as profound as I Crawl Through It are nonetheless part of the solution. They force us to think about the world in which we live and the people we share it with. They force us to reflect on our own stories as we engage in these characters' lives. And they allow us to experience trauma, hope and connection through one channel still left to us in this messed up world - books....more
Lately I've been traveling a lot, and a string of great nonfiction audiobooks have kept me sane. I need something fascinating, hopefully with a touchLately I've been traveling a lot, and a string of great nonfiction audiobooks have kept me sane. I need something fascinating, hopefully with a touch of humor, to keep my awake and not bored out of my mind while I travel. Having hit the jackpot with my last choice (Proof: The Science of Booze), I was hoping my next choice wouldn't disappoint. And luckily, serendipity led me to Sy Montgomery's The Soul of an Octopus.
Books on animal psychology, done well, are some of my very favorites. I've loved books like Irene Pepperberg's Alex & Me and Karen Pryor's Reaching the Animal Mind. I want smart science and interesting questions about consciousness and theory of mind. I would also appreciate not needing too many Kleenexes at hand. The Soul of an Octopus delivers! (Although you will indeed need a couple of Kleenexes.) It's the story of a woman's growing fascination with this species that has inspired horror, disgust and fascination. It's also the story of several individual octopuses (the correct plural, I learned) that she got to know, and the story of her quest to better understand them. It's also the story of the people these amazing animals brought her into contact with. It is entirely engrossing, especially on audio. The author herself reads it and you can quite clearly hear her elation, fascination and tenderness and she describes her adventures and experiences.
Or you can read it in print, if that's what floats your octopus boat....more
The title of this book attracted me first, with its quirky how-to beginning and then an ending I wasn't sure what to make of. What's a science fictionThe title of this book attracted me first, with its quirky how-to beginning and then an ending I wasn't sure what to make of. What's a science fictional universe, I wondered, and was hooked.
Well, I still might not be able to define it succinctly, but I can tell you a few things I've learned. A science fictional universe is made up of narrative potential. It may contain lots of heroes, in which case you'll have high narrative potential and lots of stories bouncing around your universe. It may be a low narrative potential universe, where no one is quite good, and no one is quite bad and everyone wanders around wondering what the point of it all is. A science fictional universe is one where your pet dog might not actually exist (although that doesn't keep him from being ontologically valid). A science fictonal universe is one where you might time travel or fall in love with your vehicle's AI system. You also might just become the protagonist of your own story.
This book is so unique, but it did remind me a lot of Ready Player One, with its youngish, relatable male protagonist, strange (but very capable) world-building, and overall scifi-cum-nostalgia feel. The narrative voice is a bit distracting at times, with its layers and layers of iterative thought built into almost every sentence. However, in some places that iteration was an echo for the idea of time loops and that just was brilliant. Built into this marvelous scifi geekout of a book is also some blazingly adept characterization of depression, adolescence and self-esteem. I'd recommend this book to fans of Ready Player One, science fiction and also anyone looking for a unique, adventurous read....more
I'm not sure if I've ever read a book of recent poetry that moved me so much. The panic, confusion, pain and passion in this slim book are so overwhelI'm not sure if I've ever read a book of recent poetry that moved me so much. The panic, confusion, pain and passion in this slim book are so overwhelmingly beautiful. I can't wait to read his new volume, War of the Foxes....more