Thursday, March 31, 2011

Month in Review: March

The month of March is drawing to a close and I'm still here, blogging away. This is actually a pretty big deal for me. I've started and stopped numerous blogs (personal blogs, political blogs, current event blogs) because after a while I'd either really have nothing to say (personal) or I'd find that I didn't have enough time to keep up with everything that was going on in the world around me (political/current event). Blogging about books, however, seems to really resonate with me. For one thing, I get to dictate how I spend my time and what I spend my time on. For another thing, there's a huge community of book bloggers out there who are supportive and inspiring.

I guess what these monthly reviews (I plan to do one each month) are about is looking at where I was and how far I have come since then. It gives me encouragement to keep moving forward even on those days or weeks when I'm not feeling up to it. I can look back at this month, for example, and say, "Hey, remember that time that you were sick for, like, a week and still managed to review three books and blog every day in spite of that?" Yeah, I'm a sappy guy, but I'm okay with that.

Without further ado, this is what happened here at Gabriel Reads for the month of March:

Once Upon a Time...
I started this blog out on WordPress. I'd used it before and was familiar with the interface so I figured that was the way to go. I found, instead, that Blogger offered me more of what I was looking for so I decided to make the switch over here. And I'm really glad that I did. The community here is amazing and I feel like changing hosts is one of the reasons that I was able to keep blogging all month long like I did. I'm hoping it's what'll keep me blogging for years to come.

Meeting Goals
When I first joined Book Blogs I jumped in on this discussion.

I set out the following goals:

  1. Get people to read my blog.
  2. Help make the comments section a place where people can discuss and debate.
  3. Use blogging as a way to legitimize my reading addiction.
  4. Read/review 1-2 books a week
  5. Post something every day
  6. Meet new people/find readers who have similar interests
I'm proud to say that I met each of those goals in March. I've never, ever met every single goal that I've set so this is pretty huge for me. 

Wait, People Are Actually Reading This?
I started the month out with zero followers; I'm now up to 15 (not including the ones who follow my blog not using Google Friend Connect). People are leaving comments, having debates, discussing things. It's really been amazing to watch how this blog has grown in the last few weeks. 

I've had readers from all over the world, including France, Canada, South Africa, Iran, India, UK, Germany, Bermuda, China, and Columbia.

Thanks to Nonners, I won the Stylish Blogger Award. (Nonners also receives the coveted Most Frequent Poster award but I don't have a shiny badge for it so I'll just tell you all to go visit her blog.)

None of my other blogs ever received this level of recognition and it's growing every day. And I have all of my readers to thank for that. 

Reviews, Reviews, Reviews
One of the things I was most worried about when I started this blog was that I'm really bad at managing my time. Because of this, I didn't think I'd get anywhere near reviewing 1-2 books a week, let alone reading that many. But as time went by, I realized that this was actually really easy. I love reading, I love writing. Obviously I was going to make time in my life for this project. 

I reviewed 8 books in the month of March (which is pretty impressive considering that I didn't really start blogging until the second week) and I actually finished all of my reading a day early. Here's the links to the reviews I've done this month:
And I'm doing challenges. In addition to the challenge I've set myself this year of predominately reading only within set themes each month, I've added the additional challenges of reading 100 books by the end of the year and rereading at least 20 books this year for the Read Me Baby, 1 More Time Challenge.

As for those monthly themes, I managed to make it through a whole month of reading almost nothing except for dystopian, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic books. There were times when I was getting sick of the genre, to be honest, but I've proved that it can be done so I've elected to continue doing the themes for the rest of the year. It'll be nice to get into a different type of book next month, but I've actually had a lot of fun reviewing books of a similar nature. This month I lived vicariously through a plague, a couple nuclear wars, and several dystopian societies. And that, I think, is the real beauty of books. In addition to taking us to magical places we only wish we could know, they also take us places we wouldn't ever want to go in real life. They allow us to run the full gamut of the human experience. 

It's the Little Things
There were other milestones for me this month. The biggest of these, I think, is that I've actually started to use Twitter, which I'd never seen any use for before now. I think I actually finally understand the point of it, although I still haven't become one of those people who tweets everything they do (thankfully).

I've also become a part of Book Blogs, GoodReads (the only website where I would ever be allowed to call myself a "friend" of Neil Gaiman), and Shelfari. I think this is the most social media I've ever used in my life. Now if only I could figure out how to make a decent Facebook page for this site. I've had a personal one for years but for some reason making a page for a blog is akin to rocket science.

Favorite Book: 
There were several books that I really liked but I think I'm going to say A Canticle for Leibowitz. I gave it 1/2 a star less than Atwood's novels because it got kind of preachy at the end, but the humor and the characters of Miller's story really stuck with me.

Least Favorite Book:
The Road. The only reason that book got two stars instead of one is because the book didn't suffer from bad grammar and spelling.

On to Next Month
I think that's all for now. I know I've probably bored you to tears and I apologize. The monthly review posts are really for me, although I guess they could act as an intro for new followers. Who knows?

Anyway, I'll be changing things up a little for the month of April (new design, new monthly theme logo) but for the most part it'll be the same Gabriel Reads. Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, really, but there you have it. 

-Gabe

Three Books Thursday: #3 (and a rant about Abe Lincoln)

I finished my reading for the month of March early, which means that I get a one-day head start on April's. The first book I'm reading this coming month is Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Because of this (and because I had two other posts to write for today) I'm borrowing one of the Three Books lists from NPR. This list, to be exact. It's called "Three Books Explore Lincoln's Complex Genius" and it was given to NPR by historian Eric Foner.

I need to preface my reading of Grahame-Smith's book by saying something in the interest of full disclosure: I really hate Abraham Lincoln. I will admit that he was a great president, probably one of the greatest, and I believe that he deserves his memorial and his penny and his five dollar bill and every other accolade this country has thrown at him. He was an all-around awesome person. But I still hate him. And this is why:

I have a BA in History. It's the thing that I'm most interested in and, besides writing, it's one of the things that I'm best at. But, I dislike American history. A lot. My areas of interest are Ancient Greece and Czarist/Communist Russia. It's just what I like. At my college, however, the senior seminar class that you take is dictated by who is teaching it that year. Every three years it's a different professor and the semester that I took it it happened to be an American History professor.

This guy is amazing. He's funny and energetic and really great to talk to. If it weren't that he tortured me for a full semester with the Civil War, I would probably regret that I never took any other classes with him. Yet that is what the focus of this class was: the American Civil War on film.

Okay, so where does Abraham Lincoln come into this? That semester we had to read four books about Abraham Lincoln (including The Radical and the Republican, which is one of the books on Foner's list) as well as watch two films about him. By the time we got halfway through the semester, I was sick of Lincoln. But there was more torture coming. That was the year that President Obama was sworn into office. He had a real fetish for Abraham Lincoln and talked about him all the time. Don't get me wrong. I understand what Lincoln symbolizes so I can't blame the man for that. But then, then, the Treasury comes out with these:


Oh yeah, that's right. New Lincoln pennies. With little Lincolns on them. Like his face wasn't everywhere already, right? Why am I so bitter? Because not long after these pennies came out as I was reading one of the several books on Lincoln that I had to read for Senior Seminar, I decided to get a box of Cracker Jacks for fun. I hadn't had them in years, not since I was a kid. And they always had those little crappy prizes inside. You wanna know what I got? You wanna know what prize was in my box of Cracker Jacks that I was eating while reading a book on Abe Lincoln in a world full of Abe Lincoln? This:


I'm not even lying. I really wish I were. (By the way, I found this image on a site devoted to Cracker Jack prizes. Was anyone even aware that people really collected these? I mean, they can't be valuable, right?)

So that's the story of how I came to really hate Abraham Lincoln. Call me an awful person all you want to, but it was like he was haunting me that year. He was asking for it.

-Gabe

Test Driving the Rapture: A Review of Rob Stennett's The End is Now


"One week from tomorrow, at precisely 6:11 in the morning, the rapture or apocalypse or Armageddon or whatever else you'd prefer to call it, is going to occur. But only in Goodland, Kansas."

So begins Rob Stennett's hilarious (if not a little preachy) book The End is Now.

I randomly discovered this book on Amazon a few weeks ago and the premise of it intrigued me--a small town in Kansas being the test market for the rapture just sounded like a lot of fun. So I picked up the (at the time) free Kindle edition for my Kindle for PC app and decided to end this month of dystopian/post-apocalyptic mayhem with it. I had no real preconceived notions about it so I went into reading this book with an open mind. And I'm glad that I did. The book is incredibly funny, often laugh-out-loud funny. Stennett does a good job of weaving humor into his story of a small town imploding in on itself as it prepares for the rapture.

The book itself is really about the Henderson family: Jeff, a not-so-successful car salesman; Amy, a stay-at-home mother; Emily, the popularity-obsessed teenager whose only real worry is whether or not she'll be homecoming queen; and Will, an eleven-year-old boy turned reluctant prophet. These four characters remain at the heart of the story, even as Stennett tells the tale from different perspectives. They are the driving force behind everything that happens in the week leading up to the supposed rapture.

It all begins when Will takes a shortcut home through a cornfield and gets lost. He panics, realizing that there's something else in the field with him. That something else speaks to him, telling him that the rapture is coming soon and giving him the three signs to look out for. Will promptly passes out. His disappearance leads to a frantic search by his father and the local police department. When they find him and wake him up, he starts telling them that he has a message for them. And then all hell breaks loose. 

I don't want to give too much away because the plot is really well-crafted (for the most part) and I don't want to spoil anything for those who are thinking of reading this book. I do, however, want to discuss a few things about the book: a) the characters; b) the dialogue; c) the fact that there were some parts of this book that made me wish I had a paper copy because I wanted to throw it across the room.

First, the characters. Will is the best character in this book. He's a funny, precocious preteen who is only trying to do what he thinks is best. His convictions are what drive him throughout the story and he is, I think, the most noble character. I have no complaints whatsoever about him and I applaud Stennett for creating such a great little boy. He almost reminds me of Charles Wallace from Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. The other members of the Henderson family, are not as fantastic.

I won't really discuss Jeff, the father, because his change throughout the book is actually pretty fun to watch. Besides, he really didn't do much that annoyed me so he's off the hook. His daughter, Emily, however, is the kind of character that I want to banish from literature forever. She's seventeen and the stereotypical girl. I don't even blame Stennett for her because that's the way she needed to be. It was integral to the story and to her eventual redemption in the eyes of the reader. I will say, though, that if I had to hear her whine one more time about how much she wanted to win homecoming queen or how it was the only thing that would make high school worth the trouble of getting out of bed in the morning, I would have kicked her in the face. If you read the book, I think you'll understand what I mean. I'm not an advocate of abuse against women; quite the opposite in fact. But this girl was just so...gah! There's no other word for it. "Gah" is the appropriate interjection.

Yet it is Amy Henderson, the mother, that takes the prize. She is the, if you'll permit me, homecoming queen of obnoxious. She spends the entire book with a stick up her pious a**, going on and on about how she's better than everyone else because her son's a prophet. She doesn't say it like that, of course, but she seems to think that it is her family's sworn duty to bring the entire town through the rapture and that that excuses all kinds of ridiculous behavior. I didn't really like her to begin with because she's the kind of Christian who thinks things like the following:
  • "She wanted the college to be prestigious but not too secular. She'd heard horror stories of her friends' kids going off to college and coming home brainwashed (p. 145-146)."
  • (Referring to a girl whose parents often have fights) "...[Amy] said Jane probably would rather have a boy that treated her mean. Will asked why. His mom said because that's what she's used to (p. 179)."
  • "Amy had dated a heathen like Jeff. Jeff found God eventually, but when she first started dating him, he was a heathen. Of course Emily would want to date someone godless as well. It was in her genes (p. 230)."
The list could go on and on. She throws out all of Will's Harry Potter books and Power Rangers toys because they're "evil". She made him stay home from school once to keep him from participating in Halloween celebrations. This woman is literally the embodiment of everything that made me sick of Christianity in the first place. (It's like that Ghandi quote: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.") I spent the better part of this book going: "You know lady, if the rapture does happen, I really hope you don't get to go because it would serve you right."

Okay, now that that rant is over, I would like to point out that while Stennett has a remarkable ability for character development, his dialogue can be kind of...eh. Some of it's really good but other bits of it are mediocre at best. A lot of the inner monologues that the characters have are great, especially Will's, but it seems that whenever more than one person is talking they get caught up in unnecessary idle chatter. 

Also, as Stennett is a Christian author, there were several bits of this book that were too overly religious for me. I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that his beliefs do not fall in line with Amy Henderson's, but even if they don't, there was still quite a bit of "God's plan" and all that and as a non-Christian it got to be a bit much after a while. I think even Christians might be a little put off by it because some of it just pops up randomly and you're left going "Did that really have to be there or were the publishers just like 'need more God; just throw him in somewhere'?" [NOTE: I know someone who was told this exact same thing by a Christian publisher.] Thankfully the book's pacing and plot and practically everything else helped me to ignore a lot of that. 

The humor, however, is what really made this book great for me. I know I tend to be a quoter but I can't help it. I love finding quotes in books that will make people want to read them. This book has a ton of them so I have to be kind of choosy. 
Batman was the rich kid who had to buy his way into the Super Friends club (p. 12).
To protect against nuclear blasts, teachers had students hide underneath their desks. This was the great plan for safety. Even at the age of eight Mike was pretty skeptical of a small wooden desk's ability to shield him from an atomic bomb (p. 42).
...feeling upset and uneasy, Emily walked away from the believers. She wouldn't go near them again. There was something a little bit funny going on with them. Sure, they seemed friendly, but that was part of their trick. It was the same trick drug dealers and vampires and Mary Kay reps had used for years (p. 97).
He saw his friends' moms (the same kind ladies who had given him rides to soccer practice, the same ladies who insisted that every boy on the team was given a Capri Sun and Fruit Roll Up after a game) turn into soulless creatures as they yelled at each other and cussed and snarled "mine" over all the wonderful deals on electronic merchandise. Will had never seen people act that way, and he learned on that day that every adult was one step away from anarchy (p. 184).
Okay, okay, I'll stop. Anyway, you get the picture. It may sound like I have a ton of complaints about this book but, in actuality, I really liked it. I'd probably read it again, although I'd probably buy a paper copy of it because staring at a screen that long gave me a monster headache. This is the first time I've ever read an e-book and it really proved to me that paper is so much more preferable. At least for me.


All right, so to recap: hilarious book, really good plot, some annoying characters, a little bit too much God for my tastes. I'm giving The End is Now three out of five stars. It gets docked a star for Amy being holier-than-thou and another star for the not-so-amazing dialogue and a few noticeable editing issues in the last third of the book. If you read this book for any reason whatsoever, I'd say it should be for Will. You will love this kid to death. 


Also, look out for a kid named Neil Pratchett. I'm almost positive that he's a nod at Good Omens. If not, I'm still going to pretend he is because it makes me happy.


-Gabe


PS: The following video reminds me of Mike's quote about "small wooden desks". It's Louis Black talking about air raid drills and, while there's a lot of language in this video, it's still hilarious. Anyone not opposed to the "f-word" needs to watch it. Actually, those opposed to it should too because, let's face it, it's a word. It's not going to kill you. And the video's really funny.



Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Need to Read this Book

I was, once again, on the NPR page and I came across this article about a new book entitled The Use and Abuse of Literature by Marjorie Garber. It's her take on why literature is here to stay despite all of the thoughts to contrary that are prevalent in today's society. One of the quotes from the article that I really like is:
Books are labeled as dangerous "precisely because [they] can enrich the mind, challenge, disturb, and change one's thinking," 
Definitely want to see if I can't pick this up sometime in the next few months.

-Gabe

In the Garden: A Review of Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood


Margaret Atwood is swiftly becoming one of my favorite authors. So far I've only read a few of her books--The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake, and, now, The Year of the Flood--but each of them has impressed me beyond my wildest dreams.

I find it rather telling that the last book I reviewed (The Road) took me several days to get through when it was a little over 200 pages while this book, at over 400, took me only about a day and a half.

Okay, so now for a little explanation:

The Year of the Flood is the sequel to Oryx and Crake and is the second book in Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy (I'm not sure when the third book is coming out but I'm anxiously awaiting it). The story follows two women, Ren and Toby, who have survived the plague that ripped through mankind in the last book. Ren, a twenty-something, has been holed up in a strip club, while Toby, an older woman, avoided being infected by staying inside the AnooYoo Spa.

As the book progresses you discover that both of these women were members of God's Gardeners, a religious sect that had been hinted at in the first book but never fully explained. Using the same flashback/flashfoward storytelling as in Oryx and Crake, Atwood fills in all the details about the religion and its members. The bulk of the story takes place in the past as both women think about their lives before the "Waterless Flood" of the plague. Eventually the story line meets up with the present and stays there for the remainder of the book.

Atwood uses both first person and third person POV to tell this story. Unlike Nabokov's Bend Sinister, however, this is much easier to follow as Ren's story is told in first person and Toby's is told in third. It helps to keep the two stories separate for the reader which is much appreciated as much of their story overlaps.

Once again Atwood proves very adept at weaving a tale that is dystopian, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic all at the same time. She also really delves deeply into the Gardeners, going so far as to write hymns for them, which are rather beautiful (you can purchase the music here). The characters are deep and unique and everything a character should be. The religion is well-crafted and seems very realistic, even though it isn't based off of any one true religious group. There are also lots of characters from Oryx and Crake popping up all over the place and seeing them is like running into old friends.

I think one of the things I liked best about this book is that it did two things that the last book did not--it explained why the last book ended the way it did and it answered my questions as to who the God's Gardeners were. Olivia, the girl who had gushed so much about Oryx and Crake when she found out I was reading it, said that she liked this book much better than that one. I'm not quite sure if I agree--I think they're both equally well-done--but one thing I did like better was that it told the story of Oryx and Crake through the eyes of people who had not really been behind any of its events. It was an outsider's point of view, which was kind of cool.

One of the really interesting things about this book is the way Atwood approaches religion and God. God's Gardeners believe that science and religion are not two separate schools of thought constantly at war with each other. Rather, they go hand-in-hand with one another. There are dozens of great quotes in this book that deal with the topic but I'll give you just a few of them:
God cannot be held to the narrowness of literal and materialistic interpretations, nor measured by human measurements, for his days are eons, and a thousand ages of our time are like an evening to him. Unlike some other religions, we have never felt it served a higher purpose to lie to children about geology (p. 11). 
We should not expect too much from faith...Human understanding is fallible, and we see through a glass, darkly. Any religion is a shadow of God. But the shadows of God are not God (p. 168).
Nature full strength is more than we can take...It's a potent hallucinogen, a soporific, for the untrained Soul. We're no longer at home in it. We need to dilute it. We can't drink it straight. And God is the same. Too much God and you overdose. God needs to be filtered (p. 327).
Present yet again is the humanity, horror, and humor of Oryx and Crake. While there is much to cringe about in this book, taken as a whole it is a beautiful and shocking look into a future that could, ultimately and unfortunately, be ours. I won't go off on a tangent and rant again like I did for my review of Oryx and Crake but I will say that I still believe that if things don't change we may end up living in a similar world. It is a terrifying thought but one that is worth considering.

If you have read Oryx and Crake and have not yet read The Year of the Flood then I suggest you do so. It's just as amazing as its predecessor and answers some of its unanswered questions. It's also probably a good idea to read it before the last book of the trilogy comes out (whenever that is).

Favorite quote of the entire book:
The various banking corps had once paid the local pleebmob for protection, but soon their Tex-Mex identity-theft specialists were skipping in and out as freely as mice. Finally the banks had given up and decamped because no employee's idea of a business day well spent was lying on the floor with duct tape over your mouth while an identity filcher hacked the accounts, gaining access with your cut-off thumb (p. 260).
I'm giving The Year of the Flood a five out of five stars.

_______

On a related topic, the month of March is drawing to a close. I only have one more book left before I start next month's collection. Look for a post in the next couple of days that sums up this past month.

I'd like to hear what you have to say as well. Did you think the month was a success? What do you think about the monthly themes? How absolutely sick are you of dystopian and post-apocalyptic lit? Did any of my reviews inspire you to read some of these books? Let me know in the comments.

-Gabe

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wow...Just...Wow

I just saw that Neil Gaiman had tweeted about this, saying "If you ever have dreams of being a writer, please trust me & DON'T DO THIS...Just don't. Just...don't."

If you're puzzled by what he means, take a look at the comments under this review. The author of the book being reviewed goes absolutely ape-shit on the reviewer. Several times. Seriously, she lashes out at pretty much anyone who comments on the review. It's...well, go see for yourself.

-Gabe

Top Ten Tuesday!

Okay, so apparently I'm just full of posts today. I think it's because I'm still really sick and have nothing to do until I'm forced to go to class at 4.

Anyway, I keep telling myself that I'm not going to do too many of these weekly meme things, but there are so many that I really like. Right now I've got one for Monday and Friday, as well as the one that I'm doing for myself on Thursday. Well, now I have one for Tuesday as well.

Every week, The Broke and the Bookish hosts Top Ten Tuesday, in which a topic is given and a top ten list is used as the answer. This week's topic is:

Top Ten Authors That Deserve More Recognition:
In no particular order,

1) Derek Landy: I know I've talked about him and his Skulduggery Pleasant series a few times on this blog and now I'm going to talk about him again. He is such a funny writer and his world is very well-crafted...while not being too overly-crafted. Plus his characters are really fun as well.

2) Deanna Raybourn: Okay, I'm not one of those guys who usually likes books about romance and England and parties and all that (Jane Austen notwithstanding, of course), but I really love Deanna Raybourn's novels. The first one, Silent in the Grave, was one of the only mystery novels that ever had me going "Oh my God, that was not who I suspected". After that, I was hooked. Besides, she's also a really fun blogger and all-around awesome person.

3) Terry Pratchett: How is it that this man is not more well-known. At college, I could count the number of people who knew who I was talking about on one hand. And I didn't even use all of the fingers. His Discworld novels are insanely good and lots of zany fun. His characters are engaging, he's funny as hell, and he's really gifted at the art of satire. Put down whatever you're doing right now and go read him. I mean it.

4) Gordon Korman: I haven't read any of his books since I was a kid but I remember them being laugh-out-loud funny, especially I Wanna Go Home, a book about a trouble-maker at summer camp. Really great for kids...or for adults with a mischievous streak.

5) Tim O'Brien: I'm putting him on this list because, while many people know who he is, most people never read anything of his besides The Things They Carried. He is a genuinely talented writer and deserves to be seen as more than just one book.

6) Victor Hugo: Hugo is one of those novelists who gets a bad rep for being boring. He's definitely not. He's also kind of intimidating because, let's face it, bricks are smaller than the unabridged version of Les Miserables. So, yes, he's pretty well-known but I'm not so sure that he's that widely read. And that is a tragedy.

7) Gaston Leroux: I want you to try an experiment. Go outside and ask people who wrote The Phantom of the Opera. Did you do it? Did they say Andrew Lloyd Webber? Yeah, they'd be one hundred percent wrong. The musical was based off of this very funny and relatively short novel by French author Gaston Leroux. Not only is he under-appreciated, he's overshadowed by the success of Webber's play. Most people don't even know it was based off a book! Go. Read. Now.

8) Louis Sachar: Sachar is right up there with Tim O'Brien. He's a one-book name and that book is Holes. I will be the first to admit that it's a really great book, but he has tons of others, all of which are really fantastic.

9 and 10) Michael Ende and William Goldman: Show of hands--who knew that the film The Neverending Story was based on a book? Okay, how about The Princess Bride? Much like The Phantom of the Opera, many people are shocked when they find out that two of the biggest cult classics in the history of film are both based on books. And really fantastic books at that. Ende's Neverending Story is miles above any film version (especially the sequels which aren't even really worth mentioning) and Goldman's Princess Bride is just as funny on paper as it is on the screen.

So those are my ten--what are yours?

-Gabe

New Challenge!













I found a challenge that's right up my alley today. As I'd said before, I'll be rereading one book every month that is related to the current monthly theme as well as a few that I just want to reread for fun. Midnight Book Girl is hosting a challenge called "Read Me Baby, 1 More Time" which is all about rereading books. It's pretty much a match made in heaven. 

So far I've only reread two books, Redwall and Good Omens, but more will be coming in the weeks and months ahead, including:

  • The Confessions by St. Augustine
  • Skulduggery Pleasant (novels 1-3) by Derek Landy
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • Gorgias by Plato
  • and more...
-Gabe

The Cat in the App: Children's Books in App Form

Occasionally when I can't think of anything to write, I look for news articles related to books and reading. Sometimes I find something interesting, sometimes the proverbial well is dry. Today, I struck oil...so to speak.

I found this article on NPR about children's books in app form. I'm not really a giant fan of things like e-readers and I also find it sort of disconcerting that there's pretty much an app for everything so of course my opinion on this is going to be a little skewed.

Okay, almost everything...

I'm not against the use of educational apps as long as they are used sparingly. Some apps, like those for practicing vocab or math, are really great tools, especially for students who have an interest in technology or who are more audio/visual learners. But books are just fine the way they are. Sure, they don't have all the bells and whistles that an app does, but that's not such a bad thing in my mind. One of the great things about books, especially for children, is that they encourage us to use our imaginations, even the ones with pictures.

The other thing about this whole idea that bothers me is that the developers are touting this as a great way to help kids read when there is no real evidence that this is the case. Show me a study that backs these claims up and maybe then I'll change my mind.

Also, isn't this just another form of using technology to babysit children? The way the article starts out (if you listen to it instead of reading it) it sounds like this is just another way for parents to get out of interacting with their children. We've already got parents using televisions, computers, and phones as ways to entertain children and keep them occupied rather than play or read with them.

I understand, obviously, that parents are busy people, but that doesn't excuse them from shirking their responsibilities as parents. Children need parental involvement, especially where reading and education are concerned. Too often parents leave that up to teachers and don't live up to their side of the bargain. This causes way to many problems to enumerate here but I feel like technology is widening this gap between parents and children even more.

I feel we as a society need to take a step back and look at where we're headed, especially where technology is concerned. Human beings are becoming so reliant on technology these days and it appears that we are passing this reliance on to our children. If we keep moving in the same direction I think we'll wake up one day to find that we left our humanity behind us and have become little more than walking, talking machines. Is that really the kind of future we want for ourselves? More importantly, is that really the kind of future that we want for our children?

This is your brain on technology.
(Image from the "Do the Evolution" music video.)

Feel free to take a listen to the article and to let me know what you think of it (and my ideas on it) in the comments section. I'd especially love to hear from parents.

-Gabe

PS: For anyone interested, this is the video that the image above comes from. It's one of my favorite music videos as well as, arguably, one of Pearl Jam's best songs.

Monday, March 28, 2011

It's Monday; What Are You Reading?












It's time once again for "It's Monday; What Are You Reading?," hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. Every week tons of bloggers take stock of what they read the previous week and what they'll be reading this coming week.

What I Read Last Week:
-Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett











-The Road by Cormac McCarthy












What I'm Reading This Week:
-The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood












-The End is Now by Rob Stennett












-Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith












I've got a pretty tall order this week, especially because I have a major paper and project to do for the week after, but I think I can handle it.

I'm not sure how I'm going to feel about Stennett's The End is Now. It's one of the only books that I own in an electronic format so I'll be reading it on my laptop's Kindle for PC app, which I haven't really used before. Should add a different dimension to the whole thing.

So what are you guys reading this week?

-Gabe

Apparently I'm Not the Only One...

Normally I don't ever look at other people's reviews, especially not the ones on Amazon.com. I tend to like to form my own opinion of a book, give it a chance before I give it up as a loss. But I was curious as to how others felt about The Road, so I took a look on Amazon and I was surprised at what I found.

Usually the 1 and 2 star reviews are written by semi-literate high schoolers who were forced to read good literature instead of playing Wii all day. This was not the case here. A lot of these reviews were well-written and were clearly posted by people who have a long history of reading. And they all seemed to say the same things that I did. Seriously, go check it out.

Obviously there were a lot of 5-star reviews because it's Cormac McCarthy and even when he sucks people feel they have to stroke his ego. I was, however, very cheered to know that there were many people who felt the way I did. Misery loves company and this book made me wish that I were reading it for a class or a book club so that I would have had someone to complain to.

Also, can we please just admit right now that not every book that Oprah says is great is actually great? I feel like the world would be a much better place if we didn't delude ourselves into thinking that she has impeccable taste in everything. At least, I'd be happier.

-Gabe

How Did They Eke a Movie out of This?: A Review of Cormac McCarthy's The Road


Okay, so before you read my review of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, I want you to watch the trailer for the film. It's a strange request, especially coming from someone who is very often not thrilled with film adaptations. There is, however, a point to this. I swear.


Okay, did you watch that trailer? That's a pretty sweet trailer, am I right? There's action and dialogue and hints of relationships between characters. That is not at all what this book is like. Seriously.

Now, I haven't seen the movie. In fact, I didn't even watch the trailer until after I finished reading the book. That trailer might be misleading. The film might just be as boring and pointless as the book itself. Who knows?

Anyway, The Road is the tale of a father and son who are travelling to "the coast" in post-apocalyptic America. The book never really says what caused such widespread death and destruction, but with what I know of supervolcanoes, I'm going to guess it was probably that. (NOTE: if you never want to sleep again do a Google search on supervolcanoes, especially the one under Yellowstone National Park. That is some scary stuff, man.) 

Okay, picture this but, like, 1,000 times greater with the added
"bonus" that four states get completely wiped out and the ash
cloud completely encircles the earth blotting out the sun for
decades causing everything to wither and die. Sounds great, right?

For the entire book, they literally just keep travelling from place to place. Occasionally they find food. Once or twice they run into some people who are portrayed as not very nice because they cannibalize people. (I'm sorry, but if the world was pretty much destroyed and that was the only source of protein left, you better bet that I'd be picking meat off of people. I can't think of very many people who wouldn't.) That's it. Nothing else happens. For the entire book.

Thankfully it's a short book; just a little over 200 pages. And because McCarthy seems to have decided that things like quotation marks, apostrophes, and character development are overrated, the book kind of flies by because you're so eager to get to the end to find out if anything exciting happens. Surely a book that plays so dangerously with the modern conventions of writing would have a satisfying ending? Nope. In fact, I'd say it's one of the only books I've ever read which ended in a deus ex machina

The "relationship" between the father and the son is laughable. They barely talk to each other and when they do it's usually the same conversation:

Boy: I'm scared.
Man: Don't be scared.
Boy: Okay.
Man: Okay? 
Boy: Okay.
Man: Really?
Boy: No.
Man: Okay.
Boy: I want to die.

That goes on for the entirety of the book. McCarthy also seems to really dislike using things like "the boy said" or "the man said" so sometimes it was hard to follow who was saying what. Which I guess is kind of okay because they spend most of the book saying nothing at all.

McCarthy is pretty good at describing things. In fact, I probably would have liked this book a lot more if it was just a book describing the world after this giant apocalyptic event. Well, except for the fact that he uses fragments. Every sentence. In this book. Is. A. Fragment. Pretty much.

Cormac, buddy, were you trying to be edgy? Or were you trying to be clever in showing that the world was so desolate by using a sentence structure that was desolate? Because either way, Cormac, you failed. Miserably. 

The only reason it took me so long to read this book was because I kept getting bored and putting it down. I'd pick it up later and read huge chunks of text and hope against all hope that something would happen on the next page, but it never did. Maybe, in a way, that is sort of genius because that's pretty much how the boy and his father live their lives, always looking for something over the next ridge, in the next town, and not finding it. The only problem is that the reader should never be looking for the plot over the next ridge. Most readers find that to be kind of obnoxious actually.

But who am I to judge, right? I mean, I've never published a book, let alone one that got made into a movie. Yet, I can't help wondering how they managed to pull a whole film out of this book. It looks like they added a whole bunch of stuff (like, you know, other people, background story, actual dialogue) and that they even expanded the role of one character to fill the void left in the book. I have no interest in seeing the film but I have a feeling that if I ever watched it I'd be sitting there going, "Oh, so that's what this story could have been like if it had actually had a point." I could be wrong, of course. It could be just as bad. But I highly doubt it.

Oh, see that's what the book was missing: emotion.

Also, call me heartless, but what kind of father insists on making his small child continuously walk across the country to some ill-defined place that may or may not be better than where they already are? Why not just do the right thing and, you know, put the kid out of his misery? I mean, the world is destroyed. You barely have enough to eat. The child is starving and sick and there's no medicine. There are people out there that want to catch him so that they can eat him. Is it really such a horrible thing to say "screw it, there's no hope" and just smother him with a pillow one night? I mean, this is a child for crying out loud. 

Of course, McCarthy does something in the last few pages of the book that is supposed to make you go, "Oh, well, it's a good thing he didn't snuff the kid out" but really all I was left saying was, "Oh, well, here's some thinly-veiled justification for toting a starving kid around because of some false hope". But maybe that's just me.

There really isn't much more to say. I'm giving this book a 2 out of 5 stars. It wasn't the worst book I've ever read, but it definitely doesn't have the same je ne sais quoi as, I don't know, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

-Gabe

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I Think I Might Be Patient Zero

I can't be sure but I think what I'm sick with right now might be the zombie plague. I haven't had any cravings for brains yet but I figure it's only a matter of time.

In all seriousness, I am still incredibly ill with some kind of horrible coughy, sneezy, congested-y awfulness. I haven't really been sick all winter long so the fact that spring is only a few days old and I just get ill now makes me sad.

Anyone else ailing and want to start a "Future Zombies of America" support group?

In other news, I'm over halfway done with The Road so I should have a review up by Monday morning. Only one more week and two more books left in March.

-Gabe

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Final FINAL Book List for April

I've managed to somehow come down with the plague and I'm not really in the mood to write something magnificent. So, instead, here's an update on my book list for April.

If you click on this link it'll take you to the page with all of the books that I've chosen for my monthly theme. There are eight of them.

"But, Gabe," you say, "there are eleven books in that lovely (albeit grainy) photo on the left." Very astute, dear reader. There are, indeed, eleven.

The other three are novels that I've chosen to break up the monotony of reading non-fiction all month. None of them have anything to do with the monthly theme, they're just books that I decided to read because they sounded interesting. They are:

Now I'm going to go curl up into a ball until I stop coughing and aching and all that other wonderful stuff.

-Gabe

And the Award Goes to...

Me. Thanks to Nonners at Ridiculous Reviews who awarded me the Stylish Blogger Award. She was one of my first followers and has been a frequent commenter on my site, which already makes her awesome in my mind. She just did a redesign and it looks great. You should definitely go check out her blog and follow her as well.


As the recipient of this award, I have to link to the person who awarded it to me (Nonners), post seven things about myself, and then pass the award on to seven other bloggers.

Seven Factoids about Gabriel:

  1. I am a giant history nerd, specifically ancient Greek history. In fact, I consider The Landmark Thucydides to be one of my top ten favorite books of all time.
  2. I name my pets after book and television characters. At one time I had a fish named Severus Snape (Harry Potter), one named Michael Vaughn and one named Sydney Bristow (Alias), and a cat named Selmak (Stargate SG-1). Currently I have a cat named Teyla (Stargate: Atlantis).
  3. I am fascinated by the anthropomorphic personification of Death and/or Grim Reapers (e.g. Discworld, Dead Like Me, etc.). 
  4. I once wrote a novel in two weeks. I then spent over a year and a half editing it. It's probably the biggest piece of crap that I've ever written and I will never, ever publish it. 
  5. I love sushi and Chinese food, but mostly I just like eating with chopsticks. I get cravings to use them from time to time.
  6. I'm a theater geek, especially musical theater. My favorite musicals/musical movies are Sweeney Todd, Les Miserables, and Reefer Madness. I've seen three shows on Broadway: Hairspray, Les Mis, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
  7. I organize my bookshelves by Dewey Decimal.
And now, the seven blogs I'm awarding (in no particular order):
  1. The Perpetual Page-Turner
  2. The Little Bookworm
  3. A Muggle's Magical Book Blog (formerly Quick Quotes Quills)
  4. BookHounds
  5. Crazy-for-Books
  6. Fluidity of Time
  7. Reading Without Restraint
Go and check these blogs out. They're definitely worth reading. 

-Gabe

Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Blogger Hop!

Book Blogger Hop

It's that time of week again. Jennifer at Crazy for Books is once more hosting the book blogger hop, where every week a new question is answered by tons of different book bloggers. Go check out her blog as well as the others that are participating this week.

This week's question is: If you could physically put yourself into a book or series...which one would it be and why?

My answer:


I'd love to say something impressive like Pride and Prejudice or a Dickens novel, but I'd be lying. I really love the world that Derek Landy has created for his Skulduggery Pleasant* series. The characters are fun and creative and they have a great sarcastic sense of humor that I love. Besides, who can resist a skeleton mage detective who wears pinstripe suits and drives a Bentley?

*If you're an American who is interested in buying the whole series, you'll need to use the UK version of the website because for some reason the fouth and fifth books haven't made it to the States yet. That's why I, regrettably, have not been able to read those two yet.

-Gabe

The End is Near...and Hilarious: A Review of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett



From the back cover:

The world will end on Saturday. Next Saturday. Just before dinner, according to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, the world's only completely accurate book of prophecies written in 1655. The armies of good and evil are amassing and everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except that a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon are not actually looking forward to the coming rapture. And someone sees to have misplaced the Antichrist.

My Review:

Aziraphale and Crowley are two immortals with a big problem: the looming Apocalypse. It's not that they're against the idea, per se. As an angel and a demon, respectively, they are expected to support their side in the final battle between good and evil. It's just that, after being on Earth since the beginning...well, they've started to kind of like it. Now, it's up to them to try and stop it.

Good Omens was co-written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. They are, arguably, two of the funniest writers on the market today. Pratchett's satirical Discworld books never fail to make me laugh and Gaiman's dark humor gives even more depth to his already well-written novels. In this satire of the Apocalypse, both of their senses of humor compliment each other. While they never really talk about who wrote what, people who are well-read in both authors can catch glimpses here and there of material that is easily recognizable as belonging to one or the other.

This is at least the fourth (if not the fifth) time that I've read this book. In fact, when I first read it all those summers ago, I immediately reread it--something I'd never done before or since. It wasn't just the humor (which is superb) or the plot (which is well-crafted) or the characters (which are extremely likable). It was all of these elements put together, plus the way in which the authors used the subject of the end of the world as a way to explore human nature. For those of you who haven't read the book before and who see it as a fluffy, insubstantial novel, this might seem to be a bit of a stretch. But that is, after all, one of the things that a good satire does. It's something at which Pratchett, especially, excels.

Crowley, the demon, thinks that he's figured out the true nature of homo sapiens. He realizes that no matter how much demons and other minions of Hell wheedle away at a soul and make people do horrible things, humans will always one up them:
...he did his best to make their short lives miserable...but nothing he could think up was half as bad as the stuff they thought up themselves. They seemed to have a talent for it. It was built into the design, somehow. They were born into a world that was against them in a thousand little ways, and then devoted most of their energies to making it worse (p. 33).
Humans are also portrayed as being somewhat blind. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are in their midst and they pretty much ignore them:
Perhaps they saw nothing at all. Perhaps they saw what their minds were instructed to see, because the human brain is not equipped to see War, Famine, Pollution*, and Death when they don't want to be seen, and has got so good at not seeing that it often manages not to see them even when they abound on every side (p. 313).
But Aziraphale, the angel, knows that humans can just as often be good. In fact, it is precisely because they have such a capacity for evil that they also have such a capacity for real good, and vice versa. I think one of my favorite quotes in the entire book pretty much sums it all up: "It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people (p. 26)."

The book is, however, at its heart, a really funny story about the Apocalypse. This is one of those novels that's just as funny the first time as it is the fifth time. In fact, I'd argue that it gets funnier over time, mostly because in the time since I first read it I've learned some things that have helped me understand a joke better--like why November 5th is so important or who the hell Dick Turpin is. Much of the humor comes from exchanges between characters that are far too long to post here and that are much better in context, such as the great discussion that Aziraphale and Crowley have early on in the book about gorillas or the conversation between Newt and the cop-like aliens from space.

That having been said, there are a lot of great one liners and small moments as well, e.g.:

  • pg. 151: "Many people, meeting Aziraphale for the first time, formed three impressions: that he was English, that he was intelligent, and that he was gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide."
  • pg. 188: "You do know that you could find yourself charged with being a dominant species while under the influence of impulse-driven consumerism, don't you?"

Readers who are fans of Pratchett's Discworld, will be happy to know that Death plays a role in this book as well. He's not the same exact Death that's portrayed in those novels, but he does have the same dry humor. He even speaks in his typical all-caps manner.

For example, the Four Horsemen actually ride motorcycles and they meet up for the first time at a diner in the middle of nowhere. The only other people inside are four other bikers, only one of which has actually read a Bible (and that only because he had to hole up in a hotel for three months while on the run from the law and it was the only book available). So when these guys see that the Horsemen are wearing Hell's Angels jackets, they get sort of suspicious; these guys don't look like Hell's Angels. One of the bikers asks them which chapter they're from and Death replies: REVELATIONS. CHAPTER SIX. It's probably my favorite moment in the entire book.

I could probably go on for the next millennium about how much I love this book. I could talk about how the plot is engrossing, the action well-paced, the characters realistic and yet fantastic all at the same time. I could mention that the ending is satisfactory and that the rest of the book builds up to it nicely. I could even dare you NOT to absolutely adore Crowley and Aziraphale (I personally don't think it can be done). But I won't.

Instead, I will simply implore you to read this book. It's one of the only novels in the world that I have been able to reread so many times and I know that I'm not alone in that. Good Omens is one of those rare gems. It's not necessarily a literary classic (at least, it's not in the same realm as Dickens or Austen), but it is, I think, a timeless book...even if some of the things it talks about are a little outdated (Sony Walkmans, car phones, etc.). Underneath all the humor and the peril is a real story about what makes us human--the good, the bad, and everything in between.

*Pestilence decided to throw in the towel after the invention of penicillin and was replaced.

-Gabe

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I'll Go Stand in the Corner and Think About What I've Done

I was bad today. I bought books. Three of them. One new. Hardcover, in fact. I didn't mean to.

Okay, that's a lie. I meant to get two books and not spend over twenty dollars. I've been a Neil Gaiman fan for years but there are still some of his books that I don't own, especially his books of short stories. I've never really been a fan of that genre for reasons unfathomable even to me, but rereading Good Omens got me thinking that maybe it was about time I invested in at least one of his two short story collections. So that was book number one: Smoke and Mirrors.

Smoke and Mirrors
by Neil Gaiman













Book number two was also a Neil Gaiman book and a planned purchase. Other than The Wolves in the Wall I've never read any of the children's books that he's written. So, The Graveyard Book was added to the list.

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman













The third book, however, was completely an impulse buy and I blame NPR's Morning Edition. There I was, driving down the road, minding my own business, heading to the bank to pay my car payment. Then BAM! They start talking about a new book by Ian Rankin, a Scottish author I'd never heard of even though he's apparently a big name in crime fiction. Which is probably why I've never heard of him. I've never had an interest in crime novels; they just weren't my cup of sludgy police station coffee. But this book, The Complaints just sounded so interesting to me that I couldn't pass it up. Besides, I can never say no to a Scottish accent. It's now slated to be one of the fiction books I read next month when I need to take a break from non-fiction.

The Complaints
by Ian Rankin













So now I'm going to go stand against the wall, deny myself dessert, and take away my TV privileges for a month. Oh, wait...I don't watch TV.

-Gabe

Three Books Thursday: #2

Last week I decided to implement Three Books Thursday, which was inspired by the All Things Considered segment Three Books. Every Thursday I'll be posting about three books which fit together in a theme.

Today's theme, in light of all of the depressing books I've been writing about this month, is "Three Books to Make You Laugh at the Insanity of Life."

1) Big Trouble by Dave Barry

Although I wasn't impressed by the film adaptation, columnist Dave Barry's ultra-funny book about crime and nuclear weapons kept me laughing the entire way through. Lots of belly laugh moments as well as some smirk-worthy ones. My advice is to skip the film and just read the book.



Craig Ferguson of The Drew Carey Show and late night fame wrote a book. And it's an amazing book. And it's an equal-opportunities offender. This funny and irreverent book is about television and evangelicals and road trips and love. It's about sex and religion and the crazy things that make us human. Highly recommended.


3) Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 seems to get a bad reputation and I'm not sure why. I read this book over the summer and I found it to be a hilarious and horrific take on military bureaucracy. Never once was I bored and I truly believe that the chapter about Major Major Major is one of the funniest things ever written. Those of you who are M*A*S*H fans can, like me, gain even more enjoyment from Heller's book by picturing these characters as Hawkeye, Radar, and the rest of the 4077th gang. Don't believe what you hear about Catch-22; give it a chance and I'm sure many of you will actually love it.


Anyone else read any of these books? Post your thoughts in the comments.

-Gabe

Wait...He's Up *How* Early?

Sports Illustrated has a filler feature that they call "Sign of the Apocalypse". It's basically a little blurb containing a news item about sports or other things that show how the world has gone to hell in a hand-basket. Today, I'm proposing that SI's latest sign of the Apocalypse should be the following:

I, Gabriel, was up by 6:00 this morning.

I wouldn't usually put Garfield on my blog
but I can't think of any other being in the
history of the world that is as much of
a non-morning person as I am.

Okay, granted, I haven't actually gotten out of bed yet, but I woke up and haven't fallen back to sleep and am actually sitting upright and doing something. And no one needed to use a crowbar to pry me from my pillow. An ominous sign indeed. This is the first morning that I'll be posting about something before my prescheduled 8 am post. Dark days are upon us, my friends. Repent now.

Okay, so now that I've gotten the facetiousness off my chest, this is really a post about how much I hate parking in the city and how it's absolutely ridiculous that I can't park outside of my apartment after 8 am. Seriously, what douche decided that that was a good idea? Instead, I have to park off on a side street somewhere at night OR I have to move my car before 8 o'clock or my car will turn into a pumpkin (compliments of the parking authority).

Last night when I got home there was no parking on either of the side streets that I usually park on so I was forced to park on the street my apartment is on. The only problem was that I knew I'd have to get up at the crack of dawn and move my car. Hence the reason why I'm posting at 7 am. And I'm not too happy about it.

The angel Gabriel is thought to herald the end of time by
showing off his latest tune on this lovely horn. That horn
is actually probably my car horn, which will sound as
my head hits the wheel in exhaustion this morning.

If I was ruler of the world (and someday it will happen), I'd rewrite parking laws so that they *gasp* actually benefited the citizens instead of penalizing them for every little thing they do. If you lived in an apartment building, you could actually park in front of it, instead of watching that spot right near your front door get taken by some stranger who lives on the other side of the city and is just stopping by the Kwik-E-Mart. Yes, I'm bitter and no, I don't care. Parking laws are stupid, especially if they make me have to get up early in the morning.

-Gabe

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Terry Pratchett + Neil Gaiman + Terry Jones = ?

A Good Omens movie, that's what. Actually, according to this article that I found on Neil Gaiman's blog, it's a four part television series. I don't care what it is, I'm excited.

I wish I could be half as awesome as these guys.
Terry Pratchett (left) and Neil Gaiman (right)

Fans of the book have heard rumors for ages that there would eventually be a film. There were apparently talks at one point to have Johnny Depp and Robin Williams play Crowley and Aziraphale (okay, yes to the first one and absolutely not to the second) in the possible-but-not-very-likely film adaptation. I'm not sure who will be cast in this version of it but I'm anxious to see it.

Terry Jones, of Monty Python fame, is scripting the adaptation along with Gavin Scott (whoever he is).

Terry Jones (left) learns all about flying sheep from Graham Chapman.

I'm sure that if this actually goes through you'll be hearing me gush about it in the future. Updates will be posted as they're made available.

-Gabe