Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Definitely a good read.  Well deserving of the Printz Award.  I just don't know how readable it is for high school students? I really wish he would have incorporated what happened to the Haitian community during and after the earthquake.  Did any light shine through?  Lake was in darkness for the most part, but did have many metaphors with words that conjured some light.  I like the metaphor, but the uprising of the slaves felt a little distant from the earthquake.  The view into Haiti's slum is powerful by itself.  I think Lake masterfully tied all the strings as close together as he could, but there was just a bit of a disconnect.  I guess that was supposed to be the spiritual voodoo part, but I didn't love that.  As a person who wants to believe in that kind of connection, I was sorry not to feel intrigued by the Haitian history.  

The rest was good enough to write down some of Lake's thoughts:  

See? I've been in darkness before.  Maybe I wasn't shot in the arm, but in the heart and all this hell ... Papa's murder ... where I'll always be ...

Really good! Thanks Nick Lake for one of the best books of the year!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Amazing! Better than Little Brother.  Doctorow uses the world of technology, again, this time to delve into the world of labor unions, workers' rights, and factories throughuot Asia that pay their workers obscenely.  Egregious working conditions created deep empathy and made rich characters.  The gaming aspect drew me in, just like in Little Brother.  Once again, RPGs (Role Playing Games) are vital.  They allow for miserably paid workers to begin to organize.  It's not just workers though that begin to organize, gamers do as well.  

And then the gamers begin to control the games.  The value of swords and shields.  Getting on to the next level.  All of it.  And then they begin to influence the world outside of the games.  This was the bit that got my imagination going.  I finished Ready Player One in the spring and Doctorow's novel goes hand in hand with that one.  What is the value of this virtual, role playing game world? How far should we let ourselves live in that world? Can we 'live' in that world? What would that mean? Can we become the people we always wanted to be? Or do we lose ourselves a little bit? So many questions for this world that is just over the horizon.  This world is coming, the biggest question isn't will it change our society, but how it will.

The empathy for those working in Asia was coupled with embarrassment for what we Americans demand each day when we rise from our beds.  No matter how you slice it up, we are responsible for those working conditions.  It is a weak argument to say that those countries should have better labor laws.  It is 'Nike' logos burned into peoples arms, not Li Ning.  Those factories might be in other countries, but those are our factories.  Those are our shoes being made.  And that is our footprint burned into the workers bodies.

The lorax already warned us that Thneeds are destroying the Earth.  Now we can see them destorying people.  Not just those with burns on their arms, but those being filled with the need to succeed no matter the cost.  The need to nickel and dime.  The need to have what your neighbor has.  There are ugly, ugly characters in this novel, but it is the good ones that I will remember for a long time to come.  How many will I remember from this book in ten years? It could be a half dozen.  That doesn't happen all that often.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

As a big fan of Lemony Snickett, I decided I had to give this a try.  That coupled with the fact that it was the January Community Book Discussion at our high school got me to continue reading after being slightly disappointed with the first several chapters.  It seemed 'common'.  Whether or not it will be memorable in my mind in a year or two is still unclear, though I think it will be, at least attached to the name, Lemony Snickett. As our discussion played out I began to focus on the most telling part of The Bad Beginning and all the Snickett files.  It was the characters' backbone or lack there of that is maybe the most memorable part of those tales.  Certainly we wonder why there is no one around to help the children.  Is there really not one single adult willing to stand up for them? Willing to not only believe they are in trouble, but able to do something about it

It took several chapters, but eventually I began to see this similar theme in Why We Broke Up.  Handler, not Snickett, puts us back in the same place.  A situation where we seem to be stuck due to characters that aren't willing to stand up for themselves or their friends.  We arrive in a relationship with a boy who is a complete idiot, and we end up enduring the relationship because we are not strong enough to stop it and our mother and friends can't make us see how harmful the relationship is or at least will be.  

The book began to make me draw lines in the sand.  Where am I willing to go? What am I willing to say for a friend? How loud am I willing to shout to stop a behavior that just isn't right? And if my voice isn't heard amongst all the insanity that we call mainstream culture, what am I willing to try to do to stop all that insanity? Am I willing to write a book? Am I willing to start a website called, The Why We Broke Up Project? How do we help people from engaging in harmful relationships? How do we help them get out? When do we develop enough character, a loud enough voice, that we can clarify situations for ourselves and our friends?

Lines in the sand can be easily erased.  Sometimes they probably should be.  But sometimes we need those lines to guide us.  Lines that help us help the Baudelaires.  That's what those lines are about.  Those lines can guide us when there are too many voices to hear clearly.  Those lines allow us to stand when we can't think.  Those lines enable us to go in the right direction.  Those lines spoke to us and are important to us for whatever reason.  We should listen to those lines.  They build character.  Give us voice.  Characters that people want to befriend.  Voices that people will listen to.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

We have come to the point in our history that the Trekkies (Star Trek lovers) have long since known as one of the most poignant times in human civilization.  It is the time depicted in that science fiction when the world has a choice to allow information to be free.  Why would we do this? Why allow everyone equal access to ancient texts and modern manuals? The answer is rather simple and in science fiction it plays out that free information is able to create a second Renaissance.  A time when innovation is unrivaled because there are countless more minds allowed to use the information that we as a society have compiled.  

Imagine the original, state of the art thinking with access granted to all.  Millions of minds all working together to figure out the puzzle.  Little nuances that people outside the field might add to the thought process.  In Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch he argues that peoples indigenous to Central America might have better been able to repel the Europeans if they had worked together to create things like larger ocean going vessels.  He suggests that a tribe that had good boat design but no metal work couldn't create a ship large enough to go far to sea.  But, a neighboring tribe, that did have the metallurgy necessary to allow for the strength needed to create larger framed boats, working with the first tribe, together would have been able to create boats to repel Europe's navies. 

It is a simple thought.  But it is a thought that has been proved true time and again.  Work together and prosper.  The BBC published an article recently by David Keller ( that shows there is at least one library director thinking in this forward way.  Keller quotes the Cambridge library director in regards to making Cambridge's collection available to all:

"We want to share these treasures with the world.  We want to be surprised at what people do with it and the discoveries that are made from it.  We want to advance scholarship, research, and teaching and we want this to be used and enjoyed."

The second in a long line of Renaissances is upon us, let's ride this wave!  The Oakland branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has a beautiful slogan outside it's library that says, "Free to the People".  Let's live up to that.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I posted on Illyria not too long ago, but had to add a little bit more from Elizabeth Hand's newest,  Radiant Days.  Her language is a joy to read, tantalizing senses, imagination and that romanticism that stirs inside us when we read Shakespeare.  Each word accompanies the others on the page in a dance that takes several reads to fully appreciate.  Here are just a few of those moments:

"As if someone else, something else, moved there unseen"

"In love as in theatre, I had never had any magic"

"True, I never flamed out, and I never shone the way my cousin had, not even for a moment"

"Carpets in their muted colors, unfurling across wooden floors, white lace curtains in the windows, wisteria blooming on the porch outside and the echo of footsteps on the stairs above" 

"when the entire house seemed knit around me"

"Stars seemed to stir in the wind"

"I didn't want to touch that painting, I wanted to be in it"

"Dieu me conduisse"

Her character may not have had any magic, but Ms. Hand's words are soaked in that stuff that turns zephyrs of wind and clouds into ancient creatures that gave birth to our legends and stories of times long gone and places we may never find.

A sincere thanks! That was an amazing read!

Friday, January 4, 2013

I read Octavian Nothing a few years back and didn't think it was that strong of a novel, especially with all the hype it was receiving.  I think the folks that were trumpeting it along had certainly read Feed and understood Anderson's ability to communicate ideas through voice.  In Feed, Anderson successfully created a voice of an average teen in a decadent culture where corporations rule and priorities have long since been focused on superficial things.  

Feed made me rethink Octavian Nothing.  Before I thought the novel vague, never really creating a picture that was detailed enough to fully understand what the storyteller was trying to communicate.  Now I see that Anderson doesn't focus on creating a story so much as allow his characters to use their voices.  This allows readers to see the world through the character's eyes.  This might mean that we see a world that we don't fully understand.  This is precisely why I didn't like Octavian Nothing, the storyteller didn't understand the world he was in and so he was often confused.  This made the reading hard at times, cryptic even, but it created a very real character.  A character that couldn't understand slavery.  A character that couldn't understand hate and the subjugation of a people. 

I really found that perspective amazing.  To not understand hatred, subjugation and slavery is a wonderful idea.  It is a kind of revelation that steels the heart, allowing us to believe in the goodness of the world.  What does it mean that a child can not understand the depravity of men? That men have gone so far away from the way we think as children, that they can no longer be understood.  It brings hope and light to the darkest of subjects.  

Slavery? What's that?