Friday, December 30, 2011

Reading: A wrap-up for 2011

It's time to wrap up my year in reading.

I didn't read nearly as many books as I had hoped to this year. Part of that had to do with the fact that I started reading a lot more books than I actually finished, some because I only intended to read part of them for things I was researching and some because I just couldn't get into them. I started out the year trying to keep track of the ones I started and just couldn't make myself finish, but it got entirely too depressing.

Just two books this year were re-reads, My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok, and The Palace, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. I enjoyed both of them just as much as, and possibly more than, the first time I read them.

I reversed my usual trend and read more fiction than nonfiction this year. This could very well be due to the fact that it hasn't been that great a year for me, and so I was using my reading as a way to escape the real world that I wasn't that thrilled with. By actual count, I read 15 novels, 12 non-fiction books, and 4 volumes of manga. Thirty-one books total. However, I would definitely say that I read parts of more non-fiction books by far than I started but did not finish novels. My major disappointment among the novels I did not finish was not being able to get into Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon when I tried to re-read it, since I loved it so much the first time through. It's a really, really (really,really) long book, though, and I just couldn't stick with it this time around. Maybe another time.

Although I had hoped to read more books this year, I didn't actually set a goal this year. Over on Ravelry, the fiber arts website and forum I spend entirely too much time at, there is a group that invites readers to set a goal for the number of books read during the year and then keep a list detailing that reading. Some people read enormous numbers of books during the year. I did not. However, I think I'll be setting a goal for next year. Since I read 31 books this year, I think I'll attempt to reach a goal of reading 40 books in 2012. Not quite a book a week, but close, at a book every 1.3 weeks. If my math is correct. We'll see how that goes.

I did read at least one book each month, although in June and again in July I only managed one per month. I don't know why those months were the ones during which I read the least. Well, June I can understand. It was a busy month. But I was home alone for the entire month of July and had no transportation except the bus and rides from friends to a few events, mostly Tuesday knit nights and to an evening at Shakespeare in the Park here locally. I had plenty of time to read, and there are plenty of books in the house.

Aside from the manga, I read 9,547 pages in the books I completed. And, with that little statistic, here is the list of books I read in 2011. As I said, I hope to read more in 2012, and I plan to write more often here, both about the complete books I'm reading and about the other things I will read as part of my ongoing research for writing projects I'm working on.

(1) American Conspiracies, by Jesse Ventura (228 pages)
(2) Trilobite!: Eyewitness to Evolution, by Richard Fortey (284 pages)
(3) The Miracle Detective, by Randall Sullivan (450 pages)
(4) Sight Unseen, by Budd Hopkins and Carol Rainey (406 pages)
(5) Exile on Main St.: A Season in Hell With The Rolling Stones, by Robert Greenfield (258 pages)
(6) Dexter is Delicious, by Jeff Lindsay (350 pages)
(7) The Reversal, by Michael Connelly (389 pages)
(8) The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown (509 pages)
(9) The Devil’s Triangle, by Mark Robson (391 pages)
(10) The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, by Anne Fadiman (341 pages)
(11) Digital Fortress, by Dan Brown (431 pages)
(12) Mystery, by Jonathan Kellerman (320 pages)
(13) LEGO: A Love Story, by Jonathan Bender (270 pages)
(14) 9 Dragons, by Michael Connelly (377 pages)
(15) Java Man, by Carl Swisher, Garniss Curtis and Roger Lewin (256 pages)
(16) Library Wars 1, by Kiiro Yumi (manga)
(17) Library Wars 2, by Kiiro Yumi (manga)
(18) Library Wars 3, by Kiiro Yumi (manga)
(19) Library Wars 4, by Kiiro Yumi (manga)
(20) Break No Bones, by Kathy Reichs (339 pages)
(21) Weird Hollywood, by Joe Oesterle (237 pages)
(22) My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok (369 pages)
(23) The Scarpetta Factor, by Patricia Cornwell (572 pages)
(24) Treasure Box, by Orson Scott Card (372 pages)
(25) Weird California, by Greg Bishop, Joe Oesterle, and Mike Marinacci (299 pages)
(26) The Palace, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (376 pages)
(27) The Man Who Found Time: James Hutton and the Discovery of the Earth’s Antiquity, by Jack Repcheck (246 pages)
(28) Flash and Bones, by Kathy Reichs (278 pages)
(29) Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base, by Annie Jacobsen (521 pages)
(30) Impact, by Douglas Preston (364 pages)
(31) Blasphemy, by Douglas Preston (414 pages)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Catching up...

In the past couple of weeks, I've read two novels by Douglas Preston, Impact (2010, Forge Books; 368 pages) and Blasphemy (2008, Forge Books; 416 pages).

Impact starts out following three apparently separate stories, a meteor (or is it meteorite? I never can remember which is before it hits and which is after it impacts the earth) impact off the coast of Maine and a young woman's search for the remnants of the space rock because she knows how much it is worth; the search in Cambodia for the source of some radioactive gems; and the murder of a space scientist and his protege's investigation of what the scientist had been working on, the source of gamma rays that seemed to be coming from Mars, somewhere they should not have been originating. As it turns out, all three situations are part of the same story, and getting to the bottom of it all includes a boat chase in a storm, an encounter with a former Khmer Rouge leader, and the possibility of an alien threat to Earth. If it all sounds sort of silly stated this way, the story is interesting and it certainly kept me turning the pages, and I would recommend it to someone who is looking for a good adventure to read on a cold winter's night.

Blasphemy is a techno-thriller, in which a team of scientists have constructed a super-computer in a cavern on a mesa on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. But they're having trouble getting the computer up and running, and the president's science advisor has sent Wyman Ford, who was looking for radioactive gems in Impact, out to find out why it is taking so long to get the project on track. Meanwhile, one of the scientists on the team leaves the project mysteriously and then kills himself out in the desert, and some fundamentalist Christians have decided that the leader of the project is the Antichrist and must be stopped at all costs. The Navajo aren't happy with the project either, after many of the promises made to them in return for building the computer on their land have not been honored.

There is a lot more substance to Blasphemy than there is to Impact, as Blasphemy raises some tough issues about things like the nature of religion and of science, when does religious devotion cross the line into terrorism, and did god create the universe, or did humans create both god and religion? I wouldn't recommend Blasphemy to anyone who is offended by the portrayal of a certain wing of fundamentalist Christianity as fanaticism that could easily devolve into mob violence. Nonetheless, I would recommend it as an exciting story that takes some surprising turns.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: "Area 51", by Annie Jacobsen

Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base (Little, Brown and Company, 2011; 521 pages), by Annie Jacobsen, is a strange book. This starts with the fact that, in my local library at least, it is shelved with the UFO books, despite the fact that there is little about UFOs in the book, and what Ms. Jacobsen does have to say about the subject has nothing to do with extraterrestrials. I'm not sure what goes into the assigning of Dewey Decimal classifications to books, but if I were the one doing it, I'd be much more likely to put this book in with the books on espionage or the Cold War, with both topics given plenty of room in Ms. Jacobsen's book.

Most of the book, in fact, is given over to information Ms. Jacobsen gleaned from declassified documents about the legendary Nevada site that some claim the US government has still never admitted to maintaining, and from extensive interviews with those who worked there on various projects over the decades. And it's interesting stuff. Much of the work done there has had to do with the development of surveillance aircraft such as the U-2 and other high-altitude, high-speed spy planes. Ms. Jacobsen also writes about nuclear testing that was conducted in the area, which also includes the Nellis Air Force Range and the Nevada Test and Training Range, where numerous above-ground and underground tests of nuclear devices took place from the 1950s up until testing ended (maybe, according to Ms. Jacobsen) with the implementation of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty by President Clinton in 1993). There is some information, as well, about tests of thermonulears weapons in the Pacific in the 1950s, which were connected to Area 51 through pilots flying sampling planes that were tested at the secret base.

The book also details the decades-long disputes between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Air Force over who would control the base. While the two agencies cooperated very briefly during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963, for the most part, they engaged in an ongoing competition at the highest levels of government over who would develop the latest-generation spy planes and therefore control activities at Area 51. The details Ms. Jacobsen includes show that even the most powerful men in the country, and in the world, are not above playing petty politics.

In Area 51, then, Ms. Jacobsen appears to paint a fairly straightforward history of activities at Area 51, told by the people who were there and who feel free to talk about their experiences now that the papers connected to the activities they participated in there have been declassified. At least, this is true up until the final chapter of the book. Then the tone of the book changes to one of conspiracy theorizing.

Near the beginning of the book, Ms. Jacobsen introduces the idea that the vehicle in the Roswell crash in July 1947 was not an extraterrestrial vehicle, as some UFO believers maintain, nor was it the weather balloon that the government has always used as a cover story for what happened there, but a Soviet experimental craft that was sent as an attempt at psychological warfare, trying to induce panic in the US population akin to that generated by the Orson Welles "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast in October 1938. That dramatization of H. G. Wells's science fiction novel about invaders from Mars had much of the country believing, for a few hours on the night before Halloween, that the Earth actually was under attack from outer space.

Then, in the final chapter of the book, Ms. Jacobsen includes information from an anonymous source (the only interviewee she does not identify by name) who claimed that the supposed "alien" bodies from the Roswell crash were actually children whose bodies had been altered to look like aliens. In his account, the bodies, including two that were alive but in comas, along with the craft they were in ended up at Area 51 in 1951, where they were experimented on by US scientists to try to "reverse-engineer" what was done to them. This anonymous sources claims, additionally, that the alterations were carried out by Nazi scientists who had ended up in the Soviet Union, just as some Nazi scientists were put to work in the United States after World War II, mostly in the development of the US space program. Even worse, the source claims, the US did not just attempt to figure out what had been done to the children from the crash, but also continued to carry out its own secret tests on US prisoners and handicapped children at Area 51. He further claims that these tests weren't even "the half of it", of what went on there, but refused to talk more to Ms. Jacobsen, claiming that she did not have a "need-to-know."

Frankly, it is as if the final chapter of the book is lifted from another book entirely and tacked on for, well, for who knows what purpose. And it has come in for criticism from some of those who cooperated with Ms. Jacobsen in the writing of the book, who have said they feel "betrayed" by her inclusion of that final chapter in the book. One of those men, radar expert T. D. Barnes, is quoted in an article at Huffington Post from August 7, 2011, as insisting that nothing like what the anonymous source claims ever took place at Area 51. However, Huffington Post writing Lee Speigel points out in the article there that the anonymous source claimed the experiments on the crash survivors too place in 1951, while Barnes did not arrive at Area 51 until 1968 and that, in any case, Barnes would not necessarily have known about such experiments even if they had taken place while he was there, especially if it was not directly connected to the work he was involved with. As Ms. Jacobsen points out several times in her book, Area 51 operates with a "need-to-know" culture in which someone working on a project does not even know about other aspects of that project unless it is determined by project supervisors that he needs to know about it.

Overall, Area 51 is an interesting book and, I think, well worth reading. However, it does raise some questions, even aside from the issue around the final chapter and the controversy surrounding it. The main question is, how can a reader ever really believe anything written about the CIA? Now, that sounds like a question that would come from the mind of a conspiracy theorist. I realize that. However, considering that the intelligence agency (and, quite likely other government agencies) has been known to spread disinformation (information that it portrays as being the truth, but which is not true) in order to hide what it has done, I think it is a valid question. Another issue concerns what that, and other government agencies, allows to be declassified and that which it does not.

As a case in point, there is a story in the book about a flier who was lost at sea during a nuclear test in the Pacific in 1952. His job was to fly in and out of the radioactive cloud after the bomb was detonated, sampling the air for the amount of radioactivity. For some reasons, some of the equipment on his plane failed during the flight and he couldn't locate the homing signal to get back to the base where he was to land. By the time he reacquired the signal, he ran out of fuel and was not able to get back to base. His plane crashed into the sea and neither it nor the pilot were ever recovered. When the documents relating to that series of tests were declassified in 1986, that pilot's name was redacted (blacked out) in all the reports. It took his family many Freedom of Information Act requests, which were repeatedly denied, until 2008 to convince the Air Force to tell them what had happened to him.

One is left wondering exactly why the government was not willing for so long, even after releasing the rest of the information about that series of tests, to simply let a family know what had become of their son, husband and father. But, if for no other reason, books like this are valuable to keep the questions coming, and to hold the government, even the clandestine services, at least somewhat responsible for the things they do and the money they spend without telling the American people, the Congress, and sometimes even the President of the United States what they are doing in their names. This is not to say that agencies like the CIA should have to tell everything, all the time. There are reasons that some things should be kept secret for some period of time. On the other hand, when the reason that things remain classified for decades is simply to keep an agency from being embarrassed or held accountable for events that went wrong, or for events such as tests that went as scheduled but put people, both in and outside of the government, at unacceptable risk for harm or death, a case can be made that such secrecy is an abuse of power.

Read the book, and make up your own mind.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Since I'm procrastinating on starting the day's NaNo writing, I thought maybe this would be a good time to post an update on my progress since my last report, on Day Eight.

Day Nine saw me write 2,705 words, bringing my total word count to 20,597 words, but I took Day Ten off and recorded no word count. I felt kind of bad taking the day off, but I had an opportunity to spend a good part of the day at the library at Fresno State to do some research for a non-fiction project I'm working on (not much this month, but it's a long-term project, so the time off isn't a big handicap. I found some material that will be very valuable to the project, so I'm glad I went ahead and took the day to do that.

It was difficult getting back in the saddle, so to speak, on Day Eleven, but I managed to write 2,167 words, to bring my total to 22,764 words. I wasn't especially pleased with what I wrote on Day Eleven, but I was pleased that I wrote, and that the story moved forward just a bit, even if there will be major revisions in the next draft. That's a given, so not a problem at all. As one of my Facebook friends said about giving hints ("Spoilers, sweetie!) about what you write in a first draft, everything will change anyway, so it doesn't really matter.

Yesterday, Day Twelve, I wrote 4,023 words, by far my biggest one-day output, and my total now stands at 26,787 words. That means I'm halfway to the NaNoWriMo goal. It's a good feeling, especially considering that it isn't quite halfway through the month. I can see now that my first draft won't be finished by the end of the competition, but that doesn't really matter. The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month, not finish the draft in the month. So, since I wrapped up writing for the day late yesterday afternoon, I've been basking in the glow of being Halfway Done.

But, now it's time to cut out the back-slapping and get back to work. I'm not going to try to equal yesterday's output. I'll be happy if I can do what seems to be my usual output of around 2,000 words today. Heck, I'll be happy if I make the daily average of 1,666 words that it takes to win NaNo if one writes every single day.

One thing I do think is interesting is that I'm seeing, as I write, exactly where some of the changes will have to be made in the next draft. I'm starting to adjust my work as i write, so that the new work will be more in line with what I want the next draft to look like, especially in terms of the story's timeline. But I'm being very good, so far, and not trying to go back and fix things I've already written now. They'll still be there when I finish this draft and go back to do revisions. It's enough, right now, that I know the direction I want to go with the story and can see what I'll need to do in the next draft to point the beginning of the story more squarely in that direction. And, that I can see more clearly every day exactly what I'm going to need to do as this draft goes forward to get to where I want to be at the end of the story.

The bad thing is (and I don't think it's really bad, just more ambitious than I had really planned in the beginning), I'm pretty sure that there is going to be more than one book before the whole story gets told. Which means lots more work ahead. Good thing I love the process as much as I do.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's NaNo month, or not much time for reading just now...

...So, I haven't been doing much reading. But, I took a break last night and this morning, and read Flash and Bones (Scribner, 2011; 278 pages), by Kathy Reichs.

This is a good book and a quick read, in which forensic anthropologyst Temperance Brennan solves several murders against the background of one of the biggest NASCAR races of the season. I won't say any more because I don't want to spoil the book for anyone. I'll just say, Go, find this book, and read it.

Now, I'm ready to get back to writing my NaNo entry. I've written 22,764 words so far, almost halfway to the competition goal of 50,000 words. My personal goal this weekend is to hit the halfway mark.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: "The Man Who Found Time"

I've mostly been reading for research lately, so I'm not doing that well with finishing any books. This explains the recent radio silence here.

However, I have just finished reading a book that I picked up for research purposes but then found so fascinating that I read it through. It is The Man Who Found Time: James Hutton and the Discovery of the Earth's Antiquity (Basic Books, 2003; 247 pages), by Jack Repcheck.

In one way, the title says it all. This is the story of how James Hutton, considered to be the "father of modern geology", figured out that the Earth isn't really 6,000 years old, which was the conventional wisdom among Western scholars when he was working in eghteenth century Scotland. While Hutton himself never ventured an estimate of the age of the Earth, his work opened the way for later scholars to figure the earth's actual age in years.

One of the interesting details of the book, in fact, was that the current estimate of 4.6 billion years as the Earth's age was not reached until 1956, the year I was born, really not all that long ago in the wider scheme of things.

But in other ways, the title of Repcheck's book falls far short of giving the reader a complete picture of what he or she will find in the book, since despite centering on Hutton and his theory of the Earth, there are plenty of other interesting subjects broached there. Repcheck gives us a tour of Edinburgh, where Hutton was born, attended university and did much of his work. But in addition, the reader is treated (and I mean that in the best way) to a brief explanation of the Highlander uprising of 1745 and 1746. The reader also gets an overview of the Scottish Enlightenment, during which an generation of Scotland's finest minds made huge strides in many areas of inquiry.

So, I arrived for the geology, as an important side note to my research into the history of anthropology and archaeology, and found a delightful sketch of a period of time that I knew very little about, in a place that often seems to get short shrift in conventional histories.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Reveiw: "The Palace", by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Chelsea Quinn writes, among other things, vampire novels. But these are vampire novels with a twist: her vampire, the Count Saint Germain, is the good guy. So, if you like your vampires menacing, cruel, and villainous, you probably want to give The Palace (St. Martin's Press, 1978; 376 pages) a miss. But, if you like good writing, a great story, well-researched historical backgrounds, and vampires that don't sparkle, you'll likely enjoy Yarbro's series of vampire novels, most of which feature the Count.

The Palace is the second in the series, which has grown to a number of volumes since she wrote the first installment, Hotel Transylvania, which is also very good. But The Palace, which is the second book in the series, is my favorite, and the one I've gone back to read most often since I discovered these novels quite by accident. I was at the library, and just cruising the fiction stacks and pulled it off the shelf and read that it is set in Renaissance Florence. I'm a huge Michelangelo geek, so that was enough to get me to check the book out of the library and give it a chance; the fact that it was a vampire story was of secondary importance to me.

The story begins as Saint Germain, who is a friend to Lorenzo de'Medici, the unofficial ruler of Florence, is building a palace in Florence. But Lorenzo the Magnificent's health is failing, and Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican monk whose fire and brimstone preaching comes with a heavy dose of guilt and prophecy, is starting to hold sway over more and more of Florence's population. Savonarola has predicted both that Lorenzo will die, and when, and that the French will come and try to rule the city. When both predictions come true, Savonarola is on his way to several years as the de facto dictator of the city.

This development makes it more and more difficult for Saint Germain to live in Florence, because along with more and more rigorous religious laws, foreigners are less and less tolerated. Finally, after the sister of Sandro di Filipepi, known to the art world as Botticelli, with whom Saint Germain has had an ongoing liaison, confesses her sins in a way that implicates the Count in her debaucheries, Saint Germain must flee the city. He returns, posing as his own nephew, to rescue his student, Demetrice, who has come to live with Saint German after the death of Lorenzo and because of her ties to him has been accused of heresy.

It is worth reading The Palace for the wonderful writing and exciting story alone. But besides good storytelling and history that is impeccably researched and woven into the story without the huge passages of info-dumping that so many historical novels suffer from, Yarbro has inserted into the story a major subtext regarding the dangers of excessive and fanatic religious devotion. She explores, without sacrificing story or storytelling, the dangers that can come when religious fervor overtakes good sense and mixes with politics.

Savonarola is presented as a sort of a Renaissance version of a televangelist, preaching doom and gloom and prophesying the end of the world, or at least the end of Florence. He insists that any pleasure is vanity and offensive in the sight of God. He urges detailed confessions of sins, especially those of a sexual nature. He demands that the citizens of the city destroy anything that isn't strictly utilitarian, that they wear drab plain clothes, and that they attend church and strictly observe all feast days. If you are not familiar with the career of Savonarola, as I was not when I first read The Palace, Yarbro's portrayal of him threatens to read like an anachronistic parody. It is not.

Long after my first reading of The Palace, I wrote a paper and did a class presentation on the career of Savonarola. As part of my research for that project, I read translations of some of the sermons Savonarola gave in Florence during the period in which the novel takes place, and the words that Yarbro puts in his mouth sound very much like the records of his sermons read. There is no exaggeration there, as far as I can see; he really was that fanatic, that judgmental, that full of fervor.

It is a mark of Yarbro's skill as a researcher and a writer that she has managed to insert this subtext, this social criticism, into The Palace without making it read like an historical treatise or a propaganda piece on the dangers of fanaticism of any sort. It is all integral to the story.

I will warn you of one thing. If you do read The Palace, there is a strong possibility that you will find yourself looking for other books in the series. I've not liked all of Yarbor's Saint Germain books as much as I like The Palace, but I've not regretted the time I've spent reading any of them.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Review: "Weird California"

A couple of months ago, I read a book called Weird Hollywood and enjoyed it a lot. I picked it up at the library because I like reading about Southern California, since I was born there and because I like reading about, the, well, I suppose unusual is a good enough word for it.

I was also drawn to it because I remembered seeking another book, Weird California (Sterling Publishing Co., 2006), by Greg Bishop, Joe Oesterle, and Mike Marinacci, in a bookstore a few years ago. The covers were very similar, and I figured both were part of the same series. In paging through Weird California back then, I saw that a site just down the street from where my grandmother lived when I was growing up was in the book. So, after reading and enjoying Weird Hollywood, I decided to track Weird California down and read it as well.

I ended up having to request the book from the library because none of my local branches carried it. But, it finally came, and it ended up being my Labor Day weekend reading. It was perfect for that, nothing too deep, not much that was very serious, and entertaining throughout.

Of course, the first thing I did when I got my hands on the book was to look through it to see if I had remembered correctly about the Bottle Village down the street from my grandmother's house was really part of the book, and it was. That brought back memories of watching the woman who built the place, Mrs. Prisbrey, now known as Grandma Prisbrey, going back and forth to the dump in town to gather building materials for her work. To be honest, I think she was regarded as an eccentric back then by the people in the neighborhood, but that was a more live-and-let-live time in the United States. If she were building today what is considered folk art and has been featured in books and exhibits worldwide, there would have probably been people after her to tear it down because it was an "eyesore". And, in fact, there were once plans to tear the place down, and the Northridge earthquake in the early 1990s did a fair job of wrecking the place. But, it is now on the California and National Registers of Historic places and a preservation group owns the property and is making an effort to restore Bottle Village to its former glory.

But I digress. There is all sorts of weirdness in Weird California, from the expected hauntings, monsters, and UFO stories here. There are cults and murders and oddities of various kinds. There is a roll-call of cemeteries for people, for pets...and one for airplanes, in Mojave.

There are also other places I know besides the Bottle Village. There is Maze Stone, near Hemet, which as far as anyone knows is an example of Native American petroglyphs. There is Zzyzx, a defunct health spa out in the high desert near Baker. While I've never been there, the sign for Zyzzx Road, which leads to the site, was always a landmark we watched for on Interstate 15 during family trips to Las Vegas. There is a long section on Mount Shasta, which is reportedly the site of many odd occurrences, including UFO sightings and sightings (and mysterious disappearances) of supposed survivors of the lost continent of Lemura and of a race of Lizard People. Which all sounds very woo-woo'y. On the other hand, a couple of years ago I drove by Shasta on a trip to Oregon, and I have to say that the area gave me an uneasy feeling and I was glad to get past the area. Same for the supposed curse of Pacheco Pass. I've never seen or experienced anything odd the times I've traveled that road. On the other hand, it can be eerie and unsettling to drive through there at night.

Aside from the usual logical reasons for taking the stories in Weird California with a grain (or a full shaker) of salt is that there is one story there from a town I lived in for 28 years, a story of a ghost that haunts a stretch of road looking for her children after they were all killed in a car wreck in the area. The implication is that everyone in town knows the story and is spooked by the area. Except that, as long as I lived there, I never heard a word about it. Additionally, I drove past the road near where the haunting is supposed to take place on a regular basis for a couple of years on my way to school in Reedley, the next town over, and I never saw, heard, or felt anything strange. On the other hand, it seemed like some of the smaller roads down there in the river bottom seemed to have a habit of disappearing. I'd find an interesting stretch of road on drives in the area, and then not be able to find them again when I went back to look for them. So, you know, who knows.

It isn't actually required to believe in any of the odd things presented in Weird California in order to enjoy the book. Really. It's a fun journey through some of the out-of-the-way parts of the state, and a reminder of some of the weirdnesses that have become legendary parts of California culture.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Review: "Treasure Box" by Orson Scott Card

Treausre Box (HarperPaperbacks, 1996; 372 pages), by Orson Scott Card, tells the story of Quentin Fears (pronounced, it is pointed out more than once, as "fierce"), a software millionaire and recluse who turned his back on most of humanity after his sister was killed in an accident when he was a teenager. He has reached his thirties without ever having had a real relationship. Then he meets Madeleine, who appears to be the perfect woman. She is smart, beautiful and is as reclusive as he is.

It only takes a short time for them to marry, and then Madeline finally takes Quentin to meet the family that she has so far carefully kept him from meeting. They are an odd family, eccentric to the point of strangeness, living in a remote old house along the Hudson river. Madeleine has warned Quentin that she is "not herself" when she visits there, and it doesn't take him long to discover exactly how accurate that characterization is, and Quentin soon finds himself fighting to keep an ancient evil from being unleashed on the world.

Treasure Box isn't a bad book. But as I read there were things that bothered me about it, things that I couldn't quite put my finger on at first, and I was over halfway through the book before I realized what wasn't sitting right with me. What was wrong is that Card falls back on the old stereotype of women as manipulating their innocent, noble male victims. It doesn't just appear in the relationship between Quentin and Madeleine, but is hinted at in the relationship between Quentin's parents and stated more boldly in the relationship between Quentin's attorney and his wife, who is portrayed as cheating on the attorney while insisting that he is the one who is cheating.

I probably wouldn't have finished the book if it had become clear earlier exactly what Card was using the story to say about male-female relationships, but I kept reading in hopes that the subtext wasn't really what I was interpreting it to be. Yet, there it was, right up until the end of the story, with the added jab that the women who were manipulating Quentin were witches but the woman who he finds himself attracted to at the end of the story is not.

I don't know if Card did this consciously, or if such attitudes are so ingrained in him that he wasn't aware that he was dividing his female characters in the traditional bitch-whore/virgin dichotomy, with the whore presenting as virginal, literally in this case, in order to manipulate him before he saw through the deception. He is a man who holds very conservative values regarding family, and portrays his "good" characters as living out those values.

Despite the ideology lurking in the story, Treasure Box is a well-told tale, although I prefer a little more ambiguity in characters, and not the kind that was used here, where any contradictions in the characters' behavior was explained by their being "enthralled" by the witches rather than by the fact that few people are consistent in their behavior all the time.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Reading update...

I picked up a couple more books by Patricia Cornwell at the library the other day, thinking that because I enjoyed reading The Scarpetta Factor, I would give more of her work a try. Yeah. Not so much.

I gave Predator (Berkley Books, 2005) most of 100 pages, but I could not stick with it. The main problem with the book, from my point of view, is that it is written in the present tense. That hardly ever works, and in this case it not only did not work, it bugged the crap out of me. My brain kept switching the verbs to past tense, but then reading along that would mess the whole sense of a paragraph off. I refrained from throwing the book against the wall, because the wall hadn't done anything to me and I couldn't see inflicting that on it. But, the book is now back on the library, no doubt lurking on the shelf and ready to snag some other unsuspecting reader.

I still have Scarpetta (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2008) out of the library and might give it a try later today. I hope it is better...and not in present tense.

Meanwhile, I've been reading in Medieval Women Writers (University of Georgia Press, 1984), edited by Katharina M. Wilson, not as recreational reading, but in beginning the research for a project called (I think) the 50 Challenge, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA), of which I am a member. The idea is for members of the SCA which, for those of you who are not familiar with the organization does medieval re-enactments, to celebrate the founding of the group by doing 50 of something tied in to each person's interests in the Middle Ages. For example, to learn to do 50 things that someone living in the time of the individual's society persona would know how to do, or to make 50 items that their persona would have used or, in my case, to write a 50-page research paper on some aspect of the medieval period.

Choosing to write about women writers in the Middle Ages was a fairly easy decision for me, as I am both a woman and a writer, and because I don't really know that much about women who wrote in that era. So far, what I'm finding is fascinating. There were more women writing in that period that I expected, and not all of them were nuns. This surprises me, I suppose, because of the general perception that the only way a woman in the Middle Ages could gain an education was by entering the religious life. Apparently, this was not always the case.

I expect, however, that it will be a challenge to find sources for research, and that I'll probably end up spending some time in the library at the local CSU. Which is fine, since I love to play in libraries. The parking situation over there is hideous (knowledge I gained while living right across the street from the school for five years), but a main bus line goes right to the campus, so I'll probably just take advantage of that.

I've also been doing some other reading in history, as I'm gearing up to do some general writing on history, part of which will land up in a blog (once I figure out what to call the blog), and which is meant to end up as a book about exploring various aspects of history.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reading Update: The Scarpetta Factor, by Patricia Cornwell

I just finished reading The Scarpetta Factor (Berkley Books, 2009; 572 pages), by Patricia Cornwell. I'm not completely sure how I feel about it.

There's no doubt that it kept me turning the pages. However, 572 pages to tell a story that takes place in about a day and a half sometimes seemed a bit excessive. And there were places in the story where two or three things were taking place all at the same time, and it was, occasionally, slightly difficult to follow. This could also have had to do with the fact that I have not read all of the other books in the series, and so probably lacked some background that could have made some of the relationships between characters easier to follow.

Also, I've had a sort of variable relationship with the books of Cornwell's that I have read. I've liked some of them a lot; others, not so much. This one probably isn't one I'll read again, but the journey was interesting, and I'm glad I picked it up at the library and read it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review: My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok

When I read Chaim Potok's My Name is Asher Lev (Knopf, 1972; 369 pages) years ago, I loved it at least enough to buy a copy so that I could read it again someday. So, without anything else I wanted to read the other day, I picked it up and reread it. I hadn't been expecting it to capture my attention in the way it did, and spent a couple of nights up reading much later in the night than I should have done because I couldn't put it down until I got so sleepy that my eyes wouldn't stay open any more.

It is the story of Asher Lev, an Orthodox Hasidic Jew, who also happenes to be, almost despite himself, an artist. He shows promise in his drawings from a very early age, but in his community his talents - his genius, for he is a child prodigy - are not valued and in fact are considered a waste of time better spent doing other things. Those other things, in Asher's case, include following in his father's footsteps in promoting his branch of Judaism all over the world at a time (during the Cold War) as well as bringing Russian Jews out of the Soviet Union, which was a difficult and hazardous undertaking in the 1950s and 1960s, when the story takes place. He does this at the behest of his Rebbe, the spiritual leader of the branch of Hasidic Judaism that Asher's family belongs to. Asher is expected to go to school and learn the things he must to take over for his father someday, as Asher's father took over for his own father in doing this work on behalf of the Rebbe.

But art has hold of Asher and, after not drawing at all during the first years he in school, the art does not just take hold of him again. It seizes him. He sometimes draws without even knowing that is what he is doing. This is not just a problem for Asher, but for his whole community, which is very conservative and has set ideas of what boys like Asher should and should not be doing, with the "should not's" including drwaing picutres of the Rebbe in one of his religious books.

As Mr. Potok pointed out in a talk in 1986, "The Jewsih tradition is essentially an anti-iconographic tradition for the most part. Certainly it opoposes the making of any human image." He explained that this goes back to Mosaic monotheism and continued, saying "Therefore Jews have never participated in art of any kind that was connected to worship."

The Rebbe, though, sees that Asher has a talent that will not be denied and arranges for him to study with Jacob Kahn, an acclalimed artist who is a non-observant Jew but who counts the Rebbe as among his friends. Inevitably, the clash between Asher's artistic vision and his community becomes too much for the community to take, and as the book ends, Asher, still a young man, has acclaim as an artist but is asked to leave the Brooklyn community he grew up in and to return to Paris, to the yeshiva there where, the Rebbe says, "You did not grow up there. People will not be so angry in Paris."

In Mr. Potok's hands, Asher's story becomes about being an artist in a community that does not approve of being a visual artist and does not really understand what it means to Asher to be an artist. It is also about being an alien child to one's own parents. This is something I understand very well, having been my own mother's "alien child", who she did not understand after having grown up in a family that did not value any of the things I was interested in as a child and still am interested in as an adult. She never disapproved of my interests, as Asher's father does in Mr. Potok's novel, but she did not understand, either, why I couldn't be a "normal" child. We used to have what became a sort of ritual exchange when I was growing up.

My Mother: (to me, when I was reading, which was most of the time): "Go do something."
Me: "I am doing something. I'm reading."
My Mother: "Go outside and do something."

She wasn't a reader and to her, reading wasn't "doing something."

My Name is Asher Lev is a good book, told in Asher's voice and from his point of view. He never strays from his religious beliefs but, after his childhood break from drawing, never seriously strays from his determination to be an artist, although he wonders from time to time if his gift is, as he is told from time to time by others, from the Other Side, meaning that it is not from God but from more malevolent forces in the universe. The main flaw of the novel, from my point of view as a reader, is that sometimes years are glossed over in a few sentences. It is a trivial complaint, though, and I recommend this book highly.

There is a sequel, by the way, called The Gift of Asher Lev, and I'm looking for it right now so that I can read it again, as well.

Monday, August 8, 2011

And...I'm back

Yeah. It's been strange the past month or so, and I haven't been reading much. So there hasn't been anything to write about.


I just finished reading "My Name is Asher Lev", by Chaim Potok. It's a re-read, actually, and I loved this book as much as I did the first time I read it, but I suspect that the reasons this time are entirely different from last time. I've got to go think about it for a little while, and then I'll be back to write more about this book and what it meant to me when I read it this time.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Borders asks court for permission to liquidate...

Borders is going to bankruptcy court Thursday to ask permission to liquidate and close its stores. If this permission is granted, the liquidation sales could start as early as Friday and all its stores will likely be closed by the end of September. It has already closed a third of its stores and was working to get out of bankruptcy, but that isn't going to happen now.

It's sad to see any bookstore close, ever. I love the Internet, but I still prefer my books physical and in my hands. I'm old-fashioned, I guess. And I don't really like even buying actual books on-line, because I don't really like buying anything online. I like to be able to see what I'm buying before I pay for it. Again, old-fashioned. What do you want? I was born in 1956. You know, back when dinosaurs walked the earth.

That said, however, I'm not as sad to see Borders going. I never liked Borders much. The stores I've been in have never been organized very well, have not always had what I was looking for, and often had uninformed and unhelpful employees.

This was not universally the case, I have to say. I was in one Borders store in Southern California a couple of years ago and was looking for a particular book that was just out in paperback. After looking in all the sections where the book, which was Zoe's Tale, by John Scalzi, could have been and not finding, I asked an employee about it. He looked in all the places I had looked, just to see if I had missed it, but it wasn't there. And then he said he thought he might have seen the boxes still in back and unpacked. He disappeared and then returned a few minutes later with a copy of the book for me.

Still, I had more bad than good experiences in Borders, including one time asking an employee in my local store here in Fresno where the anthropology section was, and being asked in return, "What's anthropology?" I finally found the section on my own, but it would have been helpful to have a magnifying glass. The section was that small.

So, I guess it's goodbye to Borders. I'll continue to shop across the street at Barnes and Noble, where the selection is better and the employees much more knowledgeable and helpful. And where the sales are much much better. Now, if they'd just get their comfy chairs back.

I've cross-posted this at I Was Just Thinking.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review: "Weird Hollywood"

So, yeah. It's been a month.

It's not that I haven't been reading. I just haven't been reading books, as in sitting down, starting at the beginning and keeping on until I hit the last page. It's mostly been reading for work, and when it hasn't been that, it's been reading for research for other projects.

But...I did just finish reading something last night. An actual book, although it's really more like a coffee table book, or at least something that can be dipped into at will without reading it from cover to cover. Which, of course, meant that I just had to sit down and read it cover to cover.

It is Weird Hollywood (Sterling, 2010) by Joe Oesterle. I found it at the library and had to pick it up. I grew up in Southern California and love it and still consider it home, so I'll read just about anything about the area. I'd also seen Oesterle's previous book, Weird California, in a bookstore once and looked through it, and been quite impressed that one of the places he had highlighted in the book was Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village. The Bottle Village was just down the street from my grandma's house (literally just a few doors down) when I was growing up, and I can remember seeing Mrs. Prisbrey pulling her wagon to or from the dump, where she picked up the materials to build her village. Seeing it in the book was a nice reminder of my childhood. People in the neighborhood saw her as eccentric, and really didn't understand why she was doing what she did, but I always thought it was kind of cool.

Anyway. There's very little in Weird Hollywood that brings back memories like that for me, although there are a couple of places in there that made me instantly homesick because they are intregal parts of my growing up. One is the Capitol Records building; another is the Hollywood sign. And mentions of places like the Griffith Park Observatory, which I visited often when I was a child. I still get homesick every time I see a picture of it.

Living up to its title, there are lots of ghost stories in the book, and sort of a tour of the cemeteries that are the resting places of they famous and infamous of the area. There are scandals in the book, and celebrities, mostly of the past, and a few UFO stories. And did you know that Los Angeles has tunnels below it that some folks think is where the Lizard People live? And if you look in just the right places, you can come across the remnants of Lemuria? I'd actually never heard the Lemuria story before.

So, yes, the title claims "weird" and it delivers it. But that's part of what makes it fun. Not everything in the book is strictly in Hollywood, of course, but as I've tried to explain to people who didn't grow up in SoCal, Hollywood isn't so much a geographigal region as it is a state of mind. With this in mind, there are a couple of places I would have liked to see in the book that weren't there. First and foremost is the Alligator Farm that used to be across the street from Knott's Berry Farm. I always loved the Alligator Farm. But maybe it's in Weird California and I just didn't see it when I was thumbing through that volume in the bookstore.

Anyway, if you enjoy the unusual, I'd defintely recommend you give this book a look.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Monday update: A recommendation and a little on media differences...

As predicted, I read right through Break No Bones, by Kathy Reichs.

It was so good that I stayed up much later than I should have last night/this morning to finish it. I kept trying to put it down, and I kept picking it back up. Aside from the usual...great plotting and wonderful had the difference of being set entirely in South Carolina, rather than taking place mostly in Montreal, or going back and forth between the US and Canada.

I don't think I'm going to do a more detailed review of this one. I can't really think how to do it, without giving too much away. Which is my gripe about reviewing in general, especially reviewing mystery novels that really depend on the reader being surprised by the ending.

I will say something, however, about Reichs' books versus the TV series Bones, which is very loosely based on the series of novels. I've run across people who love the books and hate the series, and those who love the series and hate the books. I've managed to enjoy both because I look at them as being two separate things. It seems to be an easy thing to do, considering the fact that the only thing the two have in common is the name and occupation of the lead character, Temperance Brennan. There are no other characters or situations that exist in both universes.

Reichs herself explains the dichotomy by saying that the character in the series is a much younger version of the character in the books, who is a much diffrent place in her life. I don't even think that is even necessary. I consider them to be different universes, with that one slight convergence. To bring my love for science fiction/fantasy and time travel stories into my explanation of this, it is as if the books are Temperance Brennan living on one universe, and the tv series is the same person, only she made some choice in her life that was slightly different and ended up living a completely different life. (See David Gerrold's novel The Man Who Folded Himself, or the Fourth Series Doctor Who episode "Turn Left" for illustrations of that concept).

Of course, I see reasons who someone would not like one or ther other series. That is a matter of personal tastes and choice. But the fact that the book and the TV series have so little in common shouldn't even enter into it as an excuse for liking, or not liking, either one.

The thing is, this is a good book. It might not be my favorite of all Reichs's novels, but it is well worth spending the time necessary to read it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Reading update...

I'm finally onto a book that I think I might finish. It is Break No Bones (Scribner, 2006), by Kathy Reichs. I've read most of her other novels, and enjoyed them immensely. Since this one is several years old, I'm not quite sure how I missed it. I'm nearly to page 60 (out of 339), and it's quite promising so far. Even with the Headache that Won't Go Away.

Actually, I'm not sure it's the same headache, since it does come and go at odd intervals. It just seems like I've had it for just about ever. I've come to the conclusion that it's this strange weather we're having this spring. Take today. It's raining, which is definitely not normal for the sixth of June in Fresno.

I've got a few other books out of the library that look promising as well, so if I can find the time to read, it looks like I might actually be coming out of the reading doldrusm, finally.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Another week past, and no books read...and a movie review of sorts

Between a change in work duties that mean I spend a bit more time working, the headache that never seems to really go away completely (so persistent that my roommate asked me if I'm sure it isn't a migrane), spending more time on writing...and, not incidentally, watching the full series of Red Dwarf...I managed to go another week without reading through a book.

This does not mean that I haven't read anything. I've read a lot, just not a book all the way through. Most of it was research reading, either for work or for one of the writing projects I'm working on. That the writing is going at all is a great thing, but it really cuts down on my evening-time-hunker-down-in-bed-and-read time. Ah, well, this week if I had tried to read in bed I would probably have just fallen asleep and awakened the next morning with the corner of a hardback poking me in the ribs.

What I did do this afternoon, though, was see a movie, the film version of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife. I loved the book, if only on the strength of the fact that I love time-travel stories, and when I heard that it was being made into a movie, I had high hopes. When the film came out, however, I didn't hear that much about it that was good. So, I didn't venture out to the theater to see it, and I didn't rent it when it came out on DVD. When I was at the library the other day, though, I found a copy (two copies, actually) available to check out. Free movie? Never a bad deal, I thought, so I checked it out and just got around to watching it today.

Meh. It wasn't a bad movie, at least, not nearly as bad as some of the reviews I heard and read. The problem was, I'd read the book. Having done that, the movie just didn't measure up to my expectations. It wasn't nearly the disaster that Raise the Titanic was. I loved that book, by Clive Cussler, too. Worst movie ever made, and, especially, badly cast. But it wasn't Silence of the Lambs, either, which is probably the best movie based on a recent novel that I've seen.

I don't know if The Time Traveler's Wife was confusing to me because I was looking for things I remembered from the book that weren't there to find, or whether it was just confusing. At any rate, having read the book did not help at all. At least, when I saw the theatrical-release film of Frank Herbert's Dune, which was possibly the most confusing movie ever made, having read the book helped with some of the confusion. With The Time Traveler's Wife, reading the book before seeing the movie was not a plus.

This is why I don't especially love seeing movies after I've read the book. As I said, Silence of the Lambs was an exception. I had read the book not too long before seeing the film, and I was still on the edge of my seat through the entire film, which seemed to stick quite closely to the story line in the novel, a rare thing. Gone With the Wind is another exception to the rule. Obviously, huge swathes of the novel are not there in the movie. Otherwise, it would have been twenty hours long, instead of roughtly four. But it feels like it is all there, even though you know that they've gotten rid of whole children of Scarlett's and a whole lot of the more, um, politically unpalatable, content of the book (not that this was as much of a consideration in 1939, when the movie came out). Other than that, I can't really remember seeing a movie after reading the book it was based on and being favorably impressed by the film.

Next week, I hope to get back to some reading that is not work or writing-project related. Since Monday is a holiday, there's hope. On the other hand, my roommate wants me to proofread a manual she is writing for the middle school program she teaches in.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Non-update reading update

I haven't read much at all in the week just past, having had the headache from hell pretty much all week. Sometimes it recedes and is just annoying, but other times it's much worse than that. Most of my productive reading time was used up with reading and writing for work, so research and recreational reading didn't stand much of a chance.

Right now, it's just past midnight Sunday night/Monday morning, and the headache is middling bad. Yesterday it was to the point where my roommate asked me if I'm sure I don't get migranes. I've got no clue; I've never been diagnosed with them, but sometimes I suspect that's what they are.

Here's hoping that I get to read a little more this week, but I'm not exactly holding my breath.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Reading update, or missattitude reads manga

I think I have my computer issues sorted, so maybe I'll be able to update more often. I hope.

I'm not making much progress in Cryptonomicon right now. Just not in the right mood for it, I suppose. Plus, I've been taking care of the computer issue, or worrying about it, for the past few days, so I needed something to read that wasn't particularly intricate. Cryptonomicon is intricate; you have to pay attention or you miss things.

However, my roommate turned me on to a manga series called Library Wars, by Kiiro Yumi. There are four volumes so far, and I read through all of them over the weekend, just here and there as I had a little time. Although they are clearly geared to younger readers, I have to admit that I like this series a lot, and got quite involved in it.

For the uninitiated, manga is Japanese graphic novels, sort of the print version of anime. This particular series is about a girl, Iku Kashahara, who joined the Library Forces which, in this near-future world, has the responsibility for protecting the libraries from another government group that tries to confiscate and ban books they don't approve of. This fight has escalated to the point where there are actual battles over the library's right to hold and disseminate books that are seen as dangerous by this group and its supporters. This is not exactly Fahernheit 451-lite, but the point here is the same: censorship is not a good thing.

These manga volumes, which are apparently based on a series of novels by Hiro Arikawa, are not all ideology and violence, however. Iku joined the Library Forces because several years earlier, she had an experience in a bookstore in which the censors tried to confiscate a book she was trying to purchase, but a young Library Forces agent intervened and got her book back for her. She has turned the memory of this agent into an idealized hero who she wants to emulate. And that's where the story takes off.

I had never read manga before, and I approached these volumes with a bit of skepticism. Turned out, I couldn't put them down, and now I'm just hoping that a new volume comes out soon.

I should probably note one thing. Because these were originally published in Japanese, the English-language translations are printed Japanese style to preserve the integrity of the illustrations and the pace of the storytelling. So, the volumes, and each page, read from right to left rather than left to right. It was a little difficult to get used to this at first, but there is an illustrated guide in each volume showing how to read a page, and before I was finished with the first volume it seemed completely natural to be going in the opposite direction, so to speak.

Also, I have just barely started reading The Jesuit and the Skull: Teilhard de Chardin, Evolution, and the Search for Peking Man, by Amir D. Aczel (Riverhead Books, 2007; 288 pages). I'm only a few pages in, and so I can't say yet whether I will like it and finish it, but those first few pages have me hopeful for this one. I picked it up as part of my research for a writing project I'm working on, but I just might read it for pleasure before I start sorting through the inforamtion to take notes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Reading update: Some books are worth re-reading...

...even if they're long.

I'm in the process of re-reading Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon (Avon Books, 1999; 1139 pages).

Yes, that's right. It isn't a typo. The book is 1139 pages long, including appendix. And I'm reading it again. There is a method to my madness, however, which includes Quicksilver, which is, from what I understand is a sort of prequel involving the ancestors of some of the characters in Cryptonomicon.

Or not. All I know is that Quicksilver has been on my shelf for awhile, waiting to be read, but its been about three or four years since I read Cryptonomicon and so whether it is really necessary, I'm going to read it again before I tackle the other book, which is also Really Long. But, I'm also re-reading because I enjoyed the experience of reading Cryptonomicon so much the first time around, and I've been intending to read it again for awhile.

I will freely admit that there were things in Cryptonomicon that I didn't understand, things mathematical and cryptographic. Didn't matter, it's still a great book, and encryption and decryption fascinates me, even if I don't have the math to understand how it all works.

I'm just on page 114, so it will be awhile before I finish this one. I might conceivably read a book or two other than this one before I finish Stephenson's book. That's okay. I'm not always so linear a person that I have to finish one book before I start another one. I think I've discussed that here before.

What I want to, know, though, is what do you look for in a book that you will read again and again? Or, if you never re-read, why not? I'm curious about this because I've always re-read favorite books.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Reading update, or it's about damn time...finished reading "Java Man"

Yeah. I know. It's been awhile. I've been busy, and I've been having computer issues. But I've been reading.

The most recent book I've completed reading is Java Man: How Two Geologists' Dramatic Discoveries Changed Our Understanding of The Evolutionary Path to Modern Humans, by Carl C. Swisher III, Garniss H. Curtis, and Roger Lewin (Scribner, 2000; 256 pages). It's tempting to say that the title is longer than the book, but I won't, because it was a good book that I picked up to read as part of research for a writing project I'm working on but ended up enjoying much more than I'd expected.

Now, I wasn't surprised that I enjoyed it because of the subject matter. This is anthropology, from a geological point of view, which is right up my alley. Rather, I was worried that too many authors would spoil the narrative. But aside from a little difficulty at times in sorting out whose experiences were being discussed when, the multiple-author issue did not get in the way at all.

The thing that bothered me most about the book is that in the end, it turned into a partisan screed against the Multiregional model of human evolution. That the authors took the position that Out of Africa is the correct model for the evolution of modern humans was not the issue, and was not surprising, since most of the evidence currently points in that direction. Most paleoanthropologists agree that the Multiregionalists hold an untenable position. And that's fine. But the approach taken by the authors seemed to me to be needlessly strident, with more than a bit of "we're right and they're wrong" chest-pounding. Also not surprising, considering the amount of contention in the discipline. But I found their characterization of the advocates of Multiregionalism to be, well, more personal than they really needed to be. It is the science that should be questioned, not the scientists personally. Ad hominem attacks, anyone?

Still, that is really a small quibble about a book that presents interesting information in a way that is readable and that is understandable to the layperson. If you are interested at all in the evolution of humans, you will want to read Java Man.

Meanwhile, I've sort of started reading The Language Instinct, by Steven Pinker. I'm having a bit of trouble getting into it, but I aim to give it a fair try, as it is something else I need to read as research. Meanwhile, I gave up on Steve Berry's The Paris Vendetta, mostly because I had to take it back to the library. I might give it another try at some point, because it seemed to be going in some interesting directions.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday update...

I've finished reading Nine Dragons, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown and Company, 2009; 377 pages). Connelly is one of my favorite writers, and this book lived up to all my expectations. Made me homesick, due to a reference to a particular freeway offramp that I'm familiar with. Yeah, go ahead and laugh. I'll admit that it's really easy to make me homesick sometimes. One of the things that I like about Connelly's writing is that it is particular like that, and that he does his homework and doesn't always just make stuff up as he locates his stories in space and time.

If you like mysteries, this is one book...and one need to put on your to-read list.

Now I've started The Paris Vendetta, by Steve Berry (Ballantine, 2009; 418 pages). I'm not sure yet how I'm going to like this one. I've liked some of Berry's books, and there have been one or two I've started and then just set down, never to return (at least yet). I'll see how it goes.

And, I've finally and officially given up on Desperados. It needs to go back to the library in a couple of days, and it continues to have that problem with reading like the begats in places. Maybe I'll try it again later, but for now, no.

Also, just a note that I've completed reading 14 books so far this year. Not as many as I'd hoped, but still nearly a book a week.

Edited to add that I also finished reading LEGO: A Love Story. Quite an enjoyable book, as much about the author's difficult journey toward fatherhood as it is about Adult Fans of LEGO, but also an interesting look at a particular fandom and fandoms in general.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thursday update, or, over a week later...

No, my absence here has nothing to do with the computer issues mentioned in my previous post. I've just been busy, and when I haven't been busy, I've been more than a little lazy.

Oh, and I've been reading. I'm still sort of reading Desperados, but there are places where it's like reading the "begats" in the Bible, and so as much as I'm interested in the music it talks about, I'm not sure I'll actually finish reading it. We'll see.

I finished Mystery, by Jonathan Kellerman (Ballantine, 2011; 320 pages) on Sunday, and it was a quick and satisfying read. And now I'm reading LEGO: A Love Story, by Jonathan Bender (John Wiley & Sons, 2010; 270 pages). It's a book about Adult Fans of LEGO (AFOL; really, they have an acronym), and I picked it up because it sounded quite unlikely and also because, being involved in a couple flavors of fandom myself, and being educated as an anthropologist, I'm interested in fandoms.

LEGO is an interesting book so far, but I was a bit apalled, but not terribly surprised, to learn in the reading that there is LEGO porn. I mean, there is Rule 34 (I think it's 34) and everything. But, for a toy?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wednesday update...

Finally finished reading Dan Brown's Digital Fortress. I'm still not sure I liked it, and I can't quite pinpoint why it left me feeling unsatisfied as a reader. I'll have to think about that a bit.

Next on the menu: Desperados: The Roots of Country Rock, by John Einarson (Cooper Square Press, 2001; 287 pages). I'm just a couple of pages into this, so not sure how it will go. I found it on the shelf at the library the other day, which has been a reliable way for me to find good books.

I find it interesting how many books I've found in the past little while about the whole Southern California 60s/early 70s music scene. It seems like it has been a hot topic for writers. The best thing is that most of the books on the topic that I've read so far have been fairly decent books.

And just as a note, I'm having intermittent computer issues, so posts here could be a little thinner than usual until I've sorted the problem. I will at least attempt to post what I'm reading and which books I've finished.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Reading Update: Saturday

I just finished reading The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman. I'll defintely have more to say about it, but at this point I just want to say that it is an incredibly good book and that you should read it.

I'm still working my way through Digital Fortress, and I'm still not sure whether or not I like it. I'm also working on a review of The Devil's Triangle. I liked it a lot, but it's turning out to be difficult for me to write about it without giving too many spoilers.

I hate spoilers. Not for myself, necessarily, and not so much for reading as for films. But I don't like giving too much away in reviews, because I know they bug the crap out of some people. And there are some things that just need not to be spoiled...again, more often movies than books, but sometimes books, as well.

I'm especially adamant about not spoiling either books or movies for others after an experience I had with The Empire Strikes Back when it first came out, way back in the dark ages (which is why I will mention the spolier to follow; the movie has been out for how many years? Thirty? More than that? Anyway, long enough to be way past worrying about spoilers.), I went to see it, first day first showing. Only the first showing sold out when there were three people in line ahead of me to buy tickets, so I had to wait around for the second show. Which was fine. Except that when I was in the theatre and waiting for the movie to begin, someone who had been in the first showing had either bought another ticket to see it again or had sneaked back into the theatre. She sat down beside me and, without any preface, told me, "Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father." I looked at her and said, "Why did you tell me that." It was awful; I hated knowing that before the movie began. Which is why I try not to put spoilers in my reviews.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wednesday update...

I'm still in the middle...well nearly to the middle...of reading Dan Brown's Digital Fortress. I keep putting it down, saying that it's silly, but I keep picking it back up and reading along a litle further. I'm not liking it, excatly, but I keep wanting to know what's going to happen next. Which, I suppose, means that it is successful at least on that level.

I'm also reading The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997; 341 pages). It is another book lent to me by a friend. She read it for an anthropology class she took, and since my education is in anthropology she thought I'd like to read it. And it very good. It concerns a Hmong family in Central California, whose young daughter began having what were later diagnosed as severe epileptic seizures when she was just months old. The book chronicles the difficulties between the girl's family and the doctors treating her due to cultural differences in how the doctors and the family interpreted the causes of her illness and how the illness should have been treated. But it also explores the Hmong culture and history.

The difficulty I'm having in reading the book is that I suffer from extreme medical anxiety. Not only to I have anxiety issues around anything visits, doctor's appointments, and the like, but I can't even watch medical shows on television. I'm a little better about it than I used to be, but there are parts of the book that I can hardly stand to read. I'm determined to finish it, however, if only just to prove to myself that I can do it. We'll see how that turns out.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Reading update...

After looking around for something to read, I'm sort of starting Digital Fortress, by Dan Brown (St. Martin's Paperbacks, 1998; 430 pages), but I'm not convinced that I'm going to like it much. But, a friend lent it to me when I told him that I was reading The Lost Symbol, so I'll read it. I'm only on page 60; maybe it will pick up.

In truth, it might not be the book. I'm going through a patch right now where I'm finding it very difficiult to find anything that is really catching my interest. it happens sometimes, and it's always as frustrating as it is now. I've got a whole weekend at home alone. I can stay in bed and read all day tomorrow if I want, or stay up all night reading tonight, since I don't have anything scheduled for tomorrow. It would be nice if I could find a book that I just can't put down.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday Update: Two Books Finished

I'm back, the cold is mostly gone (although I've been coughing again today, after a couple of days of not; we'll see where it goes from here), and I've finished two books in the past two days.

I finished Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol yesterday, and I'll probably have something to say about it, but not right now. It's knit night, and I need to leave in a little while and, well, we all have our priorities. Right now, I'll just say that I don't hate myself for reading it, and that there were some interesting things to think about in it, but that I was disappointed in how he wrapped the whole thing up.

Then, today, I finished The Devil's Triangle, by Mark Robson. It's apparently the first book in a series, and now I'm hanging here, wondering what's going to happen next and not knowing when the next book will come out and how I'll get hold of it, since his books are not available in the US as far as I know. I think I mentioned before that I won it in a drawing. Well, if nothing else, I have a friend in the UK who will just have to buy me a copy and send it to me when it comes out. Because it is a very good book, for all that I mostly didn't read YA books when I was a YA, and I don't read them now (although my summer project may well be to read through the Harry Potter series; I've been meaning to for some time).

In fact, for all that they are very different things, I'd say that overall, and considering each book for what it is, I would probably have to rate The Devil's Triangle as the better of the two books. Both kept me turning the pages, wanting to know what was going to happen next, but Robson's book did not disappoint me the way Brown's book did, in a number of ways.

Well, like I said, knit night awaits. No new books to report I've starated. I'm looking at a couple, but I only finished The Devil's Triangle a couple of hours ago and I haven't yet made up my mind what I want to read next.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday update...

I'm just past halfway through The Lost Symbol. As I expected, it's keeping me turning the pages, to the extent that I have time to read. I suspect that if I didn't have to do things like work, I'd likely have finished the book by now, even though I didn't actually get to start reading it until Thursday. So far, I stand by my assessment that while Brown's writing isn't great literature, it's pretty good storytelling.

I'm also still working on The Devil's Triangle, but I haven't read much in it since I started The Lost Symbol. I either need to make time for it, as well, or hurry up and finish the Brown book so that I can find out what's going to happen in this one.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I'm probably going to hate myself for this...

I went to the library today, and there, on the "new books" shelf, was a copy of Dan Brown's most recent effort, The Lost Symbol (Doubleday, 2009; 509 pages). So, of course, I checked it out, all the while thinking, "I'm really going to hate myself for reading this." Because Dan Brown seems to be the author everyone loves to hate.

Full disclosure: I have read both Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code. And all the way through both of them, I kept asking myself, why am I reading this? Especially with The Da Vinci Code, it was a matter of, "I've seen all of this before, why am I reading this at all?" Well, of course, I'd seen it before. I had read Holy Blood, Holy Grail long since (as we estabished early on in the life of this blog, I love a good conspiracy theory), and I guess the politic thing to say is that Brown borrowed extensively from the ideas presented there.

But, further disclosure compels me to say that both books kept me turning the pages, wanting to know what was going to happen next. The story moved right along. And that's why I picked up The Lost Symbol. I'm willing to read a book that keeps me turning the pages, since so many don't manage to do that. I've tried to read A Tale of Two Cities about twenty times, and I've never managed to get past page three; it just doesn't give me any incentive to turn to page four.

I expect that someone will try to guilt me for reading "that guy". That's their problem, because I really believe in letting a writer and his or her story stand on their own. I also beleive that very little writing is great literature, and that that's okay. Sometimes, a novel is just a good diversion. And that's okay, too.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Review: "The Reversal", by Michael Connelly

I really hate writing reviews of mysteries. I never know how far to go, how much to tell, about the story, for fear of revealing too much.

This is my dilemma now that I’ve finished reading Michael Connelly’s The Reversal (Little, Brown and Company, 2010; 389 pages). It’s a great book. You should read it if you like Connelly’s writing, if you like mysteries, if you like a well-told story. But I just don’t know what else to say about it, aside from what I related in my previous update. It goes places you don’t really expect it to go, and I don’t want to spoil that for anyone.

The wonderful thing about the book is that besides being a roaring good story, is that if you are inclined to think about such things, there is some food for thought here about the legal system and law enforcement in the US in general and in Los Angeles in particular. These would be in the general area of how the system works or doesn’t work, depending on your point of view. Maybe I’ve just seen these issues because I’ve worked a little in the legal system and have thought about these issues. And you don’t have to engage them to enjoy the book. It’s just that I like a book that makes you think without hitting you over the head with the issues inherent in the story it tells, the way Connelly tells it.

I also love it when a genre book makes you think, simply because so many people hold such a dim view of mystery novels, science fiction novels, fantasy novels, and other genre novels. They don’t consider them proper literature and don’t hold any hope for them to actually make the reader think. It makes me kind of sad that they believe this, but you won’t convince them otherwise. Believe me, I’ve tried on occasion to convince someone who only reads literary fiction that some good could come from reading genre literature.

But, that’s another post for another time. For now, I’ll just repeat that The Reversal is a good book. I read it out of the public library, and I’ll definitely look for an opportunity to add it to my personal library.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Reading Update: Trying to find time to read in a busy day...

That has been my issue for the past week or so. Simply finding time to read has been a problem.

With my job, the writing project I'm working on, and allergies that seem to be making me sleepier than ususal more often than ususal, it has just been difficult to find time to read when I want to read. And so, it has been a week and a day since I updated.

But, I'm reading two books, more fiction after the Dexter novel, and enjoying both of them. First of all, I'm nearly halfway through Reversal (Little, Brown and Company, 2010; 389 pages), by Michael Connelly. This is the latest in Connelly's series of police procedural/mystery novels featuring police detecctive Harry Bosch, with this novel also featuring Mickey Haller, a defense attorney who mostly works out of the back seat of his car. Only, this time, Haller is working for the L.A. D.A.'s office, prosecuting a susepcted child-killer whose 24-year-old conviction was overturned by the California Supreme Court and sent back for the case to be either retried or dismissed. The District Attorney's office wants to retry the case, but for various reasons, they bring Haller into the case and he, in turn, brings in his first ex-wife, an assistant district attorney exiled to Van Nuys (anyone who has much experience with Southern California knows that this is about like being exiled to Siberia by the old Soviet Union). He also brings Bosch, who is Haller's half-brother, in as lead investigator.

Reversal is very good so far, proving that a really good book can go a long way to make me find the time to read.

The other book I'm currently reading is The Devil's Triangle (Simon & Schuster UK, 2011; 391 pages) by Mark Robson. This one is a YA science fiction novel that I won in a drawing on a science fiction/fantasy website and forum where I'm a moderator. Robson has been a participant on the website ever since he was self-publishing his novels after writing the first one when he was stationed in the Falkland Islands when he was in the Royal Air Force and his commanding officer told him one day to go do something constructive, like write a book. Robson did, and after self publishing a couple of books, recommendations from booksellers led to him being picked up by Simon and Schuster UK.

The Devil's Triangle concerns a family from the UK, a father and twin teenagers. The man's wife and the children's mother disappared in the Bermuda Triangle 10 years earlier, and now the family returns to the Florida Keys every summer so the father can search for the children's mother, who he believes to still be alive...somewhere. But, the man's son and the friend the son brought along to share the vacation themselves disappear after taking the family boat out one day without permission to do some fishing.

That's as far as I've gotten in the book, and I like it so far. Robson's storytelling is keeping me turning the pages, and I'm interested to see where he takes his characters and the story. One note, however: as far as I know Robson's books are not available in the United States. This is a shame. I think he could easily find an audience here, based on what I've read so far.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday night update...

Which I started by publishing just the title. This does not bode well.

Anyway, what I started to write was that it took me a few days after returning from the con to get back into reading mode. But I am back and finished Dexter Is Delicious this afternoon. Good book; relaxing fiction, if a little grotesque. If you've ever seen the TV series, you alraedy know that. I'll probably have more to say about this one soon, but it's late and I should be going to sleep soon.

The other update is that I was very good and didn't spend any money at all in the dealer's room at Gallifrey. This does not mean that I didn't come back with a book. I was given a copy of The Mythological Dimension of Doctor Who (2010, Kitsune Books; 248 pages), edited by Anthony S. Burdge, Jessica Burke and Kristine Larsen. It is a series of essays about the relation of the British television series Doctor Who and its spinoffs, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. It looks like it might be interesting and is definitely on my to-read list for the not-too-distant future.

However, I've got to try to finish up Claim of Privilege. I've also got to find some more fiction to read; it was a nice change of pace to read the Dexter novel. But, like I said, more about that later. Right now I've got a seven o'clock alarm waiting for me in the morning.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wednesday Update

I've been meaning to update for a couple of days, but I've been getting ready to go out of town and I just keep not getting around to it.

I'm reading two books right now. First of all, I finally found something on the fiction shelves at the library that looked like it might be fun, and so I'm reading Dexter is Delicious (Doubleday, 2010; 350 pages), by Jeff Lindsay. This is the fifth novel in the series by Lindsay and the inspration for the Showtime TV series, "Dexter". In case you aren't familiar, it follows the adventures of Dexter Morgan, a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami-Dade Police Department, who also happens to be a serial murderer. The hitch is, he only murders people who "deserve" it, bad people that society is better off without. I've read the first three books (the fourth wasn't available and this one was, and so far it doesn't seem to matter that I haven't read the fourth yet) and seen the first two seasons of the television series, and I honestly think it is remarkable that Lindsay has been able to take what should be an abhorrent character and make him a likeable, sympathetic character. I think much of this has to do that, both in the books and in the shows, we get to hear Dexter's inner monologue and learn exactly how he ticks.

In this book, Dexter has just become a father, an event that has him very surprised to be feeling what seem to be genuine emotions for the first time in his life. He is even considering giving up his extracurricular murderous activities, based on this new part of himself he has discovered. On the other hand, his brother, also a serial killer (but one who doesn't confine his urges to kill to the bad guys of the world) and presumed dead at the end of the first novel, shows up, likely with evil intent. There's also a crime to solve at work. I'm only about 90 pages in at the moment, but I'm enjoying the book very much so far.

The other book I'm currently reading is Claim of Privilege: A Mysterious Plane Crash, A Landmark Supreme Court Case, and the Rise of State Secrets (HarperCollins, 2008; 384 pages), by Barry Siegel. Much more serious reading than the "Dexter" novel, of course, and fairly interesting reading so far. It tells the story of the long quest by the families of some men killed in a military plane crash in 1948 in Waycross, Georgia. The families, of course, wanted to know what had happened to their family members, but the government wouldn't tell them anything, saying that the flight was classified. The families took the issue all the way up to the US Supreme Court, which ruled that the information about the flight was, indeed, classified, a ruling which recognized the state secrets privilge formally for the first time in US history. But, I've gleaned from the flyleaf that the papers related to the crash were eventually made public, revealing that the crash was actually was a result of negligence on the part of military personnel, and the claim of secrecy was made to cover up the mistakes that were made that cost all but four of the flight's crew memberrs their lives.

The interest in reading this book, for me, will be to see how the legal issues involved unfolded and resolved. Knowing the general outcome won't, I don't think, detract from the journey of the story. That this is often the case, espeically in reading non-fiction, is something I've learned over the years, and I think it is an important point. Yes, it's cheating to look ahead to the last chapter or last page of a novel, but in non-fiction, the reader often knows the general outcome of the story the writer is telling in the book and it is how the author gets the reader from the beginning to the end of that story is the real issue.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Book Review: "Exile on Main St.", by Robert Greenfield

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Rolling Stones. Aside from their big hits, some of which I like very much, I really don’t know their music that well. I’ve never bought a Stones album, and I think the only single (that’s vinyl, for those of you who are younger) of theirs I ever owned was “Angie”. I’ve seen the documentary Gimme Shelter, about the Stones’ disastrous free concert at Altamont Speedway in 1969, but I’ve watched it more out of historical curiosity than anything else. When the Stones played a show at a venue a couple of blocks from where I was living at the time, I said that I wished I could have afforded a ticket, but only so that I could say that I had seen them live and not out of fannish devotion.

So, I’m not quite sure why I picked Exile on Main St.: A Season in Hell With the Rolling Stones (Da Capo Press, 2006; 258 pages), by Robert Greenfield, off the shelf at the library, much less why I checked it out and brought it home to read. No clue whatsoever.

No matter why I did it, however, I’m glad I did. It is an absorbing book, which I finished off in two evenings’ reading. It ostensibly tells the story of the Stones’ period of tax exile in France, where they were to record the album that became “Exile on Main St.”, in the basement of the villa Keith Richards was renting in the south of the country. But not much recording went on, for various reasons, and the book becomes the story of Richards and his then-girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg, of the rocky start to Mick Jagger’s marriage to Bianca rose Perez-Mora (her name is apparently longer than that, but that is how Greenfield reports that she signed the register at their civil ceremony), and of all the various hangers-on who spent most of several months there, mostly doing drugs, and each other, and trying, not especially successfully, to stay out of trouble.

It isn’t a pretty story. There are drugs, debauchery, and bad behavior of many different kinds. It’s a wonder, I thought more than once while I was reading, that any of them survived the adventure. It also occurred to me as I read that the book could be used as part of a Just Say No to drugs campaign. There is no glamorization of drug use here. Greenfield makes it very clear that drugs make people sick. It makes them do stupid things. Sometimes it makes them die. Clearly, Keith Richards is a sort of counterexample, but the one that proves the case.

But, while not pretty, it is a fascinating story, told in a unique way, by a man who was there for at least part of the events, as Greenfield went to the villa during that time to interview Richards for a story in Rolling Stone magazine. Throughout the first three sections, the bulk of the book, Greenfield drifts freely between the present tense and past tense. This should have annoyed me, but it didn’t. That manner of telling the story seemed natural in a way that it probably shouldn’t have. It was clearly a calculated strategy, since the final section of the book, an extended “where are they now” narrative, is written completely in the past tense. The effect of this gives that final bit an air of “it’s all over now”, in contrast to the first sections, which manage to give the impression that the action is somehow still going on in some time-look that has detached itself from the normal flow of time.

I saw an interesting point in the next-to-last section of the book, when Keith Richards is very ill and goes into an exclusive private rehabilitation clinic in Switzerland. Although he is eventually recognized by a young fan, great pains are taken to keep his hospitalization, and the reason for it, quiet. What a contrast this is to today’s celebrities, many of whom go in and out of rehab at the slightest pretext and often to repair their reputations more than to actually treat any substance abuse or other problems. This may not be a point that Greenfield was trying to make when he wrote, but it nevertheless provides a vivid contrast between the early 1970s, when the events in Exile on Main St. take place, and the very different celebrity culture that exists today.

My experience with this book also illustrates a point that I try to make as often as I can. Sometimes, my best reading experiences come from just browsing the shelves and the library and picking up a book I otherwise wouldn’t have and giving it a try.

Bookstores: Borders Books edges closer to bankruptcy

Reports are circulating that Borders Group, owners of the number two bookstore chain in the United States, could file for bankruptcy reorganization as early as next week. There are also rumors that the chain could close up to 200 stores and eliminate thousands of jobs. The company would not comment on the reports, other than to say that its goal is to “have a strong Borders for the long term” and that it would not comment on how it might reach that goal.

It was also reported recently that Borders was delaying payments to some vendors in January, including major publishers, most of whom were not shipping books to the chain as a result, despite a request from Borders to turn missed payments from December into loans. The company has also delayed payments to some landlords so that it could “maintain liquidity” while trying to find a way out of its financial bind. That statement came just days after it had secured a $550 million line of credit from GE Capital. In addition, there have also been reports that some publishers will not support a restructuring for Borders, which would force it to liquidate instead.

It isn’t a big surprise that this is happening. I’ve been seeing rumors about the bad state of Borders’ finances for months now. Most of the reports blame more online book sales, as well as more book sales at places like Wal-Mart, Target, and grocery stores. My own personal opinion is that this is only part of the story. I gave up shopping at my local Borders long ago, when they nearly never had what I was looking for and when staff were not helpful in aiding me in finding things that I could not locate. This is not necessarily true in other Borders stores I have shopped in while traveling, but the selection and service in my local store has been uniformly unsatisfactory almost since it opened.

The problem I found to be more widespread was the lack of organization at the stores. It is often difficult to find subject sections among non-fiction books, and within those sections there has often seemed to be no rhyme or reason to how books are shelved. I love bookstores, and I love spending time in them, but I don’t want to spend the majority of my time there having to scan every title in a section when looking for a specific book because the books are not organized in any meaningful way. Not alphabetical by author, not strictly chronologically in the case of history, nor by subject matter in the case of books on current events.

Of course, this is my own experience, and your mileage may vary. But the fact remains that I’ve often found shopping at Borders to be frustrating in the extreme, and I’m not likely to continue to shop at places where this is the case. It remains to be seen what will happen to Borders, but I’m not optimistic about the outcome of its current financial troubles.