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.