Thursday, October 29, 2015

Daughters Unto Devils

Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics (2015)

Are you looking for a good Halloween read? Look no further than this debut teen novel that was just released last month. It has been described as Laura Ingalls Wilder's worst nightmare, and I concur. It's deliciously terrifying! And I love that cover. Why are obscured faces so incredibly creepy?

Sixteen-year-old Amanda and her parents and four brothers and sisters need to leave the mountain before winter. Last year they barely made it through, and something bad and unnamed happened to Amanda that she hasn't recovered from. So they pack up and go to the prairie to find an abandoned cabin for their new home. The cabin they find is comfortably large, but needs work. It appears that someone had slaughtered an ox inside, leaving the walls covered in blood. Something is not right on the prairie. But Amanda has no time to think of that, because a much more immediate problem is the baby she is carrying.

I read this in about a day. It is short and simple to read, but full of creepiness and terror that was all distressingly easy to visualize. The descriptions weren't enough to bog you down, but were cinematic in their simplicity. The story is kind of a slow build; you don't know what's wrong, just that something is, and it's steadily approaching. It begins at a moderate pace but intensifies rapidly, making it awfully hard to stop. I mean, you can't just put it down when such danger is lurking. That would be irresponsible.

Amanda is so tortured. She knows she is evil because of this thing that happened last winter and she doesn't want to be evil, but she feels that it's too late and all is lost. All she can do is try to minimize the damage. But her close relationship with one of her sisters has disintegrated, and she can't imagine telling her parents about her pregnancy though she doesn't have much of a choice. One of the most unsettling aspects of this novel is that Amanda is so recognizable as a regular teenage girl, but is stuck in such an out-of-the-ordinary situation.

I love that this book takes place in early America, which is under-represented in fiction in general, but especially in horror. Somehow that time period is even more scary, because things were so dangerous. I read all of the Little House books, and I don't care how much Laura Ingalls Wilder tried to idealize her childhood, things were rough!

Don't let this one pass you by. Here's hoping that Amy Lukavics will write more books like this, and soon!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Everything Everything

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon (2015)

Madeline has never gone outside her house, and she almost never has visitors. She has a rare disease called SCID that makes her vulnerable to even the most harmless germs. (Remember the boy in the bubble? That's her.) Her mother happens to be a doctor, which is totally convenient, and the only other person she has regular contact with is her nurse Carla. Until a new family moves into the house next door, and one of them is a teenage boy. Madeline and Oliver communicate through their bedroom windows and then online, but soon it's not enough and now Madeline wants more than anything to be just a regular girl who can go outside.

I couldn't quite figure out why Madeline hadn't ever felt too confined before. She had tv and the internet, so it's not like she had no idea what was out there. Another thing I didn't understand was why she dressed only in jeans and white tops. I get that she has nobody to look good for, but you'd think she would want to make her life interesting in what ever way she could. Then again, I don't know what it would be like to grow up like she did. I guess I should have a better idea of it from this novel, but some things just weren't totally fleshed out.

I won't say too much about what happens with her hot neighbor, Olly, but I really liked him. His family was SO dysfunctional, and while I found his father to be rather a two-dimensional villain, Olly was really great. Madeline's family is also not completely functional, and without giving things away I'll just note that she lives alone with her mother and the missing family members are important. She is super close to her mother and while I think her mother tries to make Madeline's life fun with their special Friday night dinners and board games and whatnot, she is also a tad bit too controlling. (This may be an understatement.)

An important theme in this novel is being as safe as possible versus living your life. Madeline starts thinking about how much of life she is missing and wondering if it's worth it. Maybe certain things that could potentially be dangerous are totally worth the risk. This all made me think about the ways that we try to be as safe as possible and what we give up for it. (I'm talking about the U.S. here, as other countries aren't quite so insane in this particular way.) Sometimes it's on a large scale like forgoing some civil liberties in the interest of keeping everyone safe from terrorism; sometimes it's smaller, like not letting your kid walk to the park alone because of the tiny chance they might be abducted (even though crime has gone way down in the last few decades.) This would be a great book for discussion.

This is a super quick read! The text is really broken up, some pages consisting of just a few sentences. It includes illustrations (drawn by the author's husband), and some of the conversations are in Google chat or texts (illustrated with a phone screen). Also, the cover is really gorgeous. I couldn't stop with this book once I started, and totally flew through it in just a day or two. It's pretty unique so I highly recommend it to anyone who reads teen fiction.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Furiously Happy

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson (2015)

Jenny Lawson's first book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, was a memoir taking us from her childhood through her marriage and motherhood. Her follow-up is less of a memoir and more a collection of essays, and they focus primarily on her battles with mental illness. But don't think that means it isn't funny: it's just as hilarious as the first one.

In addition to mental illness, the subject matter includes: her trip to Australia, the lack of pockets on women's clothing, Japanese toilets, why The President would be a great name for a cat, and her epiphany that everything in the world either is or isn't pandas. She recounts narrating the first audio book and how terribly she did until she contacted her friend Neil Gaiman (as you do) who gave her advice to just act like she was good at it. I also noticed a bit of reused material from the first book, like the time her cat digested a toy with a bell on it so that when he pooped it out the sound scared him and he ended up running around with a jangling bell hanging out of his butt. The story may have been familiar, but you know, I still laughed at it again.

I listened to it right after listening to the first book, so it's a bit difficult to separate them in my mind. She does not sing the chapter titles this time, which is something I forgot to mention when I posted about the last book. Some reviewers really disliked that she did it, but I found it helpful because it really stood out that a new chapter was stating when my mind wandered from the audio as it tends to do.

Lawson has a pretty strong sense of exceptionalism, which I noted in my last post in terms of her crazy childhood. It seems to also extend to her struggles as an adult. While I realize that we are all special snowflakes, we still have more that unites us than makes us different. Even mental illnesses don't define everything about the person who has them. She seems surprised at the number of people who relate to her, but I think we are all insecure and afraid and screwed up in one way or another. The people she points to who are different from her because they have their shit together - I don't think they exist, they just hide their imperfections better. Sometimes she seems to know this, and sometimes she doesn't. But this is a tangent and doesn't detract from my enjoyment of her writing.

I wish I could quote some of the passages to you, so you can get a taste for her sense of humor if you're unfamiliar with it, but you really have to hear it all in context. These aren't one-liners, they are fully rambling stories that build on each other until they get unbelievably ridiculous. If you want a taste, visit her blog. Her style is not for everyone, but if she's your sort of writer, you'll know right away.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Guest Room

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian (2016)

When Richard Chapman agreed to host his brother's bachelor party at his house, he assumed there might be a stripper. But he never anticipated the party getting so out of hand it would end in murder. When it was over two people were dead, two young women were on the run, and he worried that his marriage wouldn't recover. Shifting perspective between Richard and a young woman named Alexandra, this forthcoming novel takes an intimate look at one victim of human trafficking and a family that becomes fractured by one ill-fated night.

As he so frequently does, Bohjalian delves into an issue without making it feel like an "issue" book. Human trafficking has been getting a lot of attention (though I'd say not as much as it probably deserves) and reading a story about a victim, even if it is fiction, is enlightening and horrifying. Alexandra was just a regular girl with dreams of becoming a dancer until the deaths of her parents left her vulnerable. Thinking she was going to an elite dance school in Moscow, she was entrusted into the care of a man who trapped her in a horrible and dangerous life from which she couldn't escape.

Bohjalian does not shy away from the graphic details of what young women like Alexandra go through once they are abducted, and there's another storyline about a particularly smarmy attempt at blackmail. Honestly, the whole thing kind of made me feel dirty. Which, these are dirty subjects so I guess that's a sign of effective writing. Well played, Chris Bohjalian.

The parts of the story focused on Richard's wife and daughter, however, were introspective and touching. This novel expertly captured the fragility of marriage, illustrating how very easy betrayal can be, while also asking at what point you've actually crossed a line. Richard's wife Kristin reacted to the situation as you might expect, clearly upset with her husband but also committed to their marriage. She was easy to relate to, completely reasonable and sympathetic while still being angry and emotionally distraught. Nine-year-old Melissa's perspective was poignant and sometimes funny as she tried to make sense of what happened in her house. I loved the consideration she put into comparing the facts of what happened with her limited knowledge about sex. She had the basic idea of what sex slaves are, even if it wasn't totally fleshed out. She wasn't infantilized like children so often are in books, but given a level of knowledge and awareness about the world that was more realistic.

I was struck by the family's apparent nonchalance regarding the bloodstains left at their house. It never occurred to me to think about what it must be like to return to your home when it has become a crime scene. Of course the blood was shocking at first, but I suppose it wasn't much compared with everything else they were dealing with, and they had no choice but to just live with it until they could get rid of the couch and get the walls repapered. None of that happens instantly. It just stood out to me as I've never seen this situation portrayed in a book, and I keep thinking about it.

Somehow this felt different from other books by Chris Bohjalian, but I can't put my finger on why. Perhaps just because some of the subject matter was so seedy, and perhaps because one of the main characters is a man and his protagonists are usually female. At any rate, I became engrossed in this story right away. I really felt for these people and everything they went through, and will likely keep thinking about all of them for a while to come.

The Guest Room will be published in January 2016. I received my copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley. I was not compensated for this review.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014)

Nobody expected the Parents' Trivia Night at Pirriwee Public School to end in tragedy. But it's true that things had become increasingly tense among many of the parents. It all began when Renata accused Jane's son Ziggy of bullying her daughter Amabella, and started up a petition to have him expelled from kindergarten. Jane had just moved to the area and her new friends Madeleine and Celeste were supportive, but also distracted by their own problems. Madeleine's daughter is becoming more and more aligned with her stepmother, which is made worse by Madeline's lingering bitterness towards her ex-husband, who unfortunately chose to live in the same small town. Celeste's life is picture-perfect, with her successful husband and adorable twin boys, but underneath it all is a dark secret she may not be willing to hide for much longer.

Told in third person but focused on Jane, Madeleine and Celeste, the novel opens on the vague mayhem of Trivia Night and then goes back six months to the kindergarten orientation. Interspersed in the narrative are snippets of interviews regarding the tragic events of Trivia Night. We aren't told any specifics, including the identity of the victim, but we get many conflicting views on the people involved by various bystanders.

There's a review of this book on Goodreads that says only "Probably the funniest book about murder and domestic abuse I'll ever read," which sums it up very well. Almost all of the issues and problems are pretty serious, but reading about it was so much fun.

Primarily this is because of the excellent, realistic characters. My favorite was Madeline, who characterizes her family role as "the comically crazy mother." She is super dramatic and silly and very well-intentioned. Jane has never gotten over the circumstances of her pregnancy, which came about from a one night stand that was quite traumatic. She changed after that and kept herself in a kind of suspended animation. When something nice was happening she would think to herself, "I wish I was here." Celeste is effortlessly beautiful and eternally distracted, but none of her friends have any idea what her life is really life. Her marriage is outwardly really good, and even at home she and her husband Perry usually get along. But sometimes she will say something he doesn't like, maybe something that makes him feel stupid or humiliated, and Celeste has to pay the price.

I really like the way a number of issues were handled, but domestic violence was the big one. Celeste was a lawyer before she stopped working to raise her sons, so she is a very educated and strong woman, one who knows the law. But even she can fall prey to abuse and continue to justify staying in the relationship. Early in the book she described it as being mutual, like a dangerous game that she and her husband played together. It was very interesting to see the way that her thoughts about her husband's behavior evolved as the novel progressed.

The way that we portray our lives on social media was also a theme throughout the novel. I know this issue is nothing new, especially to anyone with a Facebook account, but it was so well illustrated through the lives of these characters. Perry had a very active presence on Facebook, and was constantly reinforcing to himself and the world that his family life was perfect. But Jane, too, spent some time early in the book thinking about various things she could post on Facebook and the sorts of comments people would probably make if she did so, and what conclusions about her life they would draw.

This was a book that I kept wanting to pick up every chance I got, though my busy week didn't allow me to suck it in as quickly as I wanted to. It's fairly long but didn't feel that way since it was so fast-paced. I spent a lot of the book worried about these characters who had totally started to feel like friends, because I knew that someone was going to die and really had no idea who it would be. It didn't feel like a suspense novel though since it was so fun, and I really enjoyed it from beginning to end. This was a pick for my book group (we also read another of her novels, The Husband's Secret) and there was a whole lot to discuss. If you like light funny books about serious issues, this might be for you.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Red Queen

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (2015)

In Mare Barrow's world you are either a Silver or a Red, depending on the color of your blood. Silvers are the elite, gifted with not only power over Reds, but with actual superpowers. Reds are commoners and toil at harsh jobs at which they are underpaid, and if they don't have apprenticeships by the time they are 18 they are conscripted into the military. Mare is in such a position just weeks before her birthday until a chance meeting with a stranger lands her a position at the Palace. Here she accidentally discovers her own impossible superpower in the most public of ways, and the royal family take her in and make up a cover story, but it's inevitable that the truth will come out. Making things even more dangerous, Mare has aligned herself with a rebel group called the Scarlet Guard, which seeks to end domination by the very Silvers she is now living among.

I went into this with very high hopes, because I heard such positive glowing reviews from others. And it was good, but I didn't love it as much as everyone else apparently does.

I liked that the plot revolves around realistic power politics. Despite the supernatural powers, it's really about one group being in power and another group's secret force who wants to overthrow them. So many lies and betrayals!

Which brings me to the characters. You don't know who to trust, just as Mare doesn't know who to trust. She has to just decide when to risk it and when to hold her tongue. These are complications situations and I just don't know what I'd do in her position. Sometimes I thought she and the Scarlet Guard were being too reckless. Winning power for the underclass is a worthy cause, but if you screw up, everyone gets punished.

Still, some things didn't make sense to me. When the royal family tells Mare she is to live with them, Mare makes demands to which the family immediately acquiesces, though she's in no position to bargain. Late in the book there were some big decisions to be made that would affect the future of the kingdom. Actions were taken based on one person presumably loving another enough to betray everything they believed in, and it really didn't make sense in the context. I may have actually rolled my eyes at this point (though ultimately I liked how it was all resolved.)

I'm not gonna lie: I liked the last dystopia I read much better. (That was Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow.) This one just somehow wasn't quite fresh and new enough for me. It's got a good, strong female protagonist and lots of high-stakes drama so I can see the appeal and certainly wouldn't caution anyone against picking it up. I enjoyed it well enough while I was reading it, but now that I'm done it's just not sticking with me and I'm ready to move on.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson (2012), narrated by the author

I tried listening to this audiobook a couple of years ago and just couldn't get into it. I was rather put off by how she talked about her childhood like it was weirder than anyone else's, as though it was a competition and she was the clear winner. (You're not the only one who grew up rural and poor, Jenny Lawson, so you can't actually win this contest.) However, I've been reading her blog consistently and I really like it a lot. When her second book was about to come out I thought it was time to try her again, but I wanted to start at the beginning.

The childhood parts didn't bother me as much this time, and then the story moved forward to her marriage and daughter and various zany adventures. She shares her experiences working in human resources, where had to present a photo to a man at her company and ask "Is this your penis?" Many times. (Not the same man. Apparently using work email to send penis photos is an epidemic.) She also relates a story about attending a weekend trip with other female bloggers, where she claimed to be attacked during the night by a cougar which turned out to be just a feral cat (and surprisingly she is still friends with one of those bloggers.) Other stories center around topics such as taxidermy, stabbings, and that time she impregnated a cow with a turkey baster. A few are more serious than others, like when she recounts her miscarriages and the untimely death of her dog, Barnaby Jones Pickles, but even then she manages to insert some dark humor at some point.

My favorite parts are her conversations with her husband (this goes for her blog as well.) She and Victor seem very different: he's a rich Republican, and she's a poor Democrat; he's rational and sane, and she's hilarious and unhinged. I mean, I don't actually know what he's like and I'm very curious. In the book and on her blog he comes across as just the voice of reason (though she portrays him as the unreasonable opponent to her very twisted and hilarious logic.) A couple of chapters are devoted to their conversations, such as "A Series of Helpful Post-it Notes I Left Around the House for My Husband This Week," a one-sided conversation that began with her reminder not to leave wet towels on the floor and ended with her attempted escape from the house and their marriage until she was foiled by the dog peeing on her and her choice to drink all the booze instead of packing it. You'd have to read it to understand, much like the chapter "Phone Conversation I Had with My Husband After I Got Lost for the Eighty Thousandth Time." The re-listenability of this might rival Bridget Jones's Diary (which, come to think of it, I haven't listened to in a while.) So I'm glad I purchased it on Audible and can listen again.

She does a good job with the narration. Delivery is an important part of humor, and though I think she comes across quite well in her writing, there's nothing like actually hearing it the way it was intended. The audio version has a bonus chapter called "Balls" and then some extraneous ramblings of the "it smells like cat pee in here" and "this is why I say "vagina" instead of "vulva" variety. The book has a different bonus chapter (paperback only, apparently) called "There's a Serious Lack of Prostitutes on This Tour." So I recommend experiencing this book the way I did: listen to the audio, but have a print copy on hand so you can look at the accompanying photos and read the print bonus chapter. You'll really want both version to get the full experience.

Friday, October 9, 2015


Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979)

In this classic time-travel novel, a black woman is transported from the 1970s back to the antebellum South. Dana and Kevin are a mixed-race married couple living in Los Angeles. One day Dana is mysteriously transported back in time to a plantation in Maryland, seemingly brought back to save the life of a young white boy. That boy may be one of her ancestors, and he and Dana clearly have some sort of otherworldly connection. As she continues to be pulled back to him whenever he is in danger, she also gets to know him and is unsure whether or not he is worth saving.

This is my final book for the Community Read nominations, though I hope to reread Americanah since it's been a while and I want it to be fresh in my mind when it comes time to vote. I've read one other book by Octavia Butler, The Parable of the Sower, which I liked ok enough. Kindred is better, though I still have a few problems with it.

Part of it was just how time worked. There was a period in which one of them was stuck in the 18th century for 5 years, but only 8 days had passed in the current time. However, another time 6 years passed in the past while only about a day passed in the current period. I don't know if the time was intentionally screwy, but as a reader I found it confusing that there didn't seem to be a pattern.

This is a compelling story that should be quite emotional, as this couple is separated and transported back and forth in time, and put in harrowing, and sometimes dangerous, circumstances. Although Butler does not hold back in portraying violence against the slaves, she shows too much restraint in her depiction of Dana and Kevin's relationship. There is a point when they are separated for five years (from Kevin's perspective anyhow) and when they are finally reunited, they spent little time talking about the experience. I mean, come on: five years is a long time. It merits several conversations over a series of days.

But that leads to my other major problem, which is just that the characters weren't quite fleshed out enough. I realize that Octavia Butler writes science fiction, and character-driven novels aren't a hallmark of that genre, but I just felt like it could have been done better. We heard a little about Dana's background and motivations, but her personality was bland. Rufus was complex and I really liked how Butler portrayed him without making him two-dimensionally bad; it was necessary to understand why Dana continued to help him - but I still did not find him quite rounded out as a character. Although he was a pretty well crafted character, he still remained more character than person.

But it was still a pretty good novel. Having Dana and Kevin be a mixed-race couple was a helpful choice plot-wise, especially when juxtaposed between mixed-race relationships back in the 19th century parts of the story. Interestingly, it occurred to me as I was reading that while her current-day life was considered to be very forward and comparatively free of racism, the 70s were still several decades ago and I can't imagine that mixed-race couples were always readily accepted even then.

Life on the plantation was easy to visualize thanks to Butler's descriptions of the household; in fact I got much more out of these parts than Dana's 1970s life. That may be intentional though, as during the novel Dana and Kevin discuss how their lives in the historical era have come to feel more real than their "real" lives.

Despite the time travel element, this story was pretty straight-forward and simple while still addressing complex issues. It would be a great book for a discussion group.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

American Housewife

American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis (2016)

In this slim volume of short stories, domesticity comes a bit unglued. In "The Wainscoting War" a new tenant engages her neighbor in a battle over redecorating their shared hallway, told through a series of emails. "Hello! Welcome to Book Club" is an orientation to a new book club member, describing the many rules of book club and ultimately disclosing the dark purpose for her invitation. In "The Fitter" an insecure wife of a talented bra fitter tries to recover from an illness while quelling rumors about her marriage. The final story in the collection is "My Novel Is Brought To You By Tampax," in which an author supposed to be working on a novel spends most of her time drumming up publicity on social media, resulting in a harsh, creepy crackdown from her sponsor.

Several of the stories are written in second person, a few of which are basically lists of directives. My favorite of these is "How To Be a Grown-Ass Lady" which instructs the reader on everything from shopping to drinking responsibly. These instructional pieces are among the shorter of the collection, along with "Southern Lady Code" which is a list of things Southern ladies say along with translations of what they actually mean. These pieces are sharp and funny, but less memorable than the more traditionally-structured stories.

Of the longer, more fleshed-out stories, I quite liked "Dumpster Diving With the Stars," in which an author tries to get back in her game, publicity-wise anyhow, by appearing on a reality show. There she befriends a former Playboy playmate named Mitzy, as well as a colorful cast of other contestants who contribute to the story's wackiness. The idea of the show is to find or buy antiques that are worth much more than you paid; whoever scores the biggest difference is the winner. The author, however, is trying to drum up interest in her writing although she isn't producing anything new, partly out of fear of copying her best friend, a more-successful writer.

I also really enjoyed "My Novel Is Brought To You By Tampax," which is coincidentally also about a writer who isn't writing. She is, however, creating: she knows who her characters are and has created Twitter accounts for them, garnering thousands of followers. Her account manager at Tampax, though, is not satisfied and goes to more and more desperate means to keep tabs on the wayward writer and make sure she begins producing.

These stories are biting, funny, dark, and sometimes over-the-top. In some cases I thought they were a bit too over-the-top, such as in "The Wainscoting War," but even so I found something to enjoy in all of them. There are twelve stories in all, and the entire collection only fills 100 pages, so it is well-worth spending a little time with.

I haven't read anything quite like this collection. The closest books I can think to compare it to are Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple and Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. It's as different from those two as they are from each other, but I think they may all appeal to the same kind of readers. I'm looking forward to hearing how this book is received once it's published in a few months.

American Housewife will be published in January 2016. I received my copy courtesy of the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not compensated for this review.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Top Ten Bookish Things I've Quit (or Should Quit)

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's list contains books or book-related things that I've quit, or should quit.

1. Sticking with a book that I don't like. It was hard to learn this, because I always held out hope that a book would get better or that I'd learn something important from it even if I disliked what I had already read. No more. Now I'll put a book down if it doesn't grab me right away, unless it's required reading for a book group.

2. Falling for a book just because it's popular. I'll never forget when I first became a librarian and was suddenly exposed bestseller lists, something I had never paid attention to before. A really popular book at the time was Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas by James Patterson, which I unwittingly tried. This is how I learned that really crappy books become popular. (It's also how I learned to put a book down when I don't like it.) 

3. Dog-earing pages. This is something I just started doing recently, but I think I've already broke myself of the habit (at least when it comes to library books.) Bad, bad librarian.

4. My TBR list. I have documented my struggle with my To Read list here, and I'm happy to say I've stuck with my new list-free life. I don't promise it will last forever though, I'm just hoping I can keep it under control in the future (says the addict. Just one drink, JUST ONE.)

5. The Girl on the Train by Paul Hawkins. I know everyone says it's amazing and reminds them of Gone Girl, but I just couldn't get into it.

6. Assigning myself more reading. I'm in two book groups (one at work and one in real life), on the Community Read committee at work, and I really like to join book challenges. I want to find a way to do all these things and still be able to read stuff I want to read. My current book challenge is the TBR Pile Challenge which *should* help combat that, but the fact is that I've lost interest in some of the books on my list. I'm trying to convince myself to just not bother with those books. Reading what I want is more important than completing a challenge.

7. Finding new genres that I like. As a librarian, I think it's important to read widely in order to be better at readers advisory questions. On the other hand, it just ends up with me having more things to read. I've begun reading romance in the last couple of years and unfortunately I like it. I still don't read romance novels often, but at any given time I have a few on deck that I'm interested in.

8. Being judgey about what other people read. One of our mantras at the library is "We don't judge," but sometimes we do. It's not that we think people who read James Patterson are bad people, we just think they have bad reading taste. (And by "we" I mean "me." I won't actually incriminate my co-workers here, but you know who you are.) I try really hard not to judge people at all for anything, but sometimes I slip. I'm only human.

9. Feeling like I *should* read certain things. There are books that are pretty ingrained in our culture and referenced a lot, and I really want to be more educated about why that is. I've made my peace with disliking Shakespeare, but others are less easy to ignore. Moby-Dick for instance. Shouldn't I read that? And then there are more contemporary books that seem very important. I tried reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, but it's just a really really long essay and I couldn't get into it. I feel bad about that.

10. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Everyone loved this book. Everyone. There was apparently criticism about some passages in Spanish, and various people have ridiculed the people who were put off by the Spanish as being uneducated and anti-immigrant. Well, I am as left-wing as anyone in Massachusetts, but I don't speak or understand Spanish and I was put off by those passages because I was missing parts of the book. It was too many words to be able to figure out based on context. As an added bonus, I didn't care about the characters. I think I stopped after 50 pages or so.

Ok, my dirty laundry is aired. What are some books or bookish things that you've quit, or want to quit? Tell me in the comments!

Monday, October 5, 2015

The World Without Us

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (2007)

What would happen if humans suddenly disappeared from the Earth? How long would it take our buildings and bridges to break down, our farmland to revert to the wild, endangered species to increase their populations? These are the questions that Alan Weisman sets out to answer in his comprehension examination of the ways in which humans have affected our environment and which of those changes might have permanent effects.

This was a tough book for me to read. There isn't a story or characters, and I'm still unsure how exactly the chapters are organized. I'm not sure I would have made it through if it wasn't required reading for our Community Read list of nominees, but I'm glad that I did because I think it's an important book.

Many of us have some idea about how we have impacted our environment, but I learned so much about our basic infrastructure. For instance, there is rising water underneath the New York subway that we are constantly fighting against, the huge network of petroleum refineries in Texas need to be attended to around the clock, and our nuclear power plants produce waste that we just keep burying underground in hopes that it will never be unearthed. If people were to suddenly disappear, there could be dire (and explosive!) consequences.

But the chapter I found most disturbing is entitled "Polymers are Forever" and details just how insidious is our ubiquitous use of plastic. It will never go away, it's damaging to wildlife, and we just keep making more. The worst part is that so much of what we buy isn't designed to last in terms of usefulness, but once it inevitably breaks the parts will live on forever. How can we be so short-sighted?

But Weisman's book is not without hope or perspective. In some ways, the world will bounce back - coral reefs, for instance, can come alive again. But we're also reminded that humans, like every other species, will go extinct eventually, and in around 5 billion years the sun will expand into a red giant and destroy the Earth anyhow. Which I realize doesn't sound terribly positive, but I think it's important to remember that our Earth-based catastrophes happening right now or in the near future are just a blip in the vastness of time and space.

A lot is touched on here in under 300 pages: areas such as history, engineering, wildlife, and manufacturing. Of course it doesn't delve too deeply into any one subject and someone well-versed in science might not find much new here. But for a layperson it's a great overview of our world and how we've affected it.