Archive for December, 2009

A.J. Jacobs

The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World

A.J. decides to read the Encyclopedia Britannica over the course of a year. Hilarity, and an obnoxious vocabulary, ensue. Amusing, yes, but as for reading-the-dictionary-books, I actually prefer Reading the OED by Ammon Shea.

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible

A.J. decides to spend a year following every rule in the Old Testament. No, really. It’s not a set up for a joke, and he and the reader actually learn a lot about Judaism. It’s a really good book.

The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment

This book is a collection of shorter essays; they’re a little bit uneven, as collections of essays so often tend to be, but on the whole quite enjoyable. My favorites were “My Outsourced Life” (for an entire month, A.J. outsources almost every aspect of his life to India) and “What Would George Washington Do?” (A.J. tries to follow George Washington’s Rules of Civility).

A.J. belongs to the “Hey, that sounds like a wacky idea! I should totally do it and see what happens!” school of journalism. It doesn’t always work out so well for him–or his family–but it usually makes for an entertaining story. My favorite book of the bunch is, hands down, The Year of Living Biblically. Instead of treating the experiment as a joke, which he could have very easily done, A.J. actually learned from it, and it really did influence his life. He put a lot of time and research into that book, and it shows. It’s quite inspiring, and worth reading. I recommend it highly.

A.J. Jacobs’ site

Source: borrowed from library

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Millenium Trilogy

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Mikael Blomkvist has been hired by Henrik Vanger to find his niece Harriet, who disappeared without a trace in 1966. Henrik suspects she was murdered, possibly by a member of the Vanger family. Mikael is joined in this endeavor by Lisbeth Salander, who possess incredible talents as an investigator and a hacker, but has a rather murky past and dismal social skills.

The Girl Who Played with Fire

A journalist and a PhD candidate involved in an exposé on illegal prostitution are killed, and through the most circumstantial of evidence, Lisbeth ends up as the prime suspect. Mikael knows that she cannot have been responsible for the crime, and does his best to try and prove her innocence; Lisbeth’s disappearance and refusal to communicate does not make this an easy task.

I really really enjoyed these books, and like everyone else, am eagerly awaiting the third volume. The tricky thing is, the books are rather intricate and densely plotted, so anything beyond my rather bland summaries above risks MASSIVE SPOILERS. So please, ignore my milquetoast recaps, and go read the books, they are excellent.

Lisbeth reminds me to a certain degree of Smilla Jasperson in Smilla’s Sense of Snow, which is a book I love love love, and while I don’t think the two of them would be friends (neither of them is really the type to have friends), I do think they would understand and respect each other. So I guess that’s a suggestion to tide everyone over until May when The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest finally comes out here; alternately, pay exorbitant shipping and get it from the UK, buy a “black market” copy, or learn Swedish. I’ll just wait until they’re all available in paperback, and then buy them; they can sit on the shelf with Smilla and be aloof, Nordic, and awesome together.

Source: read my parents’ copies over Christmas

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I got a huge pile of books for Christmas (yay!), and borrowed a few more from various family members, but if it turns out I don’t have enough, I may just consider enrolling in this program: $100 for a year-long membership (10 books) or $60 for a six month membership (6 books). Or maybe requesting it as a birthday present…

Small Publisher Finds Its Mission in Translation

Open Letter Books

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I was doing some housekeeping (blogkeeping?) the other day and discovered to my horror that I had never reviewed The Forest of Hands and Teeth, even though I had read it, er, this summer. Yeep.

Bad Lush! No more Christmas cookies!

Mary lives in a village surrounded by a fence. While the fence is mainly there to keep the Unconsecrated out, it also serves to keep the villagers in and under the control of the Sisterhood. Mary has grown up listening to her mother’s stories about the ocean, and therefore thinks there may be more to the world than what the Sisterhood wants the villagers to know.

Everything changes when in very short order her mother is bitten by an Unconsecrated, Mary is sent to live with the Sisterhood in preparation for her betrothal to Harry (whom she does not love), and a mysterious girl shows up outside the fence. Before Mary can puzzle out what all of this means for herself and the village, the fence is breached, and the village is overrun by the Unconsecrated. Mary and a few others manage to survive, and decide to make their way to the coast in hopes of finding safety and others.

It’s very clear that the Unconsecrated are zombies, but they are never once referred to as such, and that is a particular strength of the book–elements of religion, control, and women’s roles in society are focused on, rather than merely the trendy horror creature du jour. That is not to say that the book is without flaws: Mary is a somewhat lackluster narrator, and I personally thought that the early promise of the book had fizzled by the end. But I still enjoyed it, and eagerly await The Dead-Tossed Waves, a companion volume, which will be out in 2010.

Carrie Ryan’s website and blog

Source: review copy from publisher

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Music of 2009

I Voted in 89.3 The Current's Top 89 Albums of 2006

My list, because I am nothing if not eclectic in my tastes:

St. Vincent | Actor Out Of Work (Actor)
Imogen Heap | First Train Home (Ellipse)
Solid Gold | Get Over It (Bodies Of Water)
Vampire Weekend | Horchata (Contra)
A R Rahman | Jai Ho (Slumdog Millionaire)
The Bird And The Bee | My Love (Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future)
A.C. Newman | The Palace At 4 A.M. (Get Guilty)
The Decemberists | The Rake’s Song (The Hazards Of Love)
Har Mar Superstar | Tall Boy (Dark Touches)
Tori Amos | Welcome To England (Abnormally Attracted To Sin)

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Happy Whelp Day!

Lush Puppy turned 3 today. He may have gotten a treat or three in celebration…

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The Knife of Never Letting Go

Todd Hewitt lives in Prentisstown with his guardians Ben and Cillian, and his dog Manchee. There are no women left on the planet, thanks to the Noise germ unleashed during the Spakle War–the Noise germ that killed all the women and caused all of the men’s thoughts to be broadcast for everyone to hear. Todd is counting down the days until his next birthday when he will finally become a man. But while out doing chores one day, Todd and Manchee discover something unexpected that turns their world upside down, something that causes them to question everything they thought they knew, something that forces them to run away as fast and as far as they can, because it’s suddenly their only chance for survival.

They discover a girl.

And then all hell breaks loose.

The Ask and the Answer

Todd and Viola are separated upon their arrival in Haven; he is locked in a clock tower, and she is imprisoned in a house of healing. As the city crumbles around them, Todd and Viola are forced to make impossible choices in order to survive–made all the more heartbreaking as neither one of them knows if the other is still alive. Former enemies appear to be friends, and new friends may just be enemies in disguise. Once made, decisions cannot be changed.

Then the bombs start going off.

And then all hell really breaks loose.

Holy dystoopia, Batman!

These are very good books, but they are not happy books. They are certainly not “easy” or “fun” books. Lots of terrible things happen. They are painful to read, and you’ll probably cry–I did. But oh, they are excellent and worthwhile books nonetheless, and I can hardly wait for the third and final volume to come out…sometime in 2010. *gnashes teeth*

Patrick Ness’ site

Source: borrowed from library, but I’ll be buying them soon

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"Aaja Nachle"

Dia left her small village of Shamli 11 years ago for New York, and has never once looked back or regretted it. But when she unexpectedly gets word that her guru is on his deathbed, she drops everything and rushes back to India with her daughter Radha in tow. Upon their arrival in Shamli, Dia learns that her guru is dead, and Ajanta theatre is slated to be torn down to make way for a shopping complex. Ajanta, where Dia learned to dance, to feel, to live.

So Dia decides to save Ajanta.

The local MP-cum-Raja strikes a deal with Dia: if she can put on a successful show cast entirely with Shamli residents, Ajanta will be spared. Dia decides to put on a production of Laila-Majnu, and goes about casting the show from among the village residents; hilarity ensues. Eventually the cast is complete, and everyone gets down to work learning their roles. Will the cast come together and deliver a stellar performance? Can Ajanta be saved?

This is a rather fluffy movie, and I kind of love it (a lot, I confess) for that. But what I love most of all about it is this: it shows the ENTIRE performance. So many movies show the rag-tag group of amateurs practicing their show, learning the ropes, honing their craft…and that’s all you see. You don’t get to see the actual performance. Maybe a snippet of the show, if you’re lucky. And having been a theatre nerd in a previous life, I hate that. Hate! But in this film, you get to see the entire Laila-Majnu performance, all glorious 20 minutes of it. 😀

Official site

(You may recognize this song if you saw the Bollywood episode of “Psych” this season)

source: personal copy

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Yesterday it was announced that Kirkus Reviews will be discontinued. Which is really just too bad, as that means there’s one less good source for libraries to select materials from. 😦

ETA 12/12: End of Kirkus Reviews Brings Anguish and Relief

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Roy is a conman. In fact, he’s just about the best conman there is. His girlfriend Simmi, however, doesn’t know his profession–she thinks he’s a banker. When she finds out what Roy really does, Simmi breaks off their engagement and refuses to see him. Shattered by the breakup, Roy soon gets even more bad news: he has an inoperable brain tumor, and only a short time left to live.

So Roy decides to live life to the fullest, and make each day count. To that end, he agrees to teach the hapless Dittu how to be a conman. And together the two of them hatch an incredible plan.

The songs are weak, but there is a Surprise Twist! at the end that makes this film better than it really has any right to be. If it weren’t for that, it would be a pretty unremarkable story about a conman who has to decide what’s more important to him, happiness or money. But with the Surprise Twist! a whole new dimension is opened up, and the film is suddenly bigger (and better) than the whole of its parts–and no, it’s probably not the Surprise Twist! you’d expect, unless you’re a Hindi film aficionado. In other words, it’s worth watching.

Source: personal copy

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