Saturday, April 27, 2013

Oh Myyy! There Goes the Internet by George Takei

Oh Myyy! There Goes the Internet
by George Takei
5 stars - yeah, baby!

When George Takei announced that his new book was (finally) available in print (as opposed to online only) I immediately bumped it to the head of the queue.

Come on! How can you not like this guy? He is too cool for school. 

I've followed Mr. Takei's Facebook page for some time now. Why? Because I enjoy his concern with social issues, his ability to poke fun at himself, and his generosity towards all human beings in spirit and deed.

Oh Myyy! brings the reader along Mr. Takei's journey into the internet age. The book is full of excerpts from his Facebook page and lots of links to videos and other sites of interest. As a bonus, there is an enlightening (but not overly technical) section on how Facebook algorithms decide what to put on your news feed. 

There's a chapter on the Internet Grammar Police (yeah), one on publishing things that you wish you hadn't, another on whether to believe what you read, and on and on.

I don't have any quotes because so much of what he writes and posts is visual, so you'll just have to visit his page and see for yourselves. You can check it out here.

In fact, this whole review feels kind of stilted to me. Pity. I wish I could capture more of Mr. Takei's character. Oh well, just buy the book, or. if you are one of those digital readers, download it. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Disappearance by Philip Wylie

The Disappearance
by Philip Wylie
1 star - couldn't finish - TWICE (head slap)

Here's the setup.

In a moment, two parallel worlds are created. One without men, one without women. Cool, right?

I attempted this book for the first time back when I was a teenager. As decades passed, I would occasionally ask myself why I hadn't liked it. I recalled that I enjoyed it well enough in the beginning, but ultimately couldn't finish.

As decades passed, I figured that the primary reason my adolescent mind got frustrated was that, true to the era, there just wasn't enough sex in the book (yes, my teenage self scoured the shelves at my family estate for stories that would answer my questions about s-e-x). Thus, I decided to give it another try.

Sure enough, the book started off well enough and I was tut tut'ing my silly younger self for dismissing it. The parallel worlds evolve as expected. The men promptly wipe out a few million people by dropping every bomb they have, the women scramble and tussle and form committees. Understand that in the 1950's, women were relegated to the home almost exclusively. So their world was a bit harsh in that commerce was near shut down. Nobody to drive the trucks, nobody to run the harvesting equipment, no police, fire, politicians (well, there's a mercy), few doctors. 

The two primary characters are Bill and Paula Gaunt. He, a philosopher, she a homemaker. The chapters alternate between the men's world and the women's world (although many more pages to the men).

Bill Gaunt, being a philosopher, allows the author to digress into philosophical meditations into the nature of being human and the inequalities between men and women. How smugly I absorbed those early portions of the book, thinking, "Stupid teenage self! You missed the whole point." That is until, just after the midpoint, the reader is delivered a multi page "excerpt" from the great tome that Bill Gaunt is writing in his role as head of the board of philosophy for the new America (or some such nonsense). 

I plowed onward, determined, but my concentration flagged. "How long can this continue?," I wondered. Oh, very long, pages and pages long. Flip, flip, flip, "WTF? Let's get back to the action!" And things were never the same again.

More and more philosophical rants, more page skipping, more skimming. A brief bright spot when the men create animated (and anatomically correct) life-sized toy women and a near miss when Paula Gaunt is given the opportunity to form a romantic alliance with another woman (an opportunity which ultimately repulses her as is appropriate for a mid 20th century woman - whatever).

"Continue! Persist! Finish!" I commanded myself. My efforts were rewarded as I neared the home stretch and Bill Gaunt finds himself in a gun battle with thieves intent on robbing his home. But... oh no! Even a "tense" shootout wasn't keeping my attention. And then, a mere 20 pages shy of the end, I stopped. No amount of telling myself "just finish it, how long can it take to read 20 pages?" could prompt me to crack that book open one more time. 

So here's the summation. This would be a good reading club or philosophy course book. Something to read in small doses and discuss endlessly. Plus there are many well stated rants which align somewhat with my own philosophy (always satisfying). Comparing the psychological warping of the American mind to the physical deformities imposed by "primitive" cultures to meet some standard of normalcy:

"The American mind, its imagination channelized, its logic limited, its know-how hugely and uncritically specialized, is footbound, flat-headed and plate-lipped psychologically. It presents a personality with so little room for normal function and so much atrophy that the nation itself has no clear idea of what a person might, could or ought to be. As savages gloat over their induced deformities, so Americans dote upon the warped intellect of the public. A Babbitt is the envied norm here; a Nazi, or a Communist, elsewhere; a normal man would be anathema. So civilization has advanced but one step where two need to be made. It has ceased the arrogant, savage tricks of misshaping itself biologically but it has as yet not even much investigated its equally savage rituals of psychological deformation. Indeed, the general populace is not in any way aware that what it thinks, feels, dreams and employs for motive is often monstrous."


I have to applaud teenage Mango Momma for even getting halfway through. I know that the book gave my mushy adolescent brain a lot to think about. That's a good thing. But my middle aged brain has done plenty of musing already, thank you very much. Not to mention, I became increasingly angry that all the "good stuff" was reserved for the male protagonist. Leaving the female with only the revelation that women can actually "do stuff" when they act more like men. Hello?

Of course, at the end of the day, this might not be a bad book to add to my permanent collection. It will come in handy in the post apocalyptic world. Something to shake in people's faces.

In fact the book is so jam packed with observations about the folly of human nature and tips on rising above all that I could see it emerging to form its own religious following. The difficult language will really help survivors like me, who have maintained a good grasp of English, to become deacons in the "Church of the Disappearance." Translating the words for the unwashed masses and adding my own thoughts into the mix. I can hear them now "oh, that is what it means." Yup, like I said, foolish, tweeting, LOL people.

Just as long as we spare a few cozy mysteries as well to pass the time.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Two Quick Reviews

A Killer's Essence
by Dave Zeltserman
3 stars - good enough

Another blind grab from the end of the mystery section alphabet. Good enough to finish, but I'm not going to run out and get another one of his books.

Mr. Zeltserman does a fine job creating a complete main character, police detective Stan Green. The story isn't just about the murders, but also about Stan's struggles to be a long distant dad to his two kids and to sort through relationship issues. 

Some interesting side characters. I'd recommend this for distraction reading. Quick and easy.

To the Stars
by George Takei
1 star - didn't finish

I'm a follower of George Takei on FaceBook and I enjoy his self deprecating sense of humor and involvement in social reform.

I think what this book primarily suffered from is being written in 1994. At that time, Mr. Takei was still securely closeted about his homosexuality and I'm assuming that is the reason that the book doesn't even hint at anything in his personal life.

The beginning of the book is a good historical lesson on the forced internment of United States citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. For that alone, it is worth picking up.

I wish there had been more details about the logistics of making films and television shows, but about mid way I lost heart from the detached chronology of events and try as I might had to stop just 40 or so pages from the end. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller

I let this one sift down to the bottom of my stack so many times that I used up all my renewals and still accumulated library fees. It just didn't look good.

I need to get something out before I start my review.

It was hard not to imagine this book being handed out in Beavis and Butt-head's English class.

"He said 'bossom!' Hehehe." 

Lamb in His Bossom
by Caroline Miller
1934 Pulitzer Prize
5 stars - will read again

Nothing really happens in this book. People live, they die, day to day. So why five stars?

Loyal readers know that I am a big fan of books about the ordinary. Books where people just live their lives, surrounded by events of import to them, but of little note to the world at large.

The setting for this story is a farm community in southern Georgia before, during, and after the Civil War. The Civil War itself plays a small role. It doesn't touch the characters other than having their men conscripted into the army to fight a war that has nothing to do with them. World events. So much happening so far away that somehow reaches in to effect our humdrum existences.

Two things made this book a pleasure for me.

The first is that it highlights how most of us will live and die as extras in the drama of life, combined with the reminder that the human condition changes little from one generation to the next (you might think that is two things, but I'm only counting one).

Strip out the technological advances and you are left with people putting one foot in front of the other and dealing with family issues, sassy teenagers, aging parents, dreams lost, wishes unfulfilled, simple pleasures in the every day.

The second thing is noting how much the world has changed (even though our previous labors and worries have only been replaced with new worries and equal, but different, labor). I can't shake the child birthing statistics. The main character, Cean, has 14 children in 17 years (sure, two are in sets of twins, so she was technically "only" pregnant for 10 years). Are you freakin' kidding me? When her husband finally dies, a part of her is relieved that she won't have to go through that again (a thought which comes with no small amount of guilt).

Change, too, in how people die. For the most part, ugly. A small wound can lead to life ending infection. People who develop physical or mental handicaps are constrained to their bed where family cares for them for as many years as they can hang on. It isn't pretty.

Ms. Miller used a surprising (for the time) literary technique to great effect. The story is not always linear and she sometimes revisited scenes to retell them from a different perspective or to fill in gaps. What impressed me was how seamlessly she accomplished that. There was no setup of "this chapter is now and the next chapter is before" and no headers telling you time and date. Instead, after an extra line break, the story would shift back in time. You might think that would be jarring, but it wasn't. It kind of reminded me of the flow of my own musings and discoveries. Sometimes, out of the blue, I'll revisit a life event or somebody will reveal their perspective on a story of the past.

No quotes. While the writing was good, it was simple, ordinary, like the lives described.

There is an interesting note on the dust cover:

"The success of Lamb in His Bosom and [Ms. Miller's] celebrity after winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1934 made it difficult for her to resume her former life in Bazley. She and her husband divorced and she moved to Biloxi, Mississippi..."

Fame. Sigh.