Friday, October 24, 2014

WWReadathon, Day 8

We're getting toward the end of the readathon, and I don't feel like I've been able to read all that much for the last few days, but I have made efforts to make as much time as I could for it, so that alone makes it
worthwhile.  Today's progress:

I did, in fact, finish Supernatural Enhancements.  That was an unexpected ending for sure.  Tell you about it soon.

I'm close to finished with Book VIII (not IX, oops) of Morte D'Arthur.  I'll try to finish it tonight, but I'm also going to watch a movie for the Back to the Classics Challenge, so we shall see.

I forgot to mention yesterday that I had started Seventeen, by Booth Tarkington (of Magnificent Ambersons fame).  It's a quick read and pretty funny, so I took it to the girls' fencing class today and finished it.  That is my biggest thing today.

Little Brother

I love this cover.
Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow

I picked this up because of Banned Books Week.  Little Brother was supposed to be the assigned book in a school-wide summer project, but it was pulled at the last minute.  (Read all about it!)  Doctorow, who runs the BoingBoing site, said that it seemed to have happened because of politics, so I was instantly intrigued.  Not because of sex?  Not because of any of the usuals?  This I have to see.  So here's the story (written, note, in 2006):

Marcus is a high school student in San Francisco, "one of the most surveilled people in the world."  In this not-too-distant-future scenario, schools give students notebook computers to do all their work (and keep tabs on them) and have cameras in the hallways.  Marcus, however, is a hacker kid who takes great joy in circumventing all this control.  He and three friends decide to ditch school for a couple of hours to hunt down a new clue in an international game...and are caught on the streets during a terrorist attack that kills thousands.  They are picked up by Homeland Security forces and interrogated for days.  One of them disappears.  The DHS uses the attacks to institute a sort of martial law and ever-increasing surveillance on the American populace, especially in the Bay Area.  As citizens are harassed daily and lose more rights all the time, Marcus and other young people start up a secret online community dedicated to fighting for their Constitutional rights.  If any of them are caught, they will be treated as terrorists....

This is an exciting story that is not quite as exaggerated as we would wish.  Surveillance and privacy are real concerns that we should be paying attention to--and keep in mind that this was written before Edward Snowden let us know that the most paranoid of us were not nearly paranoid enough when it comes to privacy.  Doctorow delivers the excitement and tries to educate.

The education comes at a little bit of a price, since the story often comes to a halt in order to execute an infodump about online security.  You will learn a lot about prime numbers, public and private keys, and other encryption issues.  Also some history about free speech issues, yay, and resistance to infringement of rights.  I frequently felt like I was reading something my husband wrote, since Internet privacy and security (and rights) are favorite topics of his.  I already knew about prime numbers and so on.  However, this was Doctorow's mission: to teach kids about these issues in a format that would be enjoyable and make the importance of it clear. 

Doctorow wrote this in 2006, and it's pretty easy to see that he was not happy with the Bush administration, the Patriot Act, and the DHS.  Or Fox News, for that matter.  I don't really follow BoingBoing, but I'm thinking maybe I should start, because I would like to know how he feels after six years of a new administration.  Obama continued, and usually expanded, many of the programs that Doctorow so clearly disapproves of.  The NSA is barely mentioned in Little Brother, but I bet it would get some space now.

However, that is not what I would ask Doctorow if I could.  My question would have to do with a minor character who appears in the first part of the book.  When I read the description of her, I thought "gee, she sounds like Rat" (in Daniel Pinkwater's Snarkout Boys books).  At the end of the book, there's a bibliography of recommended reading, mostly about media and online issues, and Alan Mendelsohn, Boy From Mars is recommended.  Doctorow is evidently a big Pinkwater fan--I found quite a few mentions on BoingBoing, such as this recent article calling him "Pynchon for Kids," which would explain a lot about why I like The Crying of Lot 49 so much-- and from there I discovered that Pinkwater has produced podcast read-alouds of his books!  Let joy reign unconfined!  (I have no time to listen to audio and so I really don't follow the podcast world.  Every time I try to listen to one, I get interrupted every 5 seconds, so it seems kind of pointless. The result is that I have to be told things like this.)  All that to say that my question is: does that character have a little bit of Rat in her?  Because if so, that is awesome.

Final conclusion: Little Brother is a book that most people should probably read.  For one thing, it's a good story.  Most teens will think it's great (my daughter officially endorses it), and adults will find it stuffed with things to think and talk about.  First Amendment, people! 

You can almost certainly find this book at your friendly neighborhood public library, as I did, but if not, or if you prefer e-books, Doctorow released it for free online.  Amazon is hoping you haven't noticed that, and will sell it to you on Kindle for about eight bucks.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

WWReadathon, Day 7

It's not too late to join me!
I got so little time to read yesterday that I didn't write a post to tell you so.  I did, however, do a whole lot of
librarianing, so that was nice--I purchased, I weeded, I referenced, I taught!   Today was not a whole lot better reading-wise, because I was hard at work creating a blue dalek costume for my 11-year-old for Halloween.  It's almost done now, and I think it will be pretty good.  So, over the last couple of days, I have read:

Some War and Peace--not a ton, but some.

About half of Book VIII of Morte D'Arthur.  We are well into Tristram and "La Beale Isoud" now.

Nearly all of the rest of Supernatural Enhancements--I'm hoping to finish it tonight.

I have just got to write you up a review of Little Brother soon.  I have a lot to say about it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

WWReadathon, Day 5

I ran around a bit today, didn't get all that much reading done, but here goes:

I finished Mysteries!  Yes indeed.  That is one weird novel.

The obligatory couple of chapters of Morte D'Arthur--I'd better tackle that more seriously tomorrow.

And I started Supernatural Enhancements, which I put on hold at the library because I saw the fantastic cover.  I am hoping the story will live up to the cover, but I'm not sure anything could.  I got about 70 pages in, but it's probably over 400.  It sticks to tradition--it's a found "collection of documents" in proper Gothic style.

The Time of the Ghost and Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Time of the Ghost, by Diana Wynne Jones, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

These two were both re-reads, but I specifically wanted to read them together and compare.  I had only read Ocean once, so it was really nice to go back and notice a lot of details that had become fuzzy or that I maybe hadn't noticed the first time around.  I know Time of the Ghost very well.  I have talked about both of them here before--here is my review of Ocean, and here is Time of the Ghost--so I don't want to re-state those thoughts.

When I first read Ocean, I thought it was probably Gaiman's sort-of tribute to DWJ, whom he famously thought a lot of.  Jenny thought so too, and then she actually met Gaiman and he SAID SO and that he thought it was most like Time of the Ghost.  I would like to know much more about his thoughts on that!  Thus this pairing of reading and this post.

I'm not a dedicated Gaiman fan--I always read his books, but I don't follow him online or anything, although I am always so impressed by his speeches on libraries and books and freedom that I really ought to because he says a lot that I think too, only he says it much better--(deep breath, that sentence kind of got away from me there) so maybe he has said something about his thoughts on this and I just don't know it.  (If you know of something, send me a link!)  Honestly if I met him IRL I would probably want to talk about DWJ and her amazingness, and ask him about that.  So.

Elements in Ocean that I see echoing Time of the Ghost include--well, most obviously, an old (ancient) female monster something from another...plane? that wants to suck the life out of people and anything else she can get.  This was a thing with DWJ, hungry mothers and variations thereupon, and I don't remember Gaiman doing it much before. He softens the idea with the Hempstocks, who are at least as ancient, but benevolent.  Also, a preoccupation with the local landscape and the particular homes of people, very detailed.  Anybody notice anything else?  Some images, I think--waving fabric, perhaps, and worms.

It's a good experience, reading them together, so I do recommend it as an interesting exercise.



One last thing--Gaiman opens Ocean with a quotation from a New Yorker article that was a conversation between Maurice Sendak and Art Spiegelman, published in 1993.  I remember that article!  A friend of mine was given it by his sister and I remember the dialog and the drawings on the page vividly. Here is a good copy of it.

The Victorian Chaise-Longue

The Victorian Chaise-Longue, by Marghanita Laski

This short novel sounded so interesting when someone else read it, and I finally ILLed it so I could read it too.  It is short; about 100 pages long or so and I suppose really a novella.

It's 1952, and Melanie is a pretty, rather fluffy young wife and mother under treatment for tuberculosis.  She spent nearly all of her pregnancy confined to bed, and now she is finally allowed downstairs, to lie on the large Victorian chaise-longue that was her last purchase before her diagnosis.  She happily falls asleep...and wakes up in 1864, in the body of another person.

It's an unusual and frightening story.  It reads like a domestic novel, not a time-travel fantasy or science fiction, but it's really scary as well.  It's very good.  I'm glad Persephone reprinted it so that I could get to hear of it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

WWReadathon, Day 4

Today I decided to take a little break from King Arthur, and focus on War and Peace and a fun book.

I read about 60 pages of War and Peace, and finished Book 2 of Volume III. 

A little bit of Mysteries and also a little of Morte D'Arthur, just not much.

But what I mostly did was start Little Brother...and read it all day, and finish before dinner.  It's a YA novel that mixes a bit of dystopia and a lot of hacker into a near-future possible scenario.  Great stuff, probably everyone should read it for the education it gives in online security issues (some of it is information disguised as fiction), plus Doctorow is clearly a Pinkwater fan like me and I would like to ask him about that.  More when I get to the blog post about it.

Really, I will write an actual post about a book soon.  I've got a pile here again...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

WWReadathon, Day 3

Whew!  I gave my talk today, and I survived, and I feel much better now.  I got to do quite a bit of reading in the afternoon, too.

I finished Book VII of Le Morte D'Arthur, which was the Tale of Sir Gareth, aka Beaumains.

Just one chapter of Mysteries, but quite a long one.

And over 60 pages of War and Peace (they are very large pages!), so I feel quite accomplished about that.  It's all preparations for Napoleon arriving near Moscow.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

WWReadathon, Day 2

Today was my super-busy day.  I meant to mostly write a talk I have to give tomorrow, but I also wound up going to the mall twice if you can believe it, and other things.  So not a lot of reading today.  But I did manage:

The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull, by John Bellairs -- an old favorite that I got in the mood to read.

18 chapters of Le Morte D'Arthur-- Book VII is the Tale of Sir Gareth, and it's longer.  I read half.

Tomorrow I'll get some book reviews done!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Wonderfully Wicked Readathon, Day 1

Are you joining in the Wonderfully Wicked Readathon, hosted by My Shelf Confessions, or any other?  I think there's more than one right now.  Here is my end-of-the-day news:

I started reading Diana Wynne Jones' Time of the Ghost yesterday evening and finished it today.  What great characters inhabit that story--a set of sisters, who know each other inside and out, care for each other and fight all the time, and are very peculiar owing to the really terrible neglect of their parents.

A couple of chapters of Knut Hamsun's Mysteries--one heck of a weird book.

And Book VI of Le Morte D'Arthur: The Tale of Sir Launcelot of the Lake.


I currently have a truly ridiculous number of books checked out of the library, and little business reading any of them when I have a huge chunk of Le Morte D'Arthur and War and Peace to read!  Just 500 pages to go in that last one, woohoo!

Some of my ridiculous pile at the moment