Category Archives: Books & Reading

New to the Stacks: Magritte, Surrealists, Feminism, Nnedi Okorafor

SFMOMA Magritte exhibit haul

The Lives of the Surrealists by Desmond Morris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dada and Surrealism by David Hopkins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rene Magritte: The Fifth Season

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See Red Women’s Workshop
Feminist Posters 1974-1990

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SFF – The Nnedi Okorafor edition

Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Moore’s Law

Moore’s Law
by
Arnold Thackray, David Brock, and Rachel Jones

Title: Moore’s Law
Author: Arnold Thackray, David Brock, and Rachel Jones
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 9780465055647
Publisher: Basic Books
Publisher’s Blurb[The silicon transistors’] incredible proliferation has altered the course of human history as dramatically as any political or social revolution. At the heart of it all has been one quiet Californian: Gordon Moore.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

“Gordon was the opposite of a gregarious, people-pleasing middle-child:  instead, he was a boy with exceptional concentration and focus, oriented not toward words and emotional engagement, but toward practical results – with or without companions.”  (p. 44)

Full disclosure:  I usually make it a policy not to review books of people I know.  David Brock is a co-worker, and friend, which should instantly be grounds from even considering writing a review.  However, Gordon Moore has had such a tremendous impact on the computer industry, it seems unfair not to. His contributions need to be known, and Moore’s Law does a very good job of making them known, and understandable.

Further, I have been dilly-dallying over this review because Moore’s Law covers so much interesting history I’m not sure I can do right by it.

Not only is it the history of Moore, whose family arrived in California in 1847.  It’s also the history of computing, computers, and Silicon Valley.

Every decision in Gordon Moore’s life was based on the words “measure, analyze, decide.”  He kept notebooks detailing nearly everything; finances, business models, chemical analysis, semiconductor design, everything.   In this measurement and analysis, he figured out what came to be known as “Moore’s Law,” making computers faster and more powerful.  It’s led to things like the computer in our pockets we call smart phones.

That’s just part of a fascinating life inextricably connected to what’s become Silicon Valley.  There’s so much more in Moore’s Law about the lives of those pioneers and revolutionaries whose passion for chemistry, engineering, and physics brought about the devices which connect the universe in creative ways Galileo could only dream of.  Gordon Moore led the charge, quietly.  Not because he wanted to change the world, but because he was fascinated and saw ways to make money off the now ubiquitous micro-chip.

Thackray, Brock and Jones make the story of this complex man highly readable.  For those curious about the roots of modern computing, its effect on our lives, and the biography of the quiet revolutionary who led computers to this point, readers should read Moore’s Law and add it to their library.

Review: Beloved

Beloved
by
Toni Morrison

Title: Beloved
Author: Toni Morrison
Published: 1987
ISBN-13: 9780375402739
Publisher:  Alfred A. Knopf
Publisher’s Blurb: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a spellbinding and dazzlingly innovative portrait of a woman haunted by the past.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

It’s often difficult to tell the difference between an over-hyped book and one deserving of my attention.  Thus it was between Beloved and I.  Until an essay in The Methods of Breaking Bad made me think I “should” read it.  The tipping point came over lunch with a friend who was absolutely shocked I hadn’t.  All righty then.

The opening line, “124 was spiteful,” sets the stage.  Who or what is 124 and why is s/he/it/they spiteful?  That sentence leads into the deeply moving, dark tale of not so distant slavery and being black in America.  Which story resonates today as we struggle with racism in modern times.

124 is haunted by the spirit of Sethe’s daughter who, we learn as the story moves on, was killed as an infant as protection by her mother from the slave runners.  This “ghost” symbolizes all the pain, anger, and suffering slaves endured at the hands of white owners.

But then, Beloved appears seemingly out of nowhere and is suspected to be the corporeal manifestation of Sethe’s daughter.  The chaos still exists, now represented by the physical embodiment of pain, anger, and suffering.

124’s inhabitants are the epitome of chaos as buried memories come to the surface.  How can anyone go on after suffering the horrific indignities of being a slave?  How can life go on?  How can anything approach something approximating “normal?”

Beloved explores these questions.  And faces harsh realities.  Being black in America will never afford the right of equality and the privilege of agency.  Never.

My favorite quote is from a scene that Paul D describes while a slave at Sweet Home.  He describes to Sethe what it was like to have his eyes opened by Schoolteacher, who taught everyone on the plantation until Mister broke up the lessons.  Mister gets to be Mister no matter what, because he’s white.  “Schoolteacher changed me.  I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub.”  Paul D realizes now his value was less than the chicken who was about to become dinner.  Schoolteacher exposed him to that understanding, which both binds Paul D tighter and frees him.

Cleveland in 1863 just as well be Ferguson 2014 or Philadelphia 2018.  Anyone who thinks this is not the way of the world hasn’t been paying attention.

Beloved is complex.  And I join the chorus which insists this is a book which should be read by everyone.  Repeatedly.

See my list of books which help me understand being black in America.

Book List: Black in America

This is an incomplete list of books I’ve read which have helped me understand what it means to be “other,” based on skin color. They make my heart ache, and think more deeply about my own privilege of being white.

Between the World and MeTa-Nehisi Coates
The Beautiful StruggleTa-Nehisi Coates
We Should All Be Feminists NowChimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Not a Genuine Black ManBrian Copeland
By Any Means NecessaryMalcolm X
BelovedToni Morrison

What’s Auntie Reading Now?: The Museum of Innocence

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

DNF
(Did Not Finish)

I loved My Name is Red, but The Museum of Innocence is not even close to the same level of goodness.  Most other reviewers who, presumably, finished the book were kind when they wrote it was not Pamuk’s best work.

The same attention to detail of things which worked so well in MNIR gets boring in TMOI because the story doesn’t go anywhere.  Kemal’s obsessive love is ruinous.  And yet, all we are treated to is the litany of his obsessive pilfering of objects which he does creepy things with to relive the joy that moment brought him.  When it got to an actual enumeration of the 4,213 cigarette butts he’d pilfered and catalogued for his museum, I’d had enough.

I don’t care what happens next.

Review: The Methods of Breaking Bad

The Methods of Breaking Bad
edited by
Jacob Blevins and Dafydd Wood

Title: The Methods of Breaking Bad
Author: edited by Jacob Blevins and Dafydd Wood
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 9780786495788
Publisher: McFarland Books
Publisher’s Blurb:  Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad is a central work in the recent renaissance in television-making.  … This collection of new essays focuses on a variety of themes.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

As a writer, I found Breaking Bad a ripping good story.  Which, in my vernacular means asking, “What happens next?”  And that was my reaction to Breaking Bad a lot.  Digging into the themes and subtext has helped deepen my understanding of writing as a craft, and of Vince Gilligan’s brilliance as a story-teller.  Not to mention Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of the fascinatingly unlikable Walter White.

Breaking Bad is a work that facilitates, perhaps even makes possible, a dialogue about aesthetic, philosophical, psychological, and ethical elements in our culture in a way we have yet to see in television.  (p. 7)

The essays written by academics in The Methods of Breaking Bad focus on the ways in which the story is told.  I found it invigorating, inspiring and, more than a little intimidating.  At best, I am casual viewer, reviewer and writer.  One can only go so far on one’s own.

Miguel E. H. Santos-Neves’ essay, “Our ‘word … is half someone else’s’:  Walt and the Literary Echoes of Whitman” focuses on the purpose of Walt Whitman’s “Learn’d Astronomer” in Breaking Bad.  In larger context, Santos-Neves makes the point that unlike the insular community of a story like The Sopranos, the literary allusions in Walter White’s world point to something less constrained,  the entire world.  Bonus points for making me finally read Whitman.

Not many of the characters in Breaking Bad were likeable.  Most were downright loathsome, yet viewers returned episode after episode, hanging on every twist and turn.  Aside from Jesse Pinkman (Walter’s sidekick), and Mike (played so well by the always excellent Jonathan Banks) who had his own sense of honor, there was no one I liked.

Giving Skyler White short shrift was quite in vogue at the time.   After reading Rebecca Price Wood’s “Breaking Bad Stereotypes about Postpartum:  A Case for Skyler White,” I reconsidered.  Price Wood’s thesis that Skyler’s behavior was exacerbated by being pregnant for most of the series, and giving birth to beautiful Holly resonated.  Surviving in Walt’s world would be harrowing for any woman.  Trying to maintain sanity while pregnant and being mother to Flynn, who has cerebral palsy, would be damned near impossible.  And that’s where Skyler finds herself.  I still don’t like Skyler, but I do have more sympathy for her based on Price Wood’s essay.

The most fascinating essay for me was Neil Connelly’s “What Writers Can Learn From Breaking Bad:  The Risks and Rewards of Deliberate Disorientation.”  His comparison of Gilligan’s story telling style to that used by Toni Morrison in Beloved is what drove me to read it finally.

Above all else perhaps, the reader must trust the writer, must feel like an intentional master plan is being unveiled, must sense that her efforts are being rewarded with additional knowledge and understanding.  (p. 49)

That was one of my aha! moments.  As was the ensuing discussion of how disorientation is used to great effect.  Gilligan’s skill forces us to trust he’s leading somewhere, and that we will understand when we get there.  From the iconic opening scene of the RV roaring down the dirt road and a pair of khakis flying out the window to Walter’s death at his own hands, the viewer wonders “What is going on?” Followed at some later point by, “Oh!  That’s what was going on!”

Reading Connelly’s essay helped me understand that disorientation was one of the most appealing things about Breaking Bad‘s story.  Gilligan made me pay attention, and since the payoffs came frequently enough to help me understand the story at a deeper level, I came to trust the story was leading me somewhere interesting.

Overall, The Methods of Breaking Bad, led me to enjoy the show on a deeper level.  As a creative person, the collection of essays gave me much to ponder about craft and style.  Not a bad use of time, if you ask me.