New to the Stacks: Genevieve Cogman

The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman
The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman

Some evil, evil book warbler insisted upon telling me about this series about an interdimensional library, librarian spies … and dragons! I was helpless in this warbler’s clutches. Good thing I had birthday money to spend.

  • The Masked Cityread
  • The Burning Pageread
  • The Lost Plotread

Review: The Hakawati

The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine
The Hakawati
by Rabih Alameddine

Title: The Hakawati
Author: Rabih Alameddine
Published: 2008
ISBN-13: 9780385664776
Publisher: Anchor Canada
This is a book of stories, about family, Identity, love of family filled with stories from  generations of storytellers.  In fact, Hakawati means storyteller.

Where do I begin with this?  The story of generations of storytellers in one family.  The strands of the stories weaving together the themes of identity (Lebanese or American?  musician, storyteller or engineer?), physical place, and place within the family structure are told.

Osama al-Kharrat returns to Beirut from Los Angeles to bear witness to his father’s death.  The entire family gathers around the hospital bed to reminisce and tell stories reaching generations back.  As with most family reunions, new stories are created as the now adult children discuss events from their childhood and discover the meaning of said events.

I love the way Alameddine weaves the many generations of stories together to tell the story of a this Lebanese family.  Anyone who enjoys good stories will love The Hakawati.

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Review: When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair

When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair by Geneen Roth
When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair
by Geneen Roth

Title: When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair
Author: Geneen Roth
Published: 1998
ISBN-13: 9780786885084
Publisher: Hyperion

The connection between eating and emotions is deep and tight.  It’s a way we learn to soothe ourselves, to fill the holes in our hearts, and may be one area in which we feel we’re in control.

Geneen Roth’s book is about the ways we trick ourselves into sabotaging ourselves with food, and how to become more aware and stop the damage.

Anyone who has known me for more than five minutes knows that I have issues.  Lots and lots of issues which I use food to deal with.  Emotional eating is a learned trait, and did I ever learn it well.

I’m not sure why I initially picked up When You Eat the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair, something clearly resonated.  Becoming the person you love most in your own life is hard, challenging work.  One needs a lot of help to get there.

Roth goes beyond the “just stop eating so much,” or “trade gluten free for x,” form of food talk.  In 50 short (2-3 pages) chapters, she writes about the issues emotional eating covers and offers ways to break some of the chains we’ve formed over the years.

Most of them are things I already do, like wearing bright colors.  If you haven’t seen my wardrobe, it’s filled with bright pinks and deep purples.  But that’s a recent change for me.

When You Eat the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair isn’t about body image or acceptance, it’s about learning to love ourselves as the gems we are, regardless of our looks.  It’s about learning to stop tearing ourselves down.

Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Title: Ready Player One
Author:  Ernest Cline
Published: 2011
ISBN-13: 9780804190138
Publisher: Broadway Books
Twitter: @ErnieCline
Publisher’s Blurb:

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.

I saw the movie with co-workers who are gamers and were so excited I could hardly stand it.  My opinion of the whole deal was, at best, neutral.  My knowledge of Ready Player One was only this was a really popular book, and at least one friend loathed it.

What a perfect escapist film.  Bright, fast, flashy, filled with 1980s pop culture references that had my co-workers talking excitedly for days.  I was bemused.  Then one of them loaned her copy of the book to me.  She was so excited to share it with me.

Perfect escapist fare again. Ready Player One is wish fulfillment 101.  It’s like Cline took every reference from 1980s pop culture and crammed it into a “wouldn’t it be cool if ….” version of “my life sucks and I was really happy back then.”  Which is, pointedly, harsh and maybe a bit unfair to Cline. Because we all have wish fulfillment fantasies, mine is comfortable surroundings on a golden beach surrounded by books and all the time to read them.

Pollution, poverty, climate change, unemployment have all reached their logical conclusion in 2045.  It’s no wonder people would rather be in OASIS, the virtual world created by James Halliday, than anywhere else.  And, like everything else in any world, the rich and powerful want even more.

Wade is the one-dimensional hero.  The teenager who’s smarter and cooler than everyone else, saving the day from the big bad corporation who wants to take over OASIS and profit from it.  Halliday’s death spurs an all out 3-riddle solving winner takes all contest for ownership.  Wade’s team of five against IOI’s massive army of employees whose only job it is to research Halliday’s life and 1980s trivia, or strap up in game harnesses and play until they pass out.

The teenagers win.  Wade gets the girl, the fortune and the power to turn OASIS off one day a week so everyone can reconnect to the “real world.”  That’s pretty much it.  Nothin’ deep or complex.  Just a good mind candy afternoon read.

Although I’m sure my co-workers would disagree about the meaning of all those Easter Eggs.

 

Review: Hogfather

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
Hogfather
by Terry Pratchett

Title: Hogfather
Author: Terry Pratchett
Published: 2000
ISBN-13: 9780062276285
Publisher: Harper Fiction

As nonsensical as Pratchett’s Discworld books may seem, they often make a great deal of sense. Hogfather pokes fun at old gods, evolving gods, power, and belief systems. There’s even an “oh god,” as in “oh god I’m gonna be sick.”

The Hogfather is Discworld’s version of Santa Claus, and things go very, very far astray forcing Death to step in and try to put things right, while his granddaughter tries to behave like a normal person.

And I always enjoy reading Death trying to understand humans, and trying to behave as though he’s human when needed.  Usually with very confusing results for the humans he encounters.  Think Nightmare Before Christmas when Jack Skellington  tries to introduce Christmas joy to Halloween Town.

 

Review: The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Epic of Gilgamesh
translated by N.K. Sandars

Title: The Epic of Gilgamesh
Author: Translated by N. K. Sandars
Published: 1972
ISBN-13: 978140441000
Publisher: Penguin Classics
I found SparkNotes helpful.

This is the grandmama of all written epic stories, the progenitor of familiar quest stories and tropes through the ages.  It’s also based on the historical Mesopotamian king Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh is 2/3 god, 1/3 human and has no equal.  As such, his arrogance and hubris get the better of him while he literally rapes and pillages his way through his own land, Uruk.

The gods create Enkidu from clay (completely mortal) as a balance to Gilgamesh’s excesses.  When they meet, they fight each other but once they discover they are equals, they become great friends.

Because Gilgamesh is restless, he and Enkidu go on a quest which includes stealing cedars from a forest forbidden to mortals.  After they kill the demon Humbaba, Ishtar tries to entice Gilgamesh into a love affair with her.  He flatly turns her down, which enrages her and she calls down the Bull of Heaven to kill him.

Enkidu dies from a protracted illness because the gods must punish one of them for killing the Bull of Heaven.  Gilgamesh is bereft and leaves Uruk in search of Utnapishtim, the man who survived the Great Deluge and was given eternal life.

In his travels to the end of the world and back, he finally accepts that life is not eternal, but the impact on those he comes in contact can be.

I first read Gilgamesh for a class about ethics towards animals (Enkidu was raised among the animals).  Reading it is the start of many familiar stories, like the Great Deluge, considered to be the genesis of the Flood story and Noah in the Bible.

For more about the genesis of myths which have become common knowledge around the world, read my review of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Review: The Truth

The Truth
The Truth
by Terry Pratchett

Title: The Truth
Author: Terry Pratchett
Published: 2000
ISBN-13:  9780380818198
Publisher: Harper Torch

William deWorde has a newsletter he sends to rich people who pay him to write about the gossip in Ankh-Morpork. The dwarves move in with a mechanical printer and make a deal with deWorde to publish more frequently. Soon, Ankh-Moorpark has two papers, one which publishes the truth as deWorde has been able to ferret out, and the truth people want to believe. DeWorde gets wind of a story which is politically dangerous, and find himself in danger.

It may be heresy to say, but I think Pratchett is funnier than Douglas Adams. And Pratchett’s silliness in my kind of silliness.  And while they’re silly,  Pratchett’s books are also social commentary. The Truth is about facts, truth, justice and what people want to believe is true. It also features mayhem, but then all of Terry Pratchett’s books feature mayhem of one sort or another.

Review: The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
The Man in the High Castle
by Philip K. Dick

Title: The Man in the High Castle
Author: Philip K. Dick
Published: 1962
ISBN-10: 0141186674
Publisher: Penguin Books

To my wife Anne, without whose silence this book would never have been written.
Dedication

Japan and Germany have won World War II and have taken over the world.  Hitler is dying from syphilitic incapacitation in an insane asylum, while his henchmen maneuver for power.

The US, as we know it, has been divided into three regions:  the Eastern US controlled by the Nazis, Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere (the Pacific states) controlled by Japan, and a buffer zone  called the Rocky Mountain States.

This should have been a gripping story, given the premise. But overall, I found the characters bland, and the dependence upon the I Ching an overused plot device.