Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tree, Takes 1 & 2

Took this photo a couple of days ago of an ivy branch wrapped around a tree branch.

 Branch 1

I sort of liked the weirdness of the random in focus parts, but the more I look at it, the less I like it.

So, today, I took this one:

Branch, Take 2

Better, but still not right.

50 Book Challenge Round Up


I've read exactly 50 books. Here are some of the highlights.

# of books read: 50
- female authors: 20 / male authors: 23 (authors only counted once)
- nonfiction: 4 / fiction: 46
* general fiction: 20
* children: 4
* fantasy: 11
* mystery: 5
* historical fiction: 6

- Longest Book: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at 784pp
- Shortest Book: Silk at 91pp

Best Books

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Seriously, if you haven't read any books by David Mitchell, what are you waiting for? This is a beautiful book that starts on a slave ship, rockets through time up to the future, then goes all the way back again. Each of the time periods is connected nominally with the period before and after, though all of the connections aren't apparent until the reader reaches the end. Beautifully written, really interesting, and a fantastic read.

Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood
One of Atwood's earlier novels (pre-Handmaid's Tale) about a woman trapped in her life and fakes her death to escape. The book is about her life in its entirety, including her obesity, poor relationship with her mother and bad relationships with men. Easy to relate to, and wonderful to read.

One Perfect Day by Rebecca Mead
One of the non-fiction books I read this year, about the way that American weddings are less about love and more about consumption. Mead traces the production of wedding from the manufacture of the poufy white dress in a sweatshop in China to the marketing of carefully engineered wedding videos. If you've ever been in one of THOSE weddings, you should read this book.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Both a mystery and a study in the way that traumatic events can shape the lives of people, Case Histories is a fascinating read. It's rare that a book does everything well, but I was interested in the mystery, interested in the characters, and the book left me wanting to read more from this author.

As Simple As Snow by Gregory Galloway
This book traces the relationship of Anastacia and the narrator, two misfit high school students. Halfway through the book, Anna goes mysteriously missing, and it is up to the narrator to piece together the clues she's left behind to figure out what happened to her. There is plenty of room for the reader to come to their own conclusions as well. This book won some sort of "young adult" fiction award, but there is more than enough here to satisfy even the most discriminating readers.

In Search of King Solomon's Mines by Tahir Shah
I want Tahir Shah's job. He is a travel writer who choses insane places to visit and goes on crazy, unconventional journeys in the most amazing of ways. This book takes place in Ethiopia where Shah goes in search of the King Solomon's legendary gold mines. Shah is never condescending and seems to really care about the people he meets along the road. He is often self-depricating and very funny. If you like Bill Bryson, you will love Tahir Shah. If you don't like Bill Bryson, well, you'll still like Tahir Shah.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
I feel like I was the last person to read this book. The Time Traveller's Wifeis an unconventional romance between Henry (a time traveler) and Claire (a non-traveler). Part romance, part science-fiction, this book shows the way that Henry and Claire have known and influenced each other throughout their entire lives, thanks to the mystery of time travel. Beautifully written and totally original.

(and of course, Harry Potter).

Most Disappointing

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
A convoluted murder mystery set in Istabul involving the illuminated manuscript trade. While the historical bits about illuminated manuscripts were interesting, this book is bogged down in senseless exposition and strange, uninteresting subplots.

Stiff by Mary Roach
A book about what happens to human bodies after we die. Too much trying to be funny, and not enough science. If I pick a book out of the "science" section, I want to learn while I'm being entertained.

Shopgirl by Steve Martin
Flat and unemotional chick-lit written by a man. Steve Martin tries to be a serious author. Kind of.

An Imperfect Lens by Anne Roiphe
Three young french scientists go to Alexandria to discover the cause of cholera. I found this book to be almost clinical in the descriptions of the love stories between two of the main characters, and in the descriptions of the progression of cholera through Alexandria. I just couldn't get into this book.

The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman
Henry is an early anatomist, and Gustine is the young prostitute that helps him acquire bodies during the cholera epidemic in England. Unlikeable historical fiction. I wanted the disease to win.

#50: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
fiction, (c) 1991 , 306pp
rating: ***

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has long been on my shelf of "frequent re-reads". So, for my 50th book of the year, I picked up Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, the first book of Douglas Adams' less well-known series. I use the word series loosely, as there are only two books. Adams left a third book, Salmon of Doubt unfinished at the time of his death.

The plot of this book is convoluted at best, but I'm going to try and describe it. The book starts with a series of unrelated events: an electric monk on a horse going through a door in a desert; a young woman going on a date; a young computer programmer having dinner with an old college professor. As the book goes on, these threads start to come together when a side-character is murdered. At that point, Dirk Gently (finder of missing cats and saver of the world) enters the picture to solve the crime using the interconnectedness of all things. Are you confused yet? You should be, because I was. Through a series of strange plot twists, including a time paradox, all things are resolved. To say anything about the plot twists would be to give too much away, so I'll have to leave you with just these things.

The only - the ONLY - reason this book works at all is because Douglas Adams is so clever. His satire of academics and computer programmers is dead on. A lot of the dialogue is really snappy, which is partially why his books lend themselves so well to radio shows and other serials. On the downside, I found the character of Dirk Gently to be irritating instead of endearing. Many of his monologues seemed to be an excuse for Douglas to show off just how freakin' clever he is - which turned me off, as a reader. The ending of the book seemed sort of slapped together as all of the pieces conveniently fall into place within a space of thirty pages.

If you like Douglas Adams' humor, and you've got nothing better to read, go ahead and pick up this book. But I wouldn't go looking for it.

Friday, December 28, 2007

I Am Legend: The Dog Always Gets The Short End of the Stick

There seems to be some kind of universal rule in movie-making where if a dog is featured in a storyline as the best-friend/loyal companion of a main character, something awful will happen to it.* That should tell you just about everything you need to know about I Am Legend, a movie I saw two days ago (not my selection).

I think the problems with I Am Legend can be summed up by three major flaws.

(1) I Am Legend is a zombie movie. Zombie movies can only be good if they abandon all hope of serious movie making and either descend into camp or play it like a straight blockbuster/thriller style movie (like 28 Days Later). I Am Legend does neither of these things. Through the first half of the movie, it attempts to be a "serious" film and explore the mental issues that the main character has after living entirely alone (with the exception of his faithful pup Sam). Robert Neville (played by Will Smith) spend much of the first hour wandering around Manhattan conversing with his dog and mannequins that he's set up around the city. While these scenes are supposed to be poignant, they end up being merely laughable.

(2) About halfway through, there is an abrupt transition between being a "serious" film and being an action/thriller. There are explosions. There are roaring albino zombies. There is gunfire. It has nothing to do with the first half of the movie.

(3) Will Smith can be a serious actor given the right script. While I didn't love The Pursuit of Happyness as a film, Will Smith was very good in it. But this is a bad script, and while Smith does the best he can with it, there is only so much one man can do. In the first thirty minutes, Smith tells his puppy dog to be careful, because he's not immune to the contact version of the virus. I'm surprised a little banner with the word "foreshadowing" didn't unfurl across the bottom of the screen.

The more I think about it, the less I liked it.

* This rule is null and void if the dog has a humanlike ability to communicate via voice overs (i.e. Dr. Doolitte or the Incredible Journey) or via the ability to communicate complex information through a stream of woofs (i.e. Lassie).

Thursday, December 27, 2007

PS: comments are now open to everyone.

#49: Greenfire

It has been my goal to read 50 books this year (and it will be my goal to read 50 books next year too). Since I've been getting flak for not posting here, perhaps I'll make more use of this space for book reviews and such.

Greenfire by Louise Titchener
fiction/fantasy, (c)1993, 306pp
rating: ***

Another book from the unread books from my youth. I'm pretty sure I probably bought Greenfire in 1993 when it was new. Had I read it when I was actually 13 years old, I might have really liked it. However, as an older and (at least, I would like to think) more sophisticated reader, it lacked something. Greenfire is a bit of fluff that, while mildly entertaining, is certainly not worth searching down.

Greenfire follows the story of Reawen, the demigod of water. She (and the other three elemental demigods) derive the majority of their power from magic stones. The king of the Peninsula ticked each of the domi (demigods) out of their stones and is using them to rule his kingdom. Reawen sets out on a quest to win her stone back and regain all of her powers. As she continues on her quest, she realizes that all is not what it originally seemed - the domi have been capricious and cruel and the kingdom that King Brone has established has people she comes to care about. Add in a war with a neighboring kingdom and a feud between wizards, and that's basically all of the main plot points of the book.

Greenfire is totally predictable and the writing is trite. It's not necessarily boring though. It would be a great book to bring on a plane or other long trip where you want something to occupy your mind, but not something that needs a lot of concentration. Bonus is that I wouldn't feel bad leaving it in whatever place I arrived in.

A Year in Photos!

A year in photos!

Point Lobos 5 grassveld Table Mountain Path 2 Thunder 2 Tired Flying Birds House of Neptune sunsetlodge-a chameleon 2 Butterfly Duo 2 Tailspot Blenny Fat Squirrel! 2