Author: John Green
Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Publication Info: Dutton Children’s; 1st edition (January 10, 2012)
“You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice.” This quote from The Fault in Our Stars pretty much sums up the book itself. The story tells of Hazel, isolated from normal teen activity due to the debilitating effects of cancer on her lungs, she meets the handsome and charming fellow cancer survivor Augustus at a support group. Their ensuing short friendship and romance is sweet, hilarious, and heartbreaking all at once. A central part of the plot is Hazel’s favorite novel that ends abruptly and Augustus’ plot to use his “Wish” to take her to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive author and find out what happens next to the characters in the book. This is a bit of a Macguffin though as the true story is what we read on the page in this truly remarkable work of fiction. This is another example of how some of the best fiction out there today is in the Young Adult section.
“And yet still I worried. I liked being a person. I wanted to keep at it. Worry is yet another side effect of dying.”
“The weird thing about houses is that they almost always look like nothing is happening inside of them, even though they contain most of our lives. I wondered if that was sort of the point of architecture.”
“If you don’t live a life in service of a greater good, you’ve gotta at least die a death in service of a greater good, you know? And I fear that I won’t get either a life or a death that means anything.”
“But to be perfectly frank, this childish idea that the author of a novel has some special insight into the characters in the novel…it’s ridiculous. That novel was composed of scratches on a page, dear. The characters inhabiting it have no life outside of those scratches. What happened to them? They all ceased to exist the moment the novel ended.”
“It occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again. That is probably true even if you live to be ninety—although I’m jealous of the people who get to find out for sure.”
Author: S. Alexander Reed and Phillip Sandifer
Title: They Might Be Giants’ Flood
Part of the Bloomsbury Academics 33 1/3 series of books about famous musical recordings, this book analyses my 6th favorite album of all time, They Might Be Giants’ Flood. Pop scholarship at it’s best, the book explores the 20-song album and the themes that carry through them such as childhood, technology, and geek culture. The latter is interesting in that John Flansbergh and John Linnell themselves do not identify as geeks, as a short biographical interlude makes clear, yet their paths lead them to the perfect point in 1990 when their creative output would resonate with geek culture (and with wider audiences as well). The authors also develop a theory of “flooding” as a form of “creative excess” manifest in TMBG’s work. It’s a remarkable little book and makes my want to look into more works in the 33 1/3 series.
“What’s going on here is playfulness. Flood embodies the idea that creativity is an open-ended result of asking “what if,” and not the single-minded pursuit of a pre-imagined ideal. The band’s music rejoices in a continual sense of play, altering and subverting the expected order of things, …. Because They Might Be Giants’ music is (almost) never in service of a joke, the silliness of song like “Particle Man” is exploratory, not goal-driven. Musical, lyrical, and visual ideas then exist for their own sake.” – p. xiii
“Central to understanding the appeal of the album is the aesthetic of flooding. We’re coining this term to mean, on its most reductive level, an aesthetic of creative excess. Flooding isn’t merely a case of a lot, but of too much. It hyperstimulation is exuberant, but in a way that goes both beyond delight and overripeness.” – p. 40
Related Post: Concert Review: They Might Be Giants
Title: The Technologists
Set in Boston in 1868, The Technologists follows the same historical mystery formula as previous works like The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow. This novel centers around the students of the first class of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the fictional protagonists intermingling with historical figures like William Barton Rogers, Ellen Swallow Richards, and Louis Aggasiz (the latter is characterized as a cartoonish villain in the Harvard-MIT rivalry). Boston is threatened by mysterious technological attacks and the populace – already suspicious of the institute – threaten to close it down. It’s up to the young students to use their scientific skills to stop the madman and to save the reputation of their school. The historical details are nice, and the mystery is good enough. I didn’t see some of the twists in the plot coming, at least. The growing technological menace get ludicrous though and the characterization is weak. All in all, an entertaining page-turner of a historical mystery, but no great work of literature.
Title: Give the Devil His Due
Publication Info: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2013)
The third installment of The Sanheim Chronicles completes the story begun in A Soul To Steal and Band of Demons. As noted, the author is a friend of mine, so I may not be impartial, but on the other hand I was reading this while waiting for a bus and was so engrossed that I didn’t notice a bus had stopped right in front of me. The series continues to improve and it continues to change. These three books could be three different genres, and there’s a lot going on in just this one volume from Celtic mythology to the American Civil War. There’s imaginative world-building too as the characters proceed on an epic journey across the Land of the Dead. Blackwell also brings back a lot of good characters from earlier novels in unexpected ways, but I shan’t into detail lest it get too spoilery.
“It matters because words have power, and names have more than most,” Kieran replied. “It influences what we believe and that definitely matters. If we say the Land of the Dead is hell, and Sanheim is the devil, then we’ve already lost. How can we free a soul from a land where only the most evil and corrupted go in the first place? How can we defeat a monster that is evil incarnate? This is why Sanheim acts the way he does, why he no doubt tries to make the Land of the Dead seem like our conception of hell. Because it teaches people to accept their fate. They believe they are there because they deserve to be, and the creature that rules them is nothing less than an evil god.”
Author: Susan Cain
Publication Info: New York : Random House, Inc. : Books on Tape, p2012.
Summary/Review: This is a book for introverts, the people like myself who often feel to be an overlooked minority in a world geared to schmoozers, go-getters, and talk, talk, talk. Cain dispels some myths about introverts and demonstrates how introverts can thrive when not forced to follow the model of their extroverted brethren. Better still, Cain explains how the things that come naturally to introverts can be advantages in life, business, and relationships. Part of the book gives tips on how the introvert can achieve goals that require some extroversion, but also has tips for extroverts who may need to be more introverted at times. It’s an interesting and empowering book, and one worth looking into to understand the different ways people function.
Recommended books: Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto by Anneli Rufus
Author: Lawrence Osbourne
Title: The Wet and the Dry
Publication Info: New York : Crown, c2013.
I received this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.
I selected this book expecting whimsical travel adventures seen through a drinking glass. I forgot that alcohol is a depressant. The author Lawrence Osbourne comes from a family of alcoholics and has recently lost his mother. He spends a lot of time in various parts of the world isolated in bars merely drinking. A particular challenge for him his to find places to drink in the Islamic world, which seems to be as tedious for him to pursue as it for the reader to see described. While he has some interesting observations on the drinking culture (or lack thereof) in the places he visits, much of this work is inward facing. And to be frank, Osbourne seems like an unpleasant person so it is a difficult read.
Recommended Books: A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage and Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horwitz
Author: Molly Lawless
Title: Hit By Pitch
Publication Info: Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., 2012.
I was fortunate enough to receive a free copy of this work through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.
This graphic novel tells the true life story of the only baseball player to die from an injury on the field, Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians, who was beaned in the head by a pitch from the New York Yankees’ Carl Mays in a 1920 ballgame in New York’s Polo Ground. Lawless finds some common history among the two men both born in Kentucky in the same year building up their parallel stories leading to the fateful fastball in a similar fashion to Hardy’s “Convergence of the Twain.” Chapman is charismatic and popular with his teammates and fans while Mays is an outsider who is not well-liked setting up the perfect hero and villain scenario. Yet, Lawless makes sure to give Mays his fair due. Lawless details the incident and its aftermath with grim and fascinating details. For example, did you know that Mays and Yankees’ first baseman Wally Pipp fielded the ball that bounced off Chapman’s head thinking that it was a bunt? This is a great work of baseball history as well as the graphic arts.
Recommended Books: The Glory of Their Times : The Story of Baseball Told By the Men Who Played It by Lawrence S. Ritter, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover, and Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel.
Author: Ben Fountain
Title: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Publication Info: HarperCollins (2012)
Summary/Review: This review should be called “Liam Sullivan’s Long Summertime Read” because it took me months to complete reading. The slothfulness of the read should reflect more on the reader than the novel, and in fact the intricate level of detail in the book may be appreciated by a slow read. Fountain’s novel tells the story of the Bravo Squad whose firefight in Iraq caught on video goes viral making the ten young men instant heroes brought back to the US to be celebrated and used for a promotional tour. The majority of the novel takes place on Thanksgiving Day at a Dallas Cowboys game where the Bravos are part of the pre-game and halftime festivities and is told from the perspective of the young Texan infantryman Billy Lynn. There’s little nuance in Fountain’s writing as this is clearly an anti-war novel with a pile-on of hypocritical people using the Bravos to advance their agenda. The incidents of the novel also grow increasingly absurd including Billy’s fling with a cheerleader and the surreal halftime show where the Bravos support the performance of Destiny’s Child. My ultimate summation of this book is good but not great, where the small details stand out better than the overarching themes of the novel.
Recommended Books: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Beer: Saison Various
Brewer: Harpoon Brewery
Rating: *** (7.5 of 10)
Comments: #47 in Harpoon’s 100 Barrel Series, this saison is actually a blend of four different beers crafted by four different brewers. The beer is a deep golden color with very little head or carbonation. I caught a strong whiff of tropical fruit in the aroma. The taste is sweet with hints of spice and a bready quality with a crisp finish. It’s tasty and unique.
Beer: Watermelon Ale
Brewer: Beer Works
Source: 12 oz. bottle
Rating: ** ( 6.4 of 10)
Comments: This is clearly a good summer drink, if not clearly a great beer. The beer is a thin, straw color, inconsistent in tone and very sparkly. The aroma is defined by the watermelon scent which is also the clear flavor upon first sip. The flavor evaporates leaving a bland, watery mouthfeel. The head also disappears quickly. Mind you this is not necessarily a bad thing as many fruit beers can be overly sweet and sticky. This watermelon ale is clean and refreshing and good for a hot summer’s day. Serve with a slice of watermelon.