Monday, August 31, 2009

Reading, Watching, Listening ... August 09 in Review

Books read in August 09

Epistolary novel

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

I rather enjoy epistolary novels. It would grow tiresome if every novel employed that technique but once in awhile I find it fun.

I will have to add this to my growing list of WW II reads in recent years. I picked Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society book based on the quirky title and the fact it kept showing up on Goodreads and other lists. I didn't expect the setting or story at all.

I now feel like I know a bit more about the Channel Islands between France and Britain. And again, I've a slice of WWII life from a different angle.

The novel is set in the year following the war and it's about a young British writer, Juliet, who stumbles upon a story, actually a rich collection of stories, when a young man, Dawsey, decides to write an inquiry about Charles Lamb. Incidentally Charles Lamb has come up a fair amount in the past year and I wonder if this book has anything to do with that!

I enjoyed the characters, the spirit of the story and am happy to have read this book!

Sci Fi/July's RRVWP Book Club Pick

The Diamond Age, or a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson
We read this book for July and I was about half done when we met to discuss it. It seems I'm about half a book behind at every book club meeting because the same thing happened this month with Thunderstruck. (Am determined that I'll be back on track for September!)

This was one "messed up" book. I liked it and I didn't like it all at once. It's a post-cyberpunk novel and it's really the story of Nell, a young disadvantaged girl (a thete -- person without a phyle) living in a futuristic version of Shanghai in a world that no longer has countries but has people groups, also known as tribes or "phyles."

John Percival Hackworth, a scientist, is part of the Victorian phyle and he creates an interactive primer, the likes of which have never been seen before, for the daughter of his superior, but not before making a copy for his own daughter. When his copy falls out of his hands and into Nell's he is forced to create one more.

The story follows Nell as she uses the Primer, and to a lesser degree, two other girls who receive similar books, na
med Elizabeth and Fiona. The Primer reacts to its owners environment and teaches them what they need to know to survive and grow.

The difficulties I had with this story were more of a stylistic nature. I found some of the dense description to be unwieldy and actually unclear. His murky descriptions of things in this futuristic world left me unable to visualize things and at times I wasn't really clear on where the various characters were in the world and how they got there. The terminology is to be expected with a sci fi book and so I wasn't surprised by the vast number of words I needed to add to my vocab in order to navigate the Stephenson book, since all books of this genre do this, but there were times when it just became a bit much.

The book plays with the notion of education, the role of a teacher/mentor, with communication and the idea of a "group-mind or hive-mind." It explores nanotechnology, seed technology, artificial intelligence a
nd its failures and the sociology of a world without countries.

It's an interesting book and while I didn't love it, it still proved to be a good book club choice simply for the discussions that emerged

History/August's RRVWP Book Club Pick

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson (in progress)

Having read Larson's Devil in the White City, I expected to enjoy this title too. Thunderstruck is a book which interweaves the stories of Hawley Crippen, a murderer, and Guglielmo Marconi inventor of wireless technology. I am finding it to be a less gripping story than The Devil in the White City and it's not moving as quickly for me, but it's also been a really busy time of year. Expect a review to follow next month!

Films watched in August 09
Bolt (library rental)
Mamma Mia (rental -- rewatched)
The Ugly Truth (theatre)
Happy Go Lucky (library rental)
Fool's Gold (borrowed)

Music listened to in August 09

Mostly My Chemical Romance as I prepped my classroom for the start of school

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