Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson

I can't say I enjoyed this book, it is much too painful to read about the so-called "reasonable" men, doing their research in what we know now to be a completely unreasonable manner - ostensibly trying to determine if black people are as intelligent as white people - but, in the name of objectivity, completely handicapping the experiment. But it certainly does make me think. How strong our prejudices are that we cannot even recognize them when we are explicitly looking at them. These men performed experiments on and with a young black boy and ostensibly had no idea how their own prejudices came into play. And then I remind myself that it is a work of fiction, after all. Perhaps, Anderson is exaggerating. But, no, people of that day actually believed the things that these "learned gentlemen" researched and asserted.

I must admit, I skimmed parts of this book. They were simply too uncomfortable for me to want to read. And parts of the book were simply boring. I think it could have been edited down to a more effective book about 2/3 of the current length. But, I also have to admit to a great deal of respect for M. T. Anderson. This is an extremely difficult subject to tackle and it is done from a rather unique perspective.

But, just as reasonable men didn't see their own prejudice against blacks, I wonder what current social obsession we manage to completely misview, because of our own prejudices. The prejudice against gays and lesbians doesn't qualify, because we are now aware of it. Prejudice against the intelligence of other animal species - especially apes and dolphins and their relatives - might qualify. The arrogance of our species in thinking we are the top and end point of the evolutionary chain might also. But it is likely something quite different - something only hindsight will make us aware of. Sigh. We are such limited beings.

Even us white ones. (*intended sarcastic irony*)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Raven's Gate by Anthony Horowitz

This is definitely a boy's book - mostly action, little and relatively standardardized character development, not many personal relationships. But it is a good boy's book, I guess. The plotting seems plausible. Each situation seems realistic, until they all add up to a fantastic whole. And it IS exciting.

Problem is - I am female and, while I appreciate it for its strengths, it isn't my type of book.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Passion of the Keef by Keith Knight

There is one advantage to being sick - you get more books read. I am not sure that I enjoy them as well as I would have if I had been well, but ...

I like some of the points that Keith Knight makes in his cartoons, many of which focus on racial interactions. And I especially enjoyed, in this book, his series on Life's Little Victories.

But, I am not especially fond of the art work. It is a bit too cluttered and sometimes just reading the strip is more effort than it should be. I also subscribe to a service that sends me certain political cartoons, one of which is drawn by Ted Rall. My reaction to both of them is the same. I find the ideas interesting, but the artwork is too intimidating - visually too much.

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

This book, loosely based on the story of Snow White, is just a bit too convoluted for my tastes. In trying to make the plot of Snow White into a full length, though derivative tale, there are just a few too many duplicities for my interest. It makes the plot of the book more realistic, I will concede, but it makes it harder to believe some of the actions of the main characters.

I felt betrayed that the Prince, who was shown as doubting the queen and her rule, so readily accepted the queen's accusations against Aza, supposedly the girl that he was falling in love with. He just didn't seem to be THAT shallow and lacking in understanding. In fact, in another scene, he shows incredible finesse in the situation, which potentially saved the life of the cook and one of the court ladies.

One of the issues brought up by a reviewer on Amazon was why was it necessary for Aza to feel loved by the prince, before she was able to stand up for herself. It is clearly shown before then that she knew she was completely and well loved by her family and appreciated by some guests at her parents' inn. Why was her self esteem so low? I think the answer to that comes out of the situation. Although she knew her parents and family loved her and appreciated her voice, that wasn't enough to shield her from the dislike of strangers at the inn. And, they do, after all, allow her to shield herself from many guests. She was taken to the coronation only as a substitute - not for herself, only for her availability. That does nothing to up her self esteem. She was taken as the lady-in-waiting to the queen under circumstances that were dishonest and threatening. That further lowers her opinion of herself. She can't even enjoy the one thing about her that is acknowledge to be beautiful - her voice, because it is the instrument of her bondage. It takes someone for whom she has respect in order to break the cycle. The king is unavailable for that role, as is the queen. The head musician is the one who later exposes her, so he can't be the person who boosts her self esteem. And, this is a tale for teenage, or pre-teenage girls, so the availability of the prince is convenient - and needed later on for the completion of the Snow White-ness of the story. It would be a bit unrealistic if, all of a sudden, she developed self-confidence without some outside intervention. I suppose she could have conveniently found a female friend in the castle, but that would have made the story even more convoluted.

All in all, it is a decent story. I would rate Ella Enchanted (by the same author) higher, though.

Sold by Patricia McCormick

This book is not for the faint-hearted, nor probably for kids who aren't old enough to understand about prostitution and life in a brothel. That statement, in itself, is rather sadly ironic, since the girl profiled in the book was also not old enough to understand what was happening, and only understood much too late, after there was nothing she could do to change the situation.

The book doesn't spare the readers' sensitivities. The sex slave trade is there in painful detail. But, surprisingly, there are also glimmers of humanity, kindness, loyalty, and helpfulness. Even in the most desperate circumstances, some people come through. It is this modicum of hope that makes the book not completely depressing. But, I wonder - is this modicum of hope only there to placate the reader? Is there any hope in the situation in real life?

Friday, December 8, 2006

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

I suppose I should really let this one percolate a bit in my mind before writing about it, but I'm not doing so. I just finished the book a few minutes ago and I enjoyed it. It is a quirky book - and you really have to enjoy supreme nerdiness, but it's got humor and a good heart, too.

The plot: Colin Singleton, a super smart "child prodigy" has dated 19 Katherines, all of whom have dumped him. To recover from his most recent dumping, he and his friend, Hassan, go on a road trip. They end up in a tiny dead-end town called Gutshot, Tennessee, where they get hired to do a town history. They live with the town matriarch, the town's only factory owner, and her daughter. The daughter, Lindsey, has a boyfriend. Colin spends a lot of his time trying to come up with a mathematical equation for a romantic relationship. Colin is truly a nerd, but eventually, even he learns to relax and live with an unpredictable future.

I guess I am just nerdy enough to find the footnoted tidbits laugh-out-loud funny. This kid remembers the first 99 digits of pi by making up a sentence with the first letter of each work coded to the numbers of pi. And he anagrams everything. It is close enough to what I have done for me to feel the gently mocking humor, yet far enough off the deep end that I don't feel threatened by it.

The very end of the book seems to get a bit preachy and didactic, but the idea is good and I guess the preachiness is in character.

A word of caution: yes, there is teen sex in the book. I usually don't like that much - and I don't like it in this case either, but I think it was probably called for, plotwise. That isn't always the case, but, in this book I think it was necessary in order for the characters to make some radical and anticipated changes in their lives.

Worth reading.