Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Alive in Necropolis, Angels & Demons, and me being a slacker

Hello Dear Readers!

I hope you are all doing well, and if you are in Western Mass I hope you are enjoying this latest batch of rain-free days. I'm writing 'cause it has been a while, but I don't have a lot to report, and what there is to report I don't have a lot of time for.

I've been studying more than reading for fun, but I did recently break down and read a couple of silly thriller/mystery things. First was Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, and I have to say I was not impressed. A particle physicist at CERN discovered (along with his beautiful daughter/research partner) a method for making relatively large quantities of antimatter, and portable carrying cases which hold their charge for 24 hrs. When the charge runs out the vacuum fails and the antimatter annihilates everything in its range, but rather than calling the cops the director of CERN calls Langdon, a symbologist at Harvard. The name of an ancient brotherhood of anti-Catholic scientists was branded into the researcher's chest, so of course Langdon is the fellow to deal with it, right? So they go to Rome, elbow their way into full Vatican access during an historic pope selection (the holy conclave?), and race against time along a path of clues laid by Galileo, Bernini, and their contemporaries. It just struck me as unnecessarily flashy in a lot of ways. Sure, an antimatter weapon would be quite impressive, but is so remarkably improbable at this point that I could not successfully suspend my disbelief. The narrative was kind of clunky with a bunch of cheaper bits (there are more delicate ways to express that our main characters are physically attractive), but it was fun enough and I was looking for something light, so it carried me along to the remarkably improbable resolution.

Next up was Alive in Necropolis, by Doug Dorst, which I expected to be about zombies but is actually about ghosts. And cops. I find ghost stories kind of campy, so I mostly stuck with this one because the setting (Colma, East of San Francisco) reminded me of my 'homeland', but it turned out to be a decent read (yes, I know I'm reading light stuff these days). We put this one in mysteries but it would probably do ok with older teans, altho I don't think parents would like the drugs and misbehavior. Our hero is a rookie cop who gets his spot after his predecessor dies in an apparent suicide. Colma is where San Francisco goes to be buried, so a lot of his beat is graveyards, and he starts to hear and see flickery ghost things. Meanwhile Dorst gives us a bit of a window into the ghost world, and it soon becomes clear that a violent miscreant with a band of thugs is on the loose, causing pain for the sake of pain and 'killing' ghosties (and people?) who get in their way. When will some brave soul find the courage to stop them? Rookie bonds with a troubled teen (son of some famous director) after saving him from a graveyard mishap, so we also get a window into a teen's life of poor decisions, ill-advsed crushes, thoughtless drug use and *totally* clueless parents.

Right, that's all I've got time for today. My replacement started last week, and he is going to be fantastic. He's kicking my butt at every task I give him, asking really good questions and getting really good at figuring out the answers we give, and is clearly more organized and professional than I am. Maybe one day he'll even blog...

Anyway, Take Care, All!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ode to the El Camino

Hello Dear Readers,

Well folks, it's summer for real out here, and hot. June had a bunch of rain, with impressive thunderstorms damaging crops and felling trees all over the place, but we've been stuck in a humid heat today. I tend toward delirious plotting as my humidity coping mechanism of choice but find the heat quite enjoyable just the same. In the early days of melting heat this summer Rebecca and I hatched a fantastic plan for Western Mass wading pool domination, and now that it is really warm again I'm dusting off the plans. Please allow me to explain, in rambling detail.

I have a deep and irrational love of the El Camino, a sporty sedan with a pickup bed produced by Chevrolet between '59 and '88 (for reference, check out this book! We can order it for you, if you like!) I don't generally care about muscle cars, am pretty irritated by our auto dependence as a culture, and have only begun noticing well-maintained older cars since acquiring a generally maintained older car, but there's something about the El Camino that just stands out. What twisted cockiness to name your vehicle 'The Way,' when that car-centric way is probably killing us, I love it! My neighbor had one growing up, I associate them with west coast badass and strange chrome choices, and I want one.

Rebecca and I also both want more swimming. Lakes, ponds, rivers, pools, clean water barrels, doesn't matter. When it's 95 in the shade we want more water, all the time. Now, I have a lot of relatives in desert climates, a couple of them live in trailer parks or their momma's basements,
a number of them have pickup trucks, and I have heard rumors of second cousins filling pickup truck beds with water for an instant wading pool. Last month, while collapsed on the couch in a pool of my own sweat, I realized that El Caminos also have a truck-type bed. Just imagine the awesomeness of sitting in your El Camino and, at the same time, sitting in your wading pool. What an incredible collision of worlds! That, my friends is the final plan for Western MA wading pool domination.

Confused by what I mean? Well, here are some useful images:



That's all for now folks, have a great evening!


Ooh ooh, also the store has hired my replacement! woo hoo it's really really real! And I *love* the first edition club, but that is braggy news for another day. Take Care, all.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Someday You'll Miss Me...

Hello Dear Readers,

Enough with the pleasantries, I'm leaving the Odyssey. I'm leaving the bookstore job, my fantastic household and housemates, the Pioneer Valley, the state of Massachusetts, the New England Region, this half of the country, and my community garden plot. My housemates will inherit the garden plot, but I am also selling my car if you are interested (1983 Mercedes-Benz 300TD, a navy blue wagon with 264,000 miles on 'er and two years of successfully running on alternative fuels. It is not converted to run on WVO (waste vegetable oil) but I currently run about half WVO half petroleum diesel in the summer (under the advice and supervision of my mechanic) successfully, so my fuel costs about $2.40/gallon and I get something like 22-24 mpg. The car is a champion, but old and not 'restored' by anyone's definition. I'll miss the old broad. $2000 obo) and holding a yard sale in August to hand off all those ARCs I've collected with the intention to read, and maybe an actual bookshelf or two.

I got into a graduate (PhD) program in Environmental Science/Physics in Portland, Oregon. I haven't figured out how to pay for it yet (but y'all are welcome to help, by all means. Have you been wondering what to do with all those benjamins taking up space in your bank vault?) but I'm going to work that out on the way. I intend to engage in environmentally relevant research in Atmospheric Physics, perhaps studying the sources and sinks of atmospheric trace gases (for example, methane) which have relevance to climate. It will be amazing, and tons of work. I'm so excited.

After the cactus-theft fiasco I promised you fine people to never write another non-book-related post, so here are the tie-ins. Remember that car I'm selling, the one that runs on WVO sometimes but is begging for a true conversion or biodiesel enthusiast to take it all the way? She has been pressuring me to read this new book about 2 dudes crossing the country on WVO. The book is called Greasy Rider, by Greg Melville, and it comes out in October from Algonquin. I haven't read the book yet (but I might be giving away an ARC at the yard sale if I get to it by then! You should come by with your wallet to find out.) so I'm irresponsibly recommending it based on content summaries. I want to read this one, therefore you should read it. Hmm, apparently that is also the name of a movie about crossing the country on WVO, but I don't believe the two are related. Here is an article about the author.

So, why study air? Isn't that, like, what the empty glass is filled with? I must be some kind of nihilist, huh? Luckily a book came in just today addressing that very question and exploring that fascinating sea of particles that fills our lungs and protects us (ok, along with our magnetic field) from the ravages of space. An Ocean of Air: Why The Wind Blows and Other Mysteries of the Atmosphere, by Gabrielle Walker, seems like an excellent tour of atmospheric studies for laypeople. I just started it today so I can only say that it held my attention pleasantly through dinner, but here is an involved review of the book by someone else. He seemed to like it.

Take care, dear readers!


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

gardens, fairies, eco-warriors, and excellent dogs

Hello Dear Readers,

I hope this summer has been treating you well. My garden is really starting to take off, would you like to hear about it? Well, it is producing more broccoli, kale, and zucchini than I can handle on my own, but the onions haven't really started yet. The cucumber plants, shining stars of last year's garden, are hovering somewhere between sickly and dead, and the heads of lettuce that grew so fast and tasty early on have all been chopped off and are busily trying to grow back. The cilantro, basil, and spinach have flowered with surprising speed (oops!), the seven tomato plants are waist-high and flowering, and the potato plants are a dark-green sort of gigantic, although I have no idea how to tell when they are ready and safe to eat. Perhaps someone has put this information in a book, eh? Wouldn't it be lovely if there was a place, a retail establishment, where one could go with pieces of eight, and leave with a book full of words. Wouldn't that be lovely...

So it is a Tuesday night here at the Odyssey and the store just filled with a Elli's 8 member bookclub. Neil and I have both been sick this past week, and EC is on another fabulous island vacation, so it has been quite hectic for everyone else but I've spent an awful lot of time in my pjs falling asleep into books.

I don't read young adult books too often, but last week when I left work early to crash out feverish on Rebecca's couch I needed something light and fantastical to read in the 10 minute segments I woke up for. Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer, Hyperion Books, ISBN 9780786817078) was a great choice, with the extremely easy language carrying a fun and fantastical plot through a variety of twists and turns. Thank heavens the Rebecca's House Health Spa carries children's books!

In my more alert moments I have been reading Confessions of an Eco-Warrior (Dave Foreman, Three Rivers Press, ISBN 051788058X) by one of the founders of Earth First! I really love the way this book is written, and am enjoying it much more than I expected. I was expecting something dry and dogmatic, but Foreman writes quite pleasantly. I love the way he philosophizes about the role of humans on this planet, and what our actions represent in relation to its other inhabitants. He takes space in every chapter to write about a wilderness experience, and they are great anecdotes. I am looking forward to learning more about the evolution of Earth First!, and the evolution of Foreman's activist philosophy, by actually finishing the book.

Inspired by the amazing in-store reading on June 24th and the overwhelming publicity, I also recently read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (David Wroblewski, Ecco Press, ISBN 0061374229). Wow, this one deserves to win something big. Edgar Sawtelle is the only child of Trudy and Gar, dog breeders and trainers who are developing the Sawtelle 'breed' while working for a larger goal in canine evolution. Edgar is mute, his best friend and soul's other is a dog named Almondine, and the entire story takes place before he turns 16. I have heard that this is a re-telling of Hamlet, but my sense of Shakespearian Lit is pretty shaky so I couldn't verify the claim. It does, however contain Shakespearian elements introduced in a distinctly American fashion. There is an oracle, but she chain-smokes and runs the general store, and there are layers of familial dynamics. The Sawtelle dogs are incredible as well, bountiful in their dog-ness but trained to exercise their judgment as well as recognize commands. This story is incredible, I want to read it again for the first time, and I want to walk through those northern woods and see if I can run into a Sawtelle dog.

That's all for tonight, hope you're all doing well!


Saturday, July 5, 2008

Book Review - Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar

Hello all,

What a rainy Saturday we're having here! I have to confess, though, that I love the rain. To me, there are so many endless possibilities for fun on a rainy day. I know all of you with kids must be groaning and wanting to click that back button on the browser, and I have to agree, as a child I probably did not feel this way, but as an adult? - oh my, give me a good rainy day anytime! It's just so much easier for me to excuse doing what I want on a rainy day, which is mostly to curl up with a good book. Or curl up to watch a movie. Or curl up to take a nap. Basically anything that involves some sort of curling. There's also cooking and baking to be done, unpacking my new apartment, writing letters to various friends and relatives, etc. etc
., all of which you'll notice I am not doing at the moment, but am instead at work, and writing this book review to all of you. Wherever you are and whatever you're doing on this gray Saturday, I hope you're taking a small moment to appreciate, rather than complain about, this rain. Just remember - as much as we affect it, the daily weather is one of the few things humans have not found a way to absolutely control (yet), and I thank goodness for that every day.

So, about this book I'm supposed to be telling you about. It's great. I say that knowing full well I picked it up expecting it to be good, and being thrilled that I wasn't disappointed. Do you ever have those hunches? When you look at a book, totally judging it by its cover, and think, yeah, I bet I'm really going to enjoy reading you. This was one of those books for me. Let me also tell you that I'm a rather recent, but assuredly passionate, short story/essay lover. Who knew? Seriously, this is an adult-life discovery. I think we should start encouraging more children/teens/young adults to read short stories because (though I wasn't this way as a child), so many children get really overwhelmed by the size of a large book, tiny words, pages and pages of text. If they knew they only had to sit down and read one little story, and then maybe turn the page a day later and read another little, and then they may sit and read two in one sitting - perhaps soon they would be reading a whole book, just for that sense of accomplishment that comes when you've turned the final page, and as much as you've enjoyed the tale, boy are you glad you now have permission to be done and get up and go back to the rest of your life.

Clearly I digress. Lara Vapnyar writes about food as if it's there on the page in front of you for you to taste. She writes about love the same way. The fact that she is able to combine the mostly inner monologue of people's musings on life and love (she could be writing about a day in your own life, really), while simultaneously making your stomach growl for the hot borscht with sour cream someone in the story has just made, is an absolutely brilliant way of inviting other senses to partake in this primarily visual experience (that of reading the actual words on the actual page). Her stories reflect the food in them in the sense that if the food is unsatisfying in the tale, you may be left with a brief lingering and longing sensation for something just a little better or a little more of the tale to come along. If the food has been completely filling and satisfying, the story wraps up with a warm, contented closure. At the end, just as with a fabulous meal, I was sad it was over, and simultaneously relieved the self control was taken out of my hands or else I would have gorged myself a little too much.

If you like her writing, or short stories/essays in general, you should also check out her other works, Memoirs of a Muse and There Are Jews in My House.

Go poke your head out in the rain a minute. It's fun, I promise.


Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara
Hardcover: $20.00 9780375424878

There Are Jews in My Houseby Lara Vapnyar
Hardcover: $17.95 9780375422508
Paperback: $12.00 9781400033898

Memoirs of a Muse by Lara Vapnyar
Hardcover: $22.95 9780375422966
Paperback: $13.95 9781400077007