Archive for August, 2010

One Lovely Blog Award

August 31, 2010 17 comments

Tea and roses.Kinna of Kinna Reads was kind enough to pass on the One Lovely Blog Award to me.  Thanks, Kinna!

Now, as per the rules of the award, I need to pass it on to 15 new to me blogs and comment to let them know they’ve received it.  If you’re on the list and choose to accept, please do the same.

  1. Alita Reads
  2. Amy Reads
  3. Book Addiction
  4. Book-a-rama
  5. Caroline Bookbinder
  6. Dollar Bin Horror
  7. It’s All About Books
  8. The Literary Omnivore
  9. Park Benches and Bookends
  10. Presenting Lenore
  11. Too Much Horror Fiction
  12. Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books
  13. Wag the Fox
  14. Write, Meg!
  15. The Bookworm Chronicles (ok, not new to me, but I ran out of blogs that are new to me, and Jessica’s blog is a hidden gem–always a delight to read!)

Series Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins (spoiler warning)

August 30, 2010 55 comments

Since I’m starting to finish up a bunch of series I’ve been reading for quite some time, I decided it’d be nice to reflect on the series as a whole after finishing.  I tend to do this in my head anyway, and it’ll be nice to get it out in writing.  Needless to say, there will be spoilers for every entry in the series.  This is about analysis and reflection and conversation with others who have read the series.  If you’re the type who likes spoilers before reading a series, you’re of course welcome as well.

Black cover with gold pin.Summary:
The Hunger Games trilogy is a post-apocalyptic dystopia set in the small nation of Panem, which we assume is what is left of livable land in what used to be the USA.  Panem is divided into 12 districts.  It is a dictatorship that faced a rebellion previously by the 13th district.  Every year each district, except the Capitol, must send one girl and one boy, chosen by lottery, to participate in the Hunger Games–a reality show in which they must fight to the death until only one survivor is left.  Katniss lives in District 12 and volunteers to go in place of her younger sister, Prim.  She forms an alliance with the boy from her district, Peeta.  When they are left the only ones standing, they grab poisonous berries, planning to thwart the Capitol by leaving no survivors.  They, of course, are stopped and are paraded around as engaged lovers for a year.  The President is angry at them, but they believe themselves to be relatively safe from his wrath as national heroes.  The next year, however, it is announced that this year’s Hunger Game will consist of the victors from the previous games.  It is believed that this act of violence will help squash the rebellion that is brewing.  Some of the victors plot with the rebels, however, and Katniss and some other victors escape with their aid and join in on the revolution, with Katniss the symbol of the rebellion.

Brown bird on orange background.

I first stumbled upon this series last summer.  I’m not sure how exactly, but given that I love dystopias, and it is one, it’s not too surprising.  I loved that for once in YA lit there was a main female character who was interested in something besides the mysterious new boy at school or make-up.  She is focused on survival and caring for her family.  I also enjoyed how she is presented as powerful, strong, and deadly.  It’s a nice change of pace from what generally is out there for teens to read.  I thought the teens fighting to death as punishment concept was unique, and was ranting about it one day to someone else who said, “That sounds a lot like Battle Royale.”  And that’s when my entire view of the series started to change.

I watched the Battle Royale movie, which is based on the manga series of the same name, and I was flabbergasted to discover the exact same basic concept of a corrupt government forcing teens to battle each other to the death once a year.  There was less backstory on the characters, and Battle Royale has the teens actually behaving as sexual beings and is more violent, but the basic driving plot is the same.  Battle Royale, the manga and the movie, was released in 2000.  The first book of the Hunger Games was released in 2008.  I immediately investigated to see if Collins admits an influence or even discusses a similarity between her trilogy and the Japanese series.  She does not.  She claims her influences were purely from watching reality tv and war coverage, as well as from Greek myths.  She never discusses the similarity between her own books and Battle Royale.  This is disrespectful at best.  Most writers are influenced by other writers, and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as it is acknowledged.  Yet Collins refuses to even acknowledge the similarities between her own books and Battle Royale.  She doesn’t have to admit to swiping the idea and Americanizing it (although, I personally believe that is what happened).  She doesn’t even have to say she was influenced by it (this is what I believe she should do).  She should at least talk about how the two are similar and recommend the Battle Royale series to fans of her own series.  It’s the only respectful thing to do.  Now that that’s out of the way, let’s ignore for the moment the questionable origins of the story and focus on the content.

White bird on blue background.Katniss spends the entire series struggling against forces that are bigger than herself.  She sides with the rebels only to find herself questioning them as well, and in the end, she causes the death of both President Snow (inadvertently) and President Coin (directly by shooting her).  Katniss claims she wants things to be different, yet all she sees is power hungry people all around her.  She winds up doubting in humanity as a species, wondering at a species that repeatedly sacrifices its children for their own amusement and gain.  I agree that humanity is pretty fucked, although for different reasons than Katniss’, so I enjoyed seeing this viewpoint in print.  I was therefore a bit saddened to see in the epilogue that Katniss winds up settling down with Peeta and having babies in District 12 (and apparently doing nothing for the rest of her life?).  This sounds to me like she didn’t know what to do with her depression or her accurate viewpoint of the world, so she just decided to hunker down and live it out as quietly as possible.  You would think that someone who had seen what she had seen would find comfort and solace in working to improve things for others who suffer instead of living in luxury in the victor’s village.  Of course, Collins doesn’t have to provide a positive ending, but the thing is, I believe that she thinks she did.  Katniss goes through all of this and winds up with the “American Dream”–the white picket fence, husband, and babies.  It feels like a serious cop-out to the critics of her much more realistic first two books to me.

I was similarly disappointed to see a love triangle introduced in the second book.  Why must every YA author include a love triangle?  What is up with that?  I was enjoying Katniss falling for Peeta and realizing Gale might just be her childhood best friend/crush, but then she whips around changing her mind constantly between the two of them.  Peeta and Katniss have the bond of the arena, an experience Gale cannot possibly share or understand.  Katniss continually behaves in a disloyal manner to Peeta in a way that seriously makes me doubt the quality of her character.  She acknowledges this in the third book when Peeta, upon returning from being tortured, tells her all the ways in which she has been cruel to him and to others, and they are true.  Gale knows it too, as he tells Peeta in the third book that Katniss will choose whoever helps her survive better.  In the end that’s pretty much what she does.  Gale failed her by designing the bombs that killed her sister.  Peeta is the only one who understands her pain, so Peeta is the one she “falls in love with,” yet everything about Katniss is so self-centered that I was left wondering why she should wind up with anybody at all.  That said, I did enjoy that Katniss recognized that herself and Gale were too similar to be together.  They both had too many violent tendencies to make a healthy couple, so she went with her opposite–the calm, peaceful Peeta.  They balance each other, and that aspect of the romance made me smile.

Katniss’ original selfless love of her sister Prim gradually disappears over the course of the trilogy.  When the bombers are coming to District 13, she forgets about her sister entirely, and it is Gale who ensures she gets to the lower levels safely.  By the end of the series, Katniss has lost all the beauty of her personality found in the first book.  She went from a selfless love to a self-centered, revenge-driven person who will sacrifice almost anyone in her quest to kill Snow.  Even though she periodically has glimmers of recognition that everyone has been wronged by the Capitol, and indeed, some people more than herself.  Finnick who was forced to give his body away to anyone he was told to in the Capitol.  Johanna and Annie who were tortured.  Peeta who was brainwashed.  She has glimmers of sympathy, but overall she has essentially turned into an automaton, a Terminator, if you will.  Yet Collins still writes her with a sympathetic tone.  Why?

I have no issue with blood, violence, graphicness, or battle scenes used in the context of a story.  That’s not what bothers me about the trajectory of the Hunger Games.  What bothers me is that Katniss realizes the hopeless situation the human species is in, something I entirely agree with.  She then proceeds to let it turn her into the worst humanity has to offer.  She then realizes this and instead of working to change things, she just gives up.  She gives up and bows her head and succumbs to a submissive life.  The Katniss of the first book would do anything to defy the expectations and mores of society, but in the end, she sees that society has not really changed with the change of rule.  Indeed, the most active thing she does is also one of the worst.  She votes in favor of having another Hunger Game featuring the children of the Capitol.  Maybe this is realistic and most people would either join the evil or give up, but I’d hoped for more in a series so beloved by so many teenage girls.  Yes, the world sucks.  Yes, it’s a constant struggle.  Yes, it hurts and you may never succeed, but never stop trying.  That was the message of the first two books, and yet it was entirely tromped on by the final entry in the series.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by that, given the ethics of the author.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: library, borrowed, and Amazon

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Books in Series:
The Hunger Games, review
Catching Fire
Mockingjay, review

ETA Note: I wrote this post before the series was a hit or popular and long before a movie was on the horizon. Before most of America had read the books. I didn’t read them or write about them to get blog hits or because they are popular. I read them because they happened to be in my public library. I long ago stopped responding to comments on this post, because I don’t want to spend my time discussing a trilogy that I didn’t even like that much. Note that I made this decision long ago, as I haven’t responded to anything since May of 2011. When leaving a comment, please be sure to see my comment policy.

Book Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (series, #3) (spoiler-free)

August 30, 2010 5 comments

White bird on a blue background.Summary:
Katniss has been rescued by the rebels and is living in District 13 along with refugees from District 12, Haymitch, Johanna, and Finnick.  Peeta and Annie are still in the clutches of the Capitol, and every day Katniss is plagued with thoughts of what torture they must be suffering at the hands of President Snow.  The rebellion is sweeping across Panem, and the leader of the rebels, President Coin, wants Katniss to be the symbol of the revolution–the Mockingjay.  It is as if the arena has consumed all of Panem, and there is no escape for Katniss.

This is a better wrap-up to a story than in other trilogies I have seen, but compared to the first two books, it is definitely found a bit wanting.  Without the structure of the Hunger Games or the Quarter Quell, Collins struggles a bit at maintaining a consistent storyline and action.  She additionally seems to have suffered a bit of a guilt complex over the delicious gore in the first two books, and here spends many pages dwelling on the emotional impact of the violence to the extent that Katniss winds up sounding a lot like Harry Potter in book 5 of that series, and we all know how annoying everyone found him.  Granted, Katniss has more reason to be upset than Harry ever did, but one can only take so many emotional breakdowns before it starts to seem as if Katniss is weak, rather than the strong heroine we grew to love in the first two books.

There is a war on, so of course action scenes do exist.  They are a bit hit or miss, however.  Interestingly, the ones that work the best are the ones that read like battles and are the least similar to the games in the first two books.  I believe this is because the battle scenes allow us to see Katniss developing from a victim of traps set by the Capitol to a soldier.  The ones that read more like traps feel like a step back from a character development point of view.  However, fans will find enough fast-paced action scenes to keep them happy.

The writing continues to be painfully sophomoric, only with the starting and stopping of the action, it is far more noticeable.  I know this is being told from Katniss’ point of view, but it could really stand to have at least a few less cliche metaphors and sentence fragments.  Challenge the minds of your YA readers at least a little, please, Collins.

Those interested in the series for the love triangle, or who enjoy the love triangle a lot will not be disappointed, no matter whether they are Team Peeta or Team Gale.  Although personally I still don’t understand just what is so irresistible about Katniss, beyond that, the emotions are handled in a realistic manner.  What impacts the final choice is more than just the emotions of Katniss, and I actually enjoy the final message Collins leaves her teen readers with about relationships in general.  Whichever fella you’re in favor of, the moment the final choice is realized is still a tear-jerking one.

Overall, Mockingjay is a satisfying end to the series, but does not live up to the power of the first two books.  Fans will by no means regret having started the series, however.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Friday Fun! (Inception and General Busyness)

August 27, 2010 4 comments

Just a quick check-in today my lovely readers.  It’s a busy Friday!

I had a lovely week in spite of the rain at the beginning.  I actually found the cooler weather to be a nice relief, both to me and to my electric bill!  I went to see Inception this week, and while my friend and I would have had fun watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt in pretty much anything, the movie itself is truly great!  I loved following the plot during it, then thinking out all the possibilities after.  (I might possibly have lost some sleep doing just that).  I also really enjoyed the soundtrack.  I believe it’s by the same composer who did The Dark Knight.  In any case, it’s just as powerful.

I finished my final project for my summer session online class, although I still have a bit of forum discussion left to do before it’s officially over at the end of this week.  Naturally, my fall online class starts earlier than Simmons–this week to be exact, so I’m getting a bit of an overlap.  I have a scheduling strategy though, so thus far I’m not too stressed about it.  This semester is my final semester of my MLIS program, and I’m going to be so incredibly happy to be done.  I’m not looking forward to my face-to-face class at all.  It’s cataloging, which I’ve put off for last for a reason.  (I really hate the technical services aspect of librarianship), but it needs to be done, so I’m planning on grinning and bearing it, haha.

Two of my friends are also moving this week, so I’ve been helping them when I can.  Last night they crashed at my place as they had a one night apartment gap.  This weekend I’ll be cooking a special dinner to help ease the stress for them and also helping clean their previous apartment in preparation for the security deposit check by the landlord.  It’s busy, but it’s always nice hanging out with them, even if it is working on something or just them sleeping on my couch.  (I have a couch that’s very disproportionately large for my apartment.  It’s amazing).

How about you guys?  Has the busyness of fall started to catch up with you or are you still in summer relaxation mode?  What are your stress management strategies?

My Tentative Journey With eBooks

August 26, 2010 8 comments

A while back, I told you guys that I’m continuing my tentative steps into eBooks, but it hadn’t been very successful yet.  I admit this is partly because I’m a broke-ass graduate student, and so I don’t exactly have the cash to shell out for what I see as an extravagance.  Why get an eReader when I can get used books for under $5 a pop?  (For why I don’t have time to use the local library, see this post).  I’ve tried downloading eBooks that are available as pdf’s onto my computer, but I always made it only about as far through as a blog’s archives before losing focus.  Or I’d have to leave it and come back the next day and be incapable of finding where I left off.  I just can’t read a book on a computer.  Nuh-uh.  A computer is for article-length pieces.  I just can’t get past the part where I’m looking at a computer to get lost in the story.

When I got my iTouch, I decided to venture in yet again.  But I repeat that I’m a cheapskate, so I downloaded a couple of the various apps available for 99 cents that provide huge selections of out of copyright classics to read.  Although I was able to focus on the screen, it reminded me a lot of my speed-reading classes in middle school, because the screen automatically fades at a certain point (I’m not sure how long), so I’d either have to keep tapping the screen to keep it from doing that or read insanely fast.  The speed might not have been an issue if I wasn’t attempting to read classics, but I always read classics kind of slowly.  I get wrapped up in the language and the world-building.  Classics are about slow reading versus the fast reading of genre fiction for me.  I got about 3 chapters into two different classics before giving up and stopping.

Well then people started talking about the iBook app, and since I love everything Mac, I decided to download it, but upon trying I found out that my iTouch is too old to support it, at which point I started browsing the eReader section of the app store and saw the Kindle app.  For some reason, it had previously escaped my attention that the Kindle even had an app for Mac products.  I vaguely remembered some book blogs mentioning that you can get some books for free in the Kindle store, and the app was free, and….do I really need to repeat what a cheapskate I am?  Lol.

So I figured where am I most likely to read on my iTouch?  That’s easy.  On the bus when I can’t sit, need to hold on with one hand, and getting a book out of my bag is difficult.  What would I like to read on the bus but am embarrassed to?  Romance novels.  So I found a free romance novel and downloaded it.  The nice thing about the Kindle app, the main thing that made me start to relax into reading with it, is that the backlighting never fades.  I’m not so caught up in beating the fading light that I’m incapable of getting lost in the story.  So that was going fairly well, although I was still choosing to read my print book over the eBook whenever it was possible.

Then a certain book was released.  A book in a trilogy that is honestly a guilty pleasure for me.  (I’ll leave the reasonings for that for when I review the book next week).  I had decided I wasn’t going to buy the book; I’d just read spoilers and be happy with that.  But then the day of the release, I was getting frustrated at the complete lack of spoilers on the internet and while watching tv browsed to the Amazon store on my iTouch, and before I knew it, I’d bought the book.  I didn’t feel bad about the price, because it was less than the price of a movie ticket, and I view guilty pleasure reads a lot like going to the movies.  It’s brief entertainment, and I don’t need to hold onto it.  Let it entertain me for a bit, and in most cases, I won’t ever come back to it (my dvd collection is very, very small).

I was still skeptical about my desire to read on the small electronic screen of my iTouch, but I figured worst case scenario I’d skim for the spoilers and read it in print when the hoopla settles down.  I started reading it when standing on the bus in the morning, got a seat, and found myself wanting to keep reading on my iTouch over my print book.  And then on lunch break I decided I’d rather see what happened in that story than in the one I’m reading in print and discovered how much easier it is to eat and read when you can just set the book down and the pages don’t close on you.  Whoa.  Then I found myself sitting on my couch reading the iTouch.  Then last night in bed I suddenly realized I could turn out all the lights and still see to read because my book was lighting itself up. Whoa.

You guys….I have to admit….I like it.  Now that’s not to say I don’t have my issues with it.  For instance, nice as it is to read in the dark, sunny locations fade the screen so much that it’s sometimes nearly impossible to read.  I also don’t like the thought of the battery maybe running out.  (I may have obsessively recharged my iTouch yesterday.  *looks askance*)  I also don’t like how very small the iTouch screen is.  I also would never ever want an electronic device just for reading.  Part of the convenience on transit is having my music, videogames, and book all in one item.  Having something like a Kindle or a Nook seems rather pointless to me.  It’s one more device to carry.  So what has a larger screen but does all that?  The iPad.  I think the iPad still has issues.  Like I personally think it’s too big and too thick, (that’s what she said) but I think the next generation is going to solve those problems.  So…yeah, I see myself doing some electronic reading in the future.  But never on a device meant just for reading.  I also only see the value in it for guilty pleasure reads.  It works for me because of the way I read guilty pleasures.  I read quickly, sometimes skimming, because the story is all about the excitement or the hilarity.  It’s not about the deep thought.  I can’t see me reading a book that changes my life on an electronic device.  That just rings false to me.  But reading a story that’s about consuming it once kind of like buying movie popcorn for the pure pleasure of chowing down the greasy, salty deliciousness?  That makes sense to me.  So that’s the role I see eBooks taking in my life.  The reading equivalent of movie popcorn, and who doesn’t like movie popcorn every once in a while?

Thumbing Through Thoreau: A Book of Quotations by Henry David Thoreau compiled by: Kenny Luck illustrated by: Jay Luke and Ren Adams

August 25, 2010 3 comments

Illustration of Walden PondSummary:
This nonfiction work is a collection of Thoreau quotes.  The quotes are divided into sections: society and government, spirituality and nature, and love.  Each page features one quote printed in an artistic font and a black and white illustration of some element of nature.

This is one of those coffee table books that most people will know right away whether it’s up their alley or not, and there honestly isn’t that much to say about it in a review.  If you really enjoy Thoreau, then an illustrated book of his quotes will probably be something you’ll like.  However, personally, much as I like Thoreau, the illustrations don’t particularly strike my fancy, so I feel that this book fails to impress.  That may be partly due to the fact that I’m a local and have been to Walden Pond multiple times myself, and I find that black and white line drawings tend to, in general, fail to live up to photography of nature.  Art is definitely relative though, so you might quite enjoy the illustrations.  You can check out galleries of sample illustrations here and here and decide for yourself.

Overall, I’d recommend a print copy of this book to fans of Thoreau who also enjoy the illustrations.  It’s not for me, but I’m sure it will strike the fancy of some people quite well.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: free eBook from the publisher, Tribute Books

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Book Review: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

August 23, 2010 10 comments

Book cover featuring a photo of the Starkadders and Flora.Summary:
In an alternate future as envisioned in the 1930s, Flora Poste loses both her parents and finds herself living on 100 pounds a year.  In lieu of getting a job and an apartment in London as suggested by her friend Mrs. Smiling, she decides to live with relatives in order to tidy things up about them.  She decides upon her farming cousins the Starkadders who are all under the whims of Great Aunt Ada Doom who saw something nasty in the woodshed when she was a child.  Flora may have bit off more than she can chew between crazy Aunt Judith, cousin Seth who has more sultry appeal than he can handle, cousin Elfine who flits about the fields and writes poetry, hell-fire preaching Uncle Amos, and sundry other cousins, not to mention the sad bull in the barn.

Between the general more British style of writing and the accents of some of the relatives, it took me a bit to get into this book.  Once I did though, I found myself lost in the delightful world Gibbons created and wishing the etiquette books Flora religiously uses as her references for life actually existed.

Reading of what was a near future for Gibbons, but actually an alternate past sometime in the 1940s or 1950s for modern readers gave the book a deliciously steampunk quality.  People talk on videophones but they still must run to town to use a pay phone.  Almost everyone seems to have their own airplane that are used for jaunts to London and Paris.  On the other hand, the clothes and hairstyle call to mind the roaring 20s as do the social mores.  This is an alternate history that saw no conservative backlash and yet one that also maintained marriage, beautiful clothing, and fancy parties as the norm.  How could you not want to visit this world?

Each character is well-drawn and easily decipherable from each other, which is a significant achievement given the relatively short length of the book.  Pretty much every character has some flaw, but they aren’t demonized for it.  They simply learn to deal with their shortcomings either by embracing them and making them work for them or re-routing their energies into more worthwhile pursuits.  I can’t recall the last time I saw a bunch of characters with so many short-comings and yet portrayed in such a sympathetic light.

What made me love the book the most though, I must admit, was the main character of Flora Poste.  For the first time I loved a main character who is pretty much the exact opposite of my own personality.  She is calm, even-minded, focused, and gentle, whereas I, I must admit, am much more like one of the Starkadders who she seeks to help.  The Starkadders are the dramatic, emotional type, and Flora, while sympathetic to actual underlying issues, won’t put up with any overdramatizing.  She doesn’t expect them to change the essence of who they are; she just expects them to tidy up a bit and be a bit more reasonable about everything.  The whole concept of being reasonable about things is such a new idea to the Starkadders that it leads to some truly hilarious scenes.

Of course Flora is not without her own faults, which is good.  Otherwise, the book would read as quite judgmental on the poetic types.  Flora can be too quick to get herself in over her head and she can be a bit quick to judge people she’s just met, but these are just her own flaws and she does her best and really that’s all any person can ever really do.

Overall, I absolutely loved this book.  It’s a world that is a pure delight to get lost in, and I foresee myself returning to it again and again as a comfort read.  I highly recommend it to everyone.  Between the character building, the steampunky feel, and the humorous slapstick scenes, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Friday Fun (The Hill)

I’ve mentioned previously that in spite of an intense desire to be athletic, I am not, nor have I ever been.  I’m not talking about fit or in shape; I’m talking about that ability to just run up a hill or jump into a basketball game and not get hurt or…well, you get the picture.  Even at my most fit, when I routinely biked at least 15 miles a day and had rock-hard abs, I still got hit in the face with the ball playing backyard volleyball.  Heck, even when I would go running I certainly didn’t look good doing it.  When it comes to fitness, I am not gracefully athletic.  I am awkward.

Anyway, as part of my bid to get back in shape and relieve my anxiety and do good things for the planet, I’ve been biking to work.  Well, not all the way to work.  I can’t make it that far yet.  It takes two city buses to get to my job, so I’ve been biking to the bus connection, which luckily is just about half-way to work.  I live partway down one side of a very large hill.  In the mornings, I have a nice, gradual slope up for a couple of blocks followed by around five blocks of downhill easy awesomeness.  I’m sure you can see where this is going. 

In the evenings, I hit the hill at the end of my ride.  It’s like a giant middle finger taunting me about how much easier this all would have been if I’d just taken that second bus today.  I’ll be riding along, feeling pretty fit and great, passing all the cars stuck in stand-still traffic and happy in the knowledge that I’ve cut my commute time nearly in half.  Then the landmarks start popping up to remind me that the evil hill is nearly upon me.  Now this hill is not just a hill.  The top of it also happens to consist of a bridge, and bridges in Boston for some unearthly reason are narrower than the roads, which means cars that used to be arms-length away are suddenly at your elbow.  And this isn’t a pretty bridge over a river or a gully or anything.  No, no, it’s over the lovely commuter traffic on the Pike (translation: interstate, highway, Autobahn with a speed limit). 

So, I’m at the end of my ride, tired, hungry, sweaty, and there’s the hill.  I dutifully switch down a gear, but something’s fucked up in my bike’s gears and it won’t catch when I go down from 6 to 5.  I have to go 6 to 5 to 4 then back up to 5 for it to catch.  This makes me wobble for a moment in a way that makes the cars near me worry that I’m about to tip over into them.  (This is a fair concern as I did tip over into a car once when I was in highschool, but that’s another story).  Anyway, so after the wobbling, I try to regain my speed, generally to no avail.  And there I am, moving at a pace that eventually becomes so slow that pedestrians are passing me and giving me that “Why don’t you just get off and walk the bike?” look.  No matter how many gears I’ve moved up since starting this project (5, thank-you-very-much).  No matter how much faster I get.  No matter what, this hill is always just as difficult, and I always reach a near stand-still at the top of it.  

It just refuses to get any easier.  It refuses to stop making me look like an out-of-shape loser.  In a way, this hill reminds me a lot of my anxiety.  I want to just breeze through the day perfectly happy and not conjuring up new things to worry about and not get stuck in a loop of obsessive thoughts.  I want to get up that hill looking powerful and athletic.  But no matter what I do, no matter how I start the day, no matter how many times I tell myself this is going to be an awesome day and I’m going to do the right things and I’m going to treat the people I care about with the peaceful trust and respect they deserve, I still wind up sitting at home or in my cubicle at work with a racing heart and panicky thoughts powerhousing through my head.  

My anxiety is just like that hill.  It makes me look like an idiot and makes me feel real shitty about myself, but nothing I do seems to make me able to conquer it.  And yet, I get up each day and say “today is going to be the day I beat that goddammed hill.”  And that’s what I say every day about my anxiety too. Someday I am going to power through the ride and realize at the end of it that that hill felt non-existent, and someday I’ll be at the end of the day and realize that my anxiety is non-existent too.

Movie Review: Slither (2006)

August 19, 2010 3 comments

Woman in bathtub surrounded by slugs.Summary:
When an asteroid comes to a small, southern US town, it brings with it alien slug-like creatures who infest a local man.  His wife is the first to notice something askew, but not before the slugs manage to impregnante a local woman.  Can she and the golden-hearted sherriff save the day?

The two most important things to know about this movie are: 1) It was written and directed by James Gunn Dawn of the Dead and 2) the part of the sherriff is played by Nathan Fillion of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog fame.  Fans of either absolutely must watch this movie, particularly fans of Fillion as there’s nothing quite like watching him face slugs.  That said, I can’t tell if this movie was actually trying to be scary.  It certainly isn’t scary at all.  It is deliciously disgusting and hilarious, however.  It kind of reminds me of Killer Klowns from Outer Spaceonly with slugs and a woman who looks like Cartman at his fattest because she’s so full of alien spawn.  If that sort of thing is up your alley, you’re going to enjoy this movie.

Probably the best part of this movie, besides watching Fillion, is the special effects.  The slugs look totally believable, and as the husband becomes more taken over by the aliens, he looks increasingly like Brundle in The Fly.  Plus the slugs naturally do all sorts of disgusting things and the effects aren’t the type that take you out of the gross-out moment.  

My main gripes with the film are that the husband is kind of miscast.  It’s really not believable that his wife ever married him to start with.  He at least needed a better looking face or something.  Plus his acting prior to all the special effects taking place is kind of iffy.  I also wished the slugs had wreaked a bit more havoc prior to entering the bodies whereupon we can’t see them anymore.  They were cool to look at.

Overall, you’re going to enjoy this film if you enjoy B-level, gross-out horror.  It’s not up the level of The Fly, but it is a fun watch. 

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Book Review: World War Z by Max Brooks

August 17, 2010 12 comments

Brown book cover with blood spatter on it.Summary:
The world has survived the first zombie war, and the government sends out a young man to interview people in order to find statistics on the war.  When he returns, he finds out they only want the cold, hard facts.  This disappoints him, as he wants to show the world the human, emotional side of the war, so he prints the interviews, so we all can read and connect with them.  What follows is the harrowing tale of how a virus starting in the countryside of China spreads via refugees and a general human refusal to believe that bodies are reanimating.  All of this leads to the Great Panic, which brings humanity to the very brink of extinction.

Since I was a US History major in undergrad, I came at this book with a lot of experience wading through pages and pages of boring and irrelevant text in primary documents to find the hidden gems.  The gems made it all worth it.  I’ll never forget going through Samuel Sewall’s diary, which was largely a collection of his farming statistics, only to suddenly start seeing glimpses into the Salem Witch Trials.  It was awesome.  It is not, however, an experience that I think a fiction writer should attempt to replicate.  Reading World War Z felt far too much like reading through actual primary historical documents.  There was too much wading and not enough awesomeness.

The thing is, even though I’m suspending my disbelief enough to be in the future after a zombie war, I still know that I’m reading a fiction book, and I tend to get a bit irritated when the characters relating their experiences spend pages on useless dribble.  I don’t want to hear about how you miss your father; I want to hear about the zombies climbing all over your submarine on the bottom of the ocean!  Even in the fictional world of the book, there’s still an editor who collected these stories.  Why didn’t he edit the ramblings out?  Is that the human factor I was supposed to connect with?  Because I didn’t. 

However, when you get past the dull bits, there are some truly awesome scenes.  Scenes such as a woman standing on the roof of a car and taking out over 100 zombies by herself.  Or American soldiers reverting back to the Revolutionary-era tactic of two lines of soldiers facing the enemy with just rifles.  Or a nun protecting her Sunday school class from a horde of zombies with just a 6 foot silver candlestick.  These scenes, and many more, are fun to read because they are done so well.  Brooks displays an innate understanding of not only how zombies should work, but how humans would respond to their presence on an individual basis.   

Although I personally wouldn’t like a zombie war to be met with so much government and political power, the way Brooks lays it out, it actually is believable.  What is quite possibly the most scary about the zombie war future he proposes isn’t the zombies, but is the fact that most of the governments of the world survive and come out with more power over the people than before.  If freaking zombies can’t wrest the power from the government’s hands and give it back to the people, then I don’t know what could. 

Overall, I’m glad I read World War Z for the epic scenes and condensed picture of the war I now have in my head.  I’d recommend it to fans of zombies primarily, but also to people who enjoy analyzing global politics and military strategy.  Be warned that it’s not your typical fast-paced horror read.  You have to earn the scenes with zombies.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Book Store (used books basement)

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