5.30.2007

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

Okay, so this is a young adult book, but at the time I read it, I was at the end of a very long semester and needed some brain candy. It was recommended to me by some classmates who read the same vampire novels as I do. So, what the hell.

Twilight cover
Twilight
As I started to read Twilight, I knew it was going to be kind of a struggle for me to believe it. First, it's set in an area of the country that I know pretty well, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Second, it's a vampire novel set in a high school. Yes, you read that right. So I had to do some serious suspension-of-disbelief work as I read it.

While I did like the overall story, and really liked the originality that Meyers displayed, I had some problems. First, I think Meyer could have left off a lot of the emotional signals that peppered every exchange of dialog between the characters. This got very annoying, given that most of the character seem to be having a lot of mood changes. One line they're smiling or grinning, the next they're glowering and pensive. This is one of my pet peeves in reading. Writers, don't be afraid to leave some of the details to our imagination. We can handle it.

Second, I just had a hard time believing that hundred year old vampires would bother to go to high school. Granted, Meyer is playing around with the idea of the vampire here, but honestly, high school? Never could quite buy that.

I have the second book sitting on my bedside table, but I'm not sure if I really want to read it. I think I'd rather re-read the Reacher novels, or maybe tackle the books I brought home from the library earlier.

Bad Luck and Trouble, by Lee Child

I've been enjoying the Jack Reacher novels for years now. There are few other mysteries writers that I've been able to enjoy for more than five years or so. Given that mysteries often follow formulae, it's incredibly hard to be original, to do something new. While I can't exactly say that Lee Child does something new every time, he always manages to come up with a mystery that I can't solve until the main characters does. Child even usually manages to get me to bark up the same wrong trees as Reacher.

The other thing I really like about this books is that the character is a modern day Sherlock Holmes, in some senses. He observes and he has a lot of experience drawing conclusions from his observations. But, unlike the great Holmes, he never gives me the sense that it's all elementary and that you're a moron if you can't see what's going on.

Bad Luck and Trouble cover
Bad Luck
and Trouble
Bad Luck and Trouble is the latest Reacher book, and finds this character still wandering around the country, being a tourist in the United States. Child pulls the plot out of Reacher's growing back story, and comes up with a pretty good mystery. I enjoyed it so much, that I've gone back to the first book and I have to say that Reacher has matured a lot over the last eleven books. He was downright boyish in Killing Floor. I'm not sure how long Child can keep spinning Reacher's story out until he hits a Jessica Fletcher-like wall, where it starts to seem really weird that every where he goes, someone dies and he has to find out why. Hopefully, Child keeps Reacher a dynamic, evolving character. There are so few detective characters out there who use little more than their brains and their eyes to solve crimes.

5.19.2007

Rainbows End, part II, and Double Fold, by Nicholson Baker

It's a very disconcerting experience to be reading a work of science fiction, and then to read a nonfiction book that confirms one of the more outlandish plot points of the novel. In Rainbows End, Vinge writes that the company that digitized the contents of the UCSD Library will have a monopoly on the information for a certain amount of time simply because they changed the format and control the access to the reformated information.

In Double Fold, Nicholson Baker reveals that something similar happened to American newspapers. Libraries often preserve newspaper by having it filmed. But then, if a library wants a copy of an older newspaper, they have to pay a company like Heritage Microfilm to send them a copy. Very few libraries have the wherewithal to preserve their own newspapers in their original format. Plus, a lot of libraries that did have copies got rid of the paper in favor of the film because it's thought that the film will last longer. For a lot of titles, I'm sure that the microfilm companies have a monopoly on the information.

I've had to read Double Fold for a preservation class I'm taking this summer and, I have to say, it's probably the most vehement work I've ever read about libraries. Baker gets really hot under the collar about certain things, and I don't think I've ever seen name calling in a book about libraries either.

5.08.2007

Strange Coincidences

How bizarre is it that a journal about death and bereavement is published by a company based in Amityville, New York?

And people think that scholarly journals are boring. Tcha.

5.02.2007

Am I getting Wikified?

The other night I was taking a look at some of the new reference books that have come into the library. One was the Encyclopedia of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. The other one was the Supernatural fiction writers : contemporary fantasy and horror. As I flipped through the Intelligence book, which was published in 2005, my fingers kind of itched to update some of the information, especially the dates. And for the Supernatural writers, I kept wanting to flip around in the text and read about the authors mentioned in the articles about writers I've already read. When I you spent a lot of time just reading things on Wikipedia, you start to miss your instant cross references. I bounce from topic to topic so much that I have to admire people like A.J. Jacobs, who can resist the temptation to skip around and just read an encyclopedia through in order.

Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge

Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge, is definitely going to join the short list of books that freaked me out when I read them, along with The Stand and 1984. Rainbows End is a novel set in the not-too-distant future and, while I don't buy how all the technology has developed--in this world, the Internet and multimedia technology are ubiquitous and most people spend most of their day plugged in--I don't think Vinge is all that far off.

As I read this, I felt that that plot was less interesting than seeing this alternate future play out. The plot involves an odd assortment of characters trying to thwart the development of mind-control technology. The puppet master characters, who were pulling all the strings, did their job in such a way that it was hard to see how everything was going to come together or even what was going on.

But what really interested me was the plot elements that involved the Geisel Library at the University of California at San Diego. Having been employed at libraries for many years, I've seen the growing demand for digital materials, for journals to go online, for old books to get scanned and posted online, and so on. In Vinge's future, the digitization projects have gone farther. But the way that books are digitized here causes the destruction of the books themselves. That was a disturbing chapter for me, given that I geek out at book exhibits and tear up at the sight of book burnings.

I can envision a world where the libraries are totally online, but I don't know if me and the other book lovers could ever give up our tangible texts.

The Physician's Tale, by Ann Benson

I've finished the series (as far as it's written), and about all I have to say about the series is, "Huh." Even though I finished all three books, I feel pretty underwhelmed. This last book, The Physician's Tale, finishes up all the loss ends from the previous books. Kate reunites with her son and adopted father. Janie and her family built a new life in a decimated former United States. I get the feeling, though, that Benson is setting the stage for future books.

Unfortunately, the excellent plot mirroring Benson set up in The Plague Tales is almost completely gone now. And that was one of the things I really enjoyed about this series. Plus, it seems to me that Benson is squandering her set ups. As I've said before, Benson sets up a lot of fascinating catastrophes that almost never happen. And, now that I know that, it's hard to get worked up about anything.

I think that if Benson writes another book in this series, I might just let it go without reading it.