Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reading Club Today: Jennifer Government by Max Barry

The group had mixed opinions on  Jennifer Government. Some loved it 'cause Jennifer is "totally kicka$$." Some liked it but didn't get into it soon enough to finish. Some finished but were kind of underwhelmed -- wanted more character development and a timeline to keep all the plotlines straight!

I have always loved this book because it's satirically hilarious in a dry way, and the corporatizm and capatalizm it skewers follow along with my own feelings on the topic. Plus, Max Barry is an Australian married to a librarian -- what's not to love??? (more about that when I tell you about Lexicon, Barry's 2014 Alex Award novel).

Max Barry's third novel, Company, is also in the Paideia Library.

Info and Links for Today's Club Discussion

Max Barry answers reader questions from Goodreads

Review in the New York Times

Long interview with Max Barry (2005)

NationStates - an online game written by Max Barry (really!) to promote Jennifer Government

Max Barry's website

Jennifer Government extras -- from Max Barry's website (see how the cover got from bad to awesome!)

Trailer for Lexicon, Max Barry's most recent novel

Friday, March 21, 2014

Cute Lil' Critters: Sheep to Shawl

Sarah B's needle felted critters
 A couple of weeks ago, two high school students came by to ask for a plastic bag.  As a librarian, I naturally followed up with a "reference interview," in order to determine what kind of plastic bag would best meet their needs.  Turns out, they had absolutely adorable needle-felted animals made in Magnus Edlund's "Sheep to Shawl" short term class, and were taking them home on a rainy day.  I had to take pictures!

Julia K.'s creations (with special friend)

We don't yet have any books specific to needle felting (Wool Buddies is on the way), but Magnus has a couple I'm sure he'd let you borrow, even if you didn't win the "All About Yarn" experience he and wife Anna offered in the silent auction.  The "Sheep to Shawl" display in the high school commons illustrates the many steps in getting wool from the back of a four-footed animal onto two-footed people -- shearing, carding, spinning, dyeing, weaving or knitting.

Sheep-To-Shawl class exhibit in the High School commons.

We do have several other resources on wool and woolcraft (included felted knits).  Come have a look and get your wool on!

Fournier, Nola.  In Sheep's Clothing: A Handspinners's Guide to Wool.
Galeskas, Beverly.  Felted Knits.
Muir, Sally.  Knit Your Own Dog: Easy to Follow Patterns for 25 Pedigreed Pooches.
Righetti, Maggie.  Knitting in Plain English.
Taylor, Kathleen.  Knit One Felt Too: Discover the Magic of Knitted Felt.
Burgess, Rebecca.  Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes.

Sheep Station NZ (2 DVD set). Dylan Winter explores a variety of sheep enterprises from all parts of New Zealand.

Monday, March 17, 2014

2014 Awards Reading Report #1: Two Creepy Ones

I'm actually at 5 for 11 in my "personal challenge" to read the ten 2014 Alex Award winners and the 2014 Printz Award winner.   I've read Lexicon, Help for the HauntedThe Lives of Tao, Mother, Mother, and Midwinterblood.  Today I'm going to tell you about the most recent two -- one compelling, one interesting, and it just so happens that both are kind of creepy.

Mother, Mother was a book I really didn't want to read.  The description --  a "terrifying and page-turning story of a mother’s love gone too far" --  plus author Koren Zailckas' earlier memoir (Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood), and comparisons to the horror/suspense of Shirley Jackson and Daphne DuMarier made me shy away.  I plan to finish out a long life without ever seeing Mommy Dearest, thank you very much.

So it was with some anxiety that I picked it up one Sunday night, needing something to read and pushing myself past stand-by favorites.  Turns out, anxiety was warranted, but not the way I'd feared.  Mother, Mother is gripping and compelling, and I stayed up way too late that night and the next immersed in and captivated by the Hurst family's disintegration.

The Hursts are an seemingly average family of five.  Mom Josephine is strict and runs a tight ship, while Dad seems to be fading from the picture. Being absolutely perfect in every way hasn't precluded college-aged Rose from running away with a mysterious boyfriend - and she's been very good at hiding her trail.  Without Rose, the mortar holding the rest of the family together starts to crumble.  The novel is told in the alternating viewpoints of middle child Violet, who's now trying to be as imperfect as possible, and the youngest, awkward 12-year-old Will, recently diagnosed with Asperger's  (his mother shopped a lot of doctors for the desired opinion).   After a drug-induced violent episode, Violet is in the psych ward and the target of her mother's frustrations, and Will falls more and more under his mother's sway, as ally and lackey.  Dad ignores all while focused on saving himself.

The suspense and horror in the book are in the actions, not the telling of the actions.  I found it surprising and interesting that, for a story with such huge emotional episodes, the tone for both narrators is rather dispassionate and observational, as though they were reporting what they saw but not how it felt.  There is no physical abuse, really, so the reader begins to understand the emotional abuse only through its repetition.  With the gradual discovery of tricks and lies, and a grim enjoyment of cruelty, we realize there is no saving this mom.  Will the other four find a way out?  How far will Josephine go -- how far has she already gone? -- to maintain control, and continue to be a perfect wife and mother in her own eyes?

~ ~ ~

US hardback cover
On the other hand, Marcus Sedgwick's Midwinterblood, the 2014 winner of the Michael Printz award, didn't surprise at all.  He's a very smart and talented writer, always leaning to the creepy, supernatural and suspenseful.  Midwinterblood is a haunting, intricately plotted tale of love, longing and sacrifice, told in reverse order through linked and overlapping stories, all taking place on the mysterious Blessed Island, somewhere North Sea and Viking-ish, and intensely remote.  Rumors are that islanders seem to live forever, and in the year 2073, journalist Eric Seven arrives to investigate.  From there, the stories slip back through the centuries, telling their own tales yet making sense of the stories coming before and after, until at last we circle back to the final incarnation of an ages-old bond.

US paperback cover
I find myself thinking about the stories, the characters, how it all fits together, the crafting, and so I know this is no shabby piece of work. But it is one of those times when I wonder about the award it's won, 'cause I can tell you right now this book will sit on our shelf.  It's marketed as a YA novel, and I think that's the wrong market, at least in the US.  However, I challenge you to read it for yourself, and let me know.  I'd be happy to be wrong!

ps -- There seem to be a plethora of covers for this book, and in my opinon the hardback US cover (the one I read) is the least appealing of all. Maybe I would have come to the book in a different mindset with a different cover.  What do you think??

UK paperback cover

Friday, March 7, 2014

Atlanta Reads!

According to the America's Most Literate Cities 2013 study recently released by Central Connecticut State University, Atlanta ranks 4th out of all large cities (250,000+) in the United States, and the only Southern city in the top 10.  We've moved up from 8th place in 2012. Could it be due to all the reading our High School teachers have done in the past couple of years?

I was looking in the "What I'm Reading Now" folder on my laptop, and was kind of surprised at how many book cover images I've distributed since fall of 2012.   Twenty-one high school teachers (including me) are participating; I've got over a hundred images in that folder, and I know there are several missing (some clues are in last winters's "Caught Reading" post).  Check out the long list below.

Whatever Atlanta's doing right, let's keep doing it!

What are YOU reading now???

What We've Been Reading

12 Years a Slave   by Solomon Northup
36 Arguments for the Existence of God  by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
The Elegance of the Hedgehog  by Muriel Barbery
A Walk in the Woods  by Bill Bryson
After Dark  by Haruki Murakami
Alone Together  by Sherry Turkle
The App Generation  by Howard Gardner & Katie Davis
Augusta Played  by Kelly Cherry
Bangkok Noir  edited by Christopher S. Moore
Banquet at Delmonicos  by Barry Werth
Beautiful Ruins  by Jess Walter
The Best American Poetry 2013
Biko  by Donald Woods
Bill Veek: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick  by Paul Dickson
A Short History of Nearly Everything  by Bill Bryson
One Summer: America 1927  by Bill Bryson
The Bone Bed  by Patricia Cornwell
The Moonstone  by Wilkie Collins
The Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin  by Jill Lepore
Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain  by Daniel Siegel
Charming Billy by Alice McDermott
Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century  by Christian Caryl
Clemente  by the Clemente family
Cooked  by Michael Pollan
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter  by Tom Franklin
The Culture of Defeat  by Wolfgang Schivelsbusch
Curtsies and Conspiracies  by Gail Carriger
Dear Life  by Alice Munro
Death of a Red Heroine  by Qiu Xiolong
Dust of 100 Dogs by A. S. King
One Foot in Eden  by Ron Rash
The English Girl by Daniel Silva
Every Day by David Levithan
The Fault in Our Stars  by John Green
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Flying Too High  by Kerry Greenwood
The Forger’s Spell  by Edward Dolnick
Fractured  by Karen Slaughter
From Beirut to Jerusalem  by Thomas Friedman
The Gardner Heist  by Ulrich Boser
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief  by Lawrence Wright
The Good Lord Bird  by James McBride
Gospel of Freedom: MLK, Jr.’s Letters from Birmingham Jail
The Heart of Everything That Is  by Bob Drury & Tom Clavin
A History of Food in 100 Recipes  by William Sitwell
I Am Malala  by Malala Yousafzai
Idiot America  by Charles P. Pierce
In Human Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World  by David Bryon Davis
The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death & Detection  by Judith Flanders
Jennifer Government  by Max Barry
The Language of Bees  by Laurie R. King
Glitz  by Elmore Leonard
Lexicon  by Max Barry
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
The Lincoln Lawyer  by Michael Connelly
Little Bee  by Chris Cleave
The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren  by Iona & Peter Opie
Lowland  by Jhumpa Lahiri
Mao’s Great Famine  by Frank Dikotter
Legend  by Marie Lu
Middlesex  by Jeffrey Eugenides
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children  by Ransom Riggs
Norwegian Wood  by Haruki Murakami
Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth & Happiness  by Richard H. Thaler
Nurture Shock  by Po Bronson
On These Courts  by Wayne B. Drash
The Orphan Master’s Son  by Adam Johnson
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Shop  by Robin Sloan
The Battle of the Labyrinth  by Rick Riordan
A Person of Interest  by Susan Choi
The Last Picture Show  by Larry McMurtry
Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking   by Michael Ruhlman
Reservation Blues  by Sherman Alexie
The Savage Detectives  by Roberto Bolaño
Serena  by Ron Rash
The Shining  by Stephen King
Steve Jobs  by Walter Isaacson
Stiff: The Curios Lives of Human Cadavers by  Mary Roach
Suite Française  by Irene Nemirovsky
Suspect  by Robert Crais
Swamplandia!  by Karen Russell
Sweet Tooth  by Ian McEwan
The Lives of Tao  by Wesley Chu
The Bingo Palace  by Louise Erdrich
The Wedding  by Dorothy West
The Last Olympian  by Rick Riordan
The Burgess Boys  by Elizabeth Strout
The City and the City  by China Mieville
The Maid’s Version  by Daniel Woodrell
The Mayor of Casterbridge  by Thomas Hardy
The Tilted World  by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fenelly
The Lightning Thief  by Rick Riordan
Thieves’ Quarry   by D. B. Jackson
The Highest Tide  by Jim Lynch
The Titan’s Curse  by Rick Riordan
The Vision of a Champion  by Anson Dorrance and Gloria Averbuch
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty  by James Thurber
The Golem and the Jinni  by   Helene Wecker
Where’d You Go, Bernadette?  by Maria Semple
White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of 
     Modern Conservatism  by Kevin Kruse
Wild  by Cheryl Strayd
Winger  by Andrew Smith
World War Z  by Max Brooks
The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

4/21/2104 (post-spring break!) additions

Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest 
     to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York  by Richard Zacks
The Interestings  by Meg Wolitzer
The Round House  by Louise Erdrich
The Golden Notebook  by Doris Lessing
Case Histories  by Kate Atkinson
 Regeneration   by Pat Barker
The Dreyfus Affair  by Peter Lefcourt
Cesar Chavez  by Miriam Pawel
Room by Emma Donohue
Female Trouble  by Antonya Nelson
Boy, Snow, Bird  by Helen Oyeyemi
The Cigarette Century: The Rise and Fall of the Drug that Defined America   by Allan Brandt
Year Zero: A History of 1945  by Ian Buruma
Chronicle of a Death Foretold  by Gabriel García Marquez

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Reading Clubs Update: Books for March

The junior high reading club is reading a favorite of mine this month:  Marcelo in the Real World  by Francisco X. Stork (ebook link here).  The coming-of-age tale of an Asberger's-ish teenager, there is a tiny bit of mystery, a dash of romantic interest, and a whole lot of looking at life through atypical eyes.  I wrote enthusiastically about it when I first read it in 2010, and I predict the club members will really like it as well.

High school reading club members voted before winter break to read Jennifer Government, a sardonic futuristic thriller by Max Barry.  To quote from the blurb:
In Max Barry’s twisted, hilarious vision of the near future, the world is run by giant American corporations (except for a few deluded holdouts like the French); taxes are illegal; employees take the last names of the companies they work for; The Police and The NRA are publicly-traded security firms; the U.S. government may only investigate crimes if they can bill a citizen directly. It’s a free market paradise! 
 Three guesses for which entity Jennifer G. works (of course the last two don't count).  She takes the investigation when hapless Hack Nike discovers his contract requires assassinating teenagers to build gangsta' cred for his employer's new line of luxury sneakers.  Another intriguing mystery -- what does the barcode tattoo under Jennifer's eye mean??

The library also has Jennifer Government in an audiobook edition.

Have you read either of these?  Write your review in the comments, please!