Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"The Aqua Net Diaries: big hair, big dreams, small town" by Jennifer Niven

For anyone who has ever endured the relentless shame and soaring excitement of adolescence, critically acclaimed author Jennifer Niven shares her own hilarious and touching tales of teenage life at a Midwestern high school in the 1980s.

If you had found Jennifer Niven roaming the halls of the lone high school in Richmond, Indiana, in 1985, she would have had enormous hair. She would have been flirting with Tommy Wissel, and passing notes to her best friend Joey about whether Dean Waldemar was going to ask her to the dance. And her last name would have been McJunkin, because Niven is the pen name she planned to use whenever she finally graduated and became a famous writer/actress in some big city far, far away.

In her irresistibly charming and utterly true memoir, Jennifer takes readers back to that thrilling, excruciating, amazing, unnerving, awkward, and unforgettable time - high school - when life's greatest problems revolved around saying and doing the right thing, wrestling with geometric theorems, fretting over a bad hair day, waiting for the weekend's parties, trying not to die of boredom, and dying to be noticed by the most popular boy in school. Unique yet undeniably universal, [this book] is one girl's survival story of the best years of her life.

I wanted to read this book because it looked funny. I wanted to read it because it was set in Indiana, although not in the town where I grew up. And I really wanted to read it because the author and I were both high schoolers in the mid-80s, not to mention that it seemed we were both products of that decade. Her mother was born and raised in North Carolina, so we sort of have that in common (the author moves back to N.C. with her mom after her parents get divorced). It really seemed like a no-brainer - what's not to love about this?

Well, a lot, as it turns out. While I got nostalgic for my 80s, I quickly realized that Niven and I had very different high school experiences. She kept all her diaries/notes/pix/EVERYTHING from this time period (which makes me think that she's not really over high school), whereas I trashed stuff pretty fast. She was obviously WAY more popular than me, even though she claims to be an outsider. I really was an outsider, a band geek, a theater kid, etc. How do I know the difference between popular and not? Um, Niven had dates. Yes, dates, plural. And not with nerdy guys; she was dating some of the more popular guys. True outsiders don't date, and certainly not anyone that one would admit to. I had exactly ONE date my whole four years of high school. And I usually had only one or two friends each year, whereas she had her two closest friends, plus a good-sized circle of other friends.

I think that's why this book reads the way it does. I think the author's high school days really were the best years of HER life. But mine? HELL NO. I love my life now way more than I did in high school - you couldn't pay me to go back. I don't keep in touch with old classmates to see what everyone's doing (I don't care) nor have I been to the reunions. I think it's kinda sad that some people peaked back then and have been longing for those days since.   Overall, disappointing. I did, however, find myself wanting to dig up a good 80s mix tape when I finished. :-)

"The Case For Books: past, present, and future" by Robert Darnton

The invention of writing was one of the most important technological, cultural, and sociological breakthroughs in human history. With the printed book, information and ideas could disseminate more widely and effectively than ever before - and in some cases, affect and redirect the sway of history. Today, nearly one million books are published each year. But is the era of the book as we know it - a codex of bound pages - coming to an end? And if it is, should we celebrate its demise and the creation of a democratic digital future, or mourn an irreplaceable loss? The digital age is revolutionizing the information landscape. Already, more books have been scanned and digitized than were housed in the great library in Alexandria, making available millions of texts for a curious reader at the click of a button, and electronic book sales are growing exponentially. Will this revolution in the delivery of information and entertainment make for more transparent and far-reaching dissemination or create a monopolistic stranglehold?

In [this book], Robert Darnton, an intellectual pioneer in the field of the history of the book and director of Harvard University's library, offers an in-depth examination of the book from its earliest beginnings to its shifting role today in popular culture, commerce, and the academy. In a lasting collection drawn from previously published and new work alike, Robert Darnton - author, editorial adviser, and publishing entrepreneur - lends unique authority to the life and role of the book in society. The resulting book is a wise work of scholarship - one that require readers to carefully consider how the digital revolution will broadly affect the marketplace of ideas.

Too boring in a lot of parts, too academic (and aimed primarily at academia in general, with university libraries primarily - not public libraries). While I appreciate Darnton's endeavor, I just found a lot of it dry as toast, and since it didn't apply to my sphere, I skipped a lot of it. However, I really did like the following paragraph, so I'll share that with you.

"Consider the book. It has extraordinary staying power. Ever since the invention of the codex sometime close to the birth of Christ, it has proven to be a marvelous machine - great for packaging information, convenient to thumb through, comfortable to curl up with, superb for storage, and remarkably resistant to damage. It does not need to be upgraded or downloaded, accessed or booted, plugged into circuits or extracted from webs. Its design makes it a delight to the eye. Its shape makes it a pleasure to hold in the hand. And its handiness has made it the basic tool of learning for thousands of years, even when it had to be unrolled to be read..."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Masques" by Patricia Briggs

After an upbringing of proper behavior and oppressive expectations, Aralorn fled her noble birthright for a life of adventure as a mercenary spy. But her latest mission involves more peril than she ever imagined.

Agents of Sianim have asked her to gather intelligence on the increasingly popular and powerful sorcerer Geoffrey ae'Magi. Soon Aralorn comes to see past the man's striking charisma - and into a soul as corrupt and black as endless night. And few have the will to resist the sinister might of the ae'Magi and his minions.

So Aralorn, aided by her enigmatic companion, Wolf, joins the rebellion against the ae'Magi. But in a war against a foe armed with the power of illusion, how do you know who the true enemy is - or where he will strike next?

Briggs, perhaps best known for her Mercy Thompson series, writes an introduction to the reissue of this, the very first of her novels to ever be published. In said into, she says that she didn't think much about this first book, not until she found out that it was fetching some rather high prices on various websites (since there weren't many copies to start with, and it was out of print). She was preparing to release the second book in the series and wanted to reissue the first, but when she went back and looked over it, it was a bit cringe-worthy. However, the more she read, the more she realized that she couldn't change nearly as much as she wanted without having to change a lot of the next book, too. So she pretty much left things alone, and asks the reader to be kind and keep all this in mind as the story opens.

She really shouldn't have worried about it so much.

True, this isn't as polished as her later works, but the heart of the story is there, and if you're like me, that's what pulls you in. Aralorn is perhaps at times a bit too headstrong, but she's young, and that makes sense. She is not, thankfully, one of those too perfect heroines that one can find in books such as this, nor is she too stupid to live. I found her to be someone I could see myself being friends with, and that's exactly what I was looking for. (I've been reading more nonfiction lately, and I wanted something a bit lighter).

The book opens with her meeting Wolf for the first time, then skips ahead about four years, to her involvement with the ae'Magi. It's obvious to Aralorn, and of course, to us, that he's pretty much evil personified. What's worse is that his dark magic has pretty much everyone snowed; only the small handful that finally come together to make up the rebellion seem to be immune to his illusions. The band of misfits includes royalty, children, cooks, and others, and what's nice is that even most of these peripheral characters are developed - enough so that you care about them when the inevitable attacks begin.

Adding to the mix are the Uriah, which I took to be some sort of magical zombies, and you've got a good little fantasy tale on your hands.

Of course, Briggs excels at the relationships between damaged individuals, and Aralorn and Wolf fall into this category. Their story develops at a nice pace - not too fast, not too slow - and now I've requested the sequel to this, "Wolfsbane" to find out what happens with these two. Overall, I would definitely recommend this, and again, I think Briggs was far too hard on herself. Then again, I don't think many writers enjoy reading their first works, as they're often their own worst critics.