The Sunday Salon: Back to Square One

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Sunday

It's back-to-square-one weekend here. That's what I call weekends when I do a lot of purging, resetting, and marking all as read. I wonder if whoever first used the phrase "Back to square one" knew that it was going to be used a lot. Isn't it nice to come up with a phrase that sticks for a long time? I know I've said this story before but I like it so much I keep retelling it. When we started summer hours at work four summers ago, my colleagues and I found it pretty challenging to adjust to. At the time, we were all doing a lot of documentation, reviewing, and tech-writing, and not enough coding, so everyone was burned out well before half a workday was underway. The last half hour was the most challenging. Nobody wanted to start reading a new paper or even attempt to continue something. After a quick meeting during one of those last half hours, a colleague and good friend said she was going to "shuffle papers" and look busy while she waited for the clock to say Go Home o'clock. Since then, we've shuffled a lot of papers whenever we have reached the end of our productivity and shared quite a lot of giggles over it.

Anyways, back to square one. I'm caught up on all my emails in my blog inbox, mostly caught up on my feed reader (just a couple of folders left), and then just two more inboxes left to clean. I seem to do this often. Only a few months ago, right around when Spring was beginning to knock on wintry doors, I did one of these purges. Makes me think that I probably follow too many and subscribe too much for my own good. Right after a purge, I do a great job of keeping track for a few days and then things are the same as ever. I am amazed when people attempt to unplug and even succeed at it, but somehow I can never make it work. Sometimes, I'm not sure I want it to work either.

Next week, I'll be in New Orleans for three days to be at a trade show for booth duty. I've always only been on the other side of such shows or events, as the visitor. It's going to be interesting to be the one doing a lot of talking and advertising. Not. I don't even like to talk a lot. Nor do I like grinning much. I'm looking forward to seeing how I'm going to fare there. It's not going to be all bad though. I've never been to New Orleans before, plus I haven't met many of our customers either. So some of that is going to be fun to explore. I'll be flying out Sunday and back home on Wednesday.

Speaking of flying, what is happening to planes all of a sudden? Definitely freaking me out.

I'm planning to spend my Sunday submerged in graphic books. I have been reading Stephen King's On Writing (an amazing read!) over the last week but while I ponder some of the gems of wisdom that he has imparted, I'd like to drown in some graphic media. I'll probably be starting with Raina Telgemeier's Sisters, which I've been excited to read ever since I loved her Smile and Drama. I'll probably follow it up with The People Inside, which has been on my to read list for a good while now. The Walking Dead books (Vols 17-20) are probably what I'll dig into last, letting the anticipation build up until then.

The Curiosity by Stephen Kiernan

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Curiosity
I heard obscenities everywhere, as though the world were populated entirely by longshoremen... Had no one told them that coarseness lacks dignity?

Kate Philo and her expedition of scientists, technicians, divers, and one reporter are looking for icebergs in the Arctic that could potentially contain frozen small creatures like shrimp, plankton, krill. These scientists work in a private research lab headed by Erastus Carthage, who has managed to successfully bring back to life such frozen creatures, though they managed to live only for a few minutes. During this particular expedition, however, they find a human body in one such berg. Nobody believes they will be able to animate such a large and complicated specimen, but science prevails and our frozen man is alive again, more than a 100 years after he was presumed dead.

But Carthage doesn't care much about the social or ethical aspects of bringing such a person back into this world. He wants to see if the man can be made to live longer than the projected time based on past experiments (21 days), and also whether he can use this project to get as much private funding as possible. The reporter, Dixon, is thrilled to be the only media person to have exclusive rights to the project. While these two people remain focused on furthering their career ambitions, Kate and the frozen guy begin to bond.

Stephen Kiernan
The Curiosity was a very interesting book with a fascinating premise, though not without a fault. It is narrated by four protagonists - Dr. Kate Philo, who is not only scientifically invested in the project but also personally; Dixon, our news reporter who callously basks in his exclusive rights to watch and report on the project; Dr. Erasthus Carthage, the self-absorbed arrogant conceited scientist who focuses only on what can make himself tick; and our frozen man, lost for 100 years at sea, and suddenly awakened in a lab that is futuristic to his time.

I've often been fascinated by how much our world has changed in the last decade but I probably did not delve too deep into that because watching the world through our frozen man's eyes was a treat. During his heyday, the idea of landing on the moon was not even an idea much less a laughable one. There hadn't been a world war yet, no computers, no food industry. And when this guy comes along and sees the world, he is overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude by which it has changed. His chapters were, therefore, the most enjoyable ones for me.

While this past vs present comparison was very well done by the author, his character developments left much to be desired. All four characters struck me as highly one-dimensional shallow people. Dixon is too whiny and has zero respect for women. Carthage is egocentric and focused only on money and fame. Kate is too considerate and empathetic. Our frozen man is too just and gentlemanly. Nobody seems to have an other characteristic and that made the narrative very predictable and boring. Dixon annoyed me the most, though probably because of how many thoughts of his revolved around women (all sordid). Even Carthage's malevolence was a pleasure to read, in comparison.

There were a few things that were very unbelievable to me. For instance, the frozen guy's ancestry is never properly studied. The press of today will go crazy trying to scrounge as much as they can about this man, and there doesn't seem to be any of that in the book. When one reporter belches out that the whole thing is a scam, a lot other news agencies buy the story, when pretty much every evidence pointed the other way. Sure, people like to believe only what sounds reasonable to them. Not the press, though. I also did not enjoy any of the romance between Kate and our frozen guy. I did think that they were very companionable but when it was being taken further, it just left me very annoyed.

The Curiosity was also a very long read. I got the impression that the whole story could have been told just as well in half the book size. The book being too long, however, clearly established the amount of the time that passes between the beginning and the end, and also what that time did to the characters within the pages. I do think that if this book had been shorter, some of that sense of time and place would have been lost, but there were a lot of pages we could have done without. Kiernan, however, writes a beautiful hand and for that reason, I would love to read more of his works. I don't know if it was because at the same time, I was myself pondering the idea of writing more, but I enjoyed a lot of his literary devices and language expressions.

Poor character portrayals aside, this book is a complicated book, especially since it is a hotbed of ethics, morality, and decency. When Kiernan wrote about reanimation, I almost believed that such a technology existed. I was surprised to learn that it did not. Yet. He also raised several ethical questions - would the man even want to be alive again? How should he be cared for afterwards? The most fascinating question for me was about his freedom. The man was born in a free America and is now brought back alive in a free America. Yet, he has no rights, he is locked in a room in a lab, and he is not free to do or eat as he wishes. These were the intriguing aspects of this book, and which Kiernan investigated well. If only the characters had more depth, and the book a little less words and romance.

I received this book for free for review from the publisher via TLC Book Tours.

When you're on a one-track mission to finish a book

Friday, July 18, 2014

This week, I've mostly been MIA around here, despite my best intention not to stay away from the blog for too long because then it becomes so unbelievably hard to bounce back. (I can never decide what the perfect post is to return to bloglandia with, after a hiatus.) But I still chose to stay low this week until I finished a book (Stephen Kiernan's The Curiosity). Reading hasn't really stopped me from blogging in the past. If I got so invested in a book for a few days, I end up with a desire to come back here and see what's happening. There's always something happening, there's always some fun posts to read. But when you have a review deadline, that's almost here, and then it's already here, and pretty soon, the deadline is already behind you and you still have half a book to read, you just have to stop puttering around, stay tight in your favorite reading chair, ignore all kinds of house chores, and read the damn book.

Photo credit via Funpicc

That's what happened to me this week. It was my own fault. I knew I would not finish a 430 page book in 4 days. That has never happened before. Well, that has never happened before when the book was not a graphic book or a Harry Potter book or a good young adult dystopian novel. That definitely would never happen to me if we're talking about literary fiction, which is what The Curiosity is. It took me a week to read the book, which isn't too long, you know. Four short reading bursts in the evenings after 10 hours at work, and then a whole weekend thrown in - that's a decent timeframe to finish a literary fiction book. But my review should have gone up this past Monday, so I'm posting it a whole week later instead.

This happens to me all the time when I do a book tour. This is why I don't like doing book tours. I tell myself after each tour that I won't do another one. But then a nice looking book comes along and I have to read that. Why can't I just check the library at the same time and try to get the book from there? Or step away from my desk for 10 minutes, then come back and see if I still wanted to read that book?

I had to post this here so that the next time I think of accepting a book with a deadline, I may feel prompted to come back and read this post. The plus side of being so focused on finishing a book is that when you are finally done, it's like coming up for air. As if the finals just ended. Like seeing "The End" after watching one long mind-boggling movie. There's a big sigh of relief. And then, for the first time, you look around and start seeing things. There's a spring in your walk now, because you're not walking around with a big book anymore. You want to do all sorts of things now, before sinking into the next book - maybe some home decor, or knitting, or house projects, or some blogging, some decluttering. That's sort of what my day so far has been like - cooked something yummy for lunch, baked some snickerdoodles, did some knitting, glanced through Stephen King's On Writing, browsed online, stained our back deck, even posted on the blog. Has it been such a productive day already?

The Sunday Salon: A late afternoon post

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Sunday

5.30 pm now. The family is currently couched in the living room, following the Germany-Argentina World Cup final, cheering and groaning occasionally, and most definitely enjoying themselves. It's somewhat of a relief that the games are ending today. Not that the TV will enjoy any quiet - there will always be something else. But my Facebook feed can hopefully get a little quieter and all those World cup references can stop too.

I just enjoyed my first long weekend of my summer hours this year and I'm beginning to feel that three days is the ideal weekend length. The four longer days at work were a lot easier this year, at least this week was, since work was busy and I managed to get enough sleep each night that I wasn't hoping for extra tea/coffee the next morning. I had a spa day on Friday, which the husband had gifted for my birthday last week. I've been telling my husband that I should do it more often - I hope he gets the hint. Saturday, we went to visit our friends and their 4mo happy little kiddo in Raleigh. Today, we had some friends of my father-in-law visit us, so after a very busy couple of days, I'm using this Sunday evening to recoup. Hopefully, some Monopoly games, a cozy dinner, feel-good movie, and a lot of reading are part of the plan.

Currently, I'm reading Stephen Kiernan's The Curiosity, which is turning out to be a mixed bag kind of book. The story's quite intriguing - Kiernan is exploring the idea of reanimating the frozen dead, along with the ethical and social debates around the idea. If you've ever wondered what it's like for a 19th century person to arrive in today's world, then Kiernan covers the idea pretty well. But on the other hand, will this book never end? After reading the first 100 pages, I got the impression that 20 pages could well have told the story thus far. The writing is beautiful though - there are four narrators and the author keeps their personalities very alive in their respective chapters. There's a lot of hinting of things soon going to go very wrong, and I hope this book won't suffer from the case of the too much hyping leading to nothing.

After this, I'm looking forward to taking a break from review books, even though the last few I just read have been outstanding. I picked some good books from the library recently, and it's taking a good amount of my resolve to not start reading each of them before finishing The Curiosity.
  1. The Rice Mother
  2. Evening is the New Day
  3. The Memory of Love
  4. On Writing
Which do you think I should read next?

Have you read The Curiosity? What did you think of it?

What audiobooks not to listen to (In which I try to review a book I didn't understand at all)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Audiobooks are seriously one of the coolest inventions ever, especially when you are a bookworm who always likes to have a nose inside a book. I didn't always feel like that, but I'm glad I do now, because I can listen to an audiobook even when I am in a reading rut.

But once in a while (okay, not that frequently, but so far just one time), I end up listening to a book that may have been brilliant or awesome, if not for the tiny teeny problem that I didn't grasp a single plot thread from it. Normally, when I'm not getting anything out of an audiobook, I unplug my iPod, or eject the disc, or hit the pause button and move on to another audiobook, or, if I didn't have another one, then sing aloud in the car to the radio. But when you got the audiobook via Audible and you have already used up your audiobook return limit, you just have to suck it up and listen to the book, hoping that at some point, magically, everything will be clear to you, and you'll go Ah-a!

That didn't happen.

The book in question is The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. An author that has been read by so many people that I feel like I am one of those people totally missing out on invitations to an elite club. This book specifically has probably been read by at least one person in almost every household. With all that going on this book's resume, I had to try and earn a ticket to the "I read The Joy Luck Club" club.

And I did listen to the book. The entire book. Enough to get me into the club. Except I still feel like I don't know what the book was about. Not the book's fault. Oh well, it is the book's fault since an audiobook should just not have been made for this one.

Because, if a book
  1. Has more than 5 principal characters, or
  2. Has teens as protagonists (Most narrators think that shrieking comes with this territory.), or
  3. Is an epic-ish story

then chances are I'll be scratching my head a lot while I try to understand what the narrator just said.

Oh, and not to mention poor understanding of certain languages or accents. That's not the book's or the narrator's fault, just my poor worldly awareness.

(But it is the narrator's fault if he/she mispronounces words.)

The Joy Luck Club was a Yes for #1 and #3. I think I would have enjoyed the book, if I had chosen to read it. It had a Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (which by the way was one of the first few audiobooks I listened to) feel around it, and the stories that the characters shared were quite engrossing. A few years ago, I would have loved the book but since my tastes have changed a lot, I may have just liked it now. But not having followed the story at all, I cannot say I understood anything. Eventually I did something that is scorned by book and movie fans - I wiki-ed the book! Let's keep that between us, shall we?

So unless you have an amazing capacity to follow more than 8 characters and as many plots, and can distinguish between identical sounding characters (if one narrator can successfully play 8 distinct voices in the same book, that would be a super-human ability!), then this is for you. Otherwise, go for the book. I've heard it's good. Even though I can put this book in my read shelf now, and invite any kind of questions or discussions about this book, I will most likely be that kid in the Physics class who walks out scratching his head thinking what the heck was that all about.

Tell me about your epic audiobook failure. Or about a book you read and still couldn't summarize. It may make me feel relatively better.