booklog summary: august/september 2013

Every so often I get far enough behind in my book blogging I just declare bankruptcy and start fresh. This is one of those times. Here’s what I’ve read since my last book review:

  • The Dog Stars by Peter Heller: Good post-apocalypse stuff. Realistic but not too depressing.
  • Time and the Batman by Grant Morrison: Kind of bullshit. Can’t remember why.
  • Zoo Station by David Downing: A cold war spy novel set in Berlin. I think I’ve now conflated an article I read by LeCarre into the plot, but I liked it.
  • Lost Dogs by Jeff Lemire: Good rough early work, but man is his current stuff ever better.
  • Poor Yorick by Ryan North: Good, but not as crazy as To Be or Not To Be, which is gonads-out amazing and will get its own review.
  • 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa: I loved this 22 volume manga, even if the end is a little abrupt.
  • Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin: It took me forever to read this book, but that’s just because it’s oppressive and painful like the history it’s based on.
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: Really good. Different from Mechanique, more grown-up, but I can’t hold that against it.
  • The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno: Not as Encyclopedia Brown grows up as I wanted deep in my heart, but still more than decent.
  • The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling: Kidbrarian confession time. Before September I’d only read the first Harry Potter book and only knew the rest of them through Wikipedia. I have rectified that (and think the Prisoner of Azkaban was my favourite) (and was a little chagrinned that my MBTI says I’m Hermione when I wanted to be Sirius Black).
    Harry Potter MBTI chart

    Harry Potter MBTI – makani.deviantart.com | simbaga.tumblr.com

  • The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter: The earlier stuff was more interesting before it got to the states.
  • The Dewey Decimal System by Nathan Larson: A sort of post apocalyptic noir thing in a similar vein to Gun Machine, but not quite as good. Still decently readable.
  • Sorry, Please, Thank You: Stories by Charles Yu: Very good George Saunders-esque short stories. Highly recommended.
  • Penguin: Pride and Prejudice by Gregg Hurwitz: A comic depicting Gotham’s Penguin as a tragic villain. Much better than I expected, but not amazing.
  • The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge: I love love love the Tines (pack mind aliens. The story was fine but the politics got me angry. Totally worth it if you’ve read A Fire Upon the Deep.
  • By the Balls: Jim Pascoe & Tom Fassbender: Noir stories set in Nevada in the late-90s. Good pulpy stuff.

The last book I read is one I really liked and will get a full review later this week.

book review: a description of the blazing world

I was disappointed with Michael Murphy’s A Description of the Blazing World. The back blurb suggested a surreal story drawing ties between mysterious postcards, choose your own adventure books, the first science fiction novel and the big 2003 blackout in Ontario. The book had all those elements but it didn’t combine them in the way that I hoped.

There’s a man who gets obsessed with two people who have the same name as him, but his part of the story is creepy and he’s unsympathetic. The story of the teenage boy sent to live with his brother for a couple of weeks where he finds a mysterious copy of a book that has clues to his disappeared father is just annoying. I think the big problem is that neither of the main characters have any insight into anything. They just do things you as a reader can tell are bad ideas. It’s all a bit pointless and in the end it all gets laid out very clearly what happened.

Finally, on the craft side of things, I must be spoiled by Ryan North, but if you’re making Choose Your Own Adventure stories part of your novel and you present choices (with page numbers) in the context of the story, it is disappointing to the extreme that there’s nothing at the pages you choose to turn to.

book review: this is how you die

This is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death is a collection of short stories about people who know how they will die as predicted by a Machine. It is, of course, a sequel anthology to Machine of Death (in which I had a story).

Matthew Bennardo, Ryan North and David Malki ! have put together a great collection of stories. As is usual with an anthology some are more to my taste than others. I quite enjoyed the stories that played with the idea of “unkillable” people (who’d all have cancer or something non-violent) and putting them into badass commando roles. My favourite of these was probably Tom Francis’ “Lazarus Fission Reactor Sequence” which also combined some office comedy as part of being a henchman for a supervillain in there too, but the grim science fictiony “Not Applicable” by Kyle Schoenfeld was also pretty great.

Rhiannon Kelly’s “Natural Causes” was my favourite of the more “realistic” stories because of how it dealt with small-town issues of appearances and conformity. And Ryan North’s “Cancer” laid down some real science and feelings.

So yes, this book did feel a bit more diverse than the first one. The stories covered a wider range of settings and people were definitely playing with some more meta-ish concepts surrounding the Machine. You should totally read it. (And if you participated in the Summer 2013 Humble Ebook Bundle you probably have a copy of the first volume to whet your appetite, so go read it first!)

BCLA Conference 2013

my 2013 bcla conference experience

I had an excellent time at BCLC 2013. A lot of that had to do with hanging out with colleagues and doing the whole “think about library issues” in person thing, rather than reading blog posts. Obviously I love blog posts and keeping up with people online is what I do, but it is nice to hang out (for example) at a table full of library techs with a drink and hear what kinds of things they’re dealing with. Or to sit in the sun on a Friday afternoon and discuss the horrors of capitalism and the challenges of optimism. I mean, this is something I just don’t get to do too often.

On the BCLA Info Policy Committee blog I’ve got a post talking about some of the IPC related things that went on. Even though Tara did a great job on the Hot Topics panel, watching it I really really wished I could have been up there participating (though I did get one question asked if not answered) and I think things might have gone a little bit more along these lines if I had.

Beyond that, I went to a very interesting session about how we advertise our early literacy programs on our websites. One of the things I’m bringing back to work is the idea to stop using stock photos and get real people involved doing real storytimish things (as opposed to the baby einstein motifs that you get a lot of in advertising).

I also went to the session on Fraser Valley Regional Library’s Service Mobile, which is an electronics-packed Nissan Cube thing that goes to homeless shelters to involve more people in the digital conversation. This is something I thought was pretty awesome and I think something we could at least put a proposal for in our library system.

The way I’d like to do it though is actually more like the MakerMobile (which was also at the conference on Saturday). On Thursday I got into Vancouver and instead of trying to catch the conference keynote speaker, I went to a Maker Education Meetup, where I met a whole bunch of people involved with 3D printers, education and MakerFaire. They were awesome (and thanks to Frank for getting a bunch of librarians out to the event). The Makers are less about buying fancy gadgets and more about being a mobile workshop to teach people how to use tools and make things themselves. It was actually kind of funny to see the two vehicles out in the conference parking lot. One all shiny and custom-electronicked up, and the other an old cargo truck with tools and clever benches in the back. I get that flashy is flashy, but man, the maker education folks really have my heart.

Last thing I did at the conference was do a few booktalks at the Ain’t on the Globe and Mail Bestseller List panel. I did that panel last year and had a great time. This year I talked about To Be Or Not To Be: That is the Adventure by Ryan North (& Shakespeare & YOU), and a little bit about Pirate Boxes and Unglued books and a great “craft of RPGs” book called Nightmares of Mine by Ken Hite. All of which was super fun, and I got a bottle of wine as a speaker present! For like four minutes of booktalking! So good.

Anyway, that was my conference. I like BCLA and it’s an organization I’m happy to be a part of. Our strategic plan includes advocacy as one of its first objectives and that sounds about right to me.

book review: machine of death

Even if I didn’t have a story in Machine of Death I would be a fan of this book. The idea is that each of the writers wrote a story set in a world where the infallible Machine of Death exists. The MoD told people how they were going to die. It was never wrong but was often ironic or vague. Those were the guidelines. The stories that came out were all different, making the book as a whole really good.

The Machine itself is different in every story. In some it’s a gimmick, in some it’s a long-accepted part of life, in some it sparks protests, in some kids are tested in utero, in some no one under 18 is allowed to be tested. I loved that overlappingness of the whole thing. It helped make sure nothing felt too canon. You read a bunch of different origins for the Machine and none of them are “the one true story” which felt right. Right to have the diversity.

I wasn’t sure how funny the stories would be, or how depressing. I mean, there are depressing stories. The one with the guy whose wife had finally become pregnant and then the Machine spit out LABOUR made me want to die a little bit. WHILE TRYING TO SAVE ANOTHER was heart-breaking, but TORN APART AND DEVOURED BY LIONS was funny and optimistic, like NOT WAVING BUT DROWNING.

In any case it was a really good, thought-provoking book about death. I’m really glad to have been a part of it.

book review: moresukine

Moresukine is a comic about being a foreigner in Japan. Dirk Schwieger asked his webcomic readers to give him things to do/find out and he wrote short comics about them. They were interesting and insightful as far as I could tell. My main complaint is that it was far too short. Not enough stuff was done.

The appendices were actually pretty great because they were done by other webcomickers who got the same assignment from Schwieger: talk to a Japanese person and report on it. There was a diversity in ways that was interpreted and portrayed. Yeah. Decent little book, but kind of too quick a read.