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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Return of Television, and Book 21: London Falling

Let’s make something clear: I love television.

I don’t know if that’s something that I’ve specifically declared on this blog before, but an astute reader may have picked up at least that I am not against television from references I’ve made to, for example, Doctor Who. The thing is, it feels like a taboo thing to admit on a blog that is mostly about books. The general cultural attitude seems to be very either/or: TV people don’t read books, and book nerds don’t watch TV.

I know that, in some cases, it’s true. There are plenty of people who do one or the other. I honestly don’t know how much overlap there is, though it’s been a long time since I’ve met someone who didn’t have at least one show that they enjoy. Even the people who say “Oh, I don’t own a TV” generally follow it up with something like “But I love Orange is the New Black on Netflix!” or “I watch Doctor Who online the next day, though.”

I’m here to stand up for those of us who really like books and also really like TV. I know it’s not just me.

I identify as a story addict.

So what do I like about TV? Let’s set TV apart from movies, because I’m not a big movie person. “But you’re a story addict!” Yes, I know. I’m getting to that. The difference is time. If a movie is 3 hours long, that’s a really long movie, but by the end, I usually haven’t had a chance to get to know and care about the characters yet. The development tends to happen all at once, which, while sometimes interesting, gets old quickly. TV, on the other hand: Even a show that gets canceled unjustly after one incredibly wonderful season has 13 episodes, 45 minutes each, that you can get lost in later on. And when you do, you get to know the characters, and you see them grow and develop naturally over the course of the story. You develop a familiarity with them, which is difficult to do in the time it takes to watch a movie. (Movie series, however, I tend to like a lot more. Go figure. Of course, they’re usually based on something else now, because god forbid anyone have a creative thought.)

Watching one episode a week just makes the story last longer. I like a story that lasts. And even the quickest, most addictive read generally takes up a full day of reading time. (I’m thinking this may be another reason I didn’t love The Fault in Our Stars as much as I was supposed to–I read it in five hours! That’s not enough time to develop a connection to anything!)

So, yeah–I love TV, because it’s just another way for me to get my story fix.

However, it’s not my preferred way. And now that seasons of more shows are starting up again, I’m looking back and realizing how much I read during the hiatus season (you know, summer), and I’m feeling torn. Because I can’t imagine just no longer watching Once Upon a Time, or Supernatural, or Doctor Who, or Sherlock (actually, ignore that, Sherlock seasons don’t last long enough to really count), or Agents of Shield. They’re amazing stories with amazing characters whom I’ve come to love. And then there are shows like The Mindy Project, New Girl, and The Big Bang Theory, which are all great when I just want a once-weekly “please empty my brain of all this stuff and fill it with silly nonsense instead.” They serve a purpose. And the remaining shows that I watch (this seems like so much, but it’s one show a day with an occasional comedy binge) are shows that Mike also watches, so they’re the stories that we get into together, and I like that. So while I don’t think I’d miss NCIS if I stopped watching it, I would really miss Burrito and NCIS Night (or whatever it will become now that we don’t have an easily accessible burrito place).

So my goal, with the return of television season, is not to have that hour-ish a night cut into my reading time. I would much prefer for it to cut into other screen time, whether that be Pointlessly Staring at Pinterest on my Phone Time, Diners Drive-ins and Dives Marathon Time, or Turning On My Computer and Getting Lost in Cracked Articles time. I’ll get more enjoyment out of watching TV than I will out of these things, which I do anyway because it feels like it lets my brain recharge. My brain can recharge while I stare passively at a TV and at least take in a good story, rather than just look at the exact same “40 Ikea Hacks!” pins that I’ve seen over and over.

Also, I feel I should mention this to anyone who got here by searching for Ikea Hacks: Painting something to make it a different color is not a hack, even if it does make said thing look nicer.

Book 21: London Falling by Paul Cornell

Paul Cornell is proof that it’s okay to like many different forms of media. He’s written for TV, including a few episodes of Doctor Who (because, I mean, he’s British). He’s written comic books. And he’s written novels, including, again, a bunch of Doctor Who stuff, and more recently, this. (And then a sequel, but I haven’t read it because I waited for this one to come out in mass market paperback and now I can’t get the sequel yet because it’s still in hardcover and the books in a series have to match. I’m looking at you, re-releases of every Terry Pratchett book.)

London Falling is an amazing book. Cornell is clever, and he tells things to you as he or his characters really see them. He is not going to tell you that a baby that has literally just been born five seconds ago smells like a honey-lavender ice cream, because that’s not what a baby that has been born five seconds ago smells like. Want to know what a baby that has been born five seconds ago smells like, according to Paul Cornell? Read the book, he mentions it at some point, and it’s wonderful.

The story itself is relatively straightforward. It’s a supernatural police procedural that takes place in London. It draws a whole lot on British culture–the history, the art, the other stories that have been created there, and the tendency to both want to apologize to something but also feel like it owes you an apology. It’s funny, and it’s creepy, and at times it’s a little heart-wrenching. Overall, it’s incredibly enjoyable.

Now, I recently read a short article about book recommendations that completely miss the point, and they made me want to read the books listed more than most real reviews ever have, so here goes.

You should read London Falling if you like: anything related to the Tudors, piles of dirt, waiting at bus stops, or gang violence.

Coming Soon…

22. Neuromancer by William Gibson
23. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
24. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” a.k.a. J.K. Rowling
25. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
26. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny
29. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
30. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
31. The Alchemyst: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 1 by Michael Scott
32. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
33. The Magician: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 2 by Michael Scott
34. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
35. The Sorceress: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 3 by Michael Scott
36. MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
37. The Necromancer: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, book 4 by Michael Scott
38. Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

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A Reading Nook, and Book 20: Lexicon

Those who know me may have noticed that, in the past six months or so, I haven’t shut up about my plans for my reading nook. Sorry. (I’m not sorry.)

If you’ve done it at all recently, you may remember that looking for a place to live is an incredible pain in the ass. I don’t know if having a deadline makes it harder–the “starting a job in this area on this date so need to be moved in by then” thing is kind of awful, and it seems like it might be easier if you could say, “You know, I’d like to buy a new house,” and start looking and not having any pressure and when one shows up that you like, you take it. I’m way oversimplifying. My point, though, is that the deadline means you have to hurry up and find something, and if it’s not perfect, well, you can’t be too picky because you’re limited to what’s available right now. And something better may show up, sure, but it also may not, and by then you’ve missed your chance.

When we were doing the housing hunt, it started like that. Every place we looked at had this “ehh, we could live with it” aura around it. And then Mike sent me a link to this one house on Craigslist. I went through the pictures thinking it wasn’t bad–two floors, two full bathrooms, a yard, and space for guests, and then. And then there was this room.

It’s a little bright orange room, shaped like an L, with the bottom of the L a bit wider than the top, which is more like a hallway–only slightly wider than the twin bed that’s in it in the picture.  Right at the very top of the L, right over the bed, is a big window with a pretty hardwood frame. I immediately fell in love with the house, and I responded to Mike, “It has a reading nook!”

When we went to look at it, we discovered that it also had other desirable features, one of the most important of which was a door leading to the stairs so we could keep our cats separated, but I was mostly excited about what I was absolutely set on making into my reading nook, especially when I saw that the very bottom of the L featured a huge built-in bookcase that wasn’t visible in the pictures.

We moved. We settled. We unpacked a bit, then got sick of it and stopped. We started working. We unpacked more. Life was happening. I was still talking about my plans for my reading nook, but a little part of me was worried that I’d just never get around to it, and the adorable little introvert cave that I dreamed of would never actually happen.

But for my birthday, Mike got me the thing I needed to get excited about it again: A Yogibo! And it arrived about a month early, so I had this giant purple bean bag chair sitting under a blanket in the living room, taunting me. So when I finally got to bring it upstairs and curl up in it and read, I knew where I had to go next.

Ikea.

Mike had never been to Ikea before. He was actually rather anti-Ikea, having very little experience with anything from there that wasn’t the absolute cheapest stuff they have that college kids get because they can’t afford the one that’s $20 more, and my bookcase, which is awesome but a pain in the ass to put together. Not complicated–just annoying. So it was incredibly entertaining to see how excited he got about everything.

Anyway, two weeks later, I finally had my dad install the thing that involved putting screws in the wall (which I’m sure I could do, but I’m not remotely confident in my ability to do it neatly), and my reading nook is complete!

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You can kind of see the tiny black foot on the left side of the picture, which is a giant T-Rex fossil wall decal that I got from Target because I’m an adult. I couldn’t get both it and the rug in the picture.

It’s just the coziest, comfiest little place! Books I own but haven’t read or really desperately need to re-read are currently living in the little side table, which is on wheels so I can pull it out and access the books in the back easily. And the Yogibo has two covers–the purple one shown, and a bright green waterproof one that I can take outside with me if it’s the right kind of nice day and I’m feeling extra motivated.

So if I never update this blog again, it’s not because I haven’t read anything. It’s because I don’t want to do anything but curl up and read in my little reading nook.

And speaking of books to curl up with:

Book 20: Lexicon by Max Barry

(If you actually follow this blog [so, Mom], you may have noticed that clicking the books always takes you to places to buy them. Up until now it’s always been Barnes and Noble, because while I hope people support independent bookstores, I hate hate hate the other big online book supplier and would much rather B&N get people’s business. However, it was recently brought to my attention that there are a few indie bookstores out there that do have pretty great online shops, so I’ll be linking to those from now on. Anyway! Moving on.)

THIS BOOK! THIS BOOK. OH MY GOD THIS BOOK.

I take notes when I’m reading. It just helps me remember the book, and if there’s anything specific I want to mention here, I can jot it down and then look later since I know it’ll take me forever to get my post up. My first note for this book was: “I’m on page 12 (which, I mean, the story started on page 3, so really page 9) and I’m already completely addicted.” My second note for this book was: “And I was so completely addicted that I didn’t take a single note. Oops!”

You look at the things it says on the cover, things like “An NPR Best Book of the Year,” and you think: “I’m sure this will be good, but it will also probably be dense and overly pretentious. I should find something fast to read after this, because this will probably take a couple of weeks to get through and I’ll need a literary cleanse.” And you are horribly wrong, because you didn’t notice the thing that said “thriller,” and you didn’t really get that sometimes NPR isn’t super pretentious and wants a fun read with an extra layer of depth to it if you want it.

The premise: We already know words have power, but how much? In Lexicon, a group of people has discovered that every person has a string of syllables that, when uttered to them, makes them completely suggestible. Once you figure out someone’s words, you have 100% power over them–they’ll do anything you tell them, no questions. And what’s more, this group has figured out a series of seemingly innocuous questions–Are you a cat person or a dog person?–that divide you into one of 228 categories and let them know what your words are. These people are called Poets, and one of the Poets has gone rogue.

Lexicon follows the story of Emily, who is taken from the streets where she lives to study with the Poets because of her skill with words, and the story of Wil, who is kidnapped by poets in hopes that he can stop the rogue Poet who threatens the world.

I couldn’t put this down. I probably read it in a day and a half. I really liked Barry’s writing (this is the first book of his I’ve read, though I can’t wait to read more). I especially liked how there’s a bit of a mystery to it, as there is with any thriller, and he lets you figure it out yourself (so you feel smart), but not so far ahead of when he tells you that you feel like he’s insulting your intelligence by acting as if you wouldn’t have figured it out already. You figure things out just about as the characters do, which means he doesn’t do that thing where he withholds information that the main POV character knew and you feel cheated afterward.

This is a great piece of science fiction. On the one hand, it was the type of thriller that I just couldn’t put down–a fun story with a bit of a mystery and no time to breathe. On the other, it really makes you think about words and the power they might have. We already know that certain people are more persuasive than others, while others are much more easily persuaded, but how far could that go? With everything we’re learning about the human brain, it’s beginning to seem more and more like a computer–could there be some sort of command code for the brain? Okay, probably not like this–it’s a little too magical to feel realistic. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t wondering what segment I’d be in, what my words would be, if I’d be the right type of person to join the Poets. (I don’t think so.)

Of course, when you think about how brains work, and how language works–I say “tree,” and that makes your eardrums vibrate in a certain way, which carries a signal to your brain, which releases or moves or something some chemicals that then make you think “tree.” Right? (My neuroscience is a little rusty.) But if I scream “run,” your ears do the same thing–they vibrate–but the signal they carry this time causes a very different chemical to be released. So maybe it’s not quite as unrealistic to think that there might be some sort of sound that could make someone more suggestible. I mean, people persuade people to do things all the time, right? Completely ridiculous things. Maybe they know something we don’t.

Am I getting a little paranoid?

So: Should you read this book? I think it has a fairly wide range of appeal. If you like fast-paced dystopic fiction, definitely! If you’re interested in words and want a fun story, definitely! If you like thrillers like Gone Girl and wouldn’t mind a little science fiction in your reading, definitely! And if you read it, you should let me know what you think in the comments.

 

Coming Soon…

21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson
23. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
24. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” a.k.a. J.K. Rowling
25. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
26. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny
29. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
30. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
31. The Alchemyst: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 1 by Michael Scott
32. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
33. The Magician: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 2 by Michael Scott
34. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
35. The Sorceress: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 3 by Michael Scott