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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Book Reviews

I've always been an avid reader, but lately I've been especially voracious. Maybe it's because by this time next year, if everything goes as planned, I'll have my nose stuck so deep in statutes, rules, and case law that I won't have time to read much of anything else. So I'm trying to do as much pleasure reading as I can right now.

I love finding book recommendations on the internet and then ordering the books from the library (the best socialist invention ever!). I have a continually running list of books on hold on my library account, and frequently by the time one of my books comes in, I don't remember what it is, where I heard of it, or why I thought it would be worth checking out. That just adds a nice element of mystery to my hobby.

Here are three recent reads:




Boy Proof
Cecil Castellucci


A young adult novel about a socially inept sci-fi geek (as opposed to all those socially adept sci-fi geeks). Victoria is a straight-A-vying-for-valedictorian student at her high school in Hollywood. She prefers to be called Egg, after the name of her sci-fi movie hero, whom she also both dresses and talks like.

The narrative style of the book is interesting; it reads very much like a blog, which is probably why I kept reading after the first couple of chapters. Otherwise I might have found it difficult to willfully suspend my disbelief that a straight-A super genius student would actually be this socially malformed. Much of the time, her stream of consciousness reminded me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, a book written from the perspective of an autistic savant boy. Only Egg obviously isn't an autistic savant, because she is completely and hopelessly retarded at trigonometry. She is, however, a very skilled photographer for her school paper, and she has a talent for designing monster masks in her dad's special effects studio after school on Tuesdays. So her character comes across as more of a creative genius and less of a scholastic genius.

But if you can set all that aside, this book is really about growth. Egg starts out very angry, very closed-off and isolated, but slowly realizes that there is value in not ostracizing yourself from the world. She learns to value loyalty and friendship, to let go of her anger toward her mother, and to find her own identity instead of copping that of a fictitious idol.

It's a quick read, and although not groundbreaking, it's probably a better way to spend your time than watching most of what's on TV. I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars.



He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
Trish Ryan


A memoir about Ms. Ryan's search for the right man and the right faith. I know what you're thinking: this is so not the typical book for me, a cynical atheist. It's true, I was a little bit surprised at myself for deciding to try this book and, what's more, actually finishing it.

It's not that I don't have a little Hopeless Romantic Princess trapped deep inside a tower within my psyche that is guarded by a moat and an Ogre, swooning with the hope that she will be rescued by a dashing hero in shining armor. Don't most girls have that side? Yes, even hardcore Tom Boys like myself have a swooning princess dressed in nauseatingly ruffly pink somewhere inside of them. I usually have the Ogre keep her locked up unless I need her for a Meg Ryan movie or an episode of Gossip Girl (guilty).

So anyway, a search for love, I can handle that subject matter. But the faith thing? Well, I'm not completely averse to the concept of spirituality. Religion and spirituality are not the same thing, and consequently I think even atheists can be spiritual. I myself am not particularly spiritual, at least in a conventional sense. I find spirituality in the form of a solid live musical performance, a panoramic view from a mountain peak that I conquered, a night's sky clear of inversion and full of stars. But a search for god or some other supernatural force? Not really my thing.

Alright, so why did I read this book? Well, it came highly recommended by a certain fellow book enthusiast whose opinion I value. What the hell, I thought.

And I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying the book. I actually laughed out loud at one point while reading the book in line at the post office. It takes a lot to get me to laugh out loud. I generally stow my inner Chuckles the Court Jester in the same tower with Hopeless Romantic Princess. Someone's got to keep her company in that tower after all, and the Ogre's not much of a conversationalist.

But anyway, despite the entertainment value of watching a woman stumble from one insanely fruitless relationship to another, halfway through the book I sort of stopped enjoying myself when something clicked in my mind. This woman doesn't value herself, I realized. Her quest for the right man and the right spirituality were really quests to fill the void in her self-esteem. She didn't feel like she deserved to be loved. And by the end of the book, I'm still not convinced that she ever learned to love herself. She found a great man who loves her, and she found solace in Christianity, and these things function as reminders that she should believe herself worthy of love. But I find that they are merely sutures and not the salve.

Overall I'll give the book 2.5 out of 5 stars. The first half of the book I loved, the second half not so much. But heidikins enjoyed it much more than I did, so maybe you will too.



Cycler
Lauren Mclaughlin

A story about a girl named Jill who, for four days out of every monthly cycle, becomes a boy named Jack. (And you thought your time of the month was a pain in the ass.) Jack is kept secret from the world, covered up by Jill's absence from school under the story that she needs monthly blood transfusions due to a medical condition. Things get complicated when Jack starts to assert of life of his own, however, falling in love with Jill's best friend Ramie and sneaking out to see her in the night. Things are further complicated when Jill's crush and targeted prom date Tommy admits his bisexuality and Jill has to examine her own sexuality. And when the partition between Jack's emotions and Jill's emotions begins to blur, things start to get interesting. Somebody's going to the prom with somebody. Who will it be?

The book is basically a study in gender identity and sexuality. Obviously. But it handles the subject matter very well, and very maturely in spite of the outlandish circumstances and teenager-speak. I sort of had to ease my way into the story, but by about midway through I found myself unwilling to put the book down, and ended up loving it. It's not perfect, but it's a great first novel from this author, and I look forward to reading the sequel that she's currently writing.

I'd give Cycler 4 out of 5 stars and strongly recommend it for those interested in the topics of gender and sexuality. And even if you aren't quite comfortable with those subjects, this is a good place to start to get comfortable, and in this day and age, it's about time to do so.


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9 comments:

Trovan said...

Boy Proof looks like the one I would be most likely to read.

None of them are really in my usual genre choices.

A chick turning into a did when she's on the rag is kind of creepy. I may have nightmares.

Claire said...

I've added all three to my reading list...however, they may be waiting a while, as I just received the Spanish and French translations of Tad William's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series and want to wend my way through those first.

The Cycler is the one that seems like it'll hold the most food for thought for me, but the other two seem intriguing as well.

While we're passing out the recommendations, may I direct your attention to "Middlesex," by Jeffrey Eugenides? A similar theme, handled very differently but with grace and aplomb nonetheless.

heidikins said...

Very interesting choices, admittedly, you are the last person I thought would read Trish Ryan's book based on my recommendation.

I loved her book, but admittedly I liked the first half better than the second half. :o)

xox

Sra said...

Trov: It's always nice to expand one's horizons from time to time. I don't really have a favorite genre myself. I'll read almost anything.

Claire: I've put Middlesex on hold at the library, thank you very much. I've just started with that tome called Gloria that you recommended to me. That thing is fuge! ( = "fucking huge"). It's starting off interestingly enough though, so I think it'll go smoothly. I appreciate the recommendations.

Du-heidi: I surprise myself sometimes. Your recommendation was very convincing, and I'm not sorry I read it.

B.R. said...

Sra,
I have a title suggestion for you. Check out Constructing Masculinity. It's a good edition that features articles by some of the best-known names in Gender Theory. Some of the articles are too lit. theory jargon-laden, but I think you will find some masticatable food for thought in the first few chapters.
Now, re: Cycler, in my opinion it could have done a better and more systematic job when it comes to creating a stronger ontology. I find it so interesting that quite a few writers and theorists still insist on viewing gender and sexuality as non-fluid notions..... But, yes, the book is readable.
Ah, before I forget, give Richard Dyer's "White" a look too.
Dyer examines Gender and Race together.
Now, re: my blog feed, I had a hard time with the switch. It was a google-related issue which I believe is fully resolved now. I'm back as www.brikenaribaj.com. I fought to keep onomastic consistency and methinks I succeeded. Cheers.

Sra said...

Thanks for the book recommendations, B.R., I've added them to my list.

I haven't really thought about gender and sexuality being fluid before, that's an interesting take. I'm not sure it's incompatible with the notion I espouse, which is that there is a broad spectrum for gender and sexuality, and most people are somewhere in the middle rather than being at one extreme or another. I think if you're in the middle somewhere, that would be a type of fluidity, because you would exhibit traits from different sides of the spectrum. But then I guess true fluidity would mean you could move up and down the spectrum. I think I can understand that model. Admittedly I haven't read much about the topic yet, although it is one that interests me, so I will look forward to checking out your book suggestions.

I too have experienced difficulties with domain switches before. The whole thing is much more difficult than it should be, if you ask me. I like your original domain and its onomastic consistency.

jess said...

oooh cycler sounds really good. and you forgot torts. you'll be reading all about torts. lawl.

Sra said...

I think I'd rather eat a tort than read about one. But seriously, yes, much of the case law, statutes, and rules I'll be reading will be relevant to torts.

Sra said...

I think I'd rather eat a tort than read about one. But seriously, yes, much of the case law, statutes, and rules I'll be reading will be relevant to torts.

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