Monday, November 14, 2016

Looking Ahead

I've been reading much slower than usual lately, but I'm really excited about the newest additions to my queue. Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (BBC America)

October disappeared in a blur of red and gold and rain and football. I had plans for two more Halloween-related posts, so I'll include those now as honorable mentions:

Night Film, by Marisha Pessl. This was one of the most gripping books I've ever read. It follows a journalist who becomes obsessed with a particular film director with an unusually dedicated fan following. The journalist gets sucked into the cult-like culture surrounding this director, ultimately risking his life to get to the bottom of the case. This story is a beautifully-wrought investigation of our fascination with mystery, our imaginative power, and whether it's ever worth it to pull back the veil.

The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill. This is a horror novella that I would recommend to any lover of the genre. I'd heard it was creepy, and I was intrigued by the movie trailers, so I rolled the dice and picked up a copy. I spent most of the book thinking, "This is fun, but I've read creepier." Until the end. Oh, the end. The end carries the entire punch. I had chills running down my spine for days.

And now, the actual reason for posting: the crazy, unpredictable new TV show that is BBC America's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. Dirk Gently is a Douglas Adams creation, and though I haven't read that series of books, I'm always up for some Douglas Adams screwiness. (And yes, Bryan, I will read the books!) Man, this show delivers. Bryan and I counted 11 casualties in the first episode, none of whom died of natural causes. There is a kitten, there is a corgi, there is a downtrodden Elijah Wood, there is a holistic detective who I can only compare to Matt Smith's Doctor, and I have no idea where the story is going. I love it.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova

In recent news, I attended my first writer's conference! My friend Robin and I attended the Women Writers of Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti this past Saturday, and we came away feeling invigorated. If any fellow writers have been toying with the idea of going to a conference, grab a friend and check one out - you never know who you might meet while you're there!

Since I started the month with Unnatural Creatures and because it's October, I'm going to continue with the somewhat spooky theme. I decided I didn't have the time nor the energy to decorate my house for Halloween this year, so I have to celebrate somehow.

This week's (well, last week's belated) feature is The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova's absolutely amazing debut novel from 2009. I've read it three times so far, and I'm starting to feel the itch to read it again. At 676 pages, it's definitely meaty enough for the reader to get something different out of it with every reread.

My first time through, I could barely put the book down to sleep and do actual adult things like go to classes or cook dinner. The story follows a father-daughter duo as they go on the hunt for Vlad the Impaler, who inexplicably is still around (in a sense) to cause trouble. I say this in a light-hearted tone, since this is a blog post and all, but the book itself is downright chilling. I was captivated by Kostova's writing; at times, the plot is unfolding as a story within a story within a story, and yet the reader never gets lost in the timeline. As a writer myself, I am in awe of the skill she wielded in order to pull that off.

The second time through, the whole story started to really sink in for me. I savored it a bit more, since I knew the overall arc but was still pleasantly surprised by some of the twists hadn't remembered. The third time around, the characters felt like old friends welcoming me back into one of my favorite fantasy lands.

Kostova herself has an MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won one of the prestigious Hopwood Awards for The Historian, which at the time was her novel-in-progress. When I was an undergraduate, I applied to the Hopwood Awards and the U of M MFA program, both to no avail - in my head, Kostova has become a symbol for the writer I want to be but am not yet. Even writing this blog post about The Historian gives me the itch to work on my own novel, which I started with a similar historical fantasy perspective in mind.

On a different note, I've noticed that my readership numbers are slowly climbing the past few posts (yay!). To any newcomers who'd like to follow my unpredictable schedule, please sign up for the email list to be notified whenever a new review is posted! Also, if you know anyone who'd appreciate the blog, please share. :) There will be another post later this week, barring any disasters with my project for work, and it too will follow the Halloween theme.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Unnatural Creatures - Edited by Neil Gaiman

Welcome back! I found myself missing my blog, so I stuck baby in her pack 'n play with a bunch of toys and grabbed my laptop. It's not her absolute favorite set-up, but she usually entertains herself for a few minutes, at least.

Needless to say, life has been INSANE. I'm slowly studying the ins and outs of owning one's own business, but that of course has to take a backseat to the technical writing that brings in a more immediate paycheck. Plus, you know, the crawling, babbling baby. Sometimes (very infrequently), I sleep.

I've been reading much more slowly than ever before (see above), but I did take the time to finish the Unnatural Creatures collection edited by none other than my favorite author, Neil Gaiman. It's safe to say that I've never read a more carefully-curated collection of short stories in my life. Every single story seemed like something that could have come from his own pen, which tells me there's a whole new list of authors I should be exploring.

Gaiman did include one of his own, "Sunbird," which is a delightfully odd little tale about the most adventurous foodies you'll meet. It was previously published in one of his own collections, but I always enjoy coming across it.

This is probably going to sound really weird, but even though I really enjoy writing short stories, I often have trouble focusing on anthologies enough to remember the individual stories long-term. So, for this review, I figured it'd be an interesting test to look over the table of contents once I'd finished the entire book in order to see which ones stand out the best in my mind. The list includes: "The Griffin and the Minor Canon," by Frank R. Stockton; "The Cockatoucan; Or, Great-Aunt Willoughby," by E. Nesbit; "The Smile on the Face," by Nalo Hopkinson; and my absolute favorite, "Come Lady Death," by Peter S. Beagle. Overall, save for one story ("The Compleat Werewolf), this was a really enjoyable read.

Better yet, when I did a little digging, I discovered that the proceeds from this collection benefit 826DC, a youth literacy nonprofit/Astounding Magic Supply Company. The 826 network is an amazing community, providing homework help, field trips, and writing inspiration to young explorers across the country. I had the pleasure of volunteering and later interning for 826michigan, the Ann Arbor branch that masquerades as a robot supply company. They even recently expanded to Detroit, so if you live in either area, stop in and say hi to the lovely staff!

So, in conclusion, Neil Gaiman's fingerprint + support for 826DC makes this one of my favorite short story collections ever. I'm excited for babe to be old enough to share it with her and watch her imagination run wild.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The City of Mirrors - Justin Cronin

It was a long break between posts, but this was a long book! At 598 pages, The City of Mirrors is definitely not for the casual reader (and neither are the first two books of this trilogy). There was also a nice long vacation in Marquette and Northport in there, not to mention my return to technical writing, so I've been a bit distracted. (The technical writing is not nearly as fun as this, of course, but someone actually pays me for it.) It took a full two months for me to read the book, but read it I did.

Truth be told, I'm not even sure how to review a book that so completely captivated me. I haven't fully detached myself from that world yet to be able to logically assess the book's strengths and weaknesses, nor am I in any hurry to do so. The more I read, the more I was struck by the thought that words are the closest thing we have to magic in our modern world. They transmit ideas. They give meaning to every gesture we make. They let us share every feeling we experience within ourselves. They build upon themselves to create histories, histories we can reference as we forge new paths in life. Without this shared foundation, it would be impossible to understand one another, yet we just as often tell stories of fiction as we do stories of history. Fiction becomes intertwined with fact in ways that tug at heartstrings and influence decisions. What is that, if not magic?

This meditation was born from my sense, toward the middle of the novel, that I was reading modern a reworking of The Return of the King. Virals (bloodthirsty, vampire-adjacent monsters) come raining down upon civilization, decimating a population that had barely begun to rebuild from the last siege, evoking the same sense of desolation as the flood of orcs that all but takes over Middle Earth. In the midst of the despair, there are a few bright spots of hope: individuals who won't give up fighting for their loved ones until their dying breath. Peter Jaxon is Aragorn, the man who never sought power but was too disciplined and brave to avoid becoming a leader. Timothy Fanning is Sauron, the ultimate source of the evil that has spread across the country. My dad and I talked at some length about who serves as Frodo in this analogy. I think arguments could be made for both Amy Harper Bellafonte and Alicia Donadio. They seem to pass the torch back and forth a number of times as the plot unfolds. The parallels aren't perfect, nor do I think they should be. As it stands, the allusion is subtle yet powerful, making The City of Mirrors an appropriately epic conclusion to The Passage trilogy.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Medusa's Web - Tim Powers

I managed to read a book! It felt great just to get from cover to cover, and luckily, Medusa's Web is also a really fun read.

As far as Tim Powers' work goes, I wouldn't say this is the book to start with if you want to get familiar with his wonderfully twisted imagination. I started with Three Days to Never, which obviously got me hooked, and the subsequent Hide Me Among the Graves was just as good. Start with one of those, then hit Medusa's Web and Last Call. (Dad also loves Declare, but I have yet to get my hands on a copy of that one!)

The only reason I don't recommend this one to start is because the beginning is incredibly confusing. The characters travel through time and space by looking at images called "spiders," which are abstract doodles with eight legs, as it were, radiating out. Once a person sees a spider, they fall into nothingness for a moment, then they "wake up" into two dimensions and have to find their way into the third. I don't know if it was the fact that my mind is often in ten places at once, or if it was the extreme lack of sleep, or what, but it took me a couple of chapters to fully grasp what the hell was going on. Given how it feels for the characters, I can't decide if that disorienting introduction for the reader is off-putting or a stroke of genius. As soon as you get the hang of it, though, the plot is gripping, full of peril, and comes to a satisfying conclusion.

A small, stupid aside: this story is set in Hollywood, and there's a fair bit of "turn left on this street, turn right and head toward Y street," etc. It reminded me a little too much of SNL's Californians sketch and made me giggle like crazy. Yep, I'm that mature.

Next up: Justin Cronin's trilogy-concluding The City of Mirrors. I definitely recommend The Passage and The Twelve, and given it's debut spot at #1 on the NY Times bestseller list, I think I'll love this one just as much.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Syfy's The Magicians: A Retrospective Update

Welcome to the redesign! I still have a few changes to make, but I'm loving the progress so far. Don't forget to sign up for email updates to guarantee that you see new posts! I've heard that there's a bit of a time lag, but it's still more reliable than the ever-changing Facebook algorithms.

The first season of The Magicians ended a couple of weeks ago, so I've had plenty of time to mull over my reactions to the show (which took a day or two, and then I procrastinated a bunch). Season 2 is already a lock, set to air in 2017.

I'll certainly watch season 2, but I was ultimately disappointed with season 1. It started strong; I loved the first 3 or 4 episodes. There were obvious plot tweaks that helped transition the material from book to screen, but I understood and agreed with those changes. The characters were still true to their origins and fun to watch. As the season developed, though, the storyline started running off the rails. I was feeling uneasy by the middle episodes, and I was completely flummoxed by the end. Julia's story in particular took a cliff dive - I actively hated her screen time. There's a brief respite when she and Quentin make it to Fillory, when their chemistry really recalls their friendship and the magic from the beginning of the series, but that's quickly stolen away again.

Another issue I had was the gore. It was completely unnecessary. The books are far from clean, often touted as "Harry Potter with drugs and sex," but they didn't feature grisly murder after grisly murder. That addition may have upped the drama, sure, but it seriously took away from the fun.

So why will I still watch the second season? Complaints aside, there are some elements that I kept loving throughout the season. Eliot and Margo are great characters who get even better when they're together. Eliot is far and away my favorite part of the show, mostly because he's the closest to being the book character come to life. Penny's actually better in the show than he is in the books - he's a much more lovable grump on screen. I'm also dying to see more of Fillory! The magic looks awesome no matter what, but Fillory is the perfect setting for it. 

I know I said in the first post that we shouldn't expect the show to be identical to the books, but I honestly wanted it to be a little closer in comparison. Here's hoping they fix the mess that is Julia's story next season!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Everything You've Come to Expect - The Last Shadow Puppets

All right, the time has come for this review: I've listened to the new album approximately 4,516,784 times. (Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but I'm sure Bryan would agree with the sentiment. Poor guy.) I've had time to let it sink in, study the lyrics like it was my job, and compare it to the 2008 album The Age of the Understatement.

That comparison between the two albums is no easy task. They're completely different animals. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's astounding to realize how much has changed in the past 8 years for these artists.

The title track is my absolute favorite song on here, closely followed by the wonderfully weird "Dracula Teeth" and the could've-been-ripped-from-Suck-It-and-See "Miracle Aligner." The three songs have been stuck in my head on a pretty regular rotation since the first time I listened. "The Element of Surprise" is a song that makes me want to be a better writer - it features some of the most clever lyrics I've ever heard. Some highlights:

  • "There's a set of rickety stairs / In between my heart and my head / And there ain't much that ever bothers going up them."
  • "Why colour in the lines if you're just painting it black?"
  • "I thought they were kisses but apparently not / Do you end all your messages with an 'X marks the spot'?"

...I get jealous just typing those up. I wish I'd thought of them first.

Unlike The Age of the Understatement, though, there are some dull spots on the album: I never really register that "Used to Be My Girl" and "She Does the Woods" are two different songs, because neither one grabs my attention. Then there's "Bad Habits," which is easily the worst song on the record. By far. I'm not one to skip tracks as I listen to albums, because I like to hear how artists weave their overall stories, but in this case, I'm tempted to do it every time that song comes on. You could even guess it's a clunker just by looking at it on the page: it has half the lyrics of any other songs on the album, and is populated instead by over-the-top, stereotypical-rock-star "oohs" and "yeahs." I'm cringing just thinking about it. The best part about it is that it's pretty short, so it doesn't completely cloud my view of the rest of the album.

At the end of the day, I think the biggest takeaway from this album is that it is most definitely Alex Turner's side project. The Age of the Understatement was very much a dual effort between Turner and Miles Kane, and it comes across as a carefully-crafted masterpiece of a debut. Everything You've Come to Expect is much less balanced; Kane may have suggested a few lines here and there, but the bulk of the writing has Turner's fingerprints all over it. This is definitely a fun album to listen to, but it's definitely not what I was expecting as an Age of the Understatement follow-up.

(Sorry. Couldn't resist the cheese. They made it so easy. An apology video.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Girl in the Spider's Web - David Lagercrantz

We're going to see how this works on mobile, because the laptop is too cumbersome with baby! Apologies for any weird formatting or missed auto-correct shenanigans.
I finally finished a book! I focused on The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz, mostly because it was a library book and I was determined to get it done before I would have to renew it.
If I were to use the Goodreads system to rate this one, I'd probably give it three out of five stars. I liked it, but sadly, I didn't love it. I'll start with the positive: Lagercrantz did a phenomenal job picking up the characters and mimicking the style of the original Lisbeth Salander series. All of the original characters he brought back sounded almost exactly like Steig Larsson's creations. That is no easy task! Because the transition was so seamless in that regard, this book was as quick and almost as engaging to read as its predecessors.
Unfortunately, there were a couple of negatives, as well. Although the characters remained true to themselves, I got the sense that they weren't pushed to do anything new in this one. Blomkvist cracked a big story, but he was clearly smarter than the villains and therefore was never really in danger. Lisbeth did more of the life-threatening work, but after the trauma she endures in the first three novels, working with a bullet hole in her shoulder seems like next to nothing. And that leads into my biggest complaint - this novel lacks grit in a major way. There are violent scenes, but most of them - indeed the worst of them - happen offstage, as it were. For normal mysteries, that would be fine, but Lisbeth Salander's world was built on violence. It's what made her the woman we meet on the page, and it's how she's forced to survive. Without the violence, the book loses that sense of urgency that made the trilogy so great.
Of course, like most mystery authors do these days, Lagercrantz left the door wide open for a sequel. I'm sure I'll read it when it's out, but I won't hold any illusions about how it's going to hold up to what is easily my favorite mystery series in print.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Excitement Builds

I'll admit I don't actually have anything to review at the moment, since 99% of my energy is going to Olivia these days, but I've been missing this blog. I've got three different books started at the moment, but I'm far from finished with any of them. (For the curious, those are Unnatural Creatures, edited by Neil Gaiman; The Best American Short Stories of 2015, edited by T. C. Boyle and Heidi Pitlor; and The Girl in the Spider's Web (A Lisbeth Salander Novel), by David Lagercrantz.) I'm still devouring The Magicians on Syfy as fast as they can air new episodes, although I've completely given up on any comparison to their source material. And, of course, I'm eagerly awaiting the release of Everything You've Come to Expect, which will finally be available this Friday. Basically, I've got a lot going on but nothing that warranted its own blog post. So, I decided I'd modify my own rules for this space a bit.

I wanted to tell you guys that I'm excited. Excited to read these books, even if I can only do so in 10- or 20-minute increments during my daughter's cat naps. Excited to get back to writing my own book, even if I have to wait until she's down for the night to steal a little bit of time with pen and paper before I go to bed myself. Excited to bring some of the artwork in my head to life, although I haven't quite figured out when I can fit that into my new routine. (The ideas are currently just...maturing? We'll say they're maturing. That sounds plausibly productive.) Caring for a newborn is by far the hardest thing I have ever done, and it's overwhelming and rewarding and frustrating and hilarious all at once, but it has also been exactly the inspiration I needed to let go of some of the things I've been stressing over and start dreaming again. I want Olivia to grow up with a mother who trusts her own intuition, not a mother who got lost in a existential crisis because her life goals didn't necessarily match anyone's expectations.

I'm sure this all sounds very cliché to some, but to a new mother who is only beginning to stumble out of the "no sleep" fog, it feels like a revelation. Maybe I'm just delirious and hopped up on caffeine, but feeling my creativity return after months of second-guessing every decision I've made in the past year is the biggest weight off my shoulders I could possibly imagine.

Long story short, keep watching this space for upcoming reviews and other news as it comes up! At the very least, I'll be back soon with my thoughts on The Last Shadow Puppets' second album and probably a few schemes about how I might possibly manage to see them play at Lollapalooza this summer. When I find time to get some artwork underway, the VanDuinen Studio Facebook page will get a lot more active, so feel free to follow that if you're so inclined. I've also got my work out to several short story contests at the moment, so fingers crossed on that front!

And now, to sleep. At least for an hour or two.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail - Cheryl Strayed

I did not love Wild. I read it quickly, because Olivia's favorite nap location is "on Mom," but I did not love it. In fact, I had a journal open next to me the whole time so I could keep track of my gripes with it. Not a good sign for the book, but it ended up coming in handy for this post! If only I were so organized all the time...

My biggest problem with this memoir is that it's told in the wrong order. Strayed opens her story by diving straight into the "action," i.e. the events that pushed her to hike the Pacific Crest Trail by herself. I get the logic; it's a pretty common writer's trick to hook the reader. In this case, however, she only succeeds in introducing herself as an out-of-control twenty-something who trashed a good marriage and needed an intervention about her new heroin habit, all because her mother died too young. For full disclosure, I haven't lost a parent, so I can only imagine the pain and sense of dislocation that would follow this kind of tragedy. Still, I've watched other people close to me go through this loss without totally self-destructing, so I couldn't figure out what caused Strayed to fly so far off the handle. It's not until halfway through the book, when she's already out on the trail, that we learn more about her background, including the fact that her mom was essentially her one lifeline in a tumultuous childhood first featuring an abusive father and later a chain of not-so-worthy replacements. At that point, things started making more sense, and I found some true sympathy for her. So my question is, why did she wait so long to lay that foundation for the reader? As it is, she runs the risk of alienating a lot of readers right from the start. I toyed with the idea of giving up before she even hit the trail, because I was so annoyed by the fact that she struck me as someone who'd rather use her problems as an excuse to act like an ass than work on actually solving them. I felt like I'd been put in her mother's position, forced to watch her act like an infuriating teenager.

Once I started to feel sympathetic, I did find other ways to connect with her, too. Her whole approach to hitting the trail felt exactly like a plan I might concoct; I too am often overly confident that pure determination can make up for whatever I lack in physical skill or knowledge about a situation. Take off on a serious thousand-mile hiking trip just to get away? That's a decision process I recognize. Stubborn but sometimes dumb.

Connecting with her allowed me to finish the book, and I really did enjoy the trail itself and the people she met along the way. I have to see those mountains someday (although I'd be perfectly happy with a couple of day-long hikes instead of several months on the trail!). Overall, though, I wouldn't recommend this one. Those first hundred pages or so are just too choppy and the narrator too grating for my taste.

I followed it up with Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern, which was small enough for me to start and finish in one evening. Not too deep and definitely chuckle-inducing, it was a good palate-cleanser before I start the next book. If you find yourself in need of a laugh, this one's worth reading!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Syfy's The Magicians

I've been sitting around the past couple of days wondering what my next post should cover, since I've been finding it difficult to read and nurse at the same time. The little munchkin likes to punch the book and lose my page, so it's slow going. Then I realized what I've been doing for the past two weeks - binge-watching good TV! Bryan and I are finally making our way through The West Wing at a respectable pace, pretending to keep up with current events via Stephen Colbert and The Daily Show, and devouring Syfy's small screen adaptation of Lev Grossman's trilogy The Magicians.

Let's talk about The Magicians. The first three episodes are streaming for free here, and the fourth airs tonight at 9/8c. I am in love. I've lost track of the number of times I've watched the first three episodes at this point, because it's too hard to wait a week to see the next one. (Why wasn't this a Netflix original series?! I need them all now!) I'm feeling the need to read the books again, too, so I've definitely got to figure out that skill ASAP. The show is nowhere near a perfect replica of the books, but to me, that's okay. As Bryan pointed out, it's like the movie they made for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - not an exact match in content or tone to the source material, but lovable all the same. It stands alone.

Aside from the superb writing that went into it, this show works because of the talented, diverse cast the producers pulled together. There aren't many recognizable names involved, but for me, that just means that I'm totally sucked into the universe. I'm not distracted by watching some big deal pretend to be Quentin; Jason Ralph simply is Quentin at this point. To be honest, very few of the actors look anything like what I imagined (a little more glamorous than the nerds described in the books), but they all handle their roles well. In my mind, there are two absolutely perfect casting choices: Hale Appleman is Eliot through and through, and I didn't even need to wait for anyone to say her name to know that when Olivia Taylor Dudley showed up on screen, she was playing Alice. It took some convincing for me to accept the rest of the cast, but once I saw how well they worked together, I was hooked.

One small note, for anyone who wants to dive into this show: watch the first two episodes back-to-back. They're essentially one gigantic episode, and without its second half, the pilot is a bit choppy. That shouldn't be hard to manage, though - once The Beast shows up at the end of the first episode, it's almost impossible not to find out what happens next.

A last update before I conclude: I do not get a list of email addresses associated with the mailing list. So, if you want to stay updated on posts, rest assured that your information is as secure as anything else powered by Google!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

So You've Been Publicly Shamed - Jon Ronson

First things first: on the sidebar, I've added a gadget that, at least in theory, will set up an email list for those of you who want to get notified whenever I post a new review/rambling. I don't think Facebook links are the most effective way for me to get the word out about this blog, and I'm not going to pay to promote the links so that they'll show up in more newsfeeds. I'll keep posting links there to take advantage of whatever exposure that brings me, but trying to keep up with all their algorithm changes is exhausting. Now, I will fully admit that I have no idea how this new email gadget actually works, having never used any such tool in my life, but let's learn together! So please, sign up to be notified from the Benevolent Internet Overlords at Google when I publish new posts.

Now, onto my actual reason for posting: a rare example of nonfiction in my reading list! Looking at my overall stats, I probably read 99% fiction and maybe 2 or 3 nonfiction books per year. Nevertheless, I'd count Jon Ronson as one of my favorite authors, no question about it. He is a journalist who investigates multiple perspectives on any story he chooses to tackle, then writes up his findings with a sense of dry, self-deprecating humor that reminds me very much of David Sedaris. Better still, he has a nice long list of major hits, including The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, and Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries. I haven't made my way through his full list yet, but I can confirm that Lost at Sea is a masterpiece. I think The Psychopath Test will be next on my list.

Ronson's newest book, which was published in March 2015, is the amusing-yet-cringe-inducing So You've Been Publicly Shamed. In it, Ronson documents how social media, especially Twitter, has been harnessed countless times to (you guessed it) publicly shame individuals who have crossed some generally accepted boundary of propriety. At first glance, this seems like a good tool to have in our belts; if someone gets attention for saying something abhorrent, we can share that information and often reach them directly to express our disapproval. Ultimately, I think the goal in this scenario is usually to bring more awareness to whatever issue has been raised and contribute to a more tolerant atmosphere for all of us to live in. Ronson fully understands the justification behind public social media shaming, and he even shares an example of his personal participation in this practice. 

As soon as he's established the draw of democratic justice, however, Ronson then shifts the story to a much more nuanced, uncomfortable perspective: he speaks directly to a handful of people that have been publicly shamed. Two nerds mutter dick jokes to each other at a conference, and the next thing they know, their picture has been plastered all over the Internet because someone overheard the jokes and decided to publicly announce that she was offended instead of simply turning around and asking them to pipe down. A woman tweets a tasteless joke about AIDS on her personal account as she gets on a plane, then gets off the plane to discover that she's become the world's newest villain. Jobs are lost, lives are irrevocably altered, and apologies are brushed off as insincere. As Ronson is careful to note, yes, all of the individuals included in this book have made mistakes. That much is undeniable, although some of the featured mistakes are definitely worse than others. But in all honesty, I'm sure I've made plenty of tone-deaf jokes or insensitive statements that could be twisted to make me look like a horrible person. I'd be surprised if you could find anyone for whom this would not hold true. Luckily for me, I haven't yet been overheard by anyone who's taken to Twitter to inform the Internet of my indiscretions. One of the main (and most uncomfortable) takeaways from this book, however, is that this really can happen to anyone at any time. Most of the people he talked to were not famous in any way before they were shamed. Now, their entire reputation online is clouded by one mistake they made that was documented and shared millions of times over by people who did not know them and had no idea what the context was at the time the mistake was made. It's mind-blowing.

So, onto my soapbox for a moment: let's all be mindful of the things we post and share online. There are two sides to every story, as the old saying goes, and I'd hate to think Twitter and Facebook will cause us to lose our critical thinking skills entirely just because it's easier to click "retweet" or "share" than it is to look up an article about the issue. Perhaps in some cases public shaming is justified, but this book made me think that it's better to stay out of the fray until I understand the whole story than it is to take one person's word at face value and jump on the rage bandwagon.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Upcoming Treasures

How are we all doing? Recovered from the holiday madness? I, for one, had forgotten what a real Monday felt like, but my memory has been cruelly jogged...

Many, many things are happening here in the near future, and I'm looking forward to almost all of it! I'm not sure I'm sold on the impending lack of sleep, but I'm told that comes hand-in-hand with the baby snuggles I will definitely appreciate. Besides the looming due date, my excitement continues to build for the new Last Shadow Puppets album (they've released two goofy, uninformative trailers here and here), and there are also two books I'm really looking forward to reading as soon as they drop:

This one is coming soon, expected out January 19! Tim Powers is a very weird, very inventive author. If you're not familiar with his work, I'd highly recommend either Three Days to Never or Hide Me Among the Graves. (I've heard Declare is also amazing, but I haven't had a chance to read that one yet.) With any of his books, you accept from page 1 that this isn't real life, and then you settle in and enjoy the ride. There are ghosts, monsters, and magic in abundance. His 1992 novel, Last Call, reminded me of a hyper-violent, Vegas-centric version of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, if that provides any useful frame of reference for you. I've loved reading about the supernatural since I was a very young oddball, and Tim Powers' work feels like the grown-up version of all the ghost stories I used to gobble up like candy each time my parents took me to the library. Needless to say, I'm going to put my name on the library's wait list for this one as soon as I finish this blog post.

Also a master of the fantasy novel, Justin Cronin's third book of The Passage trilogy is due out this May. If you don't mind a little (okay, a full ton) of gore, this trilogy is epic. The books are huge, and the characters are widely varied and compelling. The villains are....sort of vampires, definitely genetic experiments gone horribly wrong. Take it as a cautionary tale of why the government should probably not try and manipulate human DNA to create perfect, nearly indestructible weapons. The risks outweigh the rewards.

The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

( Image courtesy of ) Blah. I was actually all set to do a VanDuinen Studio blog post this week, but that's going t...