27 November 2015

Movie Star Drool: Victor Frankenstein

*There may be spoilers. You are warned.

Howlers are more fun with friends. I saw this with my friend Kate and we clearly have way too much SCIENCE in our brains (I have a degree in epidemiology, she's finishing a PhD in linguistics) so we did some snickering and "no, that is not correct"-ing and generally had a good time 'shipping McAvoy and Radcliffe.

The plot for Victor Frankenstein is mostly cobbled together with a vague idea of what the original Mary Shelley book was about. The movie focuses on Victor Frankenstein's demons through the lens of Igor/no-name abused circus clown and his super-genius talent for correcting Frankenstein's experimental blockages. Plot connections are tenuous (did we need Andrew Scott's Scotland Yard detective, except as deus ex machina in reverse?) and half-baked (Jessica Brown Findlay's Lorelai is saved from dying in hospital by a wealthy Baron to be in his cabaret - which we don't see, ever - and also to be his beard in public but is apparently just accepted into society (which speaks to how someone didn't do his/her research into Victorian Society behavior and class beliefs) and also drags Radcliffe's Igor upstairs during a ball....the Baron wouldn't take that well). It all turns out as one expects. Particularly if you go into this expecting nothing but ridiculousness.

There is some great casting. Louise Brealey, of Sherlock and Bleak House fame, has the unfortunate and super offensive/inaccurate screen credit of "Sexy Society Girl" in a fantastic bit part where she gives excellent "shocked and offended because I am a LADY and we are discussing procreation" face during a fancy dinner. Freddie Fox can make a career playing upper-class Old Money Englishmen, because he is that good at it.  Victor's father is cast so deliciously I won't spoil it but for 5 minutes of screen time that actor was worth every second.  As Igor, Radcliffe wears two of the worst wigs currently in cinemas (although I am worried the second might have been his own hair with FAR too much mousse - not a good look) but he does some good physical acting as a hunchback and as the owner of a newly-straightened spine after Victor miraculously cures him through a combination of zit popping and chiropractic (it was gross, part of it). James McAvoy, though, drank the Kool-Aid for this movie.  He was SELLING that dialogue like the rent was due tomorrow. He had a lot of commitment and that went a ways toward making this movie less terrible than it could have been. A long way, LOOOOONG way, from being a good movie.

A+ set decoration and costume design. We commented a lot on the waistcoats McAvoy and Radcliffe wore, the textiles were very pretty. Jessica Brown Findlay wore beautifully vibrant clothes (guys, someone needs to cast her as Lena Heady's younger sister ASAP because man, does Findlay look like Heady did when she did some period films in the late 1990s/early 2000s).

In short: a fun popcorn movie, not a good movie in any way (has a really weird title card at the end of the credits that states how many people worked on the movie).

1. Deadpool - in it, and I really hope the soundtrack is that dope.
2. Krampus - I get a distinct Drag Me To Hell vibe off this trailer and since I spent most of that movie with my hoodie pulled over my face like Kevin from South Park, I pass.
3. In the Heart of the Sea - I might be up for Ben Wishaw as Herman Melville and a sea-soaked Thor, er, Chris Hemsworth.
4. The Revenant - I think this was the movie that had some reviewer saying something like this wasn't a movie for women (yep).  Technically, Victor Frankenstein isn't a movie for women, either, since it clearly ranked only one named female character who did not audibly talk to another female character (there's a Mrs. Winthrop (uncredited) in the IMBd listing that I don't remember from the credits roll in the actual movie because it was really short) and a plot that is so full of holes it might be cinematic Swiss cheese.  And yet I paid 8$ plus tax for it.  If I don't see The Revenant in the theatre it's more likely due to the fact that I have yet to really like an Iñárritu film (haven't caught Birdman, yet).  I have seen my share of "brutal" movies (raise your hand if you've seen Salò).
5. The Hateful Eight - Tarantino.  I usually catch up with him after the DVD release.  And a three-hour movie really tests limits on my bladder.  However, if I luck out and any of the nearby theatres get the 70mm film (which I highly doubt) I might try for a screening.  (There are two named female characters! And Tarantino known for brutality onscreen! Now I'm on a rant....guess I need to take my new Mulholland Dr. Blu-ray out for a spin).

26 November 2015

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud

Summary from Goodreads:
He was the brother of “the Arab” killed by the infamous Meursault, the antihero of Camus’s classic novel. Seventy years after that event, Harun, who has lived since childhood in the shadow of his sibling’s memory, refuses to let him remain anonymous: he gives his brother a story and a name—Musa—and describes the events that led to Musa’s casual murder on a dazzlingly sunny beach.

In a bar in Oran, night after night, he ruminates on his solitude, on his broken heart, on his anger with men desperate for a god, and on his disarray when faced with a country that has so disappointed him. A stranger among his own people, he wants to be granted, finally, the right to die.

The Stranger is of course central to Daoud’s story, in which he both endorses and criticizes one of the most famous novels in the world. A worthy complement to its great predecessor, The Meursault Investigation is not only a profound meditation on Arab identity and the disastrous effects of colonialism in Algeria, but also a stunning work of literature in its own right, told in a unique and affecting voice.

Recasting established classics through novels using secondary characters' points-of-view or different cultural lenses - Things Fall Apart after Heart of Darkness, Longbourn after Pride and Prejudice, On Beauty after Howard's End - has created an interesting genre of literature full of books with important and interesting commentary on classism and colonialism/post-colonialism.  The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud joins in the conversation by taking as its starting point the unnamed Arab who becomes Meursault's victim in Camus's The Stranger.

Daoud imagined an extended family for "the Arab" and, most importantly, a name - Musa.  Musa's suriving younger brother, Harun, discourses nightly - and often drunkenly - to an unnamed investigative journalist (and the reader) about how his brother has been forgotten, how his life changed irrevocably, and how the country of Algeria itself has changed since the afternoon of Musa's murder.  He wants recognition for Musa, acknowledgement that the French colonizers and literati of Algeria favored acclaim for the murderous Meursault despite his guilt and ignored the poor Alergian man who died.  Harun doles out his tale bit by bit.

The Meursault Investigation is a meandering, stream-of-consciousness novel.  It wasn't what I expected - I had expected something more like a shifted-perspective novel that overlapped more with The Stranger.  There is a bit of that, but Harun is a child of about ten when Musa dies and so can't give the reader much in the way of information about his brother's life.  The majority of the plot seems to present Harun as a mirror to Meursault, driven to disaffected murder by the presence of his very-much-alive mother, and aksi comment on the impact of the opposing French colonialization and Algerian independence through Harun who is caught between them.  I think the style of the book loses a little something in the translation - it felt stilted and formal at times.

Despite wanting to like The Meursault Investigation more than I did, this was an interesting book. I haven't read The Stranger since high school, so I may have missed some of Daoud's specific points, but as long as one knows the gist of the plot of The Stranger they should be just fine reading The Meursault Investigation. The plots aren't that dependent on details from one to the other.

Bump: If the time period and setting of the book intrigues you, I can recommend Assia Djebar's Children of the New World, a novel set amid the tumult of the revolution and independence movement in Algeria, and the film The Battle of Algiers.

Dear FTC: I purchased my copy of this book.

20 November 2015

You Don't Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent

Summary from Goodreads:

The author of Don’t Worry It Gets Worse takes on the F-word

Alida Nugent’s first book, Don’t Worry It Gets Worse, received terrific reviews, and her self-deprecating “everygirl” approach continues to win the Internet-savvy writer and blogger new fans. Now, she takes on one of today’s hottest cultural topics: feminism.

Nugent is a proud feminist—and she’s not afraid to say it. From the “scarlet F” thrust upon you if you declare yourself a feminist at a party to how to handle judgmental store clerks when you buy Plan B, You Don’t Have to Like Me skewers a range of cultural issues, and confirms Nugent as a star on the rise.

The subtitle for Alida Nugent's new book You Don't Have to Like Me is "Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism."  And that is precisely what she writes about.  About finding and maintaining friendships with other women and how while she was busy trying to be The Cool Girl (you know, the one who burps, chows Big Macs, agrees with dudes' BS, and tries to be like a dude while maintaining a Hot Girl Bod) she was throwing other women under the bus.  About the "warning labels" that get attached to girls but not to boys. About the utter uselessness and hetero-normative-ness and obsessed with tab-A-in-slot-B-ness of sex education in public school (if you're even lucky to get that).

In the piece "Feral" Nugent calls out the utter bullshit whereupon women are taught to "Get Home Safe" and to take their drinks to the bathroom with them lest they get spiked and how presenting oneself as "female" in any way is dangerous yet we do not teach boys and men not to rape (Nugent presents a close call she had while walking home from work one evening).  The pieces "Shrink" and "All the Diets I've Been On" present contrasting pictures of the way food and pleasure and body image become twisted and unrecognizable.  "Advice I've Received as a Woman" is a hilarious and uncomfortable tally of all the conflicting and constraining (and occasionally amazing) advice Nugent has been offered because she is cis-gendered female.  The book winds up with the fantastic essay "Does This Skirt Make Me Look Feminist?" which reinforces the notion, at play throughout the book, that there is no right way to "do" feminism and that stereotyping feminists is ridiculous.

I was reading a few reviews for You Don't Have to Like Me and came across one that gave it a 1-star because Nugent was just repeating what others have said and wasn't saying anything new.  Considering that, on average, women still make less than men (which is the statistic for white women; the ratio gets larger for African-American women, Latinas, etc. as Nugent points out), we still teach women to "be safe" rather than teach men not to rape or feel entitled to sexual attention from women, we still call women "sluts" for having sex (or enjoying sex at all) yet slam women who don't have sex as prudes, and push a media representation of female beauty that is nearly impossible to achieve or maintain then deride women for taking pride in their appearances it is very clear that voices like Alida Nugent's, Roxane Gay's, Rebecca Solnit's, and others are still needed.  And they are needed to be loud, clear, and real and to repeat themselves.  We can't say anything new until what we're saying right now becomes part of the cultural fabric and the norm.  Also, Nugent, as a woman who is both Puerto Rican and Irish, reminded me that the feminism that I need and practice - as a white, middle-class, straight, cis woman - is different than what she needs as a biracial woman, or what a transgender woman needs, or what a black woman needs, and so on.  We still have a ways to go until feminism isn't a big, red Scarlet F.

Dear FTC: I first received a DRC of this book via Penguin Random House's First to Read program, but it expired so I ought a copy instead.

19 November 2015

The Sun King by Nancy Mitford

Summary from Goodreads:
The Sun King is a dazzling double portrait of Louis XIV and Versailles, the opulent court from which he ruled. With characteristic élan, Nancy Mitford reconstructs the daily life of king and courtiers during France’s golden age, offering vivid sketches of the architects, artists, and gardeners responsible for the creation of the most magnificent palace Europe had yet seen. Mitford lays bare the complex and deadly intrigues in the stateroom and the no less high-stakes power struggles in the bedroom. At the center of it all is Louis XIV himself, the demanding, mercurial, but remarkably resilient sovereign who guided France through nearly three quarters of the Grand Siècle.

Brimming with sumptuous detail and delicious bons mots, and written in a witty, conversational style, The Sun King restores a distant glittering century to vibrant life.

Nancy Mitford's biography of King Louis XIV during his years of building and living at Versailles is a book I bought for the cover. Bravo, New York Review of Books Classics.

This is a slim, under-200 page history/biography of the French King Louis XIV, the Sun King, from the time he starts the transformation of his father's old hunting lodge at Versailles, in approximately 1661, to his death September 1, 1715.  Along the way we learn about his wife, his brother, his brother's wives, his official mistress, his other mistresses (including the one he likely eventually married), his son, his son's wife, his grandson, his illegitimate children, and his great-grandsons.  Mitford touches on the weirdness of French court customs.  There are wars, religious persecution, suspicion of witchcraft and devilry, and poisonings (fer shizz, poisonings were a THING in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France).  There's also quibbling over French support of the deposed English king, James II, and his family.  Nancy Mitford does gossip like no one's business.

This was written in the 1960s, with research started in the late 1920s, and some of Mitford's views about Jews or Catholics or Germans (and her usage) reflect a .  It isn't too pervasive but it is good to keep in mind that Mitford was a novelist, not a professional biographer or historian.  There is just one (small) drawback to this new edition of The Sun King - according to the Introduction by Philip Mansel the original edition was a "coffee table" book with photographs of Versailles at the "appropriate moment[s] in the text".  Aside from the fabulous yellow cover, there are no photographs in the NYRB Classics edition.

If you're looking for a gift for a history buff or someone who like more narrative-style non-fiction, The Sun King would be a great choice (and so cheery to look at in the middle of winter).

Dear FTC: I purchased my copy of this book.

18 November 2015

Lingo by Gaston Dorren

Summary from Goodreads:

Whether you're a frequent visitor to Europe or just an armchair traveler, the surprising and extraordinary stories in Lingo will forever change the way you think about the continent, and may even make you want to learn a new language.

Lingo spins the reader on a whirlwind tour of sixty European languages and dialects, sharing quirky moments from their histories and exploring their commonalities and differences. Most European languages are descended from a single ancestor, a language not unlike Sanskrit known as Proto-Indo-European (or PIE for short), but the continent's ever-changing borders and cultures have given rise to a linguistic and cultural diversity that is too often forgotten in discussions of Europe as a political entity. Lingo takes us into today's remote mountain villages of Switzerland, where Romansh is still the lingua franca, to formerly Soviet Belarus, a country whose language was Russified by the Bolsheviks, to Sweden, where up until the 1960s polite speaking conventions required that one never use the word "you" in conversation, leading to tiptoeing questions of the form: "Would herr generaldirektör Rexed like a biscuit?"

Spanning six millenia and sixty languages in bite-size chapters, Lingo is a hilarious and highly edifying exploration of how Europe speaks.

Being a book person, words and languages are things I've always found interesting (not nearly as much as my friend Kate, who studies linguistics, specifically how people tell each other where to put things [actual things, not euphemistic things]).  I'm not fluent in any of my second languages (German and French, which makes the idea of them being second languages silly) but I do like the sounds and quirks of each language, what makes them all different from one another.

I happened across Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages while looking through Edelweiss catalogs.  This was apparently published in the UK last year and then picked up for US publication by Atlantic Monthly Press.  Just from reading the description I was hooked.  I had no idea there were at least sixty languages in Europe.  (Yes, insert "ignorant American" joke here.)

Each language chapter is truly bite-size.  Dorren focuses on what makes each language interesting, whether that is the language's resurrection like that of Manx or Cornish, or it's isolation like Channel Islands Norman.  Even the country's history gives shape to a chapter; the chapter on Lithuanian is narrated in contrasting dictatorship/revolutionary styles (Comrades!).  At the end of each chapter, Dorren points out words that have been "borrowed" by the English language and terms that are extremely unique to that language.  I got a kick out of the Icelandic chapter when the unique word was the "Christmas Book Flood" (I'm not even going to try and spell it in Icelandic) which was a topic in an early Book Riot podcast.

Now, if you're not up on all your grammatical forms of speech you might have to do some Googling or go find Grammar Girl's site or something.  The book does assume that you remember what predicates and cases and so on actually are (not what you think they are, trust me, I fell into that trap).  But Lingo is a really fun, quick read and, since the holidays are coming up, it would make the perfect gift for a word or trivia lover.

Lingo by Gaston Dorren will be available in the US on December 1, 2015.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

17 November 2015

Extra, Extra: A first look at Sarah MacLean's new novel, The Rogue Not Taken!

News Flash: Announcing a sublime – and scandalously wonderful – new series from New York Times, USA Today and Washington Post bestselling author Sarah MacLean!

The author aroused immediate interest when she announced this high-concept affair: “I'm thrilled to announce my next project -- the Scandal & Scoundrel series, which I pitched to my editor as ‘Old School TMZ,’" says MacLean. “It’s modern celebrity gossip with a pre-Victorian twist. Basically, this is my way of convincing my husband that all those glossy magazines in our house are ‘work necessities.’

The first novel in the series, THE ROGUE NOT TAKEN (Avon Books; ISBN 9780062379412; eISBN 9780062379399; on-sale 12/29/15) is a riff on a certain elevator incident made famous at a Met gala several years ago. But in MacLean’s imagination, the scurrilous turns absolutely sensational, as a ballroom imbroglio sets off a very heated carriage journey along the Great North Road. It’s a long way from London to Scotland…you would be quite amazed at how much drama can ensue between a seemingly ill-matched duo on such a wild ride!

[Melissa's editorial: Are you intrigued yet?  I, for one, I was offering to do considerable groveling for an advance copy of any or all manuscript versions.]

The Rogue Not Taken description:

Lady Sophie’s Society Splash
When Sophie, the least interesting of the Talbot sisters, lands her philandering brother-in-law backside-first in a goldfish pond in front of all society, she becomes the target of very public aristocratic scorn. Her only choice is to flee London, vowing to start a new life far from the aristocracy. Unfortunately, the carriage in which she stows away isn’t saving her from ruin . . . it’s filled with it.

Rogue’s Reign of Ravishment!
Kingscote, “King,” the Marquess of Eversley, has never met a woman he couldn’t charm, resulting in a reputation far worse than the truth, a general sense that he’s more pretty face than proper gentleman, and an irate summons home to the Scottish border. When King discovers stowaway Sophie, however, the journey becomes anything but boring.

War? Or More?
He thinks she’s trying to trick him into marriage. She wouldn’t have him if he were the last man on earth. But carriages bring close quarters, dark secrets, and unbearable temptation, making opposites altogether too attractive . . .

[Melissa's further editorial: I'm eleven chapters into The Rogue Not Taken and I might love Sophie more than I love Pippa from One Good Earl Deserves a Lover.  Maybe...Sophie still hasn't dissected a goose....or had a no-touching scene....]

To celebrate the new book, cartographer Amy Solomon designed a beautiful map of Sophie and King's route to Happily Ever After!  Isn't it lovely?  Sarah has provided some commentary for the route:

Stop #1: "Sophie Stows Away" (English Country Estate near London)
Author Commentary:
There are moments in life when you know that you just can't go on without a change. Lady Sophie Talbot, the youngest of the infamous Talbot Sisters (darlings of the gossip rags and nicknamed the Dangerous Daughters) knows this is the case when she lands her odious, philandering brother in law backside-first in a fish pond at a major event of the London Season. And so, Sophie does what's necessary. “I simply need conveyance home,” she requests of Kingscote, Marquess of Eversley, notorious rake and her only chance of escape. Sophie's desperate, and in possession of the Marquess's boot, so she thinks she has a leg up, so to speak. King has other ideas.

Stop #2: “The Carriage”
Author Commentary:
Lady Sophie Talbot, youngest and least interesting of the scandalous Talbot sisters (think 19th Century Kardashians) isn't so uninteresting once she's decided to stow away atop a carriage belonging to the Marquess of Eversley -- notorious rogue and her recent nemesis. Indeed, she cannot wait for the horrible man to discover that she's disguised herself as an outrider and stolen conveyance home to central London. There's just one problem...

Stop #3: “The Fox and the Falcon Posting Inn”
Author Commentary:
By the time Lady Sophie Talbot finds herself outside the Fox & Falcon Posting Inn, miles from her home in London, she's realized she's made a huge mistake. She only ever intended to hitch a ride home to Mayfair--and simultaneously stick it to the arrogant, handsome, horrible Marquess of Eversley, who happens to be minus a boot, thanks to Sophie. Suffice to say, things got out of hand. And now, dressed as a male servant in the drive of a roadside inn, things are about to get much much worse.

Stop #4: “Beware Highwaymen!”
Author Commentary:
Suffice to say, being on the road with an arrogant aristocrat is no fun at all, so Lady Sophie Talbot does what any self-respecting woman would do, she "borrows" his money, and gets herself on the next mail coach north. All seems fine -- until Highwaymen arrive, and that arrogant aristocrat arrives just in time to see her entire plan go pear-shaped.

Stop #5: “The Warbling Wren”
Author Commentary:
Being shot on the Great North Road isn't exactly a thing people expect to happen, and Lady Sophie Talbot finds herself in the rooms above The Warbling Wren pub, under the welcome care of a rather mad doctor and the watchful eye of the rather infuriating (and infuriatingly handsome) Kingscote, Marquess of Eversley. There are worse things, she supposes. Or are there? Not for King.

Stop #6: “Mossband”
Author Commentary:
Lady Sophie Talbot, youngest and least interesting of the infamous Talbot sisters, has decided that her best bet to escape London and the aristocratic life for which she'd never been intended is to take herself home -- to the small village on the Scottish border where she spent the first ten years of her life. And perhaps, after a disastrous journey north, something would go right, and her childhood friend Robbie, now the village baker, would make good on their silly youthful promises and marry her. Of course, Sophie isn't alone. She's saddled with the horrible, handsome Marquess of Eversley. Who has done everything to ruin her plans. Until now.

Stop #7: “Lyne Castle”
Author Commentary:
The Country seat of the Dukes of Lyne, Lyne Castle is the childhood home of Kingscote, Marquess of Eversley, who left home at eighteen after a terrible tragedy and never returned. Summoned home by his ailing father, King finally returns--with the unexpected addition of Lady Sophie Talbot, irritating and somehow irresistible. The estate boasts one of the most complicated labyrinths in Britain...where King and Sophie find solace, and heartbreak, and each other.
Here's an excerpt from Stop #7:
Sophie would want love. She’d want it pure and unfettered, given freely, along with all its trappings. She’d want the marriage and children and happiness and promise that came with it.

King could see it, the life she wanted. The line of little girls, blue-eyed and brown-haired, in love with books and strawberry tarts. For a moment, he imagined them smiling at him the way their mother did, filled with happiness and hope.
For a moment, he let himself believe he might be able to give it to her.

But she would want love, and he would never be able to give it.

He didn’t have it to give anymore. And those children, they would never be his.

He set her down on the edge of the fountain, coming to his knees, as though she was Ariadne and he the Minotaur, worshipping at her feet, adoring her even as he knew she could not survive in the labyrinth, and he could not survive beyond it.

“Tell me about last night,” he said softly, looking up at her, his hands at the hem of her skirts.
“What—” She caught her breath as his fingers explored the skin of her ankles. “What about it?”
“I hated it,” he said. “I hated stopping.”

She pressed her lips into a thin, straight line. “I hated that you stopped.”

His hands were beneath her skirts, pushing them back, farther and farther, up and over her knees. He pressed his lips to the inside of her knee, swirling his tongue there, loving the little gasp of surprised pleasure that came at the touch.

“I hate that I will have to stop today, as well."
[Melissa's further, further editorial: Three other excerpts were released today, look for other The Rogue Not Taken teaser posts from bloggers.]

Intrigued?  Yes?  Need more?  Here's what Elyse from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books had to say: “The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean is my favorite book of hers to date. If you’ve read her, or know me, then you know that I just said a thing.”

The Rogue Not Taken, Scandal & Scoundrel Book 1, will be available in the US on December 29, 2015, wherever books are sold - so get those pre-orders in now!  Now, if you're looking for signed mass market copies, anyone who orders a signed, print copy of the book from WORD Bookstores will get a gorgeous printed copy of the map!  Visit the WORD website for more information: http://www.wordbookstores.com/book/9780062379412 (link via Sarah’s website: http://www.sarahmaclean.net/the-rogue-not-taken).

You can also try your luck with our giveaway from Avon Books!  Click the Rafflecopter link for a chance to win a very exclusive early bound manuscript of THE ROGUE NOT TAKEN, along with some artisanal honey. Yum!  [Melissa's even further editorial: Honey is very important in this story, trust me.]

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks so much to Avon Books and Sarah MacLean!

16 November 2015

Armada by Ernest Cline

Summary from Goodreads:

[Normally, I'd have the flap copy here but I think the description posted on Goodreads shows that whoever wrote it didn't really read the book.  Because it's factually incorrect and then gives away a good chunk of the book making it not as fun to read.  So not posted here.]

After the phenomenal success of Ready Player One, I, along with about a bazillion other people, have been eagerly awaiting Ernest Cline's next book.  As in rabidly anticipating.  Great title - Armada.  Great cover design.

Weirdly, as happened with Ready Player One, I had trouble getting into the "voice" of Zack Lightman.  Maybe late-teenage male protagonists aren't quite my thing.  And the plot of the book just wasn't catching me - gifted gamer with parent issues (deceased father), not great at school, obsessed with eighties/nineties video games and trivia.  So I put the DRC aside and got on the list to borrow the audiobook from the library.  Wil Wheaton had returned as narrator and he had been my way into Wade Watts's voice in Ready Player One.

Luckily, Wheaton's narration worked again.  However the stars have aligned, Wheaton's voice and Cline's characters are a great fit.  I was able to listen to the book and understand the character better than I had reading it.  I liked Zack.  My only stumbling block now was the actual plot.  I've watched movies like The Last Starfighter and 2001 and The Black Hole (my dad and I watched a lot of sci-fi movies when I was a kid) and I've read Ender's Game.  Even though Cline gives us a few twists, I felt like I'd come across portions of Armada in other forms.  It didn't ruin Armada for me, which turned out to be a great audiobook, it just didn't seem as fresh or original as RP1.  And I think this is why people seem to be bagging on Armada - it suffers greatly from second-book-anticipation-syndrome because it's predecessor was so excellent and this one is just similar enough to pale in comparison.

My advice: if you've recently read Ready Player One, wait a bit before reading Armada.  If you've had some space or you're new to Ernest Cline, give it a go.  Particularly on audiobook.  Wil Wheaton is a fantastic reader of Cline's books.

Dear FTC: I originally started reading a DRC of this book I received from the publisher via Edelweiss but then switched to a digital audiobook borrowed from the public library.

15 November 2015

Cat is Art Spelled Wrong edited by Caroline Casey, Chris Fischbach, and Sarah Schultz

Summary from Goodreads:
"Coffee House Press, a major nonprofit publisher, recently launched a Kickstarter for a book examining the Internet's cat video fetish. The book, if the Kickstarter campaign reaches its $25,000 goal, will be titled Cat is Art Spelled Wrong, and examine themes like what makes something art, whether art is good or bad, and how taste develops. In other words, cat videos can actually be . . . pretty serious."—The Washington Post

"Coffee House Press one-ups all boring Kickstarter campaigns with Catstarter, a campaign to fund a book on cat videos."—The Millions

"Coffee House Press's upcoming book, titled Cat is Art Spelled Wrong, takes the opportunity to examine a seemingly irrelevant subject from new perspectives—from 'the line is between reality/self on the internet' to 'how cat videos demonstrate either that nothing matters, or that any art matters if anyone thinks it does.' Thus, it's an earnest attempt to uncover more about human nature—especially in today's internet-driven world."—Cool Hunting

Fifteen writers, all addressing not just our fascination with cat videos, but also how we decide what is good or bad art, or art at all; how taste develops, how that can change, and why we love or hate something. It's about people and technology and just what it is about cats that makes them the internet's cutest despots.

Contributors include: Sasha Archibald, Will Braden, Stephen Burt, Maria Bustillos, David Carr, Matthea Harvey, Alexis Madrigal, Joanne McNeil, Ander Monson, Kevin Nguyen, Elena Passarello, Jillian Steinhauer, Sarah Schultz, and Carl Wilson.

Why do we like cat videos so much? Or Henri, the existential Chat Noir?  Or Grumpy Cat or Maru or share a video of a cat dressed as a shark riding a Roomba chasing a duckling so many times that the hit count is in the millions?  (Admit it, you've been obsessed with those recent videos of cats freaking out over cucumbers sneaking up on them from behind.)

Well, Coffee House Press's new book, Cat is Art Spelled Wrong, pulls together pieces of many different varieties.  Some concentrate on cultural criticism, some bubble over with enthusiasm, some make us snuggle our own balls of fur a little tighter.  Ander Monson contributes a stellar piece titled "The Internet is a Cat Video Library" which contemplates both internet culture and an actual small-animal lending library (btw, if you haven't read Monsen's Letter to a Future Lover get on that).  Kevin Nguyen contributes some insight into the I Can Has Cheezburger work ethic with "The No Sleeping Cat Rule."  And, yes, there is an Internet Cat Video Festival, detailed in Sarah Schultz's "There Was a Cat Video Festival in Minneapolis, and It Was Glorious."

My only regret is that it wasn't longer!

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.