Monday, February 2, 2015

I Am Nauseous, Literally

Actually. Completely. Plainly. Directly. 

These are all good synonyms for "literally." Over the last year or so, I have see several articles and Facebook posts complaining about the misuse of literally, particularly when it is used figuratively.

Maybe it's the suggestive powers of these articles.  Maybe everyone is out to prove they really were paying attention in class.  I don't know.  I do know that lately, I see and hear the word simply everywhere .  

Precisely. Really. Truly.  Maybe not as exciting as literally, but they will do.

So will correctly, faithfully, and - with index finger held high and the other hand clutching your imaginary suspenders as you appeal to the judge - indisputably.  If you emphasize each syllable just so, letter by letter it will be as satisfying as "literally."

If you want to get your Latin on, go with literatim.

Not figuratively could be said with an ironic edge.

Rightly, rigorously, strictly, to the letter, undeviatingly, undisputably.

This list is unerringly alphabetical.

Unmistakeable. Verbatim.

The next time you want to make a point with unparalleled clarity, use one of these suggestions, or else the rest of us may veritably die of boredom.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Heard Not Seen

Sarah Koenig is not responsible for my podcast obsession.  It's Molly Wizenberg's fault. I have been a long time reader of Orangette, Wizenberg's blog, and after seeing her speak and reading her latest book, Delancey, I was hungry for more ways to cyberstalk her. Thus, I discovered last summer that she has a podcast, Spilled Milk which features Wizenberg and author Matthew Amster-Burton bantering back and forth about one food topic at a time from Cheap Bear to Green Beans.  Soon after I started listening to Spilled Milk, Wizenberg suggested Death, Sex & Money, by Anna Sales, on Orangette.

Podcasts have come a long way from the amateurish, banter-filled recordings that began appearing ten years ago.  Back then, I downloaded a few on the iPod I took on walks, but stopped bothering after I realized that all the best ones were re-packaged segments from NPR shows that I already listed to.  These days, I think the best podcasts still have their DNA, if not their actual production studios, in public radio. Even hosts like Wizenberg and Amster-Burton who are writers rather than seasoned broadcast journalists have gotten better as the medium has grown. 

Lately, I've gotten the whole family hooked on podcasts. Boo likes listening to Planet Money and How to Do Everything from NPR and RadioLab from WNYC when he's puttering with Lego in the afternoon.  I often play NPR's Business Story of the Day or World Story of the Day in the morning when both kids are in the kitchen eating breakfast and making lunch before school. When I'm cleaning the kitchen, I like listening to the stories of Snap Judgement and the Moth Radio Hour.  And of course, there's always the podcast version of This American Life. I've gotten Dr. Yap hooked on my current favorite podcast, Invisibilia. I listen to it at home, and she listens to it during her long commute and we discuss it together in the evening.  

Invisibilia is a mini-series podcast with only six episodes planned, that covers invisible things, such as thoughts, fears, and expectations.  If this were a Great Course, I'm not sure I would be interested, but given the NPR treatment, it's utterly fascinating and right up my alley.  I love learning more about how we can train our brains and push ourselves as humans.  This first podcast reminded me not to take my own thoughts too seriously, a reminder my peri-menopausal brain needs.  The fears episode featured a fascinating demonstration of how much childhood has changed in the last forty years, based on media-saturated fears rather than real data.  Last week's episode is an amazing analysis of expectations and how much they can shape destiny for a particular population.  Each episode takes a deep dive into one particular aspect of "invisibilia," but it's easy to extrapolate and make connections in my own life.

I hope that technology continues to evolve with podcast creators, because I would love to easily skip over boring bits, like an overlong exploration of confronting a fear of snakes or the overly enthusiastic discussions of the minutiae of publishing that seem to mar most book podcasts.  It seems like it would be easy to incorporate time-stamping into a podcast app so a listener can easily jump back and forth without missing bits and pieces.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I Spied a Dud, But Finished It Anyway

I actually started Her Royal Spyness, by Rhys Bowen several weeks ago, right after finishing Florence Gordon, but it was taking off slowly and The Storied Life of A.J. Frikry was beckoning, with it's looming library return date.  I was only going to put it down for two days, but then I got side-tracked trying to speed through three other books on the library short list - The Rosie Effect, which became my first abandoned book of 2015, maybe I'll write about that in the future; Mermaids in Paradise, which I waffled about and decided not to bother with; and Ancillary Justice, an innovative sci-fi tome I just couldn't fit in right now. I finally got back to Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie Rannoch by the end of last week.  

The premise of this first volume in a series had promise enough to pick up again: Lady Georgiana, a penniless, fictional, and minor British royal between the wars reduced to running a housekeeping service and spying for her regal relative on the side, in order to avoid the fate of either becoming a lady-in-waiting to an elderly princess or marrying an unpleasant Eastern European prince.  

Her Royal Spyness is about a quarter-step up from a cozy mystery and the only thing to really separate it from that genre, in my mind, is the fact that it takes place mostly in London.  I feel like cozy mysteries are exclusively the province of bucolic realms and seaside villages.  Once you add Tube stops, trips to Harrod's,and any mention of the Thames' murky waters, the cozy train has left the station.  Aside from the setting, the tone is quite snug and the mystery itself is very light-weight, with nary a twist in sight.  The author tips her hand quite early in the sleuthing process, which is disappointing.

The atmosphere of Depression Era London between the wars is fascinating and as well-done as that in the Maisy Dobbs mysteries or Murder at the Brightwell. I would almost venture to say that Georgie's world recalls the original British mysteries actually written in the 1930s, although Georgie is no Miss Marple and Bowen is not yet a master of the medium on par with Agatha Christie.

Speaking of Maisy Dobbs, Her Royal Spyness is a corollary in many ways.  Instead of propelling her protagonist out of a maid's uniform below stairs to the world upstairs, Bowen sends Georgie on the opposite trajectory, all the way down to the coal cellar where she learns to handle a scuttle and rustles up a maid's uniform from the scullery cupboard so she can run her clandestine housekeeping service.  Georgie is not anywhere as well developed a character as Maisy Dobbs was in her series debut.  I never had a really good sense of Georgie and felt that Bowen was constantly telling the reader what the Lady is like rather than showing us.

Despite all the short comings of Her Royal Spyness, I'm still a sucker for a good, Anglophile upstairs/downstairs novel with a dash of royal intrigue and a spot of mystery, so I added the next book in the series to my library TBR to see if it gets better.  We'll see.  In the meantime, I am reading Terms and Conditions, a contemporary novel by Robert Glancy and waiting impatiently for the 11th Maisy Dobbs to hit my library hold shelf.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Reader's Delight

Scottish booksellers.  Rapper's Delight parody.  That's it.  My job is done here for the day.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Storied Life

I don't think a semi-pro basketball game with several thousand elementary and middle school kids, teachers, and parent chaperones is the absolute craziest place I have ever tried to read a book, but it is the craziest place I tried to read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin.

 After finally mastering all the intricacies of a bulk mailing and ushering several hundred auction donation requests on their way, I was in serious need of a good book and Her Royal Spyness just wasn't cutting it.  I had given up on getting to A.J. Fikry before it had to go back to the library, but then I decided that I didn't want to admit defeat that easily. So, I started reading it on Wednesday and by Friday I had conquered the irascible bookseller at the heart of this charming story.  It's good to branch out and try new genres and challenge myself as a reader, but nothing beats the pleasure of a story that satisfies from start to finish at a quick clip.  

I was far enough along on Thursday that I really couldn't bear to leave the book behind when I boarded the bus with Boo and the rest of his class and joined a third of the public school population of our town at the local arena built by the NBA to house a semi-pro team, the development league of the Golden State Warriors.  The team has quickly become an integral part of our community and bestows its largesse any time it can, including inviting all local public school children to attend at least one tournament game during the week.  

Alas, I didn't get very far with the book during the game, but I quickly made up for it.  It's hard to say too much about the book without giving away the story, but it involves a young widower who owns a bookstore on a fictional island off the coast of Cape Cod.  It's not exactly magical realism, but the time is not exactly linear either.  The characters are wonderful and most of the action takes place in a bookstore.  There's a little action, a little love, and a lot of books.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Florence Gordon and the Art Auction Cluster F*

Cursing is not my standard metier, and I swear I thought of loads more elegant metaphors for working with the Art Auction Committee at Boo's elementary school, but the overriding phrase for the week, as I fielded emails and texts and wrangled unruly mail merge documents and committee members, is cluster fuck.  If the road to hell is paved with the good intentions of committee members, then the net result is nothing other than a cluster fuck.  And a mail merge.

I knew the stress was getting to me when I sat on the sofa at 6:45am on  Thursday speed skimming the last 75 pages of Florence Gordon instead of walking the dog and packing lunch.  I have tried abandoning books that are not working for me, but I end up resenting the time I spent reading the part I did read more than if I just finish the thing, so when I really cannot take a book anymore, I speed skim.  Usually, there are many books waiting on the other side of the last page and I just want to get on to something I like better.  Florence Gordon, by Brian Morton, started out well, peeking in on an aging feminist scholar as she embarks on her swan song memoir before her 75th birthday.  A few chapters in I thought I was in for the Upper West Side version of the small town populated by quirky people genre that I love.  75 pages from the end, I was just annoyed with half the characters and wanted to be done with them, especially since the story was obviously not going to have a satisfying outcome.  So there. 

Finishing up Florence gave me more time to devote to Dropbox, conflicting directives and senseless spreadsheets.  Theoretically, I am now reading the first Her Royal Spyness, by Rhys Bowen.  In reality, I am reminding myself that the art auction will be over after March and it's for a really good cause.  I agreed to be on the auction committee because I wanted a challenging something to do with two kids in school all day and I wanted to have a big role in the school without actually joining the PTA board. Also, the job of changing the sign in front of the school was already taken.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Not So Dead Gods and Not So Mousy Spies

In my late teens and early twenties, I read a fair amount of sci fi/speculative fiction, but over the decade I have spent more time on the fantasy end of the spectrum- children's, YA, and adult - but not much that I would classify as sci fi. I sometimes find both sci fi and fantasy difficult to fall into because I have to work so hard to make all the world-building real inside my head instead of just relaxing and enjoying the story.  I decided to give City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett a try based on reviews from GoodReads and BookRiot.  Checking books out of the library gives me more freedom to go out on a limb like this, just in case I do not want to finish - though once I bother to start a book I do try to finish.  

It took me two weeks to read City of Stairs, which felt like slow going, but I think being distracted by the holidays and having my family around was as much a barrier as slogging through the new world of Bulikov, the City of Stairs. Bulikov is the former seat of power for six divinities and the humans under their auspices.  Until seventy years ago, the inhabitants of Bulikov and the Continent ruled ruthlessly over the rest of the world.  Then a mysterious member of a wealthy collaborator family managed to kill the Divinities and the balance of power swung to his country, the former slave state of Saypur.  

As the novel starts, a Saypuri academic is murdered in Bulikov and Shara Thivani, a Saypuri intelligence agent masquerading as a mousy cultural ambassador shows up to investigate.  I liked the character of Shara, but despite the frequent reminders that she was small and wore glasses, her personality was anything but mousy.  This inconsistency was one of the few things that bothered me about the book.  She is one of several powerful women in City of Stairs, which is nice coming from a young male writer.  

The story is really a parable of power and doctrine, both religious and political and what happens when they are combined. There are obvious echoes of Cold War post-Stalin/post-Mao international relations. I love reading examinations of the destructive nature of religious belief and practice, especially when the analysis is woven within the story rather than feeling like a very obvious object lesson.  Character development could be better, and maybe it will be in the sequel Bennett is working on, since he will not have to work as hard at conveying the new old world of the Continent.  If you want help visualizing Bulikov, check out the artist renderings by John Peterson, on Bennett's website.  The illustrations would serve as a foundation for a graphic novel or an adult animated film. Last, but not least, I love that all the story lines are wrapped up nicely while leaving room for a sequel, which will apparently feature one of the intriguing side characters from City of Stairs, military and political leader Turyin Mulaghesh, another very strong woman.

If you are looking for accessible and very contemporary scifi, everything is here: murder mystery, political intrigue, SF world building, and social commentary.  

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