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review 2017-07-14 16:46
Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer
Cat Pictures Please - Naomi Kritzer Cat Pictures Please - Naomi Kritzer

I first heard about this short story through a podcast. It sounded like a light story I would enjoy so I decided to give it a read. What I got was so much more than that. It's a story that follows an AI and its desire to help people improve their lives. That's the premise, anyway. As the reader, you get the feeling of what it's like to live in this world and it being what you make it and it's not always as simple as making it what you want it to be. Does that make sense?

 

Naomi Kritzer did a beautiful job in writing an engaging story about how difficult life can appear to be but how the solutions are sometimes easily overlooked. She had a way of making the heavy subject matter light with her sense of humor sprinkled throughout the story to make it easy for the reader to come to terms with the message of the story. Kritzer is a brilliant writer and I am looking forward to reading more of her work in the future.

 

If you love sci-fi stories about AIs, if you love stories about life, if you love stories about cats, then I highly recommend you read this one! I think you may find that you learn a bit of something about your own life in the end.

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review 2017-06-27 18:59
Al Franken, Giant of the Senate - Al Franken 
Al Franken, Giant of the Senate - Al Franken

It is terribly important that the most trusted figures in American politics right now are comedians: Al Franken, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert. It is important that our newest president has only ever actually been professionally successful as a television character.

 

Don't get me wrong: I don't think actors, performers, and certainly not writers are somehow less valid as elected officials. While the primary business of senators and congress people is lawmaking, I recognize that they themselves don't (possibly ever anymore) write the laws; federal laws are written by interested parties, think tanks, and congressional staff. So it isn't necessary to be a lawyer in order to shape laws. What is necessary: I think a broad, general interest is good; literacy is useful; the ability to listen is huge; one has to judge sources, because I'm sure there's never less than two sides to any issue, and all of them purport to have data backing them up, of which some must be less valid or useful than others; a willingness to admit ignorance and to learn is key, because no one is an expert in everything, and hastily-formed judgements are unlikely to result in successful solutions to complex problems. And of course, one has to be able to work with many difficult people, but that's true of all work, isn't it? That list of qualities leaves previous work experience pretty open.

 

It's important that our emperor is naked, and that as many people as possible are pointing at the bare ass he's waggling at us, and laughing. It's not possible to bring him down by arguing with him or fact-checking him: he's a shameless liar, he just makes shit up, most of his shtick is just childish insults. You can't argue with him. He doesn't believe in the idea of a fair fight. But you can point and laugh: he has no defense against mockery.

 

Franken is a mensch. I would give that man an organ I can't spare, secure in the knowledge that he would use it only for good. He is everything one could hope for in an elected representative, just once I would like to vote for someone who was so progressive and also so pragmatic. Harvard has gone up in my esteem by being Franken's alma mater. If you've never read any of Franken's political books you're in for a treat.

 

Library copy

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review 2017-06-02 22:06
The Assistants - Camille Perri  
The Assistants - Camille Perri

I opened the package, and the Spouse asked what it was. "I think it's the new Microserfs". He looked blankly back at me. "Generation X?" More blank. "Devil Wears Prada?" Oh, well. He's an excellent cook, among other sterling qualities.

***

I enjoyed the book enormously. It was funny, it was zippy, it was mild-mannered and self-effacing, and inoffensive. The way Tina develops strength and self-confidence felt right. It would make a good film, not unlike The Devil Wears Prada.

But I wanted more. I wanted a little rage, some self-righteousness, some recognition that this horrible dilemma of college debt and poorly paid jobs isn't acceptable and that something needs to happen to help everyone in the same boat, not just a lucky few. It was too mild for my socialist leanings, too tentative, unwilling to name the sexist elephant in the room, and somehow oblivious to the fact that the depressed minimum wage, the lack of affordable housing, and the insane cost of higher education are all issues that have been successfully remedied in other times and countries. I wanted anger, and I wouldn't have minded a call to arms.

And also, two issues that snapped me out of the book within a page of each other: in a book so modest and coy about sex, making reference to any specific penis is a shocker. But as a metaphor it just didn't work at all. But even more jarring was a comment about a character in college having read to many James Lee Burke novels. Said character would have graduated from college twenty five years before James Lee Burke was published. The twenty century is not lost in the mists of time. Someone should have checked.

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review 2017-05-25 19:22
The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting - Anne Trubek  
The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting - Anne Trubek

After a slow couple of months my reading has picked up again: I'm finishing more, and I'm enjoying what I'm reading. The sad aspect of this is that I keep finishing books that I want everyone else to pick up, and mostly no one does.

This is an exception. It belongs on the odd shelf I don't have specifically, but can't resist reading from, called "History of a Thing". While it isn't funny exactly, there is a lightness of tone that makes this a pleasant break from heavier reading, like say, about Nixon and Mao, to pick a topic out of thin air and not off the cover of another book lying around the house. It's fascinating to learn at some depth about a very narrow topic. Not surprisingly, this book is a distillation of a topic Trubek has been teaching in college for years. Specialization is awesome: I've never thought about all the different kinds of writing together until now.

I love this post-book feeling of erudition. Two days after I finished the book I can't recall anything specific that I learned, which isn't really the point. I've grasped the gestalt. I've placed my own flirtation with calligraphy (highly recommended as a means to achieving a legible handwriting) into the appropriate context.

There are a number of people worried about the fact that schools aren't teaching cursive. I'm not bothered. I've done my share of handwriting and it hurts and it's slow, and I'm one of only two people I know who can write a cursive others can read. Admittedly, the time spent learning keyboarding will no doubt also become wasted time at some point in the Offspring's lives, in favor of something newer and easier for more people. That's fine.

Favorite bit: seeing all the different types of clerks/scribes/copyists there were a fairly short time ago. Poor Bartleby and Bob Cratchit!

Library copy

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review 2017-05-12 05:42
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Underground Railroad (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel - Colson Whitehead

Every so often, BookTube host the Diverseathon and I try to participate whenever I get a chance. However, this last time, I could not participate for life got in the way. But I still wanted to read the group book club pick which is The Underground Railroad. Yes, I'm getting to it extremely late but I finally read it and I'm so glad I did!

 

The book takes place during the 1800s in America when slavery was rampant. It follows a slave named Cora and her journey to escape from her slave owner through the legendary Underground Railroad. Only in this version of America, the Underground Railroad is an actual physical railroad running through the underground of the American continent. The story is moving, breathtaking, painful, and horrifying. It was a difficult read but I loved reading about it.

 

I want to start out by saying Colson Whitehead has one of the most beautifully, intelligent writing styles. I am in awe with how rich he paints the scene for the reader. I haven't read such a gorgeous writing style since Catherynne M. Valente so it pleases me greatly to see Whitehead has a similar style. He did a lot of research into the time period, using the same language that people used back in the 1800s. Sometimes I even had to look up some phrases because I am not familiar with such terminology and any book that has me looking up info so I can learn and better understand a story is a great book. And his story hurt me in many ways. It's not easy reading about the atrocities that took place during America's slavery period. Whitehead does not shy away from describing every dark, twisted, sick abuse. It shocks the reader. It educates the reader. It sets out what it must in order to tell the stories and the horrors many black people had to face. The racism, the hatred, the discrimination just because of the color of their skin. He tells his story through the main character, Cora.

 

Cora is strong, brave, sassy, and hard-working. We follow her from when she is a child to adulthood. And her life is a difficult one. From being born a slave, from being abused by her slave owners and fellow slaves, to running away to trying to find freedom. Her tale is a gruesome one... but not without hope.

 

I won't speak anymore about the story or the other characters. This is a book you must experience for yourself. It's such a beautifully written story, taking the reader on a terrible journey many black people had no choice but to take. It shows you the horrible nature in which black people had to live through. How racism defined everything the did or did not do. The story is harrowing and depressing, much like any story about slavery is. But with the way Whitehead writes it, you appreciate how well-crafted a story like this came to be.

 

I highly recommend you read this book. If you want to read a literary masterpiece about an actually existing Underground Railroad, then give this a read. Keep in mind that there is sexual abuse, rape, murder, body mutilation, body dismemberment, racism, and horrifying imagery. If you are not comfortable reading about those subjects, please refrain from reading this book. Otherwise, I think you should read this book. To enjoy the writing. To educate yourself. To never forget the atrocities that took place in America. It's a fantastic read and I'm looking forward to reading more from Colson Whitehead.

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