Between the Bookends: October 2014

Bookends © Sophie Brown
Bookends © Sophie Brown

It’s Halloween season and the GeekMoms have been reading some surreal and spooky books to prepare, as well as our usual varied choices. Carry on reading for Floridian sci-fi, WWII France, a C. S. Lewis retelling of an ancient Roman myth, and a selection of classic children’s stories.

Acceptance © FSG Originals
Acceptance © FSG Originals

Karen recently finished up Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy with the concluding volume, Acceptance. This is a nice, tight trilogy of weird, surrealistic fiction that might be SF or might be fantasy depending on how you squint at it. In this trilogy, an area of the Florida coast has been… invaded? Appropriated? Incorporated? By some bizarre force. In the first book, Annihilation, we follow a quasi-scientific expedition that is investigating the now uncanny Area X. In Authority, we learn about the government bureaucracy that controls the expeditions, and in the concluding volume we return to the Area X with perspectives on its past, present, and future. That all sounds too simple—at every step this book subverts expectations an instills a feeling of abnormality. The characters are really the core of the book—how they are affected by, and in turn affect, Area X. None of them are uber-heroes; they’re folks (although not particularly “normal” themselves) trying to come to grips with the incomprehensible. An amazing piece of work from a World Fantasy Award-winning author.

 

All The Light We Cannot See © Scribner
All The Light We Cannot See © Scribner

Insomnia helps Laura get in plenty of reading time. Two novels stand out for her this month.

All the Light We Cannot See took author Anthony Doerr 10 years to write. His craftsmanship lifts this story into the realm of art. The two main characters, who don’t meet until late in the novel, are entirely memorable. Maurie-Laure is a blind girl raised by her father. He has built a perfect miniature replica of their neighborhood so she will never be lost. He takes her to work with him at the Museum of Natural History, where learning builds on her fascination. When the Nazis take over Paris, Marie-Laure and her father seek refuge a walled seaside city. The other main character, Werner, grows up in an orphanage. His intelligence is obvious as he teaches himself to fix radios and understand radio waves. His talent marks him for a privileged spot in an elite military academy. As the war builds, these children grow up in strikingly different ways yet both do their best to stay true to an inner light that leads them. There’s so much to discuss that this title is perfect to read with a book club or to share with an older teen.

Strange Bodies makes the reader question identity, immortality, and what it means to be human. Author Marcel Theroux introduces us to a man in a locked psychiatric unit who claims to be someone else, a professor known as an expert in the work of Samuel Johnson. The impostor doesn’t look or speak like the man but knows every possible detail of his life. That’s impossible, because the person he claims to be is dead. So begins a tale of speculative fiction that leads from Silicon Valley to Soviet-era experimentation, all the while echoed by new words allegedly written by the reknown Johnson who has been dead for 230 years.

What If? © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
What If? © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

GeekMom Judy stumbled upon the book What If? by Randall Munroe, on the new book shelf at the library. The subtitle, Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, drew her in. Monroe has a degree in physics and left his job in robotics at NASA to draw science-oriented cartoons. Through his website, xkcd, he answers random questions from his followers, all related to the principles of science. This book is a compilation of some of his best questions and answers. Judy’s family was especially intrigued by the answer to the question “What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?” This is a great book for curious adults, and will encourage kids to see science in a whole new light.

The book Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology by Caroline Paul (drawings by Wendy MacNaughton) has so many beautiful watercolor paintings it could almost be considered a graphic novel. Instead, it’s a sweet story, that even school aged children would like, about a woman whose timid cat suddenly disappears for six weeks. When he comes back home he has suddenly sprouted a confident personality. When the curiosity of where he had been for those six weeks gets the best of her, the author goes to great lengths (clue, the subtitle’s mention of GPS) to figure out who is sharing the ownership of her feline. The pictures, paired with clever text, make this a fun read, for anyone who has ever loved a cat, even if he’s never cheated on you.

Finally Judy really enjoyed a book she heard about through a People Magazine review. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty is a book you might be surprised that you’ll love. The author falls into a job as an assistant at a crematory, helping to cremate people and body parts. Through her experiences she becomes much more aware of the concept of death and dying in our culture and eventually finds healing from a traumatic incident that happened in her childhood. Don’t be afraid of the subject matter. Sometimes facing the reality of death can actually make you further appreciate life.

A Wrinkle in Time © Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group
A Wrinkle in Time © Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group

Sophie hasn’t had much time to read over the last few weeks thanks to several trips and endless preparations for her family’s first big foreign vacation in, well, ever. She has been enjoying her book club’s current choice, Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time. Although considered a classic in the USA, the book is much less well known in the UK. In fact she had never even heard of it until a few years ago when a librarian friend introduced her to the title. On a similarly surreal note, she has also been slowly making her way through the graphic novel adaptation of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. She has only read the first two chapters so far but is already fascinated by the ideas; London will never look quite the same again.

Finally, in advance of her son’s first trip to Universal Studios next week, Sophie has been getting her tongue in a twist by reading several classic stories by Dr. Seuss at bedtime. Her five year old enjoyed The Cat in The Hat and his crazy antics but was distinctly less impressed by Horton Hears a Who. Sophie on the other hand enjoyed the latter immensely, especially the somewhere political message that we could all stand to live by.

 

Till We Have Faces © Mariner Books
Till We Have Faces © Mariner Books

This month, Rebecca Angel read C. S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, the Cupid and Psyche myth retold by the ugly, older sister, Orual. Rebecca’s mother built a Little Free Library on their front lawn last year, and recently a neighbor left this book with a Post-It, “A more mature read from this author. Excellent!” So Rebecca gave it a try.

It was excellent. The original myth is about the destructive jealousy of woman, wives should trust their husbands blindly, and the gods really like a pretty face. This version is about the lies and truths we tell ourselves to create a world that fits our needs, and one woman’s moral journey to unmask herself. A thoughtful rendering; it takes a spin right at the end to make you rethink the whole tale…and your own life.

 

Copies of some books were provided by their publishers for review purposes.

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