Between the Bookends: May 2015

Bookends © Sophie Brown
Bookends © Sophie Brown

This merry month of May the GeekMoms have been stuck on Mars, trapped in a strange town, debating the merits of STEM and creativity in our schools, and solving puzzles in a future dystopia. Check out our reading lists as we get ready for the summer.

Ready Player One Cover © Crown (Fair Use)
Ready Player One Cover © Crown (Fair Use)

This month Patricia is still catching up on her reading, having completed two books and most of a third. First of all, she finally had the chance to read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One after years of hearing her fellow GeekMoms and friends discussing how enjoyable it is. In fact, in 2012 GeekMom even featured the title for our book club! It was fantastic! Being that Patricia is approximately the same age as the character named James Halliday (the patriarch of the Oasis system), she could truly relate to all of the 1980s pop culture references, from having herself played the stand-alone wooden cabinet version of Joust to being able to recite <many of> the words to the movie Wargames. Cline does spend some time explaining each and every reference through the protagonist, Wade Watts, perhaps just in case a younger reader doesn’t completely understand. Patricia grew weary from this, but it turns out Patricia’s sons, who are reading this book now, are appreciating the explanations. The novel has been optioned for a full-length feature film with Steven Spielberg signed on to direct, so if you want to catch the book before the movie production spoilers start coming along, you’d better act now!

Kickstarter Alert: SwapBots Augmented Reality

The second book Patricia had the chance to read was In Defense of a Liberal Education by Fareed Zakaria, who many of us can see on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS. This book caught Patricia’s attention when in March a Facebook friend shared a Washington Post OpEd piece titled “Why America’s Obsession with STEM Education is Dangerous” that was a prelude to the book’s release. Just reading the essay got her thinking about all of the outreach she does in support of STEM education…and how she should be focusing instead on critical thinking skills, much of which can be taught through humanities courses. Zakaria starts with a background about his own upbringing in India, and then details a history of secondary education in America. He explains that America’s model is unique in the world due to the focus on well-roundedness over focused job training, such as what’s often seen as an option in other developed countries. While Patricia felt some of Zakaria’s opinions are extreme (STEM is “dangerous”? Really?), this book does a good job—with well-cited sources—offering some alternate viewpoints to some of the rhetoric we’re hearing about America’s poor math and science test scores, cutting student loan opportunities for students who don’t major in STEM areas, and the demise of America’s manufacturing base.

Finally, Patricia had the chance to check out Ian Doescher’s latest offering in his series of Star Wars scripts transformed into iambic pentameter: William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First. Released in April, The Phantom continues in Doescher’s tradition of translating George Lucas’ screenplays into traditional Shakespearean plays, complete with settings, stage directions, and proper verse. The piece that Patricia has found most fascinating about The Phantom is Doescher’s treatment of the controversial, reviled, ridiculous Jar Jar Binks. What is done is very clever and I encourage others to check out this book just to see for yourself this unique version of everyone’s favorite <cough cough> Gungan. While on the big screen, Jar Jar appears this klutzy fool…and this is the only side that audiences will see. Doescher turns him into a very savvy classic Shakespearean fool, reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet‘s Mercutio or Henry IV‘s Falstaff. Jar Jar ends up going back and forth with the audience, speaking very eloquently to the audience, then putting on his, “Wesa got a grand army. That’s why you no liking us meesa thinks,” type of dialogue towards his fellow actors. Another thing worth checking out in these Shakepearean Star Wars books is the pen-and-ink artwork. These gorgeous illustrations, by Nicolas Delort, offer a blend of the film’s appearances with just a touch of the classical. Nerdist had offered a look at some of these illustrations the week the book was released. If you haven’t read any of Doescher’s other treatments of the Star Wars series, be sure to check them out here. These books make great gifts for your favorite Star Wars fans in your life.

Wayward Cover © Thomas & Mercer (Fair Use)
Wayward Cover © Thomas & Mercer (Fair Use)

Sophie continued her trek through the town of Wayward Pines to prepare for the television adaptation beginning this week on FOX, by reading book two of the trilogy. Wayward by Blake Crouch picks up just two weeks after the conclusion of the first book–Pines–and spans a period of just a few days, however the action and drama packed into the pages is intense. She was unsure how the series would be able to continue from where book one left off, but this second installment added a lot to the world including lots of questions she is hoping book three will answer.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte was the choice of Sophie’s book club this month and she found herself deeply enjoying the story despite what she considered some major flaws. The revelation about St. John and his family, considering how Jane met them, felt especially contrived, and she often found herself complaining out loud about Mr. Rochester, a character whose enduring popularity she cannot fathom. Although the ending was somewhat predictable, she still deeply enjoyed the journey to reach it.

A visit to the traveling library bus introduced Sophie and her five-year-old son to a wonderful new picture book author, Oliver Jeffers, when Sophie inadvertently picked up three different books by him while browsing the children’s section. Over the past few weeks they have read Stuck, Lost and Found, and This Moose Belongs to Me and Sophie is hoping that the next time the bus visits, it will have a new book by Oliver on board. In the meantime they will continue to enjoy My Dinosaur is More Awesome!, the first book by Sophie’s brother-in-law Simon Coster.

Finally Sophie read Seekers of The Weird by Brandon Seifert, a graphic novel adapted from original concept art for a Disney park attraction that never came to be (although parts of it later became the Haunted Mansion). Although built on an interesting premise similar to shows like Warehouse 13 and The Librarians, the story failed to ever truly hold her attention and she found it almost instantly forgettable. Sophie hopes that future series from the Disney Kingdoms imprint will fare much better.

The Martian Cover © Crown (Fair Use)
The Martian Cover © Crown (Fair Use)

Ariane selected The Martian by Andy Weir on a whim. It won the GoodReads’ Best Books of 2014 award for the Science Fiction category, so she figured she’d give it a try. It was about an astronaut stranded on Mars. Sure, why not. As she read the first sentence though, she knew this book and her would get along just fine.

“I’m pretty much fucked. That’s my considered opinion. Fucked.”
The main character, Mark Watney, is a smart-ass with a wry sense of humor, and he doesn’t lose that quality throughout the book even though he’s accidentally left on Mars to die. What’s more, he stubbornly refuses to give up. Set in the near future when Mars exploration is at its infancy, Mark uses his engineering skills and his wits to save himself from hopeless situations time and time again, in the hope of surviving long enough until the next Mars crew arrives. No one on Earth even knows he’s still alive, or so he thinks…
Although Ariane expected some bad science to loosely explain Mark’s miraculous survival skills, that was far from what she found in this book. Author Andy Weir really put the SCIENCE back in Science Fiction. Science and math are heavily included throughout the book, in fact they really are the backbone of the story, but it never feels like a task to read. Weir does a fantastic job explaining all of it in a way that’s neither obscuring nor dumbed-down, and as far as Ariane could tell, it all seemed frighteningly realistic. The Martian had her sitting at the edge of her seat rooting for the survival of Mark Watney from beginning to end. It was the best book she’s read in a good long while, and she is eager to share it with everyone now!
Out of Our Minds Cover © Capstone (Fair Use)
Out of Our Minds Cover © Capstone (Fair Use)

Rebecca Angel is in the middle of reading Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative by Ken Robinson. (You may have seen his TED talk “How Schools Kill Creativity” which is one of the most-watched TED talks of all time.) The book was written over a decade ago, but this is the updated, most recent version. In this book, Robinson explains why creativity is important in today’s world more than ever. Basically, although change has been a part of human civilization forever, the rate of change has increased exponentially. Pair that with globalization, and the need to adapt and innovate is the most important skill. Creativity can be learned, and Robinson is the expert to show why and how.

 

Copies of some books included in these recommendation have been provided for review purposes.

Get the GeekDad Books!