"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Friday, October 19, 2018

Spoonbenders

TITLE: Spoonbenders
AUTHOR: Daryl Gregory

I'm torn between calling this a work of science fiction, fantasy, or plain fiction, though there's nothing plain about it. The protagonists are the Amazing Telemachus family. Patriarch Teddy, now in his 70s, was a top stage magician who feigned magical powers. His three now adult children and grandchildren, however, have true magical abilities, which they inherited from their late grandmother, Maureen Telemachus, a talented astral traveler. Youngest Buddy sees the future, middle offspring Frankie has unreliable telekinesis, and oldest Irene is a human lie detector. Her teenage son Matty, at the start of the novel, has discovered his ability to travel outside his body. Despite of or due to their abilities and one-time claim to fame as a family act, before they were disgraced on national television, the Telemachuses are a dysfunctional bunch, constantly at odds with each other and their own ambitions.

Frankie, in financial difficulty, is looking for a quick fix. Irene, unable to accept the everyday lies people tell her, is distrustful of everyone. Buddy, having seen a bleak future, is stuck trying to live out the life he's foreseen. Teddy has befriended the daughter-in-law of the mobster he once worked for until things went sour. And Matty has discovered both the thrill of OBEs (out of body experiences) and puberty. Then, to give the dynamic more gravity, there's the specter of the government operative who once used psychics to spy on Russians during the Cold War. Maureen had been his star psychic warrior and he's hoping one of her grandchildren, mainly Matty, can fill her shoes.

Gregory weaves the stories of the Telemachus family in alternating viewpoint chapters, slowly bringing all the disparate elements together in a madcap climax that is both thrilling and poignant. I came to love these quirky characters and I would love to read more about them.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Underground Airlines

TITLE: Underground Airlines
AUTHOR: Ben H. Winters

The title isn't literal. It refers to the modern equivalent of the underground railroad that sneaked escaped slaves from the American south to freedom in the north. In the alternate reality Winters imagines, Lincoln was assassinated before he took office, compromise prevented the Civil War, and in the present there remain the Hard Four states where slavery is still legal. Victor is an escaped slave who's been forced to work with the US Marshals to hunt down other escaped slaves. All Victor cares about is himself. All he wants is to remain free, or the semblance of freedom that marks his life, the ability to move around the non-slave states, staying in nice hotels, eating good food, and trying to not think about the tracker inbedded in his spine. But his latest case, to find a runaway slave called Jackdaw who reportedly is hiding in Indianapolis turns out to not be the routine assignment he'd thought, and the things he learns cause him to question what he knows about the country and himself.

This novel works on many levels, but mostly, it's a personal journey for Victor and an incredibly relevant commentary on the state of the US today. The provocative title caught my attention in the bookstore, the blurb made me buy it, and the words inside lead me to highly recommend it.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Libraries vs Bookstores

I used to have a blog for political posts. I mostly post that sort of thing on Facebook now. But since this is book related, here it is.

I read a lot about this last night, but this, so far, is the best article about the Forbes op-ed calling for Amazon Bookstores to replace publicly funded libraries. This quote from the author Panos Mourdoukoutas, in a followup Q&A with Gizmodo, sums up the author's sense of greed and entitlement: "That’s something that some people do not understand. And I want to repeat it: Local libraries aren’t free. In my community, they are financed by a fee. It is added to school taxes. I paid $495 last year..."

Clearly, he's not using his library, or not enough to get more than $500 worth of value from it. But he could, if he desired. Because, unlike him, the library doesn't decide that if you can't pay, you don't get to use their services. He doesn't think people should have access to information if they can't afford it. Much of what they seek from libraries can't be found in a coffee shop or bookstore. Does he think children should hang out in retail establishments after school to do their homework? Does he think bookstores will help people learn to read or look for a job? Does he think these services are not valuable or necessary or desirable? People are calling him a moron, saying his idea is stupid. I don't disagree, but I think he's mainly greedy. I'm not sure what valuable thing he'd rather spend that $500 on, but I'm betting it isn't anything that will help someone else or better his community.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Escape the Madness

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Sign in Bookstore
I saw this sign in The Strand and had to take a photo of it. "Books to Help You Escape the Madness" is a perfect table display for these crazy times. I really didn't think I'd be facing a dystopia in my lifetime. I love reading dystopian fiction, but I don't want to live in a dystopia.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Al Franken

TITLE: Al Franken, Giant of the Senate
AUTHOR: Al Franken

I read this slowly on my Kindle app, starting before Franken resigned from the Senate and finishing it after, and my big takeaway is that I wish he hadn't resigned, because we need him, or someone like him, or many someones like him in government.

The book covers his early years, with a whirlwind tour of his formative years, a few chapters on his comedy career (including some nice behind-the-scenes looks at "Saturday Night Live"), then following with his entry into politics, and finally, his time in the Senate. What I most want is a follow-up that includes his resignation and how he feels about the current state of the US.

The insights into how government works, or doesn't, and his opinions of his fellow senators are worth the price, alone. This is a funny, serious, snarky, wise, and important book. I highly recommend it.