Review: Head On by John Scalzi

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This book was so good! SO GOOD! In a near future, folks with Haden’s disease are locked into their bodies and interact with the outside world via androids, Chris Shane is an FBI agent and a Haden who has to solve a crime involving a Haden-related sport.

The sport, called Hilketa, is a game in which one player is the goat and the other players have either try to rip their head off and use it as a ball to score points or to defend their teammate and help them keep their head on. At an exhibition game, player Duane Chapman gets his head ripped off and never recovers. This leads Chris and his partner down a rabbit hole of league politics, national politics, and Haden affairs.

This book was so interesting. There is politics, conspiracy, bad business practices, betrayals, characters you love and cheer for, characters you loathe. There is mystery and intrigue. I ripped through this novel. I couldn’t put it down.

Head On is billed as a standalone novel, but it is related to Scalzi’s novel Lock In, which I now feel like I have to look for at the library. And, to think, I wouldn’t have picked it up if the library hadn’t made it seem so enticing with its “no reserves, no renewals, 10-day check outs only) sticker.

This Month in Reality: I stumble through a review of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

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I finished listening to this read-by-the-author audio book well over a week ago and I’ve been trying to decide what exactly I wanted to say about it. On the one hand, it was a touching memoir about surviving with grit, perseverance and the support of your family (or, at least, the pieces of your family who had gotten themselves together enough to provide support). On the other hand, the wider cultural moment that this book was released into has kind of positioned it in this place where people can trot it out to say, “Look! White people suffer, too!” whenever a person of color points to some systemic issue that is causing a lot of suffering. And, while it does make some good points about the wider culture and how people are struggling and the systems we have in place aren’t adequate to support us, they were points that I had read elsewhere. Drug abuse, incarceration, broken families, and intergenerational trauma are things that have definitely been subjects of discussion for awhile, just maybe not in the mainstream.

But, that’s maybe not a problem of the book itself but its reception?

So, on the one hand, I shouldn’t blame a book for its reception and its use or misuse by its readership. On the other hand, if we’re not going to have these conversations now about how, “yes, there are class issues in America, but no they are not entirely independent of race and ethnicity and engaging with one without engaging with the others doesn’t paint the full picture”, then when are we going to have them?

So, I’m in this weird place where I was really touched by the narrative, and happy to have been given an example of another American life (because J.D. Vance’s childhood is pretty far away from my Suburban middle class upbringing). But, I still see this book in a wider context in which, if we addressed some of the race-related structural issues scholars, activists and politicians have highlighted over the years (for example, here, in Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow), people like Vance would also benefit. I mean, if we decriminalized drug addiction and made more money available for treatment and support, maybe Vance’s story would be a little different.

So, I don’t know. It was a really touching story and it has given me a lot to think about. This is a worthy result for any book, but especially a book of non-fiction. And, its not that I don’t recommend it, it’s probably more that there are other things that I’d recommend about class, family and culture in America before I recommended this.

Review: We are Where the Nightmares Go and Other Stories by C. Robert Cargill

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So, I’ve taken to strolling through that section of the library where they put new books and books that they want to highlight and picking something up if it catches my eye. Since I’m already reading a bunch of horror this summer, when I saw this book, I thought, “What the heck? Why not?” It’s got a creepy tentacled skull on the cover and nightmare in the title. Let’s do this thing.

 

This collection wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. I thought it would be a little more…horrory? I guess I was expecting more gore or at least to be kept up a little at night. But, of my two favorite stories in the collection, one of them wasn’t really horror at all. “Jake and Willy at the End of the World” is a story about Jake and Willy, sitting and waiting for a mob that’s looting through town during the apocalypse to make it to where they are so they can defend it. It was…funny. But, I didn’t think it was suspenseful or scary and it certainly wasn’t gory.  And, “Hell Creek” is a zombie story with a twist. I really, really liked “Hell Creek”. It was great. (the twist is apparent in the first two pages, but I still don’t want to spoil it because I really enjoyed discovering it for myself.)

 

Anyway, some of the other stories that were more of what I was expecting were good and there were a few that were related to other pieces (for example, one was set in a Clive Barker world and had originally been published in an authorized collection. There are notes that made it clear when something was part of a wider universe.) that were fine, even if if I didn’t have the context for them. So, in all, this was a pretty good collection and I’m glad I picked it up.

 

So, if you are looking for a little scare and you like short stories. Give this a whirl.

What I’m Reading Now: Head On by John Scalzi

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I really enjoy John Scalzi‘s web presence (I feel like I’ve learned a lot about sandwiches…but maybe I’m confusing him with someone else on twitter? Oh, and kittens. He’s posted some cute kitten pictures on twitter) but I’ve never read any of his books. The book flap said, “stand alone novel” and the library said,  “Hot pick! 10-day loans only! No renewals or reserves!” so I picked this up. I mean, I had to, right? It was there. I was there. It was serendipity.

The library really knows what its doing with its marketing.

Review: Field of Flight by Michael T. Flynn

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When I started this book, I was fully aware that it isn’t my kind of book. But, I thought, you can’t have a conversation with someone if you don’t know what they’re thinking. You can’t have a conversation with someone if you don’t listen.

So, I listened. And, for starters, this is not well written at all. If this book had an editor, they should give whatever they were paid back because they did not do their job. There was a whole autobiographical part at the beginning that was completely unnecessary (or, it was a different story altogether). I think it was meant to establish Flynn as an authority on military intelligence, but I spent most of this section trying to figure out why he was telling us the things he was telling us. I then spent some of the later chapters trying to figure out how the first chapter related to it. If you’ve read other reviews of this book (I can’t stop myself after I finish a book from seeing how other people liked it on goodreads), you will know that it was full of typos and other copy-editing issues. Audiobooks don’t have problems with typos.  But, even without seeing the errors, this text was still… just not very good. It seems like Flynn has a huge ax to grind against “being politically correct” and “not calling Islam what it is”. Sorry, not calling “Radical Islam” what it is. But, he also seems to not wholly be on board with making a distinction between radicals flying an Islamic flag and non-radical followers of Islam. I mean, he’s willing to say the words that not all Muslims are radical Muslims, but most of the rest of the book I felt like he wasn’t making that distinction. And, I need this to be clear. Just like I’m sure we can all agree that not all Christians are the Westboro Baptist Church and that not all Atheists are Ricky Gervais or Christopher Hitchens. Some of them are really chill people.

He also doesn’t seem to think that Islam as a religion is any different than Nazism and Fascism as belief systems. That is pretty troubling, especially when you can be both Islamist and Fascist. There were more troubling things about the texts. He seems to call for more critique from the Muslim community of the Radical actions of parts of the community. I don’t know what part of the world he’s in, but I’ve seen plenty of critiques coming from the Muslim community. (There’s a facebook group called Muslims against ISIS and there was a convention this summer to reject ISIS in the UK. Back in 2014 a number of Islamic scholars wrote an open letter to the ISIS leadership about why their state was not supported by Islamic texts. Maybe instead of calling for this kind of critique, we should cover it when it happens in the news?) Flynn also is worried about the education system in the Islamic world. He points to the number of schools (madrasas) where children are taught by memorizing passages of Koran, which is a disgusting level of indoctrination. Depending on the actual amount of that that is happening, that is really troubling. But, hooo, boy, if you want to talk about troubling things in education systems, you don’t have to look that far from home to find upsetting things. How many of our students here are being taught one specific line and never to question that? Shouldn’t we be upset by that? (Especially when that’s something we could immediately do something about?) The text also seems to suggest that we’ve been openly hostile to Israel, our best ally in the Middle East, of late. But, I thought we just promised Israel some billion dollar amount of military aid? (With strings, sure, but what agreement doesn’t involve some kind of give and take?)

Anyway, what I got from this book is that there are RADICAL ISLAMIC FORCES in the world that want to destroy America and replace all democracy with an Islamist theocracy and leadership that encourages citizens to spy on each other. To avoid this terrible future, we, the Judeo-Christian democracy-loving West, need to fight Islam, and private citizens/companies should help gather data on these anti-democratic forces.  So, basically, in order to remain Christian and free and not become Islamic and afraid our neighbors are spying on us, we should be anti-Islamic and spy on our neighbors. Of course, I’m reducing and parodying his argument here for effect, but there was a lot of anti-Islamic rhetoric here. I’m for freedom but I know we live in a complex world, so I’m not all that happy when our leaders (and their potential advisers) seem incapable of nuance.

Normally at this point in the review, I tell you, “hey, if you like X kinds of books, then check this one out!” And, I guess I kind of can. If you believe the Islam is everything that is wrong with the world, then this book is for you. It was written to preach to the choir. Or, at least I hope it was written to preach to the choir. If it was written to lay out a reasonable argument and sell people an idea, it failed.  This book was a mess. It was not well-written. It had all kinds of troubling reasoning and it didn’t make any kind of solid case. It played with stereotypes and stated it was making distinction that it then failed to maintain.  Zero out of ten. Do not recommend.

 

I got this book from the wonderful and amazing Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.

Library Books

As you know from reading my tags (which I’m sure you all do), I get a lot of my books from the public library. This is strategic on my part. As a graduate student who is a year away from having her PhD, I’m hoping (and working my butt off so) that in a year I will be packing all of my belongings and moving someplace else for a job. So, the fewer books I buy (and I love buying books) the fewer books I have to pack and move.

Plus, I have a lot of fun on the library’s website. I like to make lists of books I am interested in and then work my way through the lists. Recently, many of the books I’ve wanted have had waiting lists, so it is fun to put yourself on the list and then anticipate the book. You get an email telling you that it is your turn. It is a little like Christmas! So, this is the trade off. I don’t get to buy endless stacks of books but I do get to create lists and then pick up books at the library. As far as trades go, it is not bad.

There is one problem with this, though. When everything you’re waiting for becomes available at the same time. I currently have five things checked out from the library that our due in the next 5-12 days. They were all on waiting lists so I had to check them out or lose my spot on the list. I’ve only managed to start three of them and so far only managed to finish one of them. I guess I just need to read faster!

Also, I feel a little guilty that I have books checked out that I haven’t gotten to start yet that other people are waiting for.

Of course, if I don’t make it to the end of all of the books before I have to return them, I can always put myself back on the waiting list. This is something I had to do with Gilead. It doesn’t bother me to break up the reading of a book. I’m pretty well trained in reading more than one thing at a time and spreading the readings out.

Do you check books out from your public library? How do you feel about waiting lists? Are they a source of anticipation-creation or frustration? What is your favorite part of your public library? Join us in the comments!