Friday, February 12, 2016

Explore the curious world of Digital Natives

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

This should be required reading for anybody with an internet connection, and for anybody in journalism 101. I'm definitely assigning it as a text book if I ever teach social media 101*. Jon Ronson investigates several recent episodes of frightening public humiliation such as Jonah Lehrer's made-up Bob Dylan quotes in Imagine, and Justine Sacco's tweet in poor taste that cost her the job of her dreams and earned her death threats and a waking nightmare. His examination of the disproportionately high price some have paid for a bad joke that went viral, and the possibility of forgive-and-forget in the digital age, is insightful and riveting.

*A distinct job possibility in this day and age.
Dataclysm by Christian Rudder

This book is a fascinating look at all of the things our data trail says about us. The author is co-founder of OKCupid, a popular matchmaking website, so much of his data comes from his own customers (he openly admits to having experimented on them). Full disclosure: I met my mate on OKCupid several years ago. We are not just a couple of people who met on the internet now-- we are Data. We exist in some endless spreadsheet of profiles and preferences, probably being salivated over by marketing gurus who want to sell us very specific, irresistible things. OKCupid is an attempt to find a formula for kismet. It's free, and makes it easy to find a like-minded, introverted companion, especially if you're the sort of person who needs an algorithm to get a date (like me). The result of making life decisions in such an instantly graph-able way is that all of my demographic information, along with my clicks and "likes" and mouse hovers, and digital whatevers, all get added up to create a prediction of what people like me are like, and what we like to "like". It's creepy, and yet somehow comforting. Rudder's methods and conclusions are fascinating, and he applies just enough wit to make this highly readable.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

This book about dating in the digital age is basically Dataclysm with a sense of humor (Rudder is credited in the acknowledgements). The most memorable part of the book for me is his opening anecdote, one that those familiar with his act will know, which is possibly the best illustration ever of the cliffhanger anxiety brought on by the text ellipses used to indicate that your partner in textversation is typing a response (...): Ansari meets a single woman at a party and they bond over many common interests including a shared love of the band Beach House (I can relate--Beach House is everything, check out their album, Myth, if you don't believe me). They swap numbers, they text. Soon after meeting, he invites the woman to a Beach House concert. It looks like she's about to respond ...there's those three little dots...then...crickets. Nothing. No response. Dead air.
The audio book is great, especially if you love Ansari--he reads it--but I found the text to be surprisingly dry and a bit academic at times, lightened with bouts of that trademark Aziz Ansari comic tenderness.

Friday, February 05, 2016

YA Reads for 2016

A Big Dose of Lucky by Marthe Jocelyn 
Malou is a sixteen-year-old mixed race girl who has no family and has been living in an orphanage all her life. She has the desire to search for her family and find her roots. After her orphanage burns down, Malou receives some hints that she may have been born in Ontario’s cottage country and goes on a mission to find out where she comes from. This novel is set around the time of John F. Kennedy's assassination, continuous racial tension, social and sexual inequalities. A Big Dose of Lucky is part of a seven book series, but the series can be read in any order.

Juba! A Novel by Walter Dean Myers 
William Henry Labe, also known and Master Jubba, was a free slave and a dancer who danced in America and England in the 1840s. In his final novel, Walter Dean Myers captures the light of a person who helped influenced today’s tap, jazz, and step dancing.  

Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom 

Parker Grant does not allow her vision disability to define her while balancing her life as a normal teen. In her short life, Parker already dealt with a lot of tragedy. She lost her mother and sight at an early age and her father died when she started her junior year of high school. To add to all the problems weighing on Parker’s shoulders, her ex boyfriend, Scott Kilpatrick, resurfaced after breaking her heart when she was thirteen. Parker is a strong individual who has set a ground rule for no one to treat her any differently just because she's blind, and never take advantage. There will be no second chances. But when her ex tries to reach out to her, she tries hard to stick to her rules, which makes her second guess them.

Yo, Miss A Graphic Look at High School by Lisa Wilde 
This graphic memoir is told from the point of view of the author, who is also a teacher at John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academy. Wildcat Academy is a school in New York City to give teens who have been suspended, had issues with the law, and even teen parents, a second chance at an education.Wilde's graphic novel was inspired by portraits she created during her lunch break as well as poetry created by some of her students.  

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Book Hunter's Guide to Blogs about Books

It's winter. You need to have a pile of books on every surface to keep you busy while you hide under all of your blankets, riding out snow storms, bitter winds, and icy sidewalks. There are many blogs by readers, for readers, to help you decide how best to supply your stacks. Check out a few of my go-to blogs for the best recommendations for all tastes of books from the past, present, and future.

For the best in lists, enjoyable writing, and great, diverse book selections, Book Riot is one of my favorites. "Book Riot is dedicated to the idea that writing about books and reading should be just as diverse as books and readers are. So sometimes we are serious and sometimes silly. Some of our writers are pros. Many of them aren’t. We like a good list just as much as we like a good review. We think you can like both J.K. Rowling and J.M. Coetzee and that there are smart, funny, and informative things to say about both and that you shouldn’t have to choose." I think you'll love reading the Meyers-Briggs types of 202 literary characters.

The Millions is staffed by some outstanding new authors including Garth Risk Hallberg, author of City on Fire, and Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven so you can expect some high-quality writing from these guys. I always look forward to adding to my to-read list from their "most anticipated" feature on GoodReads.

The Indie View is devoted to reviewing the best in self-published books. Don't dismiss the self-published book! Publishers can be quite fusty and a lot of good writing is turned down for supposed lack of marketability. Consider The Martian by Andy Weir which was originally self-published, only to be picked up later by Crown Publishing after tremendous online success, and eventually turned into a box office smash starring Matt Damon.

Io9's book reviews are written by devoted superfans of science-fiction and fantasy. If you really love sci-fi or fantasy, make Io9 your first stop for what's coming out and what you may have missed.*

Omnivoracious, from Amazon, The Page Turner from the New Yorker, The Guardian, and NPR Book Reviews are all trusted standbys for quality book reviews. Check out this post from The Guardian in their Food in Books feature: mushroom, bacon and leek pie from The Fellowship of the Ring

The Mookse and the Gripes is one I sometimes forget to look at but I'm always glad when I remember it. "The Mookse and the Gripes is a website dedicated to literature and film, from any part of the world and from any era. It was created in July 2008. In October of 2012, The Mookse and the Gripes podcast, a podcast primarily dedicated to the books published by NYRB Classics, was born."

For reviews of graphic novels, check out Shelf Abuse, "a site devoted to comic books and graphic novels, specifically indie titles and small press releases. Occasionally, a movie or video game review also makes its way here."

Try the Bookrageous Podcast for funny and thoughtful discussions among true book lovers.

Don't forget about Novelist!
Use your library card to access this helpful service used by professional librarians to tailor recommendations based on books and authors you know and love.

*P.S. All the Birds in the Sky by Io9 editor-in-chief Charlie Jane Anders is ALL OVER the blogs lately so you might want to add it to your to-read pile.

Friday, January 15, 2016

"Suffering Sappho!" Resolve to read The [awesome] Secret History of Wonder Woman this year

Comic book nerds? Book nerds? History nerds? Pop culture nerds? Nerd nerds? Not a nerd? Or are you one of those persnickety, tough-to-please folks who sniff at my recommendations? Have I got a book for all of you.

It is the 2015-2016 selection for Virginia Commonwealth University's  Common Book Program: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. The idea of the Common Book Program at VCU is to "support and stimulate the academic and intellectual culture of VCU through a common reading experience". This is why people seek out book clubs--for that wonderful feeling that comes from sharing a reading experience with others, and the opportunity to discuss ideas and what we learned, what may have challenged us to think in new ways. When a book thrills you, don't you immediately want other people to read it too? Wouldn't it be great if we had a huge, city-wide book discussion? A Super Book Club, perhaps? This book has something in it for everyone. Let's join in on the conversation happening at VCU about this marvelously compelling, thought-provoking book.

This story is fun and outrageous, almost unbelievable, and bawdy at times. Jill Lepore stays true to her subject by styling the book as a superhero origin story. The heroes in this case are many and the personalities are huge. Among the heroes are Margaret Sanger and her sister, Sanger's niece Olive Byrne, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Wonder Woman of course, and at the center of our story is the fantastic and flawed hero William Moulton Marston, a fascinating and complicated man and a study in contradictions. He was a champion of women's rights (before it was cool), inventor of the lie detector test, charlatan, and polygamist. Lepore deftly uses Wonder Woman and Marston as the narrative connection between the Suffragists in the beginning of the 20th century and the women's movement decades later, making for an all around thrilling history of popular culture and American heroes.

There is something for everyone in this swift, engaging read. To be honest, I hadn't thought much one way or the other about Wonder Woman before reading this, certainly not much about her creator. I found the women behind the man behind The Woman to be especially intriguing, and although I've never really read superhero comics, I could not get enough of Wonder Woman's story. I found so much in the book to talk about that I want you all to read it too.

Run to your local library (or independent bookstore if you simply must own it) and check this one out. Join in on the conversation!

Another of Marston's contributions.

Friday, January 08, 2016

The Sound of Buster Keaton

If you’re looking for a movie this weekend, why not try something a little older? Like, really old. Like, a silent film. Because the fun thing about silent films is that they needn’t be silent, and the choice of how they should come to audible life is entirely up to you.

Many silent films on DVD come with a few options for the soundtrack, usually something closer to the organ music you might have heard in the 20s but then sometimes something a bit more unusual. But why limit yourself to the DVD menu? If you can bring down the volume on your TV then you can bring up the volume on something else. Here are some ideas for killing two birds with one stone: watching a great movie, listening to some great music.

Buster Keaton’s 1924 comedy Sherlock, Jr. is a movie about movies. In it, Buster, a young projectionist, falls asleep on the job and dreams he can literally step into the films he screens. The movie, while hilarious, is also downright experimental. Try pairing this with something equally searching, say a Thelonious Monk album. You’ll notice that there are moments when the music and the picture synthesize into something whole, new, and unexpected, as if those moments had always been planned. At other times the music and the picture will drift apart, allowing your attention to follow one or the other.

College (1927) gives Keaton the perfect vehicle for his athleticism: he plays a young man attempting to become an athlete. Given all the scenes of long-jumping and pole-vaulting, some more muscular music might fit, like a selection of rockabilly tunes. They would capture the movie’s teenage longing and soda-fountain awkwardness, and also perfectly underscore that great scene at the end when the young man flings himself about the room, unleashing the full force of his hidden athleticism when rescuing his one true love.

This last idea is a bit of a cheat, but if you’re up for it, try watching Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) silently, that is, without any pre-planned soundtrack at all. It will definitely be awkward at first, just staring at the screen, but everything in this movie is so perfectly timed you will start to pick up on the rhythm of the film itself. The film, without music, will offer the effect of listening to music. Also, you’ll start to notice all the sounds that are already around you. Steamboat Bill, Jr. is a film largely about the rain and wind. Watch it on a stormy night and the elements outside your window will collaborate with Buster Keaton.