Tuesday, September 16, 2014

[Book Review] The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni / Helene Wecker

In overstated simplification, The Golem and the Jinni is a story about two improbable beings discovering themselves, and each other, in a time and a place where neither belong.  The setting is the New York of 1899, with flashes of the past lives that set the stage on which our actors perform, yet the novel has a feel of happening once upon a time.  As the golem named Chava and the jinni named Ahmed learn what it means to live as a human in a city they explore existential questions of human behavior and belief that are so alien to these creatures of myth.

The Golem and the Jinni was the August pick for Virtual Speculation.  I had previously read this book and failed to review it simply because it was one of those books that I loved yet had difficult describing or quantifying.  The story has a dreamlike quality that I feared ruining through poor description.

Discussion Fodder:
  • What do you think of Rottfield's requests for his golem's personality?
  • Could The Golem and the Jinni be considered a sort of "Adam & Eve" story?  About creation, innocence, curiosity, and downfall?
  • What do you think about the golem's willingness to accept another's decision to destroy her, or even to destroy herself?  Can she be considered suicidal?  Fatalistic?  Pragmatic?
  • Do you agree with "A man might desire something for a moment, while a larger part of him rejects it.  You'll need to learn to judge people by their actions, not their thoughts"?  What about the intent behind an action?
  • The jinni finds assuming a name to be upsetting; "To him the new name suggested that the change's he'd undergone were so drastic, so pervasive, that he was no longer the same being at all."  Do you think the assumption of a name and the attempt to appear human change him?
  • Does Chava have a "soul" (and does it matter)?  Beyond the physical, what sets her apart from humanity?  Is she "a person made of clay" or a "beast of burden"?
  • As a golem, Chava needs to be bound to someone, is this a terrible thing?
  • Is relying on someone a weakness, as Ahmed thinks, or is it the way things for everyone, as Chava believes?
  • "So, it's just stories now.  And perhaps the humans did create their God.  But does that make him less real?  Take this arch.  They created it.  Now it exists."  What makes something real, when does something become "just a story," and no longer real?
  • Did the jinni child die because Sophie wished it, or because a human/jinni child couldn't survive within a human?
  • What do you think about Chava's relationship with Michael.  Is it wrong that she responds to his sexual desire out of her need to answer the desires of those around her?  What about her suppression of exploration of her own sexuality due to Michael's discomfort?
  • Chava suffers from dissatisfaction, restlessness, a desire to be more.  Do you see any of the 'feminine mystique' in her difficulties?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

[Book Review] The Witch

The witch : and other tales re-told / Jean Thompson

We all know at least one of the classic fairy tales.  Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel & Gretel, and others, both just as well known and less well known, such as the tale of Bluebeard.  Stories that all take place once upon a time, in a faraway land.  "In a time when wishes came true" as I believe the stories were originally published as starting.

What if these stories took place today, in a time considered without magic, and when wishes do little to impact our lives.  That is what we find within The witch : and other tales retold.  Thompson has masterfully recreated familiar fables into dark tales of the modern world.  I highly recommend her re-imaginings.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy through Penguin First to Read; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

[Book Review] First Annual BDSM Writers Con Anthology

First Annual BDSM Writers Con Anthology / Lori Perkins (ed)

This was an interesting book to read. The stories explore a variety of flavors of sexual encounters and life styles, varying in style from realistic, paranormal, to fantasy. Additionally, there is a non-fiction essay exploring and defining areas of BDSM sexuality. Some of the stories seem designed to showcase aspects of differing sexuality as realized by eager, consenting adults. Other stories are clearly erotic fantasy. One of the stories I could barely read and I still feel unsettled by, I can't see how the scene within involved any sort of consent but instead seemed overwhelmingly the story of a woman fighting (and failing) to get away from a man beating her in anger.

If your interests to not run towards BDSM, I would tread carefully with the book. I can see some of the stories acting as triggers for some. The non-fiction essay will likely read as familiar subject matter to people in the scene, but would likely be a good write up for those curious (be it academic or active interest). The stories are well written and edited, with some good plot twists worked in. The tones range from playful to intense, and if you read the book it is worth it to finish a short story before you decide if you like it or not, the end may change your mind.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of NetGalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

[Book Review] Stone Mattress

Stone Mattress / Margaret Atwood (Powell's Books)

Margaret Atwood turns to short fiction for the first time since her 2006 collection, Moral Disorder, with nine tales of acute psychological insight and turbulent relationships bringing to mind her award-winning 1996 novel, Alias Grace. A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband in "Alphinland," the first of three loosely linked stories about the romantic geometries of a group of writers and artists. In "The Freeze-Dried Bridegroom," a man who bids on an auctioned storage space has a surprise. In "Lusus Naturae," a woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. In "Torching the Dusties," an elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. And in "Stone Mattress," a long-ago crime is avenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite. In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game. 

Stone Mattress was a delight to read.  I always find that Atwoods fiction shows the world in a light that is unlike any other.  The stories draw us in, told by narrators of questionable authority and reliability, bringing us into possible past, current, and future lives.  Reading the stories I am left with the uncertainty of what is meant to be real or fantastic.  Is there magic or is it all a hallucination?  Masterfully told stories.  I highly recommend this collection of short stories.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of NetGalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Link Smorgasbord, August 2014

Science Fiction and Fantasy 101: Thinking Academically About Genre
A great discussion on thinking about Science Fiction & Fantasy seriously, and on the outstanding texts that have been published since the days of Asimov and Heinlein.  I'm very passionate about Speculative Fiction as a genre and depth at which issues and topics are explored.  That's part of the reason I started the Virtual Speculation book club, as an effort to share and hash over some incredible books.  I actually would love to pull things together enough to teach a Speculative Fiction MOOC, but there's a lot of prep work I'd have to do for something like that first.

LOC recommends formats for preservation of software, data sets
Preservation of software and data has a lot of challenges, so always interesting to see what's being discussed and recommended.

Why the Public Library Beats Amazon—for Now
TL;DR - libraries are far more than buildings full of books.

About that simian selfie
An interesting copyright fight.

Libraries are Giving Away the User-Privacy Store
About challenges in privacy, and ways that we give it up.

What Happens to #Ferguson Affects Ferguson: Net Neutrality, Algorithmic Filtering and Ferguson
Interesting read.

How One Publisher Ditched Amazon and Succeeded
On a publisher going away from Amazon entirely.

Feds warn first responders of dangerous hacking tool: Google Search
There's a lot of stupid and overreacting going on in defining people who know how to actually do quality searching as malicious... I mean, it's pretty much part of every librarian's job ever (or at the very least, the job of all the Reference types).  In essence the idea is that you need to actually be careful what you put on your website (*gasp*), but how it is easily interpreted is that knowledge of how to run searches can (and will) be used against you should you end up under scrutiny.  It is true that by knowing how to really utilize a search engine you can find a lot of things that others may not want you to find... but it's also true that you don't even have to be really good at searching (or know how to "Google dork") to find information about exploits and hacking tools.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

iTunes on Public Computers

So, thinking about putting iTunes on public computers?

Please, don't do it.

Now, this is completely my personal opinion, but it's really not a good idea.  Even the Apple help forums agree.

You can of course do it if you really want to, and likely if you're in a public library, you've had patrons request iTunes on the public computers.

Here's the problem - iTunes is designed to work with personal collections and personal devices, and does this whole authorization thing that verifies that the iPod is authorized to the iTunes library account (and not to a different account), as well as potentially limiting the number of machines that items in your library can be saved to.  If you have an iTunes account you can authorize up to 5 computers, and 5 devices to that one account.

If you hook up your device to a computer with a different authorization, the authorization on your device will be reset in order for it to work with iTunes on that computer.  When your authorization is set to a new one, you then lose the content on that device.  Now you can re-authorize the device to your account, but you're now using up device authorizations.

You can always of course, authorize the public computer to your account, but then you'd be giving other people access to your iTunes account if you leave it authorized.  Even if someone else authorizes a device, overwrites your authorization on the public machine, or the authorization gets wiped when the machine reboots due to the likely presence of reimaging software such as DeepFreeze, you use up authoirzations.  Then if you come back to that computer you have to use another authorization. 

If you can see how this can go horribly wrong, fast, congratulations.

Every time a patron has trouble understanding why they can't find their songs in the iTunes library because someone else left their authorization in the machine, you get to handle it.  Every time a patron hits the limits of authorizations because they're using iTunes on a public computer, you get to deal with it.  Every time a patron erases the contents of their iPod, you get to deal with it.  If you're really really lucky, they might not blame you for it.

Yes, you can use this as an opportunity to educate people about the software they use, and the EULA/Terms of Use they likely don't read.  They're probably not going to appreciate the teaching moment, and it still doesn't fix the fact that you now have some extremely unhappy patrons.

This is actually why, until very recently when In-Browser reading was added, that you couldn't read library ebooks in the library.  In fact, this is why, with some exceptions, you generally can't download library ebooks to transfer to your device using a library computer.  It's annoying, but we're working with programs that are requiring authorization in order to to interface with the different devices.

So, in my humble opinion, it is not worth it to put iTunes on public computers, for them or for you as a the person supporting the users.

Monday, September 1, 2014

[Book Review] Sheet Pan Suppers

Sheet Pan Suppers : 120 Recipes for Simple, Surprising, Hands-Off Meals Straight from the Oven
/ Molly Gilbert

Sheet Pan Suppers promises to reinvent the "one pot meal" with a sheet pan instead of a pot.  I was expecting reinventions of classic recipes, and keeping within the idea of a one "pot" cooking.  The book sort of delivers, but I was left wanting more from it.  Don't get me wrong, there are a handful of recipes that sound delicious and I will be trying them shortly.  However, overall I found the book lacking in invention.  Many of the recipes are basic, the book relies heavily on pre-made, store-bought components (though I do allow that pre-made components makes for shorter prep time), a number of recipes are multi-pan, and one or two involve cooking outside of the oven.

If you do a lot of cooking, many of the recipes you can look at just the title and the ingredients and know how to cook it.  Sheet Pan Suppers is largely accessible to those with introductory level skills in the kitchen, but the recipes themselves are not necessarily set and forget.  You'll encounter some meals that you can set up and serve when done, others that have several stages of preparation and construction, so the book won't always work as a go-to for someone in a time crunch.  What Sheet Pan Suppers is very good at is creating dishes with good flavor using few pans and with generally simple preparation.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of NetGalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.