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I recently read “The Martian” by Andy Weir. It was awesome.

It’s set to become a movie and that’s actually where I heard of the book, because the trailer (Above) says “Based on the best selling novel” – And the trailer looked awesome, so I read the book.

 

Which was awesome.

Andy Weir’s writing is funny, thought provoking, and full of information. He uses highly scientific terms, but then explains it to laymen. It’s pretty cool.

The story is told mainly through journal entries from Mark Watney, an astronaut stranded on Mars. These entries give us insight as to what he’s doing up there all alone.

 

The story is simple to pick up and I was immediately impressed by how hilarious the protagonist is. Story: (Per Wikipedia): The story follows an American astronaut, Mark Watney, as he becomes stranded alone on Mars and must improvise in order to survive.

It’s a survival story with an Astronaut. Think Apollo 13 and Cast Away. The book is very involving and it’s really, really hard to put down.

I’m happy I read the book before seeing the film, because the movie looks great on its own. I’m very excited to see how they adapted it. If they did a 1:1 interpretation, I would be okay with that!

 

The Video Watcher by Shawn Curtis Stibbards

(Published by Biblioasis, 2015)

 

Think of Catcher in the Rye set in the ’90s, with a dash of American Psycho thrown in. This novel of paralyzing apathy and voyeurism by Vancouver school teacher Stibbards will draw you in, disgust you, and leave you with a bit more compassion than when you started.

 

Nineteen-year-old Trace, our first person narrator, is a despicable yet sympathetic character, going though the painful transition from youth to adulthood, and trying to find a cure for his loneliness in a world of shallow people. The similarities between Catcher in the Rye and The Video Watcher are plainly present. John Green points out in his Crash Course episode that Holden Caulfield uses the passive voice, which gives the reader the feeling of distance and inaction; Trace never feels at ease with the people around him, and the interest he manages to have in others is often sexual. Holden is frustrated with the phoniness of society and the people around him, which we hear echoed in Trace’s comments on how nobody ever talks about anything, not really – conversations that could lead to real growth or realization are cut off by banality or gossip. Both novels also end with revelations about the main character’s experience as a victim of sexual assault.

 

Trace views women as either sexual objects, mother figures, or as girls who are interested in things like poetry. He fantasizes about the first two, but finds girls like the server at a bar who he recognizes from university English classes perplexing. Trace masturbates a lot in the novel, and although he is able to get off on images of his friend touching a girl he is interested in, or a friend’s mother’s breasts, he is unable to respond to the few sexual situations we see him in: uncertainty, boredom, or fear keep him from participating.

 

Which leads to the theme of voyeurism in the novel. It’s called The Video Watcher for good reason. Not only does the title situate the story in the 1990s, the last decade of the VHS, it situates Trace as an observer, divided from the events going on in front of him: “I thought of myself as some character out of a movie, some angst-ridden character moving from scene to scene. It was always easier when I thought of myself as someone else.” Trace witnesses some pretty messed up stuff, but this division from his own experience keeps him from acting. Watching the scenes take place in front of him also excites him – as the book summary reads: “Does he actually want to help his friends, or is he secretly hoping they’ll go off the edge?”

 

There is also a sense of futility in the narrative. This is emphasized near the end when Trace is talking with his cousin Emily. Although I did feel at times that the story wasn’t going anywhere, that some scenes were present only for shock value, that characters never really grew out of their self-destructive cycles, the novel doesn’t leave us with nothing. We do get to see development in Trace’s character, and, somehow in the end there is hope that life does have meaning.

 

So, like American Psycho, be prepared for some messed up stuff, a male-centered narrative, but also something that interrogates voyeuristic North American culture.

I read The Book Thief recently. It was amazing.

Australian writer Markus Zusak has such a way with writing. His words jump off the page and invite you into their world. They’re always doing something that normally, words wouldn’t.

Example: Someone speaks, and Zusak would write something like “Her words ran around the corridor before they slapped him in the face.”  – I’m not going to spoil any more, there’s so much of that!

It’s a very gripping story. I openly wept at parts. I cry when I read books some times. The Road was also a killer.

It’s about a girl in 1939 in Nazi Germany and growing up through the war. The story is narrated by Death, the character, who makes it a point that he doesn’t have a sickle, or scythe, or anything like that.

I very very much enjoyed this book. Apparently, the movie is also pretty great. Check it out! You’ll do yourself a favour with this book.

Quote: “The best word shakers were the ones who understand the true power of words. They were the ones who could climb the highest. One such word shaker was a small, skinny girl. She was renowned as the best word shaker of her region because she knew how powerless a person could be without words.”

I’ll be adding it to my shelf.

I read Paper Towns as a precursor to our YA episode, but I’m publishing this now.

 

It was good. I really like how John Green writes.

 

I know John from the vlogbrothers on Youtube and also Crash Course. It’s actually only recently I found out he’d written a book, let alone The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, and Looking for Alaska, all big hits in the YA world.

 

I like the writing because it’s so real. The humour is there. The jokes are there, the crudeness, the swearing, the immaturity (at one point one of the characters prides himself on how big his balls are) – but it really encapsulates what is it to be a teenager. The love is also there and it’s real as well.

 

Go into it knowing this: it is a love story. Don’t be fooled expecting something else. There IS something else, but there is also a love story.

 

Easy to read, I’ll read more John Green in the future for sure.

 

The movie came out yesterday! Go see it AFTER you read the book 😉

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

(2009-2010 in Japan, 2011 in North America)

 

It’s enchanting. It’s heavy. It’s perplexing.

 

The chapters alternate between two characters, Aomame and Tengo. Although they haven’t seen each other for twenty years, there is a very strong bond between them. It’s obvious from the start that these two will somehow meet in the end, but it doesn’t take away from the story. Which starts off amazingly. Aomame is taking a taxi to reach an “appointment,” and it is here that things begin to get a little strange. The taxi driver is enigmatic, Aomame recognizes a song by Janáček on the radio that she has never heard before. And then, afraid of being late due to the traffic jam, Aomame follows the taxi driver’s suggestion: she gets out of the taxi and climbs down an emergency stairway off the highway to a subway station. From this point on, things begin to go sideways. First it starts with small things, like police officers carrying different kinds of guns, or a news report about a moon colony that Aomame has never heard of before. Aomame realizes that she is no longer in the 1984 she knows: somehow, she’s entered a different reality, which she calls 1Q84.

 

Tengo also has entered “the cat town,” as he calls it. He’s been asked by Komatsu to rewrite a novel submitted to a writing competition by mysterious 17 year old Fuka-Eri. As it turns out, her fantastical story about the fairy-like Little People has more weight in the “real world” than anyone could have imagined. For Tengo, this reality holds the answer to a question that burgeons inside him every time he thinks of his mother: where did he come from and who is he supposed to be?

 

I could go on about the cast of delightful characters, but I’m sure you’ll discover Tamaru, the Dowager, and Leader for yourself should you choose to pick up this book. In part three, we also get chapters from Ushikawa’s perspective, which provides a valuable outside view of Tengo and Aomame’s stories.

 

This novel is full of sex. Explored within various contexts, the act of sex is considered perfunctory, sacred, profane, strictly biological, romantic, or taboo. Desire is considered through heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual encounters and relationships. Domestic abuse and destructive sexual behaviour are also integral to the novel’s plot. This exploration of sex is handled expertly and doesn’t take focus away from the integrity of the novel or the characters at all; rather, each character’s approach to sex isn’t what defines them, but rather deepens our sense of them as relatable human beings.

 

Spirituality and religion are main motivators in this novel as well. Aomame left her family’s religion when she was young; Fuka-Eri escapes from a cult; a religious organization hires Ushikawa to find Aomame. Critics have also identified aspects of shamanism in Murakami’s novel. The idea of God as a storyteller is present in the novel. Religion is presented as restrictive, but faith is portrayed as something different.

 

Murakami interrogates the nature of narrative and like 1984 questions how our sense of reality is constructed. Who is telling the story? At one point near the end of 1Q84, the narrative voice, up until now restricted to third person with strong alignment to a specific character (depending on the chapter), suddenly breaks into third person omniscient, referencing three main characters and asking “what will they do now?” Is there a separate viewer and commentator in this novel that we only see glimpses of? Is this some kind of comment on surveillance? There is a sense that all of the characters are being watched, either by a benevolent protector, a private investigator, or by the ambiguous Little People themselves.

 

This book is a tome. The main criticism of this novel is that it involves too much repetition. I admit that while reading, I myself thought the book could have been half the length. When I learned that the novel had originally been published in three volumes, the repeated sections (at times almost word for word) made more sense: Murakami is reminding the reader of something that happened in an earlier, separate, volume. And, given the novel’s obvious nod to George Orwell’s 1984, the repetition of narrative may also comment on how information, and who controls it, influences how we perceive the reality we inhabit. Still, I would agree with the critics: 1Q84 could have been edited down.

 

Although the book is long and at times meandering, I never found it tedious. I think this is mostly due to Murakami’s vivid characters and enchanting sense of style and storytelling. The parallels with 1984 are interesting. I wonder, too, if Murakami’s criticized use of allusions to Western texts is a way of commenting on Japan’s sense of identity as a country between two worlds, the world of 1984 and 1Q84.

 

Worth a read, though if you’ve never read Murakami before, I’d try one of his other novels first. If you do get a chance to make it out of 1Q84, let me know what you think of the ending! I’m still not sure how satisfied I’m supposed to be with it.

Here’s a new segment where I read books and review them!

I read The Giver by Lois Lowry just a bit ago

The_Giver_first_edition_1993

https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=The_Giver

It was alright! For a YA fiction it did pretty well for itself, and set up for future storytelling (There’s 4 ‘Giver’ books in the same series but they’re not related to this storyline).

I wish it was longer, actually. Set in a seemingly post-apocalyptic setting but definitely more of a dystopian narrative, the world is void of colour. The main character is a young boy who discovers that he can see colour flashes, and becomes a ‘receiver’ of memories. Anything else is spoilers, so read it, it’s a quick read.

A quick read like I said, the language is straight and pretty easy to comprehend. It was evidently a young adult novel before there were young adult novels. Written in the early 90’s, it was before the YA genre really took off.

I think this is a great book to read as a teenager and I wish I had read it as a teenager and not for the first time when I was 28. Regardless, I still liked it, and Lowry’s writing style is something to explore.

All this said, I feel this one’s pretty important to read in the sense of world-building and it does have a pretty unique setting, so I recommend it!

…It’s not even very sad. They shot themselves in the foot worse than Justin Trudeau.

It’s okay, my father’s famous.

Reddit, which we mentioned on our show before, has seemingly gone nuclear, after they fired a much loved admin of /r/IAMA, named Victoria.

Victoria is amazing, putting that out there from experience being around her and AMAs.

Here’s great thread on Gawker, letting you know everything about the Reddit-apocalypse.

http://gawker.com/reddit-in-chaos-after-allegedly-firing-ama-coordinator-1715556970

So what happens now? Do we migrate? There’s alternatives out there, like voat, snapzu, digg (lul), even 4chan has been mentioned.

It shall be interesting to see if Reddit survives. The users seem pissed.

When most of your default subreddits lock down in protest, something is wrong.

This week, I read a 2011 book, a finalist for the Man Booker, #1 Amazon book in 2011, & many others – Patrick deWitt’s “The Sisters Brothers”

It’s set during the California gold rush, in 1851, and follows two main characters – Charlie and Eli Sisters, who are brothers – hence the Sisters brothers moniker.

sistersbrothers

It’s darkly funny. Situationally funny as well. But overall a serious narrative. The book follows the two, and is told through the POV of Eli, in the first person. The brothers are assassins, sent on a job to kill Hermann Kermit Warm, who they believe to have stolen something from their boss, The Commodore.

 

deWitt’s Canadian, which is why the Man Booker was brought into play. (The US has the National Book Prize) – His writing style was refreshing. Most westerns I read cover much of the dirt and grit. There’s dirt and grit here in deWitt’s writing, but it’s not presented in a traditional sense. It’s almost as if he cleans up the language used to present it.

That said, the book is quite mature-themed. Not that there’s cursing or nudity, but that there’s a lot of violence, written in a way that sometimes describes grusome themes as “Matter-of-fact”.

 

I won’t spoil anything, because, well, go read it. It’s not too too long and the pacing is wonderful.

I’ll be reading much more deWitt in the future.

 

By the by, John C Reilly’s company bought the movie rights to the book. It READS very much like a film, so it SHOULD be a pretty good movie! I’m excited.

I lately rediscovered the library as a source of free reading.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve spent a ton of time in libraries, and especially in the last two years while studying at the University.

(I remember the first time I fell asleep on campus was not during a boring lecture, but on a library cubicle desk while trying to finish an all-nighter paper. When I roused myself, kind of embarrassed, I went to rinse the sleep out of my eyes, and there reflected in the mirror was the tell-tale red mark on my forehead.)

And those years were glorious – it always felt like a small victory when I found a critical work that I needed in the maze of titles on the shelves.

Now that I’ve closed my last required reading, sent off my last paper, and deposited my thesis, instead of pending assignments I’ve found myself with time on my hands.

“We should read a book together,” my sister suggested. She lives halfway across the world, and we don’t see each other much. Though our lifestyles and interests are pretty different, we’ve both always been voracious readers. “I’ve heard about this book, 1Q84…”

I said I’d look into finding a copy. I looked around at used bookstores, hoping I’d come across it, or someone I could borrow it from, as often happens. But the more I waited, the more I seemed to be missing something obvious.

And that’s when it hit me: the library.

I could find a book there and borrow it for fun.

So that’s what I did.

A friend and I joked once that libraries were a socialist conspiracy. I like that idea of the library as a conspiracy: that a community of people has access to a community of ideas and they are conspiring together to create an open space for thought, storytelling, and discussion.

If you haven’t been to the library in a while, consider spending a bit of free reading time there. Who knows what words you’ll meet?

Apple just released details on their new streaming service, dubbed “Apple Music” – And I’m wondering 3 things:

 

Price?

Available in Canada?

Will Apple Music have The Beatles’ music?

 

I’m subscribed to Google Play Music, and I love it, but the lack of Beatles annoys me, as they’re my favourite band. Apple has The Beatles on iTunes, which is a good sign.

I’ve learned it’ll be $9.99/month after 3 free months, and $14.99/month on a family plan (Which, actually, is a pretty good idea) – Still not sure if it’ll be initially available in Canada but it will come to Canada – And –

 

Still dunno ’bout the Beatles.

 

I’ll update as I find info.

Edit 1: They’ve mentioned they’ll offer “The same as iTunes” (Which has The Beatles) – Also a good sign! But they haven’t said if The Beatles will be there.

Edit 2: This link: http://9to5mac.com/2015/06/09/apple-music-itunes-catalog/ – Says no Beatles at first. Guess I’m sticking with Google!