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The Twelve, Justin Cronin

2012/11/19

I meant to re-read “The Passage” before jumping into this one — after all, it has been a couple of years — but there was a waiting list, and once I picked up “The Twelve,” I didn’t put it down for the rest of the afternoon, reading with an engrossment only recently rivaled by my first reading of the Harry Potter series.

The prologue begins with a fascinating excerpt from the Third Global Conference on the North American Quarantine Period, which was also used as a frame for the previous book. This novel jumps between at least three different time periods, Year Zero, 79 AV, and 97 AV, some of which overlap the time periods that were covered in book one. Some of the cast of characters will be familiar, including the twelve virals, Amy, Peter, Alicia, Hollis, and Sara; though as I was reading, I had only a vague recollection of who was featured before. In Year Zero, a pregnant doctor has gone into shock and denial after witnessing the death of nine people by an infected patient; carrying on a facade of her daily life, she encounters Lawrence Grey, one of the janitors from Project Noah, and casts him as a Home Depot painter. Meanwhile, a sniper in Denver meets up with other survivors during the last big push before the failure of the quarantine line. In 79 AV, a group of agricultural workers and their families are dually attacked by humans aiding virals during an eclipse. And in present 97 AV, Amy emerges from the convent where she has been hiding, and begins to take actions that will converge at a commune in Iowa led by a former director of the department which oversaw Project Noah.

This book can be read without revisiting the first, though picking up “The Passage” will clarify much of what is happening. Some will probably be disappointed by the lack of action and focus on the remaining virals, especially since so much time was spent following Babcock and Carter in the first book. This book is noticeably shorter than “The Passage,” but a lot of ground is covered, and I’m curious to see what is left in the third book. Similar to Brunner’s dystopian novels, I really enjoy the wide cast of characters and the eventual intertwining of people and events, despite some initial confusion during first readings; the religious and political implications are also fascinating to see as they play out over time.

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The Best of All Possible Worlds, Karen Lord

2012/11/12

I saw this on Netgalley and put in a request; I was really surprised at how much I ended up enjoying it.

In this novel, the destruction of their homeworld forces the Sadiri people to seek out permanent places of relocation for their survivors; one group of male Sadiri settles on Cygnus Beta, a highly diverse planet whose population includes many others who have been forcefully or tragically relocated. Grace Delarua, an assistant biotechnician with a knack for languages, is assigned to the Sadiri as a government liason to assist in their transition and acclimation process. She soon learns from Dllenahkh, one of the Sadiri, that the reason his people are on Cygnus Beta is to locate and meet taSadiri, members of their race who left Sadira long before the tragedy, and with whom the now decimated Sadiri people would like to reunite. And since one of the highest priorities of these settlers is to find and marry women who complement and are open to the Sadiri culture and lifestyle, in order to begin families and maintain what remains of their society, locating people who have descended from the taSadiri is very important not only to the Sadiri now on Cygnus Beta, but also to the New Sadira government. Thus, Grace finds herself being assigned to accompany the Sadiri party as they visit several widespread villages and settlements across the provinces in search of the taSadiri descendants.

I found the sociological aspects of this story to be very interesting: the idea of a decimated people, overpopulated with men, and the ideas that they came up with to address this problem; the discussions that Dllenahkh, one of the Sadiri, has with Grace in regards to his government’s ideas on repopulation and maintaining their culture while spread out over many foreign planets. Although the plot and resolution may have been used before, and may seem somewhat predictable in the end, I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend, Rachael Bertsche

2012/10/24

There have been some articles published recently about the difficulty that some young adults have in making lasting friendships post-college. Books like the seminal “Bowling Alone” and the recent “Going Solo” have been written about the increased isolation of Americans due to lack of community involvement, screen time, online social interaction in place of face-to-face communication, and so on. In this memoir, newly married Rachel, recently moved to Chicago and missing her NYC friends, decides to devote a year to seeking out new friends, planning on a “girl-date” a week in the hopes of finding a new BFF.

Rachel faithfully relates each of her fifty-two dates, as well as her follow-up attempts and some of her more successful connections. She tries many methods, ranging from “friend-of-a-friend” to blind “girl-dates,” speed friending, and rent-a-friends. In between her adventures, she examines some of the research on relationships and connections, including Dunbar’s number, the aforementioned “Bowling Alone,” and studies on women’s friendships.

One of the interesting things that happens over the course of Rachel’s year is her change in attitude towards situations in which she meets strangers; a position of openness rather than defensiveness or closedness. Although there are days where she needs to step back and recharge in her personal time or with her husband, Rachel notices that strangers are more open and friendly in response to her willingness to be friendly. She also learns about what it means to her to have friendships as an adult, and that perhaps having a drop-everything-come-over-in-thirty-minutes friendship is not something that she is willing to invest in and reciprocate, even if she would like to have a friend who would do that for her. As an introvert who has many acquaintances, a good number of casual friends, but very few close friends or “lifers,” this book gave me a lot to think about in regards to forming and keeping friendships.

The Sandman, Vol. 10 : The Wake, Neil Gaiman

2012/10/03

Neil Gaiman has not been one of those authors that I tend to enjoy; despite it being highly recommended by friends, I struggled through “American Gods.” I found “The Graveyard Books” to be eerie and creepy. But after reading the same quote on love from “The Kindly Ones” over and over, I decided that I should probably have some context for it, and started tracking down the ten volumes. Of course, no one library in any of the nearby systems had all of them, and so I ended up reading book nine first, then the rest in proper order as I found them.

As someone who has attended a fair number of funerals in the past year, and in years prior, “The Wake” is a glorious closure to Morpheus’s story. The dissemination of the news, the preparations made for the wake and the funeral, the stages of grief displayed across characters from throughout Dream’s reign, the struggles for those left behind. And since this is a story, threads are tied up, conclusions are wrought, plays are drawn to an end. Dream has not always been a sympathetic character throughout the books, but his eulogies by the Raven and Bast, are such that one would be honored to have spoken at their memorial.

I have not read extensively in the graphic novel genre, and I’m not even very good with the visual form of media (TV, movies, music videos, video games, etc), probably due to my reliance on text-based forms of entertainment. I am wary of graphic violence and horror; even reading a Stephen King novel pushes the bounds of my comfort zone. So I went into this experience knowing that “The Sandman” wasn’t going to be an easy read. There is violence, sex, language, and horror aplenty in the series, but there is also beauty, truth, existentialism, poetry, life, and death. Of the series, volumes seven, nine, and ten definitely stood out as the ones that packed the most emotional punches, mostly due to their shared storylines of mortality, even for the Endless.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain

2012/09/28

After several attempts to start and finish this book, I finally managed to get a hard copy and read through it one afternoon. If you are an introvert, or are trying to relate to an introvert (and there are more of them out there than you realize), this is a must-read.

Cain addresses several facets of introversion, looking first at the evolution of the extrovert ideal; examining historical examples, the idea of charisma, the emphasis on collaboration and sharing ideas in brainstorming sessions, and relates some surprising research on the efficacy of these. She takes a fascinating look at the role of nature and nurture in forming an introvert, discussing psychology, personality, and biology. She looks at high-context Asian culture, and how introverts and extroverts are viewed differently through the lens of non-western societies. The final section is devoted to learning how introverts and extroverts relate to one another, providing insight on ways to communicate, work together, be in relationships and families and work groups.

I already knew many of the things about introversion that Cain wrote about, but found myself nodding my head with all the things she writes about how we need to understand our stimulus level, especially how most introverts know that they need time alone or in quiet places to recharge, but that they also have a tendency to gravitate to understimulation and isolating themselves, which leads to boredom and depression. I have found this to be very true, but wasn’t able to really explain it until reading this book.