My Current Bookshelf - September 2017

It's been another full month of reading; I'm listening to audioboks on my daily runs and bike-rides to and from work, so I'm getting in more listening.  I also went away for a weekend in early September where I got a bunch of graphic novels read (had to catch up on some Buffy!).  And while I'd love to talk oodles about the amazing trifecta of books on race (Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life by Karen E. Fields; Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea Ritchie; Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music by Ann Powers), I cannot because they're still in reviewing status for where I reviewed them.  But if you want the best of this month's reads go to them.  I'll write more about them in the future as I'm starting to carve out a section of posts on race and racism.  But moving along, here's what this month had to offer.  

Introducing Walter Benjamin by Howard Caygill

If you're not familiar with the Graphic Guides (also known as Introducing...), then you may be in for a treat.  They often take complex people or theory and break it down into meaningful chunks using a mixture of images, quotes, and text.  Caygill's treatment of Walter Benjamin was enjoyable if not sometimes a big challenging.  Benjamin was a strange mixture of historian, art critic, and wandering scholar.  Though for me, I always knew him for his most popular work, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Caygill illustrates (pun intended) how this was a later work to a range of works that focused on sensemaking of artistic endeavors and their relation to the modern world (of the mid-twentieth century), an unstable world of shifting ideologies and the horrors of war.  Benjamin lived in Europe throughout the first half of the 20th century and was both Marxist and Jewish, which meant his existence in Germany would prove increasingly challenging.  The most fascinating aspect I found in this work was the wondering nature Benjamin who was never able to find a stable academic home; I tend to think that is the challenge of a great many scholars today.  The art was useful at times, illustrating the artworks or the major historical people that Benjamin interacted with.  Yet, sometimes, the images didn't serve to enhance the narrative but just seemed plopped in without explanation.  

The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism by Jeremy Rifkin

Book Cover - Zero Marginal Cost Society by Jeremy Rifkin
Rifkin offers up a utopian view of the future that draws heavily on Chris Anderson's Free and many of the other texts out there that show us salvation awaits us in our technology.  Reading Rifkin's work now that it's been out for a few years and it does indeed feel dated.  So many of the promises that were just around the corner still seem far away.  The idealized sense that the internet will make us more collectively powerful seems lost amid the last few years of extremist politics domestically and abroad.  Massively Open Online Courses as the cure-all for alternative credentialing in higher education still seems less viable and we will somehow become increasingly sustainable through these technological breakthroughs come across as stale in a world that still cannot get the facts right about climate change.  Despite that, I would still recommend the book for anyone looking for glimmers of hope (after all, Rifkin's The Empathic Civilization helps me to frame the progress humanity has made despite what the news tells us) because there are ideas here that are worth holding onto.


Check out other reading recommendations from 2017 (and you can always look at all of my books that I've read on GoodReads):

BOOKS

  • Detox Your Writing: Strategies for Doctoral Researchers by Pat Thomson
  • The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success by Larry Machi
  • The Art of Clean Up: Life Made Neat and Tidy by Ursus Wehrli


AUDIOBOOKS

  • Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy
  • This Book is Gay by James Dawson
  • Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life by Karen E. Fields
  • Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea Ritchie
  • The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World In Flux by 
  • The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism by Jeremy Rifkin
  • An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power: Your Action Handbook to Learn the Science, Find Your Voice, and Help Solve the Climate Crisis by Al Gore
  • Streampunks: YouTube and the Rebels Remaking Media by Robert Kyncl
  • Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music by Ann Powers
  • The Most Defining Moments in Black History According to Dick Gregory by Dick Gregory


GRAHPIC NOVELS
  • Introducing Walter Benjamin by Howard Caygill
  • Star Wars - Doctor Aphra by Kieron Gillen,
  • Star Wars - Poe Dameron Vol. 2 - The Gathering Storm by Charles Soule
  • Stitches by David Small
  • Everafter, Vol. 1: The Pandora Protocol by Lilah Sturges
  • Angel and Faith Season 10 Volume 5 (Angel & Faith) by Victor Gischler
  • Angel & Faith: A Little More Than Kin (Season 10, #4) by Victor Gischler
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Spread of Their Evil (Season 11, #1) by Christos Gage
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Old Demons (Season 10, #4) by Christos Gage
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Love Dares You (Season 10, #3) by Christos Gage
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In Pieces on the Ground (Season 10, #5) by Christos Gage
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Own It (Season 10, #6) by Christos Gage

What about you reader?  What book recommendations do you have for me?

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: The Wee Free Men

The Wee Free Men The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. Meet Tiffany Aching; her hobbies include making cheese, tending sheep, babysitting her two year old brother, gallivanting about with pictsies (the male version of pixies), learning the fine art of witchcraft, and saving said brother from the evil clutches of the Elf Queen. Yes, this endearing and intelligent nine-year-old does it all. “The Wee Free Men,” is another novel transpiring in Terry Pratchett’s alternative universe, known as Discworld. And like almost any other Discworld novel, you need not read any of his prior works to understand and appreciate this story, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Indeed, Pratchett keeps true to form with his usual wit and humor in this fun and light-hearted adventure.

Unbeknownst to dear Tiffany is that she has the skills and ability to become a witch: a feat very uncommon for the people of Chalk. After all, how can one that has come from chalk have the strength to be a witch? But her grandmother was a witch and she too has the knack. Before she can be taught by the witches, she must save her kidnapped brother. It is while learning about her potential future as a witch and searching for her brother that she is introduced to the Nac Mac Feegle, a clan of thieving and fighting blue pictsies who befriend Tiffany. Seeing the witch potential in her and fearing her abilities, they help her on her mission to save her brother. These rogue fairy creatures are not the brightest of beings and lack any magic of their own, but they certainly are amusing and provide sufficient comic relief. After several side adventures and dealings with rowdy pictsies as well as a talking toad, Tiffany manages her way to Fairyland where she must use all her skills to find and defeat the evil Elf Queen.

Stephen Briggs, a familiar name and voice to the Discworld series, does this book justice. He has narrated twelve prior books by Terry Pratchett and mapped out Ankh-Morpork and the Discworld as well as co-authored “The Discworld Companion.” He carries the story like an old pro who has resided in Discworld for many a year.

Briggs switches from young lass to a Scottish sprite with amazing ease. Even when dishing out some of the more difficult and exaggerated names, he delivers them with efficient speed and smoothness. During one section of the book, Briggs speaks so quickly and does so well, it’s reminiscent of “Who’s On First” by Abbott and Costello. He is a fantastic match for Terry Pratchett. While well done and observant, often Pratchett’s humor can take a while to get to the point or, be hard to pick up when reading through. Briggs skillfully keeps the story going while giving all the right cues and inflections for humor so the listener never misses a laugh. He manages to flesh out the various characters within the story that just by their mere words, one gains an impression of the person.

This is a book that is actually better in audio format. Much of the dialogue carries heavy accents, which can be hard to read. Internally hearing the dialogue through one’s inner voice can make reading it a much slower and more difficult process. However, in audio, the slang and poorly pronounced words (purposely on the character’s behalf) become much easier to understand and follow along. And besides stories like these have such a fairy-tale quality to them, hearing them is much more delightful than reading it on your own.

“The Wee Free Men” is a fun, light-hearted, and humorous tale written by a master of storytelling and delivered by a fantastic storyteller. It’s not a must-read, but certainly worth its while and a delightful way to pass the time.

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The PhD Chronicles: Share & Share Alike

The cohort has many advantages and I've increasingly grown to appreciate how it has positively impacted my learning.  Having always been in a program by myself, I did not realize just what kinds of opportunities happen when you are part of a community of learners engaged in a seriously challenging task.  Of course, I should have realized this given what I do know about learning, but not having the chance to experience it first hand left me out in the wind about how powerful it can be.

As the cohort solidifies and members learn more and more about one another, we've become a place of sharing a lot of different things.  We have limited time and yet, we take time to share--a lot.  Some of the things that we share?


    Share
  • Job leads
  • Humor we can commiserate in.
  • Relevant research & news for each others' interests
  • Celebrations (birthdays, new jobs, promotions, progress in the program)
  • Learning strategies
  • Learning resources
  • Writing strategies
  • Strategies for approaching professors
  • Network leads
  • Feedback we've received on papers to help others learn more.
  • Feedback and tips on resumes, cover letters, and applications for different opportunities.
  • Challenges and personal setbacks that we hit along the way.

This is, of course, pretty normal for any group as it becomes familiar and knows one another more.  But I am just appreciative that this particular group of cohort members does it so damn well!

 Want to catch up on my previous reflections about being in a PhD program?  Check them out:
  1. Acceptance
  2. Orientation
  3. Day 1
  4. Week 1
  5. First 2 Courses Completed
  6. First 2 Courses Finished
  7. Semester 2, Here We Go
  8. The Existential Crisis of the Week
  9. The Balancing Act
  10. Negotiating Privilege in Higher Education
  11. Zeroing in on Research
  12. Completing the Second Semester
  13. Dissertation Journal #1
  14. Dissertation Journal #2
  15. So Starts The Third Semester
  16. My Educational Philosophy...for now
  17. Dissertation Journal #3
  18. PhD'ese
  19. And Sometimes, You Feel It
  20.  Semester's Endgame
  21. Year 1, Officially Done
  22. Year 2, Week 1, Day 1
  23. Year 2, Week 1 Done!
  24. 1/3 Complete!?!?!
  25. Click...
  26. Day 1; Semester 5


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Review: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003 The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003 by Dave Eggers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. When the great books and hottest picks of the year are chosen, what happens to all the rest? Are they just tossed to the roadside, forgotten and left to gather dust on a bookshelf in a second-hand bookstore? While these books may not contain the next George Orwell, Victor Hugo, or Charles Dickens, it doesn’t mean they are devoid of literary value. “The Best American Non-Required Reading, 2003,” sets out to prove just that. But with a label like “Non-Required Reading,” this book begs the question, “With everything that is published in a year, how can you arbitrarily pick the ‘best American non-required reading’?” No matter how one tries to rationalize this title, it still sounds like it’s the second place writing. But instead, it proves to be alternative reading that teeters on a thin line. It does not get the attention it probably deserves but is not deserving of a great deal of attention.

Regardless of the dubious title, the pieces are still quality works filled with humor, thought, understanding, and amusement. They cover a range of worlds from life in a tribute band to dealing with social differences (and indifferences) in suburbia to how open-mindedness and arrogance often become bedfellows. They are short pieces that can sometimes require reflection before moving on while others require no reflection but rather a quick laugh. None of the stories particularly stuck out and some are even hard to remember, but no story seemed poorly chosen for this selection.

This abridgment does not do the series justice. The audiobook permeates with potential and just when the book is settling into its groove, the book finishes. With just three CDs, the listener only hears seven stories. Most of the first CD is the foreword, which is followed by a lagging introduction, detracting from the audiobook as a whole. The stories are interesting in many regards particularly for their wit and also for their ability to keep the reader wondering, just where the story is going. It’s no wonder why there were chosen for the series, but there’s no explanation as to why these were the only stories chosen for the abridgment. An introduction to the audio edition explaining the why these particular stories were picked would have served as a better introduction than what was offered. An audiobook like this should be additionally offered as unabridged. Two of these seven short stories are less than seven minutes in length. This brief glimpse only leaves the listener wanting more. Abridging a story into three hours gives you the basic plot of the book, but abridging an anthology cannot really make its point in such a short span with just a few stories.

Most works were read by the author and read decently. Granted, the stories were short and lacked many of the dynamic elements that might require a professional narration, but the authors held their own as narrators and delivered their stories with no errors. Amazingly with some stories such as “Saint Chola,” the author’s voice seemed to perfectly match the story. However, it would be interesting to see how a single narrator would have read all the stories.

“The Best American Non-Required Reading” isn’t definitive nor is it classic in any sense but it is fun. These seven stories are entertaining and enjoyable enough that they give an honest definition to the title of the series. They also work well for short commutes or for the listener who only listens in short intervals of fifteen to thirty minutes. Certainly, no one should be required to read them, but if you’re tired of recommended and required reading, you should try these for a nice diversion.

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Review: Idlewild

Idlewild Idlewild by Nick Sagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. This is not your average Halloween—in fact, it’s not even a holiday, but a death-obsessed eighteen-year-old boy who awakes to find his memory has been rebooted and his body is immovable. While his thoughts are scrambled, he slowly regains some memories. Suddenly, he realizes that he was attacked and someone is out to get him. Halloween knows he cannot trust anyone, but with holes in his memory, he is hard-pressed to figure it all out on his own.

It’s the 22nd century, and Halloween and his classmates attend a high-tech school that prepares them to be the leaders of tomorrow. It is a physical school but much of the education and training transpires in a virtual reality simulation where the students use a myriad of resources that borderline on magic. The students rely heavily upon their virtual reality identities and return to the real world only when necessary or when attempting to avoid the caretaker of the virtual school. Hal and his friends are constantly finding ways to hack this system and manipulate the caretaker programs. While producing one of these glitches, Hal learns the true nature of his school and the legacy awaiting his fellow students. But with one student already missing, and his life in evident danger, Hal struggles to determine who among his friends and enemies has also learned of what awaits them after graduation.

The story maintains a decent level of mystery and suspense. Playing the part of the detective, Halloween even goes to the extent of having a gathering of all the students to flesh out the villain. Unfortunately, this party causes unforeseen events that only further Hal’s confusion and disillusion with his environment. Just as Hal was regaining his memories and understanding his situation, he is blown away by the knowledge that indeed his whole universe does not exist. He must determine what to do with his life when everything he knows is a lie.

Since the release of “The Matrix,” this idea of a reality within a reality has grown with popularity and one could say that “idlewild,” is just another copycat. However, it is much more than that. Nick Sagan combines aspects from “The Matrix,” but that is not his sole model. While it feels akin to such “what is reality” type stories, it carries its own distinction. Also, early in the story, he relies heavily upon H.P.Lovercraft and makes enough references to the famous writer to warrant looking up information on the genre writer. On the technological aspect of his writing, he seems to have been influenced by William Gibson.

Clayton Barclay Jones uses a soft and eloquent voice that perfectly coincides with this first person narrative. As the voice of Halloween, Jones is superb in fleshing out Halloween as a cool, calm, and collective being trying to rationalize his world. Even at times of excitement, the voice maintains gentleness quite appropriate for the protagonist. What does not work for this audiobook is Beth McDonald. At the beginning of each chapter, she reads off what sounds like a transmission record. This record appears to be a technical summation of what happens in the virtual world. While it is meant to feel very mechanical in its reading, it is too much for the listener. When reading the book, the reader has the ability to read and slowly digest what the readout is saying. McDonald delivers a fantastic computer voice but reads very quickly giving the listener no real chance for understanding.

“idlewild,” is a fantastic and thrilling novel about a young man’s fight for life and understanding of what living ultimately means. Enriched with a story line that has similarities to “Oryx and Crake,” “The Matrix,” “Neuromancer,” and several other contemporary books, the book keeps you guessing and maintains your interest until the very end.

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