Pick Me!

A weblog by Laura Moncur

9/17/2003

Resurrection

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 8:15 am

There are some artists that I wish I could resurrect just so I could smack the hell out of them. I would give Andy Warhol a good thrashing for ruining the concept of art. I would give Frank Sinatra a sock in the jaw for not recording more songs in his later years. Most importantly, I would beat the tar out of Somerset Maugham for being so right and so wrong.

Life isn’t long enough for love and art. W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence

I can’t believe that an artist must suffer. I want to believe that love is the best and most true inspiration for art. I want to live in a world where artists are the people who have the most loving lives. I want artists to be the self-actualized people. They have shelter, food, and acceptance, and only then can great art spring forth from their bodies. I want to have the hope that now that I have love in my life, I will still be an artist.

Then again, I know that he is right. How may stories of suffering artists do I need to read before I believe him? What about those artists that didn’t suffer? I don’t believe it. We just didn’t know about their suffering. The biographers were negligent and didn’t find it. Maybe the artist suffered so much in youth that there was enough art to last during the luxurious and indolent years.

Even darker, I know that everyone suffers. No one escapes this world unscathed. Give me an hour stuck in an elevator alone with anyone on this planet, and I will hear about their pain. Give me five minutes in a checkout line with most people, and I will learn their pain. Worst of all, if we were able to exchange our pain for anyone’s we would chose our own. No matter how blessed the life of that adversary may seem, that person is suffering and if I only knew, I wouldn’t even think of trading places.

There’s always one who loves and one who lets himself be loved. W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage

I can’t believe in a world where all the relationships are like that. I have to believe there is that magic that happens when both people are equally in love with each other. I have to believe that there is a chance for me to be madly in love and be madly loved at the same time. I can’t bear to live in Somerset Maugham’s world.

Yet, the dark corners of my heart know he was right. Sure, he was a bitter old man, but he also lived longer than I have and lived more than I probably will live. He must be right because he’s a published author. I’m the one who is idealistic. Everyone should just settle. I should just be safe in the knowledge that when I’m madly in love, he is just allowing me to adore him and eventually I will lose him to the object of his adoration. I should just refuse to allow Charles Strickland in the house and let him die like the dog that he is. The only other route is the acid tonic before sleep and the four days of agony. Four days isn’t that long. God, I wish that I had never read his works.

It’s asking a great deal that things should appeal to your reason as well as your sense of the aesthetic. W. Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965), Of Human Bondage

I find myself poised at the beginning of another book by Somerset Maugham. It is called “The Summing Up” and I find myself paralyzed with fear. I have learned so much good from this author, but at the same time, I have learned to hate him and am filled with the desire to box him about the ears. Should I read it and risk more pain? Should I read it and learn more from this man?

9/18/2003

Temptation

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 11:47 am

I forgot to tell you why I love him. I forgot to tell you why I’m tempted to read that book I found at the failing used bookstore in Sugarhouse. I forgot to tell you why I handed the tired and grieving owner my last three dollars. I love Somerset Maugham because he taught me how to love Impressionist art.

Art is merely the refuge which the ingenious have invented, when they were supplied with food and women, to escape the tediousness of life. W. Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965), Of Human Bondage, 1915

Before I read Of Human Bondage, I couldn’t make sense of it. Impressionist art seemed like the sort of thing that artists without talent resorted to. I’m not talking about Abstract art, with its Jackson Pollack squiggles of paint. I’m not talking about Surrealist art, with its Salvador Dali melting watches. I’m not even talking about Cubism art, with its Pablo Picasso double noses. These are also art movements that I had relegated to the home of incompetence, some of which I have learned to love and others I have just learned to tolerate. I’m talking about Impressionist art, where the picture is told in globs of paint on huge canvases. It’s like looking at the world without my glasses. Why would anyone paint that?

Of Human Bondage follows Philip, a failed artist turned medical student, on the journey of his early life. It is Philip’s sojourn in Paris and his burning desire to be an artist that helped me appreciate the artwork of the Impressionists. On my last visit to San Francisco a few years ago, I visited the museums and was lucky enough to see a Monet. I remembered Philip’s pride at showing the artwork of Paris to his friend, Hayward. I imagined him at my side, telling me why this painting is brilliant and why everything else in the museum isn’t worth seeing. The painting became dear to me because of a well-written story.

The important thing was to feel in terms of paint. W. Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965), Of Human Bondage, 1915

Now there is a whole classification of art that I can enjoy that I couldn’t enjoy before. Because the artists were referred to so often in that damned and haunting story, their paintings are dear to me. I still can’t appreciate them for the artistic ability. It may be that he is right and only a painter can judge a painting.

[T]he painter’s arrogant claim to be the sole possible judge of painting has anything but its impertinence to recommend it. W. Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965), Of Human Bondage, 1915

10/16/2003

Miles Vorkosigan

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 11:40 am

He’s short. I’m not talking normal short, this guy is midget short. I’m talking dwarf short. Not only that, he’s sickly. His mother was poisoned when she was pregnant with him, so all of his bones are brittle. Even my excitable nature could accidentally break his arms. He’s smart as hell, though. If you are in trouble, the sight of him should fill you with hope. It’s just that he’s so damn short

If power was an illusion, wasn’t weakness necessarily one also? Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campain, 1999

He’s loyal, too. If he made an oath to protect you, you would be protected for the rest of your life. If you made an oath to follow him, he would expect it. With great loyalty, comes devotion. He demands it by his actions, not by his words. If you know him, you don’t see the man who is under four feet tall, you see a true hero.

The problem is that I’ve never seen him. He lives in the imaginary world of Lois McMaster Bujold. I have been reading her books for a couple of years now and I find that she has completely ruined me for almost all other science fiction. Her books are so well written that I have a hard time reading lesser authors. Plus, I love Miles so much

[Y]ou have to be careful who you let define your good. Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campain, 1999

Miles Vorkosigan comes from a planet called Barrayar, where mutants and cripples are exposed at birth, or at least were just a couple of generations ago. He is the son of the second most powerful man on Barrayar and most believe that his advance in the military was based on nepotism rather than merit. He spends his young adult life proving that he is worthy of accolades and his adult life has been spent foiling various attempts to overthrow his cousin, the Emperor of Barrayar.

If all of this sounds complicated, it is. Added to all this intrigue is the fact that his mother is an off-worlder, he has an alternate identity with a mercenary group, he has a clone traipsing around the galaxy causing trouble for him and those damn Cetagandans are always trying to muck things up. Every novel she has written has enough going on to keep the most active mind on its toes and the characters still have enough presence of mind to tell me important things about my own life.

Read Mountains of Mourning online for free. It isn’t the first book in the series, but it is a good example of the compact beauty of her writing.

2/10/2004

Why Girls Are Weird

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:07 am

I just finished reading a book by a blogger about a blogger. It’s fiction and a love romance novel in many respects, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable. I’m not a romance reader, so this is a switch for me. I’m usually hardcore sci-fi all the way. There was a blog entry about a Tiny Wooden Hand that just had me laughing out loud. I worried that I would wake up Mike with my guffawing.

The book is called Why Girls Are Weird by Pamela Ribon. She still keeps a blog at http://pamie.com/. I haven’t scoured its pages yet. I just did well enough to finish the book before it had to go back to the library. I wish I had bought it. Tiny Wooden Hand is exactly the kind of fix I need when Old Cowboy Winter starts closing in on me.

I don’t know why I feel the need to provide an advertisement for this book. Ok, that’s a lie. I want to tell you about the book because I really enjoyed it. It was a book in a genre that I usually abhor and I loved it. I ate it up. I actually finished reading it. Plus, it was recommended to me by another blogger. I feel like I need to pay it forward.

If you didn’t know, I maintain the Motivational Quotes of the Day, so I’m always looking for quotations. Some authors are wonderful writers, but they are far from quotable. Other authors fill my little black book with interesting quotations. Here is what I gleaned from Why Girls Are Weird:

When something that honest is said it usually needs a few minutes of silence to dissipate.  - Pamela Ribon, Why Girls Are Weird, 2003   Having a holiday weekend without a family member felt like putting on a sweater that had an extra arm.  - Pamela Ribon, Why Girls Are Weird, 2003   When you live in Texas, every single time you see snow it’s magical.  - Pamela Ribon, Why Girls Are Weird, 2003   It’s sad when our daddies die. Makes us one less person inside.  - Pamela Ribon, Why Girls Are Weird, 2003

All of this tells you nothing about the story or plotline. That’s what Amazon.com is for. They have a synopsis and lots of readers’ comments for you to chew on. For me, I can only rate her as a quotable author. Here is the scale: with J.K. Rowling as a one (hard as hell to sift through all those adventures to find a good quote) to Somerset Maugham as a ten (you should see my copy of Summing Up, to post all of those quotes would be a copyright infringement).  I rate Pamela Ribon as a seven: some good quotes that are mixed in with all the good reading. Thanks, Pamie!

3/25/2004

Dancing Barefoot

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

On of the advantages of being an author for O’Reilly and Associates is that you can get books from them whenever you want. When I heard about Wil Wheaton’s book, Dancing Barefoot, I asked Mike to get me a copy of it. It arrived last Wednesday and I finished it over the weekend.

If you have read his weblog from the beginning, then you’ve read every story in the book, but there is something infinitely different about reading a book. A book is so intimate. You can curl up with it in bed. You can take it with you to the park. You can hide it in your car as a reward for later. Even a laptop and a PDA are not as convenient and friendly as a book.

Over half the book is a recounting of an experience at a Star Trek convention and was my favorite of all the stories. I guess I should have prefaced this entire entry with one caveat. I am a Star Trek fan. I’ve enjoyed almost every series and tolerated the others. I don’t speak the Klingon language. I don’t know anything about the ship schematics. I couldn’t even tell you the name of my favorite episodes, but I do consider myself a Trekkie. I’ve never been to a convention, though. Those people scare me.

Hearing Wil’s view of a Star Trek convention was touching and frightening. His encounters with the rabid Trekkers were exactly what I expected from a convention, but the loving side of the fans was surprising to me. So many of my friends were critical of Star Trek and almost every character that I was happy to know that there are fans that are polite. Wil’s epiphany at the end of that story was beautiful and touching.

I definitely recommend Dancing Barefoot, even if you have read his entire weblog since he started it. I recommend it even if you have never watched an episode of Star Trek. The stories are universal and there is something enjoyable for almost anyone. I am so pleased with Wil’s progress as a writer. I can’t wait for Just a Geek to come out.

5/3/2004

The Princess Bride

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I went to Barnes and Noble alone on Saturday. When I go with Mike, I always feel rushed, so I told him that I was going to go the bookstore without him while he slept Saturday morning. He didn’t worry where I was and I didn’t feel like I didn’t have enough time to see all that I wanted to see at the store.

Ok, that’s a lie. I still felt like I didn’t have enough time to see all that I wanted to see at Barnes and Noble. I don’t think I will ever get that feeling of being literarily satiated. Unless I could walk into the store and read every single book that I had a passing interest in before for leaving, I doubt I would have that feeling. I should quit blaming my feelings of being rushed on Mike. It’s not his fault that I cannot consume the entire bookstore in one sitting.

I spent over an hour doing one thing at Barnes and Noble. I sat on a hard wooden chair and read the new introduction to The Princess Bride by William Goldman. It was the 30th Anniversary Edition and it was sitting in the bestsellers section at the front. I didn’t even get to the discount books section this time. I was accosted by a book that I already own.

I read The Princess Bride after seeing the movie and was amazed at how closely they matched. It was one of those rare occasions when the book didn’t ruin the movie for me. They were both perfect and beautiful in their own right. What was even better than seeing the movie was reading William Goldman’s description of the effort of abridging the original manuscript by <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />S. Morgenstern. What a fanciful addition to the classic story.

After reading the 30th and 25th Anniversary Introductions, I started to question myself. Maybe S. Morgenstern wasn’t imaginary. Maybe Florin and Guilder really existed. Maybe it wasn’t a fanciful addition to the classic story. Maybe it was the truth. Sitting there in Barnes and Noble, I suddenly wanted it to be the truth. I wanted there to be a museum in Florin where I could see the sword of the six-fingered man. I wanted there to be lawyers for the Morgenstern Estate. I wanted Fezzik to be a real giant and I wanted to see the mold of his fingers.

After an hour of reading the new introductions to The Princess Bride, I wanted to believe so badly. Mike called me on my cell, wondering if I was ever going to come home (for the record, I might have forgotten to come home until I had finished reading all the books in the store, so it was a good thing that he called).

“Mike, I need to you come here and bring the Barnes and Noble card because I’m going to buy a book and I want to get the discount.”

“What are you buying?”

“It’s the 30th Anniversary Edition of The Princess Bride. I know that we already have it, but this one has all this interesting stuff about Florin and The Morgenstern Museum and stuff. I guess there really was a S. Morgenstern and he’s been having all this legal trouble with the estate. There is a sequel that he wants to abridge, but the estate wants Stephen King to do it.”

“Laura, Florin isn’t real. There was no unabridged book. We’ll get a map and I’ll show you that there is no Florin on it.”

“No, Florin is now some part of Russia, I think.”

I could feel the illusion leaving me. Did William Goldman actually say that Florin was in Russia or was he just comparing their airlines to their Russian counterparts? Come to think of it, there is NO Florin in Europe. But the story seemed so real. Who would make up a story about lawyers? It was madness. No, Inigo Montoya existed and killed Count Rugen in the castle by the billiard table. William Goldman saw the spot in the castle himself. The Cliffs of Insanity are real and Andre the Giant practiced climbing them to prepare for his part in the movie. He was the kind of guy to do that. He was French. They do stuff like that over there.

“No, Mike. I’m telling you. It’s real. There really was some old book that is totally long and boring and William Goldman really abridged it and now he’s having legal trouble because of it.”

“No, Laura. It’s all part of the story. There is no such place as Florin or Guilder. He made it all up. Think about it. If there really was a book, it would be in the public domain by now and there would be no trouble with lawyers.”

“It didn’t come into the public domain until 1987.”

“That would mean the book was written in 1902. That’s a little late for a true tale of medieval history.”

I could feel the truth wash over me. There is no Florin. Inigo Montoya never lost his father to Count Rugen because neither one of them existed. Buttercup never jumped from that castle window into Fezzik’s arms. The Man in Black was never brought back from the Mostly Dead. There is no life-sucking machine in the bowels of the Zoo of Death. It was all a story. There are no lawyers preventing me from reading the sequel, Buttercup’s Baby. For one fleeting hour, I believed it all. I sat on that hard wooden chair and believed that it all had been real.

“I want it to be true.”

“That doesn’t make it true.”

I thought about Andre the Giant placing his hand in Fezzik’s finger mold. I had felt such joy thinking that the sweet man had found a cohort from the past whose hands were bigger than his. It was all gone.

“I still want it to be true. I’m going to buy this book.”

“Ok, I’ll be right over.”

If you haven’t read the two new introductions to The Princess Bride, you must read them. If you don’t own the book, buy it now. If you do own the book, go buy the 30th Anniversary Edition anyway. The mark of a brilliant writer is the ability to transport the reader into another reality. I was taken to a world where revenge really was sweet. I was taken to a world where the hero really saved the damsel. I was taken to a world where all of it and more was true and documented. There was a museum that displayed the sword and the life-sucking machine. Maybe it seemed so real because there were blood-sucking lawyers in that world.

The final nail in the coffin of the fantasy came to me Sunday night. I was still clinging to the desperate hope that maybe it was all real. I was going to write this entry leaving that question open to debate, but Mike insisted that I try to find Florin on the map. He insisted that I try to find Florin on the Internet. A Google search led me to several Florin sites in Russian. For a shimmering moment, I actually believed again.

“See, here’s a Florin in Russian. I told you it was part of Russia.”

“Go to the website.”

When I went there, I found that it was a Russian IT company. I tried The Morgenstern Museum and found one in Germany, but a translation of the website proved that it was merely about shipbuilding. The final nail came when I searched using the phrase, “Buttercup’s Baby.” Toward the end of the first page was a frequently asked questions site on Stephen King’s website. The question at hand was, “In the Princess Bride it says you’re going to write the abridgement for Buttercup’s Baby. Is that true?”

In simple and plain words, my final illusion fell from me. Stephen King wrote, “No, it’s not true. That’s a little joke from Bill Goldman who’s an old friend. I admired his books before I ever met him and as a kind of return tip of the cap, he put me in that book The Princess Bride. But actually I think that that particular baby, Buttercup’s Baby, is Bill Goldman’s and if there’s ever going to be a story about Buttercup, Bill will have to write it.”

We are both men of action. Lies do not become us.  - William Goldman, The Princess Bride, 1973

So, there is the truth. For approximately 37 hours, I held the hope that it was all true in my heart. I’m buying Buttercup’s Baby as soon as it comes out. Get cracking, Bill. Don’t you dare kill Fezzik. We’ve already lost Andre. I can’t bear to lose another giant.

5/15/2004

Gossip Girl

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I just started reading a new series of books. I feel like I should be really embarrassed that I like them so much, but I’ve decided not to be. I still read teen books. For light reading that doesn’t make me think too hard, I read teen novels. I like Meg Cabot’s books, whether she’s writing about psychic teens, ghost-seeing teens or even one of her adult novels, I like her. I haven’t read any of the Princess Diaries franchise that she is so famous for. I guess I’ll get around to them eventually.

I’m not reading a new series by Meg Cabot, though. I’m reading a series called Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar. When B.Dalton was going out of business, I bought the three book boxed set for mondo cheap. I decided that if I didn’t like the books, I would donate them to a school or the library. I’ll probably still do that when I’m finished with them. Maybe the DI will get them, who knows?

Anyway, I’ve already read the first book and I’m tearing into the second one right now. There are lots of “tortured teens” each with their own problems and worries. There’s Blair, who has been trying to lose her virginity with her longtime boyfriend, Nate. I find myself chuckling at their failures. There is Serena who got kicked out of boarding school and is the totally coolest girl you’d ever meet. I wish I were her with her long blonde hair and perfect everything. She used to be best friends with Blair, but they had a tiff and Blair has been avoiding her like the plague. There is Jenny, who is poor and her boobs are way too big. There’s Jenny’s brother, Dan, who is madly in love with Serena. There is Chuck, the total pervert and a date rape waiting to happen. There’s Vanessa, whose two desires are to bang Dan and go to NYU’s film school. She hates all of these rich bitches at her school and she wears all black. There are enough characters for love triangles galore. It all reads like a day playing with Barbie dolls.

The most intriguing and thought provoking item in these books has been Serena. She is absolutely perfect and Blair is so jealous of her she could spit, except she’s a society girl and that would be vulgar. After Blair gave Serena the cold shoulder, Serena started hanging out with the NYU hopeful, Vanessa. They worked on a film together and now Vanessa is dying of jealousy because Serena’s work is so much better than hers. Serena is the type of girl who excels at everything she touches. She’s the kind of girl that you just wish you could hate because she’s so damn perfect, except she’s so perfect that she’s a really nice girl and would never try to hurt you on purpose. You want to hurt her, even though she’s you’re best friend.

I’ve been in this position and I want to write more about it. What to do when your best friend is perfect. How to survive the green-eyed monster. That sort of thing. I’m sure these books won’t give me any pointers on dealing with jealousy in a productive manner, but that doesn’t matter. They are entertainment, not philosophical self-help. They are supposed to entertain me and maybe give me a couple of good ideas.

7/29/2004

Just a Geek

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I just finished Wil Wheaton’s new book, Just a Geek over the weekend. It’s such a cruel twist that it only takes a few hours to read a book that took a year (and sometimes longer) to write. You can tell someone is a good writer when you finish the book and wish there was more. You find yourself perusing the index or reading the back cover or even reading the dedication or acknowledgements in an attempt to squeeze just that much more out of the experience. Fortunately for me, I only have to wait a day or so to read more from Wil because he updates his blog regularly.

In this book, he talks about his experiences after leaving Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it’s not some dorky celebrity thing. He continually runs into a brick wall every time he auditions for acting parts. He starts his blog to jump start his career, but when he asked the universe for a favor, he forgot to specify which career he wanted started. Instead of getting him acting jobs, his blog takes on a life of its own and forays into a writing career. It’s a great underdog story and the best part is that it’s true.

The Dot Bomb was so hard on all of us. When the bubble burst, Mike went from writing several books a year with good compensation to writing one book a year for a pittance. He had kept The Quotations Page as a hobby and before he knew it, he was getting so many hits from it that it was crashing the server. When we were lamenting the loss of income from his book writing career, we were also lamenting the fact that we were paying so much for bandwidth on the websites. The second that Mike stopped looking backward at his depleting writing career and started looking forward at the popularity of his website, things changed. After all his work and dedication, he now has the number one quotations site.

It’s like Wil’s book is a book for our generation. All of us had to reevaluate ourselves after the bottom fell out of the Dot Com phenomenon. He was talking about acting and writing, but for a lot of us, the carpet was pulled out from under us. I’m sure there are people out there blaming politicians or stock analysts for the carpet pull, but the blame really belongs squarely on our own shoulders. It was wrong for us to depend on book publishers, dot com startups, or the acting profession. The only people we can truly rely on are ourselves. The minute Wil started depending on himself instead of the whim of the casting directors, he was free. Just a Geek is truly a book for The Computer Generation.

The reading public is insatiable. What’s next, Wil? Write some fiction for me and please let it be about cool sci-fi, not poker.

8/10/2004

Eastern Standard Tribe

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Eastern Standard Tribe at Amazon.comI just finished Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow. Very fun sci-fi. I love all the new ideas he has about how things are going to be in the future. I want the comm, the TunePay system and the Sony cars. I want the future all right now.

We meet Art on the rooftop of an insane asylum, trying to decide whether it’s more important to be happy or smart. Pencil up his nose, he contemplates the events that lead up to his current condition and whether he should give himself a home-brew lobotomy. Instead of answering the question, Art takes us on a global tour of futuristic London, Boston, and Toronto, with a strangely karmic, “I’ll take both, please” ending.

One of the cooler things about this book is that you can read it for free. You can download it in a wide variety of forms and read it on your computer, print it up or read it on your Palm. I strongly recommend that you buy the book so you can fold down the pages and underline your favorite quotes. Here are mine:

Engineers are all basically high-functioning autistics who have no idea how normal people do stuff. – Cory Doctorow, Eastern Standard Tribe, 2004

I see this every day. Fortunately, my engineers work in the heavy duty big stuff instead of pepper grinders and car gear shifts. Normal people don’t deal with the work of my engineers.

You can’t fuck a crazy girl sane. – Cory Doctorow, Eastern Standard Tribe, 2004

Same goes for crazy boys, by the way. Half the time women who fall for “The Rebel” are trying to, you know. It doesn’t work.

Check out this book. It’s totally cool science fiction and Cory is one of those people who isn’t afraid of the changing world out there. In fact, he may be one of the instrumental people out there changing the world. He’s definitely not coming from scarcity thinking.

8/29/2004

Thinner Than Thou

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Health and Fitness,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Buy ItThey were playing poker in their tent. I felt like I should be playing with them, but I just couldn’t bring myself to get interested in the game. Instead, I read the book I brought along.

“I hate this future.”

Stacey and Dan looked at me with confused faces.

“I don’t like the future that this book has set up. It’s too depressing.”

They were still confused, so I tried explaining more.

“In this book, being thin is like a religion. It’s against the law to be fat.”

“That’s not a diet book?” I don’t remember who asked me.

“No. It’s sci-fi and I hate this future.”

“We thought you were reading a diet book or maybe a non-fiction book about the diet industry.”

It was then that I realized that I was already living in the future that I hated. I was already working toward a goal that I despised. We talked about the insurance industry and the inevitable future of taxation on the overweight (whether they call it premiums or not, it’s still taxation). We talked about the concept of beauty that has become so attached to the concept of physical fitness. The conversation got heated. I felt guilty for interrupting their game of poker.

Last weekend, I found myself halfway through the book, desperate to finish it. I didn’t really care how it ended. I just wanted all the characters in the book to quit suffering. There wasn’t a happy life in the mix. Every person in this book was miserable and I just wanted the pain to end.

Mike suggested that I just stop reading it, but I couldn’t. I had to find out if they escaped. I had to find out if they rescued their sister. I had find out if they brought down the evil empire. Worse than Darth Vader, Reverend Earl had to be taken out. I couldn’t have stopped reading this book in the middle any more than I could have stopped breathing.

I don’t know if this is a recommendation or not. It was a good book with good writing and a good ending, but it wasn’t enjoyable. It wasn’t light reading. It brought up many issues for me and for a brief moment, I considered abandoning all exercise and healthy eating habits. It was a difficult book for me to read.

This is a book about an unhealthy obsession with physical appearance. It has nothing to do with healthy eating. It has nothing to do with the joy of physical exertion. It has nothing to with loving your body, no matter how it looks. This book is about altering the physical form at all costs. Take the pills. Starve. Exercise to exertion. Eat until you are gorged. Do whatever it takes to get the body that is “beautiful.” It’s sheer hell and I’ve been there.

Right now, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been in my life. I exercise regularly doing activities that I enjoy. I eat nutritious and delicious food. I enjoy treats with moderation. I have finally learned to control my bingeing. I didn’t get here with the attitude that I should do whatever it takes to get that beautiful body. I got here because I wanted to be healthy. I was sick of being sick. The doctor told me that there was nothing the matter with my digestive system. It was sick because I was eating poorly. I needed to learn how to be healthy. Learning how to be healthy has gotten me to where I am today.

That’s why this book was so scary to me. When I was at the point in my life that I was willing to do anything to get a fit body, I ended up making myself worse. The minute I stopped focusing on appearance and started concentrating on health, I started to get better. That exact thing happened to one of the characters in this book, but it was so subtle that I don’t think the author intended it to be the message of the book. I really don’t know what I think about this book. I’m just glad I finished reading it so I can get my head out of that sci-fi future.

12/20/2004

A Cheap Foucault’s Pendulum Rip-Off

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Dylan,Personal History,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 4:35 pm

“Have you read the Da Vincio…”

His voice trailed off, but I knew what he was talking about.

“No, I haven’t read The Da Vinci Code .”

“I was watching something on The History Channel about it…”

I could tell that he wanted to talk about a book he didn’t read and conspiracy theories he has only had a passing glance of. I went through my conspiracy theory phase in the early nineties, so I had no patience for him.

“I heard it was a cheap rip-off of Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. I read Foucault’s Pendulum, so I didn’t bother with The Da Vinci Code. Foucault’s Pendulum was written in Italian and translated rather poorly, so maybe that’s…”

The phone rang and I answered it professionally even though I was in mid-rant. We never got back to the conversation and in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t get to finish. I was about to talk about Portuguese, Latin and Italian. I was about to tell him how I regretted that I didn’t write the translations in my book so that my friends could read it. I was about to tell him about Dylan’s rant, “Bring me the head of Umberto Eco!”

I just looked up The Da Vinci Code at my library’s website. They have 10 books and 49 holds. Anyone who has stepped into a Barnes and Noble in the last year has seen the huge display of Da Vinci items. Apparently, The History Channel even has a show about it. All that popularity makes me recoil from it like a Britney Spears concert.

Yet, at one time, I was so intrigued by the idea of conspiracy theories that I was willing to slog through Foucault’s Pendulum. I looked up the Latin. I muddled my way through the Portuguese. I did my best with the Italian. I consumed the Templars. I was intrigued by the Kabala. I even chuckled at the thought that Mickey Mouse had a part in it all. I didn’t go all Illuminati or anything, but I enjoyed the ideas for a brief month or two in my life.

I liked the ideas in the past. Why do I recoil from them now? Is it just the popularity of them that makes me dismiss them with a “cheap rip-off” jab? I’m feeling guilty now and my words from this morning sound callous and hollow. I guess I should read the book. It’s not like it’s going to tax my intellect like Umberto’s did. I could probably read it over a weekend. I’m not waiting in line behind 49 people, though. I better buy my own copy.

12/28/2004

The Da Vinci Code

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 11:29 am

The Da Vinci CodeOver the Christmas holiday, I read The Da Vinci Code. I had been told that it was a cheap Foucault’s Pendulum rip-off. At first glance, it might appear that way. Both books start with a murder in a museum. Both books are conspiracy theory stories in which the characters are searching for The Holy Grail. Both books drag everything under the sun into the conspiracy including Mickey Mouse. That, however, is where the correlations end…

(Continue Reading…)

4/6/2005

Hell Notes

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I just finished reading this short story. It’s so perfect and complete. It fits together like a wooden puzzle.

Scifi.com – Hell Notes – by M.K. Hobson

It’s about a man who stumbles into a Chinese Buffet for the dead. His descriptions of the delicious and disgusting food are vivid, enticing and revolting. God, I love food porn!

Via: Boing Boing

4/7/2005

Vanishing Act

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I just found this website Sci Fiction that has a collection of short stories online. Some of them are ok, but I have just finished an amazing one.

SciFi.com – Vanishing Act – by E. Catherine Tobler

It’s the story of a circus freak who is unexpectedly given a new roommate. What appears to be a young girl with an ethereal glow is a visitor that will teach him the importance of going home. The voice of Rabi, Vanquisher and Vanisher Extraordinaire, is so simple that he drew me in without realizing how complicated he would be.

Good readin’!

7/14/2005

Harry Potter and the Embargo of Doom

Filed under: Books & Short Stories — Laura Moncur @ 6:00 pm

Harry Potter was LeakedI am laughing my head off! Despite the security on the new Harry Potter book, there has been a leak. This story tells you the gory details.

I’m laughing because of how they were found out:

“Suspicions of a leak were first raised back in May when officials from an Internet gambling ring noticed an odd betting pattern coming from a small town in England—a town in which, it appears, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was being printed. Blue Square, a gambling outfit, was running a bet on the character most likely to die in the sixth installment, and noticed a disproportionate number of wagers from Bungay, in Suffolk, all on the same character.”

I won’t tell you who they betted for, but if you don’t want the story spoiled, be careful reading the article.

On a more serious note, just think how much more money they would make if they shipped the books as soon as they were printed and allowed the stores to put them out as soon as they were printed. They could even charge more for the “first batch” if they wanted. I’m sure there are tons of fans out there willing to shell out extra bucks for a chance to read it as soon as possible.

Hey, while we’re dreaming big, just think how great it would be if J. K. Rowling just posted the chapters on her weblog as soon as she was finished writing them.

9/3/2005

Uglies

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld I just finished the book, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. It’s a young adult novel, so it’s a quick and fun read. Even though it’s a teen book, the premise of the story is set in hardcore sci fi. Our heroine, Tally, lives in a world where everyone is blessed with being pretty on their sixteenth birthday. They endure surgeries that make them beautiful. Everyone in the city is beautiful after they get their operation. She eagerly awaits the day that she can become pretty and join her friend, Peris, on the other side of the river.

While counting the time to her birthday, she meets Shay, a girl her same age. Instead of counting time until her birthday, Shay isn’t really looking forward to the operation. She likes herself the way she is: ugly and a little too skinny. Tally is given a choice to run away from the city, her parents and Peris to go to a place where you never get your operation.

This book felt like it started in the middle of a big mess, but the situation keeps getting messier and messier. I was describing it to Mike the other day, “It’s like a Lois McMaster Bujold book where things keep getting more complicated the further we get into the book.” Mike was quiet for a second and then answered, “If he solves the problems at the end of the book, he’s like Bujold, but if he leaves all the problems open for the sequel, then he’s like David Brin.”

Everything isn’t tied into a neat little package at the end of the book. The major problems are taken care of, but a new problem starts right at the end of the book. Now, I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel, Pretties.


Update 03-28-08: Here are my reviews of the other books in the series.

Here are also my reviews of other Scott Westerfeld books:

9/15/2005

Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town: View book details at AmazonLast night, I finished Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow and I am reluctant to recommend it. At the same time, I want to find someone who has had the misfortune of reading it and talk to them about it. This book is labeled a “Sci-Fi Essential,” but I would consider it fantasy. There are golems. There are girls with wings. Mountains and washing machines give birth to sons.

There is also a dual plotline about Internet connectivity. The main character juggles a deadly-dead brother (a full time job of its own) and sells the idea of flooding his small Canadian town with free Wireless Internet using dumpster computer parts. Both plotlines intersect, but it really feels like the main character, Alan (Abe, Anton, Adam, whatever), is living two lives: the real life and the fantasy life. That’s the nature of his character, though. He came from the fantasy world and is desperately trying to live in the real world.

Davey attacks Alan in his bedroomCory Doctorow has created one of the scariest villians I’ve seen in a long time with the dead brother, Davey (Danny, Drummond, Darrell, whatever). A demon from the day he was born, Davey tortured one brother’s animals with vivisection and moved up to murder before he was out of grade school. Yet, he knows the secrets. He is the one of the brothers who can answer the question, “What are we?” I wanted him dissected, burned, scattered and tilled into the ground, but I wanted him to answer the question before it happened.

I just had the feeling that if I had read more fantasy books, I would have understood the relationship of the golems to the mountain. I would have understood the significance of being a son of the mountain. I would have understood the proper etiquette in this strange fantasy world. Instead, I’m still groping with the question of “What are they?” because it was unanswered by the end of the book.

You can purchase this book at Amazon or download it for free at Cory’s site. He has released under the Creative Commons Copyright, so downloading it is perfectly legal.

10/7/2005

Perfect Circle

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Halloween,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 8:45 pm

Perfect CircleI just finished reading Perfect Circle by Sean Stewart. It is a fiction book that follows the life of Will “Dead” Kennedy, or “DK” as his family used to call him. He’s an aging punk rocker who can’t get his life in order. Twelve years ago, his pregnant wife left him and he has been floating from one crappy job to another. Oh, and he can see ghosts.

It’s not a great thing for him. He can’t even drive because he confuses ghosts for people walking in the street. He wrecked enough cars dodging ghosts to swear off driving. He rides the bus to pick up his daughter for visitation and gets canned from yet another job. He is moping until he gets a call from a cousin begging him to get rid of the ghost from his garage. His cousin offers him $1000 in cash and he takes the offer.

That day, he learns the bare truth, “Sometimes a guy is haunted for a really good reason.”

I loved this book for all its little details. It’s set in Texas and I feel like a local now. I feel like I could walk into any Texas town and feel right at home. Even better, Will and his family are white trash. Not middle income or bourgeois, WHITE TRASH. I never get to see heros and their families who are dirt poor and trapped. His sisters are unwed mothers. His father went from jobs and get-rich-quick schemes to being unemployed and not rich. His Uncle Billy died in a refinery accident. His cousin AJ was killed by her biker boyfriend. I love his family and their dead-end dreams.

With the opressive heat of Texas, the poverty, the divorce he never got over, and all those dead people walking around, you would think that this book might be a little depressing. It could have been. Will goes to some pretty dark places. Places that are familiar and ugly to an aging punk rocker like me. I saw a glimpse of how my life could have been had I taken two steps to the South.

Check out all the quotations I got from this great book on the Quotations Weblog:

Quotations Weblog – Perfect Circle

10/24/2005

Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Halloween,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

PeepsJust in time for Halloween, I just finished reading Peeps, by Scott Westerfeld. It is the best vampire book that I have EVER read. I remember liking Interview with a Vampire when I read it, but I didn’t feel the need to force everyone that I know around me to read it. That’s how I feel about Peeps. I feel like telling everyone, “You MUST go to the store right now and get this book and read it. It will take you less than a day or so to read it and you will be SO grateful to me that I forced it upon you!”

The plot centers around Cal. Over a year ago, he had a torrid one-night affair with a girl that he met in a bar. He didn’t even catch her last name, but he did catch something else: a parasite. Like AIDS, this parasite is transmitted sexually and turns its victims into cannibals. Cannibals who tend to fit the profile of vampires. Mirrors, crucifixes, rats, bats, and aversion to daylight are all symptoms of the parasite.

Fortunately for Cal (and unfortunately for his girlfriends), instead of turning into an insane savage, he grew stronger, gained an affinity for raw meat and became a carrier, like Typhoid Mary. Oh yeah, all his girlfriends went nutso crazy within months of meeting him, even that girl he kissed at New Year’s. Can a guy have any worse luck?

Yes, he can. Based on his girlfriend’s changes, the Night Watch was able to track Cal down and finally tell him the bad news. He’s not a vampire, but every girl he ever kisses (or more) will become one. Hey, would you like to help us track down your bloodthirsty ex-girlfriends?

This book is cleverly written. I laughed out loud many times while reading. It is also scary. I had nightmares the night that I stayed up late reading. The story moved along very well and just when I thought I had my finger on the plot of this book everything twisted out from under me for a fantastic ending that really made me want to hold the book in front of the face of all my friends.

Check out the great quotes I gathered from this book:

Quotations Weblog » Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

12/14/2005

Book Binge

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Mike and I went to Barnes and Noble the other day looking for a book for him. We didn’t find one, but I bought three books for myself. I haven’t got a chance to read them yet, but I’m excited about all of them:

View book details at AmazonDigital Fortress by Dan Brown: I enjoyed reading The DaVinci Code, so I thought I would give another book a chance. The premise of the book is that someone has created a code that is unbreakable and it puts the government in a bad situation. The hero is a mathematician, which I like. The only problem with the plot is that anyone with a random number generator can create an unbreakable code nowadays. Cryptography has gotten to be a big computer issue, so I’m wondering if Dan Brown has the “skillz” to actually write this book. I guess I’ll see.

View book details at AmazonYou Can Heal Your Life by Louise L. Hay – The book I picked up is the fancy schmancy version with lots of pretty pictures and full color glossy pages. I don’t know why I was willing to pay ten bucks more for this book, but I had wanted to pick it up for awhile and I thought the paper felt good. I have long believed that there are psychological reasons for some of our sicknesses. I thought I invented the idea until someone told me about this book that has been around since 1984. I thought I’d read her take on the whole idea and see what she recommends about my stomach pains.

View book details at AmazonPretties by Scott Westerfeld: Ever since I read Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, I have been waiting for this book to come out. This is a sci-fi book set in a future where everyone undergoes surgeries to make them “pretty” at the age of sixteen. Our hero narrowly escaped her surgery throughout most of Uglies, but at the very end, she was taken into the large facility and changed. Will her friends be able to rescue her? Will she even want to be rescued after she becomes “pretty”? I put this book on hold at the library, but when I was at Barnes and Noble, I already had an armful of books, so I decided that I would actually buy this one. This is the book I’m most excited to read.

I just finished reading this book, so I’m free to start in on my new ones.

View book details at Amazon Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell: I just finished reading this book. I picked it up and read over half of it in an evening. It is a non-fiction book about the ability of our minds to make split-second decisions. Some people call it intuition; others call it a gut reaction. Whatever it is, it’s usually right, even when we can’t articulate why it’s right. I was kind of hoping this book would tell me how to use this ability to my advantage, but it is focusing on stories about the phenomenon instead of how-to instructions.

Click here to read the best quotations from the book:

When I said I was hibernating this winter, I wasn’t lying. I’ve stocked up on enough reading to keep me busy for a couple of weeks. Maybe by then, I’ll be acclimated to the weather enough to be willing to venture outside.

10/4/2006

Ghost Hunting by Loyd Auerbach

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Halloween,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Ghost Hunting: How to Investigate the ParanormalI picked up Ghost Hunting by Loyd Auerbach at the library the last time I was there. It looked like a fun book to read for the Halloween season. It is a non-fiction book giving advice to potential ghost hunters out there.

I learned one thing about this book: ghosts don’t exist.

Loyd Auerbach believes ghosts exist, but his admonitions throughout the book tell a different story. Almost every chapter has a sentence or two about fraud. The ghost hunting business is fraught with fraud. Restaurants and hotels desperately want to prove that they have ghosts to increase business. People play pranks on one another. People even subconsciously cause some events because they want a ghost to be in their home so badly. Psychics even give false readings at times and can’t be trusted. With that much fraud going on, the logical conclusion is that there are no ghosts.

Sorry, Loyd, the ghosts that you feel you HAVE found are just frauds that haven’t been uncovered yet.

I was kind of hoping for a bunch of scary stories in this book and would have even been alright with them being fictional, but unfortunately, the more Mr. Auerbach tried to convince me that paranormal activity could be measured, the more he warned me about family dynamics and interpersonal relationships that can cause unstable activity in homes. It’s not about the ghosts. It’s about the living people.

The skeletons that we have in our closets are far more interesting than any ghosts that could be lurking in the woodwork.

10/6/2006

The Halloween Handbook

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Halloween,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

The Halloween Handbook: 447 CostumesThe Halloween Handbook by Bridie Clark and Ashley Dodd is EXACTLY what you need if you are trying to think of a good costume idea. The most important thing you need when you’re trying to think of costume is a list of famous people, historical characters and interesting ideas. The most important thing you need when you’re trying to make your costume are pictures. This book has both. The pictures include famous photographs of celebrities AND costumes made to look like them. It’s a perfect mix of icons and good ideas.

They also advocate the “cheap, do-it-yourself” approach and only recommend typical costume purchases for versatile items such as wings, crowns, animal ears and squirt guns. I’m the kind of girl who usually makes her costume from scratch or hits the thrift store for ideas, so I like the way these people think.

They even have a whole chapter for groups with ideas like a box of crayons, a swarm of bees and a deck of cards. They didn’t mention that a group of girls could all come as Madonna in her variety of incarnations or even Barbie (Malibu Barbie, Roller Derby Barbie, etc.), but they DID mention that a group of guys could come as all the different James Bond characters.

All in all, I LOVE just flipping through this book trying to get ideas. If you are having trouble picking out your costume, get this book from the library and you’ll have MORE than enough ideas to find something that will work for you.

5/13/2007

How I Want Harry Potter To End

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at Amazon.comIn July, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes out and ends the series. I’ve been reading the series religiously for years and I have a very specific ending that I would like to see.

If you haven’t read all the books and don’t want certain things spoiled, stop reading now.

Sybil Trelawney predicted that one of two children would bring an end to Lord Voldemort: Harry Potter or Neville Longbottom. Voldemort attacked both parents, killing Harry’s and driving Neville’s mad with pain. Unlike many blood seekers out there, I don’t want to see Harry Potter die, but I really don’t want to see him defeat Voldemort either. I want Neville to do it. Underestimated from the beginning and the butt of so many jokes that even he believes that he’s almost a squib, I’d love to see Voldemort come to an end at the hands of Neville Longbottom.

Parents who are dead are dead. Parents who have been driven mad by constant and unceasing pain and have been that way for 17 years beg for avenging. I just want Neville to finish off Voldemort.

I also would like some sort of vindication for Snape. I refuse to believe that he is evil, despite the death of Dumbledore. Some aching part of me wants Dumbledore to return, just as Gandolf returned. The “death” was all just a ruse to combat Voldemort and Snape was in on it the whole time. I’d like to see that, too, but I realize that would be a cop-out. Some people are just bad eggs and I guess I need to accept that.

I’m excited about the book and once it comes out, will file it in the Harry Potter canon in my mind. For now, however, the story is open. It could end in any number of ways and all of them are open and stretched out before me. Once I finish the book, all those untaken paths will be closed to me, whether I want to walk down them or not.

8/27/2011

Neville Longbottom: The Unsung Hero of Hogwarts

Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Movies,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

Major Harry Potter Spoiler Alert!

If you haven’t read/watched the Harry Potter series by now, it’s really not my fault if I ruin the ending for you. (Continue Reading…)

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