Mar. 3rd, 2009

keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality
by André Comte-Sponville
212 pages
Genre: Nonfiction/Philosophy/Religion

This book has changed my life.

Really. I was mellowing out on my own, I think, but Comte-Sponville's approach to atheism is inspiring and reassuring--it has inspired me to follow his example of kindness, and reassured me that atheist spirituality is indeed possible and worthwhile. For as he says, "Atheists have as much spirit as everyone else; why would they be less interested in spiritual life?" (xi) And since I find myself utterly incapable of summarizing this book, I will proceed to quote liberally the various highlighted and bookdarted parts. I marked it up permanently, folks. It takes a lot for me to willingly desecrate a book like that. And this is not a real review; it's probably the closest I've ever come to preaching, in fact.

Cut for length and those who don't care )

And that's all I have to say--not very much, given the alarming ratio of interjection to quotation. Oh, except this: go read the actual book, because it is incredible.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Enchantress of Florence
by Salman Rushdie
355 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Historical/Fantasy

An experimental-ish magic realism novel, with interesting new perspective on historical figures--Amerigo Vespucci, Niccolò Machiavelli, Akbar the Great (the one who tried to invent one faith that encompassed all, I believe). The setting is European but with a global feel and non-Western reach. What plot exists revolves around a travelling storyteller who calls himself Mogor dell'Amore (the Mughal of Love in butchered French), who seeks and entrances Akbar the Great with his tale. Storytelling is definitely vital here, although I'd need to reread the book to understand fully. The frame tale is intricate and confusing but a beautiful reading experience with equally resonant prose--a good thing, because I wasn't kidding about the lack of driving plot motivation. Rather, it is a novel that wanders leisurely around time and space and grabs the reader's curiosity just enough to sustain itself, like Jodha is sustained by Akbar's passion/love/imagination. And if I hadn't read it too late, I might have chosen this novel instead of The Handmaid's Tale (similar drifting style, but totally different in genre) for my research paper.

I believe Rushdie is either atheist or agnostic, which may account for the appealing philosophical bits. I loved Akbar's musings on I/we pronouns, on the divine right of kings, on morality, on creation (where the magic realism part comes in). "Wherever goodness lay, it did not lie in ritual, unthinking obeisance before a deity but rather, perhaps, in the slow, clumsy, error-strewn working out of an individual or collective path" (310). I will be reading Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude in May, so I look forward to mentally comparing the two.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Duchess, Her Maid, the Groom & Their Lover
by Victoria Janssen ([livejournal.com profile] oracne)
379 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Romance/Historical

The Duchess Camille married for duty; now she endures continual abuse from the duke who controls her and her land. Having yet to produce an heir, instead of hanging around waiting for her husband to kill her, Camille flees with her loyal servants--eunuchs Kaspar and Arno, maid Sylvie, and stableboy/lover Henri--to find refuge with her childhood flame Lord Maxime.

Although I bought this book because I'm acquainted with the author and observed the writing process, the premise is interesting on its own--I adore power-dynamic imbalances. Camille's coldness and Henri's naivete were annoying at first, but they both grew on me. My favorite character, though, was Kaspar--he is so fiercely protective and easy to love. The title is a little misleading: "Their Lover" is I assume Maxime, but he's really only the Duchess's lover, and why didn't the eunuchs deserve title-notoriety? I did enjoy the diversity (of many different kinds, though much of it was thump-on-the-head obvious) and the French-historical-esque setting. The final verdict is mixed--I find it compelling and worth rereading--yet, it doesn't feel truly memorable.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology
by Nick Gevers (ed.)
441 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Historical

I read the first two stories but never finished this anthology; I'm just not that interested in steampunk. The magic was cool, but the mechanical aspect bores me. Of the first two: "Steampunk" by James Lovegrove is about mechano-boxing and maintained a level of not-particularly-engaging throughout. "Elementals" by Ian R. MacLeod is about magic, of a sort; the concept is more original but execution still failed to compel my attention. All of this is likely my fault, not the authors'; the only conclusion to be drawn here is that people who don't like steampunk in general probably won't like this steampunk anthology. Y'know?
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Fat Envelope Frenzy: One Year, Five Promising Students, and the Pursuit of the Ivy League Prize
by Joie Jager-Hyman
231 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Nonfiction/Education/College

Quick read, falls into the "case studies" subgenre of college admissions books. It's interesting to observe from a distance just how "random" (subjective and fortuitous) elite admissions is nowadays. The five students profiled are truly exceptional, "hooked" (underrepresented minority), or both. Their stories are depressing, too; but fascinating nevertheless. Recommended if you like this sort of thing, per usual.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
* Via Dave Wolverton's email list, how to sketch a novel in an hour (a free writing exercise). I'm going to try this tonight, hopefully--the Snowflake Method is a bit too overwhelming when I've only got a tiny inkling of what's going on.

* [livejournal.com profile] yhlee and [livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija have launched [livejournal.com profile] springfluff, "a no-stress, no-deadline fandom gift exchange"!

* Why skilled immigrants are leaving the United States--the same reason why my father, who has a Ph.D. and is a Canadian citizen (so not even from the high-immigrant countries of China and India), waited five years to receive permanent residency.

* Jo Walton ([livejournal.com profile] papersky) on real world reading for fantasy writers. An old link, but obviously still relevant.

* The Bush Administration's memos regarding the War on Terror.

* For Asian faces, M. Night Shyamalan goes to Virginia--not the most informed news article ever, but it does give [livejournal.com profile] aang_aint_white much-needed press coverage.

* Via [livejournal.com profile] yhlee, Cake Wrecks on the problem with phone orders. Laugh-out-loud funny.

* Did you know there's a Discworld MUD? I haven't tried it yet, but it tempts me...

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Keix

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