Between the Bookends at GeekMom

Between the Bookends Books Featured GeekMom


Book stack photo: Flickr user austinevan
Book stack photo: Flickr user austinevan

This month, the GeekMoms have tackled both fiction and non-fiction. From vampires and classic Stephen King to historical fiction and novels featuring strong female characters, the selection this month is quite varied!

At the urging of a friend, Kris Bordessa read Wool by Hugh Howey. She was intrigued first by the making of the book: Wool started out as a self-published short story that eventually attracted enough fans to encourage the author to expand on the work. He began releasing chapters serially, and ultimately found himself with a novel published by Simon & Schuster on the New York Times Bestseller list.

The story itself is an incredible work of imagination and the author deftly weaves intricate details together to draw the reader into a time hundreds of years after an apocalyptic event. This is not the burnt-out future of The Road, though. The functioning society looks somewhat familiar, but as the story unfolds we realize that there are more secrets within–and without–this new world. Gutsy and curious Juliette, the story’s central character, stretches societal norms, survives an ordeal that nobody has ever survived, and uncovers a wicked truth. 

Wool1Sarah Pinault is still working on Gone With the Wind, but took a hiatus mid-month to begin reading The Southern Vampire Mysteries. Four books devoured in less time than it took to birth her first child! Now that Sookie has moved on in her affections she is enjoying it so much more, but wonders how on earth so many supernatural beings can exist in such a small place. She is also reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann VosKamp, piece by piece each day, in an attempt to control time. To enjoy each moment of toddlerhood instead of fretting about it.

Helen Barker has spent time with Tris and Four this month, re-reading Divergent and Insurgent in preparation for the release of Allegiant. She’s interested to see what happens next in this dystopian YA trilogy, especially as reviews seem to be rather mixed. Helen’s “fear landscape” would include being in an out of control car, being late for an important appointment, and not knowing whether she’d left the oven on.

In a different realm entirely, Helen has just finished Catherynne M. Valante’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. This is another adventurous romp through fairyland, with a cast of colorful characters supporting September on her journey as she attempts to stop the exodus of shadows to Fairyland Below.

Samantha Cook is reading In Defense Of Childhood: Protecting Kid’s Inner Wildness, for both personal and professional reasons. Written by Chris Mercogliano, co-director of the Albany Free School, this book takes a critical look at the “domestication of childhood” with community and educational systems that suppress kids’ abilities to create, experiment, and have adventures that are key to healthy development. He argues that by taking the wonder, autonomy, and physicality out of our children’s lives, we are systematically destroying the spark that leads to individuality, innovation, and passion.

There isn’t much in the book Sam disagrees with. Mercogliano’s arguments line up with the experiences Sam has had in 20 years of teaching in both formal and informal settings. Perhaps the one section where their opinions diverge is technology. Mercogliano argues that technology such as video games interferes with real play, and Sam feels that technology can enhance it. Sam admits that as the founder of an organization that teaches technology skills, she sees its possibilities in a more optimistic and varied way.

Professionally, this book inspired her to create more space for “inner wildness” in her programs at Curiosity Hacked (formerly Hacker Scouts), and also in her work in helping to build the community at the Oakland Free School, which will open next year. But personally, Sam found many ways she could be supporting this idea with her own kids even more. In his last sentence, Mercogliano says it best: “It is absolutely possible, despite the many obstacles and complications, for us to re-establish childhood as an undomesticated period of fertile growth and exploration, the time set aside for children to construct whole, authentic selves that are imbued with the spirit and determination of their inner wildness.”

Image: Beacon Press

Rebecca Angel had two hours to hang out at the library and had forgotten her work, so she had the unexpected pleasure of picking out a book to pass the time. The title of The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo caught her eye–the cover was glittery. The plot is a mid-19th century Chinese young woman in (what we now call) Malaysia, who has few marital prospects, and becomes the “ghost bride” to the dead son of a powerful, wealthy family. It’s an old, strange custom, but her situation is desperate.

Rebecca was intrigued, not just by the plot, but the location. She lived in Singapore as a youth, and visited Malaysia several times. It is a region of the world she once called home, but is not often featured in fiction. She decided to take a chance on this first time author, with no praise or quotes on the cover of her book. A quarter of the way in, it’s a keeper! Mystical dreamworlds, fascinating ancient customs, a smart heroine who is caught by tradition, and a mysterious romance. She can’t wait to finish it!

Sophie has had very little time to read recently but has somehow managed to keep up with her book club. She recently finished The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, a very interesting and often funny novel about an Australian college professor with a personality similar to The Big Bang Theory‘s Sheldon Cooper who decides to find himself a wife.

The latest book club choice is Needful Things by Stephen King. She is looking forward to reading it as it will be her first literary encounter with the author despite enjoying many of his films and TV shows. For GeekMom, Sophie has recently read Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film, a compendium from the BFI that looks at the history of gothic film since its inception. She is also reading two books from the Fan Phenomena series from Intellect: Star Trek and Twin Peaks. She hopes to get around to reading the books she received for her birthday a few weeks ago including the latest from one of her favorite authors–Bill Bryson’s One Summer, America 1927.

Laura has been reading some great novels featuring strong women. Her favorite is Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. It’s set in a time when scientists were still called “natural philosophers.” The excitement of discovery, and desire to codify or at least profit by those discoveries, drives this story. It revolves around Alma, whose passion is botany. Relentless curiosity leads to a life unusual for a woman of her time, one that catapults from being “the smart one” to adventures in science, love, and self-expression. This is a fascinating read.

Also not to be missed is Kate Manning’s My Notorious Life. It’s inspired by an infamous female physician who was once called “the Wickedest Woman in New York,” Ann Trow Lohman (1811-79). Main character Axie grows up in Dickensian squalor. When she witnesses her mother’s unnecessary death in childbirth, Axie begins to understand the unique perils of being a woman. She works to free herself from poverty and ignorance, provides doctoring that’s against the law, and accepts the consequences with prideful disdain.

After a bout of preterm labor, the very pregnant Ariane was put on bed rest. Talk about suddenly having a lot of free time to read! She finally finished Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, a story about a man from Mars introduced to life on Earth. After having read the light fare Have Space Suit–Will Travel by the same author, Stranger in a Strange Land was surprisingly loaded with philosophy, religion, sex, and politics. It was interesting, but very strange indeed.

Reading White Night by Jim Butcher next was a welcome change. As the ninth book in the Dresden File series, it was as good and entertaining as its precedents. You really can’t go wrong with a cocky wizard protagonist. After that, Ariane asked for reading suggestions and went with GeekMom Karen’s recommendation for Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. This young-adult fantasy novel included a mysterious wizard, a strong-willed girl, a rebellious yet good-natured fire demon, and a wicked witch. It was a quick and easy read, but delightfully imaginative and captivating in every way. Now she’s looking forward to watching the Miyazaki movie adaption.

Kay’s reading has been all over the Dewey decimal system. She read a historical romance,  a memoir, and an innovative textbook that shows the way for books of the future. Anne Stuart’s Never Kiss a Rake features a never-give-up heroine, Bryony Russell, who goes undercover in Victorian London to discover who bankrupted her family and caused her father’s death. In the course of protecting her sisters and investigating the events of her family’s downfall, Bryony goes undercover at the household of the Earl of Kilmartyn, a notorious rake. Anne Stuart is known for writing heroes who are bad boys with a capital B before they eventually reform; our hero here is not her most extreme, which made the book more pleasant for Kay. Bryony’s character is portrayed a little inconsistently in what she knows and how pragmatic her reactions are, but the descriptions, emotions, and mystery added up to a readable story.

An Animated Life by legendary animator Floyd Norman (named a Disney Legend) is a memoir of his life at animation studios. The writing is plain and straightforward. Kay felt like she was sitting down and chatting with a long-lost relative and catching up on decades of stories. He tells inside stories about long years of work at both Disney and Pixar, including work on such beloved films as Jungle Book, Sleeping Beauty, The Sword in the StoneToy Story 2, and Monsters Inc. There’s even a chapter on P.L. Travers’s visit to the studio for the Mary Poppins movie. Floyd delivers the flavor of the 50s, 60s, and later years in the narrative, and his tales of studio events and personalities enriched Kay’s memories of the finished films. The end of the book also includes hints, tips, and short exercises for future animators, but Kay failed horribly at these.

Finally, Kay is reading a textbook, The Discipline of Organizing by Robert J. Glushko of the University of California, Berkeley. TDO describes ordering, curating, describing, and labeling items (“resources” in TDO-talk) from the point of view of library science, computer science, cognitive science, law, and even the everyday reader. Kay is reading the hardcover, but it is a groundbreaking, forward-looking book with added charms as an e-book, because it is a “six-million-dollar man” version of a book, and all those millions mostly go into the e-version. This book has categorized notes, so some annotations are targeted to librarians, some to lawyers, etc., and readers decide which notes to follow. The authors are also collecting contributions from classes that use the textbook, and adding new contributions, so the 2nd edition of the hardcopy will benefit from all these innovations but the website and e-version can be modified more intermittently. Check out a sample chapter if you’re curious.

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