Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi

  Summary (Amazon):  Anderson Lake is AgriGen’s Calorie Man, sent to work undercover as a factory manager in Thailand while combing Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories.

Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. Emiko is not human; she is an engineered being, grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in this chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits and forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly-acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.

In this brand new edition celebrating the book’s reception into the canon of celebrated modern science fiction, accompanying the text are two novelettes exploring the dystopian world of The Windup Girl, the Theodore Sturgeon Award-winning “The Calorie Man” and “Yellow Card Man.” Also included is an exclusive Q&A with the author describing his writing process, the political climate into which his debut novel was published, and the future of science fiction.

My Review (spoilers!):

Executive Summary: terrible

I had a really hard time getting into this book. I found it to be boring, mostly unoriginal and terribly sexist. How it won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards is beyond me. I also found the plot to be overly convoluted while at the same time almost completely pointless. That’s a pretty impressive feat.

It’s a post-apocalyptic book set in Thailand. It has a lot of the stereotypical post-apocalyptic book premises–no oil, no cars, genetically engineered humans. But its main focus is on food. Huge food companies (i.e. Montesanto) have taken over and are controlling the food by genetically engineered blights and other things. OK that’s slightly different, but it’s still just a twist on starvation which other sci-fi books explore for one calamity or another.

The main character of the book, Anderson Lake, is a “calorie man” (not a windup girl as you would expect by the title). He owns some sort of factory which is on the surface producing a kink-spring to help increase energy potential. In actuality, Anderson is there to figure out where the Thai seedbank is because it is supposed to be the main one with a lot of genetic material. Presumably he will take this back to Iowa with him (which obviously is where the huge food companies are based). Which completely makes NO SENSE in a post-apocalyptic future where there are no cars.

Anderson meets “the windup girl” Emiko in a sex club. She’s some sort of Japanese new person (genetically engineered by misogynistic assholes to be the perfect little woman). And when her former boss abandoned her, he didn’t mulch her like apparently he was supposed to. So now she gets raped at a sex club on a daily basis (and is described in vivid detail in the book). Yes, this is the character the book was named for.

Emiko feeds Anderson information about the seed bank and he eventually lets her hideout at his place after she killed everyone who gang-raped her, including the regent to the child queen. Seems OK but she’s been his personal sex toy in the story for a while by this point.

At some point in the story, it is revealed that the manager of Anderson’s factory (Hock Seng) is trying to steal the kink spring design and sell it to basically obtain the equivalent of citizenship. Hock Seng is a refugee who in his former life was an executive. A bunch of stuff happens which I don’t really remember and some people from the factory start to die from some sort of genetic algae plague. Hock Seng and some girl who works there cover up the deaths and they leave.

At the same time as the main story is happening, there’s a separate, just as uninteresting, side story happening about the political unrest in Thailand which culminates after the death of the queen’s regent. I won’t even discuss it because frankly, it came off as completely hollow and I don’t really remember it.

In the end, Anderson ends up dying from the plague that originated from his factory (Bye, Felicia), and Emiko teams up with a different renegade scientist from one of the big food companies and his lady boy. The scientist tells Emiko that he will use her DNA to create a new race of better new people who will actually be able to breed.

The end.

Verdict: 2 stars

I rarely come away from books feeling as though they were a complete waste of time. This one was it. I would not recommend it at all.

 

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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Marie Kondo

  Summary (Amazon):  Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.

My Review (spoilers?):

Executive Summary: inspiring

So I am fairly certain that this will be a first for me. I do not think I’ve ever reviewed a self-help book before! My plan is to summarize the point of the book and once I finally start implementing it, I’ll post an update. (I mean, how will you know if it’s worth it fully if you don’t know whether it actually helps!?)

I’m not sure where I first heard about this book but it has a near-perfect review on Amazon, and after the frustration after packing and unpacking for our move this year, I was ready to de-clutter EVERYTHING.

The Japanese author, Marie Kondo, has developed her own method (the KonMari method) through years of experimenting on how to de-clutter your house and (important!) keep it that way. Marie herself sounds like quite the crazy person in the funniest, most adorable way. As a small child, she became obsessed with organization and being tidy and has been that way ever since. Most of the experimentation was her own and the KonMari method stemmed from this. She has stories of racing home from elementary school to get the latest organization magazine or being frustrated with her siblings’ junk so she would hide it and then if they never missed it, she’d throw it away. I’m so glad she wasn’t my sister, but it’s funny to hear from someone else! All this is to say, the book is not dry, and she livens it up with childhood stories as well as examples from clients who she has had.

There are a couple premises of the book that are critical to the KonMari success of tidying. First is to focus on reducing the amount of stuff that you have. She provides a general list of the order in which you are to do this. Essentially begin with clothes, move to papers, books, and documents, miscellany, and lastly, anything with sentimental value. The point is that by the time you have made it to your sentimental things, you will have fine tuned your decision making skills on what is important to keep.

She does not recommend doing any of these over time. She preaches the “all in one fell swoop” method. I will use the clothing organization as my main example. She tells clients to find ALL their clothing (any in miscellaneous closets) and put it on the floor in a pile. Anything that doesn’t make it in the pile will be gotten rid of because it was obviously not important enough to remember anyway. Part of the method of putting it on the floor is just so that you can see HOW MUCH stuff you actually have. You then proceed to go through your items by group (i.e. shirts, pants, etc.), picking up each item and asking yourself “does this bring me joy?” If not, the item finds a new home.

The idea is to move through all your items keeping only what is absolutely necessary to your needs and happiness. Organization is a lesser focus of the book itself, however she does offer suggestions as to things like how to arrange your closet and how to fold your clothing, but the major focus of the book is how to make the decision to throw things away. Which sounds like a very easy idea. But if it’s easy and obvious, why doesn’t everyone do it?

She also mentions how to manage other people as you are going through the process. A few psychologyesc points that she makes that I find fascinating involve family members. Don’t let your parents (specifically your mother) see you tidying. Parents are specifically designed to want to protect you, and if they see you throwing away most of your stuff, they will feel stressed that you won’t have enough to survive and will try to limit your progress on tidying. Another point that was made was that people need to break the habit of passing on their junk to others. The big sister/little sister type of relationship is hard to break and because of years of conditioning, younger siblings have a much harder time with the tidying (because typically they have so much more stuff). I thought about this with regard to the thrift store as well. I want to be more mindful of the quality of the things that I take to a thrift store as I don’t want to pass on the burden of sifting out stuff that is far too warn onto those volunteers. That’s unfair to them. (I have a habit of never throwing away anything that is far too rigid).

Marie mentions that for most people, the full process for tidying takes about 6 months (although I would suspect that most westerners would find it to take even longer than that as we have bigger houses and therefore more stuff). I am looking forward to starting this in 2016 and I will keep an update of my progress!

Verdict: 4.5 stars

I know that seems high for something that I haven’t actually tried. However, the book is written in a way that makes it very easy to follow which I believe is the most important thing about a book like this. It’s an exhausting extensive task to clean out your entire house, but if you come away from the book thinking “I can do this!”, I think the author is fully successful! I also really like the zen spirituality of the book about how to deal with things that you once loved but don’t have a use for any more. It’s something that I think we as westerners need to do more often. (Thank the item for its contribution and release it from your care.) It sounds a little cheesy, but I think that making the conscious choice is sometimes all we need to be able to move past something. I’m legitimately excited to try out this method and hopefully get my house (and therefore my mind) in a clearer state.

 

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The Disreputable History of Frankie Landeau-Banks – E. Lockhart

  Summary (Amazon): Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14: Debate Club. Her father’s “bunny rabbit.” A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school. Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15: A knockout figure. A sharp tongue. A chip on her shoulder. And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston. Frankie Landau-Banks. No longer the kind of girl to take “no” for an answer.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: relatable

I read another book by E. Lockhart earlier this year which I really liked so I thought I would also read this one. It did not disappoint!

The book begins with a letter from Frankie (Frances) to Headmaster Richmond and the Board of Directors at Alabaster Preparatory Academy confessing to a variety of crimes. It’s definitely going to be a good book!

In between freshman and sophomore years of school (at Alabaster Preparatory Academy), Frankie grows up physically, but her parents still consider her to be “Bunny”. She had been doing OK socially at school because her sister was a senior last year and was fairly popular. After her sister left for college, Frankie, her mother, and some uncles and cousins went to the Jersey Shore. On the last day, fully fed up with the youngins tries to convince her mother to let her go into town and eventually her mother settles on letting her go to the boardwalk (even though her 12 year old cousin was allowed to go into town alone). She meets a cute boy there but doesn’t get his name.

Frankie’s dad also went to Alabaster. He and Frankie’s mom separated when she was young, but he pays for the girls’ tuition to his alma mater. Senior (as Frankie’s dad is called) remembers high school fondly as the best time of his life.

Upon returning to school, she spends time as typical 15 year old girls do. Avoiding her last-year boyfriend Porter (who she caught cheating on her with Bess Montgomery), crushing after a new boy (Matthew Livingston), and navigating popularity. Her roommate Trish was a good friend although interested in much different stuff than Frankie. She had a boyfriend Artie who she’d had for a long time who would prove to be very useful in the end.

During a bike ride to the pool, Frankie spots Matthew and accidentally (or is it?) crashes her bike. Matthew comes over to her and they begin flirting. He assumes that she is a freshman, and she corrects that she is a sophomore. Her sister had introduced her to Matthew on multiple occasions, but he has forgotten (either intentionally or not). Regardless, they leave the “scene of the accident” together.

Matthew and Frankie become some sort of an item, and Matthew tells her about his friend Alpha who has returned from New York. When Frankie sees him, she realizes that he is the boy she met on the Boardwalk. But he pretends that he doesn’t recognize her even when she baits him. She’s Matthew’s now, and Alpha doesn’t want to step on any toes. But Frankie also realizes that all of the popular kids pretend not to notice the small people because it makes them feel powerful. And it pisses her off.

Frankie switches out her elective from Latin to Cities, Art, and Protest. During this class, they talk about the panopticon (which gave me some déjà vu as it was heavily discussed in the last book I read!) which starts putting some ideas into Frankie’s head.

Matthew finally (after other invitations had already been distributed) invites Frankie to the party of the year. When she gets the invitation, she notices that the seal on the envelope is a Basset Hound which sparks some memories of her father. The “Bassets” were/are a club on campus that is men only and top secret. Based on Senior’s stories, Frankie deduces that all the Bassets ever did was cause mischief. However, she knows that they kept a record of the mischievous deeds in a notebook that they called The Disreputable History.

As Matthew starts being more secretive with her as time goes on, blowing her off to hang out with Alpha, she decides to do a bit of sleuthing. She realizes that the current Bassets have no idea where The Disreputable History is any more. (The Bassets of past hid it somewhere for safe keeping but no one knows exactly where.) Frankie remembers some of Senior’s drunken reminiscing with friends and realizes that the song that they were singing was actually the treasure map to find this notebook so she locates the notebook on her own (utilizing her roommate’s boyfriend’s set of school keys which she has copied), reads all of the exciting pranks that were committed, and deduces that the Bassets of current are super lame comparatively. So she decides to become the secret orchestrator of Basset pranks!

Her own relationship with Matthew is a typical teenage relationship–tumultuous. She is contacted by her ex who warns her about Matthew. Matthew gives her his favorite t-shirt and she is torn between loving it and hating being marked as property. The confusion is not aided by her Berkley-attending sister either.

Also at this point, Frankie discovers an infatuation with what she calls “neglected positives” and “imaginary neglected positives”. As in impetuous means hotheaded, unthinking, impulsive. However, the word petuous does not exist. So it’s an imaginary neglected positive that could be used for a synonym of careful. The whole thing cracked me up as Frankie continues to use words like gruntled (disgruntled), turbed (distubed), etc. throughout the book.

Her first prank was executed for Halloween. Alpha’s mom conveniently pulled him out of school a few days prior to this  for a yoga retreat which allows Frankie to alias herself as “THEALPHADOG” online. Trish’s boyfriend is dressing up as a woman for Halloween which gives her an idea. Boobs are (indirectly obviously) the reason that she can’t join the Bassets. She emails the Basset members their roles, and when the students awake on Halloween, all statues and portraits (and even a few trees) throughout campus have bras affixed to them. The main  prank though was for the library dome which had a tan parachute with a pink center covering it with a sign saying “IN THE LADIES WE TRUST”. Everyone is atwitter about it, but Matthew and the others keep completely mum, which mostly pisses Frankie off. When Alpha returns, he takes credit for the prank although it’s clear he is very confused. Frankie decides to up the stakes.

She emails Alpha directly from thealphadog gmail address. She mentions how she now has The Disreputable History and he is mad. Prank number two involves a little bit of breaking and entering, but she has realized that no one at the school is paying that close of attention (or caring enough about it). She found an entrance into the old, unused gym, and creates a path for others to get into it afterwards. A week or so later, the windows in the old gym were illuminated with Basset hound figures wearing Santa hats. Upon the success of this, she can’t stop. She has all of the Bassets learn how to draw Basset hounds, break into buildings and draw them on the chalkboards. She masterminds sending every seniorclassman a rubber dog mask to be worn to the school concert. Alpha keeps emailing her but she manages to brush him off.

Frankie realizes that she has the power to plan something that would actually make a change. Thus the origination of “The Canned Beet Rebellion”. A generous alumna was the CEO of a large soft drink company. The school had recently changed to only products of that company and its conglomerates. There are no real fresh vegetables anywhere–only canned products and frozen items. When the CEO arrived at the school for a lecture, all students received buttons to wear saying things like “ketchup is not a vegetable”. When the caterer arrived, the main platter was a basset hound comprised entirely of vegetables. The CEO realized that she was being punked, but the result was real change in the school’s cafeteria–giving Frankie what she wanted.

Before leaving for Thanksgiving, Frankie sees a printout of the emails between her and her ex, Porter, in Matthew’s bag. She’s unsure as to what that means and focuses her off-time planning her final semester prank, one that is important to her as a Jewish student. The Bassets steal the Guppy (a statue at the school) leaving a plastic Basset in its place. The ransom note states that assemblies are to be held in the auditorium of the arts complex rather than in the Chapel as it is an affront to non-Christian students (and Christian students for its mixing of announcements in a religious venue). Once agreement was made, a series of clues leads some students and a janitor to the Guppy which is waiting in the abandoned swimming pool. As Frankie is debating the meaning of this with Matthew, she becomes enraged that he is treating her as though her ideas are cute and insignificant and she lies and tells him she has to study. Instead, she heads back to the abandoned gym to roll up the string she has left as a guide because she realizes that Matthew and the others are too dense to clean up after themselves. As she’s walking along, the string suddenly goes slack and she realizes that someone is on the other end. She runs out, catching a security guard who is heading into the tunnels.

When she gets back to the dorm, she hears some of the other girls discussing the headmaster’s speech about the “vandalism”. Since the pranks have progressed to stealing school property, it is now being taken seriously.

The next day, Frankie ends up going to the infirmary for the burn on her arm that she got when running out of the tunnels. Matthew comes to visit her, and she tells him that he underestimates her. He tells her that she’s adorable. He proceeds to tell her that the security guard found Alpha in the tunnels, and he refused to tell them why he was there. He was therefore charged with vandalism, theft, trespassing among other things. Alpha was the huge mastermind of all the pranks. He will be expelled from school. She asks Matthew if he knew about the pranks and he still told her that he had no idea, so she tells him how she burned her arm. She tells him how mad she was that he would never let her into his exclusionary club so she foiled him at his own game. He turns her into the headmaster.

She is called in where she writes the letter that was at the beginning of the book. She does not get expelled because she has never been in trouble before and her father of course is an active alumni. He also decides to only put her and Alpha on suspension. When she went home for winter break, she wasn’t Bunny any more.

Upon returning to school, she is treated simultaneously as a legend by some and a traitor by others. She goes to a counselor regularly by her mother and sister’s insistence. The counselor suggests she join field hockey. Frankie doesn’t really get into it because there isn’t even a boys’ field hockey and it feels inferior. Matthew moves on, and she finally realizes, so does she.

Verdict: 4 stars

I loved this book. It has a lot of depth for a YA book, and it really felt realistic of how being a teenager can be (as far as I can remember. It’s been a few years!! 🙂 ). Frankie is trying to figure out everything and is simultaneously concerned with popularity as well as the pressures of society. Even as an adult, that’s a very tough line to toe. Plus, pulling off awesome pranks is totally up my alley!

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