Monday, October 26, 2009

William Gibson's Pattern Recognition

Best known for the classic "Necromancer," William Gibson's works top any avid sci fi reader's list. I have no idea why it took me so long to get around to reading something of his. All I can say now is, I'm glad I finally did.

"Pattern Recognition," from 2003, tells the story of Cayce Pollard, a New Yorker who travels the world telling companies what the next "it" thing will be due to her sixth sense for trends. Cayce knows what products are going to catch on before they really break into mainstream culture. Brands and logos truly effect her -- Prada, Tommy Hilfinger, Disney ... they all make her ill. She has to cut the labels out of her own clothing so that she can actually put them on.

Engrossing, fascinating look at advertising and marketing and its affects on society.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Books at the Huffington Post: "Why a book section now?"

Why books won't stay banned or ever really go away, no matter how virtual our society gets:

"So when Arianna asked me to think about a Books section for The Huffington Post, I thought, why a new books section, why Huffington Post, wjavascript:void(0)hy now?

Because there's never been a better time or place. People who think books are dying don't understand the power of ideas to inspire. And people who think books will die at the hands of the Internet, don't understand the power of what happens when an engaged reader -- of both web and print content -- discovers new ideas, new thoughts, new thinkers, or remembers the impact of a classic. Word spreads faster than ever, and the ensuing debate helps refine ideas for the future."

Read more at:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Lev Grossman's The Magicians

When I first heard about Lev Grossman's new novel, "The Magicians," from NPR about two months ago, I was a bit skeptical. Grossman and the NPR correspondent Tom Vitale called the book an "adult Harry Potter," set in a modern-day Brooklyn. The book centers on Quentin Coldwater, a dissatisfied high school senior who escapes life and reality by continually re-reading a fantasy series from his childhood, which takes place in the magical land of Fillory.

Toward the end of his senior year, Quentin is interviewing with ivy league schools and listlessly preparing to carry on his lackadaisical life at Princeton. While chasing a dropped paper through a community garden in New York, he finds himself never reaching the back of the garden. Eventually, he walks far enough into it for it to become the grounds of Brakebills College, a school of Magical Pedagogy. From there, Quentin's world is altered irrevocably as he discovers both magic and his beloved Fillory are real.

"The Magicians" draws heavily both on Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" and on J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series. Grossman admits that Fillory and its gods are more or less Narnia and Aslan. But this is no children's book. The characters and plot are far more complex and far less black and white than anything Lewis or Rowling have created. The majority of the novel takes place in our own world, where the harshness of reality plays more of a role in the characters' lives than many of the fantasy or science fiction novels I've read.

And therein lies the works' real strength.

Grossman refuses to ignore reality, regardless of what world or plane of existence its characters are in, no matter how fantastic the setting or creature. Quentin deals with real-world issues that many in college students and post-grads would face. The book is less about who is good or evil and more about what magic is for, what life is for, and Quentin struggles with the questions just as much as the rest of us. He screws up, and he actually has to pay for his mistakes. There is no Dumbledore there to make sure Quentin isn't expelled for breaking the rules. There is no "happily ever after." Grossman's fantasy worlds are just as harsh as our own world. The characters are sympathetic, believable and fallible, and well worth seeing through to the end.

This is Grossman's first step into Science Fiction/Fantasy, and I hope he doesn't stop here. Though a standalone, I almost wish it was the start of a series or a trilogy. Yes, it's really that good.

Ellen Hopkins is my Hero

Last Wednesday, I went to see Ellen Hopkins at Borders in Ann Arbor. She is one of the coolest authors I've seen in a while... inspiring to her readers, a huge supporter of literary rights and Banned Book Week,  and an amazing writer to boot. She is one of few authors in the Young Adult genre who writes in verse. Encouraging poetry in teens is no small feat. While it may scare off some, Hopkins told her audience Wednesday that most of her readers are teens who do not typically read. Poetry on suicide, child prostitution, drugs, sex, addiction ... typically when I start one of her books, I can't put it down.

"Torch every book.
Burn every page.
Char every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear."

If you ever get the opportunity to go to one of her readings or meet Ellen Hopkins, I encourage you to do so. She will not disappoint.