Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs and Steel

Author: Jared Diamon
Title: Guns, Germs and Steel
Published: March 1997
Publisher: W.W. Norton
Length: 441 pages
Genre: Non-fiction (world history/anthropology/culture)
Why I picked it up: Interest in the topic
Rating: 4 stars
Challenges: 100+  
Buy: Chapters | IndieBound | Check your local bookstore!

This is a book I’ve owned for a few years but haven’t been quite ready to tackle until now. I signed it out from the high school library, read about 50 pages, realized it was a bit too much for me to take in at the time but would be something I would definitely enjoy at some point and so I bought it.  (Coincidentally, the following year in my world issues class, we watched the documentary based on the book.) For the past four or five weeks, it’s been my ‘weekend reading’ and I finally completed it last weekend.

Discuss general interest in the topic

Question asking format (admittedly, I’m a fan, but it’s done exceptionally well here. Asks specific questions, follows up immediately and specifically!) (ex. pg 197 second para)

Extra Books – August 15 to 21

Now that I’m home, I’ve decided that I should tackle some of the books on my bookshelf that have yet to be read…these two books from the shelf.

  • The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa
    •  Published: October 2009 (English)
    • Genre: Science fiction
    • Why I picked it up: Enjoyed the first book in the series
    • Rating: 3.5 stars
    • Challenges: Global | 100+
    • My Thoughts:
      • I first encountered the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise when I watched the original anime in 2009. When I discovered that it was based on a series of novels, I read an unofficial translation online but didn’t get too pulled in. When I found out the books were finally going to be published in English, I bought each one as they were released but somehow never got around to reading them until now. 
      • One of my favourite aspects of this series is the design. I love the bold colours, the simple icons and the creative fonts.
      • While the first book is still my favourite, this book (and the following) continued to uphold the aspects I love about this series.  
  • The Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa
    • Published: July 2010 (English)
    • Genre: Science fiction
    • Why I picked it up: Enjoyed the first book in the series
    • Rating: 3.5 stars
    • Challenges: Global | 100+
    • My Thoughts:
      • See above 🙂
  • Zen Meditation In Plain English by John Daishin Buksbazen 
    • Published: 2002
    • Genre: Spiritual practice
    • Why I picked it up: Interested in Zen Buddhism
    •  My Thoughts:
      • Does what it says 😛 The author’s teacher is Taizen Maezumi, who compiled and edited one of the first books I read on Zen Buddhism. This is the first book I’ve read that was solely dedicated to Zen meditation, the aspect of Zen Buddhism I am most interested in. 
      • I appreciated the structure of this book (a very brief introduction to Buddhism, a person with little knowledge of Buddhism would need to look further than this book to understand), a large section on sitting meditation, and a smaller concluding section on community. This book helped expand some points I had read about in other books (such as hand position) and was overall useful in filling some of the gaps in my understanding. While I won’t be purchasing this one, I will be taking some notes! Which sounds a little silly, given that this book outlines a spiritual practice, something one shouldn’t really be taking notes on, but I ‘take notes’ because I am a newcomer to the practice and won’t focus on/think about some aspects of meditation at this stage without some form of a reminder.

Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making

Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Title: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making
Published: May 2011
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Fantasy, fairy tale
Target age: Preteen (10+)
Why I picked it up: Browsing Amazon, sounded like something I would love
Rating: 4.5 stars
Challenges: 100+
Buy: Chapters | IndieBound | Check your local bookstore!

It may be that I have a weakness for these kind of stories. Young brave girl is whisked off to have an adventure in a fantastical land, she encounters all sorts of wondrous places, creatures and people while accomplishing great deeds but more often than not eventually has to return home. I also have a weakness for books with long titles and chapter subheadings such as ‘In Which We Turn Our Attention to a Long-Forgotten and Much Suffering Jewelled Key.’ The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairlyand In a Ship of Her Own Making contains all these elements, and so I may be somewhat biased in my judgment of this novel, but I believe it is a lovely story and a fantastic read. When I read the first page, I knew this was going to be a story to savour.
While this book certainly has all the elements I previously described, Catherynne M. Valente puts her own distinct twist on her elegantly crafted tale. As do most authors when they tell their version of this sort of story, but I am absolutely in love with Valente’s style. Her prose dances around the page and comes to life in magical ways. The main way that the author distinguishes her tale from other similar ones, I believe, is through often breaking the fourth wall, but not so often as in, for example, The Princess Bride, and in an unobtrusive manner that flows with and is appropriate for the story. An example:

The Key entered the Autumn Provinces far too late but followed the trail of September’s memory into the Worsted wood. There, it met with the Death of Keys, which is a thing I may not describe to you. It is true that novelists are shameless and obey no decent law, and they are not to be trusted on any account, but some Mysteries even they must honour.

Valente also breaks the fourth wall, in a way, through her role as narrator and through the character of September (oh, I love that name! I used to use it as an online name years ago) by voicing similarities and differences between September’s adventure and other little girls’ adventures. I didn’t mark any examples while I was reading, but again, she does this in tasteful and creative ways that enhance the story.

The characters and scenarios that September encounters were more creative than anything I can ever imagine. A capital city that is woven entirely out of fabric? An island full of furniture that’s come to life once it reaches 100? A wyvern who believes his father was a library and who is called A-Through-L because those are the encyclopedia volumes he read? Death as…well, I won’t spoil it. But all these ideas, I think, are brilliant. I love these little things, these little sparks of ideas that can be woven together to make a fun and unique story.  

The only thing that felt a little off to me was September’s age, which is 12. At times it felt too old. Perhaps that’s because I’ve been conditioned to think of girls in stories such as these as being closer to six years old (Wendy and Alice being two of my favourite female protagonists) than to their teen years, but there were times when I thought ‘A 12-year-old would not behave like that’. And then, there were parts when I thought ‘She’s only 12 and she’s saying things like that?’. Those thoughts only distracted me if I dwelled on the age, otherwise they were not bothersome. So this is a minor criticism and more so on myself than on the writing. Just something to note, though.

As for the plot/story, I quite enjoyed it. The story moved along at an acceptable rate, with interludes to follow the progress of A Key. I felt that the actual ‘circumnavigating Fairyland’ part, maybe 3/4s of the way through the novel, was a bit dry and difficult to get through. But, I’m sure September felt the same way. 😛 Unexpectedly, the story quickly picked up after an appearance from the Green Wind (hooray! Did I mention I have a weakness for those mysterious, funny, odd, kind, strange male characters that always appear in these stories? Of course I do.) and moved along to a conclusion I had not seen coming and was pleasantly surprised by. The last 40 pages of the novel were fairly impressive with regards to the action, what was happening with the plot. I felt myself being drawn in to the story and very eager to reach the outcome, a feeling I don’t often experience nowadays. An outcome, mind you, that I didn’t even guess at beforehand [unlike I seem to be doing so often with Doctor Who lately =.=].

To finish this up, an excerpt of a bit I particularly liked, for some reason…:

“Good girl,” chuffed the Green Wind. “When little ones say they want to go home, they almost never mean it. They meant they are tired of this particular game and would like to start another.”

“Yes, please, I would like to start another.”

“That’s not a magic I have, love. You’re in this story. You must get out on your own if you are to get out at all.”

 My concluding thoughts: Read this book if you like fairy tales. If you don’t, best stay far away, but if you do…I am sure you will find this a delightful and enjoyable novel. It has taken me a long time to find a ‘children’s book’ that I can fall in love with, but Valente has  managed to create one for me 🙂