Friday, November 26, 2010


Shadowmarch by Tad Williams
DAW books, Penguin Group; 2004
Hardcover, 672 pages
Shadowmarch Series #1
ISBN-13: 9780756402198
highly recommended

Synopsis from Publisher:

For Generations the misty Shadowline has marked the boundary between the lands of men and the lost northern lands that are the lair of their inhuman enemies, the ageless Qar. But now, after centuries of stability, that boundary line is moving outward, threatening to engulf the northernmost land in which humans still live—the kingdom of Southmarch. A magical darkness is growing—reaching foggy tendrils from beyond the Shadowline, and those unfortunate men caught in the sorcerous mists of the Qar either never return, or are forever changed.

For centuries, the Eddon family has ruled in ancient forbidding Southmarch Castle, guarding the border against the Qar's return, but now this powerful royal line has been dealt a devastating blow. The monarch and head of the family, King Olin, is being held captive in a distant land, and it falls to his inexperienced heirs to lead their people in a time of growing danger and dread.

It is on the youngest Eddons, the twins Barrick and Briony, that the heaviest burdens fall. Crippled Barrick, haunted and sickly for most of his life, and tormented by inexplicable nightmares, must cling to his love of his family and especially of his sister, which may be all that can save him from madness or worse. Briony in turn can only watch helplessly while her brother grows more and more strange, even as she fights with strength she did not know she had to hold onto her family's heritage in the face of secrets and perils that no living mortal could have imagined.


Tad Williams' Shadowmarch includes several maps at the opening and, after some history to set kingdoms, peoples, and events in place, opens in Southmarch, a kingdom that borders the Shadowline, a foggy barrier that separates the land of men and fairies. The king is being held hostage, there is intrigue in the kingdom, threats come from several fronts, and the Shadowline is moving. Adding to the turmoil, the kingdom ends up being run by two teenage twins, Briony and Barrick - but this is just one of the story lines Williams establishes in Shadowmarch.

There are several different narrative threads in Shadowmarch, so the cast of characters is quite large. If you lose track of some detail and need help, help is available. Included at the back of the book is an appendix of people, places, things and animals. Knowing how the many different plots and subplots merged together at the end of Otherland, I'm feeling quite hopeful for the potential in the rest of the Shadowmarch series.

The various aspects of the novel, with all the different subplots and characters, do get off to a slow start. Part of this is simply due to the time it takes to develop with any complexity all the different characters and their stories. And Williams does an excellent job establishing characters and settings. For me the twins were becoming a bit tiresome until the end when things picked up considerably. I'm now hopeful that the twins will experience some personal growth and my annoyance will lessen. All the other story lines and characters are very intriguing, and I'm anxious to see what happens next.

Shadowmarch is the first of four books in Tad Williams' Shadowmarch series. I'm the first to admit that I generally don't often read fantasy so I can't compare Shadowmarch to other novels in the fantasy genre. Any judgments I make are going to be in comparison to Tad Williams Otherland series. Additionally, after the Otherland series, I knew that there would not be a conclusion to this first book in the series because Williams' series are literally one very long book. I must also add that I continue to find Williams very readable, so the sheer number of pages and a slow start didn't intimidate me.

Oh, and I must find a way to designate in some form or manner that someone is one of "those who are First to the Cheese" with nostrils "of true breeding" (see last quote). I was reading this in the car while waiting to pick up someone and about died laughing. I know a couple young men who could easily wear this title.

Highly recommended


For almost a thousand years before our Trigonate Era, history was written only in the ancient kingdom of Xand, the southern continent that was the world's first seat of civilization. opening

Since a time before history, the men of Eion have shared their lands with the strange, pagan Qar, who were known variously as the Twilight People, the Quiet People, or most often "the fairy folk." pg. 2

When the March Kingdoms and their allies at last defeated the invaders in 1107 and tried to pursue the Qar back into their own lands to eliminate the threat once and for all, the retreating fairy folk created a barrier that, although it did not keep men out, confused and bewitched all who passed it. After several companies of armed men disappeared, with only a few maddened survivors returning, the mortal allies gave up and declared the misty boundary they named the Shadowline to be the new border of the lands of men. pg. 4

The shadow-dwelling Qar have a saying which signifies, in rough translation: "Even the Book of Regret starts with a single word." It means that even the most important matters have a unique and simple beginning, although sometimes it cannot be described until long afterward - a first stroke, a seed, a nearly silent intake of breath before a song is sung. That is why you are hurrying now: the sequence of events that in days ahead will shake not just Southmarch but the entire world to its roots is commencing here and now, and you shall be witness. pg. 9

As the blind king said, this is a beginning. What he did not say, but which is nonetheless true, is that what begins here is the ending of the world. pg.11

I am a fortunate man, he told himself. Heaven has smiled on me, far beyond what I have earned, and I have everything I could want - or nearly so. I must accept those great riches and not ask more, not anger the gods with my greed. pg. 41

The figure on the dock extinguished the lantern and turned back toward the castle, moving carefully from shadow to shadow as though it carried something extremely precious or extremely dangerous. pg. 53

Men's wars happened far away and proved their courage in front of armies of other men. Women's wars were more subtle things and were witnessed mostly by others of their sex. Her ladies-in-waiting and all the other women in the castle were waging a battle against chaos, struggling to lend sense to a world that seemed to have lost it. pg. 171

"Our advisor says there is a wicked scent about you," the queen reported. "I smell it not, but he has always been a trusted help to our person. He is the sixth generation of those who are First to the Cheese - his nostrils are of true breeding." pg. 251

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Children of God

Children of God by Mary Doria Russell
Random House, 1998
Trade Paperback , 454 pages
ISBN-13: 9780449004838
Sequel to The Sparrow
very highly recommended - reread

From the Publisher
Mary Doria Russell's debut novel, The Sparrow, took us on a journey to a distant planet and into the center of the human soul.... Now, in Children of God, Russell further establishes herself as one of the most innovative, entertaining and philosophically provocative novelists writing today.
The only member of the original mission to the planet Rakhat to return to Earth, Father Emilio Sandoz has barely begun to recover from his ordeal when the Society of Jesus calls upon him for help in preparing for another mission to Alpha Centauri. Despite his objections and fear, he cannot escape his past or the future.
Old friends, new discoveries and difficult questions await Emilio as he struggles for inner peace and understanding in a moral universe whose boundaries now extend beyond the solar system and whose future lies with children born in a faraway place.
Strikingly original, richly plotted, replete with memorable characters and filled with humanity and humor, Children of God is an unforgettable and uplifting novel that is a potent successor to The Sparrow and a startlingly imaginative adventure for newcomers to Mary Doria Russell's special literary magic.

My Thoughts:

Essentially, Children of God and The Sparrow are one story separated into two volumes. While I count The Sparrow as one of my favorite books, in reality my appreciation encompasses both books and they must be read (and reread) together. On the surface, they are science fiction, but on a deeper level together they examine faith under fire and why God allows evil to occur in the universe. There won't be any spoilers about the plot in this review. Both my copies of The Sparrow and Children of God included an interview with the author and a readers guide.

Mary Doria Russell says: "The Sparrow was about the role of religion in the lives of many people, from atheist to mystic, and about the role of religion in history, from the Age of Discovery to the Space Age. I suppose that Children of God is about the aftermath of irreversible tragedy, about the many ways that we struggle to make sense of tragedy. It's about the stories we tell ourselves, and the ways we justify our decisions, to bring ourselves to some kind of peace. And I guess it's about the way time reveals significance, strips away self-serving excuses, lays truth bare, and both blunts pain and sharpens insight. (pg. 441, in Children of God, "A Conversation with Mary Doria Russell")

The title, Children of God, refers to the concept that we are all children of God and needed to complete God's plan. Each individual is valued and part of the plan, whether they know it or not. But the title also literally refers to the effect of children on society and, over time, their role in God's plan. Russell's science fiction format allows one character, Emilio Sandoz, to experience how much our perceptions of events and actions can change and evolve over time. She meant time itself to be a character.

When asked if there is a moral to the story, Mary Doria Russell says, "Don't be so damned quick to judge! The less we know about someone, the easier we find it to make a snap decision, to condemn or sneer or believe the worst. The closer you get, the more you know about the person or the situation in question, the harder it gets to be sure of your opinion, so remember that, and try to cut people a little slack. Like Emilio says, 'Everything we thought we understood--that was what we were most wrong about.' So the moral of the story is to be suspicious of your own certainty. Doubt is good." (pg. 447, in "A Conversation with Mary Doria Russell")

My rereads have only confirm how much I appreciate both of these novels. While The Sparrow has a greater emotional impact, Children of God completes the story.
Very Highly Recommended - one of the best


Sweating and nauseated, father Emilio Sandoz sat on the edge of his bed with his head in what was left of his hands. opening

It's one thing to know the truth, he thought. To live with it is altogether something else. pg. 4

Sandoz had fought them every step of the way: no priest, no matter how desperate, wishes to undermine another's faith. But Vincenzo Giuliani had been serenely confident that he could analyze error and correct it, understand failure and forgive it, hear sin and absolve it.
What he had been unprepared for was innocence. pg. 4

What is it in humans that makes us so eager to believe ill of one another? Giuliani asked himself that night. What makes us so hungry for it? Failed idealism, he suspected. We disappoint ourselves and then look around for other failures to convince ourselves: it's not just me. pg. 5

Celestina Giuliani learned the word "slander" at her cousin's baptism. That is what she remembered about the party, mostly, aside from the man who cried. pg. 6

It had taken four priests eight months of relentless pressure to get Emilio Sandoz to reveal what Celestina had learned in two minutes. Evidently, the Father General observed wryly, the best man for the job can sometimes be a four-year-old girl. pg. 10

"You are doing the work ad majorem Dei gloriam, as far as I am concerned," Giuliani said lightly. "If the greater glory of God no longer motivates you, you may consider that you are working out your room and board, provided gratis by the Society of Jesus, along with round-the-clock security, sound-analysis systems and research assistance. The engineering that went into those braces was not cheap, Emilio. We've paid out over a million six in hospital bills and medical fees alone. That's money we don't have anymore—the Society is all but bankrupt. I have tried to protect you from these concerns, but things have changed for the worse since you left." pg. 13

"The Society has a monopoly on two Rakhati languages. You want me to train interpreters." pg. 14

"I won't go back." He was almost asleep. The drug always knocked him out when administered by injection. No one knew why; his physiological status was still not normal. "God," he mumbled, "don' do this to me again. Kids and babies. Don' do this to me again . . ."
Brother Edward's eyes met the Father General's. "That was prayer," he said firmly a few minutes later.
"Yes," Vincenzo Giuliani agreed. He beckoned now to the Camorristi and stood back as one of them gathered up the limbs and lifted the light, limp body, carrying Sandoz back to the car. "Yes," he admitted, "I'm afraid it was." pg. 14

It was absurd in hindsight—the very idea that a handful of humans might have been able to do everything right the first time. Even the closest of friends can misunderstand one another, he reminded himself. First contact—by definition—takes place in a state of radical ignorance, where nothing is known about the ecology, biology, languages, culture and economy of the Other. On Rakhat, that ignorance proved catastrophic.
You couldn't have known, Vincenzo Giuliani thought, hearing his own pacing, but remembering Emilio's. It wasn't your fault.
Tell that to the dead, Emilio would have answered. pg. 21

No one was deliberately evil. We all did the best we could. Even so, what a mess we made of everything... pg. 143

"But the children of Abraham? They look God straight in the face. Praise. Argue! Dicker, complain. Takes a lot of guts to deal with the Almighty like that." pg. 144

About a millennium ago, Maimonides wrote that whenever anything in the universe strikes us as stupid, or ugly, or absurd, it's because our breadth of knowledge is too narrow and our depth of understanding is too shallow for us to perceive God's intent. That was the theology I was drawing on in Children of God. To me, it meant that God works on a vast canvas, and He paints with time. It's only with hindsight, sometimes many generations after an event, that we see the significance of some tragedy or the importance of some obscure turning point in history. pg. 441, in "A Conversation with Mary Doria Russell"

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Sparrow

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Ballantine Books, 1996
Trade Paperback, 430 pages
ISBN-13: 9780449912553
very highly recommended - reread

It was predictable, in hindsight. Everything about the history of the Society of Jesus bespoke deft and efficient action, exploration and research. During what Europeans were pleased to call the Age of Discovery, Jesuit priests were never more than a year or two behind the men who made initial contact with previously unknown peoples; indeed, Jesuits were often the vanguard of exploration.
The United Nations required years to come to a decision that the Society of Jesus reached in ten days. In New York, diplomats debated long and hard, with many recesses and tablings of the issue, whether and why human resources should be expended in an attempt to contact the world that would become known as Rakhat when there were so many pressing needs on Earth. In Rome, the questions were not whether or why but how soon the mission could be attempted and whom to send.
The Society asked leave of no temporal government. It acted on its own principles, with its own assets, on Papal authority. The mission to Rakhat was undertaken not so much secretly as privately–a fine distinction but one that the Society felt no compulsion to explain or justify when the news broke several years later.
The Jesuit scientists went to learn, not to proselytize. They went so that they might come to know and love God’s other children. They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the furthest frontiers of human exploration. They went ad majorem Dei gloriam: for the greater glory of God.
They meant no harm.

My Thoughts:

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is an extraordinary, haunting novel. It is one of my favorite books (along with the sequel, Children of God.) I remember checking it out from the library years ago, reading it, and immediately reading it again. There have only been a handful of books in my life that I immediately HAD to read again. After that I bought my own copy.

Ostensibly a science fiction novel about a Jesuit mission to a new planet and the aftermath, it is also a novel that examines faith and what it means to question one's faith. The narrative switches smoothly between the years 2016 and 2060. In 2016 an extraterrestrial civilization is discovered through their songs heard on radio waves at a listening post. The Jesuits quickly assemble a team to send to the newly discovered planet, Rakhat. In 2060 a group of Jesuits gather to attempt to discover an explanation for the failure of the mission by its sole surviving priest, Emilio Sandoz, who is physically mutilated and emotionally devastated.

While we know the mission failed horribly right from the start, suspense builds as the full extent of what happened and why Sandoz is accused of prostitution and killing a child is not revealed until the very end. The mission initially seems as blessed as the priest's motto, "Deus veult" (translated by them as "God wants it that way") until events render it to a much more ironic meaning. I appreciate the direction she took this first contact story. Like missionaries in the past, they did not mean harm. (I've included some quotes below from the author interview found in my edition of The Sparrow.)

Mary Doria Russell is an excellent writer, both technically and in her story lines. The characters are well developed. The two narratives, while separate until the end, merge into a complete story. I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that The Sparrow is an easy book to read - mentally, it's not - however the ideas presented stay with you long after you have finished the novel.

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best and one I will undoubtedly reread again and again.

"To the best of our knowledge, Father Emilio Sandoz is the sole survivor of the Jesuit mission to Rakhat. Once again, we extend our thanks to the U.N., to the Contact Consortium and to the Asteroid Mining Division of Ohbayashi Corporation for making the return of Father Sandoz possible. We have no additional information regarding the fate of the Contact Consortium's crew members; they are in our prayers. Father Sandoz is too ill to question at this time and his recovery is expected to take months. Until then, there can be no further comment on the Jesuit mission or on the Contact Consortium's allegations regarding Father Sandoz's conduct on Rakhat."
This was simply to buy time.
It was true, of course, that Sandoz was ill. The man's whole body was bruised by the blooms of spontaneous hemorrhages where tiny blood vessel walls had breached and spilled their contents under his skin. His gums had stopped bleeding, but it would be a long while before he could eat normally. Eventually, something would have to be done about his hands.
Now, however, the combined effects of scurvy, anemia and exhaustion kept him asleep twenty hours out of the day. When awake, he lay motionless, coiled like a fetus and almost as helpless. pg. 5-6
What was the calculation? Seventeen years out, almost four years on Rakhat, seventeen years back, but then there were the relativity effects of traveling near light speed. Born a year before the Father General, who was in his late seventies, Sandoz was estimated by the physicists to be about forty-five, give or take a little. Hard years, by the look of him, but not very many of them.
The silence went on a long time. Trying not to stare at the man's hands, John debated whether he should just go. pg. 8
Nobody had told him Sandoz was this far gone. pg. 8
To defend yourself, John was going to say, but it seemed mean. "To explain what happened." pg. 9
This wasn't the first time he Jesuits had encountered an alien culture and it wasn't the first mission to come to grief and Sandoz wasn't the first priest to disgrace himself. The whole business was regrettable but not beyond redemption. pg. 11-12
The mission, he thought, probably failed because of a series of logical, reasonable, carefully considered decisions, each of which seemed like a good idea at the time. Like most colossal disasters. pg. 12
John saw then that there was nothing to do except bear witness, and gently drew Ed away. pg. 77
Head against the wooden door, hands gripping the frame, he listened until the weeping was over, and learned the sound of desolation. pg. 171
"You know what's the most terrifying thing about admitting you're in love?" she asked him. "You are just naked. You put yourself in harm's way and you lay down all your defenses. No clothes, no weapons. Nowhere to hide. Completely vulnerable. The only thing that makes it tolerable is to believe the other person loves you back and that you can trust him not to hurt you." pg. 179
"Matthew ten, verse twenty-nine," Vincenzo Giuliani said quietly. " 'Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.' "
"But the sparrow still falls," Felipe said. pg. 401

Interview: A Conversation with Mary Doria Russell:
It seemed unfair to me for people living at the end of the twentieth century to hold those explorers and missionaries to standards of sophistication and tolerance that we hardly manage even today. I wanted to show how very difficult first contact would be, even with the benefit of hindsight. That's when I decided to write a story that put modern, sophisticated, resourceful, well-educated, and well-meaning people in the same position as those early explorers and missionaries--a position of radical ignorance. pg. 411
When you convert to Judaism in a post-Holocaust world, you know two things for sure: one is that being Jewish can get you killed; the other is that God won't rescue you. That was the theology I was dealing with at the time. Writing The Sparrow allowed me to look at the place of religion in the lives of many people and to weigh the risks and the beauties of religious belief from the comfort of my own home. pg. 411-412
Some time ago I realized the books that kept me turning pages were the ones that had two or more story lines. It's a structure I admired as a reader. pg 413

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Happy Haul-idays from Chronicle Books

Now you can win a haul of your favorite Chronicle Books!

"Post a list of Chronicle Books valued at up to $500 that you’d like to haul in, and you’ll be automatically entered into a drawing to WIN your list of books! And, one of your readers who comments on the post will win the list too!"

Here is my list:

The Life & Love of
Trees By Lewis Blackwell

Bloom a Day By Ron van Dongen

Bird So
ngs Bible: The Complete, Illustrated Reference for North American Birds By Les Beletsky, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Extreme Encounters: How It Feels to Be Drowned in Quicks
and, Shredded by Piranhas, Swept Up in a Tornado, and Dozens of Other Unpleasant Experiences By Greg Emmanuel

Small Town Odds By Jason Headley

Any Bitter Thing
By Monica Wood

Mental_Floss Presents MBA Degree in a Box

How to Sur
vive a Horror Movie: All the Skills to Dodge the Kills By Seth Grahame-Smith

Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking By Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, Susie Cushner

The Punch: A Novel By Noah Hawley

Soup's On! By Leslie Jonath, Frankie Frankeny, Frankie Frankeny
Braises and Stews By Tori Ritchie, Ben Fink

Sunday Soup: A Year's Worth of Mouthwatering, Easy-to-Make Recipes By Betty Rosbottom, Charles Schiller

The Big Book of Easy Suppers: 270 Delicious Recipes for Casual Everyday Cooking By Maryana Vollstedt

The Big Book of Soups and Stews: 262 Recipes for Serious Comfort Food
By M
aryana Vollstedt

What's Next?: Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job By Kerry Hannon

Craft Inc. Business Planner: The Ultimate Organizer for Turning Your Crafts into Cash By Meg Mateo Ilasco

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Hollow Man

The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons
Bantam Books, 1992
Hardcover, 293 pages
ISBN-13: 9780308224
highly recommended

Jeremy Bremen has a secret. All his life he's been cursed with the ability to read minds. He knows the secret thoughts, fears, and desires of others as if they were his own. For years, his wife, Gail, has served as a shield between Jeremy and the burden of this terrible knowledge. But Gail is dying, her mind ebbing slowly away, leaving him vulnerable to the chaotic flood of thought that threatens to sweep away his sanity. Now Jeremy is on the run—from his mind, from his past, from himself—hoping to find peace in isolation. Instead he witnesses an act of brutality that propels him on a treacherous trek across a dark and dangerous America. From a fantasy theme park to the lair of a killer to a sterile hospital room in St. Louis, he follows a voice that is calling him to witness the stunning mystery at the heart of mortality.
My Thoughts:

The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons is, on the surface, a novel about the pain and the power of telepathy. Jeremy Bremen and his wife, Gail, are closer than most married couples because they are also both telepathic. When Gail dies, Jeremy is no longer able to handle, to filter out, the constant influx of neurobabble, which consists of other's thoughts, around him.

Unable to cope without Gail and deeply grieving her death, Jeremy is in despair. He flees, searching for relief from the neurobabble and contemplating suicide, and begins a journey, a descent into hell, that is based on Dante's The Divine Comedy as portrayed in T.S. Eliot's verse The Hollow Man.

Simmon's portrayal of telepathy was interesting and intriguing. Upon reflection, neurobabble would be a problem to telepaths. However, beyond having a pedestrian knowledge of chaos theory and quantum physics, I admittedly didn't even try to understand the math and science Simmons used to explain the creation of new universes every time we commit to an action and the branching of universes.

Chapters in The Hollow Man alternate between Jeremy's descent into hell (on this earth), memories of happier days spent with Gail, and a mysterious third voice. How these three are interconnected is the climax of the novel. I'm not completely satisfied with the ending, but it certainly lightened up, to a small degree, an otherwise very dark, bleak novel.

Simmons is a very talented writer and I did enjoy The Hollow Man but it is a very different novel compared to Simmons The Terror, which I also enjoyed, so I'm glad I didn't read them back to back. highly recommended, with a note that it is a dark, grim novel in many ways


Bremen left the hospital and his dying wife and drove east to the sea. opening

Her thoughts reached for him just as the pain returned, stabbing behind her left eye like a thin but infinitely sharp needle. pg. 1

Neither had ever encountered another telepath of more than primitive, untapped ability. Each had assumed that he or she was a freak - unique and unassailable. Now they stood naked before each other in an empty place. A second later, almost without volition, they flooded each other's mind with a torrent of images, self-images, half memories, secrets, sensations, preferences, perceptions, hidden shames, half-formed longings, and fully formed fears. Nothing was held back. Every petty cruelty committed, sexual experiment experienced, and prejudice harbored poured out along with thoughts of past birthday parties, former lovers, parents, and an endless stream of trivia. Rarely had two people known each other as well after fifty years of marriage.
A minute later they meet for the first time. pg. 5

Gail died just before the first false light of dawn touched the sky. pg. 6

Bremen stood for a minute in the center of the room, rubbing his temples. Even here, a half mile from the nearest neighbor and nine miles from town of the expressway, his head buzzed and crackled with neurobabble. It was as if all of his life he had heard a radio tuned softly in the other room and now someone had buried a boom box in his skull and turned the volume to full. Ever since the morning Gail had died.
And the babble was not only louder, it was darker. Breman knew that it now came from a deeper and more malevolent source that the random skimming of thoughts and emotions he had held access to since he was thirteen. It was as if his almost symbiotic relationship with Gail had been a shield, a buffer between his mind and the razor-edged slashings of a million unstructured thoughts. pg. 10-11

And as far as alien intelligences go, we do not have to seek for them in outer space, as I can attest and Jeremy Bremen is soon to learn. There are alien intelligences enough among you on this earth, ignored or misunderstood. pg. 16

And as Jeremy begins his descent into hell he carries another secret - this one hidden even from himself. And it is this second secret, a hidden pregnancy in him as opposed to an earlier hidden sterility there, that will mean so much to me later.
So much to all three of us. pg. 16

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green Books Campaign: Trespassing: Dirt Stories and Field Notes

This review is part of the Green Books campaign.Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.

The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on "green" books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

Trespassing: Dirt Stories and Field Notes
by Janet Kauffman

Wayne State University Press, 2008
Trage Paperback, 165 pages
Made in Michigan Writers Series
ISBN-13: 9780814333747
highly recommended

Trespassing is composed in equal amounts of short fiction and essays that illustrate the impact of modern factory farms—confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs)—on a rural Michigan community. Michigan author Janet Kauffman debunks the myth of the idyllic “clip art” farm of decades past by giving readers a close-up look at mega-meat and mega-milk, the extreme amounts of animal waste and barren countryside CAFOs produce, and the people who live in the midst of this new rural landscape threatened by agricultural sprawl. Trespassing considers the consequences of violating nature’s limits, giving readers a vivid impression of the irreversible damage that violation causes to our habitat.
My Thoughts:

Janet Kauffman's Trespassing: Dirt Stories and Field Notes combines short stories (Dirt Stories) and nonfiction essays (Field Notes) to illustrate the impact of confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, as well as other environmental issues, on rural Michigan communities. Janet Kauffman is a resident of rural Michigan, and in fact, has lived her whole life on farms. As a result of this, she approaches the environmental issues she writes about as an informed participant.

While the CAFOs produced great quantities of meat and diary products, they have some very real negative effects on the environment that are far reaching. While many people don't live in the country near a CAFO, you may very well live down stream from one. These issues actually should concern not just those living in Michigan, but everyone.

This fight concerns Kaufman personally. She lives daily with the effects of a CAFO. In the article "Farmer Turned Activist Fights Manure-Spreading Faults" we read that:
"The farms are home to 20,000 cows and produce as much waste as a city of 200,000 people. Waste from the barns where the animals live -- a stew that includes antibiotics, blood from births and cleaning solvents -- is washed into lagoons, where it sits until it can be pumped into trucks and spread on fields. When too much manure is applied to fields, it forms puddles that run off into streams."

If you've ever been in the area where a lagoon from a large farm operation is located, you know how awful the stench can be. Now imagine that in your water supply.

As part of the Eco-Libris campaign, allow me to point out that "this book is printed on 50% postconsumer recycled paper and 30% postconsumer recycled cover stock." "Recycled paper requires fewer trees to produce, is more energy efficient, results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions and hazardous air pollutants, and generates less solid waste and water pollution."

Janet Kauffman hit several hot buttons from some of my past personal crusades.
Those of you who know me in real life, know that before I started She Treads Softly, several moves and states ago, we lived on four acres outside a town in rural South Dakota. We liked living in the country and some of our fondest memories are of our huge garden, orchard, and watching the night sky for meteor showers or the Northern lights.

While living there, the community, still full of small family farms where cows did graze in fields, was fighting against a huge hog operation starting up in the area - and it was a fight. As Janet Kauffman would well know, the owners who wanted to start the hog operation weren't "farmers." They came from out of state. They didn't live on or even near their operations. They already had operations stinking up rural landscapes in nearby Nebraska and causing environmental problems. They also had some well paid lawyers on their side.

During that time we also were attending county commissioner meetings trying to keep a huge cell phone tower from being erected right by us. The representative from the company that wanted to erect the cell phone tower was from Boston. He had a condescending attitude toward those of us opposing the tower, not realizing that most of the neighbors were well educated. (It was a pity we never had a say about the new guy who moved out there the summer before we moved away and put in a high-watt night light, ruining the night sky.)

I've experienced a city (small town outside of the city) engineer (not trained) deciding a road needed to be straighten which resulted in the removal of two beautiful maple trees in our front yard. And, why, no, their actions did nothing noticeable that improved the road or the drainage; all it accomplished was the removal of several healthy trees and a whole bank of irises.

Finally, I have a real hang-up about watering grass. I have refused to water grass when I lived in places where water is generally plentiful and rains frequent. I especially refused to plant large areas of grass and water it when living in the high desert, where rain and water are not plentiful and people fight over water rights. I always found it absurd that many HOAs required a high percentage of grass in the landscaping. When we landscaped our front yard, our plans made it clear we were using xeroscaping.

Trespassing: Dirt Stories and Field Notes contents include:

Dirt Stories:
With My Hands, Swimming
Snail, Snail, Shoot Out Your Horns
Monitoring:10 Spot Samples
A Geography, A Library (Cecilia Says)
Carried Away

Field Notes:
The Fantasy of the Clip Art Farm
Letting Go: The Virtue of Vacant Ground
Buried Water
malinger, meander, in perpetuity (A Creed)
This Stream, That Stream
Skinhead Agriculture
Highly Recommended


Hey, don't even picture cows in green pastures. No, they walk on concrete, and their knees bulge like your grandmother's, crawling on cobblestones for whatever crimes. pg. 3-4

She does not perk coffee for the EPA guys. But she assumes they'll show up, and when they do, she says, "Sit down. Here are the maps. Here's Child's Drain. This is what's happening." pg. 21

We've been sitting outside every day for a week, sort of guarding the maple tree, but mostly just watching everything else get ripped up, and trying to adjust our eyes to the new views. pg. 28

But the machinery's past Barry's house now. The trees are gone and so is what Eddie calls brush - all wild cranberry, bittersweet on the fenceline. pg. 32

Maggie told Arthur the red blinking light was as bad as his eye tick, he winking he did in meetings. It wrecked the scene. The lost dark was the worst, but daytime wasn't much better. In sunlight, the eye winked silver. pg. 43

Tatia would have said those words, too, tread lightly. She who treads lightly is kin to the sea. pg. 72

The livestock operations that surrounded my Midwest town, Hudson, Michigan, still call themselves farms. Most are dairies, and they're all huge, all built within the last few years. In the language of the law, they're CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) with more than one thousand "animal units" - that is, seven hundred or more confined cows - and open-air waste pits that hold millions of gallons of liquefied feces and urine. pg. 79

Despite the CAFO's wishful claim of "zero discharge" to surface water, we've had more than 140 discharge "events" and violations between 2000 and 2006 - animal waste over-applied, drained, dumped, or sprayed onto frozen ground, polluted liquid that flowed into drains and streams.
During one discharge, E. coli bacteria in a county drain reached 130,000/100 ml, a contamination level 130 times the acceptable level for partial body contact. pg. 95

...the idea that tillable ground should all be tilled - and idea that is clearing jungles and "bringing life" to some deserts today and causing desertification elsewhere. We have an arsenal of ideas about land use clearly as dangerous to human life on the planet as the use of nuclear arms. pg. 106

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett
Penguin Group, 2009
Trade Paperback , 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781594484810
highly recommended

In telling the true story of book thief John Charles Gilkey and the man who was driven to capture him, Journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett explores the larger history of book passion, collection, and theft through the ages.
My Thoughts:

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett is a fascinating examination of a rare book thief and the book collector who helped catch him. From "the end of 1999 to the beginning of 2003 John Gilkey stole $100,000 of books" using stolen credit card numbers and forging checks. Ken Sanders, a book collector and seller who was the security chair for the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America, noticed an increase in thefts from member's reports and he began pursuing Gilkey.

Bartlett approaches her exploration of the world of rare book buyers and dealers with interest and respect trying to understand both the collectors and their reasons for collecting rare editions, and the rare book dealers, whose work is often a labor of love rather than a profit-making enterprise. She extensively interviews Gilkey. She also interviews Sanders, as well as other book dealers.

As her research and interviews continue, she begins to examine her involvement with Gilkey and her legal responsibilities to report what he is discussing with her. She also becomes concerned about the attention she is giving Gilkey and his response to it.

What I found odd, as a reader, was that Gilkey wasn't obsessed with reading books or stealing beloved books. I don't think he loved books too much. He was stealing books to gain respect for his collection. He was trying to steal a lifestyle. But he is a thief and a fraud. He is amoral and has a sense of entitlement to the books he steals. I think Bartlett was correct to question the attention she was paying him with her many interviews. He certainly seemed to feel it would give him a measure of fame.

This is a short, interesting book. I really do love books and have that wall of books Gilkey wanted, but the difference is that they are not there to impress anyone. I have read the books and keep them because of that connection. Be sure to check out the website if you are interested in The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. (I received this copy from the publisher in a give-away.)
Highly Recommended

At the end of my desk sits a nearly four-hundred-year-old book cloaked in a tan linen sack and a good deal of mystery. opening.

For three years Sanders had been driven to catch John Gilkey, a man who had been he most successful book thief in recent years. When I first contacted Sanders, he said that he had helped put Gilkey behind bars a couple of years earlier, but that he was now free. He had no idea where Gilkey was and doubted that I would have any luck finding him. He also believed that Gilkey was a man who stole out of a love of books. This was the sort of thief whose motivation I might understand. pg. 5

As I accumulated information about the thief, the dealer, and the rare book trade, I came to see that this story is not only about a collection of crimes but also about people's intimate and complex and sometimes dangerous relationship to books. pg. 6

I love to read books and I appreciate their aesthetic charms, but I don't collect them; I had to come to this fair to understand what makes others do so. pg. 11

They were and are a determined breed, and their desire can swell from an innocent love of books, or bibliophilia, to an affliction far more rabid, bibliomania... pg. 24

...he estimates that from the end of 1999 to the beginning of 2003, John Gilkey stole about $100,000 worth of books from dealers across the country. pg. 36

What makes someone cross the line from admirer to thief, and how fine is that line? pg. 38

That people would admire Gilkey because of his book collection seemed to be at the crux of his desire. It wasn't merely a love of books that compelled him, but also what owning them would say about him. pg. 47

"Too few people seem to realize that books have feelings," wrote collector Eugene Field, who wrote The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac in 1896. "But if I know one thing better than another I know this, that my books know me and love me. When of a morning I awaken I cast my eyes about my room to see how fare my beloved treasures, and as I cry cheerily to them, 'Good day to you, sweet friends!' how lovingly they beam upon me, and how glad they are that my repose has been unbroken.” pg. 75-76

Like most book collectors, his attachment is not so much to the story as to all that the book represents. pg. 107

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Odd Girl Out

Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls
by Rachel Simmons
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002
Hardcover, 296 pages
ISBN: 9780151006045
highly recommended

Synopsis from the publisher:
When boys act out, get into fights, or become physically aggressive, we can't avoid noticing their bad behavior. But it is easy to miss the subtle signs of aggression in girls--the dirty looks, the taunting notes, or the exclusion from the group-that send girls home crying.
In Odd Girl Out, Rachel Simmons focuses on these interactions and provides language for the indirect aggression that runs through the lives and friendships of girls. These exchanges take place within intimate circles--the importance of friends and the fear of losing them is key. Without the cultural consent to express their anger or to resolve their conflicts, girls express their aggression in covert but damaging ways. Every generation of women can tell stories of being bullied, but Odd Girl Out explores and explains these experiences for the first time.
Journalist Rachel Simmons sheds light on destructive patterns that need our attention. With advice for girls, parents, teachers, and even school administrators, Odd Girl Out is a groundbreaking work that every woman will agree is long overdue.
My Thoughts:

Rachel Simmons says that, "There is a hidden culture of girls' aggression in which bullying is epidemic, distinctive, and destructive." Adolescent female culture consists of manipulation, treachery, and strained niceties, which she calls “alternative aggressions.” To research and interview girls about bullying in Odd Girl Out, Simmons spent over three years in a total of 10 different schools. The schools were in two urban areas and a small town. She interviewed more than 300 girls and 50 women. Many of the interviews consisted of discussion groups with girls in schools.

Simmons offers a detailed portrait of how "alternative aggression" is used by girls as a weapon to control and bully other girls and the damage it inflicts on the victims self esteem. Simmons feels that societal restraints on girls expressing negative feelings or anger helps perpetuate the vicious cycle of bullying. Simmons writes, "it forces their aggression into nonphysical, indirect, and covert forms. Girls use backbiting, exclusion, rumors, name-calling, and manipulation to inflict psychological pain on target victims."

With many examples of the pain and isolation bullying causes, Simmons makes an impassioned plea that no form of bullying be permitted. She has one chapter discussing better ways to respond to a girl being bullied and open up communication between parent and child. Odd Girl Out includes chapter notes, an extensive bibliography, and an index.

While I found Odd Girl Out extremely interesting, I also noted several weaknesses. The most obvious weakness is in the lack of professional data. Simmons uses the stories/interviews of girls to support her conclusions, but these stories are merely narratives, not hard data. The other major weakness is the lack of any course of action and specific responses that need to be taken. Since it was originally published in 2002, I would hope that a more detailed course of action has been researched and is being implemented.

Although the many stories and interviews of victims and bullies might be helpful for those who need to feel they are not alone, I did become a bit weary of all the stories of victims. Just take note that all the interviews might not be for everyone. And if you are a teacher, you might feel Simmons is simplifying the dynamics of the school setting and unfairly targeting you as ineffective.

Additionally, Simmons herself noted another weakness. She "neglected to talk with more girls who do feel comfortable with anger and conflict." There are girls who will stick up for themselves and don't participate in the power play of these bullies. I was one of those girls. I would have also fit the description of one girl who said, "the quieter you are, the better off you are." I was quiet, but if someone tried to bully me I wouldn't tolerate it. (Perhaps it explains why my best friends were always boys.)

Finally, I think Simmons should have noted that many of the behaviors these girl bullies exhibit are carried into adulthood. There are plenty of women who still try to manipulate other woman. I'd call it passive/aggressive behavior rather than Simmon's "alternative aggression" but it's the same thing. Perhaps the only difference is that fewer adult woman tolerate that behavior in others.

Highly Recommended - those of you who feel the pain of being bullied or have a daughter being bullied might appreciate it the most


Now is the time to end another silence: There is a hidden culture of girls' aggression in which bullying is epidemic, distinctive, and destructive. It is no marked by the direct physical and verbal behavior that is primarily the province of boys. Our culture refuses girls access to open conflict, and it forces their aggression into nonphysical, indirect, and covert forms. Girls use backbiting, exclusion, rumors, name-calling, and manipulation to inflict psychological pain on target victims. pg. 3

Yet women of every age know about it. Nearly all of us have been bystanders, victims, or bullies. pg. 4

Overwhelmed by what I was discovering, I neglected to talk with more girls who do feel comfortable with anger and conflict. I regret that. pg. 8

When I began this journey three years ago, I wanted to write so that other bullied girls would know they were not alone. As I spent more and more time with the girls, I realized I was also writing to know that I was not alone. pg. 9

So, too, in classrooms of covertly aggressing girls, victims are desperately alone even though a teacher is just steps away. pg. 25

"Girls always look back at what you did the last time." pg,. 77

"It's just weird," she explained, squeezing a Beanie Baby, "because the quieter you are, the better off you are, because no one's going to find out or have rumors about you or anything....because your quiet and no one's going to find out anything about you. You don't tell. So no rumors about you and they only think of you as a quiet, nice person." pg. 171

We need to stop rewarding manipulation. We must encourage girls to embrace respectful acts of assertion and provide them with representations of female aggression that are neither sensationalized nor the stuff of fantasy. pg. 231

Friday, November 5, 2010

Margaret Atwood interview

If you appreciate Margaret Atwood as much as I do you need to read this:
Chapter 16: a Community of Tennessee writers, readers & passersby
"Imagining the Future, but Not Predicting It:
Margaret Atwood discusses her work and her concern for the planet"
by Maria Browning


Observant readers here at She Treads Softly might notice a new copyright notice in the side bar. While I've toyed with adding it before a recent controversy had me springing into action.
Chris at Chrisbookarama had a link on her bookish buzz post.

See, someone is stealing content. Read Illadore's post "Copyright Infringement and Me." She says:

"In fact, after looking at the Cooks Source Facebook page, I found the article with my name on it on 'Page 10' of the Cooks Source Pumpkin fest issue. "

The editor had the nerve to say:
"...the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn't "lift" your whole article and put someone else's name on it! "

Yeah. Right.

The thing is, I noticed that I had all these sudden visitors to one of my older posts from facebook. I don't have a facebook account and didn't plan on getting one, but this might just make me change my mind. I was wondering why all the interest on that post? Why now? From the information at Illadore's House o Crack I am suspicious that content was stolen, although there apparently was a link back to my blog. It was not a book review.

I've had people quote me and link back to my blog before. Normally it's authors for books of theirs I've reviewed, and it's all okay because they are crediting me as well as linking back to the original review. (Once I did have some insecure young woman link to a past post and then try to pick a fight with me by attacking me personally simply because she disagreed with me.)

Green Books Campaign

200 Bloggers, 200 Books, 56 Publishers And One Hour

On Nov 10, at 1 p.m., 200 bloggers will simultaneously publish reviews of 200 books printed on eco-friendly paper to raise consumer awareness about considering the environment when making book purchases. Participation this year has doubled from 2009.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Mindscan by Robert J. Sawyer
Tom Doherty Associates, 2005
Hardcover , 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780765311078
highly recommended

Robert J. Sawyer's .... back with a pulse-pounding, mind-expanding standalone novel, rich with his signature philosophical and ethical speculations, all grounded in cutting-edge science.
Jake Sullivan has cheated death: he's discarded his doomed biological body and copied his consciousness into an android form. The new Jake soon finds love, something that eluded him when he was encased in flesh: he falls for the android version of Karen, a woman rediscovering all the joys of life now that she's no longer constrained by a worn-out body either.
But suddenly Karen's son sues her, claiming that by uploading into an immortal body, she has done him out of his inheritance. Even worse, the original version of Jake, consigned to die on the far side of the moon, has taken hostages there, demanding the return of his rights of personhood. In the courtroom and on the lunar surface, the future of uploaded humanity hangs in the balance.

My Thoughts:

In Mindscan by Robert J. Sawyer, Jake Sullivan lives with the knowledge that he has the same rare, hereditary disease that resulted in his father's long time vegetative state. He feels doomed until he discovers with his hereditary wealth he can be mindscanned, a process where his entire brain is scanned and downloaded into a technologically superior mechanical body that doesn't breathe, eat, or sleep and is theoretically immortal. The process, however, results in two Jake Sullivans.

While the flesh-and-blood Jake must renounce all ties to his earthly existence and live out the rest of his days in a deluxe retirement village on the dark side of the moon, the mindscanned Jake ends up starting a relationship with Karen Bessarian, a wealthy author who has also been mindscanned. When the original Karen dies, her son sues to inherit her estate. Meanwhile, the original Jake has cause to rethink his exiled status and the mindscanned Jake begins to hear voices in his head from other Jakes.

Mindscan speculates on the ethics of bio-technology, the nature of consciousness, and the meaning of life. In Sawyer's future socially liberal Canada contrasts sharply with the fundamental Christian-controlled USA. I felt Sawyer is, as usual, taking some swipes at the USA, which readers in the USA will have to overlook.

In general Mindscan is tightly plotted at the beginning and stays focused, until the trial begins and Jake starts hearing voices. The trial dragged out a little long, becoming mostly Sawyer having a philosophical discussion on the meaning of life, bringing in abortion and the question of when life starts. In reality, the question of the rights of the mindscanned "person" would have been addressed by teams of company legal experts ahead of time and a resolution would be in place. The voices sub-plot didn't work for me - it needed to be either better developed or left out.

But Sawyer also has some brilliant moments and funny passages that make you forgive him for some of his problems and excesses. Highly recommended - It would make a good movie with some editing


March 2018: There wasn't anything special about this fight. Honest to God, there wasn't. Dad and I had argued a million times before, but nothing awful had happened. Oh, he'd thrown me out of the house a couple of times, and when I was younger he used to send me to my room or cut off my allowance. But nothing like this had ever occurred. opening

I looked at my father, and I did something I hadn't done for five years. I started to cry. My vision began to blur, and so did my mind. As the doctor continued to talk to my mother, I heard the words "severe retardation," "total aphasia," and "institutionalize." pg. 15

She nodded. "You should have an MRI, too, Jake."
"What?" I said, my heart suddenly pounding. "Why?"
Dr. Thanh lifted her delicate eyebrows, and spoke very, very softly. "Katerinsky's is hereditary." pg. 15

(August 2045) Being old isn't what it used to be, I thought, shaking my head. Not that I was old myself: I was just forty-four. pg. 17

"Shall we?" said Karen. Something about her was charming — the Southern accent, maybe (Detroit certainly wasn't where she'd grown up) — and there were, of course, the connotations that went with being in a ballroom. I found myself offering my arm, and Karen took it. pg. 19

"Of course," he said, "we can't put the digital copy back into the original biological brain — but we can transfer it into an artificial brain, which is precisely what our process does. Our artificial brains congeal out of quantum fog, forming a nanogel that precisely duplicates the structure of the biological original. The new version is you — your mind instantiated in an artificial brain made out of durable synthetics. It won't wear out. It won't suffer strokes or aneurysms. It won't develop dementia or senility. And ..." He paused, making sure he had everyone's attention. "It won't die. The new you will live potentially forever." pg. 20

"And so," said Sugiyama, "we'll provide you with an artificial body — one that's infinitely maintainable, infinitely repairable, and infinitely upgradeable." He held up a long-fingered hand. "I won't lie to you, now or ever: as yet, these replacements aren't perfect. But they are awfully good." pg. 21

With our process, you'll have a virtually unlimited lifespan, with perfect eyesight and hearing, vitality and strength, self-sufficiency and dignity." He beamed out at his audience, and I could see people nodding to themselves, or talking in positive tones with their neighbors. It did sound good, even for someone like me, whose day-to-day troubles were nothing more irritating than acid-reflux disease and the odd migraine.

Sugiyama let the crowd chatter for a while before raising his hand again. "Of course," he said, as if it were a mere trifle, "there is one catch..." pg. 23

I knew what the one catch Sugiyama was referring to was. Despite all his salesperson's talk about transferring consciousness, Immortex couldn't really do that. At best, they were copying consciousness into a machine body. And that meant that the original still existed. pg. 24