Good Books and the Random Movie

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Location: Brooklyn, NY, United States

28 March 2007

Movie: Finding Nemo

I came across this in the library the other day and watched it. I had seen it when it first came out. It is just as good as the first time. I had forgotten how well done it is.

Marlin (who is not a marlin, but a clown fish) is a nervous parent. He has every right to be. His son Nemo, thinks his dad is just scared of everything.

On Nemo's first day of school his class takes a field trip. On a dare some of the fishy kids are swimming out into the open ocean - over a steep drop. Nemo is not going to participate, but at the last minute swims toward a boat. He is captured by a diver.

Marlin is frantic to find his son. He follows the boat but is quickly left behind. He finds a fish named Dory to help him. Oh, but Dory has a worse memory than mine. The two of them are off to find "P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney" from the divers mask that fell off of the boat.

Pixar (as usual) does a great job with this film. The graphics are amazing. The plot is solid. And the characters are fabulous. It is the first animated film I have seen that is entertaining all the way through. I love this movie!

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27 March 2007

The Left Hand of Darkness

Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness has been hailed as a science fiction masterpiece. It won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

Genly Ai is an emissary from Ekumenical Counsel, a sort-of league of planets, to Gethen to invite them to join the counsel. The planet of Gethen has been called Winter by the Ekumen. It is a land of vast glaciers and little livable land. Mr. Ai is sent alone to this planet to ready the political and social consciousness to accept the fact that the Gethenians are not alone in the universe.

The humans of Gethen are somewhat different than those of us from Earth. They are a genderless race. Or rather they are androgynous and can change their gender. People are not put into rolls of man or woman. Anyone past puberty can give birth or father a child.

It is interesting that Le Guin, given credit for being one of the first women to write science fiction has wrote one of her first books about a genderless society. This book is a thought-provoking, philosophical story of mythology. It is praised as a landmark achievement in intellectual science fiction.

Le Guin, Ursula. K. (1969). The left hand of darkness. New York: Ace Books.

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26 March 2007


Ammonite by Nicola Griffith is excellent. It is one of the best science fiction books I have read. (Actually all of Nicola's books are excellent.)

Marghe Taishan is sent to the colony of GP (nicknamed Jeep) on a distant planet to test a new vaccine. Since the time that the colony was formed all of the colonists have been attacked by the same virus. All of the men were killed by it. The few women who survived were forever altered by it. Terrified of spreading the virus, the company that started the colony has abandoned it.

Marghe, an anthropologist, is given an experimental vaccine and is sent down to both test the vaccine and to try to track down the mystery of the virus and the civilization that thrives on the planet despite it. Once she steps into the transport ship, she has to either find a cure for the virus or forever be exiled there. Marghe is the last hope for the humans on Jeep. Or is she?

Griffith, Nicola. (1992). Ammonite. New York: DelRey.

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25 March 2007

Fun Home

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is Alison Bechdel's memoir. This is the only graphic novel I have ever read other than Maus by Art Spiegelman. I know of Alison's Dykes to Watch Out For comic. But I had never read it. The only comic I ever read with any consistency was Life In Hell.

I have to say that even in comic form, Alison Bechdel has a way with words. She conveys what she is trying to say through the text as much as through her illustrations.

Bechdel, Alison. (2006). Fun Home: A family tragicomic. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.

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24 March 2007

Stay (Aud Torvingen #2)

Stay is Nicola Griffith's second book featuring Aud Torvingen. The first is The Blue Place. I don't know what exactly to say about Stay that will not give away what happened in The Blue Place...

Aud's friend Dornan pleads with her to find his finance Tammy, who has disappeared. She quickly locates Tammy and goes to NYC to see if Tammy wants to be found. The plot thickens as it appears that Tammy has not been in New York completely of her own free will. And she may not be the only person being affected. Aud may have to save someone else as well.

Again, I don't want to give anything away. This book takes up just after The Blue Place ends. Aud Torvingen is an emotionally complex and fascinating character. Someone you would not want to meet in a dark alley but would want on your side in any fight.

Nicola writes with both beauty and a brutality that is hard to look away from. She is a talented writer who I will be following as long as she is writing. I can't wait for the third book!

Griffith, Nicola. (2002). Stay. New York: Doubleday.

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23 March 2007


Wow! If I had not signed up for GSLIS 700 - The Technology of Information - I would be lost in this book. All of the concepts we have been learning about computers and the Internet are in here.

Taking place in 2012, Breakpoint is about computer evolution and how it affects human evolution. Where is the line between correcting mistakes or defects and creating a new form of human? The software creators in the US, England, and Japan were about to find out. Until someone took out the Internet cables connecting North America to the rest of the world.

This book is written by someone who knows his stuff. Richard A. Clarke has been in the federal government in one capacity or another since 1973, most recently as the Special Adviser to the President for Cyberspce Security. He know the insider info to write a good government / espionage story and a computer / Internet based tale.

Clarke, Richard. A. (2007). Breakpoint. New York: Penguin Group.

Science Fiction/Computers. Suspense.

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22 March 2007

The Chosen

Chaim Potok's The Chosen is a classic. It is the story of two Jewish boys growing up in Brooklyn around the end of WWII. One, Reuven, is an Orthodox Jew. And the other, Danny, is a Hasid.

They meet during a baseball game where Danny hits the ball into Reuven's face, breaking his glasses. Reuven ends up in the hospital with glass in his eye. Danny visits him to apologize and the two form a friendship. They learn about each other's religion - the differences and similarities between two sects of Jews.

This is a wonderful story. And Chaim Potok was a gifted writer. I have read all of this books but this one is my favorite.

Potok, Chaim. (1967). The Chosen. New York: Fawcett Columbine.

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21 March 2007

Movie: The Guardian

The Guardian was intense! Of course, I am partial to movies with lots of helicopters.

This is the story of the rescue swimmers of the U. S. Coast Guard. It shows some of the training they go through to become rescue swimmers. There is plenty of footage of ships in trouble in giant waves.

Ashton Kutcher does a great job in the first serious role I have seen him in.

I held my breath for most of the movie!

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19 March 2007

From Abyssinian to Zion

This book is a really cool way to look at Manhattan. This book chronicles the history of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. This is a fun way to learn about the architectural history of New York City. It shows not only the buildings and congregations, but the cultural diversity of our city.

Who knew that my synagogue, B'nai Jeshurun, has been in four locations since it was founded in 1825. I didn't even know it had been around for so long.

Dunlap, David. W. (2004). From Abyssinian to Zion: A guide to Manhattan's houses of worship. New York: Columbia University Press.

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16 March 2007

Movie: The Princess Bride

What can I say... every cool person I know likes this movie. In fact, I have only met one person who didn't like it and she turned out to be not too great herself!

So, see it. Or read the book by William Goldman. Both are great.

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15 March 2007


Sotah by Naomi Ragen is a kind of follow up to her first book Jephte's Daughter. She was much criticized for writing about a less than happy hasidic couple. Sotah, has no less angst, but maybe shows the ultra Orthodox in a better light.

Dina Reich is the second daughter in an haredi family in Jerusalem. At seventeen she marries a loving, generous man. But she is restless. Her quest for knowledge leads her down a dangerous path. When the community learns of her transgression, she is exiled to New York.

Her life in New York is less than satisfactory. Here she must come to terms with what has happened to her and find the courage to return to her husband in Israel.

Ragen writes beautifully. Her characters have the flaws of real people. This book, Sotah, was on the best seller list for ninety-three weeks!

Ragen, Naomi. (1992). Sotah. Michigan: Toby Press.

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14 March 2007

Define "Normal"

Continuing on the Teen theme... Julie Anne Peters' book Define "Normal" is a look at teen peer counselling. Antonia is assigned to counsel Jazz, a punk. Antonia doesn't think that they have anything in common and can't see how they will accomplish anything.

As time goes on they discover they have more in common than they could have imagined. When the tables are turned and Antonia needs someone to talk to, Jazz is there to help. Soon these two seemingly opposite teens become good friends.

Peters has a gift for making her characters likable and draws the reader in almost instantly. She also writes teen queer fiction that is fabulous!

Peters, Julie. Anne. (2003). Define "normal". New York: Little, Brown and Company.

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13 March 2007

50 Essential Teen Books

Last night, Nick Buron of the Queens Public Library came to speak to my class. He brought with him a flyer with what he and a couple of colleagues think are the "50 Essential Teen Books." As I love teen fiction, here is the list.

The one author I would add to this list is Julie Ann Peters for her books Defining "Normal" and Keeping You a Secret, as well as Me and Jo.

Alvarez, Julia
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

Anderson, Laurie Halse

Anderson, M.T.

Go Ask Alice

Block, Francesca Lia
Weetzie Bat

Blume, Judy

Brashares, Ann
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Chbosky, Stephen
The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Cisneros, Sandra
The House on Mango Street

Cormier, Robert
The Chocolate War

Crutcher, Chris
Whale Talk

Dessen, Sarah
Keeping the Moon

Duncan, Lois
I Know What You Did Last Summer

Flake, Sharon
Money Hungry

Flinn, Alex
Breathing Underwater

Frank, E.R.
Life if Funny

Garden, Nancy
Annie on My Mind

Hautman, Pete

Hesser, Terry Spencer
Kissing Doorknobs

Hinton, S.E.
The Outsiders

Holman, Felice
Slake's Limbo

Johnson, Angela
The First Part Last

Klass, David
You Don't Know Me

Korman, Gordon
Son of the Mob

Levithan, David
Boy Meets Boy

Lowry, Lois
The Giver

Lynch, Chris

McCormick, Patricia

Myers, Walter Dean

Na, An
A Step from Heaven

Nix, Garth

Nye, Naomi Shihab

Paulsen, Gary

Peck, Richard
Are You in the House Alone?

Pierce, Tamora
Circle of Magic #1: Sandry's Book

Pullman, Philip
His Dark Materials Trilogy

Rapp, Adam
33 Snowfish

Rennison, Louise
Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson

Ryan, Sara
Empress of the World

Sachar, Louis

Spinelli, Jerry

Thomas, Rob
Rats Saw God

Voigt, Cynthia

Whelan, Gloria
Homless Bird

Williams-Garcia, Rita
Like Sisters on the Home Front

Wittlinger, Ellen
Hard Love

Wolff, Virginia Euwer
Make Lemonade

Woodson, Jacqueline

Yep, Laurence
Dragon's Gate

Zindel, Paul

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12 March 2007

Meg: Primal Waters (Meg #3)

In Meg: Primal Waters, by Steve Alten, a prehistoric shark is discovered. This shark is somewhat different than the 350-plus species of shark that swim the earth today. This one weighs twenty tons and could eat a Tyrannosaurus.

During a Navy expedition to the Mariana Trench, one of the deepest spots in the Pacific, on a search for damaged scientific equipment, the tiny sub holding Paleontologist Jonas Taylor and his friend is attacked. Jonas survives the attack. Unfortunately, once he is recovered by the ship, no one will believe what he has seen.

The Carcharodon Megalodon has survived planetary changes by living seven miles below the ocean's surface. So deep in fact, that it survived the event that killed the dinosaurs. And now it may be released back into the shallow water. The same shallow water where people swim...

If you liked Jaws, you will like this even better.

Alten, Steve. (1998). Meg. New York:Bantam.

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10 March 2007

Deep Storm

Deep Storm by Lincoln Child is a harrowing tale of discovery and cutting edge science which takes place on the ocean floor, two miles below an oil rig. There is a rumor that while drilling for oil artifacts were discovered. Could this be the lost city of Atlantis?

In a secret joint military-scientific research base a signal has been detected underneath the ocean floor. But scientists and military personnel alike have started to get sick. Is it just the pressure of working in a confined space, knowing there are millions of gallons of water trying to squish them? Or is there something more sinister at work?

Child, Lincoln. (2007). Deep Storm. New York: Doubleday.

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09 March 2007

Movie: Shut Up & Sing

The Dixie Chick's documentary Shut Up & Sing was just released on DVD. It follows the story of what happened to them when they spoke out against the war in Iraq, the night before the war started. The part of the statement that was repeated through the media in the US was Natalie Maines, lead singer, stating she was ashamed that the president is from her home state of Texas. In the movie, you get to see the whole context of what was being said. Plus the fact that one of the largest protests in history was happening not far from where the Dixie Chick's were in concert.

The film focuses on what a couple of right-wing groups accomplished. Their music was boycotted by country radio. There cds were smashed. Their lives were threatened. It is an interesting commentary on the state of our freedoms and political climate at the time.

Through this experience they became a better band. (They were already the highest selling band of all time.) Their new cd, Taking the Long Way, is perhaps less country but is an emotional, well-written set of music. It is their first cd where they wrote all of the songs. It shows a side of the Chicks that was previously hidden.

I will admit that no matter what the film showed, and it is (of course) bias toward the Dixie Chicks, I would have loved it. I am a huge fan. However, the Weinstein Company who funded the film does surveys on opening day of all of the films they finance. The comments I heard from people who were not previously fans included one woman who said she was going across the street right then to buy their new cd.

I highly recommend both the documentary and the new cd. You can watch a video of the first release from Taking the Long Way here.

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08 March 2007


James Rollins’ Amazonia is fantastic. He is a descriptive writer who draws the reader into his books.

Years after an expedition goes into the Amazon, the lone remaining member stumbles out of the rainforest. The ex-special forces soldier is scared, mutilated, and terrified. Oh, and when he went into the jungle he only had one arm; now he has both. Upon this discovery, the government sends a new expedition to follow the soldier’s trail back into the forest. What the scientist, Nathan Rand, and his team of Army Rangers find one the way will be both life-threatening and incompressible.

Rollins, James. (2002). Amazonia. New York: William Morrow & Co.

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07 March 2007

The Sons of the Wind

The Sons of the Wind: The Sacred Stories of the Lakota, edited by D.M. Dooling, is a beautiful look at the creation stories of the Sioux. Beginning from the time before there was anything and continuing to the creation of human, this story is a Genesis that can be seen in nature.

All of the gods can be seen in real life - the rock, the Earth, the sun and the sky are the 4 main Spirits. From there the story goes on to explain how other creatures developed, including the four winds, storms and the moon.

I read this book for the first time as an undergrad in a Native American Religions class. I then spent about 3 years trying to track down my own copy. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in world religions, creation myths, or American Indians of the plains.

Dooling, D.M. (Ed.) (1984). The sons of the wind: The sacred stories of the Lakota. New York: Parabola Books.

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06 March 2007

Five in a Row

Five in a Row by Jan Coffey (husband and wife writing team of Jim and Nikoo McGoldrick) is about DBW systems. DBW or drive-by-wire technology is based on its forerunner, fly-by-wire. Basically in planes, helicopters, and cars parts like gears and wires have been replaced by computer functions. When you push the gas or brake pedal in a newer car, there is no cable pulling on a gear or pad that changes the speed of the car. Instead, a computer signal is sent to the ECM (computer brain of the engine). So, when you step on the brake a message is send and then another message is sent to the braking system that applies that much pressure. Think of the modern gas and brake pedals as the equivalent of a volume dial on a stereo.

In Five in a Row someone has put a trojan virus into the computer system of nearly all cars manufactured in the last decade. The virus lies dormant until the evil hacker wakes it up, at which time he can control the car like a video game. Computer Emily Doyle is brought in to help investigate how to stop him. With more than 4 million cars effected, will she ever know where to look?

Coffey, Jan. (2005). Five in a row. Ontario, Canada: Mira.

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03 March 2007

The Descent

Jeff Long has written a masterpiece of sci-fi in The Descent. All over the world people are getting hints that we are not alone on this planet. There is a vast system of caves running underground that are inhabited by human-like creatures. Somewhere along the evolutionary road, we turned one way and they the other.

Of course, as soon as a new region is discovered anywhere, all governments want to be the first to get there and take it over. The US sends an exploratory army down to take a look. Unfortunately, their communication devices were not made to work through tons of rock. Scientific teams are sent to explore by bio-tech companies. And archaeologists can wait to enter the caves.

Are these creatures and humans compatible for a side-by-side existence? And what is making them begin to surface? What is driving them out of the only home they have known for centuries?

Long, Jeff. (1999). The descent. New York:Crown.

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01 March 2007

The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife is an amazing debut novel by Audrey Niffenegger.

Henry DeTamble is a time traveler. He doesn't use a time machine. He doesn't control when he goes. He doesn't even want to go most of the time. He has a rare medical condition that propels him through time when he is nervous. He has had the condition since he was a child.

So what happens when he meets his wife when she is six years old? The story according to Clare (his wife) is told chronologically. From Henry's perspective it is not quite the same chronology.

Part science-fiction and part love story, this is one of the best books I have read. Niffenegger conveys the pain and joy of Henry's travels. The pain of suddenly not knowing when you are. (Did I mention that when you time travel, you arrive naked?) And the joy at getting to watch his wife grow up.

Niffenegger, Audrey. (2004). The time traveler's wife. Fort Washington, PA:Harvest Books.

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Utopia by Lincoln Child is the story of a madman in a theme park. Utopia is a park that far surpasses any that is in existence today. It is on the cutting edge of technology with holograms and robots through out the park.

But all of a sudden, the flawless technology starts to go haywire. Robots malfunction and a roller coaster almost kills a kid. Dr. Andrew Warne, a brilliant computer engineer, is a called in to fix the increasing problems.

What he finds out is that a nefarious group of terrorists has hacked into the system and controls the park. The 65,000 visitors who come to the park everyday will not know what hit them.

Child, Lincoln. (2003). Utopia. Greenwich, Connecticut:Fawcett.

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