Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Best Books of 2015: Around the Internet

As we approach the end of 2015, it's worth looking back on some of the great books published this year -- and there were a lot of them.

Many of my favorite websites have put together lists of Best of 2015 books, including the following, all of which are worth taking a look at:

Powell's Bookstore Book Blog has lists covering several genres of books, including: 
Fiction - The Book of Speculation and The Buried Giant are ones I'm especially looking forward to reading.
Non-Fic - I really want to read The Oregon Trail
YA - Six of Crows looks great

Publisher's Weekly - Delicious Foods looks very interesting 

Goodreads' Best of 2015 list (which was voted on by its members) is also divided into many genres. One winner was decided in each category, but all the nominees are worth checking out. Why Not Me and Trigger Warning top my list of 'want to read.' 

NPR's Book Concierge has probably the most books of any list here, and covers all genres. They have My Kitchen Year, which I'm reading now, and many books I want to read, including The Witches, Seveneves, Uprooted, Undermajordomo Minor, and Slade House

Amazon's Editors Picks, which includes H is for Hawk and Purity on my to-read list.

Book Riot's list includes The Library at Mount Char, Nimona, and Archivist Wasp among those I want to read. 

It's clear from all these lists that I have a lot of reading to do! (Though I already knew that.)

Check these lists out and see what appeals to you, and come back soon for a round-up of 2015 favorites from staff here at the Duxbury Free Library.

Happy holidays! Keep reading, Beth

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl (2013) is a great book for any introvert - or anyone who wants to understand introverts. Cath is a college freshman dealing with her much more outgoing twin sister, bi-polar dad, absent mom, standoffish roommate, roommate’s flirty boyfriend, and writing partner with questionable motives. The way Rowell writes all these characters is wonderful; she has a way with personalities and dialogue that made this book very hard to put down.

The thread through the whole book is the fantasy fanfiction Cath is writing, which weaves throughout the ‘real’ life of the story and is what connects or separates Cath from most of the people in her life, including her sister and her writing professor. There are tantalizing glimpses of both the story Cath is writing and the books her characters are based on, which adds an interesting dimension to the story.

Rowell is really great at capturing the feeling of being young and dealing with the strange transition in college between childhood and adulthood, and I really found myself empathizing with Cath very closely. A large part of this was the way in which Cath struggles as an introvert to adapt to the new environment of college, being surrounded by strangers and new expectations of how to 'be cool' and fit in.

The ending was fairly open-ended, but in a way that made sense. Most of the main storylines were pretty well wrapped up, and nothing was left hanging so much as while the story of Cath's freshman year was ending, life was continuing for each character and that’s okay. This was a really great book that I’ve recommended to everyone since I finished. My favorite non-fantasy young adult book so far (sorry John Green; I love you but I just found myself connecting with a female lead character more).
“In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can't Google.)” (page 15)
Keep reading! Beth

Friday, December 11, 2015

Roundtable Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

In which several members of our staff who have all read the same book offer their differing thoughts and opinions. Today: a technological thriller and commentary on modern society by Dave Eggers, called The Circle (2013). Please note, there WILL be spoilers as we discuss all aspects of this book, including the ending!

For my original review of both this book and The Martian, check out this post of the blog.

CAROL J.: Creepy, authentic look at how capitalistic, technologically-driven corporations envision and expect the world to be. But can complete allegiance to one company, 24-7, and total worldwide data transparency be good for humanity?

ROSE: For me, The Circle by Dave Eggers follows in the footsteps of other dystopian novels like Huxley’s Brave New World, where different aspects of the present-day society are exaggerated and expanded into something disquieting. Mae Holland, a sweet young woman, is hired by a revered mega-Internet company, The Circle (which has some resemblances to Google, Facebook and Apple). Mae’s employers introduce her to the high expectations of The Circle: the 24/7 social interaction whirl of the employees, and the competitive video-game aspects of the work itself, which involves responding to customer emails rapidly and skillfully for hours, in order to amass a high rating.

The Circle is not great literature. The writing is on the level of a summer beach read: characters are not deep, and the story’s ending is rushed. But I would recommend it, since it held my interest, and the story moves along steadily. I cared about the main character, and was interested in her evolution. A number of the concepts (companies where employees can live 24/7, a constant barrage of social media, use of computers to measure work output) already exist at today’s corporations. We’re all aware of camera surveillance and drones; it’s a small step to imagining their presence everywhere.

But what I liked best about the story – and what stays with me – is the depiction of the relentless, privacy-smashing communal life that has an incredibly seductive pull: being part of the approving crowd, being watched over, protected and secure. I think The Circle would make a fine book for discussion, with concepts everyone in the 21st century can relate to.

ELLEN: In the spirit of 1984, The Jungle, and the latest craze for dystopian future novels, Dave Eggers has written a book that challenges the orthodoxy of increased public exposure of our personal lives on the Internet through gadgets and constant postings on bulletin boards and news feeds.

As a novel I found it a bit heavy-handed and I didn't find the central character, Mae Holland, all that believable, but I laughed mightily at the obvious representations of Facebook, Instagram, personal blogs, and YouTube. Companies like Google, whose products mesh so seamlessly into a web of interdependency, started out to claim the simplistic mantra, "Don't be evil" (their page outlining their philosophy).

At the same time, the digital storage of the world's data – including all literature, demographic information, and government documents – begs the question, "who controls the databank, who gets ready access, who controls speed of downloads, who holds the keys?" Something that starts out as a way for everyone to hold the power inevitably can morph into a power grab. Recent revelations on working conditions at Amazon, controversial as the sourcing is, raises the relevant question, "Can you succeed at a corporation and ever be offline and not at work?"

As the Young Adult Librarian, I love asking my teen group about privacy and the Internet. They have grown up with a digital presence in their lives. What is compelling is how much they find freedom and solace in what they see as the anonymity of creating an online identity. They find community and validation from others here and learn to create a voice in a group of fellow gamers, fan fiction writers, artists, and bloggers. They seem well aware of the pitfalls and know the safety issues but don't let that stop them from exploring and posting fearlessly.

On a tangential note, David and I have talked about the need for a variety of digital curation web services similar to Maria Popova's Brain Pickings, and that libraries should consider this kind of extremely intense compilation work around issues and topics one of the new tasks for libraries to tackle. It will be the key, from my perspective, to maintaining a variety of hosts and voices.

Privacy is really a very modern value. In ancient times people lived in shoulder-to-shoulder contact with others for safety’s sake. How we balance our desire to live private lives against our natural compulsion for convenience and safety is a fascinating tension that Eggers' book broaches in an entertaining and ominous way.

JESS: When I read the synopsis of this book I thought to myself, "I'm never going to finish this. It doesn't sound suspenseful at all." The book is like a slow burn, it does take time to build but by then end I couldn't believe a book about a social media company had me on the edge of my seat.

This book made me feel uncomfortable and reflective, much like the scenes in Fahrenheit 451 when the main character's wife dives deeper and deeper into her hologram TV. It is a book that has stayed with me long after I finished. I didn't like the main character Mae and that's the whole point. There are two particular scenes that stand out in my head. One is a customer service job interaction between Mae and a businessman where the number of emails she gets asking her to rate his company and recommend his daughter for a job was excruciating painful. I was visibly stressed listening to this. Why does she put up with this? She has the power to make or break his business with a few sentences.

Another harrowing scene is when she is scolded by human resources for not "posting" about going kayaking – her one soulful, peaceful interaction with nature, ‘How could she not think to invite others who like to kayak?’ Even going so far as berating her for selfishly not videoing it for people who cannot kayak due to their own health issues. This company becomes more like a cult throughout the book but just when the reader starts to question it, something positive about the resource sharing happens, and it makes you rethink your feelings about the company.

The book's final climax ended abruptly but I think that's the point of the whole book. The loss of privacy in our era has left us highly informed but at what cost? How has it changed us as people? Are we stretched so thin that our human interactions are left on the surface? Food for thought the next time you think about posting on Facebook.

BETH:  This book was great, but very disturbing. It almost felt like a prequel to any science fiction story – how we allow a slow spreading of technology into our lives until it eventually takes over completely. The scariest thing is that our present-day society, with everyone so deeply tied into and dependent on their phones, tablets, and computers is really not very far at all from the society in this book.

Though, as others have mentioned, the main character Mae was not entirely likeable, still you could see how she ended up getting in as deep as she did. Each step she took – every time she said yes to her supervisor’s requests – was understandable as an isolated incident. But for the reader, the book becomes more and more tense as you wonder where Mae's line will be; when she'll realize that broadcasting her entire life, with the only break being a minute of muted silence when she uses the restroom, is crazy.

When she persists even when she has to meet her best friend in the bathroom to have any semblance of private conversation, I was flabbergasted. When she literally drives someone to suicide and her parents underground and STILL continues to drink The Circle's Kool-Aid about wanting to be seen and known by everyone, and everyone having a right to see and know you, I was angry and frankly pretty sad. And when the book ended without any reasonable resolution, I really saw this as the beginning of the end of civilization in that society. And then I went outside.

Emma Watson and Tom Hanks are starring in the film adaptation of The Circle, which is currently set to come out sometime in 2016. It will be very interesting to see how they adapt the book to a movie, especially the later half of the story, which is told almost exclusively from a first-person perspective of Mae's camera.

Overall, I think all of us really enjoyed this book, though the feelings it elicited while reading were absolutely not always pleasant. It really made us all think and talk about the story and how it applies to our own lives, which after all is just about the best a book can do.

Keep reading! Beth

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Having read Tina Fey's Bossypants and Aisha Tyler's Self-Inflicted Wounds within the past year (both great books), I thought Amy Poehler's Yes Please (2014) would be a similar collection of funny anecdotes and stories of embarrassing experiences, with some occasional behind-the-scenes 'shop talk' of the comedy and acting industries.

Though Yes Please had all of these, it was in very different proportions to the other comedy memoirs I've read recently, and was much heavier on the memoir and advice / words-of-wisdom, and lighter on the comedy and humor than I expected. It was much less of funny story after funny story and more sincere that I had assumed it would be. Amy was (or at least seemed to be) as honest about the lows as she was about the highs of her life.

This isn't a criticism; the book was definitely interesting, and I certainly feel like I know Amy better, even if I didn't bust my gut laughing regularly while reading. There was certainly still plenty of humor (heavy on the self-deprecating humor) and some great insider information, much more so than Tina's or Aisha's books. I really enjoyed reading about how things were run at SNL and her sitcom, and her experiences as a woman in what is definitely still a male-dominated industry were illuminating.

A really great read that I would recommend.
"Creativity is connected to your passion, that light inside you that drives you. That joy that comes when you do something you love. That small voice that tells you, 'I like this. Do this again. You are good at it. Keep going.' That is the juicy stuff that lubricates our lives and helps us feel less alone in the world." (page 222)
Keep reading! Beth