The Selected Works of TS Spivet, Reif Larsen

Okay, I’m just going to jump right in today with a pet peeve I have when it comes to books (and this novel is the worst offender I’ve found since George RR Martin started making his books 4000 pages apiece!): I hate when a book is shaped in such way that it’s painfully difficult to hold with one hand. I don’t know how other people read, but I prefer to hold a book with my left hand, using my pinky to hold down the pages on the right. This allows for the quickest page turning; since a book slowing me down physically also slows me down mentally, I  have a much harder time dropping into the written world if I have to handle an awkward one.

The Selected Works of TS Spivet is almost square in its dimension – an unusual shape for a novel – and it’s 370 pages of heavy paper. I was probably 50 pages in when I had to find my wrist brace. I was 110 pages in when I finally broke down and constructed a novel-holder using a precariously balanced yoga bolster stretched across a chair. If I hadn’t done that, I’m not sure I could have finished the book.

This doesn’t bode so well for the review, does it? Normally when I’m that far into a book, I have a standard of interest I have to meet in order to keep going. I’ll be honest with you – this book didn’t meet it for me, but I kept going for three reasons:

Reason 1: Two people recommended it to me, and I have good reason to trust in their perceptions of my taste.

Reason 2: This is a beautiful, well-written, and thoughtfully illustrated novel, and I could tell that the problem was not the book – it was me.

Reason 3: This book describes exactly what I imagine my husband to have been like at twelve years old.

Reason 1 is pretty self-explanatory. If I trust that you understand what I like in a book, I will give you many, many pages before I decide you were wrong. You’ve earned that from me, and I like to extend that respect for as long as possible, since once you’ve been wrong, it’s harder for me to buy in the next time you suggest a title.

Reason 2 and reason 3 are connected and integral to my overall impression of this novel.

You see, I’m not scientifically minded – not even a little bit. I relate to the world in terms of my relationships with other people; I’ve been told that may be one of the reasons I was drawn to working with young children. I find it terrifically easy to empathize with others and to tailor my approach accordingly. I even enjoy compromise.

My ideas about the world and how it works are, well, the nice word is “flexible,” but I’ve heard “wishy-washy” more often. I just don’t tend to take a hard stand and then break that argument down into parts that can be rationally attributed to tangible sources. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the rational mind – I do – but I physically cannot figure out to make my brain work the way TS Spivet’s does in this novel.

To be fair, he’s a genius cartographer (and as much as I hated the shape of the book, the illustrations and maps found on almost every page make it worth finding in paperback rather than an e-format), but he’s also twelve. How can I not be smart enough to follow the ideas of a twelve-year-old? That’s what I spent the first half of the book wondering. I love children, and I love history and adventures, and this book has all three (in addition to science, science, and oh yes, science); honestly, I felt so stupid that it was nearly impossible to relate.

How, you may be wondering, could you then have married a person whose very way of thinking is inclined to make you feel like a complete idiot? How, indeed. Well, to be honest, most of the time, he saves his  big ideas for the office where other engineer-brained people apparently have a grand time picking each other’s ideas apart into their most primal states. Also, he’s not twelve anymore, and he’s learned how to temper his own approach to the world with the knowledge that we don’t all think the same way.

The only time I genuinely feel stupid in his presence (and of course, there had to be a time) is when we’re in the car with his father and sister. You see, one of our favorite hobbies is white water rafting, and every summer, we congregate in Colorado and drive to whichever river coughed up a permit. These drives take, on average, 8-12 hours. You see, David is a software engineer. His sister is getting her PhD in Neuroscience. His father spent his career as an atmospheric chemist. Do you want to know how this family entertains themselves on long car trips (I’ll give you a guess and it’s not license plate bingo…)? They take turns devising theoretical problems, then they discuss potential abstract solutions. (His sister actually does this while simultaneously solving 9×9 Ken Ken puzzles.) Do you know what I do during these rides? I listen to show tunes on my iPod and make up stories in my head about the troll people who live in the Rocky Mountains.

You have to understand – it’s not that I don’t want to understand this scientific approach – I just have no idea how to go about thinking about ideas this way. It made reading this book incredibly painful at times, even as I watched this boy struggling to fit into a world filled with people more like me than they are like him. I have an easy time adapting to social situations; this child views the world through a much more complex lens. He has to work so much harder to gain traction with other people, and yet I found myself jealous of him. I’m envious of his exquisite attention to detail, of his ability to easily comprehend vast data sets, of his wild, brave, out-of-the-box thinking. And I am scared, looking into my own future, that I could have a child like this someday – a child so much more like my husband – a child who would require me work even harder to break down the walls around how I view the world in order to reconcile our differences.

Honestly, it’s rare for me to have such a love/hate relationship with a book. The story is impeccable, the writing a cut above. Larsen absolutely nails this character, and his family, and his adventure across the country from the isolated ranches of Montana to Washington, DC. I have absolutely no criticism to share about his style, his decision to use footnotes and illustrations as mental tangents for TS, or his ability to create a compelling story about a person who just happens to be my polar opposite. Sure, my hands and arms hated that square beast of a book, but I can forgive him under artistic license.

The thing that sold me in the end though, was that half-way through the book, TS was humanized for me. One minute I was checking my watch to see if it was time for a coffee break, and the next, my heart was overflowing with a desire to protect this brilliant and naive child from the harsh realities of politics and shameful adult behavior. As much as I couldn’t comprehend how to relate to this character on so many levels, at the deepest one – the level of basic humanity – Larsen found a way to make me love this boy.

Reif Larsen has a lovely website with some excellent representations of the kind of art found in this book at: More importantly, he has created a mind-blowing site for this book that you MUST see: Seriously. Checking Facebook can wait while you go see this.

I Feel a Little Jumpy Around You, Naomi Shihab Nye and Paul B Janeczko

Before we dig in today, I want to welcome my new followers, most of whom were brought here via last week’s post on The Accidental Athlete (featured on Freshly Pressed, a fact I’m incredibly excited and not a little confused about – I mean, does anyone actually know how they select the pieces featured?). In an unexpected whirlwind adventure, I spent most of Friday and Saturday moderating and responding to hundreds of comments and checking out as many of the blogs now following me as I could. I still can’t believe the response, and I’m more than a little nervous about living up to the hype…

At any rate, I hope you’ve all had a chance to look around. I don’t post about sports more than about once a month; running, yoga, and Zombie Apocalypse Training (I really should trademark that idea…) are huge parts of my life, and I love discussing them here when I find a worthy book on a related subject, but my literary interests are far-flung. I very much hope you’ll hang around regardless – I was moved and impressed by the range of comments on that last post, and I’m excited to have new voices joining the scene.

That being said, I was basically paralyzed on Saturday night when I realized that A) I hadn’t started reading another book on Friday morning as planned, B) I had a much larger and untested audience to appeal to, and C) I had mentally committed myself to reviewing one of the (non Kindle) books on the To-Read shelf. Ugh. It’s not that those books are bad – in fact, I’ve kept them around because I assume I’ll enjoy them…someday. But I was coming off a writer’s high – literally thousands of people had read and responded to a post I’d written about a great book, and here I was, glumly flipping through some dismal looking titles. To make matters worse, on Friday night, I went to see The Hunger Games (obviously), and although I have a few issues with both the movie and the books, I did love the series, and it was difficult to find another book that would engage me with any comparable energy.

I was starting to panic. Finally I did what (I assume) anyone would do in my position – I picked an anthology of poetry. That’s what you would do…right? Right?!

No. Obviously no sane person would pick a book that would probably have little to no appeal to sports lovers, YA addicts, or fantasy/sci-fi geeks…but what can I say? I love a challenge.

To make this even more hilarious, although I enjoy poetry and have written my fair share of it, I rarely read poetry anthologies. I endured a lot of abuse for this in college, and if anything, the disdain of my poetry-devouring classmates made me want to pick such a book up even less. So why would I do this?

Good question. Well, first of all, one of the editors is Naomi Shihab Nye , who wrote Habibi (reviewed in January). I find her delightful, and one of the great things about being a beloved author is that you have the power to convince me to read something I might otherwise ignore. Secondly, even though I’m wary of poetry, I loved the idea behind the book – the editors grouped almost 200 poems into pairs to demonstrate the different ways in which male and female poets see the same topic (excerpted from the back cover). My husband and I got married a year ago April (after being together for four), and I’ve been curious watching as our first year of marriage unfolds with all its beautiful quirks. As much as he is basically the best man in the universe (a completely unbiased perspective, of course), sometimes it feels like we’re talking about the same topic in two completely different languages. And I have to imagine we are not the only ones…

In a typical novel, I often notice the difference in tone, language use, and structure between male and female voices, and this can be further complicated when the author is of a different gender than the protagonist. This anthology offered me the chance to examine similar variations in a close comparison. I often ignored which gender I was reading to see if I could guess myself by the end of the piece, and I would say 97 percent of the time I could. There’s just no getting around the fact that men and women are fundamentally different – our bodies grow strong in different ways and at varying rates, and our brains attach to detail and big picture concepts differently.

I’m really happy about it too. As much as it can pain me to have a conversation with a male friend or family member and come away with absolutely black and white ideas of what was communicated, I find it fascinating that we can be so different and yet still connect on the plain of emotional resonance.

That being said, I don’t know if I would recommend this book to a general audience. The poems in it were lovely, and I’ve marked about twelve that I especially enjoyed, but I’ve found that people are very touchy around the subject of poetry. It seems to be much more divisive than fiction (although genre fiction often provokes some outrageous arguments); mostly, it seems to make people sulky and reminds them of whatever English teacher they hated most in high school.

If you aren’t getting a weird twitch in your shoulder blades reminding you of carefully penned poetry returned with a page full of red marks, I totally recommend giving this book a whirl (especially if you’ve just had an hours’ long conversation with your SO about buying a car and at the end of it still have no idea where s/he stands on the matter…); however, if you’re filled with rage at the mere idea that I would even mention poetry here in this sacred internet space, take a moment and post a comment about a book you love and would like me to review.

Now everyone’s happy, right? And we can move on to more important matters, like having a case of the Mondays…


Naomi Shihab Nye doesn’t have a web home, but more information can be found about her work online. Paul B Janeczko can be found at

The Accidental Athlete: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Middle Age, John “the Penguin” Bingham

There are some books you pick up and you just know the story is going to be about you. You may know the author so well you feel he or she is a kindred spirit. You may have read the book a hundred times. You may love the topic of the book so much that there’s no room in your heart for anything but acceptance and understanding. I have encountered a number of books like this over the years – these are books that don’t change your life so much as reinforce that the path you’re on is the right one. For me, Bingham’s memoir on becoming an “adult-onset athlete” is one of those books.

I’ve been enjoying his articles in Runner’s World since I started running myself in October 2010, and when I saw that he had a book out, I put it on my Christmas list along with Born to Run. Without having any idea how old he is (in his 60s), where he lives (Tennessee, I think), or how long he’s been running (20 years), I felt immediately that this man was my running soul mate. I had to hear his story, the complete version, rather than the bits and pieces that make it into the magazine, and I wasn’t disappointed.

“The Penguin” might as well have been me as a child. He was chubby, unathletic, and desperate to be the kind of person who got picked first (or at least not last) to be on a team. His dreams of who he could be were tangled up with the joy of being a child, and the disappointment he experienced as he faced down a system of organized sports that slowly sucks the fun out of games for the vast majority of children was so familiar to me I felt like I was reading an old diary.

He was 43 when he started running, having been a heavy smoker, drinker, and eater for most of his life. Twenty years later, he has run countless races, from 5ks to marathons to Iron Mans, and his focus is on discovering the fun in running rather than insisting on that it’s only fun to be the very best. Unlike Born to Run, which made me weep with joy for the pure sport of it, Bingham’s book made me get up and go for a run yesterday afternoon after I’d already decided I was going to skip it for the day.

There is no higher praise for any coach or motivational speaker than that – I literally put down the book when I reached the end of chapter 8, got dressed and hit the road. It was a brutal three miles. My whole body felt fatigued from two tough workouts on Tuesday, and on top of that, I hate to run any time but the morning. It’s too hot. There are way too many other people out who are much faster than I am. I just ate lunch. I have about a thousand excuses to pull out when I don’t run first thing, and this book shut me up and got me on the trail.

His book was a constant reminder to me of why I run. I run because even though I’m not good at it, it makes me feel good. While I was reading it, I felt like I was, for once, not alone in this bizarre mindset. Most of my friends are, from my perspective (if not an Olympic one) phenomenal runners; it’s no trouble for them to run eleven miles at a go or consistently clock 8 or 9 minute miles. They run triathalons after training for only a few months. They have medals from more than one marathon.  It has taken me almost a year and a half to feel comfortable running 5k, and even now, I’m a twelve-minute miler on my good days. I barely clock ten miles a week, and I often wonder why I’m not getting any better.

Bingham’s story made me feel like I don’t have to get any better – not to enjoy running, not to be considered a runner – because I run, I’m a runner, and that’s final. It’s not that he doesn’t believe in back of the packers improving; he’s done it, and I know I eventually will too. It’s more that he has captured, for me, the essence of running – that it’s an expression of strength and joy and respect for the life I’ve been given.

It’s incredibly difficult, and at times downright discouraging, to be an adult coming to running for the first time. So many runners have been doing it their whole lives, and it’s a constant game of catch-up for us beginners. Maybe that’s why I cherish this book, my new running bible, as a testament to my ability to discover courage in a place where I’m very comfortable (the world of books), and then take that advice out to the roads and trails, where I am still a struggling novice.

John Bingham has plenty more to say at I’m personally going to check out his training section right now.

Beauty, Robin McKinley

When I was back east visiting my family last week, a dear family friend gave me a few books by Robin McKinley as a belated birthday present. While we were discussing in what order I should read them, she mentioned this book, Beauty, which she had given me years ago for another birthday. I couldn’t remember what I’d done with my copy, but it turns out, my mother had borrowed it then stuck it on her own shelf (a habit both of us have, much to our mutual dismay!) so I pulled it out and tossed it into my suitcase.

The friend who had gifted me these books dearly loves the story of Beauty and the Beast, and although I’m not positive she knew this when she gave the book to me, it’s also my favorite fairy tale. As a child, it was the only Disney movie I could stand, and as I got older, I sought out other retellings. Without a doubt, this is the best one I’ve found so far, although I’ve discovered in my questing that there are infinite versions of the story, and there may well be one out in the world I will enjoy more.

One of the qualities I most love about McKinley though is her ability to write books intended for a young audience that are also enjoyable for an older one. I could easily have read this book when I was ten and loved it, and twenty years later, I envy her talent in creating such a richly textured world for this familiar tale.

During this reading, I was especially drawn to the home she creates for Beauty and her family in the countryside. It’s warm and cozy – a cheerfulness that comes from a combination of hard work and being surrounded by family pervades this section – and when Beauty leaves it behind to live in the Beast’s much grander castle, I found myself entrenched in a melancholy I couldn’t shake. For all the exquisite gardens, gowns, and food, even for his library holding every book ever written (even those not penned yet), I found myself longing for her to return to her old, simple life. Why couldn’t the Beast join  her family there, leaving the castle behind for village life? Why couldn’t the tidy wrap-up leave them chopping wood together, or tending to the vegetable garden? Why is it happily ever after could only take place with such extravagant wealth shrouding the couple?

While I’m not saying money can’t buy any happiness at all (I have seen the misery of financial hardship), I find that a happy life engaged in joyful work is much more satisfying to me than an easy life where a person has nothing but time to think about his or her problems. It also just seems dull, the perfection McKinley describes – Beauty’s days in the castle, spent riding and reading and changing clothes, would grow dull after a while. It’s like a vacation that will never end, and yet what makes a vacation really wonderful is its contrast to daily life.

I don’t remember feeling this way when I read this book years ago, but as an adult, the lives I most admire are those of friends who know how to cook everything, who eat from their own gardens, who home school ingeniously, and who seem to be able to mend anything and everything in a pinch. This is the life Beauty leaves for the Beast, and I just find myself wondering if they wouldn’t both be happier returning to that, together…

You can find the most up-to-date information about Robin McKinley at her blog,

Once more, with feeling!

Okay, so I know I promised I would not post about Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series again, but I lied. I know, I’m a terrible person, and here you’ve patiently waited a week for a new post and I don’t even have anything interesting to share (or at least I assume that’s the general train of thought for all you non-vampire readers out there, and really, I don’t hold it against you). But the thing is, I was on vacation. And I read five more of her books while I was away. Now I’m back, and I have roughly ninety loads of laundry to do, and paying projects that need attending to, and a husband who is even more jet-lagged than I am (thanks a lot nine-hour time difference!), and it’s raining. I can’t possibly get my head in the game as quickly as I’d planned to, and that’s just the bottom line. I won’t be offended if you trip off to explore further regions of the interwebs today, but know that next week, I’ll be back on my game and I’ll have something special to report on.

For those of you who are fans of Harris (or are just completists, like me, who hate stopping halfway through a blog post), welcome. I have to admit to being curious about watching the show based on the books now that I’ve read so many of them, but I’m even more interested in the fact that Harris managed to pull off something that very few series writers do – she paces her novels so well that they flow seamlessly together and make, I expect, for excellent translation to television.

Seriously though, she’s addictive. I found myself reading bits and pieces at every possible opportunity over the last two weeks (I’m so thankful for Kindle apps on smart phones!), although I quickly realized that I’m a little too wound up if I read her right before bedtime. Inevitably I run across a gruesome murder about three pages before I plan to turn out the light, and then the night is just one crazy nightmare after another as my brain tries to process all the violence, especially against women. But while waiting for my parents to be ready to go out? While standing and stirring pudding on the stove? After getting to yoga twenty minutes earlier than necessary? Check, check and check.

The reason it’s so easy to go through Harris’ books rapidly is that they’re written to take place only a week or two after the last one wraps up. Often in a series, the time between the novels is indeterminate, or at best, a few months or a year later. It’s a lot easier to disengage from the characters when so much time has passed. Harris doesn’t allow that to happen, and once I discovered that evil little fact, I was screwed.

And, well, I’m the sort of person who falls in with characters like they’re my best friends, and I keep in touch with my actual best friends on almost a weekly basis…so give me the chance to keep up with my fictional friends on a timeline with no lag and I’m hooked. It’s really not fair because I have an insanely long list of recommendations for books from my friends, but I’m so tuned into these characters that even tv shows I normally love are annoying to me because they take away from reading time. And that’s why I can justify writing two entries about an author many serious readers wouldn’t give a chance – she writes books that make me forget about television, about email, about Facebook and Twitter – and that is no small feat.

When I talk to other people, especially my age and younger, I’m disappointed by how few readers are in my social circles. People are always telling me, “oh, but I read articles online!” All I can say to that is articles are not books. Blog posts are not books (unless of course, an author is posting chapters of their book to their blog…). Magazines are not books. Books are books. Anthologies? Sure. Fanfic even gets the thumbs up from me. Essays – I’ll give ’em to you, though they’re on the line for me.

The sad truth is, books are not as in now as I want them to be. I sometimes feel in the minority as a writer and reader who loves the advent of the electronic book, but the fact of the matter is, e-readers are encouraging people to read who had long been stuck to their computer screens, people who felt daunted by physical books (yes, it turns out not everyone is as turned on by the smell of well-worn paper as Readers are). I’ve seen my husband start books a hundred times and never finish them, and yet a novel I get him on the Kindle is devoured – the format is just so familiar and comfortable to him – the little screen, the ability to get it anywhere…it makes reading accessible to a whole new audience.

But only if that audience stops messing around on the internet long enough to try it. Since I started this project in December, I realized how much time I was wasting watching reruns on tv, refreshing my twitter stream, and generally making excuses to put off books until later.  Sometimes, even though I adore books, I still make excuses; the fact that I write about them here keeps me on track. It was sort of moving, then, for me to realize last week, when I was reading books I had no plans to review, how much I enjoy the simple pleasures of a compelling story. Sure, Sookie Stackhouse is no Sherlock Holmes, but her stories thrill me and make me laugh and reinforce a love for books over other things. And for that, Charlaine Harris deserves great respect.

Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris

It’s shocking, even to me, that I have never read any of the Sookie Stackhouse books. I haven’t seen True Blood (the show based on this series) either, mostly because everyone who watches it tells me it resembles violent porn, and that’s not my cup of tea.

The thing is, ever since I was old enough to go to the library, I have loved series’ with reoccurring characters (and by “series,” I mean at least four or more books – trilogies are another topic entirely). My favorite, and the one I’m most looking forward to reading the next installment of is The Dresden Files. A private eye wizard?! It has all the best of genre fiction, and I can’t get enough of it. When I was little though, I read mountains of Nancy Drew and the Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley Twins; I adored The Boxcar Children maybe most of all. I wasn’t embarrassed by any of this, even when my friends started to pick more mainstream fiction. Nope. I just moved onto Xanth and Pern, to stories about elves in San Francisco and to the overwhelming world created by George RR Martin.

Since I started reviewing books, I’ve worked hard to expand my interests (I think I was getting a little lazy book-wise), and I’ve been enjoying it. Unfortunately, my brain can’t keep up with the solid stream of life changing fiction I’ve been reading recently, and yesterday I decided to pull up a book I bought on my kindle years ago.

Dead Before Dark is what my friend Jeannine and I call “popcorn.” It’s the perfect book when you’re home sick or need a distraction. The characters are just witty enough to be appealing, and Harris drew me in immediately with a little wink and a healthy dose of feminine backbone. The series is a little deep south and a little chick lit with a dash of gruesome murder thrown in for kicks. This is pure vacation for the brain, and I plan to read more of her books. I won’t post about them all here, mostly because as much as I love my guilty pleasure, it doesn’t always provide the most stimulating discussion.

I’ll be taking a break this Monday though, while I’m out-of-town, and you can bet I’ll be using the down time to cram a few more vamp-lite books in…

Charlaine Harris can be found at She had what looks like a really interesting blog with book recommendations as well, which I plan to check out for future reads.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline

I’m going to start by saying, I’m not very good at being a geek. Sure, I like ST:TNG and the original Star Wars movies. I’ve seen a couple of Monty Python flicks. My brother and I owned a Sega Genesis back in the day (although we only owned the game that came with it – Sonic the Hedgehog – so that should tell you something right there about our commitment level to gaming). I know who Wil Wheaton is, and I know why he is so beloved on the interwebs years after TNG ended. I even know how to handle a number of computery problems by myself (though, again, the fact that I even used the word “computery” gives you an idea of my depth of expertise). I’ve watched most of Ranma 1/2 in the original Japanese, and my first really big celebrity crush was on Jonathan Frakes.

My only strong interests in geekdom currently, however, are in fantasy and sci-fi literature and in the mildly appalling fact that I occasionally get sucked down fan fic wormholes. I’ve never been to a con. I can’t stand reading graphic novels (not because they aren’t cool, but because it hurts my eyes and brain when I try to process information that way). My closet is filled with many non-black tee shirts. I have the attention span of a gnat for any kind of video game, and probably most damning of all, I’m a morning person.

That being said, I married a geek. One of my best friends is a geek. In fact, many of my friends are insanely geeky, awesome, stupefyingly brilliant people, and I’m often jealous of the cozy little world that has evolved alongside the internet, allowing geeks to rise up their proper place in the social order. When my husband and I first started dating, he even gave me a copy of The Geek Handbook, which I read cover to cover that very night (I’m also not a procrastinator, which I’m pretty sure bans me from full geek status on its own). I then went on to let him know exactly how and why I already knew all about the care and handling of geek humans – which might have been the moment he fell for me.

I was raised on the edge of geek culture, and I’ve always enjoyed it – even the parts I didn’t understand (and there are many) – maybe that’s why I fell in love with Ready Player One before I finished the first chapter. It was like reading little bits of history out of the lives of so many people I love. I have no doubt that Cline is a supreme geek, aw=s well as knowledgable in the extreme about 80s culture, and reading his story (because you can’t be even a little bit geek without this sort of being your story too), I was sucked in.

The funniest thing is, it takes place almost entirely inside a virtual reality gaming system, and one of my worst nightmares is that someday the world will be so bad, or so bored, that this is what will happen. The lines between reality and gaming will blur almost to extinction. We’ll all be living in an artificial world because the real one is just not enough. This scares me more than being caught on a suspension bridge during a huge earthquake. Or drowning. Or that scene in Indiana Jones where he falls into a train car full of snakes…and that scares me a lot.

I would never want to live in a world like that, not even if it meant I could control an avatar that was fiercer and more graceful than I am. It might allow me to do all the things I could ever dream of, but at the end of the day, I would know that I hadn’t done anything at all, and I think it would break my heart.

But if it ever did have to come to pass, I would want to see it as Ernest Cline has envisioned it – as a place where children can get an equal education regardless of wealth or situation, where friends can emerge from the most unlikely places, and where noble men and women emerge to protect a system of open source information sharing…

Because honestly, he makes it seem pretty great.

Ernest Cline can be found at Also, I hear the audio version of this book is pretty fabulous (and narrated by Wil Wheaton), so if that’s more your speed, definitely check it out at your local library or on

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender

I have had this book on my “to-read” shelf since the summer. I know this because I bought it one night during one of those stroll around the city since it’s still light at 10pm kind of dates (and can I just say, thank goodness it’s almost March, which means the one good thing Bush Jr did in eight years  – adding four weeks to DST – is about to be upon us again).

I’m pretty sure the cover of this book sold it to me (look at the piece of cake and tell me you don’t want to throw down your resolve and grab a fork). The way I buy books when I’m in a physical bookstore (not at all online, oddly enough), is that I browse around, and when a cover catches my eye, I read the first few pages or even the whole first chapter, depending on how intrigued I am; I decide from those two factors whether there is any chance I’ll ever want to read the book in full, then buy it or return it to the shelf accordingly.It’s not a scientific system, and it has its flaws (mainly, that I buy a bunch of books that seem promising but then mock me from the bookshelf for months or even years afterward), but I keep doing it.

And sometimes it pays off. In the case of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, it paid off in spades. It’s fiction. That also has a…I don’t supernatural? Science fiction? Hyper-vivid imagination? element to it that took me completely by surprise. It’s one of those books that I really don’t want to go into much detail about because one of the things I enjoyed most was how deftly Bender takes her concept and continuously massages new facets out of it for 300 pages.

I thought I knew exactly what to expect – the back cover shares the premise of the book after all – that a nine-year old girl develops the ability to taste the emotion cooked into food – but the story balloons into so much more while remaining intimate, painful, and even a smidge redemptive.

Maybe it’s the fact that I spent twenty or so years of my life with undiagnosed lactose intolerance that I found this book so easy to sink into. This is a dance between girl and food and things incomprehensible, and there is no escape because everyone has to eat. For some people, food is a constant pleasure, an easy, understandable three meals a day; for others, it’s a base necessity lacking mystery beyond existing or not; but for some of us unfortunate folk, it is work, constant work for the body and the mind to come to an agreement about nourishing the physical existence and the soul.

My own stomach refuses to digest so many things that I’ve had to work hard to love food, and I’ve often resented the people who get along with it so easily. The pleasure for me is in discovering a book where the protagonist struggles in her own unique relationship with food, one that is complex, and tinged with her desire to be easy-going and “normal.”

You can find out more about Aimee Bender at her beautiful site