Friday, February 26, 2010

The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society by Beth Pattillo ****

Hannah lives in the poorest, dilapidated trailer; that is when her drunk mother's boyfriend isn't around to ogle and grope at her. At those times, she hides under the broken-down porch. The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society addresses Hannah's misery in the tradition of food, fashion and feelings novels: with a book club and knitting.

While the small town Tennessee story includes a diner and a dress shop, the narrative emphasizes feelings. Women in Sweetgum have fears and fantasies: death, divorce, desertion and desire. Once Hannah joins the book club, it contains a complete cast: rich and poor, victim and tyrant, young and old. In the tradition of Austen, the characters are oblivious of their obvious flaws and inevitable destinies until the end.

I found this to be a very pleasant escapist read: predictable in a comforting way - a nice southern meal: fried, warm, soft, and a sweet.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Makers by Cory Doctorow ****

What do you want from Science Fiction? Do you want an expansive and optimistic view of future science and technology? If so, Makers, a new novel by Cory Doctorow, is perfect; a 21st century showcase for better living through engineering. Inheriting the visionary mantle of Asimov, Clarke and Niven, Cory Doctorow paints a near future where technology changes the world, reformulating the opportunities for self-expression, community, and work, with solutions to big problems like poverty and homelessness, and small problems like messy roommates and amusement parks.

All this accomplished within a very human (love) story and enough humor to prevent the anti-corporate attitude from becoming too heavy: "It's like an emergent property. Once you get a lot of people under one roof, the emergent property seems to be crap. No matter how great the people are, ... the net effect is sh*t."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Erewhon by Samuel Butler ****

Interested in machine evolution, the ethics of disease and diet, and chaos theory? You might enjoy this 18th century classic: Erewhon. Some of the theses put forward by Samuel Butler include: machines are evolving faster that people will be eventually overtake them; no one who refuses meat on ethical grounds, should consume vegetables; and "the smallest difference may change the whole conditions of the problem."

Erewhon, written shortly after Darwin published On the Origin of Species, is much concerned with evolution. Samuel Butler also asks whether people should be jailed for illness and treated for crimes, instead of vice versa. Of interest is the suggestion that drunks should be treated instead of jailed - an idea a century ahead of its time. He also skewers the 18th century PETA precursors by arguing that vegetables are as sentient as animals and if one deserves special treatment, so does the other.

As a book way ahead of its time, Erewhon is a classic that everyone should read.

Monday, February 1, 2010

One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell ****

One Fifth Avenue is Plaza Suite for the new millennium, centered around the residents of the fashionable apartment at One Fifth Avenue. New money (hedge funds) and new media (bloggers) battle old money (trust funds) and old media (columnists and novelists). Who wins in the end? The women! The men are all dominated or destroyed by death, divorce, or debauchery.

A delightful novel of the Dickensian style full of interesting characters who, in the end, are all related to each. (By the author of Sex and the City)

As a postscript the book includes a mathematician who make over $100 million a year, a suspect number because the author's math skills are minimal.
She'd been riding the train ten times a week for twenty years, about a hundred thousand (sic) rides.