RSS Feed (xml)

Powered By

Skin Design:
Free Blogger Skins

Powered by Blogger

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Lucifer Effect

The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo
Reason for Reading: My Year of Reading Dangerously Reading Challenge, Dewey Decimal Reading Challenge

Summarize the book: If you have ever studied psychology, you've probably heard of the Stanford Prison Experience. Philip Zimbardo created a simulated prison in the basement of the psychology building to study the psychology of imprisonment, but ended up canceling the project a week in because the simulated prison had become real. The guards were acting in creatively cruel, abusive ways, and the prisoners were beginning to show extreme stress reactions to their confinement. Zimbardo spent the rest of his life studying the power of situational influences on human behavior and in this book, argues that evil situations turn good people into evil people.

One sentence review: Although the scholarly style makes parts of this book a tough slog, Zimbardo has an extremely important message about the nature of evil and the potential within all of us to commit evil deeds.

Longer review: I had studied the Stanford Prison Experiment extensively in college, so I originally intended to skip through the sizable portion of the book that analyzes the SPE. Except that I couldn't put it down. The stories are horrifying. Ordinary college students, purposefully chosen because they were as normal as possible, randomly selected to either be prisoners or guards. Each one slipping so deeply into their roles, by the end of the short-lived experiment, the prisoners were regularly subjected to mental, physical and sexual abuse and three prisoners had to be sent home.

Zimbardo makes a compelling argument from the SPE and other social psychology experiments about the power of situational influences on everyday behavior. When people are given masks, for example, to hide their identity, they have a strong tendency to act much more aggressively. If an authority figure tells a person to do something, they are likely to comply even if the authority is shaky, and what they are being told to do is to harm another person. From these lab experiments, Zimbardo extrapolates how an ordinary person put into a brutal ethnic conflict (like the genocide in Rwanda) can be persuaded to take up a machete against a neighbor they have known for years.

The most eye-opening portion of the book is Zimbardo's analysis of the Abu Ghraib scandal, and if I could force people to read one thing this year, I would make everyone read this. It is so important in light of the current political situation. Zimbardo started the book with the premise that despite the military's attempt to paint the soldiers who abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib as a "few bad apples", it was a bad barrel that made the bad apples.

Zimbardo takes us inside the hell that was Abu Ghraib to show how the situation was set up for the prison guards to fail. The entire prison was under constant attack, rations were short, running water was rare, and military leadership was almost nonexistent. The guards were left pretty much on their own, with the vague directive that they should warm the prisoners up for interrogations.

While not excusing the soldiers who abused prisoners, Zimbardo points the real finger of blame at the military leadership and ultimately the Bush Administration that wanted interrogations to be carried out with no holds barred. They created the "bad barrel" and when the chips were down, they threw a few low-ranking soldiers under the bus in order to make the situation go away. If you have ever thought or cared in the slightest about the US military prisons and how we have been treating suspected terrorists, please pick up this book.

Finally at the end of this lengthy, academic treatise on the nature of evil when any ordinary reader will come to the conclusion that everyone is evil, Zimbardo offers insight into what makes a hero and how the reader can avoid the pitfalls that cause people to commit evil acts. I only wish there could have been more on this topic to balance out the rest of the book.

Should I read it? Yes. I know it is hefty. I know it's academic. I know it has a footnotes section about as long as the typical YA novel. But everyone needs to know what Zimbardo has to say about the nature of evil.

Other opinions: ebook30, the story's story.


Monday, July 27, 2009

A Tale of Race, Bookcovers With a Heaping Helping of Fail

A lot of other people have had very insightful things to say about the cover of Justine Larbalestier's latest novel, Liar, which features a Caucasian girl with longish hair, despite the fact the novel's protagonist is a black girl with "nappy" hair.

I have to give a lot of props to Larbalestier for speaking out about something her publisher, Bloomsbury, did that she disagreed with, because, hey, they do pay her.

I pretty much think Bloombury's response so far has been kind of, well, pathetic:
“The entire premise of this book is about a compulsive liar,” said Melanie Cecka, publishing director of Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA and Walker Books for Young Readers, who worked on Liar. “Of all the things you’re going to choose to believe of her, you’re going to choose to believe she was telling the truth about race?” (From Publisher's Weekly)
I mean, that is one way of spinning things.

Back in reality land, book bloggers are busily questioning why Bloombury felt the need to "whitewash" this novel and asking them to please create a cover that reflects the actual content of the novel.

To all of these sentiments, I give a big ditto.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Sunday Salon: How I've done this year

I'm usually not good about getting around to assessing my own progress on reading goals, but it's come to the middle of July and I decided it's about time to update my "2009 Reading Goals" page, which has been sadly neglected. (Like much of the rest of my blog this year I'm afraid).

Alright, I'm jumping in. Here goes:

Challenges I've completed this year:
*I did manage to finish the Sci-Fi Experience early this year reading 7 books
*I also managed to finish the Once Upon a Time Challenge reading 10 books (although 6 of them were Fables novels, but still)

Challenges I've made progress on:
*I've made some good progress on the DreamKing Challenge, reading 7 of his graphic novels this year, and having watched Coraline. I need to try and read more books from the other five categories. (Goal is to read 6 books from 6 categories)
*I've read 8 out of 12 books so far for the Young Adult Challenge, putting me right on track to actually finish this one.
*The one challenge I've really shown on is the Graphic Novels Challenge. So far I've read 23 out of the 24 required for a Doctorate and I'm pretty sure I'll read a lot more than that.
*I've also actually kind of completed the Manga Challenge, reading 7 out of the 6 books so far, but I think I want to read more.

Challenges I'm really stinking at:
*I've read 2 out of 12 books for the My Year of Reading Dangerously, but I haven't even really made up a good list of books yet. Need to get ideas for my list and work on this one more.
*I set out to do the World Citizen Challenge with all the best intentions, but I haven't even accomplished a thing yet.
* I really need to get cracking on Dewey's Books Challenge. I know I have a ton of books I discovered thanks to Dewey, I just need to sit down and get a list together.
* I have read 2 out of 10 books for the Dewey Decimal Challenge. Considering how little non-fic I normally read, that is an accomplishment in and of itself, I suppose.
* I have read 2 out of 9 books for 9 Books in 2009 Challenge. Not too bad, I suppose. My tbr stack has indeed been going down, which is GREAT!

So to recap, of the 11 challenges I've attempted this year, I completed 2, I'm making good progress on 4, and I'm stinking at 5 of them.

Actually, looking at the numbers, I was expecting a lot worse than that. I've still got at least five more months to make an attempt at the challenges I'm not doing so well at.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

Shut Up. I know it's Friday already. I'm still answering anyhow.

This week's Question is:

Which do you prefer? (Quick answers)

Reading something frivolous? Or something serious? Frivolous
Paperbacks? Or hardcovers? PAPERBACKS
Fiction? Or Nonfiction? Fiction
Poetry? Or Prose? Prose
Biographies? Or Autobiographies? Biographies
History? Or Historical Fiction? History
Series? Or Stand-alones? Stand-alones
Classics? Or best-sellers? Best-sellers
Lurid, fruity prose? Or straight-forward, basic prose? Straight-forward (Lurid? Fruity? Whaaaat?)
Plots? Or Stream-of-Consciousness? P to the L-O-T.
Long books? Or Short? Short
Illustrated? Or Non-illustrated? Illustrated
Borrowed? Or Owned? Borrowed
New? Or Used? Used

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
Reason for Reading: For Fun (Imagine That)
Rating: 4/5

Summarize the plot: Charles Boutin is a traitor to the human race and thanks to him humanity is on the verge of invasion by a powerful coalition of alien races. But the Special Forces have one way to try and find him. Boutin found a way to create a back up of his consciousness, and in his haste, he left it behind. Drop the consciousness into one of the Ghost Brigade bodies, and there's a chance of discovering why he did what he did. Except when Jared Dirac wakes up with Boutin's consciousness, he doesn't remember anything at first. But when the memories start coming, can he figure everything out in time?

1-sentence review: Another great entry into the Old Man's War universe.

Longer review: A mix of Scalzi's usual kick-ass adventure and thought-provoking science fiction. Although Scalzi's strength is usually not charactization, I really, really liked Jared Dirac. Like he might be my new favorite character from the series. We were introduced to the Special Forces, AKA, Ghost Brigades in Old Man's War, but in this book we get to be totally immersed in their world. Jared is not only a special breed because he is part of the Special Forces, but he has to deal with the confusion of having someone else's consciousness implanted into him. He was created with the purpose of finding Charles Boutin, and everyone hovers over him, unsure whether he's going to snap someday. And despite all of that, Jared evolves into his own person, sometimes incredibly naive, but always trying to do the best thing. He's very different from the older, wiser, and wise-cracking John Perry of the first novel. I think a highlight of the novel is the way Jared moves from being a confused newborn to an experienced soldier willing to sacrifice to save his friends.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this novel is that Charles Boutin's motives for what he did are kept very secret until the end, and even then, he isn't painted as a complete villain. Scalzi allows for some gray areas, which I already know (since I read these books out of order) will be even more fully developed in The Last Colony. The Colonial Defense Forces keep the human colonies alive, but we begin to question their methods.

Reading this book illuminated a few final details that didn't quite fit when I skipped from book one to three, and I think I might like it even more than The Last Colony. The character of Jared Dirac goes a long way towards making it a favorite.

Should I read it? If you liked Old Man's War, don't skip over this one. It's worth your time.

Other opinions:
Becky, Medieval Bookworm, True Science Fiction

Monday, July 20, 2009

Emma Vol I-V

Emma, Volumes I-V by Kaoru Mori
Reason for Reading: Manga Challenge
Rating: 5/5

Summarize the plot: Emma, a beautiful and intelligent maid in Victorian England falls in love with William, an upper class son of a wealthy businessman. Although they feel passionate about each other, societal forces conspire to keep them apart.

1-sentence review: A very fine romance along the lines of the best of Jane Austen.

Longer review: My first foray into manga was only so-so for me, so I decided to take the recommendation of a heck of a lot of you other bloggers out there and try reading the Emma novels. Man, I'm glad I did. Emma is a beautiful, character driven series. First of all, I just loved Emma. Throughout all the hardships she goes through, she manages to stay kind and sweet. She isn't a modern character transported to a historical setting though. Although she loves William, she feels obligated to leave him when she realizes how different their worlds are.

And while William clashes with his father over his feelings for Emma, I also liked how the books doesn't paint his father as a complete villian. In the fifth volume, we go back to his courtship with his wife, and we get to see the forces that shaped his life, how he had to fight against a clique-ish upper class to try and fit in with his "new money" status and an eccentric wife.

Speaking of his eccentric wife, Aurelia is another of my favorite characters. When she can't fit into high society, her husband sends her to live in the country side, where she can dress as she likes, cut her hair off, and spend all of her time pursuing her passion for gardening. I thought it was interesting to include a character like that who does completely break all of the careful rules of society.

Reading Emma was a treat. I count Pride and Prejudice among my favorite novels, and the visual element in this manga series brought all of the period details to life for me. Where the Victorian novels describe fashions and balls and hair styles, it was extremely enjoyable to just see them and get lost inside Victorian England.

Should I read it? If the words Romance and Victorian England sound good together in a sentence to you, than yes

Other opinions
Alyce, I heart manga, in the spring it is dawn, ex libris, nymeth

Monday, July 13, 2009

Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Reason for Reading: In my tbr pile
Rating: 4.5/5

Summarize the plot: Peace Like a River is about the Land family. The father, Jeremiah, is a man of faith working as a janitor at the local high school, raising his three children alone. Their lives are turned upside down when two neighborhood boys start a feud with the Lands. Davy, impatient for justice, shoots the two teenagers dead and winds up in jail. But when he escapes from jail and strikes out on his own, Jeremiah and the other two decide to try and find Davy.

1 sentence review: This quiet, atmospheric story about an unusual family in an extreme situation is absolutely worth the read.

Longer review: The best reason to read this book is for the richly developed characters. Reuben, the younger son, is the perfect narrator for the novel. He admires his older brother, even when his brother carries out a rash act that leaves two people dead, and he's determined to try and find his brother. Even when he isn't quite sure what the right thing to do is, he always tries to stay loyal to his family. And I loved his relationship with his sister and best friend, Swede, who has a knack for writing poetry. Except starting with when Davy is arrested, Swede starts having a hard time ending her poems. She likes writing westerns, with justice at the end, but when life seems uncertain, so are her poems.

One thing I also really liked about this book was the way it portrayed Jeremiah Land. He is described as a man of faith, and one of the first things Reuben tells us about his father is that he works miracles, the first miracle being bringing Reuben back to life after he was born not breathing. Jeremiah, however, is never presented as one-dimensional. While he is deeply religious, he is torn about what to do about Davy. If he manages to find Davy, should he help him continue to live on the run, or turn him into the police? He faces that dilemma first with one resolute decision, but over the course of the novel, he starts to change his mind.

The final thing I'm going to mention that I really enjoyed about this novel is how it transported me to small town Minnesota 1962. The details to set the historical part are all there, but they aren't overwhelming. The setting came across most strongly in the simple, midwestern way the characters all talked, or in describing the bitterly cold winter. Being that I live in Minnesota, I could totally identify with living through a blizzard or being forced to stay inside for a month because the temperature refuses to get above 0.

And the ending? I was meh about certain parts of it. Everything did get wrapped up, but aspects felt a little unresolved for me. However, I liked everything else well enough that I was willing to forgive that.

Should I read it? Are you in the mood for something to transport you completely? Then yes.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Sunday Salon: Helplessly Behind

I'm helplessly behind on book reviews. Unfortunately, the weather is really nice outside, so I'm having trouble focusing on things like blogging and keeping ya'll up to date on my opinions of the books I've been reading lately.

But hey, the outdoors is pretty nice. In Minnesota, we only get a few precious months of warm weather, so I kinda have to make what I can of it. Even reading gets moved outside if it's nice enough. Reading a lighter, summery book whilst lying outside in the sun is one of life's greatest pleasures, I do believe.

In fact, I've been reading more since the weather got nice. Usually the cold weather makes me want to curl up with a book, but this summer I've just been so drawn to the couch, or the deck, or a lying on a blanket in the grass with a good book.

Here are some books I've read lately and really want to blather about:

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. It's set in my home state, its about a family faced with an impossible situation, and it shows a man of faith prominently as a person, not a stereotype. And miracles? In there too.

Since finishing the Fables and the Sandman series, I've decided to delve into some new graphic novels series. On a recommendation from my uncle (huge graphic novel aficionado), I've started reading Walking Dead, all about life after the Zombie Apocalypse. While I feel like with World War Z, I'd read everything there was to read about the Zombie Apocalypse, I was wrong. This series brings something new to the tried and true tropes of the genre. It's more tightly focused on a single group of people. It's kind of hopefully, despite all the zombies and stuff.

I also started Emma, that manga series everyone seems to be gaga over. And I've discovered that it's with good reason. Emma is great. It's quiet and beautiful and romantic. And it has a really great heroine. She's not a modern heroine (a pet peeve of mine when writers insert modern values into historical fiction), but she is exactly right for the novel.

I also read a few books that plumbed the depths of evil. I don't recommend these for your light reading or anything, but The Lucifer Effect, about what causes people to do evil things, and A Beautiful Child, about a girl who suffered under the thumb of an evil person are worth reading despite that.

Then there's a few ass-kicking books. The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi and Storm Front by Jim Butcher. I don't know what else to say about them, other than both hubby and I liked them, so there.

There's more of course (there always is, isn't there?) but I'm going to just work on getting to those reviews instead of teasing you. What have you been reading lately? If you need me, I'm going to be out on the lawn reading.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Yay! Finally In a State Represented By Two Senators

While all the rest of you United State-ians who reside outside of Minnesota have been represented by two U.S. senators for like months now, we've had... the never-ending legal battle.

Finally yesterday, Senator Al Franken was sworn in. Whether you're jazzed about him or not, at least we're FINALLY being represented. At last, we Minnesotans can all join together in saying:

I'm good enough
I'm smart enough
and doggone it, people like me.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Reviews: On Beauty, Middlesex, The Apprentice's Masterpiece

On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Reason for Reading: Recommendation
Rating: 2/5

1 paragraph plot summary: This book is about the intertwining lives of the Belsey and the Kipps family. Howard Belsey and Monty Kipps, both college professors at opposite ends of the political spectrum, have long been enemies. But things become complicated. Howard's son, Jerome, a newly born-again Christian goes to intern with the Kipps and ends up falling in love with Victoria Kipps. Monty gets a job teaching at the same college as Howard, and their wives become friends. Kiki, Howard's wife, is trying to come to grips with the revelation that Howard cheated on her.

1 paragraph review: with all due respect to all of the awards this book has won, I was pretty much left cold by this book. It is a character study without much plot, and there were isolated passages that I thought showed extreme insight into the characters' lives and motivations, but I couldn't get too interested in any of the characters, and there was no resolution. None. Howard, who was in many respects, the main character, thought way too highly of himself. I liked Kiki, who is probably the most sympathetic character, but even so I was having trouble with the lack of a plot. I think what really brought it home for me was that when I was reading reviews, I kept hearing this book referred to as a comedy. I never really saw it as a funny read, and in fact, it was pretty sad throughout.

Should I read it? Maybe. It might be more to your taste than mine.

Middlesex by Jefferey Eugenides
Rating: 4.5/5
Reason for Reading: Recommendation from Nymeth I believe

1 paragraph plot summary: I'm going to just quote the opening line of the novel to clue you into what it is about: "I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974." This, like On Beauty, is a much-awarded, much-touted literary novel, but I had about the exact opposite reaction to this book. Also a book full of well-developed characters, I couldn't put this book down. Middlesex is undeniably about Cal, the narrator who discovers she is intersexed at the tender age of 14, but it is also about her grandparents, who began life as brother and sister in Greece but had become husband and wife by the time they arrived in America. It's about Cal's parents, Tessa and Milton, who open a chain of Greek-flavored hot-dog stands. It's about Cal's childhood living as a girl, and the events that lead up to her emergency room revelation. It's about the summer Cal fell in love. Middlesex is an engaging read that hooks you and doesn't let you go.

Should I read it? Yes, please do.

The Apprentice's Masterpiece by Melanie Little
Rating: 4/5
Reason for Reading: Interest in books set in Spain

1 paragraph plot summary: Set against the backdrop of fifteenth century Spain, when the Inquisition was just getting into full swing and religious intolerance was reaching new heights is the story of Ramon, who came from a converso, or formerly Jewish family, and Amir, a Muslim who is also forced to give up his faith to blend in with society. A drama about friendship and betrayal while living in turbulent times.

1 paragraph review: I wasn't sure what I was going to think about this YA novel, which was written in poetry form, about life during the Spanish Inquisition. But after a few chapters, I stopped even noticing the fact that the book was split up into verses, I was just drawn into the narrative of two boys who both must deal with prejudice. For anyone who has ever learned about the era of Ferdinand, Isabella, and Columbus with the glossed over idea that the fifteenth century was Spain's glory age, this book shines a light into the dirty underside. The wars that were financed by taking money, property, and land from so-called heretics (mostly Jews or those accused of being Jews for the most tenuous of reason), the devastation of the Muslim culture when the Moors were expelled... I could go on, but then I wouldn't leave anything for you to enjoy when you pick up this delightful little book.

Should I read it? Ignore the fact it's written in verse form. It's a powerful read none-the-less.

Saturday, July 4, 2009