Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition

The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition by Richard Dawkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know that you're all swooning now and sitting in awe of how incredibly well read I am, but let's just all settle down a minute so that I can tell you what I thought of this. Because really, that's why we're here. ;) Overall, I thought that this was really interesting. I like Dawkins already after listening to The God Delusion (although I liked that one much more than this one). I think The Selfish Gene is intriguing and plausible and actually makes a lot of sense. It was really interesting to learn about the different possibilities for design and evolution, and to see the cause and effect of different variations of a gene. I liked the risk and reward concept as well... It all makes a lot of sense to think of things in this kind of philosophical way -- Everything we are and will be is a carefully honed creation of time and trial and error and cause and effect. It kinda makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Where this one fell a little flat was in the reading and the very last quarter of the book. The reading was pretty good. I'd give it a B- overall. Lalla Ward and Richard Dawkins alternate reading this one, and mostly do a good job with the tone and pacing and all that. But there are times when it was just plain distracting, too. Lalla Ward speaks very proper British, e-nun-cee-a-ting her words and speaking very crisply and clearly, almost to the detriment of what she's actually saying, when all I can focus on is her pronunciation. Even when it's not WAY strange pronunciations like "hah-reem" instead of "hare-em" for "harem", her pronunciation just gets in the way, and at times just sounds a little school teacherish. Richard read all his own end notes immediately after the section in which they pertained, and sometimes he sounded almost bored and sad. And other times he sounded very pompous and critical of others. At one point in an end note, he went on a little tirade about computer programmers creating computer viruses, which has nothing at all to do with the point of this book. Which brings me to the last quarter of the book, in which he goes off on a statistical and odds game ramble for AGES. Explaining different types of betting and games of chance, and possible outcomes and options depending on whether one plays this way or that way... Sort of relevant to genes, but not really new, in that he'd already illustrated the odds and possible outcomes of genes ending up one way or another, and the cooperation of genes with another to improve odds or to effect a desired outcome, etc. Kinda glazed my eyes over a bit in this section because it was just a rehash of information already provided, and in a much less relevant and interesting (to me) way. Overall, I enjoyed this one. I feel like I learned something, and that's why I read it. Could have been a bit better in the execution department, but I can't complain too much. You may resume swooning now. :D

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Review: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan ★★★★

Boy Meets Boy Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's something about stories like this that just make me cry from sheer pride and happiness. I love when people are who they are, and when they're willing to fight to be happy and not live in someone else's world, but make their own if that's what it takes. It's the opposite of the gut-wrenching, soul-crushing, hollow-me-out-and-leave-me-weeping stories that I love. These fill me up with such pride I just want to SQUEE! all over the place, but end up always getting something in my eye instead... So, I loved this one. This is a celebration and examination of so many things... What it is to be gay, what it is to be a teenager, what it is to be in an unhealthy relationship, what it is to love, what it is to be something other than what is expected of us, what it is to be brave and stand up for what's right, what it is to be a friend... Gosh there is so much in this little book, I don't know how Levithan fit it all in. Maybe he writes really small. I loved this community. Everyone, well, MOSTLY everyone, is so unbelievably accepting and quirky and fun. It's like Perfect Small Town Community, Exhibit A. There's the park with a lake with paddleboats with names and personalities; there's the I Scream Parlor, which serves up horrifying ice-cream concoctions while playing horror movies; there's the music shop run by a couple with polar opposite taste, and the shop reflects that by being split down the middle; there's the movie rental place run by the guy who won't rent to anyone he doesn't know, won't help people find anything, and categorizes based on his own personal thoughts about the movies... and VHS format only. The football team quarterback and the Homecoming Queen is the same person, a drag queen called Infinite Darlene, and our main character's kindergarten teacher outed him for being gay on a progress report and nobody thought this was strange at all. I loved the community, but at the same time, I couldn't help but be a little distracted by the unrealistic perfection of it all. If the world were really like that, it would be amazing. Unfortunately, it's not, so the paragon of acceptance shown here comes off feeling a little cartoonish, a little too-good-to-be-true. This, and one unresolved issue, are the reasons why I can't give this 5 stars. The next town over, where Tony lives, is much more realistic, and this is where most of the stuff got in my eyes and made them water a lot. Tony's parents are of the religious variety, and aren't exactly accepting of their son's preference for boys. Seeing Tony struggle with the two aspects of his life, his parents and his heart, was hard for me. Paul's friendship with Tony was invaluable here. He provided the support that Tony needed to cope with these two warring forces in his life. There were some amazing lines in this little gem of a book. So many quotables that just stand out and shine. I'm surprised that this book doesn't glitter like Edward Cullen on a sunny day. (Actually, this is a library book, and there's something spilled on the back of it, and it seems like it's the image of a Sasquatch. He seems friendly though, from his stance.) Anyway, right. I could kind of quote this whole book, but then it would be plagiarism and that's not cool. But here's one of my favorite sections in the book:
"The first time I met you," he says, not directly to me, not directly to the floor -- somewhere in between, "I honestly couldn't believe that someone like you could exist, or even a town like yours could entirely exist. I thought I understood things. I thought I would get up every morning with a secret and go to sleep every night with the same secret. I thought my life would start only when I was out of here. I felt that I had learned something about myself too soon, and that there was nothing I could do to undo the truth. And I wanted to undo it, Paul. I wanted to so bad. Then I met you in the city and on the train, and suddenly it was like this door had been opened. I saw I couldn't live like I'd been living, because now there was another way to do it. And part of me loved that. And part of me still hates it. Part of me -- this dark, scared part of me -- wishes I never knew how it could be. I don't have the courage that you do."
It's kind of heartbreaking, right? Beautiful though. I really loved this book for everything that it is. On the surface, it's just this happy little boy meets boy book, a little whimsical, and fun, but underneath, it's so much more. I highly recommend it.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Review: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman ★★★★

Preludes and Nocturnes (The Sandman, #1)Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've had this sitting on my shelf for a while, after a friend gave it to me... but flipping through it when I first received it, I was a little overwhelmed. At the time, I had read only one or two graphic novels in my life, and this just seemed dense and honestly, a bit confusing, what with the overlays and all.

So I set it aside, and I'm glad that I did, because that wasn't the right time for me to read it. I would have pushed through it, and probably would have enjoyed it, but it wouldn't have really been the same. I've read more of Gaiman's work, so I'm more familiar with his style now, and I've read more graphic novels, so I'm more familiar with the format now. And both of those things contributed quite a bit to my enjoyment of this one.

I really, really like Neil Gaiman. I don't think I've read anything of his that I didn't enjoy on some level. I particularly enjoy his stories about mythology and lore, though, and this tied into that perfectly. I thought that the blending of mythology and modernity was great. I loved the concept, and the execution was great. The artwork took a little bit to grow on me, as it's not really my style. In fact, I found myself drawn to the kind of ethereal abstract art separating the sections, which I guess are the individual comic book covers. I love that style, a subtly abstract painting that allows the viewer to see something new every time they look. Beautiful.

So, right, the content artwork isn't exactly my style - I prefer simpler lines and sketches. I like roughness and just a kind of bare hint of shape and color to suggest a form rather than detailed drawings. And it wasn't that this didn't have the qualities that I like, because it did, but I just prefer the detail to be kind of sparingly used, I guess, and that wasn't the case here. Not that it was bad, because it wasn't, but I'm a little picky. I'm not an artist myself (my stick figures end up looking like deformed Quasimodos) but I live with one and play one on TV, so I'm fully qualified to be so. ;)

But as I was saying, it took a bit to grow on me. And once it did, I was drawn into the story and I thought it was very, very well done. I loved Dream. I loved that he was flawed, but I appreciated that he knew both his strengths and his weaknesses and how to work with them. I liked how past, present and future tied in together, and how something so taken for granted can potentially wreak such havoc when out of balance.

I really liked this one, and look forward to reading the rest of the series... one day.

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