The Maze Runner: A Little Bit Of Chafing

4 Apr

mazerunnerWhen you’re training for a half-marathon, there’s something fabulously appropriate about reading a book whose main foil is an unsolvable maze populated by murderous robot slugs. Even if that book reads like it’s meant for someone 15 years your junior. Even if that’s because, in fact, it is.

Someone mentioned The Maze Runner to me months ago, probably in the midst of a me-initiated conversation about dystopian young adult fiction, for which I have an affinity. “Teenagers Fight to Survive Against Unseen All-Powerful Forces” is one of my favorite sections in the bookstore.

Nor does it hurt that TMR already has a movie adaptation in the works, slated for release in September and starring Teen Wolf’s Dylan O’Brien, who I hereby dub the world’s next Adam Brody. As far as suggestible and easily enamored 12- to 17-year-olds go—and intellectually lazy 28-year-olds—The Maze Runner has all the makings of a runaway success. MOVE OVER, PEETA.

The gist is this: Thomas wakes up in The Box, a dark metal container that delivers him to The Glade, a clearing at the center of maze in which a group of young-to-teenage boys has been living for nearly two years, trying to solve said maze in the hopes of escaping. None of the boys, including Thomas, remember what’s outside The Glade, or who they are, and each month a new boy arrives. Until one day a girl shows up in The Box, bearing a message: She’ll be the last. Continue reading

It’s Always Crummy In Philadelphia

27 Mar

wendy-ruderman-barbara-laker-busted-bookIn some ways, Busted is about Philadelphia, the city in which authors Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker expose a corrupt ring of police officers while reporting for the bankrupt Philadelphia Daily News. After all, it is Philly’s abandoned houses and resigned drug pushers who serve as the backdrop to Ruderman and Laker’s investigation. It is the City of Brotherly Love that offers up Busted’s memorable characters: Benny, the informant-turned-source who raises the first red flag about a Philly narcotics cop; George Bochetto, that cop’s combative and boxing-obsessed attorney; Jose Duran, a local bodega owner whose innovative surveillance system turns the women on to a series of store lootings by police officers. It’s not that Busted couldn’t have taken place outside of Philly—corruption is nothing if not equal-opportunity—but Philadelphia is very much a presence in the book, a city of both blight and beauty, struggle and charm.

More than anything, though, Busted is about journalism, about how the seismic shift in media over the last decade has played out at your average metropolitan daily, and for your average (and increasingly unemployed) newspaper reporter. The book is not so much a call to arms as a window into reality, a frank look at how the real work of reporting—already up against online aggregation and viral cat videos—is doubly challenged by the newspaper industry’s rapid desiccation.

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Pack Me In An Apple and Smoke Me When I Die. We’ve Got the Environment to Think About

18 Mar

willieThere are times—like every day ending in ‘y’ and if they invented a new day that somehow didn’t end in y, probably that one too—when I need to chill out. Relative to the stability I see in others, I’m wired just a bit too tightly, the kind of person who has day-nightmares about burglars and apartment fires, and spends her evenings compiling color-coordinated To Do lists. It was only in the last few years—despite a lifelong affinity for Fern Gully—that I stopped rewriting notes every time I had to cross a word out. I mean, even my Post-its have Post-its.

Given my propensity for worry, I have always seen Willie Nelson as something of an ideal, a man so simultaneously successful and laid back that one finds it hard to believe he’s aware of his own fame. Indeed, the music legend’s latest book, a short compendium of lyrics, essays and random thought bubbles called Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, cedes both space and heart to many members of Nelson’s large family, and those who have been with him throughout his career. Roll Me Up is as much a massive Acknowledgments section as it is a standalone title, and the correlation between Nelson’s placid exterior and the size of his support network is hard to ignore.  Continue reading

How to Read Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

11 Mar

how-to-live-safely-in-a-science-fictional-universe-book-cover-01After finishing Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, I can honestly say that I’m still not sure how to life safely in a science fictional universe. Whether this is a failing of the book’s contents or its title (or both or neither) I’ll let you decide.

Charles Yu, time travel technician/narrator of HTLSSFU (not to be confused with…or TO be confused with? Charles Yu our author) lives in Minor Universe 31, a universe in which “reality represents 13 percent of the total surface area [and] the remainder consists of a standard composite based SF substrate.” Which is to say – science fiction. Continue reading

Blondes Have Less Fun

28 Feb

81djqJv8lZLEverything you need to know about Allie Brosh comes in the first paragraph of Hyperbole and a Half:

“Here is a re-creation of a drawing I did when I was five. It’s a guy with one normal arm and one absurdly fucking squiggly arm. What you can’t see is that in the original, the squiggly arm continues for the entire length of a roll of butcher paper. It started on one end and then just kept going until I ran out of paper.”

I’m listening…

While HAAH is Brosh’s first book, it is primarily a collection of pieces from her blog of the same name, itself a fabulous diary of essays/comics featuring Brosh as a crudely drawn but adorably emotive version of herself. In HAAH the book, Brosh’s essays cover everything from her encounter with a goose-perpetrated home invasion to the time she ate her grandfather’s entire birthday cake before his party, just to spite her mother…and to eat cake.   Continue reading

The Meaning of Life After Life

20 Feb

9780316176484_custom-471ca800e5fe1258f2d4059059b24d8c1d95a7ba-s6-c30In The Simpsons’ sixth-season Halloween episode — “Treehouse of Horror V,” primarily remembered for its Shining knock-off, The Shinning — Homer accidentally turns his toaster into a time machine, travels back to the prehistoric age, and realizes that anything he does in the past has the capacity to change the future. It’s a lesson as pivotal to time travel (see: every story ever told about time travel) as it is irrelevant to everyday life. After all, we can’t not make decisions. Should our choices send us down one path at the expense of others — or, to get more J.J. Abrams about it, should each of our choices create countless additional paths which themselves generate still more simultaneously occurring futures — so be it. We’ll never know the difference.

Unless. Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life is elegantly concerned with this abundance of potential paths, and with the possibility that one might indeed be aware of their existence. At the heart of LAL is Ursula, born on a snowy night in 1910, dead within minutes, and then born again — on a snowy night in 1910. Nor is Ursula’s first rebirth her last: She dies in a variety of ways, and at a variety of ages, over the course of the book, and only in certain versions of her life does she mature enough to experience significant rites of passage, (or in some cases enough to make major contributions to the trajectory of world history). In this way, Life After Life is not so much about reincarnation — Ursula is in all iterations herself, never a cat or a horse or a blade of grass — and more about how even small choices have the power (or maybe just the capacity?) to redirect our lives. In other words, Ursula is not repeatedly reborn to a different set of circumstances, but rather given multiple opportunities to live within the same set of circumstances. It’s how she handles each life that shapes its direction. Continue reading

Katniss Ain’t Got Shit on Beatrice Prior

4 Feb

Allegiant hc c.JPG

Fans of the Young Adult Dystopia genre (YAD for short) should at this point be at least vaguely familiar with Divergent, the first book in a trilogy by Veronica Roth that tracks Beatrice (Tris) and various other residents of a post-apocalyptic Chicago whose society is divided into five factions, each founded on respect for a particular virtue (Candor/honesty, Abnegation/selflessness, Dauntless/bravery, Amity/peace and Erudite/intelligence.) Divergent, which comes out in movie form on March 21, was released in 2011, while Book #2 (Insurgent) came out in May 2012 and the final book in the series (minus all the BS “extras” Roth will publish over the coming years to reap untold profits from obsessive tweens) was released in October.

It’s always hard to review the second or third book in a series without inevitably giving away some of the haps in the preceding titles. But given the impending theatrical release of Divergent (which I reviewed about a year ago) I would be remiss to not weigh in on the Divergent series in its entirety, which feels* so plainly desperate to capitalize on the popularity of Hunger Games that one almost expects Katniss herself to wander into a scene by accident. (*In the interest of full disclosure, Roth did write Divergent before HG was a thing, and HG itself has been criticized for its similarity to other novels.)

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