Books Are Pretty

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


The last time I read Lolita I was sixteen and a senior in high school. It was probably Sting's fault I read it in the first place - I was a huge Police fan in high school, a fact that was driven solidly home to me last summer when my mother sent me my high school scrapbook. It was filled with four years of photographs of the band. Not friends, not artwork, not stories, just hundreds of pages yanked out of whatever flavor of Tiger Beat I could get my hands on and pressed lovingly in my memory book, the ridiculousness of which would then be saved for over twenty five years. Sting wrote the song; ergo, I will read the book. I still love the band, really, really love the band, but I am forever grateful that I am 1.) too young to have been attending their concerts when they were in their heyday, because it is a fact I would have slept with all three of them (too much information? Surely not.) and 2.) too old to have followed Sting into the world of Tantric Sex, because for god's sake who has the time?

So: Lolita. I was impressed enough with the book to have had it inspire me to base an AP English assignment on it. We were supposed to write a poem in a certain format, and I wrote about Lolita in the form of Humbert Humbert. The copy of the poem itself is long gone, but I still remember the first two lines of it:

Lovely Lolita, light of my life
Barefoot, you tango with Pan.*

Anyway, I worked for hours on that poem, followed the assignment perfectly, and received a Peppermint Patty-esque D minus for my efforts, because my Jesus-y English teacher apparently did not like the subject material.

Even back in 1986 Lolita was considered one of the best novels ever written, so with all due respect, Jesus-y English teacher, suck it.

Too many years have passed, and I remembered the injustice of the D minus more than I remembered the novel that inspired it, so I took the book off my shelf, the same book I had in high school, the second run of a Crest paperback from 1959 (fifty cents new!) and read it again.

Yep, it's still pretty much perfect, from the gorgeousness of the language, starting with the very first sentence, whose spirit I brazenly stole and put in my stupid little poem, to the wit which makes you feel like a creep for laughing out loud (when, for example, Humbert jealously describes two high school boys flirting with 14-year-old Dolly as being "all muscles and gonorrhea.")

Lolita is such a straightforward narrative with such a stomach-turning subject matter: A pedophile kidnaps and rapes a little girl for two whole years. It was unnerving me to see how "Lolita" is now synonymous with an underage, savvy, your-honor-I-swear-I-thought-she-was-18 Siren, cruelly luring men to dash helplessly up against the jagged rocks of our legal system. I thought I had remembered Humbert as being the classic Unreliable Narrator. Had I been misinterpreting Nabokov all these years?

Nope. Nabokov, through Humbert's twisted prism of reality, makes it very clear that Dolly Haze is a little girl. While Lolita's mother, Charlotte, described by Humbert as a grotesque, blowsy, overripe piece of the female gender, a monster who has swallowed whole the nymphet she once was, chats with him on the porch, Humbert is trying to jockey himself in position to surreptitiously molest Lolita while she sits and plays with dolls. She doesn't like baths and runs around with dirty fingernails and tangled hair, she is obsessed with whoever passed for the 1940's version of the cast of Twilight, and she is prone to temper tantrums. He admits to imagining scenarios with her in which she responds in a way that doesn't correspond with reality, and he openly muses about how he's going to get rid of her when she begins menstruating, despite his exaggerated expressions of "love."

He's a clear psychopath, in other words, a rapist, a kidnapper, a torturer, and just, you know, a real shit head. What happened to Lolita wasn't her fault. She wasn't asking for it, she didn't want it, and when all is said and done she flat out tells him "I was a daisy-fresh girl, and look what you've done to me." So, yech, please quit calling her and other underaged girls "temptresses." It doesn't speak well of you, and it's not what Nabokov would have wanted.

And all that being said, I would give a kidney to have written this book myself, word for word.

*Here I have to note that I once wrote a blog post about walking down Clark Street in Wrigleyville to my old store, the Honeysuckle Shop, with half a dozen buttplugs under one arm and a twelve-pack of toilet paper in the other. I couldn't care less about being seen with the butt plugs, but was slightly embarrassed about the toilet paper. Similarly, I don't care at all about confessing that given the opportunity I would have slept with an entire band, but horrified by my confession that I actually wrote the above two lines of juvenalia. Such is the horror of teenage poetry.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Time to Brush the Dust Off the Blog.

It's time to brush the dust off the blog and get things rolling again.

Welcome to Books Are Pretty! I'm your host, flea. Nice to see you again.

After a somewhat turbulent spring and summer, things are starting to finally settle down. Everyone is employed again, the kids are back in school, and at last I have a second to sit down and read something. Even better, the Books Are Pretty staff has recently doubled! I am now a We, and We have a new reviewer, FanTam, who will be splitting the load with me. Please give her a round of applause and make her feel welcome.

We're starting up again, in fact, with a brand new review written by our new reviewer. FanTam has chosen to start things off with a review of Living With a Gamer.

As a result, I think you'll find that Books Are Pretty will now be even better than before.

With no further ado, please enjoy FanTam's review of Living with a Gamer.


Living With a Gamer.

For those of you out there who have never felt the smooth, cool, soothing texture of a wireless PS3 remote; or have never allowed yourself the fantasy of stepping into a world full of excitement, passion, espionage, and possibly dragon slaying all at the literal control of your fingertips; or at the very least, have never felt the thrill of crossing the finish line of Mushroom Gorge in first place, while pounding your chest like only Donkey Kong can do; do not read Living With a Gamer. For those of you who know exactly what I’m talking about, do not read Living With a Gamer.

If you are one of the former types of non-gaming people, this book will do nothing more than perpetuate a stereotype that is so far off base, it isn’t even funny. It isn’t even funny. If you are the latter, even a casual “gamer,” this book will do nothing but offend. Personally, I am a 40-year-old mother, who loves nothing more than to relax in front of my television, and dive into the wonderful land of Hyrule in constant search of my beloved princess. My husband calls me a vid-ee-it. I call myself a gamer. Yet somehow, I am still capable enough to work full-time, take care of my children and run a household.

Living With a Gamer explains nothing about what it is really like to live with someone who, like myself, realizes the extent of intelligence, dedication, and dexterity it takes to play the modern video game. Living With a Gamer paints the picture of a 14-year-old boy who is stupid, geeky, ugly, has poor hygiene, no friends, and dresses badly. The Living With a Gamer-Gamer knows nothing of the “real” world because his “real” world is two-dimensional. Living With a Gamer gives no practical advice on how to live with someone like this, it only offers unconventional and unrealistic ways of accepting or eradicating his unacceptable non-behavior. However, there is a small section on the female Gamer who, unlike her male counterpart, is highly intelligent, independent, super-cool, and does not base her self worth on the latest fashion mag. So the book does have its upside.

If you live with a Living With a Gamer-Gamer and feel that you need guidance, try talking to him – although if he is a true Living With a Gamer-Gamer, he won’t listen unless you forcibly remove the remote from his permanently-twitching thumbs, at which time he will explode like a atom bomb. Maybe that isn’t the best advice. Okay, try offering him some incentives to listen to you like buying him a new game if he gives you a few minutes of attention. Well, that won’t work either, because you would be perpetuating the problem and continuing to be the enabler that you already are.

Of course, the entire book is written in a moderately humorous manner, and is obviously not intended as anything but a comedic view of the awkward pubescent video game player. Living With a Gamer may be the perfect gag gift for that parent who likes to read while in the crapper, scheming up ways to poke fun at his kids while sitting in the fog of his own fecal fumes (because that’s normal).

Do yourself a favor, before you read this book, try picking up a Wii remote and throwing a few virtual bowling balls. You may actually realize the reason video games are so popular, and your 14-year-old is not.

Living With a Gamer
By Charlie Mills with Daniel Kleinman
June, 2009 by Red Rock Press
Hardcover, 96pp
ISBN: 978-193317626-0

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

This Is Not a Book.

...but it's as simple to operate as one.

Last month I got an email from someone named Jeremy, offering to send me a gadget called "Peek," which enables you to access your email account while you're out and about. Peek, he wrote, was Peek is "really, truly, sincerely made for moms."

Really, truly, and sincerely made for moms? What does it do, in addition to letting you send and receive email that would make it a device made for moms? Does it change diapers? Does it watch the kids so we can get out of the house for an hour? Does it have sex with our significant others for us when we're too tired from staying up all night with a crying baby?

The answer is no, it does none of these things. In fact, sending and receiving email is the only thing that it does. The device itself is fifty bucks, and then you pay twenty bucks a month for unlimited use. There are no contracts to sign, which is nice, so you can cancel the service at any time. So sure, I said, send me one.

It arrived one day around Valentine's Day, right after I'd picked up Chris from Kindergarten, and together we sat down to figure out how to set it up. It didn't take a whole lot of thought - Chris set it up for me, and he's just learning how to read. While he was tinkering around, I split my time between watching him and looking over Peek's website to see how the device was marketed to other people. Non-moms, if you will, because I still couldn't figure out why this was really, truly, sincerely created for me.

I can only conclude, after looking at various other pitches, is that Peek thinks mothers are really, really stupid, and can't handle big scary technology like Blackberries or iPhones, which can text, email, and provide internet access. Or Peek thinks mothers really miss the good old days of 1998. Which I do, but only because in 1998 I was a size four.

All the pitches were about how easy and simple the Peek is, how frills-free and basic, for people who get rattled by a device that can be both a phone and a camera. Even more weirdly, in their "about Peek" section, it says the device was created by a man whose wife liked to take long walks when she was pregnant and came back all worried about emails piling up in her inbox. Just how long were these walks? How important are these emails? Is someone's life hanging in the balance while she's away from her Gmail account? Why couldn't she just take her Blackberry with her?

The whole thing seemed implausible to me, and while I was mulling it over, Christopher and I ran into trouble setting it up. While Christopher was tinkering, I was overseeing him using the booklet that came with it, and even though we had followed the instructions precisely, no email was forthcoming. Maybe it takes a minute, I thought. After three hours, however, I thought maybe this was too long. Maybe this was targeted at the right audience after all, I thought.

I called customer service and spoke with Sean. So far, Sean was the biggest asset to Peek I'd encountered so far, and this is not to speak ill of Peek but to commend the truly excellent customer service he provided. I think we're all familiar with the horrow show AT&T provides as their version of customer service. Not so with Peek. Sean listened to my problem, gave me several suggestions, and when none of them worked, he told me he would have to work on the problem with a supervisor and get back to me. During that time, he must have fixed whatever had gone wrong, because the next morning, all the emails had come in. He then called me again to make sure the problem had been corrected, and called a week later for follow-up, to make sure everything was still running smoothly.

Really, truly, sincerely excellent customer service.

Now that all the bugs had been worked out, I spent a few weeks playing around with it.

I sent several emails to Steve to make sure it was working.


Email me something. I want to see if it is still working.

Sent on the go from my Peek


Several hours passed, and then, a response finally came in:


No. I knew you'd be using it and I've been avoiding my email all day
because of it. I will not email you. I think it's a stupid product.

So there.


Peek: Clearly not made for dads.

Here's how using it actually works. You press a button at the top to turn it on. It vibrates at you a couple of times, then the screen says "Hello." After that, takes you right to your inbox, which it would, because that's all there is. It has a full, stiff little QWERTY keyboard with the period, quotation marks, and the comma in odd places, and an equally stiff little wheel on the side for scrolling up and down. To reply to someone, scroll down until the email in question is highlighted, then push in the wheel. It opens that email, and you can then select "Reply," type in your message, and click "Send." It vibrates again when you receive incoming mail, and a little envelope at the top left corner flashes blue.

That's it.

It's not bad, and I especially benefitted from it by sneaking personal, untraceable emails at work. The company I work for can and does monitor all email correspondence from our work computer. They let you get away with some personal stuff on a regular basis, but it probably wouldn't be a smart idea to complain about the job, or, say, carry on a conversation with a local union rep. It does not ring, chirp, or otherwise betray you like a cell phone can. In other words, the Peek is a willing accomplice in helping you hide from The Man.

The only thing I really, really hate about the Peek, slightly condescending marketing aside, is how to get rid of email you don't want. In order to delete the zillion emails I get from Bluefly every day, I have to use that stiff little wheel to scroll down to the offending email, push wheel in, scroll down again until I get to the "delete" option, and push in the wheel again. Scroll, push, scroll, push. There is no option to select a slew of emails for deletion at once. Plus, if you go into your gmail account on your computer and do a mass deletion, the deleted emails don't get deleted on the Peek, so there's no getting around it that way. I didn't check the Peek for about three days, then spent several annoying minutes on the sofa, scrolling and pushing. Instead of making me stay more on top of it, instead I began avoiding the Peek. Every time I'd think about using it, the thought of having to delete the emails made me cringe, and I just put off the inevitable by letting it ride around in my purse, turned off, letting the problem snowball into a virtual avalanche of email, just waiting to give me carpal tunnel syndrome. I have it charging up next to me right now as I'm writing this review, and the blue envelope is flashing like crazy and there must be at least fifty unwanted emails in there right now, and that's only an accumulation of 2 days. I had the Peek turned off for three weeks, people, and quite frankly, if I'm too busy of a mom to learn new technology, I'm surely too busy of a mom to have to spend time deleting emails.

Since I was sent the Peek, they've rolled out a new model. For eighty dollars, you can get the Peek Pronto, which is supposedly quicker and more efficient. I don't know if it's easier to wipe out an inbox full of spam, though. If it is, it would be well worth the extra thirty bucks to not have to deal with that. The Peek may be simpler to set up and use, but simpler isn't always the most user friendly option.

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Know It All and The Chemist.

We've all had this problem: You're at a cocktail party, and much to your dismay, you find yourself unable to mingle. Finding yourself completely without a conversational ice breaker, there's nothing for it but to stand against the wall, hiding behind a cocktail until a quiet opening is revealed through which you can sneak out the door. Luckily for the world, with the publication of Know It All: The Little Book of Essential Knowledge, this problem has now been solved.

A reference book that covers everything that ever was, Know It All devotes two pages to each subject. Two pages on the Big Bang, two pages on mathematics in its entirety, two pages on World War II. Now, this little book was brought to us by our friends at Reader's Digest, so expecting anything but a condensed version of everything completely misses the point. Miraculously, they made it all the way through the book without a single joke about Humor in Uniform, so forget about breaking the ice by telling jokes that will be greeted with a strained, polite smile. Instead, they provide you with "Conversation Starters" that are peppered throughout.

Here's one: "Insects might be tiny, but there are so many of them that ants and termites alone are believed by some scientists to account for as much as twenty percent of the world's combined mass of all creatures, known as the animal biomass."

I actually think that's interesting, but I have no idea how to continue with this educational tidbit as a way of making conversation, because in that one sentence I've completely exhausted my knowledge of insect census-taking.

ME: Insects might be tiny, but there are so many of them that ants and termites alone are believed by some scientists to account for as much as twenty percent of the world's combined mass of all creatures, known as the animal biomass.

Possible reactions:

HIM: Really? What is the total percentage of all insects in the animal biomass?

ME: ....


HIM: What?

ME: Never mind.


HIM: says nothing, slowly edges away.

I'm sorry to say, outside an insect-lovers convention, that milkshake ain't gonna bring any boys to the yard.

My very favorite conversation starter was one I found in the section called "Conflicts of the Modern Age," regarding the current war in Iraq:

"The United States rained 'Shock and Awe" on Baghdad, Iraq, in March 2003. Was the attack 'preemptive,' defined in military usage as based on incontrovertible evidence of imminent attack? Or was it 'preventive,' based on possible future threats?"


Oh my god

Oh my god

Oh my god

Oh my god.

Oh, Reader's Digest.

I searched through the rest of the book, but did not find Conversation Starter: Was George Walker Bush a great president? Or was he the greatest president? Nor, in the "Story of Life" section, did I find any reference to "Intelligent Design" or "teaching the controversy," so I suppose the conservative bent could have been a lot worse. I have to say, I think it is irresponsible of the writers not to have included a footnote for that conversation starter that read Caution! If you are in Berkeley, this Conversation Starter could get you pelted with Miniature Organic Soy Pigs in a Blanket.

But I kid! I kid! The book is really quite interesting and entertaining, and I mean that in a good way, even if, in their 2 pages on World War II, they neglected to mention the Holocaust. (I'm serious. They do bring it up in another section later on, but when I got to this section and found there was no mention of it, I almost choked on my own kidney, which abruptly got lodged in my throat.)

What this book is good for, truth be told, is getting six-year-olds interested in the way the world works, and expanding from this starting point with different books. This is, objectively speaking, a Good Thing. Used for this specific purpose, the Conversation Starters are excellent. Except for the one on the Iraq War, which would get you pelted with tiny soy pigs in a blanket by my kids.

ME: Insects might be tiny, but there are so many of them that ants and termites alone are believed by some scientists to account for as much as twenty percent of the world's combined mass of all creatures, known as the animal biomass.

THEM: Gross! How many insects are there in the world?

ME: Let's go look on the internet and find out!

THEM: Okay!


ME: The United States rained 'Shock and Awe" on Baghdad, Iraq, in March 2003. Was the attack 'preemptive,' defined in military usage as based on incontrovertible evidence of imminent attack? Or was it 'preventive,' based on possible future threats?

THEM: Neither one, Mom. "Shock and Awe" was an illegal attack on a country who did nothing to us and had no plans to harm us, resulting in the mass murder of millions of innocent Iraqis and thousands of American soldiers, causing the country to disintegrate into Civil War, thereby creating the terrorist environment we claimed we were trying to prevent.

ME: Oh, right.

THEM: Hold still while we pelt you with these little hot dogs.

Oh, for Pete's sake. I've done nothing but make fun of this book, and honestly, shame on me. It's not bad AT ALL. In fact, it taught me several things I didn't know, such as the existence of the jerboa, a member of the rodent family that looks like a mouse/kangaroo blend with ginormous ears. The jerboa is well worth a Google search, because it is hands down awesome.

Plus, the whole section about astronomy is interesting. I know next to nothing about it, and, let's face it, am not smart enough to ever be able to understand it, so two pages per topic, distilling everything down to its simplest essence, is perfect.

So, I am a jerk who clearly has never forgiven Reader's Digest for butchering My Friend Flicka in their condensed books series my parents bought and put in the living room as bookshelf filler. Little did they know they'd raise a book maniac who actually devoured these books and got pissed later when it was revealed how much was left out. And now I cannot help but poking relentless fun at all things Reader's Digest, even when it is not deserved.

I did start a book that deserves a lot of abuse, The Chemist, written by a doctor dabbling in literature. I couldn't get past the prologue, because it was 100% torture porn, and I've had more than enough torture porn in American pop culture. Not to mention that it was made pointedly clear that the 3 murderers had faces as "dark as the night," and the murder victim had "long blonde hair." Look, I spent way too many years looking at interracial porn for my Honeysuckle customers, trying to find something that wasn't filmed for the express purpose for white men to jerk off to white women being sexually degraded by black men. The difficulty of finding egalitarian interracial sex scenes based on respect and fun - a problem that even temporarily stumped Nina Hartley, for god's sake - makes it impossible for me to find this anything but really, really racist. I know we just elected a black man to the highest office in the land, while that is a great leap forward, we just haven't shed our racial baggage to be able to accept this situation with no titillating sexually-based racially degrading subtext. Not to mention that the scene was written to have a titillating sexually-based racially degrading subtext that involves torturing a naked woman. To death.

Fuck this book, and fuck the guy who wrote it.

I will make it up to the writers of Know It All, who worked very hard to compile all that information and present it in a clear, easy-to-understand way, by recommending that you buy it as an elementary starting point for you and your kids to develop an interest in science (did I mention the end of each section has multiple choice quizzes? I have no intention of ever doing them, but if your kids are bored and you're desperate, well there you go), and to use the other book to balance an uneven table. Or, better yet, to refuse to have it in your home all together.


Know It All: The Little Book of Essential Knowledge
by Susan Aldridge, Elizabeth King Humphrey, and Julie Whitaker
October, 2008 by The Reader's Digest Association
Hardcover, 256pp
ISBN: 978-0-7621-0933-3

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

In Memory of Central Park 1853-2022.

The years of the Bush administration must have been such a bittersweet time for artists. On one hand, there was such a plethora of craziness to write about. On the other hand, you’ve really got to put yourself out there in order to get ahead of the dystopic ball they started rolling.

Queenelle Minet places her novel just slightly ahead of this giant mess we’re all in, allowing herself to imagine a world fifty years in the future, where, evidently, we’ve kept electing more of the same kind of government and have at last gotten the world we deserve.

In Memory of Central Park looks at life in New York City in the mid 21st century, where city dwellers have finally let terror get the best of them and have literally pulled a giant dome over their heads and retreated, turtle-like, into a fear-based shell. After the complete economic collapse of the United States (please Barack Hussein Jesus Obama, please fix everything), New York secedes from the union and hides, filling the inside of the shell with wall to wall buildings, eliminating cars and roads. New York has become an anthill, and life continues to team in a series of fluorescent-lit corridors. There is a one-party government, the Liberty Party, whose corrupt cronyism is enforced by wandering groups of thugs called the Patriots, similar to Saudi Arabia’s Ministry for the Protection of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, who wander the streets beating everyone who seems insufficiently patriotic.

Free speech, while not illegal, is still discouraged by the mysterious murders of those who oppose the government. Citizens, on grounds of preventing terrorist attacks, are no longer allowed to leave the city or communicate with the outside world. All information from the rest of the world is filtered through the fear-mongering government and tolerated by a population who values safety over freedom. Amidst all this, in one small section of the ant farm, a therapist named Noah dysfunctionally falls in love with his sister-in-law, Margaret. His love for Margaret awakes him to the realization that he has been numb to the realities around him, and for the first time begins to pay attention to the writing on the wall that spells out doom for their corrupt, claustrophobic way of life.

Joined in his burgeoning awareness are his professional colleague and friend, Phillipe, Margaret, and Appoppa, the boyfriend of his favorite client, Amy. Noah is drawn to the tough Amy, one of many New Yorkers falling deathly ill to a mysterious disease that seems to strike only those who live outside the walled-off neighborhood of the Party elite, who live in tall buildings erected on the place where Central Park used to be. In their quest to uncover the source of the illness, Noah, Margaret, Phillipe, and Appoppa inch closer to what will be either their salvation or their doom. Either way, there is no turning back.

In Memory of Central Parkwas based on a rough draft and series of ideas by Minet’s late husband Aron Spilken. According to the book’s prologue, Minet felt that “picking up where he left off with In Memory of Central Park allowed [her] to continue collaborating with him despite his death.” She seems to have blended their voices quite well, because the narrative flows fairly smoothly. In Memory of Central Park has a ring of truth to it, not because of her ability to exploit liberal fears but because of the strength of character she builds in everyman, Noah. His reluctance to take a stand is a small flame that burns in many of us; the urge to just keep your head down and take whatever happiness and contentment you can find. Life without sunshine, plants, animals, or trees isn’t that unbearable, after all, he’s got a room to sleep in, friends, food, and a good job. Best not to rock the boat and risk it all. Of course, rock the boat is what he must do, because there is also a small flame that burns in all of us that is not happy living in a world without liberty, and we all must choose which flame burns hotter and brighter.


In Memory of Central Park 1863-2002
By Queenelle Minet
September, 2008 by Synergy Books
Paperback, 251pp
ISBN: 978-1934454251

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Walking the Rainbow.

Initially I thought this was a self-published manuscript, due to the horrible title and book cover, and the fact that all the promotional blurbs were written by his friends, not to mention the cheap font and myriad typos. Then I thought it was an uncorrected galley proof, but it didn't say that it was, and the publicists who sent it to me usually only send final copies. But no, it seems it's an actual final copy from an actual publishing house out of Pittsburgh, Whitmore Publishing Co. Shame about the cover. It looks like it was designed at the very last possible second by someone who didn't give a damn about making it look good. You know how I feel about cover art. If only author Richard René Silvin had insisted Olga Grlic design it. It would have sold a lot more copies, I tell you what.

It's not like he couldn't afford her. One of the first things you learn in Silvin's memoir is that he's a really wealthy man. (In fact, I think he may have paid for the publicists himself, because this is not the kind of book they usually send me.)

A product of Swiss boarding schools* and top universities, Silvin went on to become a leader in hospital operations, rising to head up the international division of American Medical International, Inc., which oversaw a hundred hospitals in ten countries. While he touches quite a bit on the business end of things, Walking the Rainbow is primarily the story of his struggle living with the HIV virus. Already a successful businessman in an unsuccessful marriage, Silvin came out in the late 70's, probably the worst time in history for a gay man to say to himself, "Hey, let's see what I've been missing after all these years in the closet!"

Walking the Rainbow is not really so much a tale of his business or sexual exploits as it is a love story, detailing his relationships with Tim, the love of his libido, and, later, Bob, the love of his life.

All three men were diagnosed with HIV in the early-mid 80s, during the Reagan years when AIDS was an acceptable disease as long as it was killing off homosexuals. Silvin used his vast financial resources to travel first with Tim, then Bob, to Europe for cutting-edge treatment. Unfortunately, in the 80s and early 90s, cutting-edge treatment for HIV management is not what it is today, and Silvin and his partners ended up having a patient-eye view of life in some of his own hospitals.

During these difficult times, Silvin's money managed to keep a great deal of horror away from himself and his partners. Unfortunately, homophobia has quite a bit of clout as well, and after weeks of pain and sickness I wouldn't wish on anyone, Silvin still had to endure the insult of not having his relationships recognized and receiving substandard nursing care from ignorant staff.

While Walking the Rainbow is no Angels in America** or And the Band Played On, as long as fully half the population of the United States refuses to believe that the relationships of gay men and lesbians are "real," that it's okay to deny them hospital visiting rights and property rights and insurance benefits for their partners, if they are denied the ability to make life-or-death decisions for their partners or follow through with their partners funeral arrangements, if their children can be taken from them and if they can lose their jobs and receive a dishonorable discharge from the military solely due to their sexual orientation, every single one of their stories should be heard.


*Silvin attended La Clarière and Le Rosey. La Clarière was shut down due to substandard conditions, and Silvin was sent there WHEN HE WAS SIX. Who the hell sends a six-year-old to a boarding school? A boarding school ON ANOTHER CONTINENT? My six-year-old still sleeps with a stuffed dog and is afraid of monsters. According to Silvin, after the age of six he only saw his parents on holidays. He said they were like strangers to him. How do you put your baby boy on a plane and say goodbye to him forever? That being said, I've been threatening Christopher with Swiss boarding school ever since I read that. He doesn't seem to be taking me too seriously, though, only briefly looking up from the computer, where he was playing Homestar Runner, to say, "You can't afford it."


**Thinking of Angels in America made me want to watch the scene where Roy Cohn, played magnificently by Al Pacino, is diagnosed with AIDS by James Cromwell. Cohn tells Cromwell that he can't have AIDS, because AIDS is something that only homosexuals get, and since he is a powerful man, he can't be a powerless homosexual, therefore, he does not have AIDS. It's one of the greatest monologues ever written, I think, because it describes this particular mindset so very, very well. Let's watch it again!


Walking the Rainbow
by Richard René Silvin
February, 2008 by Whitmore Publishing
Paperback, 226pp
ISBN: 0874260736

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Citizen Alpha.

Yeah. Okay. Hm.

I've got to be honest, here. I couldn't get past chapter six of this book, because quite frankly, it made me grumpy.

The synopsis of Citizen Alpha on the back of the book says it's about a study group of graduate students versus a gang of warlords and terrorists, and the graduate students have to somehow rescue America from the threat of a nuclear holocaust.

A good idea, I suppose, but the story reads like Cliff's Notes, or a 9th grade book report, and ultimately I just couldn't hack it.

Each of the first few chapters are devoted to a different character, and their entire biographies are given in a terse, just-the-facts-ma'am style that didn't draw me in at all. Every single one of them read like this:

The warlords used their wealth to buy children from the less fortunate. Parents were often forced to sell their children in order to eat for the next year or two. Musad's parents, having nothing with which to raise their child, felt that they had no choice but to sell him to one of the local warlords. By doing so, they would also be though of much more higly at the mosque they attended as is was controlled by the warlord. Like all children taken by the warlords, Musad was trained to be a talibay child. Talibay children are considered property of the purchasing warlord, and they esist to enrich the warlord by begging for money. His parents were sad but thought he would have a better life as a talibay child.

A sad life, to be sure, but this is not character development. This is a series of facts about the character that does nothing to show the reader the soul inside.

And seriously, "his parents were sad?" They were sad? Sad? That's it?

These chapters seem almost dismissive, like the writer can't be bothered to give the reader any extra humanizing details, so we're left with nothing but plain, blunt sentences that gloss over an entire life of pain. There's a lack of care in the book that seems very disrespectful to both the characters as well as the reader.

Imagine if Charlotte Brontë had written like this.

Think of the opening scene in Jane Eyre where little Jane is banished from the sitting room.

Eliza, John, and Georgiana were now clustered round their mama in the drawing-room: she lay reclined on a sofa by the fireside, and with her darlings about her (for the time neither quarreling nor crying) looked perfectly happy. Me, she had dispensed from joining the group; saying, "She regretted to be under the necessity of keeping me at a distance; but that until she heard from Bessie, and could discover by her own observation, that I was endeavoring in good earnest to acquire a more sociable and childlike disposition, a more attractive and sprightly manner- something lighter, franker, more natural, as it were - she really must exclude me from privileges intended only for contented, happy, little children."

"What does Bessie say I have done?" I asked.

"Jane, I don't like cavillers or questioners; besides, there is something truly forbidding in a child taking up her elders in that manner. Be seated somewhere; and until you can speak pleasantly, remain silent."

A breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room, I slipped in there. It contained a bookcase: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures. I mounted into the window-seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and , having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement.

Now imagine Jane Eyre as Citizen Alpha:

Jane's aunt was cruel to her. Jane was sad and left the room to read a book.

Fan fucking tastic.

However, it must be said that I read excerpts of Citizen Alpha to Steve, who saw nothing wrong with it. He does not like to read, because he thinks most books take too long to get to the point. If you feel as he does, this may be the book for you.


Citizen Alpha
by Patrick E. Peterson
August, 2008 by Synergy Books
Paperback, 305pp
ISBN: 1934454206

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Mars Life.

When I first started getting books for review, it was 99% mommy book offers, which I accepted and was happy to review and didn't actually hate all of them, but I have to be honest: I don't accept very many of them any more, and mercifully I don't get many offers to review them. In fact, the progression of the genres over the years has gone something like this: Mommy book, Chick Lit, Chick Lit, Chick Lit, Historical Fiction, Mystery/Suspense, Chick Lit, and finally, I have arrived at science fiction. I can only assume publicists have either forgotten about my vagina or are choosing to ignore it. They wouldn't be the first.

Anyway, while we're on the subject, my vagina would like to address the portrayal of women in science fiction.

There's this:

and this:

I mean, I don't even know what's going on with that. Is she being canned? Is she going to meet the same fate as the girls behind her? Did they run out of girl-sized cans and had to make do with a chihuahua can? I don't understand.

I won't even discuss L. Ron Fucking Hubbard's views on women, and even Heinlein, who was apparently ahead of his day as far as women went, still drew these narrow images of women: busty, very young, like the Denise Richards-as-neuroscientist role in that James Bond movie, and of course they were slavishly devoted to some old fart that smelled vaguely of Heinlein himself (See Land, Stranger in a Strange. Sorry. I know it's a classic and one of the Greatest Ever, but still.)

Or, they'll try this trick where the best female character is beautifully thin, doe-eyed, has a job but it's well below the pay grade of the male protagonist, so she can better appreciate his genius, she's 25 and just can't help but love Captain Geritol, because of his brilliant mind, you see. But it isn't sexist, because they'll make references to the female President of the United States/Mars Colony/spaceship, or the genius' boss will be female, but we'll never get to know those women.

But one can't stay buried in the loving arms of Octavia Butler and James Tiptree, Jr forever, as much as one would like to, so I began Mars Life and wondered what Ben Bova, one of science fiction's big dogs, was going to give the ladies in the house.

Female president mentioned in passing? Check. Female Chief of the Navaho tribe, mentioned more than in passing but not much more? Check. And Miss Doreen McManus, a junior technician, who is described as having "lovely, thickly curled auburn hair, but it was cropped close in a strictly utilitarian style. Her face was oval, with the large, shy eyes of a waif. She thin and bony that [the male protagonist] wondered if she were bulimic."

Gah! So Doreen approaches the protagonist, Dr. Carleton Carter, who was sent to the Mars colony in exile, after losing his job at the university after being falsely accused of rape. Gah! Doreen asks Carter if she can join him for breakfast. The two are joined moments later by a women of the same professional status as Carter.

"Twenty bucks says she's old and a total bitch," I thought, and turned the page. Gah! I was right!

So Carter the Unjustly Accused but Brilliant starts an affair with Doreen, which squicks out exactly no one, and the book putters along with this story line until Doreen informs Carter she's going back home, to the colony on the Moon.

Then the following happens: Carter gets pissy and forbids her to go, and Doreen up and tells him to go fuck himself, saying that he's a narcissistic jerk who's only sleeping with her so everyone will be impressed that he can bang a girl over half his age. Further, he only wants her around so she can tell him how brilliant he is all the time, plus, he's a sexist jerk who totally sucks. And then she leaves.


Then he hits on a married woman closer to his own age, who also thinks he sucks and also thinks that rape charge may have some merit. This is the best science fiction book ever.

Sorry for the spoilers, but it was just too awesome not to share. Be comforted by the fact that this was a minor plot point, and I promise I won't spoil the major ones.

Mars Life is a continuation of books by Ben Bova about the colonization of Mars. By the time we check in with these recurring characters, things aren't going so well. The United States, major funder of Mars exploration, is firmly controlled by anti-science religious whackadoos, who cut government funding to Mars. The fundies are upset because fossils have been discovered at last, indicating the remains of an ancient civilization. They feel, correctly, that if this knowledge were made known, it would decrease the power of the Magical Sky Fairy who created the Earth in 6,000 years, and this would also decrease their political and social power, which by this time is pretty all-consuming. They've already had total success in eliminating the theory of evolution from public schools, and are successfully banning discussion of Mars discoveries from the classroom as well. Dr Carleton Carter, who claims he was run out of the university by the extreme right wing who manufactured a rape charge against him, is there to dig around in the Martian village, and other characters, in particular Jamie Waterman and his awesome wife Vijay, who are there to save the program by finding alternate funding. The colony gets screwed by the fundies at every turn, and you can feel the frustration steaming off the pages in little wavy lines of heat.

This seems to me to have been written with a lot of passion by Bova during a time where this fear of religious zealots destroying science and preventing kids from learning seemed eminent, you know, way back in 2007.

It's my wish, and probably Bova's, too, truth be told, that this book seem ridiculous and histrionic ten years from now. At the moment, it seems sadly plausible.


Mars Life
by Ben Bova
August, 2008 by Tor Books
Hardcover, 432 pp
ISBN: 0765317877

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