Saturday, April 28, 2018

Your Black Friend (by Ben Passmore)

Picked up for the Read Harder Challenge, this comic is only 11 pages long, but still packs a punch. It's a message to white liberals from "your black friend" and serves as an illumination of the black experience as well as a call to action to actually use your privilege in ways that help black people. 

It reminds me of The Hate U Give in some parts, where Passmore talks about being too black for white people and too white for black people.  It's also personally challenging to me as I think about how movements like #MeToo and #NeverAgain have effected real change, while we still have black men getting shot in their backyards in California.

11 pages, but thought-provoking for sure.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Down and Across (by Arvin Ahmadi)

A young adult book about crosswords! I didn't know this existed, but my friend Miriam sent it to me because I love both young adult novels and crosswords. Thank you, Miriam! 

The downfall of being a young adult fan when you yourself are an adult is that sometimes you're on the side of the parents.  Sakeet/Scott's parents are supposed to be unreasonable, overly strict Persian parents, but in the opening, the dad is like "We're going to Iran for a month. You can throw a party if you want. Just do this one internship you committed to." This not make me think he was unreasonable or overly strict at all, and Scott running away to Washington D.C. seemed like a bratty overreaction. #TeamDad.

(We find out later that Sakeett possibly has a mental health issue that they don't let him get assessed for, which is a much larger issue that is totally dropped after a single mention. I'm on team Scott for that one, but I think it could have paid off more in the narrative itself.)

As the novel progressed to Sakeett's D.C. adventures, I liked him more. But I still have many issues with the novel: not enough crossword puzzles, for a start.  Fiora is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl to the nth power, and is kind of a less well-developed version of the Alaska character in Looking for Alaska. Ahmadi does have at least one cringey description of her, too. ("The skin of her hips jutted out above the waistline of her ripped jeans, rocking with a seductive rhythm as she moved." BLECH.)

Things I did enjoy: the diversity. The handling of gay characters. The quick pace. The unpredictability (as the blurb mentions). The fact that Sakeet's quest isn't that he wants something, but more that he is trying to figure out what he wants. The ambiguity of the ending.

Also there is something about this cover that I don't like, and I don't know what it is. I mean it's not like the cover of A Little Life, which I really, truly loathe. But I still kind of don't like it and thus am using this for the "book with a cover you hate" category of the Read Harder Challenge. (You can follow along on this year's progress here.). I may find a cover I dislike more later in the year, so I reserve the right to swap this out.

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

vN (by Madeline Ashby)

Trying to sum up the premise of this book feels impossible (a longer review by Charlie Jane Anders is here) but my best try: a sentient humanoid robot child eats her evil robot granny, grows up overnight, and goes on the run.

The world-building here is fascinating and dark. (Like, human-on-robot pedophilia dark.) I enjoyed the characters, particularly protagonist Amy and her (human) father.

The storyline is sometimes a bit confusing (for example, at one point there is a prison escape but it kind of cuts from Amy trying to escape to a scene where nobody's chasing her, and it's confusing how she got from point A to point B). But the worldbuilding and overall story makes up for it.

I'm intrigued enough to give the second book in the series a shot. Hopefully we get to find out more about what happens after the (also somewhat confusing) ending.

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A Study in Scarlet (by Arthur Conan Doyle)

When I was growing up, I had an anthology of Sherlock Holmes stories that I read obsessively. ("The Red-Headed League" was always my favorite.) But I'd never read A Study in Scarlet, so I picked it up for the "classic of genre fiction" category of the Read Harder Challenge.

Having seen the first episode of Sherlock many times, and having read a lot of Sherlock-related fanfiction, it was fun to see the origin of so many of the elements of the pilot. It reminded me of finally seeing Star Wars after having seen Spaceballs over and over again. I was surprised by the random "Mormons are evil" interlude, which has a compelling plot but feels to me like padding on a short story. 

I think ultimately I prefer Holmes more concentrated, in the short-story format. But that said, I always enjoy Holmes stories and overall enjoyed finally getting to experience this essential part of the Holmes canon.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley (by Antonio GarcĂ­a Martinez)

The first part of this book is about Martinez creating and selling a startup, deciding between offers from Facebook and Twitter, semi-stabbing his co-founders in the back, and giving a sardonic, inside look into Silicon Valley culture.  His writing style is impressive and his personality in this first half is almost endearingly douchey. (Like douchey, clearly a tech bro of the highest order, but self-aware about it.)

Part two is all about his tenure at Facebook, developing an ad product that he's way more interested in explicating than his readers are in reading about it. I work in the tech industry and had friends at Facebook at the same time as Martinez, and he's pretty no-holds-barred in how he discusses the various players, so that part is fun. But that sense of self-awareness seems to dim and although he pays lip service to the gender issues in tech, he clearly has no interest in helping to solve them.  (He goes to Facebook rather than Twitter because he scorns the idea of work-life balance, which is one way the tech industry excludes women, and also, he has children, so.... maybe give that a thought.) And the way he describes women -- essentially only as potential sex partners -- is wearying. 

Also, by the end he is bitter that Facebook made all this money off of his engineering brilliance and he "only" makes a million dollars a year, so he decides he has this dream to sail around the world, while his only interest in his young children seems to be throwing enough money at them that they can to go Stanford and he doesn't actually need to interact with them.

So the guy doesn't come off well by the end of it. But his writing is surprisingly erudite and seems authentic to who he is -- which is, again, a douchey tech bro. If you work in the Valley, you may be entertained enough to read it all the way to the end. I was.

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