Thursday, August 09, 2007

Books Read

The Alchemist by Donna Boyd
Back in May during my birthday party when I found myself pleasantly tipsy on vodka and fizzy juices, talking to my Buddhist friend who was not imbibing because she's "taken vows," I had an epiphany about books written for teens versus books written for adults. I realized I gravitate toward reading books for teens because these books expect readers comfortable with ambiguity. Young people have not solidified their identity yet. They're working on finding it. Books that appeal to them will explore possibilities for the future. They will be ripe with promise, or with pitfalls. They will steer a reader toward finding their own true path.

Mainstream popular fiction for adults, on the other hand, will appeal to the readers' certainty in themselves. Such books will confirm solid views of the world. The adult reader of popular books will seek confirmation of their sense of self and of the world in the books they read, not open-ended possibilities. Not always, but generally.

I was reminded of this insight when I read this book. About halfway through I realized the story felt a little flat. Not much fizz in the buzz. It was interesting enough as fantasy goes, hearkening back to Egyptian legend of Nefertiti and carrying it forward to the present day, weaving a story of powerful magicians, but I realized the core message the author shared is that no matter how advanced, humans will still sow violence, still do harm in the name of ideals, still perpetuate the usual ills of the human condition. That may be true, but it seemed a shallow message, and designed to satisfy the adult craving for certitude in moral judgement.

Influence by Robert B. Cialdini
I read this quite a while ago, but I took notes. As individuals we are easily influenced, and those typical influences rely on our innate sociable wiring. The author took jobs such as car salesman to find out how the "compliance professionals" do it. Marketers use this book.
These are the ways:

  • Reciprocation: If someone offers you a favor you feel obligated to return it. Someone offers you a can of soda, you give money to their cause.
  • Commitment and consistency: If someone gets you to commit to something small, for the sake of consistency you stick with it. Heh. I've done that with love. Chinese in Korea got American prisoners of war to write pro-Communist essays by holding contests. They didn't always reward the Anti-American essays, but sometimes did, and the prizes they offered were small. That was key. Oranges, cigarettes. If a large prize, a prisoner could avoid having to be consistent by convincing himself he was going for the prize. Small prizes made it more their choice, and likely to stick with the opinion.
  • Social proof: when in a group, if one person acts, others will. If no one does, no one will. Also known as the bystander effect. This was brought to light by the famous Kitty Genovese murder, where dozens of witnesses did not call the police.
  • Liking: similarity, appearance, compliments, familiarity, and association all foster liking.
  • Authority: unwilling to contradict the one in uniform, the one in charge. See Milgram.
  • Scarcity: newly scarce are more valuable rather than those things that were always scarce.
Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
Found this at bookshelves of doom. Short stories of the twilight zone-ish horror genre. I don't usually read such, but Leila of bookshelves was so glowing in her review, I sent for it. I didn't have enough time to read the whole thing, wasn't excited enough to get it from the library again, but I was pleased with the retelling of The Snow Queen.

Gravelight by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Three people wind up in this place in the Appalachians for different reasons. This is the 3rd book in the Witchlight series (yes I read the first 2, and they were good enough to send me back for more). Recurring character Truth Jourdemayne is there with the professional parapsychologists looking into the nexus of paranormal happenings. She, as revealed in the other books, is a descendant of the fairy race, and is learning to become adept at magick. A pain-ridden drunk finds himself stranded there, probably trying to drink himself to death. An actress seeks her family history, and finds herself with too strong a connection to a magical ancestor. Together, they must deal with the cause of the sinister disappearances, an open Gate to magical realms.

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
Quick read for a non-fiction book. It was interesting to get an intimate look at a woman who was a very sickly child, and who spent her life seeking the face that was destroyed by her childhood cancer. She had this expectation of care by others, and seemingly no thought of the future. Perhaps that was to happen after she got her face. We talked in our book group about how in spite of, perhaps because of, her fallen-in face, she had this charisma that attracted such loyal people around her. She was a user, and treated her "angels" like doormats, but as one person put it, this was a kind of friendship that was beyond such concerns. Or so Ann Patchett might have us think. One person in the group did some research and found that Lucy Grealy's family was mad because Ann basically left them out of the book, and they contend that Lucy didn't think much of Ann.

Wright 3 by Blue Balliett
I usually don't like to read a later book in a series before I've read the first, but I did here. I think I was assured by a librarian that it wouldn't matter, so this is the first book by this author that I've read. Indeed the author gave enough details from past stories that I could tell what was going on, as could any child that sought a story with mystery and extra-worldly speculation. Interesting stuff in here about the Robie House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Illustrations were based on the actual building. Otherwise just a book for kids.

Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar
This is another one of those books I checked out due to a librarian's blog, but I can't remember which one now, maybe bookshelves of doom again. The humans here are sometimes petty, rarely endearing, and not very heroic, except maybe the bag-lady who thinks she's an ancient Greek hero. The particular properties of her boot-polish cocktail allow her to see fairies, and include them in her war strategies. Some Scottish and Irish Fairies find themselves in New York after a bender. They like their alcohol. This gets them in trouble with some of the native fairies. They're also somewhat inept with their fairy abilities, sort of like the humans they're trying to help. I liked it, found the pub-going flavor amusing, but thought the author missed some of the transplanted-in-New-York opportunities. Plus, he had an American say "truncheon" rather than "stick" or "club." Who do you know says truncheon?

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