July 2010 In Brief, Part 2

Highlights:
Road Trip – My son and I cruised along Midwestern highways on a 12-hour drive to Lake Michigan, squeezing in plenty of teen driving practice, and passing by a few colleges along the way. I made a road trip playlist of music we both liked: The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Violent Femmes, Rage Against the Machine, and the Dr. Horrible Soundtrack, brought lots of gluten-free snacks, and together we sped through the Midwest loving that 70mph Michigan speed limit.

The Lake Michigan Cousin-palooza– About 50 relatives trekked in from all over the country to my aunt and uncle’s beautiful lakeside house for the Fourth of July.  We chatted, talked, conversed, and caught up on all the news while cooking, eating, and building sand castles.  Every evening at sunset we’d crowd on their deck and watch the sun melt orange and pink stripes onto the water.  No wonder we all keep coming back.

Fiction Books Finished:
Feed, by M.T. Anderson (*** 1/2) –  [2002] Titus and his friends are living in the last years of a dying empire where teenagers have a commercial TV and internet system called "The Feed" playing right in their heads.   During a spring break vacation to the moon, Titus meets home-schooled Violet.   When the two of them have their feeds hacked at a nightclub, Titus begins to look on his carefree life differently.  M.T. Anderson creates a vivid futuristic world with its own addictively real teen speak.  It’s a book that was ahead of its time and worth checking out. [YA Science Fiction, for ages 14 and up]

The Next Best Thing to Having the Super Power of Speed Reading:
When my to-read list hit the 100 book mark, I finally faced up to the truth: I read painfully slow. If I can’t have the power of speed reading, listening to audiobooks is the next best thing. There’s a wide selection available, they make my house work more pleasant, and I’m able to "read" at least an extra book a month now.

Audiobooks Finished:
Down the Rabbit Hole: An Echo Falls Mystery, by Peter Abrahams (***) – is an average, but entertaining, YA murder mystery.  Mandy Siegfried, the narrator of the audiobook, is especially good at teen dialog and really made the book come alive for me. [YA mystery, for ages 10 and up]

A Crooked Kind of Perfect, by Linda Urban (*** 1/2) – is a sweet, satisfying book about an 11-year-old girl who dreams of playing classical piano in Carnegie Hall, but instead ends up playing the electric organ that her quirky agoraphobic dad bought her. This is a quiet sweet book about coming of age in an eccentric family.   [Middle grade realistic fiction, for ages 9-12 years old]

Non-Fiction Books Finished:
Get Opinionated: A Progressive’s Guide to Finding Your Voice (and Taking a Little Action), by Amanda Marcotte (***) – Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon.net is one of my favorite bloggers. Since she’s blunt, funny, and raised in Texas, calling her a young Molly Ivins is a somewhat apt description, though she’s more into pop culture than Ivins.  Her book is a quick breezy guide of everything progressive from eating local foods to why giving to Planned Parenthood is such an excellent cause.  She even has advice on how to talk to your climate-change denying relatives.  

My favorite part is the beginning descriptions of each type of political person one finds on the Internet: Manic Pixie Dream Girl Liberal Chic, Less Fun Feminist Liberal Chicks, Liberal Dudes, Liberal Dudes Who Scold Feminists About "Important" Issues, Country Club Republicans, Rush Limbaugh Impotents, Your Mom The Swing Voter, etc.  She manages to both accurately sum up and amusingly mock the values of each and every one, including her own category. 

Our Inner Ape, by Frans De Waahl (****) – A fascinating book that explores the social patterns of our two closest relatives– the chimpanzees and the bonobos– and looks at what we can learn about humans from the studies of primates. One of the most interesting finds– for me– was how primate researchers are discovering that social patterns and habits are more environmentally constructed than instinctual. When the primate environment changes, many characteristics like aggression, sexual relations, and social structure change too.

TV:
Better Off Ted – This workplace satire never got the attention it deserved.  Netflix instant now has both 13-episode seasons.  So if you’re in the need for something fun, check it out. It took me about 3-4 episodes before I knew the characters well enough to enjoy the show.  After that, I laughed and laughed. [Watched on Netflix Instant]

Doctor Who (season 5) – I thoroughly enjoyed the new doctor and his companion Amy Pond.  The season had a good plot arc with a satisfying finale. [Watched on BBC America, also available on iTunes]

The Guild  (season 1,2,3) –  Felicia Day (Penny from Dr. Horrible) wrote this amusing story about a World-of-Warcraft-type guild who end up meeting each other in person.  Evidently Felicia Day played a lot of World-of-Warcraft between acting gigs and it shows. Her characters both pay homage to and playfully mock  a lot of the gaming stereotypes: the micromanaging guild leader, the guy who misinterprets banter with any female characters as flirting, the gamer trying to escape life, etc. It’s a fun series for anyone into gaming or anyone who lives with a gamer.  [The series started out as web-episodes and is now available on Netflix Instant.]

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