The Age of Miracles

The Age Of Miracles     DoodleBuddy_Dan_by_Judy-jpg  The Dr. has some questions:

I hope suburban Cali is ready for a dystopian future. Cause it’s coming on fast (or should I say slow) in The Age of Miracles. Our eleven-year-old protagonist and narrator, Julia, just woke up to discover that the days are getting longer. And not in a good way.  The rotation of the Earth has dramatically begun to slow down. One apocalypse, coming right up.

Discussion Questions:

1. Julia’s father Joel is a doctor specializing in high-risk births. When one of his patients dies on his late-night shift, Joel lies to Julia about the woman’s death. Is it okay to lie to someone to protect them from a sad truth? Let’s say, for example, that this person is on vacation and she’s having a really great day? It’s okay under those circumstances, right?

2. Julia prizes the gold-nugget necklace that her Grandfather once gave her. The necklace is lost when she is brutalized by her schoolmate Daryl as he attempts to expose her lack of a training bra. Why does she never recover the necklace? Even towards the end of the book. Not even on the very last page. What do you think happened to the necklace and where is it now?

3. Seth’s mother is dying of cancer. Julia tries to help Seth save a dying sparrow by giving it water. Daryl intervenes and throws the bird over the side of the canyon to its death. Seth returns the favor by throwing Daryl’s backpack over the side of the canyon. What items do you think Daryl’s backpack contained? What’s the deal with Daryl?

4. Seth’s mother has died. As conditions on the planet worsen, Julia tries to help Seth comfort one of the many dying whales that have beached themselves alongside the canyon. They carefully choose what they believe to be the most needy whale. After pouring their meager supply of saltwater over the creature’s brow, they are informed by the man with the white pail that the whale is already dead. Why do you think the pail was white? If the pail had been a different color, how would it have changed the story?

5. Later, Julia is invited to Seth’s house to watch the night sky as the Orion rocket is scheduled to return from space. Seth offers Julia a Coke and some pretzels. Given Seth’s apparent obsession with providing comfort to the doomed and dying, should Julia be a little worried? If you were Julia, would you hang out with Seth?

6. When asked, should an author be expected to answer questions regarding an unresolved issue contained in one of her books? If you were an author and you were contacted by a reader inquiring about a certain missing necklace, how would you respond?

7. Let’s say you, as the hypothetical author, do provide a response, but it’s one of those wishy-washy “up to the interpretation of the reader” kind of answers. Do you think the reader is justified in pursuing a more-definitive clarification?

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J says read BETA by Rachel Cohn

Unknown   J says:

Read this one. It’s a really good story about a teenaged android who first realizes she can taste and it escalates to desire not just for food but for freedom and for a soul. She “emerges” on a Utopian island that was created after the “water wars.” The island is surrounded by chemically engineered water and air to make all the rich humans who visit there feel healthy and blissed out. The island is run on clone labor. The clones are soul-less versions of recently deceased humans.

Our teen droid is a ‘beta’ version, meaning her kind is not yet perfected and prone to defects. At least that’s what the chips in her head are programmed to tell her.
There’s lots of cool stuff in this book like the transportation, the explanation of the state of the world after the polar ice caps melted, the way people communicate (basically like texting but on their actual wrists. It’s called “relaying”). Their video games are a lot like the holodecks in Star Trek Next Gen and they play a fun game called Z-Grav.
The plot moves along and you’re not always as smart as you think, once you feel you’ve got it all figured out.  But it’s YA, so sometimes you are that smart.
It seems ripe for a movie. I hope it catches on so someone will make it. I had a fun time trying to cast it.That’s my latest rec. Enjoy!
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A Spot of Bother a Novel of Mark Haddon

Spot of Bother

DoodleBuddy_Dan_by_Judy-jpg sez:

George has noticed a small rash on his hip. If he chooses to ignore it everything will be fine. He will lend support to his daughter as she prepares for her second wedding. He will give a charming speech at the reception. His emotionally distant son Jamie will happily attend. Jamie might even bring his lover Tony to the wedding. Tony will be welcomed with open arms.

If George ignores that spot of bother, he may even remain blissfully unaware of his wife’s ongoing affair with one of his former business colleagues. He does NOT ignore the rash. To say the least. He becomes more than a little obsessed with doing something about it. Things begin to go badly. Then they get worse. For everyone. A comedy of manners ensues. Irony abounds.

For me, this book is about losing perspective. The characters all run into trouble when they choose to focus on the wrong aspects of their lives. The milestones they are encountering in their lives play into this. When they’re enmeshed in their everyday lives things seem to go well. But when they step back and start questioning things, look out.

I didn’t completely buy George’s rapid spiral into near insanity. But the rest of it rang true for me. There are many truly hilarious scenes that unfold throughout the book. Very funny. And a few quite touching moments as well.

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Thoughts After a First Listen

I bought a new piece of music today. It is GREAT.

My background and depth of experience with classic Soul and R & B are admittedly limited. We don’t own a lot. A little Al Green and Barry White, some Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder, a fair amount of Prince.

Of course, when I was a little kid, there was an education to be had directly from the radio. In the 1970s, Top Forty stations provided lots of wonderful crossover songs, and I was surely influenced by artists like Earth, Wind, & Fire, Diana Ross, and TheSpinners.

Some of it was pure weird fun, (Love Train by the O’Jays,) or straight up sexy, (Let’s Get it On by Marvin Gaye,) or both, (Brick House by The Commodores).

Some of it was overtly political, (War by Edwin Starr, or Ball of Confusion by The Temptations).

Some of the social messages were subtler. Like this one, the songs from Innervisions are incredibly durable, and the songwriting among the best in the history of the United States of America.

Too High by Stevie Wonder from Innervisions (1973 Motown).

INNERVISIONS

INNERVISIONS

Some of it was… well… some of it, though every ounce as soulful, every trace as rhythmic, every bit as bluesy…was disco.

Don’t Leave Me This Way by Thelma Houston from Any Way You Like It (1976 Motown

 

DON'T LEAVE ME THIS WAY

DON’T LEAVE ME THIS WAY

This is the vintage of music that informed my ear as I learned to listen to hip-hop and rap music. It still informs my ear for what Soul and R &B has evolved into with acts like Beyoncé, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, and Justin Timberlake.

Unlike books and poems, records and their songs often have multiple chances make impressions – to unfold artistically before us. I can’t even guess how many times I have literally been impressed by Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, or Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, or Kid A by Radiohead. But I can tell you precisely how many times I have listened to Black Messiah by D’Angelo and The Vanguard. Once. I bought it today and it is GREAT.

I loved this record after just one spin, and it is fun to be able to put these thoughts down without too much background on the release, nor with too many listens stacked up to dilute my first impression.

 

BLACK MESSIAH

BLACK MESSIAH

Black Messiah (2014 RCA) – disclosure of a few things I know:

-I had heard bits of a couple of songs from it on satellite radio and thought, “Huh, this sounds like Prince.”

-It was supposed to come out in 2015 but got an early release. D’Angelo felt that the sentiment and message of this record would have much resonance amid the topical issues in the aftermath of notorious police killings in Ferguson, MO and NYC. After one listen I cannot claim to have picked up on much of that.

D’Angelo’s had a long “absence” and this record is getting lots of acclaim. Actually, critics are flipping out. I can already sense why that is.

-He has help from a ton of BIG names like Questlove and Q-Tip.

So, my first impressions hearing the record as a whole were these: Black Messiah is fantastic and it sounds brand new. There are time signature and percussion elements that remind me of Tom Waits, and there is a lot of guitar-based music here that is reminiscent of our old friend Shuggie Otis.

Aht Uh Mi Hed by Shuggie Otis from Inspiration Information (1974 Epic Records).

SHUGGIE OTIS

SHUGGIE OT

But Black Messiah is also a little time machine. Like it’s brethren from the 1970s, (and VERY much like the records of Prince!!) it is funky and fun, straight up sexy, and sonically weird and experimental. (I will have to make lots of additional listens to get the social and political messages that are promised.)

The opener: Ain’t That Easy

The mid point: Till It’s Done (Tutu)

The closer: Another Life

D'ANGELO

D’ANGELO

Afterthought:

It is super cold and dingy here in early-January. Angry-making cold. Driving down South Street in Lincoln today, I watched a guy step out his front door and chuck a little Xmas tree onto his porch. You know, one of those little three footers.

This three-second play of disposal provided me a nice metaphor for my post-holiday. Especially as I glanced back at some of the end-of-year lists I indulged in.

The tree, now dry and spindly, may once have carried some meaning and enrichment to the fellow. At least it helped to dress up his home and his year a bit. Now it sports an embarrassing droop and is shedding needles on the front porch. It is waiting for its next useful incarnation as mulch.

Some art is rooted and lasting – some art, while no less valid, is decorative, unrooted, and after a while, droops and sheds.

This here D’Angelo record is getting added retroactively to my year-end list for 2014.

8 Jan 2015

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1491 by Charles C. Mann and Why Does the World Exist?

Why does the world  1491 v2

me1I have been dabbling in some non-fiction reading:

I believe this to be true: non-fiction reading fuels the imagination.  And in the depths of this winter I needed my imagination to be poked and prodded some. So I randomly selected some non-fiction books and read with a frenzy.  I just have not taken time to write about the books I waded through / ran through for most of the winter.  But I am going to start.

In your mind’s eye think of things I describe below and tell me if these bits of information aren’t  more colorful, mind-numbing, awesome, frightening, awful, or smelly than any book of fiction you now or in the past have had lying on your dusty bedroom floor.

1491 by Charles C. Mann : The latest thinking is that the Indian population in the Americas in 1491 was between 90 and 112 million.  That’s people.  That’s not jaguars and bison. Think of this: when Columbus set sail for our side of the earth more people lived in the Americas than in Europe.  It was packed here.

But by the start of the 16th century about 80 to 100 million people had been wiped out by disease.  Say these words: influenza, smallpox, diphtheria, and measles (repeat and repeat again because those little pretties didn’t come flying through the Americas just once).  I contend that those 4 words are scarier than any pages horror writers have ever penned.

In the late 1700s George Vancouver explored the Puget Sound and found heaps and heaps of dead bodies lying along the water’s edge – smallpox had just preceded them.  There were only a handful of survivors which the explorer described as ‘pitted’ and as having ‘lost their Eyes’.  This was The Walking Dead – 18th century style.

More quick facts:

  • The pilgrims were thieves
  • Soto’s army in 1539 killed, raped, tortured and enslaved Indians with wild abandon but the worst thing they did was to bring pigs.  These Spanish puercos turned out to be mighty effective biological weapons (if you were rooting for the Spanish)
  • More than half the crops grown today were developed in the Americas
  • It is smart to live at the foot of mountains because that means you have some pretty significant eco-system diversity is in your backyard which is a good thing when eking out survival in a hand to mouth society.

Charles C. Mann has written a follow up book entitled: 1493.  I don’t have the courage to read it.

Why Does the World Exist? An existential Detective Story by Jim Holt

  • Best question in the book: Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • The question that most sounds like a stoned college freshman:  Is the universe and life anything more than a short interlude between two vast nothings?
  • Most vivid description in the book: Universes may be “as plentiful as blackberries”
  • 2nd best description in the book: The big bang was like “a party girl jumping out of a cake.”
  • There were endless sentences and sections in the book that baffled me even after re-reads or rereads of rereads and so it is hard to pick just one.  But here is a sample of one: “Nothingness is a closed spherical spacetime of zero radius.”  There is not one part of my brain that understands that string of 9 simple words.
  • Spoiler Alert:  You never really get an answer to the question posed in the title.  But its still a mind blowing read.
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