Power in Ambivalence

Power in Ambivalence

book review on

nonsense

“Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing” by Jamie Holmes

Is there power in not knowing? What do we gain when we are in the dark, confused, and unsure about where a string of events or our lives in general are going?

Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes assures the reader that strength can come from ambiguity and ambivalence if we only know how to harness the doubt.

In this slim volume of 230 pages of heavily researched text (and an additional 100 plus pages of notes) there is a blend of science, history and modern events that couple to illustrate Holmes’ point that perhaps not knowing everything is a good thing. Being willing to be a patient person who doesn’t crave the closure most humans are hard-wired to go through hell and back to receive, can pay off in the workplace as well as for a more fulfilling life.

Holmes struggles with the point he may be trying to make through his series of complex speech and examples. Maybe it’s no coincidence that a book on ambiguity and confusion is an indefinite and unclear thing. Go figure.

Examples to make the point that sometimes there is no hard and fast point on things are pulled from various places including the Waco, Texas incident with the Branch Davidians; the unpopularity of Midi’s in the late 60’s and 70’s; Ducati racing and improvement strategies; natural disasters and our perspectives after the fact; card decks that aren’t all they appear to be at face value; and the very real and very terrifying over testing that happens in the medical field every day. The most effective of these examples comes across in the chapter, “Fifty Days in Texas” that highlights the negotiations behind Waco, what went right, and why things went terribly wrong when closure was seized too firmly and grey areas were miscoded to disastrous consequences.

The book is broken into three parts that include: “Making Sense,” “Handing Ambiguity,” and “Embracing Uncertainty.” Holmes uses these three parts to try and make sense of the confusion, and overall satisfies this reader.

Even with the complexity of getting through the book, the work is interesting and entertaining. I come away from the book with no solid conclusion on anything, and an inability to say anything for certain. In this respect, Holmes has succeeded in creating Nonsense.

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The Space Opera That Just Sort of Spaced Out

Armada

Book Review

on

Armada

The Space Opera That Just Sort of Spaced Out

Everything was there for Armada. A great set-up, a semi-likable (albeit flawed) hero, and something not quite right on a quest that would change not only this hero’s journey, but also, the world, forever.

Only, when put into practice, Armada is painfully dull. The characters are flimsy and soggy as wet cardboard. The action sequences read like instruction manuals. The pop-culture references that made Ernest Cline’s first novel a hit are leaned heavily upon, and, more often than not, fail to connect. Because of these things, all the novel’s signature moves and climactic revelations take a steep nosedive, crash, and burn.

Armada had a high bar to clear to begin with. Cline’s first novel, Ready Player One, was brilliant. Easily holding a place in my top 10 favorite book list, the novel has intelligence, humor, and a cleverness that sets it apart. Yet, Ready Player One does have shortcomings. The most notable is the lack of realness, depth, and interest in his characters that is needed. This flaw came out big time in Armada with the main character Zack, and extended throughout. Zack’s mentor shows up in the beginning, offers some sage wisdom, and departs the book almost entirely. The rest of the characters function in a similar manner where they do what is predictable and cliche, and spin the machine of deus ex machina that the story revolves upon.

Because of this, a lot of the book is description of battles and how the larger arc of the alien invaders society and the Earth Defense Alliance (EDA) work. Without characters to make these things relevant, it’s hard to focus on caring about these things. This made the book extremely tedious to finish. Armada calls itself a “space opera” when it comes to genre, but it didn’t deliver in the tradition of the most famous space opera that it references repeatedly: Star Wars.

The redeeming point of Armada is that the ideas are solid and fresh. The aliens that are the villains in this book are intelligent and formidably foes. The ties to present day society and the cultural landmarks as well as nerdom history are thoughtfully incorporated. I appreciate them even though I feel like I only recognized about 90% of them.

Overall, Armada feels like it was rushed to publication. A revision with some support for the characters and some paring down of the history behind all the workings of the forces behind the forces in the book would have greatly benefited the work. I’m still very much a fan of what Ernest Cline does. He also seems like just a really cool guy. I hope the theatrical version of Ready Player One will be only the beginning of his rise in popular fiction. I hope that Armada sails under the radar and flies far….far away.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via Blogging for Books. This, in no way, influenced my review of above work.

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obliqueERNEST CLINE is a novelist, screenwriter, father, and full-time geek. His first novel, Ready Player One, was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller, appeared on numerous “best of the year” lists, and is set to be adapted into a motion picture by Warner Bros. and director Steven Spielberg. Ernie lives in Austin, Texas, with his family, a time-traveling DeLorean, and a large collection of classic video games.

Spinster’s Beautiful Cover Design Draws More Interest Than Content

spinsterSpinster’s Beautiful Cover Design Draws More Interest Than Content

a book review by

Erica Tuggle

If we were judging Spinster by its book cover, this one would be a home run. The attractive, young looking woman on the front, proclaiming spinster-hood seems like a battle cry feminists can rally behind. Not to mention that this design is coupled with the well-written book blurb within the inside flap of the book, promising us insight into why over 100 million women (and growing) are electing to forgo marriage in favor of more freedom; ignoring the choice set before all females from the earliest playtime imaginings, who to marry and when?

With such a high bar to clear, a bar of such intrigue, it was highly disappointing to find that this book missed the mark. Spinster promised to include Kate Bolick’s story of electing to remain single and embrace all the opportunities it affords, but in actuality, the book leans heavily on the memoir aspect and lightly on pertinent interesting information.

Bolick, 45, (pictured on the cover, and looking all of about 28) details her life thus far through her relationships with men referred to in an alphabet soup of single letters, and also through her “awakeners”: Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edith Wharton. The factoids about the women who influenced Bolick’s decision to remain unattached are interesting, but not penetrating. Bolick’s own story of relationship interactions reads like a polished and fussy journal entry of hindsight revelations. I was desperately seeking interesting reasons why women would choose to buck tradition and go their own way, but Bolick’s window is small and extends no further than Victorian era ladies and her own privileged upbringing and opportunities.

Bolick failed to get an emotional or intellectual response from me with Spinster. The only moment I found myself wanting to hear her story was when she related her last days with her mother with the reader. Perhaps, like Bolick opines of other literary works, Spinster is akin to some books find you when you need them, and I’m not the demographic she was searching for. At least I can offer kudos to her for her choice in “spinsterhood” and for sharing her story.

I received a copy of “Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own” through the site Blogging for Books.

Being a Good Scientist Prized Over Differentiation of Sexes in “Headstrong”

Headstrong

Headstrong 52 Women Who Changed Science–and the World 

by Rachel Swaby

The pivotal line of this book is delivered by Hertha Ayrton, who was a scientist, an author, a close friend of Marie Curie, and the inventor of a fan that dispersed noxious gas away from soldiers. She is quoted as saying: “Personally I do not agree with sex being brought into science at all. The idea of ‘women and science’ is entirely irrelevant. Either a woman is a good scientist or she is not; in any case she should be given opportunities, and her work should be studied from the scientific, not the sex, point of view.”

This is the standard of measure of all the women in the book Headstrong by Rachel Swaby. In this work, Swaby covers the lives and contributions of 52 women in varying branches of science including invention, physics, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and more. Why 52? Swaby reasons that there are 52 weeks in a year, and so in reading this book you can learn about a different female scientist each week.

Each selection is just a snapshot of their life and their lasting impact to human progress and innovation. Some of these portraits are only two pages long; the longest is only about 5 pages. Although each segment is brief, the value of having so many different contributions by women compiled together effectively drives home the point of the impact women have made to the umbrella of science area which they fall under and upon the larger world.

The work is fact-filled, interesting, full of trivia, and delivers strong evidence of the value of female scientists without harping on or getting lost in hot-button issues like male dominance in science and exclusion of women in the field. The book deals in facts, and these include the struggles women had to go to in obtaining education and standing in their passions within fields where they were the glaring minority.

My favorite profiles included those of Gerty Radnitz Cori, a Biochemistry scientist responsible for our understanding of glycogen; Virginia Apgar, who developed a test to establish newborn health standards; Marry Anning, a pioneer in paleontology and fossil discovery;  Tilly Edinger, a Jewish woman who encountered Nazi targeting in establishing paleoneurology; Rachel Carson, the voice behind environmental awareness and author of “Silent Spring”; Rosalind Franklin, whom developed a structure of DNA that was “borrowed” by Watson and Crick; Hedy Lamarr, an well-known actress who also worked in tandem to invent a system for coded radio waves to aid torpedo navigation during war-time; and household name Florence Nightingale, responsible among many other contributions for her statistics work and suggestions for improved hospital conditions like better lighting and quiet time for recuperation that are still being pursued today.

Headstrong was enlightening and kept my interest. I see this being a valuable tool for students in researching these scientists, and grasping the timeline of scientific discovery more fully through human interest stories such as these. For me, this would be a recommended reading for college freshman or AP high-schoolers. The work is well-researched and written, and with such a variety of topics of interest that spurred me to want to know more about each of these women.

I would highly-recommend this read to those who love science, history, feminism, and generally just a good read.

#4StarRead

Interested? Buy it from Random House

More info on this author at: Rachel Swaby

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Do you really read THAT much? (March 2015 Edition)

Here’s the thing. My current job allows for quite a bit of time to read between helping one customer and the next. Between this, and the 30 minute commute to and from work each day, I end up reading and listening to a lot of books.

With this in mind, I decided I would move my reviews I had been doing on GoodReads.com to my blog. This way, I could do a monthly round up of what I had read and what I thought about it. I am also using Instagram (cats_caffeine_chapters) to post photos and one to two sentence reviews on these for a more weekly update.

I’ve currently read 40 books this year, and have a goal of reading 100 by this year’s end. Although I have about 120 books on my to-read list on < https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8597152.Erica_Tuggle > , I welcome more suggestions. Because…books.

All the books below, have pretty high ratings, but I attribute that to just having a good reading selection on my shelf. The books I have there now are pretty likely to be ones I want to read. I’ll be branching out and trying suggested reads outside my typical genres soon though.


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Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville 


Oh Melville, we’ve had a history haven’t we? I initially tried reading this classic author back in high school with his most notable work: Moby Dick. That went down like a row boat with a hole in it.

Melville is descriptive. Very descriptive. And “Billy Budd, Sailor” is no exception. This slim volume that I listened to via Hoopla Digital’s audio book service had a listen time of 4 hours for a story that could have been told in about 30 minutes.

The story itself wasn’t shocking. A handsome youth at sea, young Billy Budd, is beloved by all except the churlish Master at Arms. Master at Arms sets Billy Budd up for dishonor, Billy Budd retaliates, and the plot thickens (a little).

If you are looking to read Melville and find yourself seasick at the thought of tackling the tomb of the White Whale, give Billy Budd,Sailor a try. The view painted by Melville is nice if nothing else.

#3StarRead


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The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman


Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. When I heard he had a graphic novel, published years prior to the release of Harry Potter, that detailed the story of a bespectacled boy and his owl beginning the journey of the call to magic, I knew I had to read and compare.

Fortunately, The Books of Magic series (only the first written by Gaiman) is more an ode to Joesph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey.” And for the record, Gaiman defended J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series by saying they both drew from standard story archetypes but were both stories of different measure.

The artwork in books of magic is beautiful. The story was dark, intriguing, and full of Easter egg nods to Gaiman’s highly excellent Sandman graphic novel series. Read Sandman first, and then cleanse the palate with this gem.

#5StarRead


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A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons


This is a short volume that details, quite succinctly, what one marriage was like. The story is told in alternating chapters by the husband and wife, and stays true to a delightful, simple Southern tone throughout. There’s drama, passion, sadness, and truth. It smacks a bit of required school reading, but that isn’t a ding against its performance. It’s a Oprah book club selection, so you know it’s good.

For a more in depth description, see here: http://www.amazon.com/Virtuous-Woman-Oprahs-Book-Club/dp/0375703063

#5StarRead


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Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut


I’m a Vonnegut junkie. I am making it my goal to read one of his works each month until I’ve run through the whole lot. Although this one is not my favorite overall, (that honor goes to Cat’s Cradle) I enjoyed the puns and wit that Vonnegut always brings to the table.

Like many of his works, Slapstick deals with an alternate future in which an apocalypse has already commenced. The President of New York, aged and possibly senile, is recounting his life from strange birth to strange now. Light on the satire and heavy on the ridiculous imagery, this one was another pleasant read.

#4StarRead


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Shotgun Lovesongs by Nicholas Butler


This one took a long time to get through. This was not because it was a bad read, but rather it was one that I listened to via audio book on my daily commute. Yet, this story is perfect for car stereo and views of the open road. “Shotgun Lovesongs” details the story of a small town and the tight knit group that belongs to it. There is a loose character based on the musician Bon Iver in the form of the fictional character of Leeland, which may mean more to true fans than it did to me.

As it is, the novel is a solid work. The characters are vivid and lovable, even with all of their faults on display. The ending felt a bit cobbled together, but the story probably could have gone on forever, so it’s as good an ending as any. I recommend the audio book for the variety in voice actors you get that bring the story more to life.

#4StarRead


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Yes Please by Amy Poehler


Amy Poehler reminds me of a good friend I had in high school that would come by my lunch table everyday, reach over my shoulder, and pick off one of my croutons from my homemade salad. She’d tell me if the croutons were good or if my parents needed to switch brands back to the cheesy garlic kind.

Quaint, although perhaps pointless to the rest of the world, stories like these is what you are going to get in “Yes Please.” Amy Poehler wrote this book mid-career and with little enthusiasm for the idea of completing a book. I don’t blame her. Between just finishing up Parks and Recreation, raising two sons, occasional movie roles, and strong remaining ties to SNL she seems to have better things to do than to tell us her history that compares pretty closely to her Wikipedia page.

Granted, the book isn’t bad. It’s full of positive affirmations and real-talk to the 20 somethings that I imagine she primarily envisioned reading this book. She’s clever and determined and her bio-thus-far shows all this. Instead though, you’d probably benefit more from just seeing what Poehler has done with a few episodes of Parks or rifling the archives of SNL. Hell, if you’re feeling brave, rent Baby Momma.

#3StarRead


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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


I love single science subject books. Goodreads has gotten wise to this and started to recommend all in this book genre to me. The best thing about the single science subject books is that you get the knowledge of the science subject matter as well as a dollop of the humanity behind the concept and how it came to be.

Henrietta Lacks, forever known to the world for her HeLa cell contribution, was just another name before this book was published. Afterwards though, the recognition and fame that her contribution deserved was brought to light. Her life itself is a fascinating slice of Americana, her struggles are tragic, and she (like her cells that live on today) was an indomitable force. Even if you aren’t “science-y,” the story is worth knowing.

#5StarRead


FragileThings

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman


Another Gaiman? Yes, another Gaiman. Always another Gaiman.

This Gaiman work is a collection of his short stories. These bite-sized snippets were fun, but always left me hungry for more. Each of his short stories could easily become longer works.

I listened to this on audio book as read by the author, and that’s the best way to encounter Gaiman and his delightful accent. My favorite poem by Gaiman “The Day the Saucers Came” is included in this selection, and there’s enough of a mix of horror, fantasy, fiction based stories to please almost any reader.

#4StarRead


what if

What if? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe


Have you ever wanted to know what would happen if the Earth all of a sudden stopped spinning? Have you wondered what a periodic table composed of the actual elements would look like? How long would it take for the last artificial light source to go out if all humans were gone? If you have asked yourself these questions, you are a strange one. But you are in good company, because apparently many others are asking just as strange and unsettling questions that can be answered with a little stretch of the imagination and a  whole lotta science know-how.

Former NASA engineer, Randall Munroe, answers these questions and about 50 more in this book. Some of it went way over my head, but all of it was intriguing. If you like weird science or have a thing for factual apocalypse trivia, this is a book for you. My favorite part was the “Questions from the Weird and Worrying File” segments that Munroe would do in-between chapters. (Bonus: The audio book is read by Will Wheaton who has the perfect voice for this kind of stuff)

#4StarRead


Darkness

Darkness Casts No Shadow by Arnost Lustig


This is a book about the Holocaust, and so saying that I enjoyed this book has room for misinterpretation.

Everyone has heard of Elie Wiesel, but he’s only one of many who have Holocaust survivor stories to tell. Arnost Lustig’s novel, based on his own experiences, is different from Wiesel’s “Night” though in that most of the action occurs between two boys who have escaped a transport train car and are walking the woods to their new life. The portraits of their time in the concentration camps is told by way of dream and flashback sequences.

The ending is as perfect as it gets for this subject matter. The story is just long enough to resonate and stick with you for a long time. This is a classic that slipped through the cracks somehow. For teachers and students looking for something different to remember the Holocaust, this is a must read.

#5StarRead


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Room by Emma Donoghue


Told from a child’s perspective, Room is a portrait of a boy and his mother who have been locked away in a garden shed for years. Our narrator Jack knows nothing of the world outside Room, does not even believe there is an Outside. The writing is masterful in its manipulation of the language to tell the story from his view. Room tells the story of Jack and his mother’s captivity, their escape, and what life is like Outside.

Room kept me in its thrall quite easily. It is a definite page turner that has easily earned its place on best-seller lists.

#4StarRead


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It’s a Slippery Slope by Spalding Gray


Slippery Slope is a narrative by the late Spalding Gray. The work is meant to be read aloud in an auditorium during one of Gray’s traveling tours. As such, the print version lacks what an author reading would give to it.

The story is about Gray’s attempts to learn to ski coupled with the rocky time he is having as one end of a love triangle between a long-time girlfriend and a mistress. When the mistress becomes pregnant, the real-world shenanigans ensue. Gray was having health problems as he wrote this one, and concludes the work with hopes for his health to be on the upswing. Unfortunately, this was not the case and this is one of the last things he wrote.

The work didn’t do much for me, but it may appeal to an older age range or maybe just those into skiing?

#2StarRead


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Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo


This book goes way back…like approximately the year 1709 back. As such, it has some proverbial wisdom and some really dated crazy stuff.

The book involves sayings from Tsunetomo who was a Samurai to a Lord who looked down on the practice of Seppuku (disemboweling yourself with a sword) and therefore forbid his warriors to do so upon his death. This led to Tsunetomo becoming a monk and spewing his good ole days story to anyone who would listen.

These stories in Hagakure mainly involve who Seppuku’ed who. Living with honor and not fearing death is a central theme. There are some nuggets of wisdom about living a good life, but there’s also some hate speech against women and talk of how best to behead a man. All advice may not be applicable to your life, but do what you will with it. For my part, my rating is on its usefulness to present day and readability (very easy).

#3StarRead


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God Shaped Hole by Tiffanie DeBartolo


Ugh. This book was a workout. First off, its cover is misleading. The front talks about how a gypsy predicted main character’s true love would die young and leave her alone. Spoiler Alert: This happens. Yet, the gypsy and all that is more like an after thought that gets brought up in prologue and last chapter as a sort of deus ex machina.

The work is an obvious first novel from DeBartolo, who is trying to channel the struggling writer story and rocky love life into a novelized version. Her main character Beatrice and her love interest Jacob are vain, selfish, boring people who have kinky sex at almost every opportunity. Jacob has some misogynistic tendencies that come into the light in a disturbing “sexy rape” scene that still makes me shudder. Beatrice is a poor, basic white girl who makes a great living selling her uncomplicated jewelry. She gets her kicks making fun of everyone who isn’t as deep as she is, and she hates her doting and supportive parents almost as much as she hates when Jacob supports her.

This book…(shakes head sadly, knows she must go on just a little further to spread the truth)

Plus, there’s enough subplots within one-half of the book to sink it. There’s a dead dad, and a missing dad, and a new life plot, and a relationship, and another death, and ex boyfriends and girlfriends all over the damn place.

Painfully, I admit, that I wrote something similarly emo when I was in college. At least, I self published and kept the majority of the world from my diary-esque ramblings.

#2StarRead


That’s it for March. Hope everyone has a happy April, and look for my next book round up then. In the meantime, I’ve got a movie review podcast called Movie Vs Film that my friend Bentley Little and I are doing. Check out episode 1 at : movievsfilmpodcast.bandcamp.com

Book Review: Furry Logic (10th Anniversary Edition)

This month I requested from Bloggingforbooks.com a copy of Furry Logic “A Guide to Life’s Little Challenges” by Jane Seabrook. I was in need of a light, fluffy read to deal with the holiday madness that is in full swing, and Furry Logic came through on this front. The book is full of bright, cute renderings of birds, cats, reptiles, and other animals of both domestic and exotic claim. Accompanying these are clever, sassy, sometimes inspirational one-liners. (i.e. “I try to take it one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once). It will be a quick read for adults, but is an enjoyable giftbook option for pretty much anyone. It could also be an enjoyable storytime addition for a child. If you are in need of a light, fluffy, fun read, pick this one up.9781607747161

Book Review: Curl Up with Love Letters to Felines and, of course, Your Own Kitten

The days have turned chilly, and it’s getting harder and harder to drag myself from the warmth of the bed and into the cold winds of winter. With one to three fat and sassy felines on the end of the bed at any given time, it’s even more difficult to leave the purring and languishing to join the supposed “real world” of work and (shudder) humans who claim the “dog person” status.

And this all has been made so much harder after reading “A Letter to My Cat,” by Lisa Erspamer a book whose sole purpose seems to be making me want to run home and cuddle with my kitten. This is a beautiful book, filled with wonderful photography of cats, cats and more cats. If I wasn’t a crazy cat woman already, I could appreciate how just downright pretty this book is. And then, as an added bonus, the book is full of anecdotes and odes to cats from all walks of life. Most of the cats of the book are companions to the rich and/or famous. Jackson Galaxy (The Cat Daddy from the show “My Cat From Hell), Kat Von D, actor Fred Willard, actress Amy Smart, Dr. Oz, musician Joe Perry, and Mariel Hemingway are just a few of the celebrities who are included in this book paying homage to their cats. The stories range from amusing to touching to inspirational. And of course, the main selling point of this book is that it features a letter written to Internet superstar cat, Lil Bub.

This book would delight any cat lover, and might even convince someone of the dog loving persuasion that adding a kitten to the household might not be such a bad idea. With our Internet already overrun with cat love, this book finds good company in being a print version of the best of the best kind of love for our companions and all their antics. Seriously, already, go buy it!
-Anna RK

PS: If you are a dog lover, don’t fret, Erspamer did a collection of epistles to pooches called “A Letter to My Dog.”

PPS: I received this book courtesy of the BloggingForBooks Web site. All the thoughts and opinions expressed herein this blog though are my own.