Death and Facebook

18 May, 2015 Leave a comment

In the fall of 2011, a friend of mine tragically died in a car accident. Today was supposed to be his birthday. He was supposed to turn 29. I still miss the guy. He was one of a kind. I know that’s cliché to say, but for him it really fits the bill. I’ve never met anyone like him. He was truly unique in so many ways. And we lost him in a surprise car accident.

The strange thing about death and social media is that the accounts of dead people often stay active. I got a reminder today that my friend had his birthday today and that felt utterly surreal. I’ve debated back and forth all day long whether or not I should write something on his Facebook page. In the end I decided not to, because it wouldn’t be for him as much as it would be showing others that he’s still in my thoughts. It would be more about me than about him. So I won’t write there. He’s in my thoughts and I cherish his memory that way.

But then there’s a really off-putting thing going on with this whole situation. I went into his profile and there are a handful of posts on there. There are a few “you’re in my thoughts” posts and a nice poem there. And then there’s two or three people who have just written “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!”. It’s the same people in 2012, in 2013, in 2014 and this year. They obviously don’t know that he’s dead and I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. Plenty of people don’t really know what’s going on with their 800 Facebook friends and you can’t fault them for that. But it just rubs me the wrong way when someone has been dead for almost four years and they get a superficial message. I can almost guarantee that these people will keep writing “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!” next year and the year after that and so on. Completely oblivious to the fact that he’s long gone. There’s still happiness there, as the birthday message is generally a nice thing to get. Then again, you know it’s just because people get prompted about “Oh, hey, you have 3 friends with birthdays today!” by the site. How sincere is that nice message? It’s obvious that they don’t know him or they wouldn’t be writing that, because he’s fucking dead, but on the other hand it’s a nice message…

Obviously I can’t get my head around this.

It’s weird.

I’ll leave it at that.

Happy birthday, Jimmy. I really miss you.

2015 Reading Challenge, short review blurbs for a bunch of books

18 May, 2015 Leave a comment

Alright, let’s see here. Clearly I’ve fallen behind on writing reviews for the reading challenge. Hardly a surprise, right? That means it’s time for a catch-up post.

51Ki76Qf64L The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
Science fiction romp where a soldier goes back and forth between Earth and fighting placements against some alien enemy. He’s in stasis on every trip, so centuries pass between every visit to Earth, highlighting the way society changes for every visit. Overpopulation leads to legislated homosexuality, etc. It was okay, but boring here and there. The ending was shrugworthy. Might have been because the narrator of the audiobook was boring.
Finished it on February 13th
Grade: 3 out of 5
Category: A book set in the future

sexcriminals1_coverSex Criminals, Volume 1: One Weird Trick, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
This is a comic book where the two main characters discover, on their own, that they can freeze time by having an orgasm. Then they meet and make sweet love and get the idea to rob banks with the help of this strange ability. It’s funny, it’s thoughtful and the art is beautiful. At some point I’m going to read the parts that follow volume 1.
Finished it on February 15th
Grade: 4 out of 5
Category: A graphic novel

potter1Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
The first Harry Potter book. Doesn’t really need an introduction. I had stayed away from these books for some reason. I really loved this first one, the great adventure of it all. So much so that I found a way to add books number two and three to my list. I listened to it as an audiobook and it was narrated by Stephen Fry who did a fantastic job.
Finished it on March 1st
Grade: 5 out of 5
Category: A book with magic

blyton-enid-fem-gor-ett-fyndFive on Finniston Farm, by Enid Blyton
I used to read a whole bunch of Famous Five books when I was a kid. I found three at my local library and picked this one to read, but I don’t think it would have mattered which one I read, because these follow a set intrigue. The four kids are almost disgustingly proper and friendly. Everyone is friendly and hearty, except for the obvious bad guys and they are obnoxious to the extreme. It has some friendly parts, some exciting parts, the dog barks a bit, there’s a big setback and then they squeeze through a win in the end. Same thing in every book.
Finished it on March 3rd
Grade: 3 out of 5
Category: A book from your childhood

The_Disaster_ArtistThe Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell
I love good bad movies. The Room is the best of the bunch. It’s so bad that it defies belief, but somewhere it twists around so that it becomes entertainingly bad. It was made by the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau. Greg Sestero is the guy who plays the best friend in the movie. This book is part Greg’s tale about how he got to know Tommy in acting class and part how the movie shoot went down. It’s mindboggling. I challenge you to find a stranger guy than Tommy Wiseau. Watch the movie and then read the book. Or listen to it as an audiobook because Greg himself narrates it and his Tommy impression is spot on!
Finished it on March 9th
Grade: 5 out of 5
Category: A memoir

FOOD-A-Love-Story-Book-JacketFood: A Love Story, by Jim Gaffigan
Jim Gaffigan is a stand-up comedian who talks a lot about food. This book has a lot of stuff he already talks about in his various comedy specials, but there’s also new stuff and I listened to him narrating his own audiobook, which turned it up a notch. He knows exactly how to read his own act, when to pitch his voice a certain way and whatnot. Had some slow patches, but also some damn funny stuff. I especially liked the part where he goes through the geography of the US and what food specialties you can find in different parts of the country.
Finished it on March 11th
Grade: 3 out of 5
Category: A funny book

256113_97251958.jpg_510The Birthday Party, by Harold Pinter
At first I was a bit apprehensive about reading a play manuscript. It’s just not the same thing as watching a play or reading a book. You have to do a lot of mental gymnastics to visualize what’s happening between the lines, how long the pauses are, what the characters are doing physically, the way they’re saying things, and so on. But I really liked The Birthday Party. It’s entertaining and sinister and the characters all have their own thing going on.
Finished it on March 12th
Grade: 3 out of 5
C
ategory: A play

3d_daniel-kahneman_svenska_533816f4e087c3642d0889d5Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
This was a looooong book. If at least a third of it was edited out it would have been a lot better. It had a lot of slow, cumbersome parts that felt redundant. Which is a shame, because the parts that felt fresh were very good and enlightening. It’s about how our brains work in different ways, how they take shortcuts and how we can sidestep the laziness of our brains. Listened to it as an audiobook.
Finished it on March 27th
Grade: 3 out of 5
Category: A book with antonyms in the title

Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsHarry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling
Second one of the Harry Potter books and so far it’s the only one that hasn’t been a slam dunk 5 out of 5 for me. It’s still very good, but it felt like it took way too long for the main plot to get going. The Harry Potter books should have a bunch of things going on, sure, but the main plot still needs to be clear and it just wasn’t in this one. It felt tacked on and that dragged the book down. Stephen Fry was fantastic as a narrator, just like for the first one.
Finished it on March 31st
Grade: 4 out of 5
Category: A book by a female author

a0d211af52319b93c4724f8010ac907bHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling
Now we’re talking. This book really had me from the first moment on to the very end and I was crying a lot at the end of it. This was exciting from beginning to end. Not much more to say, really. Solid adventure with, again, excellent narration by Stephen Fry. I kind of lost it whenever Harry’s family was the center of the story. It was after I read this book that I had to make room for the rest of the seven Harry Potter books in my challenge list plan.
Finished it on April 6th
Grade: 5 out of 5
Category: A book that made you cry

En julsagaA Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
This was a wonderful read. A true classic. I’ve watched the Disney animated version before and I know how this one goes, but I’ve never really read the original until now. Dickens’ language is short but very vivid. It hits all the right notes and paints a very clear picture. The book I read also had wonderful illustrations that enhanced the writing. I think everyone should read this, but perhaps not in April, because it felt pretty strange to be reading about Christmas in the middle of spring.
Finished it on April 12th
Grade: 3 out of 5
Category: A book set during Christmas

15839976Red Rising, by Pierce Brown
This book was a real surprise. I listened to it as an audiobook and the narrator Tim Gerard Reynolds is Irish, which he uses to great effect. He switches between his Irish accent and a more posh British one depending on what character is talking. The Irish makes the lower-class people sound a lot more gritty to me. Red Rising is about Darrow, a mine worker (a Red) on the planet Mars who loses everything and becomes a sleeper aristocrat (a Gold) and the goal is for the Golds to have their power usurped and for all the other colors to be part of a new, interstellar democracy. It’s raw, it’s violent, it just screams bloody, sinister revenge on every page and it’s damn satisfying. The only reason it’s not 5 out of 5 is because the military academy parts read like it’s ancient Rome and that just wasn’t my cup of tea. But it’s still a damn good book. After reading it I made room for the sequel Golden Son on my list.
Finished it on April 12th
Grade: 4 out of 5
Category: A book written by someone under 30

EmilJensen_SamladeTankarForNatten_2010-2013Samlade tankar för natten: 2010 – 2013, by Emil Jensen
Emil Jensen is a Swedish jack-of-all-trades artist and about a month ago I got concert tickets as a birthday gift from my girlfriend. They were for this guy called Emil Jensen. I’d listened to a few songs of his before, but didn’t know too much about him. The show was fantastic and wasn’t just music. He also does some spoken word and poetry and he’s right up my alley with his political leanings. After the show I bought his book, but he was out, so I gave him money and wrote down how he should sign it for me and my girlfriend. A few weeks later I got it and read it. It’s pretty short and consists of everyday thoughts about everyday life, although he puts a funny spin on most of it.
Finished it on May 3rd
Grade: 3 out of 5
Category: A book with a number in the title

harry-potter-and-the-goblet-of-fire-2Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling
Again a slam dunk by J.K. Rowling. Stephen Fry is again excellent and the adventure turns pretty grim in the fourth book. I was getting really angry at Cornelius Fudge for being so fucking thick-headed about Voldemort’s return. Goddamn idiot. One thing that became very apparent in this book, that is a lot longer than the first three books, is just how much gets cut from the movies. My girlfriend is a total Harry Potter nut, so we’ve gone through the movies a few times each and now that I’m actually reading the books, it’s astounding to me how much is left out or changed. The movies are still good, but the books are just so much more rich. Shocker, right?
Finished it on May 3rd
Grade: 5 out of 5
Category: A book with more than 500 pages

infodietThe Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption, by Clay A. Johnson
This book has the same issue that Thinking, Fast and Slow does. It just goes on for too long about some things. The last third of the book could also be cut, because it’s only about the American political landscape back in 2011. But before that, the book is very interesting. Or rather, the part that explains how our information processing works. The part that suggests an “information diet” for you doesn’t really do anything for me. Obvious stuff. But it was a quick read and funny at times. The first proper ebook I finished for this challenge. The other was Sex Criminals, but since that was mostly artwork, it’s not the same thing.
Finished it on May 4th
Grade: 3 out of 5
Category: A non-fiction book

golden sunGolden Son, by Pierce Brown
The sequel to Red Rising and this book takes it to another level. The boring Roman stuff is gone and now there’s some proper sci-fi going on with space ships and whatnot. Arms get cut off, people die in George R.R. Martin-like fashion and Darrow is still an interesting protagonist. If there is something I could possibly complain about, it’s that Darrow is just too perfect for most of the time, so much so that it almost gets boring. But the ending was a big kick in the pants and I can’t wait for the third book in the trilogy that will be released next year. Again the narrator was excellent.
Finished it on May 10th
Grade: 5 out of 5
Category: A book with a color in the title

vagenThe Road, by Cormac McCarthy
A punch in the gut. That’s the best way to describe this book. Holy hell, it’s depressing. It’s pure misery on pretty much every page and Cormac McCarthy’s short and unique narrative style is so very fitting for this story. I’ve always loved post-apocalyptic stories and settings and I love the Fallout games and a bunch of movies, but this one took it to a new level. I’ve avoided the movie version of The Road because I wanted to read the book first and it’s been a long time since I read a book that gave me such a vivid image. Close to a perfect novel.
Finished it on May 17th
Grade: 5 out of 5
Category: A book that scares you

How about some numbers? According to my spiffy spreadsheet for this challenge I’ve gone through roughly 6500 pages and I have about 10900 pages left to read this year. I’m on pace to clear 50% of the pages before June is out, so still on pace. I need to read about 33 pages per day the rest of the year but that doesn’t include the audiobooks, but I will get through the rest of the audiobooks no problem. The average grade for my books so far is 3.67, but considering that I’ve gone through most of the books I wasn’t exactly thrilled about reading early on, I expect that average to go up before this challenge is over. I started out at a very low pace in January and February and since then I’ve picked it up, but I still have another gear or two with the paper books. It’s going to be very interesting to compare the final list with the one I wrote on this blog at the start. A lot of books have been switched out for different reasons.

2015 Reading Challenge, first quarter done

6 April, 2015 Leave a comment

It’s been three months and I’m still going strong. I’m 14 books in and I’ll probably finish number 15 tonight when I finally get done with A Christmas Carol. I really haven’t had the motivation to read that one, because come on, it’s a book about Christmas and we’re in the middle of spring. But I want to get it done while I have borrowed it from the library, so I’ll just have to get through it. It’s the same with Northanger Abbey and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Not exactly motivated to read them, because they were books outside of my usual reading preference that I added just because they fit a few categories. I’ve been putting it off week after week, but I should just get it done and read them.

Here’s some stat-wanking, courtesy of my overly ambitious excel chart for this challenge. :)

One problem is that I’ve read a bunch of shorter books, averaging about 260 pages. That means that I’m ahead in the number of books but behind in the number of pages. Apparently I have about 13700 pages left to read in nine months. About 8700 of those will be ordinary paper books. About 4100 will be in audio books, unless I make more switches. Then there’s about 900 left in ebook format. I just messed around a bit more and apparently I’ve read 23% of the total pages, so there’s 77% left.

Speaking of switches. My current list looks a lot different from the one I originally posted on this blog. A few of the changes have been to get a few books I wasn’t really excited about off the list, replacing them with more exciting books I’ve discovered. That’s probably the most annoying thing with this whole challenge and books in general. I constantly find more books I’m excited about. Oh well… The biggest change, though, has been that I happened to discover the Harry Potter books. I’ve listened to three of them so far and they’re excellently narrated by Stephen Fry. A pure joy to experience the story of the young wizard.

Also, speaking of audio books. According to my ridiculous excel sheet, I’ve “read” 2783 pages in audiobooks so far, while I’m only at 974 in paper books and 337 in ebooks. I need to pick up the pace with the paper books. But it’s also pretty obvious that I probably wouldn’t make this challenge without the audiobooks.

Time to get done with A Christmas Carol. I’m also 10 reviews behind. Need to get on that. :) Here’s a list of the books I need to write about:

The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
Sex Criminals #1, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
Five on Finniston Farm, by Enid Blyton
The Disaster Artist, by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell
Food: A Love Story, by Jim Gaffigan
The Birthday Party, by Harold Pinter
Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling

Read on!

2015 Reading Challenge, “Old Man’s War” Review

14 March, 2015 Leave a comment

Audiobooks have become quite the help for me in this challenge. I started listening to them with this book, because I figured I could get some “reading” done in the car to and from work and whenever I was walking somewhere. I used to listen to audiobooks all the time a few years ago, but then I got turned onto podcasts and just kind of forgot about the books. Now I’m at it again and it’s made up for like half of my books at this point. I don’t think I would be keeping up with the pace without them, to be honest.

Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

81uiGyQP67L._SL1500_This was the first book this year that I was really excited to read. I’ve been looking at John Scalzi for a while, been following him on Twitter and whatnot. He’s a cool, thoughtful, funny guy and it seemed like his books would be right up my alley. That was correct. Classic space action is something I’ve read dozens of books about already, mainly in the BattleTech universe. It felt good to go back to that genre. I put the book in the category called “A book by an author you’ve never read before” after going back and forth a few times.

The quick rundown of the story is that John Perry turns 75 and enlists in the Colonial Defense Forces. He gets a new and heavily improved body and has all sorts of adventures. It’s written in first person and there are no slow parts in the narrative. The story is always moving forward, either with action or witty banter. Perry has good things and bad things happen to him and I think Scalzi does a good job conveying the wisdom of a man who’s lived a full life already, while also discovering a new world outside of regular, old Earth. He covers the sci-fi, nerdy stuff like space travel in a way that’s easy enough to understand, making Perry not have “enough math” to understand the hardcore facets of it. And there’s aliens in it, several different species too!

The main character is likeable and you sympathize with him through his ordeals. It’s sad when it has to be, funny when it has to be and serious when it has to be. It strikes the right balance. The action parts of the books are descriptive and paints a good picture. I was never confused about what was happening. At the same time the emotional parts of the book are really spot on.

As I said, I listened to this as an audiobook and the narrator was spot on. That’s really important for me. I actually removed another book from my originally planned list just because the audiobook version I had of it had a really bad narrator with an even worse audio quality.

This book has gotten a few sequels, with at least one more planned for release, and I’m definitely going to read them at some point in the future. I also got myself Scalzi’s new book Lock-in recently just because this was such a good experience.

I rated this 5 out of 5 on Goodreads. Finished it on February 7th.

2015 Reading Challenge, “Söta pojkar är bara på låtsas” Review

11 March, 2015 Leave a comment

For those of you who don’t happen to know Swedish, the title translates into “Cute boys are only make-believe” and I guess that’s a fitting title. This book was interesting in several ways for me personally, but that’s mainly because of the reading challenge and the category this book is in. Other than that, it’s fairly unremarkable.

Söta pojkar är bara på låtsas, by Moa Eriksson Sandberg

9129684021Now, let’s get some basics done first off. This is a young adult novel and considering that I’ve read quite a few of those, it just doesn’t stand up to its competition very well. Just like in Affektion, the protagonist girl just isn’t very sympathetic. Again it’s too much selfishness and whining for my taste. I know that’s just how a lot of teenagers are, but it doesn’t make for a good reading experience.

What made this an interesting read for me was two things. Firstly, I was reading this for the category “A book that takes place in your hometown” and it really fits the bill for that. The book is based on diary entries from the author’s time in upper secondary school, which means that I recognize and visualize most of the locales in the novel when I read it. There’s parties going on at pubs and nightclubs I’ve set my foot in. Here’s the second interesting thing, or should I say VERY interesting thing: The author went to school in the same class as my best friend back then. I actually brought out my old school yearbook from that time and found her. I didn’t hang out with his classmates all that much, but I know that I’ve met her at some point. That made things VERY interesting and transformed the book into a real pageturner. Sadly, I couldn’t find any dirt on my friend.

It’s a basic girl-coming-of-age story with various teenage drama bits sprinkled in here and there. She meets a handful of guys and there’s drunken escapades, regretful sexcapades and plenty of “oh my god, is HE at this party???” moments. It doesn’t focus a lot of friendships. They come in here and there, but the main focus is the protagonist and her crushes. Most of it was forgettable, because if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve met the writer and the book is set in my hometown, the book is mostly a massive shrug.

I had another fairly strange experience after I finished this book. I had to check out what else Moa Eriksson Sandberg had written and found a couple of novels and a few erotica short stories. I had to read those, because the sex in this book was pretty tame and I wanted to see where she can go if she goes all out. Well, they were a couple of weird experiences as well (mythical semi-human creatures, etc), but mostly forgettable.

I rated this 2 out of 5 on Goodreads. Finished it on January 25th.

2015 Reading Challenge, “9-11″ Review

4 March, 2015 Leave a comment

Sometimes I go to the library and just browse aimlessly. I do this even though I already have MANY unread books at home, books that I really want to read. I’m just curious, I guess, and I figure that I will still have my own books after I’m done with the library ones. I don’t always read all of them either. I bring them home to taste them.

9-11, by Noam Chomsky

Chomsky911_000This was one of those books that I didn’t really plan on borrowing, but it caught my eye and then I just buzzed right through it, making it fit into the “A book you can finish in a day” category.

It’s a collection of transcribed interviews with Noam Chomsky over the weeks immediately after the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, Pentagon and the plane that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Chomsky tries to talk about the attack, what led up to it, how and if it could have been prevented, but mostly why it happened. I’ve read other books by him and I’ve seen plenty of him talking and I know that he’s a, from a US point of view, VERY leftist guy. He’s quite open about his criticism of the US government and how it conducts its business around the world. To be fair, I agree with most of his viewpoints, but I also understand how he ruffles a lot of feathers in his homeland.

But yeah, his core argument is that as long as the US is all over the world, putting their hands all over everything, meddling in everyone’s affairs, then there will be backlash and that backlash will come in a form that they can’t really control. He makes this argument over and over in the book, because it consists of plenty of different interviews where he says a lot of the same things. I think it would come across more effectively and better articulated if it were an actual, written book, instead of just a transcript.

Basically this comes down to whether or not you’re a fan of Chomsky. If you’re a conservative, you’re not going to be reached by this book. He’s a bit heavy-handed, but that’s a style I appreciate. So it’s kind of preaching to the choir, at least in hindsight. That hindsight is also pretty interesting. He hits on a lot of points that were later on discovered to be correct, so Chomsky’s world view has a lot of merit.

I rated this 3 out of 5 on Goodreads. Finished it on January 18, 2015.

2015 Reading Challenge, “Affektion” Review

21 February, 2015 1 comment

It’s almost two months into the new year, which means that it’s time to get a few reviews up, otherwise I’m not going to do it when I have a pile of 15 books to review. I’m doing this chronologically, so let’s start with the first book I read this year.

Affektion, by Martin Jern

affektion

This is a Swedish novel that I picked up at the library because I like reading young adult fiction as a way to be able to recommend stuff to students. They’re most often quick and easy to read, so they pass me by quickly and that suits me just fine. Affektion is obviously the Swedish spelling of the word “affection” and I picked up the book before I knew that I was going to do this challenge. After I started the challenge I finally filed this under the category “A book with a love triangle”.

It’s about a girl who is kind of a broken soul. Her mother and father aren’t really there in her life and she has a lot of attitude. The book jumps back and forth in the narrative and we learn pretty quickly that this girl and her best friend use their sexuality as a way to manipulate men and get what they want. It starts when they’re twelve years old and our main character Kate Mess (taken name, obviously) starts drinking and exploring more adult stuff. That’s in the flashbacks. In the “current day” narrative we learn that she’s running from something traumatic and that this experience put a wall between Kate and her best friend. The author also uses Facebook comment threads sprinkled in here and there, mainly by the girls’ circle of friends, to give us an idea of how the others look at them.

I had a hard time reading this book because Kate is just so very unsympathetic. I didn’t care about her at all. Maybe it’s because I’ve worked with my share of broken kids and know how frustrating it can be to see them slip away in whatever chaos they’re in. I know that sounds contradictory, but this girl was the kind of kid who doesn’t even try and who brings it on herself. It’s difficult to explain, but there are kids who try and kids who don’t try, who actively seek out chaos despite having every opportunity to avoid it. She’s like that and therefore, all the bad shit that happens to her in the book doesn’t really make my sympathetic to her. She wasn’t the only broken character in the book. It was a parade of people living on the other side of society.

I also had a hard time reading this book because the narrative was all over the place, in different ways. The time aspect was weird. It wasn’t really clear when the different chapters played out or when the Facebook comments happened. You had to piece that together for yourself and sure, I appreciate novels that don’t hold your hand, but there’s good writing and there’s bad writing as far as that goes. Jern didn’t pull it off with this one. The other confusing thing was that, after some time of reading the book, it became obvious that not only does Kate lie to other people, she’s also lying to the reader, and quite possibly also herself. That made some things pretty inconsistent. I appreciate the creative decision to do that, but considering that the book’s audience is teenagers, I highly doubt many of them will understand it.

It’s a depressing read from start to finish, with unsympathetic characters all over the place, and the narrative choices by the author are annoying. It felt like a waste of time to read this.

I rated this 1 out of 5 on Goodreads. Finished it on January 3, 2015.

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