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« November, 2004 »
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Everyone likes this book and I was no exception. It’s short enough to read in a weekend, or even a long afternoon and it’s so different from other books you’ve read, it stands alone in its class. The general outline is: the narrator is a boy with Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning autistic, and he is keeping notes on the strange thing that happened at his neighbor’s house, the murder of her dog. He is a strange boy and tends to freak people out with his flat affect and lack of cluefulness about normal social cues. As he is writing, we, the readers, get an idea of the actual story, the one that only someone with a fully functioning emotional range would pick up. The backstory, involving his mother and father and some cross-country travel, is also quite good. I’m not sure if everyone read this book the same way I did -- identifying much more with the narrator than anyone else in the book -- but I suspeect some did. Despite the fact that normal Aspergers kids don’t normally communicate like this one does [writing a book is really not something common] this book makes it easy for readers to make that leap of faith and get inside the head of the author, inasmuch as there is a head to get inside. The book is curious and stands alone as a quirky kind of tale.

Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For

It’s fun to read these all totally out of order. This one is back when everyone was moving around, when Clarice has a crush on Gonger, when Mo met Sindney, when the bookstore was just starting to sell sex toys, when sometimes you could glimpse a nipple in these comics. Bechdel delivers. All these books are just great.

A Book of Bees

Very strangely, I finished this book a day before I received a gift of some home-made honey from a friend of mine who was raising bees in his backyard in Seattle. This book is a seasonally-outlined narration of the life of a beekeeper. Hubbell owns 300 hives in the Ozarks and lives in relative solitude tending to them. She describes the work she does with the bees, the interactions she has with the local folks, and the things she has learned as a solitary lady beekeeper. It’s a very meditative short book that is rich with natural imagery and observations about flora and fauna. Hubbell truly cares for her bees as their steward and so her approach to them is not just as her cash cow, but as pars of the natural world that she symbiotically relates to. Lots of practical bee advice fills this book in addition to more personal reflections. In an odd twist at the end, the author reveals that her bee work is just a part of the life she has been living and that she has a new partner and is paring down her bee business -- that she so feverently extolls the virtues of -- to spend more time with her man. I don’t expect every woman naturist to be a hermit, but having the last line in your book about bees be “I like loving a man and I like being loved by him” just makes it seem in a way to minimize all the positive things she said about her previous monastic-style existence.

The Anarchist in the Library

Since it’s November I think I can safely put this book on the 2004 top ten list. I read it on the plane on the way to a workshop on The Information Commons which was somewhat less interesting than this book. Siva is only sort of flirting when he talks about anarchism since his conclusion basically says “we don’t want anarchy, but we need something better than this” He’s a scholar but one who uses the tools he discusses. That, combined with a very readable style and a good sense of humor make this book a must read.

He goes deep into the models for sharing information and explains how our previous pathways to free and open sources of information are being shut down by people who want to be able to charge us for it. Not only that, they have been re-framing the debate, so that wanting to access this information in an easy and user-friendly way gets us branded as criminals ["anarchists"] by the powers that be. They basically make the argument that they’re keeping us safe by adding all these levels of copy protection and legislation when in reality they’re just protecting their own private proerty model and revenue stream that comes from that model.This is, of course, a horribly brief synopsis of a complex and wonderful book. If you’d like more from Siva, feel free to read the FAQ about this book, or just start reading his blog.

The Flame Tree

I got this book in the mail by someone who reads my site. I didn’t know anything about it except that it was as story of a teenaged boy and it tackled some tricky issues about faith and religion in these confusing times. The book is a bit more intense than that. It tracks an American boy who lives with his parents at the Christian missionary hospital they live and work at in Indonesia. The hospital is controversial in the town because local Muslims believe that the health care they offer is just a bribe to encourage people to accept Christ and convert to Christianity. The boy Isaac is not too wrapped up in religious issues except that he knows that when a local fundamentalist starts rising to power he can no longer hang out with his Muslim friend from town. Things go from bad to worse when the World Trade Center is attacked in the US and the climate in the town goes from grudging acceptance to outright hostility. The medical personnel are airlifted out of town except for Issac’s parents who decide to stay behind and Isaac who evacuates a crashing helicopter while suffering from malaria. He is found and held captive by Muslims who try to teach convert him to Islam and, at one point, frustrated with his unwillingness to convert voluntarily, forcibly circumcise him. While the book is listed as a young adult novel and the first person narrator is twelve years old, the graphic violence and hatred [on both sides] make this book a difficult recommendation for teens.

A large part of Isaac’s captivity involves his former teacher from the hospital school teaching him the Quur’ran and how the teachings of Allah do not differ in many ways from the teachings of Christ. For someone with a background in either one of these religions there may have been more to glean from the conversations about the Quur’ran but to my uneducated eye, the general upshot was: Christians are annoying prostyletizers and so are Muslims. While the Muslims are seen in this book as having more of the “bad apple” elements who step over the guidelines of their religion in order to wreak vengeance or retributions, the Christians are also seen as somewhat naive and oppressive in their attempts to convert the local people who already have their own religion that they are quite happy with. There are good and bad people on both sides of the equation and while Isaac does eventually get reunited with his parents and learns to forgive his captors the story does not end on a particularly happy note indicating that there is still much work to be done in support for Christian/Muslim tolerance and understanding.