The latest Fforde novel, Shades of Grey, is the first in a series of books about a future world known as Chromatacia. If you’ve seen my review of his first Thursday Next novel, The Eyre Affair, or if you’re a fan of the author, you already know that fantasist Fforde writes some of the most intriguing speculative fiction around today.
Science Fiction and Fantasy often takes us to bizarre and strange worlds—there’s nothing new about that—but few fictional landscapes are as strangely original, weird and screwball as Fforde’s settings. In so many ways, they are far removed from the conventions and notions of previous speculative writings.
I’ve decided the best way to give you a taste of this novel, is present some of the “what if” questions Fforde had to mull over as he was concocting this delightful work. Here we go…
What if humanity was divided into a hierarchy based on what color individuals could perceive? Protagonist Eddie sees only shades of red, and is classified as a “Red.” Heroine Jane is a “Grey.”
What if your standing in society was based on the level of color perception you have? If you see more purple than other Purples in your community, you become a governing prefect. See more green than other Greens? You’re a Green Prefect.
What if your job was determined by your color perception? You wouldn’t want to be a Grey, since you would work long hours performing sometimes back-breaking duties.
This book is funny, smart, goofy, thoughtful, suspenseful and sinister all at the same time; an unusual stew fitting of Fforde’s most unusual world.”
What if viewing certain colors could heal, or inebriate, or even kill? You don’t call the doctor in this world, you send for the Swatchman.
What if genetic engineering had made humans night blind? Our pupils would be much smaller, for one thing. (And what if other genetic modifications unfortunately led to the far-to-often loss of ears, eyebrows, and fingers?)
What if society was based on a rule book that governs virtually every aspect of life, from what two colors can legally marry, to when you can drink Ovaltine, to what objects can be manufactured.
What if the rule book accidentally left out the manufacture of spoons? Spoons would become some of the most prized objects in the world!
What if some horrible catastrophe had happened hundreds of years in the past that led to this color-centric world?
What if this colortocracy, and these genetic modifications, and all of these rules had one goal: to keep human society in stasis, and to keep the true rulers in charge?
And what if you asked too many questions?
This book is funny, smart, goofy, thoughtful, suspenseful and sinister all at the same time; an unusual stew fitting of Fforde’s most unusual world.
Have you read Shades of Grey or other Jasper Fforde novels? Let us know what you think about his one-of-kind creations.
Why do the vast majority of human beings believe in the supernatural? With the advance of science and the continuing discoveries about the natural processes behind human life, it would seem that we would be moving toward a more rational way of viewing our lives, our planet, our universe. But no. We still believe in the benevolent gods. We still attach superstitious qualities to inanimate objects and personal rituals. We still knock on wood. We still throw salt over our shoulder.
Experimental psychologist Bruce M. Hood believes our very mind construct leads to irrational beliefs, and he presents his hypothesis in a stunning and mind-bending book, SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable.
Think you’re immune to superstition? Ask yourself these questions:
• Would you wear a sweater if you knew it had been worn by a serial killer? (Feel a little creepy?)
• How would you feel if you were able to try on a sweater that had been worn by Mr. Rogers? (Get all warm fuzzies inside?)
• If a person offered to give you $100 in exchange for your soul, would you take it? (If you believe we don’t have souls, why does this still make you feel a little fearful? If you believe you do have a soul, why do you believe this person could actually purchase it and own it?)
Hood shows us how the supersense develops early and independently as a child develops, before religious or cultural beliefs are passed on. He covers the nature of phobias, our attachments to objects (like a blankie), the question of mind-body dualism and the possible illusion of free will. He explains the difference between religion and secular superstition, considers our nature as psychological creatures who recognize sentience in others, talks about the influence of dopamine, and looks at the impact of brain disorders and injuries (like Capgras Syndrome) that may have something to tell us about the supersense.
The supersense comes from our intuitive reasoning systems and so is part of our makeup.”
In the end, Hood believes our intuitive senses will always play an essential role in our species. Indeed, it appears to have served us fairly well in our evolutionary history. He writes, “I think the supersense will persist even in a modern era because it makes possible our commitment to the idea that there are sacred values in the world.”
And that, perhaps, is what makes us special as human beings.
How strong is your supersense?
When my Aunt Lela was sent home with hospice several years ago, I was in charge of her initial care. One of the first items of business was gathering supplies so we could give her a proper sponge bath. I gave my nephew a list of items to pick up. My nephew looked at the list and asked, “What’s a dish pan?” I laughed.
My friend Ann told me a tale about her niece opening a cabinet filled with record albums. “What are these, Aunt Ann?” she asked. We laughed.
It’s always a little funny to me when a young person asks about a strange product or device from the past. Times do change, and we all remember asking our parents and grandparents about something we found in the kitchen drawer or out in the tool shed. But I get a rather odd feeling when I contemplate the fact that young people have never known a life without certain products or conveniences. I never knew life before television. Today’s young people have never known life before the Internet. And because they were born cyber babies, they have taken to this technology like the proverbial fish to water. My first phone was wired to the wall and confined to a room. Their first phone is a mobile texting device that can access a variety of social media websites. It’s a little unnerving for those of us who remember life before the triumph of personal technology.
While we love our modern devices and services, what kind of price do we pay for spending so much time with them? Susan Maushart wondered the same thing, and she decided her teenagers were spending way too much time connected to cyberspace. She decided to disconnect the family for six months, and tells the story in her new book, The Winter of Our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept with Her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale.
Not only did Maushart pull the plug on the Internet, she turned off the TVs and the video game box, and restricted use of cell phones. What followed is what the author calls an “immersion in RL (real life).” Saxophone was practiced, board games were played, books were read, grades improved, and face to face conversation became the norm. You can read more about the family’s experiment here, and how it changed their lives.
And now the big questions for those of you with children or grandchildren: How do you think technology is impacting your young ones’ lives for good or ill? Have you ever restricted a young person’s use of technology? What is family life like with today’s technology versus the family life you experienced while growing up?
Don’t have young people in your life? Then, tell us how your life pattern has changed with the advent of technology. Do you have fewer face-to-face get-togethers with friends? Or has cyberspace and social networking actually improved your social life?
All good questions. Let’s talk. Post your comments, thoughts and concerns below. Thanks!
Mr Young can worry about the end of the world, while one of my colleagues and I worry about what new titles are coming out in 2011.
Coming to Amazon, February 1st is Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. Booklist gives it a Starred Review, Ravishing, elegiac, funny, and brilliantly inquisitive, Russell’s archetypal swamp saga tells a mystical yet rooted tale of three innocents who come of age through trials of water, fire, and air. –Donna Seaman
Then for those Jasper Fforde fans, I know there are lots and lots of those folks around, here comes One of Our Thursdays is Missing. This is a return to BookWorld and the Thursday Next series. I hate to admit I couldn’t get into Shades of Grey, it was just too much of a struggle to get my colors straight.
Looks like you’re going to have to wait until March for this one.
New York Times bestselling author Sarah Addison Allen is bringing us a new one, that will welcome you to her newest locale: Walls of Water, North Carolina, where the secrets are thicker than the fog from the town’s famous waterfalls, and the stuff of superstition is just as real as you want it to be. Titled Peach Keeper, this looks like another excellent work by Allen. To remember her Girl Who Chased the Moon, go back to this trailer.
One of my very favorite authors, Ian Rankin is coming out with a new one, The Complaints. I’m going to miss Rebus desperately. But I’ll have to give this new Inspector Fox a try. Any year with an Ian Rankin book in it, is going to be a good year.
So WHO are you waiting to read? I’ve gone on long enough, comment your authors in waiting, so we can all add them to our TBR (to be read) stacks. It’s going to be a chilly winter, so stack up and get started.
So, Kitty’s starting off the New Year in a hopeful mood. Not so much me. I had the misfortune of watching a fascinating show on the History Channel the other night that scared me witless. Now, I’ll be the first to admit there is a lot on that cable channel that is basically BS, created to pull in big ratings. (Ancient Aliens, anyone?) But Prophets of Doom, which aired on Wednesday, was both sobering and pretty much legit, based on the news and articles I’ve already read.
Check out their bios, plus any links I’ve provided to their written work:
Michael Rupert, a controversial investigative journalist, spells out the big picture, focusing on the collision of peak oil and the population explosion. He’s author of Confronting Collapse and Crossing the Rubicon.
Dr. Nathan Hagens, economist, sees an economic collapse in our future. He compares our current world economy to a “global ponzi scheme.” Hagens is also fascinated with humanity’s inability to confront long-range problems because of our built-in cognitive dissonance, which lets us “discount” dangers if they are not staring us in the face. (You can read Hangens’s ideas on human “discount rates” here.)
John Cronin, co-author (with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.) of The Riverkeepers, reminds us that life itself is not possible without access to clean water, access that is dwindling rapidly as the world population grows and pollution increases. Time magazine named him a Hero of the Planet in 1999.
John Howard Kunstler is the author of The Long Emergency and Home From Nowhere, as well as other works that deal with the depletion and increasing costs of fossil fuels and other converging world crises that demand we transform the way we live if we are to survive.
Professor Hugo de Garis is a researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, and his concern is the eventual evolution of AI intelligence to the point where our machines will become hostile to humanity.
Following a round table discussion, the six gentlemen decide that the coming water and economic crises are the most pressing, although all admit that a large enough bit of nuclear terrorism could trump that. The threat of hostile AIs is considered the least eminent, since the other potential crises could slow down or even halt further technological development.
After all of this doom and gloom, I needed a pick-me up. Cue the video!
I was feeling so much better… until I saw the cover story in the recent National Geographic Magazine! Ugh!
Over the Christmas break, I read the novel Room.
If you’ve heard about Room in the press, or happened across some “best of” lists with brief reviews, you can probably understand why a few of my friends questioned the wisdom of diving into this new work by Emma Donoghue—especially during the “most wonderful time of the year.”
On the surface, the book sounds dark and depressing; obviously, Donoghue had to go to a dark place to write this. But our world is full of darkness, and one job of art is to illuminate this darkness in order to discover what it might say about our world and the human condition.
Five-year-old Jack is the protagonist, hero and narrator of the tale. The reader discovers very early that this intelligent and imaginative young boy is confined to a small room along with his mother, Ma. In fact, Jack was born in this 12-foot-square room, and he has never seen the outside world, since the only “window” is a high skylight. Ma has made a decision to make Jack’s whole world this room, telling him the people, animals and things he sees on television or reads about in books are not real—they’re just “pretend” things. Other than Ma and himself, the only other real things are Old Nick, the sinister man who occasionally visits in the night, and the food and other items Old Nick brings into the room.
When Jack makes a discovery soon after his fifth birthday, Ma decides to tell Jack the truth about their predicament, the truth about this fortified prison, and the truth about the outside world—truths Jack finds hard to believe. She also solicits Jack’s help in a do-or-die plan of escape, for Old Nick is suffering from the recession. He’s lost his job and is having trouble paying bills. Ma knows she and her son will never be left to live if Old Nick’s home reaches foreclosure.
I won’t give any other particulars away—there’s so much more to discover in this book—but I will tell you that Room is ultimately a life-affirming work. It’s a celebration of the love between mother and child, and a celebration of the resiliency of the human spirit—especially the spirit of a child who has been given the love, support, and nourishment every child needs.
While there are many tears in Room, this can be a funny book at times, and it is often a wise one. Jack’s observations of his world can make the reader chuckle, but they can also be oddly revealing, casting a new view on this tired and cruel old world.
If you decide to tackle Donoghue’s amazing book, know that Jack and Ma may linger with you long after you shut the door on this room.
A library for Ma and Jack by Emma Donoghue.
After you’ve read the book, visit What Jack Didn’t Know by Wendy Smith.
Room is packed with themes about parent/child relationships, child development, the concept of home, and so much more. It’s ideal for a book club discussion.
Went on a work trip and one of my bosses, who knows I like space opera lent me Elizabeth Moon’s Hunting Party. This is the first book in the Serrano Legacy series. Hunting Party is an interesting mixture of old traditions and new technology, tossed with generational conflict, and strong female characters.
Heris Serrano has been forced to resign her commission from the Regular Space Service, for failure to follow the self-indulgent and destructive orders of Admiral Lepescu. Cecelia is the rich older lady space yachet owner who has just given her a job. Of course the Sweet Delight, offers some unexpected challenges to our space captain. Cecelia and Heris find themselves in companionable friendship, making a bet that each learn more about each others dreams and priorities. On board we also find Cecelia’s spoiled brat nephew along with his friends who are entering their own coming of age trials. Young women becoming more than they ever thought they could be when tested by evil and their environment. All this is played out against a background of fox hunting amid a space port that looks every bit like a castle. It’s the stuff space adventure is made of, toss in a little unsuspected romance, and you’ve got yourself a nice long airplane ride read.
I see a lot of whining on Amazon about it not being a great book, blah, blah, blah. Every book doesn’t need to be great. This is a good read if you like the space opera experience. Good enough for me to find more in the series. Now that I’ve finished book one I’m ready for more. I would recommend this title to female young adult readers for a glimpse at a genre that gives them a strong voice.
To give you a feel for her work, try out this audio of Elizabeth Moon reading from Hunting Party. This is a piece starting with Ronnie (Cecelia’s nephew) trying to rescue his friend George before the hunters get to him.
Tony Williams’s America’s Beginnings: the Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation’s Character satisfies two goals. It provides the basics on important events that influenced the early nation and continue to shape us today. And it also serves as a springboard for further exploration and study.
Indeed, the entries on each event are so brief—no more than two to three pages—that many readers will probably come away with even more questions that need answering. And that, of course, can lead to a very good thing!
Also included are other events that are less well-known, (or is it just me who wasn’t paying attention in history class), like Shays’ Rebellion, an uprising that lead to calls for a stronger national government.
Even the Salem Witch Trials are included, since they have come to symbolize intolerance and persecution. And Ben Franklin and his Lightning Rod make the list since Franklin “would later use the fame he had acquired as a scientist to advance America’s struggle for liberty on the global stage.”
It’s a great gathering of events for budding historians or anyone who seeks a handy reference companion on Early American history.
Williams wrote the book in association with Colonial Williamsburg, the worlds largest living history museum.
It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 30 years since the publication of Gail Sheehy’s landmark Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life. I read that book soon after its publication, and I can attest that it has been helpful in navigating the decades of my life, especially the 30s and 40s. Now, this is not to say that I have avoided those “predictable crises” along the way, including a classic mid-life crisis that put me in a deep funk. It’s just that I knew what was going on. Life can be scary, and information helps. Still, even though you can understand a crisis from an intellectual perspective, it’s very personal when it’s happening to you.
I thought about Passages after I finished Michael Cunningham‘s new novel, By Nightfall. Forty-something Peter Harris is a high-end art dealer and gallery owner in New York. He has a successful wife, Rebecca, who he married for love. He lives in an enviable space in SoHo, and enjoys the company of the rich and influential. But there are clouds on the horizon. He is struggling to relate to his young adult daughter, feels distanced from his wife, and wonders if his career has reached its apex, with professional stagnancy or decline around the corner.
When Rebecca’s troubled younger brother, Mizzy, comes to live with them, Peter’s midlife blues grow into a fully-bloomed existential crisis.
It’s a common condition when we start to feel the clock ticking on our own mortality. Have we made the right choices? Do we have time to again experience the exhilarating feeling of new love/new career/new life/new insert here.? Have we left something important behind? What is the meaning of all this? And true to midlife crises, there is often a catalyst that becomes an obsessive focus around which our larger existential questions are posed. For Peter, the catalyst is his brother-in-law, Mizzy.
The joy in reading this book, beyond Cunningham’s sublime writing, is wondering if Peter is going to chuck it all, come to terms with his situation, or find renewal within his current life. The joy, for older readers, may be recognizing yourself.
The biggest joy, for me, was the last line of the book. First lines of novels are celebrated and quoted often: “Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” “I am an invisible man.” “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” No matter how masterful the last line of a book, we stay away from quotations because we don’t want to give anything away.
I’m going to give it away. I’m going to show you the last line of By Nightfall, if you want to see it. Just highlight the area below:
He begins to tell her everything that has happened.
It’s a simple sentence, not particularly artful unto itself, but magnificent in the context of this latest wonder from Cunningham.
What’s new on the Okie Bookshelf ?
Kate Buford has just written what is being called “the first comprehensive biography” of Jim Thorpe. It’s thick with 479 pages, well documented with plenty of footnotes, and getting substantially good reviews. Oklahoma Native American writer, N. Scott Momaday has the following comments on the Thorpe biography, ” As an athlete, Jim Thorpe was a force of nature. His achievements, across the board, remain unsurpassed. For many years we have needed a fair and comprehensive story of his life. Now we have it. Kate Buford’s biography of Thorpe is a first-rate example of the genre. She has written–with clarity, insight, objectivity, and inspiration–a definitive work. Here is an evocation of triumph and tragedy, and a uniquely American story.”
Tweeted Kate and found out that there’s an exhibit at the Muskogee Public Library on Native American sports figures from Oklahoma.
Another woman writing on Oklahoma sports legends is Jane Leavy in her new book The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood. It just became a finalist for the 2010 CASEY Award for the Best Baseball Book of the Year.
“Meticulously reported and elegantly written, The Last Boy is a baseball tapestry that weaves together episodes from the author’s weekend with The Mick in Atlantic City, where she interviewed her hero in 1983, after he was banned from baseball, with reminiscences from friends and family of the boy from Commerce, Oklahoma, who would lead the Yankees to seven world championships, be voted the American League’s Most Valuable Player three times, win the Triple Crown in 1956, and duel teammate Roger Maris for Babe Ruth’s home run crown in the summer of 1961—the same boy who would never grow up.”—Harper Collins Publisher
Two Oklahoma sports legends who embodied everything that is great in sports, and everything that can be lost. Sports biographers, Buford and Leavy don’t stop with the stats and the accolades, they give us the real people behind the numbers.