Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Some War Novels

     I was going to title this post "Best War Books" or something like that, but then I realized it would be really, really arrogant to assume that my little slapped-together list actually contained the very best books on a subject that has been so well covered by so many authors.  So I only hope to share a few of my favorite books about war with you; I can't promise they are the best.  
     War is terrible, but it sure inspires some wonderful books.

1. Dispatches by Michael Herr - I've never read a book like this before - it's very stream-of-consciousness and studded with historical and musical allusions (I actually made a playlist out of all the songs and artists that Herr mentions).  It's a mash-up of poetry, journalism (Herr was reporting on the Vietnam War), and novel that captures the chaos of war in a way that no standard narrative could.

2. Exodus by Leon Uris - Reading Exodus, which in simplest terms explores the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and Jewish persecution, was like deep-sea diving.  Completely immersing; dark and terrifying; at times overwhelming.  I think most readers emerge from this book with a more understanding view of the modern world.

3. Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien - A collection of short stories about the Vietnam War, born from the ruminations of a veteran.

4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - I've praised this book before and I'll do it again now.  It's more reflective than most war stories, probably because it takes place in the wake of a war rather than in the heat of one.

5. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - Hey, just because a war hasn't happened yet, doesn't mean that it can't be the focus of a brilliant war novel.  This science-fiction classic, whose companion I have already reviewed, is especially unusual because it focuses on how war affects those responsible for soldiers' lives, rather than its effects on the soldiers themselves.


Two books from this list, plus a pillow made from
the shirts of a veteran - my grandpa :)
     As I was making this post, I realized that I read lots of books related to war but not many that are traditional war novels - you know, a soldier narrating his experiences in battle.  I guess I'll have to read more of those and get back to you all.
     
     - Carly

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Iris Bookcafe

     

     Tonight I am not writing to you from New York City.  Tonight I am writing to you from Cincinnati, a half-shuttered and intriguing Ohio city, and I would like to tell you about a book store that I have discovered here.
     It is called the Iris Bookcafe, and I love it already.  Today was blowy and snowy and frozen, so I took refuge there for about an hour (although I would have liked to stay much longer).  The Bookcafe sells exactly what the name suggests: books (used ones) and coffee (as well as standard coffee shop foods like soup and pastries).  There are shelves of books in the front 'eating area' of the shop and even more in back.  I got really sucked in while browsing!  Used book stores always have an interesting mix of book topics.  The Bookcafe also sells records.  I spent quite a while going through the "5 for $1" singles box :)  Then I ordered a mocha latte - my first ever, shhh, I'm pretending to be a grown up - and found it delicious.  Like hot chocolate but more chocolatey.  Yum.  I also had potato-and-leek soup.

     While I ate, I did some writing and listened vaguely to the conversations of the three other people in the cafe.  They all seemed to know each other, which was cool.  Cincinnati sometimes feels like a ghost town, but spending time at the Iris Bookcafe has made me think that it's not so deserted - you just need to find the places where people congregate.  


     I think that bookcafes are an awesome idea and I can't believe this is the first one I've ever come across.  I mean, it's a brilliant business model - lure nerds in with cheap books, then feed and caffeinate them while they read their purchases.  Everyone knows that a bookworm, once mesmerized by a book, becomes thoroughly uninterested in preparing sustenance for herself.
     So, is anyone interested in opening a bookcafe for me in NYC?  Or does anyone know of an already-existing one that I could visit? XD
     - Carly

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Podcast Review: Welcome to Night Vale

     Before I begin: Is this ok?  Do you guys mind if I extend the scope of this blog to include podcasts as well?  
     I only ask because I am a rabid enemy of e-readers - e-readers will eclipse bound paper pages over my dead body - and feel perplexed as to why podcasts enchant rather than irritate me.  I think that I feel this way because podcasts are too different from books to be a replacement.   
     The podcast is less like a book and more like the descendant of old-fashioned serial radio programs. Listening to a podcast, you can close your eyes.  You can picture the story and its characters and its setting in your head.  You can appreciate the skill of voice actors and the power of a few well-chosen sound effects. And the podcast listener receives other benefits - she can escape her morning commute or a sleepless night just by slipping on a pair of headphones, for example.  
     In short, I feel no shame in promoting podcasts on this blog because they are alternatives to and not substitutes for books.  

Subversive Radio Host Patch
Welcome to Night Vale makes some awesome merch
Buy it at http://www.topatoco.com/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=TO&Product_Code=CPB-WTNV-SUBVERSIVE-PATCH&Category_Code=CPB

     And now back to your regularly scheduled programming: I am obsessed with Welcome to Night Vale by Commonplace Books, and I'm sure that any listener with a dark sense of humor will love it as well.  The podcast takes the format of a community radio show, broadcasting the news, weather, traffic reports, high school football games, and local ads of the (fictional) small desert town of Night Vale.  What makes this community radio show NOT deadly boring is that the town itself is deadly.  Seriously, so many civilian deaths (related to rips in the space-time continuum, attacks by the Sheriff's Secret Police, UFOs, vaporizations, never having actually existed, etc.) occur each episode that it's amazing there's anyone left in town.
     This podcast is notable mainly for two things: a) the bizarre, gruesome, random, and existentially fraught events that are reported in it, and b) the unfazed and cheerful way in which the radio host, Cecil Palmer, reports them.  For example, a typical episode might include an optimistic announcement that HBO is now available to the political prisoners being held in the abandoned mine shaft just outside Night Vale.  
     I won't say anymore!  I wouldn't want to spoil the absurdity of a single episode for you all.  
     If you want to listen to this podcast, try downloading it via the app Podcast Addict.

    - Carly