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April 2, 2008

Filed under: fiction»reviews»kindle

Digital Shelf: Nerds Like Recursion Edition

So here's another small gripe in an otherwise happy experience: Kindle OS updates bring with them new screensaver images--the pictures that take over the screen when the Kindle is locked. Many of these have been of famous authors. Of those, only one of them (Maya Angelou) has been a person of color, and all of them (as far as I can remember) have been from English-speaking countries. This is a little bit unfortunate on an e-book platform where the back of it has been plastered with letters of about a million alphabets, paying homage to writing systems all over the world.

The reason for the title of the post, of course, is that there's a certain redundancy to reading David Anderegg's Nerds in electronic form. Anderegg, a child psychologist, basically takes a look at the concept of "a nerd," how it affects children, and what people can do about it. It's not a bad book, and raises some interesting points, but it's also a little fluffy and scatterbrained in parts. My favorite chapter was the discussion of autism, Asperberger's, the misdiagnosis and overmedication of both in children, and their usage as signifiers of unhealthiness and sickness on the part of nerds.

Grey, by Jon Armstrong, is a weird book. It's also free from publishers Night Shade Books, so it has that going for it. I can't necessarily recommend it, but at this price all you've got to lose is your time. So if you think you might like a dystopian sci-fi fashion-centric family drama, it might be worth checking out.

Adam-Troy Castro's Emissaries from the Dead is somewhat like the Takeshi Kovacs books I like so much--a murder mystery in a sci-fi, slightly transhumanist setting. The resolution of the actual mystery could stand to be a bit more satisfying, but the pace moves briskly and it has a few twists and turns up its sleeve. The book is billed as "an Andrea Cort novel" which I assume means that sequels will follow. I'd probably give one of them a shot.

On a much more grounded note, I highly recommend Bob Harris's Who Hates Whom: Well Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up - A Woefully Incomplete Guide. It's a world tour of conflict and war, essentially. Harris is a former Jeopardy champion and comedian, the latter of which gives the book the light touch that's needed to keep it from being a mindbogglingly-depressing 200 pages. I felt a little bit guilty about laughing at it sometimes, honestly. But the historical perspective is quite well done. It's amazing to read (or to be reminded) how many countries have been undone by the legacy of colonial invaders who simply redrew borders on a whim.

Polaris, by Jack McDevitt, is another sci-fi mystery (sensing a theme?), but adds a dash of archeology. Notable mainly because the protagonist, pilot Chase Kolpath, is basically a Dr. Watson figure: she's the assistant for the sleuthier character, and that changes the tone from the average potboiler. Well written, but it telegraphs its twist from a mile away. I've read other McDevitt books before, and they always strike me as solid but not earthshattering.

One of the best observations in Jennifer Lee's The Fortune Cookie Chronicles comes early: "Our benchmark for Americanness is apple pie," Lee points out. But there are more Chinese restaurants in America than there are McDonalds, Burger Kings, and KFCs combined. "How often do you eat apple pie?" she asks. "How often do you eat Chinese?" Although I could pick structural nits (the book reads more like a series of magazine pieces loosely tied together), overall it's both thought-provoking and deftly told (see her comparison of Chinese restaurants and open-source software). A cool look at a cuisine that's American in everything but name.

Shopping for God, by James Twitchell, is a look at the commercialization of Protestantism in America--both in terms of megachurches as well as the degree to which our religious culture is a marketplace. Along with digressions into artifacts like those movable-letter church signs (which are both a decent business as well as a marketing tool for individual churches), Twitchell spends a lot of time explaining church history through an economic/branding lens. I probably would have found this more captivating if I were the kind of person who's nostalgic for the classic small American church tradition.

I suspect that David Mamet may be insane, but I've enjoyed a few of his films, so during a local non-profit's bookstore partnership day, I bought Bambi Vs. Godzilla, which is Mamet's guide to the film industry. It consists of roughly four equal parts: Jewish trivia, lessons in filmmaking, film criticism, and madness. About what you'd expect, in other words. Say what else you like about him, but the man can certainly write, and it might be worth purchasing on that strength alone.

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