Saturday, February 11, 2012


Imagine a world in which no one got sick. Crime was an extreme rarity. Your food was delivered to you daily, rather than having to cook it yourself. And on your 80th birthday, you'd have a feast day, all day, then die painlessly.

In exchange, everything was optimized and tightly controlled. You didn't choose a career. Instead, you were monitored closely, given a work experience at 17 based on years of data about your abilities and inclinations, then a finalized vocation. You had a choice of a handful of recreational activities each week. And, at 17, your ideal match was selected for you, also based on years of data.

That's Cassia's world. Cassia is the main character in Ally Condie's 'Matched.' Except, things don't go quite according to plan. Cassia gets her Match, all right, and even more excitingly, her Match turns out to be someone she's grown up with, which is very rare, considering the large population of the Society. After you get your Match, you get a microchip containing photographs and information about them. Despite being good friends with her match, Xander, Cassia views her chip anyway.

Her chip is all screwed up, though. It's all about someone else that she knows, a boy named Ky. Although an Official quickly tracks her down to exchange the chip and reassure her that the entire thing was a mistake and that she shouldn't question her Match, she does anyway, which in turn leads her to question whether The Society really does know best. And, as it turns out, she's not the only one wondering that.

I enjoyed reading this book, and got through it very quickly. Since I've been re-reading The Hunger Games recently, which is also set in a totalitarian society in the near future and features a female POV character choosing between two different boys, I can't help but compare them. And I predict that the Matched trilogy will have fewer male fans. The boys in this story are not terribly vivid and act more as plot devices than full-fledged characters, the way Peeta and Gale came across. Also, the action in Matched is mostly emotional. There's little enough problem-solving, and no real violence at all.

That being said, I can see many women loving this book. It does have a nice, romantic plot, and but Cassia is not a sappy character. She has an Athletic Permit because she enjoys running hard on their 'tracker' and passed an examination to ensure she wasn't an anorexic or a masochist. She's very smart, and seems destined for one of The Society's higher-level jobs until the romance thing sidetracks her. She is also an independent thinker: when she chooses her Match banquet dress, the clerk points out that her non-mainstream choice was predicted by her personality. Cassia is a character you can admire and root for, and does well at carrying the plot along. I'm looking forward to picking up 'Crossed' on my next library trip.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A good library haul

Yesterday, I was in such a foul mood that people were noticing, even at work. I decided I'd better try not to bring that home and went to the library instead.

I wasn't expecting much. Usually when I go to the library in a bad mood, I have a hard time thinking of things I want to read, and my mental state means that I won't luck into anything that looks good, because NOTHING looks good. And I get irritated that they just buy crappy books for morons and that the whole place is geared towards lovers of Danielle Steele and people who only visit the library when they want to try to fix their sink themselves and not people who actually like decent books, which by the end of my trip, I can't even define anymore.

Miraculously, that didn't happen to me yesterday. I found all kinds of books, including some I've wanted to read for a while, at a library where I've historically had bad luck despite it being the second-busiest in our 37-library system. I could have even had Jill Kelly's book, "Without a Word," but I flipped through it and it seemed to have more Jesus in it than the Bible, so I left it on the shelf.

Here's what I got. Try not to die of envy.

Matched, by Ally Condie. I actually read this one already and will have an entry about it soon.
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. I was reminded to look for this book when I saw another patron with it. I figured, why not see if they have another copy? And they did.
City of Dreams: A Novel of Nieuw Amsterdam and early Manhattan by Beverly Swerling. I liked "The Island at the Center of the World" a lot and was excited to see that someone had novelized about an era that doesn't loom large in our collective imaginations. She has several books, too, so the prospect of discovering a whole new author is exciting.
The Year that Follows by Scott Lasser. I only remember that it was a family drama that looked interesting.
Gifted: a novel by Nikita Lalwani. I deal a lot with 'stage parents' in my job. I don't mean that they are literally trying to make actors out of their children, but they're usually trying to gain some sort of renown for them. This novel is about a girl whose parents are trying to get her to be the youngest person ever admitted to Oxford, and what happens when her own desires clash with theirs.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson. I liked the movie.
Townie: a memoir by Andre Dubus III. The author of "The House of Sand and Fog" recalls growing up in two worlds: that of his working-class mother and his academic father.
The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen. As you know, I like anything that's weird, anything that promises to be different. This is about a 12-year-old cartographer and his cross-country journey to accept an award from the Smithsonian. Other than "Matched," obviously, this is the one I'm looking forward to reading the most.

So yeah, it was a good day at the library!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Happy birthday, Mr. Dickens. Today, you are 200!

If you Googled anything today, you will already know that today is the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens. I know I'm a bit late to the party, but if you've never read any of his works, I encourage you to give him a shot.

I will be bluntly honest. Literature that pre-dated the twentieth century by much had never really been my thing. I'd love to claim that I had a childhood love affair with "Huck Finn" or "Treasure Island," but I didn't. I guess when I was younger, I had a hard time getting accustomed to earlier writing styles. The references would throw me. And I just liked it to be easy.

I gave Dickens a try after reading the Jasper Fforde books. Miss Havisham features prominently in them, as does David Copperfield and Uriah Heep. If you feel as I used to about older books, Dickens will help dispel your prejudices. He writes in a warm, emotive style, and employs memorable characters and lots of humor. I do plan to read all of his books. I haven't gotten very far, just "Great Expectations," "A Tale of Two Cities," and "David Copperfield," but I certainly plan to keep the project alive. If you've been meaning to read one of his books, now is an excellent time!