Blueprints of the Afterlife

Early reviews sing the praises of Ryan Boudinot’s new novel, Blueprints of the Afterlife. Novelist Charles Yu  calls it “a mind-bending tour of the edges of technology and possibility.” Reviewer Andrea Appleton remarks that “each scene is rendered in such captivating, hallucinogenic Technicolor.”  Kirkus Reviews writes that “Boudinot goes all in with a Murakami-inspired fit of speculative madness that marries the postmodernist streak of Neal Stephenson to the laconic humor of The Big Lebowski.”

Often these kinds of reviews trick me into reading a book I inevitably come to despise as a bag of trendy literary trickery with very little substantive payoff. This is not one of those times. Blueprints of the Afterlife delivers a startlingly bleak, yet darkly funny and utterly engrossing vision of our world  a hundred or so years from now.

Boudinot’s cast of characters includes an Olympic Gold medalist dishwasher, a digital archivist obsessed with early 20th century silent film, a former mercenary for the Boeing Army, and a man in search of his mysterious childhood friend. In this dystopian future, the vast majority of the Eastern United States has been destroyed and New York City is being rebuilt on Bainbridge Island. In fact, the Pacific Northwest and Seattle figure prominently in the geography of the novel.

Geography aside, I think the best thing about this book is being thrown right into the narrative without a paddle. In the first pages, what is actually going on is incredibly unclear, much like the first five minutes of any X-Files episode. Slowly, however, Boudinot begins to reveal the backstory of how this apocalyptic world came to pass. If you don’t like existing in a mild state of confusion for a brief time, you will find this book frustrating. If you can take a bit of not knowing, it definitely pays off in the long run.

Boudinot’s inexhaustible creativity fills this novel with tons of speculative detail of a very plausible future. While it seems like there are a lot of apocalyptic, speculative novels out there right now, Blueprints of the Afterlife ranks right up there with the best. Also, I’d say fans of Ready Player One might also enjoy this novel. It’s more challenging, but perhaps even more rewarding.

Brad

1Q84

I cannot recall exactly when Haruki Murakami first showed up on my literary radar, but ever since I’ve looked forward to the publication of each of his  novels. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore  both floored me with their simple strangeness. 1Q84 is the first novel he has published since 2005. Needless to say, it’s a major literary moment for Murakami fans, and I’m happy to say the book was well worth the wait. Murakami delivers a sublime, utterly original supernatural love story mystery.

Much of the enjoyment of this novel comes from the surprises revealed along the way, so I hesitate to reveal much about the book. Here’s an attempt to describe the basic plot without giving away too much.

1Q84 is the story of two people: Aomame and Tengo. The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo. Aomame is a physical fitness trainer with a secret second job. Tengo is a writer and math teacher at a cram school who agrees to ghostwrite the story of a mysterious 17-year-old girl. As the story progresses, Aomame and Tengo independently begin to see that the world is not what it seems. A mysterious second moon has appeared in the sky that is not visible to everyone. Slowly, we also begin to learn how the lives of Aomame and Tengo are intertwined.

At its core, 1Q84 is the story of two lost people searching to find one another. Surrounding this simple love story is the mystery of a secret religious cult and their connection with some odd characters known only as the Little People. Aomame and Tengo discover that their relationship to this cult has put them both in danger. Further explanation of the story would only take away from experiencing the world Murakami has created in 1Q84, so I’ll stop there.

This book is long, over 900 pages, but it kept me reading in order to find out exactly what was going on and where it was  headed. I only found the first few chapters of the third book to be a bit tedious.

If you enjoy fiction that throws you into a world and lets you wander around while trying to figure it out on your own, this book is for you. I highly recommend letting Haruki Murakami entertain you with his latest fabulous novel, 1Q84. Don’t let its size scare you.

Brad

Ready Player One

Were you born in the early nineteen-seventies? Are you a complete [expletive deleted] dork? Then this novel is a big wet sloppy kiss to you, my friend. – J. Robert Lennon

When these two questions and a statement zipped across my Facebook News Feed a few weeks back (my answers: yes and yes by the way), I couldn’t resist reading the book to which it referred. The novel in question is Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and my friend’s recommendation couldn’t have been more apt.

Ready Player One is a dystopian novel set in the near future (2044 to be exact). A global energy crisis has dramatically raised the price of fuel. As a result, cars that have run out of gas are abandoned alongside the road and old trailers are stacked one on top of the other in rickety apartment-like skyscrapers which are prone to collapse. Our 18-year-old protagonist Wade Watts lives in one of these trailer stacks outside of Oklahoma City. He goes to a virtual school in a virtual world called OASIS. When not in school, he spends the majority of his time as a gunter (that’s short for “egg hunter”), a group of people who hunt for an “Easter egg” hidden somewhere inside OASIS that was left by its multi-billionaire creator, James Halliday. Whoever finds the egg will inherit Halliday’s immense wealth and gain control of OASIS.

Halliday was an avid fan of the 1980s, the decade of his youth, so those attempting to discover the hidden egg must delve into a world of 1980s trivia. This creates a future popular culture obsessed with the long ago decade. Our protagonist, whose OASIS avatar is known as Parzival, finds the key to the first of three gates leading to the egg. He rises to international superstardom and soon the novel’s bad guys, the monopolistic media conglomerate IOI, are after Wade/Parzival and his gunter friends.

So this book is not just a dystopian novel, it’s also an epic adventure story jam-packed with well-known to highly obscure 1980s cultural references. The author even owns a DeLorean and is driving it to each city of his book tour! For someone like me, who grew up in the 1980s but wasn’t deeply into Dungeons & Dragons or equipped with a deep knowledge of early computers like the TRS-80 or Commodore 64, the cultural references are still a lot of fun. Who knew that David Lightman, the main character in the movie WarGames, lived in Snohomish? Younger readers who might not get all of the ‘80s references, will most likely enjoy the sheer adventure of the book. The plot very much mirrors a complex video game.

Ready Player One is a fast-paced adventure story and ode to the 1980s. It’s not just for the über-geek though. This book has a wide enough appeal to satisfy most readers willing to give it a chance.

Brad

The Psychopath Test

Did you know that there is a test to find out if you’re a psychopath? I didn’t either, and neither did author Jon Ronson. It’s called the Hare Checklist, otherwise known as the PCL-R (Psychopathy Checklist-Revised). On a quest to uncover a potential hoax being played on some of the world’s top scientists, Ronson discovered this test and many other intriguing facts about the world of psychopaths and the current state of madness. His recent book, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, takes us along for the ride.

Ronson’s journey took him to one of the most notorious psychiatric hospitals, The Broadmoor. He came to find out (from psychiatry-hating Scientologists no less) that a completely sane man faked his way into the Broadmoor and cannot escape. Ronson meets this seemingly sane man and when discussing him with a psychiatrist friend, the friend claims the man is a psychopath.

From there, Ronson met Bob Hare, the man who created the PCL-R, and took his certification course to assess psychopathy. Through this lens, Ronson begins to see almost everyone as a psychopath. Along his investigative path, the author met with the psychiatrists who edited revisions of the DSM and people believed to be psychopaths. He also uncovered the fascinating and often little known history of the study of psychopathy.

Any reader interested in knowing more about the history and current state of the diagnosis of mental disorders will be intrigued by this book. Jon Ronson weaves a humorous and fast-paced narrative account of his experiences learning about and meeting major figures in psychiatry. He helps us to ponder more carefully what madness truly is. Also, be sure to check out his previous books, The Men Who Stare and Goats and Them: Adventures with Extremists.

Brad

Moondogs

Ever since I went to the Philippines a few years back, my interest has always been piqued by anything Pinoy. (Have you been to Juicy Jun’s Filipino food truck on Everett Mall Way? If not, you need to.) What I don’t see a lot of are novels set in the Philippines, at least not from American publishers. So when I read an advanced review of Moondogs, Alexander Yates’ debut novel set in the Philippines, I couldn’t wait to read it.

Moondogs was a treat that took me back to the food, the sights and smells, and the singular culture of the Philippines. Even if you don’t care one way or the other about the Philippines, Moondogs is a great read: a blend of family drama, potboiler mystery and magical realism; and it’s funny. But you will undoubtedly also learn a few things about Filipinos along the way.

In Moondogs,  Howard is kidnapped just as his estranged son is headed to Manila to visit him. Howard is a flake so his son just assumes he’s been ditched. After a few days, he starts to worry. Soon, Howard’s kidnapping is international news.

The basic thrust of the plot combines multiple narratives that introduce us to the book’s main characters. We meet Howard’s kidnappers, two taxicab-driving brothers hoping to sell their captive to Muslim separatists; Howard’s friends, peddlers of influence in the Filipino government; Howard’s rescuers, celebrated policeman Reynato Ocampo and his team of soldiers known as the Ka-Pow Task Force. This is not your standard issue SWAT team—each member is imbued with unique magical powers. Each narrative strand slowly weaves tighter together until the novel reaches its climactic ending.

I enjoyed the playfulness of this novel. Not many of the hard-boiled mysteries that I generally read employ the kind of magical realism and mystical abilities of Ocampo’s  Ka-Pow Task Force, so that was a fun divergence from my standard fare. Yates does a very good job bringing the Philippines to life, sprinkling descriptions of things that are uniquely Filipino like San Mig beer (the Filipino kind, not the Spanish kind), jeepneys, carabao, cockfights and bubble gum flavored lambanog without going overboard.

If you want to travel to the Philippines but don’t have the cash, Alexander Yates’ Moondogs is the next best thing.

Brad

The Terror of Living

Crime fiction fans take note: there’s a new Seattle author you need to check out. His name is Urban Waite and his debut novel is The Terror of Living. The novel, set all over Puget Sound, careens at a breakneck pace shifting from character to character quickly. Waite leaves readers dangling at the end of each chapter waiting to see what will happen next, yet thrilled to jump back into the lives of the other characters to see where they are headed.

The story is not a new one— a drug deal gone bad causing many people to suffer the consequences. Deputy Sheriff Bobby Drake is out in the woods when he sees something fall from the sky. It turns out to be a whole lot of heroin. The two men on the ground waiting for the drop are caught in Drake’s crosshairs—literally. He tries to apprehend the men, but they flee. He wings one but the other escapes.

This blown drug pickup starts into motion a series of violent events. Those who made mistakes must be silenced or punished. We are introduced to a sociopathic butcher-assassin, a crooked lawyer, and Vietnamese mobsters. We also become more intricately involved in the story of the man who escaped the busted drug pickup, Phil Hunt.

While assassins and mobsters add color (as well as graphic violence and mayhem), the story is really that of Bobby Drake’s pursuit of Phil Hunt. Hunt is a man in his fifties who has made choices he regrets and doesn’t have his heart in the crimes he commits. He just wants to raise horses and spend time with his wife.

Drake is a young deputy sheriff living in the shadow of his father, a former sheriff exposed as a drug runner. As Drake chases down Hunt, he gains an understanding and compassion for Hunt and sees that the world isn’t just good guys versus bad guys. We humans just happen to be too darn complicated for that.

I won’t spoil the end, but the plot accelerates chapter by chapter until its bloody but satisfying finale. This book is not for the weak-stomached, but if you can make it past the scenes of graphic violence (which I found anxiety-provoking but not gratuitous), you’ll be waiting excitedly for Urban Waite’s follow-up to The Terror of Living.

Brad

Award-Winning Children’s Books

book coverIt’s that time of year that the American Library Association gives out its annual book awards. Perhaps the two best known are those for children—the Newbery Medal and the Caldecott Medal. The Newbery Medal is awarded to “the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children,” and the Caldecott to “the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.”

book coverThis year’s winner of the Newbery went to Clare Vanderpool for her debut novel, Moon over Manifest, published by Delacorte Press. The Caldecott Medal winner is A Sick Day for Amos McGee, illustrated by Erin E. Stead, written by Philip C. Stead, and published by Roaring Brook Press.

Congratulations to these authors!

So, what’s your favorite children’s book?

Brad

Are You Ready for Some Football (Books)?

Football season is upon us—so what better time for a book about football to be upon your nightstand (or wherever you keep your books). Read on for a list of great books about football for you to read when there isn’t a game on…

The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, the Cowboys, the ‘70s, and the Fight for America’s Soul by Chad Millman. This is the story of the rise of the Pittsburgh Steelers under coach Chuck Knox and their rivalry with “America’s Team” the Dallas Cowboys.

Badasses: The Legend of Snake, Foo, Dr. Death, and John Madden’s Oakland Raiders by Peter Richmond. The Raiders were the bad boys of the NFL in the ‘70s. This book will tell you all the gory details about the “Team That Madden Built”.

NFL Unplugged: The Brutal, Brilliant World of Professional Football by Anthony Gargano. Get a behind-the-scenes look at life as an NFL player. It sounds like these guys earn their money.

The Blind Side: The Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis. If you’ve seen the movie, you definitely need to read this book. In addition to the compelling story of Michael Oher, Lewis also documents the invention of the West Coast offense and the rise of the offensive left tackle as the crucial protector of the quarterback’s blind side.

The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL by Mark Bowden. The title seems to say it all—a well-reviewed book about a classic football game.

Gridiron Gauntlet: The Story of the Men Who Integrated Pro Football, in Their Own Words by Andy Piascik. It is common knowledge that Jackie Robinson was the first black player in Major League Baseball, but the history of the integration of professional football is far less well known. Andy Piascik wants you to know more about it, so he wrote this book.

Brad

e-Reading in Everett

I have been wanting an e-reader ever since the debut of the Kindle in November 2007. After watching prices drop and much back and forth, I broke down and bought a Nook a few weeks ago, even though the prognosticators have sounded the death knell of the standalone e-reader with the rise of the iPad and its knockoffs. Why did I do this? Perhaps I was wooed by the e-Ink technology (no direct light shining in your eyes from the screen). I’ve read reports that it potentially disrupts sleep patterns to read from a lit screen prior to bed. Maybe e-readers using e-Ink will evolve into a low-tech Luddite response to the iPad? Who knows, but so far I love my e-reader.

Another reason that I bought a Nook instead of a Kindle is that it is compatible with the EPUB file format (the Sony Reader is compatible, too). eBooks are available through OverDrive, a global digital distributor that the Everett Public Library currently uses to deliver downloadable audiobook content.

If you’re thinking about getting an e-reader or just wondering how they compare, check out the Consumer Reports e-book reader ratings through the library’s E-Sources. (You’ll be prompted to log on with your library card and PIN.)

So, I’m wondering, dear readers of our blog, do you have an e-reader device? Would you check out eBooks from the library if we carried them? We’d love to know what e-reader you use if you have one. Please vote in our poll–even if you don’t own one (there’s a box for that, too)!

Brad

To Kill a Mockingbird

Editor’s note: Harper Lee’s  To Kill a Mockingbird was published 50 years ago this month. To celebrate this important literary anniversary, Brad Allen shares what Mockingbird means to him. This post was originally written for  the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library in observation of Banned Books Week

book coverWhen I was young, pretty much all you could get me to read were movie novelizations—Gremlins, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Fletch, the list goes on. I loved them; consider it a lack of imagination. But at age twelve, I befriended a girl who read real books. In her attempts to smarten me up, she insisted that I read To Kill a Mockingbird and harassed me until I agreed.

The book changed my life. Never had I read a novel of such humanity and meaning. Had I ever in my elementary school education read a book with a theme? I marveled at Atticus Finch’s bravery in his defense of a falsely accused African-American in 1930s Alabama. I appreciated the realistic, unapologetic resolution to the trial—no sugar-coated ending here. To Kill a Mockingbird is a great story for children who are learning how think critically and dispel the ignorance of past generations. But it is also a story for us all; it reminds us to question our prejudices, to stand and fight for justice and equality in our society. To Kill a Mockingbird showed me that a novel could entertain and enlighten, a book could mean something and communicate powerful messages about human character and decency. It deserves its popularity. It begs to be read and discussed.

So why is To Kill a Mockingbird one of the most challenged and banned books in America? It has been attacked as inappropriate for children because of racial slurs, profanity, and its frank depictions of rape. The book has been challenged as being racist and perpetuating African-American stereotypes and the paternalism of liberal South whites. Expounding on this idea, Malcolm Gladwell recently wrote a thought-provoking article in the New Yorker discussing “Atticus Finch and the limits of Southern liberalism.”

Brad