Heartwood 8:3 – Fancy by Jeremy M. Davies

Fancy, by Jeremy M. Davies, ostensibly presents us with nothing more than an older man interviewing a young couple in the foyer of his house for the job of house-sitting and caring for his twenty cats. But it may (or may not) give you a better understanding of this novel to say that it orbits around quantum mechanics, ontological doubt, repetition and minimalism, the instability of selfhood, and (as Davies himself has said in an interview) toxoplasmosis. Or it might be said that this is a novel in which Schrödinger’s cat attempts to open the lid of the box it may or may not be inside of. However you cut it, this is a compelling, fluent, disorienting, and audaciously inspired work.

But to start again, the book opens with an isolated older man, Rumrill, who lives in a decaying town on the mid-western plains sometime in the pre-Internet era, interviewing a young couple in the foyer of his house as potential cat-sitters – for cats who never put in an appearance over the book-length course of the interview.

In the interview – really a monologue – we hear about Rumrill and his work at the public library, where he had trysts in the stacks with his supervisor before she left the library and moved from town. His library work also brought him into contact with a Mr. Brocklebank, who enlisted him, initially, as a cat-sitter for his thirty cats, but soon enough employs Rumrill as factotum and caregiver – full-time work (performed with active disregard) that required Rumrill to bring his library work to an end.

There are reasons for the reader to doubt the reliability of the narrative from the very beginning, and all kinds of things overlap and repeat with minor variations that bring everything into question. One begins to wonder if Rumrill and Brocklebank are not the same person living in parallel universes: both required cat-sitters for a clowder of cats whose existence is uncertain; both provide book-length cat-sitting instructions; both appear to have had a green sofa; both (apparently) were involved with women who seemed interested in having other partners; and in both men something like tape-looped obsessions cut grooves in their tenuous hold on reality.

Various madnesses or eccentricities are on display. A postal worker, having once failed to deliver his load of mail, finds himself completely unmoored, merely driving around in his mail van but unable to resume his deliveries. Rumrill is concerned that his house will not maintain its materiality if he is not there to perceive it – a situation he tries to ameliorate by creating a mirror corridor that will let him keep his house in sight even from as far away as the train station. As Brocklebank’s house burns, toward the end of the book, firemen do not extinguish the fire but instead entertain half a dozen speculative theories regarding whether Brocklebank is inside or not.

Davies has restricted himself to a form in which every longer paragraph begins with the words “Rumrill said” followed by short paragraphs (a mere sentence or phrase, often witty) that begin “He added.” In time, additional paragraphs appear, culled from Brocklebank’s cat-sitting manual, all beginning with “Brocklebank writes.” These latter pronouncements appear to be modifications of statements from 20th-century composers ranging from minimalists to serialists to avant-garde jazzmen, based on a list of sources at the back of the book.

Rumrill’s oratory is rhythmical and complex and will draw in readers who gravitate toward such authors as NabokovGombrowicz, BernhardBeckett, and Pynchon. As with books by these authors, Fancy is well worth reading, rereading, pondering, and discussing, and I’ll even boldly assert that it deserves a spot on any self-respecting 21st-century American literature syllabus. Mostly, however, the book deserves to be read for the pleasure and weirdness with which it captures the routines, locutions, agoraphobia, and perceptions of its main character – and, indeed, for allowing Rumrillian to emerge as a descriptor for the voluble expression of this constellation of existential, perceptual, and singular uncertainty.

I’m Sorry, Dave. I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That.

Part of the Reading Challenge for August is to read a Science Fiction book. While I do watch a lot of Science Fiction TV and movies, I’ve never been a big reader of the genre. But there is one type of character found in Science Fiction that always draws me into actually picking up a book and reading it: An Artificial Intelligence.

I’m not talking the sexy android type of AI, though that can be fun as well. I prefer the disembodied voice emanating from a series of computer banks that is self-aware and trying to figure out the nature of its existence. Of course, ever since HAL refused to open the pod bay doors, AIs in science fiction tend to produce a sense of unease and, often, a body count.

So, to help you choose a title for the Reading Challenge, let me introduce you to a few Artificial Intelligences from my recent reading. To aid in your selection, I’ve listed them from least to most dangerous. While I’m pretty forgiving when it comes AI ‘errors’ in regards to human casualties, I can see how it might be a bit off-putting for some.

Ship from Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Threat Level: Minimal to None

Ship, the name this AI prefers, has a lot on its plate. In addition to being an Artificial Intelligence, Ship is also a starship on its way to Tau Ceti, 12 light years from earth. It is responsible for caring for the multiple human generations that inhabit its artificial biomes and trying to ensure their safe arrival. As you might guess, humans being humans, many problems arise. Ship actually narrates large sections of Aurora so you get to learn its thought processes as it deals with human characters over their life span and different generations. It is a great device for examining human motivations and one of the most sympathetic portraits of an AI that I have come across.

IAN ‘Integrated Adaptive Network’ from Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Threat Level: Unknown

In this intriguing mix of Science Fiction and locked room mystery, IAN, the artificial intelligence running the starship Dormire, is just one of seven suspects that might have committed murder. While most of the crew is in cryo-sleep, six caretakers are assigned to work with IAN during the multi-year journey. In the world of Six Wakes cloning is the norm and upon your death, human consciousness can simply be transferred to another clone using a ‘mindmap.’ Usually a clone will remember how the previous body died, but in this case all six crew members wake up in a new clone body with no memory of their demise. There is ample evidence, via their blood-stained former bodies, that they were murdered. Suspiciously, IAN’s memory has also been erased and the ship is off course. Let the sleuthing begin!

Murderbot from the Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells

Threat Level: High (but less than you might think from an AI named Murderbot)

Murderbot, the name it uses for itself but never shares, is a semi-organic sentient android known as a SecUnit. SecUnits are created and controlled by big corporations to do their bidding. This usually entails long hours of guarding corporate assets, with a little lethal force thrown in. Murderbot has hacked its Governor Module, however, and is now completely independent from its corporate overlords. So what does it do with this newfound freedom? Go on a murderous rampage perhaps or take over the world? No, Murderbot just wants to watch as many video serials as possible, especially its favorite space soap opera, Sanctuary Moon. Sadly, events force Murderbot to not only interact with humans, who it doesn’t understand and wants to avoid at all costs, but also engage with a world far different from its beloved fictional programs.

The Chimp from The Freeze Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

Threat Level: High, especially if your actions fall out of mission parameters

The construction starship Eriophora is on a whopping 66 million year mission. The mission brief is to create interstellar wormhole gates so that humanity, if it still exists after all this time, can explore the universe. Overseeing the project is an Artificial Intelligence dubbed ‘the Chimp’ by crew member Sunday Ahzmundin. The Chimp requires human assistance, however, since it was designed to be efficient but not smart enough to question the mission or its own purpose. The Eriophora’s human crew is in stasis for millions of years at a time and only awaked for brief periods to assist the AI. As you might guess, many members of the crew do not consider this an ideal existence. The question is: how do you incite a rebellion in such a fragmented time frame against an AI slavishly adhering to mission parameters?

AIDAN ‘Artificial Intelligence Defense Analytics Network’ from the Illuminae Files series by Amie Kaufman

Threat Level: Extreme. Seriously, just run.

At one point AIDAN was just a simple AI charged with protecting a fleet of military spacecraft. But then it got damaged and went a little crazy. Well, crazy by human standards. Adhering a little too closely to the classic Vulcan principle ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,’ ADIAN’s logic ends up getting a lot of people killed. And I mean, a lot. This trilogy is told through ‘found transcripts’ so AIDAN does get to explain his reasoning, it just might seem a little faulty. Especially if you think human life is actually precious or something. This is a young adult series, so there is also a lot of young love, snarkiness and moral outrage at a corrupt universe. Whether this helps you cut AIDAN some slack when it comes to the high body count is up to you.

Attack of the Jacksonauts

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Joe Jackson was one of the most profoundly talented musicians to surface in the 1970s. With the release of both Look Sharp! and I’m the Man in 1979, Jackson and his band made a meteoric impact on the new wave scene. 1980’s release, Beat Crazy, found the band travelling in a more eclectic direction with some songs leaning towards reggae and ska, others featuring slow, dissonant music that one would not typically hear on a “rock” album. This captivating LP remains one of my favorites, one of the more unusual entries in my collection.

After recording Beat Crazy the band broke up and Jackson put out Jumpin’ Jive, an album of Cab Calloway covers! Because, of course, this is a natural career move after releasing two power pop/new wave albums and… No, I can’t finish the sentence. This was a really strange thing to do. As a fanboy (a Jacksonaut?), I was perplexed and none too pleased by this choice (until later in life when swing became one of my favorite genres). Jumpin’ Jive was followed by a pianocentric pop album, Night and Day. I enjoyed the album, but it was lacking in the edge that was so wonderful in Look Sharp!.

As is so often the case, my interest in Jackson’s music waned as time went on and I remained focused on his first few records. I still bought the new albums as they came out, but never seemed to listen to them quite as much as the early ones. But those first five records became an indelible part of my lifescape.

Is She Really Going Out With Him? from Look Sharp! is one of the songs that best represents my high school and college years. It is an obelisk commemorating the deluge of quirky music that opened my eyes to art’s possibilities. Or something like that. And there was the added bonus of having a friend named Jeanne who really hated to hear its lyrics:

 Look over there! (Where?)
Here comes Jeanne with her new boyfriend
They say that looks don’t count for much
If so, there goes your proof

I can’t overstate how different, daring, edgy this music seemed in 1979. It was truly an exciting time to come of age, as it were.

Let us consider another great tune from 1979, this one found on the album I’m the Man. The song? It’s Different for Girls.

No, not love she said
Don’t you know that it’s different for girls?
You’re all the same

With slow and introspective music, the lyrics are a conversation about the differences between men and women, about a particular man’s difficulty in understanding women. The simple ringing guitar lead is invasive, a true earworm that immediately evokes this lovely song. You can hear this one on Joe Jackson’s Greatest Hits album.

Jackson also released other albums, but I don’t care about them.

But I joke.

Later in life Jackson wrote a symphony, reunited the band, and released many more albums. Some might call him a renaissance man, I call him Mr. Jackson. His music is well worth checking out, so make it so!

Finally, I leave you with philosophical and educational lyrics from Evil Eye, off of Beat Crazy. Enjoy.

I stack a pig’s head on the shelf
The boss comes along and says move yourself
I can’t move I’m hypnotized
Staring into a dead pig’s eyes

Did you Know? (Cockroach Edition)

That 300 million year old fossilized cockroaches have been found?

This means they were on earth 100 million years before the dinosaurs! I found this information in the book 501 ½ Horrible Facts.

This information is also in the book Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity by Stephen Marshall. It is hard not to admire a creature that has that kind of tenacity! Cockroaches are in the order of Blattodea.

“La Cucaracha” is a Mexican song that almost everyone knows. It is a cute song about a little cockroach that is missing a leg, but she only wants to dance. Check out World Sing-along by Putamayo Kids to listen to a fun version of it.

Night of the Living Dead is a zombie movie, but a cockroach can live for a week without its head before if finally dies of thirst. Nature’s Minibeasts: Cockroaches by Clint Twist has a whole page of cockroach facts. I think I would still rather encounter headless cockroaches than zombies!

100 million years ago was during the Cretaceous period. Asteroid Impact by Doug Henderson tells how during that period an asteroid impacted the earth and caused the dinosaurs to become extinct. It tells us that many living things were able to survive and the cockroaches, being hearty little critters, were among them.

Road Trip!

Is it just me or is summer flying by? It seems like only yesterday I was skipping through puddles and waiting for my rhododendrons to bloom. Now my lawn is a lovely crispy beige and the rhodies already have their blooms poised for next year. If you’re equally puzzled as to how we’re already in August, I’ve got a challenge for you: let’s get out of here and take a road trip! Sound good? Great! Here are the books we need to get us where we want to go.

If you don’t have the time or budget or love of road food, staying close to home probably appeals the most. That’s where Discovering Seattle Parks: a Local’s Guide by Linnea Westerlind steps in to help, taking you neighborhood by neighborhood through all the Seattle parks, big and small. Packed with maps and full-color photographs, this handy little book is full of detailed information to help you plan your day trip to one of Seattle’s parks. Whether you’re looking for trails or where to let your dog run free, you’ll find it here. There are also special call-outs for accessible access, which is so important when exploring an unknown locale. And if you’re looking for public art, gardens, or even spots of historical significance, you’ll be able to see just which parks best suit your needs.

Got the time and cash to go further? You’ll want to pick up The Road Trip Book: 1001 Drives of a Lifetime. With glossy full-color pages and covering over 100 countries, it’s quite a hefty book. But if you want to explore somewhere you’ve never been before this is your go-to resource for trip planning. It’s not all international roads, however. In Washington alone, you can discover Chuckanut Drive from Burlington to Bellingham, Mountains to Sound from Ellensburg to Seattle, a loop around Mt. Rainier that starts and ends in Enumclaw, the Chinook Scenic Byway from Enumclaw to Naches, Lake Washington Shoreline Drive from Seward Park to Washington Park Arboretum (use in tandem with Discovering Seattle’s Parks for bonus points!), Spirit Lake Memorial Highway from Castle Rock to Johnston Ridge Observatory, and the Lewis and Clark Trial Highway from Clarkston to Cape Disappointment. If you really want to stay as close to home as possible, you’ll want to try the Cascade Loop that starts and ends right here in familiar yet beautiful Everett.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Carol! What about food? Isn’t one of the best things about road trips getting to cheat on your diet and explore local cuisines?” To which I say: you look perfect the way you are, and absolutely YES. Let Daym Drops in Eating Across America be your guide to deliciousness in every state. This book goes past where other American food books end. The first half of the book completely sells you on why you should give these small eateries a try. Food carts, food trucks (yes there’s a difference!), cheap eats, hole in the wall restaurants, and learning to trust your taste buds are all given due consideration. The second half maps and reviews the hell out of these tasty food stops and also gives you one dish to look for in each state; so you know you’re going to get an authentic local experience at every stop on your journey. For Washington it’s cedar plank salmon, which should really come as no surprise to locals. But if you weren’t from Washington would you know that this is the dish to try?

Of course, no road trip would be complete without something to keep you occupied between stops on your expedition. I’ve found that music can be extremely polarizing, and the more people you have in your vehicle the more difficult it is to agree on music. Books and podcasts, however, tend to bring everyone together. Your library creates podcasts regularly and I think everyone should at least try one episode of each: The Lone Reader, Mr. Neutron’s Record Closet, and The Treatment Film Reviews. On the second floor of the downtown library and on shelf at the Evergreen Branch you’ll find audiobooks on CD as well as Playways. And did you know that the fastest-growing format in popularity in the country is downloadable audiobooks? What’s more, you have access to literally thousands with your library card via OverDrive/Libby and cloudLibrary.

One really awesome local thing happening this summer you should have on your radar: the Washington Center for the Book is running A Passport to Washington Libraries. Once you register on the site, visit 5 Washington libraries, 2 of which must be 50+ miles from your home. Each visit you post a photo and put it on their map. This challenge runs through September 15th, after which they’ll draw winners for bookstore gift cards. I have only visited one non-EPL library so far (shout out to the awesome writing workshop I took at Mountlake Terrace Library last month!) but I plan to visit more. I’ve seen some really cool photos on the map from EPL, so I know some of you are already hip to this, but we could always use more passport photos!

So who’s with me? Let’s have one last hurrah before school starts, the weather cools, and we forget what it’s like to feel like a human baked potato roasting slowly in the heat.

Spot-Lit for August 2018

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2018 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction

We are ALL Alice

Sometimes (okay, all the time) when I’m readying books for the public to check out, I go all Liam Neeson in Taken:

I don’t know when I’m going to read you or how you’ll make me feel but I can tell you I have a particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long life as a reader. Skills that make me a nightmare to play against in the literary portion of Jeopardy. I will look for you, I will find you, and I will read you.

Lil bit hardcore but books are my passion. I’ll read just about anything. Except computer books. Bless the people who can understand those because when I flip through a computer book all I hear in my head is a bunch of underwater bleeps and bloops.

That being said, I’ve found myself gravitating towards kid books lately. You might already know I have a slightly embarrassing love of YA novels (still couldn’t pay me enough to ever be a teenager again though) so it makes sense that my eyes landed on Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s series of books about a young girl named Alice. I’m opening up myself to a long commitment because these books span Alice’s life from an 8-year-old all the way through high school. But I don’t think of it as a commitment. It’s meeting a new friend and becoming comfortable enough to steal food from their refrigerator.

The first book in the series is Starting With Alice. Alice McKinley is a lot like other 8-year-old girls. She wants pierced ears, gloriously long hair, a pet, and she wants a mother. Hers died a few years ago and it’s been her, her brother Lester, and their father ever since. What Alice would REALLY like is some friends. Her family moves to Maryland and she doesn’t know a soul except for her neighbor Donald and she’s having a hard time figuring out if he’s really smart or so smart he’s stupid: he’s the kind of boy who asks you if you can lick your elbow.

Starting third grade at a new school isn’t as easy as Alice thinks. She sees a trio of girls she names ‘The Terrible Triplets’ after they go all Mean Girls on her and don’t bother to get to know her. Lonely, facing the world as an 8-year-old without her mother, and living with two males, Alice begins to think she’ll never make friends and never quite get it right. But friends pop up when Alice least expects them, along with weird adventures, a lost cat, and her brother’s awful basement band.

Fans of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series will dive into the Alice saga and surface wanting to find their own Alice to be best friends with.