Turtles All the Way Down

It’s been almost six years since YA uber-author John Green has published a new book (something we wrote about a while back). That’s almost  generation’s worth of his target audience – many teen readers will have been too young for his last book, The Fault in Our Stars, when it was published in 2012. The rocket-like success of that book (and subsequent movie) was both a blessing and a curse for Green: his books were being read by millions more people, but that success resulted in a period of crippling anxiety for the author. The expectations for his next book felt so overwhelming, that for a while he could not write at all.

Green has not made a secret of the fact that he’s wrestled with Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder most of his life, and what it’s like to live with mental illness is the overriding theme of Turtles All the Way Down. Aza Holmes, the narrator of the book, struggles mightily to control the obsessive thoughts that often consume her, which she calls “thought spirals” that grow more and more tightly coiled until she is driven to a compulsive behavior to quiet them.

The ostensible plot of the book is a mystery: the famous father of a childhood acquaintance has has skipped town to avoid legal troubles, and Aza’s BFF Daisy is convinced the two of them can figure out where he is and collect the $100,000 reward.  TATWD has all the John Green-isms we’ve come to expect: the quirky best friend, the seemingly impossible task, the sweet love story, and everyone’s got a poem or literature quote ready to go at a moment’s notice, (John Green characters are a bit more well-read and well-spoken than the general teen-aged public). But the real journey the reader is taken on is what it’s like to live in a hijacked mind.

Aza has a dread of germs. One of the first compulsions we witness is Aza forcing open a wound on her fingertip, so that she can clean and sanitize it before covering it up with one of her constant supply of band-aids, a ritual she performs so often that the wound never completely heals. Hand sanitizer is used combatively –  at one point she even starts drinking it.  Aza’s helplessness in the face of these thoughts and compulsions can be painful to read, and there’s no “all better now” resolution at the end – the prevailing takeaway is it’s ok not to be ok sometimes. Green has managed to paint a picture of mental illness that is more matter-of-fact than sensational, and the writing is evocative and mature. It’s a thoughtful novel that will appeal to adults as well as teens, and well worth the six-year wait.

Five stars.

Minecraft: The Unlikely Tale of Markus “Notch” Persson and the Game That Changed Everything

Minecraft: The Unlikely Tale of Markus “Notch” Persson and the Game That Changed Everything by Daniel Goldberg is a biography of Persson that focuses on how he came to be the creator of Minecraft, and how it changed his life. This book discusses how Persson was fascinated by programming since his early childhood. Despite a guidance counselor who did not support his career goals, a family that was breaking down, and a few jobs that limited his ability to program games freely, he began to brainstorm and program the beginnings of Minecraft. What started as a side job that almost no one knew about quickly developed into a company that was worth millions. Minecraft went from a game that was only played by a handful of people to a game that attracted thousands of people to conventions before it was even fully released.

Why did Minecraft have such sudden and overwhelming popularity? It is at least partly due to the creativity that the game allows. People are able to create their own goals and alter the game’s world in any way that they choose. The book goes even deeper into Persson’s life and the aspects of the game and is definitely worth reading. The book also paints a picture of the world of online gaming, gaming corporations, and indie developers, as well as certain aspects that contribute to designing a good game.

We also have several other Minecraft books for you to read!

Minecraft: The Survivor’s Book of Secrets by Stephanie Milton is a new book that contains many tips and strategies that have been tested by people who have played Minecraft since it was first released.

 

 

Minecraft: Top 35 Minecraft Mods You Should Know by Joseph Joyner is an unofficial guide to different mods that can be added to Minecraft.

 

 

Minecraft: Guide to Building by Josh Gregory is a guide to building materials,  locations, and ideas. There are also several other similar books that are guides on other aspects of Minecraft, such as animals, mining, and farming.

 

The Making of Minecraft by Jennifer Zeiger is a book on a similar topic to the one reviewed at the beginning of this blog. It discusses the beginnings of Minecraft, and how it quickly grew into the phenomenon that it is today.

 

Quest for the Golden Apple: an unofficial graphic novel for Minecrafters by Megan Miller is the first in a series about the adventures of Phoenix and her brother in the world of Minecraft.

 

 

Click here to view the second edition of the reviewed book above. This edition has extra content that focuses on Microsoft’s purchase of Minecraft, Persson’s last days at Mojang, and what happened to Mojang afterwards.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley is a wonderful graphic novel about her lifelong relationship with cooking. Lucy grew up in a household where food was always central. Her mother ran a catering business, grew her own food, and operated a farmer’s market stall. Due to this constant exposure, Lucy based many of her memories on food. Huevos rancheros reminds her of her adventures in Mexico with her best friend. Croissants remind her of the time she backpacked through Europe with a close college friend. Sushi takes her back to her travels in Japan. Hot chocolate, burgers, and fries remind her of traveling Italy with her father. Baking sweets became her way of working through stressful times in her life. Accompanied by these recorded memories are delicious recipes that are fun to make. After reading this graphic novel, you will gain a new appreciation for the importance different types of food can have on impacting people’s lives.

Genre: Non-fiction graphic novel

Setting: Modern-day Mexico, Italy, Japan, New York, and Chicago.

Number of pages: 173

Themes: Family, friendship, travel, growing up, and cooking.

Is this good for a book club? This would be good for book clubs that enjoy books about food.

Objectionable content? There are discussions of alcohol, periods, and pornographic magazines.

Can children read this? Teenagers would enjoy the stories.

Who would like this? Anyone who loves food.

Rating: Five stars

Classic Read: The Ladies of Missalonghi

ladies2I recently revisited an old favorite, a  short novel set in Australia in the early 1900’s. The Ladies of Missalonghi, a tale by Australian author Colleen McCullough, has a rather dismal start. Missy Wright, a thirty-three year old spinster, lives in the town of Byron with her widowed mother and crippled aunt. The three women scrape along in genteel poverty, the victims of manipulative and greedy richer relatives. Their days are always the same: meager meals, chores, and the endless handicrafts that they create to fill the empty hours.

Missy, who believes her lack of beauty and lack of money have doomed her to never marry, has one escape from the dreariness of her life. She borrows novels from the local lending library and imagines the most spectacular adventures in her mind. The librarian, a distant relation named Una, is bright and vivacious and very interested in Missy, who is generally considered a non-entity by her other relatives.

Slowly, as Missy interacts with Una, she begins to change. She stops letting local shopkeepers push her around. She stands up against a rude and condescending cousin. She takes walks alone in the bush, experiencing the beauty of her natural environment, an experience that has always been denied her in the interest of keeping her “safe”.

Missy’s evolution is an unconventional fairy tale. No one rescues her; she saves herself. Una is an example for Missy to follow rather than a fairy godmother who grants requests. There is a prince of sorts–John Smith, a mysterious newcomer to the town of Byron who is not searching for a princess but running from his past.

This short tale can be read in one sitting. Through-out the story, I kept  wondering if Missy’s newfound strength would backfire. Could she possibly stand up to an entire town, not to mention a tradition of systematic discrimination against the poor widows and spinsters in her family? Would those richer relations turn and crush her? Would her mother and aunt, who are so steeped in family tradition, even support her in her quest for freedom? There were a few surprises before I discovered the answers to these questions.

This light yet lovely tale is enjoyable.  A recommended read for those who like light romance with descriptive settings.

Sorting White Trash

indexIt was a hard call, but I’d say White Trash by Nancy Isenberg was my Number 2 Must Read of 2016 (after Chasing the Scream), but oh, have I put off writing about it because it played so much into last year’s politics it seemed as if it were written for it – but it couldn’t, because it was written before last year’s one-of-a-kind election year.

“White Trash” is a term that began just before the Civil War and became entrenched afterward, a term for the poorest white people who were absolutely uneducated, dirty, poorer than slaves – and had no desire to change their ways. They considered themselves perfectly fine and above anyone else. Rich people were to be sneered at, since they considered themselves better. Educated people were sneered at, because they considered themselves better. Yet as a class they were so despised for their lack of morals and work ethic, even slaves considered themselves above Poor White Trash.

Isenberg feels the concept goes back further than that. Who did England send over to1400306193764-cached America to pad out their colonies? Who would not be missed from the overcrowded prisons and cities? Not the landed gentry, but those persons who for whatever reason did not fit into society and were unsuccessful at supporting themselves. The Virginia Colony had to go so far as to set a death sentence for people who did not work and did not attend church on Sundays. Starvation was so bad that people resorted to cannibalism. The people sent over refused to work, preferring to run off to unsettled land (which was “owned” by others) and fend for themselves. Getting people to do the hard labor of setting up a colony was quite difficult.

Further, Isenberg says that as the country expanded, the first to move west were… the folk who refused to work for others, could not function in a society, and would rather starve than work. Each time, the ones who pushed west first were the dregs, seeking escape from prisons, debt collectors, tax men, and others who “infringed” upon them. The wild west was wild because the people who colonized it couldn’t get along with anyone.

“White Trash” has many names, depending on geography – Crackers, Okies, Rednecks, Hillbillies, Trailer Trash, Mud Eaters – all people who shun government, distrust education, live in abject poverty, and have a very flexible moral code. I don’t mean “flexible” as a pejorative but as a term to describe a juxtaposition of ideals: your baby out of wedlock is a sin, but it’s okay for me. Never take charity, but taking free stuff from this agency over here isn’t charity, it’s just free stuff. They have quite the knack for making things acceptable for them but a sin for anyone else.

Isenberg digs into both politics and popularism, citing Andrew Jack110932-004-3f4811e2son (the first person running for President who lost despite getting the most popular votes the first time he ran) as an uneducated, crass boor who appealed to the lowest masses and yet was elected President, and how he loved to flaunt that boorishness, to the distress of the American Gentry. She cites the 1970’s as a time when White Trash became hip – from Smokey and the Bandit, to the Dukes of Hazzard, to Tammy Faye Bakker and the  whole Televangelist craze. Today’s exploitainment shows like Duck Dynasty, Honey Boo Boo, and 16 and Pregnant continue to flaunt poverty, lawlessness, and lack of education as something chic and desirable.

Of course race and politics play into it. Much of the divide still stems from the Civil War, with Southern States blaming Northern States for the outcomes, and the Northern States holding the South in utter contempt. Isenberg shows how that all translates into votes, and political forums, and how those in turn affect our elections – including the recent one.

indexIsenberg is not alone in her observations. Numerous authors have also written similar observations, making her research more plausible. One is Deer Hunting With Jesus, by Joe Bageant, in which he talks about going home to rural Virginia, and why such places are becoming  a permanent underclass.  Lee Smith touches on a little of it in her dreamy autobiography Dimestore, about growing up in rural Appalachia.  Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance does a fantastic job presenting the issues from the first-hand experience of growing up in 1980’s Kentucky.

No matter what your political leanings, White Trash815bv15ciol will open your eyes to why current politics are playing out the way they are and how people are being exploited in the process, why you can’t seem to educate people out of poverty, and how that poverty persists generation after generation – and no, it’s not due to Welfare. How do we change it? How do we shape it? Or should we allow an uneducated underclass to dictate policies it knows nothing about – and chooses not to learn?  There’s no easy answer to be had, but this book is a must read and will open your eyes to a lot of things you never learned in school.