Archive for the ‘Reading level: Sophisticated reader’ Category

Review: Arrival/The Story Of Your Life

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

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Following are my thoughts about the movie, Arrival.

Despite my efforts, it’s possible that reading this post will spoil the movie for you. I’m not intending to, but would hate if I did …

So, maybe, watch the movie, or read the novella The Story Of Your Life by Ted Chiang before you read further? Watching the film and especially reading the novella – well worth your while.

By the time I turned 10, I could distinguish between the dreams that were predictive and the ones of that are mere processing.

It’s not as if those early portents were of much consequence.

The structure of those early Knowings was part of their message.

Every one of those early dreams would begin with me in a place I’d never been in before.

First, I’d see every detail of my surroundings, as if the camera were panning around the place so I’d remember it when next I saw it. It was as if the Universe were announcing, “Stay turned for the following important Message.

But then what would come next would not seem to me to be an important message at all. In the dream, I’d participate in an innocuous conversation with someone, sometimes someone I already knew, sometimes not.

Sometimes, the conversation would be a disagreement, but it was not usually something I cared about very much, in the dream at least. Usually, I had very little context. These messages were not very long – maybe a minute or two of talk at most after the scene had been set.

Despite my resentment that the Universe was instructing me to store such a ridiculously uninteresting tableau, I would remember these Messages.

Then, sometime later – a day, week, month, or year later – the exact conversation that I’d dreamed would take place in my waking life in precisely the place I dreamed it would. Every word that I’d dreamed would be spoken. Every item I’d dreamed of would be on every shelf; every leaf would tremble just as it did in the dream.

Every time one of my dreams played out in my real life, I wondered, at the end of its reiteration, if I should tell the person I was talking with that I had already had the conversation we’d been having. Usually, I didn’t. Once in a while, if I were talking with someone I knew would just honor my honesty and not argue with me, I’d say something like, “You know, I dreamed this conversation a few weeks ago. I was thinking of trying to deliberately deviate from the script I dreamed, but felt bound to relive it as the dream instructed me to.” What would you do if you were talking with an 8-year old who told you something like this, or even a 20-year old? You’d move on to other topics, wouldn’t you?

Much later on, some of my dreams would predict real, consequential events in my life. These dreams would be less specific as to exact location and words spoken. After all the dreams, all the training, the Universe knew I was familiar with the drill.

In these later dreams, I’d dream the thing happening and Know it would happen and that I could not stop it. In these cases, when I’d startle awake from the dream, I’d usually tell the person I was with what I’d dreamed would happen. And we would agree, because we were grown-ups, that I could not renege on my commitment on the basis of the dream.

So, for example, on the morning I awoke to lightning flashing after a dream in which I was a passenger in a car that crashed on a wet, windy road in Princeton Junction, NJ, I got on the train that took me to Princeton Junction (should I have canceled the trip), seated myself in the passenger seat (should I have insisted upon driving), my mother driving, and the car was hit head-on by an idiot who took a curve too wide and totaled it (should I have suggested an alternate route?).

As we sat on the side of the road, I did NOT tell me mother I had known since I’d awoken that we would not be driving in that car ever again.

Needless to say, I am not good at sleeping. But now, my Messages don’t only come in dreams. Often, I just Know things that will happen. And, as even the Greeks have told us, the world does not appreciate hearing dire predictions, and resent people who say “I told you so.”

Knowing things without any basis for Knowing them is, if anything, even worse than dreaming them. In particular, with close family and friends, I often Know what will happen (sometimes very specifically) as soon as they describe some path they are considering. It is only rarely that I tell them what I Know.

There’s a movie out now. I think it will not be in theatres for long. It’s called Arrival, and it’s based on a novella called “The Story Of Your Life” by Ted Chiang that I recognized as a Message from the Universe when I first read it in around 2002.

The first time I saw Arrival, I went alone to a free Women Who Code showing. With my foot in a cast, I walk slowly and I got into the showing 15 minutes late.

Although I enjoyed the film, I felt that if I had not read the story first, I would not have been able to understand it. But I thought that maybe this was because I’d missed the beginning.

So, last week, I dragged my husband and daughter with me to see it again, beginning to end this time.

Turned out that DH, who has a terrifying ability to grok any movie plot no matter how confused, understood every single thing about Arrival.

My daughter, who is brilliant in general and a very savvy watcher of movies, was indeed confused. Also, I misunderstood when I thought she had asked me what exactly Arrival was about, and when I told her, she was extremely miffed with me.

Given its thoughtful pace and meditative mood, my feeling is that Arrival is not going to be a blockbuster. But it’s a film that adult children ought to take their parents to. The kids are unlikely to get it; the parents will on first watch.

Then, you all, read the novella. The novella avoids a lot of the silliness of the movie and gives the complete Message.

(Based on my recent Knowings, the endings of both the movie and the story feel inappropriately optimistic, but then Chiang was writing just after 9/11 and before the Iraq Invasion, when the world was a very different place.)

In this very cool piece, a linguist reality-checks the process Amy Adams’ character used to learn the alien’s language.

Book review: Harmonic Feedback

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

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Author:Tara Kelly
Reading Level (Conceptual):Sophisticated readers
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Year of publication:2010

I really liked this book: it's told from the perspective of a girl diagnosed with Asperger's and ADHD.

Her biggest challenge in the book was realizing that the labels "normal" and "abnormal" are nothing more than labels, and that nobody is the same, so "normal" is subjective.

I found that her mental journey to that realization was very well put together and really hit home.

Note: High school level: drugs, sex.

-- Fizzy

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Book review: Marsbound

Monday, June 14th, 2010

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Author:Joe Haldeman
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Year of publication:2009

Very sci-fi. Interesting take on the future.

In this setting the future seems just like now, except for updated space travel and things like that. It doesn't get toooo into details on the world, because almost all of it takes place in space. Anyways. The story follows Carmen, who is the first to discover inhabitants on mars. I like her as a character because she is very questioning of the rules and is just an interesting perspective to view the book through. Within the book there is also a romantic strand, so I'd more recommend this for women then men.

This definitely contains adult content.

-- Fizzy

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Marsbound

Book review: Makers

Friday, February 5th, 2010

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Author:Cory Doctorow
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:fiction, cyberpunk
Year of publication:2009

Let me start by saying that I would like at least one of every invention described in Makers. I am particularly taken by the RFID/GPS/labeling/cataloging system that allows a person to locate any item they have tagged by typing in its name. But I would be happy to ride The Ride, or own any one or all of the tiny robots, the Super Marios, well, truly, any and all of them.

Doctorow also puts forward an interesting business model - the 6 months and you're out theory of manufacturing anything. Seems exhausting, but true to life. And may very well be the only viable model for hardware manufacturing in the future.

That said, Makers is the book that Ayn Rand would have written instead of The Fountainhead if she'd lived a few years later and chosen engineering rather than architecture as her metaphor.

In the Makers world, anyone with a moderate-to-high IQ is not only smart, but sensitive, creative, well-intentioned, and deep-down-to-the-core good (although sometimes that is not immediately apparent). Sure smart guys (and they are mostly guys, of course) may occasionally take actions that send others to the hospital for months at a time, but they do eventually realize the error(s) of their ways and take steps to correct them.

Women in the Makers world are very, very bright, attracted to Makers, attractive, moral, tolerant, thrifty, ... well, you know, they are pretty much not very reality-based.

Oh, and then there are the policemen. Seems that policemen (and lawyers) were pretty much put on this earth to physically and/or psychically destroy smart people.

Anyway, the plot moves along at an involving pace. And you like and approve of and root for all the smart people who are constantly inventing all kinds of very cool things.

And then appears the very horrific random outburst of violence or kind of overly long sex scene (but then, I am probably not the target audience of this book; maybe the Powers That Be thought these were necessary).

So, anyway, I'm very glad I read this book. But I did feel that Death Waits was treated overly harshly. He is a very young smart person, no doubt, but he IS a smart person, if not an engineer. It's good that in some fictional universes, smart people are not the enemies. Now, in addition, I'd really like to visit a fictional universe in which smart women are people too.

-- Emily Berk

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Makers

Book review: The Island of the Colorblind

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

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Author:Oliver Sacks
Reading Level (Conceptual):Sophisticated readers
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Sophisticated readers
Genre:Non-fiction: Science
Year of publication:1998

My daughter and I listened to Dr. Sacks' narration of this book on audio tape. Listening to his quirky voice and sophisticated vocabulary requires intense concentration, but is well worth it.

My daughter was engrossed by the topics discussed, and inspired by the author himself. At one point, Sacks riffs on the wonders of the Paleozoic cycad forests, and my daughter, with love and admiration, exclaimed, "My but aren't WE a nerd?" (Acknowledging in the intonation of that sentence that she is one too.)

Here is her rather informally written review:

The title of this book is a little misleading, because it doesn't only discuss colorblindness. The book is really a collection of three adventures that Oliver Sacks has had.

It is pretty cool, to me at least, because he discusses different islands that have not yet been modernized and upon which plants have been allowed to keep evolving at their own pace.

Sacks uses many science-y words, and I think I would have been a little bit overwhelmed by them all if I hadn't been listening to his stories as an audiobook, but the big words aren't really the point...

Anyways, super cool, with descriptions of really enchanting, science-y, yet mysterious places.

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Island of the Colorblind, The

Book review: The Kite Runner

Friday, September 18th, 2009

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Author:Khaled Hosseini
Reading Level (Conceptual):Sophisticated readers
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Sophisticated readers
Year of publication:2008

An amazing book, but sooooo sad... I wish Hosseini could have given it a slightly happier ending. I think it is cool that we were able to see an up close and personal view of Afghanistan, even if it was not really a joyful thing to see. It shows how ignorant, I at least, am about the rest of the world.

I like how we get to see Amir's understanding of his life change as he grows up and figures out his needs and how to solve them (his need for forgiveness, of freedom of choice, and ideas, revenge...)

--Fizzy, age 14

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Kite Runner, The

Book review: Dancing to the Precipice: The Life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, Eyewitness to an Era

Friday, August 28th, 2009

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Author:Caroline Moorehead
Reading Level (Conceptual):Sophisticated readers
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Sophisticated readers
Genre:non-fiction, history
Year of publication:2009

Lucie de la Tour du Pin was born into an aristocratic family, served as lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette in her early adulthood, then went on to marry for love (not common in those days), birth and lose many children, and survive the treacherous political turmoils that began with the French Revolution.

After reading this book, I was not certain I understood much more than I did before about the French Revolution, but I did empathize a great deal more than I had before with the French aristocracy of that time. For example, Moorehead continually implies that Talleyrand was evil (and was he so terrible compared to the many other participants of the Terror??!!!) but never quite tells us what awful things he did.

Starting in mid-life, Lucie began a memoir, not published until long after she died, and I assume that Moorehead used this document as the basis for much of her narrative.

Which probably explains why the author flits between levels of detail; there are weeks of Lucie's life described down to the taste of the food she ate but then whole years pass without much information. I came away convinced not that history is written by the victors (a quote attributed, but not definitively assigned to Winston Churchill), but instead that history is written by those who write things down.

Not a book for the sensitive reader, but a fascinating description of an "ordinary", if upperclass, women who played a small part in history and lived to tell us about it.
Similar books

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Dancing to the Precipice: The Life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, Eyewitness to an Era

Movie review: The Thin Man

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

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Recommended for ages 12 and up

Released in 1934, this was the first in the series of Thin Man movies.

We watched this as a family. Perhaps it is less confusing on the big screen. I am not terribly good at mysteries and I am also not a very keen observer of film, but for the first hour of this film, neither my cinematically literate husband nor daughter could differentiate between the women in the movie nor could they follow the action or dialog. I ended up having to explain everything to them and since I guessed most of the plot within the first 10 minutes, I accidentally ended up telling them what happened early on too.

So, anyway, your standard oblivious, not-kind-to-others genius disappears, and a couple of rich dilettantes who are much smarter than the bungling detective assigned to the case help find out what happened, even though they drink pretty much constantly, and what’s in those glasses is not water.

The women’s dresses/gowns are astonishing (think all-Bjork-all-the-time). The dog is adorable. The bad guys are ugly. There’s no food at any party, just liquids (not water). The dialog is fast-paced, delivered in varying degrees of New-York-ese, and old-fashioned.

Challenging to follow, maybe not a bad thing in a film. But really — a mystery that I solved within minutes? I who never predict plot twists in film unless they are blasted out to me? Maybe I saw this film before in a previous life….

Get The Thin Man

Book review: The Color of Magic

Monday, July 27th, 2009

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Author:Terry Pratchett
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Year of publication:2000

This was Pratchett's first Discworld book and it's one I have tried to read several times before without successfully finishing it. This past spring, it was just about all-Pratchett-all-the-time for my 14 yr. old and me. After reading and just really loving Nation, I decided to try this one one more time.

My least favorite aspects of Discworld are the elephant-riding-the-turtle parts (its creation myth). And in the first books of this series, that seems to be given a great deal of attention.

Which is why The Color of Magic is still not my favorite of Pratchett's many novels. On the other hand, this is the book in which the walking/attack-dog suitcase debuts, as does Pratchett's very special Death. Funny, scary, absolutely real if mythological, these are arche-typ-ical Pratchett creations.

While I still did not love this particular story, I am more fond of it than I had been now that I have actually finished reading it.

-- Emily

Note: This novel is in Pratchett's Discworld series, which is not calibrated for young adult readers.

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Color of Magic, The (Discworld #1)

Book review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

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Author:Mark Twain
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Sophisticated readers
Year of publication:1884

When i started this book i had to get used to the language and it went along rather slowly, but as i continued to read it, I sped up and by the end i was very satisfied.

Huck Finn describes a historical period (it's set during times of slavery) and i found it very interesting to be in the mind of a boy struggling with the moral problems of setting a slave free.

--Fizzy, age 14

Note from Emily:

It took Fizzy nearly a year to read Huckleberry Finn. It was not an easy read, and so, when something more flashy came along, say, Twilight, Fizzy would put Huck down.

And then the transition back was challenging. But every time she started reading Huck Finn again, she would say, "NOW I remember why I like this book." It is not just the dialog that makes reading difficult here. It is also about the concepts.

What is the difference between "owning a person" and taking responsibility for a person? What are the rights of parents and society over children, who do sometimes know right and wrong better than their elders? This is a deep, dangerous book, and not only for its time, but still, now, more than a hundred years later. Amazing.

In many ways it was like when she read Kim a few years back. (Except then I did help with the reading, this time, she read the entire book to herself.) LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Kim. Didn't really want to read more "grown-up" Kipling for a while afterward. Although, Jungle Book and "Just So Stories", which are not all that easy to read either, are still often in our minds.

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The