Monday, June 25, 2012

Why Gender Matters

by Dr. Leonard Sax

Grade: 3 stars

Thoughts: For the most part, this was excellent and informative. Many of the biological differences between boys and girls which result in behavioural differences have been observed by me many times. It's especially noticeable in a large family like mine, where all the boys and all the girls have some key similarities, despite the fact that some of the girls are more tomboy-ish and some of the boys are less stereotypically boyish. And because we were homeschooled, we had none of the peer pressure to be more feminine or masculine. I, for instance, had no qualms about going into computer science in university. I don't think I thought that it was a particularly male thing to do. It's just what I wanted to do.
Which is similar to an interesting point he made. Apparently in most school bands, the flute players tend to be girls and the trumpet players tend to be boys. Similarly with the lack of girls in physics, math, and computer science. But this lessens dramatically in non co-ed schools.

However, there were a couple oddities about this book, especially some instances where he stopped talking about the scientific evidence for gender differences, and instead talked about how to deal with people who don't follow the normal pattern. I'm specifically thinking about his bit on anomalous males here. He basically said you had to get rid of all their anomalous qualities, and force them to participate in organized sports. Which seems quite a stupid generalization to me, although it might be appropriate in a few cases. For some reason he didn't have the same issues with anomalous females, although he didn't really explain why.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Sorcerer's House

by Gene Wolfe

Grade: 2 1/2 stars
Story: Baxter Dunn just got out of prison, and he's destitute. But it just so happens that someone left him a very big, very strange house. And then he meets lots of ladies who help him, and finds a mysterious device which finds fish and money for him. And it gets weirder and weirder until the end.

Thoughts: This was a very strange book, and in the end, I'm not sure that I quite liked it. I kept waiting for some of the random threads to show up again. They mostly did all came together in the end, I suppose, but I still wish it had delved more into the characters and magic system. (For a somewhat spoilery example: Emlyn, Ieuan, and the triannulus--they never really showed up again after the first half of the book. I mean, the first two were important because of the fact that they were identical twins, but that's really it. And the last one never really showed up again at all, and had no real purpose in the story.)

However it really was a clever book, despite all that. I generally like a bit of strangeness in my books (The Man Who Was Thursday is one of my favourites ever, for example), and this really was close to being awesome. So close that I am definitely going to check out a lot of Wolfe's other books. Apparently one of his common attributes is unreliable narrators, which is a trope I love. (He wrote a series about a Roman soldier who has no short-term memory. It reminds me of the movie Memento, which was awesome.)

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Greyhound of a Girl

by Roddy Doyle

Grade: 2 1/2 stars
Story: Mary lives in Dublin and her grandmother is slowly dying in the hospital. Then she meets the ghost of her dead great-grandmother, and all of them (with Mary's mother as well) take a journey together into the past (metaphorically speaking).

Thoughts: This is a very real sort of book (excluding, of course, the ghost...). Mary talks, thinks, and feels like girl of that age (12, maybe? I forget--also, assuming that the Irish part is correct--I've never been to Ireland so I don't know). The plot events--though not very...plotful...exactly--seem to be to be very much would happen if four generations of women all got together for the first time in those circumstances.

I'm not sure what else to say about this one exactly. Partly because it's not really my type of book, and so I don't feel qualified to critique it. Partly because I think it is really well written, but it's also very short, so nothing jumps out at me bad or good.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Mother Tongue

by Bill Bryson

Grade: 4 1/2 stars

Thoughts: This is a book on the English language and on language in general, written by Bill Bryson, so it was pretty much a given that I'd love it. And I did indeed.
In fact, I liked it so much, and it was so chockerblock full of interesting tidbits and stories and observations, that I don't know where to start, exactly. So...let's start with page 60.

--On page 60, Bryson some words which really ought to be used more. They are so useful and specific. I am going to start using a few of them immediately:

aposiopesis: Wikipedia describes it as "a figure of speech wherein a sentence is deliberately broken off and left unfinished, the ending to be supplied by the imagination, giving an impression of unwillingness or inability to continue"; Bryson simply describes it "a sudden breaking off of thought".

crytoscopophilia: "The urge to look through peoples [sic] windows as you pass by their houses." (from the Urban Dictionary)

velleity: Bryson describes it as "a mild desire, a wish or urge too slight to lead to action". (This one I like especially. I am full of velleities all the time.)

--On page 72, he talks about the history of change concerning the word "nice". Now, I knew that it had changed a lot over the ages, but not quite this much.
"A word that shows just how wide-ranging these changes can be is nice, which is first recorded in 1290 with the meaning of stupid and foolish. Seventy-five years later Chaucer was using it to mean lascivious and wanton. Then at various times over the next 400 years it came to mean extravagant, elegant, strange, slothful, unmanly, luxurious, modest, slight, precise, thin, shy, discriminating, dainty, and - by 1769 - pleasant and agreeable. The meaning shifted so frequently and radically that it is now often impossible to tell in what sense it was intended, as when Jane Austen wrote to a friend, 'You scold me so much in a nice long letter ... which I have received from you.'"
--On page 171, he lists a bunch of words which are used differently in America vs. Britain. For instance, cotton candy vs. candy floss, and downspout vs. drainpipe. What I found interesting, and not really surprising if you think about it, was that I used about half of the American words and half of the British words. Being Canadian, this seems to generally be the case, whether it be for pronunciation, spelling, vocabulary, etc.

And there's tons of other stuff, but I can't very well quote the whole book, can I?

I don't really have any criticisms, although it would be interesting to see an updated version. This book is as old as I am, and I'd be interested to know his opinion on some more modern developments.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

by Brian Selznick

Grade: 3 stars
Story: Hugo is a orphaned thief living in a train station, who fixes the clocks there, and steals parts to fix the clockwork man which he got from his father.

Thoughts: This is the second book I've read in three days which is notable for its gorgeous illustrations. But unlike The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, this one is more than half illustrations. It is a unique format, different than a graphic novel or a normal children's illustrated book. And for this book, it worked very well indeed. It gave it a very visual and mysterious atmosphere, which fit in very well with the themes of early silent film and secretive automatons.

The fairly new movie called Hugo is based on this book. I haven't seen it yet, but what I've heard of it seems good. It think if done well, this could make a very good movie indeed, seeing as the visual aspect is so strong.