{September 20, 2011}   Ready Player One

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

As mentioned in my previous post, Ernest Cline is the genius behind the movie Fanboys, a movie that quickly became a cult classic. Cline has long been one of the basement-dwelling, light-fearing group known as nerds, and this book, Cline’s first novel, pulls together what feels like every 80s geek reference imaginable. I envision Cline at his super computer, laughing like a maniac every few paragraphs as he embeds some other sneaky piece of trivia.

Ready Player One takes place in a world that sometimes feels not far removed from our own. The recession, the one we feel today, has turned into The Great Recession. Cars are abandoned because no one can afford the price of fuel. Trailer parks, instead of sprawling over acres of land, are built upward, with one RV parked on top of another. Hardly anyone conducts their affairs in the real world; instead, nearly all humanity spends their time in the OASIS (the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), the world’s biggest MMO ever. With hundreds of thousands of virtual worlds to explore, who would want to spend any time at all in the sad, bleak reality?

When the creator of the OASIS dies, a massive hunt begins to find the Easter Egg that Halliday, the creator, hid somewhere in the OASIS. Whoever finds the egg first becomes heir to Halliday’s entire fortune. The egg is hidden behind fiendishly hard clues and three gates, requiring that the egg hunter know obscure 80s TV shows, movies, music, and video games in order to decipher the riddles and pass through each gate. This is where all of the nerdiness comes in. Wade Watts, our hero for the story and an avowed egg hunter (or “gunter”), knows almost everything there is to know about the 1980s and Halliday’s favorite games and shows. Games like Adventure, Joust, Pac-Man, shows like Family Ties, G.I. Joe. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of anything and everything you remember from the 80s.

Watts is an endearing narrator, and the world of the OASIS vivid and imaginative. Reading this made me want an immersive MMO like OASIS to play and run around in. (I guess I’ll just have to deal with World of Warcraft for now.) I will admit, though, that I had a difficult time getting into the book in the beginning. It didn’t manage to capture my attention for very long in the first thirty or so pages, and I picked it up and put it down several times because I made the commitment to sit down and actually stay there. Once I did that, I couldn’t put it down. The writing style is reminiscent of a diary writer who feels the need to record almost every detail of a day, but once you get into it, you don’t notice it as much. The story is compelling and not predictable. Though I definitely didn’t catch every reference or know every game, I knew enough to thoroughly enjoy the story.

And if all that isn’t enough, the audio book is apparently read by Wil Wheaton. It is SO on my holds list at the library, even though I’ve already read it.

My recommendation: if you’re a geeky person, pick up the book sometime soon and give it a read. It’s a fun book, and I’ll bet you anything it’s made into a movie in a few years.

Crown Publishers, August 2011, hardcover, 374 pages. Buy the book here.

{September 2, 2011}   Quick update

If you’re an ardent follower of this blog, you may have noticed that I (just now, about fifteen seconds ago) updated the Books page. It now reflects the truth: I won’t be reviewing L. A. Mental in August and there are a few books that will come between now and that book. The reason for it is this: L. A. Mental isn’t set to publish until October, so I’d rather review it at the end of September, beginning of October, to coincide with all the other nice publicity things for the book. In the interim, I have Ready Player One, recently published late last month, and Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words, a memoir about Alzheimer’s, a subject close to my heart, that will drop early next week.

I’m particularly excited for Ready Player One because of two things: 1- it’s going to be a total nerd book and 2- it’s written by the same guy who did Fanboys. Yep, that awesome movie about those Star Wars fans who road trip to sneak into Skywalker Ranch to steal Episode I before it’s released publicly. Great movie. Have I mentioned I’m a nerd? Good. So this book should be pretty fun. Early reviews said that references to all things geeky are all over the place in there, so I can’t wait.

The change in review line-up also happened because while cruising the library today, I found Ready Player One on the Express shelf. (That’s this place where, in my library, you can check out a book for three weeks but can’t renew it.) Turned out to be handy for me, because I was hold 6 of 11 on the non-Express copy of the book. So now I have it, sitting right here next to me, and I’ll be able to get a review out faster than I thought. Hurray! Keep your eyes open.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle – David Wroblewski

David Wroblewski carried around this story for years. A computer science major, he went on to earn an MFA in creative writing from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers so that he could tell this story in the way it deserved to be told. Originally from Wisconsin, he now makes his home in Colorado. Edgar Sawtelle is his debut novel and has been awarded with such distinctions as the 2008 Colorado Book Award and an Oprah Book Club pick while he himself was an Indie Choice Best Author Discovery.

Edgar Sawtelle takes place in rural Wisconsin near and in the Chequamegon National Forest. Edgar Sawtelle is born mute, learning to speak in a sign language that is half his own invention. He lives a wonderful life with his mother and father, helping raise and train a fictional breed of dog that respond as well to his signing as to verbal commands, until his uncle comes to live with them and his father suffers a tragic accident. Edgar is convinced that his uncle had something to do with it, but his plan to prove it backfires and Edgar flees to the Chequamegon, followed by three Sawtelle dogs. Here he learns not only how to survive but what makes a Sawtelle dog so special.

My deepest regret after finishing this book is not having read it sooner. I’d not heard of it before the Publishing Institute in July (where I was not only fortunate enough to hear about the book, I was able to attend an author visit at the Tattered Cover on 16th Street), so I think it’s one of those quietly famous books (though having a blurb from Stephen King on the back of your book certainly can’t hurt things). However, I do believe that books come to us at particular moments in our lives, even if their meaning to us waits for another moment. Reading Edgar Sawtelle even one year ago, though it still would have been powerful, wouldn’t have had the same impact as now.

Though the book moves around the Sawtelle dogs, the heart of the story is so much more. The dogs are an integral part of those workings, and through his interactions with them does Edgar transform from boy to man. In one sense, it’s a coming of age story, seen, filtered, and augmented by the dogs’ visions of events. Each dog becomes a character in its own right, capturing and holding the reader’s attention and affection. (My favorite is Essay, because she reminds me of one of the dogs in my life, though I have a deep fondness for all of them. Who’s yours?)

Wroblewski deftly weaves his narration, casting a spell that only grows stronger with each page turned. I found myself thinking that the world when I was required to put the book down felt somewhat less vibrant than the one in my hands. I felt that I knew all of the characters, I could feel and understand their motivations, and I envied them their dogs. I could see, with crystal clarity, each setting in the book. I could hear voices (in the good way) and feel emotions. Like Shine,  this book grabs you. But it’s more in the way you can’t help but listen to a supremely gifted storyteller, which is, after all, what Wroblewski has shown himself to be.

Readers who are familiar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet will find themselves drawing parallels between characters and events. It is not and should not be taken for a modern retelling of the story. To do that would detract value from Edgar Sawtelle, for there is more to the story than revenge. So, dear reader, you may keep Hamlet and his story in the back of your mind, but do not impose anything from it onto Edgar. Allow him to tell his own story. Anyway, it’s not a direct match, so you will be disappointed if you try. If you haven’t read Hamlet, don’t worry. You’ll be in fine shape.

My recommendation: drop your current reading list and put this book at the top. Buy it.


Ecco Books, Sept. 2008, hardcover, 566 pages. Buy the book here.

{August 22, 2011}   “Shine” – Lauren Myracle

This post marks the first of my reviews. Over in the Books page, there’s a short list of the books I’m set to cover in the next few days. I am open to suggestions for anything to review; my spectrum of genres is going to be pretty wide since my list of books includes something from almost everywhere. I’ll keep the Books page updated with what’s coming next, but I’m always willing to derail my train for a good read. Books reviewed will be from a variety of years, some from this year, some not yet published (though I only have two), and a lot from years past. I’ve been a little lax with my reading of late.

Here’s the way this will work for now. I’ll introduce you to the book and the author, give you my take on it, my review, and end with a recommendation. I don’t do ratings systems very well; I always find a reason to rate something between the lines and hardly ever give the highest mark. So instead, I’ll have a tier of recommendations, whether I recommend reading it right now, buying it, renting it from the library, passing, and so on. Keep in mind that everything is my opinion and that I am not making money off any of this. I’m doing it for fun and to give me more of a reason to read books. It’s a win-win.

Shine – Lauren Myracle

Myracle is a New York Times bestselling author most famous for her Internet Girls trilogy (ttyl, ttfn, and l8r, g8r), books written entirely in IM from the points of view of three teenaged girls. She’s a current resident of Fort Collins, CO, which is actually how I heard about her in the first place. I worked for an author for about a year my senior year of undergrad, and during a talk about authors, the industry, and making it big, Myracle and a few other local authors were mentioned. Shine was suggested to me as a good book I should read.

The book is hailed as a radical departure from her usual writing. This novel is gritty and heart-breaking, set in Black Creek, North Carolina, a rural, podunk town where it feels that you’ll never get out and make it somewhere else. Shine opens with the news coverage of the brutal beating of Patrick, a sixteen-year-old resident of the town. The sheriff brands the attack a hate crime perpetrated by outsiders against Patrick’s sexual orientation , and that’s the end of it. For him. Patrick’s former best friend, Cat, can’t accept that and embarks on her own quest to who did it and why.

Myracle’s narrator, Cat, is a compelling and understandable character. As she gets farther into the layers of mystery surrounding the attack on Patrick, Cat is faced with dark images from her own past that she must deal with in order to get closer to the truth. Most members of her community are unhelpful, remarking that it’s such a pity that Patrick was attacked but if he hadn’t been what he was…well. Small town prejudice prevents anything from being done in terms of the law, and Cat finds herself running up against a caliber of tight-lippedness one rarely sees. All of it serves to make her more determined to figure out what happened, but some people will do almost anything to keep their secrets from seeing the light of day.

The novel both references and evokes Matthew Shepard, the man brutally beaten and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998. His was a name I hadn’t heard until I moved to Fort Collins for college. Shepard died in the Poudre Hospital there, and Colorado State University and the GLBT community there keep his memory alive. His was a tragedy that finally brought light to the discrimination members of the GLBT community felt then and still experience now.

Shine weaves two heart-wrenching stories together, those of Patrick and Cat, and ends with redemption. Myracle’s book isn’t contrived and doesn’t turn the other way. She takes on the difficult issues and writes about them with such power that the reader feels her insides responding. I haven’t met a book in recent memory that has physically grabbed me as much as Shine has. The characters are real and act how you’d expect them to, but not in a predictable manner. Their actions just make sense once you understand their motivations. Prepare for one intense ride: You may let go of the book, but you’ll always feel it. It touches hearts.

My recommendation: Read this book as soon as you can. It’s worth buying so you can have it on your shelf and lend it out to all the people you recommend it to.

(Disclosure: The copy I read was an advance reader’s copy I picked up at the Publishing Institute.)
Amulet Books, May 2011, hardcover, 376 pages, $16.95. Buy the book here.

{August 17, 2011}   Endings and beginnings

After a week of career and job hunting advice, the Publishing Institute ended…

…almost two weeks ago. Our last day was the fifth. I realize it’s taken me a very long time to polish off my education stories here. Part of me thinks that’s because if I don’t write a final blog post, it won’t really be over. Writing this post has the sense of finality to it. I am done with school. All of it.

It’s kind of a frightening thought.

I now have to start looking for a job. On the plus side, I interviewed with a magazine company during one of the last days and was called back for a second interview. I’ll find out soon whether or not I got the internship. I also have another interview lined up for Tuesday. I’m trying to move out of my mom’s house, not that I don’t love my mother, but it’ll be hard if I don’t have paying jobs/internships. So right now, my life is very up in the air. I have to wait to hear back from one place before I know how much I can work for the other and I need to wait for both of them before I figure out if I’ll be able to afford moving out.

While I figure out this employment thing, I’ll be reading the books that have made my list in the last few months after the Institute and working with a publisher. The list is varied and includes titles from many genres. Maybe I’ll be able to promote a living as a book blogger…right.

Current books I’m reading are The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and LA Mental.Listening to A Clash of Kings.


{August 1, 2011}   One week left

And then, dear reader, I will be all alone again. Well, maybe not, that seems a little melodramatic. I just have no idea what I’ll be doing after this week is over. Will my new friends pack up and head to New York? Will I be able to find some sort of job in the Colorado area? It’s all a little up in the air, and I don’t like that.

I accidentally had that last post as a draft, so now there’s two updates on the same day about totally different days.

Last week ended on a brilliant note: free books. Some of the presenters occasionally bring books that are raffled to the students. I’d missed three raffles, stupid randomization technology, but go the fourth, a brilliant book of protest songs. Haven’t sunk my teeth into it yet, but it looks promising. 33 Revolutions Per Minute. According to my father, 33 1/3 is the speed LPs ran at. At least, that’s what I think he said. I forget the units on that, but 33 is an important number.

Our marketing presenter also brought more books than raffle books, and we all walked away with a giant stack of ARCs and, in a few rare cases, fully published books. Some of the ARCs I scored are already published: a copy of Lauren Myracle’s Shine and 33 Revolutions. One’s set for September, another for October. It’s fantastic to actually be filling up this bookshelf here. I only unpacked one box of books because I’m working through the Redwall series and that box had those books in it. The box didn’t have too many books in it, so there was lots of empty space. No more!! In fact, I think I even ran out of room to put back the book I had already borrowed from my shelf. Oh dear.

I was sad to see marketing end; it was a fantastic lecture series and our week-long presenter was such a fabulous guy. I’m really going to miss him. This next week is a hodgepodge of things, including interviews and the legal lecture. That one I’m actually super excited for: I think copyright is fascinating.

Also at the end of last week, we visited Fulcrum Publishing in Golden. They do some terrific nonfiction, and we got to talk to each of the departments (editorial, marketing, design and production, and administration). Though I’m not big into nonfiction, though I need to change that, I think that would be a cool place to work. It’s a small press, only about 20 employees, and I like small presses.

Welp, tomorrow is independent publisher day. We were supposed to create a book pitch over the weekend, and we get to toss our ideas at the publishing house of our choice. It’s only a little intimidating.

{July 20, 2011}  

It must be in my blood: I loved taking a field trip to Frederic Printing. Watching all of the machines suck down paper at incredible rates and seeing the finished (well, almost finished) product come out the other end was exhilarating. I walked around that whole place with my mouth open, staring shamelessly at everything pointed out to us and some things that weren’t.

In Dallas, my dad’s mom’s side of the family owns a printing company. I’ve toured it a couple times, but it’s been years since I was there and I don’t remember to much about it. I do have notepads from my visits, though, lots and lots of notepads with “Millet the Printer” on the bottom of the page. I’m sure this influenced my decision to go into publishing in some way. Some small nut in my brain started turning when I toured my family’s company and hatched, ‘scuse me, cracked, later on down the road after I beat it with enough books.

Along with the printing field trip (a newly added field trip at the Institute, and I’m glad they added it when I got there!), Monday had the design workshop. A graphic designer, from Fort Collins even (!), came in and showed us a little bit of the process from book jacket idea to finished jacket. She talked about what the editor likes and what she likes, how they differ, and what she does to resolve that. She even spoke a little about magazine design and how she redesigned Women’s Adventure when the old designer left. I would have liked to see a demonstration of how she works with the software to create a cover, but I understand that it would have taken way more time than we had to give her.

Monday also featured a lecture on digital production. Though filled with fascinating content (I’m sure it was), the presenter just couldn’t get my attention. He talked about how a digital product is made, specifically reference books like encyclopedias since that’s what his company does, the steps it goes through from concept to finished digital product. Though I should have figured it by now, it depressed me to learn that a lot of the work that goes into a product like that is outsourced. They have offshore full-service vendors they send their products to to be edited and worked on because it’s cheaper. I think they make enough money that they don’t need to worry about that, but then again, I’m not their accountant.

Monday night was baseball night. I went to Coors Field with seventeen other people, sat up in the third deck and cheered the Rockies on to a sad defeat. But it was fun, I talked with some people I haven’t talked to yet, and had a wonderful sense of pride because I’ve spent most of my life around here and could direct everyone from the light rail to the field. I was asked by several people who to root for on the Rockies. I felt like a sort of expert. (Thank you, sweetie.)

Tuesday was a good day. Not really because I completely enjoyed the presentations (which I didn’t). Though I find it a little sad when I don’t enjoy a presentation, either because the speaker isn’t a good speaker or because the presentation is on something I’ve no interest in, it’s also somewhat of a good thing. Lectures I’m not interested in give me another filter for when I’m exploring the world of job hunting. I’m narrowing down what I’d be interested in doing later in life. I had an idea when I came to the Institute, but I opened up my options when I started here and now I’m closing them down again. I’m also learning a whole lot about the publishing industry, even through those presentations that aren’t quite riveting. It’s a good thing.

I was able to read a little in one of my fun books and watch a movie with my mom and sister Tuesday night. Those are rare occurrences, and I’m quite happy I was able to swing that. Huzzah for homework that doesn’t take five hours.

And now I head to another fun-filled day.

Story time.

Back in late April, I signed myself up for a digital account with The New York Times in order to be able to really work on the final paper for my International Mass Communication course. I needed to view more articles than the free 20 they allow you, and they had this nifty thing where I could sign up for a month for about a dollar and cancel anytime I wanted. Being a poor college student, I didn’t want to pay the $15 that would be billed me if I kept the account longer than a month. So before the month was up, I canceled the subscription. Imagine my surprise and horror when I looked at my bank account and discovered I had still been charged the $15 though I had already canceled. Calling customer service proved to be a tough thing to do. I phoned once and was connected to a very unhelpful lady who insisted that I hadn’t canceled soon enough and it was, essentially, my own damn fault and no refund would be posted to me. After fuming about it for a couple minutes, I looked at a calendar and discovered that the unhelpful lady was, in fact, incorrect, and I had canceled in time. So I phoned again, praying to be connected to someone else and I was. This lady was much more helpful, acknowledging that I had indeed canceled before the month and shouldn’t have been billed again. I hung up the phone assuming that a refund was on its way.

Assumptions have a crazy way of coming back to bite you.

So after a little more than a month of waiting and watching my bank account for the supposedly promised refund, it still hadn’t arrived. I figured it was worth one more call to customer service to inquire about my refund and why it was taking so long.

I’ve been on the phone for a long time. I called and was connected to another helpful lady. She understood my plight but couldn’t help me herself, so I was transferred to the head honco of some branch of the customer service. I’ve been on hold at least 5 times, possibly more, while she goes off to verify something or other, get in contact with someone or other, and tries to sort this whole thing out. Last time I spoke with her, she said something about not wanting to lead me on about the refund, which I take to mean it may or may not be coming. I’ve sort of resigned myself to the idea that I might not get my refund (though I think I’m entitled to it…and I’m poor), but honestly I could use $15.

Twenty-eight minutes. That’s how long I was on the phone with them. And it’s not even all settled yet, either. I’m going to receive a call either later today or tomorrow at the latest. They need to do some digging around with the stuff on their end and she didn’t want to keep me on hold for longer than she had already. Which is nice. So hopefully they’ll be able to sort through the mess. Apparently since my account is already terminated, it’s very hard for them to figure out what’s gone on with it, so they can’t be sure (right now) if there has been a refund posted and it’s on its way. So we’ll see, I suppose.

And now I’m off to the library to paw through some of their reference books for the economics workshop preparations.

{July 5, 2011}   Put a witty title here

Remember the Chicago Manual of Style? Turns out the readings for this large tome amount to almost the entire work. I looked in the table of contents, and I think we’re only skipping two or three of the chapters. Granted, each chapter amounts to a substantial chunk of the book and I’m grateful that we aren’t required to read the whole thing (though I probably will sometime later), but it’s still a lot of reading.

Thankfully, I’ve read the chapter on grammar, at least, in the 15th edition (Nerd alert), so it won’t really have changed. It’s always good to go back and get a refresher on all those things, though.

I like to blame some of my ineptness with grammar on the fact that I never diagrammed sentences when I was in elementary or middle school. It’s just an easy target. To remedy this, both for the Institute and for the rest of my life as I hope to deal with grammar for a good long portion of it, I have requested a book from my public library, Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: the quirky history and lost art of diagramming sentences by Kitty Burns Florey. I found it when I was looking through some of those publishing newsletters I’m subscribed to and put it on my list of books that might be worth reading. It’s on its way, and I should get a call when it’s ready.

I’m looking forward to it; I might even bump that book up to the top of my “read for fun” list. Currently on that list is Brian Jacques entire Redwall series. I’m terribly behind (I was racing my sister) at The Bellmaker. I try to read a chapter or two a night, but that’s a rather slow pace. Thanks, DPI, for all the homework!

I jest. I’m actually quite enjoying these advance assignments from the Institute. Speaking of…I need to get a system going for the last few days, here! The time is almost upon me, and I still have a good bit to do. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make a schedule of what I need to do.

{June 27, 2011}   Books, books, books

First things first: I snagged a new audio book, A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, off’s free trial offer. Note to self, cancel the subscription soon so you don’t get charged money you don’t have for a service you probably won’t use enough.

I moved this weekend. It’s the biggest reminder that the Institute is coming up soon. I’m still up in my old apartment, haven’t fully moved out yet, because I still can work a couple extra days so I get a little extra money. My apartment is ridiculously empty, though, and I’m sleeping on the floor with a blanket and a sleeping bag. Good thing I’m still young, my mom said.

I’ve been thinking for the last few days that it might be super-awesome to work in a bookstore when I get out of the Institute. The more I read about it through these publishing newsletters my boss recommended I sign up for (Shelf Awareness, Publisher’s Weekly), the more it sounds like a fantastic job. Stand around and help people find amazing books all day? Sure! Read the newest books before anyone else so you can recommend them to people? Absolutely! Take books home to read for an ‘assignment’? Sign me up!

What I’m coming to realize, I think, is that just about any job that entails working with books is going to make me happy. Obviously, the closer I am to the book, the happier I’ll be. This is a good realization because it means that just about any job I could get in the publishing institute will make me happy at least some of the time. And that’s what’s really important in a job, right?

et cetera