30 Books in 2018 #6: Origin by Dan Brown

About two years ago, I was on a second date with a perfectly nice man. We’d met at a singles event (always fun and never awkward…) had had a nice coffee and were now having dinner. He was also a writer, though his thing was political thrillers, one of which he’d self published already. (I was going to wait until like the fifth date to read his book…) He mentioned that Dan Brown was his favorite writer, which struck me as an odd thing for a writer to say because like, Dan Brown is fine, but he’s basically the vanilla yogurt of writers, not really anyone’s “favorite,” certainly not someone interested in writing their own stuff.

When I said that I’d read most of his stuff and it didn’t click with me because once I figured out the formula, I’d ceased to find his thrillers, you know, thrilling, he stared at me like, well, like a character in a Dan Brown novel who’d just learned that some deeply held conviction of theirs was ACTUALLY NOT THAT AT ALL!

There wasn’t a third date. He never called me again. I’ve decided it’s because of that anecdote. (Because that comment made me come off as jerky and elitist, and I made him feel stupid.)

I tell this story for a specific reason when talking about Brown’s books:

I’m hesitant to judge anyone’s choice in “junk food entertainment.” Just because I prefer romance novels about spies during the Napoleonic wars to Professor Robert Langdon’s improbable adventures with secret religious societies throughout Europe, doesn’t mean I think I’m better than the people that do. That would be like saying, the because I’d rather eat Oreos I’m a better person than those that go for Doritos. They’re both kind of garbage, but sometimes, you want garbage.

Origin is definitely a straightforward Dan Brown story, and while the BIG REVELATION won’t really shock anyone even remotely familiar with the philosophies of New Atheism or Futurism (I am passing familiar with both, in that I’ve read at least one article by Christopher Hitchins and seen Bill Maher’s Religulous and I’ve been to Disney World a bunch of times and watched Star Trek)

This time Harvard Symbologist Robert Langdon (SO DUMB) is running around Spain with the Prince of Spain’s beautiful fiancee who is also a modern art curator, Ambra Vidal (sure, whatever) and a sentient AI named Winston (BEST IDEA THAT BROWN HAS EVER HAD!) trying to outrun an assassin who shot and killed a mutual friend, noted futurist and New Atheist Edmond Kirsch, who was on the verge of ANNOUNCING A SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY THAT WILL DESTROY OUR UNDERSTANDING OF HUMAN LIFE AS WE KNOW IT. (It really, really doesn’t.) (Much as it’s really really not that controversial to point out that Jesus may have had a family, and thus have living descendants) (Or whatever it is that happened in Angels And Demons.) 

I’m getting down on this book but I enjoyed reading it, it certainly has it’s share of ridiculousness, and there’s a pretty heavy handed anti neo-fascist message, which while appreciated in a piece of popular fiction like Origin, is maybe out of Brown’s depth thematically. The mystery is actually pretty fun, Langdon is at his charming, bafflingly well informed best, and THIS BOOK HAS A SENTIENT CELL PHONE NAMED AFTER WINSTON CHURCHILL IN IT, so you know, that’s pretty cool.

The dialog is often groan worthy, and while I get that Dan Brown’s general audience is older, I really think the page long description of what Uber is could have been cut. (I actually laughed out loud at that point) I genuinely liked the post climax action where Langdon explains his own religious beliefs, noting the difference between patterns and codes. (Patterns can occur randomly, codes require intent, life requires a code, thus must have some sort of intelligence behind it’s creation.) (Langdon is clearly a fan of St. Thomas Aquinas.)

I was wondering if Origin would make me want to go back and check out the Langdon books I skipped (Inferno and The Lost Symbol.) It didn’t, but it also didn’t feel like a complete waste of time! Hooray!


Renegades, World Building, And Other Thoughts


This summer, when I read The Lunar Chronicles, I eventually fell head over heals with the complicated and fun sci fi fairytale world that Marissa Meyer created. (Also, when I learned she got her start with Sailor Moon fan fiction, a lot of her decisions suddenly made a lot more sense to me.) And, I give an immense amount of credit to both  The Lunar Chronicles and The Dark Tower and their games of genre mashup, which helped give me the confidence to finally dive in and work past my fear of making The Marina Chronicle what I wanted it to be and to share it with people. (HEY! READ THE MARINA CHRONICLE! Also check out my facebook, where there is now an album of likenesses I created of many of the characters!) (The genres I’m mashing up are old school WB style teen dramas and epic fantasy.) (It’s easier than you’d think.) (If you live in my head.)

But, when I finished Cinder I thought, “I liked this, and I think the world is cool, but it took a while for me to get into it.”

And here’s the thing, the exact same thing happened while I was reading Renegades: Book 1, the first book in Meyer’s new series about super heroes and villains.

I love the conceit. A world where people with powers come to prominence, live for years in a world of villain sponsored chaos and then a group of super heroes defeat the villains and establish something akin to an autocratic rule. In the middle you’ve got a generation of teens who remember the terror of their childhood, but aren’t sure about the new system either.

At it’s center is Nova, a girl raised by supervillains, who infiltrates The Renegades, and find her loyalties torn when she falls in love with the son of two of the most influential Renegades.

This book has everything I love. Seriously, super heroes, girl lead, teens with powers, star crossed romance, murky motivation, philosophical discussions about the nature of human beings and societal constructs.

But it took me forever to get into it. Like, I would read a chapter, think, “huh,” put it down and then not pick it back up again for a week.

Finally,  because I’m starting a new reading project for 2018 in January, I decided I was going to finish it last night.

And once I got to about the halfway point, I was hooked. I was invested in Nova and Adrian’s love story. I was invested in the murky decisions the Renegades were making. I was invested in the Anarchists (the villain gang that raised Nova) and their goals. I was invested in Nova and her torn loyalties.

But, here’s the thing, this story that has all these elements that I love should not take nearly one hundred pages to hook me, and as it’s now the second time this has happened with me and Meyer, I think it must be some disconnect between me and her way of kicking off stories.

But I like her stories, so I guess I’m going to keep reading. And in the end Renegades was very worth it.

Anyway, about that 2018 reading project? Like The Vonnegut project, (cut off early, and unfinished, because my depression was sort of kicking my ass, and I needed to lighten up my media intake for a bit) (this is also why I haven’t watched The Punisher yet and I’ve been rewatching Psych!) (Psych is awesome!) (And really good for depression watching.) (It’s so perky and life affirming!) it’s about making sure that I stretch my brain a little bit. I’m going to read an epic novel every months of 2018. I’m starting in January with War And Peace. (What, Natasha, Pierre And The Great Comet of 1812 has nothing to do with the decision…what a ridiculous thought.) I’ll also be tackling Dune, Middlemarch, David Copperfield, Infinite Jest & probably Ulysses.

That’ll push me up to June, and I’m sure others will come to me in that time, but I’m SUPER open to suggestions. I’m trying not to reread any epics I’ve already read. Though I’m overdue to try Les Mis again, and I’m curious what my new slightly woker self would think of Gone With The Wind and no visit to Middle Earth is wasted, it’s time to expand my view a little bit. ESPECIALLY looking for epic novels not written by white dudes. Or white people in general, as my those first six are REALLY white. (I’ve also already read The Color Purple.)

I know.: RIP Carrie Fisher

A lot of people died in 2016. A lot of them were really famous and inspiring, but two of them were my great aunt and grandmother, so that’s keeping the celebrity deaths in perspective. (Seriously, the angel of death seemed really cruel this year.)

But I guess we couldn’t be left very well alone in the last 4 days of the years, because now Carrie Fisher is among them.

Back in the early, early days of starting this blog, I wrote about Princess Leia, and the blurry lines between second and third wave feminism as I saw it then. (I’ve grown a lot in the past five years.) Leia has meant a lot to me as a writer, a fan, a critic and a woman. Carrie Fisher’s writing means more. (I’ve got kind of a thing about acerbic troubled ladies from that generation. I’m also deeply into Norah Ephron, who is also gone. Well, SHIT.) I’ve spent a lot of time in the past decade trying to decide what kind of writer I wanted to be, and it was in finding memoir that it all finally clicked, and Wishful Drinking was a huge part of that.

I didn’t read the book but I watched the one woman show and was blown away by it’s bizarre mix of depressing self disclosure and hilarious self deprication. It was one large step towards the realization that “This is what I want to do.” I still had far to go, and I wound up a good deal less confessional, but my life is also a whole lot less interesting than hers was.

Her fearlessness in the face of aging and mental illness and addiction was remarkable and her wit and strength was incredible.

I’m writing this while watching When Harry Met Sally, because I want to remember that this woman, this indomitable woman was so much more than the one character who defined her. But I do want to talk about Princess Leia Organa, General Organa, the icon the light in every nerd girls life. Yes, we’ve dealt with fridging and Gamergate and being Smurfettes and damsels, but we had Leia. We had this beacon of strength and fire and fight and compassion and joy and love. Leia the Hutt slayer, Leia the princess, Leia the senator, Leia the general.

Every time I write a female character I make sure that she lives up to Leia. Not in the same ways, but she has to have at least as much agency, plot impact and personality. Otherwise, what’s the point?

2016 wasn’t the worst year of my life, but it wasn’t great. I fought through a baseline of depression, a job that I hated and the loss of two of the women who’d inspired me my whole life, right in my own small world. And now the world at large has lost yet another shining light that had meant so much to so many of us.

Yesterday I wrote the following: May the Force Be With You. We Know.

“I know” symbolizes “I love you” second only to “As You Wish” in my book. So that’s what I’m going with to say goodbye to Carrie Fisher, We Know. We love you. Thank you for all of it.

Rest in Peace, drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.

Busy Busy Busy: Smartening and The Kurt Vonneguys

Six months ago I decided to smarten up a little and the project failed miserably, because Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton is insanely long and dense and I wasn’t smarted up enough for it.

So, I dropped that book and the whole American History project, but lucky for me, a new presented itself to me!

Michael Swaim and Alex Schmidt, who I knew from Cracked, (by knew I mean, read their writing and watched their videos, I have not met these men.) started a podcast called The Kurt Vonneguys where they’re reading and discussing the works of Kurt Vonnegut in release order.

I’ve always liked Vonnegut’s work, and felt like I hadn’t read enough of it, so I decided to jump in. (Plus, my English major brain was missing the analysis of reading in a big way, and the podcast gives me that.) So far the podcast (and myself!) have made it through Player Piano, The Sirens of Titan and Mother Night. The one for Cat’s Cradle came out this week and I’m reading it right now. (I’m about halfway through.) Cat’s Cradle is one of my favorite books ever, so I was excited to circle back to it.

Also, given my current mood and sense of feeling overwhelmed by the world there’s something comforting in Vonnegut’s strange form of Nihilism. Unlike a lot of the “nothing matters” philosophy, Vonnegut’s point is inevitably, “nothing matter, so we might as well take care of one another, makes the nothingness more pleasant.”

There’s something comforting in that feeling right now, when it seems like common courtesy (or as some people want to call it “Political Correctness”) is considered weakness. When caring for others, particularly those who are different from you might be a radical act, I see nothing wrong with indulging in some thoughtful literature about how the world may burn, but at least we have each other.

Even if it’s all an accident, it’s a damn amazing accident.

The Tattoo Is Only The Beginning

I was travelling this weekend so I got a lot of reading in. (Finished my Harry Potter reread! I’ll have something to say about that soon, but I discover new things about those books every time I touch them, and I need to sort it out.) And there was just no way that I was getting on a plane without Amy Schumer’s book, The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo queued up in my Kindle. (Walking past it in the airports would have simply made me mad if I hadn’t done it.)

I’m glad I did, as Amy’s kind of meant a lot to me symbolically over the past few years and also because like her movie, her stand up and certain of her sketches, made me laugh and think and wonder at this tremendous woman and her talent.

The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo is often raw, particularly when Amy (yes, I will talk about her like she’s a friend of mine, I feel very connected to this woman.) discusses her family and relationships. While often hilarious, her reality involving her father’s MS, her mother’s emotional abuse and her sexual assault as a teenager are all heartbreaking. But nothing compares to her story about her abusive relationship, which is presented in such a matter of fact manner that you just want to give her a million hugs afterwards.

My favorite element of the book however, was the way Amy printed and commented on her old journal entries. Journaling, by it’s nature, is a narcissistic practice and Amy manages to make an excruciating exercise relatable and fun.

Overall I enjoyed the book, and I know because of…stuff, Schumer is not the most popular person on the internet anymore…but I’ll just always appreciate her honesty, and the way she makes me laugh and reminds me of my friends.

I Read A Book: The Year of Yes

year of yes

Why yes, I did read two books this week. And started a third. Yes, they are both books I’ve been putting off reading for reasons that I can’t even explain why. And yes, this one made me want to take on the world.

love Shonda Rhimes.

I love what she’s built. I love that she won’t apologize for being who she is, for creating things that she wants to see. I love that she’s built an empire because women were sick of not seeing stories about themselves on television, and that she started a revolution when she did it.

I loved the fictional worlds that she’d created and now that I’ve read The Year of Yes,  I feel like I know this woman who’s created these things I love a little bit better and I really admire her.

I admire her courage, and her decision to live her life saying yes in the face of fear. I liked her explanation why Christina Yang is her “favorite child” as it were. (Shonda is of course entitled to favor whichever of her creations she does, but I’ve always been a Miranda Bailey girl. And Abby from Scandal.) I loved her clear love for her children and for the people who are helping her be the best mother she can. I love that she’s chosen the life of a single woman.

I could keep going, but overall I was just deeply impressed by the book and, well, I’ve been deeply impressed by the woman for well over a decade now. I’m writing this post while watching one of her shows.

Scandal is the last of Shonda’s shows that I watch. (I need to get into How To Get Away With Murder) I jumped off the Private Practice train a few years before it ended and I think the last time I watched Grey’s Anatomy with any regularity Katherine Heigl was still on it. (God, remember how much we loved her?) But when Shonda describes writing her shows as laying track for an oncoming train. That metaphor explains a lot about her writing style, which is pretty much just plot, plot, plot…EPIC SPEECH.

But despite many of my misgivings I always enjoy my stays in Shondaland and really appreciated this view into it’s soveriegn’s mind. Also it made me want to get to writing seriously again. (Not that I don’t consider what I do here to be serious, but you know what I mean!) So I’ve been outlining a modern romantic comedy novel I want to write.

You see, once, long ago, before I let my life get overrun by fantasy and superheroes, I was going to write about young people falling in love with each other in realistic settings. So I’m going to try to do that.

And The Living Is Easy

It’s officially summer.

Well, not officially, but as far as any conventional measurement goes…

My daily walks have given me enough color that I don’t feel ghosty pale anymore…I’m ready for beach time, though I don’t know when it’s going to come.

I sometimes long for the summers of school time, when your life would slow down. Now it seems like everything goes crazy at summer time. This is partially because Tomfoolery Theatre, the group I help run, does it’s main work in the summer. (Auditions were this week! So, there’s that.)

Put here’s a (brief) look at what I have coming up in the next few months:

Summer Movie Season Trudges On:

I’m hoping to get to either Mad Max: Fury Road or Aloha this weekend. Next weekend Entourage is hitting, and I’ve decided to be unapologetically excited about that, followed by Jurassic World and Inside Out, which then lends itself to a nice little break before Terminator: Genysis (I need to find a minute to rewatch the first two Terminator movies…)

Special Edition NYC!

That’s next weekend. I have a hotel room, I have costume plans. I’m really excited and nervous. I had a ball at ACBC but I’ve also pretty much given up weekly comics reading, because I got really far behind and also because there have been so many good books coming out lately (Prose books) and I don’t have unlimited reading time, so something’s got to give. (I’m currently working through Gumption: Relighting The Torch Of Freedom by Nick Offerman. Hilarious. And educational. I admire this man so much.) But I’m looking forward to it. Since I’ve decided to jettison NYCC in favor of Disney World this year. (Where I will be, exhausted, dehydrated, and waiting in line a bunch. Seriously, it’s 80% the same activities) this is (probably) my last con this year. I’m comfortable with the decision…I think.

Usual Stuff

Obviously, Game Of Thrones will continue, and I’m about to launch into season 3 of Kim Possible and Sailor Moon seems like an endless trove of joyous pretty colors and glitter. (Seriously, I’m trying to figure out how much original anime I have left and my Google-fu is failing me…does anyone know what Hulu’s deal with the movies is going to be? I mean, I assume they’ll be there, since we’ve been promised “full and unabridged.”)

Life Things

My sister’s boyfriend Joe graduated from college! So we’re celebrating that. A couple of my cousins also graduated from college and high school and what not, so there will be celebrations of that. Plus work, and trying to write things that aren’t this blog.

But I swear, I will get to a beach. I will do it soon! (Or possibly in August, when all of this stuff is done.)

Happy Summer Everyone!