Information Doesn’t Want to be Free

“Digital locks are roach motels: copyrighted works check in, but they don’t check out. Creators and investors lose control of their business—they become commodity suppliers for a distribution channel that calls all the shots. Anti-circumvention isn’t copyright protection: it’s middleman protection.” (Information Doesn’t Want to be Free by Cory Doctorow)

Information Doesn't want to be free cover

Reading ‘Information Doesn’t Want to be Free‘ is like reading the non-fiction book hiding behind the thin veil of fiction in all Doctorow’s novels  (Little Brother, Homeland, etc). Though I love Doctorow’s way of integrating information into his fictional work, I almost prefer his nonfiction straight up and unadulterated. He is so clear and convincing, and his metaphors drive into your brain with the force and staying power of a sledgehammer.

I appreciate that Doctorow didn’t feel the need to flesh out his work to the standard 300 page American book. There is nothing worse than reading a nonfiction work and realizing that the only relevant information was presented in the first 100 pages, and every page after that was written to make a page-count goal. Doctorow writes 192 pages, and every single page, every single sentence, is necessary.

Here’s the bottom line: Anyone interested in technology, the internet, copyright, or making a living as a creative person should read this book. It may get you up-in-arms with righteous indignation for a week or two, but after that, you’ll be better equipped to deal with the world as it is now.

Recommended Action: Buy - BorrowTBRAvoid
Further Reading: All of Doctorow’s books! He can’t help but cover similarly intriguing subjects in all of his work, supposedly fiction or otherwise.

Station Eleven

“All three caravans of the Traveling Symphony are labeled as such, THE TRAVELING SYMPHONY lettered in white on both sides, but the lead caravan carries an additional line of text: Because survival is insufficient.” (Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel)
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Station Eleven CoverFor those of us who love both literature and science fiction, very few books satisfy both appetites. Science fiction books can be imaginative and have excellent pacing, but rarely are they beautifully written. If you’ve ever wanted to read a post-apocalyptic piece that doesn’t focus on zombies and the end of civilization, but instead focuses on hope and a clearly imagined depopulated world, now is your chance.

I can’t remember the last good genre fiction I read without a romance at its center. Mandel focuses on the relationships between family and friends here instead of the ever-present love triangle. Romantic relationships do occur, but they are usually evaluated in retrospect, and with an eye to how they changed the characters. Mandel also offers another rarely seen phenomenon in genre fiction: the strong, feminine female lead. she gives us Miranda, an artist who repents nothing and loves the symmetry of her day job. The book largely revolves around Miranda, and the objects she owns and creates, but she remains out of sight just enough to leave her mostly a mystery – which is a shame, because I could read whole books about her.

On top of everything, on top of not succumbing to the trendy love triangle, on top of writing a spectacular female lead, on top of her beautiful writing, on top of blending literature with science fiction, Mandel also integrates an imaginary book into her plot, in the modern form of a graphic novel. I am just so thankful that this book exists.

Recommended Action: BuyBorrowTBRAvoid
Length: 352 pages
Ending: Beautiful and Hopeful (like the whole book)
Incidental Learning: Symphonies, Lives of Celebrities
Further Reading: The only other genre fiction+literature book I can recall is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - wish is Fantasy+Literature.

Golden Son

“I seize him with my hands, raise him high into the air. But I hurt him no more. I will not demean the moment with cruelty like Karnus or Titus would. My condescension is my weapon. I set Pliny back in the ArchGovernor’s chair. I buff his dragonfly pin. Straighten his hair like a kindly mother. Pat him on his tear-stained cheek and extend my hand…”(Golden Son by Pierce Brown)

Golden SonTake a moment to think about all of the trilogies you’ve read. The first book is strong and fascinating. You can feel the author’s excitement and hope. You wait in anticipation until the next book comes out, only to find out that it is merely a bridge between the beginning and the conclusion. Nothing happens. The author looses confidence. The characters stagnate. The plot gets bulky and clunky. <sigh> I’ve been through this far too often. So, it is with an incredible amount of respect that I say – Golden Son is even better than it’s first book, Red Rising.

Pierce Brown manages to keep the pace up every chapter, all without giving too much away. He lets his characters grow, yet forces them to remain interesting. His world gets bigger and more complicated without becoming unwieldy. He doesn’t let himself repeat the same plot and themes, though he had the opportunity. He is obviously a reader – one who took the time to learn from previous book’s mistakes. Now, I can’t wait to see how he’ll treat the third book. Will he do most genre authors before him have done, force half of the conclusion to be a huge, over-blown battle, or will he keep his focus on the characters? I have the highest hopes for the latter.

Recommended Action: Buy - BorrowTBRAvoid
Length: 464
Ending: Main character takes a big risk, and it seems like it won’t pay off…
Incidental Learning: How it feels to trust a genre author
Further Reading: Can you think of another second book that is better than the first? I can’t. I guess we’re just left with waiting for the third book.

Red Rising

“So this kid is what? A predestined Alexander? A Caesar? A Genghis? A Wiggin?’ I ask. ‘This is slagging nonsense.” (Red Rising by Pierce Brown)

Red Rising CoverThere is nothing better than books within books. Imaginary books, real books. Characters reading them, authors referencing them. All wonderful. This is why, when Pierce Brown references Card’s Ender’s Game (above), I almost die with happiness. Brown not only mentions another beloved sci-fi novel, but actually brings that world into his own, implying that his story could be a potential future of Card’s. With just that one word, he helps me imagine countless scenarios that could connect Ender’s and Darrow’s stories, allowing me to write spin-offs and fan-fictions to my heart’s content. Though the worlds don’t truly connect (Brown later says that his people have never seen aliens), it shows that Brown is one of us – just another reader who grew up on the greats of fantasy and sci-fi.

Red Rising has also been hailed as the next Hunger Games since both books are dystopias with teenaged characters. They are almost similar, except that Pierce Brown is the more reliable author. He is consistent where Collins is not. Collins disappointed her fans by repeating her plots over and over again, not paying attention to her characters, and not valuing her audience. It is always possible that Brown will crash and burn on the second or third book in this trilogy (as many have done before him), but his strong writing makes that seem unlikely. It’s easy to trust an author who builds conflict from the first moment, who isn’t overly protective of his characters, and who doesn’t get bogged down in the details. I have high hopes for the conclusion of this trilogy.
Recommended Action: BuyBorrow – TBRAvoid
Length: 382
Ending: Hopeful, tense
Incidental Learning: Fate of Ender Wiggins’ world
Further Reading: Read the second book Golden Son immediately.

Outlander

“And I mean to hear ye groan like that again. And to moan and sob, even though you dinna wish to, for ye canna help it. I mean to make you sigh as though your heart would break, and scream with the wanting, and at last to cry out in my arms, and I shall know that I’ve served ye well.” (Outlander by Diana Gabaldon)

Outlander CoverGabaldon takes a standard bodice-ripper and makes it palatable to the fantasy audience, anglophiles, and intellectuals by adding magical time travel, modern British humor, and pseudo-correct Scottish history. In essence, she takes a once-embarrassing genre and adds smoke and mirrors so that the book’s inner romance is simply covered in layers of social acceptability. You may think that you’re the one fooling your neighbors, but the true joke is that we all love romance – and Gabaldon has just figured out a way to sell it to us without embarrassing our prim sensibilities.

Her second stroke of genius is that the whole series is simply one plot played over and over again. Jamie saves Claire, or Claire saves Jamie. Sometimes one saves the other from a wound. Sometimes, a mob. Occasionally, they save each other from themselves. Yet, on each repeat, this age-old plot seems fresh and urgent because of Galbadon’s creativity and flawless sense of pace. Even if you know the trick, you can’t help but want more of the same: more danger, more saving, more declarations of love, more sex scenes.

Recommended Action: BuyBorrow- TBRAvoid
Length: 672 (audiobook: wonderful. Loved listening to the dialect instead of reading it)
Ending: Hopeful – directly leading to next book.
Incidental Learning: 1745 Scotland
Further reading: First, the rest of the series – then, the rest of the epic romantic-history genre, of course.

Ragtime

“And though the newspapers called the shooting the Crime of the Century, Goldman knew it was only 1906 and there were ninety-four years to go.” (Ragtime by E.L Doctorow)

Ragtime CoverI’m relearning history from literature. I am puzzling it together author by author, book by book. Roth covers Vietnam, Steinbeck the great depression, Doctorow the turn of the century. Instead of facts and figures (which I arguably still do not have), I have potent images associated with these time periods. Rosasharn feeding her milk to a grown man, Merry’s fat mouth frothing as she rages at Johnson, Coalhouse’s Ford desiccated at the firehouse. At my best, I can link them up to form a semi-chronological set of images that span at least a few hundred years. My high school history teachers, fond as they were of text-heavy PowerPoints, may not be impressed, but I suspect they never liked history much, anyway.

Ragtime is written in short, non-adverbial, un-hyphenated, parenthesis-less sentences (which I, for obvious reasons, find hard to duplicate). Though reminiscent of ragtime’s staccato, the writing style puts a barrier between the reader and the text, making it feel remote and cold. Doctorow also distanced the reader from his characters by denying them names, simply referring to the ones who weren’t a famous part of history (aka J.P Morgan and Evelyn Nesbit) by their relations (mother, father, younger brother). Yet, for all its distance, Doctorow has a way of getting to the most interesting aspect of his characters using only small moments from their lives. He skips huge, boring swaths of time in favor of zooming in on the moments of change and Insight.

Recommended Action: Buy.- Borrow- TBRavoid
Length: 269
Ending: a bit of a summary
Incidental Learning: turn of the century America, Famous people in history (Houdini, Coalhouse, Thaw, etc)
Further Reading: Ragtime reminds me a lot of the 42nd parallel in its scope and impersonal distance – but without the crazy poetry/newspaper/musical interludes.

Bird by Bird

“Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. Out of the left speaker with be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime…” (Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott)

Bird by Bird CoverReading Anne Lamott is an experience akin to spending an afternoon chatting with a beloved, slightly annoying, friend. Sometimes she’ll ramble around conversationally, telling anecdote after anecdote, outrunning and completely forgetting her original point. Other times, she’ll confess something so intimate and original that you’ll feel less ashamed and alone in the world because you share your monstrous/weird/selfish thoughts with another person who seems to be doing OK.

I can’t help but compare Bird by Bird, a guide to creativity and writing, to An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler, a guide to creativity and cooking. While Lamott shares excerpts from her life and her experience, not wishing to impose upon the reader, Adler prescribes, bullies, and threatens, aiming to change the readers’ ideas using whatever method possible. I think that both guides could be excellent in a creative crisis. You could come to Lamott for a little sympathy and inspiration, then go to Adler to be smacked over the head with the rolling pin of self-confidence. Personally, I think that this type of guide should be written for all types of art – so that we could look through the narrow lens of each subject to see how to live a creative life.

Does anyone have a recommendation for their favorite guide to creativity and [insert art subject]?

Recommended Action: BuyBorrow – TBR - Avoid
Length: 237 pgs.
Ending: the cathartic writing experience
Incidental Learning: how writers live
Further Reading: The Everlasting Meal, or any other creative guide you’ve come across.