Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I am not a wildlife photographer

This time last year, a single mom moved in near our house, reared a lovely family, then moved out. This year, she's back, fixing up the house, and preparing to raise another family. If I were a wildlife photographer, and if my windows were cleaner, I'd show you the tiny nest made mostly of dead crabapple blossoms, on the remains of last year's nest. Instead, here's a picture (by RBerteig) that looks exactly like "my" nest. For a lot more fabulous hummer photos, go here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I am not a re-reader

I think I was the last science fiction reader on the planet to discover Connie Willis. In some ways, that's nice, because I'm just now discovering the huge backlog of books she's been writing for the past 20 years. If you haven't read it yet, go NOW and find To Say Nothing of the Dog.

OK, you're back now. Let's talk about Passage. Except we can't, much. The huge, overarching, deep and beautiful metaphor that encompasses the entire book is revealed slowly, and it would ruin the book to reveal it. What's left, after leaving out that most important part, is a story about two doctors battling time, administrative craziness, a life-after-death loony author, an unbelievably complex maze of a hospital, and a whole cast of supporting crazy people, to discover the nature of near-death experiences (NDEs). They're pursuing the theory that the brain can use the NDE as a protective mechanism to bring itself back from the dead.

On the one hand, this book drove me nuts, as the cast of supporting crazy people and other obstacles were constantly, noisily interfering with the main characters' progress. That seems to be Connie Willis, and as in Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, all the disparate threads eventually, improbably weave in with that central, towering metaphor we can't talk about. After taking its sweet time for the entire first half, the book suddenly turned up the pace and the tension to Extra High, culminating in a climax and resolution that were sweet, moving, and thought-provoking all at the same time. What is death? What is real? This book doesn't try to tell you, but it shakes up your tidy notions, no matter what opinions you came in with.

I don't re-read. Drives everyone who tries to talk books with me crazy, because I'll remember enjoying a book, but I can't remember characters, major events, author...nothing. I finished Passage, turned to the middle, and re-read the whole second half. For days, I sat around thinking about the resolution. One morning I woke up and just lay there, happily thinking about this book. Six months later, it's still with me.

Monday, May 18, 2009

I am not a horror reader

I am not a horror reader, but at BYU's science fiction symposium, I heard Dan Wells read from his new book, I Am Not a Serial Killer. The main character charmed me in disturbing ways: John Wayne Cleaver is a 15-year-old mortician, and a diagnosed sociopath...but he's trying very hard NOT to become a serial killer. It's kind of the ultimate application of all those rules about YA fiction: main character has to be a teenager, has to be relatable, has to be somehow different, all at the same time. In the part Dan read, John's getting bullied at the school dance. Relatable, right? He scares the bullies away by describing just how indifferent he feels to them as living human beings, and just how interesting he thinks it would be to take them apart and see what they look like inside. But he also manages to creep out the cute girl who almost asked him to dance. See? Charming. Creepy. Disturbing.

Then a real, live serial killer comes to the kid's town, and it's up to John to outwit the killer while holding onto his own sanity.

You don't want to give this book to your precocious preteen reader. My kids—even the full-on teenager—were intrigued by the title while seeming to know they needed to leave this one alone. But even if you don't usually like to read about murder, guts, autopsies, and seriously sick individuals, you might be disturbed to find that you really enjoy this book.
Lee Ann Setzer's blog about books, writing, and life in general.