Texas Book Festival 2017

Books covers for Soonish, It devours, Welcome to Nighvale, Santa Calls, Creepy Carrots, Spy School, Space Case, How to avoid extinction, Symphony for the city of the dead, Last stop on market stree

The first Saturday of November, Jim and I attended the 22nd annual Texas Book Festival in Austin.  The book festival began in 1996 about the same time my family moved to the Central Texas area.  It is prestigious, large, and mostly free.  It promotes literacy and reading across all ages.  There are events for the youngest children through adults.  There is something of interest for everyone. The money raised at the book festival through book sales, donations, and other fundraising goes to library and literacy programs in Texas.  This year there was a special fundraising effort for public and school libraries effected by Hurricane Harvey.  I participated by attending and purchasing lots of books.  Once I started it was hard to stop!!!

One of the first events of the day was the announcement of the new Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List for 2018-2019.  We missed the announcement, but I collected a copy of the list.  As I have said in the past, I like this award as Texas school children in grades 3-6, who have read (or have heard read out loud) at least 5 of the books on the list, vote for the winner.  The 2016 winner was Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl. The 2017 winner will be announced this spring at the Texas Library Association’s annual conference. I picked up a book from the list How to Avoid Extinction.  It quirky title made we want to see what is inside!

Another program that the book festival supports is the Reading Rockets Program. This is a literacy outreach program for students in Title I elementary schools, like the one where our daughter teaches.  It brings bilingual and award-winning children’s authors to these schools for presentations.  This program donates a signed copy of the author’s book to each student and a set of the author’s books to the school’s library.  How cool is that!

Because I love children’s books, we had to spend time in the Children’s tent.  We stopped to see the PreK class from my daughter’s school introduce Aaron Reynolds.  He had been at their school earlier in the week. I also wanted to hear his new book.  It had an interesting title, Creepy Underwear. This book is hysterical and so was the author.  Have you ever talked with a group of young children?  You must bring your A-game!  You never know what they will say.  He was funny, charming and energetic.  He told the group that he was an author and most of the time he was a grown up.  The kids in the tent were delighted!  They loved his book.  Alas, I delayed going to the books sales tent and all the copies of the book were gone.  As an alternative, I purchased his book, Creepy Carrots. You will hear about it in another blog.

I decided to stay for the next session as I was intrigued by Chris Harris’ book title, I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups. Here was another delightful author.  The local class that introduced him recited one of the poems from the book.  He thanked them and told them how much he had enjoyed visiting their school.  Wow, you must really love to talk with children to be on this circuit.  They asked him all kinds of questions.  As you might have guessed, he began this book for his own children and it just grew.  His poetry, rhyming or not, is captivating and the poems have appealing titles. Here’s a title from one he showed the audience, “Alphabet Book (by the Laziest Artist in the World)”. The illustrator for this book is also one of my favorites, Lane Smith.  The pictures in this book are fantastic, just like the poems.  There will be more to come on this book in another blog.  I have to read the book first!

I learned an interesting fact from both Chris and Aaron. Authors and their illustrators rarely meet.  I was under the wrong impression that they collaborated during the entire process.  That must only happen when the author and illustrator or illustrator and author are very close or the same person.  According to Aaron and Chris, you write your book and you send it off to the publisher.  They look it over and then decide, who might be the best person to illustrate it.  They send the book off to the illustrator to see, if he/she wants to illustrate it.  Aaron said he never met his illustrator, Peter Brown, until after his first book, Creepy Carrots, was published.  Jim and I wondered what happens when the author hates the illustrations?  Our question will have to wait for another time as both these authors appeared to enjoy the illustrations in their books.

These two children’s authors presented in the mid-afternoon and as I am not a husband torturer, we split the day between what he thought might be interesting and what I wanted to see. He is interested in science and science fiction, so we took a flyer and attended Kelly and Zach Weinersmith’s session.  Their book title looked curious, Soonish: A Funny Future of Technology: Ten Technologies That Will Improve/Ruin Everything.

I thought this was a delightful session!  Zach has two degrees one in literature and the other in physics.  Kelly, who could not attend, has a degree in parasitology.  Between the two of them, they work on the ideas and research for their books.  Their book combines interesting theories and Zach’s cartooning. In this presentation, Zach talked about two technologies from their book: Cheap access to space and robots.   In the section on “Cheap Access to Space”, he discussed carbon nanotubes that could be used for a space elevator.  As soon as he started on this topic, I thought about Arthur C. Clarke’s story The Fountains of Paradise.  I haven’t read the book so I don’t know, if they reference his story.

He also discussed robots and how it will end for humanity.  He talked about some interesting recent robotic experiments.  We, the people, are so gullible. Seems if a robot tells us something, it is true. To the best of my narrative ability, here’s how the experiments went.  In experiment one, on a campus, near a locked dorm lurked a robot.  The robot would stop students and ask them to let it into the dorm.  A very, few students let the robot into the dorm.  On the other hand, around 80% of the students stopped and would let that same robot in the dorm, if it robot had cookies and offered one to the student.   Makes you wonder what people will do for cookies!

In experiment two, began with student who were volunteering for a study waiting in a building’s lobby.  They were met by a robot and led to a room.  Sometimes the robot went straight to the room.  Sometimes the robot took what was obviously a long, circuitous route.  Sometimes the robot would walk into a wall and go the wrong direction and have to correct itself on the way to the room.  Sometimes the robot would move very slowly.  The robot left the students in the room where the experiment was to take place. After they had been in the room for a few minutes, the room began to fill with smoke and the fire alarm went off. A robot appeared in the doorway and told the students to follow it to safety.  It is interesting that in every case, people followed the robot.  It didn’t matter, if they could see the exit door, or if the robot had made mistakes in getting them to the experimental room and was making obvious mistakes getting them back to the outside door, the students followed the robot.  I think that is a scary thought that they would so blindly follow robots.  After all they were built by people.  During the Q&A session someone asked this related question, what would you do to prevent a robot apocalypse?  His answer: “Don’t let it get started!”  It was a most amusing presentation.  Did I buy his book? Why yes and “soonish”, after I read it, I will blog about it.

Jim and I listen to the news on the way to and from work every day.  It gives us a chance to talk about current events.  Discussing current events led us to this session with its intriguing title, “Falsehoods, Forgeries, and Fake News” in the C-SPAN Book tent.  This session featured Kevin Young and Jared Yale Sexton.  They discussed how PT Barnum and his use of the Penny Press was similar to the way the internet is used now.  It was a lively, but somewhat distressing topic.  They offered us hope.  We must learn about each other and find common ground so that civil discourse can continue.

After that heavy topic, we were ready for lunch.  We walked down to six street and had lunch at BD Riley’s Irish Pub.  Books (a discussion), a brew (Guinness Stout), and BD Riley’s Irish stew (best ever) made lunch heaven.  I am glad that we had the second half of our day at the book festival to walk off all that yummy goodness.

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To cap off our book festival day, we intended to try the festival’s lit crawl.  Unfortunately, all the lit crawl venues were too far from us.  We had our own lit crawl. We used two of our newly purchased books (Tom Hank’s Uncommon Type and Zack and Kelly Weinersmith’s Soonish) to play the game, “Bring Your Own Book.”  We had a blast and it was a lovely end to a perfect day at the Texas Book Festival.

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Reading Report for Northern, Central Texas: August and September 2017

Aug_Sep17I feel it has been an age since I have settled in to write. August and September were so very busy around here.  You may notice that the book stack here is much shorter than usual.  No contributions from Alexis and Sarah.  They moved out to an apartment of their own so I don’t have their input.  I hope to ask them to write something for me to post.  Helping them move, new job responsibilities, helping with a wedding, and general household clean up, my reading and writing have been on a hiatus.  I am glad to be sitting here writing.

With the girls comfortably established in a place of their own, Jim and I are empty nesters.  We are getting used to the new routine that includes only two people.  One of the advantages of  having an empty nest is that there are extra bedrooms. Jim and I converted one of them into an office for me.  Jim, the lovely man that he is, painted it for me.  I have a new desk.   It is wonderful to have a cozy, comfortable, dedicated space to do my bits of writing and blogging.

Without further ado, here is the reading report!

Robin’s List

  • Holt, Tom. The Management Style of the Supreme Beings. New York: Orbit, 2017.
  • Griffith, Clay and Susan Griffith. The Shadow Revolution. New York: Del Rey, 2015.
  • Griffith, Clay and Susan Griffith. The Undying Legion. New York: Del Rey, 2015.
  • Harris, Charlaine. Midnight Crossroad. New York: Ace, 2014.

I haven’t finished The Management Style of the Supreme Beings. I have been distracted by other reading.  I was hoping it would be just a funny as my favorite Tom Holt novel, Flying Dutch.  This one is amusing, but I am having trouble finishing it up.  I will give it another go later this month.

I did enjoy reading Midnight Crossroad. I read this book just before the new TV series, Midnight, Texas started.  It made me a step ahead on the first few episodes.  I need to find another book in the series and then catch up on all the episodes of the TV series I have missed.

The Shadow Revolution and The Undying Legion are the first two books in the “Crown & Key” series.  They take place in Victorian London where werewolves and other nasty shadows lurk.  I fished these two books out of the pile Alexis had designated for Half Price books.  They were fun, light reading during these busy months.

Jim’s List

  • Baxter, Stephen. New York: Penguin, 2015 (Nook Book)
  • Tyson, Neil deGrasse. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2017.

While on vacation this summer, we were wandering in a little independent bookstore in Healdsburg, California when we ran across this slim, little volume.  While Jim does take time to contemplate the cosmos and photograph it as well, I thought he might find this book amusing.  “It was good, very informative, and easy to understand.  You don’t have to be an astronomer or engineer to understand it.”  These were Jim’s comments on the book.  I need to move it from his reading stack to mine.

I am glad to be back at work on this project.  Have a good month and happy reading!

Just in case you are curious.  Here is my office.

Office

 

Reading Report for Northern, Central Texas: June & July 2017

ReadingJuly17Time is swift and it has flown!
June and July have passed.
We are at summer’s scorching height!
A good time to find a cool place
With a tall drink and an engrossing book!

I don’t know what has happened to June or July!  I never got around to the reading report for June so I have combined it with July.

Robin

We went on vacation at the first of July.  It was wonderful to get away.  I didn’t pick a novel of great importance to read this year.  I read a fun book I picked up at the grocery store.  It is based on the TV series the Librarians.  It was not a great classic, but it was amusing!

  1. Cox, Greg. The Librarians and the Lost Lamp.  New York: Tom Doherty Associate Book, 2016.
  2. Dahl, Roald. Matilda. Illustrated by Quentin Blake. New York: Puffin Books, 1988.
  3. Highfield, Roger. The Physics of Christmas.  New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 1999.
  4. Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York: Vintage, 2015.
  5. Roberts, Nora. Come Sundown. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017.
  6. Willis, Connie. Crosstalk. New York: Del Rey, 2016.
  7. Abnett, Dan. Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero. Nottingham, UK: Angry Robot, 2009.
  8. Robb, JD. Brotherhood in Death. New York: Berkely, 2016.
  9. Robb, JD. Apprentice in Death. New York: Berkley, 2016.

Jim

Here is Jim’s list.  He received the book on Colonial Spirits for a gift.  I had a look at it.  It was amusing.  He picked up the copy of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s book at a little independent book store while we were on vacation.

  1. Baxter, Stephen. Ultima. New York: Ace Books, 2016.
  2. Tyson, Neil deGrasse. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. New York. W. Norton & Company, 2017.
  3. Grasse, Steven. Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History.  New York: Abrams Image, 2016.

Alexis

Always our most prolific reader.  I didn’t get a chance to follow up on all the library books she read.  Here a small sample of the things she has read.

  1. Brooks, Mike. Dark Run. New York: Saga Press, 2015.
  2. Sullivan, Michael J. Age of Myth. New York: Del Rey, 2017.
  3. Harris, Charlaine. Midnight Crossroad.  New York: Ace, 2014.
  4. Lee, Yoon Ha. Ninefox Gambit. Oxford, UK: Solaris, 2016.
  5. Roberts, Nora. Come Sundown. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017.
  6. Holt, Tom. The Management Style of the Supreme Beings. New York: Orbit, 2017.

Sarah

She was busy this month.  I did get a chance to ask her what she was reading today.

  1. Harkness, Deborah. The Book of Life. New York: Penguin, 2015.

Armada

Cline, Ernest.  Armada. New York: Broadway Books, 2015.

I have lived near Austin for many years and have never attended the Texas Book Festival.  Every year, I think this is the year I will go.  Well 2017 was the lucky one! Last fall we drove down to Austin (shudder!), found the right parking garage near the Texas Capitol and attended the Texas Book Festival.  It was a dreary, misty day.  What the day lacked in ambiance, it made up with books and authors!  I bought some good ones!  I missed Ernest Cline’s presentation or panel at the festival, but I did manage to snap up this signed copy.

I have struggled to write this blog.  I am not a video game player so it has been difficult to focus on the points others might like to know about Armada. On the way home from the gym, I heard a story on the World Video Game Hall of Fame on the radio. I didn’t know there was one. Today they were announcing their 2017 video game inductees.  It was fate!  I had to complete this brief review on a book about a video game for you today.  I learned that these games are chosen on 4 criteria: Icon Status, Longevity, Geographical Reach, and Influence.  After reading this book, I wonder if Armada, the fictional video game of the book would meet these criteria?

As the book opens, we meet Zach Lightman, high school student, video store clerk, and an avid video game player.  When he is not in school or being tormented by the class bully, he is at the video story playing the online, multiplayer, flight simulator game Armada. He happens to be one of the best players in the world.  As he gazes out his classroom window, he sees a spaceship straight out of his video game zip across the horizon. Did he see it? Is he going crazy?  No one else seems to notice.

He isn’t crazy and that spaceship is real.  He isn’t playing a game, but has been training for the life-and-death alien attack some authorities fear is inevitable.  Read this book to find out how Earth got embroiled in this conflict.  Do they defeat the alien or are they defeated?

Cline has many nods to modern video game developers, movie makers, and other science fiction movies and books.  Most of that escaped my notice!  As I was reading, I thought of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. 

I think this would be an enjoyable read for a youthful student who lives for video games.

Ernest Cline

I just read his autobiography from his website.  It is one of the funniest I have read of late.  I like a guy who doesn’t take himself, too seriously.  Like many of the rest of us, he has been warped by his childhood, but managed to pull himself up and grow from a boy to an author.  Both his books Ready Player One and Armada have been optioned for movies. I liked both books.  They might make your average or above average video game player pick up a book and read.

About Ernest Cline

Reading Report from Northern, Central Texas: April 2017

This final day of April has been lovely here in my part of central Texas!  It started out gloomy and cool and has ended sunny and mild.  From my new blogging spot, I can see our backyard bathed in the late evening sunshine.  It is a lovely evening.

Can you believe that a full quarter of 2017 has sped by?  I can’t imagine where the time has gone.  I would have liked to have spent more time reading.

Jim

This book’s title looks interesting.  I need to get a copy for myself.  I will get him to write a guest post, when he finishes it.

  • Krauss, Lawrence M. The Greatest Story Ever Told So Far: Why Are We Here? New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.

Sarah

Sarah had a little extra time for reading this month.  Here is a partial list for her and some of the comments she posted on Facebook about these books.

  • Wiles, Deborah. Countdown. New York: Scholastic, 2010.

So, my car is in the shop this week so no dance for me so I’ve been doing some extra reading. I started with this book, Countdown, and what a great read! It’s a historical fiction documentary type book that centers around the life of an 11-year old girl during the Cuban missile crisis.

“There are always scary things happening in the world. There are always wonderful things happening. And it’s up to you to decide how you’re going to approach the world… how you’re going to live in it, and what you’re going to do.”

  • Lorenzi, Natalie Dias. Flying the Dragon. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2012

Yesterday’s book, Flying the Dragon, was a fun short read. The story focuses on two children Skye Tsuki and Hiroshi Tsuki.

Skye lives near Washington DC. Her mother is an American and her father is Japanese. She has never really explored or taken an interest in her Japanese heritage until she is forced to when her cousin Hiroshi’s family and her Grandfather move from Japan into the neighborhood.

Hiroshi loves living in Japan, he especially loves spending time with his grandfather who is a master kite maker and the rokkaku champion of their village. Hiroshi must now move to America with is family and encounters many challenges at school and at home.

  • Dauvillier, Loïc. Illustrated by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo. Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust. New York: First Second, 2012.

Hidden is a short book about a little girl who wakes up one night to find that her grandmother is recovering from a nightmare. When the little girl inquires about her grandmother’s dream she is told the story of her grandmother growing up as a little Jewish girl in France during WW2.

Alexis

As always, our most prolific reader.  Here are some of the books she read this month.

  • Griffith, Clay and Susan Griffith. The Shadow Revolution. New York: Del Rey, 2015.
  • Martin, Nancy. Dead Girls Don’t Wear Diamonds. New York: Signet, 2003.
  • Haines, Carolyn. Greedy Bones. New York: Minotaur, 2010.
  • Alt, Madelyn. No Rest for the Wiccan. New York: Berkley, 2008
  • Alt, Madelyn. Where There’s a Witch. New York: Berkley, 2009
  • Alt, Madelyn. A Witch in Time. New York: Berkley, 2011
  • Page, Katherine Hall. The Body in the Vestibule. New York: Avon, 1997.
  • Haydon, Elizabeth. Rhapsody. New York: Tor, 1999

Robin

This month I finally finished the first book of The New Sun by Gene Wolfe.  Considered a classic of science fiction, I am glad to have persevered through it.  At one point in my life, I might have liked this book, but I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought.  It puts me in mind of  Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan, also considered a classic, and I feel the same way about both books.  They are dark and dystopian.

  • Wiles, Deborah. New York: Scholastic, 2010.
  • MacAvoy, R.A. The Book of Kells. New York: Open Road, 1985.
  • Chesterton, G.K. The Complete Father Brown Stories. Herefordshire, England: Wordsworth Classics, 1972.
  • Cline, Ernest. Armada. New York: Broadway, 2015
  • Wolfe, Gene. Book of the New Sun (The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator). London: Orion, 1980, 1981.

Guest Post: Why Science Fiction as a Genre Is Important

Photo M81
M81 in Ursa Major / Astrophotgraph by James Reimund / San Gabriel Observatory

Back in November, when I wrote about The Paper Bag Princess,  I mentioned a post from Reading Rainbow titled “Raising Science Fiction Readers.” According to that post,

For young kids (and for many adults!) there is something irresistible about the combination of smart ideas, exploring new worlds, and escaping the boredom of everyday life. Science fiction and fantasy books are exciting! But the appeal of these books goes beyond mere excitement. Science fiction and fantasy stories make us feel strong and adventurous, and for many kids, these are some of the only worlds where they feel they fit in.

I find I like the out of the world experiences and thought-provoking ideas I have when I read science fiction.  For those reasons and others, I find science fiction to be an important genre.  My husband, Jim has his own ideas about why this genre is important.  He has detailed his ideas in this guest post.

Science fiction isn’t always considered high prose.  At least not in the sense of other types of literature such as poetry, satire, and morality stories.  These types of literature have been around for centuries and people know of their potential value and beauty.  They provide an elegant means of instruction.  Some literature tells instructional tales and provides warnings to people who might behave poorly or need life perspective.  I think of “Gulliver’s Travels” for the former and “Ozymandias” for the latter.  Anyway, literature can be a means of communicating about life and the human condition.

Science fiction is, in my opinion, no less a player on this stage.  In fact, I would argue that because of the fast pace of technological development, it is essential.  We now have capabilities that were unimaginable even 50 years ago.  The accrual of wisdom to use these new capabilities is usually a much slower proposition.  In order to have time to think about new possibilities and how they should be used requires thinking about them ahead of time.  Science fiction provides a means of attempting this.  Even if the technical details are fuzzy, the ramifications of new technologies can be thought about and discussed.  At the very least, a better set of questions can be thought up to help figure out the possible ramifications of new technologies.

Example:  “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

This novel predominately explores the effects of society when human reproduction is entirely controlled in such a way as to support the state.  Sex is dissociated from reproduction and reproduction is controlled in factories to provide the “correct” population mix of talents.  Consequences of this society are explored, including the necessity to have a “wild population” of humans in order to maintain a genetic mix so that all of humanity can’t be wiped out by disease because of limited genetic diversity in the “civilized” population.  How is this relevant now?

Today, genetics is very much more advanced than in 1931 when the book was written.  It is now possible to tinker with the genetics of the unborn (determine the sex, fix genetic issues, and clone).  No longer is it a stretch to think that humans could someday be “produced” ex-utero. So, for 85 years (book was actually published in 1932) we have had time to think about such reproductive issues and how power over this process could be used or misused.  Has advantage been taken of this time to examine and think about where our current genetic technology is taking us?  Possibly.  Today there is much ethical discussion around most technologies having to do with human reproduction.  Human cloning is no doubt possible (certainly other mammals have been cloned), yet there are prohibitions on this in most countries.

Other examples can be found for time travel, space exploration, and robots/artificial intelligence to name a few more.  As humanity is able to control ever more powerful forces such as energy and genetics, more and more thought must be applied to the wisdom of usage.  This is why the futuristic thoughts and themes of science fiction are important.

March 2017: Reading Report from Northern, Central Texas

March2017Greetings!

March was a very busy month!  The weather was mild and we spent extra time outside.  The whole of central Texas turned green.  It is always amazing to see the springtime transformation.  We had rain so the roadways are abundantly decorated with wildflowers.  You see Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush and a variety of yellow blooms almost everywhere you look.  In my yard, I have Anemones, Prairie Verbena, False Garlic and Yellow Evening Primrose.  It is a beautiful time of the year.  I spent much of my time working in my gardens to spruce them up for the coming year.  I was tired at the end of the day so my before bed reading time was diminished.  Despite the extra yard work, I was able to finish a good book or two.

Green Trees Texas
My backyard this afternoon.  Look at how green it is.

Robin

One of my favorites this month, was Newt’s Emerald.  It was written by Garth Nix.  Some of you may know him from his Old Kingdom Trilogy: Sabriel, Arbhorsen, and Lirael. Newt’s Emerald is a charming Regency romance, think Georgette Heyer.  How can you fail to love a character named Lady Truthful Newington, Newt to her family. It was fun to read.

  • Nix, Garth.  Newt’s Emerald.  New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2015.
  • Cho, Zen.  Sorcerer to the Crown.  New York: Ace Books, 2015.
  • Bujold, Lois McMaster. Pendric’s Mission.  New York: Spectrum Literary Agency, 2016 [eBook].
  • MacAvoy, R.A. The Book of Kells. New York, Open Road, 1985.
  • Chesterton, G.K. The Complete Father Brown Stories. Herefordshire, England: Wordsworth Classics, 1992.
  • Cline, Ernest.  Armada.  New York: Broadway Books, 2015.

Jim

  • Robinson, Kim Stanley.  2312. New York: Orbit, 2012
  • McDevitt, Jack.  Hercules Text. New York: Ace Books, 1986.

Jim invested several months in the book 2312. He wrote a guest post for this blog earlier this month [https://withagoodbook.wordpress.com/2017/03/19/guest-post-2312/] on this book.

Alexis

  • Nix, Garth.  Newt’s Emerald.  New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2015.
  • Knight, Jim.  Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring and Connected.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2016.
  • Connoly, Tina.  Seriously Wicked. New York: Tom Doherty & Associates Books, 2015.
  • Griffith, Clay and Susan Griffith. The Shadow Revolution. New York: Del Rey, 2015.