Thursday, September 17, 2009

Meditation on The Attack of Confidence

Some days, I just wake up feeling too good about myself. I look in the bathroom mirror and say, "you're pretty hot," and the day just gets better from there. I walk around work and think about how great it is to be young and strong and healthy and a librarian. I feel charming. I feel like trying to charm everyone I meet, even people on the streets of Springfield, by making eye contact and smiling at them, and seeing if anything happens. I get giddy. I feel at the top of my game, in terms of my ability to make people smile. I feel like a cross between Mary Chapin Carpenter's "I Feel Lucky" and Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself":

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I know that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. Unfortunately, I am too over-full of energy to settle on any one thing to do. I really should leave work and try to take over the world or something before this feeling fades. As it will, because it always does. But in the meantime, I will grin like a madwoman and bounce around the library.

Book Review: Bite Me! [2009]

There are a lot of things to like about Bite Me!, the debut novel by Melissa Francis. First of all, the protagonist, AJ Ashe, is a high school girl who actually is a vampire, rather than being a doe-eyed girlfriend of a vampire. AJ doesn't even like being a vampire, and has spent most of her life being as perfect as she can to compensate. I also liked the basic plot: AJ's mom marries AJ's boyfriend Ryan's dad, and they are forbidden to date despite their deep deep lurve for each other. That's good stuff, people! However, things quickly get muddled with the introduction of the overall mythology of the world. See, there's something about clans of vampires, of which the Serpentines are the most evilest, and scrolls, and runes, and some group of not-vampires called the Frieceadan Druids. I have a rule when I read books for fun (most of which are fantasy books): don't name stuff using words I can't pronounce, or I will have a hard time every time I see that word. Yes, after a little internet searching, I can see that Francis is going for a whole Scottish thing with Ryan's family, but still. The way that the mythology is introduced is very clunky, with AJ discovering information through books and scrolls, and so quickly (in order to move along various plot points) that it seems forced. If you look too closely at the plot, it starts to create a lot of questions--why, if AJ's father is the one behind all the trouble in town, did he wait years to do anything? Why doesn't AJ notice how creepy her recently returned friend is acting? Why on earth don't AJ and Ryan's parents just let them date, for god's sake? They were dating first! On the plus side, at the end of the book, AJ finally chooses to embrace her heritage and kick ass, which was well worth the wait.

Francis leaves the ending open with a major cliffhanger (my copy included a teaser for the next book, Love Sucks!) that leaves the villain on the loose, AJ's vampire father apparently the mastermind, AJ's vampire mother [spoiler!] pregnant with a Frieceadan child, and AJ and Ryan still in love with each other. It might be interesting to see where this is going, but I hope the second book is more tightly edited.

Grade: C+

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Book Review: Perfect Life [2009]

I keep making these forays into what I guess you might call "Literary Fiction" in an attempt to broaden my horizons, or make myself better at Reader's Advisory, or something. I read a few reviews of Perfect Life, by Jessica Shattuck, while I was doing collection development at work and impulsively placed a hold. As usually happens when I finish one of these books, I ended up somewhat disappointed. The novel is the story of four college friends (three women and one man, Neil) who attended Harvard undergrad together, and the action largely takes place in Boston (which is one of the problems, but I'll get to that momentarily). As the story begins, advertising executive Jenny is preparing for her son Colin's christening. Colin is biologically the child of Neil, who has agreed to give up his right to have knowledge of or contact with the child. So naturally, he is peering in the window of the fancy church that social-climbing Jenny has selected as an appropriate staging ground. The other friends, Laura (stay at-home mom and wife to a self-made immigrant) and Elise (lesbian and new non-bio parent), are each also prominent characters. I feel that the main difficulty with Perfect Life is that it takes on too many things. Each thirtysomething wrestles with mundane issues such parenthood and connecting with their spouse, in addition to heavier topics such as biology, inheritance, marketing, video game design, and a general crisis of faith. Jenny's husband [spoiler alert] is diagnosed with cancer, bringing her perfect world down around her ears just as she pioneers the launch of a new drug for postpartum depression. Laura, the most likeable character, struggles to find meaning in the daily routines of motherhood. Elise, a biologist, finds her partner's desire to meet other children conceived with their donor's sperm bewildering. Neil returns to Boston for reasons unknown even to himself, and it is around him (as the wild card) that the action largely turns.

In a weird way, this book is like a cousin of The Magicians, which I also read recently: a youngish group of friends struggling to find a place in the world and have angst and complicated relationships. But because Shattuck presents the narrative from the perspective of each of the four main characters, a lot of the interactions and character motivations end up feeling shallow because the reader never gets to spend enough time with one person. I lived in Boston for several years, and still don't consider myself an expert, but something about the way Shattuck dropped street, restaurant, and place names into the narrative really struck me as unnecessarily forceful, as if she was always trying to stress the location as an integral part of the story. Unfortunately, I don't feel that the location was an integral part of the story; the events could have played out anywhere. I get that Shattuck lives in Cambridge, and she wants to write what she knows--but it really was like reading one of those Gossip Girl or chick lit novels in which the names of designers and posh locales are always intruding on the plot.

I guess it probably sounds like I didn't really like this book. I'll be honest: it took me a long time to finish. I wasn't hurrying to pick it up. But it did make me think about a few things, like parenthood and friendship between adults, in a different way.

Grade: B-

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Meditation on the PVTA

So earlier this week I dropped off my car in Northampton for a couple of routine repairs, thinking I would easily be able to pick it up at the end of the week. Due to a variety of scheduling difficulties, I wasn't able to proceed with plan A (making LawyerGirl drive me Thursday morning) or Plan B (I forget what Plan B was, but it was probably excellent). I ended up taking the bus from Springfield, where I work, to Northampton. As the Google Maps fly, this is a distance of a little more than 20 miles, which takes about half an hour in the car. Other than a taxi, or throwing myself on the mercy of one of my coworkers, there were two bus options: the Peter Pan (based in Springfield!), an $8 one-way ticket, or the much-maligned PVTA, for $1.25 a ride or a $3 day pass.

I have spent five years living in the Pioneer Valley and have taken a bus here and there, but for the most part I use my car to get around. Part of this is because I love my car, and part of this is because the motto of the PVTA should be "You Can't Get There From Here." Let's say I wanted to take the bus to work from Easthampton to Springfield. I could get up to catch the 6:35 AM bus to HCC (whoops, no, the early bus doesn't stop at HCC for some reason). I would have to take the 7:25 bus to HCC, which arrives at 7:40. Then I could wait around until 8:00 for the P11 HCC Express, which gets in to Springfield at 8:25. That's not too bad! Only an hour on the bus. However, I can't take this route back. Why? Because the last bus leaves Springfield at 4:30, which is a completely inconvenient time for anyone who works normal business hours. So I would have to take another bus back. The last bus leaves HCC for Easthampton at 5:40, which rules out any bus that goes from Springfield to Westfield after 5:00 (otherwise known as the time that a lot of people get off work), and then on to HCC. The only other bus routes to Easthampton come from the direction of Northampton. Ok. So, what if I got off work at 5 and took the bus from Springfield to Northampton, and then on to Easthampton? Well, I learned yesterday that that trip will take at least TWO HOURS. But, for the sake of argument, let's say I get on the P20 at 5:15 in downtown Springfield. I'll get to downtown Holyoke at 6:30, hopefully make my instantaneous connection to the B48 bus, and arrive in Northampton at 7:00. Whoops! It is now too late to take the R41 into Easthampton. Well, what about the Nashawannuck Express, which is one of those little buses that the elderly take to get places, and you can call to pick up (and presumably was one of the ones involved in the PVTA scandal a few years back in which an elderly man died)? Well, let's say I can take that bus to Easthampton, even though it's not entirely clear from the schedule that I can. I would finally get back to the Easthampton Senior Center (a twenty minute walk from my house) at 8:00. That's THREE HOURS after getting off work. If I took the bus in the morning and home at night, I would spend at least four hours in transit.

The point of this exercise is not to illustrate that the PVTA sucks. Everyone knows that the service has had votes of no confidence and, of course, the death of a paratransit rider who was dropped at the wrong location. Sure, the drivers could probably be more diligent and the Springfield buses, at least, could benefit from not running the heat in the summer. The point is that there are a lot of people in this valley who rely on local bus service to get from place to place because they can't afford the luxury of owning a car. The point is I had a patron last month who was offered a job--in this economy--at CNS in Hatfield, but couldn't take it because he doesn't own a car and guess what? The PVTA doesn't really go anywhere near Hatfield. The point is that there are lots of people like me who could drive a little way to a parking lot for a commuter rail line that went from Hartford to Greenfield or Brattleboro, which would save countless gallons of gas (for consumers) and air pollution (for the environment). It's about time that we stopped screwing around with useless digital road sign projects and started building something that will actually be useful, environmentally sound, and serve a wide variety of people. In the meantime, the PVTA could go a long way by listening to its constituents and scheduling buses for when people actually need to travel. All right, I'm done.

ETA: And just in case you're thinking--wait, why doesn't she just live in Springfield, since that's where she works? I would be happy to live in Springfield, actually. We just managed to buy the house before I got my job. But the next time we move, Springfield will definitely be in the equation.