Monday, July 13, 2015

10 Minutes About Real Books, Science Fiction, Depression, And "Bridge To Terabithia,"

I really really don't like reading real -- nonelectronic -- books anymore, and yet I had to, twice, over the weekend.

The two real books I read/am reading are/were Hyperbole And A Half, the book of collected essays by Allie Brosh, and Footfall, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. The reasons I am/did read them as real books is because my electronics have let me down/been sabotaged over the past few days.

We have a lot of electronics in our house, because the boys demand a lot of them and we use them a lot, too.  And when we lose one, it causes a chain reaction that boils down to I have to read real books. What happened recently was that the tablet that Mr Bunches uses a lot stopped taking a charge, so I had to send it in for warranty coverage (which was frustrating, in that I had to insist, politely but firmly, that Dell pay for shipping; the guy on the phone kept insisting that we had to ship it ourselves, but I said, quote: "I am going to be polite but firm with you: No. I have a warranty, and if I pay for shipping that undermines the efficacy of the warranty." In the end, I won. Sometimes it's good to know consumer protection law.  ALWAYS it's good to know that.)

Which left Mr Bunches without a tablet. We were already down a computer because the old, OLD laptop, the one with the battery that doesn't keep a charge and it has to be plugged in all the time, is now downstairs in my home office, where it has to sit because it's the only computer that can work our printer, so if I want to print something I have to email it to myself downstairs.

We could get by on two phones and two laptops, though, except that yesterday morning Mr F got upset that I wasn't paying much attention to him -- I was working on an aid application to help get therapists paid for to come in and work with the boys, and it was LONG -- and so he got mad and dumped a soda on my laptop, surprising me because I hadn't known that he was behind me.

So it was into the bag of rice we keep handy just for stuff like that, and 24 hours of no laptop to try to salvage it. It worked -- I'm typing this on the soda laptop -- but for 24 hours I had no laptop, and Mr Bunches had to use my phone to keep himself amused/distracted from the rain that causes him to have panic attacks.

WHEW THIS WILL EVENTUALLY BE ABOUT BOOKS. So that's not why I was reading the real book of Hyperbole and a Half.

I was reading the real book of that because I've had it on request for the ebook version from the library for, I don't know, EVER, I think, and then when we were at the library the other day for superhero craft day,

 I saw the real book on the shelf and checked it out, because I really really wanted to read it.  If you haven't read Allie Brosh's work, you can check out much of it for free on her blog; she is hilarious and heartbreaking.  Her essays on dogs moving and her fixation on cake as a  kid and battles with spiders are so funny they make me cry with laughter; but her essays on dealing with depression are both funny and terrifyingly sad.  Worth reading, either way.  And her drawings only make them funnier/sadder.  As someone who gets down from time to time, I could relate in a way to her stories, both the funny and the sad ones. I read the entire book in a day.

I was reading the real book of ...

... I just realized I didn't start the timer on the 10 minutes, so I'll start it now...


 for entirely different reasons: First off, I was reading it because of the lack of electronics for me to use yesterday around the house, so I couldn't read any of the ebooks I've been working on.  I decided to read one of the few real books I have in the house, and went to where I've been rebuilding my collection.  About 6 years ago I sold about 99% of my books to a used bookstore, and since then I've regretted selling only a few of them, those books that were my absolute favorites.  So I decided to buy used versions of those books and re-create my absolute favorite books in hard copy form, more like coffeetable books or art pieces than books I intended to read.

Footfall was one of those all-time favorites.  The story is an alien invasion story, from Larry Niven, who's superserious about science, and often spends too much time explaining it in a boring way (his Ringworld books, in my memory, go too far in explaining/discussing the science. His Integral Trees and Gripping Hand series, plus this book, get it about right.)  It's one of those sprawling epic stories that I love; I'm only about 1/5 of the way through it and there's already a plethora of characters and subplots: the astronaut's wife having an affair with the reporter, the congressman getting to go meet the aliens aboard the Russian space station, the degenerate biker with a good heart who's just trying to get by, and so on.  The aliens haven't even arrived at Earth yet and the story is every bit as good as I remember from reading it 25 years ago. (I can remember almost perfectly when I read it the first time: It was 1990, when I'd just moved out of my parent's house.  I remember my roommate, who didn't like science fiction much, laughing because the aliens in the book are similar to small elephants. "Baby elephants invade the Earth," he used to laugh.  I try to remember how annoying I found that whenever I am tempted to make fun of the glitter vampires in Twilight.)

Which leaves just Bridge To Terabithia.

 I was reading an article about kids' books everyone should read, and a bunch of the books I'd loved as a kid were on the list, including Beverly Cleary books and Bridge to Terabithia.  There was one scene in Bridge that I'd always recalled, the one at Christmas where the kid and his dad are trying to get his slot cars to work and they won't, and the dad is getting frustrated because he spent a lot of money (for this family, a lot of money is not very much money) on them and he feels bad, while the kid just wants his dad to feel good so he keeps pretending the toy is great.  It's one of those scenes, like the Billy Pilgrim-in-the-cave scene, that while not objectively as sad as many possible scenes, for some reason lodged in my mind as a terribly terribly sad thing, and has stuck with me for about 35 or nearly 40 years.  I probably read the book the first time in 3rd or 4th grade, so a long time that's been in my head, and when I got to that part of the story (I borrowed the book as an audiobook from the library) it was the same as I remembered it.

The book holds up really well; it's a book that's probably not a great read for an adult but not a bad one, either.  If I have one gripe about it it's that the two main characters seem a lot more mature and intelligent than fifth graders ought to be.  Fifth grade is about 10 years old, and these characters seem more like 7th- or 8th- graders, I think. That may not seem like much, but I think there's a world of difference between 10-year-olds and 13-14 year-olds in how they think and act. I'm not sure if the author made the kids be fifth graders for a reason, but I don't think the book would suffer if she'd changed them to 7th graders, and it might be better.

Also, I had to go make sure our refrigerator was shut, because Mr F keeps not shutting it and sometimes I do, too, and Sweetie is REALLY upset about that, so she's hung these signs all over the house:

And while I was making sure the fridge was shut the timer went off but I only just realized that, so this has been like 33 minutes about stuff.

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