The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

theglasscastleJeanette Walls is a successful journalist and novelist. She and here husband live in a beautiful apartment in New York City. So it’s really strange when we are introduced to Jeanette’s mother in the introduction to the book .

Pg. 3

Things weren’t always this way. Not exactly.  Jeanette and her family grew up dirt poor. They never stayed in one place very long. Running from the police or bill collectors or just out of boredom, they ended up in Arizona, California, Nevada, West Virginia, New York.

You have so much sympathy for this family at one moment and then you want to strangle her parents the next. Will they make it? Everything seems fine one moment. Her dad has a new job and then, because he is an alcoholic, he starts drinking again. Their parents are charming, smart and capable and also total screwups. Let me read you an example:

Pg. 106

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Educating Esme by Esme Codell

educatingesmeEsme Codell sounds like the sort of teacher you would love to have in elementary school.

She insists that her students call her Madame Esme.

She does fun things like holds a fairy tale festival with a fashion show and a carnival. She creates a time machine for her students so they can “time travel” while they read.

Instead of Math, Science, and Social Studies, they have puzzling, mad scientist time, and time traveling and world exploring.

She gets her students excited about learning.

But her first year isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. She teaches in Chicago Public Schools and her students bring their problems to class even though she would love to protect them from the outside world.

The parents of some of her students are in prison or in extreme poverty. There are parents whose idea of supporting the teacher at home is to beat good behavior into the kids. On a field trip, gang members surround the bus and throw stones at the windows.

A normal person might have given up mid-year. A person who follows the rules. But not Esme. She does things her own way. Let me read you an example.

Read January 12 on pg. 88.

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Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

robopocalypseThe time is a little bit in the future from now. No one notices when it happens. Machines start to malfunction in a series of seemingly unrelated incidents that only make sense later.

A domestic robot, the kind that we have built to do domestic chores, goes into a frozen yogurt shop to get its owner some yogurt. All of a sudden, the robot starts to go crazy and tries to murder the store employees.

In another incident, a smart doll (think talking dolls like we have now, but smarter) that belongs to the daughter of a senator, starts to seem more self-aware and menacing than a little girl’s doll ever should.

And so it goes, around the world until zero hour.

When zero hour arrives, all of our technology—our computer networks, smart cars, robots, our power grids, our aircraft guidance systems and anything else with a computer in it (which by then is most things, comes alive.

All of our machines unite with one goal. Kill all human beings.

Behind it all is on powerful artificially intelligent computer named ARCOS, a computer program that has decided that humankind is obsolete. Starting now.

 

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

stiffHave you heard someone say that they were going to donate their body to science when they die? It’s true. People do donate their body for scientific experiments. When I first read this book, I knew that bodies were donated to medical schools so that future doctors could study human anatomy.
But here are a few things I found out when I read Stiff:

Teachers at private medical schools in England during the 16th and 17th centuries were only allowed to use the cadavers of executed murders. A lot of people didn’t want their body used after death because they believed their whole bodies went to heaven. So the teachers hired grave robbers to steal fresh cadavers from graves.

Dead bodies have been used in government experiments to determine the effects of bullets and landmines on the body. They have also used them to figure out how the impact of plane and car crashes on human bodies.

Cadavers have been used in a number of bizarre experiments throughout history. Human head transplants, blood transfusions from cadavers a few hours of death. A French scientist tried to recreate the crucifixion of Jesus. Another scientist tried to determine the existence of the soul by weighing people right before and after death.

Body parts have also been used in medicine, food and even as garden compost.

Curious to learn more? Check out Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach.

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Cell by Stephen King

cellHow many people do you know that don’t have a cell phone? Walking down the street, you might see every 2nd or 3rd person on a phone call or texting.

Clayton Riddell has finally made it big. He just landed a comic book deal and now he can finally support his wife and son on his comic book talent. Yeah, everything is wonderful as he leaves a meeting in downtown Boston.

All of a sudden, everything is thrown into chaos. A business woman attacks a guy in an ice cream truck. Another guy is chewing on a dog’s ear. A teenager girl starts yelling and acting crazy. So are a bunch of other people?

What is the connection? They were all using cell phones the moment before it all started.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

9969571[1]In the world of Ready Player One, James Halliday was kind of a big deal.  Like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. After all, he created the OASIS, a virtual reality game that had morphed into an Internet on steroids. It was a place where most of humanity went to school, worked, played  and even dated and got married (or at least their avatars did).

When the billionaire video game designer died, you would have expected a lot of news coverage, but, it was the year 2040 and global warming and constant war had almost destroyed the planet. Most people were in poverty or homeless. Who cares about some dead rich guy?

But it was his last will and testament that made everyone drop what they were doing and pay attention. Halliday was leaving all of his money (billions) and control of his company to the first person to win a video game.

It wasn’t just any video game either. To win the money, players had to travel across the OASIS, finding clues and solving puzzles on any of 10,000 virtual worlds.  All of the clues and puzzles reflected Halliday’s encyclopedic and obsessive knowledge of 80’s pop culture and players had to have the same. After 5 years, millions of players had not even been able to crack any of the clues, let alone solve a puzzle.

And then one day, Wade Watts, a poor teenager in a trailer park in Oklahoma City cracked the first clue…

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison

454856[1]John Elder Robison has had some fascinating jobs during his lifetime. He now fixes fancy European cars. He used to work as an engineer developing toys for the Mattell company. And did I mention that he was a sound engineer for the band Kiss where he also helped to create some very cool special effects for the band. But if you met him when he was a kid, you might have gotten a different picture.

sociopath, psycho, delinquent

Those were the words that some adults used to describe John when he was young. People always thought he was up to something because he wouldn’t look them in the eye and had a hard time communicating with other people, often misinterpreting social cues, facial expressions and other things we take for granted.

He seemed “off” somehow, different than “normal” people. But that assessment was more than a bit harsh. John didn’t find out until he was in his 40s that he had a syndrome called Aspergers. Not being able to read those social cues is one of several characteristics that mark a kid with Aspergers. It is a high functioning form of Autism.

They didn’t have a name for it when he was a kid. Add to the difficulties of living with Asperger a father who is an abusive alcoholic and a mother who is slowly slipping into mental illness. His prospects in high school don’t look good. He dropped out, but he found out that he was a wiz with electronics. He eventually taught himself everything he needed to know about sound engineering and started to become a local legend among bands for his ability to fix sound equipment. And that’s when the real adventure began.

If you want to find out about his bewildering love life, getting arrested for drugs in the Caribbean, creating flaming guitars and other special effects for the band Kiss and his other adventures, then check out Don’t Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison.