Book Reviews, Non-fiction, Short Stories

Octavia E. Butler’s Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995)

Bloodchild and Other Stories was my introduction to Butler’s writing, and it reflects a masterful (and masterfully-thoughtful) writer. This collection features every short story — and two essays — that Octavia Butler wrote between 1971 and 2003. At just over 200 pages, it’s not many, and she herself admits to not being a writer or fan of short stories in her comments.

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Book Reviews, Non-fiction, Short Stories

Transgressive poetry in Yuri Kageyama’s the New and Selected Yuri (2011)

Why hadn’t I heard of Yuri Kageyama before? She’s been quietly publishing poetry, essays, and short stories for over 30 years. Her style ranges between transgressive and journalistic, channeling similar frustrations as writers like Kathy Acker, but with a style devoid of flourish or absurdity. She’s published in journals and magazines, and had her one and only poetry collection, Peeling, published by her close friend and fellow author, Ishmael Reed, in 1988. The New and Selected Yuri, published in 2011, contains 41 short works of poetry and prose dating from 1978 to 2011. It contains short stories, essays, anecdotes, conversations, cultural explanations, and a wealth of poems.

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Book Reviews, Non-fiction

Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir (2015)

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is a memoir of Sleater-Kinney; of punk, riot grrl, and a young musician’s finding her identity. This isn’t the story Portlandia, but of a time and place that fostered a style of music and the messages that music imparted. Before the Internet coalesced our interests and cultural identities, being a musician or a fan of music meant being a fan of regions. This is a memoir about growing up in a music culture simultaneously inclusive and exclusive, about breaking the barriers of what it meant to be a — imagine a nebulously pejorative-but-well-intentioned tone — ‘female musician’ rather than simply a musician.

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Book Reviews, Non-fiction, YA

R.L. Stine’s It Came from Ohio!: My Life as a Writer (1997)

co-written with Joe Arthur and Susan Lurie

R.L. Stine’s life has not been very exciting, but I think that’s something to appreciate. He’s lived a very normal life up to a point. He’s always been a writer, and that’s all he’s ever tried to be. He grew up drawing his own humor magazines and recording mock radio shows with his childhood friends; later, he wrote for Ohio State University’s Sundial and did plenty of gutter-work (like writing exclusively about soda…). Eventually, he was offered a lucky job with Scholastic and his life was set.

He’s also proud to have been an at-home dad, which is pretty awesome.

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Book Reviews, Non-fiction

Sam Harris’ Free Will (2012)

Part philosophical treatise, part peer-reviewed literature review, Sam Harris dispels the illusion of free will in a mere 13,000 words. The determinism proposed by the New Atheist movement has been in and out of vogue for centuries, depending, in the moment, on the reigning scientific and philosophical paradigms. Harris’ writing adds to the discussion (and perhaps not-so-gently placing the penultimate nail in the coffin) by citing recent neuroscience research to support his philosophical argument. It turns out our brains are unsurprisingly predictable — our decisions even measurable.

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Book Reviews, Non-fiction

David Quammen’s the Flight of the Iguana (1988)

The Flight of the Iguana is a fantastic collection of 29 essays, written by David Quammen for Outside magazine between 1984 and 1987. Some of them are, at this point, dated by modern research, but Quammen is a fantastic natural science writer, whose skill at presenting complex ecological concepts to layreaders is perhaps paralleled by only John McPhee, Rachel Carson, or Robert Sapolsky.

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Book Reviews, Non-fiction, Science

Winston Chang’s R Graphics Cookbook (2013)

If you’re ever fumbling around with data in R, you’re probably familiar with the built-in, unattractive graphics. ggplot2’s been increasingly recognized as a necessity for getting the most out of your imagery. It offers nearly complete control over your graphics output, building them layer by layer.

I spent a solid year learning and exploring R as a graduate student before I cracked open Winston Chang’s R Graphics Cookbook and started learning ggplot2’s little oddities. ggplot2 is itself almost like another language within R, but it’s thankfully a very simple language — far more simple and far more flexible, I feel, than the built-in graphics options.

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