Friday, June 27, 2014

Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire

It took 400 pages for anything to happen in this book. Then, there was some action that almost made it interesting. Then, everything settled down and got overly philosophical and random. This book was ridiculous.

I love the Oz mythology - read L. Frank Baum's books as a kid - so when Wicked came out I was excited. It was an amazing book, but all of Maguire's forays into Oz since have been disappointing. Out of Oz is the last book in the series and time has moved on so we're following the lives of Elphaba's (The Wicked Witch) son and granddaughter. Glinda is an older woman who has lost the bubbly charm she's best known for and the Cowardly Lion is very beaten down. Dorothy makes an appearance and she's almost an adult, but even her return isn't very exciting.

More than half of this book has characters travelling through Oz, either running away,hiding, or trekking a great distance to stop something horrible from happening. Regardless, they're always moving slowly. There are a few battles in the book since Munchkinland is at war with Loyal Oz (those areas still loyal to the Emerald City,) a high-profile trial, and an interesting love story, but nothing totally delivers. The narrative feels long-winded and a little forced. Bits and pieces unrelated to the story are dumped in to give the book a more literary feel, but it's obvious and ill-fitting.

I finished the book hoping for something to pop at the end and was disappointed. Stop at Wicked if you're interested, but just read the book, don't bother with the musical.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

That Used to be Us by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum

We need to reconnect with our country's illustrious past. We need to be inspired by the accomplishments we've made as Americans. We should stop resting on our laurels, expecting handouts, and comparing ourselves to others. It's what we used to do, how we used to think, that can save our country today which unfortunately, as Friedman and Mandelbaum point out, has a lot of problems.

There weren't any surprises in the book as to what's wrong with our country and how we might attempt to fix it. The unique thing about this book is the presentation of the issues. Each problem is put into its historical context - how did we get here, what's perpetuating the problem, and how can we remedy the situation. In general, regardless of any specific issue, we as a country need to take control of our future through action. We need to stop being complacent and entitled and relearn how to compromise in order to get the job done. We need to find the middle ground within the solutions to our major problems and stop ignoring their existence.

The book was really interesting all around, but way too much was covered to sum up in a simple book review. The authors focus on the issues of debt, education, jobs and the economy, technology, and politics. Not only do the authors show you the issues present in these areas, but they so fully explain each situation that you, as the reader, feel educated yourself by the end of each section, able to form your own opinions. I found myself particularly interested in what the authors had to say about the need to stress the importance of education, how doing this can support job availability and economic growth. So many jobs will become available as the baby boomer generation retires and customized education could help prepare today's young people to fill those spaces. They also spend a lot of time talking about the political system today and its flaws - how the two-party system has driven out politicians into extreme, opposing camps and how a single person's support of an independent candidate can influence the political agenda and force our leftists and rightists onto some middle ground.

There's so much I don't understand about the way things are done in our country right now at the higher levels. I see so much waste and too many distractions. I felt like what I learned in reading this book has given me hope and encouraged me to think positively about what our future can bring; that even a little voice can lead to change.