Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2012, pt.18: Deb Taber

Feasting the Eyes, 2012 
by Deb Taber

As a more-than-full-time freelance editor, I spend most of my waking hours every day reading books, and I'm fortunate enough that those books are almost exclusively fiction. Unfortunately, that also means that I’ve read few books over the past year that I wasn’t paid to read, either for editing or review; so, to avoid any awkward bias and nondisclosure issues, I'll stick to rereads and other media here.

When I hit the just-for-me books, my top choice is generally the “comfort food” of the YA books I grew up with. This year, at the top of my list is Jack London's White Fang. I had a fourth-grade obsession with wolves that was spurred on by this book, along with Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George and Sasha, My Friend by Barbara Corcoran (both of which are on my to-reread list for next year). While London's overt sexism and racism are difficult to dismiss, this will always be the book that taught me the meaning of the word "vouchsafed" and hit all the right notes of loneliness and isolation that can be part of both human and animal experience.

Sneak Reads: A Few Favorite Apps
When I'm waiting in line, winding down at the end of the day, taking a brain break from editing, or just want some information, I tend to turn to electronic media for my reading fix (yes, I’m an iPad/iPhone junkie). In particular, four apps (all but the last available on Android and iOS, some with companion websites as well) have been my constant companions over the last year:

1. Zite I’m not a news reader. In fact, I hate reading the news and most often approach any current event about as enthusiastically as a trip to the dentist. This year, I was introduced to Zite. It’s a news compiler app with customization features that let me grab stories from sources like Scientific American, The New York Times, the NASA website, and a variety of other major and minor publications and blogs. It’s great for finding story-inspiring headlines like “Brain Cells Cloned from Pee” or “Why the World Didn’t End Yesterday.” An added benefit is that you get the same news from several sources, which can help with cutting through the various spins to get to the kernels of actual information. If you absorb news electronically but have not yet figured out how to download the stories you want directly into your brain, I highly recommend it.

2. Fooducate I admit to being a bit of a food junkie. It's in my DNA. Get any member of my family talking for more than five minutes and the conversation will turn to food, so it’s no surprise I learned about this app at a family event. The Fooducate app allows you to scan bar codes of food items and get nutritional information that the labels won't tell you, including details on additives and studies regarding their effects. Plus, it's just plain fun to wander the grocery store scanning and analyzing your food with your phone. Some of the warnings that pop up are hilarious (“Heart attack!” “Fiber overload!”). You can also browse the database for general information or connect to the Fooducate website to learn more about specific nutritional concerns. Descriptions are informative and humorous, and if you find an item that’s not in the database, you can submit it for analysis and addition to the app.

3. Hotel Tonight This app has nothing to do with science fiction, reading in general, or media consumption, but it has been one of my greatest pleasures of the year. The basic premise is that there are plenty of sites that offer good hotel deals to people who plan ahead, but this one focuses on last-minute places to stay (particularly helpful when stuck in a location due to weather or later-than-expected work commitments) in select cities. The interface is clean and beautiful, the writing in the app direct and informative and spunky, and the photos are gorgeous. Plus, it’s let me stay in a few of Seattle's nicest hotels on a writer/editor's budget.

4. The Room Just as I'm not a news reader, I'm also not a gamer. Sure, I've flung my share of Angry Birds and killed some time with electronic Boggle (okay, okay, and Ms. Pac-Man and Skeeball and Solitaire), but The Room brought me into the 21st-century game experience. The game leads you on a complex puzzle tour through a series of nested boxes, following the story of a mad scientist's discovery. The graphics are beautiful and the puzzle complex enough to be frustrating at times but not overwhelming. This is, unfortunately, an iPad-only app, but if you don’t have one of your own, I’d say it’s worth borrowing a friend's iPad for a few hours...or days...until you solve the puzzle.

Big and Small Screen
The two TV shows I’ve grown most fond of over the past year were canceled or declined for renewal, but in case you haven’t checked them out, I enjoyed The Killing and Awake. Despite its sometimes laughable interpretation of Puget Sound geography, The Killing featured strong acting, especially by lead Mireille Enos, who may be the only female TV police officer not required to do her job in a tank top and miniskirt and heels. Awake, while weak in female characters, presented an interesting psychological conundrum, crystallized in the two therapists (one male, one female) in the main character’s two conflicting realities. It was also great to see BD Wong in a complex role, given Hollywood’s tendency to marginalize Asian actors. Just ignore the final episode’s “and then he woke up”-style ending.

I’ve seen more movies over the past year than I care to count, and far more in theaters than I’m used to, so this was a tough list to narrow down. The one major pleasant surprise I had was the movie Bug, with Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon. I rented it expecting the typical cheesy horror flick (I do love my typical cheesy horror flicks), and instead got an intensive psychological drama in stage-play-adapted-to-the-screen format. A few other movies I’ve had great fun with this year: Rubber (not for all tastes, but if “psycho killer tire” sounds intriguing, give it a watch), The Italian Job (the 2003 version; action-heist fluff, but at least the lead female character is more than what a friend of mine likes to term “a kissing post”) and Looper (some rough bits, but overall a good story). I also have been a longtime fan of stand-up comedy, and two performances I rented that I really enjoyed were Anjelah Johnson’s That’s How We Do It and Aisha Tyler’s Aisha Tyler is Lit: Live at the Fillmore.

Deb Taber sold her first short story, “How to Raise a Human,” to Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest, then managed to join the staff of that same magazine as an editor before the story made it to print. There, she progressed from slush reader to senior editor of the small press’s book division. She now edits and/or proofreads everything from self-published science fiction to thrillers for New York Times best-selling authors. After a day spent polishing other writers’work, she finds time now and then to write her own brand of speculative twists and turns. Her dark fantasy stories have appeared in such venues as Fantasy Magazine and River: An Anthology and her science fiction short stories have appeared in various anthologies, including Art From Art and Dark Futures. Aqueduct will be publishing her first novel, Necessary Ill, in March 2013.

No comments: