Absurd Science Questions and Answers: What If?

Image of book cover of What If?

For divergent thinking, read What If?

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

I had a lot of fun listening to What If?: Serious Scientific Answers Absurd Hypothetical Questions. Randall Munroe is the author. He’s also the creator of xkcd. I told my sons I was listening to a crazy and fun book while I was walking and had gotten a copy from the library so that I could go over some of the questions and answers again as well as see the diagrams. When I told them the title of the book, they knew immediately who the author was. Munroe’s website is popular.

Absurd Science Questions=Thinking Outside the Box

I think any teen who likes thinking outside the box will love this book. You don’t need to be a science genius. Whether you understand all the science involved in the answer—to Munroe’s credit, he breaks it down for the average reader—you will sometimes be astonished at how weird or impossible events would affect the neighborhood, the state, the nation, the world, the universe.

Absurd Questions, Fun and Wacky Answers

What If? compiles all the best questions and answers from the xkcd webcomic. Four of these questions are listed inside the book jacket, so I’m guessing the publishers thought these were the best.

  • What if I took a swim in a spent nuclear fuel pool?
  • Could you build a jetpack using downward firing machine guns?
  • What if a Richter 15 earthquake hit New York City?
  • What would happen if someone’s DNA vanished?

These are great, and the answers are surprising. Vanished DNA is an otherworldly concept to me. I have a few more favorites of my own:

  • What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent of the speed of light? (The answer was sooo far from anything I’d imagine.)
  • What if everyone actually had only one soul mate, a random person somewhere in the world?
  • What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element? (Boom! Boom!)
  • If an asteroid was very small but supermassive, could you really live on it like the Little Prince?

Weird and Worrying Interchapters

Also included in What If? are interchapters entitled “Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If? Inbox.” A few examples:

  • Would it be possible to get your teeth to such a cold temperature that they would shatter upon drinking a hot cup of coffee? (Non-answer: “Thank you, Shelby, for my new recurring nightmare.”)
  • Is it possible to cry so much you dehydrate yourself? (Non-answer: “Karl, is everything OK?”)
  • What sort of logistic anomalies would you encounter in trying to raise an army of apes?

Ask Absurd Questions: Be a Divergent Thinker

I love all of this because of the divergent thinking. Just reading it lets you know that’s it’s OK to think up bizarre stuff and wonder about the answers. While the answers themselves are highly entertaining—and sometimes frightening—the fact that people ask such crazy questions in this wild, wide world is worth the read.

For other weird science reads, see my reviews of Gulp and Spook.

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Ontario Teen Book Fest // Submission Deadline

Image of Isabel Quintero giving one of three keynote speeches at the Ontario Teen Book Fest on March 9, 2019.

Isabel Quintero giving one of three keynote speeches at the Ontario Teen Book Fest on March 9, 2019.

Inlandia Submissions Deadline for Teen Issue is Days Away! March 15! Submit Now!

If you are a teen living in the Inland Empire, don’t miss your chance for publication in the online journal Inlandia: A Literary Journey. The deadline is day away—March 15. Artwork, fiction, nonfiction, poetry—we want to see it all! Go to the submission link for all the guidelines.

Ontario Teen Book Fest Inspires

Writers seek advice at teen book fests. Any writer–not just YA–will benefit as authors speak about craft, agents, and publishers. If you are a teen writer, make sure you attend! Great fun and info about the authors’ journeys at the Ontario Teen Book Fest. Over at VictoriaWaddle.com, I wrote about my take on the keynote speeches by Isabel Quintero, Suzanne Young and Stephanie Garber. Check it out here! 

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Submit Your Work to the Teen Issue of Inlandia Now!

Inland Empire Teens–Here’s Your Opportunity

The Inlandia Institute is happy to announce that in the spring of 2019, it will publish its second annual teen issue of its online creative writing journal Inlandia: A Literary Journey. All Inland Empire teens (13-19 years old) are encouraged to submit fiction, nonfiction, poetry, book reviews, and artwork. So–if you live in Riverside County, San Bernardino County or the city of Claremont, we want to see your work!

 

Work will be judged by teens living in the IE. Those works selected will be published in the spring issue. Our goal is to highlight the creativity of our IE youth and to give them the opportunity to publish their work professionally. This speaks to our larger mission of recognizing, supporting, and expanding all forms of literary activity through community programs in Inland Southern California.

  • We are open for submissions NOW.
  • Submissions will close on March 15, 2019.
  • Teens wishing to be guest editors may submit their request on Submittable by March 1, 2019. (Note: teen judges may still submit their work, but they may not judge their own work.)

I’m hoping you will help get the word out about this exciting opportunity for IE teen writers and artists. I’d be deeply grateful if you forwarded the message to the English, journalism and art teachers at your schools. For more information about the nonprofit organization Inlandia Institute, please visit http://inlandiainstitute.org. To view the previous teen issue of the journal, please see https://inlandiajournal.com/volume-viii-spring-2018/. To read an article about the first teen issue in the Press Enterprise, see https://www.pe.com/2018/05/15/young-inland-writers-express-themselves-in-inlandias-first-all-teen-issue/ For the information including a FAQ page, submission guidelines, and a link to our submission manager, go to our Submittable page.

Sincerely,

Victoria Waddle

Inlandia Literary Journeys Managing Editor

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Memoir: Educated

7e95d46b-cb86-4141-b76b-9cc84eba3bf2Tara Westover, the author of Educated, grew up in the country, in view of Buck’s Peak, in Idaho. Previous books I’ve read about the ‘heartland’ and its ‘real American’ inhabitants—whatever that is supposed to mean to those that use the term to describe themselves while denigrating urban folks—idealize rural life. Westover has a very different story to tell.

Tara is the youngest of seven children, born into a fundamentalist Mormon family. As the book begins, her father, Gene, seems perhaps only quirky—he preaches against drinking milk. As we read on, we realize he must be mentally ill. He is so afraid of the outside world and so insistent on protecting his family from it that he has no birth certificates for many of the children (no records for the government to use to track them—and, in his mind, the feds are always working to track them down). He doesn’t allow visits to the doctor since those exhibit a lack of faith in God. He insists that his wife become an uncertified midwife to help birth children for other parents they know who also want nothing to do with doctors.

Most important of all, Tara and her siblings are kept out of public school so that the government will not teach them evil ways. Their parents are supposedly home teaching them, but, in reality, almost no teaching is going on. Tara and a few of her siblings who are interested in being educated work hard to have the opportunity to learn. Eventually, Tara, with the help of a brother, teaches herself enough to take the ACT test and get into Brigham Young University. But before she can use education as an escape route, she suffers severally at the hands of one of her brothers, Shawn, who exhibits traits of sociopathy. Though she tries to get her parents to stop the abuse, they shrug it off, insisting that it is not happening, or, when confronted with real evidence, that it was accidental or horseplay that had gone too far.

That Westover and her siblings survived their upbringing is, quite honestly, the most astonishing thing to me. They do not however, come through it unscathed. Not only were they psychologically abused and mentally damaged, but they were physically harmed in completely unnecessary accidents. Their parents have more than one collision in the family car through sheer stupidity and a refusal to accept that nature and weather are not under their control. Their father demands that they work in his junkyard in very dangerous conditions; he insists that they use heavy equipment without proper safety garments and without fail safe plans. He even hoists them into the air to work on an open platform, telling them that a bucket such as a donkey lift is for sissies. As you might guess, there are many falls, concussions, third-degree burns, open wounds, and, yes, near deaths. This never stops Gene from repeating the same mistakes, over and over.

Each time the parents risk the lives of their children, they put it in God’s hands. To them, this is a deep act of faith. To the reader, it is a criminal refusal of responsibility.

Once Tara is grown and off to university, the Westover parents, particularly her father, begin to have a cultish following of employees and extended family members. They make a good deal of money selling essential oils and natural cures. They reinvest much of it in preparations for surviving an apocalypse or a raid by the federal government.

Because Tara will not allow the lie that her brother Shawn didn’t really abuse her; because she refused to continue to bow to their soul-crushing religious fanaticism, as well as their fear of outsiders, the government, and formal education, her parents cut off all communication with her. While it’s hard to leave family behind—and thankfully, Westover has one brother who also separated himself from the tribe and backed her up in her bid to remove herself from Shawn—it is the only way for Tara to move forward.

High school housekeeping: While this is an adult memoir, I highly recommend it for teens as well. I know many students who loved The Glass Castle. (I reviewed here.) All of them will not be able to put Educated down. While The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is about wildly negligent parents, Educated is about wildly dangerous parents—a pair who physically, emotionally and mentally harm their children, all in the name of being free of government constraints and honoring God. Any teen going through difficult times might take heart at what Westover is able to do as she works all the way to Cambridge University and a doctorate in history.

Posted in Biography/Memoir, Faith-Based/Religious Element, Family Problems | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Magical Realism: The Buried Giant

Axl and Beatrice, ill-treated inhabitants of a rustic warren in medieval England, awaken on a fine spring day and realize that they have forgotten to do something important: they must take a few days journey to visit their long lost adult son in a nearby village. Why they haven’t seen their son in so long and exactly where he lives is not clear to them. In fact, Beatrice and Axl have a very difficult time remembering almost anything, even visitors to their warren that had stayed only a month before. The reader is immediately moved by their plight as they are both sweet, gentle, and particularly tender toward one another.  Sadly, life in the warren has been made more difficult for them as they are deprived of even the simplest creature comforts, such as a candle to light in the dark night, because of their advanced age.

Soon enough, the reader understands that everyone, not just in the warren, but in villages all over the country, is forgetting events both personal and political. Axl and Beatrice call this the ‘mist’ as it seems a fog that keeps the facts of their lives just out of viewing. There is a rumor that the mist is caused by the great dragon Querig. Added to the troubles of the old couple is a dawning understanding, culled from the tales of grieving widows, that they must cross a river with a boatman who tricks couples into journeying separately unless they can prove, by answering his questions, that their lifelong love has been perfect. With the mist over people’s memories, how can they satisfactorily answer the boatman’s questions?

The reader understands that the boatman is crossing over to the island beyond death. Add to this frightening prospect that the lonely, uncharted country is full of highwaymen as well as supernatural dangers from ogres, dragons, and pixies, and it is a very brave pair that takes a journey on a hunch.

As Axl and Beatrice proceed on their adventure, the relationship between the Britons and Saxons after the death of King Arthur is highlighted. Historically, then, this is probably seventh century England. “There were . . . miles of desolate, uncultivated land; here and there rough-hewn paths over craggy hills or bleak moorland. Most of the roads left by the Romans would by then have become broken or overgrown, often fading into wilderness. Icy fogs hung over rivers and marshes, serving all too well the ogres that were then still native to this land.”

The couple stop for the night in a Saxon village where Beatrice has traded goods in the past. She hopes to seek medical advice from a herbalist for a constant pain. The date of their arrival is, coincidentally, the same date when a Saxon hero is returning after saving a local boy from a group of ogres. By the description of the monster’s torn limbs, I thought he was Beowulf. But he is Wistan, on a secret mission from his king. Circumstances and the village’s superstitions combine to cause him to travel with the saved boy, Axl, and Beatrice.

Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur’s Court whom the group meets along the way, also has a quest, and it seems that the two knights—Saxon and Briton—are in competition for glory. However, their purposes are even more secretive—and more dark—that it first appears.

While Axl and Beatrice’s journey involves a good deal of danger, death, and the witness of hand-to-hand combat, their constant concern for one another and their goal to stay together create a sweetly melancholic emotional atmosphere. I didn’t want to part from this couple. Yet, this is a book of reckoning, and there is no avoiding its end. Truthful, loving or not, the world is a difficult place and ultimately does not yield easily to human desire.

High school housekeeping: Don’t let the fact that Ishiguro is a Nobel Prize winner scare you off. The Buried Giant is brilliant and beautifully written, a book that will engage you without feeling ‘difficult.’ The medieval setting has popular appeal. Sir Gawain roams the countryside in a suit of armor, which was a later invention, apparently beginning in the thirteenth century. No matter though—with dragons, ogres and pixies dotting the otherwise realistically rough and rustic setting, the combination of realism and fantasy is a smooth one.

The novel is not particularly long (nor too short). I know that many English classes include ‘the hero’s journey’ in their curriculum. If a teacher should ask you to read a novel and discuss elements of the hero’s journey that you find there, you won’t find a better choice. Check this out.

 

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Horror: The Haunting of Hill House

This is actually a post from my blog about authors and writing. I thought it would be helpful to some here as it has links to a lot of good horror.

Please have a look:

http://victoriawaddle.com/2018/10/30/horror-the-haunting-of-hill-house/

 

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Gender Fluidity: Symptoms of Being Human

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin 

Gender fluid teenager Riley Cavanaugh starts an anonymous blog at the suggestion of their therapist. Even this anonymous version of coming out takes Riley some time—as well as a major crisis and a suicide attempt, a change in high schools and a cautious seeking of new friends while dressing as gender neutrally as possible.

Riley poses as Alix online, discussing what it is like to experience both bullying and gender dysphoria. Immediately, an online community forms around the blog, with both transgender and gender fluid teens seeking Alix’s advice. When the blog is recommended by ‘QueerAlliance.org,’ a spectaculator number of follower results. Of course, the trolls, with their messages of hate and attempts to humiliate, appear as well.

Anxiety, already a problem for Riley, deepens when some of the troll comments indicate that an anonymous commenter knows Riley’s real identity—the child of a Congressman who is running for reelection in very conservative Orange County, CA. In fact, this particular troll hints that they attend the same high school.

Riley is under pressure to delete the blog and go into hiding. But hiding has not worked thus far. Summoning courage and with the help of two new allies—Bec (who may be more than just a friend) and Solo, who has the ability to walk a line between the popular and the outcast—Riley pushes through ‘the gauntlet’ to face both hate and violence.

High school housekeeping: There are many reasons I enjoyed Symptoms of Being Human. An odd one that others may not relate to is that Riley is in Fullerton, CA, which is near Anaheim Hills, which is near Villa Park. I grew up in Villa Park and thought that Riley’s high school—Park Hills—might be a mashup of the names of the two ultra conservative cities.  Much more significant is that as a teacher librarian, in the last year before I retired, I was on the prowl for YA fiction (nonfiction was less difficult to find) that represented transgender and gender fluid teens in a sympathetic manner. I found very little. I read adult books, and was very hopeful for one in particular. But ultimately, it wasn’t going to work for teens or for a school library for many reasons although it was a beautiful work of literature. So—happy to see YA work on the scene.

As I often mention, I enjoy books when I enjoy the writing itself. Symptoms of Being Human has some lovely bits (I think I picked that phrase up in Ireland last week). Here’s one, a description of Park Hills High at lunch: “When the bell rings at the end of French, I’m the last one out of the classroom. The quad is already crawling with students, all of them swarming toward the outdoor eating area like ants descending on the remains of a discarded popsicle.”  And this: “I don’t know whether to fall onto my bed and bury my face in my pillow or jump around the room, squealing like a guinea pig on meth.” There are lots more—enjoy discovering them when you read the novel.

Reading Symptoms of Being Human validates my reading ‘plan’: buy books at every bookstore and author event you go to, even if you have a ton of unread books at home. Then every time you’re ready to start a new book, you have a hundred of them in the house to choose from and can grab what best fits the moment. I bought Symptoms all the way back in March at the Ontario Teen Book Fest. I’ve been reading fantasy for awhile on the recommendation of one of my sons. But since I was going on a trip to Ireland to see the country where my Catholic progenitors hailed from, and since one of my family names is Cavanaugh (spelled with a ‘C’ like Riley’s last name), I figured it was a sign that now was the perfect time to read Riley’s story. I was right.

Posted in bullying, Family Problems, Fiction, Human Rights Issues, Young Adult Literature | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments