Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Lonely and solitary person, unresolved sorrow, solace in music. Familiar elements, but one of Murakami's more emotionally nuanced books. 

Monday, December 08, 2014

More assorted sci-fi, mystery, comics

More assorted sci-fi, mystery, and comics. Dan Simmons Hyperion, George R.R. Martin Dreamsongs; Diana Gabaldon Outlander; Vernor Vinge Marooned in Realtime; G. Willow Wilson and M. K. Perker Air series; Mike Carey and Peter Gross The Unwritten series; and Dorothy Sayers and Robert Eustace The Documents in the Case. The V. Vinge was pretty fun, the Gabaldon was embarrassingly smutty (the closest thing I've ever read to a bodice-ripper and listing it is mortifying) the Sayers collaboration was solid but with lots of self-indulgent pseudo-biological theological excursions, Air was boring, and The Unwritten was fun. Nothing great.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Herman Melville, Moby Dick. One of my very favorites and every time I've forgotten.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jonathan Miles, Want Not

Jonathan Miles, Want Not.  4? 5? 6? separate narratives, centered on excrement, effluvia, refuse, overage, built in losses, and trash. I particularly liked the morbidly obese linguist who somehow re-entered his wasted life in the process of hilariously and surreptitiously butchering the deer that smashed his car.

Alison Lurie, Real People

Alison Lurie, Real People. Not as captivating as Foreign Affairs, but I did enjoy the the snobbery and competitive social interplay at a very unusual writer's colony.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Katherine Dunn, Geek Love

Katherine Dunn, Geek Love. I wanted to scrub my hands until they bled after finishing this, except that it reminded me of scrubbing in for amateur amputation surgery.

Monday, November 10, 2014

William Styron, Darkness Visible.

William Styron, Darkness Visible. A frank (and surprisingly tender) memoir of depression by a pompous old man.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Neal Stephanson, Zodiac

Neal Stephenson, Zodiac. A little bleh, but quite distinct from other Stephenson in subject and tone.  Gonzo environmentalism with a very 80's flavor (I was not impressed by the microbiology/genetic engineering, but it was a decent story). Lacked the exuberance and obsession with information that often make up for a little immaturity in his novels.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Jose Saramago, Baltasar and Blimunda

José Saramago, Baltasar and Blimunda. 18th century Portugal, still baroque. Peasant couple survives inquisition and builds period flying machine.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Greg Bear, The Forge of God

Greg Bear, The Forge of God. A decent science fiction read, enjoyed the Von Neumann machines, and good characters with some believable relationships. But such a terrible, terrible translation to digital with lots of mistakes, wonky font, and page problems; I don't know if my basal irritation was with the format or the book.

Michael Chabon, Mysteries in Pittsburgh

Michael Chabon, Mysteries in Pittsburgh. Much less polished than Chabon's later work, but nice to see a male's bisexuality taken seriously and explored in a matter-of-fact and believable way.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Intense, concentrated stories.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Alison Lurie, Foreign Affairs

Alison Lurie, Foreign Affairs. Alison Lurie is a new author to me, and one I think I will really appreciate. An American professor of folklore and children's literature on research. She's middle aged, solitary, interesting. I loved the scenes where she stews over an unfair critical review of her work - so realistic to academia, so funny and true, She's the sort of character who is rare. really really rare, in my reading. I will read more of Lurie.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being

Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being. I am a sucker for an epistolary novel (even a not-quite epistolary novel like this one). A transoceanic correspondence between a lonely 16 year old young woman and an isolated middle-aged writer who can't write. Mystical/mythical/metaphysical and disjointed in time without stupidity or bullshittery. Comic and touching, without irritating or soggy sentiment.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote. When I read this as a kid, I read it as a straightforward comedic adventure story - I was alternately frustrated with/ amused by/ sorry for the poor knight and horrified/ amused /sympathetic toward Sancho. That's all still there, but after 20 more years loving novels, wow, everything else is there. The line from Quixote to Tristram Shandy continues straight through to every self-aware, playful book I've ever loved.

Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart

Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart. Another lovely, surreal, lonely book. Sumire and "K" are more sympathetic and human than most Murakami protagonists and narrator. And I just love, really I do, I love the title.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Alice Munro, Dear Life

Alice Munro, Dear Life. Lean stories. Felt odd to have read some and not others in periodicals.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Jane Smiley, Private Life

Jane Smiley, Private Life. Solid story - interesting: early 20th century - marriage - constrainment of a single woman's role - passivity in private life -  WWI & WWII - Japanese culture in Pacific Northest - paranoia & internment camps - astronomy.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Alice McDermott, Someone

Alice McDermott, Someone. It took me about eight chapters to confirm that, no I had not actually read this particular book before, because I kept thinking 'Oh god, not this book again'.

Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Gave this book to my mother based entirely on the title. Not what I expected, but funny. And timely, as my youngest has a non-human primate obsession at the moment.

Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot

Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot. Thin. Stupid.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Robin Sloane, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Robin Sloane, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. This is a cute little silly story. At first you think is is going to descend into a lugubrious "one big misunderstanding" sort of book, but it stays light and funny. And for what it's worth, it is infinitely better that The Circle (which tried to be a funny satire of current technological and social trends and failed dreadfully - Mr. Penumbra has some of the same topical Google-ly stuff, also a little ridiculous, but without the strident whining and bitterness).

More scifi and fantasy

Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth, The Long War, and The Long Mars. These are good, although there are some problematic aspects that would take me a long and careful post to explain. But the Long Earth idea is compelling and fruitful.

George R.R. Martin (and others), Dangerous Women (anthology): some good, some great, and some terrible stories.

Lev Grossman, The Magician's land. OK, this is actually really fun.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Haruki Murakami, The Elephant Vanishes

Haruki Murakami, The Elephant Vanishes. I love these lonely and strange short stories.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Gary Shteyngart, Little Failure

Gary Shteyngart, Little Failure. I love, love, Gary Shteyngart. I would forgive him anything, even Super Sad True Love Story, after Absurdistan, but no forgiveness is needed. This memoir is wonderful, funny, bitter, angry, and kind. I shrieked and snorted on the bus while reading, apologies to fellow commuters, and aren't you glad I usually bike. I have a dear friend who emigrated from the USSR in the late 80s as well, and so many of her reminisces, particularly food related ones, make so much more sense to me now. Beet everything, dill and salt sandwiches? Of course.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Martha Grimes, some older Jury/Plant mysteries

Martha Grimes, The Man with a Load of Mischief, Jerusalem Inn, I am the Only Running Footman. Grimes back when her RJ series was good. Man with a Load more so, Footman less so. Love Melrose, love Wiggins, love her comic relief - so much better than forced sadness. Although to be fair, when she tries, Grimes hits the melancholic notes with the best (The End of the Pier, Hotel Paradise).

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Matthew Quick, The Good Luck of Right Now

Matthew Quick, The Good Luck of Right Now. This story of a non-neurotypical adult dealing with the loss of his mother and only friend started with both comedy and a potential for uniqueness, but devolved into sugary predictability.

Lev Grossman, The Magicians and The Magician King

Lev Grossman, The Magicians and The Magician King. Harry Potter and his friends go to Narnia in college. Better than you'd expect, and fun to read. The rare sequel that is better than the first, partly because there is an actual female character rather than stage prop, if she is a bit flat - so are the rest of them.

Friday, July 25, 2014

George Eliot, Middlemarch

George Eliot, Middlemarch. I enjoyed this so much more than the first time. I have more sympathy for the constrained choices and maddening behaviors of the young women, probably because I no longer identify with them. I think that it tied up too neatly with happy endings for all honesty, but it does make for a satisfied glow at the finish.

Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman

Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman. The story of the OED. I've always been fascinated and puzzled by the creation of dictionaries - how would you write the first one? Apparently, by reading every book and writing down every word and quotes of it used in every context. The story of the people who created the dictionary (an army of volunteers including one notable murderer and lunatic) was interesting, but I enjoyed the dictionary parts more. I think I read the wrong book, as the author has written another book about the venerable dictionary focusing on the work itself.

Friday, July 11, 2014

G. B. Edwards, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page

G. B. Edwards, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page. An obstinate, garrulous, and witty old man recounts his life spanning two world wars on the island of Guernsey. He tells the story of his friends, family, and neighbors and of the way of life and language that have disappeared. And best, it is a funny book, full of zeal and enjoyment rather than exclusively nostalgia.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Dorothy Baker, Cassandra at the Wedding

Dorothy Baker, Cassandra at the Wedding. This was lovely. I actually enjoy books about self-centered brattish women that are developed as characters, in part because they are quite rare.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

John Fowles, The Magus

John Fowles, The Magus. Just horrible. Another self-centered, privileged asshole is not narcissistic enough, so he goes to a Greek island where a sociopathic millionaire makes the entire world actually revolve around him. Really well written, but so full of nasty people I felt bile rising at the finish.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

More light reading

Been reading some fun stuff between the cracks lately. E.L Konigsburg, The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. A cute story about a girl's relationship with her elderly uncles and the giant scrap metal towers they built in their back yard. George R.R. Martin, Tuf Voyaging. A portly cat loving intergalactic trader acquires god-like powers. Daniel Pinkwater, The Afterlife Diet. Heaven for chubby people and diet book scams.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Jennifer Egan, Look at Me

Jennifer Egan, Look at Me. I don't have much patience for meditations on the meaning of self in the digital age, and the central conceit of the faceless model didn't convince me. But the language is lovely, and the whole book is rich enough to hold even with a weak thread or two.  I loved some of the themes, particularly the vanished industrial America still  present at the liminal intersections.  Much of the story was set in Rockford, IL, a town I know well, and where this past country still lurches on, decaying and undead, looming over the present.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

John Scalzi, Redshirts

John Scalzi, Redshirts. Wouldn't those poor crew members on the Enterprise figure out something was up?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. A most elaborate autobiography as a set for a series of dick jokes: the jokes are related with such delight and propriety, however, that it would be inhuman not to enjoy them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City. I thought it was a novel about the world's fair in Chicago, judging by the cover, but instead it was a novelized non-fiction account of a disgusting and ingenious serial murderer operating in Chicago during the world's fair. Maybe it was good, and it was certainly fascinating, but I wanted to bathe in sand and bleach and remove my mind after reading.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon

Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon. A truly enjoyable swords & sorcery story - the best kind of genre - smart, funny, with a set of evil-fighting wise-cracking mismatched heroes that are fun to walk around a city with. (Chapter one as well as a short story are on the author's site.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke

Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke. Why do I keep reading books about the Vietnam war? They all make me want to gouge out my eyes. This one though, is good. In a  (lazy & unable to encapsulate the plot meaningfully) list of adjectives: senseless, horrible, bleak, funny. Like Catch-22 but even more depressing.

Friday, May 09, 2014

James Joyce, Ulysses

James Joyce, Ulysses. A really great reading by John Lee with an accent you can chew on - I found I missed some aspects of the text by listening, but also gained some hilarity by listening to a speaker read the lines. Did I mention that it's funny? Don't let Joyce's reputation scare you -  slide along with with the words and be entertained.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire

Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire. Michael Pollan is always enjoyable, even though sometimes  a little hyperbolic in his arguments. At least he lists his sources. Anyway, a history of agriculture or plant and human co-evolution using the apple, tulip, marijuana, and potato as examples. Fascinating, particularly the history of the domestication of the apple. At lunch with a couple of Braeburns between us, a Kazakh friend told me that the city of Almaty is named for apples and wild apples of all strange sorts grow around it. I also like to think of the reproductive strategy of the plants in domestication - reminds me of successful pathogen evolution, but more beneficial.

Jennifer Egan, A Visit From The Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan, A Visit From The Goon Squad. Rock and roll doesn't age gracefully.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Marcel Proust, Swann's Way

Marcel Proust, Swann's Way. Do a few moment of poignant and transcendent beauty make unending pages of boredom worthwhile? Probably, but there it is.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child

Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child. A beautiful fairy-tale about a mysterious girl appearing to a lonely  pioneer couple - they love her as their longed-for child - and she brings them a love of the wildlife and wild country of Alaska. The story is a rare snapshot of frontier life that illustrates the deep pleasures that the environment provides as well as the hardships.

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield. One of the few books I ever refused to finish as a child - I was deeply disgusted by Uriah Heep and irritated with Little Eml'y. I still have complicated feelings about Dickens - love, frustration, exasperation, anger - but I do enjoy revisiting him on occasion. D.C. was much much funnier than I remembered and Betsy Trotwood nearly made up for the horrible Eml'y and Dora. And as the ridiculous coincidences pile up the slapped-on sentimentality acquires its own hilarity.  But really, nothing like Dickens to make one glad one is not living in Victorian England without a penis.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Nicola Griffith, Hild

Nicola Griffith, Hild. Wonderful. Immersive and beautifully crafted historical fiction on par with Wolf Hall.

Sci-fi and children's books and odds and ends

So, a super fast run down of some of the fun things I've been reading for respite while writing a science review paper:
Super creepy, liked that the protagonist was terribly bossy and a perfectionist and that these qualities were both positive and were abused by the horrible insect-y villains: Claire Legrand, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls.
Reading Ryan North's choose your own path Hamlet To Be or Not To Be with the kids, too much fun - you can choose to be the ghost, Ophelia, Polonius, or Hamlet (Jr).  And, I got the Humble eBook Bundle 3 (which To Be or Not to Be was part of) and enjoyed most of the books, especially the silly and fun Arcanum 101 by Rosemary Edghill and Mercedes Lackey and Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw and the extremely silly Zombies Vs. Unicorns anthology.
Oh, and Chris Jones and Zach Weinersmith's Twins in Time, a picture book about the relativistic traveling twins of many physics textbooks, is adorable.
William Gibson & Bruce Sterling's The Difference Engine, which I could have sworn I read already but had not, is a little disappointing but has fascinating aspects.
David Rakoff's essays, Half Empty, are neither children's nor science fiction but are completely delightful.
And I am discovering Christina Rossetti, whose work I unaccountably missed growing up except for a few anthologized poems, and she is absolutely worth the read. Fantasy fans in particular should reread The Goblin Market and then read anything by Neil Gaiman.
Terry Pratchett's The Carpet People was very cute and we also just listened to The Wee Free Men for the five millionth time and can't recommend it enough.
Reread The Once and Future King, still love it. Listened to the audiobook of the the first book, The Sword in the Stone with the family and it is wonderful and was much faster than when I read it out loud and Neville Jason's voices were much better.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hilary Mantel, Vacant Possession

Hilary Mantel, Vacant Possession. A social thriller in contemporary Britain. Not a gigantic feast like the Cromwell books, but Mantel can really write. A little too creepy for me, but I am terrible with anything scary.

Annie Dillard, The Living

Annie Dillard, The Living. An interesting, rambling novel about several families of settlers and Native Americans  in the Pacific Northwest. Not as precious as some Dillard, but not as lovely as Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ludmila Ulitskaya, The Funeral Party

Ludmila Ulitskaya, The Funeral Party. A thin book like a play: a dying man lies motionless as all the people in his life enter and exit around him. The loss and confusion and remembered joys  overlap with the disintegration of the structure of the country they left behind. They loved it, they hated it, they fled it. They longed for it, they lived their lives in opposition to it, and they thought it would last forever.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Padraic Colum, The Golden Fleece

Padraic Colum, The Golden Fleece. Really nice retelling of Jason and the Argonauts and other stories from Greek mythology. Recommended to read out loud if you have a fan of the Percy Jackson books.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit

Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit. Loved it. Such a blast. TR is an honorary member of the family. Learned a ton about the progressive movement and the history of the american political system that I didn't know. So many fascinating people, lovingly rendered. Many imaginary coffee dates and dinner parties with the journalists, activists, politicians, and their families.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Charles Portis, True Grit.

Charles Portis, True Grit. The audiobook (from the humble audiobook bundle) read by Donna Tartt. Great adventure story, loving narration.

Zadie Smith, Changing My Mind

Zadie Smith, Changing My Mind: occasional essays. Smith's essays are always perfect. I will buy or borrow any magazine to read one, so a collection is a great pleasure.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Dave Eggers, The Circle

Dave Eggers, The Circle.  Eggers is entertaining, but this makes Swift seem the subtlest satirist. At least eight eyerolls per chapter. And the wise hirsute visionary Thoreau ex-boyfriend? Sheesh. Or I should say: Downvote. Unfriend. ☹ Frown.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Paul Harding, Enon

Paul Harding, Enon. Not the intricate elaboration of melancholy in Tinkers, but the excruciating corrosion of grief.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Daniel Pinkwater, Uncle Boris in the Yukon

Daniel Pinkwater, Uncle Boris in the Yukon. Shaggy dog stories. I laughed so hard. And read bits out loud to my long suffering family. "If one is going to grow up in a certain kind of family - I like to think of it as precivilized - it's a good thing to have some basis for understanding it early."

Friday, January 31, 2014

Juan Gabriel Vasquez, The Sound of Things Falling

Juan Gabriel Vásquez, The Sound of Things Falling. Translated by Anne McLean. A story about about fear, the aftershock of random violence, and  the detachment of a young law professor in Bogotá.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ian Pears, Stone's Fall

Ian Pears, Stone's Fall. Great fun. I actually listened to this one rather than read it and the cast of readers (many who read the Game of Thrones books) made the structure of different narrators of different facets more interesting. Not as fabulous as The Evidence of the Fingerpost, (or at least the setting wasn't as enthralling to me - I prefer natural philosophy to the origins of modern financial markets), but another intricately detailed period mystery that I was reluctant to leave.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Start this up again, beginning to forget both authors and titles and am useless in conversation.

Well, some things I have read and enjoyed (or not) over the last few months:
Jonathan Dee, A Thousand Pardons; Jami Attenburg, The Middlesteins; Emma Donogue, Astray; George Saunders, Tenth of December; Julia Stuart, The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise [yuck, sentimental and awkward, although occasionally funny]; Terry Pratchett, Unseen Acedemicals, Going Postal, and Making Money [these last two very good]; Macbeth; Michael Crumney, Galore; Twelfth Night; Dorothy Parker, Complete Stories [read these ONE at a time if you don't want to drown yourself in your morning coffee]; Charlotte Bronte, Wuthering Heights [I liked this more than I did when I was twelve, although I still think every character should have been drowned at birth]; All of the Adventure Time comics;  David Rakoff, Love,Dishonour, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish; Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half; China Meiville, Railsea [not my favorite Meiville]; All of Dorothy Sayers Lord Peter books [necessary therapy]; DFW, Oblivion; Robert Charles Wilson, Spin; Haruki Murakami, After Dark and IQ84; Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo [more hilarious than I remembered]; Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch; Nick Harkaway, The Gone Away World [enjoyed very much, no one agrees with me, dammit].