May 31, 2015

Pages So Far This Year

In hopes of avoiding a long end-of-year summary post, I've compiled some reviews of the physical books I've been reading so far this year  (I divide my books between audiobooks and physical books).  Major Themes: book club & sci-fi.

Vladimir Nabokov
Book club book. So many reviews have been written on this book.  So, I'll keep it to what I would have told myself if I could have beforehand:  If you *LOVE* language and speak/read French, the linguistic gymnastics in this book may be so enjoyable for you that you will be willing to put up with the odious plot.  I am a little embarrassed to admit that the literary-linguistic crack in this book outweighed the horrific story. (My negative opinion of the story's presentation did change a bit after Reading Lolita In Tehran.) 
By Men or By The Earth
Tyler Coulson
Ordered this book used (out of print) because the idea of a corporate lawyer quitting his job and walking across the country was too close to my fantasies for me to do anything else.  Other reviews commented that he never really *found* what he was searching for, which is true.  But I don't think that makes this book less enjoyable.  I probably liked it partially because I could relate to several of the legal world topics & devices he deployed.  However, I was also entertained and educated about through-hiking the US east-west (for reference, my friends currently doing the PCT found this idea completely abhorrent, and after reading this book, I agree with them).  This is a very honest story of a sometimes mundane adventure of a man and his dog.
Salmon Fishing on the Yemen
Paul Torday
Book club book. Very enjoyable comedy of errors reflecting banalities of government, politics, and every day life.  Light.  Easy.  Funny.  A classic tragi-comedy.
Mote in God's Eye
Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle (1974)
Cheating because I didn't read this one this year, but when I went back to my lists it wasn't on any of the years where it should have been.  Not sure when I read it, could have been 2014 or 2013, definitely after I read Ringworld in 2012.  E & I both enjoyed it and we ordered the rest in the series, so it has some momentum.
Gripping Hand
Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle (1993)
As noted, E and I enjoyed both MIGE and this one was well-received too.  The world and story migrated a bit in the intervening 19 years, and we both agreed that the characters in GH seemed to be more filled out than those in MIGE.
Jennifer Pournelle (Jerry's Daughter 2012)
Anthropologically, the strongest in the MIGE series.  All the races/peoples are so foreign that it's just great to read as a pure observer.  The story was coherent and fun, although it was clear that the writer was not the original author.
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Book Club Book. A mixture of English Literature exploration and the story of Iran from 1979 until the late 1990s as told by an American educated woman who taught literature.  The book focuses primarily on Lolita, Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, and Daisy Miller, but throws in references to other well known works as well.  For me, reading the sections written about books I'd recently read was very entertaining and thought-provoking.  Trying to make sense of the points she was making re: Daisy Miller (which I haven't read) was a bit more meta.  I want to read Daisy Miller now, and yet, my perspective on it is pre-configured.  I would only recommend considering reading this book if you haven't read (and think you may want to read) any of the 4 books mentioned above if you are the kind of person who does not mind seeing the movie before you read the book.  This book was hard work, and it was emotionally draining.  I couldn't help but empathize while reading about the day-to-day lives of women oppressed by a political regime that treats them as second class citizens, which meant I was feeling frustration, anger, futility and sadness throughout the read.  The metaphors built upon other literature were also very mentally difficult -- academically, in terms of "literature" this is probably one of the more difficult books I've ever read.  It did make me appreciate Lolita in a more holistic way than I did before I read it, so that was a positive outcome.  I'm very glad I read this one, but I'm also glad it was a book club book, as I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it as much without knowing there were others reading along to whom I could complain about the difficult stuff.
The Last Time They Met
Anita Shreve
I needed some lighter fare, and Ms. Shreve delivered.  A classic star-crossed lovers tale, told primarily in reverse chronological order, slowly unwinding the mysterious interactions from the final meeting of the lovers to the first.  Well done and very descriptive.  Lazy and slow.
Old Man's War
John Scalzi
A great tale in the Heinlein tradition.  Tight, fast, plot driven, clever, and fun.  Thought provoking.  Immediately upon finishing the book I asked E to order the rest of the series. 
The Martian
Andy Weir
Very, very, light Sci-Fi.  Feel good, fun, enjoyable, and a quick read.
Children of the Sky
Vernor Vinge
I have to give it Vernor Vinge.  The world he built for this book is beyond impressive.  The idea of sentient entities divided into packs vs. singletons vs. chaotic choirs is fun and fascinating.  The plot is good and clever, too.  If I had to do it again, I wouldn't wait so long since reading A Deepness In the Sky and A Fire Upon the Deep before reading this one.  I'd closed both of those out in 2012, and found that I needed to go back to my reviews & wikipedia to refresh and remind myself of the world in order to fully appreciate this one.
The Ghost Brigades
John Scalzi
Book 2 in the Old Man's War world.  If you liked the first, you'll probably like this one as well.
The Last Colony
John Scalzi
Book 3 in the Old Man's War world.  I want more. 
Zoe's Tale
John Scalzi
Book 4 in the Old Man's War world.  The story of Book 3, told contemporaneously with Book 3, but from the point of Zoe, the main characters' daughter.  Bordering on Young Adult in terms of tone and presentation.  

As I was reading this book, Scalzi announced his $3.4 M 10-year book deal.  The NYT Article indicated that E & I are typical Scalzi readers:

While Mr. Scalzi has never had a “No. 1 best seller,” he said, “he backlists like crazy.”

“One of the reactions of people reading a John Scalzi novel is that people go out and buy all the other Scalzi novels,” Mr. Nielsen Hayden said.  

Yup.  We're on that train and very much enjoying the ride, currently.


Angela Knotts said...

I've been putting off reading any Scalzi and I don't really remember why, so clearly I need to at least give Old Man's War a read. I read Deepness in the Sky/Fire Upon the Deep in like 2008 I think & enjoyed them both, but I missed Children of the Sky. Pretty sure I'll have to do a bunch of hitting up the Wikipedia page as well.

bt said...

@Angela - I'll be interested in your take on Scalzi.

bt said...

@Angela -- if you come over (BBQ?), you can borrow some Old Man's War and Children of the Sky.

Cathryn said...

You're so right about Lolita...the beauty of the language makes you totally forget this is a novel about child abuse. So beautiful totally repulsive at the same time.

Jess said...

Lolita is one of my favorite books. But can we talk about the unreliability of the narrator? I think that is a device that is rarely talked about when people talk about this book.

How do you read so much?!?!

bt said...

@Cathryn: Exactly!

@Jess: We talked about this at book club. Especially the last 1/3 of the book when he's clearly just losing and/or lost it entirely.