August 28, 2018

2018 Books, Part II

I've been steadily ripping through audiobooks and slowly making my way through visual books since my last books post.

Visually read books include:

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (C) Mark Manson Extremely fast read -- finished the book in less than 2 hours.  Very enjoyable with a few amusing anecdotes about personal fullfilment from odd places like Pete Best (drummer kicked out of the Beatles), founding musician of Megadeath, and Hiroo Onoda (Japanes WWII soldier who kept fighting in the Phillipines until 1972!).  Good message, particularly about the difference between responsibility and fault.  At times in our lives we will all bear responsibility for things that are not our fault.  That's just life.  
Brave New World (A) Aldous Huxley I'd never read this classic dystopian novel, so I thought I'd give it a try.  The "everyone's body is for everyone's pleasure" bit is creepy when viewed in light of the discourse around whether humans have a "right to sex" that is popular with the incel nutjob crowd.  Very thought provoking on many fronts, but the biggest one for me, was thinking about Huxley's focus on the very human need for pain/struggle versus the losses we've had to depressive suicide with people who in one light could appear to have "perfect" lives without struggle.  I suspect I'll go back and re-read this one in a few years as it definitely felt like there was more there for me to discover and think about.
Left Hand of Darkness (B-) Ursula K LeGuin Given how much history this one has and how many SF authors consider it an important piece in the SF/Fantasy canon, I had to read it.  My book club agreed.  Overall, it hasn't aged as well as one might think.  At the time it was published it pushed the gender discourse.  But today, the gender binary seems extremely dated, even while the main characters other than Genry (the ambassador-like character from Terra/Earth) are all hermaphroditic and spend 5/6 of their time in a supposed non-gendered state when not mating or bearing children.  I'm very glad I read it, but it didn't inspire the same level of awe or appreciation for me, today, than it appears to have done in 1969.
Gravity's Rainbow (C+, in process) Thomas PynchonSo many things…This book is *work*.  The closest reading experience I can compare it to is the Illuminatus Trilogy.  But with more military references, less explicit sexual experimentation, and perhaps less linear plot cohesiveness.  At times the poetic construction is breathtaking -- often when I'm not totally sure what is being described, but the juxtaposed words and ideas are so fascinating that it's worth pushing through. I've been oscillating between behind the group, ahead of it, and right on track, but knowing that there are folks I like reading in parallel, I do think I'm more likely to finish this project than I would if I had started it on my own. More cohesive review to come when I actually finish it.
Inherit The Wind (B-) Jerome Lawrence & Robert E Lee We read this one for book club.  It's SHORT.  And easy to get through.  I checked out the book from the library and read it in a couple of nights before bed.  I also searched around the Internet and read some cliff's notes-like analysis prior to hosting book club where we watched the Academy Award winning movie.  At some point in my reading, I internalized one of the more poignant scenes in the movie as having occurred in the book.  But it did not.  One of our book club members read an online PDF version that had changes to modernize it such that the Journalist (Hornbeck) was a woman, which she said vastly improved the story.  Overall, the play is simplistic.  Reading it and watching the movie were a bit depressing, as it is clear that both the play and the movie thought that we'd be over silly conflicts over whether or not you can teach evolution in public schools by the 50s or 60s.  And yet... here we are.  

Audiobooks are my companion while I garden, run, walk, and do chores in my homebound life.  The latest have included the following:

Aurora (A) Kim Stanley Robinson This book was epic in the poetic sense.  It starts with a multi-generational starship journey from earth to a potentially habitable planet in a star system light years away.  That portion alone could have been the whole book.  But no, one of the main characters dies.  The story continues, they miraculously arrive at their target and start to colonize.  Chaos ensues.  New choices are made.  More people die.  AI evolves, learns to love.  And eventually we are left with one of the strongest characters who has been through so much dealing with true human-scale (i.e. horrific) fear and trauma in her new surroundings.  So thoughtful, experimental, and wonderfully full of hope in the face of humans at their worst.  Another wonderful KSR offering.
Cutting For Stone (A) Abraham Vergese Such a multi-layered tender story of love, medicine, surgery, treatment and all of life's horrors, wrapped up in a gorgeous familial drama set primarily in Ethiopia where almost all of the major characters are immigrants.  Highly recommended.
Les Miserables (A+) Victor Hugo 66+ hours of listening at normal speed.  Not for the faint of heart.  I adored this one and I'm so glad I put in the effort even if I did have to call a long run short due to a very long diversion into the history and facts of the Paris sewers, which completely failed to inspire the fast feet.  Hugo's portrayal of the poor and downtrodden with such humanity is absolutely gorgeous (and no doubt was shockingly subversive in its time).
Foundation and Empire (B) Isaac Asimov This was on sale on Audible and the Foundation trilogy had been on my list for a while.  The series is generally regarded as a masterpiece, and even out of order, it delivered.  It was not difficult to start with the 2nd book in the series and find the characters/plots/worlds interesting, although I'll probably go back and listen to the the 1st one before going on to the third.  Like many classics, I don't think I have much to say about this that hasn't been said.  If you like space operas, this is a good one.    
The Scarecrow (B) Michael Connelly A solid enjoyable serial-killer thriller with a journalist as the main character.  I love Michael Connelly and I loved this book.  It was well done and I felt bad for Rachel (FBI agent who took professional hits due to her relationship with Jack MacKavoy (main character)).  Not as good as the Poet, but still fun. 
Hunger (A-) Roxane Gay Oh boy.  Buoooooyyyyy.  This was loaded.  This book hit all of my body awareness and care and WTF points.  I could relate so strongly to the medical professional interactions -- women are often discounted in the medical context, even by well-trained, well-meaning professionals.  Obviously obesity results in even more medical dismissal.  Roxane's book is an honest and unflinching look at her own experience as a very obese human & woman of color and how her life is affected by it.  It was thought-provoking and difficult.  I recommend it.
Endurance (B+) Alex Hutchinson An excellent compilation and summary of all of the various studies that have been done about the various ways to measure human endurance whether about running, cycling, strength, heat exhaustion, feuling, etc.  Interestingly, many of these studies have been done on Canadians, because their conscientious objector status required able bodied males of draft age to serve in other ways, like subjecting themselves to electric shocks to measure muscle contraction...I think my favorite thing about this book is how comprehensive it is and how non-authoritarian it was in the analysis.  It's so *real* and *normal* -- like, "here's some interesting shit, but really, we're not sure we know much of anything."  So, if you really enjoy learning a ton of new things and walking away feeling like you still don't know anything concrete because that would be too simple, and not real, then you will enjoy this book. 
Dismas Hardy (books 1-11) (Solid B average across the series) John Lescroat I've found a new murder mystery series.  Dismas Hardy is a vet, ex-cop, ex-DA, divorced dude who's dropped out of life in favor of bartending, drinking, and darts.  But, when a friend is killed, he agrees to do some investigation to try to figure out whodunnit.  The first book was set in San Francisco, written in 1989, and it's full of all sorts of local knowledge and SF nostalgia.  I'm hooked on the series and have been making my way through them sequentially.  Book 11 gets us all the way up to 2008, and I'm still loving them. 
The Hunger Games Trilogy (A-,B-,C) Suzanne Collins I never saw the movies nor read the books and Libby (my free library app) had these available so I took the plunge.  I'd heard that the first book was by far the best, and I definitely agree, although I didn’t detest the 2nd and 3rd books as much as some folks -- I still enjoyed the plot-driven fun.  My favorite thing about them, by far, was the ambiguity of the love stories and the obvious emotional immaturity of the teenage main characters.
Let Your Mind Run (A+) Deena Kastor Absolutely wonderful and personal memoir of the excellent runner and human, Deena Kastor.  The idea that you should always be practicing gratitude and joy, and that doing so will make you perform better in all areas of your life is expressed extremely well in this book.  I found it uplifting, inspiring, and just generally fun.  If you are  a running nerd, you will enjoy the running nerdery, but even if you aren't, this is one of the better sports memoirs I've ever read.
The Mother of All Questions (B) Rebecca Solnit I just finished listening to this collection of essays and my first feeling is relief. So many of the facts and realities that Ms. Solnit writes about are painful, depressing, and infuriating.  It's a long slog to consume all of these essays in a row, and in hindsight, I think this is one of those books where reading, rather than listening, may be the best way to consume it.  At least for me, I would have liked to be able to read an essay a day or so over a longer period rather than being consistently bombarded with the important but hard issues she writes about in my "audiobook hours" over just a few days.  If you are familiar with Ms. Solnit's work, this is more of the same.  If you are not, I would recommend that you read her 2008 Essay: Men Explain Things To Me.  If it makes you laugh or think or challenges you then this book will likely do the same.


Angela Knotts said...

Hah, we are closely aligned.

Gravity's Rainbow -- mostly same? I might give it a B so far? Such work (also totally agree about the Illuminatus Trilogy! You are the first person I have ever met who's also read it (that I know of)!) but I *am* enjoying it more than not? I'm definitely in the "interesting, gotta see how this all plays out camp" rather than the "ugh, want to quit" camp & I think I'll be glad I read it.

Let Your Mind Run -- LOVED. The best. Might read again.

Endure -- For all that I love reading his articles, I found this book to be a bit of a slog & less interesting than I expected.

Brave New World -- There's a whole slew of these classics that I read as a teenager that I feel like I need to go back and read again because a) I don't really remember them & b) I bet I'd have a whole different view on them now.

Left Hand of Darkness -- Same, glad I read it, but I can see how it would have been maybe more impactful when it was written than now.

Hunger = on my list; I loved Bad Feminist. (Quit "Difficult Women" in the third chapter, though; I think maybe her fiction is not for me.)

Foundation is one of my all time faves (though it's been 15 years since I read it). I'll be interested to hear what you think when you finish it.

I would love to read Les Mis sometime, just have to get psyched up for it. The Count of Monte Cristo (at "only" ~45 hours) is becoming a slog & I think I might just quit that one altogether (mostly, though, because it's boring as heck).

bt said...

@Angela -- Count of Monte Cristo is totally on my list, but I definitely feel the need to get psyched for it before I make the attempt. I am excited for Foundation. I think I may wait 'til vacation and read it in real book form as a treat.