Thursday, December 30, 2021

80 Books!

 I managed 80 books for 2021, thanks to some short ones here at the end. 

So many good reads (get it?!) in that list there. Both Kate Atkinsons were incredible. Are her other books as good? China Mieville's The City & the City was simply wow. The Japanese detective book Six Four, was excellent, and is making me yearn for another Japanese mystery. And Bright Lights, Big City...what an awakening: a book entirely in second person can be good. Not just good, but great!

In among those 80 are only six books in a language other than English, which is surprising. But those six books represent three different languages: Russian (Harry Potter), German (Mozart and a different Harry Potter), and Esperanto (Kromosomoj, Medalionoj and Atenco).

Challenges-wise, I failed miserably on the Dewey Decimal Challenge. In fact, I didn't read many non-fiction this year, compared to 2020. Looking above, only 22 were non-fiction. The Classics Challenge, which I just joined, required me to read 50 classics over a 5-year period. I've read three so far, Wuthering Heights, Empire of the Sun, and The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells

 Yep, another Murderbot story, #2 in the series. And it was a pretty good story! 

Spoilers begin:

Like All Systems Red, Artificial Condition again featured lots of computer systems, with emotions, and our friend, the main character, Murderbot, now named Eden. We learn more about him or her or ter? (Ugh, the one thing that brought my review down a star was the author's inclusion of a character with a pronoun other than he, she or it. Thankfully, te (how stupid) wasn't a major character.)

Eden gets himself (?) on a planet where he believes he killed, or helped kill, all the human clients. He learns some of what needs to know, but more questions remain. He's getting really good at rescuing humans from their stupid mistakes.

Spoilers done.

Eden, or as I think of him, Murderbot, is growing on me. His love of bingeing media. His introverted self. I will be reading more of the Murderbot diaries, the next time I go to the library I'll get #3: Rogue Protocol. Unfortunately, not available on Kindle Unlimited.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

 All Systems Red is the first Murderbot story by Wells. I'd never heard of her before, probably because (checks her bibliography) she mostly writes fantasy. 

Seeing how it is part of "The Murderbot Diaries" I shouldn't have been surprised that it was first person POV, but I was. So much modern fiction is 1POV these days. What's up with that? It was so nice reading the last Expanse novel, 3POV. Awesome. 

This book is very creative. From the Murderbot's perspective (of course). I like the world building too. (I'm being purposefully vague because I'd like you, dear reader(s), to grab this book.) 

The true test of a good book, in my eyes is: Do I want to read more stories of this character? Whether or not the author has written the book as a stand alone story or part of a greater story, if I want to read more, then the book is good. (Oh how I would have loved to read more "cases" for Eco's William of Baskerville to solve!) Alas, il signore Umberto did not write another medieval monk mystery. But I have read The Name of the Rose three times. 

No, I am not saying the Murderbot Diaries book 1 is akin to Eco's masterpiece. But it does fit my description of a good book. Onward to Artificial Condition!

Red Dust, by Yoss

 We read Red Dust in our family book club. My first Cuban scifi book, it was okay. Reminded me a bit of Redshirts for its broken fourth wall-esque forays. Don't think I'll read anymore of him, though.

Spoilers follow:

Kind of a play on Asimov's detective duo Baley and Olivaw, combining criminal/law enforcement like 48 Hours. In fact, that movie and books/movies like it are mentioned. Which reminds one of Ready Player One

Spoilers done.

Really not to my liking. Not enough that I'll seek Yoss out again. Story was too simple, conflict too simply solved, and not unique enough to hold my interest. It was short, though, blessedly!

Point Omega, by Delillo

 Point Omega is my third Don Delillo read and I gotta say: What the hell? First two dealing with death (Zero K which was great, and White Noise, which was depressing) and now this one dealing with...death. Of a more horrible version. 

Not sure why I keep going back to Delillo. Maybe because his writing is excellent? I mean, he knows the craft of writing. This one I read through Audible, the only reason I could read both Point Omega and my family book club read Red Dust. Two very different genres and writing styles.

First off, WTF is point omega? I didn't want to look it up in case it gave anything away. According to Wikipedia, omega point is a supposed future where everything in the universe comes to a point. Delillo reversed the order of the words, so is he maybe saying everything in the narrator's universe is coming apart? Possibly. But that's me attempting to analyze something when I hate analyzing literature. 

Still, I'll probably read more of him in the future. Why not? The world is lacking in good modern literature. 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Fat City

 Fat City, by Leonard Gardner, a boxing book. Apparently The boxing book of all boxing books. I know nothing about boxing, and you don't have to know anything to enjoy this book. 

Spoilers follow:

Boxing doesn't care what your race is, the important thing being your reach, your dedication to training, your current sitch with regards to women. But the boxing public does care, some fans wanting to watch "a white boy" fight. The main character of Fat City is such a white boy, divorced, alcoholic, in love with a woman whom he loses to a black guy out of prison, and trained by a Hispanic. Race is peppered through the book, but doesn't get in the way, if you understand what I mean. (It was written in the late '60s after all.)

I was particularly moved by chapter 10, when one of Ruben's (the trainer) young, athletic new boxers (Ernie) is knocked out and won't respond to efforts to wake. The knockout was incredible, and concussive in the writing.

When he reached out with both gloves to block a left, Ruben's hand went into his sweater pocket for the ammonia vial and a right swing landed with an awesome slam on the lean point of Ernie's chin. He went down sideways along the ropes, toppling stiffly in the roar, and hit the canvas on his back, his head striking the floor, followed by his feet. His eyes stared momentarily, then closed as his body went rigid (64).

I was tense reading that chapter, and I hoped for Ernie's success for the rest of the book. 

Spoilers end.

I was happy I picked this short contemporary classic; I enjoyed it. I was pleasantly surprised to see there is a movie, directed by John Huston, so I might watch that after the holidays. 

Fat City is book #75 for 2021. I'll try another one of these short ones before the year ends. But which one?

Monday, December 20, 2021

Leviathan Falls, the last Expanse novel...

 ...or is it?

Spoilers follow:

The Epilogue itself makes me wonder if those wonder authors who make up James SA Corey are thinking of another series. 

I loved The Expanse. I read Leviathan Rises years ago, and then one insomniac night in Kyrgyzstan I found something called The Expanse to watch. The first few minutes, character Julie Mao stuck in a closet, a few drops of water keeping her alive, I thought: Holy shit, this seems familiar. Why? Well, I had read it years before. 

And I kept reading. I read all the books as they came out (even #5, which wasn't the best). And here is #9, the last. It certainly ended The Expanse that everyone knows. Granted, for some of us, the series ended when Bobbie Draper was killed. She was my favorite. The Expanse book #2 beginning, when Bobbie is introduced, is one of the best intros of any book I've ever read. 

Spoilers done.

If you want a solid, well thought out, epic sci-fi series, read The Expanse. Same if you want a great tv series. This is a case of the TV and book both being as good. 

Saturday, December 18, 2021

13 more days!

 Til the 31st, and my deadline for my 2021 reading. I challenged myself to reading 75 books this year and I'm at 73 now. I'm about 65% in the final Expanse book, about 33% in the Nick Hornby book. I went to the library today after finding two great lists at Lithub.

50 Classics under 200 pages and 50 Contemporary Classics under 200 pages. I came out of the Alexandria library today with: Fat City, by L. Gardner; A Single Man, by C. Isherwood; The Postman Always Rings Twice, by J. Cain; and Point Omega, by D. DeLillo. All are short, and look great. I've read DeLillo and Isherwood before, but not the others. Which should I read? 

I've read DeLillo's White Noise (depressing) and Zero K (creative), Liked them both. And Isherwood's Mr. Norris Changes Trains. So good. Waugh, but gay. Never read Cain. Maybe he'll be good? And Fat City? I'm constantly being asked questions about boxing (the name, apparently, is enough for others to presume I know about the sport), so why not read The boxing book? I've learned a lot about cricket reading Wodehouse, so why not read Gardner? 

We'll see what I pick after Leviathan Falls

Monday, December 13, 2021

Advanced Russian Reading

 Ho. Lee. Sh!t. 

Started a one-week advanced Russian reading class today. Ay caramba. It all started out with the instructor telling us she'd be speaking in Russian since this class is "at level 4." Uh...the requirement to take the class was 3 on the Reading DLPT (link pdf). I didn't hear говно about level 4. 

Yes, seriously advanced reading. Lots of reading between the lines. Lots of idioms. Crazy. 

Class is three hours online, then during hour four if you have anything you want to talk to the instructor about one-on-one you can meet with her. Then two hours of independent study, analyzing the articles for the next morning. That part took me three hours today. And not sure I've even analyzed, or understood, these articles correctly. 

My goal from this course is to get a 3 again in the Reading DLPT, and then take the upper level Reading DLPT. The lowest you can score on that test is a 3 (which is why a 3 is required to take it), so no reason to not take it. But first I gotta get the 3 (again). To prove to myself that last year wasn't a fluke, I want that 3 this year. Some of what I've had to read today: 

Нет, русская вольница – это, безусловно, одна из версий общечеловеческой свободы. Я не отрицаю русскую вольницу. Наоборот, я считаю, что по части вольницы мы люди с рекордным сознанием. Ведь мы совершенно полярный народ. С одной стороны, ненавидим начальство, а с другой – лижем ему сапоги. Многие другие народы ищут золотую середину, ограничивая в том числе и свою свободу. Мы же в этом смысле просто чудо для писателей. Ну что говорить – «Братья Карамазовы»... Мне нравятся эти наши вольнолюбивые зачатки. Но пойди русскому человеку скажи: «свобода – это ответственное понятие». Он не поймёт. 

Что мы за последнее время получили, так это определённую свободу частной жизни. И мне кажется, что если искать возможности, откуда пойдут улучшаться какие-то наши условия, так именно от того, что при Франко называлось «соседской демократией». Те люди, которые воюют против налогов, против запрета правого руля и так далее, и так далее — они, мне кажется, перспективны. Вот здесь выращивается личность русского человека. Она укрепляется таким образом. И в этом, мне кажется, есть какая-то важная составляющая нашей сегодняшней псевдополитической жизни. И вообще то, слава Богу, в квартирах каждый может заниматься чем хочет, – для русской истории редкий, почти уникальный случай. То, что идёт накопление каких-то личностных моментов, мне кажется, важно. Народ действительно постепенно выходит из советского прошлого – по щиколотку, по колено, но выходит.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

CC Spin #28 complete

 The Classics Club spin #28 was number 12, which on my list was The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories. "Modern" as in after WWII. Lots of great authors here. Really good writing. One thing I've learned about "modern British writers" is that most British husbands commit adultery. Often. Martin Amis, you dirty, dirty author. #ccspin #ccwhatimreading

Doris Lessing's "To Room Nineteen" was awesome. Now that I'm looking at the book again, most of the adultery began in the late 1960s. In fact, interestingly, most of the stories after the late 1960s (published date) were in first-person. (Amis's naughty "Let me Count the Times" the one standout third-person in the last third of the book.) Nowadays, one cannot find a contemporary author not writing in first-person. Ugh. Is it easier? 

Fun stories involved Brits coming to America and their reactions. Malcolm Bradbury's "Composition" and Ian MacEwan's "Psychopolis" great examples. And of course sons hating their fathers: Beryl Bainbridge's "Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie." "My Wife is a White Russian" is a great play on the meaning of white Russian, and also reminds me of many movies where an older (possibly rich) man marries a hottie. (Hell, we saw that so much in Russia: ugly and fat man in white t-shirt and jeans with a knock-out model on his arm.) Quite often a Russian (or Slavic) woman was attached to the older man in the story. (See M. Night Shyamalan's Old, although in that case she's not Slavic.) Happens enough to be stereotypical. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Memories of the Space Age, by JG Ballard

 I'm reading The Penguin Book of Modern Short Stories for the Classic Club's CC Spin #28. Last night I read the best short story in the book (so far). By JG Ballard, the story is called Memories of the Space Age. So creative, so Ballardesque (so much psychological stuff). The creepiest story, so far, is Dylan Thomas's The Burning Baby

Possibilities for next book include Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby, Short Stories by JF Powers, Red Dust by Yost (sister-in-law's pick for family book club), Leviathan Falls by James SA Corey (if my son finishes it first). And OMG what is the "Expanse #2.6" I just saw when I was searching for books. How have I not ever read that one!?

#ccspin #ccwhatimreading

Sunday, December 5, 2021

BUtterfield 8

 BUtterfield 8, by John O'Hara. What a great novel. I wish I could remember which great book blog I heard about it from, but I simply cannot. So whoever you are out there, thank you. And yes, the first two letters should be capitalized; it has to do with the days when telephone numbers began with letters.

Spoilers follow

Is it still an ingenue story if she kills herself? or appears to? Gloria Gloria Gloria. Finally ready (possibly) to settle. A simple trip over the bar, or purposeful. O'Hara goes a great job letting the reader decide.

And for those out there who think the current generation or two invented sex: hahaha. Having sex in front of two other couples? In the '30s? Yes, it happened. O'Hara could write: the incident with the Major and 11-year old Gloria. In any other novel written in the last 10 years (20?) that would have been way more explicit, and would have ruined it for me (I'm looking at you, Ms. Shafak, and your 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World). Liggett, of course, is a shit. Cheating bastard. And oh goodness, the fur coat, and Gloria's tease about revealing what she was not wearing underneath. Naughty girl.

Spoilers complete.

Now, my next assignment is to find and stream the movie. I understand it has Elizabeth Taylor in it. She has to play Gloria Wandrous (isn't that a wonderful last name? Glorious, even. Almost like a merging of wonderful and glorious...with that first name. Genius, Mr. O'Hara.). I wonder who is playing Weston Liggett? We'll see, if I can find the movie. (I don't ever look up movies of books before I read the book for fear the movie's description will give anything away.)

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. Schwab

 Great book. I'm on a roll.  Spoilers : Adeline "Addie" LaRue has a problem. She's being forced to marry. This is 1600s Fr...