Monday, January 24, 2022

I had no idea

 When I downloaded The Falcon and the Snowman years ago, for $1.99 no less, I thought it would be a good fiction read sometime in the future. I put it on my BookTube for their latest spin and the number I had it by was picked. So when I finished Player Piano, I opened Falcon.

Within a few dozen pages I thought it was odd. Anything in quotes was couched with "he'd reflect years later," or something similar. About half-way through I thought the author was pretty clever writing this novel like it was non-fiction. It was only at the very end that I began to realize this 70's era spy game had, in fact, really happened.

I'd seen the film in the 80's and recall liking it. (Learned a long time ago that just because I liked a film in my younger days doesn't mean it's still good; I present The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh into evidence.) Figured it was based loosely on real espionage cases, but never did I think it was real. Sure enough, it was.

As dear reader(s) know, I don't like looking up or Wikipediaing peoples and places before or even while reading, likewise I don't read introductions to books. I save all that for the end. Sure as sh!t, the minute I finished, I looked the main character, The Falcon, up. He's still alive. That's all I'll say as to avoid spoilers. And yes, he's very much into falconry. 

And yes, I see the irony of everything I've written above after seeing the subtitle on the cover above.

After Falcon, I picked up A School for Fools, by Sokolov. Ugh! Stupid stream of consciousness writing. I hate that. Wish I'd known that's how it was written before I put it on my TBR and had it pop up for my Reading Randomizer for 2022. Oh well. I also then picked up The Abstinence Teacher, by Perrotta. (Oh how I loved his Election; read it years ago on a minibus in Kyrgyzstan en route from Bishkek to Karakol.) I got it out of the library a week ago after reading in Hornby that it was good. Gave it a good 30 pages, and could see that it was going to be yet another Right vs. Left book where of course one side is (always) wrong and stupid and humorless and the other is ever so smart and educated and never-wrong. Bleck. 

Back to my Kindle, to the myriad books my wife and I have accumulated over the years, and then I thought: Mieville. He's never done me wrong. At least, not after the three of his I've loved. So I started Embassytown. And. I. Love it! Phew! Thought I'd be without a book for a while. 

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Well shit...

 ...found another challenge. 

Back to the Classics challenge, hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate. I'll have to consider this challenge. Stand by for a later post where I pick which books I'll read for this challenge.

1. A 19th century classic. Any book first published from 1800 to 1899

2. A 20th century classic. Any book first published from 1900 to 1972. All books must have been published at least 50 years ago; the only exceptions are books which were written by 1972 and posthumously published.

3. A classic by a woman author.

4. A classic in translation.  Any book first published in a language that is not your primary language. You may read it in translation or in its original language, if you prefer. 

5. A classic by BIPOC author. Any book published by a non-white author.

6. Mystery/Detective/Crime classic. It can be fiction or non-fiction (true crime). Examples include Murder on the Orient Express, Crime and Punishment, In Cold Blood.

7. A classic short story collection. Any single volume that contains at least six short stories. The book can have a single author or can be an anthology of multiple authors. 

8. Pre-1800 classic. Anything written before 1800. Plays and epic poems, such as the Odyssey, are acceptable in this category. 

9. A nonfiction classic. Travel, memoirs, and biographies are great choices for this category.

10. Classic that's been on your TBR list the longest. Find the classic book that's been hanging around unread the longest, and finally cross it off your list!  

11. Classic set in a place you'd like to visit. Can be real or imaginary -- Paris, Tokyo, the moon, Middle Earth, etc. It can be someplace you've never been, or someplace you'd like to visit again.

12. Wild card classic. Any classic book you like, any category, as long as it's at least 50 years old! 

Player Piano, by Kurt Vonnegut

 Player Piano is novel about "America in the Coming Age of Electronics." You could also say it foretells an America we're practically in right now.

I've long complained about our over emphasis on college degrees for jobs that don't require them. Even when I was in high school in the early '80s, I found it odd that only one of the school's four guidance counselors ever mentioned any route after graduation other than college. And her alternative to college was the military, a route I had no interest in back then. (For readers who don't know, I retired from the Air Force some years ago.)

I went to college because, of course, that's what you're supposed to do after you graduate high school. It didn't take long before I discovered that I was wholly unprepared for college-level study. I ended my glorious first semester, on an academic scholarship (!), with a 1.23 GPA (and no Fs...that took skill). When I went to register for the Spring semester, stupidly believing someone who thought "your first semester doesn't count for the minimum GPA," and was shocked when they told me I owed thousands in tuition due to losing my scholarship. Well, Mike didn't go to school that semester. (Instead, I went to work full-time at Miller's Outpost, earning $3.35/hour, which then was actually above minimum wage!) 

What's all this got to do with Vonnegut? There's a wonderful exchange in Player Piano between a farmer and a realtor:

"Well," said Doctor Pond, "you can go to college and learn to be a specialist in all sorts of things besides making people or animals well... The modern world would grind to a halt if there weren't men with enough advanced training to keep the complicated parts of civilization working smoothly."

"Um," said [the farmer] apathetically. "What do you keep working so smoothly?"

Doctor Pond smiled modestly. "I spent seven years in the Cornell Graduate School of Realty to qualify for a Doctor of Realty degree and get this job... I think I can say without fear of contradiction that I earned that degree," said Pond coolly. "My thesis was the third longest in any field in the country that year--eight hundred and ninety-six pages, double-spaced, with narrow margins." 

"Real estate salesman," said the farmer. (133)

And this, after the farmer called Doctor Proteus, a doctor of science/engineering and the book's main character, a mechanic. Throughout this book everyone who was anyone had a doctorate. Even Proteus's secretary had a PhD. Genius on the part of Vonnegut. And published in 1952. 

The book also was about the mechanization of everything, robotization, putting people out of work, their only option then being Reeks and Wrecks (Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps) or the Army. Regardless of which you choose, you get basic subsistence. Quite the prediction on Vonnegut's part. 

I'll confess, the book starts slowly, and it is dated. But once you get about 30-40 pages in it starts making its point. I'm glad I read it, following Rachel's Suggested Reading Order (which surprisingly disappeared from the internet sometime in the last 3 days. Here it is at the Wayback Machine.). Next up for me: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.




Monday, January 17, 2022

Peter Pan

 Just finished Peter Pan, yes, the classic, by JM Barrie. I'd never read it, but my youngest daughter is such a big fan. She listens to the Audible repeatedly. In her own estimation, she's listened to Peter Pan "10 plus times." 

I now see why she loves it so much.

Books used to be like this. Books for kids not written down. This book is incredibly well written, with words most teens these days wouldn't understand. But the story...

I will probably relisten to this book sometime in the future. BTW, the narrator was incredible. Thank you, Lily Collins.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Bailing on #13

 Dear reader(s) who follow this blog know that Friday the folks at BookTube spun and came up with the two numbers which designate which book(s) I will read between now and March 31. The Falcon and the Snowman as well as The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington.

I started The Trial today. Read 10% of it, and just had to stop. Poorly written, too simple in the descriptions, first death too romantic, silly set-up. 

The Falcon and the Snowman, however, started out great. Actual good writing. Great descriptions. So Falcon it is!

In other new, I finished Player Piano, by Vonnegut. Started slow but made its point early and was really good. More later.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Campusland, by Scott Johnston

 Campusland is a great book. If you've listened in even barely to things that happen on some campuses in the U.S., you won't be surprised by the world that Johnston built here. 

Wife and I have limited direct experience with any of this as our two college kids have gone to not-too-crazy universities. Some of even say, for one of our kids, a quite conservative college. Yet still we experienced 20-year olds telling one of us in a forced parent meeting what their pronouns were. And requiring us to use them. Our other college kid, at a different school from her brother's, has decided not to pursue the career she wanted due to realizing her peers were more concerned with calling women "people with uteruses" rather than discussing their choice of future career. It was heart-breaking to see her discover this.

Every "made-up" situation in Campusland has actually happened somewhere in the U.S. Spend any time on a website like Campus Reform and you may start wondering what parents are spending their money on. 

The author has some experience teaching in a university (adjunct perhaps?) so some of this may be first-hand. I hope he (or really any prof) didn't experience the main event that happens to professor Russell. Even in my ancient time in college, I'd seen some of what is relayed in this novel, and that was (now) almost 30 years ago. 

Let me add that the person reading the book for this Audible book, Casey Turner, did a great job of voicing the mealy-mouthed and fake Dean (for one) as well as some of the deadbeat hippies and even the nasty frat boys. Good job, Ms. Turner!

Campusland was one of my two January Reading Randomizer books. Next up once it arrives is A School for Fools. 

BookTube Spin #5 result

 OK, it's Friday, that means the BookTube Spin has been done, and I have my results:

8: The Falcon and the Snowman

13: The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington

BookTube creator decided to pick two numbers if participants want to pick two books to read between now and 31 March. I'll probably read both. 

Also coming in February are two more reads from the Reading Randomizer. I'll pick those on 31 January, seeing how I'm constantly adding books to my TBR.  😁

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Gallery, by John Horne Burns

 The Gallery was a great war book! I've read little to nothing about the Italian front during WWII, and this book highlights Naples mostly, and oh what a great book. 

The book is formed by promenades (first person POV) and portraits (third person POV). Each portrait was a different person, and not just Americans. Very clever and unique. And it was published in 1947!

And speaking of unique, this had an entire portrait about the gay scene in WWII Napoli. Yes, gay American, Italian, Brit queans (yes, spelled that way). And Momma, running the bar, couldn't care less that those boys were calling themselves by women's names or were hugging and kissing each other. In 1947!

I'm so glad I got this book. And I got it used for $7.50. Well worth every penny. 100% recommend. 

BookTube Spin #5

 Just learned today about BookTube Spins. Much like the Classic Club spin (#ccspin), but not limited to Classics. 

Therefore, as it is not about the Classics, I've listed below 20 different books from my TBR list that I need to get off my butt and read:

  1. Snowblind, by Jonasson
  2. Bullet Train, by Isaka
  3. Case Histories, by Atkinson
  4. The Arrest, by Lethem
  5. The Feast of the Goat, by Vargas Llosa
  6. The Glass Hotel, by Mandel
  7. All Our Yesterdays, by Ginzburg
  8. The Falcon and the Snowman, by Lindsey
  9. Birdsong, by Faulks
  10. Marathon Man, by Goldman
  11. Block Seventeen, by Guthrie
  12. Black Knight in Red Square, by Kaminsky
  13. The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington, by Rosenberg
  14. March, by Brooks
  15. The Genius Plague, by Walton
  16. Rabbit, Run, by Updike
  17. Line, by Bourke
  18. Galatea 2.2, by Powers
  19. The Maidens, by Michaelides
  20. The Eiger Sanction, by Trevanian
OK, there's my list. On Friday we'll get the number. 

Sunday, January 9, 2022

December 2021

 Absolutely forgot my tradition, one-month old, of summing up the previous month. Maybe I didn't want to see how much I'd spent? or how little I've read? No, simple forgetfulness. I learned a long time ago, when complaining to my wife how much she and my then 10-year old daughter were spending on Kindle books, books are a wonderful thing to spend money on. (And what father in his right mind would tell one of his children: You're reading too much, dear.)

So, here are the December reads:

  • BUtterfield 8, by John O'Hara. Great book, great movie. I preferred the ending in the book over the cinematic end, but that's Hollywood for you. 
  • The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories, edited by Malcolm Bradbury. Some beauts in this one. And this one served as my #ccspin #28 read. And book #3 off my 50 classics list. 
  • Leviathan Falls, by James SA Corey. The end of The Expanse. Or was it? 
  • Fat City, by Leonard Gardner. The boxing book, capital-T. It was so much more than that. 
  • Red Dust, by Yoss. Cuban sci-fi, my first. SIL's pick for the family book club. Upon reflection, better than my initial thoughts. 
  • Point Omega, by Don DeLillo. I keep falling for him. And probably will keep falling...
  • All Systems Red, by Martha Wells. Murderbot Diaries #1, and thus I was hooked. 
  • Artificial Condition, by M. Wells. Murderbot #2. See, told ya so. 
  • Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor. Fantastic book, theme/setting I love, old English folks and homes and society.
Not so bad on the read-books for December. Those last few were all fewer than 200 pages (except Yoss). But now, how many did I buy?

  • Deadeye Dick, by Kurt Vonnegut. Kindle deal for two bucks. And this before I read Slaughterhouse Five, my first Vonnegut and when I realized I'd been missing out on this wonderful author.
  • Red Dust for the book club.
  • Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson. I can't not buy a book by her, especially when it's only 99 cents.
  • The Pickwick Papers by Dickens. I am bound and determined to read a Dickens this year. Got this on Audible. 
  • Four Plays of Aeschylus. Love his stuff, and this one was free!
  • The Story of Yiddish, by Neal Karlen. Love histories of languages. 
  • Love in the Time of Cholera, by Garcia-Marquez. Loved his 100 Years. Sure I'll love this one.
  • Slapstick, or Lonesome No More, by Vonnegut. Same deal.
  • The First Clash: The Miraculous Greek Victory at Marathon and its Impact on Western Civilization, by James Lacey. Big fan of the Classics and ancient history. 
  • The Children of Men, by PD James. Read this decades ago and loved it. Will reread soon. 
  • Three Novels, by Nina Berberova. Great book of three novellas by a new (to me) Russian author.
Except for Red Dust, all these books were Kindle deals (99 cents to $2.99) or used ($20 w/shipping). And this list doesn't include the Kindle books my wife bought. Oy!

Friday, January 7, 2022

Drive your plow

 Just finished Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. What a book.

About mid-way through I was ready to give it 3 stars, meaning really 2.5. It just kept going on a particular subject, I think a bit too much. Then it got better. And the ending...

I won't write spoilers in this post. This book, or rather this author, won the Nobel. This is the only book by her that I've read, so not sure how to judge. As good as Faulkner? Unsure. Definitely different. I was ready to tell everyone it's just an animal rights book. But it's more than that. Much more.

I also grabbed the audiobook version from the library because I had a long dog-walk in my future, and I was about 70% done. I wanted to use that hour, hour plus, for good. The person who read the book, Beata Pozniak, did an incredible job of reading the book, keeping the "foreign-ness" in the book, ensuring the reader understands this story took place in Poland, not in America or even "the West." One issue, though: at 100% speed, the narrator was so slow! Couldn't believe it. I had to ramp it up to over 140% and it still sounded like she was reading at normal speed. Are Poles usually slow talkers? I've known a few and they didn't seem to speak slowly...

Anyway, I'd recommend you read this. All in all, I liked it. 4 stars. Oh! And this counts toward the 2022 Books in Translation Challenge.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Exit Strategy, or Murderbot #4

 Read the fourth Murderbot, thanks again to the local library's digital holdings. So glad I can find these gems that way. The next one is on Kindle Unlimited, so I'll get #5 there in a few days.

As for Exit Strategy, the story concerns finding several exit strategies, and the reader is brought down one in particular that turns out not to be Murderbot's usual way out. And I was glad. Characters from the first story are back, and for that I'm also glad. Murderbot may, also, be glad. Or so it seems.

Not sure what it is about these books, but they keep pulling me in. They are short, each about 170-odd pages long. Very action packed. Quick moving. Murderbot, itself, is an attractive protagonist. The author, Martha Wells, appears to mostly write fantasy. Not sure how those books are or if I'll ever try them. But she's hooked me with this artificial construct* and its hacked governor. Thank you ma'am!

*In searching for the words to describe Murderbot, I found that Ms. Wells has written a short story between Exit Strategy and #5 (Network Effect). This reminds me of James SA Corey's Expanse short stories. Here's hoping Ms. Wells writes more Murderbot stories, short or otherwise.

Monday, January 3, 2022

2022 Books in Translation Challenge

 Found a great challenge for the new year: Books in Translation! I already do that, so why not count it in a challenge? 

Introverted Reader is hosting the challenge. There are four different levels, depending upon how many books you plan on reading. Might as well aim for the top, right? So I'll go for the Linguist level, 10 or more books. 

I can say right off that some Japanese translations will be part of this. Loved Memory Police and Six Four. Might also be some Esperanto translations in there, too. We'll see.

Slaughterhouse 5

 So it goes...

Embarrassingly, this is the first and only Vonnegut I've ever read. I know, I know. But I always thought he was stuffy, or pretentious. No idea why. Then my wife told me, "He pretty much writes sci-fi," and I got intrigued. 

So when it was my turn in the family book club to choose, I decided to choose his most famous. Or at least most known. And wow, was it ever good.

And certainly could be considered sci-fi. Or at least speculative fiction. And not just because of Tramalfadore

Probably everyone reading this, all two or three of you, already know this book. I'm glad to include myself in your group. And I can't wait to read another of his. (Sirens of Titan, perhaps?)

I love WWII books, memoirs, and SF. How did I never read this book before? Or any Vonnegut. 

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...