Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top Ten Books on my TBR List for Winter

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the Broke and the Bookish; every week there’s a new topic to discuss and this week’s is:

Top Ten Books On My TBR List For Winter

Oh, man.  I am so excited for winter reading.  First there is that 2 week chunk of days off, and this year contains no traveling, no family, no visitors.  Other than getting ready for my class spring semester, I will have a few commitments.  I should be able to read a lot.  Add to that the Around the World in 52 Books Challenge that I'm participating in, and you have one excited reader.  Here are ten of the books I'm looking forward to reading in the next few months!

1. The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq
I have previously enjoyed other books by Houellebecq, and although I have not read his entire oeuvre, it has been a while since I've read anything by him.  Looking through Amazon, it looks like something by him came out last year, and I completely missed it (Whatever is the title).  A lot of critics are praising The Map and the Territory, and it sounds like this might be one of the more significant works by the author.  I won't be reading it for my Around the World Challenge, despite the fact that he is French, living in Spain, because I have previously read work by him.  (I believe I'm reading Balzac for France!)

2. Queen of America by Luis Alberto Urrea
I loved The Hummingbird's Daughter, because of its blend of magical realism, Spanish language (while it is translated, quite a bit of dialogue is still in Spanish), and the healing powers of the main character, Teresa Urrea.  It looks like Queen of America has the same main character, who I will be happy to return to, and it also looks like it takes place along the border of Mexico with other countries (USA, Cuba, etc).  Even better - I recently won a copy through the GoodReads publisher giveaway.  Since I was going to read it anyway, getting a book for free doesn't hurt.  I'm also not planning on using this for my Around the World Challenge because I'd read Urrea before, but I might read it the same week as the other Mexico pick just for kicks.

3. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
I have already read Snow Crash at least once.  I think twice.  It is the pick for one of my online book clubs for January, and I am looking forward to reading it again.  When I re-read the Sprawl Trilogy when we did the Neuromancer readalong on SFF Audio, it was remarkable how much more I got out of it since I had read so much more science fiction in the past few years.  I'm expecting to have a similar experience at this point in my reading life with Snow Crash.  Except this time, I'm going to listen to the audio book.  Scott from SFF Audio claims it is one of the best audio books, and he would know!

4. Moxyland by Lauren Beukes
Speaking of audio books!  I keep hearing good things about Lauren Beukes.  She just won the Arthur C. Clarke award for her second novel, Zoo City.  I have audiobooks of both at home, waiting to be listened to.  The other thing that makes me excited about these particular books is that they are the very first audiobooks published by the new (2009) publisher, Angry Robot Books. They seem to be doing publishing in a way friendlier to the 21st century than most publishers - their eBooks do not have international restrictions or DRM.  In other words, they want us to READ them.  Thank goodness.

5. Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
On the other side of that 21st century publishing coin, I will be happy to finally have access to Half-Blood Blues at the end of February, which is still technically the winter.  After all the acclaim (award nominations, award wins) and all the frustration in actually getting a copy, I want it more than ever.  (Want me to do something?  Just tell me I can't... Yeah, I'm one of THOSE people.)

6. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
This comes out in March, which gives me just enough time to read the two books by Winterson that I haven't read yet (see books 7 and 8! aha!).  Jeanette Winterson is one of my favorite authors, and my two favorite books of hers are The Powerbook and Written on the Body.  Such beautiful language.  This is her autobiography, and from what I've read (and from what I suspect just in her writing), it is bound to be an interesting and powerful story.  The title sounds like a question I've heard from my own mother.  Maybe Winterson and I have some things in common?

7. Art & Lies and 8. Gut Symmetries by Jeanette Winterson
I don't actually know much about these books, I just stumbled across them at an amazing used bookstore in Asheville, NC, knew I hadn't read them, and purchased them on the spot.  I think I will have read everything by the author when I finish these two.  These are good candidates for reading during the December holidays, actually.  Her prose is beautiful, so I will be reading these with sticky notes in hand.

9. From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjon
In all of this international fiction reading that I am going to be doing, I am most excited for the books from Iceland.  I only get to officially pick one, and this is one of the many on my to-read list.  From the Mouth of the Whale has a winning combination.  Ancient culture!  Cold weather island!  Good writing!  Could someone find me a way to get paid to read books from Iceland and travel there as well?  Dream job!

10. The Old Man and His Sons by Heoin Bru
Another cold-weather-island book and possibly the book I'm most excited to read for my Around the World challenge.  It may also be the only Faroe Island work of fiction that has been translated into English.  I looked for a long time, and many are available in Icelandic but very few other languages. 

Part of me feels like I should include 1Q84 on this list, since I am still in the middle of reading it, and it is really great.  But I'm not sure I can look forward to a book I'm already reading.  What are you looking forward to reading?

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Great Dystopian Novel To Read List

Longer list alert!  This is the other half of the reading list mentioned in this post, originally compiled by Ross E. Lockhart.  These are the books I'm adding to my to-read list, because it is a silly goal of mine to have consumed all post-apocalyptic and dystopian titles.  Have any to add?  Any favorites to weigh in on?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  

Amis, Martin
Einstein’s Monsters  
Anderson, M. T.
Armstrong, Jon
Grey (et.seq.)
Asimov, Isaac
Pebble in the Sky
Auster, Paul
In the Country of Last Things  
Ballard, J. G.
Hello America
Barry, Max
Jennifer Government
Bates, Paul L.
Beaton, Alistair
A Planet for the President 
Beckett, Bernard
Böll, Heinrich
My Melancholy Face  
Boston, Bruce
The Guardener’s Tale
Boyd, John
Last Starship from Earth 
Brain, Marshall
Brooke, Keith
Brunner, John
The Jagged Orbit
The Sheep Look Up *
The Shockwave Rider  
Bulwer-Lytton, Edward
Vril: The Power of the Coming Race 
Burgess, Anthony
The Wanting Seed
Burroughs, William S.
Blade Runner, a Movie
(see also Nourse, Alan E.)

Carbonneau, Louis
Barrier World
Cobb, William
A Spring of Souls
Cohen, Stuart Archer
The Army of the Republic

Cowdrey, Albert E.
DeVita, James
The Silenced
DiChario, Nick
Valley of Day-Glo
Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said  
The Man in the High Castle *  
Disch, Thomas
The Genocides
Farmer, Philip José
Riders of the Purple Wage
Ferrigno, Robert
Prayers for the Assassin (et.seq.)
Fischer, Tibor
The Collector Collector
Fukui, Isamu
Gray, Alasdair
Lanark: A Life in Four Books * 
Grimes, Tom
City of God
Hairston, Andrea
Hall, Sarah
Daughters of the North Harkaway, Nick
The Gone-Away World Harris, Robert
Harrison, Harry
Make Room! Make Room! * 
Herbert, Frank
Hellstrom’s Hive
Hubbard, L. Ron
Final Blackout
Huxley, Aldous
Ape and Essence
Johnston, Paul
The House of Dust
Keogh, Andrew
Keppel-Jones, Arthur M.
When Smuts Goes
Kerr, Philip
The Second Angel
King, Stephen
(writing as Richard Bachman) 

The Long Walk
The Running Man
Kuttner, Henry
The Iron Standard
Lamar, Jake
The Last Integrationist
Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Lerner, Lisa
Just Like Beauty
Levin, Ira
This Perfect Day
Lewis, Sinclair
It Can’t Happen Here *
London, Jack
The Iron Heel *
Lowry, Lois
The Giver
Lundwall, Sam J.
2018 A.D. or the King Kong Blues  
Mark, Jan
Useful Idiots
McCarthy, Wil
McIntosh, Will
Soft Apocalypse
McMullen, Sean
Eyes of the Calculor
Mellick III, Carlton
The Egg Man
War Slut
Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Moore, Alan
V for Vendetta
Morgan, Richard
Market Forces
Thirteen (AKA Black Man) Morrison, Toni
Nabokov, Vladimir
Invitation to a Beheading
Neiderman, Andrew
The Baby Squad
Nolan, William F. and George Clayton Johnson
Logan’s Run
Norden, Eric
The Ultimate Solution
Nourse, Alan E.
The Blade Runner
(See also Burroughs, William S.) 
O’Brien, Michael D.
Eclipse of the Sun
Oppegaard, David
The Suicide Collectors
Philbrick, Rodman
The Last Book in the Universe
Pohl, Frederick and C. M. Kornbluth — The Space Merchants
Pollack, Rachel
Unquenchable Fire
Powers, Tim
Dinner at Deviant’s Palace
Rand, Ayn
Reed, Kit
Robinson, Kim Stanley
The Gold Coast: Three Californias (Wild Shore Triptych) *
Rucker, Rudy
Russ, Joanna
And Chaos Died
Scalzi, John with Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake, and Karl Schroeder 
Sharpe, Matthew
Shirley, John
Black Glass
Silva, Ulises
Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside
Singer, Lee
Slattery, Brian Francis
Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America *
Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man
Smith, L. Neil
The Probability Broach
Spinrad, Norman
The Iron Dream
The Fifth Sacred Thing  
Stevens-Arce, James
Takami, Koushun
Battle Royale
Tevis, Walter
Theroux, Marcel
Far North
Tomson, Rupert
Divided Kingdom
Turner, George
The Sea and Summer  
Turtledove, Harry
The Gladiator
Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr.
Player Piano *
Walton, Jo
Waugh, Evelyn
Love Among the Ruins
Wells, H. G.
The Time Machine
When the Sleeper Wakes
Weyn, Suzanne
The Bar Code Tattoo (et.seq.) 
Williams, David J.
The Mirrored Heavens
Wilson, Robert Anton
The Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy  
Wilson, Robert Charles
Womack, Jack
Random Acts of Senseless Violence Wright, Ronald
A Scientific Romance
Zamyatin, Yevgeny
We *

Dystopian Novels Reading List, Part 1

Have I ever explained the title of this blog?  I hope it is pretty obvious... the sentiment that there are too many good books, and not enough time to read them.  Following busy readers in GoodReads and bunches of reading blogs is like sitting at a restaurant and being convinced that everyone else picked better menu items than you did.  I suffer from constant reading envy.

Another thing that really feeds my reading envy?  Lists!  I love lists.  At the back of the Brave New Worlds volume of dystopian short stories, editor John Joseph Adams included a chapter "For Further Reading," compiled by Ross E. Lockhart.  Such a great idea, and on the website you can even access the lists as a PDF or as buying lists in Amazon.com.  The list is incredibly long, so first I will post the books I've already read, and my next post will detail the books I haven't read yet!
Lockhart indicates the books with "high literary value" with an asterisk, so I'll just leave his judgment as is.   See after the list for books that didn't make the list, but should have.

Notable Dystopias, already read: 

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid’s Tale *
Oryx and Crake
The Year of the Flood

Bacigalupi, Paolo
The Windup Girl *
Ship Breaker

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451 *

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Butler, Octavia
Parable of the Sower *  

Collins, Suzanne
The Hunger Games (et.seq.) 

Crace, Jim
The Pesthouse

Doctorow, Cory
Little Brother 

Gibson, William
Mona Lisa Overdrive
Neuromancer * (really this should say Neuromancer et. seq.)

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World * 

Ishiguro, Kazuo
Never Let Me Go 

Lem, Stansiław
Memoirs Found in a Bathtub   

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road * 

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas (“Sonmis Oratio”)  

Orwell, George
Nineteen Eighty-Four * 

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash 

Stewart, George R.
Earth Abides 

Westerfield, Scott
Uglies (et.seq.) 

Some of these I'd classify as post-apocalyptic (and indeed, the Wastelands anthology contains a similar list, which I've been working through ever since!), but I think some books are easily both.  In fact, it is pretty hard to have a post-apocalyptic world that isn't dystopian.   

I would heartily endorse the reading of any book on this list.  The Lem is a bit difficult because it is pretty ridiculous, and I wouldn't say the overarching theme of Cloud Atlas is dystopian (but it is still a brilliant book).  My favorites probably include the Atwood, the Butler, and Orwell, as far as in their handling of dystopian worlds and themes.
I'd also add a few more books to the list, definitely worth a mention:

Noise by Darin Bradley
Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner (they left this off the Brunner list, but I'd put it back on!) 
The Book by M. Clifford
Ready Player One by Ernst Cline (this post-dates the anthology)
The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq 
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson (hey, it made io9's American Dystopia Top Ten list)

The Kitchen as a Laboratory

The Kitchen as a Laboratory: Reflections on the Science of Food and CookingThe Kitchen as a Laboratory: Reflections on the Science of Food and Cooking by Cesar Vega
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Molecular gastronomy - applied. Written by actual food scientists, each chapter addresses a different food question and narrates the science that particular scientist or team undertook to find the answer. Some of these experiments were grant funded research, yet the book is easy to read for the most part, even for a lay person like me.

The book starts with a chapter on grilled cheese, where I learned why mild cheddar melts better than aged, and why fondue works. I couldn't put the book down after that.

Other chapters address texture, crispness, thickening agents, and my favorite - chewy ice cream. The scientists took a look at what makes salep dondurma (which Harold McGee wrote about in the NY Times in 2007) work, and to see if they could replicate it with other ingredients. They had to do this since the key ingredient, salep, a wild orchid derivative, isn't allowed out of the country of Turkey, where it is indigenous to that area only. I was fascinated and horrified and probably won't go to the trouble of trying the recipe they developed on my own, since it is a long list of ingredients I'd have to special order and aren't immediately recognizable, but I could if I so chose.

That's pretty much the underlying sentiment in this book - can we? why not? and how? I was fascinated by it and imagine others would be too. You can just gloss over the chemical diagrams like I did.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Brave New Worlds

Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories ed. by John Joseph Adams

A few years ago, I read my way through Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, also edited by John Joseph Adams.  It was an anthology of post-apocalyptic stories that I really enjoyed.  This volume is all dystopian stories, similar vein, but not quite.  In fact, I think I can say for sure that I prefer post-apocalyptic over dystopian.  I believe this is because I enjoy reading about people who have survived, who are rebuilding, and all the ideas and creativity that can come out of that.  In a dystopia, people are often unable to take control of their lives, and bad things are happening to them, usually by other people, most likely the government.  Just one observation I made of my own preferences.

That isn't to say this isn't worth reading!  I took the list of the table of contents from John Joseph Adam's website, and will make brief remarks on the stories. Most remarks will be questions since most of the stories seem to ask them, and answering them would give them away. 

The Lottery — Shirley Jackson
Apparently this is the old standard of dystopian stories.  The story itself was good, also shocking, but I was more interested in reading about the reception of the story when it was first published in the New Yorker.  Subscription cancellations... hate mail... all to show the power a story can have.

Red Card — S. L. Gilbow
I'm not going to lie, I loved the concept of this story, where certain people get license to kill with no consequences.  It does introduce a different type of conflict in daily relationships!

Ten With a Flag — Joseph Paul Haines
The first of several fertility related dystopian stories.  What happens when the government knows to much about your unborn child?

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas — Ursula K. Le Guin
Oh, Ursula Le Guin and how she can build a world.  What about this little sentence - "Let the tambourines be struck above the copulations..."  She describes a seemingly perfect world.  It was horrifying, and the last sentence is the title.

Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment — M. Rickert

A culture where if women dissent, they disappear.  Phew.  I remember this author from the Wastelands anthology - her story Bread and Bombs haunted me for months (I'm still not sure I understand it, but you can read it full-text online here.)

The Funeral — Kate Wilhelm
In a controlling society, a glimmer of hope...  this reminded me of the tone of Never Let Me Go, perhaps just with the children and the headmaster type character.

O Happy Day! — Geoff Ryman
This story seems to ask the question of what would happen if a group of homosexual men were given the task of loading people onto the train cars bound for concentration camps?  It felt more like an exercise in "what if?" than a fully developed story.  This story had me stalled for quite some time.

Pervert — Charles Coleman Finlay
I loved this story, actually.  A nice twist to question how we think of sexuality in our society.  Can we make this required reading for people who want to make laws about other people's relationships?

From Homogenous to Honey — Neil Gaiman & Bryan Talbot
A graphic novel offering.  What if moralistic dictators could time travel to rid the world of immorality as they defined it? 

Billennium — J. G. Ballard
A crazy nightmare of overpopulation, one that John Brunner would be proud of.

Amaryllis — Carrie Vaughn
This was a repeat read for me, since she was a Hugo Award finalist this year.  Another fertility dystopian story, with a twist involving fish.

Pop Squad — Paolo Bacigalupi
The price of achieving immortality?  Making reproduction against the law, and babies into nothing more than pests needing to be exterminated.  How's that for a fun job?  An okay concept, but at this point I was kind of tired of fertility dystopias.

Auspicious Eggs — James Morrow
And the opposite of the reproduction horror spectrum - where women who don't reproduce are put to death.

Peter Skilling — Alex Irvine
Sometimes saving yourself for the future is a gamble.

The Pedestrian — Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury is a master at writing horror into the everyday.  Even a walk.

The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away — Cory Doctorow
Doot doot doo.  This story was tl;dr.  (That is shorthand for too long, didn't read... having this volume as bedside reading wasn't always the best choice, and I usually love Doctorow's dystopian voice.  I'd read Little Brother before I'd try this again.

The Pearl Diver — Caitlín R. Kiernan

Talk about complete loss of privacy - the government and your boss are both watching you, and they're collaborating.  Wait, this doesn't seem that off....

Dead Space for the Unexpected — Geoff Ryman
“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman — Harlan Ellison®
I've grouped these stories together because they both have to deal with accounting for your time in ridiculous ways.

Is This Your Day to Join the Revolution? — Genevieve Valentine
Are you sure you don't know something we need to know?  Some of the writing reminded me of the overload of media and commercialism from Stand on Zanzibar.

Independence Day — Sarah Langan
Self-regulation, ridiculous surgery, and constant danger.

The Lunatics — Kim Stanley Robinson

Men forced to mine the moon practically every waking moment, and the work days are getting longer.  I don't want to ruin the story by saying any more.

Sacrament — Matt Williamson

The art of torture once it becomes a regulated form.

The Minority Report — Philip K. Dick

I've never seen the movie, but knew the basic premise.  The actual story is great, and the pacing really struck me as being well done.   I couldn't get the "precogs" out of my head.  In all the action, the true dystopia has to be the lives they lead.

Just Do It — Heather Lindsley

This might be my favorite story of the anthology.  It is funnier than most, but anyone who remembers the chapter in Fast Food Nation where he meets the smell/flavor chemist will definitely appreciate this story.

Harrison Bergeron — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Everyone is equal!  For better or worse!

Caught in the Organ Draft — Robert Silverberg

When the old and rich implement a draft so that they can live forever off of younger peoples' organs.

Geriatric Ward — Orson Scott Card

Completely devastating story about society trapped in an early onset aging epidemic.

Arties Aren’t Stupid — Jeremiah Tolbert

People are genetically engineered to be good at one thing, and to be in pain when they can't do it.  Deep in my memory this story made me think of a Sesame street with the two puppet types - one that wanted the fruit in the tree but was too short to get to it, and the taller puppets with the arms that wouldn't bend so they couldn't feed themselves.  (This will make sense when you read the story.)

Jordan’s Waterhammer — Joe Mastroianni
Deeply disturbing society where love and sex are mysterious words passed down from the ground above, and human life has no value.

Of a Sweet Slow Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs — Adam-Troy Castro

This story!  This story will stick with me.  Smart of JJ Adams to stick it near the end.  True dystopia occurs when people are willing to endure anything for amenities.

Resistance — Tobias S. Buckell
Dystopia and voting.  For anyone who didn't live through the chad scandal.

Civilization — Vylar Kaftan

I loved this story, written in a Choose Your Own Adventure style!   

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lazy Sunday - Graphic Novels

Apparently yesterday was such a lazy Sunday, I never even blogged what I meant to blog!  I needed something distracting but not intense, so I finally got to the box of graphic novels sent to me by one of my SFF Audio cohorts.  Later that day, I e-mailed a GoodReads friend about the dilemma I find in reviewing graphic novels.  I worry I don't rate them equally with books to begin with, like I'm treating them unfairly (yes, I fret about these things, call me crazy).  I think some of what I don't "like" is more of a question of familiarity with the genre, and I might like it more as I read more.  However, I might be second-guessing myself.  At this point I've read all of the Sandman, The Watchmen, Persepolis, and a few scattered random volumes.  I'm not a complete newb.  Also, I'm not convinced I care that much about superheros.

What do you read, if you read graphic novels or comics? 

Yesterday, I read the following titles:

What I liked:
  • Humor.  I enjoyed the humor in Scott Pilgrim and Wormwood very much, whether it comes from awkward kids or talking rabbits.
  • Learning about the real lives of superheroes, like Batwoman.  
  • The art, of course.  Every style fitting the story, amazing use of color (except Scott, who is black and white), and creative use of space.
What I wasn't a fan of:
  • Superheroes superhero lives.  I can't help it.  Daring feats?  Boring to me.
  • Overly preachy.  Several of these titles were.  Not that I disagreed with what they were preaching, but I don't need a didactic comic.
See... I wonder if the elements I'm not a huge fan of are just graphic novel elements, and it could be that I just don't care for graphic novels!  If the story is good, I usually enjoy it, no matter the format.

Other graphic novels I have enjoyed:

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Unlimited Dream Company by JG Ballard

Unlimited Dream CompanyUnlimited Dream Company by J.G. Ballard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I find it difficult to know how to talk about this book. I loved the vibrant writing and surreal story, but could not recommend this to 95% of the readers I know.

Why? Well, you see... Blake is a bit of a loser. He steals a plane and crashes it into the Thames at Shepperton, and that's when everything goes a bit strange. He develops strong desires for everyone and everything in the town (see 95% comment earlier). Just like in dreams, relationships have no consequences, people can fly and commune with the sea and forest creatures. Blake becomes like a pagan dream god - even spreading his semen around grows a tropical rainforest.

And yes, I said the word semen. Trust me, if you can't take it the two times in this review, this is not the book for you.

But maybe you are a reader who can push aside all of your senses of moral violation to enjoy the writing, the description, the dreamy world of this book. If you can, you should. I couldn't put it down. The aerial wedding scene is particularly memorable.

"When they had gone, I walked alone through the late afternoon, my damp suit covered with a coat of rainbows, a confetti of petals, celebrating my marriage with the meadow."

Other authors this reminds me of: Michel Houellebecq is the first one to come to mind.  A little squeeze of the little Thomas Pynchon I've read.  Maybe a little bit of the visceral imagery of Catherynne Valente - that squirmy edge between disturbing and beautiful.

Other things in general: The Birds, the story by Daphne du Maurier and made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock.  There are multiple scenes in this filled by birds, and even if Ballard hasn't written it to be foreboding, I kept picturing that setting intertwined.  And in this one scene where the birds are dropping from the sky or popping out of his body - wow.

It also reminds me of the movie Pleasantville, only to an extreme. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

Skippy DiesSkippy Dies by Paul Murray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was longlisted for the Booker prize in 2010, but I just now finished listening to the audiobook. The audio is done by six voice actors and one narrator, and they do a spectacular job (except for the guy whose Italian student Mario sounds more like the Looney Tunes Speedy Gonzales). Irish accents galore!

This is a portrayal of kids at a boarding school in Ireland, so you should expect all the usual - boys with weird issues, bad family relationships, sexual discovery (add that to teenage boys and there are some... awkward moments), drugs, apathy, the usual. What I appreciated is that while you know that Skippy Dies, it isn't as if the book is trying to explain it. It still manages to, but that isn't the point.

I also liked how some of the chapters were more from the teachers' perspectives, with their own struggles and awkwardness. Howard the Coward was definitely a favorite!

I'm not sure how memorable any one moment is, but I definitely laughed out loud at some parts. I think listening to the audio solidified my enjoyment of the text. This won't be for everyone, as some may not be able to stomach the portrayals of... let's call it reality. 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I read this back in 2005, I remember being annoyed by Christopher. I think I didn't really get it, then. This time around (2011), I listened to the audio, and enjoyed it a lot more. The main character, being autistic, does not always make the connections that the reader can make about his world, and I enjoyed that dichotomy very much. It must take an amazing amount of energy to raise such a complicated child - let's hope all families have a Siobhan in their lives!

Other fun bits for list-making-lovers like me include charts and graphs, math problems, and an intertwined mystery story along with Christopher's life.  

I participated in the SFF Audio readalong for this book, and you can listen here, if you have about 2 hours.

Prize Winners Reflection

I got the Giller Prize wrong, but I never got to read the winner, so what can you do.  Congratulations to Esi Edugyan and her win for Half-Blood Blues!

The one category I read everything for the National Book Award, poetry, I picked right!  Nikki Finney gave an emotional and powerful acceptance speech last night, and everyone seemed very moved.  You should definitely check out the volume that won the award, Head Off & Split.  Some are funny, and some speak to the historical experience of African Americans. She has a great ability to convey authentic emotion.  To me, this is what poetry should be!

Not having read any of the other nominees for the National Book Award other than the previews for fiction, I was still interested to see who the winners were.  Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward won for fiction, and I'll probably read the book at some point - I think the judges were won over by the visceral portrayal of poverty in the rural south.

The winner for non-fiction had the best title (it matters, don't you think?) - The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt.

Congratulations to all the winners and happy reading!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Picks for the National Book Award in Fiction

As promised in my last entry, I have read the Kindle previews for all  National Book Award candidates and ranked them in the order of my preference.  Can you really pick a book from its preview?  We shall see....

The preview for Binocular Vision had three complete stories, and I was impressed.  My favorite of the three was called Inbound, and is about a family trying to give their daughter a cultural experience while struggling with a child with Down Syndrome.  It had an amazing balance of people trying to do what they'd always planned in the face of a situation they had never anticipated.  As a result, the older daughter has more challenges as well. 

Phew, well.

This book is definitely rural in tone, I'm thinking Mississippi or Louisiana since they are preparing for a hurricane.  The description of the puppy births reminds me of John Steinbeck in the Red Pony.  It felt very visceral with potential to be depressing, as the family in the preview section is clearly living in poverty.

I am thrown off by this book because I keep expecting it to be set somewhere where tigers live, maybe India, but the tiger in the preview is at the zoo, and the landscape seems to be the former Yugoslavia.  A woman's grandfather has died in a bit of a mystery, as he never told anyone he was dying except her.  I want to read more of this because it seemed to have the potential for an interesting story, but at the same time the language was simpler than I really like.  

I would say I wasn't wrong about my "book club light" guesstimate.  The book starts with a boat of Japanese brides being sent off to America.  They come from all over Japan, and are being married off all over America.  This is a pretty typical cultural clash novel, I'd guess, and is bound to be interesting because of that conflict.  The author gives everything a color, and it really jumped out because it got a little ridiculous even in the preview.  I probably wouldn't finish this one.

Full disclosure - I fell asleep reading this preview on Sunday evening.  I mean, it is at most 30 pages, and I couldn't make it through.  I have to be tricked into reading historical fiction, and this novel was too obvious.  I'm ranking it last because of my own tastes, but don't let it scare you away from trying it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

National Book Award - Cover Art for Fiction Finalists

Time has gotten away from me!  When the finalists for the National Book Award were first announced, I read and ruminated on the poetry category, but then promptly forgot that the Award was coming up so soon in my rush to read the Giller Prize nominees, to re-read everything remotely related to Neuromancer before I did the SFF Audio podcast Sunday (will post in another week), and finish Brideshead Revisited before tomorrow night's book club.  Phew, I've been a busy reader!  I need to write posts about some of these things as well, and hope to this week.

I'm not going to have time to track down copies of the fiction finalists for the NBA before Wednesday.  What I pledge to you is that I will read the previews provided by Amazon.com, and try to make guesses from those limited encounters.  For tonight, I will make completely uneducated guesses as to the success of these books based entirely on the cover designs.

This cover is pretty drab, really, and I wouldn't even pick this one up to take a look if I was gazing at a display of books at a store.  The dust makes me think historical novel, which is not usually my favorite.  It also brings to mind last year's winner, which was my least favorite of the set.  So in that thought pattern - high likelihood of a win, low likelihood that I'll like it.  I just read the publisher blurb, and more than just dust, this is a war book.  Just not my thing.  Okay, not so much reading envy for this title, although I still plan to read the preview.

This is eye-catching. It has that kind of trendy instagram feeling while also looking nostalgic. I note from the cover that these are short stories, rare for a National Book Award finalist. That sets it apart, and would read as a breath of fresh air. Something about it feels depressing and historic, probably urban, and I'm thinking dear god not another war story.   The nice thing about short stories is that they don't tend to all be about the same things.  This will also mean that my preview is bound to be less representative than it will be for the novels.

Dog on the cover... dog on the cover... what does that remind me of? Oh yeah, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime which I just re-read for SFF Audio. That makes me expect this to be more of a modern story, probably not so broad in spectrum, maybe a family drama instead of something historically based. The word salvage is a clue, and maybe bones too - probably not a cheery tune.  Prediction - I will like it!  I guess we shall see!

Tea Obrecht was recently signing books at Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, SC. It was on a night I just couldn't make it over in time because of a meeting I couldn't miss, but I remember this book's description grabbing me when the list was just posted. Since I won't read it in time for the award anyway, I'm going to save it to read during my Around the World reading challenge next year. Since the author was born in Belgrade, it even fits my criteria.I'm not sure the cover is what draws me in - but the name is definitely memorable.  If I had to guess, I'd expect this to win the prize just based on my gut reaction.  Don't trust it!  I was completely wrong in 2010. 

This looks the least like a typical nominee to me. Just from the cover, I'd expect it to be making the "book club light" circuit, where books like the Jane Austen Book Club or The Help end up. Nothing against those books, they just aren't the same "literary" circuit. Wow, I could really make some people mad. I hope you understand what I'm saying. This is from the cover alone. I don't know if this book actually has an attic at all.  My prediction is that it has the potential not to be memorable.  I will be happy for it to prove me wrong!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical ReadingTolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On the surface, this is a book about reading, but more than anything, this is a book about how Nina Sankovitch used reading to get through the loss of her sister at age 46. If you add that to the stories of Sankovitch's parents backgrounds, growing up in war-torn Poland and Belgium, this is not as light of a book as I was led to believe from the review I first read in a book blog. That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it or resonate with it, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it to everyone, for the raw grief as well as some issues with the writing. At the same time, it does speak to the restorative power of reading.

In the end, I added a few books to my to-read list from her comments. And it is a quick read - in my own tribute, I read it in one evening.

"Talking about books allows me to talk about anything with anyone. With family, friends, and even with strangers who contacted me..., when we discuss what we are reading, what we are really discussing is our own lives, our take on everything from sorrow to fidelity to responsibility, from money to religion, from worrying to inebriation, from sex to laundry, and back again."

Nina Sankovitch runs the website Read All Day, which is worth checking out.  It looks like she is reading as voraciously as ever, and influencing others to do the same.  

Scotiabank Giller Prize 2011 - My Picks!

Dear Canadian Publishers,

We Americans are often portrayed as being completely ignorant of Canadian culture, and often are even disparaged as being dismissive.  Yet when I set out to read the books shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, I was only able to access four out of six of them in my country.  We are not that far away.  We want to read good books.  Please make them available to us as early as they are available to the avid readers in your own country.  You will not be disappointed.  Readers like me will spread the word and consume to the best of our abilities.


Jenny from Reading Envy

Now that my plea is out of the way, I have to be honest and say that I have only read four out of the six nominated books in their entirety. At one point this past week I was going to try purchasing The Antagonist by Lynn Coady but it was not even available on Amazon.  As if they'd only bothered ordering five copies for all their American warehouses, and nobody thought to make a Kindle version available.  At least that publisher had made the effort, and it seems as if the book distributors failed in that regard.  I'm also seeing that the Gartner isn't easily available.

The good people at the Scotiabank Giller Prize website have made very brief samples of all six shortlisted titles available, so that is what I have used to weigh in on the Coady and the Edugyan.  Hardly sufficient, and probably not accurate.

Here are my picks in the order that I would choose a winner!

1. The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
Good combination of story with thoughtful commentary.

2. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (oh, hello, we remember you from the Booker shortlist!)
Readable Western with a twist.

3. The Antagonist by Lynn Coady
This sounds like my kind of book, cyber stalkers and all, and I enjoyed the very brief sample I read.

4. Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
The sample wasn't really my thing, as I get bored easily reading novels about drugs, but maybe the entire thing isn't like the sample.  Plus it was on the Booker list, so I'm guessing it has some kind of originality.

5. Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner
Great name, great first story, the rest were less memorable. 

6. The Free World by David Bezmozgis
As I said in my earlier review, I wanted more from this novel. 

Books mentioned: