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Third Quarter 2020 Reading is a Joy

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On 8/28/2020 at 3:18 AM, ithanos said:

Finally got around to a couple classics which I'd heard so much about but never read.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov: I liked the setup and there are some great ideas. The nature of the story though didn't lead to any character development that I could warm to until maybe the end.

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke: Fantastic, I like how the enigmatic things are probed but remain largely enigmatic throughout the book, leaving more for reflection. I've heard criticisms it lacks characterisation but that didn't bother me - the main character for me was Rama itself. One part that did irk was the very colonial depiction of Cook's encounters - I'll put it down to the era that it was written.   

Then finished off with The Giver by Lois Lowry: Saw this recommended on a very science minded podcast that concluded with ruminations on the purpose of being and influences in life. Very interesting, I liked it. I understand its a generational book, recommended to middle schools in North America (mid 90s onward). I'm not sure if I had the wherewithal for this to have had any impact when I was around that age. Then again at that age we were given Animal Farm to read. 

Personally I recommend not reading any of the Rama sequels. 

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On 8/27/2020 at 6:18 PM, ithanos said:

Finally got around to a couple classics which I'd heard so much about but never read.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov: I liked the setup and there are some great ideas. The nature of the story though didn't lead to any character development that I could warm to until maybe the end.

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke: Fantastic, I like how the enigmatic things are probed but remain largely enigmatic throughout the book, leaving more for reflection. I've heard criticisms it lacks characterisation but that didn't bother me - the main character for me was Rama itself. One part that did irk was the very colonial depiction of Cook's encounters - I'll put it down to the era that it was written.   

Then finished off with The Giver by Lois Lowry: Saw this recommended on a very science minded podcast that concluded with ruminations on the purpose of being and influences in life. Very interesting, I liked it. I understand its a generational book, recommended to middle schools in North America (mid 90s onward). I'm not sure if I had the wherewithal for this to have had any impact when I was around that age. Then again at that age we were given Animal Farm to read. 

It is interesting to consider now, at a distance of time, how little character development went into a lot of the Golden Age authors' works.  Clark, Asimov, etc. had interesting ideas, but the characters do not in any way drive the book.  Heinlein is sort of an exception, but even his books are very much idea-driven - he was just better at writing characters with the slightest bit of depth.  I also tend to think that the juveniles of the Golden Age sometimes worked better as entertainment just because they did usually have characters beyond simple cardboard cut outs.

My daughter did The Giver in school, and so I read it along with her.  It is a good book, but I am not sure that it is a better book than many other options.  Since the time and effort used in school is so limited and such a precious commodity, I thought that there might be other books of more fundamental value that the students could have read.

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I read The Giver when I was school age and I thought it was absolute shite though it was so long ago that I can't really remember why.

Our big school-age book was Of Mice and Men. Had such an effect that not only did the kids who usually had no interest in reading and usually came in having not read the chapters we were supposed to have read at home finish the entire book ahead of time, but then they came in without the book coz they'd passed it on to friends in a different class who got a different book.

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4 hours ago, Wilbur said:

It is interesting to consider now, at a distance of time, how little character development went into a lot of the Golden Age authors' works.  Clark, Asimov, etc. had interesting ideas, but the characters do not in any way drive the book.  Heinlein is sort of an exception, but even his books are very much idea-driven - he was just better at writing characters with the slightest bit of depth.  I also tend to think that the juveniles of the Golden Age sometimes worked better as entertainment just because they did usually have characters beyond simple cardboard cut outs.

I noticed this the last time I read Rendezvous with Rama myself too. The human characters mostly ... just are there. All the spectacular stuff that happens is things they observe, not things they do. And whenever a new situation shows up, which might warrant a different set of skills from any of the characters, a new characters enters the story out of nowhere, they do their thing, and then aren't mentioned much again. Rama is very much the main character in that story, and I daresay it's the only interesting one too. It's a really interesting one, though, so it makes the book a very enjoyable read nonetheless.

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10 hours ago, Luzifer's right hand said:

Personally I recommend not reading any of the Rama sequels. 

Well noted thank you. I read some reviews of the sequels and it seems Clarke may have over compensated on introducing some human drama. I'm more than happy not to sully my enjoyment of the first book by looking any further. 

8 hours ago, Wilbur said:

It is interesting to consider now, at a distance of time, how little character development went into a lot of the Golden Age authors' works.  Clark, Asimov, etc. had interesting ideas, but the characters do not in any way drive the book.  Heinlein is sort of an exception, but even his books are very much idea-driven - he was just better at writing characters with the slightest bit of depth.  I also tend to think that the juveniles of the Golden Age sometimes worked better as entertainment just because they did usually have characters beyond simple cardboard cut outs.

I would have to concur. Even from my modest reading of the big three, I recall many great ideas, both technological and space-opera spanning - but no characters stand out. In contrast I can fondly recall several characters from the early works of Herbert, Le Guin, and Zelazny. It almost appears that the dominance of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein encouraged the new wave authors of the 60s and 70s to experiment and become inventive with their storytelling.

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Recently, I finished Dennis E Taylor's Bobiverse trilogy.  

Next, I plan to try 88 Names by Matt Ruff, who also wrote Lovecraft Country.

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Posted (edited)
19 hours ago, polishgenius said:

I read The Giver when I was school age and I thought it was absolute shite though it was so long ago that I can't really remember why.

Our big school-age book was Of Mice and Men. Had such an effect that not only did the kids who usually had no interest in reading and usually came in having not read the chapters we were supposed to have read at home finish the entire book ahead of time, but then they came in without the book coz they'd passed it on to friends in a different class who got a different book.

I had absolutely the opposite reaction - love to read and always have.  Steinbeck, Hemingway, Buck and all of the other canon authors left me cold.  For the most part, I took in what I needed to from class discussions.  The saving grace for me to have any appreciation for American "classics" was William Faulkner.

I read a piece recently, that I can't find now, that chronicled how so many of those canon works were out of print or low print run until the end of WWII when the US Military decided that the occupation troops needed something to read and printed massive numbers of copies of many of, what are today, considered American classics and are taught as canon.  Just one more thing to blame on the military industrial complex.  

Edited by hauberk

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On 8/26/2020 at 5:42 AM, Peadar said:

There are several different Wild Card formats. You might prefer the mosaic books better, since they are a single novel written by a team of writers. Some of the later Wild Cards books are more coherent too. Once you've finished this one and you know the rules, more or less, give Inside Straight a try for a more connected plot.

I finished the 1st book.  I liked ghost girl, but I wasn't really wild about the rest of the book.  Still I picked up book #2 and am liking it a lot better.  I'm about 1/3 of the way through.  I like the common thread (threat from Tiamat) that is running through all the stories.  This is more like what I expected when I picked up book 1.  I can handle reading a Fortunato chapter here and there if it advances the story a bit.

On 8/26/2020 at 5:27 PM, Gigei said:

I suggest you stick it out at least until the end of the book. You might find some other characters you like.

Stories can be hit or miss. I personally hated some parts (Sewer Jack, Fortunato) but it was worth reading the books because of the good parts.

I almost put book #1 down after the Fortunato chapter.  Wow - that character did not age well.  Hard to imagine a writer in 2020 writing him.

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8 minutes ago, mushroomshirt said:

I almost put book #1 down after the Fortunato chapter.  Wow - that character did not age well.  Hard to imagine a writer in 2020 writing him.

I read the first book a few years ago and I think had a similar experience to yours, I found it even with some stories I liked and others such as the Fortunato one which I struggled to get through.

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About half way through We Are Legion (We Are Bob) and thoroughly enjoying it. Surprised this series had flown under my radar, but glad I heard about it now, I've already ordered the next two.

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6 hours ago, hauberk said:

US Military decided that the occupation troops needed something to read and printed massive numbers of copies

Many of these books were made to fit in the breast pocked of a solider's jacket so they could easily take them with them and have them available when the solider had time to read.  I've seen some of these books and they are small and compact and were IMHO a great idea.  They can be collectors items now.   

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13 hours ago, LongRider said:

Many of these books were made to fit in the breast pocked of a solider's jacket so they could easily take them with them and have them available when the solider had time to read.  I've seen some of these books and they are small and compact and were IMHO a great idea.  They can be collectors items now.   

Agreed.  It was definitely a great idea.  I just question the selection of titles and the lasting consequence of those selections.  It's like american lit teachers in jr high and high school were conspiring to turn people who otherwise loved to read away from the page.

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18 hours ago, mushroomshirt said:

I finished the 1st book.  I liked ghost girl, but I wasn't really wild about the rest of the book.  Still I picked up book #2 and am liking it a lot better.  I'm about 1/3 of the way through.  I like the common thread (threat from Tiamat) that is running through all the stories.  This is more like what I expected when I picked up book 1.  I can handle reading a Fortunato chapter here and there if it advances the story a bit.

I almost put book #1 down after the Fortunato chapter.  Wow - that character did not age well.  Hard to imagine a writer in 2020 writing him.

Fortunato is definitely a man of his time.  Aces High certainly has some rough patches, though, with few exceptions, I'l take Fortunato over Sewer Jack or Bagabond hands down every time.  

I need to do a reread of it, but in my experience, Aces Abroad is the real slog.  

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On 8/31/2020 at 1:54 AM, mushroomshirt said:

I finished the 1st book.  I liked ghost girl, but I wasn't really wild about the rest of the book.  Still I picked up book #2 and am liking it a lot better.  I'm about 1/3 of the way through.  I like the common thread (threat from Tiamat) that is running through all the stories.  This is more like what I expected when I picked up book 1.  I can handle reading a Fortunato chapter here and there if it advances the story a bit.

I almost put book #1 down after the Fortunato chapter.  Wow - that character did not age well.  Hard to imagine a writer in 2020 writing him.

LOL, I've been trying to erase some parts of the Wild Cards storyline from my mind and this brought back some of them...

On 8/31/2020 at 2:04 AM, williamjm said:

I read the first book a few years ago and I think had a similar experience to yours, I found it even with some stories I liked and others such as the Fortunato one which I struggled to get through.

I feel like Fortunato would be a "good" villain/antihero if we just got glimpses of the guy but actually getting Fortunato chapters is annoying instead of interesting

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I am on a Stephen King kick currently. I never read any of his books full until yesterday when I finished Misery. I am going to start 11/22/63 today. I then might read The Stand if I am feeling up to it. I read 3/4 of It a couple years ago but I had to stop because of College. 

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On 8/28/2020 at 2:18 AM, ithanos said:

Foundation by Isaac Asimov: I liked the setup and there are some great ideas. The nature of the story though didn't lead to any character development that I could warm to until maybe the end.

I really like the concept behind the original Foundation works, but the actual execution is pretty underwhelming: there's really nothing in the way of characterisation at all and the setting is pretty undeveloped as well.  And (spoilers for later sequels, beginning with Foundation and Empire):

Spoiler

Once the Mule and the Second Foundation show up, all the original ideas of pyschohistory and the Seldon Plan are basically discarded anyway.

  And that's not even getting on to Foundation's Edge and the following novels, which ... ugh.

On 8/29/2020 at 10:40 PM, polishgenius said:

Our big school-age book was Of Mice and Men. Had such an effect that not only did the kids who usually had no interest in reading and usually came in having not read the chapters we were supposed to have read at home finish the entire book ahead of time, but then they came in without the book coz they'd passed it on to friends in a different class who got a different book.

We read Of Mice and Men in Year 10 (so ages 14-15).  Or, rather, we listened to random people in our class read it out loud, very awkwardly, over the course of many weeks.  Put me off trying anything else by Steinbeck for at least a decade, and I was already reading a lot at that age.  Can't imagine it did anything to encourage more reading by the people who weren't already reading for pleasure.

On 8/30/2020 at 5:43 PM, hauberk said:

I had absolutely the opposite reaction - love to read and always have.  Steinbeck, Hemingway, Buck and all of the other canon authors left me cold.  For the most part, I took in what I needed to from class discussions.  The saving grace for me to have any appreciation for American "classics" was William Faulkner.

I read a piece recently, that I can't find now, that chronicled how so many of those canon works were out of print or low print run until the end of WWII when the US Military decided that the occupation troops needed something to read and printed massive numbers of copies of many of, what are today, considered American classics and are taught as canon.  Just one more thing to blame on the military industrial complex.  

Not really sure the popularity of Hemmingway, Steinbeck or Buck can be blamed (if that's the right word) on the Armed Services Editions.  All three of them were critically acclaimed and best-selling authors by the start of WW2. Steinbeck and Buck had both won the Pullitzer by 1940 (and Hemmingway would have won it in 1941 if the original decision of the Prize Board hadn't been overruled).  The Grapes of Wrath sold almost half a million (hardcover) copies in 1939, as did For Whom The Bell Tolls a year later.

(Half a million might not sound a lot by modern standards, but a hardcover in 1939 cost the equivalent of about $50 in 2020 prices.) 

The existence of cheap, quality paperbacks obviously meant a lot more people read these books than otherwise might have done, but I suspect we'd both have been forced to read Steinbeck in school even without that.  (And actually, despite my initial experiences of Of Mice and Men, I ended up deciding that I rather like Steinbeck, so I can't even say that's a bad thing.)

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8 hours ago, Plessiez said:

Not really sure the popularity of Hemmingway, Steinbeck or Buck can be blamed (if that's the right word) on the Armed Services Editions.  All three of them were critically acclaimed and best-selling authors by the start of WW2. Steinbeck and Buck had both won the Pullitzer by 1940 (and Hemmingway would have won it in 1941 if the original decision of the Prize Board hadn't been overruled).  The Grapes of Wrath sold almost half a million (hardcover) copies in 1939, as did For Whom The Bell Tolls a year later.

(Half a million might not sound a lot by modern standards, but a hardcover in 1939 cost the equivalent of about $50 in 2020 prices.) 

The existence of cheap, quality paperbacks obviously meant a lot more people read these books than otherwise might have done, but I suspect we'd both have been forced to read Steinbeck in school even without that.  (And actually, despite my initial experiences of Of Mice and Men, I ended up deciding that I rather like Steinbeck, so I can't even say that's a bad thing.)

I didn't mean to suggest that all of them were a result of the Armed Forces editions, merely that I would have gotten more reading enjoyment out of toaster instructions than anything that we were forced to read from any of them and that I would contend some of the academic reading lists have been impacted by the Armed Forces Editions.  That said, having gone back and looked at titles that were issued through AFE, I'm seeing that the original article I referenced above either misrepresented the impacted books or that I completely misremembered.  Really wish I could find it to read again.   

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Well, I've finished my reading challenge for 2020. After getting back into reading last year, I aimed higher at 36 books this year, which makes it my best year of reading since 2015. I also had a few sub-goals: to read an equal number of books by male/female authors, and to read only books that I already owned (didn't manage this last one). I read, in order (spoiler tag to keep it neat):

Spoiler

1. The Christmas Books, by Charles Dickens

2. Equal Rites, by Terry Pratchett

3. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

4. We Have Always Lived In The Castle, by Shirley Jackson

5. No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference, Greta Thunberg

6. A Room Of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf

7. Batman: Year One, by Frank Miller

8. And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie

9. Once Upon A River, by Diane Setterfield

10. Typhoon, by Joseph Conrad

11. Sourcery by Terry Pratchett

12. A Spy In The House Of Love, by Anais Nin

13. Travels With My Aunt, by Graham Greene

14. Foundation, by Isaac Asimov

15. Why Read The Classics, by Italo Calvino

16. Mrs Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf

17. Coriolanus, by Shakespeare

18. The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

19. The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester

20. Chernobyl Prayer, by Svetlana Alexievich

21. The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov

22. The Panama Papers, by Obermaier/Obermayer

23. A Pelican at Blandings, by P.G. Wodehouse

24. Goblin Market, by Christina Rosetti

25. As You Like It, by Shakespeare

26. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

27. Mister Roberts, by Alexei Sayle

28. The Taming of the Shrew, by Shakespeare

29. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, JK Rowling (counting this as Rowland, don't come at me)

30. Persuasion, by Jane Austen

31. The Etymologicon, by Mark Forsyth

32. Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys

33. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

34. Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Adichie

35. Aurora Leigh, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

36. Rebirding, by Benedict MacDonald

I found it so hard to choose some favourites. I started out with the Bronte sisters, but from there it seems a small step to include Shakespeare, Austen and Plath, and then Browning, Tartt and pretty much all the others. The books I found  disappointing enough to give a genuinely negative review were Mister Roberts, and The Cursed Child. Also, maybe The Etymologicon. With those few exceptions, though, and perhaps a few entries that it's really stretching the truth to call a 'book', it has probably been the best single year of reading I've ever had. I've read more books in previous years, perhaps hundreds in my early teens. I don't think I have ever read as many high quality books in a single year.

A quick note on Rebirding, which I just finished and deserves its own review. I found the book hard to read at first, it's really information dense but also just spectacularly grim. I'm also not a birdwatcher in particular. However, the book stands on its own merits and is well worth a read for any UK-based nature lover. 

So, next up: I have no idea. I was down to under 30 books owned but not read, but recently found about a dozen more that have been given to me by family. :o Either way, I'm never going to finish them this year. Will have a poke about though.

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We read Of Mice and Men in high school and oh gods I hated it. And East of Eden is one my favorite books ever, so it's not like I hate Steinbeck. But obviously a lot of people really enjoy it, so maybe I'm the odd one!

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