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Second Quarter 2021 Reading

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20 hours ago, Starkess said:

The next audiobook I have lined up is The Queen of Nothing, the final book in the Folk of the Air trilogy (at least I think it's a trilogy!). Dying to read this one after the crazy ending to book 2!

Jk, the loan didn't come through on that one yet, so I'm actually on to The Battle of the Labyrinth, the fourth Percy Jackson novel.

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Audiobook listens of the past month:

The Silk Roads - is an ingenious work I have praised before. I would and will spend 24 hours to listen to it again, because it’s that good. I can only recommend it. (The one criticism I have, because it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have any, is that a large middle portion is heavily west focused even though the whole concept of the book is to tell history from the perspective of the east. But it’s still 5 stars)

A Life on our Planet - If this wasn’t David Attenborough’s reflection on his life, I would have probably returned it, because it’s a bit too all over the place for me in terms of structure. But it is David Attenborough’s reflection on his life and that fills one with a certain level of awe and aw. I remember my grandmother’s teaching me about wild animals from a David Attenborough album when I was in kindergarten. And of course his message is intelligently and beautifully  articulated, no surprises there. 

I relistened The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt, and I’m most happy I did because a lot more of the theories and insights stuck with me on a second listen. I still love his style of writing and narration and I still social psychology. 

Talking to Strangers - was absolutely not what I expected it to be. In fact, it was better in the sense that it opened a whole new genre to me. (So far my audible consumption has been 90% history, sociopolitical and psychology non fiction and maybe it’s time to venture out) Talking to Strangers is a collection of case studies brought to the same conclusion: the author’s viewpoint of psychology of interaction between strangers. This viewpoint isn’t discussed in depth or measured up against other viewpoints, but since the novelty of the case studies consumed me, I wasn’t bothered by that. 

Hard copy reads:

The Twelve Chairs - I desperately wanted to like and enjoy this but I simply didn’t. I don’t know if it’s just the particular style I don’t get, or it’s just too far in time and space for me feel the satire and the general atmosphere. But it was a chore to get through and I found the ending profoundly surreal. There was one aspect I enjoyed and sympathized with, that is the tragedy of the old life being ripped from people and the vastly different new reality they had to adjust to. And I also found it very curious that if I didn’t know when the story was set and there weren’t like 10-15 telling throwaway lines, based on the atmosphere I would have placed it somewhere around 50-60s. So weird. 

Before the coffee gets cold - This was very interesting. The story is constructed beautifully, it’s intertwined to an extent that surprises even on the last few pages. In exchange it’s hardly character driven, which is something I often look for in fiction. I have only ever read one other book by a Japanese author and both style and structure is a mindset that one needs to consciously embrace and sink into. It is a culturally and intellectually enriching, albeit challenging experience, which I truly enjoy. Need to read more books that’s aren’t written with a “western” or “European” mind. 

 

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On 5/2/2021 at 11:29 PM, IFR said:

@Infidel

No.

I wasn't speaking to trivialize the content, which I know a lot of people might find upsetting. I mean the book is light in terms of how much concentration is required to parse the content. I think early teens or even pre-adolescents would easily be able to read and understand the book.

And the book itself is enjoyable. It has a decent story with some interesting characters. The content doesn't bother me: this is a fictional work, and much, much worse than anything portrayed in it occurs on an every day basis in the real world.

But I can understand why some people would find it dark, or even distasteful, and that's a valid opinion.

So, I get you. There is something...weird...yet breezy about the prose in the first Gap novel that is not like anything else I've ever read in the genre. Anyone know if it is the same voice Donaldson uses in his fantasy?

But it think it is fairly objectively dark as all hell.

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Posted (edited)
11 hours ago, Infidel said:

So, I get you. There is something...weird...yet breezy about the prose in the first Gap novel that is not like anything else I've ever read in the genre. Anyone know if it is the same voice Donaldson uses in his fantasy?

But it think it is fairly objectively dark as all hell.

I would say that the Gap into Conflict is lighter in style and density than The Chronicles or the Mordant's Need books.  The content is very brutal, but the word count used to portray that harsh content is much lower than his earlier work.

The final four books in the Gap Cycle are longer and lengthier, but the entire Gap Cycle suffers from what I think of as "empty universe" syndrome.  By this I mean that the story ignores almost everything outside of the main characters, and there is almost no world-building that doesn't directly involve the main characters.  The books get wider, but not much deeper.  Which is odd, considering that his intent was to reflect The Ring Cycle by Wagner.

I have always thought that Donaldson used the Cap Cycle to address the literary critics' constant harping about how long and detailed The Chronicles were.  I have no evidence of this except that it seemed in the 70s and 80s that the critics couldn't understand why any author would write such long books with so much detailed atmosphere and world-building along with philosophical musings and environmental concerns.  So every review of every book in The Chronicles had to have a whine about length and depth.  Gap into Conflict is short and shallow in comparison.

Edited by Wilbur
comparo

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Posted (edited)

I have now finished Martine's A Memory Called Empire which was pretty good.  I have begun Morgenstern's The Starless Sea.

Edited by Inkdaub
Capital A

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Read Alex Honnold's Alone on the Wall, it was a fast easy read.  I've been trying to read more nonfiction and this was a good way to get some momentum going on that front. 

I'm currently rereading One Hundred Years of Solitude, an old favorite I've read a dozen times but always a pleasure.  

Next up in the nonfiction queue is Mama Poc: An Ecologist's Account of the Exinction of a Species by Anne LaBastille.  A friend of mine recommended it to me and it sounded like it would be in my wheelhouse.  For fiction next is Bank's Look to Windward.

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Recently finished the new Murderbot Diaries novella, Fugitive Telemetry.  Even though the main focus of this series is the character development of Murderbot and not plot, the plot greatly improved compared to last year's book. 

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Kazuo Ishiguro's Klara and the Sun is one of the best contemporary dystopian Sci fi robot themed novels I've read of late 

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So I'm almost finished with Evil Geniuses and  The Field of Blood, both excellent reads, but I've found reading Moby Dick to be really hard to do. In short I hate the narrator and it's making it difficult to read more than a few pages each sitting. Can't say I've read much of  The Great Unknown, but plan to shortly.

And to round out this quarter I ordered four more books:

  • Robert E. Lee and Me
  • Dark Money
  • Why Nations Fail
  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

So slightly over 2,500 pages of light reading, plus all this grad school study material I need to get through. Challenge accepted. 

Edited by Tywin et al.

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No Rules Rules by Erin Meyer and Reed Hastings offers fascinating insight into nonconformist corporate culture at Netflix and why candor is key to success. 

Team of Rivals... by Pulitzer winning Doris Goodwin, the book on which Spielberg's Oscar sweeping Lincoln was based is purportedly a great read and I just can't wait 

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I'm in the middle of reading a book called The Physics of Angels by Matthew Fox and Rupert Sheldrake. It's quite interesting. I never knew that angels had anything to do with astronomy. It's an intellectual read. Didn't expect that. 

What I want to read is The Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin. I used to have it. Must have gotten rid of it. 

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@Tywin et al.

Please do provide your thoughts on The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I have plans to read it over the summer (along with some other sprawling history books of that sort - Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East, etc.). I look forward to your review!

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On 5/10/2021 at 4:18 AM, TheLastWolf said:

 

Team of Rivals... by Pulitzer winning Doris Goodwin, the book on which Spielberg's Oscar sweeping Lincoln was based is purportedly a great read and I just can't wait 

There are big problems though with that book, as being quite incorrect in many of her claims as to how things worked.  But it is entertaining as hell.

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I listened to Stephen Fry read his Heroes, the sequel to Mythos, this week.  He does a good job as a reader, which I was a little surprised about, since my exposure to him is limited to his television work twenty or more years ago as Jeeves or on Fry & Laurie.  In addition to not being over-the-top as a reader, as a writer he maintains a very light touch, with a reasonable number of contemporary interjections into the story to keep it funny.

He also uses some intentionally funny accents for various characters, such that Eurystheus features as right out of the Dales, for instance, which makes his objections to Heracles' completed acts all the more enjoyable.

I recommend it to you, particularly if it is readily available via Overdrive or some other local library system.  This morning I picked up Mythos and Troy, the other two works by Fry in this same series.

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On 5/11/2021 at 3:26 PM, IFR said:

@Tywin et al.

Please do provide your thoughts on The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I have plans to read it over the summer (along with some other sprawling history books of that sort - Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East, etc.). I look forward to your review!

Not sure my thoughts matter that much. It's a 1,150 page book and will take a few months to read as I have other things to work on. 

basically my understanding is if you want a book that appeals to the journalistic approach, you'll like it and if you what the rigor of academics, maybe not so much.

But I set the three other books I mentioned beside it and it looks like it could eat them, and they're not short, easy reads themselves. 

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Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was how I learned of nazis, the Holocaust and WWII, when I was about 10 or 11.  One of my grandmothers had stored stacks of old magazines in her basement, brought to her by family members and community members, which I dug into relentlessly from the first moments I had memory and could read.  Among them were old issues of The Readers Digest, which abridged and serialized the book, as The Readers Digest did. The Readers Digest, as monthly magazine and book club was an institution where I grew up in Nowherelandia, bringing books by mail into many homes.

For over a year I spent every visit to Gran's down there, reading each installment in a haze of fascination and complete historical ignorance, and surely understanding very little, yet, still compelled by what I read.  It was one of the beginnings of my education into history, along with much else that went on in her basement, including the ritual of Great Gran in a rocking chair and my brother perched on one of the rocker's broad arms, and I on the other.  She'd settle, we'd settle, then I'd demand, "Tell me about when you were a little girl. Start with your favorite horse."  I always say I started on the road to becoming an historian in my grandma's basement.

Currently re-reading Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire and the Birth of Europe (2007) by William Rosen. Even more interesting to read now than back when it was first published.

Have just finished from the publisher -- it's just about to become available for purchase -- Haunted by Slavery: A Southern Woman's Memoir of the Freedom Struggle by the still sharp as hell, 90+ year old Gwendolyn Medlo Hall. Gwen pioneered the compilation of databases as the primary historical research tool they now are.  She did this BEFORE computers, while being harassed and abused by the FBI -- they kept getting her fired from jobs, evicted from her homes, denied banking service -- she had to move to France for a while -- and of course threatened with death and worse by the good white racists of Louisiana where she did this pioneering work. They would try to deny her access to the public records in court houses and so on because, "They ain't gonna do you any good, little girl, cause they're in French."  "O that's just fine.  I read and speak and write French just fine."

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Zorral

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I read A Crown For Cold Silver by Alex Marshall, but I didn’t love it.  It started well enough as a grimdark fantasy with plenty of wry humor from jaded and grizzled veterans — a bit Abercrombie-ish, which is high praise — but it drifted and lost focus as it went on and then got bogged down across too many POVs and no real progression.  The author really wanted to create a bunch of cool characters and throw in lots of twists, but it just seemed sophomoric and silly. (Be wary of what your concept of cool reveals about you)

Now, unfortunately, “sophomoric” is at the top of my mind as I write a quick review after re-reading Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.  This is a book I have read a few times now and still enjoy enormously despite the entire current-day plot being a sophomoric libertarian tech-bro wet dream.  But this book is written with such verve and humor, and the POVs of Lawrence and Bobby are so entertaining as they fight WWII with information theory in their very different ways.  Stephenson had a stretch of five consecutive novels — Cryptonomicon, The Baroque Cycle trilogy and Anathem — that were pure gold.  Sure he was juvenile (but still pretty good) before that, and surprisingly boring afterward, but he really found his stride for that stretch.  I’m planning to re-read the others in the coming months.

And I just finished Big Sky by Kate Atkinson, the fifth in her Jackson Brodie detective series.  This was, once again, immensely well written.  She writes the inner monologue of several different POVs and the narration is not what they are doing or experiencing but how they are thinking, reflecting, making associations and drifting off on tangents.  I think Atkinson is really one of the best at writing minds and personalities, as opposed to moving characters about like puppets in her play.  Caveat: there is a reason why I go a long time between her books; they are very gloomy.  In her world, women are constantly preyed upon by men.  All of her characters are defined by this, either as predator or prey.  Even functioning relationships seem to involve emotionally-distanced use rather than love, especially women using husbands for financial security while disdaining them utterly.  Her worldview is very bleak.  But what a great writer.

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@Tywin et al.

 

You're a smart, well informed guy. I'd be interested to see whether the book met your expectations, in what areas it might have disappointed, etc. I like to be exposed to the viewpoints of others on material that I've read, especially if they have demonstrated an ability to analyze things on a deeper level.

 

@Zorral

That's a wonderful anecdote. I'm very excited about the book.Thank you for sharing!

 

@Iskaral Pust

 

I would also include the first 2/3 of Seveneves on that list. It really did fall apart at the end, but I think that first 2/3 was pretty entertaining, and practically a different book from the final portion of the novel.

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14 hours ago, Iskaral Pust said:

{Be wary of what your concept of cool reveals about you)

So true, alas, so true!  

~~~~~~~~

I had such terrific fortune that my childhood contained three great grandparents -- maternal Great Gran's husband died in the Great Influenza pandemic, whereas the paternal Great Gran's husband got gassed close the end of WWI when the US went over to Europe, but lived, though talking was not so easy, due to respiratory damage -- four grandparents, and lots of cousins.  Such relatives contribute so much to a rich childhood -- that is if they are decent people, and not abusers. But generally the culture out there was very nice to babies and little kids.  It's when a child reached the years of individual opinions and perception parents turned violent and cruel, physically and emotionally.  All committed in the name of keeping a kid from 'getting the big head,' 'too big for its britches,' etc.  Grandparents had aged out from that necessity, which was now turned over the adults they'd abused when they were older kids and adolescents.  So they were exempt from the duty.  Which plays hella with a kid's emotional development, I can tell you!

 

Edited by Zorral

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