Bragan Tackles the TBR in 2023, pt. 3

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Bragan Tackles the TBR in 2023, pt. 3

jul 7, 7:49 pm

Hello all, it's Betty here again. Behold, my new thread for the third quarter of the year! I don't actually have any finished reading to report for the third quarter of the year yet, as my first book of July is proving to be... Well, I'm sure it's not quite interminable, but it's at least doing a good impression of it.

Still, I wanted to at least get this thread set up. And I can recap my Year in Reading Thus Far:


1. All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg
2. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
3. The Who Revealed by Matt Kent
4. Lost Places by Sarah Pinsker
5. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
6. Did You Just Eat That?: Two Scientists Explore Double-Dipping, the Five-Second Rule, and other Food Myths in the Lab by Paul Dawson & Brian Sheldon
7. Tiny Deaths by Robert Shearman
8. Head On by John Scalzi


9. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
10. The Celery Stalks at Midnight by James Howe
11. Joan is Okay by Weike Wang
12. The Appalachian Trail: A Biography by Philip D'Anieri
13. Pastoralia by George Saunders


14. Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: an Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R. F. Kuang
15. Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook
16. Precious and Grace by Alexander McCall Smith
17. I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book by Iona & Peter Opie
18. Upgrade by Blake Crouch
19. What If? 2: Additional Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
20. Vallista by Steven Brust
21. Maximum Bob by Elmore Leonard


22. A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest by William deBuys
23. Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
24. The Beet Queen by Louise Erdrich
25. The Illustrated Al by "Weird Al" Yankovic, et al.
26. The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
27. Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara by David Fisher
28. The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
29. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
30. The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey


31. The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour Through America's Food by Matthew Gavin Frank
32. Adventure Time Presents: Marcy & Simon by Olivia Olson
33. The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
34. Letters from Side Lake: A Chronicle of Life in the North Woods by Peter M. Leschak
35. The Wishing Pool and Other Stories by Tananarive Due
36. The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects by Mike Mignola
37. Never Panic Early by Fred Haise, with Bill Moore
38. The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin
39. Death of a Bookseller by Alice Slater


40. The Third QI Book of General Ignorance by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson, James Harkin, and Andrew Hunter Murray
41. Adventure Time Vol. 1 by Ryan North
42. Elemental Haiku by Mary Soon Lee
43. Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
44. The Skeptic's Guide to the Future by Dr. Steven Novella, with Bob Novella and Jay Novella
45. Desert Creatures by Kay Chronister
46. Tsalmoth by Steven Brust
47. A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears) by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling
48. Adventure Time Vol. 2 by Ryan North

All of which, honestly, seems like a small, sad drop in the bucket of all the reading I want to do. But I shall persist in my determined, if possibly doomed, effort to read All The Books, or at least to make some kind of dent in the TBR.

Well, I will as soon as I finish this interminable thing I'm currently reading, anyway...

jul 8, 10:43 am

How is it the third quarter of the year already?! I wish you luck on finishing your interminable book!

jul 8, 1:56 pm

>1 bragan: "All of which, honestly, seems like a small, sad drop in the bucket of all the reading I want to do. But I shall persist in my determined, if possibly doomed, effort to read All The Books, or at least to make some kind of dent in the TBR." Well said! I feel your pain. :-)

So what is this interminable book of which you speak?

jul 8, 2:23 pm

>2 rabbitprincess: I have no idea how we're halfway through the year already. I think someone is stealing time while we're not looking. It's the only explanation.

>3 labfs39: I think that's a sadly familiar pain for all of us.

And, what, you want spoilers for my thread? ;) All right, it's The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, and let's just say that it almost immediately made me regret my compulsive desire to finish books once I've started them. Regret, but somehow not abandon, so I am going to finish the thing, although how old I'll be when I do is an open question.

jul 9, 10:31 am

>4 bragan: Sorry, didn't mean to spoil anything, I was just so curious! although how old I'll be when I do LOL. I've felt that way more than once and sometimes about a book that I actually like. Time Shelter comes to mind. There was a point about 2/3 of the way through that I didn't think I would make it.

jul 9, 1:14 pm

>5 labfs39: I think I find myself feeling that more and more these days, honestly. I think it's because things are often just taking me longer to read than they used to. Too many distractions, etc.

Redigerat: jul 10, 12:31 am

Hey, look! It's the interminable book, finally finished!

49. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

At a suburban picnic, some theoretically adult person loses control and slaps someone else's bratty little kid in the face. Lots of people then have opinions about this.

The basic premise of this one seemed like it could be a setup for something good. One shocking incident whose consequences ripple out across different people's lives in different ways, in eight sections each told from the point of view of a different person who witnessed it... that's got potential, right?

The problem is these people are all unbelievably awful and I resent having just spent nearly 500 pages in their company. It's not even that they're unlikable, as such. Unlikable characters can be fine. But if you're going to write them, by god, there needs to be something about them to make them worth reading about. They can be compelling in a train wreck kind of way, or provocative in their terribleness, or disturbingly sympathetic even when you don't want them to be, or at the absolute least they can get up to some entertainingly horrific things. But these folks? Nope, nothing of the sort. Their unlikability is entirely of the petty, banal, profoundly dull kind. And, hey, even that can work, if you're saying something interesting and resonant about the petty banality of people. I'm pretty sure that's what this one is trying to do. And there are moments where that almost works, little fleeting glimpses of some kind of possibly worthwhile commentary. But mostly it's just deeply tedious, with neither the characters nor the author feeling like they have anything actually insightful to say, despite their constant droning on about men and women and kids and relationships and The State of the World Today and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

I spent a few days once in Melbourne, Australia, where this is set. I thought it was a lovely city, possibly one of the nicest I've ever been to. But I swear, less than a hundred pages in I was fantasizing about someone dropping a nuke on the place just to rid the world of these people. It would be a great shame, yes, but quite possibly worth it.

Rating: 2/5, and that's actually being super generous.

jul 10, 9:55 am

>7 bragan: Why did you make yourself finish it?

jul 10, 3:05 pm

>8 Julie_in_the_Library: Sheer irrational stubbornness. It is a trait of mine when it comes to books. :)

jul 10, 4:38 pm

>7 bragan: I share your stubbornness about finishing books. I'll give up if I'm only a chapter or two in, but any more and the book and I are in it to the bitter end. But you do have to admit that's it satisfying to write an honest review afterward.

I did like The Slap, but I agree with you that the characters were unrelentingly vile. I've picked up another book by the author and I'm curious if the characters in this one will be sympathetic or not.

jul 10, 8:18 pm

>10 RidgewayGirl: I can't even bring myself to give up in a case like this, when I get two pages in and am already wondering whether I've made a terrible, terrible mistake. But, yes, the thought of what I'm going to write about it afterward can really keep me going.

jul 11, 5:37 am

50. Smithsonian Treasures of the National Air and Space Museum by Tony Reichhardt

This little book is basically what you'd expect it to be: a collection of images of various objects and vehicles on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (including the museum's Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia), along with relevant historical photographs. And it's a very good example of the sort of book it is. The pictures are well done, and well laid-out. The text describing each of them is succinct, clear, informative, and interesting. And the whole thing is nicely organized. It's no substitute for visiting the museum and seeing these things in person, of course, but it's nice for those without the opportunity to do so, or for those who have been there but who might enjoy a little retrospective.

Also, man, it is kind of interesting to see the entire history of aviation and aerospace laid out in this quick, visual fashion. You can know intellectually that only 66 years separated Kitty Hawk from Apollo 11, and that's mind-blowing enough, but being able to turn just a few pages that cover just a few decades and see all of that progress happening in front of you really brings home just how incredibly fast it's been.

Rating: 4/5

jul 11, 9:54 am

>10 RidgewayGirl: "I share your stubbornness about finishing books. I'll give up if I'm only a chapter or two in, but any more and the book and I are in it to the bitter end. But you do have to admit that's it satisfying to write an honest review afterward."

This is me, too. Usually what makes me quit a book is if the writing is terrible on a sentence level. The funny thing (at least for me), is that I have to continually ask myself permission. Each objectionable metaphor or painful cliche, and my interior dialogue is, "How about now?" "No, not yet." A tedious plot would not, in and of itself, usually be enough to throw me off the horse. So if I disliked a long book as much as, and in the way that, bragan disliked The Slap, I would still, most likely, continue on. For whatever it's worth, I think my wife did like the The Slap, though, as I recall, in a limited fashion. I haven't read it. Also, I believe there is a TV series based on it.

>1 bragan: "But I shall persist in my determined, if possibly doomed, effort to read All The Books, or at least to make some kind of dent in the TBR."

Oh, how I love that "possibly!" I've got the same sort of project going. Sometimes when people ask me, "Why are you reading that book?" I will respond, "Well, I'm trying to read every interesting book and this one was on the list."

jul 11, 11:15 am

>9 bragan: >10 RidgewayGirl: >11 bragan: >13 rocketjk: Unless I'm right near the end, I don't make myself finish books I'm actively disliking. (Just not enjoying and actively disliking are slightly different, at least for me.)

My ADHD plays into this - it's actually physically harder for me to make myself do something if I'm not interested, or dislike doing it. If I try to make myself finish a book I actively dislike, it can stall my reading life for months.

For me, it's also about recognizing the sunk cost fallacy, and being kind to myself by not forcing myself to do things I don't want to unless I actually have to (like working, or testing my blood sugar every morning).

Plus, there's already not enough time in a human life to read everything I want to, so I don't want to waste time on a book I don't even want to be reading in the first place.

I try not to give up too early with fiction - there are books that take me a while to warm up to, like the first book in N. K. Jemisin's The Broken Earth trilogy (which I ended up loving), and I'd hate to miss out on them - but if I get far enough into a book and I'm actively dreading picking it up, I let myself quit with no qualms or self-recrimination.

A tedious plot would not, in and of itself, usually be enough to throw me off the horse.

Whereas if I get too bored, that's game over. I actually find mysteries and thrillers easier and quicker to read because the need to know the answers/what's going to happen pull me forward. The slower the plot, the more difficult I find a book - even one I'm actively enjoying.

Redigerat: jul 11, 12:38 pm

It’s surprisingly invigorating to chuck a book away unfinished, but it’s not easy to decide when to. But congrats for surviving The Slap.

jul 11, 5:41 pm

>13 rocketjk: Bad writing just on the sentence-to-sentence level can make it extremely difficult to plow through a book for me, too, even if the plot or whatever isn't too bad. Sometimes I look back with a certain nostalgia for the days of my youth when I had not yet developed any taste whatsoever when it came to good prose and could enjoy even the clunkiest of writing.

At least The Slap wasn't badly written, although the prose didn't exactly impress me, either. And it did have one really annoying quirk, where it would have a scene with a whole bunch of people in it and not identify who was speaking which lines of dialog. It was always possible to figure it out eventually, but I was frequently in suspense about it for a paragraph or two. Fortunately that was less of an issue later on, but in the first bit at the picnic where there were six gazillion characters, none of whom I knew, it was kind of rough.

And I have heard there's a TV series based on the book. Or was it a miniseries? I think I have the impression that it's a miniseries? Anyway, I will be sure to stay far, far away from that. I am not spending one more moment in these people's company!

"Well, I'm trying to read every interesting book and this one was on the list."

I love it! Maybe I'll have to steal it. I never seem to have a good answer to that question.

>14 Julie_in_the_Library: If I try to make myself finish a book I actively dislike, it can stall my reading life for months.

Yeah, that sounds like an excellent reason to give up on books! Not that there are many good reasons for refusing to. Even I, compulsive finisher that I am, will readily admit that it is mostly stupid sunk cost fallacy stuff. Although I like to think that there's also that element of optimism to it, too. The book might get better! It might end really well! I might end up being glad I stuck with it! Which does sometimes happen, although less often than I'd like. And some books, like The Slap, I just know in my bones that's not going to happen with, so it's not much of an excuse for those.

I also have some difficulty making myself pick up a book I'm not really enjoying, so it can slow down my reading, too. But fortunately that's on the scale of days for me, not months.

>15 dchaikin: For all my analysis about why I compulsively insist on finishing books once I start them, maybe it really ultimately comes down to me not wanting to have to make that decision. :)

Anyway, thank you! Having survived that one, I have moved on to better literary pastures now, and am feeling much better.

jul 15, 8:20 am

51. The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019 edited by Carmen Maria Machado

I continue slowly making my way through this series. Eventually I may even finally catch up to the present year!

I've been pretty consistently impressed by these collections. The best stories in them are always incredible, and even the ones that don't 100% work for me are almost always still well-written and doing interesting and thought-provoking things. I do think this installment has a slightly higher percentage of that second kind than previous years', but that just means that it's "only" a highly worthwhile anthology, rather than a knock-your-socks off one.

It's also interesting how these volumes always seem to develop strong themes, reflecting both the concerns of the relevant year and the particular focus of that year's editor. Themes of power and marginalization and how humans perpetuate, suffer under, and respond to those dynamics are strongly present here, as they have been in previous years, but this one especially centers women and narratives that address violence against women.

Rating: 4/5

jul 15, 9:27 am

>17 bragan: I'm partway through that book right now myself! So far, I'm enjoying it. I'm glad to see that you liked it.

jul 15, 4:59 pm

jul 15, 6:34 pm

52. Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith and Boulet

In this graphic novel kids' version of Beowulf, a group of wild, free-spirited kids enjoys feasting on sugary snacks in their treehouse while making ridiculous amounts of noise, but the joy-sucking Mr. Grindle next door, whose mere touch can turn kids into boring adults, barges his way in and turns it into the kind of place with motivational posters about tooth-brushing on the walls. Fortunately, there is a mighty young hero who has come to vanquish the beast.

It's all rather ridiculous, of course, but in the best possible ways, and it's just flat-out amazing how well it all works. It's a sweet, silly parody, but somehow it also genuinely manages to capture the epicness and poetry of the original, and what it does with the language is weird and wonderful. The art is absolutely perfect for it, too, full of menace and whimsey and, yes, an actual sense that you're witnessing some heroic deeds. The whole thing just delighted me utterly from the very first line ("Hey, wait!").

Thoroughly recommended for kids, and for anyone who has ever been, or known, a kid.

Rating: 4.5/5

jul 16, 6:10 am

>20 bragan: We bought this one recently, glad to see you enjoyed it so much! I'm looking forward to getting into it.

jul 16, 7:13 am

I quit a book if I'm not getting anything out of it. That happens relatively rarely since I'm open to a pretty wide range of what I may be getting out of it.

jul 16, 9:17 am

>20 bragan: That cover art is adorable

jul 16, 9:48 am

>21 Jackie_K: Hope you enjoy it as much as I did, but I predict that you will!

>22 ursula: I think part of me wants to cling to the idea that I can get at least something out of any book, and it's mostly true. But, I suppose, not always.

>23 Julie_in_the_Library: Isn't it great? The art in the actual story is black and white, but it's just as good.

jul 20, 10:34 am

>17 bragan: I have never found a year's-best series since we lost Gardner Dozois. Jonathan Strahan's were good, but he doesn't have a current publisher.

jul 20, 1:12 pm

>25 dukedom_enough: I really do like the Best American series a lot, although it's very much on the more literary/social commentary end of the SFF spectrum, and how much that appeals is obviously going to depend on individual taste.

I think I've only read a handful of the Gardner Dozois anthologies, although I definitely did enjoy the ones I read. I actually have a few of them from various years sitting in my TBR shelves, but they're large and daunting and I keep not getting to them.

jul 20, 4:20 pm

>25 dukedom_enough: Good news! Strahan's still publishing a year's best series. He did 13 volumes for Night Shade (2007-2019); he's now two volumes into a series for Saga Press.

jul 20, 9:41 pm

53. Go Team Venture!: The Art and Making of The Venture Bros. by Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer with Ken Plume

I adore The Venture Bros. It starts out feeling like just this silly, irreverent, slightly seedy parody of Jonny Quest and superhero comics, and then before you know it, it's sucked you into this incredibly dense, ridiculously complex, utterly batshit crazy universe while throwing jokes, story, deep-cut pop culture references, character, and continuity at you so incredibly fast that you basically have to watch each episode three times to even begin to get it all. But that's OK, because it will be completely entertaining every single time.

Anyway, now that the long-awaited series finale is finally coming out to wrap things up after the show's abrupt cancellation, it seemed like a good time to pull this book off my shelves and give it a read-through. It's pretty much exactly what it says in the title, basically taking you through the entire show (up through the end of season six, when it was published) with comments from the show's writers/creators/voice actors/general driving forces Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer, as well as lots of art, including backgrounds, character models, and reproductions of sketch-filled notes.

Is it going to give you deep new insight into the show and its universe and characters and creation? Probably not. But it's a lot of fun just to get a glimpse inside the heads of these two brilliant weirdos, and interesting to hear about the frankly incredible number of things they intended to do, but changed their minds about, or didn't have time for, or just sort of forgot about. And it looks great. It's a giant, hefty book with lots of room to really show off all the art stuff, some of which is incredible. Like, some of those backgrounds are beautiful in a way you can probably only appreciate fully when you're not distracted by violent, wacky shenanigans happening in front of them.

Anyway, I enjoyed it, and definitely recommend it to fans of the show.

Rating: 4/5

jul 21, 4:19 am

>24 bragan: I mean, sometimes what I'm getting out of it is being able to itemize ALL THE WAYS I HATE IT. :) But it's true that if I can't even find a smidge of joy in that thought, it's time to put the damn thing down!

jul 21, 10:15 am

>29 ursula: The entertainment value of developing a really good catalog of hatred should not be underestimated. :)

jul 23, 10:19 pm

54. The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

A spaceship built out of an asteroid with a singularity at its heart circumnavigates the galaxy over and over, laying down a series of wormhole gates as it goes. But circumnavigating the galaxy the non-wormhole way takes a very, very, very long time. An unimaginably long time. It's been going now for over sixty million years, meaning that those on board, who spend most of the journey in suspended animation, have probably long outlived their entire species. Certainly, nothing that looks human has ever come out of the gates behind them. How long is it going to keep going? Well, that's a very good question. One that some of the crew are starting to ask. One that the ship's limited AI hasn't really provided a satisfying answer to.

It's apparently been a while since I've read this kind of big-idea, cosmic-scale, sense-of-wonder-invoking SF, and even longer since I've read one that didn't kind of ruin it by being really poorly written. But, boy, was it fun to come back to it with this one. The vast scope of it really fires up the imagination, and the very limited perspective we got on it all, leaving so many fascinating unanswered questions, only stokes the imagination even more. It's rather niftily done.

Somewhat less niftily done is the plot, involving the titular revolution against the ship's AI, which is at best very lightly sketched out. I do have to wonder if a longer version -- this one is right on the cusp between novella and novel -- might have been more fully satisfying. But then, a longer, more detailed focus on the logistics of it all might have just bogged the whole thing down and diluted the effect of the nifty stuff. As it is, the plot development did just exactly as much as it needed to for it all to work, and, you know, I will absolutely take that over some hypothetical version that goes on long enough for me to stop going "Oooooh, neat" and start getting bored.

The one thing that I do wish had been done differently involves a particular gimmick that I won't spoil, although I think becomes pretty obvious pretty quickly. It is sort of thematically appropriate, and I'm sure the author thought he was being very clever, but I just found it constantly distracting and immersion-breaking, which was a real disservice to a story that deserved better.

Rating: That last point aside, I'm giving it a 4/5.

Redigerat: jul 24, 7:31 am

As you likely know, this story is a prequel to his novelette "The Island", which is free online at his web site (link is to a PDF).

jul 24, 11:29 am

>32 dukedom_enough: I had heard that, although I haven't read it yet. I probably will at some point, although I kind of like the open-ended ending of this one.

jul 24, 1:55 pm

I have added Peter Watts to my list of must read science fiction. Nice review.

jul 24, 6:25 pm

>34 baswood: Hope you enjoy it!

jul 25, 1:24 am

I read Starfish by Peter Watts years ago and gave it 4 stars on LT, but that doesn’t quite match my extremely vague recollection of it. I think there was something about it that made me uneasy. I downloaded The Island and might give it a try.

jul 25, 9:18 am

>36 FlorenceArt: Making us readers uneasy is part of Watts's esthetic, so I'm not surprised. "The Island" needs a CW for incest, I should have said.

jul 25, 6:12 pm

>36 FlorenceArt:, >37 dukedom_enough: I haven't read anything else by him so far, but I might be at least somewhat interested in checking out more. (Incest warnings notwithstanding. :))

jul 26, 11:01 am

I can highly recommend Blindsight.

jul 26, 11:34 am

>39 rhian_of_oz: I was about to say, "Thanks, maybe I'll go and add that one to the wishlist!" Except I just looked, and it's already there. :)

jul 27, 12:03 pm

55. Cat on the Edge by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Joe Grey is a cat who has inexplicably found himself possessed of human-style intelligence and the capacity for human speech, although he doesn't like to do it in front of people. Then he witnesses a murder and has reason to believe someone is going to try to pin it on his human.

It's a really cute idea, but I have to say the execution just felt kind of... weird... to me. The author is prone to describing things, especially the cats, in this slightly over-done, almost flowery-feeling way that kept making me stop and wonder if it was meant to be some sort of self-parody. I don't think it was, though, which is kind of a shame, because I think this could have been really fun if it had leaned into the absurdity of its premise a little more and thrown in some humor.

It did still have an entertaining moment or two, and I like the author's spot-on observations about how normal cats communicate using body language, but mostly I think reading it just gave me lots of distracting thoughts of how I would have written everything in it differently.

Rating: 2.5/5

jul 27, 1:56 pm

A shame. Love the cat on the cover though.

jul 27, 6:14 pm

>42 FlorenceArt: The cover confuses me a little, because someone clearly went to the trouble to make the cat on it look like the one in the book -- he's chubby and missing his tail -- but then made him black instead of gray. His coloring is literally in his name! That aside, it is cute, though.

jul 29, 3:20 am

56. The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders

This rather varied collection of essays was published in 2007, and most of them feel very much of this time, full of post-9/11 thoughts about war and violence and the ways in which human fear drives human stupidity, culminating in a short, hopeful piece at the end that, I admit, kind of choked me up a bit.

Several of them aren't really essays at all, but humorous pieces, satirical and otherwise. I found those kind of a mixed bag, but most of them at the very least gave me a smile. There are also three longer, vaguely journalistic pieces in which Saunders goes to various places (Dubai, Nepal, the Mexican-American border), and several essays about literature and writing, including some examinations of particular literary works. I found those last ones particularly insightful and enjoyable, as Saunders certainly knows about good writing.

And, of course, there is the title essay, about the degradation of news media and the negative effect of that on society, which feels at once feels both dated and more depsressingly relevant than ever.

Over all, it's a bit uneven, maybe, but the best of these essays are really good, and pretty much all of them are at least interesting. As is Saunders himself, who impresses with his ability to accept that life, and people, and literature, and everything are complicated, and that the best and most honest way of thinking about it all is to just... let it be complicated, and to approach that complexity with compassion and a sense of humor. Although if you've read his fiction, probably that ability shouldn't come as much of a surprise to you, really.

Rating: 4/5

jul 29, 3:39 am

>44 bragan:
« As is Saunders himself, who impresses with his ability to accept that life, and people, and literature, and everything are complicated, and that the best and most honest way of thinking about it all is to just... let it be complicated, and to approach that complexity with compassion and a sense of humor. »

Sounds like I really need to start reading him!

jul 29, 3:56 am

>45 FlorenceArt: I feel like reading George Saunders is probably never a bad life decision. :)

jul 30, 9:00 am

>44 bragan: I've never heard of him, but added this to my wishlist based on your review. I do like a good essay collection.

jul 30, 2:56 pm

>47 Jackie_K: Glad to have introduced someone to his existence! I actually think his short stories are even better than his essays, but this might not be the worst place in the world to start reading him, anyway.

Redigerat: aug 3, 4:47 am

57. The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases edited by Jeff Vandermeer & Mark Roberts

The idea behind this is delightfully, deliciously weird. It's a compendium of surreal and impossible diseases, a publishing tradition supposedly started by the colorful (and very fictional) Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead, some of whose exploits are described here, as well. It's got some very talented contributors, and you sort of have to admire everybody's deadpan commitment to the gimmick, but overall it's just so much better in concept than in execution. Some of the individual entries are pretty cool, yes, but for the most part it's more of an interesting curiosity than something that's genuinely fun to read, especially as after a while many of the entries start to feel fairly similar. (I mean, it's not that "this is a disease that's transmitted through language, and oh no, by virtue of having read these words, you, dear reader, might now be infected too!" isn't a nice, creepy idea, but it's the kind of nice, creepy idea that immediately suggests itself to multiple people, apparently.) And there's a long section at the end about how these bizarre diseases secretly shaped 20th century history or something, which uses the real deaths of real people, and various tragedies and horrors of recent history, in a way that frankly seems in rather poor taste.

Rating: 3/5, and that may be rating it half a star too high, honestly, just because I really did love the concept and really, really wanted to like the results.

aug 3, 7:50 am

58. Adventure Time Vol. 3 by Ryan North

The third collected volume of Adventure Time comics. This one features a short adventure in which the Ice King sticks Finn and Jake into a choose-your-own-adventure story, which was kind of cute and entertainingly meta, and a longer story in which BMO gets a computer virus. That one seemed OK but forgettable for a while, but turned delightful once it started getting the chance to make lots of computer jokes, that being Ryan North completely in his element.

Rating: 4/5

aug 6, 11:57 pm

59. Theft By Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris

An edited but extensive collection of 25 years of David Sedaris' diary entries. This is only sort of incidentally a chronicle of his life. Some major life events get skimmed over or vaguely alluded to. Various people and places show up with no introduction whatsoever (although some of them, at least, will be familiar if you've read Sedaris's essay collections). Sometimes an entry is about what he did that day, featuring lots of painting work and drug-taking in the earlier years, more plane flights and dinner parties in the later ones. More often it's just some description of something he thought about or saw that day. And the things that capture his attention enough to remark on them are... interesting. Interesting, and disturbing. He catalogs acts of violence, of harassment, misogyny, and bigotry. Lots of them. Possibly as his way of trying to process it all, who knows? He also has a weird obsession with noting every time he sees a person with physical or mental disabilities and what they were doing, and while it's never in a way that feels mean-spirited or mocking, it is a little uncomfortable. Like, dude, these are just people living their lives, can we stare a little less, please? Yeesh. Then again, he does seem to enjoy staring at strangers in general.

Anyway. You'd think, with all that, that it would be an unpleasant read, and that at over 500 pages, when it wasn't unpleasant it would just be tedious. But there is, apparently, something I find compelling about getting these little, mostly unfiltered, glimpses into someone's life and mind, and it did keep me turning pages more quickly than I would have expected.

Rating: 3.5/5

aug 11, 5:34 pm

60. The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

This is set in a world where all those 80s slasher movies (or their thinly veiled equivalents) are in fact based on real stories about real people. Yes, even the sequels. And, of course, such movies tend to leave one sole survivor at the end: the "final girl." But can you imagine how traumatic it would be to actually be one of those women? You'd need an infinite amount of therapy. And you'd need a support group... especially when someone seems determined, decades later, to finish the job the killers couldn't.

It's a decent enough story, with a twisty plot and a feminist take on the slasher tropes, but there's just something about the premise that sits a little uneasily with me, and not entirely in the ways it's meant to. I suspect it suffers a bit from the fact that I read it not all that long after reading Alice Slater's Death of a Bookseller, which explores a lot of the same questions about people's fascination with killers and the idea of violence against women as entertainment, but without the suspension-of-disbelief-straining premise or the extended depictions of the very kind of violence-as-entertainment that it's critiquing.

Rating: 3.5/5

aug 24, 9:57 pm

61. The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley

The story of three generations or so of Norse families in the slowly declining Greenland settlement in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. I say "story"... Truth is, it doesn't necessarily read very much like a novel. In some places we get dialog and insights into specific characters' points of view. In other places, it reads more like an overview of history, and in others more like we're among these people listening to news from the neighbors, and all of these different things just blend seamlessly into each other, page after page.

And there are a lot of pages. Nearly 600 of them, full of the ordinary and extraordinary details of people's lives, their disputes and loves and mistakes and changes of heart, their physical and mental illnesses, their hardships and hopes and tragedies and moments of pettiness and violence and beauty. It's compelling stuff, and through it all, these people, for all their differences from us, feel absolutely like real people.

This is not a fast-reading book. It's the kind of book that really only works, I think, if you just let it unspool at its own pace and take you along for its slow but immersive ride. And you know what? I think it did me an incredible favor with that. I feel like lately I've been feeling sort of stupidly stressed about my reading life. I'm not reading as many books as usual! I'm not making sufficient progress through my out-of-control TBR shelves! Whatever I'm reading, I'm constantly distracted by thinking about what I'm going to read next! Or, rather, I was. This book just sort of demanded I let all that go and just relax and enjoy the journey. Which, after all, is what pleasure reading is supposed to be about. And whaddaya know? It worked.

Rating: Slightly to my surprise, I'm giving this one 4.5/5. Sometimes, you just get the right book at the right time, and you have to show it some appreciation for that. Plus, the ending was so poignant that it's left me with unexpected emotions that still seem to be lingering after I've turned the last page and shut the covers.

aug 25, 7:19 am

Great review! This book has been on my radar for a while, but looking at its bulk on the shelves at public library has put me off. Time now to put it on the TBR—what you have to say about it is motivating and prescriptive. “Just relax and enjoy the journey” sounds wonderful.

aug 25, 10:13 am

>54 dianelouise100: Yes, I say be prepared to be patient while reading it, but if you can manage that, it's very much worthwhile!

aug 27, 3:46 am

>53 bragan: "This book just sort of demanded I let all that go and just relax and enjoy the journey."

That’s so cool, and especially that it worked for you now. Great review.

aug 27, 9:31 am

>53 bragan: That is an absolute all time favourite of mine. As you say, it just carries you along, and best of all, it continues to do that on repeat readings.

aug 27, 10:41 am

>56 FlorenceArt: Yes, I can imagine circumstances under which I might not have been able to do that and just would have been frustrated by it, so yay for reading the right book at the right time!

>57 SassyLassy: I genuinely have no idea how it works as well as it does, but I'm not gonna question it! :)

aug 27, 11:34 am

62. The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World by Patrik Svensson

Yep, it's a book about eels. I will admit, I didn't have good feeling about eels when I started this. There's just something about them that felt sort of vaguely creepy or disgusting in a way that made me not want to think about them too much. Which is weird, because that's not a reaction I have to many animals. Like, snakes and spiders? Bring 'em on!

Anyway, I now feel as if I should apologize to the eel, because it turns out they are deeply interesting creatures, and rather impressive ones, and every bit as deeply mysterious as the subtitle of the book suggests. All the scientific stuff in here about the things we do and don't know about eels, and how we do or why we don't know them, was absolutely fascinating to me. Some of the tangents the author goes on about famous people who studied eels and such was a bit less so, but still plenty interesting enough. I will say that for much of the book, I found his attempts at philosophizing and his reminiscences about his father, with whom he used to fish for eels, much less compelling, But damned if I didn't come around to that, too, and by the end I appreciated it as something both thoughtful and touching.

Rating: 4/5

aug 27, 12:41 pm

>59 bragan: As I've mentioned elsewhere, I have this one on hand (vaguely recall that the cover caught my attention in a bookstore). After dchaiken's review earlier this year, I watched a documentary and the one bit of information that stays with me is their breeding migration is the opposite of salmon.

aug 27, 12:51 pm

>60 qebo: Yep, "the opposite of salmon" is basically what this book calls it, too. And it turns out that there's a great big mystery at the heart of it, still.

And the cover is pretty eye-catching, isn't it?

aug 28, 10:51 am

63. The Wonderful Doctor of Oz by Jacqueline Rayner

That's right, the Thirteenth Doctor and the fam have ended up in the Land of Oz! Or some version of it, anyway.

I won't say this one is a huge standout among Doctor Who spinoff novels, but it's certainly entertaining enough. The Wizard of Oz elements combine in some fun ways with the Doctor Who elements, and there's some nice Classic Who continuity. (Enough so that people with a solid knowledge of old school Who can probably make a good guess as to which episode this romp in a fictional world is a sort of sequel to.) Aside from the fact that I have real trouble believing she's never read The Wizard of Oz, the Doctor's characterization feels very right, which is great. But her companions, for plot reasons, aren't really themselves for most of the story, which is too bad, as I'm someone for whom a lot of the appeal of these spinoff novels is seeing the author capture the characters' voices well. Also, I have to keep reminding myself that the modern-era Who novels are (reasonably enough) primarily aimed at children. I swear, every time I read one I experience a tiny surge of disappointment that the writing is simpler than that of the definitely-aimed-at-adults novels I remember from the 90s and early 2000s. But that's a me problem, and it didn't keep me from enjoying this.

It is pity about the giant spoiler on the front cover, but then it is the thing that got me interested in the book, so I guess I can't fault the marketing department too hard for it.

Rating: 3.5/5

aug 28, 8:12 pm

>62 bragan: Hmmm yes, that seems like a pretty big spoiler!

Also, I can't remember if I mentioned to you the book I got from the library: Dr. Who & the Daleks: The Official Story of the Films, by John Walsh. I found it quite interesting!

aug 29, 10:48 am

>63 rabbitprincess: Oh, that does sound interesting! I can't exactly say I have love in my heart for those movies, but I do find them a really interesting curiosity, enough so that I think that one will have to go onto the wishlist.

aug 29, 2:20 pm

64. Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen

A collection of poems, including many written during Cohen's time in a Zen monastery. Anyone familiar with any of his other work will probably find the themes and contents here unsurprising: sex, love, loneliness, and desire, the sacred and the earthy and the places where the two meet, anger and sadness and wistfulness and acceptance, the darkness and the light in the world, all intermixed with little personal moments and glimmerings of self-aware, self-deprecating humor.

Some of these poems instantly made sense to me and evoked thoughts and feelings I could relate to. Others were obscure enough that I suspect only the poet himself really knew who and what they were about. Most fell somewhere in between, which seems like a pretty good place for poetry to fall. Although, I must say, I'm usually not a very good reader of poetry (or poetry isn't a particularly good medium for me as a reader), as I often react poorly when I don't feel like I "get" a poem. It makes me feel uncultured and dumb, I suppose, which makes me feel resentful. But Leonard Cohen, as I realized the last time I read one of his poetry collections, circumvents that problem for me entirely, because I take his poems in exactly the spirit I take his song lyrics -- indeed, not a few of these have also appeared as songs on his albums -- and I've never felt dumb not understanding a song lyric, only interested in what I could make out of it for myself. And, as with his music, there is a lot to be made out of these poems.

Rating: 4/5

aug 29, 4:32 pm

>65 bragan: Agree 100%! I have a very similar reaction to a lot of poetry, but also loved this collection even though I didn't understand every word. Some of them are absolutely beautiful.

aug 29, 5:01 pm

>66 Jackie_K: Yes, there's some really good stuff in there!

aug 29, 5:51 pm

>64 bragan: I went looking for the soundtrack after reading this, and I nearly fell out of my chair laughing at the first movie's opening titles music! It sounds like the Daleks should be doing the can-can at the Moulin Rouge :D

aug 29, 10:25 pm

>68 rabbitprincess: LOL! It's been so long since I watched it that I barely remember the soundtrack, but somehow I"m not surprised by that.

aug 30, 6:50 am

Enjoyed your review of Leonard Cohen's poems and Book of Longing is a great title for his poems

aug 30, 9:57 am

>70 baswood: Thanks! And it really is, isn't it? I feel like much of Cohen's work could easily fall under the same title.

aug 30, 2:39 pm

>71 bragan: Yes, that’s so true! I didn’t know Cohen had published poetry, I must go find some! I like the title and cover of this one.

aug 30, 5:24 pm

>72 FlorenceArt: Yes, he's done several collections. Quite a few of his songs were poems first.

They tend to also include his illustrations (or just random drawings), including that cover. They're generally a bit crude, but interesting.

sep 5, 10:29 pm

Geez, better post this while I can before LT goes back down again. (Grrrrrrrr. Ask me later just how ridiculously bad the timing of this stupid DDoS crap was for me...)

65. Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

Book five in the detective/urban fantasy series Rivers of London. Although this one is less urban and more rural, as our protagonist, police officer and wizard-in-training Peter Grant, is sent out to a small village in the countryside to assist in a case involving two missing eleven-year-old girls, which probably doesn't actually have any supernatural component. Probably.

My responses to these novels seem to be pretty consistent, really. They're interesting enough for me to keep going with the series, but I never seem to find them anywhere near as engaging as I feel like I should. I mean, I like Ben Aaronovitch, who wrote one of my all-time favorite classic Doctor Who episodes, as well as the possibly even better novel version of it. I like the main character. I like the world-building, overall. I like the pleasantly geeky sensibility, and the clueful handling of class and race and other issues. The plots are decent enough, and the way that this one starts out as almost pure police procedural and then evolves into something with deep roots magical folklore is at least theoretically interesting. It seems like it should all add up to something I really, really enjoy! And yet, in the end I just feel like I've just read something deeply, deeply... okay.

I'm starting to think, actually, that the issue may in fact be that it's the police procedural half of the crossed genres here that I'm not quite vibing with. I haven't actually read many of the more mundane kind, and maybe they're just not quite my kind of thing, I don't know.

Rating: 3.5/5

Redigerat: sep 9, 2:48 pm

66. On Immunity: An Innoculation by Eula Biss

I've read a lot of writings by doctors, scientists, and skeptical activists about the misinformation on and public resistance to vaccines, and while many of them are excellent at laying out the facts on the subject, I often come away from them with the sense that they may, by and large, be preaching to the choir, or even taking an approach likely to alienate those most in need of their message.

But then there's this. The best description I can put forward for On Immunity is that it's a book about vaccines aimed at liberal humanities majors, written by one of their own. Which I think might sound like a criticism to some, but it is emphatically not. Eula Biss may be more of a poet than a scientist, but she has very thoroughly done her research here -- and not in the shallow, self-confirming sense that far too many people mean when they brag about "doing their own research" -- and she understands the facts and the science commendably well. But she also understands the emotions that real people feel when it comes to their bodies, their societies, and their children, as well as the metaphors we use to think about these things and the effects that those have on us. And she is anything but dismissive of these emotions and instincts and ways of thinking, even as she recognizes where they can fail. Through it all, she draws upon her own deeply personal experiences as a mother, sharing her profound feelings for her child and struggling with her uncertainties about what is best for him. She does all of this eloquently, thoughtfully, and movingly, and, perhaps, in a way that might reach those who find appeals to cold, hard rationality alone to be lacking something important to them.

This was originally published in 2014, and revolves, in part, around the H1N1 epidemic that was ongoing when her son was born, and which first prompted many of her fears and interests around the subjects of immunity and vaccines. But it has only become incredibly more relevant since. I'm only sorry I didn't read it a couple of years ago, so I could have gone around recommending it everywhere then.

Rating: 4.5/5

sep 9, 2:04 pm

>74 bragan:

Funny, I have a similar mixed feeling about that series, and not sure why or how. I will say though (but I'm not a regular reader of urban fantasy so my sample is minuscule) that a recent read of something else (Strange practice by Vivian Shaw) by comparison gave me an increased appreciation of Aaronovitch's larger character list, more varied interactions, and other strengths. Not that I think Shaw's book is bad, but it's so basic, in contrast. Otoh, while I rather enjoyed the RoL books while I read them, I remember almost nothing (that's on me, though).

sep 9, 2:17 pm

>74 bragan: >76 LolaWalser:

I read the first in the series some time ago, but didn’t feel compelled to read the next. Although the characters felt very real and likable enough, I didn’t really feel invested in the story.

sep 9, 2:40 pm

>76 LolaWalser: Yeah, it's definitely got its strengths, and a lot of the urban fantasy elements, in particular are well done. I think it's mostly the plots that don't quite do it for me the way I keep hoping they will, and it doesn't help that I also tend to forget everything that happens in them after I finish them, including the stuff that continues to be relevant.

>77 FlorenceArt: That was kind of my initial experience with it, too. I stalled out for a long time after reading the first one before I decided I should probably give it another shot. Which I haven't regretted, exactly, but I do keep waiting for it to be more rewarding than it actually is.

sep 9, 3:11 pm

>77 FlorenceArt:

Ah, see, I was hooked by the mystery of the Faceless Man (IIRC) and that colleague of Peter's... but I stalled in a different place (actually not sure I ever read that installment), in the book where Peter goes undercover in some American tech company... just the set-up bored me.

>78 bragan:

I wonder if it isn't due to lacking a larger arc, like they had before the initial mystery was resolved? Or am I misremembering that it's over and that (Leslie has just been left on "the dark side"? And yeah, I know she lent him a hand here and there still, but it doesn't look like her fate will be the focus again.)

Redigerat: sep 10, 1:24 pm

>79 LolaWalser: Oooh, I don't think I've used the spoiler tag before, let's see if I get it right!

Lesley does seem to have just gone over to the dark side at the end of this particular book, but that situation doesn't really feel resolved to me, somehow, so I genuinely don't know. I'll be sorry if we don't see at least some kind of follow-up on her. But then, I think you have read further than I have, because I haven't encountered any American tech companies yet.

sep 10, 2:42 pm

Oh, right. Anyway, it seems he's still working on the series so maybe he'll get back to her... it just doesn't feel that way to me. I'll be curious to hear what you thought of False Value, looking around it seems I wasn't the only one thrown off by the beginning.

sep 10, 10:55 pm

>81 LolaWalser: Not sure when I'll get to that one, as I'm still a few books behind it (plus a couple of the between-books novellas), but I do own a copy and will surely get to it eventually.

Redigerat: sep 13, 8:11 pm

67. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

Suddenly, in cities all over the world, these weird, impossible, motionless giant... samurai robot statue things?... have appeared. One of the first people to encounter one, a young woman named April May, uploads a video about it to her friend's YouTube channel, and finds herself in the middle of something, well, absolutely remarkable.

This book delighted me almost immediately. The writing was fun, funny, breezy, and irreverent. The main character was quirky, but human-feeling. And the story itself promised to be thoroughly bonkers, in a deeply entertaining way. That level of delight turned out to be a little difficult to sustain, though, and while the writing remains mostly breezy and the plot not just bonkers but increasingly bonkers, it ends up taking a more earnest turn, focusing on the way social media polarizes society and on the complicated impact that internet fame inevitably has on people. It handles this stuff all right, in a nuanced if not exactly subtle way, but it is, y'know... less delightful. And increasingly it became clear that there was no possible actually satisfying ending to the increasingly bonkers plot (although the general approach that Hank Green takes with it is probably the best one he could have opted for, at least).

Even if I feel like it doesn't entirely live up to the promise of the first few chapters, though, it is still an entertaining and relevant read.

Rating: Eh, I'll still give it a 4/5.

sep 13, 8:10 pm

68. Fun with Kirk and Spock by Robb Pearlman

Yep, it's just what you might guess from the title: a parody of Dick and Jane books, featuring classic Star Trek characters. ("See Spock. See Spock push down his feelings. Down, down, down!") It features some very specific references to particular classic Trek episodes, so it's definitely aimed at an audience of dedicated Trekkies. As a dedicated Trekkie (or at least, a former dedicated Trekkie who still knows way too much about the original show and carries it fondly in her heart), I enjoyed the heck out of it. The illustrations are great, with very recognizable and amusing versions of the characters. And the text is unexpectedly hilarious. I mean, it made me laugh repeatedly, including some real belly laughs. To be honest, I bought this almost on a whim and wasn't expecting that much out of it, but I'm very happy to have been wrong about that.

Rating: Yeah, I don't care how small and silly and niche it is, anything that makes me laugh like that has to get at least a 4.5/5. I'll worry about how to explain its presence on my "best of the year" lists later.

sep 14, 8:10 am

>84 bragan: Even without reading the book, your review made me laugh. :-)

sep 14, 4:55 pm

>85 labfs39: Then I have successfully conveyed the feel of it. :)

sep 16, 12:00 am

69. The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith

In book number 18 of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, Precious Ramotswe helps out a woman who says she was unfairly fired from her job, and also goes looking for someone with whom she may have a previously unknown family connection.

These are usually just pure, warm, snuggly comfort reading for me, but I felt a bit less of that for much of this one. It might partly be that I wasn't in quite the right mood for it, and might also be that there's a thread of melancholy through much of it, as Mma Ramotswe faces the possibility of learning things about the past that she might rather not know. But the end was just warm and lovely and as uplifting as ever, and left me feeling contented and happy.

Rating: 4/5

sep 17, 8:04 am

>87 bragan: I've just finished reading In the Company of Cheerful Ladies and like you find these an uplifting delight. In one sense they're probably all pretty interchangeable, but like you say, some have that 'thread of melancholy' more to the fore than others. What I like about them though is that they always give me a few hours of peaceful downtime without making any huge demands of me.

sep 19, 12:56 pm

>88 Jackie_K: Yes, exactly! They are great for that, and I honestly can't think of any other reading that brings that kind of pleasant, peaceful feeling nearly as well

sep 19, 11:24 pm

70. The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston

The author's 1928 account of the year he spent in an isolated house on the outer edge of Cape Cod. His emphasis is very much on the natural world around him there, including close observations of a wide array of seabirds and an extended attempt to capture the movements of the ocean in words. The human world is not entirely missing, either, however, as he was visited regularly by coast guard patrols: men who would walk the beach alone every night on the lookout for shipwrecks, which were numerous and terrible.

I found some parts of Beston's writing more engaging than others, but none of it is bad, and there are occasional passages that are impressively poetic (and that remain effective despite the introduction to 75th anniversary edition I read, which seems to be imitating the example of annoying movie trailers in its attempt to spoil all the best bits). Beston also has some profound and beautifully expressed thoughts on the the natural world as a whole, on its animal inhabitants as beings who exist on their own terms as much as any of us do, on the ways in which nature is so much bigger than humanity at the same time as we are within and a part of it, and on the rhythms of that world from which we disconnect only to our detriment.

I have no idea what this part of Cape Cod is like now, nearly a century later, but I can say that whatever might or might not have changed, this piece of writing still holds up and is still saying things that are just as relevant now as they were then.

Rating: 4/5

sep 20, 11:16 pm

71. Scattered Showers by Rainbow Rowell

YA author Rainbow Rowell's first collection of short stories mostly consists of love stories of some form or other, particularly love that develops out of friendship. Most (but not all) feature young adults or teenagers, frequently slightly prickly or oddball characters. Some are about characters from her novels – including a new tale for the Simon Snow fans! – but I think almost all of them should work perfectly well whether you've read the relevant novels or not. A surprising number are Christmas or holiday themed.

A lot of them, I must say, are not my usual sort of thing. It takes a very particular kind of touch to make me actually enjoy a teen romance, especially when the teens are behaving in typical, melodramatic teen ways (like the college student who spends five days listening to the same song on repeat in an attempt to get over a breakup that's just thoroughly undermined all her previous naive ideas about love and romance). Fortunately, Rowell has precisely that touch. She leaves me feeling sympathetic to her protagonists and appreciative of their realism, even in moments where I might possibly also be inclined to roll my eyes at them. She writes fantastic, fun, bantery dialog. She has a refreshingly clear idea of what real relationships look like as opposed to idealized fantasy ones (yes, even in the stories that are technically fantasy). And there's a lovely, warm sweetness to her writing that fortunately never crosses the line into sappiness.

Rating: 4/5

sep 20, 11:17 pm

72. The Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book by Bill Watterson

A collection of Calvin & Hobbes strips first published in 1995 to cerebrate the comic's tenth anniversary, featuring commentary from the cartoonist himself (a fairly rare thing from the notoriously reticent Watterson). Each strip (or set of strips) comes with a line or three about things like the inspiration, the art style, or the theme. There are also several pages of text in which he talks about the joys of cartoons as an art form and the disappointments and headaches of cartooning as a commercial enterprise, as well as laying out his reasons for never allowing officially licensed Calvin & Hobbes merchandise. Coming from anyone else, I suppose some of that might feel a bit pretentious, but by god, if anyone gets to talk about artistic integrity in comic strips, it's Watterson, who does indisputably practice real art and possess real integrity. I don't even have to talk about how funny, wise, irreverent, surprising, thoughtful, charming, profound, and delightfully silly C&H is, right? Everyone already knows this by now, right? And yet, somehow, coming back to it always surprises me all over again, especially in those moments when Watterson seems to tap into some combination of childhood nostalgia and an adult sense of the beauty and absurdity of life that spawns a feeling of deep recognition somewhere in my soul. Even, or perhaps especially, when that's interspersed with jokes about boogers or drawings of dinosaurs in fighter jets.

Rating: Yes, it's a collection of comics I've already read before with a few little bits of commentary. And yes, it still gets 5/5. Because it's Calvin and Hobbes.

sep 21, 8:41 am

>92 bragan: i would love to read his commentary.

>75 bragan: ok, this caught my attention. Great review of On Immunity. I’m interested.

>87 bragan: book 18… wow

>90 bragan: I’m not familiar with this Cape Cod book. Seems like a nice find.

sep 21, 12:57 pm

>93 dchaikin: The Cape Code book is one I got in brown paper mystery wrapper labelled "Nature Writing" at a local indie bookstore, along with a couple of others (including Letters from Side Lake, which I reviewed a while ago). That turned out to be a pretty good purchase!

Redigerat: sep 23, 12:03 am

73. Hide by Kiersten White

Fourteen strangers, each desperate in their own way, are invited to participate in a week-long game of hide-and-seek with a $50,000 prize, held, as they find out only when they get there, in a weird and creepy deserted amusement park. But, of course, all is not quite as it seems to them, and any one of them will be lucky to get out alive.

As is probably obvious just from that basic description, this is a novel that draws on a lot of familiar tropes and concepts. But I'm pleased to report that it does so in a clueful and interesting way, neither insulting the reader's intelligence by not expecting us to understand what's going on well before the characters do nor being cutely meta about any of it. And it uses it all for some social commentary that is perhaps also not exactly ground-breaking, but is very well done, starting off subtle and, by the end, becoming formidable and fierce.

It's also just a solidly good read. Not quite the pulse-pounding thrill ride one might expect, but engaging, occasionally surprising, and ultimately satisfying.

Rating: 4/5

Redigerat: sep 23, 5:10 am

>95 bragan: That’s a very engaging review! You almost made me want to read this, but the premise doesn’t sound like my kind of thing.

sep 23, 8:59 am

>90 bragan: I have no idea what this part of Cape Cod is like now
I was prepared to find that it's now a shopping mall, but it isn't. The immediate vicinity has been preserved.

sep 23, 10:29 am

>97 qebo: thanks! Cool

sep 26, 12:23 am

>96 FlorenceArt: It's the kind of premise I can go either way on, to be honest, but fortunately this one definitely didn't make me regret taking a chance on it.

>97 qebo: Thanks so much for those links! Wonderful to see that there are no shopping malls in sight.

Redigerat: sep 26, 12:29 am

74. Roadside Geology of New Mexico by Halka Chronic

My adopted home state's entry in the popular Roadside Geology series. Now seemed like a good time to read this, as I spent the weekend doing a little New Mexico road tripping (down to the very geologically interesting White Sands National Park).

This book has an extremely difficult balancing act to pull off – or, really, several of them at once. It's trying to be completely accessible to people with no knowledge of geology at all, while still appealing to those with an amateur interest. It's trying to provide a sense of the general geology of the state while mostly limiting itself to features visible from the highways and discernible at highway speeds. And it has to discuss long and sometimes diverse stretches of highway in just a few pages.

Unsurprisingly, it doesn't succeed perfectly at all of this. There was a moment or two when my geologically ignorant self was a little confused by some bit of terminology that no doubt seemed extremely obvious to the author (enough so that it didn't even appear in the glossary). In some places, I found the text a bit boring or repetitive, and in others I found it interesting enough that I was frustrated that there wasn't more on a particular topic or place.

But, overall, it does pretty much what it's aiming to do: pointing out the features of the landscape that you might pass by in your car and telling you a little bit about what they're made of, how old they are, and how they formed. And it was very, very cool for me to have even a few paragraphs telling me about the place where I live and the mountain I can see outside my living room window.

It also enlightened me about some fascinating aspects of New Mexico geography as a whole. I knew there had been volcanism here – there are places where that's extremely obvious – but I had no idea it was so extensive, or that some of it was so recent. I also didn't realize that I was living on top of a rift in the continent, where the Earth's crust is trying to pull itself apart in a way that might one day result in the entire Rio Grande valley becoming an inlet for the sea. Honestly, I think this book would probably be worthwhile for me just for illuminating me about that.

One word of caution, though: this was originally published in 1987, and I've spotted a few places where I know it's out of date, e.g. a massively low underestimate for the age of the universe in the introductory chapter, and a now-resolved uncertainly about what it was that ended the reign of the dinosaurs. No doubt there are more examples that I'm unaware of, both in the science and the details of the human landscape. But at least we can be pretty confident the geology itself has changed very little in the intervening years.

Rating: 3.5/5

sep 26, 3:45 am

>95 bragan: That sounds fun, and the library has it. I put it on my "maybe one day" list.

Redigerat: sep 26, 6:09 pm

>100 bragan: I would enjoy this, although it’s been a while since I’ve entered your state, way on the other side of mine. i read her roadside geology of Colorado, but i used an edition updated by her daughter. I thought it was handled really well. 1987 is a bit dated now. 🙂

sep 26, 5:18 pm

>101 ursula: It is worth checking out, if it seems like your kind of thing. It didn't knock my socks off completely with how thrilling it was or anything, but it does what it's doing well.

>102 dchaikin: Yeah, I didn't realize the copy I had was quite that dated when I bought it. Don't know if there's an updated version for NM or not. It still works pretty well, though, even if you do have to keep the datedness in mind.

sep 26, 8:02 pm

75. The Ruby's Curse by Alex Kingston, with Jacqueline Rayner

Doctor Who's Alex Kingston brings us a novel about her fictional alter ego River Song, and River's own fictional altar ego, Melody Malone. It starts off alternating River's adventure with chapters of the novel she's writing, but as the story goes on, the two turn out to be inextricably entwined.

It's a fun romp, featuring a cursed jewel, a reality-warping doomsday device, ancient Egyptian history, hardboiled detective action complete with murder mystery, time travel paradoxes, space gangsters, and lots of River being River. Most of it is probably completely ridiculous if you stop to think about it for two seconds, but why would you when you can just sit back and enjoy the ride? Especially as a certain level of complete ridiculousness is surely only appropriate both for Doctor Who and for 1930s pulp detective pastiche.

Rating: 4/5

sep 30, 12:49 am

76. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The first book in a trilogy by Chinese science fiction writer Cixin Liu, translated by Chinese-American science fiction writer Ken Liu.

This volume won a Hugo award, and I sort of half-seriously think that maybe it won in large part just for its sheer audacity and its surprise factor. Seriously, nothing about this book should actually work. The plot is a weird sort of puzzle whose answer is simultaneously kind of obvious (especially if you read the description on the back cover), but also completely bananas. It's grounded heavily in very real science, but the things it does with it are insane. The structure is a bit odd, at least to Western sensibilities, with lots of telling-instead-of-showing. There were a dozens of moments that had me going, "Wait... what? Does that even make any sense?" And there's a thread of cynicism and an air of impending doom all delivered in an almost matter-of-fact way.

And yet, somehow, the net effect of all of this is to produce just a really nifty read. One that kept me engaged all the way through, and did a great job of exciting my intellectual curiosity. Quite how it pulls that off, I have no idea. I suspect it's not something that will work for absolutely everyone – already possessing a certain level of science geekery in your soul no doubt helps a lot – but apparently for those it is for, me included, all that audacity does in fact pay off. Somehow.

Now I definitely have to go and order the next two books...

Rating: 4/5

sep 30, 5:23 am

yay! I liked it, and the subsequent ones too. Not sure I followed everything tho'. It'll be interesting to see what you make of the aliens.

sep 30, 6:38 am

>105 bragan: Intriguing! There is a French translation, I downloaded the preview on my reader.

sep 30, 8:51 am

>105 bragan: Interesting. I've seen the books around, but yours is the first review I've read.

sep 30, 11:10 pm

>106 LolaWalser: I followed everything in the first book quite well enough to tell that it was getting away with an awful lot. But it did get away with it. Somehow. :)

>107 FlorenceArt: The English translation seemed pretty good, so I hope the French version is, as well.

>108 labfs39: I'd had it sitting on my TBR shelves for a while. A co-worker of mine recently read it and kept going on about it, so I figured I should get to it, finally.

okt 6, 2:34 am

Onwards towards the end of the year! You can find my thread for the last quarter of 2023 here.