Some long reviews this time, folks. So! a handy table of contents. Just roll over the images for a description then click away! (Or, you know, just read and scroll. If you're boring.)
045) Replay by Ken Grimwood, finished May 28
- In brief, it's like Groundhog Day, only you get twenty-five years rather than one day, and it's less each time, and you know that at the end, you will die.
Also, it's a good book.
Warning: the hero goes through some hedonistic phases.
But the book, great as it was, interests me particularly on a philosophical level: what does it take to be happy?
This discussion with be loaded with spoilers and I'm going on the assumption few people actually read the books I recommend, but if you will be disturbed by spoilers, stop here. Otherwise, let's chat.
In his first life, Jeff is dissatisfied. He and his wife struggle financially and emotionally. The financial thing is never a problem for Jeff again though, not after he dies the first time. In each replay, he places a few bets, invests in a few stocks--he's as rich as he wants to be. In his second life, he's phenomenally wealthy; he's Warren Buffett.
But that doesn't make him happy. He botches his first meeting with his former wife and never sees her again. He ends up marrying an unpleasant socialite. But he does have a daughter by that woman, and the daughter he loves very much.
Then it's October 1988 again and he dies again and that entire life is washed away, rendered nothing, and he's a college student in 1963 again. This time, less money, different wife, adopted kids, wonderful times. He dies. It's all gone.
This time: money, sex, drugs, unhappiness.
One time he comes back already involved with his first-life wife. This time they have money. The money doesn't make them happy, not exactly, but it does grease the wheels. It fulfills their basic needs and they can focus on love and creation. He wins a Pulitzer.
You know excellent fantasy when reading it makes the ludicrous feel real, and as I read it, I considered what I would be doing on my next life, what Lady Steed would do in her next life, what good would a few mill in the bank do us?
Ideally, we all get our wants and needs met--money worries should not be what occupies us. But with a little bit....
What is money, then? In this our world, is some money a prerequisite to happiness?
It's an interesting question. I'll leave it to you.
So. Replay. Except for a moralizing penultimate paragraph, it was really quite good. Worth a read. No wonder it's a beloved award-winner.
044 The Age of the Conglomerates: A Novel of the Future by Thomas Nevins, finished May 27
- This book was a gift from Random House via LibraryThing. It doesn't come out till midAugust and they're hoping to build some word-of-mouth.
Sorry, guys. Your book sucks.
Now, I've hated other books before (Miss Misery, Chéri, Hybrids), but I don't think I have, in the last ten years, read a book cover-to-cover that was quite so inept as this one. I don't even know where to start.
I'll try to start with kindness, viz. the only goodish line in the entire book: "The Conglomerates might try to strip the elderly of their dignity, but dignity was a quality that had eluded the Conglomerates and hindered their ability to control the words of the dignified."
Pretty good line. Too bad it's surrounded by abominations like "They were determined to see a future--for the babies." and "Nice trick with the shower though. You really outsmarted him." and "She gave Aunty a hug, which demonstrated their difference in body type."
I don't even know where to start with sentences like those. Let alone an entire book full of them. As part of a 500-word spoof, they would be fine, but this book takes itself a little too seriously for that kind of ballast.
I'm amazed and astounded this is being published by a major house, even if the author is an employee of said house.
Anyway, this is a dystopian novel, (fine), except dystopias seem to attract writers who never read speculative fiction. Now, I'm not out to defend SF as a seamless bastion of great writing, but, as a genre, it's been around long enough to iron out some of the boneheaded errors that its pioneers made. This book does not benefit from the last hundred years of trial and error and makes some of the shameless errors one might associate with a 50s pulp paperback.
For instance. This book takes place in 2048. So a person in the first part of middle age would have been a teenager, when, 2028? Close enough. Even if it were 2018 this would still be a good example.
So a character finds her old laptop, a heavy clunker that sounds straight out of 1994. It even has a dialup modem! Can you imagine! That screeches! And, when she finds this laptop, she uses it to log into an email account she hasn't accessed in years because.....it's on her laptop!
Or consider the golf courses some late-in-the-book characters use because that's where the water is. They've been abandoned, you see, so there's all this water just sitting around. Right. In Arizona.
Naturally, the golf course we see is accompanied by palatial homes and a strip mine, because the mine honchos want to live and golf right next to their huge hole in the ground.
I wish there were good things I could say about this book. And I guess there are. The author knows the form of the thriller. But knowing form does not a good book make. I laughed in disbelief at this book regularly. Constantly. I kept starting other books to avoid going back to this one. If it hadn't been my first free-for-a-review book, I would not have finished it. It's a total disaster.
There is, somewhere, maybe, a good book in here, but finding it would require scrapping the whole thing and starting over. Clever names, for instance, like Coots and Dyscards (which the author is obviously quite proud of), are very difficult to accept as plausible. Constant exposition displaces storytelling. The whole thing is just.....
Yeah. I think I've said enough.
over two weeks
043) W;t by Margaret Edson, finished April 19
- I'm suprised how much I liked this play. Not because I didn't expect to like it--in fact, I expected to like it very much--but because I didn't actually like it much at all until the very end. I will give it this: it's a work that merits rereading. My opinion could change if I did.
It also probably fares better performed. If I saw it live or on film, that might help as well.
042) Halo and Sprocket Volume 1: Welcome to Humanity by Kerry Cullen, finished May 17
- Hilarious. Tooth fairy bit? Hilarious. The spit thing? Hilarious. The treatise on cats? Hilarious. The death scene? Hilarious.
I had a hard time deciding what to scan your you and nothing is as good alone as it is in context, but this book is great and I would force you to read it now if you were hear so I could constantly interrupt you to ask What are you laughing at?
If you need to know: Katie lives with an angel and a robot. Don't ask me why.
a couple hours
041) Storm Front by Jim Butcher, finished May 16
- Ah, student recommendations. Ah, students moving beyond recommendations to bringing you actual books. Ah, students moving beyond recommendations to bringing you actual books about wizard PIs battling evil mages who tear the hearts out of their victims and fling them across rooms. Yeah.
The whole setup reminded me of my brother's recent rant against fiction. I myself champion fiction, but for my personal reading I can't countenance story without anything underneath it. Hollow plot does nothing for me, no matter how "entertaining" it may be.
That said, even though this story wasn't huge on Theme or Meaning or Whatever, it impressed me quite a bit from a technical standpoint, and as a writer myself, that can be enough to make a book worth my time.
It's plain that Butcher put a lot of work into building the rules of his world and the backgrounds of his characters--he may never tell me all the Laws of Magic or why the hero killed his first girlfriend, but I know he knows and that makes me trust him. And I respect that kind of competent storytelling.
The student who lent me this book is anxious to lend me the others in the series and although I wouldn't seek them out myself (I rarely read more than one book in a series), I just may let him do me that favor.
Anyway, what it's about:
Harry Dresden (perfect name for a private [magical] dick, don't you think?) is a poor PI with a corner office who would be at home in aRaymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett novel, were it not for, you know, his pet skull and tendency to cause lightbulbs to explode.
His main source of income is consulting the police on certain, mm, unnatural crimes. Naturally, one such crime leads to him nearly getting eaten by a demon, picking fights with a crime boss, hanging out with shapely (but sad) prostitutes, et cetera. It's all very . . . classic. If you know what I mean. The PI gets beat up a lot, for instance.
I finished the book today in a rush. I finally learned how to put down a book even during the exciting parts and do my grownup stuff, but I allowed myself that breathless feeling of Gotta Finish! that brought me to around midnight. (May 16 is a guess--it may have still been May 15)
Speaking of exciting parts, I want to share with you something rather startling I noticed when Harry made his grand entrance on the mafioso's hometurf: There wasn't any top-level cursing in this book. Sure, a few dammits and hells and so forth, but none of the stuff most people consider heavy. And it took me--as a careful craftsman/reader--two-thirds of the book to notice this! Butcher deals with sex and violence and other such things and does it without a pottymouth. Fascinating. Not something you see very often--and even rarely does one see it done well. I think a less critical reader would never even noticed it.
Anyway, fun book.
- 040) 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill, finished May 9
039) I Am the President of Ice Cream by Geoff Sebesta, finished May 4
038) On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, finished May 3
037) The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester, finished May Day
036) The Drifting Classroom Vol. 1 by Kazuo Umezu, finished April 30
035) The Complete Peanuts 1965 - 1966 by Charles M. Schulz, finished April 29
034) Nextwave: Agents Of H.A.T.E Volume 1: This Is What They Want by Warren Ellis et Stuart Immonen et al, finished April 29
033) Batman: Hush, Vol. 2 by Jeph Loeb et al, finished April 29
032) Batman: Hush, Vol. 1 by Jeph Loeb et al, finished April 28
031) Chéri by Colette, finished April 17
030) Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett, finished April 13
029) Animal Farm by George Orwell, finished April 8
028) Macbeth by William Shakespeare, finished April 7
027) On the Road to Heaven by Coke Newell, finished April 4
026) The Great American Citizenship Quiz: Can You Pass Your Own Country's Citizenship Test? by Solomon M. Skolnick, finished March 23
025) Long After Dark by Todd Robert Petersen, finished March 23
024) The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, finished March 21
023) Robot Dreams by Sara Varon, finished March 10
022) The Complete Peanuts 1963-1964 by Charles M. Schulz, finished March 9
021) Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, finished March 7
020) Unorthodox Practices by Marissa Piesman, finished March 5
019) Happy Hour at Casa Dracula by Marta Acosta, finished March 4
018) A War of Gifts: An Ender Story by Orson Scott Card, finished Leap Day
017) Watership Down by Richard Adams, finished February 26
016) Old Boy Volume One by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi, finished February 25
015) Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, finished February 18
014) Ultimate Spider-Man: Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, finished February 15
013) Trusting Jesus by Jeffrey R. Holland, finished February 11
012) Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Willingham et al., finished February 11
011) Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach, finished February 4
010) The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, finished February 3
009) American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, finished LDotFMotNY
008) Zombification: Stories from National Public Radio by Andrei Codrescu, finished January 22
007) Marriage Lines: Notes of a Student Husband by Ogden Nash, finished January 22
006) Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, finished January 20
005) The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time by Douglas Adams, finished January 14
004) Lord of the Flies by William Golding, finished January 10
003) Rising Sun by Michael Crichton, finished January 7
002) The Marketing of Sister B by Linda Hoffman Kimball, finished January 2
001) Animal Farm by George Orwell, finished January 1