"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Book List

I love lists. This one is interesting: 100 Must-Read Books of the '90s. I dismiss the poetry collections, because I don't enjoy poetry and have read it only under duress: school assignments way back when. I don't read short story collections, anymore, either because there are too many novels I want to read. And having comics on the list was interesting, but that was the one decade where I read hardly any comics, and while I read novels years after publication, I rarely do that with comics. So, my tally (I re-alphabetized because I can't abide having books alphabetized by "The" or "A" as the first word, and I interfiled the comics with the books), with commentary:

Books I've Read (6)
  • Astro City, Vol. 1: Life in the Big City by Kurt Busiek, art by Brent Anderson... I've read all but 2 of the rest of the volumes, plus the ongoing comic. One of the best graphic novels ever published.
  • The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Waterson... Since I've read all the Calvin and Hobbes strips, I'm counting this as read.
  • Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (novel, historical fiction)... Not the first Atkinson I read (That was Case Histories), but one of my favorites.
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (novel, historical/literary fiction)... Wonderful book.
  • Holes by Louis Sachar (YA novel, Newberry Award-winner)... A delight, and I saw the movie, too.
  • Supergirl by Peter David, art by Gary Frank, Cam Smith, Karl Story, Terry Dodson... I believe this is the Supergirl as angel inhabiting Linda Danvers version, which I didn't like at all. It got better when a version of the original Supergirl, Kara Zor-El, showed up. Peter David has always struck me as a decent writer who other people tend to like more than I do.

Books I Own, Waiting to be Read (4)
  • Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat (novel, historical fiction)
  • The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead (novel, speculative fiction)
  • My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (novel, historical fiction)
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith (novel, literary fiction)

Book I Couldn't Finish
  • Possession by A. S. Byatt (novel, historiographic metafiction)... I think I got as far as page 3, maybe 4. Didn't like the writing style, at all. By the way, I have no idea what "historiographic metafiction means.

Books I Saw the Movie/TV Show Instead (3)
  • The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (novel, historical/contemporary fiction)... Good movie, though I don't know how true it was to the book
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (novel, speculative fiction/historical romance)... I watched the first season, but lost interest before the season finale.
  • Preacher, Vol. 1: Gone to Texas by Garth Ennis, art by Steve Dillon... I'm loving the TV show. I just read that Steve Dillon died. So sad. His talent will be missed.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Foreign Correspondent

TITLE: The Foreign Correspondent
AUTHOR: Alan Furst

I wouldn't call Furst's World War II-era spy novels page turners, but they are addictive. In this one, Carlo Weisz is an Italian ex-pat living in Paris, working as a journalist for the Reuters news service, and secretly writing and editing an anti-fascist newspaper distributed covertly in Italy. As if that isn't enough, the Italian secret police are trying to put an end to the underground newspaper and British Intelligence has plans for him. Even the Paris police are interested him and his fellow Italian ex-pats when the editor of Liberazione and his mistress, the wife of a prominent Frenchman, are brutally murdered in an act made to look like murder-suicide. And finally, Carlo's German girlfriend won't leave Germany despite her anti-Hitler activities putting her in danger.

There's a lot going on in this book, yet Furst takes his usual pace laying out the story, giving readers a feel of life in 1940 Europe, from the civil war in Spain, to fascist Italy, life-as-usual Paris, and tense Berlin. The civilian-enlisted-as-spy, painstakingly researched and recreated settings are Furst's stock-in-trade, yet the stories never feel old or repetitive. Carlo is an engaging protagonist trying to do the right thing for his homeland, and Furst is a skilled storyteller, a perfect combination.

Friday, September 30, 2016

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

TITLE: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
AUTHOR: Charles Yu

This book's central conceit is that time travel exists and the main character, who shares the author's name, repairs time machines for a living. His father invented time travel, though that's a story in itself, and the author, uh, I mean the protagonist is searching for his father who disappeared years ago.

There isn't much story here. The main action takes place in flashbacks/memories and the protagonist's narration of his past. In a way, the book, and the time travel conceit, is a metaphor for life and how people get stuck in their life while searching for something that may or may not really matter.

I really don't want to say too much. The book needs to be experienced, not explained. It likely will mean different things to different people. I put it on my To Read list back when it was published, in 2010, because it sounded intriguing. But I never spotted it at Barnes & Noble, and since my To Read list is very, very long, I never sought it out. But I spotted it on a table in The Strand bookstore a couple of months ago and the title tickled my memory, so I bought and now have read it. I'm glad I did. It was different, and I enjoy different. If you like different, you might like it, too.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Devil's Alphabet

TITLE: The Devil's Alphabet
AUTHOR: Daryl Gregory

From the cover face with the upside down eyes, to the not quite ending, this book is a mystery, more conjecture and theory than hard facts. Thirteen years ago, the town of Switchcreek, Tennessee was struck by a terrible and confounding disease that killed a third of the population, mutating most of the survivors into one of three physical anomalies: those who experienced enormous growth to unprecedented heights, those who lost all their hair and became seal-like, and those who became abnormally obese. Paxton, a young teen when the "Changes" hit, was a "skip," one of the few not physically affected. His mother died, however, and his father became one of the obese "charlies," and after the quarantine on the town was lifted, Pax was sent away to live with relatives. Now an adult, living a dull, unambitious life in Chicago, Pax returns to Switchcreek for the funeral of one of his two best friends. Jo Lynn, who had become a seal-like beta, had been found hanging from a tree in her yard, a supposed suicide. But Pax and Deke, his other best friend and now a grotesquely tall argo, have their doubts. Back home after so many years away, Pax quickly discovers how much he's missed as more and more effects of the Changes manifested themselves.

This isn't the story of what happened in Switchcreek or why, although those questions are posed. Rather, it's the story of coping with such profound changes, how outsiders react to people who suddenly don't look human, how far people will go to live normal lives when normal doesn't mean what it once did, and the age-old question of what it means to be human. It's also the story of Pax trying to find his place in a world when he hasn't felt comfortable in his own skin since everything changed.

And it's the sort of book that makes me want a sequel. I want to spend more time with Pax and the people of Switchcreek. Gregory made me care about all of them.