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chlorine comes late to the party

Club Read 2017

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1chlorine
Oct 28, 2017, 12:11pm Top

Hi everyone,

I'm Clémence from Paris and I posted a more thorough introduction in the dedicated thread.

I've been wanting to join Club Read again. At first I wanted to wait until 2018 and then I decided that there's no need to wait, so here I am!

I won't try to do a recap of all that I've already read this year, especially since this has been a rather prolific year for me.

So I'll just jump right in with the last book I finished: The art of hearing heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker.
Note: I read this book in French but it was translated from German to English and then from English to French. I understand why this occurs for books that are originally written in rare languages or languages that are very un-european, but I'm puzzled about this case.

This is a short novel taking place in Burma: Julia, an american young woman, travels there in search of her father, who was born in Burma and disappeared from the US four years ago. The story she will discover is moving, and approaches the topics of what is important in life, how it is necessary to accept the good and the bad aspects of the world in order to live a truly happy life, and what is love and what it can bring to someone's life.
The story was moving and I enjoyed it, and I also enjoyed the fact that it touches on some subjects that I've become interested in since I started meditating daily about one year ago. But... it also seemed to me to be full of positive but superficial thoughts, the kind that don't live up to real life. Another aspect that irked me is that the two main characters suffer from disabilities, and are at the same time the wisest people in their village (though of course not everybody will accept that their way of thinking is wisdom), their disabilities playing a role in their acquired wisdom. I'm of course not saying that there is no wisdom to gain from having a disability, but still these two characters seemed way too perfect to be true IMO.
I also wonder why the author bothered to give a brother to Julia and then hardly mention it in the rest of the story.
So in the end I consider this book to be some kind of fairy tale. I'm not sure that was what the author was aiming for but I can't know this for sure.

2AlisonY
Oct 29, 2017, 5:18am Top

Welcome back!

3chlorine
Oct 29, 2017, 9:40am Top

Thanks, nice to see you again here! :)

4chlorine
Oct 30, 2017, 4:08pm Top

I think I'm gonna give up on The iron dream by Norman Spinrad.

This book comes from an alternative timeline in which Hitler has emigrated to the US and became a famous science-fiction writer. The book is actually the novel that Hitler would have written in this context - and it's bad. Of course I understand it's bad on purpose, given that Hitler is supposed to have written it, and it's full of racist ideas - the plot is about a human of pure genetic material wanting to rid the world of mutants (who, on top of having bad genes, are of course abject creatures, whose only merit is to recognise instinctively that pure humans are better than them).

I'm almost 150 pages in and it offers no sign of having anything else to offer (except a bio of Hitler as the author, which I will read).
From what I understand from the reviews and the wikipedia page, Spinrad's goal was to highlight how some ideas in science-fiction and fantasy in general could be close to racist ideologies. The fact that this book is supposed to have won the Hugo award, which is one of the most prestigious awards in science-fiction, clearly is a jab at the community.
This book was written in 1972 and I think since then, the community has become more aware of this question (at least, the part of the community that wants to be aware of it). I am also vain enough to think that I get the point (I even think I got it before starting this book), so I don't think reading on will bring anything new to me.

I somewhat wonders if part of it is not a joke from Spinrad: having written such a bad book, getting it published, and then having people read it till the end because it's Spinrad and the book is deemed important by a lot of people... I even felt more on the receiving end of a prank when I realised that I was going everywhere around Paris reading a book with a Svastika on the cover in the tube... I wonder what people have thought.

Two additional thoughts: the fact that in this fictional world this book got a Hugo is reminiscent for me of the events of the Hugo 2015 (see here for instance for those who did not follow that - https://www.wired.com/2015/08/won-science-fictions-hugo-awards-matters/ )
Second food for thought: Spinrad could not find a publisher for his novel Osama the gun after the 2001 events, but this novel was published and even nominated for an award (Edit: apparently Osama the gun has finally been published in the US - the French translation has been published for a while).

5chlorine
Edited: Nov 4, 2017, 2:43am Top

I have recently discovered (1) that it's _very_ easy to create ebooks from html files, and (2) that many science-fiction and fantasy magazines make all or some of the short-stories they publish available for free online. The ebooks I make in this way are not of good quality (it would need time to make them good), but still - the comfort of reading the short-stories on an e-reader rather than on a computer screen is great. And I get to take them everywhere with me!

The first story I read from Uncanny Magazine was Fandom for robots by Vina Jie-Min Prasad.
This is a terrific short-story about a sentient robot who is languishing in a museum, and develops a passion for a science-fiction show. The robot is very well described and so endearing!
I liked this story so much that I looked at what else the author had written: three other short-stories, two of them being available online. I thought A series of steak was very good, though not of the same quality as fandom for robots, and The spy who loved wanton mee was good also.

If you want to check out her stuff, her website is here.

6chlorine
Nov 4, 2017, 5:54am Top

L'archipel d'une autre vie (Archipelago of another life) by Andrei Makine was a disappointment.
Set as a story within a story of people following people following people in the taiga of far east Siberia, it raises the theme of how people manage (or don't) to conform with society and whether another way of living is possible. Had I thought about this theme before? Yes. Did I need to read this book? No.

The style (though it gets better after a while) is unnecessarily verbose and litterary. The main character seemed quite naive and managed to have two opposite revelations about the meaning of life in one night.

The friend who gave it to me for my birthday thought very highly of it and usually we tend to agree but this is a miss for me.

7dchaikin
Nov 4, 2017, 10:53am Top

>4 chlorine: Well, I think I'll pass on the Iron Dream, even if the idea of it inspired a lot of thinking for me. Interesting about the book's purpose and that it won the Hugo.

>6 chlorine: glad the meaning of life has multiple and conflicting explanations.

8chlorine
Nov 5, 2017, 5:49am Top

>7 dchaikin:
I realise that you are right and it's a good thing there are several explanations for the meaning of life,even though I don't care much for the one presented in this book!

9OscarWilde87
Nov 5, 2017, 6:19am Top

>5 chlorine: Thank you for those links to the magazine's sites. This is something I hadn't checked out so far, being a paper kinda guy. But sometimes I'd also love to have a short story at hand electronically to while away the time in waiting rooms and such.

10chlorine
Nov 5, 2017, 4:22pm Top

>9 OscarWilde87:
You mean you don't always have a book with you? (gasp) I didn't know this group allowed members to go out of their homes without carrying at least one book. ;)

Glad the magazines interest you! I have to check them out more thoroughly. In addition to Uncanny and Clarkesworld in which Prasad published, I'm also interested in Lightspeed and Shimmer magazines.

11VivienneR
Nov 8, 2017, 7:51pm Top

Good to see you back again, Clémence.

12chlorine
Nov 9, 2017, 7:53am Top

>11 VivienneR:
Thanks!
I'm really glad I came back. :)

13chlorine
Nov 10, 2017, 4:02pm Top

101 poèmes du Japon d'aujourd'hui (101 poems from today's Japan).

This is an anthology containing poems from a large number of authors. This is originally a Japanese book, selected by a Japanese poet, and I read the French translation.
Though some poems were gems to me, moving me deeply, most felt very bland. I'll try and find again those I really loved, but they were by different authors, and I have trouble telling Japanese name apart. I don't think I'll remember much from this collection in the end.

14chlorine
Edited: Nov 11, 2017, 12:10pm Top

Dust by Hugh Howey

This is the final book in the Wool trilogy and boy was it a page turner.

It's hard to say much about this book without giving spoilers about the first two books. The whole trilogy is about people living in a huge underground silo, obviously after some catastrophe has made the outside world uninhabitable (if that word exists...). The people have forgotten about their past however, and have no knowledge of why they live here, or that there was a civilisation before them.

This book is not great litterature and I'm not sure the story completely holds itself together, but I thought it was a very good book - more profound than your average action filled page-turner, and more fun than your average profound book. The main theme is about responsible leadership. In this book some people realise that they have been lied to and manipulated, and want to change things. However they discover that organising everything about a population is not as easy as it seems, and that sometimes the boundary between the good leader and the bad leader is not as clear cut as they initially thought.
I like that Howey has strong female characters without putting it in the reader's face - it seems effortless: in this book there is simply no gender discrepancy and men and women can both be mayors, sheriffs, miners, head of the mechanical department, ... I thought it was very refreshing.

15Narilka
Nov 12, 2017, 12:49pm Top

>14 chlorine: I have Wool in my TBR. Sounds like the series ends well. Maybe it's time to bump it up in my reading list.

16chlorine
Nov 12, 2017, 2:26pm Top

>15 Narilka:
Do, it reads fast so you will not regret bumping it up! I hope you enjoy it whenever you get to it.

17OscarWilde87
Nov 16, 2017, 1:34pm Top

>10 chlorine: Am I being kicked out now? Sorry... ;)

18chlorine
Nov 16, 2017, 2:26pm Top

>17 OscarWilde87:
Aha, if there were rules for kicking people out I don't think I'd be the right person to design and/or enforce them. ;)
And I really don't want to kick anyone out as I think this group is great as it is and I'm really glad I came back!

19chlorine
Edited: Nov 16, 2017, 3:30pm Top

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

This is a collection of short stories - and poems! I didn't expect to find poems in Neil Gaiman's universe. There are a fair number of them, on a wide set of subjects such as vampires, retelling of fairy tales, or exorcisms and computers (yes, both those themes in a single poem!). Well, it works and I found most of them fascinating.
There are also many stories, again varying greatly in length, topic and style. I laughed at the parody of Chtulhu, was touched by what happens to Nicholas, and was slightly disturbed (in a very good way, if that makes sense), by a drastic revisiting of the Snow White story.

Neil Gaiman is the author that I feel I should love but don't, which I regret - when I first heard about him all his books appealed to me immensely and and I was sure I would _love_ all of them. It was not so. American Gods was a disappointment - not bad but far from a book crush for me. I've liked the others I've read better, and Neverwhere is probably the one I liked the most. I loved the dark and slightly disturbing atmosphere, and you can find some of this atmosphere in these short stories, though there are other syles, from comic to detective story, even up to a bit of pornography.

All in all a very good mix!
Rating: ****

20auntmarge64
Edited: Nov 17, 2017, 8:12pm Top

>14 chlorine: Wasn't the whole Silo series just wonderful storytelling? Howey is one of my go-to authors. If you haven't seen it, take a look at his new collection of stories, Machine Learning: New and Collected Stories, because it has several new stories from the Silo world, and they culminate in a later time in Juliette's life.

21chlorine
Nov 18, 2017, 2:48am Top

>20 auntmarge64:
Machine Learning is on my wishlist. :) I read one short story that was available online in Lightspeed magazine (The walk up nameless ridge). Knowing there are Silo stories in the collection will get me to read it sooner rather than later!
Do you recommend other books by Howey?

22auntmarge64
Nov 18, 2017, 8:31am Top

>21 chlorine: I very much enjoyed Beacon 23 and the Sand series (touchstone not working). Be sure to get the Omnibus edition of Sand.

23chlorine
Nov 18, 2017, 11:03am Top

>22 auntmarge64:
Thanks for the recommendations!
Dust was already on my radar, but Beacon 23 sounds great! I've added it to my wishlist.

24dchaikin
Nov 18, 2017, 11:05am Top

>19 chlorine: I think I feel the same about the Gaimon I've read. A bit mixed. Some good, some meh, but most of his appeal seems to be that a lot of other people have read him and so he generates some conversation.

25chlorine
Nov 18, 2017, 11:15am Top

>24 dchaikin:
Which book of Gaiman's did you read? As my experience with his books varies significantly, I would recommend trying another one if you are feeling like it before giving up on him. I certainly intend to read more, but at a slow pace.
You're right that most of his appeal must come from the fact that he's widely read, but then I guess that if people read him so much, it's because they like his books... I'm kind of jealous of all the people who seem to love everything he writes, I wish I would love it too. ;)

As a side note I learned by Twitter that apparently, when he's in airports or railway stations, he has the habit of going in bookstores, and clandestinely sign his own books if they are on sale. I think that's such a fun idea! :)

26dchaikin
Nov 18, 2017, 11:30am Top

He seems like a really nice person and he does try very hard to write good books, but does so quickly (and keeps it simple, I think).

I've read American Gods, I tried and was bored by The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I'm planning on trying Norse Mythology on audio.

27chlorine
Nov 18, 2017, 11:38am Top

I'll be very interested to hear what you think of Norse Mythology. My next book of his will probably be The Graveyard Book.

28auntmarge64
Nov 18, 2017, 9:40pm Top

>23 chlorine: Dust and Sand are two different story lines. Dust is considered part of the Silo series, but Sand is a completely different series about a group of sand divers, people who have learned to force their bodies down through miles of sand to retrieve and sell the treasures of the long-buried cities of the American west following massive climate change.

Hope that made sense! Because of their publication history as strings of connected novellas, Howey's story lines can sometimes be confusing to follow.

29chlorine
Nov 19, 2017, 4:00am Top

>28 auntmarge64:
You're right, I'm mixed up between his books. I meant Sand rather than Dust, Dust is the one I just finished. :)
Thanks for the intro to Sand which does seem good. :)

30chlorine
Edited: Nov 19, 2017, 3:23pm Top

L'évangile de Jimmy by Didier van Cauwelaert

The premise of the book is that the Clinton administration launched a secret project aiming at cloning the Christ (from some blood from the shroud of Turin). Something happens and the resulting child, Jimmy, disappears from the administration radar. The main part of the book happens years later, when the administration of the current president (this is set in the future so it is not anybody from real life) finds him again, as an adult. A team is formed to use him for the benefit of the white house, putting together scientists, nutritionists, priests, rabbis, the FBI, the CIA, etc. They must decide how they will tell him he's the clone of Jesus (he has no idea and think he is an orphan), and how he can help the white house if he accepts to embrace his divine origin.

The book is not made to be believable for the science part, and the fun comes from the way van Cauwelaert describes the dedicated team, their vision for Jimmy of their lack of vision, their cynism or their practicality, and sometimes their short-sightedness, the conflicts between the different agencies... The dialogues within the team are really a treat and the author writes them with a brilliant second degree humour. There are some very funny scenes when Jimmy refuses to be serious with the team members also. This being said, this is not a comedy book, and I cared and was moved by Jimmy as a character.

This was an audiobook, my first one!
There were things I liked and others I disliked with the experience.
At times I felt a bit like a goose being force fed: it was hard if not impossible to do micro-pauses as I usually do when I read a book, and the narration kept going on whether I was paying attention or not - I missed a few sentences because of that. Also I'm not sure I found the good time in my day to listen to it. I listened while cooking once and this was great, but I cook very seldom so I have to listen at other times. Listening while sitting in my living room felt weird. Mostly I listened to it during my commute, but being in the tube with my headphones in and concentrating on my book made me feel a bit cut out from the people around me - much more than when I read an actual book.

On the plus side, I was glad to have an audio book at those times when there were no free seats in the tube: I could read nonetheless! Most of all, I don't have any point of comparison but I think the author did a very good job of reading his own book and bring the characters to life.

This was a mixed experience, but it has intrigued me. I may apply for an audible account in the future, to test their offer which is free for the first month.

Rating: 4 stars

31auntmarge64
Nov 20, 2017, 9:35am Top

>30 chlorine: That sounds like fun - just wish my French was good enough to actually enjoy reading it without waiting for a translation. But now you've put him on the map for me.

I tried Audible for a trial, which at the time was three free books. It was during a time I was driving a lot, and it was great!

32chlorine
Nov 20, 2017, 11:58am Top

>31 auntmarge64:: I was indeed thinking that audio books would be perfect for me if I drove a car. :)
But I don't, and even though I sometimes have crazy plans to pack more reading time in my week, I don't think starting driving a car to read more is a reasonable solution (though it would lead me to read far more as I would spend so much time in the traffic jams that exist here :)

33chlorine
Nov 20, 2017, 5:05pm Top

The last judgement by Iain Pears

This is a fun crime novel. Jonathan Argyll is a seller of paintings. His offer to bring a painting from his seller in Paris to its buyer in Rome, where Jonathan lives, leads to a far more complicated situation than could have been predicted, including two murders. Jonathan and his girlfriend Flavia, who works in the police department dedicated to art work theft, investigate.

I'm not a fan of crime novel, and usually I'm very unforgiving about stories that I think are not consistent. In this case however I was more benevolent, and had fun. Though I thought the story did not hold itself together very well, Pears writes with some wit and I just enjoyed the ride. It was not love but I would gladly read another book in this series (though not right now), and now I understand why some people like to binge read crime novels.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars.

34chlorine
Nov 21, 2017, 4:23pm Top

I've read the four short stories of Nightmare Magazine - Issue 61.

One was OK, two were successful at creating an atmosphere but I was disappointed by the ending. I really liked Don't Turn on the Lights, though, and this made me want to read other stuff by author Cassandra Khaw.

35chlorine
Edited: Nov 24, 2017, 3:24pm Top

Les âmes grises - Philippe Claudel

(the French title translates to "The grey souls" but the English edition seems to be entitled "By a slow river").

France, a small town near the front line during world war one. A little girl, 10 years old, is found dead, murdered. The book is ostensibly about this murder (the narrator refers to it as the Case with a capital C), but the book is also about many other things: the young female school teacher who came to the town shortly after the war had begun, the war, the narrator's wife...
This book is told in first person and the narrator is writing it, many years later, out of order, in notebooks. He is a widower, an alcoholic, and uses this story telling to go around the events of the time, in ever tightening circles.

Though the narrator is convinced that people can be easily categorised as good or bad, the book explores what it is to be a human being, in all its subtleties, and how the good and the bad can be mixed - as one of the characters phrases it : all souls are grey. This is a short and powerful book.

I have read Brodeck's report by the same author and to me both books have strong similarities: both are written reports by narrators that are disturbed by the events they describe in ways we come little by little to understand; and both in my opinion are explorations of what it means to be human - or what is humankind. Brodeck's report was chilling as it explored the really dark parts of humanity associated to WWII. This one is more mitigated but still a sobering - but important - read.

Rating: 4 *

36dchaikin
Nov 24, 2017, 7:23pm Top

I was wondering about the English/French versions of the title when you posted ... probably in the wayrn thread. (I don’t speak French, just used a translator). Very interesting review.

37chlorine
Nov 25, 2017, 2:13am Top

>36 dchaikin: Sorry if I'm thick, but what's the wayrn thread? (or who's wayrn? is maybe a better way to phrase my question)

I don't understand the English title. There is a slow river in the book but I don't see how it plays such a high role in the story to be present in the title. The grey souls, on the other hand, is really at the core of what the book is about, IMO.

38thorold
Nov 25, 2017, 4:06am Top

>36 dchaikin: >37 chlorine: It was Grey souls in the UK, By a slow river in the US. Looking at the list of editions on LT, it's the equivalent of Grey souls in every other language I could make out, apart from Icelandic, where it's Í þokunni (In the mist).
So there obviously wasn't any fundamental problem with translating the original title, and there don't seem to be any other books called Grey souls about that it might have been confused with. The other common reasons publishers have for changing titles are avoiding genre confusion, following marketing fashion, and mere caprice. Most likely some senior manager at Knopf decided that only people who read horror stories would buy a book called "Grey souls"...

39chlorine
Nov 25, 2017, 4:36am Top

>38 thorold: That makes sense.

40dchaikin
Nov 25, 2017, 10:37am Top

wayrn = What are you reading now. Sorry for confusion.

41chlorine
Nov 25, 2017, 12:39pm Top

>40 dchaikin: No problem and thanks for the clarification. :)

42chlorine
Dec 5, 2017, 4:19pm Top

Shades of Grey by Jasper FForde.

This is not the 50 shades of the same color.
The world of Shades of Grey is is post-apocalyptic (whereas according to some reviews the 50 shades are apocalyptic themselves ;) In the distant past Something happened (nobody knows anymore what that Something that Happened was), and the Previous who lived before that Something are no more. The current form of society has been established after someone named Munsell had an epiphany and wrote all the rules of good society. These rules cover all aspects of life - from general good conduct rules such as "All residents are required to make sacrifices for the good of the community" to some very specific details such as "Vulgar mispronunciations of everyday words will not be tolerated", or "Unicycles are not to be ridden backward at excessive speed".
The strangest aspects of the resulting Collective, to the reader, are the residents themselves: though they are obviously human, their eyes are different from ours: their pupil is so small that they are effectively blind at night if the moon is not shining, and most of all, they perceive very little color. Color perception is at the core of the social structure: the color you perceive (blue, yellow or red) decides the area in which you will work, and the amount of color you perceive will determine your social standing.

In this claustrophobic and totalitarian society, Edward Russet is sent to a border village as a punishment for some misfit he did. He hopes to perform his punishment task (perform a chair census in the village to ensure that the chair to person ratio has not fallen below the critical 1.8 threshold) and go back home quickly. However, his encounter with the pretty Jane, and some strange things that happen in this village, may force him to change his plans, and maybe even question the wisdom of the rules...

I had some trouble getting into this book at first. British English does me for this sometimes, as I am less used to it than American English (and even less than French), but I feel there was something else - maybe the writing style, or the fact that all characters' last names are colors which makes it difficult to tell people apart. Anyway, once I reached the middle point I was hooked.
This is a great read, the characters are likable (even those who are on purpose not likable are well done), there is a lot of wit in the dialogues, and the story was great.

What else is there to ask? A sequel! This is only the first book in a planned series of three, and though this one went out in 2009 there is no trace of the sequel. Apparently Fforde has not abandoned the idea of writing it but it keeps getting pushed back. One of the reasons is apparently that the book did not sell well - so I hope I have convinced everyone who reads this to run and buy this book! ;)

43valkyrdeath
Dec 5, 2017, 6:32pm Top

I've only just discovered your thread, and have enjoyed reading through your reviews.

>4 chlorine: I found it interesting to see your thoughts on The Iron Dream. It's not a book I'd heard of before. It sounds like it's more interesting to read about than to actually read.

>19 chlorine: I think Smoke and Mirrors is possibly my favourite Gaiman book. I've had similarly mixed opinions about his different books, but there's so many great varied stories in that collection.

>42 chlorine: Interesting to hear you opinion on Shades of Grey, especially the part about it being hard to get into at first. When I tried to read it a few years ago, I struggled to get into it too, and I'm British so it certainly wasn't a problem with the language. I keep meaning to try it again as I loved his Thursday Next books, and you've convinced me it's probably worth another go.

44chlorine
Dec 6, 2017, 2:49pm Top

>43 valkyrdeath: Thanks for stopping by!
I feel kind of sad that Smoke and Mirrors is your favorite Gaiman, as I feel it would probably be my favorite too if I read other books by him, and that I won't be smitten by any of his work, as I still romantically hope I will be one day...

Do let us know what you think if you give Shades of grey another try! The fact that you had trouble with the beginning as well maybe shows that others had the same problem, which would explain why the book sold poorly.
I read only one Thursday Next book, which was the one happening in Jane Eyre. I remember I was a bit disappointed with it, so I never felt like reading the others.
I heard about his Dragonslayer series yesterday, and this sounds like fun.

45chlorine
Dec 9, 2017, 6:51am Top

Stories of your life and others by Ted Chiang

Wow.
This is a collection of eight science-fiction short stories. They are superbly written and utterly original - Chiang manages to create original and completely different worlds in almost all of them. He broaches several sub-genres with equal ease: fantasy, steampunk, some kind of cyberpunk, alien contact...
The stories are rather long for short stories - I don't know the exact word count but I think most of them qualify as novelettes or novellas. This format worked very well for me, and I had a real feeling of urgency to get back to the book and finish one if I hadn't been able to finish it in one setting.

The copy I'm reading is a later edition entitled Arrival, as the title story Story of your life was the inspiration for the movie Arrival. I had already seen and loved the movie, and I felt that knowing the movie's ending spoiled a bit my enjoyment of this particular short story, but I'm sure it's spectacular - incidentally, the colleague who lent me the book also had seen the movie before reading the book and enjoyed this particular story as much as the movie.

To me the gem of the collection was Seventy-Two Letters, a fantastic steampunk story in which scientists build on kabbalistic work to create golems and study how specific names, which are combinations of 72 letters, are able to animate automata and make them perform specific tasks.

Interestingly, the colleague who lent me the book, and the one he lent the book to before lending it to me, both loved the book but could not bring themselves to finish the last one, Liking what you see: A Documentary, because they found it so boring. To me this was a close second favorite to Seventy-Two letters and I read it in almost one sitting this morning (the story is 45 pages long). I can't wait monday to compare notes with them!

Rating: 4 1/2 *

As I've been wowed by this book, I've looked at what else Chiang has written. Second-hand copies of his novella The lifecycle of software objects are available on amazon.fr for 346 euros! Luckily this one has been published for free online so I'll convert it and put it on my ebook reader as soon as I've finished this review!

46valkyrdeath
Dec 9, 2017, 11:12am Top

>45 chlorine: I really need to get to this book. Every story I've read by him has been excellent. It's a shame there's so few of them, but then I'd rather have him write a dozen excellent stories than a lot of average ones. The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate is one of the stories by him that I remember really enjoying.

47chlorine
Dec 10, 2017, 3:33am Top

>46 valkyrdeath: Thanks for the recommendation of The merchant and the Alchemist's Gate. I do intend to track down everything Chiang has written in the future. Like you said, I feel his ratio of quality over quantity is excellent.

48chlorine
Dec 10, 2017, 5:32am Top

Class Reunion by Franz Werfel
(French title: Le passé ressucité, original German title: Der Abituriententag)

Franz Werfel is an Austrian author from the beginning of the twentieth century.
This book is about an examining magistrate who attends a dinner organised to commemorate the 25-th anniversary of his class' graduation out of high school. This reunion and a case he is working on trigger him to reminisce about the events of that time.
The inner story is told from the point of view of the magistrate but is centered around Franz Adler, a central character in his high school class. In the space of two years, Franz goes from being a source of admiration for all his classmates to some kind of loser, with many of his classmates turned against him. How did this happen?

This book is well-written and I enjoyed reading it, but I did not think the story was anything remarkable - if there was a message in there, I missed it. Though surely it's not a coincidence that the main character has the same first name as the author? I suspect this book won't make a lasting impression on me.

49chlorine
Dec 10, 2017, 5:40am Top

I'm reading my way through this list of horror stories:
The 20 Best Horror Stories Available Online for Free.
(I'm not reading all of them as some of them are in pdf format which is not appropriate to read on an ereader).

Of the six stories I've read so far I thought three were really good:
- The yellow wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (which can be read as a horror short-story or one about mental health in the 19th century)
- The night wire by H. F. Arnold
- Escape from Spiderhead by George Saunders (which is more science-fiction than horror IMO but highly enjoyable anyway)

I was surprised to see that the George Saunders above is the author of Lincoln in the Bardo, about which I've heard much praise here. He definitely seems like an interesting author!

50chlorine
Dec 11, 2017, 4:38pm Top

Bartleby the scrivener by Herman Melville

This is a long short story or a short novella (around 50 pages), happening at the end of the 19th century. The narrator is an attorney and hires Bartleby to be one of his copyist. He is then perplexed when Bartleby answers more and more that he "would rather not to", when asked to do some tasks associated to his job.

This is superbly written, and I found it quite humorous. The way in which the narrator describes his two other copyist is delightful, and the extremities he is led to by Bartleby's quiet refusal to do the tasks he is asked to do are both thought-provoking and amusing, which is a hard feat for the author.

After hating Moby Dick I'm now reconciled with Herman Melville. ;)

Rating: 4 stars.

51dchaikin
Dec 11, 2017, 8:27pm Top

Maybe it is time I read about Bartleby. (But I love Moby Dick). Interesting you found Saunders in the horror collection.

52LolaWalser
Dec 12, 2017, 5:51am Top

I always feel guilty for bringing up film when the literary source is quality, but this adaptation is too good to miss--the 1976 French Bartleby with Maxence Mailfort and Michael Lonsdale. Really special.

53chlorine
Dec 13, 2017, 1:47am Top

>52 LolaWalser: Don't feel guilty and thanks for the recommendation!

54chlorine
Dec 16, 2017, 10:27am Top

Soulless by Gail Carriger
(read in French)

This book is set in an alternate, fantasy Victorian era in London: werewolves and vampires exist, and have for a long time made their coming out: they are now a part of respected society. Alexia is soulless, which has no apparent effect on her, but her touch transforms (temporarily) vampires and werewolves back in mere humans. This, and her strong personality, plus a chance encounter with an uneducated vampire at a ball, will cause her to get involved in a strange case of disappearances of vampires and werewolves, mad scientists, and more.

This book is badly written. I don't know if it's the translation or the original (I suppose it's a bit of both, since there are clearly some language errors which must be come from the translation, but also strange things in the core of the text - like Alexia speaking of "other disappearances" when the only person who has been speaking about disappearances is somebody else in another town).

But. It's fast paced, it's fun in a silly, not taking itself seriously, way, and it works. There is something to be said about a book in which the heroine exclaims, after a vampire has tried to bite her: "But we haven't even been introduced!".
There is a strong romance subplot to the novel. I would have sworn romance is not my thing, but I liked it here, and found myself rooting for the success of Alexia's love story. There were some racy scenes but they were well done, and were not too graphic. Alexia is a strong character and I felt this avoided many stereotypes of the genre (though I must admit I may have severe misconceptions about this genre, so rarely do I read romance).

All in all a fairly enjoyable read. This is Carriger's first book and, according to some reviews she has improved since then, so I'll probably read the following books at some point (bonus: I think that reading them in English will reduce half the stylistic unpleasantness).

Rating: 3.5/5

55dchaikin
Dec 16, 2017, 5:50pm Top

Not being a French speaker, I'm curious about the meaning of your last sentence. Sounds like Soulless was fun, but glad I don't have to fret vampires in RL.

56chlorine
Dec 17, 2017, 2:15am Top

>55 dchaikin: My last sentence is because I think the French translation is not good. :)
So getting the English version would not remove any stylistic problems that come from the author, but would remove the part arising from the translation.

57thorold
Dec 17, 2017, 3:06am Top

>48 chlorine: I’ve only read one of Werfel’s books. I feel I ought to read more, but I also have this suspicion that I’m only interested in him because he was married to Alma Mahler... it sounds as though his Armenian book is the one to read, really.

>50 chlorine: I love Bartleby. Another entertaining spin-off from the Bartleby theme is Bartleby and Co. by the Spanish writer Enrique Vila-Matas, a novel about writers who decided that they “would rather not” write any more books. And there are also lots of Bartleby references in La vie: mode d’emploi, as you probably know already!

58chlorine
Dec 18, 2017, 4:56am Top

>57 thorold: I've read The 40 days of Musa Dagh by Werfel and felt it had more depth than the one I just read.

Bartelby and Co. seems both fun and very interesting. I've wishlisted it, thanks for mentioning it!
I've actually read La vie: mode d'emploi many years ago (when I was a university student, I guess). Therefore I completely missed the references to Bartleby! Maybe I should read it again some time.

59chlorine
Dec 18, 2017, 4:47pm Top

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

After having read valkyrdeath's review of this book, I stumbled on this audio recording of Neil Gaiman giving a public reading of it, using a copy annotated with prompts written by Dickens itself. You can listen to it here (among many others).

It was a bit hard to understand everything as English is not my first language and I'm less used to british accent than the american one. But I was carried away by his performance - very lively and fun.
Though the story felt a bit naive, it was heartwarming and the writing was very good (though maybe I would have benefited more from the writing if I had actually read it - but you can't have everything!)

60rachbxl
Dec 19, 2017, 3:05am Top

I'm very late, but I've enjoyed reading through your thread. Your comments about feeling like a goose being force-fed when listening to an audio book made me giggle - that's pretty much how I feel. Although, as you say, listening to audio books does allow you to squeeze in the extra book here and there... I've noted the Philippe Claudel, thanks.

61chlorine
Dec 19, 2017, 5:15am Top

>60 rachbxl: Thanks for dropping by! :)

62valkyrdeath
Dec 22, 2017, 6:56pm Top

>59 chlorine: I wasn't aware of the reading of A Christmas Carol by Neil Gaiman. That sounds interesting. I do like his reading voice, and it's interesting that he's using Dickens's own notes.

63chlorine
Dec 23, 2017, 3:33am Top

>62 valkyrdeath: I thought the reading occurred very recently but apparently it was done in 2013. I'm lucky to have discovered it then. I wonder what the prompts are like.

64chlorine
Dec 23, 2017, 12:58pm Top

Poésie africaine

This is a collection of poems (written in French) by six African poets:
Léopold Sédar Senghor,
Birago Diop,
Jacques Rabemananjara,
Bernard B. Dadié,
Tchikaya U Tam'Si, and
Jacques Tati Loutard.

I don't know how to review poems but I felt most of them were quite powerful, and I was entranced by several of them. The ones I liked the less were Léopold Sédar Senghor's, though I think he's the only one i had heard the name of before.

A very good collection, to read if you're at all interested in poetry (and read French, obviously).

Rating: 4/5

65chlorine
Edited: Jan 14, 5:50am Top

Just listing here for the sake of completeness two books that I read at the end of the year but did not find the energy to review.

Les fiancés de l'hiver by Christelle Dabos

This book is a huge hit currently in France and I very much wanted to love it. I was a bit disappointed. The worldbuilding is excellent but I felt the characters lacked a bit of depth. Still I'll probably read the two other books in in the series.

66chlorine
Edited: Jan 14, 6:30am Top

Au Japon ceux qui s'aiment ne disent pas je t'aime by Elena Janvier

This is a very short book formed of very small tidbits about things that are different in Japan and in France.
I didn't expect much from it but it's actually well done and humorous, in a subtle kind of way. Of course I don't know the first thing about Japan so I can't say anything about the accuracy.

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