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Valkyrdeath's 2018 Reading Record

This topic was continued by Valkyrdeath's 2018 Reading Record Part 2.

Club Read 2018

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1valkyrdeath
Edited: Jul 8, 5:56pm Top

And now onto my fifth year on Club Read. I read a lot less last year since I had a few bad months where I just couldn’t get interested in doing anything much including reading, but it’s picking up again so I’m hoping to get lots more reading done in 2018, and hopefully it’ll be as diverse and eclectic as possible.

Books read:
1. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
2. Autumn by Ali Smith
3. How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden
4. The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 by Barbara Tuchman
5. Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey by Özge Samancı
6. Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret
7. The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
8. Ways of Seeing by John Berger

9. Union Street by Pat Barker
10. Tau Zero by Poul Anderson
11. March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin art by Nate Powell
12. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
13. March: Book Two by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin art by Nate Powell
14. Ragnarok by A. S. Byatt
15. Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter by Isaac Asimov
16. March: Book Three by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin art by Nate Powell
17. One Virgin Too Many by Lindsey Davis
18. What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton

19. Earth is Room Enough by Isaac Asimov
20. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
21. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman
22. Heart in a Box by Kelly Thompson, art by Meredith McClaren
23. Dr. Mutter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz
24. Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story by Peter Bagge
25. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
26. I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly, art by J. M. Ken Niimura
27. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
28. Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim
29. Ms. Marvel Vol. 8: Mecca by G. Willow Wilson
30. The Planets by Dava Sobel

31. Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs by Lisa Randall
32. The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley
33. The Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark
34. Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
35. The Adventures of Dagobert Trostler by Balduin Groller
36. The Gold Cell by Sharon Olds
37. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

38. 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo
39. Star Trek - Deep Space Nine: Station Rage by Diane Carey
40. The Backwash of War by Ellen N. La Motte
41. Top 10 by Alan Moore
42. Smax by Alan Moore
43. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
44. Khufu's Wisdom by Naguib Mahfouz
45. Iraq + 100 edited by Hassan Blasim
46. The Forever Machine by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley
47. Big Mushy Happy Lump by Sarah Andersen
48. What's Tha Up To?: Memories of a Yorkshire Bobby by Martyn Johnson
49. Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorothy L. Sayers
50. On Sanity by Una
51. Tenth of December by George Saunders
52. Top Ten: The Forty-Niners by Alan Moore
53. Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente

54. 1066 and All That by R. J. Yeatman and W. C. Sellar
55. Never Stop Walking by Christina Rickardsson
56. Double Star by Robert Heinlein
57. How to Behave Badly in Renaissance Britain by Ruth Goodman
58. The Spider King's Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo

2valkyrdeath
Jan 1, 8:31pm Top

Book stats for 2017:
100 books read made up of:
35 novels
26 graphic works
13 non-fiction books
13 short story collections
12 plays
1 poetry collection

46 books by women, 45 books by men
Books from 13 different countries and by 74 different authors.

3valkyrdeath
Jan 1, 8:31pm Top

Some random highlights from 2017, in no particular order
Non-fiction:
Longitude by Dava Sobel
The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Fiction:
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett (plus rereads of his older books)
Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand
Stone Butch Blues

Graphic:
Rolling Blackouts by Sarah Glidden

4arubabookwoman
Jan 2, 5:07pm Top

Three of my kids went on a Birthright Israel trip, so I read and enjoyed How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less. It was enjoyable in helping me understand the Birthright experience, but it is not a particularly in depth study of Middle Eastern/Israeli problems. I'll be interested to see what you thing of it.

A God in Ruins was one of my favorites the year I read it. Did you also read the companion Life After Life?

5valkyrdeath
Jan 2, 5:37pm Top

>4 arubabookwoman: I really enjoyed Sarah Glidden's other book last year so I'm looking forward to trying the Israel one too.

I did read Life After Life and really enjoyed it. It was at the end of 2016, and I didn't want to leave it too long before reading A God in Ruins. I think I possibly prefered A God in Ruins even more, though it's hard to say since they're quite different.

6baswood
Jan 2, 7:02pm Top

I have got The Demolished man on my list of books to read soon and its good to see North and South on your best reads list - it's one of my favourites.

7valkyrdeath
Jan 2, 8:16pm Top

>6 baswood: It'll be interesting to compare our opinions on The Demolished Man. I've yet to read anything by Bester. I did love North and South and I'm hoping to read some more Gaskell this year too.

8mabith
Jan 3, 6:19pm Top

You know I'll always be nudging everyone into reading more Gaskell! :)

9dchaikin
Jan 4, 11:16pm Top

Hi Gary. I love Sarah Gliddens work, even follow her on fb. I feel I might have said that here before. Anyway, I agree with Deborah How to Understand Israel isn’t an in-depth investigation of the reason, but I found it a moving and thoughtful personal perspective.

10valkyrdeath
Jan 5, 6:03pm Top

>8 mabith: I'd expect nothing less! I probably wouldn't have read her at all if it wasn't for your nudges.

>9 dchaikin: I think it was your comments last year after I read Rolling Blackouts that encouraged me to get this one. I'm just getting started with it now.

11valkyrdeath
Jan 6, 10:32pm Top


1. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
I had no idea who Trevor Noah was until this was picked for an online book club, but I quite enjoyed reading this memoir of growing up as a mixed race child in post-apartheid South Africa. He went through some terrible times, particularly with his extremely violent step-father. It’s interesting to see a perspective of someone who grew up in that particular era, since it’s not something I’ve read much about. I did sometimes wish he’d expand on some things. Although it’s a memoir, I felt I wanted to know what happened to some of the other people, such as when he and his best friend committed a crime together and his friend got arrested, we then hear about how he managed to avoid being arrested himself but his best friend is never mentioned again. There were a few little things that rubbed me the wrong way at times, but it was generally an easy read and a story worth telling. I liked it but I didn’t love it as much as a lot of people seem to have.

12dchaikin
Jan 7, 5:58pm Top

Trevor Noah has been a little hero over the last year in the US. I have thought about reading his memoir, but suspect, even though I really like him, my reaction will be like yours. Still, maybe I should read or listen to it.

13ipsoivan
Edited: Jan 7, 6:49pm Top

>5 valkyrdeath: I'm looking forward to A God in Ruins myself. Thanks for the recommendation.

14valkyrdeath
Jan 7, 7:33pm Top

>12 dchaikin: I don't regret reading it, and it was a quick read, but there were just things that annoyed me a bit. Though I tried to watch a clip of his stand-up a couple of days ago and couldn't make it to the end when it started with a bunch of stereotype impressions of gay people and a joke about how they wouldn't find prison to be much of a punishment. Maybe I just picked a bad clip, but I'm thinking he's probably not for me.

>13 ipsoivan: I hope you enjoy A God in Ruins. I need to try some of Kate Atkinson's other books at some point.

15ipsoivan
Jan 10, 9:47pm Top

The Jackson Brodie books are wonderful. The others can be a bit touch and go. Behind the Scenes at the Museum was a bit of a dud for me, but I liked Emotionally Weird, and yes, it is weird. Life after Life was one of my favourites a few years ago -- the multiple possibilities of a life fascinate me.

16avidmom
Jan 10, 9:55pm Top

My son and I started listening to Born A Crime but never finished it. We first found Trevor Noah, quite accidentally, on Netflix doing a stand up special titled "African American" which we thought was really funny. although what you describe does not sound funny at all!

I absolutely love Life After Life but haven't read any of her other stuff (yet!)

17valkyrdeath
Jan 12, 7:00pm Top

>15 ipsoivan: I definitely intend to try the Jackson Brodie books, even though I don't generally read much in the way of modern day crime books. I didn't know about Emotionally Weird but you've got me curious about it now.

>16 avidmom: I've watched some other clips since and they were much better so I think I just picked a lazy routine in that first one I saw. If you loved Life After Life, then A God in Ruins is definitely one to read, even though it's quite different without the multiple lives theme.

18mabith
Edited: Jan 12, 7:10pm Top

Noah has a history of homophobic (and pretty sure I recall some antisemitic, and plenty of misogynistic) tweets as well which were first noticed when it was announced he'd be the new host of the Daily Show. They were a couple years old at that time, but that's not much, and he gave a really weak "not actually an apology" thing in reference to them. It was really frustrating, as I'd seen him on some UK panel shows with no hint of that and because I feel damn sure the people responsible for choosing the new host would have found those (it's not like they were from ten years ago).

19valkyrdeath
Jan 12, 9:24pm Top

>18 mabith: He does seem to do those non-apology type things quite a bit from what I've seen. He seemed to avoid taking responsibility for things in his book at times too. I do remember some of his panel show appearances now.

20dchaikin
Jan 12, 10:41pm Top

>18 mabith: didn't know that. Apparently his humor was pretty low end for some time. One article here: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/mar/31/trevor-noah-backlash-highlights-jokes-jews-women

I don't know his full story, but he has handled the Daily Show exceptionally well over the last year. When Trump brings me down, Noah is a good place to find a pick me up.

A recent clip and good example: https://www.sapeople.com/2018/01/13/watch-trevor-noah-react-trump-someone-south-shthole/

21mabith
Jan 13, 9:43am Top

Dan, yeah, I really liked what I saw of him on panel shows before he was chosen as Daily Show host. It was disappointing to see such lazy, stereotype driven humor from him. It wouldn't bother me so much if he'd actually apologized but I also found a distinct lack of willingness to take responsibility for his actions in the memoir and when these bits of his hopefully old self pop up.

22valkyrdeath
Jan 14, 8:48pm Top


2. Autumn by Ali Smith
Another great book from Ali Smith. It’s generally about the friendship between Elisabeth Demand and Daniel Gluck. At the start of the book, Daniel is 101 years old and in a care home, spending most of the time in a deep sleep. Elisabeth is 32 and befriended Daniel as a child when he was her next door neighbour. The book jumps around from the events going on at this point, various points in Elisabeth’s childhood showing her meeting Daniel and their growing friendship, and Daniel’s dreams. Her writing is wonderful as always. I love the way she always uses language in such interesting, playful way. There were some really fun moments, such as Elisabeth’s struggle with Kafka-like bureaucracy to try to get her passport application submitted at the post office. The book covers a lot of themes, from post-Brexit Britain to 60s pop artist Pauline Boty to the Profumo scandal, and somehow Smith seems to always pull everything together to create a cohesive novel. I really enjoyed it and am now wanting to read Winter. I’ve read three books by Ali Smith so far and I’m already pretty sure I’m going to want to read everything else she’s written.

Also, I think Elisabeth’s mother in this book summed up how a lot of people are feeling these days:
“I’m tired of the news. I’m tired of the way it makes things spectacular that aren’t, and deals so simplistically with what’s truly appalling. I’m tired of the vitriol. I’m tired of the anger. I’m tired of the meanness. I’m tired of the selfishness. I’m tired of how we’re doing nothing to stop it. I’m tired of how we’re encouraging it. I’m tired of the violence there is and I’m tired of the violence that’s on its way, that’s coming, that hasn’t happened yet. I’m tired of liars. I’m tired of sanctified liars. I’m tired of how these liars have let this happen. I’m tired of having to wonder whether they did it out of stupidity or did it on purpose. I’m tired of lying governments. I’m tired of people not caring whether they’re being lied to any more. I’m tired of being made to feel this fearful. I’m tired of animosity. I’m tired of pusillanimosity.

I don’t think that’s actually a word, Elisabeth says.

I’m tired of not knowing the right words, her mother says.”

23chlorine
Jan 15, 9:00am Top

Interesting reviews, thanks for those. I already wanted to read some Ali Smith and you make me want that more.

24baswood
Jan 15, 2:34pm Top

>22 valkyrdeath: Great paragraph and review.

25dchaikin
Jan 15, 4:54pm Top

That quote from “Elisabeth’s mother” is spot on with how I feel.

26valkyrdeath
Jan 17, 7:02pm Top

>23 chlorine: >24 baswood: Thanks!

>25 dchaikin: Same here. I think it's hard not to feel like that these days.

27NanaCC
Jan 18, 3:00pm Top

You’ve piqued my interest in Autumn. I’ll have to look for it.

I’ve only seen Trevor Noah a few times. His show is ok, but he’s not Jon Stewart. I’d rather watch John Oliver. I’m still trying to decide if I want to read Noah’s book. :)

28.Monkey.
Jan 18, 3:19pm Top

I adore Trevor Noah. I was quite worried about Jon Stewart leaving, but Trevor has done a truly amazing job at filling those huge shoes. And, while it certainly doesn't excuse the shitty jokes, I don't believe he actually has any negative beliefs about any of the groups he joked about, but that he was trying to break into the comedy ranks and therefore attempting to be "edgy" and whatnot. It doesn't make it acceptable, of course, but yeah, I don't think those are reflective of him as a person at all, just bad decision-making.
My husband & I actually went and saw him live when he was here a while ago, and it was a great show. :)

29mabith
Jan 18, 3:32pm Top

>28 .Monkey.: If it were just bad decision making I'd have expected a normal apology. The lack of taking any responsibility for his words is what concerns me most in some ways.

30valkyrdeath
Jan 18, 8:43pm Top


3. How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden
This graphic memoir follows Glidden’s free Birthright trip to Israel. The previous book I read by her, Rolling Blackouts, was a journalistic work with almost every line of dialogue being a direct quote from recordings she made. This one is much more the personal journey of the author. She starts with her own opinions on the political situation in Israel but comes away with the view that it’s far more complicated than she realised. She finds some parts of the trip to be the propaganda that she was expecting, but also finds people willing to talk and discuss things far more than expected. Despite the title, there’s no easy answers and no neatly wrapping everything up at the end, though it would be naïve to assume a graphic novel was going to miraculous solve a complex international situation. But it’s a very well written account of Glidden’s experiences and conflicted emotions on the trip and I really like her artwork.

31valkyrdeath
Jan 18, 9:06pm Top

>27 NanaCC: Hope you enjoy Autumn if you do read it!

>28 .Monkey.: Trevor Noah doesn't get a lot of coverage here in the UK so I do have very limited exposure to him, aside from the brief run of British panel shows he did a few years ago, which I seem to remember I quite liked him on. As >29 mabith: said though, his not taking responsibility for his actions is uncomfortable. He does it in various ways in his book for different things that he's done in his life. It just stopped me from being able to completely like him sadly.

32dchaikin
Jan 23, 5:10pm Top

>30 valkyrdeath: really nicely put.

33arubabookwoman
Jan 25, 1:28pm Top

>30 valkyrdeath: I read this several years ago because 3 of my 5 kids have gone on the Birthright trip to Israel that this book describes. I enjoyed it, and passed it on so that now all 3 of the kids have read it too.

34valkyrdeath
Jan 25, 10:12pm Top

>32 dchaikin: Thanks! It was interesting to get a perspective on something that I really know very little of in that book.

>33 arubabookwoman: I expect it was quite a different reading experience for them having been on similar trips themselves.

35valkyrdeath
Edited: Jan 27, 7:27pm Top


4. The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 by Barbara Tuchman
This is an interesting history book looking at the years leading up to the First World War. It’s actually a collection of eight different chapters on different topics. As Tuchman says in her introduction, she could have written the book all over again with completely different subjects, but however arbitrary they might be, when put together they present an interesting portrait of the world at that time. It covers the British government at the start of the period where ruling was the province of the aristocrats, and in a later chapter, the move there towards democracy. It has a chapter on the anarchist movement and another on socialism. It also has a fairly detailed look at the Dreyfus affair and the reactions of French society to it, a look at German culture during the era focusing largely on Richard Strauss, a chapter on US politics focusing mainly on Thomas Reed, and the Hague peace conferences. I found all the chapters interesting and well written, and it was interesting to learn about a period that isn’t covered so much generally since the war itself obviously draws most of the attention. The chapters are all self-contained but work well together, and I’ll be interested to move onto her The Guns of August about the start of World War 1.

36valkyrdeath
Jan 27, 8:59pm Top


5. Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey by Özge Samancı
Dare to Disappoint is the author’s graphic memoir of, as the subtitle suggests, growing up in Turkey. It deals largely with her struggles at school and her worries about meeting her parent’s expectations, particularly her father’s. It was a good read and I particularly love her art style.

37NanaCC
Jan 27, 9:46pm Top

>35 valkyrdeath: Very nice review of The Proud Tower. It is one of the books I had downloaded for the centennial, but I never got to it. Maybe this year.

38valkyrdeath
Edited: Jan 28, 9:41pm Top


6. Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret
A collection of short stories translated from Hebrew by Israeli author Etgar Keret. It didn’t quite work for me. The stories were extremely short, and while that’s not always a bad thing and I’ve enjoyed very short stories before, here they don’t seem to really go anywhere. They weren’t funny enough to make up for it either, though apparently they’re meant to be. I didn’t really see it for the most part, so maybe it just didn’t fit my sense of humour. There was the very occasional story that I enjoyed, but for the rest, I didn’t hate them but can’t say I particularly liked them either and a couple of days after finishing the book I can remember hardly any of the stories. It seems to be well liked, but it’s clearly not for me.

39valkyrdeath
Jan 28, 9:40pm Top

>37 NanaCC: Hope you enjoy it if you read it. I found it very informative. It doesn't have much reference to the war itself since it mostly looks at the events from the perspective of how things were at the time, but it certainly gives an indication of parts of the world as they were at the start of it.

40AlisonY
Jan 29, 4:24am Top

I mentioned on another thread that my only foray into Ali Smith's writing was with The Accidental and I couldn't warm to it at all. So many of you love her writing her that I keep thinking perhaps I need to give her another chance.

41rachbxl
Jan 30, 9:59am Top

>22 valkyrdeath: I’ve read several good reviews of Autumn in CR recently, and yours convinced me, so I was delighted to find it in the library today. I’m looking forward to reading it.

42valkyrdeath
Edited: Jan 31, 7:14pm Top


7. The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
Ben Reich is the head of a huge corporate empire who has strange nightmares about a man with no face and who decides to murder his rival at the only corporation more successful than his own. Lincoln Powell is the police detective assigned to solve the case. It’s like a written version of a Columbo episode, except here we’re in the 24th Century in a world where telepathy is real and fairly common. Known as Espers, they come in three different grades depending on how deeply into the subconscious they’re able to read. Powell is the highest grade Esper, but regardless of how easy this might make it to determine someone’s guilt to his own satisfaction, it still needs evidence like any other case would.

The most interesting part of this novel was the portrayal of telepathy and its role in society. It’s made clear that telepathic communication isn’t just transmitting voices to each other’s heads but is communication by thoughts. Bester uses various typographical tricks to portray this, from different thoughts forming intersecting patterns on the page to using symbols within the text. He uses these just enough to make sure we know it’s not just speech we’re reading, but not too much that it becomes confusing or irritating. Given that this book was written in 1952, I found it interesting how symbols were used to represent parts of words in names, such as @kins, S&erson and ¼maine. It’s like the annoying internet 1337 speak decades in advance. It made me wonder what I’d have made of the pronunciation of @kins if I had read it back when I was a kid. Before email became common, I thought the official name of the @ symbol was “that funny curly A that no one uses on a keyboard.”

I enjoyed the cat and mouse chase between the detective and the murderer, and I enjoyed the portrayal of telepathy, and it must have been innovative for its time. It has some flaws though. Things went very odd at the end, and there’s a lot of weird Freudian psychology thrown into the story. There’s a very creepy relationship between the detective and the daughter of the murder victim, who has gone through some weird psychotherapy where she’s been reverted back to childhood to relive an accelerated version of it. So I did like the book, and found the world imaginative and the plot kept me reading, and while in many ways it felt quite modern, in others it was a product of its time, and there were just too many oddities to really love it. It’s an influential work in science fiction (and it won the first ever Hugo Award) and I’m glad I read it, but it’s not a favourite.

43valkyrdeath
Jan 31, 8:29pm Top

>40 AlisonY: I can certainly imagine Ali Smith's writing not working for everyone. Though I haven't read The Accidental so I can't say how it compares to the ones I've read so far.

>41 rachbxl: I hope you enjoy it! I love coming across interesting books in libraries.

44chlorine
Feb 1, 2:41am Top

>42 valkyrdeath:
Good review of The Demolished Man!
It does sound interesting but I'm kind of allergic to Freudian stuff so maybe I won't put this one to the top of my list of the Hugo/Nebula I have yet to read.

45baswood
Feb 2, 4:54am Top

Excellent review of The Demolished Man. I am looking forward to reading it later this month.

46valkyrdeath
Feb 3, 10:35am Top

>44 chlorine: Thanks! If you really hate Freudian stuff then it's probably not the book to prioritise, especially if you're not already a big 50s sci-fi fan. If the book had stuck to the telepathy and crime sides of the story and skipped the Freudian creepinesss it would have been a much better book I think.

>45 baswood: Thanks, I'm looking forward to seeing what you think of the book.

47valkyrdeath
Feb 4, 8:31pm Top


8. Ways of Seeing by John Berger
I came across this book quite randomly at the library and decided to give it a go, not really knowing what to expect. It’s a series of four main chapters (interspersed by three “visual essay” chapters consisting of only pictures) on four topics relating to art and the way we see it. It was published in 1972 and based on the four episode BBC TV series of the same name. I’m really glad I read it, since I found it to be an intelligent and well-presented look at art from a perspective very different to what I’ve seen from general art critics. It looks at how much art is affected by the context it’s seen in, the way the female nude has almost always been treated as an object of male admiration rather than a portrayal of a person, oil paintings being used to show off the wealth and status of the owner who commissioned them and the way advertising has used techniques from oil painting to try to manipulate people into wanting things. It’s a long way from the usual staid respect for classic paintings that I’m more used to seeing in things about art. I found it quite thought provoking. It’s just a shame the book is in a small black and white format so the many pictures used to illustrate things aren’t very clear. I watched the BBC series on YouTube afterwards and that made a good companion, with the cleared visuals that can present. It also allowed him to do things he couldn’t in an essay, such as showing how the things we see and hear around a painting affect it, or handing half of the episode about portrayal of women in art over to a group of women to discuss the ideas he’s just presented and how they feel about their representation. I enjoyed reading this book and watching the show and it’s also got me looking at his novels and thinking I may need to check one of those out too.

48chlorine
Feb 5, 2:31am Top

>47 valkyrdeath: I'm not into art at all (at least not paintings), but this does seem interesting! Thanks for the review.

49baswood
Feb 5, 2:10pm Top

Enjoyed your review of Ways of Seeing which is an excellent title for a book on art. Says it all really.

50valkyrdeath
Feb 7, 7:29pm Top

>48 chlorine: I like art sometimes but I'm usually put off by the usual attitudes surrounding it. I can't claim to be any sort of expert though or to be able to analyse any of it, I just like some things and not others.

>49 baswood: Thanks. The title was part of what drew me to it, along with the cover. I don't usually judge a book by the cover, but I think it's valid to do that when the cover is also the start of the text.

51valkyrdeath
Feb 10, 11:09am Top


9. Union Street by Pat Barker
Having loved the Regeneration trilogy, it’s taken me a while to read more Pat Barker. Union Street was her first novel and is very different, but no less brilliant. It’s told in seven chapters, each following a different woman living on the same working class street in the north east of England in the 1970s. It’s one of those books that’s like a novel and a short story collection at the same time, since each chapter has its own events featuring a different main character but the protagonist of one chapter will appear in the background in other chapters. Each character is at a different stage in life, and each chapter has a progressively older protagonist, which gives it a similar structure to Dubliners by James Joyce.

This is certainly not a happy book. The characters are all going through awful situations, from a child being raped to monotonous jobs with workplace racism, unwanted pregnancies to a dying old woman. It all feels very realistic though and I wasn’t surprised to find out that Pat Barker grew up in the north east herself. It means she also gets the dialect right too, and the dialogue is very well done. She portrays the lives of these varied women extremely well and they never fall into just being stereotypes. As bleak as it is, it’s very well written and not at all difficult to read. Barker apparently spent years getting the book rejected by publishers for being too depressing, before Angela Carter read it and told her to send it to Virago where it got accepted. I’m sure the fact that it was about the north, about the working class and about women couldn’t possibly have been a factor in the rejections in 1970s Britain. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of her early work.

52chlorine
Feb 10, 11:49am Top

>51 valkyrdeath: Great review. This book seems very interesting.

53valkyrdeath
Feb 12, 6:07pm Top

>52 chlorine: I really enjoyed it. I also forgot to mention that each chapter felt more like a complete short story than a lot of actual short stories I've read too.

54valkyrdeath
Feb 12, 8:36pm Top


10. Tau Zero by Poul Anderson
Tau Zero is a hard science fiction novel from 1970 involving a crew setting off on a 5 year journey (which will take 33 years externally thanks to the time dilation of the near light speed) to a planet to see if it’s suitable to set up a colony there. The problems are caused when, following an accident, they obtain damage to their ramjets and find they can’t decelerate. It then becomes a matter of problem solving as they try to work out a way out of their situation.

On the positive side, I did like the general story. The science of how the ship works and the way relativity affects time is very well described and I really enjoyed these parts. The plot takes some interesting turns and the book portrays isolation very well, as the years outside the ship flies by and they realise that everyone they’ve known and then possibly the human race itself have gone. Ultimately they end up having to accelerate to the point when they’re travelling immense distances and through millennia to the end of our universe and the start of a new one. It follows the “big crunch” theory which doesn’t seem to be supported by scientific observations these days, but I don’t really consider that to be a particular problem in a fictional work.

On the other hand, there’s the characters. I can cope with characters that aren’t complex if a story is interesting enough, but these characters are just obnoxious. Charles Reymont, the ship’s constable, probably the main character in the book, is a macho idiot who bullies his way into taking control and getting what he wants, all while convincing himself it’s for everyone’s own good, and of course everyone is so grateful in the end. It reminds me of the old war films where an horrible sergeant bullies his troops but ultimately they all love him because he’s trained them into the unit they needed to be and he just wanted what’s best for them but always end with me thinking “nope, he’s just a bastard.” Anyway, it’s at that weird point for sci-fi in the late 60s/early 70s where they have to mention sex a lot, though there are no descriptions of the actual acts here. Half the crew are women, which is a change from most of the earlier science fiction, but then the women are still obsessed with relationships and having babies half the time, while the first officer, Ingrid Lindgren, basically solves the problems of any men who come to her by sleeping with them. These go beyond just being generic characters to being outright annoying.

So I’m glad I read the book and I can understand its Hugo nomination and why it’s come to be regarded as a classic. It really was influential in a lot of ways in terms of the story and ideas behind everything. But the awful characters and bad dialogue stopped me from completely loving the book. I’d rather have had less characterisation than terrible characters that constantly irritate me. It feels like about half a good book mixed with half a bad one.

55baswood
Feb 13, 4:44pm Top

>10 valkyrdeath: Sometimes it is difficult to get beyond the bad characterisation of novels from this era. It is in the science fiction masterworks series and so I will get to it. Thanks for marking my card with your review.

56chlorine
Feb 14, 1:24pm Top

>54 valkyrdeath: I did not have fond memories of Tau Zero either.
I went and looked up my review in CR 2015 and it begins with "Oh my god the writing!"

So apparently the writing was more of a problem for me than the characters (though I also said the characters were like bad actors in a bad script, so I can't say I was a fan of characterisation either;)

>55 baswood: Good luck with it bas; I'll enjoy reading your comments when they come. The story is good so it's not too much of a chore to read.

57valkyrdeath
Feb 14, 7:10pm Top

>55 baswood: I love the old science fiction books, but it can certainly be a problem. I find it easier when the books that don't have interesting characters don't focus too much on them, but Tau Zero tried a bit too hard to be character driven while not being very good at it. I actually find a lot of the late 60s and early 70s sci-fi stuff more frustrating in terms of characters than the earlier 40s and 50s works. It's certainly an interesting book though.

>56 chlorine: I just went and found your review and it does sound like we had similar opinions on it. I found his writing when he was talking about the science and how the ship worked seemed fine, but when he moved away from it, well, it felt like he'd rather be talking about the science some more.

58valkyrdeath
Feb 15, 7:01pm Top


12. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
When this book came up for an online book club read, I wasn’t sure if I’d actually read it. Religion is definitely not an interest of mine, but I ultimately decided to give this book a go and I’m glad I did. This is a book about the historical Jesus as opposed to the mythological one. There’s very few facts known about him for definite, so much of it is dealing with the history of the time period and placing Jesus within that context. It also looks at the changes in how he was written about over the years following his death. It’s quite a brief book and Aslan has an easy to read style. He also has extensive notes afterwards regarding his sources and research. An interesting book.

59valkyrdeath
Feb 16, 7:39pm Top


14. Ragnarok by A. S. Byatt
This is one of the Canongate Myths series of retellings of different mythological stories, so when I came across it at my library I thought I’d give it a go. Unfortunately, this one didn’t work for me at all. This time, it’s not a different perspective on a myth as with Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, and not a modern retelling as with Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy. Byatt instead writes about a girl known only as “the thin child” reading a copy of Asgard and the Gods during wartime, as a frame story to do a straight telling of some of the original Norse myths. None of it quite worked for me. The story of the child reading the book didn’t really go anywhere or seem to have any real relevance to anything. I kept expecting some sort of parallels to the mythology, but aside from brief vague thoughts about how the war felt like the end of the world there wasn’t any real link. But when we get to the Norse myths that make up the bulk of the book, they’re told in a very dry uninteresting style. It’s also a very short book yet still felt like it was padded out. At several points Byatt descends into just listing different types of animals or plants. For example:
"There were multitudes of crabs: porcelain crabs, great spider crabs, scorpion and spiky stone crabs, masked crabs, circular crabs, edible crabs, harbour crabs, swimming crabs, angular crabs, each with its own roaming-ground."
This literally goes on for pages at a time, with lists of crabs, lists of sharks, fish, birds, whatever she felt like randomly naming at the time. If the book wasn’t so short I’d have given up at this point.

I think I just don’t quite get what she was trying to do with this book. There’s an afterword section where she writes about how myths should always feel distant and shouldn’t be humanised. This seemed to me to imply that she was writing in a bland way on purpose, but dull writing on purpose is still dull writing. I also completely disagree with her, since I think the very thing that makes Norse mythology so interesting is the fact that the gods are so human-like. She also talks in the afterword about what she was considering doing with the book and decided against, and the ways she could have made it allegorical but didn’t want to, and all the things she mentions here sound like they’d have made for a more interesting work than the one she actually produced.

I don’t really feel it’s fair to judge Byatt on this particular book, since I’ve never read any of her other works, but it certainly doesn’t make me want to rush out and read more by her either.

60chlorine
Feb 17, 1:44am Top

>59 valkyrdeath: This does sound like a weird book indeed. I hope the next one's better!

61.Monkey.
Feb 17, 9:31am Top

>59 valkyrdeath: I read that one several years ago and felt somewhat similarly, I was not impressed by the whole. I thought the "thin girl's" story was actually fairly interesting, except that it didn't go anywhere because it was just meant to serve as some odd vehicle for delivering up the myths? but the odd attempt of trying to mix the girl's story with the story of the gods just...fell completely flat.

62NanaCC
Feb 17, 1:38pm Top

>59 valkyrdeath: I haven’t read Ragnarok, so can’t really comment on that one. I did read Possession, and seem to remember that I loved it. It was a long time ago though, so I don’t remember much about it.

63janemarieprice
Feb 17, 6:40pm Top

>59 valkyrdeath: Does sound odd. I have (and apparently read) Angels and Insects though don't remember a thing about it. I think it similarly felt like there was an interesting book there but was oddly executed.

64avidmom
Feb 18, 12:28am Top

>58 valkyrdeath: I read that one a few years ago. While I did like it, I also found myself arguing with Aslan because I thought he took a lot of the Bible verses out of context.

65valkyrdeath
Feb 21, 6:47pm Top

>60 chlorine: My reading since that has been much more enjoyable so far!

>61 .Monkey.: I quite like the child's story at first, but you're right, it never went anywhere and it never stayed with it long. It definitely fell flat for me too.

>62 NanaCC: If I try to read anything else by Byatt I'll probably go with Possession. It seems to be her most popular book.

>63 janemarieprice: I've never heard of Angels and Insects. I wonder if interesting ideas but strange execution is a recurring feature of her books.

>64 avidmom: I didn't notice the context issue, but I'm definitely no Bible expert.

66valkyrdeath
Feb 25, 8:46pm Top


11. March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin art by Nate Powell
13. March: Book Two by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin art by Nate Powell
16. March: Book Three by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin art by Nate Powell
The three volumes of John Lewis’s graphic memoir of his time in the civil rights movement. These are excellent books telling about a very important piece of history. They’ve very well done, and the graphic format works very well, bringing immediacy to the events. The brutality Lewis and his fellow protesters had to put up with is shocking. I didn’t know anything about John Lewis before I read the first volume a couple of years back, and I’ve been waiting until I had the chance to read them all together. These are really need to be read together since it feels like one book that’s been split into three parts, though books two and three are longer than the first. Definitely recommended for pretty much everyone.

67avaland
Feb 27, 4:57pm Top

>66 valkyrdeath: Glad to hear they are excellent. I saw them mentioned somewhere and wondered.

ooo, you wrote a review on a Poul Anderson novel, must tell the hubby to get over here, he's such an Anderson fan-boy.

68valkyrdeath
Feb 27, 6:50pm Top

>67 avaland: It's the first Anderson book I've read. I've no idea what to read next by him, so I'd be happy for any recommendations!

69valkyrdeath
Feb 27, 9:26pm Top


15. Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter by Isaac Asimov
The fifth of Asimov’s juvenile novels about David Starr from the Council of Science. This one sees him investigating espionage on one of Jupiter’s moons, where they’re working on an antigravity drive. It’s got some action in it, but mostly it’s a mystery as Starr and his impulsive friend Bigman try to discover how information is being leaked. It brings in the laws of robotics again, and a hypnotoad V-frog from one of the earlier books, and the mystery was well developed, though in this instance I did for once work out at least part of what was going on myself. I think this is my favourite of the Lucky Starr books so far, and while they’re not Asimov’s best work, they’re still fun entertaining reads. I’m sure I would have loved this one when I was a kid.

70valkyrdeath
Mar 3, 7:17pm Top


17. One Virgin Too Many by Lindsey Davis
Another historical mystery for Falco, the Roman informer. There’s a lot going on in this, the eleventh book in the series. Falco is approached by a child who tell him that someone in her family has threatened her life and who subsequently goes missing, Aelianus, his brother-in-law, literally stumbles over a dead body while trying to get into the Arval Brethren, and on top of this he has to deal with his new duties as Procurator of the Sacred Poultry. There are plenty of historical details about Rome used in the plot as usual, and it especially revolves around the election of a new Vestal Virgin, hence the book’s title. It’s also full of the usual humour and wonderful characters. I love pretty much everything about this series, from Falco’s first person narrative voice to the way he has a family life far different from the typical brooding detective. This book is another great entry, and the third in a loose trilogy where Falco partners with different people.

71tess_schoolmarm
Mar 4, 3:24am Top

>70 valkyrdeath: In your opinion, can these books be read as a stand alone?

72valkyrdeath
Mar 4, 1:21pm Top

>71 tess_schoolmarm: They should all work well as standalones, since they all have self contained plots and if there's anything relevant from earlier books it will always be mentioned. The only possible exception would be the second book, which was a fairly direct sequel to the first before she decided that was a bad idea and that she wouldn't do it again. I enjoyed the first two books, but they felt much tighter and better written from the third book onwards, and pretty much any book from that point should work fine on its own, at least up to the point I've read so far.

73mabith
Mar 5, 1:53am Top

>71 tess_schoolmarm: I would argue on that count that after the eighth book or so I think it's much more difficult to read them out of order. There's just too much family stuff and relationships that build up in the series as it goes on. There's still enjoyment in them regardless, but also confusion so it just depends on the reader as to whether one might outweigh the other.

74valkyrdeath
Mar 6, 8:00pm Top


18. What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton
This collects 130 of a series of articles Walton wrote for tor.com where she rereads different books and writes about them. They’re most old science fiction and fantasy, but with the odd other book thrown in too. The most interesting ones are when she talks about lesser known books, some of which sound really interesting, and so my list of books to read has expanded even more rapidly than usual in reading this. The articles are quite short and seem to give a reasonable impression of what the books are like. She gives her own thoughts on the books, which are mainly ones she loves, without worrying about trying to be impartial, though she does point out some of their flaws too. There were a couple of times where it got bogged down doing a separate article for every book of a lengthy series in order, and since I hadn’t read those, after the first one the others didn’t seem to have much value for me. Occasionally she puts in an article that’s about a more general reading related topic rather than about a particular book, and these were interesting to read even if she reads in a very different way to me. (She rereads books that she doesn’t like and doesn’t feel like she’s read a book properly until she’s read it twice. She rereads every book in every long series that she likes all over again every time a new sequel comes out.) I enjoyed reading the book a few articles at a time over a few weeks. At some point I’ll have to try reading one of Jo Walton’s novels.

75chlorine
Edited: Mar 7, 2:13am Top

>74 valkyrdeath: Does this book include Walton's Revisiting the Hugos series? I've read a few of those articles and thought they were interesting.

I'm very interested in this book but there is so much nonfiction I want to read about topics I'm quite unfamiliar with that I would feel guilty reading something about books, somehow. ;)

Your post also reminds me that Among Others has been on my wishlist for a long time. I was wondering which book to buy and take with me on my next extended weekend, and this seems like a very good choice!

76valkyrdeath
Mar 7, 5:29pm Top

>75 chlorine: I started reading a couple of those Revisiting the Hugos articles a few days ago and they did seem interesting. They're not in this book, though there's a book collecting them due out later this year apparently, under the title of An Informal History of the Hugos. I've also been considering reading Among Others for some time. I'll look forward to reading your thoughts on it!

77chlorine
Mar 8, 2:01am Top

>76 valkyrdeath: I did buy it yesterday in the end, so expect my thoughts in one to two weeks! :)

78valkyrdeath
Mar 8, 8:29pm Top


19. Earth is Room Enough by Isaac Asimov
Earth is Room Enough is a 1957 collection of Asimov short stories. I generally feel it’s the format that Asimov was best with, and this particular book collections stories that he’d written set on Earth, apparently as a response to criticism that he only wrote stories set on other worlds. It’s not Asimov’s best collection, though there are some excellent stories here. The opening story is The Dead Past, taking up a large chunk of the book on its own. It follows a historian in a future where time viewing has been invented, who tries to get access to the technology to verify his theories on ancient Carthage, only to find his attempts blocked, and realising he’s never encountered anyone who has been granted permission to use it, sets out to investigate why and to try to find a way to use it. It’s set in a time where academic research has to be narrowly limited and no-one is allowed to look into any subjects other than their own, something which would surely be a horrific dystopia for someone like Asimov who would ultimately write books spanning almost every major category in the Dewey Decimal system. It covers quite a lot of different themes for an Asimov short story and is a very good story. Aside from this, there’s also one of his robot stories, Satisfaction Guaranteed, which looks at an unusual effect of the laws of robotics, and Dreaming is a Private Thing looks at a future where people experience “dreamies” rather than watch movies and people with the best imaginations are sought after to imagine them. I particularly liked the idea behind Living Space, which takes an unusual usage of the technology to move between alternate realities. It’s used as a way of coping with the ever increasing population, everyone being given their own house on their own version of Earth in a reality where life never evolved. There’s also a few examples of Asimov’s comic fantasy, and I particularly liked his story set in the biblical end of the world in The Last Trump.

A few stories in the collection take place in a type of future that now seems dated. For example, his computers are incredibly powerful yet still have to be programmed with punch cards and output has to be translated from code by experts. I generally don’t have a problem with this sort of thing, it’s just an alternate path that didn’t happen and it doesn’t necessarily affect the quality of the story. Really, people write steampunk stories that purposefully take technology down a route it never went to create an alternate reality, so it’s not actually all that different or hard to accept in a story. On the other hand, in this particular book there are a couple of stories with children using the technology and learning about how things used to be and how that differs which don’t work so well now, though those are very short. There are also some of his very short stories with the joke punchlines at the end, and unfortunately the ones in this collection are some of the worst ones of those that he did.

This is a mixed collection and doesn’t feature much in the way of Asimov’s very best stories, though it does have quite a few good ones amongst the lesser stories and I enjoyed reading it.

79valkyrdeath
Mar 10, 7:41pm Top


20. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
I’ve been meaning to read something by Nnedi Okorafor for a while, and though I was mainly thinking of reading Lagoon, I came across this and decided to give it a go. It won both the Nebula and the Hugo awards for best novella so it seemed a good one to start with. Sadly, it’s left me a bit baffled by quite why it won those.

Binti follows the titular character, a 16 year old Himba woman who runs away from home to travel to Oomza Uni, where she’s been accepted for a place. It’s a university for many different people from different planets, but her family don’t want her to leave her homeland, never mind the planet. The book starts off quite well, and it was interesting to have a Himba protagonist, and I enjoyed reading about that side of things. Then on the journey, things go wrong, both for Binti and for the story.

The whole plot then just gets ridiculously naïve and almost childish, but I can’t really say anything about why without spoilers, so I’ll spoiler out the entire next paragraph.

On the way there the ship is suddenly attacked by a jellyfish-like alien race called the Meduse. They murder everyone on the ship except for her and the pilot, in a gruesome way, right in front of her. She sees all the people who have become her friends and the boy she was falling in love with die. But because the otjize that Himba people use turns out to randomly heal the Meduse, they grow to trust her, and then basically within minutes of the ship arriving at Oomza Uni she’s sorted out peace between two rival species. Turns out that a couple of guys from the university had stolen a stinger from the leader of the Meduse (though how exactly they’d managed to go up to the leader of a war like race that everyone is scared of and take the stinger off the leader’s body and walk away again I don’t know) and they were just taking revenge on the theft. And because mass murder of a huge number of innocent young people if perfectly reasonable retaliation to the loss of a stinger everyone becomes friends, and Binti becomes best friends with the alien she’s just recently seen murder almost everyone she cares about, which seems to have had practically no effect on her by this point.

This book really needed to be a full length novel rather than a novella that races through everything. It needed to give more depth to the characters, because as it is everyone’s reactions are thoroughly unconvincing. It’s great to see more cultures being represented in SF instead of the heroes always being American or British, but that doesn’t then give a free pass to be lazy with the rest of the story, and the plot here just wasn’t good. The book was certainly readable, as a piece of simplistic pulp sci-fi, but I can’t even imagine what people saw in this to make it win the two main sci-fi awards for the year.

80baswood
Mar 12, 5:52pm Top

Interesting that you think that the short story format was the best for Asimov. I look forward to reading some of them later this year.

81markon
Mar 12, 6:38pm Top

>79 valkyrdeath: I liked Binti and Binti Home better than you, but thought they read more like short stories. I would try one of her novels to see if you like her longer work better, perhaps Who fears death (I haven't read Lagoon yet.)

>59 valkyrdeath:-65 I think Byatt is an aquired taste. A friend recommended Posession strongly several years ago, and I enjoyed it, but haven't warmed to others. Angels and Insects made a weird but enjoyable movie.

82valkyrdeath
Mar 12, 7:30pm Top

>80 baswood: He wrote some really good novels, but some of his short stories are real science fiction classics. Any particular ones you're planning on reading?

>81 markon: I actually liked the setup and the world building well enough in Binti, but I just couldn't get past the plot in the second half of the book. I wasn't particularly surprised when I saw in acknowledgements that she credited the plot to her 11 year old daughter. Who Fears Death has been picked for November this year for a book club I'm in, so I'll be getting to that in a few months! For Byatt, I may well give Posession a go at some point.

83dchaikin
Mar 12, 9:52pm Top

Enjoyed catching and completely understand your discomfort with the storyline you describe in Binti. Glad you liked March and Aslan's Zealot. I had heard some criticism of Aslan before I listened to Zealot, but I found the book well done.

84valkyrdeath
Mar 14, 8:14pm Top

>83 dchaikin: Thanks Dan. I didn't know anything about Zealot before reading it, but I thought it was well done too.

85valkyrdeath
Mar 14, 8:14pm Top


21. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman
Another book in the Canongate myths series. This one retells the story of Jesus, but with the twist that he’s split into a pair of brothers. Jesus goes around mostly doing the same things he does in the Bible, though in a slightly more realistic way. For example, he shares out loaves and fishes amongst a few people as an example that everyone who has food with them should share it out so that there’d be enough for everyone. His brother, Christ, exaggerates stories about him and ultimately sacrifices Jesus in order to found a new church that basically goes against what Jesus believed, and poses as Jesus later to fake the resurrection. It actually changes relatively little of the story most of the time, meaning chunks of it are basically paraphrased versions of biblical stories. That could be part of the point since there’s plenty of contradictory messages included in these, but it means a lot of it isn’t really offering anything new. It wasn’t a bad read, but nothing too special. It is quite short, and I made it to the end, which is more than I ever did with Pullman’s Northern Lights.

86janemarieprice
Mar 15, 12:35pm Top

>85 valkyrdeath: Perhaps I'll skip this one but can highly recommend King Jesus by Robert Graves which positions a historical Jesus in the political sphere of the time while still including a good bit of mysticism.

87baswood
Mar 15, 6:13pm Top

88valkyrdeath
Mar 15, 6:32pm Top

>86 janemarieprice: Thanks for the recommendation! I hadn't heard of that one. I actually only knew of Robert Graves from Goodbye to All That but I see he also wrote I Claudius.

>87 baswood: Seems a good collection of his short stories amongst those volumes. I've not read A Choice of Catastrophes before so I'll be interested in seeing what you think. I'll hopefully get to it eventually.

89valkyrdeath
Mar 15, 8:18pm Top


22. Heart in a Box by Kelly Thompson, art by Meredith McClaren
Following a painful break up, Emma wishes away her heart only for a mysterious stranger to turn up to fulfil the wish. Regretting this, she then finds to get it back she has to recover the various pieces from people who now have them. Heart in a Box is a well written metaphorical fantasy story based around the concept of a broken heart and follows as she recovers the scattered pieces of her heart and trying to move on with her life. I love Meredith McClaren’s artwork, and found this to be a brief but enjoyable graphic novel.

90valkyrdeath
Mar 16, 10:10pm Top


23. Dr. Mutter’s Marvels by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz
This was a really good non-fiction account of the life of Dr. Mutter, a doctor in early 1800s Philadelphia. He was a caring doctor who tried to help his patients as best he could and relieve their suffering, at a time when many other doctors were refusing to allow patients to use anaesthetic or to accept new ideas about the importance of hygiene for the doctors. He embraced any new developments that could relieve suffering and did a lot of surgery on people with deformities who otherwise wouldn’t be able to live a normal life. Mutter comes across as a charismatic man as well as an excellent surgeon and I’m glad to have read about him. The story of the changes in medicine at the time is also told via his story and the story of his rival, Charles Meigs, who represents the extremes of the old style of doctoring. Well written and engaging throughout.

91chlorine
Mar 17, 4:25am Top

>90 valkyrdeath: I had never heard of Dr. Mutter. Even though medecine has come a long way since then, it seems like many current doctors could use a refresher on why a humane approach to care is good. :)

92valkyrdeath
Mar 18, 6:34pm Top

>91 chlorine: I hadn't heard of him either before seeing reviews of the book. There's a museum that was set up to display his collection of medical curiosities though, so he seems to mainly be known because of that these days. The museum has a wikipedia page, but sadly the man himself apparently doesn't warrant one.

93mabith
Mar 19, 10:17am Top

I wish I'd realized the Mutter museum was there when I visited Philadelphia. Neat that it's been in the same location for over 100 years now.

94valkyrdeath
Mar 19, 10:46am Top

>93 mabith: It would certainly be nice to visit. I don't think the few hours I was at the airport in Philadelphia would have given me time to go there anyway.

95valkyrdeath
Mar 19, 11:48am Top


24. Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story by Peter Bagge
Woman Rebel is a graphic biography of Margaret Sanger. I wasn’t familiar with her until I came across this book. This is a very brief overview of her life, sometimes flying through an entire year of her life in a page by just focusing on particular key events. It does a good job of trying to present her as a rounded person, portraying flaws and not just trying to present her as perfect. She seemed to have a really fascinating and eventful life full of achievements in many areas, though especially in promoting access to birth control and sex education. Bagge also writes in his notes at the end how often Sanger has been misrepresented in recent years and how quotes by her are taken out of context, or other people’s quotes are being attributed to her to vilify her, and gives plenty of notes and points out references to support the facts he gives. The book itself is rather unconventional in its style, since Bagge previously wrote comedic comics and he carries on the same rubbery character style into this biographical work, as well as keeping a fairly light style throughout.

My favourite story to take away from this was following a sex education article she wrote called “What Every Girl Should Know”. On being threatened with censorship by Anthony Comstock, she then printed an almost entirely blank column with the same title of What Every Girl Should Know, with just the words “Nothing, by order of the US Post Office” as the entire contents.

96bragan
Mar 19, 7:20pm Top

>92 valkyrdeath:, >93 mabith: I went to the Mutter museum last year when I was in the Philadelphia area visiting relatives, and it's a weird and amazing place, although my deep scientific curiosity and my natural squeamishness were at war the entire time. To be honest, there were a few things I just couldn't look at, but I was still really glad I went.

I'm wondering now if I should pick up Dr Mutter's Marvels. I think I remember seeing it in the museum book shop (along with lots of other interesting-looking volumes), but I was trying to be good and didn't buy anything.

97chlorine
Mar 20, 3:16am Top

>95 valkyrdeath: The story by Sanger made me smile.
I had never heard of her either. How do you go about finding these interesting biographies?

98valkyrdeath
Mar 20, 7:25pm Top

>96 bragan: The museum sounds like it must be a fascinating place. The book is definitely worth reading if you have any interest in him at all. It was written in quite an entertaining way and there were some funny stories along the way.

>97 chlorine: I come across the biographies in different places. The Sanger one I found from an excerpt in Best American Comics 2015 when I read it a couple of years ago. Those books were great for finding graphic novels, but I can't get hold of them generally since I assume they're mainly for the US market. Others I find from recommendations or reviews here, or just come across them in the library and think they sound interesting.

99valkyrdeath
Mar 20, 9:12pm Top


25. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
I first read this a couple of years ago and have reread it due to it being picked for an online book club this month. I still thought it was a fun story and I probably would have loved it as a kid. I like the science fiction themes and that it generally doesn’t try to oversimplify things or talk down to the reader, but I still find the religious aspects and the “love defeats evil” ending a bit rubbish. Overall though I enjoyed it, or I wouldn’t be rereading it, but it’s not a favourite. I’ll be interested to see what they’ve done with it for the film though.

100valkyrdeath
Edited: Mar 23, 9:06pm Top


26. I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly, art by J. M. Ken Niimura
I enjoyed this graphic novel which follows a girl called Barbara as she retreats from the issues she’s facing in her life into her fantasies that she’s a giant slayer. She makes a new friend, faces bullies and sees the school psychiatrist. She has a sarcastic attitude and the book is often funny, though she isn’t particularly pleasant to people and prefers to live in her imagination. Exactly what she’s escaping is only revealed gradually. It was very well done and more powerful than I expected. The artwork is very distinctive, but I’m not a huge fan of it, though I didn’t hate it either and it didn’t spoil the book for me. After finishing it I saw there’s a film based on it about to come out, so I’ll be curious to see how well that’s been done.

101valkyrdeath
Apr 2, 7:09pm Top


27. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
This was quite a fun quick read presented as a series of recipes, but the instructions constantly divert off to the story of Tita, always relating to the particular recipe. I really liked the structure of it all. The feels like an adult fairy story with elements such as Tita’s emotions having effects on the food she’s preparing and carrying on to the people eating it. I’ve left it too long after reading it before writing about it now to say much more, but I enjoyed it and found it well written.

It has made me think once again though that I really don’t see how magic realism isn’t fantasy. This is apparently magic realism, but it’s absolutely a fantasy novel. Everything I’ve seen that tries to persuade that magic realism is nothing to do with fantasy seems to be purposefully inventing their own narrow definition for fantasy just to exclude it. Maybe it’s a specific subgenre of fantasy? I’m not sure, but I don’t see how a world in which magic happens can be said to not be fantasy. It just baffles me and seems like a way for literary types to keep on dismissing fantasy while still reading it themselves.

Anyway, enough rambling, onto the next book.

102valkyrdeath
Apr 2, 7:15pm Top


28. Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim
This was an interesting book but didn’t quite work for me. It reminded me somehow of New York Trilogy which I read last year. Like that book, it has some interesting concepts but didn’t quite hang together for me and the writing felt just too distancing to really get involved in. All the characters sit around having philosophical conversation that sound unconvincing as actual dialogue and they all seem to be presenting basically the same viewpoint. It seemed like the characters were all just mouthpieces for what I assume are the author’s opinions about various topics, but mostly about protests from what I can remember of it. The labyrinthine structure of people within stories telling stories within stories was curious but not quite enough to make me love the book. I didn’t dislike reading it, but it just didn’t do much for me.

103valkyrdeath
Apr 3, 8:03pm Top


29. Ms. Marvel Vol. 8: Mecca by G. Willow Wilson
Another Ms. Marvel volume, with the main story spanning four issues with a shorter two issue story at the end. The main story is really quite dark and clearly reflects disturbing real world politics. Anyone with super powers or suspected of being Inhuman is being rounded up and ordered to leave Jersey City, in a campaign to bring back the “real” Jersey City. And the fact that Kamala and her family are Muslim is definitely comes into it, even if it’s not overtly the reason behind the actions. It’s not especially subtle, but it’s done pretty well, though just brings to mind depressing reality. It’s definitely a subject that was well worth addressing though, even if it’s a lot less fun than some of the previous books. The other story at the end is a much more comical affair, not exactly in keeping with the main part of the book but perhaps needed as a bit of light relief after the intrusion of Trump-era US politics. I really like the Ms. Marvel series.

104valkyrdeath
Apr 3, 8:12pm Top


30. The Planets by Dava Sobel
An unusual book that explores the solar system from the perspective of how the planets have affected culture as well as the history of the scientific discoveries of them. It’s not a book to turn to in order to learn detailed astronomical science but rather it’s a series of beautifully written essays that float through various topics and told in unusual ways, such as the Mars chapter being told from the perspective of a piece of Martian meteorite. Each chapter has a different cultural focus as well as being based around a different planet, such as the Venus chapter quoting from various poems about the planet, and Mars referencing various science fiction stories inspired by the planet. Elsewhere, it discusses varied topics from mythology to astrology. It’s a strange book, but one I did enjoy, and the information was well presented and informative, if rather varied in nature.

105avidmom
Apr 5, 2:05pm Top

>101 valkyrdeath: Loved this book too (actually own it) & really liked the movie too. One of the librarian's at the library where I work started a "fantasy book club" and we had a conversation about what is the difference between fantasy and magical realism. Neither one of us could come up with a real clear answer. The only thing I can see is that magical realism just inserts magic into the "real world" .... and pure fantasy creates worlds from scratch?

106valkyrdeath
Edited: Apr 5, 6:22pm Top

>105 avidmom: I'm curious about the film. I would imagine it's rather strange! As to the definitions, that's about the closest thing to making sense I could find, but I still couldn't find any convincing argument as to why the books labelled as "urban fantasy" aren't also magic realism. Another definition I found said that fantasy books have to have magic that has a system of rules behind it, but it seemed to me they were just making up their own definitions of fantasy. I try not to get hung up on labels, but some people seem to get genuinely angry at the suggestion that magic realism is related to fantasy in any way, and I find it very odd. It's definitely its own thing, but it's still a form of it. I've also seen people get upset over the suggestion that 1984 is science fiction novel because they love the book and hate science fiction and therefore the book can't be science fiction.

I do like Terry Pratchett's comment that calling a book magic realism is "fantasy wearing a collar and tie".

107bragan
Apr 9, 11:09am Top

>101 valkyrdeath: Honestly, my best guess is just that "magical realism" is what people who think they don't like fantasy like to call the fantasy they actually like.

108valkyrdeath
Apr 9, 7:13pm Top

>107 bragan: I think that's pretty much it most of the time.

109valkyrdeath
Edited: Apr 9, 7:14pm Top


31. Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe by Lisa Randall
This is a science book about dark matter and about meteoroid and comet impacts on the earth and an attempt to tie the two things together. It’s quite interesting reading about dark matter, though I’m not sure it’s the clearest book on the subject, and I really enjoyed the chapters on impacts. The explanations of the investigations and how facts were discovered I found fascinating. The concept the book is based around though, I feel is a bit more pointless. It’s a hypothesis that, if the impact that killed the dinosaurs was a comet, and if comet impacts are periodic, then it might possibly maybe be that the gravitational force of dark matter might be the cause of them hitting earth. It’s all a bit tenuous. There’s nothing wrong with it as their subject of research, but maybe write a popular science book about that after you’ve done the research rather than at the point where you’ve had the idea? The cynical part of me feels that someone thought dark matter sounded mysterious and everyone loves dinosaurs so wouldn’t it be great to get them both in the title, that’s sure to sell some books about science topics people might not read otherwise. Though on the other hand, it put me off it thinking it sounded more like one of those awful pseudo-science books that throw random scientific terms around rather than a book by a serious scientist as it actually is and I probably wouldn’t have even looked at it if not for getting it for SantaThing.

Overall, this isn’t a bad book despite my rambling. The dark matter/dinosaur extinction bit only really gets looked at in the last part of the book, and for most of it it’s a pretty good science book, and I really did like the whole section on impacts and extinctions. I just found the attempts to tie things together a bit pointless at this stage.

110valkyrdeath
Apr 9, 7:51pm Top


32. The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley
Written in 1929, The Poisoned Chocolates Case is both a golden age detective novel and a fun satire on the genre at the same time. It features group of amateur criminologists, including Roger Sheringham, star of a few of the author’s previous books, along with various authors and lawyers and such. There are six of them in total, and they’re challenged to try to come up with a solution to a case that the police haven’t been able to solve. It’s decided that they’ll all work separately and then reveal their findings on consecutive nights. Each of them uses different techniques typical of detective fiction, and the first person presents their reasoning which proves who definitely did it, only for this to be torn apart by the others. This gets repeated for each of them, everyone certain that they’ve conclusively proved who the killer was, and it’s a different person every time. It specifically mentions techniques as being the sort of things used in detective fiction that don’t hold up in reality. More disturbingly, it also indicates how people can so easily be misled in reality. A section where statistics is wrongly used to convince people has similarly been used to convict the wrong people in reality decades after this book was written. The book itself is a lot of fun though, written in a humorous way throughout with entertaining characters and building up to a good ending. My edition also had a couple of extra additions written by other people, which I didn’t really like and think detracted from the proper ending of the book. The novel itself I really liked.

111mabith
Apr 10, 7:01pm Top

>105 avidmom: There are a number of fantasy genres which specifically take place in the real world though (historical fantasy and urban fantasy spring to mind). It does always seem like Bragan said, magical realism is fantasy for people who think they don't like fantasy.

Definitely putting The Poisoned Chocolates Case on my list.

112valkyrdeath
Apr 13, 6:46pm Top

>111 mabith: The Poisoned Chocolates Case was a lot of fun, especially for us golden age mystery lovers!

113bragan
Apr 15, 11:59pm Top

>109 valkyrdeath: I haven't read it, so I can't say for sure, but I think you're more forgiving about that book than I would be. It really does sound dubious and premature at best. There have been, in the past, a lot of sensationalistic speculations about periodic impact-causing disturbances caused by various things we couldn't see, and none of them ever amounted to anything. This sounds to me like more of the same, just with different clothing.

114valkyrdeath
Apr 17, 7:05pm Top

>113 bragan: I think I cut it some slack due to the fact that she did make it very clear several times that those parts were only speculation, and the majority of the book was more general stuff. It's not the greatest book around for the topics though and I think there's better places to read up on dark matter or extinction events.

115valkyrdeath
Apr 22, 5:44pm Top


33. The Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark
An odd little book that relocates the events of Watergate into a convent with various nuns as the main characters. I’m pretty sure there’s not many books with convents full of electronic bugging devices and services where the prayers turn into lectures on electronics. It’s a quick read and well written as always by Spark, but it didn’t really seem to go anywhere, and the further we get away from the Watergate era the satire is going to mean less and less. Not bad but not one that’s going to stick with me.

116valkyrdeath
Apr 22, 6:00pm Top


34. Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
Well, it’s another Terry Pratchett, so obviously I loved this reread. Death is being replaced by the Auditors of Reality and he spends time working on a farm and getting an idea of what it’s like to be mortal as he approaches his encounter with the new Death. Meanwhile, Windle Poons, a very old wizard at Unseen University, dies and then comes back after finding no-one to meet him on the other side. This book introduces the undead rights campaigners of the Fresh Start Club, and it’s finally settled down to its regular cast of wizards by now. Pratchett had really hit his stride by this point and the writing is very funny throughout, and while not quite having the depth of some of the later books it’s still got some powerful character driven moments. Not my absolute favourite of his works but an excellent book.

117bragan
Apr 24, 9:22pm Top

>116 valkyrdeath: While it's always impossible to choose, Reaper Man may actually be one of my top favorites of the Discworld books. Pratchett's version of Death is just so ridiculously likeable.

118janemarieprice
Apr 25, 9:48pm Top

>115 valkyrdeath: Interesting premise. My mom was really into the Watergate scandal at the time. She reads mostly mysteries and some contemporary fiction, do you think it would suit?

Keeping in mind that she also went to Catholic school so not the biggest fan of nuns. ☺

119valkyrdeath
Apr 26, 6:25pm Top

>117 bragan: Reaper Man is definitely up there. Death is certainly a great character, hence him being part of my username since way back when I first got the internet!

>118 janemarieprice: I find it a hard book to say one way or the other about. I really like Muriel Spark's writing style, but I think I was completely outside the target group for that particular book. My knowledge of Watergate is fairly limited, and someone with a deeper knowledge of it might get more out of it.

120bragan
Apr 26, 7:16pm Top

>119 valkyrdeath: Is your username really a reference to that particular Death? That is awesome. :)

121valkyrdeath
Apr 26, 9:34pm Top

>120 bragan: It is! My first username I ever had on the internet was for a Discworld website many years ago, and I've just kept it as part of my name ever since, despite the fact that it probably sounds weird to anyone outside the Discworld fan community. It also meant that back then I got away with purposefully TYPING LIKE THIS on the chat pages while anyone else who did it got told to stop shouting.

122chlorine
Apr 28, 10:17am Top

>121 valkyrdeath: Haha, the TYPING LIKE THIS story made me chuckle! :)

123valkyrdeath
Apr 29, 6:52pm Top


35. The Adventures of Dagobert Trostler by Balduin Groller
Subtitled “Vienna’s Sherlock Holmes”, these stories about Dagobert Trostler were actually written in the late 1800s / early 1900s but haven’t previous been translated into English. The six stories collected here offer an interesting glimpse at turn of the century Austria and early detective fiction writing. Trostler is an amateur detective amongst high society friends, and the cases he works on here are mostly relatively minor. He generally deals with it all himself and usually seems to just force the culprits to leave Vienna rather than turning them in, since the most important thing amongst his friends seems to be to avoid scandal. The stories are a little odd, in that we don’t get to see any of the investigation happening. The stories start with him being hired to help with something, and usually the next scene is set later after everything is already dealt with and he’s explaining how he solved the case. Everything is told after the event, so if you like to try and solve a mystery as you read, there’s no chance of that here. They’re enjoyable little stories and an interesting piece of literary history and I’m glad they’re now available in English. They’re not up to the quality of the Victorian detective he’s compared to in the subtitle, or the many great golden age mysteries, but they’re worth a read for anyone interested in the history of the genre.

124valkyrdeath
May 8, 6:18pm Top


36. The Gold Cell by Sharon Olds
A collection of poetry. I’m no good at writing about poetry, but I understood the majority of this, which isn’t the case for most poetry I’ve tried reading, and I mostly liked it.

125valkyrdeath
May 8, 6:49pm Top


37. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
This is a science fiction classic that I’ve only now finally read. It’s the first Le Guin book I’ve read at all in fact. It follows Genly Ai, an envoy from the Ekumen, a collective of worlds. He’s arrived on the planet Gethen to convince them to join. The chapters alternate between two different perspectives and the occasional chapter of folklore or mythology from the world. The world building in this book is fantastic, and expertly done. Too often I find science fiction books that either spend ages on lengthy exposition, or just throw dozens of random alien words around and end up being confusing for ages. This book manages to get the pace just right. Gethen is a complex world with different cultures yet within a couple of chapters I felt I understood enough about it to understand things without her having to stop the flow of the story to explain things directly. I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to exploring more of Le Guin’s work.

126valkyrdeath
May 11, 7:23pm Top


38. 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo
The description of this book began “A brave young woman negotiates Beijing life in search of love and friendship” which definitely wouldn’t have drawn me to the book if it wasn’t for a friend’s recommendation. It’s rather misleading. This is a story of Fenfang, a woman just trying to get through her life, working as a film extra. As the title suggests, it’s not told as a sequential novel and instead is a series of twenty short events in her life. It’s in first person, and has been translated well from an original apparently full of Beijing slang. Fenfang is a funny, sarcastic narrator, making this a quick easy read, even though the events are rarely happy ones. It’s a very unsentimental book too, and certainly not the romance the initial description makes it sound like. The effect of the translated slang is interesting too, and I was amused by her repeated curses aimed at “Heavenly Bastard in the Sky”. A short enjoyable glimpse into another culture.

127valkyrdeath
May 11, 7:54pm Top


39. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Station Rage by Diane Carey
I love the Deep Space Nine series and consider it to be the best show to come out of Star Trek. Because of that, I’ve read the occasional novel based on it in the past. While they’re rarely amazing or brilliantly written, they’ve usually been at least entertaining stories. I don’t think I’d read any by Diane Carey before though, but I’ve had this book on my shelf for ages since I picked it up cheaply years ago, so thought I’d give it a go. The plot was just about passable, about the level of a poorer Season One episode before the show got great. It’s presumably set around then too since Sisko doesn’t have his beard on the cover. The characterisation feels off. Kira is mostly useless and is patronized by the Starfleet crew, Sisko is some sort of action hero, and worst of all Garak starts hero worshipping some figure from Cardassian history, none of which feels right. But the writing itself is some of the worst I’ve ever encountered. Carey repeatedly misuses words, uses them in weird unnecessary ways, words things oddly and sometimes just flat out invents words. Some examples:

Occult with contemplation, Sisko folded his arms…
To Kira's irritation, Dax broke out in a complicatory grin.
Sharply he forgot his thoughts as they began to burn and pointed past Elto's noticeable arm.
Using only her eyes, Kira looked around.
Instantly the brown man was free, spinning like wind to land a blow upon Malicu's available face.

And yeah, there’s the repeated calling attention to Sisko’s skin colour too as in that last quote. This was pretty awful. I’m not sure if I’m likely to read any more DS9 books, but I think if I do I’ll be avoiding ones from Diane Carey.

128chlorine
May 12, 1:33am Top

Interesting last few review.
I've read A concise Chinese English dictionary for lovers by Xiaolu Guo, almost by chance, and was surprised to really like it (the title was not appealing for me). I just wishlisted 20 Fragments.

The Star Trek book seems ugh. Thanks for sharing the examples of writing which does seem atrocious.

129bragan
May 13, 5:36am Top

>127 valkyrdeath: Deep Space Nine deserves so much better! I'd actually read that one, a long, long time ago, and remembered it not being good, but, man, I'd forgotten how not good. "Using only her eyes, Kira looked around" is particularly priceless. I"m now trying to imagine what the alternatives are. Feeling around with her fingers? Borrowing Geordi's VISOR? Pulling out a magnifying glass and playing detective?

Mind you, "available face" is pretty great in its badness, too.

130valkyrdeath
May 13, 7:15pm Top

>128 chlorine: Thanks for mentioning A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, that one is now on my list too!

>129 bragan: That eyes line did make me laugh trying to work out exactly what else she was supposed to use. I looked up Diane Carey after reading that book and found she seems to have the same weird phrasing in all her books, and she's written a lot. There was someone bringing it up in one of the reviews on every one of her books I looked at. I think when they do books based on TV shows they know they have a fan base that's going to buy them no matter what, and so can get away with sending out any old rubbish.

131valkyrdeath
May 13, 7:45pm Top


40. The Backwash of War by Ellen N. La Motte
This is a very good but very brief nursing memoir from the First World War. It was originally published in 1916 but then was withdrawn when the US joined the war and was only republished much later. La Motte was one of the first American nurses to go to help soldiers in Europe in the war, and this memoir is full of anger that comes through in a sarcastic wit that’s unusual in books about the war at the time. Which probably explains why it was suppressed until the 30s. A very good and very quick read. It’s a shame it wasn’t longer, but then it certainly makes its point anyway.

132valkyrdeath
Edited: May 13, 8:13pm Top


41. Top 10 by Alan Moore, art by Gene Ha
I first read this over a decade ago in two volumes, so when I came across this complete collection I thought it was time to give it a reread. Thankfully, it’s held up very well. I think this is one of the most fun things Alan Moore ever did, and feel it’s not highly regarded enough in that respect. It’s a police procedural set in Neopolis, a city created after WW2 as a place to house all the superheroes and villains that were suddenly turning up. Top 10 is absolutely crammed full of jokes and references to various superheroes, science fiction, police shows and all sorts of other things. The art work is extremely detailed and there are things to spot all over the place. There’s lots of humour in the plot too, but it also covers some dark themes too. It’s a proper police procedural, and there’s a series of violent murders to solve in a plot that runs through the whole series. There’s still fun individual cases in each issue, ranging from stopping a delusional superhero who things he’s Santa to trying to solve the murder by mistletoe of Baldur in a club for gods. It’s a reminder of just how good Alan Moore was at his peak.

133chlorine
Edited: May 14, 1:17am Top

>132 valkyrdeath: I wasn't aware of Top 10, it does seem fun! I plan on reading Moore's novel, Jerusalem, not too long in the future I hope. It seems very promising to me.

134valkyrdeath
May 14, 5:26pm Top

>133 chlorine: I'll be very interested in how you find Jerusalem! It does sound intriguing, and I've always tried to read pretty much everything I can find by Moore. I've found his more recent work a bit uneven, but I'm hoping the novel will be one of his good ones. It's quite daunting in its length though, so I'm not sure when I'll actually get to it!

135valkyrdeath
May 15, 7:29pm Top


42. Smax by Alan Moore, art by Zander Cannon
After rereading Top 10, I felt I had to go straight onto rereading Smax, which actually follows on directly from the ending of Top 10. It stars two of the main characters from that book, but is otherwise a very different book. At the end of the previous one, Jeff Smax received a letter asking him to return home for his father’s funeral and asking his partner to go with him, and this book picks up that thread. It turns out he’s from a reality that’s basically made up of every fairy tale fantasy trope around. Where Top 10 was a police procedural, this is an outright fantasy parody, sending up the clichés of the genre. The art by Zander Cannon is a lot simpler than Gene Ha’s work on Top 10 and I didn’t like it quite as much, though it works well enough for the fantasy style of the comic once I got used to it. It’s still loaded with lots of visual jokes and references. This is a fun quick read. It’s not quite up to the standard of Top 10, being played almost entirely for laughs and not having nearly as many memorable events or as much characterisation, but it’s an entertaining light read.

136valkyrdeath
May 15, 8:15pm Top


43. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Another reread for me. This is a graphic memoir of the author’s life growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and later of her time in Austria where he parents send her. It’s very well done, with a black and white art style that I really like. It covers serious topics and has a lot of sad parts, but there are plenty of humorous moments along the way. Satrapi doesn’t shy away from portraying her own flaws and at times does do some awful things, but, unlike the Trevor Noah book I read earlier in the year, she actually addresses them. She does a very good job of showing events from a child’s perspective in the early parts of the book too. I think this was the first graphic memoir I ever read, and it’s still one of the best.

137bragan
Edited: May 17, 7:58pm Top

>132 valkyrdeath: I think Top Ten is going to have to go on my wishlist.

138valkyrdeath
May 19, 6:55pm Top

>137 bragan: I hope you enjoy it if you get to it! It's a really fun read. There's also a prequel volume that I haven't read before, so I'm hoping to get to that soon.

139valkyrdeath
May 21, 7:16pm Top


44. Khufu’s Wisdom by Naguib Mahfouz
This is my first book by Naguib Mahfouz, and apparently the first book he wrote. It’s a folktale style story set in ancient Egypt during the reign of Khufu at the time he was having the Great Pyramid of Giza built. Khufu hears a prophecy that a new born baby will take over the throne, and so has the baby killed. There’s a mix up though, and we then follow the child, Djedefra, through childhood and into his rapid ascendency through the ranks as an adult. As a character he’s not the deepest, and he’s brilliant at basically everything he tries, but it fits in well enough with the legend style of storytelling. It was an enjoyable read and I’ve got a few more Mahfouz books lined up for future reading.

140valkyrdeath
May 21, 7:42pm Top


45. Iraq + 100 edited by Hassan Blasim
An interesting anthology of stories by Iraqi authors. The concept is that they were all asked to write a story set 100 years after the US and British invasion. The stories vary in tone. Some are overtly science fiction while others had a story set in the future just to have a character talk about the past. Kuszib by Hassan Abdulrazzak was probably the most effective, set after an alien invasion with horrors being revealed gradually but dealt with in a matter of fact way by a race of aliens who doesn’t see humans as being worth caring about. It’s a disturbing story of dehumanization that makes its point well by changing the boundaries. There were other stories that were quite enjoyable too, though overall I found it a bit uneven and too many of the stories did nothing for me, either because they ended too abruptly, or were just too strange. The Gardens of Babylon by Hassan Blasim spent about half the story on some surreal drug trip, which is the sort of thing I very rarely have patience for. The Day by Day Mosque by Mortada Gzar was just baffled me as it talked about snot collecting and a National Snot Bank and a 99 year old bottle of vinegar and I never had a clue what was going on. It was interesting to read science fiction stories from another culture though, and I did like some of them, so I’m glad I read it.

141valkyrdeath
Edited: May 21, 8:09pm Top


46. The Forever Machine by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley
This was the Hugo Award winner for the second awards in 1955, and it seems to have a reputation as the worst book to win the Hugo award. Or rather, the book They’d Rather Be Right, which appeared in serial form at that time, was what won the award. The Forever Machine is actually an edited down version of that. It’s actually not as bad as I was expecting given its reputation, though it’s certainly not a great book, and even though in this version it’s fairly short, it still feels a little overlong for what it is, so I can’t imagine what it must have been like originally. It concerns an artificial intelligence that has been developed that can cure humans of all illness and effectively make them immortal, but to do this for some handwavy reasons that make little sense, it has to make them see the world as it really is without any of the beliefs, theories and convictions people build up for themselves. However, most people it just won’t work for, as they’d rather keep on thinking they were right despite the consequences. A lot of it becomes a cynical satire on the authors’ views on humanity really. It doesn’t have much in the way of characterization and it doesn’t really go into much depth about anything. It never even touches on the many problems immortality would cause in rapid overpopulation if people didn’t stop reproducing either, which seems to be the most obvious first thing to think about in that situation. And the whole nonsensical concept that Einstein’s physics theories can be applied to psychology and fixing mental issues will repair cells and heal the body is just a little too ridiculous. It was about readable, and not quite as terrible as I was expecting, but it’s certainly not a good book. And considering Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend both came out the same year, it’s definitely a baffling award winner.

142chlorine
May 23, 1:31am Top

I've never read anything by Mahfouz yet, and should get to him some day.
I've had my eyes on Iraq + 100 but am hesitant in reading it, as there are so many collections I'm interested in and this one seems uneven, by all accounts. Still I really like the fact of reading from countries I'm less exposed to.

That's very brave of you to read The forever machine! I wasn't aware of its reputation. I'm glad you did not find it that terrible!

143Dilara86
May 23, 3:51am Top

>139 valkyrdeath: Mahfouz's first books are nothing like his later ones. He started off with pretty conventional novels about ancient Egypt, like the one you read, but then, he found his voice and became The Great Writer Naguib Mahfouz. You're in for a treat if the books you have lined up include Children of the Alley and the Cairo Trilogy!

144valkyrdeath
May 23, 7:09pm Top

>142 chlorine: I like to try books from different countries so I was drawn to Iraq + 100, but I'm not sure I can especially recommend it. It is indeed uneven, though there are some good ones in there. I guess it all depends on taste though, and I've seen reviews where other people have loved the ones I didn't like.

>143 Dilara86: They're certainly books I intend to get to! I've already got the Cairo Trilogy and a few others, though I'm not sure precisely when I'll be reading them.

145mabith
May 24, 4:11pm Top

>143 Dilara86: I'm the meanie who suggested he start with some of the ancient-set Mahfouz books. I like growing with the authors, and for me at least those early ones were still very enjoyable (and more so than if you start with the highest works and go back later).

146valkyrdeath
May 27, 6:29pm Top

>145 mabith: Definitely not mean! I enjoyed that book and will be reading the others in the Ancient Egypt volume before moving on. I've often liked reading authors in order and do it quite regularly.

147valkyrdeath
May 27, 6:30pm Top


47. Big Mushy Happy Lump by Sarah Andersen
A follow up to Adulthood is a Myth which I read an enjoyed last year. It’s a little collection of fun comics, mostly one page, about coping with day to day life. The art is simple but likable and the comics and funny and aside from the occasional one about issues specific to women I found most of them extremely relatable. There’s a couple of longer series of linked comics this time too, a few pages each. There’s one called “I Don’t Know How to Be a Person” which I can definitely relate to, and another about her change from being uninterested in cats to loving them. These books are just nice quick fun reads and I’ll probably go on to the third one at some point.

148valkyrdeath
Edited: May 27, 6:48pm Top


48. What's Tha Up To?: Memories of a Yorkshire Bobby by Martyn Johnson
A memoir of a beat policeman working in the Attercliffe region of Sheffield in the 60s. It was interesting to come across this book since it’s the area where my dad grew up and features a lot of places that he’s told me about many times. It’s not a sequential story of his time in the police, more a relating of some interesting events while he was in the police. It’s got some dark moments, like finding a dead body in a sewer, fishing a suicide corpse out of a lake, and being unable to save a family in a burning building. Mostly though, it’s focusing on more comical moments with missing policeman turning up asleep in bus shelters and a man being found with the handle of a mangle stuck in a certain part of his anatomy. A fairly entertaining light read that I read mostly for the regional connection.

149bragan
May 29, 10:41pm Top

>147 valkyrdeath: Ooh, I didn't know there was a follow-up to that out! Right, that's immediately going onto the wishlist, because I, too, thought Adulthood is a Myth was fun and relatable.

150valkyrdeath
Edited: May 30, 5:21pm Top

>149 bragan: A third book, Herding Cats, came out a couple of months ago too!

151bragan
May 30, 11:49pm Top

>150 valkyrdeath: Oh, look, my wishlist is now officially longer than my TBR list. :)

152valkyrdeath
Jun 9, 6:30pm Top

>151 bragan: Those wishlists just never seem to stop growing...

153valkyrdeath
Jun 9, 6:30pm Top


49. Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorothy L. Sayers
Continuing my read through the Peter Wimsey books I’ve come to this short story collection, and I really enjoyed it, though they had a slightly different feel to the novels. All the stories were fun, and quite varied in plot too, ranging from strange puzzle wills to stories verging on horror to disturbing killers, infiltrating an organised crime gang and investigating a stolen stomach. One of the stories was basically an excuse for Sayers to design her own cryptic crossword, and one of the stories had a page long conversation entirely in untranslated French, which seems to be a common annoyance of books of this era, but overall I really liked the book.

154valkyrdeath
Jun 12, 6:42pm Top


50. On Sanity: One Day in Two Lives by Una
A short but interesting comic, the bulk of which consists of Una illustrating her mother’s recorded words as they discuss her memories of her mental illness and subsequent recovery. It focuses around one particular afternoon and the different perceptions of events of the mother and the daughter. It was also nice to see an afterword section from her mother too to show how she’s progressed since the events portrayed.

155NanaCC
Jun 12, 7:52pm Top

I do love the Lord Peter Wimsey books. I did a reread of all of them in 2015. It may be time to do that again soon. :)

156valkyrdeath
Jun 14, 5:36pm Top

>155 NanaCC: It's my first time reading through them, but I'm really enjoying them. I can certainly see myself rereading them in the future.

157valkyrdeath
Edited: Jun 15, 6:44pm Top


51. Tenth of December by George Saunders
This is the first time I’ve read anything by Saunders, and I was quite impressed by the collection of stories. They were very well written and generally felt like complete stories, which isn’t always the case with some of the story collections I’ve read. The opening story, Victory Lap, was a highlight, told from three very different perspectives. I also particularly liked the science fictional Escape from Spiderhead, revolving around experimental drug testing on prisoners and a sort of amplified Milgram experiment. The stories often have a disturbing element, usually made even more disturbing by being treated as a normal part of life, as in The Semplica Girl Diaries. I think I enjoyed all the stories in the book to some degree though, and I definitely intend to check out more of his works.

158chlorine
Jun 16, 2:32am Top

>157 valkyrdeath: I have read Escape from Spiderhead because it was recommended in a list of the 20 best horror stories freely available online. I'm not sure it belongs in the horror genre but I really liked the story as well, and would like to read more Saunders. I'm also impressed by the fact that he style seems to vary greatly from work to work.
I'm making a note of this collection.

159valkyrdeath
Jun 17, 7:17pm Top

>158 chlorine: I knew that story title sounded vaguely familiar to me. I remember your mentioning reading from that list on your thread now, either earlier this year or last year sometime. He does seem to be able to vary his style, I'm definitely interesting in trying his other works, and have been meaning to read Lincoln in the Bardo for a while.

160valkyrdeath
Jun 17, 7:18pm Top


52. Top 10: The Forty-Niners by Alan Moore, art by Gene Ha
The prequel volume to the Top 10 books that I read recently, set at the start of Neopolis. This one I hadn’t read before. It’s not quite as good as the main books but it’s still an entertaining story. It’s definitely intended to be read after the normal books even being set before, since it shows several things that you can see lead to thinks that happen later that would just pass you by if you hadn’t read them. It’s a little darker than the regular Top 10, but still has humorous moments too. I enjoyed it and it was a nice addition to the main books, though I wouldn’t really recommend it to read without those.

161chlorine
Jun 19, 3:36pm Top

>159 valkyrdeath: I'll be looking forward to your thoughts on Lincoln in the Bardo. I'm very interested in it but at the same time I find it daunting, so I don't know if I'll try reading it or not.

162valkyrdeath
Jun 23, 6:51pm Top

>161 chlorine: It's one of those books where whenever I see about it, I don't see how it works as an actual readable novel, and yet it's had so many great reviews that it must hold together somehow. I'm hoping I'll get to it at some point this year!

163valkyrdeath
Jun 23, 6:52pm Top


53. Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente
Valente seems like a really versatile writer. I’ve enjoyed other books by her, and whenever I read about her other works they all sound so different from each other. This particular one didn’t really work for me unfortunately. It’s a short book about an AI that shares a dream world with members of a family, passed down through generations. It had interesting moments and ideas, but the whole thing was a little too surreal and muddled for my taste and it took me too far into its short length to really get a handle on what was going on. It didn’t really seem to go anywhere and I’m finding I’m already forgetting much of the detail of how it ended less than a month after finishing it. I’m still looking forward to reading more of her work though, since many of them sound like they’ll appeal to me more than this one.

164valkyrdeath
Jun 24, 7:46pm Top


54. 1066 and All That by R. J. Yeatman and W. C. Sellar
A reread of a humour classic that I loved when I was a kid. I liked it back then for all the silliness but reading it again now I can better understand and enjoy the satirical elements too, as it sends up the way history was taught at the time it was written (it originally came out in 1930) and the way it could be misrepresented. The part about the Magna Carta I liked especially given that even now it still seems to be spoken about as if it was the start of democracy and the rights for ordinary citizens. I think just quoting that section gives a better idea of what the book is like than anything I can say:

THERE also happened in this reign the memorable Charta, known as Magna Charter on account of the Latin Magna (great) and Charter (a Charter); this was the first of the famous Chartas and Gartas of the Reahn and was invented by the Barons on a desert island in the Thames called Ganymede. By congregating there, armed to the teeth, the Barons compelled John to sign the Magna Charter, which said:
1. That no one was to be put to death, save for some reason - (except the Common People).
2. That everyone should be free - (except the Common People).
3. That everything should be of the same weight and measure throughout the Realm - (except the Common People).
4. That the Courts should be stationary, instead of following a very tiresome medieval official known as the King's Person all over the country.
5. That 'no person should be fined to his utter ruin' - (except the King's Person).
6. That the Barons should not be tried except by a special jury of other Barons who would understand.
Magna Charter was therefore the chief cause of Democracy in England, and thus a Good Thing for everyone (except the Common People).

I think that’s a better summary of the actual Magna Carta than I ever got at school. Still a classic read, though a decent knowledge of British history is needed to get the most out of it.

165valkyrdeath
Edited: Jun 25, 6:34pm Top


55. Never Stop Walking by Christina Rickardsson
This was a really interesting memoir. The author was born in Brazil, initially living with her mother in a cave in the forest, before moving onto the streets of the city, which turned out to be far worse. She ended up in an orphanage being forcibly separated from her mother (quite literally, physically dragged away from each other at one point) before being adopted by a Swedish couple at around the age of 8 and moving to Sweden. The chapters alternate between the story of her childhood and the present day story of her return to Brazil to visit the orphanage again and to finally get to meet up with her mother again. It’s a very tough story a lot of the time. She went through some terrible things in Brazil including being physically assaulted by the police, being sexually abused and seeing her best friend shot by military police who were rounding up and slaughtering street children, amongst many other incidents. It’s also a book of mixed feelings, as she gets a better life in Sweden which she appreciates, while still feeling anger at the way she was separated from her mother in what she describes has having felt almost like a kidnapping. The writing is simple and straight forward and well translated from the original Swedish. A book I’m very glad to have read, especially after picking it up on a whim knowing almost nothing about it.

166valkyrdeath
Jul 1, 9:03pm Top


56. Double Star by Robert Heinlein
This was the winner of the Hugo Award for best novel in 1956. I’ve had mixed experiences with Heinlein over the years. I read one of his novels as a kid that I really enjoyed, the short story “-And He Built a Crooked House-“ was one of my favourites, and later I enjoyed his early future history stories. But then I read some of his later works that I didn’t like much, and when I got to the obnoxious Farnham’s Freehold, possibly the worst book I’ve ever read in my life, it put me off reading him for a long time afterwards. Double Star was…fine. I don’t have a huge amount else to say about it. It’s early enough not to be full of his right wing rantings, but it’s also a fairly average pulp sci-fi story about an actor hired to impersonate a kidnapped political leader who is running for election and trying to negotiate with the Martians. The first person narration is actually pretty good and well characterised for Heinlein, and it’s quite fun at times. The character changes a lot over the course of the book as his prejudices are challenged. The whole thing just feels a bit obvious though and you can see where it’s ended long in advance. The narrator is almost supernaturally good at impersonating people and everything just goes a bit too smoothly for it to be an especially memorable novel. It’s a fun enough quick read with a political theme which still manages to avoid going into any polemic, something I don’t think Heinlein would have been able to resist in later years. But it’s nothing spectacular and not something I think I’m going to find very memorable.

167valkyrdeath
Jul 2, 7:28pm Top


57. How to Behave Badly in Renaissance Britain by Ruth Goodman
Another fun history book from Ruth Goodman. As the title suggests, this book looks mostly at manners and etiquette of the time by showing how people went about being rude and offensive. So it covers everything to the very specific forms of bowing that were expected to swearing to duels, violence and bodily functions. Goodman always writes in an entertaining way, and I actually went for the audiobook for this one for a change, since she reads it herself. I didn’t like it quite as much as How to Be a Victorian, but it was still a great read.

168valkyrdeath
Jul 8, 6:08pm Top


58. The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo
This one didn’t quite work for me. I thought it was fairly well written but the plot just didn’t flow for me. It starts off as a rich-girl-falls-for-poor-boy teen romance but ends up a revenge tale, and in the middle piles up so many coincidences that even Dickens would be rolling his eyes at them. The ending wasn’t particularly satisfying either. It’s a shame though, since I think it had potential, but the plotting didn’t match the quality of the writing. I certainly wouldn’t write the author off and will be interested to see what she writes in the future.

169valkyrdeath
Jul 10, 6:43pm Top

That's my reading up to the end of June, so time for a new thread: https://www.librarything.com/topic/293429

This topic was continued by Valkyrdeath's 2018 Reading Record Part 2.

Group: Club Read 2018

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