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bob mcc slouches thru 2010

Club Read 2010

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1bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Jan 24, 2010, 11:29pm Top

I was pretty sure i'd started my 2010 thread - but i made it go away somehow, I guess.

1. Just finished one of the books Patty B. gave me -Enemies of the People:My Family's Journey to America a fascinating and chilling memoir about growing up in post WWII Hungary as the younger daughter of two pro-Western Hungarian journalists. Drawing largely upon the voluminous files the Hungarian secret police built up about her parents, FBI documents released under FOIA request, as well as the memories of family and friends, Kati Marten, details the surveillance, imprisonment, interrogations & release of her parents, her family's eventual flight to the USA. The writing is serviceable, the story utterly compelling. The AVO's pervasive layers of informants upon informants surely rivaled that of the Stasi in East Germany.

And while reading this story of an utterly bureaucratic, systematic attempt at totalitarian control that comes straight out of "1984" i found it impossible to ignore the haphazard, carelessly malign, made in the USA, exercises in imprisonment perpetrated in Iraq and Gitmo.

2. Good without God - Greg Epstein. An apologia for humanism w/out religion. Simply written - at times, too simply as during his (admittedly) brief overview of the history of secular humanism (Spinoza, the enlightenment) none the less, as a response to those millions of Americans (in particular) who maintain they "couldn't vote for an atheist" I think this is quite a valuable book. Epstein, brought up as a secular Jew, is the "humanist chaplain" at Harvard; his ethical stance is drawn from Camus, as much as anyone else. He also oversimplifies non-monotheistic perspectives - ie the Buddhist notion that "all is suffering" - well yeah..but the next, and more important point is that "suffering" is a result of "attachment" - which doesn't mean "un-concern" but rather an inability to let go. But his arguments for a humanism that stands on its own basis in humanity are very good.

I've been taken w/ a quote from Joss Whedon - yeah..Buffy, Firefly, Serenity etc...that Epstein notes:

"Faith is something we have to embrace. Faith in God means believing absolutely in something, with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are the true believers."

*ed 3 times trying to get the 1st touchstone to stay and the 2nd not to revert to the wrong book!

2bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Jan 6, 2010, 9:40am Top

anyone w/ any interest in "smart" SF - short stories that are really articulate, sometimes brilliant, "thought experiments" should read Ted Chiang's Stories of your life and others. I've given, pressed, urged this book onto far too many people over the last few years - but i don't think anyone has been disappointed.

*referral from Medellia's Chiang reference.

3kidzdoc
Jan 6, 2010, 10:53am Top

Bob, I found your thread here.

4Medellia
Edited: Jan 6, 2010, 10:57am Top

Yep, thumbs up to Ted Chiang, the title story especially. I've recommended him many times since I read him several months ago.

ETA: It's in my library with a "bobmcconnaughey" tag. :)

5dchaikin
Jan 6, 2010, 3:22pm Top

love that quote by Josh Whedon (whoever he is).

6bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Jan 6, 2010, 4:16pm Top

eeek..thanks to Dan and Darryl for pointing me to my original 2010 thread which, for whatever blind reason, i couldn't see last night...

repost before deleting prior 2010 threat...er thread. Well...i'll delete my one message in http://www.librarything.com/topic/81132#1693976 and maybe avaland has privileges to scratch the whole schmear?

Also read Johnny Hiro - totally sweet, amusing graphic novel of a young Japanese-American kid in NYC, busing and waiting tables, who ONLY wants to become a successful sushi chef - but finds himself fighting off a giant T-Rex, bored w/ Tokyo which has abducted his Japanese gfriend - and is sued by his landlord for the damages Gozodilla (?) wreaked on his apt; or forced into petty theft when Vogue's food editor comes into his restaurant and no live lobster is available.

Josh Whedon is best known as being the originator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer - which i've never seen and the short lived but much loved (by our household) SF/space "cowboy" series, Firefly and the excellent followup movie Serenity. He also "won" - well, was awarded the "humanist of the year" award for 2009, i believe - i pulled that quote off from a link from Greg Epstein's website @ Harvard where he's the "Humanist Chaplain."

7stretch
Edited: Jan 14, 2010, 2:05pm Top

I passed on Good without God the first time around in the bookstore, but now I think I should reconsider. I have been wary of books on the this subject, mostly because they are more often an attack on religion then reasoned arguement. I'll be added this one to my future readings list, thanks.

The Josh Whedon quote is fantastic, sums up the secular humanist perspective I've always held perfectly.

8bobmcconnaughey
Jan 8, 2010, 11:29am Top

Good without God has some problems - but all in all is a VERY reasonable book. Epstein, for instance, attempts a brief history of humanism - and I'm SURE he knows a good deal more than the space he's allotted himself - but i suspect the information he provides there is material most already know. BUT Epstein is not concerned with attacking religion - rather he's interested in creating "community" amongst the vast array of people who may or may not self-define as "humanists." He's more than delighted to share common social goals with religious groups that are willing to expand "interfaith" to include humanists. Outside of creating a sense of cohesion amongst humanists, he is (rightfully) appalled with the mindset found in the majority of American voters that they couldn't vote for a "non-believer."

On second thought, the historical perspective IS useful as it places the humanist perspective within the context of specifically American social-political history. Every reader, however sympathetic, will find portions either simplistic, or, maybe a bit pollyanaish (sic) - but in toto there's a lot of value in the book and I took longer than i might have needed to reading it, not because it was difficult (it's not) but because the text encourages discussion w/ it while reading.

And it's important to keep in mind that he's neither writing an academic treatise nor a propaganda broadside, but rather a guide for the perplexed humanist. And those who might like to actually understand humanism, irrespective of their faith.

(I know he has an educational background that's strong in Asian religions, for instance, yet i disagree a bit with his assessment of the essence of Buddhism. My take would be that the core value is not attaining nirvana and eventual escape, but rather the recognition that "attachment" in all its myriad forms -> suffering. But there are variants upon variants of Buddhism and the Pure Land school which seems to be the branch that upsets him the most, is certainly in resurgence).

9bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Jan 9, 2010, 3:51pm Top

And a good ways into the girl with the dragon tattoo - more excellent Scandinavian crime - so far mostly financial, though w/ a possible decades old unsolved murder lurking prominently (???? if that makes sense ???). My first Stieg Larsson.

10bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Jan 10, 2010, 9:43am Top

Very much enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Larsson neatly combines two very different genres of crime, two different investigators (one a 40ish financial journalist, the other a the peculiarly brilliant asocial titular young lady/hacker, several odd affairs and one very peculiar extended family of a fading Swedish industrial dynasty. And three very different settings: the office staff of a small, muckraking financial magazine, the writer's home base; the office of an private security company which, awkwardly fits Lisbeth, the titular girl, into its staff, and the small,out of the way town which is home base for Vanger Industries whose patriarch wants Mikael to solve the decades old disappearance of a favorite granddaughter.

And that's only the barest of backgrounds for the novel which deftly, if at some length - the paperback edition lent me is almost 600 pages of small print - but with no excess, treats complex relationships in multiple settings. I'm hoping our library has the next novel in the series. A Swedish/English reader who introduced the book to my friend Mike, whose copy i just finished, vouches for the honesty of the translation - both in style and mood; I found the interwoven stories and characters compelling enough that I both read more slowly than usual AND was a little frustrated at the length - only because i REALLY wanted to find out what happened and 3 evenings is a long time to wait for a denouement!

(i KNOW this is like a 6th grader's book report..."and you have to read the book to find out what happens" - but that's a problem reporting on good mysteries). Oh..5 stars and both right and left thumbs up.

11urania1
Jan 10, 2010, 10:41am Top

Bob,

For the second time this year (and it is only 10 days old), you have put temptation in my path (and I am on a strict budget); however, I am adding Stories of Your Life and Others to my wishlist.

12Talbin
Jan 10, 2010, 11:34am Top

>10 bobmcconnaughey: Bob - I have The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sitting on my TBR pile, and your review just confirms what I've heard several times - it's a great book. I just wish I didn't have so many reading commitments right now. I would like to get to it before our long Minnesota winter ends. Somehow it just seems right to read a Swedish mystery novel in the dead of winter.

13polutropos
Jan 10, 2010, 1:48pm Top

"I would like to get to it before our long Minnesota winter ends". That still gives you about four more months, does it not, said the Canadian with the same predicament, and a loathing of winter. LOL

14bobmcconnaughey
Jan 14, 2010, 8:32am Top

A light hearted romp through Charles Stross' weird and humorous world the Jennifer Morgue that combines computational magic, modern spying, Lovecraft's old ones, and LOTS of geek computer jokes. I don't remember my James Bond canon properly, but the archetypical billionaire Bond villain, with his usual plot to take over the world, sets a geas in order that forces the participants to (against their natural characters) to take on the roles of other typical Bond archetypes...the "bad and good" Bond girls, the techno (geek) helpers, the evil fluffy feline, as the bad guy seeks to recover an artifact of the "old ones." Stoss gets in MANY digs on Microsoft in passing.

IFF the general genre appeals, 4 light hearted stars. Not quite as good as his previous The Atrocity Archives which features the same geeky band of British agents. Stross' "real" SF leaves me cold, but the Bob Howard/Laundry (the Brit magical spy bureaucracy) are a hoot.

15stretch
Jan 15, 2010, 6:36pm Top

So, I picked up a copy of Good Without God. You are so right about it being a slow read. It's not about the content, but I find myself thinking over every idea and weighing it against my own beliefs and thoughts. So, far it has been a very provoking (in a good way) read.

I found the history of humanistic thought to be shallow. I wish he would have gone into more depth here. Then again I understand why he wouldn't want to go into great depth just to show that there is a solid foundation for what humanist believe. He does mention Doubt by Jennifer Micheal Hecht, which from what I have read is a pretty complete history of the movement.

Oh and your review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, plus a co-workers comments on the book are pushing me to add yet another book to my wish list. Thanks.

16bobmcconnaughey
Jan 17, 2010, 8:48am Top

Started Jonathan Littell's the kindly ones - I think it's v. good - i don't know if i have the stamina to read a 1000 page novel from the POV of an overly self-aware former SS officer who's made a successful post war life as a small time French industrialist.

On the wait list for the girl who played with fire, the sequel to Stieg Larsson's the girl with the dragon tattoo which i enjoyed immensely. I think there are 6 copies in our library system and i'm 8 on the wait list, so should get it soon.

17Mr.Durick
Edited: Jan 17, 2010, 4:54pm Top

The Kindly Ones on top of Life and Fate may be tough, but I endured another egregious trial of faith in Barny Noble and have Littell's book coming in paperback on February 2. If you comment on it, I will read.

Have fun,

Robert

18bobmcconnaughey
Jan 18, 2010, 2:57am Top

Just for something inspirational the boy who harnessed the wind - the autobiography of a young boy in Malawi, after the reign of their initial "president for life" Banda, who - too poor to continue secondary school - taught himself the basics of electricity generation largely from diagrams in a couple of English language texts and built an windmill that led to intially lighting his rural village home and, eventually, providing water for drinking/irrigation for his family's village. While his success IS inspiring, more interesting is his description of rural Malawi culture, heavily stressed by the incredible droughts and corruption on the new millennium.

Of particular interest to me and some friends as we have a good friend from grad school who, ~ 20 yrs before the time of this story - went through a not dissimilar experience, though he'd been an excellent student so had been sent abroad for college and grad school - but upon his return (despite being quite conservative, and hardly a "trouble maker" was under threat of being jailed for describing the early demographic changes due to AIDs), and whom a few friends and I managed to fund an escape to Tanzania and thence to the US from which he was able to extract some of his extended family. He's now a prof. @ a major US uni, but his stories of the starvation of members of his family as well as his wife's long walk with her children to the border were no less grim than the stories told two decades later by William Kamkawamba. A southern African Rocket Boys but w/ FAR more totally DIY. Libraries uber alles. The author's family was too poor to afford to send him to secondary school which has been the major way out of rural poverty and the major investment families make in the eldest male child if it all possible.

19polutropos
Jan 18, 2010, 9:37am Top

Bob,

your friend needs to write the story or contact a publisher who will provide a ghostwriter. Sounds like a story that needs to be told (and perhaps make him some money and recognition as well.)

20LolaWalser
Jan 18, 2010, 11:24am Top

Bob, I was thrilled by Larsson too (had some quibbles about the resolution in #1). I think #2 and #3 are even better.

21tomcatMurr
Jan 18, 2010, 7:49pm Top

a crime thriller novel endorsed by both bob and Lola? Hm. Needs to be investigated. And I agree with Polutropos. Your friend needs to get his story out there. I for one would like to hear it.

22urania1
Jan 18, 2010, 9:39pm Top

bob,

I just wanted you to know that we took a vote over on kidzdoc's thread and decided you were to blame for everything.

23bobmcconnaughey
Jan 18, 2010, 9:56pm Top

I always plead guilty.....

24LisaCurcio
Jan 19, 2010, 1:04pm Top

Probably should wait to see what the recommended sentence will be before pleading guilty . . . .

25urania1
Edited: Jan 19, 2010, 1:10pm Top

>24 LisaCurcio: spoken like a true lawyer . . . now get back over to the you-know- what forum and post.

P.S. mcconnaughtey, guilty persons are summoned to the bar of justice and you know what that means.

26bobmcconnaughey
Jan 24, 2010, 11:41pm Top

snuck in a modern psychological horror story the red tree. Haunted by the suicide/death of her lover, a writer flees from her agent, publisher, her PWT southern roots into a lovecraftian rural new england (RI) house dominated by ...an evil oak. There's a 300+ yr history of weird "badness" seemingly associated with this house/tree. OK..this sounds totally corny - but, if one can take Poe or King, Kiernan's story of art and nature gone terribly wrong is effective. Very good genre fiction.

Beware of oaks leaving leaves.

27avaland
Jan 25, 2010, 8:45am Top

Not to backtrack too much but the Epstein book sounds intriguing. And the Whedon quote was terrific.

28bobmcconnaughey
Feb 8, 2010, 8:12am Top

taking a break - reading PG Wodehouse after watching Fry/Laurie. I keep laughing delightedly. Having been futzing through another funky cold, been reading Jeeves/Wooster via project Gutenberg texts.

29bobmcconnaughey
Feb 8, 2010, 8:18am Top

Also started the fourth part of the world, a cultural/social history of the expansion of the known world via exploration and cartography. Centered upon the "mythical" Waldseemuller map that ~ 1507 showed S.America...named America and surrounded by oceans. And led to fierce naming rights over the "new world"...But "America" stuck. But Lester starts w/ the medieval cosmographies (which fwiw, generally had the world as a sphere) and works his way forward vie exploration in all directions.

30dchaikin
Feb 8, 2010, 8:46am Top

Bob - sound like a great book, anyway I stuck it on my wishlist. I'm curious whether you'll like it.

31bobmcconnaughey
Feb 8, 2010, 9:10am Top

So far so good. Being as how patty and i are both geographers and all, it seemed esp. apropos.
http://www.loc.gov/rr/geogmap/waldexh.html
as much as i don't travel...i might make a trek to the LOC to see this display.

32bobmcconnaughey
Feb 8, 2010, 9:47am Top

oh Donald Hall's eagle pond; a collection of short essays about place and home in rural New Hampshire. He and his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, moved out of academia and back to his maternal grandparents family farm~ 1975, which he spent a goodly amount of time and effort making livable again. Musings on loss, change, work, family history and sport.

33urania1
Feb 8, 2010, 10:42am Top

Donald Hall - another one for the wishlist. Right now I am up to my ears in baby goats. One arrived three nights ago. Three arrived late last night/early morning. More on the way today. And indications are more will be arriving in the next few days. I haven't had a complete eight hours of sleep since the goats starting arriving.

And did I mention . . . it's fricking a$$ cold here.

34bobmcconnaughey
Feb 11, 2010, 8:55am Top

I'm reading several books in bits and pieces..but i think i've gotten far enough into the fourth part of the world to recommend it w/out qualms.

35bobmcconnaughey
Feb 12, 2010, 8:20am Top

zipped though the great Taos bank robbery by Tony Hillerman. A set of (mostly) light essays on life, culture and politics in New Mexico through the centuries of habitation. The title essay is LOL - i had to move downstairs to read it as Patty had a bad sinus headache and i couldn't help laughing almost continuously. These are early pieces and Hillerman cops to that, but well worth a couple of hours. A NMexican friend sent it to me, to give me a feel for her background. When she and her husband were physics grad students/TAs at UNM...one of her husband's students asked if he could take a final late since he had to go down to Mexico to straighten out a...drug deal. (circa 1982). Didn't get the extension, but they got a new phone number. The US offered to let NMex. secede from its status as a US territory in the mid 19thC after the residents of Taos in cahoots w/ a local pueblo, scalped the territorial governor. But then a couple of serious articles about archeology.

err...wating for the TarHeels to consider winning a basketball game again this season. 1 more win? 2 wins?

36kidzdoc
Feb 12, 2010, 9:41pm Top

It's definitely a down year for several prominent teams: UNC, UConn, Louisville, UCLA. When is the last time UNC missed the NCAA tournament?

I'm watching Pitt-WVU now on ESPN; hopefully we can pay back the Mountaineers for the beat down they put on us earlier this month. Pitt is 18-6, and should make the Big Dance.

Penn beat Cornell??? I thought that the Big Red wouldn't lose to anyone in the Ivy League this season. And the Quakers are horrible this season, something like 3-15, compared to 20-3 for Cornell.

37bobmcconnaughey
Feb 13, 2010, 1:43pm Top

i was offered a ticket to see UNC/NCState today. It took me a grim second or two before i said...sure.
besides, even w/ our 2 best forwards out w/ injuries there's a slight chance UNC could win.

38kidzdoc
Edited: Feb 13, 2010, 2:49pm Top

I was shocked to see that today's UNC-NCSU game is for last place in the ACC.

I fell asleep during the second half of the Pitt-WVU game, so I missed Pitt's 98-95 win in triple overtime. We're definitely in the tournament now, with two wins over top 5 teams (WVU, Syracuse (their only loss of the year)), and an all but certain over .500 finish in conference play (8-4, with 5 of the final 6 games against teams below us in the Big East standings). Hail to Pitt!

39bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Feb 19, 2010, 9:11am Top

Boy, still reading Sen, so just about everything in the midst is VERY light - eg lots of graphic comix/novels (Mike Carey & John Bolton's "The Furies" - eg the Kindly Ones, the Eumenides is very good - but i've read a dozen others in the interim)*. The Fourth Part of the World isn't exactly light, but it's easy to read. Still waiting for the 2nd Larsson reach me from our local library wait list. Getting frustrated, but restraining myself from ordering my own copy. Dipping in and out of poetry collections by Philip Levine, Jay Parini and Rodney Jones which i've all enjoyed but haven't read enough to comment on, even totally superficially.

A different question...say one has a favorite piece of music (one of mine being Beethoven's violin concerto) and has read a review that both praised it and said the interpretation was remarkably different from any prior performance. Given i have 3 versions already, it seems like overkill to get a 4th, but then i AM very curious. Buy or pass? There's no chance that our library will get it i'm quite sure! Maybe the UNC music library???

*assuming one enjoys comics!

40kidzdoc
Feb 19, 2010, 9:48am Top

I vote "buy", since the reviewer claimed that it is "remarkably different from any prior performance".

41Jargoneer
Feb 20, 2010, 4:24am Top

>40 kidzdoc: - that could go either way - if you like the piece as it normally performed, a remarkably different performance may not go down so well. On the other hand it could be very insightful.

Always liked the art of John Bolton since his early Marvel UK work - wish he could do more B&W, which his detailed approach suits.

42bobmcconnaughey
Feb 22, 2010, 8:32am Top

just finished this weekend:
1. the haunting of Alaizabel Cray a very good steampunk/gothic/horror novel set in London after the fall - but w/ Brititsh social stratification left intact, even if many neighborhoods are not. The equivalent of the Nazi blitz has left London in rather a mess - in the worst sections weird creatures - some from faerie, others new - come a hunting. And then there are the human hunters of these beasts who stumble upon a conspiracy of the wealthy damned to make things EVER so much worse!

2.Logicomix - something different in a graphic 'novel.' Really a primer on the history of the development of logic theory and the philosophy of mathematics. Excellent if it's the kind of oddity one likes and the subject appeals..Doxiadis' previous novel was Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture - a more straightforward novel, while this is really an incredibly lucid text - Bertrand Russell/Whitehead and their success/failure w/ Principia Mathematica features prominently. Obvious Godel Escher Bach influence in mode of presentation (the constant self-reflection of the authors' standins).

3. American Born Chinese - terrific graphic novel, autobiography(?),Chinese mythology story of adaptation, acculturation, and cultural preservation. Very funny and poignant.
Three interwoven stories: 1. an Ch-Am kid moves to a new high school where he's the ONLY Chinese American and fitting in is hard to do - esp. w/ the parental expectations; 2. the story of the Monkey King who keeps being rejected by the rest of the heavenly pantheon; 3 a very hip Chinese-All American HS kid (on bball team, just generally cool, is plagued by annual visits by his off the boat cousin each year. Maybe having your parents take you into HS by the hand MIGHT be worse, but Danny feels compelled to transfer each year to try to start anew.

Reminded me of the T-Shirt the Asian kids at the NCarolina school of Science and Math had made up when Adam went there: "you know you're Asian-American if: you've taken violin lessons from the age of 3; aren't allowed to date, etc...." (the original was funnier but my memory only deals w/ generalities at this point)

43dchaikin
Feb 22, 2010, 10:50pm Top

Looks like you had a nice weekend. Logicomix is now on the wishlist.

44urania1
Feb 23, 2010, 2:39pm Top

Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture has been on my wishlist for some time. Right now I am at the public library. Does anyone want to take bets on the availability of this book here?

45bobmcconnaughey
Feb 23, 2010, 3:47pm Top

i was taken aback when our P'boro library didn't have any PG Wodehouse, though the Siler City library, in the same system, does.

46urania1
Feb 23, 2010, 4:09pm Top

Bob,

Heavens!!! No Wodehouse!!! The Apocalypse must be imminent!!! I hope you are a Unitarian.

47bobmcconnaughey
Feb 23, 2010, 9:30pm Top

dooooomed, doooooomed*. But i will ask 'em to get the Jeeves/Wooster from Siler City (aika Mayberry (sic) of Andy Griffith fame) library. I've gone from 8th to...6th on the list for the 2nd Stieg Larrson...this is over the course of a month. I really don't NEED any more books but i'm not very good at delayed gratification either. Oh well, i do have poison - by Chris Wooding who wrote The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray to finish and the idea of justice to work through.

Mary - i can send you my copy of Uncle Petros and you can return it whenever..

*my faithlessness might be beyond even the Unitarian pale - though i did change my gmail sig from the Joss Whedon quote i'd been using for a while:
""Faith in God means believing absolutely in something, with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are the true believers." Joss Whedon

48urania1
Feb 24, 2010, 7:17am Top

>47 bobmcconnaughey:,

As a self-proclaimed pagan, with no gods at all, I am doomed as well. Thanks for offer of Uncle Petros. Send it on. I found The Calcutta Chromosome at the Blount Count Public Library, but alas no Uncle Petros. I did, however find, Nurse Cherry Sees It Through. I don't even want to know what she sees through. I fear it may be too shocking for my once virginal ears.

49bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Feb 28, 2010, 9:35am Top

YAY - our P'boro library came through nicely yesterday. The Mao Case gave me a new mystery/police procedural setting - contemporary Shanghai and Beijing and a new and finely drawn Chief Inspector Chen - detecting between the delicate lines of a CCP still trying to protect Mao's image and a country (at least in the urban areas) doing its best to promote robber baron style capitalism. Inspector Chen (both a poet and translator of poetry - his first love and the basis of his first love affair) finds himself with a nebulous charge from CCP "political integrity" honchos to investigate the granddaughter of one of Mao's many "dancing partners" -like Mm Moa herownself a film actress - on the off chance that her sudden, unexplained elevation in life style reflects her possessing and selling off unspecified personal material from her grandmother that could be damaging to the last Emperor's posthumous image.

Qui Xiaolong dedicates the book to those who suffered under Mao - and much of the "mystery" is taken up w/ reconstructing Mao's treatment of his wives and lovers. But there's also fascinating analyses of Mao as a poet; descriptions of a resurgent "cult of the past" celebrating the lifestyles of the rich and famous in Shanghai circa the 1930s; the obligatory (but nicely done) fractious love story between Chen and his on/off long time gfriend turned CEO, in part by virtue of her coming from a family important in the Central Political Committee.
All in all, very satisfying and edifying. With critiques of Tang and modern Chinese poetry throughout. The mystery is not the thing here (whatever the author's intent) - rather the setting, people, history and background are what engages.

4.5 stars for background, characters, and atmosphere - 3 stars (generously) for quality of the mystery itself

AND though i'm 7 on the list for the girl who played with fire - I managed to get to 3 on the wait list for the girl who kicked the hornets' nest as some worthy patron ordered an Amazon UK copy, read it and donated it. I gave up and ordered the girl who played w/ fire so i won't be in the position of reading the 3rd before the 2nd.

Also - for those YA fans here - a couple of very good books and one clunker by Chris Wooding. Poison and the haunting of Alaizabel cray are both v. good. "The Haunting is" Steampunkish/gothic noirish post-apocalyptic fables set in a London half taken over by supernatural grotesques created/emerged after an alternative history German blitz. 3.5

Poison is the better of the two..a bleakish fairy tale in a world where the divisiveness amongst humanity has led them to live, essentially, outside the pale in a world where competing Fae "kingdoms" seek to constantly one up each other whilst keeping humans in their place at the bottom of the social/economic/geographical heap. "Poison" the name the a-social heroine chose on her naming day to spite her step-mom - is one of the few who seeks a world outside the constrained, rustic, agrarian poverty of her home village. While certainly a classic "hero(ine)'s journey" Wooding does a fine job of avoiding the obvious. Love interest? zilch; self-reliant? - umm, not totally - Poison gradually learns to accept, respect and then, finally, love the elderly trader who takes her away from the known and reluctantly steps in on occasion to help her journey into Fae(lands). Within the genre of fairy/horror, this is an exellent book. 4.5 stars. A lovely homage to various literary predecessors of infinitely recursive libraries and authors as creators

After Poison and Haunting, Wooding wrote Malice in an attempt to blend novel and comic together - but in alternating portions. Not a success. Readers of "Malice" get sucked into the alternative, brutal "comic" world - but the premise and plotline and most of the characters are clunky. 2 stars.

50urania1
Mar 2, 2010, 6:38pm Top

Bob,

For mysteries you might enjoy The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell. The beginning is gripping. Part II appears to give the whole book away. However, the book gets more interesting again. And . . . it is politicized, something one doesn't see often in crime/mystery novels. NPR gave it a good review.

Poison sounds good. I happen to be one of those outcast adults who reads YA fiction along with other novels.

Vis à vis our discussion about public libraries. My public library does have Wodehouse, but it has none of the other books on my wishlist (primarily works in translation). And . . . get this . . . interlibrary loan is listed as "limited" and one has to pay for it. So to all those who worry about the accessibility of books and "the death of the library" in the e-reader age, let me say this: Unless one can check out books at a research library (not likely for most people), the majority of books are inaccessible. Romance and the tacky rule at your local PL.

51bobmcconnaughey
Mar 3, 2010, 5:08am Top

i looked for the Mankell mystery today and didn't see it on the shelves. But there is a copy in the system so i'll put a hold on it. I guess the people who are most likely to go beyond our country system and be willing to pay the $2.00 IIL fee, are probably the ones who can spare a little money a bit more easily than many other cnty residents. Even we, who are friends of the Davis (graduate) library @ UNC and get "free" cards, don't make use of the opportunities as much as we should. I'm digging up a mailer for Uncle Petros.

And, as i've mentioned often, for a town that's ~ 2000+ for most if it's history, the P'boro public library is probably about as good as it gets - esp. for a county that is still heavily rural and relatively sparsely populated. Southern Noblesse oblige, southern style, has a lot to do with this...long established funds w/ income going to new book purchases and, then more recently, the establishment of a couple of retirement communities for well, to VERY well to do folks who donate books/$$. And good librarians who actively seek both collection diversity and library outreach. Somehow Chatham,. which is quite a bit poorer than Orange County *CHill has managed to keep funding the bookmobile while Orange Cnty's has lost its, for the while at least, to "fiscal responsibility"

52bobmcconnaughey
Mar 9, 2010, 9:50pm Top

Been out of place and sorts for a bit. But am close to finishing the Fourth Part of the World which is excellent - far more than the history of the first map to show the new world. A history of European perception of (and attempts at dominating) the known world - from Ptolemy (I didn't know he'd actually developed map projections) through the renaissance. Why it takes non-geographers to write really first rate, accessible geographies is beyond me. But then the book also goes well into the present day as it reconstructs the evolution of what we THOUGHT we knew about the construction of the cartographic representation of the new world.

Many, many attempts have been made to weave a geographic perspective into both academic and popular explanations of "the world" - from the totally discredited geographic determinism of the 20s-30 to the dense but v. good history of 16th C the Mediterranean by Braudel , to the rather simplistic pop-geography of Jared Diamond Guns, Germs and Steel to the many works w/ great titles but lesser content by Yi Fu Tuan. This is probably my favorite of the genre and one i'll be passing on to friends and colleagues.

53dchaikin
Mar 9, 2010, 10:12pm Top

"Why it takes non-geographers to write really first rate, accessible geographies is beyond me."

The same is true for geology - see John McPhee, for example. It's puzzling.

That's a great review, by the way.

54bobmcconnaughey
Mar 9, 2010, 10:37pm Top

Defn right about McPhee - though he also makes Oranges fascinating.

Which reminds me, as I came to McPhee through his marvelous essay on a Arthur Ashe/Clarke Graebner US Open match levels of the game, i did read Andre Agassi's autobiography Open. The book is both articulate and quite moving - which he attributes in large part to his co-author, J.R. Moehringer's hand, but having listened to Agassi being interviewed by Terri Gross, is also due to his own intelligent self-awareness.

Umm, I likedLogicomix - a graphic biography of Bertrand Russell and his life and peers - which reminds me i need to send off a book by Doxiadis further south. Bogged down about 2/3 through Kim Stanley Robinson's Galileo's Dream - i've liked several of KSR's books a great deal so i'll give a further go or two. The historical sections, placing Galileo in his own setting are great; the SF parts are weak and distracting, so maybe i'll just keep to the historical fiction portions.

55bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Mar 19, 2010, 8:47pm Top

Finished Galileo's Dream which led me to Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter. Sobel translated the cache of letters from Suor Maria Celeste into English and her book and translations were a major source for Robinson's book which was great historical fiction and pretty lame SF. Fortunately 75% of the Robinson's book WAS an excellent retelling of Galileo's life.

Also finished the fourth part of the world which i praised previously.

Off to console ourselves w/ some Jeeves and Wooster, season 4.

56bobmcconnaughey
Mar 29, 2010, 9:45am Top

A bunch of new and used books read and ready to read.
Last day of library book sale, so, for $2.00
1. Robert Lowell - Life Studies (1st ed)
2. Souls in the Great Machine - old copy disappeared - one of my favorite steam punk books.
3. all i did was ask terri gross - interviews w/ artists, writers, musicians.
4 the last hot time John Ford - borderland fantasy but intended for adults, not YA (next door w/ a few shared characters from the Terri Windling YA series
reckoning infinity John Stith ?????
5.drop city tc boyle (read before, v. good).

Just finished Emissaries from the Dead - an original and nicely done variation on the problems inherent in man/intelligent machine contact, tied into a legit SF/crime procedural-investigation. The political dissension amongst the universe's AIs, paralleling that of "sentient meat" intelligences is neatly portrayed. And the main characters are also quite well fleshed out s rather than being Asimovian or Heinlein ciphers existing for an "educational" or polemical point. Currently being read for the "Read Sci-Fi Books" group - and certainly my favorite among the selections to date.

57bragan
Mar 29, 2010, 3:32pm Top

Hmm, Emissaries from the Dead sounds like something I might really like. Onto the wishlist it goes!

58citygirl
Mar 30, 2010, 4:32pm Top

Nice haul. Now I want All I Did Is Ask, so thanks.

59bobmcconnaughey
Apr 3, 2010, 10:20am Top

I'm still waiting for my hold on the girl who kicked the hornets' nest to come to fruition (i'm 2nd in line). And i really want to read Matterhorn but i'm hoping our library will get it accessioned this month. Just bought Absences - i bought my first copy ~ 1972 or so and as it disappeared long ago, very much wanted a replacement. Thank you Abebooks! ($3.97, free shipping) so i'll be rereading that shortly.

Rereading for fun - lonely werewolf girl Martin Millar's wonderfully wacked out but very sweet epic about a dysfunctional family of Scottish werewolves trying to adapt to modern Britain. Werewolf running an exclusive fashion house; werewolves trying to make it as punk rockers; werewolves trying to keep to "tradition" ala fiddler on the roof; forlorn street werewolves; cross dressing werewolves; power brokering werewolves; werewolf immersed in translating classical Latin verse. Werewolves in London and in love.

60avaland
Apr 8, 2010, 4:52pm Top

Bob, I picked up a NC poet today....Stuart Dischell, are you familiar with him? It was sort of a random pick at the bookstore today (and he might just teach in NC, I haven't looked too deeply at the volume yet). I am still reading Serena but have set it aside temporarily. Thus I remain hovering in your neck of the woods...

61bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Apr 18, 2010, 11:39pm Top

ummm...don't know Dischell...which doesn't mean an awful lot.

Just finished two rather melancholy, albeit at times quite funny, novels about the affairs of males. Next:a novel by James Hynes follows a day in the life of Kevin, an editor @ the UofMich Uni Press, as he spends a most unusual day on a trip to Austin for a job interview. Solar, Ian McEwan, follows most of the life of a has been Nobel laureate, Michael Beard, as he tries, towards the end of his career, to do something other than rest on work he did in his early 20s. Both men are obsessed with the women - Keven with those in his past, the sleazy, though not qujite "evil" Beard unable to be satisfied with his 'present' - his 5th marriage on the rocks as the novel begins as his wife takes up a revenge affair having counted out 11 of Michael's affairs over the course of their relatively brief marriage.

Both books are gracefully written; Hynes' book is rather more original in its conceits which are well concealed until the concluding pages. Solar is a satire, almost a farce; Next an introspective examination of an ordinary life interrupted by the war on terror and terrorism.

Please ignore touchstone references to Michael Chrichton.

62bobmcconnaughey
May 2, 2010, 4:17pm Top

Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation

Over the years I've tried and tried to get through Darwin's most important book, and failed. While there are great sentences and paragraphs to be found, the sheer volume of examples he brought to bear in support of his arguments kept weighing me down. On a whim of sorts, i picked up this marvelous graphic "extract" - each chapter of the original is excerpted and beautifully illustrated, with explanatory notes and discussion. What this summation makes obvious is just how elegant and "modern" Darwin's theses and use of supporting evidence really were.

My mother, whose thesis, "Darwin and social Darwinism", was published in Osiris the year I was born, can finally stop turning over in her grave - 30 yrs on! (well, at least spin a bit more slowly). Somewhere, i think i still have here notes for her dissertation that went unwritten after becoming a 50s mom.

63bobmcconnaughey
May 22, 2010, 10:11am Top

Last week's reading..
the girl who kicked the hornet's nest. last in the Larrson trilogy
the hunger gamesYA -see below.

unwindYA. Pro life v pro choice leads to the 2nd civil war. The compromise? no abortions...but when a kid becomes 13, his parents can choose to have him or her "unwound" - sold for body parts. Once they get to 18, they're free, again. Follows 3 kids scheduled for unwinding who get away.

speakYA a young girl, on the cusp of HS gets raped by an upper classman at a pre-school starting party. After she runs and the cops show up, the rest of the student's assumed she called the cops for kids/pot -> ostracism.

black mirrorYA things aren't what they seem in an elite clique at an expensive private HS who've set up and run a foodbank.

go back to the library

All the above were good to excellent...with collins' the hunger games and Larssons' final Lisabeth/Kalle novel/thriller both first rate. Urania more or less insisted i read the hunger games as i'm well and truly outed as a major fan of good YA fiction - and it worked on many, many levels: as a social critique; as a dystopia; as a thriller; as a coming of age. 1984 meets the Handmaid's Tale meets the anti-Holden Caulfields; meets Sally Lockhart (from Pullman's YA detective series written long before His Dark Materials. Very well drawn characterizations of the 2 main protagonists. oh yeah...reality TV, of course.

The YA books are listed in my preference order, fwiw.

64bobmcconnaughey
Jun 5, 2010, 8:05pm Top

recently finished several from the library:

The Long Division - excellent and odd weird family/accidental crime novel. At first i thought it was a bit too filled w/ coincidences..but on second thought...all of our lives are full a coincidences/accidental events that help bring all sorts of events into being. Only the last couple of pages were predictable. The flotsam and jetsam of scattered bits of a broken family are drawn together into a small college town and something along the line of a classic tragedy ensues.

Another fail twixt me and John Crowley - he and i just don't get along, as much as i think I SHOULD like him. This time it was Endless things i gave up upon. Actually this is mine and i'll give it to the library. Same problems i have w/ Gene Wolfe.

Andromeda Klein - excellent, peculiar YA/HS novel. (Portman's entry in Wikipedia is almost all about his punk band, the Mr T Experience.). Be that as it may - to steal from booklist's summary: "With impish prose and ridiculously researched detail, Portman fully fleshes a one-of-a-kind character." Andromeda escapes from "the mom," school, the world via a very serious albeit not esp. workable immersion in "serious magic" - in the footsteps of Crowley, and esp. her hero, AE Waite. It's not really a fantasy - it's about coping and very funny and very dark @ the same time.

About to start Eye of the Red Tsar

65bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Jun 18, 2010, 7:34am Top

Just finished Generosity by Richard Powers. More later. But...i imagine, as with the The echo maker Powers wrote this one mostly via voice recognition software - which i should take as inspiration as i've still not gotten used to dictation.

A peculiar narrative pov - the "self*" watching the self. Is there the "bluebird of happiness" complex of alleles/genetic expression? and if it exists - can it be "patented"? Actually a v. sweet story. A young Algerian college student in a "creative non-fiction writing class in Chicago, who's lived through seven kinds of hell both "glows" with joy - making those around her more joyfully alive - while at no time being in denial about her life, her family's life, her people's tragedy. An extended meditation on the "Oprahization" and the "scientific anatomization" of the strange - even when it's strangely wonderful.

umm i should steal from a review i just read and make it clear that the "watching self" is the "authorial I" - but also, i think, the narrator's more omniscient, subconscious, eye. While the "creative non-fiction writing teacher" whose narration frames the book isn't one of Power's typical more geeky story tellers, neither is he as self-unaware as some reviews assert.

66dchaikin
Jun 16, 2010, 9:46am Top

Bob, you got me interested in Generosity, although perhaps I should read The Echo Maker first, at some point, since it was the big award.

67tomcatMurr
Jun 16, 2010, 10:58am Top

bob, I have never even heard of the books you are reading, but I'm glad you're posting and enjoying your reading!

I'm surprised to hear you think you have still not gotten used to dictating to VRS.

68bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Jun 18, 2010, 7:43am Top

Dan -
I'd rate Generosity as Power's most "straightforward" book; and certainly his "sweetest." Powers' sometimes takes too many conceits and then tries to weave them into a novel; sometimes successfully (Goldbug Variations, Galatea 2.2, othertimes less so (Operation Wandering Soul,Plowing the Dark). It's very much a morality play - though the morality of "self-improvement" via genetic manipulation is itself complex. And it's a morality play that doesn't take sides, really. The characters in Generosity are more fully drawn and less cipher like than in some of his earlier books. Certainly the Echo Maker was also v. good, but i don't think reading order makes any difference if you're skipping through Power's oeuvre. Anyway - obviously I liked Generosity.

And the key trope of the book..."creative non fiction writing" is, duh, pretty much an explicit parallel for genetic manipulation. Having a degree of familiarity w/ the sciences/technology involved is generally helpful in Power's books..but really nothing more than an "NPR listener's" level of background in the arguments over genetic enhancement/manipulation/"cures" (we have the genome...but not much in the the way of "genetic cures" yet..And our basic understanding is that the interaction between gene expression and environmental factors is becoming ever more complex and so multi-factorial that "simple" fixes aren't going to be the norm!

69dchaikin
Jun 19, 2010, 12:21am Top

wow, thanks! So Generosity first then.

70Medellia
Jun 19, 2010, 10:59am Top

I picked up Generosity as soon as it came out, but I haven't read it yet. Perhaps I'll take it with me on vacation next week. I could maybe do some Powers Lite--haven't the energy to do Goldbug yet. Enjoyed your thoughts, Bob. (Though FWIW, I thought Plowing the Dark was absolutely brilliant and worked on a number of levels. So don't count it out, Daniel. :) If Powers is making strides in building characters, I'm interested...

And I'm responding to you in the wrong place by not leaving you a profile comment, but thanks for the Suzanne Collins recommendation. I've been teetering on the edge of whether I should get it or not. A paperback edition of The Hunger Games comes out July 6, so I'm going to wait until then.

71bobmcconnaughey
Jun 19, 2010, 7:54pm Top

picked up a bunch of light summer reading at UNC's Bulls head bookstore - one of the best college bookstores i've had the pleasure to patronize...
Well, mostly light. I was actually looking for a "data analysis using SAS" book for a friend who would like some tutoring before her first post college job starts..Appalling that the best of that genre that i found @ student stores - a paperback - lists for $89.00. So i put it on hold at the desk and Anna and her mom who's a serious biostats person can go look @ it and decide if it's worth buying..It IS $20.00 cheaper @ Amazon and i'll look on Abe...

Instead i picked up:
Lighthead by the African American poet Terrance Hayes

BUT graphic stuff was 15% off...so...
so Catland empire - weird - cats need to retrain humans.
Exit wounds - tel aviv - a love story
the photographer - Medicin sans frontiers in Afghanistan
Nemi III - Norwegian punkette heroine
-----
Ruby and the Stone Age Diet - Martin Millar: hope it's as good as his best and not as bad as his worst..he's VERY up and down!
Mystery of Grace - my dose of (likely) twee modern fantasy for the month by Charles de Lint; but i'll probably enjoy it a good deal.
----------------
Listening to a very good reading of Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene being very droll and funny in a tale of an inadvertent spy. A vacuum salesman whose daughter's extravagances threaten bankruptcy becomes her majesty's secret service "man in Havana" at the end of the Batista era. I also checked out the quiet American but wasn't up for tragedy today.

Keeping car material "easy listening" for the nonce:
The golden compass narrated by Pullman and yesterday just finished Harry Potter I (the sorcerer's/philosophers) stone which was v. well read.

And I am very much awaiting vol 3 in Collins' trilogy which comes out in August. Many thanks to Urania for pointing her books out to me.

72kidzdoc
Jun 19, 2010, 8:48pm Top

I'll be interested to get your take on Lighthead; I bought that earlier this year, and will probably read it soon.

73tomcatMurr
Jun 19, 2010, 9:55pm Top

The Quiet American is worth a read.

74bobmcconnaughey
Jun 20, 2010, 9:08am Top

Oh i've read the quiet American several times over the years..This was just to get another take as an audio book. Graham Greene is my personal pick for English language novelist most deserving of the Nobel who never got it.

75detailmuse
Edited: Jun 21, 2010, 11:06am Top

>62 bobmcconnaughey: bob
Loved your mention of your mother's thesis and dissertation notes. I requested my dad's dissertation through inter-university loan years ago ... mostly just added my name to a list mounted on the front page. Now I have his own carbon copy, typed by my mom, which I will treasure reading.

Just picked up Speak and now Unwind intrigues and Generosity appeals on all kinds of levels.

76urania1
Jun 22, 2010, 10:39am Top

>64 bobmcconnaughey: Bob,

Favorite quotation from Andromeda Klein:

The day a person's mother discovers text messaging is a dark day indeed.

77tomcatMurr
Jun 22, 2010, 11:44pm Top

74> yes, I would agree, certainly one of the most deserving, anyway.

78bobmcconnaughey
Jun 24, 2010, 11:27am Top

If you're a graphic novel fan, I very, very much recommend Exit Wounds. An exceptionally moving and, really, quite surprising story of loves in a state of war in modern Tel Aviv. The Palestine/Israel war ISN'T the main focus - but provides the constant background noise that frames and distorts the personal/inter-family/intra-family conflicts.

79bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Jun 25, 2010, 11:24pm Top

disconcerting jacket blurb of the month:

"Bacigalupi's vision as almost as rich and shocking as William Gibson's vision was in 1984."

Though i think i'll like the windup girl - biopunk(?) set in a nutrition starved near future where a relatively calorie rich Thailand stands out from its famished neighbors thanks to a successful, under the table, local GMO industry.

80bobmcconnaughey
Jun 27, 2010, 6:56am Top

i'm making exit wounds one of the books I give to friends. And explain that it's NOT an Arab/Israeli thing, however much that far too often promised land provides the backdrop. It's a story about family, about love, about jealousy, about social conflicts within Israeli society.

Anyway, delighted to report that the windup girl is terrific. I would not call it "Biopunk" a la some reviews i've read. Genetic/Bioengineering DOES play a key role..but it does in Fairyland too. Rather the setting IS Thailand a few hundred years into the future. The oil based global economy collapsed long ago but technology itself has not disappeared, but, of course, mutated.

After a period of "contraction" when those who were left grew inward - lacking their accustomed means of travel - a new period of global expansion has been underway. But the legacy of the oil economy remains - elevated sea levels and drowned cities - are one side along with the huge gulf between relatively rich and poor that stays forever. Most of the large, "important" national states have imploded long ago into smaller "regional nations." But trade is expanding, via clipper ship, dirigible.

The major independent players are the mega agri-tech industries who keep trying to provide expensive seed stock that can withstand the constantly mutating plant diseases (and, of course, not reproduce).

In this new world, Thailand has more or less kept itself going. And has become even more of an ethnic mix than it is now. While there is now and has been for generations, a quite well integrated population of ethnic Chinese who've become not just economics important, but culturally integrated; there is now also a flood of "yellow card" Chinese - those who escaped with their lives, and nothing else, from the Muslim ethnic cleansing of Indonesia and Malaya - who now occupy the bottom of the social structure. Thailand through very strict and brutally enforced environmental controls has both kept the sea and the mega-Ag companies at bay over the last 100+ yrs and maybe like Britain during WWII ?, is coping.

There are also the expats living in Bangcok, sipping/gulping "whiskey" in clubs catering to wealthy foreigners from nations once far more powerful, but still players (the American countries, Japan, Euro) and a few "new people" - genetically engineered in Japan as talented but by nature subservient, servants, one of whom is the windup girl of the title. Which ALSO refers to the new major source of potential energy; as improvements in "spring technology" allows ...duh...springs to discharge their energy post winding in a much longer and controlled fashion.

As the environment in Thailand as more or less become fruitful, the restoration of global trade resurges and a lmajor conflict is between the dept. of environment and the dept of trade. Another is between the Agri-business based in the American midwest, who want, desperately, to gain access to the protected seed bank that Thailand has maintained against all odds. And within this larger setting, a host of interpersonal conflicts which drive the story.

Not a feel good story in the least; but a plausibly drawn and quite consistent different type of post apocalypse with very well drawn protagonists of all stripes. Not quite done, so i'm v. curious as to how it all will end.

81bragan
Jun 27, 2010, 12:38pm Top

I'm glad to hear that The Windup Girl is good. That one's made it's way onto my TBR shelves recently.

82Mr.Durick
Jun 27, 2010, 5:05pm Top

There are mixed reviews for The Windup Girl here and there, but from your description I have put it on my wishlist. There's no telling when I'll get around to it though.

I couldn't tell from any of the descriptions whether there was any mention in the book about the pleasures of Thai food.

Robert

83bobmcconnaughey
Jun 28, 2010, 12:43am Top

Thai food figures in - but the novel's set in a future where many cultivars are extinct and so, of course, the meals they serve can't be served.

I'm not finished yet - 3/4 done - but while there are a couple of intense passages of sexual abuse/degradation and one wouldn't pass it on to a kid w/out some forethought, the scenes are quite short. Nothing, say, like the extended scenes in the girl with the dragon tattoo and the follow on novels.

84arubabookwoman
Jun 28, 2010, 6:04pm Top

Richard Powers is one of my favorite contemporary writers, and I've read most of his books. Generosity is the book of his I liked the least. There were a number of aspects in it that didn't seem authentic to me. My favorites are The Gold Bug Variations, Galatea 2.2 and Operation Wandering Soul, (which I see you felt was flawed). For something entirely different by Powers, read The Time of Our Singing, novel whose subject matter is the civil rights movement and classical music(ians) over the course of the entire 20th century.

85wandering_star
Jul 1, 2010, 11:24am Top

I really liked The Time Of Our Singing and had wishlisted some of his other books on the basis of that - are they very different?

86bobmcconnaughey
Jul 1, 2010, 9:48pm Top

One of my favorite facets of Powers' writing is the divers subjects he tackles in his novels. While his books generally have something something to do w/ erm..philosophy of mind/perception/cognition, his approaches come from all sorts of interesting directions. Which i think makes it easy for two readers who appreciate his work as a whole, to have very different opinions on any given book. He's the LeCarre or Graham Greene of epistemology.

87rebeccanyc
Jul 2, 2010, 7:58am Top

The only Richard Powers I have read is The Echo Maker, and while I found it fascinating what he was trying to do, it didn't really work for me as a novel -- interesting ideas, some lovely writing, but I couldn't work up a great deal of interest in the characters and their predicaments, or I guess another way of saying that is that they seemed to be there in the service of the ideas, rather than as "real" people. Maybe I should try another one.

88bobmcconnaughey
Jul 2, 2010, 8:30am Top

Rebecca - I think that's a fair charge against Powers and could be made about several of his books. I think the time of our singing might be a place to find "characters" in addition to ideas in a Powers novel - see #85 above. I need to reread that one but i remember it as being more character driven than most of the other books of his that i've read. (I've NOT read them all! - though looking @ Wikipedia, i guess it's only his first two that i've missed. Generosity, too, had - for Powers - some nice character development.

89arubabookwoman
Jul 9, 2010, 1:28am Top

Operation Wandering Soul is very character driven, and I think you might like it Rebecca. It's a lot shorter than The Time of Our Singing and The Goldbug Variations, which are also character driven. (The Godbug Variations less so). I agree with you about The Echo Maker. Do give Powers another chance.

90rebeccanyc
Jul 9, 2010, 8:06am Top

Thanks, Bob and Deborah. I have a lot on my TBR, but you have encouraged me to give Powers another chance at some point.

91bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Jul 25, 2010, 11:14am Top

Just finished Matterhorn, a terrific Vietnam war novel following a platoon of Marine grunts who have been ordered to take and retake a hilltop (aka the matterhorn) just outside the DMZ zone.

A long book, but there's nothing excessive and it was close to being compulsive reading - i'll just say that problems putting Matterhorn down for the night exacerbated my usual insomnia.

While there are a plethora of viewpoints - from battalion commander down to some of the infantry privates, the overarching POV belongs to second lieutenant Mellas, dropped in green out of the Ivy league and OTC into a patch of heatedly (if, arguably, pointlessly) contested area. Should he return intact, Yale law awaits.

Marlantes lets us see the political acting at all scales. From assaults ordered to curry favor with higher brass and for good PR back in the states to assaults of soldier on soldier generated by the entangled forest of tensions - whether black/white, officer/grunt, Marines/Army, the jungle/everyone (from leeches to malaria to tigers) and the NVA vs the US.

Marlantes' plain but lucid prose carries the stories along fluidly. Up there with the things they carried and going after Cacciato as my favorite VM war novel*; a book that could deservedly be promoted to "great."

The bassist in a bar band i played in ~ 72-74 served in the Marine infantry humping a mortar through the dense, green nowhere. John's tales - from the brutally amusing to the quietly horrific - are all retold here (Johnny had the wretched luck of being drafted into the Marines the one and only year, iirc, that one could be press ganged into the Corps.)
*the quiet American is my very favorite, and my nominee for best novel novel treating with the US/Vietnam - erm, imbroglio? disaster? failed attempt in "support of democracy and free enterprise"?

92dchaikin
Jul 25, 2010, 11:38am Top

I was supposed to read Going After Cacciato in November 2009, but that didn't work out and now it's still on the shelf. I'll get there, thanks for the reminder. Interesting comments on Matterhorn, and on The Quiet American.

93bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Aug 14, 2010, 7:58pm Top

Finished point omega a short, but none the less portentously pretentious novel conflating time/cinema/national security/and existentialism as a novice experimental film maker sets out to do a one shot documentary of a retired, overly intellectual, national security guru.

Also Marcelo in the Real World - excellent depiction of Marcelo who lives, quite happily and certainly with a great deal of self awareness in a condition that's not unrelated to a high level Aspergers. His affluent parents been able let him be educated in a "special needs" school from kindergarten through 11th grade, where the controlled environment has allowed him to flourish, however differently from "normal"

The summer before senior year his hard charging lawyer dad, Arturo, who has always pushed for Marcelo to "cope" with "reality" makes a deal. If Marcelo will work for the summer in the mailroom of his lawfirm AND make a good faith effort to accommodate more conventional norms, Marcelo can decide whether he will spend senior year at his where he's comfortable with his music(internal and external) and horses or to the public HS where is dad REALLY wants him to go.

On the face of it, the novel's setup appears pat. However the care with which Stork portrays Marcelo's attempts at dealing with the "normal" but (relatively) unpredictable facets of coping outside his comfort zone - whether it's just getting to work or figuring out figures of speech, is remarkable.

Reviews have compared "Marcelo" with The curious incident of the dog in the night-time but (imo) "Marcelo" is better written and rings far more true. The depiction of Marcelo's interaction with the therapy horses at his school is uncannily similar to that of one of our god children, 5 yrs younger, but who shares his affinity with the horses as well as his willingness, and indeed pleasure, in mucking out stables, doing the dirty work involved in keeping horses.

Oh...Also read and enjoyed one of Perez-Reverte's earlier novels, the Seville Communion. The Pope's personal PC is hacked (circa 1995) when the hacker, at least, is going in via modem (no description of the Vatican's internal network). The hacker wants to bring the Pope's attention to a old, small church, in downtown Seville, which is standing in the way of "progress" - from the POV of just about everyone, from the local bishop to bankers and developers, except the odd, elderly priest, his small flock, an architectural restorer/historian and the socially prominent, albeit no longer wealthy descendants, of the grandee who had the church built.

Deaths of two minions of development have befallen on church grounds. Vatican "fixer" Father Lorenzo Quart (who's regretting consequences of some prior "fixes," esp. one that led to the death of a S.American priest who espoused "liberation theology") is sent to investigate. Lots of interesting intra-Vatican intrigue between the weakening liberal wing and the resurgent conservatives. Very good mystery/thriller with a good bit of thought. Perez-Reverte's modern mysteries seem to me to have been very much the model that Stieg Larsson used - albeit with increased gore in the Swede's books.

94wandering_star
Aug 15, 2010, 4:19am Top

I really like The Seville Communion - of all his books that I've read, I enjoyed it by far the most. Which are your favourites of his?

95bobmcconnaughey
Aug 15, 2010, 5:07am Top

I liked the first two Alitriste stproes a lot, but i generally prefer his books set in the present: The queen of the south; the flanders panel; the painter of battles; the Seville communion. "The Queen of the South" is probably my favorite. The only ones i didn't esp. enjoy were "the nautical chart" and "the sun over Breda."

96wandering_star
Aug 16, 2010, 5:50am Top

Thanks. I've read The Flanders Panel, I think, but I'll look out for the other two.

97detailmuse
Aug 16, 2010, 3:49pm Top

Marcelo in the Real World sounds terrific. Of course something needs to be the foil that throws Marcelo into the "real world" and, thus, a story -- but I already dislike his dad (good review!) and hope his motivations are believably set up...

98bobmcconnaughey
Aug 17, 2010, 10:02am Top

One of the many complicated issues Marcelo has to deal with is learning to understand the motivations of others. And with the possibility that he (as an actor in society) might have to make choices that aren't clearly marked as right/wrong.

99bobmcconnaughey
Aug 21, 2010, 10:07am Top

"Sea of Poppies" is Amitav Ghosh's latest - I've previously praised his earlier books: the Calcutta Chromosome and The Glass Palace in particular. Britain rules the waves and a good part of the world's land mass in 1830. Much of her wealth and commerce is tied up in the other "triangular trade:" - India, China and Britain knitted together via India's opium factories product being forced upon the Chinese by the Brits who in turn were heavily into Chinese tea - both economically and socially (the taxes on tea acoounted for ~ 10% of the British govt. revenue). And while Britain no longer participated in the slave trade, boats that had once been designed to take slaves from Africa to the new world proved just what was needed to carry impressed indentured servants from India throughout British colonies in Africa and colonies further east. The story is told through multiple POV - an American mulatto, son of a freed slave who takes to the sea; an Indian raja who's been disposed of his land by legal chicanery and convicted of forgery; a impoverished Brahman widow, the orphaned daughter of a British botanist/naturalist and the Indian boy/young man who's been her best Friend since early childhood, and lots and lots of sailors of all types and nationalities. And more...All the key characters come together on the Ibis - a converted slaver taking a load of coolies from Calcutta to Mauritius and whose owner hopes to make enough money to buy into the India/China opium trade. I realize the book sounds a mess from this attempt at synopsis - but it works very well as the host of stories become intertwined. The book IS slow going, however, because so much of its language is taken from the different trade pidgins of the time and place; even the glossary @ the back is written in the hand of one of the main characters so while invaluable, there remain shades of meaning that aren't always clear. For better or for worse the book is the first of a trilogy, so at the moment i'm very frustrated - not knowing what's going to happen. But if one's willing to work through the pidgins, an engrossing, fascinating book.

a nice long review from the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/jun/08/fiction1

100kidzdoc
Aug 21, 2010, 12:42pm Top

I loved Sea of Poppies, Bob, so I'm glad that you also enjoyed it. I'm very impatiently awaiting the next book in the Ibis Trilogy, but I haven't seen any information about when it will be published.

101bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Sep 5, 2010, 2:52pm Top

You're so right - not knowing when i'll be able to continue the story is VERY frustrating. Ghosh lets the reader know we'll be changing venue, and the glossary provides a few hints...but i feel very much at sea myself @ the moment. I also felt oddly at a loss trying to summarize the book in something less than a full blown essay.

simultaneously I also read for all the tea in china a "straight" history covering much the same territory as Sea of Poppies - though it centers on the "daring adventures of the Scottish horticulturist/botanist whom the EIndia" Company commissioned to steal tea plants and tea growing/production technology out of rural China so the Empire could start tea planations in the Himalayas. Also v. good.

ReadWolves eat dogs, one of Cruz Smith's v. good Arkady post-soviet noir mysteries and just started bangkok haunts which so far seems back to the quality of the first book bangkok 8. The 2nd was so disappointing that if Haunts hadn't been in our library, i wouldn't have taken it home.

102bobmcconnaughey
Sep 5, 2010, 2:55pm Top

Read Cruz Smith's Red Square when i wasn't in the water off Topsail Island over the last few days. I've found all the Renko stories intriguing and this one about Russian art history/theft; the bloom of the various Russian mafias during the chaos of the Soviet Union's collapse and of course Renko's morosely honest approach to being a police investigator under any and all circumstances was no exception.

Though my favorite Martin Cruz Smith novel remains his anomalous but fascinating Rose - set in a forlorn British coal mining town in late Victorian England.

103bobmcconnaughey
Sep 11, 2010, 4:28pm Top

OK - read zero history last night. I happened to like it a good deal - but it's nowhere as good as pattern recognition though a lot of the usual suspects are reprised. I'm a fan of Hollis Henry and Bigend's wayward project, Milgrim, recovering - on Bigend's Euro - from a lost decade of rx drug addiction, who is yet another one of Gibson's quirkily gifted ....not idiot savants, but rather socially distressed personalities.

The ostensible motif driving the plot was "military fashion" and military contracting was less interesting to me than the more specifically artistic motifs in the previous two books. And since Idoru Gibson is writing in "present day, present time" (see Serial Experiments Lain) which brings Gibson more into cultural anthropology than cultural prescience. Which is his pleasure and right but isn't quite as intrinsically interesting to me. Only for people who really liked both of the earlier books in the series, but a good one for us.

104bobmcconnaughey
Sep 14, 2010, 7:11am Top

OK..I haven't mentioned Mockingjay yet; I thought Urania might put up a definitive and lucid appraisal before I attempted something lamer. BUT for people who think still YA fiction is adult fiction light, with a teenage protagonist who's easy to identify with, the Hunger Games trilogy is up there with His Dark Materials in terms of ambition and is far more morally ambiguous. An exceptionally powerful critique of reality tv warfare among much else (shock and awe anyone?). The heroine Katniss is a lot less sure of herself and her motivations than Lyra - or Lizbeth Salander, but tries to act meaningfully and decisively in a dystopic post holocaust NAmerica where the rebels are nearly as flawed as the dominant state relying on bread and circuses and constant surveillance to maintain power.

A good review by Katie Roiphe in the NYTimes last week:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/12/books/review/Roiphe-t.html?_r=1&scp=1&...

105tomcatMurr
Edited: Sep 14, 2010, 8:55am Top

Is Sea of Poppies out in paperback yet? I really want to read it now, after your review, and doc's. it sounds just my thing.

106bobmcconnaughey
Sep 14, 2010, 3:47pm Top

Yeah. my copy of Sea of Poppies is a paperback. Now waiting for the 2nd volume.

107bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Sep 25, 2010, 6:07am Top

8964137::The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America see post ":" title says it all. Surprisingly boring and tediously written Learned more details of andrew weil's informing on Leary and Alpert for the Harvard administration whilst a reporter on the Harvard Crimson. A lot of oversimplification despite Lattin's access to many of the parties and hanger ons involved. Disappointing. C+
________

Countdown :Feeling punkish today, i stayed home and read a pretty terrific YA novel "Countdown" by Deborah Wiles. Set in suburban Md at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, the 11 yr old middle child of an Andrews air force family copes with the usual issues (vague awareness of boys, trying to fit in @ school, her slightly dotty WWI vet granddad who lives with them, her older sister's 45s.) But the book is also a documentary - pages from "how to build your bombshelter," all the "tuck and hide" drills that school kids did, (real) newspaper headlines etc are all there. Franny feels displaced - her beloved older sister is off @ college and mysteriously changing her behavior in ways she can't understand; she's on the outs w/ her best friend; her AF pilot dad is gone a lot and her mom struggles to keep up appearances AND she has a "perfect" younger brother - whose Linus like quirk is carrying the classic our friend the Atom - which I, too, of course owned.

Since, at the time, I was living outside Alexandria, Va, my dad in the CIA, i figured/knew that I was every bit as much @ ground 0 as Franny Chapman..but even a little more aware as I was a year older and read the Washington post and was watching the live proceedings from the UN and was convinced that this was pretty much it. I may have been the only DC area casualty ... a friend and i were out in the field besides my house hitting a baseball back and forth. Unfortunately i kept scanning the sky for missiles/bombers whatever and the game ended when a high fly ball descended square upon the left lens of my heavy tortoise shelled glasses. Thank god for dorky glasses. So i got a black eye. Then read the far less well written and far less informative history of the "Harvard Psychedelic Club" A.

Both were bits of history i lived through

108urania1
Sep 18, 2010, 7:14pm Top

Bob,

Nice comments on Countdown. It was also interesting to read about the cultural context you brought to the book. I was two years old at the time and have only the vaguest of recollections of my mom being quite upset about something to do with bombs.

I love the reference to Our Friend the Atom. I worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for almost three years. I attended at least a dozen "safety" training sessions where I was informed that "Radiation Is Your Friend." This message was usually accompanied with helpful statistics about how much more deadly a thousand tablespoons of peanut butter were than the radiation in my building. I was also informed that my chances of being killed by my spouse were greater than that of "running into" life-threatening dose of radiation at the lab. I knew it was time to leave when I raised my hand and said "Let me get this straight. You're telling me I'll be a lot safer if I get a divorce, give up peanut butter, and move onsite." I wrote risk assessments which always included the "hypothetical farm family." In my spare time, I wrote short stories about the adventures of the hypothetical farm family. We always had to worry about how much hypothetical contaminated dirt the children were consuming. The hypothetical farm family children are grown now, have moved off the radioactive farm and live in New York. I am not sure about their chances of survival ;-)

109bobmcconnaughey
Sep 25, 2010, 6:16am Top

risk assessment is such a ... well if not quite bogus, certainly nothing as certain as the certainty with which the magic numbers are pulled out of the process hat! An assumption here, an assumption there, here a guess, there a guess everywhere a guess guess....

my 12 yr old risk assessment during the cuban crisis was.."we're all gonna see mushroom clouds blooming bright over the DC metro area.

110urania1
Edited: Sep 25, 2010, 5:48pm Top

>109 bobmcconnaughey: risk assessment - an unreliable tool used to tell the bosses what they want to hear but is largely unreadable by those whom it affects. Risk assessment is dangerous because it cannot possibly cover all parameters. The systems in question are far too complex. Risk - a tool that objectifies people, nature, etc., reduces them to a series of probabilities. And even at its best, garbage in garbage out.

111bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Oct 10, 2010, 1:21am Top

finished reading Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland - a mystery in which the "where" is as important as the "who" and "why." The Australian outback, and the colliding cultures coexisting uneasily and unequally out there, are as much a character as the protagonists. Looking into the author's background, i came across a neat website, "the scene of the crime" dedicated to "mysteries with a spirit of place."
http://jsydneyjones.wordpress.com/2010/05/07/mystery-down-under-adrian-hylands-o...
This is Hyland's 2nd mystery set in the Australian outback - although the first I've read. Very interesting setting and characters. From the POV of a college educated, although not-degreed, very assertive young Aboriginal woman who's brought into, despite doubts on all sides,including hers, the local constabulary. An eccentric aging geologist is murdered - and what seems to be an open and shut case of a bar room argument gone bad turns (of course) into a far more complex case than surface signs would indicate.

Also Polar Star which finds Renko stripped of his party badge exiled to Siberia and working on a fishing factory ship in perilous tandem with American trawlers and po'd ex con whom(?) Arkady sent to jail as a shipmate. And Havana Bay where out of place in re language, culture, climate, Renko tries to solve what looks to be the accidental death of an auld ...compatriot. Of course the unfamiliarity of both settings doesn't mean Arkady doesn't manage to find fleeting solace in the arms of an unlikely woman - though Irina is still long gone.

And still in and out of the art of the sonnet, and started Donald Hall's memoirs of "older poets he has known" their ancient glittering eyes

fat kid rules the world - YA, dorky HS geek (think Hurley on Lost) becomes local R&R drumming hero after accidentally linking up w/ a near mythical guitarist who's gone walkabout in the bad edges of town. (the oddest incorrect touchstone yet). Very good for those who get into YA lit. KL Going ..and the touchstone has changed from spam 1 to the correct book.

112Mr.Durick
Oct 8, 2010, 4:49pm Top

You turned me onto The Art of the Sonnet. Thumbing it each time I went to a Barny Noble's brick and mortar led me to buying it yesterday.

Thanks for the tip.

Robert

113bobmcconnaughey
Oct 13, 2010, 9:27pm Top

their ancient glittering eyes: remembering Poets and More Poets.
Donald Hall's gracious and generous critical (in the literary sense) memoirs of a set of the major poets of the generation preceding his: Pound, Eliot, Frost, Marianne Moore, Yvor Winters and Archibald MacLeish. Hall came into Frost, Thomas and the last two when he was a student @ Harvard and Stanford. As the poetry editor of the Paris Review he later got to interview, in depth, Moore, Eliot and Pound - interviews that took several days as he traveled to see them at their homes in London, New York, Rome.

While in no ways apologizing for, say Frost's bitterness or Pound's anti-Semitism, Hall attempts, i think successfully, to put their acts in the context of their various lives. One of the most interesting themes running through most of these interviews and sketches (Frost and Winters excepted) was how "non-competitive" these poets were - and how much they appreciated each others work. And how, in their old age, they believed that they no longer had the ability to recognize "quality" in younger poets; Eliot as an editor @ Faber said he relied on a couple of trusted younger editors to bring new talent to his eyes.

Perhaps the most interesting interviews were those with Moore, who still missed her Dodgers who'd moved out to LA several years before and Pound. Pound - though at a point where staying alert long enough to converse in coherent paragraphs was obviously a struggle - was still capable of amazingly deft sentences.

114solla
Oct 13, 2010, 11:32pm Top

I've come to appreciate Frost much more since reading some of his narrative poems, not the farmhand one which we got in high school (home is the place where when you have to go they have to take you in), but one in particular of a man reacting to his wife looking out the window, seeing something, and you get the whole history of a relationship through their interaction - she was looking at the grave of their stillborn baby. It was just so precise in its emotional description.

115bobmcconnaughey
Oct 14, 2010, 8:12am Top

Oh many of Frost's poems are terrific - poets who wrote in very different modes - Eliot in particular, admired his work - modestly reassuring since i do too. The story told by Hall is that he lived out his life wracked by guilt over the madness of one child, suicide of another and death all around him. And he adopted a number of personas depending upon the audience (used loosely) he was addressing. But evidently w/in the relatively small set of "notable American poets" of the pre WWII era, he stands out as the one who most jealously guarded and fought for a position in which he saw himself as clearly the first among unequals.

i like his shorter stuff which is almost always precise and often devastatingly brutal.

116bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Oct 14, 2010, 1:03pm Top

I guess quotes from poets can go here? anyway from Donald Hall's interview w/ Pound:

in response to questions about his WWII broadcasts from Italy urging the US to stay out of the war* - Pound ends up talking about language and political systems:

Pound: "There is the problem of benevolence, the point at which benevolence has ceased to be operative. Eliot says that they spend their time trying to imagine systems so perfect that nobody will have to be good"

Q: can an instrument which is orderly be used to create disorder? Suppose good language is used to forward bad government? Doesn't bad government make bad language?

Pound: yes, but bad language is bound to make in addition bad government, where as good language is not bound to make bad government... The means of communication to expand, and that of course is what we are suffering now. We suffer from the use of language to conceal thought and to withhold all vital and direct answers. (he was talking about the use of advertising language and techniques in all areas of discourse)

**Not unlike Lindbergh's pearl harbor radio broadcasts...Fortunately for lucky lindy, he had the opportunity to fly against the less than human Japs rather than against his beloved Germans...a redemptive enemy for a noted anti-Semite

117tomcatMurr
Oct 15, 2010, 12:27am Top

We suffer from the use of language to conceal thought and to withhold all vital and direct answers.

Jaysus, aint that the truth!

118avaland
Oct 18, 2010, 3:05pm Top

>113 bobmcconnaughey: Oh, I read this ages ago and remember enjoying it.

Jay Parini wrote a good bio of Frost (also one of Faulkner and interesting, a fictional tale of Melville forthcoming in November). Here's a NY Times review of the Frost biography.

119bobmcconnaughey
Oct 31, 2010, 10:00am Top

Worked my way backwards from spook country through Idoru and then Sterling's Zeitgeist - given the season should probably also reread distraction. Turns out, as it happens that my favorite book by each author are older mass paperback editions that I should replace. "Idoru" is Gibson in his best anthro/sociological mode - but with characterization and characters the reader (well, I) care about. Pattern Recognition would easily be my 2nd favorite Gibson.

Zeitgeist combines geo-political insight and acute, and often very funny, descriptions of the pop star making machine - with Leggy Starlitz, on a bet, trying to promote a Spice Girls knockoff band into regional stardom @ the end of the 20thC. A host of good, bad, indeterminate but almost all interesting characters do good, bad and interesting things. I would have read Pelevin much earlier if i'd paid closer attention to Sterling's inbook references such as when a washed up paparazzi starts coughing up money and a young Russian operator wanna be refers to it as a "Pelevin moment." The book is also an ongoing discussion of narrative and what it means in literature and life. And, like in "Idoro", the cast of "Zeitgeist" are generally engaging in their own right and not serving as placeholders of one sort or another.

120bobmcconnaughey
Nov 19, 2010, 9:07am Top

ok..add in a couple of recent books:
1. a robe of feathers. The stories that haunt Stephen Millhauser's dreams. Quietly weird short stories that meld Japanese folklore with life in urban Japan.

2. life Keef Richards. Great fun, assuming one's a Stone's fan. Self effacing and charming in a rock n roll sort of way...touchstone is about as off as it could possibly be.

3. schoolgirl milky crisis. An Englishman gets his degree in Japanese and enters into a career translating manga/anime. If anyone is familiar w/ the glossy fan mag, Newtype USA, Clements did a lot of excellent reviews and features which are reprinted here. More than anyone other than a seriously bilingual otaku could possibly know. But if you're interested in the genres, invaluable.

121avaland
Nov 19, 2010, 2:43pm Top

>119 bobmcconnaughey: I had already read Omon Ra (1998) before I learned Sterling was a Pelevin fan and I can't remember who told me he was (might have actually been dukedom...). I love that he has included allusions to Pelevin!

122bobmcconnaughey
Nov 30, 2010, 7:46am Top

Stephen Breyer's making our democracy work - an eminently lucid and clear set of essays on judicial history and judicial "reasoning."
The book details How the SCourt evolved to the point where both the American public and other branches of govt could accept decisions that might have been v. unpopular. Which was certainly not a historic "constant" - see Andrew Jackson..."John Marshall has made his decision..now let him enforce it" (sic) when the SC ruled in favor of the Cherokee Nation's autonomy after Georgians wanted to appropriate land, gold having been found on Cherokee territory. A fascinating book as he points out the process by which judicial opinions are framed; the conflicting viewpoints of "originalists" and justices who think that the constitution needs to be interpreted w/in the context of the present.

Breyer lays out the process of legal reasoning - usually on both sides of the decisions he's evaluating - from Marbury vs Madison, to Dred Scott, Brown vs Topeka to the recent ruling that corporations are "citizens" and can't have their "free speech" rights abridged by those nasty limits on corporate (or labour for that matter) campaign contributions. Highly recommended.

123urania1
Dec 1, 2010, 11:36am Top

Bob,

I haven’t read the Breyer book, but I am almost finished with Hacker and Pierson’s Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class. The book, written for a popular audience, discusses the origins of our current economic crisis, which is in turn linked to a crisis in democracy. Within this context, your comment--about the recent Supreme Court Ruling that corporations are “citizens” too with a right to free speech which expresses itself in terms of “generous” contributions to those law makers who support the interest of the corporation—fits right in.

Hacker and Pierson trace their history of our current crisis to what they call the “forgotten 70s.” They really gain steam, however, when they get to Reagan and the 80s. As they explain the gains have been hyperconcentrated even among the “rich.” The super rich (0.01 percent of the population) now earn 1 dollar out of every 17 dollars of national income up from less than 1 dollar out of every 100 dollars in 1970. And . . . most of the super-rich are, not surprisingly, concentrated in the financial sector. Over the course of the last forty years, Hacker and Pierson argue, we have moved away from a “mixed economy cluster” and closer to a “banana republic,” so to speak—that is an oligarchy, in which wealth rules and without the “trickle-down” promises of this kind of unfettered accumulation of wealth by a few. H and P call this “trickle-up economics.” I would call it “monsoon-up” economics.

Although overall the United States is “richer” than its democratic peers”, Hacker and Pierson point out that “its overall economy has not grown consistently more quickly than other rich democracies that have seen little or no tilt toward winner-take-all.” In the US profit has been privatized while risk has been socialized—witness the bailouts of the financial sector in 2007 with the enormous drop in value of property and 401ks etc. Yet “by 2009 the 38 biggest companies, investors, and executives earned $140 billion dollars—the highest number on record (figures adjusted for inflation).” Meanwhile the US is still mired in the “Great Recession.” I enjoyed Hacker and Pierson’s book, particularly the wit: I love their quotations. Some samples here.

Senator Phil Gramm describing Wall Street as a “holy place.”
Lloyd C. Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs in 2007: Goldman is doing “God’s work.”

Given the huge rift between the haves and have-nots, I am pessimistic that democracy is working. Of course I have been pessimistic about how well democracy in the US has been functioning since I first became a voter in 1980. I don’t think the constitution will save us. For one thing, so few people even our senators even know what its “rules” are.

I would, however, argue that we look at bit further back in history for the origins of our current crisis, as does John McGowan: American Liberalism: An Interpretation for Our Times. McGowan makes the interesting observation that laissez-faire position did not make a “significant” appearance in American politics prior to the 1880s (unlike Britain, for example where it had dominated since at least the 1820s). Of course as we know laissez-faire is only laissez-faire when its supporters want it to be. The same conservatives who promote this position overlook all the ways in which laissez-faire is nothing of the kind.
Hacker and Pierson are interesting. McGowan is scholarly and more nuanced, his work based on a close reading of the Federalist Papers/debates and other primary documents as well as on the economic/political theorists who held sway the early years of our republic. Since reading McGowan, I have wanted to read the Federalist Papers in their entirety, but I can’t find a reading buddy. (Hint, hint.)

124Mr.Durick
Dec 1, 2010, 5:50pm Top

Mary, the notion of the corporation as a person is an old one. The clear imputation that personhood promises freedom of political speech in America is the disputed conclusion that the Supreme Court reached in that recent case. The more money you have the greater the power in your freedom.

I think I will add the three books mentioned in 122 and 123, and if I have miscounted I would welcome a nudge.

I have a mass market paperback of The Federalist Papers edited by Clinton Rossiter which was a standard, I think, when I was an undergraduate. I have a matching Anti-Federalist Papers. There is no way to find them in a short time. I have looked admiringly at the Liberty Fund's edition of The Federalist Papers and would be willing to order and read it for a discussion of them. It is important to remember that there was a lot of other important writing being done at that time; The Federalist Papers are not the end.

Robert

125urania1
Dec 2, 2010, 1:41am Top

>24 LisaCurcio: Thanks for the clarification about personhood and the corporation. Bob and I are going to read The Federalist Papers together and I am planning to read the Anti-Federalists papers as well since it does make much sense to read the one without the other. We probably going to start it up on a dormant private web I started at some point.

126bobmcconnaughey
Edited: Dec 12, 2010, 2:16am Top

Lives of the Monster Dogs: a fascinating and original take on the Frankenstein story. An obsessed 19th C. biological alchemist devotes his life to altering dogs to become perfect soldiers. He fails, but generations later, his devoted followers succeed and, of course, are doomed. BUT the race of dogs..emigrates to NYC where they become by nature of their wealth and peculiarity, a fixture of NYC society. Told, primarily, in two voices: one a young NYU student who becomes their human spokesperson to the world at large; the other a biography one of the monster dogs is writing about "their founder", drawing from his letters, diaries from the late 19th C. Surprisingly moving.

also:

a library mix..
just in case - rather brilliant, ostensibly YA fiction, about fate and the perception of being fated. David Case, ordinary "doomed youth" attempts to bypass Job's choices by becoming Justin.

the last hot time Ford in urban fantasy mode - w/out saying so, he's taken Terri Windling's Borderland setting and used it for an enjoyable adult fantasy (assuming one likes such stuff). Well..having finished Ford clearly assumes the reader has read the Borderland series..he brings a couple of characters in from the earlier stories.

nick and norah's infinite playlist. Defin. YA music/romance, but cleverly done and nice takes on lots of music..two members, one straight one gay in a queercore band discussing..duh, music.
"Other bands it's about sex or pain. Or some fantasy. But the Beatles they knew what they were doing. You know the reason the Beatles made it so big?"
What?
'"I Wanna Hold Your Hand'. First single. fucking brilliant. Perhaps the most fucking brilliant song ever written. Because they nailed it. That's what everyone wants. Not 24-7 hot wet sex. Not a marriage that lasts 100 years. Not a Porsche or blow job or million-dollar crib. No. They wanna hold your hand. They have such a feeling that they can't hide. Every single successful love song of the past 50 years can be traced back to 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand'. And every single successful love story has those unbearable and unbearably exciting movements of handholding. Trust me. I've thought a lot about this."
--
Buddha's little finger - Pelevin takes on the Russian revolution past and the peculiarities of the Russian present- not done yet, but very surreal & weird in a (good) Pelevin sort of way.

127avaland
Dec 12, 2010, 10:33am Top

>126 bobmcconnaughey: I enjoyed The Lives of Monster Dogs back when. Glad you did also.
I've had Buddha's Little Finger since it came out here, but it seems it is one Pelevin that neither dukedom nor I have read yet!

128janepriceestrada
Dec 12, 2010, 10:59am Top

The Lives of Monster Dogs sounds fascinating.

Also great line from Nick and Nora's. I tend to agree with that sentiment. Especially since I just got my husband The Beatles box set for Christmas so it's been all Beatles all the time over here for a week or so.

129bobmcconnaughey
Dec 28, 2010, 12:52am Top

from Mark Salzman's memoirs of teaching English to medical students in Hunan ~ 84-86, "Iron and Silk". He had loaned various books out to a professional translator who hoped to find something both new and "appropriate." Previous options had been returned as "unsuitable" - "scenes and language that would be considered decadent or even pornographic." After reading Garp:

He took the book from his bag and apologized for keeping it so long. "It contained many words not found in most dictionaries, he said, "and was long to begin with."I asked him what he thought of it, noticing that he did not put it back in the bookcase as he usually did. He looked at it, seem to think for a few moments, then stared at me." This book," he began," is very very unsuitable." He paused, then went on." In fact, in my whole life, I have never read or even imagined something so unsuitable." Here he stopped, still staring at me. He held the book up slightly and pointed at it with his chin," may I keep it?"

"Iron and Silk" is v. good too; picaresque and affectionate memoir of Salzman's teaching and training as a martial arts student at a time when China was still recovering from the Great Leap. If he was stared at because, as one of his instructors put it - "you look...interesting, you have a very three dimensional face," i think my nose might have entered into the 4th dimension.

128 - The mono box set is fascinating and wonderful - both Patty and i agreed that you can hear both the vocal harmonies and Ringo's drumming subtlety far more clearly than on previous releases.

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