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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Hey, Mom! Talking to My Mother #176 - Books I have read


Hey, Mom! Talking to My Mother #176 - Books I have read

Hi Mom,

Here's a catch all of mini-reviews of books I have read in the last few months (no,  not A Dance with Dragons, that's just a good picture).

For the health of my blog, given my propensity to fall behind, I should space these out and post one book at a time, but I can't work that way, and I want to clear my office.

I am not in my Dickens phase for the year. I just finished listening to "A Christmas Carol," which is something I now do annually (just the third year in a row). This year I listened to Simon Vance's version, which was very good, though Jim Dale's version still reigns supreme.

Of all these books that I going to write about, I only read one with my eyes alone, the traditional way. The rest I experienced as audio books.



The Girl in The Road by Monica Byrne

I became a Monica Byrne fan this summer via John Scalzi. He supported Byrne's Patreon campaign to fund the column on pop culture that she was going to write for Wired but that the magazine nixed. She has since abandoned the column but I stayed on as her patron to support her writing of fiction. She gets paid every time she publishes a story, which she promised not to do more than twice a month.

At the time I signed on as her patron, I decided to READ (as in read read, no audio) her one and only novel, which has endorsements by Neil Gaiman and John Scalzi.

I sipped her book slowly like fine wine, and I enjoyed it immensely. I admire Monica Byrne for how she traveled to the countries where the book is set and conducted on site research, but also kept in mind her own white privilege and the inherent flaw in writing about a world so outside her own world.

Nevertheless, she manages her tale with sensitivity, wisdom, and grace, I like the glimpses into cultures I do not know well wrapped in an interesting future idea about a flexible trail that spans the ocean. The two characters, whose lives intertwine, Meena and Mairama, share similarities and yet are distinct and compelling.

Byrne is a powerful story teller with a deft touch. I am eager to see what she writes next. But (there's always a but), this is not the kind of book that everyone will enjoy. I would recommend it to everyone. It's well written and quite elegant, but it's not a page turner. It's very cerebral and quiet. It's worth your time, and if it's not your thing, maybe open yourself to it and make it your thing. Still, 8.9/10 star rating for this issue alone.



The Peripheral by William Gibson

I started this book by trying to read read it and resorted to the audio not because the book is bad, moreover because the book is difficult like so many William Gibson books.

I love William Gibson as an author and have read most of his books. I also love him as a human as I attribute my discovery of and love for British music magazines, primarily Mojo to him.

And yet, I often have to read his books multiple times to understand them and still I may be hard pressed to explain to others what the book is about. I must have read Neuromancer at least six times, and I am still not sure I can describe it. Part of this problem is mine and not Gibson's. I do not have the best memory.

This book is almost 500 pages long, and it takes a good 200 or so to know what's driving the narrative. Thankfully, the chapters are short and all end with nice moments, not cliff hangers in all cases, but a good portrait, like a closing shot to a filmed scene.

But given my difficulty remembering Gibson plots, I do not even want to try to create a capsule description of it here. Simply, if you have read Gibson before and have not read this yet, read it. The book will satisfy Gibson fans immensely. If you have never read Gibson, don't start here. Start with Pattern Recognition. I give this one 8/10.


The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

I have enjoyed Patrick Rothfuss' two novels  The Wise Man's Fear and The Name of the Wind very much. I snagged this little gem when I heard it read more like poetry than prose. I was pleasantly surprised by this "day in the life" style novella about Auri and her crafting of special gifts in the Underthing.

The prose here is beautiful and elegant, AND the audio narration by the author himself is quite spot on. Often, I do not like listening to authors read their own works. For example, as much as I love him, Neil Gaiman does not bowl me over as a narrator. He's not bad by any means, but I feel a stronger voice performer would have done a better job with some of his books.

Rothfuss describes his issues with this work in an end note, which is a very thought-provoking bit, especially for us fellow writers. He received advice from a friend who encouraged him to publish this work, which truly violates all the rules of fiction as there is really no action, dialogue, or conflict to speak of. As Rothfuss describes it, he has written a thirty-thousand word vignette. Rothfuss jokes that the closest to an action scene in the book is an eight page description of Auri making soap. And so it is. It's not a normal story. This is a beautiful story. I may even like it better than his longer novels. It certainly will bear reading again and again. Rating = 9.7/10


Child of God by Cormac McCarthy


I am keen to read all the Cormac McCarthy books. My wife devoted herself to this task and has read them all. Child of God is a deeply disturbing. I was told that The Road would disturb me to the depths, but it did not touch me as this book touched me. This book works its way into the marrow like a worm and burrows there, laying its eggs, polluting the soul, and reminding us that we do not live in a fairy tale world. The real world is mean, cruel, and without mercy.

According to fellow author Mary Gaitskill: "The travails of a homeless, retarded necrophiliac killer roaming the hills of Kentucky. It sounds like a joke but somehow, it's not. (Though, if I were John Waters, I'd option it immediately.) Not only do you take this ghoul seriously, once you're halfway through the book, you realize you're on his side. Without psychologizing, or even getting into the protagonist's completely non-reflective head, McCarthy makes us understand him; what he's doing makes total sense to him, given what he knows. He comes to seem merely an extreme version of all people - blind, cosmically and comically ignorant, doing what makes sense to us given what we know." - Mary Gaitskill From The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors, pg 156.

One cannot be unmoved by this novel. The main character acts as if he has no conscience at all. The narrative is startling and stark and gripping. The writing is poetic and intricately beautiful. The sensory impressions are visceral. McCarthy is one of the greats of modern literature. Rating = 10/10


The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Of all the books in this entry, I think I enjoyed The Water Knife the most even though it will not receive the best rating. I found this book much easier to follow and digest than The Wind Up Girl, which I liked a lot but had a rough time distilling (and so I need to re-read it). The Water Knife won a rating as an Amazon Best Book of June of 2015. I listened to the Brilliance Audio edition, and the narrator did a remarkable job. Though the book starts with action and the situation of the water-less southwestern America derives from a contemporary issue, I found that I could not really get into this book until the character stories really started to move the narrative forward, around page 100. But then, after page 100, the rest of the book zooms along a strong narrative pulse of action and excitement with a bit of mystery thrown in. The characters become compelling and propellants for the narrative after 100 pages of set up, and in the end, I care about them all very much.

Three main characters drive the narrative throughout the book: Angel Velasquez, the water knife of the title, whose boss, Catherine Case, quenches Las Vegas with her "arcologies," or water independent residential towers, unafraid of wetting her far reaching talons; Lucy Monroe, a "Journo," who reports on the corruption and machinations surrounding the Taiyang, a Chinese funded arcology in the middle of Arizona; and Maria Villarosa, a teenager refugee from Texas, who, along with her room-mate Sarah, struggles to survive on the incendiary streets of Phoenix (the symbolism of which is not lost on this reader). Bacigalupi eventually tosses the three together, stirs and turns up the heat.

Rating: 9/10.


Have someone give you a kiss, and tell you that I love you.

Talk to you tomorrow, Mom.

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- Days ago = 178 days ago


- Bloggery committed by chris tower - 1512.30 - 14:10
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