Thursday, October 30, 2008

Half-read books

I am not sure if the books aren't good, or if I am just not in the mood for them, but I have gotten about half-way through many books lately. I suspect it is my mood, because I usually stop well before the halfway point if I really don't like a book, but it is hard to tell. Here are a few books I may get back to someday:

Boomsday, by Christopher Buckley

I was really enjoying this book, until the guy about to be appointed the Papal Nuncio to the US let himself get snowed by some Russian hookers. The situation wasn't his fault, and it was one of those slapstick situations where he keeps trying to make the situation go away, and instead he makes it worse. Maybe Buckley was trying to give the Catholic Church the benefit of the doubt, but I find it hard to believe that someone that high up in the church hierarchy is so naive, though. Why didn't he call the cops and have them deal with it? If some high-up Cardinal calls the police and says during the course of the sacrament of Reconciliation, one of my flock got carried away and called an escort service, and now these people are bothering me, the cops would take care of it. Or, there are lots of other ways he could have exploited his much larger power base than this petty Russian escort service! All of a sudden, this really interesting book became farcical, and kind of unbelievable. I mean, it's satire, but there is exaggeration and there is mis-characterization. I just don't believe that men high up in Catholic hierarchy can't deal with this kind of political situation. I may go back to this book at some point, but I have lost all faith in the it at this point.

When Will There Be Good News?, by Kate Atkinson

Seriously, when will there be? I generally love Atkinson, but this was just depression piled upon misfortune piled upon despair. I sat down to read this one night and felt like a big heavy blanket of despair descended on me, almost physically weighing me down, so I put it aside and picked up something more cheerful. I am sure I will go back to this sometime, because Atkinson is so good. But the writing was still good, it was just depressing, for no good reason that I could tell.

The Good Fairies of New York, by Martin Miller

I just don't like a lot of fantasy. This seemed like it could be good, and Neil Gaiman had a nice forward. I like Gaiman, so I thought maybe this would be my kind of fantasy, but I am thinking maybe not. Again, the writing is good, but the characters are a bit caricature-ish.

I think there are some other books I am forgetting, but I have to say, reading 200 or so pages of a book and then abandoning it is doing almost as much to keep my numbers of completed books down as moving did.

Monday, October 27, 2008

59 - 66

Two posts in one day! I have another one brewing in my head, too. And no, Hilary, my house isn't really settling down yet, I am just bursting with the need for some normalcy. I have missed blogging. I posted on my affluenza blog earlier this month, and I am going to get back to my food blog soon, too.

59. The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon

I am so distracted by the house. I want all those boxes to be gone, dammit! So, it took me a bit to get into this. But, once I did, I loved it. I loved the alternate reality, and how well-thought out and believable it is. I loved the noir homage. I loved the gritty realism, and the scary worldview that doesn't seem quite so alternate after all. I loved the writing. And, most importantly, I loved the end of the book. Very impressive.

I could say a lot more about this one, but so many people already have, that I am afraid I would be boring. Suffice to say, this is one of those books that everyone reads because it is that good, versus books that are popular for some reason that I can’t fathom (like The Da Vinci Code).

60. The Phoenix Code by Catherine Asaro


I came across this while unpacking a box of books that has been sitting in my front closet waiting for new shelves for years now. I got new shelves several times, but never enough to get out the boxes from storage! Now, I got a LOT of new shelves, and I seem to be set for a while. Must do more cataloguing, though. Anyway, I really liked this book. It had a bit more romance than I generally like in my SF, but it had some fascinating stuff about the nature of humanity, sentience and artificial intelligence.

61. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

I was intrigued by this book, but kind of surprised at how good it was. In some ways it seemed like not a lot happened, but of course, a lot did. The main character, based on Laura Bush, is so calm and even-tempered that there was never really anything that created a huge spike in her life, good or bad, even though there were many big good and bad things. Well, that's not true, the part at the beginning where she is at fault in a fatal car accident, killing one of her classmates, was a pretty big spike. But many times I was afraid that some big fraught scene was coming that never materialized. So I was impressed at the level of tension that was maintained despite the very calm tone of the book. There was also a lot about the main character's internal thoughts, which I sometimes find a bit boring, but was fascinated by in this book. Highly recommended.

62. Darwin Awards 4: Intelligent Design by Wendy Northcutt

These are always a lot of fun, and this was no exception. This was a nice, light read, and very amusing.

63. More Sex is Safer Sex by Steven E. Landsburg

Economics book. This was interesting, but a bit superficial, in a way that made it difficult to follow his arguments. I often found myself a bit lost because he seemed to be jumping around a bit, and demonstrating the opposite of what he said he was demonstrating. That said, Landsburg is clearly very smart and a rigorous economist, and some concentrated thought on the topics he raises would be rewarding I think, and clear up some things. I just wish he had been a bit more down in the details, and a bit less high-level.

64. Changing Planes by Ursula K. Le Guin

Interesting little book about changing planes (of existence) while waiting to change airplanes in noisy, boring difficult airports (I know, that was redundant). This was basically a bunch of short descriptions of alternate human societies, both warlike and peaceful, and was very good. Le Guin is good at world-building, so this was a treat.

65. Glasshouse by Charles Stross

Lately I haven't read lot of recent sf that I am really enjoying. I read a lot of older stuff that I missed, but when I head the bookstore and look at the current stuff, I have a hard time finding something new I want to read. This was an exception: I REALLY enjoyed this book. I liked the way he explored gender politics from the standpoint of a future where gender doesn't matter in society, but people still tend to self-identify as one sex primarily. And then, he put these people against their will into the opposite sex, and in a historical simulation where they are in a present-day society, albeit an exagerrated one, where people are controlled by societal norms including sexism. It was fascinating. And, on top of that, the science of the future society is intriguing, and he explains just enough to get the idea across, and mostly through the actual story, rather than exposition. I found it slightly disorienting, in a pleasant way, the way I found my assumptions being challenged by this book. Definitely recommended.

66. The Bride of Pendorric by Victoria Holt

I do love me some Victoria Holt books. They are all gothic and creepy, but with sensical protagonists. I can't get too creeped out, because I know they always end well, but I do like reading the twists and turns of the plots. This is what I call comfort reading. The books are old fashioned, yes, but the heroines are never the type that passively accept their fate, and they are always engaged and striving for happiness and fulfillment.

Grammar Nazi

These things drive me crazy! Take a look at this cartoon:

For those of you who come by after this link no longer works, the punchline at the end is: I’m so boring that if I were ever in eminent danger, somebody else’s life would flash before my eyes.

What the heck is eminent danger?


high in station, rank, or repute; prominent; distinguished: eminent statesmen.

conspicuous, signal, or noteworthy: eminent fairness.

lofty; high: eminent peaks.

prominent; projecting; protruding: an eminent nose.

Doesn’t sound very boring to me.

Now, obviously, the cartoonist meant imminent danger (which would make a life less boring as well, but let’s not quibble…more than we already are…), but that’s not what was said. This kind of thing drives me crazy. I don’t make my living with words, but I know the difference between eminent and imminent. Why don’t they?

Honestly, I don’t expect everyone to have perfect grammar and word choice all the time. When people send me emails or instant messages or (especially) text messages, I don’t think poorly of them if there are a few misspellings or grammar errors. Casual conversation is not terribly formal, and I don’t think people should necessarily spend a lot of time making sure their writing is perfect. But when you are publishing something formally, it should be right! Drives me crazy!

So, in order to get this out of my system, I am going to start posting examples that I see here. I know, this is only tangentially related to books, but it is about reading.