The Book Thread - December 2010

Finished a few books from last month, including The Last Stand which is a quite excellent historical work about Custer and events surrounding the 1876 campaign. Have only briefly started Cornwell’s The Fort, which among other things features a rather despicable Paul Revere, and about halfway done with The Wave, which has all kinds of interesting stuff about monster and rogue waves, surfers, and climate change. Also re-started No Country for Old Men for the hell of it.

Reading a lot more, that’s my objective for this month. Need to find a good Lightroom 3.0 book, and maybe something on SEO.

— Alan

Finished up A Storm of Swords last month and have started The City & the City. Liked the former more or less; really liking the latter so far, but it’s early days.

540 pages into The Way of Kings, whose last 100 pages were quite good (but it can test one’s patience as PoVs are switched when things get interesting and one can’t return for another 100 pages or more. In one case, the most interesting, the PoV is put on hold for 300+ pages).

Hopefully starting Midnight Tides before the month is over.

still reading The Whites of Their Eyes which is Jill Lepore’s book on the tea party. I’ll be finishing this today. I can see why it caused a lot of gnashing of teeth within that movement.

Currently reading the Technic Civilization from Poul Anderson.

The majority written back in the 50’s & 60’s.

Just finished Young Flandry and moving on to Captain Flandy: Defender of the Terran Empire.

The books are actually compilations of previous novels and/or short stories published in the pulps. Once I am done w/ Flandry I will start in the first books in the series from an earlier time.

Reading the 3rd part of Alan Walker’s biography of Franz Liszt, detailing the last 25 years of his life. I read the first two segments years ago, but never got around to the final part.

Also been peeking at Leaves of Grass, though only usually reading a few pages a day. Poetry tends to be slow going for me, and I have to do a lot of re-reading.

Working my way through The Shadow Pavilion, which I believe is the latest in Liz Williams’ Inspector Detective Chen novels. It’s very enjoyable so far.

Reading Surface Detail by Banks, at roughly the 60% mark it’s starting to get really good.

Took forever for me to finish The Knight, by Gene Wolfe. By page 86 I’d determined that the protagonist was an asshole; I wasn’t sure Gene Wolfe realized it, however. I read to the end to see if it was intentional, but the text never let on, and it was a long 400-something pages. Plus, it’s a two-parter, so you’d have to read another 450 pages to get to the end of the plot. I saw some intriguing flashes of how good a writer Wolfe is, but since he was restrained to the 1st person narration of a 16-year-old with the mental sophistication of an 8-year-old, all the good lyrical moments were repressed. Not at all a good entree into Gene Wolfe’s work.

EDIT: Still thinking about it days later… it’s a goddamn riddle of a book. Expanded thoughts can be found here.

The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stieg Larsson

I once read through Song of Myself in a single day to refresh my memory. Never again. I mean it was great. But never again.

I’m halfway through How to Win Friends and Influence People. Overall I think it’s a great book, but it could stand to be updated for 2010 beyond just the nip and tuck stuff it gets every few years or so. Not the sort of book I read, normally, but I’ve had this one on my list for a long time and I’m glad I did. Super quick read, too.

Thanks for the history recommendation, grabbing it and bumping to nearly the top of the pile. (Recently read the Starbuck series and while I wouldn’t call it terrible, it did leave me feeling hungry for more/better US history stuff.)

After my experiences with Stonehenge and the Starbuck series (not the greatest, let’s say), I braced myself for a similar experience when I picked up The Fort and was pleasantly surprised. Not his best but very readable and much stronger than the above. Cornwell’s Paul Revere character was surprising (to me) and hilarious, and the failures recounted in that book were almost incredible. What a bunch of keystone kops.

Next on my list are Mathematics for the Nonmathematician (Morris Kline), and How to Think Like a Mathematician (Kevin Houston). Then The Last Stand, and then possibly the Imperium Series (Larson).

as predicted I wrapped The Whites of Their Eyes last night. An excellent very quick read.

The most amazing parts; That whose “Taxes = Slavery” meme comes from John Adams who states “We shall not be England’s Negro” which is all kinds of fucked up.

Thomas Jefferson tried to include elements about how they, the colonists, amounted to slaves to the crown in an earlier draft of the Declaration yet this was wisely taken out.

Sam Adams beer has a picture of Paul Revere as the images of Samuel Adams we have is him at a desklooking kind of nerdy. Not really a person with which you’d like to get a beer.

The Bicentennial was really really contentious. The right and left both wanted to co-opt it and a lot of our modern Right Wing rhetoric comes from players directly associated with the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission established by Nixon.

Ben Franklin kept a mentally deficient family member tied up in a barn for most of his adult life.

Thomas Paine? Totally fucking awesome guy. I have had a book of his complete writings on my shelf for a while but never really had the motivation to read it. I do have that motivation now.

I enjoy history, but find the revolution to be kind of boring, most likely because of how it was taught to me in the past.

I went from this to another book of history. The Warmth of Other Suns which is about The Great Migration, the movement of African-Americans from the South to the north and west from 1910 to 1970. It is heartbreaking.

I just finished His Majesties’ Dragon by Naomi Novik; this is from my Goodreads review:

Holy cow this is an awesome book. Dragons in the Napoleonic Wars. It’s awesome, like nerd candy, and it’s very well written and funny to boot.

Novik uses an awesome voice throughout, very heightened and period specific. It’s also quite funny, and though it may have been because I was sick recently and emotionally fragile, I found some parts very moving and sad. There’s really very little to complain about; she’s wonderfully engaged on gender issues, and manages to critique and argue for the social mores of the time. The main character is rigidly proper in social address, and other characters (and the awesome dragon) challenge and explore his rigidity in interesting, subtle ways.

Overall I found the themes explored were presented with a wonderfully light touch; they are there to be observed, but Novik isn’t interested in hammering anyone with them. They’re simply available for people who want them.

Finally the dragon battles are freakin’ amazing. I haven’t read with my heart in my throat in a long time, but damn, this book totally got me. There’s not many of them, but when they come they’re incredibly awesome.

That reminds me that I finished that book last week as well. I was a little underwhelmed but loved it anyway. I think Bernard Cornwell has permanently spoiled me for military history fiction. I started Throne of Jade, but it couldn’t hold my attention for long and I’ll have to circle back some day.

…and finished. The epilogue makes me smile and settles an age old debate with a friend.

Just inished Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw. Seems like a bit of an apology for No Reservations and just doesn’t have the same raw intensity.
Next up: Nerd do Well by Simon Pegg.

I hit about 100 pages into The Warmth of Other Suns on the train this morning. I can’t think of another book which has made me this angry and frustrated at life.

It’s absolutely unbelievable and utterly incomprehensible to me what the south was like for these people. The stories and statistics and individual snippets are all just utterly heart breaking.

I consider myself well read and fairly knowledgeable but the daily atrocities carried out and either physical or psychological terrorism are just mind blowing. just absolutely astonishing.

Finished The Shadow Pavilion and I enjoyed it well enough. The setup is great and the characters are fun, but the ending feels a little rushed.

Also finally polished off a book of mountaineering writing with the suitably humble title of Epic. In summary: people climb a mountain, the weather gets bad, someone dies. Repeat as many times as necessary. It’s supposed to be a collection of some of the best mountaineering writing out there, but in most cases it utterly fails to convey anything about mountain climbing that would drive people to risk their feet, fingers, and friends. I’m guessing for folks more versed in the technical aspects of mountain climbing than I am, there’s an appeal in the technical aspects of the writing, but as someone who was looking for a little more of the aesthetic appeal of the sport, I was left cold.

You might enjoy Climbers, by M John Harrison. He’s an enormously gifted writer who also used to climb mountains; I’ve always enjoyed his treatment of the sport.

The act of climbing, its challenges and rewards, are the book’s true subjects, and it focuses so intensely on that slab of rock that the niceties of literary fiction — plot, character development — appear only sporadically, or in relation to that slab of rock. Climbers is an ambivalent work: it is too focused on boulders to satisfy lit. fiction readers, but too lyrical, too oblique in its treatment of climbing to satisfy practitioners. This myopia leads to a book that is often aloof, and sometimes utterly fascinating. Whichever side it lands on, it is definitely its own thing, a reliable trait in Harrison’s work.

He also wrote a short story called “The Ice Monkey” which sounds a little like those “weather gets bad, somebody dies” stories you were talking about. Still, it’s well done.