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What Have You Read Lately?

Started by Parasaurolophus, June 21, 2023, 02:55:03 PM

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Parasaurolophus

Per the discussion in the suggestion forum, I'm going to start trying to split threads that get too long on a regular basis, to see if that makes them a little more accessible to new members and lurkers. The previous thread is here, for your reference.

Otherwise, I'll simply quote the last post and let you all have at it:

Quote from: ergative on June 17, 2023, 04:42:01 AMI just finished an advance copy of Alix E Harrow's new book, Starling house, and I loved it. Mysterious old house in a blighted town contains secrets known only to its mysterious caretaker. Young woman who's mastered the art of cheating and stealing to look after her brother and wants only to keep him safe and get him out of a miserable hard life takes a job as a housekeeper at the house, and learns the secrets. Beautifully character work, wonderful sentient haunted house with opinions, very touching set of revelations. I've liked everything Harrow writes.

I know it's a genus.

Morden

Thank you Parasaurolophus for tending the threads.
I read another Adrian Tchaivkovsky--The Tiger and the Wolf. It's part of his fantasy oeuvre. Although it was interesting, I found there were too many descriptions of fight scenes, and I don't know if I'll continue with the series--at least not at full price on kindle. I think my favorites so far are Shards of Earth, Cage of Souls, and Doors of Eden.
I have also been enjoying Swedish crime novelist Asa Larsson.

kaysixteen

I am probably two-thirds through Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway's 'The Big Myth', an excellent, highly scholarly treatment of how corporate propagandists convinced Americans to buy into 'market fundamentalism' and 'hate government'.

apl68

Fear Strikes Out, by Jim Piersall, with Al Hirschberg.  Jim Piersall was a promising young baseball pro in the 1950s whose career was derailed for a time by a major psychotic episode.  Upon his recovery, he was persuaded to write this pioneering memoir as a way of encouraging others dealing with similar problems.  At the time it was still almost unprecedented for a public figure to be so open about mental illness.  The book soon became a major motion picture starring Anthony Perkins and Karl Malden.  By an odd coincidence, I found both a vintage paperback edition of the book and a DVD of the movie in two completely separate places earlier this year.

How do they compare?  The movie, taken as a movie, is not a bad picture.  As an adaptation of a true story it makes the usual hopeless Hollywood hash of things.  It's a travesty that bears little resemblance to the actual story.  The real Jim Piersall suffered from bipolar disorder, doubtless aggravated by a high-pressure environment.  He recovered through a combination of electroconvulsive therapy, early lithium treatments, a strongly-held Catholic faith, and a lot of help from family and others who cared about him.  The Tony Perkins version suffers from vaguely Freudian issues with a misguided, excessively harsh father.  There's little mention of his medical treatments, and none whatsoever about his faith.  There's little about his mother's own struggles with chronic depression.  You'd never gather from the movie that the rookie player's manic antics on the field endeared him to fans while annoying his colleagues.  The real Jim Piersall reportedly disowned the movie due to the way it made his dad into a bad guy.

The book is an admirably straightforward--with none of the affected style that characterizes so many more recent memoirs--account of a young man who cracks under heavy pressure when he finds his own mind rebelling against him.  And then recovers with good medical treatment, strong faith in God, and a great deal of love and understanding.  Reading it reminds me to be grateful for the understanding and support I've received when my own brain has gotten sick.  Piersall's experiences must have been so much harder to get through.

Piersall's troubles didn't end there.  Bipolar disorder seldom goes away forever.  It has a way of making both the sufferer and those close to that person miserable for a long time to come.  My ex-wife had a family history of it, and manifested symptoms of it--which would go a long way toward explaining her erratic and abusive behavior.  Piersall continued to have lesser "episodes" that got him into trouble with his bosses and colleagues, and ended up being married three times.  But he had a largely successful career in baseball and sportscasting, lived to a ripe old age, and is still remembered for courage in the face of adversity.
God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water, but the fire next time
When this world's all on fire
Hide me over, Rock of Ages, cleft for me

hmaria1609

I haven't posted about my reads in a bit!

Finished from the library: Dark Rise by P.C. Pacat
YA fantasy novel set in 1821 London. It was ok.

Current read from the library: After Anne: A Novel of Lucy Maud Montgomery's Life by Logan Steiner
New novel about Lucy M. Montgomery becoming a best selling novelist and the joys and challenges she faced in her personal life. I read and own many of Montgomery's novels (series and individual books) and short story collections.

Parasaurolophus

June:

Jeff VanderMeer - Annihilation: Ugh. Hated this. It's insufferable. If I wanted to watch Lost again, I'd just do that. But that's all this is. It's all pretense and pretension, with no substance undergirding it. What makes spooky and mysterious stuff work is having some kind of underlying substance or rationale; this, however, is transparently empty. It's written to be obscurantist and thus is meant to scream "DEEP! SO DEEP!", but there's just nothing to see. I won't read the other two, but I'll wager that basically nothing is elucidated. Because, like Lost, there's nothing to elucidate. It's just unplanned, surface-level nothing meant to fool you into thinking you're in the presence of greatness. Also, the characters are cardboard cutouts identified solely by their functional role/occupation. I wouldn't have minded--I might even have thought it an interesting choice--if the occupations in question had made any sense. But no, they're cartoonized versions of "psychologist", "scout", "biologist", etc. which bear no resemblance to what those occupations actually look like in real life. The psychologist hypnotizes people? Give me a break. Better yet, go do some research, VanderMeer.

Alastair Reynolds - Eversion: Coincidentally, this is very much like Children of Memory, and came out shortly before it. I think it's a more successful version, actually; I was much more interested in the strangely intersecting adventures of Doctor Coade.

Zofia Kielan-Jaworowska - Hunting for Dinosaurs: A pretty gripping account of the Polish-Mongolian expeditions of 1963-5 to the Gobi Desert. I like expedition reports like this one. Interestingly, there's a photo of a 1920s Soviet theropod mount (Tarbosaurus bataar) which isn't dragging its tail. The angle makes it hard to see, but it looks a good chunk of the way towards having the correct posture. The art for each chapter is stylized and kind of strange and haunting--loved it. I had thought, initially, that the book would cover the expeditions of 1971-3 and the discovery of the famous "fighting dinosaurs" fossil but, alas, it doesn't.

Eric Nicol - A Herd of Yaks: Apparently, he was a Canadian humorist. I've never heard of him. I picked it up from a free shelf, to give to a friend who likes this sort of thing. The essays were occasionally mildly amusing. But totally forgettable.

Phillip Manning - Grave Secrets of Dinosaurs: Soft Tissues, Hard Science: A National Geographic book, which helps to make sense of the punny/sensationalist title. It's an account of the Hadrosaur mummy discovered in the early aughts. It was fine and interesting, although it features some entirely uncritical (and wrong) references to Greek and Roman dinosaur finds (you know... the griffin was a protoceratops sort of thing. BS, I'm afraid) and commits itself to some unfortunate but understandable theses (e.g. the Stevens-Parrish view of sauropod neck posture). On the whole, it felt somewhat rushed, and Manning has done a so-so job of explaining things. Not a bad first popular science book, but there was room for improvement (including frequent typos). It just goes to show, really, how far ahead of the game Mark Witton is--and he's a big one for typos, too!

Adrian Tchaikovsky - Lords of Uncreation: A fitting conclusion to the trilogy. I enjoyed it very much--just as much as its predecessors, I think.



Quote from: Morden on June 21, 2023, 03:46:21 PMI read another Adrian Tchaivkovsky--The Tiger and the Wolf. It's part of his fantasy oeuvre. Although it was interesting, I found there were too many descriptions of fight scenes, and I don't know if I'll continue with the series--at least not at full price on kindle. I think my favorites so far are Shards of Earth, Cage of Souls, and Doors of Eden.
I have also been enjoying Swedish crime novelist Asa Larsson.

I'm just reading that one now! I'll report on it in a month, but so far I'm pleasantly surprised. Have you read his killer space maze novella, Walking to Aldebaran? That's a fun one.

On Doors of Eden, are you familiar with Terry Pratchett's and Stephen Baxter's The Long Earth series? It's quite a similar concept, so you might enjoy it. Although personally, I confess that I didn't, although I very much wanted to--I hate Stephen Baxter, he's insufferable, and I think he makes a real hash of it. The Pratchett parts are good, though.
I know it's a genus.

Morden

#6
Hi Para, I completed the Tiger and Wolf trilogy--still too much hand/claw to hand/claw combat, but worth it overall. For a while I was worried that the plague people would turn out to be regular Europeans, but they weren't. I thought the ending was very interesting.
I enjoyed the Expert System's Brother/Expert System's Champion novellas--they reminded me a lot of "golden age" stories, without the sexism. I'll keep an eye out for Walking to Aldebaran.

I haven't read any Terry Pratchett, well, except for his work with Gaiman in Good Omens (which I enjoyed, but I enjoy most of Gaiman's novels (though not his graphic novels). What Pratchett would you recommend to start with?

I also read Chakraborty's City of Brass, Wheeler's The Killing Fog and Bordugo's Shadow and Bone--none of which made me want to continue with the series. In each case, a young woman with mysterious powers struggles with her destiny (and love).

QuoteJeff VanderMeer - Annihilation: Ugh. Hated this. It's insufferable. If I wanted to watch Lost again, I'd just do that. But that's all this is. It's all pretense and pretension, with no substance undergirding it. What makes spooky and mysterious stuff work is having some kind of underlying substance or rationale; this, however, is transparently empty. It's written to be obscurantist and thus is meant to scream "DEEP! SO DEEP!", but there's just nothing to see. I won't read the other two, but I'll wager that basically nothing is elucidated. Because, like Lost, there's nothing to elucidate. It's just unplanned, surface-level nothing meant to fool you into thinking you're in the presence of greatness. Also, the characters are cardboard cutouts identified solely by their functional role/occupation. I wouldn't have minded--I might even have thought it an interesting choice--if the occupations in question had made any sense. But no, they're cartoonized versions of "psychologist", "scout", "biologist", etc. which bear no resemblance to what those occupations actually look like in real life. The psychologist hypnotizes people? Give me a break. Better yet, go do some research, VanderMeer.

I read the Southern Reach trilogy a couple years ago (it came in a three pack), and for the life of me, I cannot remember the conclusion, but I don't think I want to reread.

Parasaurolophus

Quote from: Morden on July 04, 2023, 02:16:02 PMI haven't read any Terry Pratchett, well, except for his work with Gaiman in Good Omens (which I enjoyed, but I enjoy most of Gaiman's novels (though not his graphic novels). What Pratchett would you recommend to start with?
 

I think you can start pretty much anywhere in the Discworld series, without it mattering much. You just have to remember that it's satire, and keep an eye on your European history. My favourite is probably Mort (it's Gaiman's favourite too, as I recall), but at a guess, you might also enjoy starting with Monstrous Regiment.
I know it's a genus.

apl68

Tau Zero, by Poul Anderson.  Finally had a chance to read this one, after many years of knowing it only by reputation.  It's about a spacecraft sent to colonize a (relatively) close star by traveling at a large fraction of the speed of light.  The craft gets stuck accelerating out of control.  As it gets closer and closer to the speed of light, relativistic time-dilation effects become so extreme that the crew find themselves in danger of reaching the literal end of the universe.

This is considered something of a "hard" science fiction classic, by an author noted for his efforts to stay on top of real-life science.  The manner in which Anderson sends his characters off on a fantastic journey across the whole cosmos, while respecting actual science--as it was known at the time, at least--is impressive.  One might suspect him of trying to top the 1968 movie 2001:  A Space Odyssey, were it not for the fact that he published a shorter version of the story in 1967.  The characterizations are perhaps not as impressive as the science. 
God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water, but the fire next time
When this world's all on fire
Hide me over, Rock of Ages, cleft for me

apl68

Kon-Tiki, by Thor Heyerdahl.  Thor Heyerdahl spent some time in Polynesia, got to know some of the natives there and their language and lore, and became convinced that their culture had a lot in common with the cultures of ancient America.  Heyerdahl developed a theory that the Polynesians' ancestors had largely migrated from the Americas using ocean-going rafts, not from Asia. 

In the late 1940s he and several fellow adventurers set out to test this theory by building a big raft of balsa logs using bygone Peruvian methods and trying to sail it to Polynesia.  They actually made it.  Heyerdahl admitted that this didn't prove his theory, but suggested that it enhanced its plausibility.  He went on to do some valuable research into the origins of the giant stone figures of Easter Island.

Mainstream experts on Polynesian history and culture by and large never accepted Heyerdahl's theory of Polynesian origins.  Recent ancestral DNA studies have pretty definitely busted it.  Although...one study has found what could be a trace of South American DNA in the genome of some islanders.  Assuming that the results are right--and that's evidently hard to determine, given the way the science keeps developing--then perhaps Heyerdahl's theory has a small kernel of truth to it.

Crackpot theory though it may have been, Kon-Tiki is a great true-life adventure story.  Heyerdahl is an engaging writer, although, like so many of his generation, he portrays the various peoples he visits in a way that now comes across as patronizing.  The book is also a reminder of a lost era when one could sail the ocean and encounter both abundant fish and no trace of human activity wherever one went.  More recent sailors on such voyages have found fewer fish, and plastic trash floating everywhere.

A mass-market paperback copy of Heyerdahl's adventure bestseller was among the assortment of donated paperbacks in my mother's classroom when she taught high school.  I was only a kid then--she didn't move to teaching college until I had gone to college myself--and my brother and I often found ourselves having to go to the high school and hang around her classroom while she took care of her endless work chores after school let out.  I ended up reading quite an assortment of grown-up science fiction and nonfiction there.  Recently I got hold of a copy of Kon-Tiki (salvaged from our local high school's discards, oddly enough) and read through the whole thing.  I recognized quite a few passages and photographs from forty-plus years ago.  Heyerdahl is still a great read.
God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water, but the fire next time
When this world's all on fire
Hide me over, Rock of Ages, cleft for me

apl68

On the Map:  A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks, by Simon Garfield.  Even readers who like history might sometimes think that the history of cartography sounds a bit...dry.  Not the way Simon Garfield addresses it!  The book gives us an engaging tour through ancient and medieval ideas of the world, the rise of modern geography and cartography, the origins of travel and tourist maps, treasure maps, the cut-throat world of map dealing (Who knew?), and the imagined geographies of literature and video games.  It's fascinating stuff.  Makes me want to see what else the author has written.


The Golden Cat, by Max Brand.  I've seen Max Brand's name on westerns since I was a kid.  His name was right up there with Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour.  Not being a western reader, I had never read anything by Max Brand.  I decided to give this item from a batch of library discards a try for curiosity's sake.

It's something of a genre mash-up--a locked room thriller with a western setting.  On the case is a six-gun-toting sheriff who also knows a thing or two about evidence and detective work.  I suspect it may have been an unsold mystery story that the author thriftily retooled into a saleable western.  Not your regular western, and not the best mystery story I've ever seen.  It's at least an interesting literary curio.

A mention of a character listening to a Victrola record player dates the story from sometime after 1905.  Probably more like 1910.  That's about as late as a story with an "Old West" setting can possibly be credibly set.
God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water, but the fire next time
When this world's all on fire
Hide me over, Rock of Ages, cleft for me

apl68

"Max Brand" was an interesting character in his own right.  He was a pen name of one Frederick Schiller Faust.  Faust was a well-educated writer who reportedly dreamed of publishing epic poetry.  There was unfortunately no market for that when he started publishing in the 1910s.  He instead turned his skills to making himself one of the most popular and prolific writers of the pulp era.  He published under a pen name because he wanted to save his real name for his occasional volumes of little-read poetry.  "Max Brand" wrote just about everything in addition to westerns.  After westerns, he's best remembered as the creator of Dr. Kildare for the movies.

The westerns, which he is said to have had little regard for, brought in enough money to live for a time in a villa in Tuscany.  No doubt he found inspiration for his poetry in that setting.  Living the dream in sunny Tuscany came to an end when the U.S. and Italy broke off diplomatic relations in World War II.  Faust returned to Italy a couple of years later as a war correspondent.  He was killed in action.  "Max Brand" lives on even now in reprints as a profitable brand (so to speak) in publishing.
God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water, but the fire next time
When this world's all on fire
Hide me over, Rock of Ages, cleft for me

downer

Blue Skies by TC Boyle. Very much a climate apocalypse novel, with a bit of social media critique thrown in. Two of the main characters are "influencers" and are both unlikeable. Generally the plot is both depressing and no one ends up looking good, even the climate activists. Still, Boyle is good at keeping the plot going, and he has a nice way of switching backwards and forwards in time, and ending scenes at unusual points. As someone who feels pessimistic about the future of humans, reading this accentuated my feelings while I was reading it.
"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."—Sinclair Lewis

ciao_yall

Just finished Nova by Samuel Delaney. I read a profile of him in The New Yorker and my local bookstore had his books so thought I'd give it a try.

I think I need to reread it for the details and symbols, as I was more focused this time on keeping up with the plot and characters.

 

hmaria1609

From the library: A Kidnapped West: the Tragedy of Central Europe by Milan Kundera, translated by Linda Asher and Edmund White (NF)

Slim tome--it's Kundera's early non-fiction work.