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What have you read lately?

Started by polly_mer, May 19, 2019, 02:43:35 PM

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Parasaurolophus

Quote from: Morden on June 09, 2023, 01:09:05 PM
Station Eleven by Mantel: a post-apocalyptic world (pandemic) but far less focus on the day to day grittiness and more on character development than many books of the genre. Very good.
Several Tchaikovsky novels (thanks to recommenders on this thread and the sci-fi thread): Children of Memory--OK but I didn't feel the need to continue on with that series; Shards of Earth; Eyes of the Void; Lords of Uncreation--I really liked the first; the other two were OK. The shifting point of view reminded me of the Expanse series. Actually I was reminded of the Expanse series several times; and Doors of Eden: I liked this one a lot--multiple alternate timelines of evolution on Earth, with different species developing sentience (for example, trilobites), begin to collide with each other.

I think I'll work on mysteries for a while now.

FWIW, Children of Memory, the third in the trilogy, is not really representative of its predecessors.

Glad you've been enjoying all those goodies, though!
I know it's a genus.

Morden

QuoteFWIW, Children of Memory, the third in the trilogy, is not really representative of its predecessors.

Shoot, I meant the one with the spiders. Is that Children of Time?
Thank you Parasaurolophus for introducing me to this author.

FishProf

I finished the audiobook of Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber, the first collection of sword and sorcery heroes Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.  I mentioned earlier in discussing Elric of Melnibone how these were some of the inspiration for the original Dungeons and Dragons source materials.  This book introduces the two, explains how they met, and sets them up for their further adventures.  It was...pretty good?  I can see a lot of potential in the characters, but it did seem like Leiber was feeling his way with their development.  I am already committed to the next two books, so I'll report back on whether it picks up or not.

Unrelatedly, I finished reading WhatIf? and WhatIf? 2 by Randall Munroe.  (Subtitles: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions).  These are a fun read, and Munroe carries the logical extension to these questions to their fullest extent, such as "From what height must you drop a steak for it to fully cook before hitting the ground?" or "Can you make a jetpack out of downward-pointing machine guns?" But there are a couple abstract questions like "How much force power can Yoda output?". 
I'd rather have questions I can't answer, than answers I can't question.

Parasaurolophus

Quote from: Morden on June 09, 2023, 01:41:37 PM
QuoteFWIW, Children of Memory, the third in the trilogy, is not really representative of its predecessors.

Shoot, I meant the one with the spiders. Is that Children of Time?
Thank you Parasaurolophus for introducing me to this author.

Oh! Yes, that's the one. Well, it's good that you started with the best of the three before deciding you'd had enough, then!
I know it's a genus.

apl68

Salt, by Mark Kurlansky.  It's one his books--like Cod, Paper, and Milk--that attempts a global history of some common commodity.  I've always found them fascinating.  You can tie the history of common commodities in with all sorts of historical events, social developments, customs, and technological and scientific developments.  And Kurlansky doesn't seem to miss anything.  I've always liked books that give the reader lots of esoteric facts about things we never thought about, delivered in a very readable style.  Kurlansky is a master of that sort of work.


Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert.  I'm also fond of old Modern Library editions.  This worn-out Modern Library edition of Flaubert's work dropped into my lap, so I thought I might as well make it one of my occasional attempts to catch up with the classics.  Madame Bovary is often praised as a landmark in the development of the "realist" novel, in reaction to the prevailing "romanticism" of the earlier part of the nineteenth century. 

Certainly it's a kind of anti-romance, in the sense that "romance" is usually understood.  It portrays quite well the manner in which "romance," for all its declarations of undying love and the like, is ultimately a very self-centered business.  Love is about valuing others at least as much as one values oneself, and doing so in a practical manner.  Romance is mostly about using the "beloved" to further a sort of emotional and/or physical thrill seeking.  It can be as destructive to individuals, families, and society as an addiction to recreational drugs.  Madame Bovary's life story is a kind of portrayal of a self-destructive addict.

The story's setting also features a meticulous portrayal of the world of provincial France of its day.  Commentary on Madame Bovary tends to speak of how the poor protagonist is driven around the bend by the "banality and emptiness of provincial life."  Actually Flaubert makes it sound like a pretty interesting place to have lived back in the day.  The standard of living wouldn't have been congenial to us moderns (I like indoor plumbing, myself), of course, but it was also a world where the natural environment hadn't yet been destroyed.  As for the dull, provincial types, some of them sound like real characters.  They had their shortcomings--who among us doesn't?--but I bet some of them would have been interesting folks once you got to know them.  It's a pity that Madame Bovary was too busy yearning after romantic adventures to become more involved in the lives of the people right there with her.
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

ciao_yall

#1145
Quote from: apl68 on June 10, 2023, 07:05:32 AM
Salt, by Mark Kurlansky.  It's one his books--like Cod, Paper, and Milk--that attempts a global history of some common commodity.  I've always found them fascinating.  You can tie the history of common commodities in with all sorts of historical events, social developments, customs, and technological and scientific developments.  And Kurlansky doesn't seem to miss anything.  I've always liked books that give the reader lots of esoteric facts about things we never thought about, delivered in a very readable style.  Kurlansky is a master of that sort of work.


Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert.  I'm also fond of old Modern Library editions.  This worn-out Modern Library edition of Flaubert's work dropped into my lap, so I thought I might as well make it one of my occasional attempts to catch up with the classics.  Madame Bovary is often praised as a landmark in the development of the "realist" novel, in reaction to the prevailing "romanticism" of the earlier part of the nineteenth century. 

Certainly it's a kind of anti-romance, in the sense that "romance" is usually understood.  It portrays quite well the manner in which "romance," for all its declarations of undying love and the like, is ultimately a very self-centered business.  Love is about valuing others at least as much as one values oneself, and doing so in a practical manner.  Romance is mostly about using the "beloved" to further a sort of emotional and/or physical thrill seeking.  It can be as destructive to individuals, families, and society as an addiction to recreational drugs.  Madame Bovary's life story is a kind of portrayal of a self-destructive addict.

The story's setting also features a meticulous portrayal of the world of provincial France of its day.  Commentary on Madame Bovary tends to speak of how the poor protagonist is driven around the bend by the "banality and emptiness of provincial life."  Actually Flaubert makes it sound like a pretty interesting place to have lived back in the day.  The standard of living wouldn't have been congenial to us moderns (I like indoor plumbing, myself), of course, but it was also a world where the natural environment hadn't yet been destroyed.  As for the dull, provincial types, some of them sound like real characters.  They had their shortcomings--who among us doesn't?--but I bet some of them would have been interesting folks once you got to know them.  It's a pity that Madame Bovary was too busy yearning after romantic adventures to become more involved in the lives of the people right there with her.

I read Madame Bovary under similar circumstances. There is a part in which she was all pouty when she got pregnant and realized she wouldn't be able to afford all the beautiful baby accoutrements she had seen in the fancy shops. I remembered thinking she didn't have much sense of reality and fantasy for her expectations in day-to-day life. No wonder she was miserable. I can't imagine her ever being happy no matter what her circumstances - there would always be bigger, prettier, more perfect visions out there.

That said, quite a bit of that "natural provincial beauty" had to be dug up to create sewer systems, electrical supplies and all the other pleasantries of modern life. Although Emma Bovary would not have known the difference. Everyone lived with outhouses, wood stoves, hand-kneaded bread, washtubs and other aspects of life we would consider complete drudgery. But clearly not everyone was miserable. Imagine how they will look back at our primitive lives today in 2223.

You might find Woody Allen's short story The Kugelmass Episode a rather fun interpretation!

apl68

Where the Water Goes:  Life and Death Along the Colorado River, by David Owen.  A hundred years ago, the states of the Colorado River basin signed a compact guaranteeing each state a certain amount of Colorado River water each year.  The compact was based on estimates of annual river flow derived from what turned out to have been some of the wettest years on record in the region.  I recall seeing a National Geographic article on the river in the 1980s that noted that actual annual river flow was much too small to meet all the pledged water allocations.  This was before climate change started further reducing the region's rainfall.

Owen surveys the Colorado basin's water situation, with its arcane water laws, its deal-making around water, and its innumerable water engineering projects.  He also describes the communities and people in the region that he visited during his research.  The whole thing's fascinating.  Owen is commendably restrained at passing judgement on the people of the Colorado River region.  He points out that proposed solutions for the region's water problems are far less simple than many imagine.  Making agricultural irrigation more efficient, to eliminate wasteful run-off?  That "wasted" run-off is what makes possible the survival of much of the region's remaining wildlife habitat.  Making residential water usage more efficient?  They've made great strides in that direction, all of which simply end up encouraging still more development.  Having fewer people live in the arid region?  Okay, but where will those millions of people go, in a country where other populous regions, such as Florida and northern California, are also becoming less habitable due to climate change?

Owen sees no reason for despair--but it's clear that there are a lot of hard, and costly, choices to be made in the years to come.  It would be interesting to see Owen's take on the developments that have come thick and fast in the six years since this was published.  Only this spring, the situation became dire enough that the states of the lower Colorado basin were forced to agree to cutbacks in water usage that they would once have found unthinkable.  And now Arizona is taking steps to limit new residential development in still-growing Phoenix, where many developers can't give a good answer as to where they're going to get sustainable water supplies for the housing they're building.
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

Divine Wind:  The History and Science of Hurricanes, by Kerry Emmanuel.  Emmanuel certainly goes into a lot of detail on the science of how hurricanes form and develop, and on the many things that meteorologists measure to figure out where the hurricanes are going and how strong they will be when they arrive.  Chapters on this alternate with chapters about historical hurricanes.  These are used to illustrate the science.  There are also lots of reproductions of art works and quotes from literary sources on hurricanes.  It's a nice example of a work of popular science that places the science in a broader context.

The reader comes away with a greater appreciation for the challenges that forecasters face in trying to assess the risks posed by a given storm, and the responses to it that they should advise.  Hurricane warnings can pose a real dilemma.  You don't want to fail to warn people in time to evacuate when a community appears threatened.  But then the storm could fail to do the sort of damage predicted, angering people who went to the effort and expense of evacuation and creating a "boy that cried wolf" effect.  I'm reminded of 2005's Hurricane Rita, when panicky officials and a panicky public, their heads full of fresh images of the horrors of Katrina and its aftermath, prompted millions of people who were in little danger to flee in an overblown evacuation that became a disaster in its own right.

The book was going to press in 2005 when Katrina and Rita took place, meaning that it came just too late to consider these infamous storms.  Here's another case where it would be interesting to see an updated version.  So much has happened in the past 18 years in terms of extreme weather events and advances in the relevant sciences.
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

ergative

I 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.

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.
I know it's a genus.