What are you reading these days? #23
What are you reading currently? Fiction or non-fiction, any genre, any language! Tell us what you're reading, and talk a bit about it.
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I've just finished The Secret Barrister, which is an overview and teardown of the current British judicial system. It's incredibly well written - witty, poignant, and humourous despite the biting content.
Probably not one for anyone outside the UK, but crucial reading for anyone in the UK with even a passing interest in the concepts of law, justice, and right/wrong.
Didn't read a ton this round cause I've gotten back into Anime again so that took more time. But I did get some books done.
Chromed:Upgrade by Richard Parry
This book was a massive disappointment based on what I expected just from reading the synopsis. What I expected was a rather gritty book about a man on the run from the company he used to work for. Getting the side character quickly and progressing with this escape while showing you a a nicely built world, maybe some fun enjoyable one of characters to build the world even more.
But instead of that, it was mostly something completely different. The main story that was hinted at in the synopsis didn't even start till about the 80% mark. With most of it being the main character Mason killing some people, interacting with various characters to minor amounts who all feel very similar, and some odd side plots and conspiracies that don't play a role really and never feel very well integrated. Then suddenly the book seems to start. It didn't build the world well at all, showing us minor hints at two different groups and larger focus on the main group he is a part of. Then through some rather generic cyberpunk style tech you would expect and call it good.
There are also some strange parts, I'm okay with technology so advanced it seems like magic, but this cyberpunk book actually seems to revolve around magic. It feels really odd and out of place, like your expecting a decent answer and at the moment it just seems to be...magic? Along with some other magical characters that start getting development in the last 20% of the book, but it just feels out of place.
Overall it feels like this book was a strange overly long prologue for future books. But didn't do enough for me to actually enjoy it and have it stand by itself. I highly doubt I will ever bother looking for a second book in this series if it ever gets made.
Highland Healer by Florence Love Karsner
Series: Highland Healer Book 1
This book came out being very perfectly average for me. It wasn't amazing or original, but presented a very nice start to a romance story with a bunch of mystery left to explore in the next books. The characters were strong and filled their roles very well in the book. Nothing was really wrong to me, and would recommend it if you were looking for a decent read to fill some time.
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
Yeah this was a massive disappointment to me. It felt like the book never really went anywhere at all, and just drifted along not really having any goals or points it wants to make at all.
Most of this book is almost an autobiography the character is writing as you read it. Describing his journey and what is occurring in the world while he writes it. It feels like a journal or diary without much direction and it simply got confusing and disorganized at times. And at times I almost felt like I was reading the journal of a mad man who isn't right in the head at all. Which by the end, I guess you learn why it seems that way, but it just doesn't read well at all. In some ways I feel like this book was pretty similar to House of Leaves, with each chapter leaving you wondering what is going on with the story. The main difference I feel is the length and detail alongside thought put into the story, House of Leaves felt like it had a reason to be written the way it was. And it worked incredibly well in doing so. While this story just feels like it is missing the spark that made House of Leaves work, and by the halfway mark I felt I was reading more out of obligation to see the book to the end than enjoying the book.
The characters aren't all that interesting, really you only ever get anything from the main character. While everyone else that has a part gets a sentence occasionally or a mention about the character occurring. And the main character himself doesn't do anything to make me interested in what he is doing, just trying to figure out the relationship he has with his father essentially.
It probably doesn't help a bunch of the random pseudoscience he used to try to explain the universe just got confusing and forgettable. It wasn't something I ended up wanting to know more about, instead I ended up just skimming the sections at times because I couldn't make any sense of it.
So in the end I can't say I liked the book in any way. It was written decently for what it did I guess even if I didn't like it, didn't have any real editing issues. But the actual story and characters didn't do anything for me at all.
I'm currently reading The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg. I picked up an uncorrected library proof from a conference on a whim and ... it's okay. Not life-changing, but fine.
Poetry-wise, I'm reading When I grow up I want to be a list of further possibilities by Chen Chen. I'm really liking the humor and pathos of the poems so far, and his long lines allow an expansive sensibility.
I just finished The Outside by Ada Hoffman and that was life-changing. Space opera, Eldritch horror, weird reality, it's great.
I liked The Music of What Happens, but it felt routine and predictable. I picked it up because I enjoyed his book Openly Straight. While both books have a fair amount of cheesiness, Openly Straight is more emotionally in-touch and has more characters which actually contribute to the story.
I find it such an utter chore to find books in that genre though—wish there were more.
I can already see what you mean with "routine and predictable" -- I feel like if I thought about it hard enough, I could figure out what would happen. I'll have to try out Openly Straight though, since I like his style!
In a past thread I said I don't like to read a lot by one author in a short amount of time. Well, I couldn't resist (and I'm glad I didn't).
I read another book by Italo Calvino, Le città invisibili (Invisible Cities). It was great.
Le città invisibili is written as a conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, who wonders how what his empire is like. Most of the book is consisted of Polo's descriptions of made up cities, written as prose poems. The cities all have a category, for example Memory, Signs, Names, the Dead etc, which they relate to in some way. The categories are organised in a pattern which you can see on the book's Wikipedia page.
This is a book about Window shopping, Eating with one's eyes. Both Marco Polo and Kublai Khan are eating with their eyes in the book. Polo, by visiting (or making up) the cities, sees only what a visitor sees. He doesn't know how it feels to live there. Yet he still enjoys visiting, just like a tourist. He can analyse, imagine how the inhabitants feel, observe. But he will never live there.
Kublai, on the other hand, is eating with his ears, visualising and imagining the city as told by Polo. Yet he seems to have no interest to visit the cities himself, he is content to listen to stories. Perhaps because he knows the story is better than reality?
The book has incredible descriptions and every description of a city manages to capture it's essence. In addition, there are some fantastic (and fun) ideas. In the beginning, Polo doesn't speak the Khan's language, so he uses a makeshift sign language. After a while, he learns to speak the language, but the couple decide to go back to the sign language, since it is more satisfying to them. In the end, they decide to only sit and imagine what the other is saying.
Getting in some non-fiction this week, I just finished The High Frontier, by Gerard O'Neill. A bit weird that I hadn't read it already, being a huge advocate of the sort of free space colonization it describes, but I guess I got around to it. For those who aren't familiar, the book lays out an alternate way forward to the traditional science fiction notion of colonizing planetary surfaces. Turns out, you get a lot more bang for your buck with rotating space habitats, on the order of millions of times the living area per unit of mass. Beyond that, the lack of significant gravity wells makes shipping and transit an absolute breeze, and offers easy access to 0g environments for manufacturing and recreation. And the habitats aren't cramped: even with 1970's material technology, i.e. steel or aluminum, habitats miles across with hundreds of square miles of surface area could be built. Today with carbon fiber, you can build one thousands of miles in diameter, with the surface area of a large country or a small planet.
Besides the central ideas, the book is also interesting for being a vision of the future written for a past with a different outlook. Like many science and science fiction writers in the mid-20th century, O'Neill was convinced that overpopulation was a much more pressing concern than it ended up being, and writing in the 1970's, was likewise of the mindset that the energy crisis was the new normal, and not just a temporary oil shortage caused by geopolitical factors. Would that we actually were running out of fossil fuels, might've saved us some trouble.
Considering he had power satellite construction as the economic engine of space colonization, it's not surprising that none of it's happened yet, with fossil fuels still being dirt cheap. Hopefully the need for low carbon energy and the recent fall in launch costs will have us take another look at power satellites soon, but as of yet it doesn't really seem to be on anyone's radar for whatever reason. It's honestly kind of baffling to me how much both space based solar power and free space colonization have faded from public consciousness. Maybe they never had much of a hold on it in the first place, but the latter seems to have fallen by the wayside even for science fiction authors, in favor of outmoded ideas like terraforming.
It did make me wonder though, how many of the cool space projects thought up in the 70's and 80's would we have gotten if shuttle flights weren't wildly more expensive than predicted, or if NASA had actually built a shuttle derived heavy cargo lifter, like the shuttle C? Seems like even more so than budget cuts, space development in that era was handicapped by the exorbitant launch costs of the regular shuttle.
As an aside though, man, O'Neill hated nuclear power. I can understand, though strongly disagree with, the idea of not wanting to use it on Earth, but he wanted to avoid using it for interstellar flights too!
I have been "reading" Crown of Midnight in the #2 in the Throne of Glass series, I was very into it but I've not been reading much at all as I tend to commute by Bike more now and have not had the impulse whilst at home or when relaxing outdoors. Fire and Blood has been resting heavily on my bookshelf for a few months now without even being cracked open, I've also left the third book of IQ84, The Book Thief and Speaker for the Dead half read, bookmarked and abandoned.
I tried really hard to read 1Q84 but... I just couldn't. Half the story is very interesting and the other half is the most boring thing I've ever read.
Also is it me or does the author have an issue with women?
If you find one half more interesting than the other then it may just be a book that's not for you, it keeps the dual POV till the end, even throwing in a third later on. I'm very familiar with Murakami so I know he likes to mix the mundanity of everyday life with the outlandish and supernatural, interesting events do start to happen in both POVs but there's also a lot of down time to develop the characters and world. Honestly if you're not into it so far maybe push on till the end of book 1 or just leave it.
I had a colleague tell me she thought he had an issue with women, I am not inclined to agree. I've read all his novels except Commendatore and most of his short stories and he writes his women just as he writes his men, in a variety of roles. He does have far less female POVs but as he is a guy himself that's fair. If most of the stories he wants to write are from a Male POV that only makes sense.
I read through Malcolm Harris's Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millenials.
The book is an attempt to distill down the larger forces, particularly economic ones, that have shaped the experience of millenials. One of his arguments is that employers have externalized the risks of investing in employees because those employees now have much greater freedom to leave and seek other jobs. One effect of this is that training got pushed onto the educational system, making education no longer about learning as an ideal but instead about us becoming the capital that employers will later rely on. This happens because we have been habituated to the idea that we need to overwork ourselves in order to get ahead, that our work should be done "for its own sake" and not for any actual return or tangible benefit to us, and that we prioritize work over our own needs.
His argument is significantly more fleshed out and nuanced than I'm portraying here. I'm also only highlighting one particular part of it, and I'm doing it from memory, so I'm probably not doing it as accurately as I could. Nevertheless, it was certainly an interesting perspective, and one that I'm glad I was exposed to.
The book at large touches on and contextualizes millenial disillusionment and why, exactly, we would feel that way. It wasn't until the end of the book that I realized how much I live in perpetual disillusionment. I've gotten so used to it that it is invisible to me, but occasionally I get made aware of it in the same way that occasionally you become aware of your own breathing. The end of the book was that moment for me. Usually, in books of this type, they spend 95% of the book highlighting issues, often seemingly insurmountable ones. Authors then give over the last 5% to solutions. I often roll my eyes through these sections, as they feel naively hopeful to me. I often question whether the author actually believes their solutions, or whether their editors/publishers forced them to put them in to "end on a high note" or because it's an expectation of the genre. I am seemingly unable to meaningfully engage with large-scale optimism, to the point that I assume it's a falsehood when others present it. This is not a healthy outlook.
This book follows suit, spending nearly all of its text on issues and saving a small smidgen at the end for solutions. Harris then systematically runs through the potential actions that we, as millenials, can take, and then explains why each of them will fail. It was a bleak ending, but I can't deny that it felt right to me. The perspective he took is exactly the one I have when I read about the myriad ways we can improve society. My kneejerk reaction to a solution is "that'll never work." I hate that I live with that cynicism, but I also can't help but feel anything else, particularly related to economic issues.
i've finally parsed out (most of) my booklist which is 113 books/articles long, so technically a lot. actively, though, i'm a little past a third of the way with the first LBJ book by caro after not bothering with that for literally two years. it's enjoyable and, like literally all caro books for those of you who have tried/succeeded in reading them, incredibly longwinded--which is the charm.
Currently rereading Joe Abercrombies First Law trilogy because i want to read his other books but thought it would be best to reread the trilogy first because i read them years ago and only had a vague memory of the people, places, plot. Very enjoyable even on a reread.
The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (english trans.). I'm trying to read more Literature and i think i jumped in the deep end here. One of those books i have to read a paragraph or two and put down for a few hours.
History wise i've just started India's Struggle for Independence by Bipan Chandra but i'm only a few pages in.
I'm still finishing up Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow—about 60% through. It's good, but I should be taking better notes. It's definitely reading like a not-very-boring textbook.
Next up on the fiction front is The Rule of One by Ashley and Leslie Saunders. It's a young adult sci-fi dystopia book. I need to add a few more of those to my rotation, I can churn through those quickly (despite their looming danger to my sleep schedule).
I'm still undecided on what's next for me in non-fiction. Probably going to pick a memoir, either Mama's Boy by Dustin Lance Black, or Serious Eater by Ed Levine. I already have both purchased and sitting in my library, so it honestly might come down to a coin-toss.
Paris au 20e siècle (technically it’s XXe but fuck Roman numerals) by Jules Vernes. While the grammar is still similar to today’s french (compare to Sherlock Holmes’s), the vocabulary is just archaic enough to make it frustrating to read which is why I’ve been going rather slowly about it.
It describes Paris in the 20th century, and how through the focus on capital and industrialisation, while the city has become incredibly high-tech, people have lost their culture. The main character, Michel wins the Latin Prize on technicality — he is the sole applicant, and yet gets scolded for even applying.
The Widow. I just picked it 'cause it was available from my library's eBook selection. Surprisingly decent, but hits a bit of a cheesy-CBS/CSI-esque hurdle whenever the author starts up the tech jargon into the story. I don't care, really. I was looking for an easy read because I'm behind on my Goodreads Reading Challenge.