What are you reading these days? #24
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.
Sorry for posting late this time round. I had an intense week, and was basically too lazy to post yesterday.
I will not include a list of past topics in the topic text anymore, given it is redundant with the listing in the wiki. Below you'll find a link to the relevant section in the relevant wiki page instead. If you think this is a bad change, PM me about it; if a lot of you don't like it I might end up reverting this.
Have a nice weekend!
Previous topics are listed in the wiki.
It's been a while since I've really had time to sit down and read a full book, but the two books I've read recently that I really enjoyed are Ignition! and a little compendium of H.P. Lovecraft's works that I found at Barnes and Noble.
As someone who's been into rocketry and space exploration for a long, long time, Ignition! was an amazing read. It talks in pretty decent detail about a segment of rocketry history that people seem to forget about: the development of the liquid propellants that we most commonly use today. It goes through the often ridiculous choices made for testing and the hilariously dumb demands made by non-technical supervisors in a writing style that kept me laughing and sharing quotes with my buddies the whole way through. Highly recommend to anyone with even a passing interest in space or chemistry.
Lovecraft was also fascinating. I'd never read any of his work before, and I generally don't like things that fit into the horror genre; however, I really loved reading his work because of how fundamentally different and weird it is. It's not about jump scares or gore, it's about existential terror. It's about the idea that there are things so extraordinarily more powerful and important than you and I that we don't even matter in the slightest. Even if you don't like feeling that way, it's just such an interesting style that I have to give it a strong recommendation.
I'm reading 'The Dragon Throne' by Jonathan Fenby. Coincidentally, just after I told @cfabbro that I need to read more about Chinese history, I finally unpacked my books after moving house a couple of months ago - and found this book in my "to read" pile. :)
However, I'm a little disappointed. I didn't expect great detail from a book that's covering over 2,000 years' history of Chinese emperors. But the writing itself is a little strange. It needed a better editor than it had.
Most annoyingly, the author has a habit of repeating himself. For example: in a chapter I just finished, he talked about an emperor who converted to Buddhism and tried to join a Buddhist monastery three times, but was talked out of it by his advisers each time. That story started a digression into how Buddhism gained a foothold in China. The digression ended with the author explaining, as if for the first time, that Buddhism became so mainstream that one Chinese emperor of the time tried to join a Buddhist monastery three times - only two pages after he told us exactly the same thing. This has happened a few times. It's not a callback. The second mention of the event makes no reference to the first mention of the same event. They're both treated like the first time the author is presenting this information. It's as if each section was written by a different person and they didn't read each other's sections.
Another thing the author does is to jump ahead in time, to say how such-and-such a characteristic or trait was celebrated in communist China. It's quite disconcerting to be reading a history of the Chinese court in 50AD, and then be reading about Chinese revolutionaries 2,000 years later. I'm reading to learn about the history of China, not about current Chinese attitudes to that history.
I'm also desperately missing the presence of any maps in the book. The author assumes we all know the geographical layout of China, and where the regions and cities he's talking about are in relation to each other.
It's good enough as an introductory text for the cheap bargain price I paid for it, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else.
EDIT: Whenever I talk about a book I'm reading, I include a link to the GoodReads entry for it, just in case anyone wants to check it out. But I don't usually read those GoodReads pages. However, I browsed this one, and it seems someone else thought the same thing as me:
And someone else:
P.S. I have just abandoned this book. Writing this summary crystallised the book's faults for me. I realised I wasn't really enjoying the book; I was just reading out of a sense of obligation. Then I encountered yet another example of the author telling me the same thing twice, and decided I simply didn't want to continue.
I don't often abandon books. That makes this book special.
woo glad to catch this one.
Skyward - Brandon Sanderson
I think it's his latest book, overall a fun hero's journey type story in an interesting universe and nice ending, what you'd expect from him.
Mortal Engines - Philip Reeve
After reading Skyward I was in a bit of a steampunk mood so I went through this pretty small book which has been sitting on the shelf for a few months. Again here the universe is really what's interesting, if Municipal Darwinism sounds interesting I'd recommend it.
Both fiction, and pretty light fiction at that. But I guess I was in the mood for something light that would sweep me up into it's story.
The ending to the mortal engines series is one of my favourite endings to a story. It's definitely not light though.
Nice. I'm just getting to the end of the series, started the 4th book yesterday. Excited too see how it plays out with Hester and Tom.
Oh man, I finished it and I cried. What an ending, it's beautiful.
I'm such a sucker for tragedies. Although I find books that put a tragic ending on the table from the start to be less effective.
Putting an ending like that in a series that starts off so lighthearted is a huge factor to why it hit me so hard. That and just how all the characters each get tied up into their own perfect (tragic) ending.
Absolutely think it's worth reading the entire thing for that alone.
Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami and Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. The first is remarkable in that it goes (in my experience) authentically into the mind of the painter. The second shows a pretty cruel (as you would expect) story of a young girl basically sold into the industry. So far I can't vouch at all for any authenticity in the second, and don't plan on researching anything until I'm finished.
That I'm reading simultaneously reading two books centered in Japan is coincidence. I don't really see any connection in style or content. Killing Commendatore isn't my first Murakami. His usual tropes are hanging around the story, and his initial resolution of great tension takes a weird turn that I've seen in his work and other Japanese works of art. It might bother some readers, but is always fascinating to me. Mild Spoiler: Killing Commendatore is the title of a painting in the book.
I've recently read three books that each tackle American political issues through different lenses:
Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild
Hochschild wanted to understand Tea Party voters in Louisiana because she felt that their politics were contradictory. They were poor, yet they resisted government assistance. They were directly impacted by corporate pollution and malfeasance, yet they resisted regulation. In wanting to examine these apparent dissonances, she lived with them for five years.
The book, when explained as I have, can sound either like a partisan hit job or a voyeuristic missionary trip, but it's genuinely neither. Hochschild is thoughtful and observant rather than judgmental. She comes to understand what she calls their "deep story", which is the sort of collective personal truth that each of them lives beneath and draws from. It's through this "deep story" that she can then see consistency rather than dissonance in their politics.
Dying of Whiteness by Jonathan M. Metzl
Metzl wanted to show that racial resentment can actually lead to negative health outcomes in white people. He focuses on three different issues in three different states: gun control in Missouri, health care in Tennessee, and schools in Kansas. For each, he gives a broad political overview of the issue, drills down to the specific politics of the region, and then gives statistical analysis that correlates an increase in harm or negative health outcomes that link to those politics.
For example, in Missouri, he shows how pro-gun sentiments are often predicated on a fear of people of color, but the pro-gun laws passed have enabled an increase in white male suicides. Furthermore, gun suicides are more prominent than gun homicides, though a main driving force for gun ownership is a fear of homicide. Like Strangers, this book isn't intended to be a partisan "gotcha" book. It's written with an intention to help (the author is a physician).
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
The subtitle of this book, "Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism," says it all. Race and racism are hard topics, particularly for Americans (at whom the book is aimed), and one of the thing that makes it a difficult topic is that people can bristle and shut down the moment anything racial enters the discussion.
DiAngelo deconstructs this platform, identifying that there's a widespread, fundamental belief among white people that race is something that other people have and that we exist absent from. She quite rightly points out all the ways in which this is both inaccurate and detrimental.
All together, these books helped me process two different things that I'm trying better to understand: the experiences of people on the right, and the experiences of people of color. Neither of those are my position or story, and each book cast light on different areas and gave me plenty to consider.
Strangers helped me understand the importance of a "deep story." Though the one shared in the book isn't my own, I do believe everybody has their own version of a deep story--the narrative from which we draw our understanding of the world. I firmly believe that if we spent more time understanding each others' deep stories, we would all be better off. I think it's too easy to explain away the differences in someone else and it's much harder to sort of genuinely sit yourself in their situation.
I think this is a skill that has far-reaching importance, particularly in today's political climate. It's easy to write off people on the other side or someone we disagree with. It's much harder to consider what kind of life experiences cause people to hold those beliefs, for example. Too often we believe that empathy equals endorsement, so we shut ourselves off to those who are different or those whose beliefs we disagree with because we don't want to look like we support something we fundamentally oppose. But attempting to understand their "deep stories" doesn't mean we have to support their beliefs. I personally have witnessed many people who were anti-gay soften their positions because they came to know my own "deep story," just as I have softened my perspective on them because I came to know theirs. They came to understand my struggle just as I came to understand the toxic, homophobic culture they grew up in and that shaped their beliefs. Our greater understanding of each other has brought us closer together and bridged the divide between us.
Dying forced me to confront at a societal level a personal truth that I've long known: if I'd had access to a more immediately lethal method of suicide, I would no longer be here. I did not have access to a firearm, and when I acted with intention to die I was saved by the fact that my chosen method has a much higher failure rate. I am still here because my methods did not match the immediacy of my decision.
I've thought a lot about this as an individual, but I can't say that I've taken the time to examine it from the level of policy, where lives simply become numbers. Suicide statistics are heartbreaking because each additional increment represents devastating tragedy, for both the individual and their community. It is interesting to think about saving lives from a structural standpoint rather than an interpersonal one. Is the lack of access to firearms a form of suicide intervention? The data says yes. Though this wasn't the sole focus of the book, this section was the one that stuck with me the most, for obvious reasons.
Fragility helped me understand some of my own racial blindspots as a white person. It gave me a framework from which I can build a much more fair and equitable understanding of race and racial issues, as well as better equipping me to have conversations about race in the first place. One of the things the author advocates is that we need to develop "racial stamina" which is the ability to deal with a sustained discomfort with regard to racial issues, because this is the method by which we can learn and come to better understanding in the first place. In order to develop that stamina, we have to acknowledge that seeking out racial comfort the moment we feel challenged is counterproductive.
More than the other books, this is one that I'm still mulling over, because, for all its insight, there are some aspects of it that I have a hard time with intellectually, and I don't yet know if that's because my beliefs are a product of invisible racist worldviews that I still hold or because I fundamentally disagree with some of the author's espoused beliefs. If I agree with the book wholesale, I feel that I'm being intellectually dishonest with some parts of it, but are my critiques coming from a real place or from a still invisible prejudice? I genuinely don't know, and I feel like that's something I'm going to have to continue to explore. Nevertheless, there is far more in the book that I learned from and found illuminating than I did to critique, so my friction is not based on fundamental premises but rather edge cases. It is very much a worthwhile read.
Thanks for reminding me I'm in the middle of White Fragility and need to finish it. I've had a very similar take to it as you: it's really reminded me of, and made real, things that I take for granted as a white man that others cannot. I haven't gotten to anything I disagree with yet, I don't think, but I haven't got too far in the book yet. I need to check it out as a physical copy rather than the e-book I have now, to make it more actual in my memory. While I'm at it, I should check out the other books you've mentioned as well! Thanks for the detailed takeaway.
Felt like this was a light couple weeks, decided to start two different books at the same time and didn't finish them right away. The one is Necronomicon which I expected, this comes off thus far as a good book to read a chapter then stop for awhile due to the variety of stories in it. I also started reading The Three-Body Problem but got a bit tired of it half way through, probably gonna finish it up something this month. But did get some other light reading done including a web novel somebody posted on amazon.
Can I really keep my Goddess Wife to myself and away from all the Crazy OP MCs? by Kira Minoru
I wasn't overly disappointed in the story honestly, it was fun and fairly enjoyable. The characters were decent I enjoyed them. And overall it kept me turning the pages and wanting to reach the end of the book in a decent hurry. My issues with the book come from the writing style, and the editing.
On the side of the writing style, I didn't find it all that consistent. It would jump from character to character almost mid sentence, with characters conversations and thoughts getting jumbled together and becoming a confusing mess to read. Requiring multiple rereads to try to piece together what is going on, and sometimes that doesn't even help. Now I feel a bunch of the issues I had with this could be solved by a decent editor going through the book. Just to make sure the character who started speaking continued to do so and didn't switch to somebody else suddenly mid paragraph.
Abandon by Blake Crouch
To me this was a decent enough book, it was just not what I expected it to be from the synopsis at all. And felt really poor in some aspects. The actual writing and editing was good and didn't let me down or confuse me. My issues come from the misleading synopsis, poor characters, and honestly just too much death.
Lets start on that misleading synopsis. It gives you the idea that something supernatural might be at foot here. But that doesn't actually mean anything, everything that happens is 100% natural and just fueled by greed. But with that being the case, the synopsis should be different to give that view.
The characters I feel suffered due to the two consecutive timelines the book used. It worked well to show the story happening in the past and the present, but it also doubled the cast of characters. And of those characters vary few felt like they got the time needed to become actual characters, and not just a warm body to be killed off.
And man do they get killed off, and often. It seems that every 3rd chapter has another person dead or some atrocity occurring. The worst by far for me was a mute character, who escaped it all to have the worst fate of anybody in the book for really no reason but to show more pain occurring. By the end it just started feeling unnecessary the amount of death, it could have been told with much less in a much more satisfying way.
So I can see somebody enjoying this book maybe, but it is not my style of book at all. While competently presented, it just doesn't feel like it does a very good job at telling a story.
Archangel Down by C. Gockel
Series: Archangel Project Book 1
It is always nice to stumble upon a book you really enjoy reading and keeps you coming back constantly to continue reading. I won't say it didn't have any issues, but I was able to ignore the issues to keep reading the book.
One of those problems is the lack of explanation into the title of the book. It is obviously the main mystery of the series, and meant to keep you reading to understand it. Though I do wish a bit more was shown about it or explained, cause as it stands it felt like it didn't really matter much till the final section of the book.
Characters were enjoyable and unique, with some conflicts and internal issues they work through. Though I wouldn't say they all grow very much in the book. Noa I don't feel like changed much by the end of the book, she very much feels like the same person who started the book. James on the other hand changed a fair amount after everything happened with him, and the questioning of who/what he is. Unfortunately none of the other characters get much time at all, and are all rather basic characters.
The actual story and editing I didn't have any issues with. The story I felt moved along at a nice pace that keeps you interested. And didn't get too bogged down that it felt like I was wasting time reading it. Many pages are filled with internal dialogue and discussion, often repeating information that does get a bit much at times. And I personally found the editing perfectly competent and didn't find any issues with it.
In the end I really enjoyed what I read, and will look into reading the second book at some point. With hope that the Archangel plot gets expanded upon more alongside the rest of the characters get a bit more development.
I recently finished up Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Miracles and Sam Sykes' novella The Gallows Black, and I've started Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson.
I liked City of Miracles, but I don't think it nor City of Blades ever topped City of Stairs for world building. Blades was close because it was so far removed from the events at Bulikov, but Miracles felt like it was a bit tacked onto the world rather than baked in from the start.
The Gallows Black continues the world that Sykes created in Seven Blades in Black but it's set before that novel. It's mostly concerning how Sal met Liette. I liked it, not as much as Seven Blades but still good. Don't read it before Seven Blades in Black.
I really just got started on Europe in Autumn so I don't have much opinion yet. But uh I don't speak Polish or know anything about eastern European languages, and it's going to drive me nuts that I don't know how to even pronounce a lot of these proper nouns.
edit: Sorry, City of Stairs is the one that does world building best.
Currently working through Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life.
I don't really know why, either. My limited experience of him has been of a polarising obscurantist getting himself into fights.
That said, I'm about 1/4 of the way through and it's not entirely awful. It's more heavily reliant on Christian theology than I was expecting, but he does have some things to say that might be worth hearing.
He veers from refreshingly bold to tediously dogmatic like a metronome though.
I'm currently reading (and not really enjoying, actually) The Circle by Dave Eggers. It's like, a horror movie usually doesn't jump right into the terrible terror, it lures you in to give you a false sense of security. Whereas with The Circle, the company's immediately doing these super shady things from go. And I have a hard time empathizing with anyone who's just allowing all this surveillance to happen.
Claes Hylinger's Det hemliga sällskapet (The Secret Society)
The main character is a Swedish student active in The Book Club. He is smart, he is handsome and he's living a good life. He's an intellectual Mary Sue. He smiles pitifully at The Literary Society, another book club, "full with old knitting ladies", while The Book Club invites prestigious guests to hold seminars and speeches. One particular guest is a French author, who asks the main character to join him as his assistant. He gladly takes up on the offer.
In Paris the main character lives in an apartment in the middle of Paris. There is little work to be done, so most days he ambulates the 14th arrondissement either alone or with his student friends. He drinks a lot of wine, eats good food, has sex with beautiful French women and receives a generous compensation for that. Basically pornography for intellectuals.
After a misunderstanding (caused by his own naïvité) the main character has to move to the French countryside and work with manure. But luckily he's also strong and hard-working, so that's not a problem. In the little nearby village he drinks a pint now and then and joins one of two rivaling Manure societies both ostracised by society. They help him get back to Paris.
Back in Paris the main character meets a friendly Dane who invites him to a dinner party. It's hosted by a group of Scandinavian gastronomes and he eats the dinner of his life. It's really, really nice. He manages to also get in contact with "The Secret Society", they call themselves "the society", where he is also asked to come for dinner. This dinner isn't as nice, but he senses a special atmosphere. Everyone seems to be so aware and in contact with each other. Of course he prefers this one, he's an intellectual. It's never written out, but the society seems to be heavily inspired by the Situationists. They create situations that they are consciously aware of. They also engage in dérive.
Yes, the book is puerile, written to please intellectuals, has no real problem for the main character, but what's wrong with that? Sometimes you need a break. It's comfortable, the fast food of books. I enjoyed it, but I didn't like it, if that makes sense.
Nixonland by Rick Perlstein. Super entertaining and very relevant to today. It is quite long but I am glad.
I've been on a computing kick lately, and this week I'm continuing that trend. I picked up two new books and started each of them. The first is The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder, and the other is A People's History of Computing in the United States by Joy Lisi Rankin. Super excited for both of them, but haven't read enough to expand on my initial thoughts.
Down the road I want to read Turing's Cathedral by George Dyson, and perhaps Where the Wizards Stay Up Late, which I have heard is good.
I'm rereading Evelyn Waugh's and Kingsley Amis's fiction. I was born with a chronic sense of nostalgia for a time I've not known myself. Both authors write beautiful English, and evoke a mist of thought/sentiment that can elate, soothe, amuse, and energise depending on one's mood.
I'm at the very start of Accelerando, by Charles Stross.
I just finished reading Guy Gavriel Kay's "A brightness long ago" and thoroughly enjoyed it. I met the author at a Q+A and signing session where he signed my 20 year old copy of Fionavar Tapestry which was wonderful.
After that, I randomly picked up Stephen King's "The Outsider" from the library.
It's easily digestible. His writing still is so .. straightforward. It's a good commuting book.
Found out Hoopla was a thing at my Library, and learned that it has comics, so I've tried out Umbrella Academy 1 and 2, and started Saga. Umbrella Academy was kinda weird, but Saga is interesting.
Just got a library card and am going ham with new books!
Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World by Joseph Menn
South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson
And I grabbed a few business books but I'm not even touching them yet... Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore and The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. I've read excerpts of both of these books at times, but I figured I should read the whole books since it might be useful in my job...