Monday, April 2, 2018

Dragonflight - Book 12 of the year

I've had my fill of Anne McCaffery. The book was average at best. I have read some excellent books that were much lower on that NPR list. This one was a solid dud. The principle components of the story are solid, but the execution was just so impatient and poorly developed. Events just happen. There is very little build-up or suspense. The big reveal of why so many of the other places are empty is satisfying, but the payoff is less than it could have been. It's all stiff and impatient and just poorly crafted. At least it was short.

Dragonflight marks the 42 NPR Sci Fi/Fantasy book that I've read from the list. That's the same number of Modern Library Top 100 that I have read. I've read 7 of the NPR books this year. I've read 1 of the Modern Library books. I would guess that I have a better chance of finishing the Modern Library list first. There are still 215 books on the NPR list for me to read (lots of series in that list). Side note, I already own 1 of those books. Just 1. Dragonflight aside, I've been pleased with the books on both of the lists so I have no reservations to keep using them as a source of solid reading material.

I should finish Virginia at War, 1862 by the end of the week. A family trip to DC for some baseball and museums may interfere a bit with my reading, but that's not a bad thing. Some desperately needed sleep may cut into my reading time tonight, and my kids being home with me in the morning could slow down my before work reading progress. I guess that leaves Tuesday night as the only real chunk of reading time before the trip. Well, maybe I will be able to read a bit in the hotel room.

Friday, March 30, 2018

A House for Mr. Biswas complete - 155 remain

It took me almost 2 months, but I have finished reading A House for Mr. Biswas. This book creates a sense of character and place that far exceeds the sum of the words that fill its many pages. The sense of place plays a critical role in the story. This is not just a story about the events of a man's life. It's the story of a life. Where things happen proves just as important as what happens. This isn't much of a stretch to make as chapter titles are mostly where Biswas happens to live at that point of his story. His story could not happen as it does anywhere other than the Hanuman House (which I can finally read without thinking of Baljeet as Hanuman Man) or Green Vale or any other place on Trinidad. The power of this novel is undeniable if subtle. The novel's action lies within Biswas. It's not about thrilling adventure or a gripping plot full of suspense and intrigue. It the slow unfolding of a life and all the limits and struggles that come with living our allotted place. I wasn't ready to read this novel when I bought it over 15 years ago. Life needed a chance to buffet me around a bit. I empathize with Biswas and understand his struggles. He's easy to dismiss as weak and ineffectual, but in dismissing him, we would be all too eager to dismiss so much of what each of us struggle with every day. 

It took me a few days to settle on which book to read after finishing the Naipaul. (Brief aside, I fully intend to purchase another Naipaul book in the not too distant future. A Bend in the River will likely be that purchase. I would like to take a look at it first, but it's not in stock at any of the B&N locations near me. I could borrow it from the library as an ebook without too much hassle, but I kind of like the process of going to the store and looking at it. I enjoy the process of buying the book (obviously, that how I ended up with so many of them to read!). The failure of any retail location to figure out how to stock books that appeal to a limited audience is a real bummer. Maybe the existence of the limited audience is the real downer. Anyway, this is the kind of situation that heralds the demise of the mass book seller. Well, the end of mass everything is the real trend. Books are just a marginal enough product that it's dying faster than some other industries. Long live the niche! At least online resources will provide a way for me to keep getting books like this. Opening a box just isn't the same as going to the store.) After spending 7 weeks with a single physical book, I was not eager to engage with another several week long reading project. A field trip with my daughter to a Civil War battlefield had me in an historical frame of mind for the last month or so. After some looking around on my shelves, I found the Virginia at War books. I have four of the five volumes (only 1865 remains to be purchased), but I have only read the first one, 1861. The books are a series of chapters on different aspects of the war with an exclusive focus on events in Virginia. Each one of the volumes is pretty slender, not quite 200 pages including notes, with the final chapter of each being an excerpt from the diary of a woman who lived in Fairfax during the war. These skinny little books on the Civil War were a perfect fit for my current reading needs. 

So Virginia at War, 1862 is moving along smoothly. Each chapter is the right length to be read in a single session so the book moves with a nice cadence. I'm very familiar with the events of the Civil War in Virginia in 1862 (that is really the only period and theater of the war that I really know anything about) so the books move quickly. The chapters focus on events outside of battles and generals. The topics are minor but provide very interesting context for the larger events that I already know a bit about. There are always a few pages of notes at the end of each chapter so I get some bonus pages to record in Goodreads with each one I finish. I've read three chapters in as many days. I should finish the book next week. 

I'm also making nice progress with Dragonflight, yet another NPR 100 book that I borrowed from the library. I'm not very impressed with this one. It's decent enough, but it's not very well written. It's short, and I'm about 3/4 of the way to the end. I will finish it this weekend.

I'm tired of being stuck around 155 books to read so I'm going to hold off on buying anything for a little while. I really need to pick a harder ebook that I already own to take on while reading something engaging in the physical format. I have some plans for how to make that happen. We'll see if I follow through.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Lost in Shangri-La

I have been putting Lost in Shangri-La aside for years as it felt like it would take too much effort to read.  I should have known that a book given away for free with iBooks would be an entertaining and require very little effort. This book was a fun read with very little in the way of resistance or challenge. It wasn't anything particularly profound or paradigm shifting, but it was an engaging way to spend a few hours.

Those few pleasant hours allowed me to get my to be read number down to 155. Unfortunately it popped right back to 156 when my plan to delay the arrival of my latest purchase, The Destructive War, was thwarted by Amazon's efficient supply chain. I skipped two day delivery in favor or a later delivery date (and the $1 discount on a digital item that was offered with the slower delivery), but my book was shipped with a phone case that I ordered for my son. Oh well, I had good intentions. I guess I'm just left to be stuck at 156 for months and months.

I could get off of 156 if I could just finish A House for Mr Biswas. I started this book in early February. It's the middle of March and I'm still a touch over 100 pages from being finished. It's not that this is a bad book or a real drag to read, it's neither of those things. I've just been reading other books instead (like the aforementioned Lost in Shangri-La). As the end of Mr. Biswas gets closer I'm more inclined to read it. It helps that I haven't been immediately drawn into a different book on my phone. I started Dragonflight (yet another ebook I've borrowed from the library), but getting through the indirect description of what's happening and some less than easy to keep track of names has made the early going on this one a bit slow. The basketball tournament has also been distracting me from reading. 

It's fitting that I'm spending weeks and weeks on Mr. Biswas as I've had it for years and years. I bought it soon after V.S. Naipaul won the Nobel Prize back in 2001. I read another of his books, The Enigma of Arrival (it was called his masterpiece in the Nobel citation so I'm not surprised I started with that one), and was engaged enough to try another. I was thrown off by the Indian characters in Trinidad and wasn't able to find a drive to read that book amid my flurry of book buying activity. (I bought loads of books when I had no money.) I bought it at Border's to give a sense of how long I've had it. I've said it before and I'll keep saying it, books like this is what Book Shelf Zero is all about. It's hard to overcome the inertia of a book sitting on my shelf for years.

A House for Mr. Biswas has had a long residence on my shelf, but there are others that have been waiting longer. As best I can determine from my memory of when I bought my books, a memory that is strangely vivid, For Whom the Bell Tolls is my longest held book. I think I bought it while I was still in high school. I've tried reading it a couple of times but I quickly lose interest and move onto something else. Hemingway has never really made the earth move for me, I've only read The Sun Also Rises and I almost gave up on that a couple of times, but I will eventually make it through this piece of propaganda. Now that I've recognized it as my longest held book, maybe I will have to get to it sooner than I had planned (or maybe I should save it for the book that brings me to Book Shelf Zero?). 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Princess Bride, The Martian Chronicles: Book 8 and 9 of 2018

I don't really know what to expect when I pick up one of these NPR top 100 books. I have seen The Princess Bride movie (usually just bits and pieces, I think I may have sat and watched it from beginning to end once). I expected that the book would be the romance and adventure parts of the movie. I had no clue that the parts of the movie where the book is being read to Fred Savage was such a key part of the book itself. The clever device that the book is an abridgment of some larger classic work is very central to the story. That device highlights how much we bring to the creation of these stories. These books and the movies made from them do not exist in isolation. We bring all of our experiences with us. The authors bring the (very detailed) blue prints. We do all the decorating.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I started reading The Martian Chronicles. I knew it was on the short end. That was it's primary draw. I didn't like it very much after the first couple of chapters, but once I got the hang of the structure and the larger story being told, the book was more captivating. The end came as a total surprise. I had no idea how big the themes would be. This is a book that tells us more about ourselves than the characters that fill its pages. There are big themes in this book. This is not the only time that I've seen Mars used as a way to symbolize the isolation of the individual. There could be some academic material to chew on there.

While I'm talking about the unexpected in books that have been made into movies, I have to mention I Am Legend. I listened to the audio version. The movie does this book no justice. The movie's safe ending is nothing compared to the profound climax of the book. The beginning is so visceral and real. It's amazing to me that it was written in the 50s. It felt so real and now, even with the events being described as taking place in the late 70s. The middle was a bit of a drag, but the ending had a power that took me totally by surprise. It's definitely not Hollywood. That's what makes it so good. (I just realized that I, Robot, the last book I wrote about, was also made into a movie starring Will Smith.)

My reading of A House for Mr. Biswas carries on in the background. I'm slowly inching my way towards the end of that one. A week of concentrated reading would get me to the finish line (or very close to it), but I keep splitting reading time with whatever ebook I have going on at the moment. I tore through a bunch of library books on my phone. Now I'm working on one of my owned books. It's not as long as I thought (there are a bunch of notes and other materials at the end) and it's a pretty decent read. I will have more to share after I finish that one up in the next day or two. It will be nice to scratch one more title from my list of to be read books! Only 156 to go (I've been on that number for way too long)!

Friday, February 23, 2018

I, Robot - Book 7 of 2018

As I'm not making any headway on Book Shelf Zero at the moment, I will just note my progress towards my goal of reading 30 books in 2018. I'm crushing that goal at the moment thanks to borrowing ebooks from my local library. The trend will continue as I'm a bit over halfway through The Princess Bride. Both I, Robot and The Princess Bride are books that I would not have been very likely to pick up if not for my efforts towards reading all the NPR 100 books and the ease with which I was able to acquire them. They are also both relatively short books that are fun and a pleasure to read. They zip right by. I'm not achieving much progress towards Book Shelf Zero, but I'm also not buying any books. I was shopping for books earlier this week and just couldn't see the point in making a purchase. I'm content to keep plowing through the NPR list by borrowing books from the library while slowly picking my way through some physical books that I already own.

I, Robot was a decent enough book. The inter-related short story format would have worked really well for Consider Phlebas. The book was surprisingly moral. Sure, robots were the center of the story, but the moral system used to ensure that robots don't dominate humanity is really the crux of the book. Every story explored the implications of such a well-defined and impossible to violate moral code. The book was more about exploring the edges of such an absolute code than fantasies of life with machine slaves. This book will likely get more pop if any of these promised autonomous cars or other robot technology ever actually become a reality. There are plenty of interesting questions to think through.

I've been making steady progress on A House for Mr. Biswas while I've been tearing through science fiction ebooks. This is a surprisingly engaging novel. It's not exactly thrilling, but the quality of the writing is so high that it's a pleasure to read. I have a goal of reading 15 or 20 pages a day. It will take me a few weeks to make it to the end at this pace (I'm about a third of the way through the book now), but I'm not so worried about the elapsed time. I will use whatever little tricks I need to make it through my owned books. If it means reading them around easier fare, then so be it. A finished book is a finished book whether it takes me a couple of days or a couple of months to get to the end.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

2001, Consider Phlebas done, still at 156

2001: A Space Odyssey took me to places that I had not anticipated. I have seen (and been mystified) by the movie. This book lays out the story behind the visual and audio power of the movie. The movie wouldn't be nearly as powerful without this very solid story behind it. The book does more than merely provide a strong skeleton to some classic cinema. The scale of the Universe defies our understanding (just as much as what happens down at the electron level), but this book gives us a little peak into the vastness of creation. It's compelling and wondrous and awe inspiring. Definitely a book worth reading.

I'm much more lukewarm on Consider Phlebas. The entire book is a series of unfortunate events for the Changer. The different sections of the book are solid in their own way, but the effort to string them together into some kind of cohesive whole was not convincing. The book would have been better as a collection of loosely connected short stories (which it kind of is in its own way) than a single novel. It's the first book in the Culture Series. We'll see if Banks got better at this kind of writing by the time he really got going with this style of writing.

These two books bring me up to 6 books for the year. I'm happy with this pace. I'm still at 156 books to read as these were both library books, but they were also both entries on the NPR Top 100 Sci Fi list. That brings me up to 36 of those titles completed. That's only 5 fewer than the 41 books of the Modern Library Top 100. I'm currently reading a book from each list (I, Robot and A House for Mr Biswas) so there will be progress on both of those lists very soon. I'm borrowing I, Robot from the library (as an ebook, which is just way too convenient) so that does nothing for Bookshelf Zero, but A House for Mr Biswas is a book that I've had for a long time. It's old enough that it has a Border's tag on the back!

I haven't had a particularly strong urge to buy anything. Well, it's more accurate to say that the desire to get my to read number down is stronger than my desire to acquire a new book. The library ebooks are helping with the urge to buy. I can acquire the books and get through them quickly. This pattern may hold until I finish Mr Biswas.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Hero of Ages - 156 to go

If I had only known! The Mistborn trilogy ends in fantastic fashion. I'm not just talking about the conclusion of this last novel. The entire book was outstanding.I have been cheating myself by putting it off for years. Yes,t it was a little on the long side, but all those pages were totally worth it. I closed the book feeling very satisfied. That's high praise because so many exciting books end with a whimper. Endings are where Sanderson excels. I've read some reviews of Oathbringer, another of his books that I'm slowly making my way through on Audible, and the ending of that book is highly praised. So The Hero of Ages goes back in the box with its other two friends, I get to mark another title from the NPR sci fi list (I'm up to 35 completed), and I have reduced my to read pile by one more book to get it to 156.

I'm on track to knock a couple more books off that NPR list in the next week or two. My to read pile will not change though. I'm deep enough into my ebook borrow from the library that I will do my best to finish it before my loan period ends on Wednesday (or is it Tuesday?). This will be my primary book for the next several days. I think I can finish it this week. My other library book, 2001: A Space Odyssey, may keep me from it though. I read a few pages of that this morning before heading to work. It's going to be a very fast read. It's short and compelling. I've seen the movie. I was entertained but confused. I've read that the book clarifies some of the confusion. We'll see.

I'm well ahead of my book reading pace of last year. I was still days from finishing my second book of the year at this point last year. I've already finished 4 this year. Those other two books are going to go quickly so I will have 6 books before too long. That's book a week pace again. This rapid progress tells me it's time to pick up something a bit more intimidating. I've had The Wings of the Dove on my nightstand for many months. This may be the time to take that on. Ulysses is there too, but I'm getting very close to (officially) abandoning my first attempt on that one.

I have unlocked a book to buy. Oh, the temptation is so strong. It's also nice to have the freedom to get a book if i so desire. I'm going to take my time and enjoy this. I may even wait until I have unlocked two books. That way I can buy one but still have the option to buy another if the right target comes along.