Avaland and Dukedom_Enough's Reading 2020, PART II

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Avaland and Dukedom_Enough's Reading 2020, PART II

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 5, 2020, 5:59pm

We are Lois & Michael, both of us have been on LT since 2006. We are both retired, residing for the last 6 years in a town of about 8,000 here in New Hampshire near the Massachusetts border. Did we tell you about our grandsons (and expected granddaughter) yet?

Anyway, we read and live in a house full of books (and fabric) on four+ mostly wooded acres.

Photo taken nearby in Hollis, NH

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 28, 2020, 3:39pm



The Iron Dragon's Mother by Michael Swanwick (2019, fantasy)

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America by Sarah Kendzior (2020, current events)

The Year's Best Science Fiction:35th Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois (2018)

2020 BOOKS READ: √ denotes reviewed

Cycle of Fire by Hal Clement (orig.1957, SF)
The Left Left Behind by Terry Bisson (2009 'Outspoken Authors Series', Bk 1)
The Black God's Drum by P. Djeli Clark (2017, Steampunk)
Telling the Map: Stories by Christopher Rowe (2017, short stories)
√The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson (SF, 2020)

City Under the Stars by Gardner Dozois and Michael Swanwick (SF, 2020)
Darkness and the Light by Olaf Stapledon (SF, 1942)
√If the Universe is Teeming With Aliens...Where is Everybody: Fifty Solutions to √The Fermi Paradox and the Problem of √Extraterrestrial Life by Stephen Web (2002, nonfiction)
Space Relations by Donald Barr (1973, SF)


√ ßehemoth by Peter Watts (2004, SF, 3rd in Rifters Trilogy)
√ Maelstrom by Peter Watts (2001, SF, 2nd in Rifters Trilogy)
√Starfish by Peter Watts (SF, bk 1 in Rifters Trilogy)
√American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett (fiction, e-book)


√Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr by John Crowley (2017, Fantasy)
√Agency by William Gibson (2020, SF)
The Road to UnFreedom: Russia, Europe, America by Timothy Snyder
The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem (1974)

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 2, 6:54am



In Small Things Forgotten: The Archaeology of Early American Life by James Dietz (nonfiction: historical anthropology, 1977)
An Unlikely Journey: Waking Up From My American Dream by Julian Castro (memoir, 2018)
Dearly: New Poems by Margaret Atwood (2020, poetry)
(ongoing project)Female Maturity from Jane Austen to Margaret Atwood: When Bildungsroman Meets Zeitgeist by Michael Griffin (2013, literature studies)

2020 BOOKS READ: √ denotes reviewed

Often I Am Happy by Jens Christian Grondahl (novel, 2017, Danish)
Winterkill by Ragnar Jonasson (crime novel, 2020, Icelandic)
Mrs Caliban by Rachel Ingalls (fiction, 1982)
Whiteout by Ragnar Jonasson (cime novel, 2017, Icelandic)
Robinson by Muriel Spark (novel, 1958, related to the ongoing project)
Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts (fiction/SF, 2009, UK)
A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears) by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling (nonfiction)
Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher (nonfiction, 2019)
The Fifth Element by Jørgen Brekke (crime novel, 3rd in series, Norwegian)
The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong by David Orr (nonfiction, 2015)
Wonders of a Godless World by Andrew McGahan (fiction, Australian, 2011)
The Good Parents by Joan London (2008, Australian)

Joy: 100 Poems edited by Christian Witman (poetry anthology, 2018
The Colonel's Wife by Rosa Liksom (2019, Finnish/Lapland)
The Journey Home by Olaf Olafsson (1999, Icelandic-American)
Where Evil Lies by Jorge Brekke (2014, Norwegian, original Where Monsters Dwell)
The Best American Poetry 2019, edited by David Lehman (poetry, 2019)
Dwellers in the House of the Lord: A Poem by Wesley McNair (poetry, US, 2020)
Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum by Nadine Sabra Meyer (poetry, US, 2017)
Valentines: Stories by Olalf Olafsson (2007, Icelandic-American)
A Grave for Two by Anne Holt (2019, Norwegian, crime novel):
She Proclaims: Our Declaration of Independence from a Man's World by Jennifer Palmieri (nonfiction, 2020)
Insomnia: Poems by Linda Pastan (2017, poetry)
The Unfastening: Poems by Wesley McNair (2017, poetry)
A Faithful but Melancholy Account of Several Barbarities Lately Committed by Jason Brown (linked stories, 2019, US)
Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon (2013, US)

Norwegian by Night by Derek Miller (2013, US)
√The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson (2018, Icelandic, crime novel, 1st in series)
The Cabin by Jørn Lier Horst (2019, crime novel, Norwegian)
Restoration by Olaf Olafsson (2012, Icelandic-American)
√Run Me to the Earth by Paul Yoon (2020, US)
Phantom Limbs: Stories by Margo Lanagan (2018, says it's horror!)
Laterality: Exploring the Enigma of Left-Handedness by Clare Porac, PhD

Walking Into the Night by Olaf Olafsson (2003, Icelandic-American)
√ The Resisters by Gish Jen (2020, US, dystopia)
Founding Mothers & Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society by Mary Beth Norton (1998, history)
The Memory Police by Yoko Ozawa (1994, Japan, 2019 in translation; dystopia)
The Sacrament by Olaf Olafsson (2019, Iceland)
Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett (2015, Ireland)
Many Rivers to Cross by Peter Robinson (2019, Crime Novel)
Careless Love by Peter Robinson (2018, Crime Novel)
The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts (2015, SF...and philosophy)
Body Tourists by Jane Rogers (2019, UK)
Tropic of Violence by Nathacha Appanah (2016, translated 2018)
Fascism: A Warning by Madeline Albright (nonfiction, in book & audio form, 2018) began in 2019
Blackwater by Kerstin Ekman (Swedish, 1993)

Verge: Stories by Lidia Yuknavitch (2020, US)

Earth Storm by Mons Kallentoft (2008, trans 2018, Swedish)
Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath (2011, UK)
The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler (2019, crime novel)
Complicity by Iain Banks
Under the Snow by Kerstin Ekman (1961, translated 1996. northern Sweden)

huhtikuu 14, 2020, 1:18pm

Love the topper Lois.

huhtikuu 14, 2020, 1:30pm

Thanks, Caro. We aren't there yet, but spring seems to be moving forward.

huhtikuu 14, 2020, 1:34pm

Starfish by Peter Watts

Content warning for discussion of childhood abuse.

I loved Watts's Blindsight and Echopraxia, but am just now getting to his first trilogy. In 2050, the world is relying on geothermal power generated at deep, undersea rifts. The men and women running the equipment, 3000 meters below the surface, are surgically modified to stay underwater for extended periods, one lung replaced by an electrolysis machine for oxygen, eyes covered by white image amplifiers. Their neural chemistry is altered to stand up to the high pressure. They live in cramped, air filled habitats at one atmosphere, habitats that probably won't be crushed by the immense weight of the ocean, though the walls creak ominously. While they work outside, in the dark, they must guard against attacks from carnivorous sea creatures, and the extreme heat venting from the rift, which could boil the flesh off their bones.

Watts suggests that the people most suited to performing well in such threatening conditions are those who have been living with extreme stress their entire lives - survivors of childhood abuse, who have grown up to replicate their suffering in adult relationships as either abused or abuser. Extreme people under extreme stress is very much Watts's thing, and protagonist Lenie Clarke certainly holds one's attention.

But there are more monsters around the vents than the rifters knew about going in. They, and the exploitive corporations that put them there, slowly become aware of a danger to the entire world, if only it can escape its confinement in the deeps.

Watts has a PhD in marine biology, and, as usual, he provides several pages at the end for discussion of the actual science he rooted the book in. Not all of it convinces; in particular, a shortage of fossil fuel energy isn't something that we need to worry about here in 2020 - we should be so lucky.

This ferocious book ends with devastation, and a promise of more to come in the next volume, Maelstrom.

Four stars

huhtikuu 14, 2020, 3:41pm

Thanks for the links ro books by Adam Roberts. I bought your respective favorites, Yellow Blue Tibia and Jack Glass, which I think have two of the more interesting plots among his works.

huhtikuu 14, 2020, 4:59pm

>8 avaland: Oh, it will be interesting to hear what you think. Happy reading!

huhtikuu 16, 2020, 7:19am

Walking Into the Night, Olaf Olafsson, (2003, Icelandic-American)

Kristjan Benediktsson, an Icelandic native, has been the butler for William Randolph Hearst for twenty years. Once a successful businessman, he seems to enjoy his job; is good at what he does, and Hearst depends on him. But often in his free time, the solitary Kristjan sits quietly at his desk in his room and writes letters he does not send to the wife he abandoned many years ago in Iceland, reliving a very different life.

Set in the late 1930s, this fascinating and somewhat low-key story is set in Hearst’s castle in San Simeon, California. Kristjan is butler to the prominent and eccentric Hearst (who Kristjan calls “The Chief”) during a time when things are changing, including the newspaper business. Ultimately, it’s the juxtaposition and contrast of Kristjan’s present and past that occupy us. Is his job with Hearst some monastic penance for the sins of his past?

This is a reflective book, much like the author’s most recent novel—older characters in the story’s present who are reflecting over their pasts. Olafsson has an understated, quiet and somewhat soothing prose, and one wonders, as corny as it sounds, if the act of our reading these characters’ stories provides a kind of unwritten reconciliation or healing.

NOTE: I have had this book in my house/s since 2003, it was a advanced reader copy I picked up at work (bookstore) and it has been bouncing around my library for 17 years. It sounds kind of spooky, but I have always had the sense that Olafsson and I would get along very well even though I had not read his work. It's why that and another of his books has never been sent off to a library sale. Perhaps it's all in the timing.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 25, 2020, 2:54pm

Recently I thought to check on Chris McManus (aka I.C. McManus, University of London), author of the 2002 book Right Hand, Left Hand: The Origins of Asymmetry in Brains, Bodies, Atoms and Cultures to see if he had anything new out. I found only this 2019 article: “Half a Century of Handedness Research: Myths, Truths; Fictions, Facts; Backwards, But Mostly Forwards”. by Chris McManus (aka I.C. McManus, University of London). Brain and Neuroscience Advances: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2398212818820513 Within his article he recommends the following book for those who wish a general overview of the subject.

Laterality: Exploring the Enigma of Left-Handedness by Clare Porac (2016, science)

Clare Porac’s* Laterality: Exploring the Enigma of Left-Handedness is a succinct book, both in style and length. It’s a bit over 200 pages including a page or two of listed sources at chapter ends. As she notes in the the preface she has no "particular theoretical position" to convey in this book, but has the desire to address many of the questions asked of her, translating the academic to something more accessible. She reviews the last 50 years of research in the field with mention of older research, but also with a concentration on research of the last twenty years. She sums each chapter with a page or two, distinguishing between the disproved (and the “fanciful fictions that pervade the internet”) and what is currently known or theorized in scientific circles. Topics covered in relationship to handedness include: preference/performance, genetic basis and heredity, the sexes and handedness, disease & death, conversion to right-handed, history, geography, evolution of, abilities, personality, and a discussion of other lateral preferences: footedness, eyedness, earedness. Much has changed such research in the last few decades (i.e. CAT scans...etc)

I learned quite a lot, debunked a few lingering old ideas. Discovered we lefties are not as special as we have been led to believe (good grief, there were even more theories than I knew about), But, it turns out, I’m not a "consistent" leftie; I’m officially deemed “mixed-handed” (I use my left for some things, my right for others. No matter, I suppose, as we are grouped with the consistent lefties). However, as noted by Porac, mixed-handers access both brain hemispheres for language and…

"Data indicate that mixed-handers have larger corpus callas than consistent-handers. This increased hemispheric interconnectivity leads to more hemispheric interaction and greater access to processes lateralized to the right hemisphere. The right hemisphere is responsible for updating beliefs and integrating new information while the left hemisphere tends to stick with the status quo. Therefore, increased access to right hemisphere processing imparts greater cognitive flexibility to mixed-handers when compared to consistent-handers. A flexible cognitive style is the ability to switch between concepts, to adjust thinking to new situations and to overcome habitual thinking. A person with an inflexible cognitive style finds it difficult to make these adaptations.” (160)

(Surely that is consolation of some kind for not mastering tennis, which was the result of doing one stroke in my left hand, and the other with my right. I could never quite coordinate the constant switching well enough)

Highly recommended for those with a keen interest in the subject of handedness, but one should note that Porac’s book is published by Academic Press and costs $50 in paperback. And while I felt that a good investment, others may wish to encourage their local libraries to purchase it.

*Clare Porac. Professor Emerita of Psychology at Penn State University :The New School for Social Research

huhtikuu 26, 2020, 3:17am

>9 avaland: Olaf Olafsson is someone I want to read more of this year (I'm trying to go back to writers whose work I've enjoyed), as I really enjoyed The Journey Home years ago. I'm surprised to hear, though, that you hadn't read any Olafsson until this year, because I'm sure you sent me The Journey Home! It's a long time ago though, so maybe I'm wrong; anyway, he's definitely the sort of writer I associate with you, just to confirm your spooky feeling about him.

huhtikuu 26, 2020, 11:46am

>11 rachbxl: Did I? That might be why I had one in my library and couldn't find it, so I bought another. I don't remember reading it, but I may have.

Paul Yoon; you will like him, too. Short books. I've just picked up another (I'm blaming the pandemic for several book binges!) I'm trying to pin down what these authors share, perhaps it's a certain empathy in their writing?

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 17, 2020, 11:32am

Phantom Limbs: Stories by Margo Lanagan (2018, Australian)

Margo Lanagan writes imaginative stories, most often dark, sometimes edging on horror, often weird. Remember reading Grimm’s tales for the first time? Reading her stuff can be that kind of experience. I enjoyed her previous four short story collections. These were marketed in the states as YA. Her excellent 2008 novel, Tender Morsels, a retelling on Snow White and Rose Red, was marketed appropriately as an adult novel. I was somewhat less wowed by her second novel, The Brides of Rollrock Island but it was entertaining. This new book, Phantom Limbs}, is a collection of 14 stories written over the last decade, and it also seems to be aimed at the adult market.

When reading Margo Lanagan, one cannot help but think of her dark fantasy predecessor, Angela Carter. Both seem to like turning fairy tales on their proverbial heads. This collection’s first story brings us back to the Hansel and Gretel tale and revisits an older Hansel during the Black Plague, who is now enslaved by a wicked tramp (as they visit the old woman in the woods who once imprisoned Hansel and his sister!). In another, a man smuggles whiskey into the village, fooling the authorities by using his “wife” (a wife made of tin, hollow to carry the whiskey) . She rides on the horse behind him. But then he gets stopped….

There an "outtake" from her novel about the Rollrock island selkies mentioned above and a story about Red Riding Hood embracing her animal nature. That’s just a few of what the collection holds. This collection was a wonderfully diverting read, but as with most readers, I enjoyed some stories more than others. If you were to ask me where to start with Lanagan, I would suggest her collection Black Juice or the aforementioned novel Tender Morsels.

huhtikuu 26, 2020, 12:23pm

>13 avaland: Oh I do love a dark retlling of fairy tales. I've always wanted to read Angela Carter, but have been reluctant since I can'tever find her in a brick and mortar story. One of these days I'm just going to have to bite the bullet it and pull one from Amazon. I have noticed that a lot of dark/horror authors are getting marketed in YA world as of late. If anything has a ten protagnist it's YA. Which sure I kind of get, but using a teen or younger adult is how these authors get around the logical thinking that most adults who are able to pause for a minute won't make the same irrational choices necessary to advance the plot. Lanagen sounds familar, I think I may of read her in one of Ellen Daltow's collections.

huhtikuu 26, 2020, 5:54pm

>14 stretch: Interesting observations with why YA protagonists. Makes sense. You should be able to find some used copies of Tender Morsels, it's been out for 12 years. The book shared the World Fantasy Award in 2009. And yes, it's very possible you've met Lanagan before in a Datlow anthology; she is primarily a short fiction writer. I think a good place to start with Angela Carter is The Bloody Chamber. I had a period where I really enjoyed dark fantasy. Have you read Graham Joyce's The Tooth Fairy? Now there was an interesting take.

toukokuu 15, 2020, 2:14pm

I seem to be behind in my own reviews and in keeping up with others' threads (I'm quite horrified by the numbers of unread posts on everyone's thread!). I will try to remedy that in the near future!

toukokuu 16, 2020, 10:21am

>16 avaland: me too.

toukokuu 17, 2020, 11:04am

Maelstrom by Peter Watts

Maelstrom is the second book in Watts's Rifters trilogy, and forms part of a continuous story. This review has spoilers for the first book.

So, the news is bad:

"It just lives, Killjoy. It lives, and it eats, and I think it does that better than anything else on the planet so we either stamp it out or kiss the whole biosphere goodbye."

He couldn't believe it. "One bug? How is that even possible?"


"It gets better," Jovellanos went on. "This thing's a veritable black hole of sulfur assimilation. I don't know where it learned this trick but it can snatch the stuff right out of our cells. Some kind of lysteriolysin analog, keeps it from getting lysed. That gums up glucose transport, protein synthesis, lipid and carb metabolism—shit, it gums up everything."


"You think this is about protecting the biosphere?" she cried. "You think they'd give a shit about environmental apocalypse if we could just synthesise our way out of the hole? You think they're launching all these cleansing strikes to protect the frigging rainforest?"

He stared at her.

Jovellanos shook her head. "Killjoy, it can get right inside our cells. Calvin cyclers don't matter. Sulfur supplements don't matter. Nothing we take in does us any good until our cells metabolise it—and whatever we take in, as soon as it gets past the cell membrane…there's ßehemoth, pushing to the front of the line."

The end of the biosphere isn't even the worst news. That's one character being brought up to speed about the ßehemoth (that's a Greek letter beta at the front) microorganism. It was safely confined to deep-ocean thermal vents for billions of years, until humans picked it up while running geothermal power stations in the first volume, Starfish. Nuking its home vent didn't stop it, partly because some of the human workers made it out. The corporate powers that be must carry out a stealth campaign against the microbe, incinerating any patches of ground - and human beings - that it infests.

The story tells a dangerous dance between those corporations and the people involved. There's Ken Lubin. a fine-tuned corporate assassin who nevers causes more than the minimum biologically necessary amount of pain and mayhem needed. There's Achilles Desjardins, a net-cop riding herd on Maelstrom, which is what the internet has become in the 2050s, a wild region of agressive computer viruses where getting your email safely may require deletion of legitimate parts of your message. Achilles's behavior is ruled by the neural modifications called Guilt Trip, rendering him unable to doing anything unethical - where "ethical" may mean killing thousands of people to save millions. In his data he spots the secret campaign against ßehemoth.

Through the story, we meet a number of secondary characters, who appear and then are left behind, whose fates we learn much later, or not at all. Both evolution and Watts are unsentimental about individuals. And there's our heroine Lenie Clark, making her way across North America, leaving infestations and ever-greater incinerations in her wake, becoming a meme with the aid of Maelstrom viruses, and thus imitated and helped by a growing popular audience. Lenie is driven by rage at a lifetime of abuse - but the reality, we learn, is even worse. Of course it is; this is Peter Watts, silly. As James Nicoll said, "Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts." As always, there's a Notes and References section at the end, with endnotes to scientific articles and other references from where the author got some of his springboard ideas.

Maelstrom complicates and deepens the Rifters story in a more convincing manner than most second volumes of trilogies, and the story of a (probably) world-ending plague feels just right for the Spring of 2020. On to the third volume, ßehemoth, and what I expect to be even worse news.

Four stars

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 6, 2020, 4:47pm

The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler (2019)

Always willing to try a new author but abandoned this book half way through a few weeks ago. It seems much a made-for-television crime novel, with a horrific crime and lots of drama/action right from the very beginning. I'm sure Kepler will find his audience, it just isn't me.

Hoping for a few rainy days to catch up with my reviews....the other four books I have read this quarter were terrific and deserve notice.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 6, 2020, 4:53pm

The Cabin by Jørn Lier Holst (2019, Norwegian)

A well-known politician has died and almost immediately after his death many boxes of cash are found in his lakeside cabin. They are removed just before the cabin goes up in flames. Chief Inspector William Wisting is asked to assemble a team and to quietly investigate what turns out to be worth over 80 million kroner in euros, dollars and kroner. And the plot thickens delightfully….

Holst, a former Senior Investigating Officer at Vestfold police district in Norway, has become one of my favorite crime writers for two reasons: he focuses on the investigations and keeps the thriller bits for the end. It’s the detailed investigations that are so cerebrally-titillating—the twists and turns, the false starts, the creative thinking—I love that stuff.

It seems the BBC is making a Wisting series due soon, I hope they follow the books and refrain from hyping them up.

kesäkuu 6, 2020, 5:21pm

>20 avaland: I have this right by my reading chair Lois. I'll get to it soon. I haven't watched it yet, but the Wisting series was recently broadcast.

kesäkuu 12, 2020, 9:15pm

>21 Caroline_McElwee: Oh good, won't be long then before it shows up on some channel or another over here (I'd rather watch a Norwegian version first...but....)

The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson (2018, crime novel, Icelandic)

I read and enjoyed Jonasson's first series which featured a rookie police officer sent to a somewhat isolated fishing village in Northern Iceland. The writer's style seemed to work well for those stories and it was interesting to follow a newbie on the job.

This new series features Huldah Hermannsdottir, a female DI working out of Reykjavik, who is days away from a forced retirement that she is not happy about. When her boss tries to sideline her in the last days, she protests, and he allows her to find a cold case to work on for her remaining time. She becomes interested in a case of a young Russian woman, thought to have possibly been a prostitute, who disappeared without a trace.

Huldah is in her sixties, and is more than a little insecure due to a variety of personal baggage of one kind or another. She's intelligent and experienced but .seems lacking the qualities one might expect for a woman who would have risen through the ranks of a mostly, if not all male department over the previous 30 years. The story alternates between Hulda working on the the cold case, Hulda's personal life (past or present), and the victim's story. The book finishes with a surprising ending and 2nd book in the series will move to the young Hulda earlier in her career.

I found Hulda a sympathetic character, yet an unlikely DI. And, to me it seemed the story lost power over the course of the book, even as it moved into its thriller ending. I really wanted to love this book but came away disappointed. Might read the 2nd book out of curiosity but reading things set in the late 1980s is not high on my list.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 13, 2020, 2:38pm

Lois - I just finished Peter Stamm's To Back of Beyond, which I enjoyed very much. I see you wrote a review on it and you said " Even now you are asking, where did he go? After we stop asking questions, we become judge and jury, before some of us–perhaps the women readers—may question the author’s choices in regards to the gender roles.. I'm wondering more what you meant. Do you remember? I know it was a couple of years ago and you've read a book or two in the meantime. I thought the author's gender roles seemed very Swiss, based on what I've learned about the country over the last 3 years, and my daughter living there

BTW I preferred this one to Unformed Landscape, although that one did have a very cool setting

kesäkuu 14, 2020, 5:57am

>23 Nickelini: Off the top of my head, I remember when he first started walking and kept walking I thought: what's going on? why is he doing this? It seemed he had a nice life. I kept thinking about the family left at home and what they must have been going through. I may have been kind of pissy about it, thinking how self-centered or self-absorbed one has to be to just walk off with no word, abandoning wife and children. Then I wondered how acceptable the story would be if the wife were the one to walk off.... (perhaps 'gender roles' was a misnomer....). I, of course, have no sense of how this book might have played with the Swiss....

kesäkuu 14, 2020, 1:21pm

>24 avaland:

Thanks for you comments. Yes, that's a reasonable reaction I think for any culture. But yet you got past it and still enjoyed the book ;-)

I addressed this on in my comments over at my thread:

There are lots of poor reviews over at GoodReads, and these generally complain that 1. the reader never learns the characters motivations, 2. the characters aren't particularly likeable and it's difficult to empathize with them, and 3. "OMG, how can he just abandon his family?" My favourite of these reviews says, "Despicable bastard goes on a hike." Okay, they're not wrong. I just don't care.

I do find it interesting how some readers absolutely freak out about abandonment novels. I have 8 books tagged "disappearing mother" in my collection, and of those that are about a woman who left her family, all have scathing reviews about what the character did (as opposed to how the book is written). In the case of To the Back of Beyond, many complained that his behaviour was never explained, but I've read books where it is explained and then people just say "that's no excuse" or "she should have found a different solution." We all have our trigger issues, but if parent abandonment upsets you, rather than tearing into the author for writing about it, how about read something else instead. Maybe that's just not the book for you.

For some reason when you said "gender roles" I thought you were referring to how Astrid's lack of employment and that's why I asked.

kesäkuu 19, 2020, 9:10am

>1 avaland: Beautiful lupins. Is that near you? Lupins in all their glory are just starting to bloom here. Mine should burst forth today.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 19, 2020, 12:52pm

>26 SassyLassy: About an hour and a half north in the White Mountains. There's a big lupine festival on a specific weekend (I drove up a few days before). I miss being able to take a two to three day getaways to explore ....

>25 Nickelini: Well said, Joyce! Rather than as a reader sitting with that unsettling feeling, seems the easy out is to blame the author. Thinking back I wonder if there might be a little: "gosh, nice couple having a nice drink together, seem as happy as anyone is, two lovely children"....OMG, could that happen to me?!?!?!? Unsettling novels, now there is a topic... (noting it for a future question).

kesäkuu 19, 2020, 11:20am

>27 avaland: Which is why I imagine those novels must be fun to write. Seriously, who hasn't gotten in the car to run an errand and had the fleeting thought, "I could stop at an ATM, take out all my money, and just keep driving." Not intending to do it—but just the idea, for a moment. I always figured I could probably get as far as New Orleans before the powers that be tracked me down.

kesäkuu 19, 2020, 12:54pm

>28 lisapeet: LOL. I suspect the author had a similar thought but then went on to think..."what if...."

kesäkuu 19, 2020, 1:25pm

>28 lisapeet: Yep, I have had that thought. I always figured I would head for Chicago, change my hairstyle and color, and disappear into the city.

kesäkuu 19, 2020, 2:47pm

>27 avaland: Nothing to do with books, but you have reawakened my anxiety about the spelling of the plant known as Lupinus!

I always used to spell it with an e, then moved out west for three awful years where there was neither an e nor one of those plants. I started adding an e to the plural form, then decided it made them look too wolf like. Writing about them in a newspaper and hoping the editor would settle on a correct form did nothing either; it always appeared in print as I had submitted it.

I am left thinking the spellings may be regional variations. At least we all pronounce it the same way when referring to the plant. Here is perhaps the most bizarre association I have seen: The Australian Government's Department of Health and Aging and the lovely flower:


I would love to go to a Lupinus festival and the White Mountains are beautiful.

kesäkuu 19, 2020, 2:55pm

>22 avaland:

The second book fills the gaps left from the first one -- in some ways he had to leave the real story out so that the reverse chronological order works. So I realized that I liked the first one much better after I read the second one than after having read just the first one. That may not work the same for everyone but... just sharing :) And I suspect that when the third is out, the whole series will need to be evaluated as a whole.

A lot of other interesting reading here that I need to catch up on...

kesäkuu 19, 2020, 3:00pm

>25 Nickelini: I should comment on your thread, but I caught up here first. Great comments.

I found the issue of mom running off in The Dutch House recently and was quite fascinated. It focuses on the children left behind. (The book has been gently chided by a few reviews here in CR recently, but not for this reason.) At one point the book asks, what saint has not abandoned their family?

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 19, 2020, 8:59pm

>27 avaland: Rather than as a reader sitting with that unsettling feeling, seems the easy out is to blame the author. Thinking back I wonder if there might be a little: "gosh, nice couple having a nice drink together, seem as happy as anyone is, two lovely children"....OMG, could that happen to me?!?!?!? Unsettling novels, now there is a topic... (noting it for a future question).

I think you're on to something here. It's like when someone decides they are an atheist, and their religious friends and family say "you were never a true believer." No, that's not it, but you're fear only lets you think that. As for unsettling novel, that could be a great topic!

>28 lisapeet: Which is why I imagine those novels must be fun to write. Seriously, who hasn't gotten in the car to run an errand and had the fleeting thought, "I could stop at an ATM, take out all my money, and just keep driving." Not intending to do it—but just the idea, for a moment. I always figured I could probably get as far as New Orleans before the powers that be tracked me down.

Indeed! In my case they'd all be there waiting for me (if they cared that is) because everyone knows I'd go to Victoria on Vancouver Island. I'm sort of stuck in the balmy southwest corner of Canada, and they know I can't (and won't) go to the States. If my husband or daughters disappeared though, who knows where they'd go, because they all have Canadian and Italian passports, which means they have the whole EU (okay, I know my husband would be at his cousin's in Tuscany). Really, there's no point in my family trying to pull this.

BTW -- why New Orleans?

>30 LadyoftheLodge: Yep, I have had that thought. I always figured I would head for Chicago, change my hairstyle and color, and disappear into the city. ... and I won't tell, but why Chicago?

>33 dchaikin: I didn't have plans to read the Dutch House, but if it has the disappearing mother theme, maybe I have to now

kesäkuu 19, 2020, 10:43pm

>34 Nickelini: The Dutch House has the little benefit of Tom Hanks’ narration on audio... just noting.

kesäkuu 20, 2020, 8:51am

>34 Nickelini: BTW -- why New Orleans?
Good question! I guess because I had a great time when I was there in my 20s, and it feels like a slightly decadent city where a person could lose themselves and recreate their life. Of course, I could probably do that in, say, Camden, NJ, but N.O. just sounds like more fun for a nominal fantasy life that I would never actually lead.

kesäkuu 20, 2020, 2:22pm

>31 SassyLassy: How interesting. I've always known them as lupine. But it's not just me: https://www.rabbithillinn.com/2020/05/25th-annual-lupine-festival-2018/ And, yes, the White Mountains are lovely, they are very old geologically as compared to, say, the Rockies.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 21, 2020, 7:53am

>32 AnnieMod: re the Jonasson 2nd book. Yeah, I had pre-ordered the 2nd book so it looks like I'll end up reading it or attempting to. I just think the Hulda as described in the first book seemed inadequate or worn out. (note: I worked front desk/dispatch for several police departments from the mid-70s to mid-80s before switching to dispatching for multiple towns for another 10 years), so I suppose I measure characters sometimes against what I know goes on in such places). Probably, not the best system as RL doesn't always make for good fiction. Ah, but I could tell you some great stories!) Jury is still out. I see I also have the 1st? in a Michael Ridpat (author) and the 1st in a Mons Kallentoft (author) series in the TBR. Have you read either of those?

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 20, 2020, 2:49pm

>34 Nickelini: OK, you are assigned to write a question for the "Questions For the Avid Reader" around your abandonment issues (LOL) and send it to me. I will use it in the near future...unless...unless it's been all talked out over there on your thread! (which is OK, of course)

kesäkuu 20, 2020, 5:44pm

>38 avaland:

I think that she was supposed to sound worn out - both because it is her last case and no one wants her there and because of the history. I dunno. I think I enjoyed the first one on its own more than you did.

Nope for either but now I want to.

kesäkuu 21, 2020, 7:54am

>40 AnnieMod: Seems you did! It didn't help that Hulda was my age. Yes, worn out, is a way to look at it. I recently rewatched all the Prime Suspect episodes and Jane Tennison is a drunk at the end, so 'worn out' might be the better choice. I've also been a 20 year fan of Indridason's Erlunder series also set in Reykjavik (I even have the DVD of Jar City!) Went to Iceland to Iceland in 2010 and among other things, visited a bookstore hoping to find more translations but it was no go at that time. I'll give Hulda another try on your recommendation:-)

How much baggage (literary or otherwise) do we bring to our reading before we have even turned to the first page....

kesäkuu 21, 2020, 1:38pm

>34 Nickelini: Why Chicago? I grew up in South Bend, IN and we visited Chicago often to go shopping, watch a parade or go to the zoo or a Cubs game. I have been there for conferences and on theater trips and to the museums, and of course to watch the Cubs play. I could drive there in a few hours too. Chicago has always fascinated me, it seems so larger than life, with so many different kinds of people and lots of things to do. Somehow it seems like the embodiment of the Midwest, and maybe even America.

kesäkuu 22, 2020, 7:01pm

>37 avaland: Lovely inn too. I travel every other year or so along Highway 2, and always stop in St Johnsbury, so not too far out of the way. Luckily I went last fall, as border closures may delay another trip that way for quite some time.

kesäkuu 23, 2020, 11:49am

I'm loving the discussion about just disappearing into the sunset. I just finished a novel about this very thing, The Lives of Edie Pritchard.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 5, 2020, 3:06pm

>36 lisapeet: Of course, I could probably do that in, say, Camden, NJ, but N.O. just sounds like more fun for a nominal fantasy life that I would never actually lead.

Having lived in New Orleans for three years and visited Camden — once, very briefly, before common sense told me that I should leave before sunset if I wanted to see another day — I completely agree with your choice.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 7, 2020, 11:51am

Earth Storm by Mons Kallentoft (2008, trans 2018, Swedish) and Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath (2011, UK)

This is not a review, per se, but just some comments regarding why I abandoned both of these books, which may be all about my needs or my lack of forgiveness, or the effect of current events rather than the authors or their stories, but it also could be a bit of both. A few months ago I spent some time online shopping around for potential new crime series and optimistically ordered several books. I read very little set in the states, and have gravitated to the work of Northerners in the past 15 or so years: Icelanders, Scots & the Nordic countries. I like a crime novel with interesting characters and an intelligent, often detailed investigation and will tolerate a bit of thriller ending. For certain authors I'll bend the rules.

Mons Kallentoft is noted on the cover as "The Swedish Crime-Writing Phenomenon." Aren't they all. LOL. I made it to page 54 in this book. I was extremely irritated by the prose: 3rd person, present tense; frequent short sentences (which lent a kind of staccato effect), mixed with longer ones. Dialog was often simple sentences back and forth. I think I understand the effect the author was going for (a bit antiquated to be applied to a modern crime novel, imo) but it bugged me to no end.

Michael Ridpath is a Brit writing an Icelandic crime series. This kind of thing has certainly been done before. Elizabeth George wrote British crime...and so on. This story promised an historical connection, but of course I never got that far. I got to page 18. I know, you are silently telling me I should give it more time. I forgave him for giving his detective the name Magnus (meaning 'great' in Latin) but then I was irritated that in chapter two his Icelandic detective is in Boston and the chapter ends with he and girlfriend breaking up in the usual made-for-television way. Further, in an author's note in the back, before the long list of Icelanders who helped him, he had to mention Tolkien and his Viking club.... Yep, I'm grumpy.

I'll send these to my brother and sister-in-law; they are far less picky, and will likely enjoy them.

ETA NOTE: Here it is 5 hrs later and what arrives in my mailbox? A new Anne Holt and another Jorge Brekke to explore.

heinäkuu 8, 2020, 10:19am

ßehemoth by Peter Watts

Well, he blinked. I was confident that this third volumne of Peter Watts's Rifters trilogy would end in the extinction of humanity and the biosphere, via the good graces of the ßehemoth microorganism. Instead, he writes an ending with justified hope for the future.

The signs were all there. This is the book that was originally divided by its publisher into two volumes, titled ßehemoth:ß-Max and ßehemoth:Seppuku, each cheerful title referencing a variant of ßehemoth that upped the stakes for Earthly life even further. The story begins on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, deep underwater, where most of Earth's remaining corporate rulers are hiding out from the disasterous consequences of the pandemic that they unleashed. They exist in uneasy detente with the surviving rifters, whose ability to roam freely, under the immense surrounding water pressure, provides an upper hand in conflicts between the two groups. But the settlement is being scouted by unknown forces, and the new ß-Max variant of the bug can overcome the engineered resistance both groups have. Lenie Clarke and Ken Lubin, familiar to us from the earlier books, head back to a surface world they haven't seen for five years, in search of the threat.

They find a North America where scattered cities huddle behind electrostatic screens that keep ßehemoth out, dotted around a countryside where people are dying of violence, want, and disease. The world is held together - for now - by Achilles Desjardins and his fellow "lawbreakers", empowered to kill thousands in order to save millions. A newer strain, Seppuku, promises even worse outcomes. The destructive, software "Lenies" still cause havoc in the internet. As in the second volume, Watts skillfully extends what we thought we knew with new angles, and a few new characters. As always with Watts, there's a references section where he outlines the actual science behind his speculations.

A content warning: The book contains repeated scenes of severe sexual sadism carried out by a serial killer. This aspect of the story is relevant to Watts's treatment of power and responsibility, but could have been toned down.

Over the course of this, his first trilogy, Watts grew to become the superb writer I knew from his later books and stories, including the two novels of the Firefall trilogy that's he's written so far, novels in which human consciousness is shown to be mainly a handicap for our species in a universe where survival is paramount. Here's hoping he won't wimp out on the necessarily grim ending of that one.

Four and a half stars

heinäkuu 8, 2020, 12:12pm

the new β-Max variant of the bug

Obviously doomed to be wiped out by VHS...

heinäkuu 8, 2020, 4:35pm

Good to read a review about a contemporary science fiction author who is new to me.

heinäkuu 9, 2020, 7:13pm

>48 thorold: This trilogy was published 1999-2005, so of course Watts was aware of the relative commercial successes of the two formats. I don't know if he's ever commented on why he chose the name. β-Max is superseded by Seppuku, but that name doesn't track.

>49 baswood: Most of Watts's backlist is free at his website. For short fiction I suggest starting with "The Island" (links on the page lead to PDFs). All three trilogy novels are at the same link, but I suggest starting with Blindsight. However, skip the short, initial "Prologue", which is uncharacteristic of the rest of the book. Start with "Theseus", then go back and read the "Prologue" when you get to the "Rorschach" section.

heinäkuu 11, 2020, 7:22am

Still catching up on reviews for books read last quarter....

Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller (2012)

Recently widowed, elderly, frail, somewhat demented, and often cranky old man, Sheldon Horowitz, a former Marine sniper in the Korean war and a watch repairman by trade, decides to move with his beloved granddaughter and her husband to Norway. When an altercation occurs and a young woman is murdered in their apartment building, Sheldon, alone at the time, instinctively protects a young boy and escapes with him. What ensues is essentially a book length pursuit that follows Sheldon and the boy, the perpetrator and his cohorts, and the police to the book’s thriller ending.

I might have preferred less guns, it seemed a most American touch to a story set in Norway, but I get why its part of the book. I could tell you that it was the action that drove this much-lauded, thoughtful thriller, and perhaps that might be true; but in my mind, what pulled me along, was the character of Sheldon Horowitz, an octogenarian hero with decades upon decades of baggage (“not dead yet,” as the old Monty Python sketch says); it’s rather refreshing.

heinäkuu 11, 2020, 8:16am

>51 avaland: I bought that ages ago on sale and was never quite sure why, other than the cover (and it's an ebook, so that's practically a moot point). I'm more inclined to give it a try after that review, though. Sounds like a good palate cleanser.

heinäkuu 11, 2020, 11:49am

>51 avaland: This does sound interesting.

>19 avaland:, >20 avaland: I was looking at The Hypnotist and after reading your comments, will pass. The Cabin, however, goes on my list.

It is dauting to see so many unread threads.

heinäkuu 11, 2020, 4:28pm

>52 lisapeet: Might be. I'm not quite sure what I am needing with regards to reading these days. I guess if something doesn't work, we try something else.

>53 BLBera: It is daunting. I don't get around to individual threads as much as I would like. Even if I'm doing my own thing, I like to hear what everyone is reading.

heinäkuu 12, 2020, 7:29am

>51 avaland: - That was our "Reading Across Rhode Island" book back in 2015. Reading my thoughts at the time, I had to read a bit before I got into it, but really liked it overall.

heinäkuu 23, 2020, 6:29am

>51 avaland: Sorry, Betty, I missed your post (at least in a timely manner).

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 27, 2020, 5:19am

I am quite behind in my reviews, and enough time has elapsed since I read the books so as to make the task difficult. Thus, I will keep these forthcoming reviews short.

Run Me to Earth by Paul Yoon (2020, US, five stars)

Set in the 1960s during the Laotian civil war, Run Me to the Earth, tells the story of Aliska, Prany and Noi, three teens, all orphans, who are recruited by nurses to be motorcycle couriers, a perilous job during wartime. They work under the supervision of the very dedicated Doctor Vang in a former large estate house, now a bombed out field hospital. But the entire story in this small, remarkable, 250-page book covers decades.

In a captive prose—a river of words which pulls you along—Paul Yoon writes this mesmerizing story with great empathy; one surely cannot fail to read this and not be moved. And somehow, as all great books do, it speaks to our time.

This is the second Yoon book I have read, after his excellent 2017 collection, The Mountain: Stories, How I missed his earlier novel and first collection, I don’t know, but I have remedied that now.

heinäkuu 27, 2020, 6:01am

Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon (2013, US, five stars)

Yohan, a Korean soldier from the north—a POW in the south—remains behind as his fellow soldiers are re-patriated north at the end of the war. He is offered, and takes, an opportunity to immigrate to Brazilian coast and work for a tailor, a Japanese WWII emigre there. This is where the reader begins, but the story seems more expansive than this less-than 200 page novel can contain, and yet it does. I've said it in two other reviews, but there is something about Yoon's prose that holds one captive; his empathy-infused storytelling is not far from poetry. It is clearly addictive for some of us. Here is an excerpt where Yohan, in Brazil, is out walking….

Nearby, shanties stood in rows. They were short and squat with steel roofs that reflected the evening light. Some of them were without windows. Others had the space for a door but there was none, the entrances covered in heavy blankets.

A path had been made among them and in the moonlight he watched a man on a mule pace through the settlement. Two women carried baskets into a shanty. At one entrance a pair of gray dogs lay side by side with the heads on their paws. A group of old men, with their hats hooked over their knees, smoked cigarettes.

There was also a large tree in the field. Clothes of various colors hung on its branches, left to dry. Bia was standing under it. She was wearing a hat pulled low over her eyes. She unfurled a shirt and threw it over a branch.

He climbed over the stone wall. Water hit the hulls of the small boats lined up along the shore. He could hear himself breathing, hear the beats of his heart starting to speed and then slow as he moved away from the beach and entered the settlement. It was as though someone, somewhere, were dreaming this and he had crossed into it without permission. Everything both familiar and foreign.

According to the author interview at the end of this paperback, Yoon is intrigued by the form of the short novel, and he wanted to write “the biggest I could in the most concise way possible.” He also is interested in, what Colum McCann described as "writing about 'the other' ". Yoon says Brazil just after the Korean War is his "other."

heinäkuu 27, 2020, 7:22am

>57 avaland:, >58 avaland: Tantaslising! I can't wait to get to Yoon (but you'd already sold me on him even before these comments).

heinäkuu 27, 2020, 8:36am

>59 rachbxl: You'll love him.

heinäkuu 27, 2020, 8:40am

OK, on my radar too.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 27, 2020, 9:22am

A Faithful but Melancholy Account of Several Barbarities Lately Committed: Linked Stories by Jason Brown. (2019, US)

After having read and enjoyed Jason Brown’s previous collection of short stories, I was very glad to come across his latest collection. It must be tough being exclusively a short fiction writer in a publishing world whose favorite child is the novel. Kudos to Jason Brown for persevering for we are all the better for it..

A Faithful but Melancholy Account of Several Barbarities Lately Committed contain ten linked stories, all set, as in his previous collection, in the fictional coastal town of Vaughn, Maine, and also on the nearby Howland Island, inhabited only seasonally. The stories follow the modern descendants of the Mayflower passenger John Howland, who first came to Maine nearly 400 years ago. The book’s focus is generally the more recent end of the lineage, a family who is centuries away from their patriarch but still have some lingering patriarchal sense—some more than others. The stories are entertaining, often dryly comic, and bring to life an eclectic mix of characters who could show up at any of our family gatherings. I enjoyed all the stories, some more than others, of course. I’ll limit my mentions here to just three:

"Instructions of the Living from the Condition of the Dead" An elderly patriarch escapes a houseful of people on the day before Thanksgiving via a tricycle, and with a volume of Emily Dickinson in his hand, he’s off to visit an old girlfriend, all the while having an internal and occasional dialog with his dead wife. During the visit, the sight of a Franconian wine bottle triggers vivid memories of his experiences in WWII.

"The Last Voyage of the Alice B Toklas" is told by a teen staying with his grandparents on "Howland Island" for the summer. He has the job of seasonal mail carrier. The grandparents have rented out their guest cottage to a writer and much speculation goes on in the household as to what he is writing (although the teen is more interested in the writer’s Ray-Bans). In the quest for intel John, Sr. strikes up a conversation with the writer and regales him with stories of when John Updike stayed on the island and claimed the family has a pair Updike’s sneakers stored in the unused Aga stove (and that’s another story, too).

"Sarah Campbell’s Story" tells exactly that, but as told to her granddaughter Ada in 1803. Sarah was a Scottish immigrant who was shipwrecked with others off the Maine coast in 1741. This story tells how she survived and became a Howland. This is the last story and I somehow that
that a nice way to finish the book.

Jason Brown has thus far in my reading shown himself to be an excellent regionalist writer, and that is not a diminishing remark, but places him squarely in the company of Faulkner, Cather, Welty, Jewett, and terrific living writers such Jeffrey Lent and Ron Rash. His stories have all the elements and touches of that literature but also that wonderful wry comedy. If you like short stories in general, or perhaps a regional touch, or just linked stories… you may enjoy Jason Brown. This is his second collection I’ve read and I’ve recently chased down his first collection to add to my TBR pile.

For more information on the original John Howland: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Howland

I'm a Mainer by birth and upbringing and yes, I am a descendant of John Howland (he is one of my 9th great grandfathers*) so I could be biased in my review, right? ha ha.
*to give you some perspective, if anyone goes back to one's 9th GGFs, you will have a potential of 2048 of them. Reality is less than that to due intermarriage of lines.

heinäkuu 27, 2020, 10:20am

Restoration by Olaf Olafsson (2012, Icelandic-American)

I have previously extolled the virtues of Olafsson’s writing and I’m going to do it again.

Restoration, which is set in Italy during WWII, tells the story of two women. The first, Alice, a daughter of wealthy British ex-pats, shockingly marries an Italian landowner. The other, Kristin, is a young, Belgian ex-pat and very talented art restorer who is in Rome working for a Renaissance expert and dealer named Robert Marshall. Alice and her husband are renovating their villa in Tuscany, but after the loss of a child, she has a untimely affair that she will regret. Kristin will become involved with her boss and do things that that she will also regret.

As the war moves around and over them, the women carry on in individual storylines with hints of connection. Eventually, Kristin will seek shelter from the fighting at Alice’s villa.

Apologies for a rather dry description of the main characters and plot, but I wish not to give much away. There is something about this wonderful, sad, immersive story of women, love, art and war, that one really should discover in reading the book itself rather than in a review. Olafsson, another author who writes with great empathy and compassion, tells a remarkable tale here that will mesmerize the reader. One only has to look at the striking cover to see what awaits.

This may be Olaffsons’ best novel, but hard to say as they are all different. I love his writing enough to have chased down all of his work, with a few left still left to read.

heinäkuu 27, 2020, 10:53am

>63 avaland: I have this in the mountain, after a previous recommendation you made Lois. Will nudge it up.

heinäkuu 27, 2020, 11:08am

You've sold me on Jason Brown, as well as Olaf Olafsson.

heinäkuu 27, 2020, 11:19am

Tämä käyttäjä on poistettu roskaamisen vuoksi.

heinäkuu 27, 2020, 2:21pm

>64 Caroline_McElwee: It's not a long read; immersive, though.

>65 RidgewayGirl: Amazon has the Brown books. I haven't read the first collection yet, nor have I browsed it. But I enjoyed the humor in them especially after trying to read Lidia Yuknavitch's recent collection (great work, but tough to read during our current situation)

heinäkuu 28, 2020, 3:17am

>63 avaland: I thought I'd read Restoration, but your review tells me I haven't. Excellent - another Olafsson left to read!

heinäkuu 28, 2020, 5:39am

>68 rachbxl: That's funny, because I thought I'd read his One Station Away but it seems I haven't, so I have that one, The Journey Home, and his Valentines: Stories.

Muokkaaja: elokuu 1, 2020, 6:57am

The Unfastening: Poems by Wesley McNair (poetry, 2017)

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I’ve had a harder time settling into books since March. I’ve abandoned as many books as I’ve read. I’m not sure if there is specific kind of book I need these days or what…but this volume of poetry was with several others in a pile; actually it was crammed spine up with other books, including volumes of poetry by Jane Kenyon, Nikki Giovanni and Gail Mazur, in an old wooden doll’s cradle my great grandfather made for my Nana around 1893 or so…(which somehow seems appropriate now) and, as it turns out, the volume was just what I needed.

These poems are mostly about grief and loss, some personal, some not, but also a looking back with the perspective that comes of age. McNair is considered a “poet of place,” in this case, Northern New England, so he often writes about things and uses motifs I’m familiar with, but his poetry speaks beyond territorial boundaries. The poetry I found most appealing in this volume (this go around; is a volume of poetry ever “finished”?) were those that moved away from grief and offers insights and affirmation. Here, I offer two favorites….

Praise Song

There was no stopping the old pear tree
in our back yard. After we released it
from a staked cord, it stood on the lawn
for a month as if coming to its decision
to lie back down on the ground again.
All winter we left it for dead, but in the spring
it law in an island of unmowed grass
blooming beside its mate, and this May,
when I separate their branches
and look in, I find new shoots and flowers.

At the end of my life I want to lie down
in the long grass with one arm by my side
lifting me up as I read out to her with all the others
and she reaches back. I want to know nothing
but the humming and fumbling of bees
carrying seed dust on their bellies from my blossoms
to their blossoms in the dome of green shade.

Telephone Poles

Like our cars, which have our faces,
and our houses, which look down
on us under their folded hats,

these resemble us, though nothing
we have made seems so steadfast.
Exiled to the roadside,

they stand in all weather, ignored
except for the rows of swallows
that remember them in springtime,

and the occasional tree holding up
a hole workmen have cut
to let the lines through. Yet they go on

balancing cables on their shoulders
and passing them to the next
and the next, this one extending

a wire to a farmhouse, that one
at the corner sending lines
four ways at once, until miles

away where the road widens,
and the tallest poles rise,
bearing streetlamp high above

the doors of the town, arriving
by going nowhere at all, each
like the others that brought them here,

making its way by accepting
what’s given, and holding on,
and standing still.

elokuu 1, 2020, 8:20am

>70 avaland: I love those, especially "Praise Song".

elokuu 3, 2020, 5:50am

>71 wandering_star: Yes, I think I'll tuck praise song away and note to have it read when I leave this world.

elokuu 3, 2020, 6:52am

>70 avaland: Those are wonderful, thanks. I really like it when people post poetry here.

Muokkaaja: elokuu 3, 2020, 12:12pm

I used to like to pull a chair up to the poetry shelves in the bookstore one or twice a year and spend time there looking at volume after volume, usually finding a handful to buy. I haven't done that since 2018, I think, although I've bought individual volumes online. I doubt the poets receive more that a few pennies of that money, but I like to think I’m helping keep poetry alive. Admittedly, I tend to like short-line poems which are economical in word, but then on the pages in the poems, I suppose I look one of the following: a connection, a recognition, a meditation, an intrigue or the promise of expansion.

Insomnia: Poems by Linda Pastan (2017, poetry)

Linda Pastan is older, well-known US author who has been twice a finalist for the National Book Award and was Poet Laureate of Maryland in the 90s. This is the second Pastan collection I have (oops forgot to enter this one in my library!). The poetry in this collection ranges from the subjects of night, insomnia and the cosmos, to topics like:“On Installing Anne Bradstreet in the cathedral of St. John the Divine. Poet’s Corner”. and “Adam and Eve, by Lucius Cranach the Elder, 1526.” Pastan seems to have a lovely balance of intimacy and universality in her poetry that speaks for itself, but should bring the reader back to the collection again and again.

Late in October

Late in October, I watch
it all unravel—the whole
autumn leafery
succumbing to rain.
At the moment
of their most intensive beauty,
reds and yellows bleed
into each other
like dried paints on a palette—
those ghosts of pictures
never painted.

Perhaps beauty
is the mother of death,
not the other way around.
Perhaps the rain itself
is an answer: knives
of crystal, cleansing
and killing as it falls.
I turn from the window;
winter is coming next.
White will have
it’s own perfections.

Insomnia: 3 am

Sleep has stepped out
for a smoke
and may not be back.

The sun is waiting
in the celestial
green room,

its flamboyant

In the hour of the wolf
there is only
the clock

for company,
through the dark

of the night.

elokuu 3, 2020, 12:14pm

>73 lisapeet: Thanks! and you're welcome! Here a bit more.

elokuu 3, 2020, 1:32pm

>74 avaland: Love these too Lois . I'm definitely feeling the second at the moment.

elokuu 3, 2020, 2:14pm

>76 Caroline_McElwee: Gosh, you have a good nose for when I post poetry! :-) I did think some of her motifs, like the clock, seemed a bit dated but perhaps she has kept hers going....

The new Madeline Albright has just landed on my doorstep, and since I have finished the little Jennifer Palmieri rallying cry of a book, maybe I'll dive in to the Albright.

elokuu 5, 2020, 2:17pm

>74 avaland: I love both of those. I certainly get the insomnia part. I should post to you November Psalm, written by my creative friend Pamela. Some years back, our choir director (God rest his soul now) set it to music and we sang it for a Thanksgiving music festival. If you would like, I will find it for you.

Muokkaaja: elokuu 6, 2020, 6:00pm

>78 LadyoftheLodge: Thanks for the offer. The singing of her poem must have been a lovely tribute.

Muokkaaja: elokuu 10, 2020, 7:17am

She Proclaims: Our Declaration of Independence from a Man’s World by Jennifer Palmieri (2020, nonfiction)

Part celebration, part memoir, and part proclamation going forward, this short, optimistic book is a kind of rallying cry for women—to march forward and be part of creating a new inclusive power system.

In the past women were wanting to be part of, or succeed in, the existing power system, which was created by white men for the benefit of white men, she says. We have been women trying to compete and succeed in a man’s world, our gains were hard-earned, and something to celebrate, but now we are done with that world. The current system is outdated, and we need to go beyond that world to imagine new possibilities.It’s a radical change of outlook, she proclaims (22-24). Palmieri goes on to talk about a variety of issues; such as, knowing one’s value, women helping women, women starting new businesses or reviving existing ones to create places of opportunity, but also providing advice for men who ask about “helping women” (although she notes it’s not enough to allow women into your game, without changing the underlying rules that determine who succeeds). She discusses using our strength and power for good, and how women get better with age.

And while the whole book did not wow me (I was not terribly intrigued by the 'proclamation' format), judging by the dog-eared pages left behind, I found plenty of nuggets I wanted to sit with. This small, short, accessible book offers a succinct look back and a nice pep talk for the working woman of today going forward. Her optimism, especially during this time, is refreshing.

elokuu 10, 2020, 4:10pm

Those Paul Yoon works look enticing, and my library has the latest one so it's added to the list. I agree that reading your thread only makes the TBR pile grow. :)

elokuu 11, 2020, 8:39am

>81 auntmarge64: I just have one volume of Yoon's stories left to read. I can't predict whether you will like the Yoon, but it's a very short novel, a great story, written with compassion and a calm narrative.

elokuu 11, 2020, 11:46am

I had gotten so far behind in your thread that I thought I had better just read, rather than comment, so I could finish. I am always glad to have read your thread, especially for the books of yours that I would never read. You may single-handedly expand my choices--although you are not good at all for my TBR pile, or should I say, my TBR mountain?

Thank you for the trouble you take.

elokuu 13, 2020, 5:58am

>83 sallypursell: Thanks, Sally. And I, too, enjoy reading others' thread for the books I may not read.

elokuu 15, 2020, 10:44am

If the Universe is Teeming with Aliens...Where is Everybody? : Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life by Stephen Webb

In the (COVID-19 free!) summer of 1950, physicist Enrico Fermi was discussing the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence over lunch. He asked "where is everybody?" In a universe so old and large, other intelligences than ours should have arisen long ago, and they should be here now, on our planet and in our skies, starting from before we evolved. We see no fundamental physical reason why we humans could not expand into and settle our galaxy in 1-100 million years. That's a long time by human standards, but only 1% or so the age of the universe. If we could do it, why haven't others done it already? They've had plenty of time. At least, their radio communications should be everywhere we look.

Author Webb starts with brief introductions to Enrico Fermi, to the idea of paradox, and to the Fermi Paradox itself. Fermi is probably the most distinguished of those 20th century physicists whom most people haven't heard of, known for cutting to the heart of an issue.

Seven decades on, there's still no resolution to the paradox. Webb presents fifty possible solutions drawn from the literature people have produced since then, sorted into three categories.

First, "They Are Here" - or were here on Earth in the past. He starts with Leo Szilard's joke answer, "they are here and they call themselves Hungarians," referring to the many brilliant emigres from Hungary in the US at mid-century, including Edward Teller and John von Neumann. Webb disposes of flying-saucer theories, and considers that we might be in some sort of zoo or planetarium. Some of these ideas are more testable than you might guess.

The second general category is "They Exist But Have Not Yet Communicated." They're out there, but we haven't found their signal yet. Here he discusses interstellar probes, radio/optical communication, and possible reasons why they might not try to communicate, or travel, or carry out engineering on a scale visible over light years. The problem here is that any explanation along these lines must apply to all of the millions of intelligent species we like to think share our galaxy. If just one species develops technology and decides to spread out, they should have been here long ago.

Science fiction writers have mostly been aware of the paradox since the 1980s at the latest. Most of the proposed solutions in these first two categories can be matched with one or another SF story. In particular, solution number 28, "They Hit the Singularity" has been popular. Maybe we will make our selves smarter by genetic engineering or by building intelligent computers, and then sublime in some unknown sense, leaving the world behind. Webb points out that this solution has the same flaw as many of the others - if it doesn't apply in every single instance, we're still left with the paradox.

Also popular is solution number 27, that intelligent species inevitably self-destruct. Check today's news and make your own estimate here, but remember that the solution has to apply to presumably millions of species. Will they all be selfishly stupid?

The third category is "They Do Not Exist." Webb discusses all the scientific reasons why Earth, Earthly life, or humans might be unique, at least out to great distances in the universe. Maybe we needed rare features of the Earth-Moon system, or the solar system. We seem to have come along when most of the Earth's era of habitability has passed, and we may be the only one of 50 billion species in Earth's history with the right sort of intelligence - the ability to build radio telescopes.

Here, the book, published in 2002, is sometimes out of date. Webb wonders whether rocky planets like ours might be rare. Progress in finding extrasolar planets means we now know that they are fairly common. Webb also dismisses the cognitive abilities of other animals; would be interesting to see what Peter Watts would think about that.

Webb's last solution is his own. He goes through the various inputs into estimates of the prevalence of intelligence, and decides that we are indeed alone. If we come to an end then intelligence, at least technologically-capable intelligence, ends everywhere.

For me, that's maybe not a bad idea to keep in mind amid political unrest and pandemics. The stakes are higher than we may think.

Four stars

Muokkaaja: elokuu 30, 2020, 10:17am

A Grave for Two by Anne Holt (2019, Norwegian, crime novel):

Anne Holt’s crime novels have been great reads over the decades, although the publishing of her books here in the states has been somewhat uneven. Sadly for us fans, she recently ended both her long-running Hanne Wilhelmsen series, and her Vik and Stubo series, both police procedurals. So, it was with both great curiosity and some trepidation I approached this new crime novel ….

A Grave for Two is a crime novel set around the Norwegian national sport of cross country skiing. A young, dynamic female skier is compromised when a banned substance is found in her residence. Her father hires Selma Flack, a talented lawyer who has bottomed out completely due to a gambling habit, to investigate (more or less against her will). When a young male elite skier is found dead under suspicious circumstances, the plot—as they say—thickens.

Selma, living temporarily in a dive funded by her new boss, reluctantly takes on the investigation independent of law enforcement, but when needed she consults her best friend, a homeless, mentally ill, drug addict and former cop; and also reciprocally exchanges information with a young news reporter. I’m not sure I completely believe in lawyers-as-action-heroes (though I’ve read quite a few novels featuring them), but Holt does a good job avoiding much mention of law enforcement, who we understand to be doing their own investigation of the other skier’s murder.

I found this 450-page novel tough to get into at first; I’m not a skier and know very little about the sport or the kind of organizations around team sports. I also had to reread some when I thought I’d lost the thread, but the cause of that could be more the times in which we are living in than the fault of the writing. I liked her Selma Flack though: brilliant, resourceful and tough, with a quite an achilles heel; but then Holt has always been fab at writing women. Despite my trepidation and challenges, I ultimately found this complex novel to be a well-thought out, detailed, interesting and satisfying read.

elokuu 30, 2020, 11:22am

Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum: Poems by Nadine Sabra Meyer (US poetry, 2017)

This is Nadine Sabra Meyer’s second collection of poetry after her excellent 2006 Award-winning collection, The Anatomy Theater which I found ‘unusual’, ‘fascinating’ and ‘brilliant’ (short review on the book’s page, if you are interested). Her second book, for me, doesn’t rise quite to that first collection. Some of her subject matter this time follows all-too-familiar poetic themes of dying and death (her mother, in this case) and not in an especially fresh or unique way. I had difficulty connecting with these. Whether that is because I’m in a different place or am looking for something else in my reading of poetry, I don’t know (one has to acknowledge what we bring or not bring to our reading of poetry, don’t we?)

However, I’m not going to rule out chasing down Meyer’s next collection as I did this one, because I did really liked some of the poems which moved into other territory. I enjoyed her use of language and voice, and the insight offered: a way of seeing something or someone differently, or making an intimate connection with some part of us. Here is a favorite:

“The Lace-Maker’s Bloom”
by Nadine Sabra Meyer

Lace muffles the warming trays, so when her children
come to her, faces cross, hair ratted by schoolyard
bullying, she can fill them with bacon drippings, potatoes
flavored with lard, chunks of warm cheese.
The door knocker, too, she’s muffled in lace, an announcement—
to anyone who comes to the splintering door—of the birth,
this child milk-heavy in her dress or rocking, as she is now,
by her foot. Oh, the industrious hour of near solitude, her foot working
the treadle of the cradle, her mind cooling blank but for the blue square
of the lace maker’s pillow, the hundred bobbins,
the linen thread’s torque and tighten! How she loves the cell
of quietude, this caesura in which no infant shrieks, no child pulls
hard on the apron of her mind, and the whole universe is paused for
there is no husband here in this moment to rave the seams of her chest
open, only this careful darning-up, loop, twist, cross, over someone else’s
pattern, and it’s lovely, it’s lovely, it’s lovely! This cauliflower lace collar
on the market; they all want its what she can do up in an hour’s
peace, the threads liquid in her fingers, drips of chartreuse, inky
blood-red and the many, many humors of blue. Let the churchmen
call it trivial, vanity, the lace which decorates frock front and dresser tops,
the oh-so-easily-torn veil of pillowcase. She calls it beauty, and isn’t
that what beauty is, that which conceals and reveals in patterns spun
she’d like to tell them, and she knows it, the nun’s meditation,
the body lax but for the fingers’ focus, the fine singing
of her fingers through a web, chrysanthemum, chrysanthemum.

elokuu 30, 2020, 12:17pm

Dwellers in the House of the Lord: A Poem by Wesley McNair (poetry, 2020, US)

In McNair’s latest, he offers us a narrative poem that tells the intimate story of his often troubled and struggling sister Aimee, living in Virginia with a difficult husband; but also reaches further into his family in New England, the inner dynamics and history, before bringing us into the present. I wasn’t sure I’d like this long, narrative poem; a poem that seems to inhabit some nuanced interstitial space between what we commonly think of as poetry and a longer prose piece of personal content. Not my usual thing, but I like McNair’s other stuff, and once I stepped into it and let it’s current move me forward, I was hooked.

This is McNair’s attempt to understand his clearly much-loved but troubled sister and her Trump-loving husband. The sister seems lost much of the time, searching for something she lost or never had, and we see the roots of her need in early family dynamics and history. We learn about her husband, a Polish immigrant as a child (or perhaps born here; it’s not entirely clear) and Navy veteran. McNair moves back and forth in time effortlessly and the loose rhythm draws us along. For me, I found the intimacy of his search for understanding and the pervading compassion in it, well, both moving and addictive. In the end the poet and the poem offers us hope; hope which we badly need in these trying times.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 4, 2020, 9:30am

Valentines: Stories by Olaf Olafsson (2007, Icelandic-American)

A collection of twelve stories—one for each month of the year—which capture moments in various kinds of relationships in which the true heart is laid bare.

As an example, in one particular story, a middle-aged couple—Jenny and Karl— go on a ski trip. We learn a bit of background in that they have been unable to have children, and have pursued adoption, but after difficulties with the process the two seem to agree to stop. Meanwhile, back at the ski lodge, Karl injures himself in the lodge gym, but encourages Jenny to continue to enjoy the ski vacation on the slopes. While she is skiing, the limping Karl, who doesn’t seem a terribly sympathetic character, makes conversation with another vacationer and his young son. As they converse, Karl casually invents a fictional son to talk about. Of course, when Jenny returns she is not aware of this and inadvertently outs him. Here the reader is, with the characters, in a tense, uncomfortable spot. The temptation might be to think Karl a fool and judge him harshly, but instead one sees his raw vulnerability because clearly, deep down, he still badly wants a child.

I found this collection addictive from the very beginning but rather than racing through it, I read one story each evening. As with other collections, some stories are better than others. The collection is a must read for Olafsson fans; bit also for readers of intelligent, poignant and affecting fiction.

(oh yeah, as noted by others in the reviews, there were some forgettable sex scenes that I failed to mention, because, well, they were forgettable).

syyskuu 4, 2020, 9:18am

Where Evil Lies a.k.a. Where Monsters Dwell by Jorgen Brekke (2011, T 2014, Norwegian)

When Brekke's 2nd book Dreamless came out in 2015, I read it. I had not read his 1st as the description of it seemed to suggest crimes too gruesome for my taste. I recently revisited that decision and decided to give that first book a try. I had really enjoyed Dreamless, which juggled two story lines, one historic (18th century), the other modern, and involved music and music boxes.

Where Evil Lies juggles investigations of two similar contemporary murders; one in a university library in Trondheim, Norway, and another in Richmond, Virginia at the Edgar Allan Poe museum. It also, includes an historic story line, this one set in Europe in the 16th century and involves ancient books with parchment made from human skin. Back in the contemporary timeline, victims have been found murdered and partially flayed, in both locations, and Odd Singsaker is working the case in Norway, while Felicia Stone is working the US case; eventually the cases will connect and the detectives will meet to solve the case together.

I value an intriguing and complex investigation, and interesting characters, in a crime novel. I value very little the sensational or gruesomeness of crimes, which is why I passed over this book initially in 2014. I regret that now; it would have been nice to read the books in order. The crimes here are indeed gruesome—nothing appealing about flaying—but Brekke seems to keep the subject just above the sensational level by avoiding the over glorification of the crime’s details, and by including the historical perspective, as well as having a well-thought out investigation. This is an intelligent crime novel, and while I admit I zeroed in on the killer/s ahead of the expected unrealistic thriller ending, I happily read to the end.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 5, 2020, 11:11am

The Best American Poetry 2019
edited by David Lehman (series editor), Major Jackson (guest editor)

This annual collection of “the best” American poetry is always a welcome affirmation of the continuing importance of the art of poetry in this forever-changing world. While acknowledging that, and acknowledging that I have been an intermittent reader of these volumes, I confess I bought this volume to "shop" for new-to-me poets. Did I read all of the 75 poems included in this volume? No. Did I read most? Yes. While I am quite capable of analyzing a specific poem, if required; I have my own personal preferences as to how I like poetry (usually relatively short with a fair amount of white space) and as I have gotten older I am prejudiced towards things that are more comfortable, BUT, I do still like to explore some.

All of the poems I read were, of course, excellent in their own ways. It is a mix of approaches, language and form. Some take a light approach to make their points, some are somber and powerful. I noted nine poems/poets via dog-earing pages. The poets are: Margaret Atwood, Joshua Bennett, Carl Dennis, Edward Hirsch, Didi Jackson, Ilya Kaminsky, Sharon Olds, Tracy K Smith and Kevin Young. Four of these— Atwood, Dennis, Hirsch & Olds—have been around a long time and are familiar to me; the other five have been born since 1970 and only Kaminsky and Smith were familiar (I probably recognized about a third of the poets in the collection). That’s a gain of three newbies to investigate! I can’t reproduce all my favorites here, but I’ll list the titles in case one wants to attempt finding them online, and reproduce the two shortest, both of which seem to say so little, but so much about where we are today.

My nine faves:
Atwood: “An Update on Werewolves”
Bennett: “America Will Be”
Dennis: “Armed Neighbor”
Hirsch: “Stranger by Night”
Jackson: “The Burning Bush”
Kaminsky: from “Last Will and Testament”
Olds: “Rasputin Aria”
Smith: “The Greatest Personal Privation”
Young: “Hive”

“Stranger by Night” by Edward Hirsch

After I lost
my peripheral vision
I started getting sideswiped
by pedestrians cutting
in front of me
almost randomly
like memories
I couldn’t see coming
as I left the building
at twilight
or stepped gingerly
off the curb
or even just crossed
the wet pavement
to the stairs descending
into the subway station
and I apologized
to every one
of those strangers
jostling me
in a world that had grown
stranger by night.
(originally published in the Threepenny Press)

“Hive” by Kevin Young

The honey bees’ exile
is almost complete.
You can carry

them from hive
to hive, the child thought
& that is what

he tried, walking
with them thronging
between his pressed palms.

Let him be right.
Let the gods look away
as always. Let this boy

who carries the entire
actual, whirring
world in his calm

unwashed hands,
barely walking; bear
us all there

buzzing, unsung.

(From Poem-A-Day)

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 11, 2020, 8:38pm

The Journey Home by Olaf Olafsson (fiction, 2000, Icelandic-American)

I recently finished this excellent, soulful book about a woman, Disa, who is told she has about a year left of her life and decides to return to her homeland and deal with her psychological baggage, so to speak. I have been lately addicted to Olafsson’s compassionate writing and ordered a used copy of this book not realizing I already had a paperback copy on my shelves. Had I read it before? I have a lot of TBRs on my shelves so I wasn’t sure, and as I read it again, some of it did seem familiar—but not enough to cause me to stop reading it.

This morning, as I prepared to write a review, I went to the book’s page and noticed there was already a short review there that I had written in 2008! I agree with everything I said back then, but the difference between then and now is me. I am twelve years older and like the book’s heroine, Disa, I have more years behind me than ahead of me. Disa is a wonderfully imperfect woman working through her history. The story, written in Disa’s voice in a journaling style, is still a engrossing read.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 9, 2020, 6:58am

I recently finished this excellent, soulful book about a woman, Disa, who is told she has about a year left of her life and decides to return to her homeland and deal with her psychological baggage, so to speak. I have been lately addicted to Olafsson’s compassionate writing and ordered a used copy of this book not realizing I already had a paperback copy on my shelves. Had I read it before? I wasn’t sure, and as I read it again, some of it did seem familiar, but not enough to set the book aside.

This morning, as I prepared to write a review, I went to the book’s page and noticed there was already a short review there that I had written in 2008! I agree with everything I said back then, but the difference between then and now is me. I am twelve years older and like the book’s heroine, Disa, I have more years behind me than ahead of me. Disa is a wonderfully imperfect woman working through her history. The story, written in Disa’s voice in a journaling style, is still an engrossing read.

Note: this is not a great cover for this book.

syyskuu 9, 2020, 11:57am

...ordered a used copy of this book not realizing I already had a paperback copy on my shelves...

He who has never done this should cast the first stone. My sole re-read for this year is a novel I picked up because I'd really liked the one book I'd read by that author. Of course it was the same one.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 9, 2020, 1:09pm

>91 avaland: I have a friend who will totally relate to 'Stranger by Night' as she lost the sight in one eye a few years back.

>93 avaland: oops, tripped, clicked.

Fascinating when that happens with a book Lois, but also always one of my justifications for rereading when people say they don't/can't/won't!

syyskuu 9, 2020, 1:13pm

Lovely new photo at the top.

>94 RidgewayGirl: Too true. My silliest one was buying a massive biography of Ho Chi Minh twice in six weeks. You'd think I would at least remember carrying it home!

syyskuu 11, 2020, 4:29pm

Darkness and the Light by Olaf Stapledon

Is it credible that our world should have two futures? I have seen them. Two entirely distinct futures lie before mankind, one dark, one bright; one the defeat of all man's hopes, the betrayal of all his ideals, the other their hard-won triumph.

Stapledon published this short novel in 1942, in Britain, when indeed a choice between futures was clear, but his story imagines a much further future, where the world's story splits into two incompatible streams. As in Last and First Men and Star Maker, the book presents the vision of our contemporary observer, watching, by means he doesn't understand, the progress of events over centuries, as the light and the darkness contend:

On the one side was the sluggish reptilian will for ease and sleep and death, rising sometimes to active hate and destructveness; on the other side the still blindfold and blundering will for the lucid and coherent spirit. Each generation, it seemed, set out with courage and hope, and with some real aptitude for the life of love and wisdom, but also with the fatal human frailty, and in circumstances hostile to the generous development of the spirit.

Stapledon gives no more precise a definition of his light and darkness, but goodwill, intelligence, love and charity are counterposed to greed, agression, dominance, and murder. These factors are expressed in the movements of nations and great classes of people. In the dark timeline, the world is gathered into two great empires, Russia and China. Standing between them, the sole nation supporting the light is Tibet, where people combine science and ancient wisdom to become "servants of the light."

The empires cannot allow Tibet to stand. In the dark timeline, they bomb the country into oblivion. China then destroys Russia and institutes a world empire based on cruelty. Eventually civilization collapses and the last humans are eaten by rats. In the light timeline, Tibet survives, sends agents out into the world, gains converts to the light, holds its own in battle, and gradually wins over the rest of humanity. The world becomes progressively, if falteringly, utopian. Happily, the book devotes more space to this better timeline. The story becomes dominated by the observer's difficulty in comprehending the concerns of more highly evolved people.

There's not a single named character in the book; there are one or two unnamed ones who get a page each. The pageant of abstract social transformations becomes a bit sleep-inducing. Stapledon is way too interested in eugenics; an initial world crisis is a decline in average intelligence as the "dullards" out-reproduce their more-intelligent peers. A glimpse of the conventional wisdom of Stapledon's era. On the other hand, he writes a fair amount on the good timeline's insistence on including every human in the great project of enlightenment; everyone is educated to the limit of his capacity. 1940s SF was interested in the exceptional and the heroic; the handicapped did not often appear. This book is a nice change from that.

Another crisis that the enlightened future must face is an increase in volcanism, which becomes a major setback. My impression of the earth science of Stapledon's age is that it stressed gradualism; the author was ahead of his time, both here and in Last and First Men, which is also punctuated by calamities.

This is perhaps Stapledon's seventh most significant book, and I can't really recommend or rate it highly. Both prose and story are pretty clunky. So why reread it now? It's timely - have you seen the news? And I'm a sucker for idealistic prose, like the constitution of the Federation of Mankind:

We, inhabitants of every land, intelligences of the planet Earth, having overthrown a world-wide tyranny, having abolished a world-wide darkness of the spirit, now, through our chose representatives, pledge ourselves to the light. We acknowledge that the high goal of all the lives of men is to awaken themselves and one another to love and wisdom and creative power, in service to the spirit. (...) For this end we declare that in future no powerful individual or class or nation shall have the means, economic or military, to control the lives of men for private gain.

And the Tibetans won in the enlightened timeline because they were hopeful.

Three and a half stars

syyskuu 11, 2020, 8:41pm

>94 RidgewayGirl: Too funny

>95 Caroline_McElwee: Well, I seldom re-read (except a few classics), mostly because, as you well know, there are more books out there than we will ever be able to read.

>96 SassyLassy: Thanks!

syyskuu 14, 2020, 4:41am

>97 dukedom_enough: At least the good guys win
I have read all of Stapledon's previous books to Darkness and the Light and from your review I probably do not need to read this one. Star Maker is right up there with the best science fiction I have read.

syyskuu 14, 2020, 10:52am

>99 baswood:
Well, they do in one timeline. I agree that you don't need to read it.

Star Maker is great, although that's my 18 year old self's judgment there, I've never reread it.

syyskuu 22, 2020, 11:18pm

I'll definitely be looking for the Jason Brown short stories, the Olafsson, and some of those poetry books. Enjoyed catching up!

syyskuu 23, 2020, 6:44am

>101 mabith: Waving enthusiastically from the front porch! Thanks for stopping by.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 27, 2020, 6:49am

I read Lissom’s previously translated book Compartment No 6 and enjoyed it, so I picked up this latest novel in translation. When checking my library, though, I discovered that I have yet another Liksom novel on the shelf. Huh.

The Colonel’s Wife by Rosa Liksom (Finnish/Lapland, 2007, T 2009)

The best thing about the old days is that they’re over…But nothing is ever really gone for good.

In the last days or hours of her life, an elderly woman living in Lapland, Finland thinks back on her life; her childhood as a devout member of the “Little Lottas”, her days as a Nazi sympathizer, married young to an older military man (a friend of her father’s), and her later years a woman—as noted in one blurb on the back cover—who has been, for most of her life, on the wrong side of history.

This story is both fascinating and often repulsive; it’s definitely addictive and strangely timely . Liskom’s protagonist is not quite likable, but she honest about who she is. By the end of the story the reader understands how one might take this path. And while unlikely a Finnish 'everywoman' she seems inextricably tied to what her nation is experiencing.

I admit to not knowing very much—except some generalities—about Finland or the Lapland area of Finland; or the country’ involvement in the various wars of the 20th century, so I picked the brain of my husband and occasionally made short excursions to the internet. Considering the current political climate here in the states, the choices we face every day; it’s a strangely prescient tale.

"Little by little I got my head turned around to a new point of view. I started to think that Germany had been rescued from Nazism and that the war was all the German’s fault, that it was their precious violence that had given us all these ruined cities. I felt no pity for them. Now I think that Nazism didn’t end when Hitler killed himself. I think that, given a chance, new Nazis and fascists will spring up,because that’s how people are. They keep repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results. There’s loving-kindness inside all of us, but it sits side by side with cruelty, heartlessness, and indifference."

syyskuu 27, 2020, 10:36am

Why we live in New Hampshire (one of the reasons).

syyskuu 27, 2020, 2:09pm

>104 avaland: Here in southern Indiana, we are a bit behind you. Trees here are changing rapidly, but will look like that by next week or so. As you say, that is why we live here.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 27, 2020, 2:29pm

Joy: 100 Poems, edited by Christian Wiman (2017, poetry anthology)

It was difficult NOT to notice this anthology on the bookstore shelves. Surely in that title there is promise if not a prescription, perhaps some wordy respite from the relentless ‘heavy weather’ of our times… It was thus that I came with high expectations to this collection.

Christian Wiman has put together a wide-ranging anthology around the subject of Joy. Perhaps because he is a professor of the Practice of Religion and Literature at Yale, he has begun the book with a rather long twenty-seven page introduction on the meanings and definitions of Joy followed by comments on various selections. I enjoyed this piece when I finally read it but it was not until I’d read through the poetry once or twice (it was a just-give-me-the-drugs situation).

There are not, in my opinion, 100 poems here as a fair number of entries are one or two lines, or a thoughtful paragraph. But, I suppose that is a small quibble and beyond that the anthology is a very good collection that grows on the reader the more one rereads. Like any anthology, one will connect with some of the poems and pieces but not others. Here are fiour of my favorites:

HAG RIDING by Lucille Clifton

is what i ask myself
maybe it is the afrikan in me
still trying to get home
after all these years
but when i wake to the heat of morning
galloping down the highway of my life
something hopeful rises in me
rises and runs me out into the road
and i lob my fierce thigh high
over the rump of the day and honey
i ride i ride

COMING by Philip Larkin

On longer evenings,
Light, chill and yellow,
Bathes the serene
Foreheads of houses.
A thrush sings,
In the deep bare garden,
Its fresh-peeled voice
Astonishing the brickwork.
It will be spring soon,
It will be spring soon—
And I, whose childhood
Is a forgotten boredom,
Feel like a child
Who comes on a scene
Of adult reconciling,
And can understand nothing
But unusual laughter,
And starts to be happy.

THE ANSWER by Sara Teasdale

When I go back to earth
And all my joyous body
Puts off the red and white
That once had been so proud,
If men should pass above
With false and feeble pity,
My dust will find a voice
To answer them aloud:

“Be still, I am content,
Take back your poor compassion!
Joy was a flame in me
Too steady to destroy.
Lithe as a bending reed
Loving the storm that sways her—
I found more joy in sorrow
Than you could find in joy.”

OLD PEWTER by Seamus Heaney

Not the age of silver, more a slither
of illiteracy under rafters:
a dented hand-me-down old smoky plate
full of blizzards, sullied and temperate.

I love unshowy pewter, my soft option
when it comes to the metals—next to solder
that weeps at the touch of a hot iron;
doleful and placid as a gloss-barked alder

reflected in the nebulous lid of a pool
where they thought I had drowned one winter day
a stone’s throw from the house, when the whole
country was mist and I hid deliberately.

Glimmerings are what the soul’s composed of.
Fogged up challenges, far conscience-glitters
and hang dog, had truth earnests of true love.
And a whole late-flooding thaw of ancestors.

syyskuu 27, 2020, 2:45pm

>106 avaland: Larkin happy — that’s something you don’t see every day!

I didn’t know that Heaney poem, it’s rather wonderful. He packs an extraordinary amount into sixteen lines, doesn’t he?

syyskuu 27, 2020, 3:09pm

>106 avaland: I might just wishlist this. I imagine C S Lewis got a bit of a run in the introduction. And seconding >107 thorold: on the Heaney, particularly the last four lines.

Muokkaaja: lokakuu 5, 2020, 3:54pm

Thanks for sharing the poetry Lois. I am slowly reading through American Sunrise by Joy Harjo and enjoy hearing about other poets.

syyskuu 27, 2020, 3:17pm

>107 thorold: True about Larkin, there.

syyskuu 27, 2020, 4:40pm

Enjoy the autumn color!

syyskuu 27, 2020, 5:03pm

>106 avaland: I really like the poems you posted, Lois. Looks like it would also make a good non "gifty" gift. Wishlisted here as well, thanks.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 27, 2020, 6:29pm

>104 avaland: >105 LadyoftheLodge: And the same here in Eastern Missouri. It will look like that in 3 weeks or so.

syyskuu 28, 2020, 2:50pm

>107 thorold: Yes, Heaney does, which is why he can be a quick fix much of the time :-) My hubby is a hardcore Larkin fan.

>108 haydninvienna: No C S Lewis, he refers mostly to his various selections in the collection. IAnd definitely have to be in the 'right' place to read Heaney.

>109 markon: You're welcome! I'm finding poetry easier to digest during this time....

>111 RidgewayGirl:, >113 sallypursell: Thanks! We had some wind come through yesterday and it took down about half the leaves off my favorite tree (outside my studio window).

>112 lisapeet: There were certainly more than a few I read in the collection that had me pondering their connection to joy. But those are probably the ones discussed in the introduction.

The favorite tree outside the studio window (the color is a bit more of an intense apricot than this photo shows)

Muokkaaja: lokakuu 4, 2020, 4:58pm

"I Olden Times, When Wishing Was Having . . . Classic and Contemporary Fairy Tales>

A fab essay from Joyce Carol Oates about "the fairy-tale world and its long association with women." It was published in the Kenyon Review in 1997 but still just as timely.

Here's the interesting list of works cited:

Atwood, Margaret. Bluebeard’s Egg. Boston: Houghton, 1981.
Byatt, A.S. “The Story of the Eldest Princess.” Caught in a Story: Contemporary Fairy Tales and Fables. Ed. Christine Park and Caroline Heaton. Washington: Vintage, 1992. 12–29.
Carter, Angela. Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories. New
York: Holt, 1995.
Crowley, John. Antiquities. Seattle: Incunabula, 1993.
Datlow, Ellen, and Terri Windling, eds. Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears. New
York: William Morrow, 1995.
Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm K. The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Ed.
James Stern. New York: Pantheon, 1972.
Ingalls, Rachel. Mrs. Caliban. Boston: Harvard Common, 1983.
Jackson, Shirley. Just an Ordinary Day. New York: Bantam, 1996.
Koja, Kathe, and Barry N. Malzberg. “Ursus Triad, Later.” Off Limits:
Tales of Alien Sex Ed. Ellen Datlow. New York: St. Martin’s, 1996. 227-
Opie, Iona, and Peter Opie, eds. The Classic Fairy Tales. New York:
Oxford UP, 1992.
Sexton, Anne. Transformations. Boston: Houghton, 1972.
Smiley, Jane. A Thousand Acres. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
Warner, Marina. From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their
Tellers. New York: Farrar, 1994.

Muokkaaja: lokakuu 14, 2020, 1:06pm

The Good Parents by Joan London (2008, Australian)

Maya, a young ‘country’ girl, has left home to make her own way in the city. She takes a clerical job in a tiny office and almost immediately begins a clandestine affair with her boss, who seems to be preoccupied with business troubles. When her parents arrive at her flat for an expected visit, it seems Maya has disappeared. Her flatmate has no helpful intelligence. The parents are of conflicting feelings; understandably concerned by her disappearance, but telling themselves that they did “let her go” and well, she is an adult. They decide to stay in the flat and continue their vacation locally in hopes to eventually connecting with her.

London’s excellent novel is not a mystery, but an engrossing family tale, well-populated with a few generations of 'ordinary' people. Her familial focus moves effortlessly across time, to and from various family members, covering: Maya, her brother Magnus, her parents and their siblings and parents, but also the flatmate, old flames, close friends.… The result is a thoughtful meditation on the psychological "stuff" we drag behind us, the "stuff" we seem to inherit, and the "stuff" we leave behind.

The book has obvious mentions of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy & Chekhov, and clearly some philosophy of each writer informs the story. This is NOT the kind of family saga once so popular in the 70s and 80s, it’s much more penetrating and compassionate, and there is something about the nobility of the ordinary or what the New Yorker said in a review —"‘turning the past into a living, unfinished thing, still bristling with what could be."

Note: I admit I had to create a cheatsheet showing how everyone is connected to keep everyone straight. It was worth it. This is the third London novel I have read after Gilgamesh and The Golden Age. I think this is all of her novels, Ive sent for one of her short story collections....

lokakuu 16, 2020, 1:03am

>115 avaland: Mrs Caliban is worth a read if you haven't already.

>116 avaland: This sounds really interesting. I don't remember hearing of the author before. Must investigate her!

lokakuu 16, 2020, 1:07pm

>117 wandering_star: Good to know about Mrs Caliban, thx!

>117 wandering_star: Joan London. I checked recently and she has 3 novels and 3 short stories collections. She writes with an empathy or perhaps sympathy for her characters, which is something I am drawn to in novels these days.

Muokkaaja: lokakuu 20, 2020, 3:42pm

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

lokakuu 20, 2020, 4:05pm

I second the recommendation of Mrs. Caliban. It's such an odd and wonderful novel.

lokakuu 22, 2020, 9:29am

>118 avaland: A friend passed on A Golden Age a while ago and I haven't got to it yet. But in the light of your comment ("She writes with an empathy or perhaps sympathy for her characters, which is something I am drawn to in novels these days"), I've moved it up my mental TBR pile.

lokakuu 23, 2020, 3:16pm

>121 rachbxl: I think you will like it, Rachel.

Muokkaaja: lokakuu 26, 2020, 8:50am

Wonders of a Godless World by Andrew McGahan (2009, Australian)

On a tropical, volcanic island, in a hospital for the insane, lives and works a young orphan, a mute and sensitive girl, believed to be of limited intelligence. She is given simple tasks in the hospital and seems to be well-liked by most. There are a handful of ‘insane’ patients she considers 'friends' known only as the witch, the virgin, the duke and the archangel. One day a new patient. 'the foreigner', is brought in, in what seems a permanent comatose state, and is housed in the only space available in a remote spot in the hospital. He is more or less left ignored until the orphan 'senses' him and he begins to communicate telepathically with her.

Told from the perspective of the young orphan girl, this is a intriguing story that draws the reader in quickly. What starts out concretely in a dark, decaying hospital soon moves into the fantastic as the foreigner communicates with her and all manner of strange phenomena begins to happen.

This is an ambitious and thought-provoking book about everything from consciousness, mental illness and the power of the mind to environmental issues, but I did find it a bit too long even at 327 pages perhaps because there is so much going on in the book.

lokakuu 26, 2020, 9:11am

>123 avaland: Nice review, Lois. This sounds right up my alley, so I'll add it to my wish list.

lokakuu 26, 2020, 7:37pm

>123 avaland: I wouldn't have thought it your thing, Darryl, but I haven't been following your reading as closely, so what do I know ;-) I read and enjoyed his third book, The White Earth in what seems like ages ago. It won several awards. The author passed away last year of pancreatic cancer at age 52.

lokakuu 27, 2020, 2:04am

>125 avaland: Considering that we've been members of Club Read for a dozen years you know as much about my reading tendencies as anyone else!

lokakuu 28, 2020, 11:16am

>126 kidzdoc: Perhaps that is true....

marraskuu 1, 2020, 2:25pm

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

The latest novel from science fiction's most prominent utopian is a clear-eyed look at our most dystopian problem, climate change. The book starts off with a bang in 2025, as an extreme heat wave kills twenty million people in northern India - in a single week. We experience the event with Frank May, an aid worker who becomes one of the few to survive temperature and humidity that exceed human endurance. The rest of Frank's life is darkened by post-traumatic symptoms from this horrific experience.

In Zurich, Switzerland the parties to the Paris Climate Accords set up a small agency charged with representing everyone not yet born. The Ministry for the Future is headed by Mary Murphy, the principal viewpoint character. Can her people reverse the ever-increasing greenhouse warming?

Mary's and Frank's stories supply through-lines, but this big book about a big subject takes a collage approach, with 106 chapters showing a wide range of viewpoints, usually of unnamed characters, many of whom appear just once. The Earth's people work to slow Antarctic-glacier loss, expand wildlife habitats, preserve fresh water, find homes for refugees, and reduce CO2 production. They are "inventing the parachute after leaping off the cliff," and fighting psychological denial more than physical forces. The readers see only bits of the entire story, maybe not even the most important bits. There are lots of infodumps. The book is also a tour guide to Switzerland, especially Zurich, where Robinson has lived at times.

Robinson employs his usual spare prose, free of obvious flourishes, even when depicting the worst of events. It's up to the reader to feel the awfulness of plain lines like "All the children were dead, all the old people were dead."

Writing at a grim moment, Robinson still dares to hope. Over several decades, the planet's arc bends in a somewhat better direction, the economy redesigned to value life over greed. The change is not driven by a few great men, but by all of us. I teared up at chapter 85, a four-page alphabetical listing of organizations introducing themselves at a meeting, each working on some aspect of saving the planet, the whole having the effect of some swelling chorus of inspiriting music. These groups don't exist now - but they could, right? Robinson is as unlike a 1920s sense-of-wonder, superscience SF writer as he could be, but the book still feels to me like one of those old, optimistic stories: immense difficulties overcome on the way to saving the universe.

One turning point occurs when the world's central bankers become convinced that they could not maintain the stability of their national currencies - their main job - after human extinction. They save the world to save the money. Robinson's idea is so absurd that I believe it, here in 2020. Terrorism also becomes important, though - some of the ultra-rich die in attacks on their airplanes and yachts, and most of them then decide cooperation beats death. Robinson asks whether nonviolence will be enough. Not a pleasant prospect, and one that, here in 2020, we may still hope to avoid.

The book is dense with ideas, programs, and organizations, some of which exist today. Here, an appendix of sources and links is missing and would be welcome. Works for Peter Watts, why not Robinson? A quick search doesn't turn up anything online.

Twenty years from now, we will wonder why we ever thought about anything but climate in the early 21st century. Will Robinson's hope be justified? I write this the weekend before the 2020 US election.

Four and a half stars

marraskuu 1, 2020, 7:18pm

>128 dukedom_enough: Looks like I'll have to read this one too! He really is optimistic about the future, which is in a way kind of nice change up in the doom and gloom era we live in.

marraskuu 1, 2020, 9:46pm

>128 dukedom_enough:

For some reason I am a few books behind on KSR's books but I really need to catch up... And seems like the big genre names are turning to climate fiction - Nancy Kress's novella Sea Change is looking at the same problems but from a different perspective (and in a much shorter length).

marraskuu 3, 2020, 1:40pm

Enjoyed your review of The Ministry for the Future. I have had problems with Kim Stanley Robinson's info dumps in the past and I find his writing a bit one paced, however this book does sound interesting.

Interesting that it is optimistic as I just can't get my head out of the present. Still things do move in cycles .

marraskuu 3, 2020, 7:11pm

>129 stretch: >131 baswood:
The LA Times actually calls the book "grim," but seems to me any book on climate change that ends with CO2 levels dropping can't really be grim.

>130 AnnieMod:
I can't imagine anyone writing a near-future book without climate being prominent. I have read that, when the movie Things to Come appeared in 1936, audiences laughed at a line saying that German planes were on the way to bomb London, so I guess any degree of wishful thinking is possible.

marraskuu 5, 2020, 10:01pm

>128 dukedom_enough: It seems we have similar opinions of Robinson's work. An index of ideas and resources hadn't occurred to me, but it's a great idea.

I write this the weekend before the 2020 US election.
And I write this two days after the U.S. election. We're still waiting, with either hope or despair in the offing. Trying not to explode with each passing hour, and distracting myself watching "Wire in the Blood" (very bloody) and reading Garry Disher mysteries. They're definitely less scary than our future if things don't go well in the vote counting department.

marraskuu 6, 2020, 9:14am

>133 auntmarge64:

I like your review!

Biden just took the lead in Pennsylvania. I think he'll take office, but I worry that the Senate will block most of what he might do. Another four years of inaction on climate?

marraskuu 6, 2020, 1:59pm

Election overhang. Disappointing. So disappointing. But maybe not disastrous. ?? I don’t understand why it wasn’t a one-sided blowout.

Hi guys. I just had a long catch up, mixing your tones. (I was in July : ( ... ) Lois - so glad you posted all that poetry. Wonderful to read through. Still thinking about my metaphorical (and not) loss of peripheral vision.

dukedom_enough - climate just isn’t scaring people into action. I don’t understand. And i fear these books just create complacency and not motivation. People imagine terrible things, then they go to work and until the next flood or fire or storm or ... that’s their reality. More snow, hotter summer - means just stay inside and adjust the thermostat ... and be most afraid of the scenario where you can’t afford that ... then blame Democrats or some such for some ill-defined reptile-brained reason.

marraskuu 6, 2020, 10:28pm

>134 dukedom_enough: Thanks for the comment on my own review of the Robinson book. And yes, McConnell will certainly maintain the insanity of blocking everything if the Republicans take the Senate. He's a mean little. ...... and should be thinking of the country first. My only hope there is that Biden, being the cross-the-aisle person that he is, might be able to work some magic.

marraskuu 9, 2020, 6:46pm

>135 dchaikin:
Much of the problem is that we've had the most skilled liars on the planet, backed by huge amounts of money, broadcasting at us for 40 years or so. And we react more to near threats than distant ones.

>136 auntmarge64:
Some money and phonebanking for the Georgia Senate runoffs could give Democrats the US Senate.

marraskuu 10, 2020, 12:29pm

>137 dukedom_enough: Absolutely donate to the Warnock and Ossoff campaigns or to Stacey Abrams's Fair Fight. Those are the people who know how to get out the vote and speak to voters in Georgia.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 11, 2020, 3:26pm

I volunteered as a poll watcher and a ballot curing canvasser this year. (I live in the metro Atlanta area.) Will probably do some more the next two months as early voting for the runoff kicks off.

We're so close, and it would be wonderful to secure two democrats in the Senate this year.

I wonder, long term, how we can learn to talk with (and listen to) each other as I hear name calling from both sides.

marraskuu 13, 2020, 7:57pm

>139 markon: I wish things could be more civil. I am (gasp!) a Republican, almost afraid to admit that though. But I am really a good person.

marraskuu 14, 2020, 12:42am

What a beautiful opening photo! An idyllic place.

marraskuu 16, 2020, 7:25am

The Fifth Element by Jorgen Brekke (2013, translation 2017, Norwegian)

Jorge Brekke plays fast and loose with time in his narration of the latest (book three) of his Odd Singsaker series. In the present our detective is being questioned about his actions related to a recent crime. But, before we learn too much, the story moves to the past…or to the present, or back to the future—chapters labelled: two days before, two weeks after, early morning of the day it happened or a week before it happened…and so on—following several groups of people until all is revealed. I give the author points for creativity in his telling, and my criticisms of his story are not with his format or with his detective. Singsaker is an interesting character, a well-thought out detective; however, the criminal landscape of Norway is rendered as brutal and violent, and the book is very heavy in what one would call "torture porn"— much more than his previous two novels. I admit to skimming the last half of the book. It’s too bad really as the author is a good writer and, as mentioned earlier, quite creative (even his time-traveling narrative is interesting) but I’m done with this series.

Note: the only other review of this book on LT is a total of three lines and gives it five stars.

marraskuu 16, 2020, 9:40am

The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong by David Orr (2015, US)\

Poetry critic David Orr takes on here one of America’s most beloved poems: Robert Frost’s 1915 "The Road Not Taken." It would be easy for some to dismiss the serious discussion of an extremely popular poem, especially a poem that has become part of popular culture (remember that Ford commercial made in NZ? Now on the web, of course. and how many countless graduation ceremonies featured the reading of this poem?). Here, Orr is thankfully less the critic as he takes us into an intriguing and accessible discussion on this one small, twenty-line poem. After a thorough introduction, his discussion takes a kind of holistic approach as indicated by his chapter titles— “The Poem,” “The Poet,” “The Choice” and “The Chooser.” And while I didn’t find his conclusion much different from my own understanding of the poem, I very much enjoyed the ride he took me on, even learned a some new things! If you love this poem, wish to learn more about how poetry works, or enjoy discussions of literary works, you might enjoy this slim book.

NOTE: It occurs to me that I have another David Orr book on our shelves, and I'm not sure I've read it yet. Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry. Interesting....

marraskuu 19, 2020, 11:02am

>19 avaland: I have this one on my TBR, and really ought to get to it soon. I'm not much of a poetry reader, but I have an unapologetic love of Robert Frost, and it sort of drives me crazy that everyone seems to think that poem is about something other than what, to me, it is very obviously saying. :)

marraskuu 21, 2020, 10:11am

>137 dukedom_enough:, >138 RidgewayGirl: Yes, please donate to their campaigns!

>139 markon: Thanks, Ardene. I donated to Raphael Warnock's and Jon Ossoff's campaigns earlier this week, via ActBlue, and I'll use this upcoming short week to explore what else I can do to support their campaigns, and get out the vote. I think it will be a much tougher task for them to win, as it seems that Georgia Republicans are even more energized than they were during the presidential election.

Did you request an absentee ballot for the January 5th runoff election? I did so a couple of weeks ago, but I haven't received my ballot yet.

Kudos to Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia Secretary of State, who is one of the very few Trump supporting Republicans to stand up for truth and not succumb to the pressure of the White House and politicians such as Lindsey Graham, Kelly "Buckhead Barbie" Loeffler, David Purdue and Doug Collins, and use illegal and undemocratic methods to try to overturn the will of the people of Georgia and award the state's Electoral College votes to Trump. Although I'm not a fan of his, I also appreciate Governor Brian Kemp's refusal to join Trump's cult of personality as well.

marraskuu 21, 2020, 3:26pm

>144 bragan: The Kepler? I will be interested in what your thoughts are on it. Maybe I'm getting too picky....

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 21, 2020, 3:44pm

>145 kidzdoc: Kudos to Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia Secretary of State, who is one of the very few Trump supporting Republicans to stand up for truth

Amen to that! And I was relieved to hear that the folks from Michigan who visited Trump recently came back and said they would continue to follow the rule of law in counting votes.

marraskuu 23, 2020, 6:33pm

>146 avaland: Whoops, no, not the Kepler, The Road Not Taken. (Which, unsurprisingly, I still have not gotten to.) I have no idea how I accidentally managed to point to post #19 instead of #143. I mean, that seems like a heck of a typo. :)

The Kepler one doesn't sound particularly attractive to me, especially after that response from you!

marraskuu 24, 2020, 5:11am

>148 bragan: No worries!

marraskuu 29, 2020, 6:14am

Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age by Mary Pipher.

I read and enjoyed Piper’s 1994 book Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, so, being of a certain age, I thought this new book might be interesting.

Pipher is a clinical psychologist and cultural anthropologist who specializes in developmental psychology and trauma. Here, being of a certain age herself, she turns her attention to women growing old. She covers all manner of joys and indignities that come with this stage of life and offers wise words and practical strategies, often through anecdotes from, and examples of, other women.

I enjoyed Pipher’s clear-eyed assessment of 'old age". Many of the strategies she suggests are practical and worth learning or being reminded of. But, as I read deeper into the book, I started to tire of what seemed like excessive anecdotes, and Pipher’s constant "can-do" attitude—the book seemed a lot longer than its 251 pages. I think I would have been much happier with a book half as long. However, that now confessed, I would still heartily recommend this book for many women coming into this stage of life. It would make a good gift with a nice bottle of wine and a pedometer.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 18, 2020, 5:38am

A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (and Some Bears) by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling (2020, nonfiction)

In 2004 a group of Libertarian-minded citizens in the small town of Grafton, New Hampshire (then, mostly known mostly for it’s old mica mine, which drew tourists and those of us with children) came up with the “Free Town Project” which had the goal of freeing the town from its government (which nearly worked). This is their story, but, included here also, is the story of the town’s bear population, and one cannot truly say the two are entirely separate issues.

Told in comfortable reading style often with a bit of humor, the story is both entertaining and a bit frightening at times (too many guns and a few borderline personalities), and despite the bears, it’s a very human story. Those us who live or have lived in small towns may sense more than a little familiarity. Those readers who live in cities may think themselves exempt, but then one thinks of a certain recent President and, well, at least you don’t have the bears.


A bit of general background: Grafton is just one of the many, many small towns (population in 2000 was about 1200) that make-up most of New Hampshire. Town government budgets and local statues still are decided by way ‘town meetings,’ a gathering of the town’s eligible voters (or those who bother to attend) which were first used in New England in 1623 and is considered “purest form of democratic governing.” Yeah, and our state motto is “Live Free or Die” adopted in 1945 but originates in a toast given by NH’s most famous Revolutionary War soldier, General John Stark.

And more than a few of us in Northern New England have bears that come through our properties, or a succession of bears. Most of us try NOT to feed them.

marraskuu 29, 2020, 8:06am

>150 avaland: excessive anecdotes ... constant "can-do" attitude

This seems to afflict a number of non-fiction books. It's fine up to a point in order to demonstrate the thesis, but too often these anecdotes take over and ultimately, for me, they weaken the message.

marraskuu 29, 2020, 10:53am

>152 lauralkeet: Hi Laura, I suppose one must make it book-length for publication. And it might be just me, perhaps some need that reinforcement over and over again. It might make an interesting book club choice if the group were all older women. Her discussions around the misogyny directed at older women and about supporting each other are interesting, although the latter doesn't discuss those of us who are introverts and not traditionally attracted to group activities.

marraskuu 29, 2020, 11:55am

The Left Left Behind by Terry Bisson

This short volume is one of PM Press's "Outspoken Authors" series, as usual featuring several examples of Bisson's writing plus an interview and bibliography.

The title story is Bisson's take on the idea of the Rapture, in which proper Christians are whisked to heaven while the rest of us must suffer for seven years before Jesus's return. More specifically the LaHaye/Jenkins Left Behind books were on Bisson's mind. In this telling, the vanished are the rich, influential and cruel - for example, nearly everyone in an airplane's first class compartment disappears, but most in economy are untouched. With the bad people gone, the world gets on pretty well, actually. No more wars. But what about the Return in seven years' time? It's a fun story, maybe too heavy on the satire.

"Special Relativity, a One-Act Play in Three Scenes" brings Albert Einstein, Paul Robeson, and J. Edgar Hoover to a contemporary (2006) backyard to meet a group of young people putting together a protest against President George W. Bush. The clash of worldviews between two eras, today and that of the dead historical figures, and also between Hoover and the leftists, drives the humor.

The interview covers Bisson's career, and is interesting on how he has combined left activism with a career in science fiction.

Three stars

joulukuu 3, 2020, 1:46am

>150 avaland:
I was quite interested in your comments on Women Rowing North, and thought it might be one to recommend to my book club. Maybe not as a monthly read, but just one to throw out to the group in general (as I'm known to do). So I tucked it in my back pocket. But then I was placing an order at my favourite bookstore -- Munro Books in Victoria (shop local - okay, it's not exactly local, but in my province, and an independant). Anyway! - I was looking for something to top up my order to qualify for free shipping and they had this on their bargain table. Sold! Thanks for the recommendation, Lois.

joulukuu 4, 2020, 3:55pm

>155 Nickelini: You're welcome, Joyce. You are still a fairly young thing, but it might help you think about how you wish to shape your future (as much as one can with various challenges that come with age).

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 14, 2020, 5:08pm

Yellow Blue Tibia: Konstantin Skvorecky’s Memoir of the Alien Invasion of 1986 by Adam Roberts (2009, UK, science fiction/humor).

I was scouting for an entertaining read, my husband suggested this book. We both enjoy Adam Roberts, but interestingly, we seem to divide them between us: he reads some, I read some. We have all of his works, and there are still one or two that neither of us have read…but we will….

I’ve probably said it before but Adam Roberts never writes the same book twice. The breadth of his imagination is a delight and his work generally takes one’s brain on a field trip of sorts, and this book is no different.

It is Russian, 1946, the war is over, i and Stalin has gathered together a group of science fiction writers and tasks them with inventing a ‘new enemy’ something that will keep Communism cohesive, something like…an alien threat. Secluded and under pressure, the authors deliver their product but they hear nothing back from Stalin and are told, on pain of death, to forget everything.

Fast forward to 1986. There are only two of the original group of science fiction writers now living, one working for the KGB, the other as an English translator, both of advanced age. It happens that they run into each other after all these years. It seems that the threat they created those many years before is coming true…or is it?

This is a smart, fun book. It’s hilarious in some places, brilliantly funny in others (like the conversation that ensues from inside one of the Chernobyl reactors). Skvorecky’s humor is dry and ironic, and it serves to keep the story from going completely madcap.

Not a lot of women in Roberts’ book—one obese, but lovely Scientologist—, and towards the end I was tiring a bit (so much of men ‘mansplaining’ * to each other) but still it was great ride and a nice distraction. Note: the title of the book is explained near the end of the book. Probably not needed if you speak Russian.

I recommend hubby’s (dukedom_enough) review on the book’s page for another positive view’.

*couldn’t find a better word :-)

joulukuu 15, 2020, 10:09am

>157 avaland: Love the premise of this book! Just ordered it.

joulukuu 15, 2020, 10:26am

>157 avaland:

This was the first novel by him I read back in 2009 and I remember liking it a lot. :) Nice review. And I need to get back to reading him...

joulukuu 15, 2020, 11:14am

>151 avaland: I read an article about Grafton and it was wild. Book sounds interesting, but I'm not sure that I'd want a lot more than what the article provided.

joulukuu 18, 2020, 4:49pm

>158 SassyLassy: We hope you'll like it!

>159 AnnieMod: And we have realized that there are at least two of his books on our shelf that neither one of us has read. I thought he had read them. Pah! Roberts' latest book is a literary biography of H. G. Wells (I'm not terribly interested in that).

>160 RidgewayGirl: I get that :-)

joulukuu 19, 2020, 12:20pm

Cycle of Fire by Hal Clement

Two suns, one red and one blue, hang in the sky, above a world where a young person seeks to survive. Familiar from Star Wars of course, and an image that's a natural for an adventure story. At the start, a native to the planet, Dar Lang Ahn, crash lands his glider in wilderness, and sets out to complete an urgent mission on foot. He meets Nils Kruger, a 16 year old human castaway from Earth. The two must cooperate to survive, and they gradually become friends.

But this novel is by Hal Clement, so we know those suns are not there just for decoration. The motion of each sun in the sky, as the two walk north, is carefully described, allowing the reader to figure out something about the planet's orbit. Hints about the planet's biology also accumulate. The two companions discover a deserted city with buildings that are not designed for Dar's 4+1/2 foot tall bipedal anatomy, nor for the 8 foot tall "Teachers" who raised him. Who lived in the city, and where are they now? When being questioned by the unseen Teachers associated with the city, Nils is asked "when do you die?" He learns that Dar does indeed expect to die at a definite time - and that time will be soon.

Eventually Nils is reunited with the rest of the expedition from Earth, and the human scientists set to work unraveling the planet's astrodynamics, geology, and biology. As usual, Clement leaves many details as an exercise for the reader, and some of the biology is left incomplete with no way for us to figure it out. He does take some of the usual Sci-Fi shortcuts to move the plot along - Nils's ship flies faster than light, and Dar and Nils learn each others' languages way too easily for beings from separate evolutions. As you'd expect from a 1957 story, Clement uses "he" as Dar's pronoun, even though Dar's nonhuman reproductive biology definitely doesn't fit with that usage.

About that biology: the picture assembled by the humans could serve as the engine of a horror novel - one that James Tiptree, Jr. might have written not many years after 1957. The fates of Dar and others of his species are treated with Clement's usual reticence, minimizing the horror aspect - but that aspect is still there. I have long thought that Clement is a much better writer than the hard-SF, essentially YA figure people often view him as, spinning clever science puzzles without much human depth. There's that greatest-generation reserve so many World War II veterans like him had, and his insistence on having the reader do the work of understanding what the book is about.

I've not been able to put these notions into a coherent account. I do want to read all the Clement I haven't already. This edition has been in my possession since 1968, so I had better speed things up.

Four stars

joulukuu 21, 2020, 9:21am

Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls (1983)

Published in 1983 Mrs Caliban tells the fantastic story of a young-ish, suburban housewife who has an affair with an amphibious human-like creature named Larry who has escaped a research facility and shows up one day in her kitchen. Dorothy has had a string of sad misfortunes since she’s been married and her marriage has deteriorated to where the couple barely speaks to each other. And while the author presents this in a tragicomedy manner, there can be no mistaking the social commentary. This was a short, fun read but also thoughtful. It also brought to mind Betty Friedan’s “the problem that has no name” and I wondered how I would have responded to this if I have read it back in 1983 when it was first published, or what my grown daughters might think of it now.

joulukuu 21, 2020, 9:28am

Whiteout by Ragnar Jonasson (2017)

Just before Christmas, In an isolated coastal area in northern Iceland, a woman is found dead at the bottom of a cliff. Ari Thor Arason, police officer in another northern town, is asked to accompany his old boss to the area to investigate.

This is the fifth of a six book series. This particular installment is set up somewhat like a “locked room” mystery with its very limited number of suspects and its isolated location. Ari Thor is no longer the new cop he was back at the beginning of the series, he is experienced, even talented, but sometimes can lack confidence.

I have greatly enjoyed this series (am reading the last installment currently); Ari Thor is a realistically drawn character, the investigations are complex and interesting, the resolution is well done without excess, and one always comes away with an appreciation of all that Iceland has to offer. Personally, I would put this series 2nd only to Indridason’s “Erlunder” series of the Icelandic crime authors I’ve read.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 21, 2020, 9:34am

Robinson by Muriel Spark (novel, 1983)

A plane on its way to the Azores crashes on a remote volcanic island. The resident and apparent owner of the island (and bibliophile), Miles Mary Robinson, finds three survivors and nurses them back to health. One of these three, January Marlow, a young widow, is the narrator of our story. The other two survivors are Tom, a purveyor of amulets, and Jimmy, a Dutch citizen who seems to be related to Robinson. There is also child on the island, an apparent ward of Robinson.There is no communication with the outside world, no means to get off the island except for a boat that will come in seven or eight weeks to harvest Robinson’s pomegranate crop. The group dynamics are interesting….

There are so many ways one could talk about this small book. I read it because I am reading a book called Female Maturity from Jane Austen to Margaret Atwood: When Bildungsroman Meets Zeitgeist by Michael Griffin and I wanted to read this, one of the three books I hadn’t read of the seven discussed. Thus, I was reading with this in mind. That said, the book does bring to mind other “castaway” stories, this one with a female relating the story. I thought about the context in regards to the 1950 era in which it was written. There are the dynamics of three men and only one woman on the island. There are also allusions to classic literature, and a fair bit of discussion of religion, particularly Roman Catholicism. I’m not going to try to weave that all together, instead I will just say that this is an engrossing, entertaining slim book that will have you thinking back to it long after you closed that back cover.

joulukuu 21, 2020, 6:42pm

Winterkill by Ragnar Jonasson (crime novel, 2020, book 6 of 6)

A 19-year-old girl is found dead beneath a balcony, did she jump or was she pushed?

Now an Inspector, Ari Thor Arason, former theological student and a seven year veteran on the force, investigates. As with all of the previous books that came before this, the mystery and thus the investigation is (delightfully!) complex. Ari Thor is a realistic, all-too-human character, easy to relate to, and a good cop. The author wrote this final installment to please the fans. Thank you. I’m going to miss Ari Thor.

As noted in the review for the previous volume, I would put this series 2nd only to Indridason’s “Erlunder” series of the Icelandic crime authors I’ve read. Jonasson has a new series featuring a female police officer. I’ve read the first, and the jury is still out, so to speak.

joulukuu 21, 2020, 6:58pm

>162 dukedom_enough: I have read two Hal Clements this year: Mission of Gravity and Iceworld and Mission of Gravity was excellent. Good to read another review of one of his books which I have not read, but is on my kindle.
For me he gets the balance of some hard science fiction with the story telling element just about right

joulukuu 24, 2020, 5:02pm

I hope there are some treats, some relaxation, and some reading over the festive season, and that 2021 is a kinder year to everyone.

Hoping there will be some fine reads among your parcels Lois and Michael.

joulukuu 24, 2020, 9:37pm

Thanks, Caro. The same to you. We no longer exchange gifts, but we both have significant "stacks" to explore :-)

joulukuu 25, 2020, 6:45am

>167 baswood: Good that you liked Mission of Gravity. It's what he's best known for. Would be interesting to see how you like one of the later books, where he explains less. Maybe The Nitrogen Fix.

tammikuu 2, 6:30am

We've moved to Club Read 2021, see you there!