Books Acquired: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud Richard Stark’s Parker: Slayground by Darwyn Cooke Espedair Street by Iain Banks Smut: Stories by Alan Bennett Funny Girl by Nick Hornby Letters of Note by Shaun Usher Poems That Make Grown Men Cry by Anthony Holden, Ben Holden
Books Read: Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg She by H. Rider Haggard Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg
I was a naughty boy this month. I had an order from Amazon, so I thought I’d throw in a couple graphic novels, which on its own is fine. Unfortunately, yesterday I also accidentally found myself in a bookstore (by driving downtown and walking four blocks directly to it) and left with five more books. Four from that first store, and an additional one from another store.
(Not pictured is Poems That Make Grown Men Cry, because it was already on the bedside table and I forgot about it.)
I’m not on a book-buying ban at the moment, and I do have space on the shelf, but I am unofficially on a books-I-don’t-plan-to-immediately-read-buying ban. My physical shelves may have room, but my mental to-read pile is starting to teeter.
List of justifications/excuses:
I’ve listened to a few of Iain Banks’ novels these past couple of years, but still haven’t read a physical copy of his novels yet.
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett was a lot of fun, and I’m not familiar with anything else by him, so I thought Smut looked like a good next step.
I read everything by Nick Hornby, so a used copy of his latest was a no-brainer.
The Letters of Note weblog is fantastic, and this hardcover was 65% off, so I mean come on.
The terribly named Poems That Make Grown Men Cry seems like a great way to expose myself to more poetry, which is something I’ve been meaning to do. I think this’ll be a great jumping off point.
It will be a bit quiet here for the next couple of weeks, as we’re heading to Hawaii for a little holiday, but in the meantime I will probably be posting photos of spam and Mai Tais to Instagram and Twitter.
Movies watched: Misery Loves Comedy (2015) – I love comedians, and interviews with them, so I did enjoy this. It was pretty disjointed, though, and probably not that interesting if you aren’t into listening to comedians not make jokes.
TV watched: House of Cards: Season 1 & 2 (2013 – 2014) – We finally decided to watch this, since Netflix originals have been so great lately and this is the one that really started it. We love it and can’t stop binging on it. Kevin Spacey is amazing in this, but the writing and the rest of the cast are all brilliant too.
Games played: Guild of Dungeoneering (2015) (PC) – I really wanted to love this. Check out the trailer below – fun sketchbook art style, fantastic sea shanty-ish music, puns! Unfortunately, after a few hours it really felt like I experienced pretty much everything, and luck was just too much of a factor, which just made it frustrating. I might come back to this, but it was a bit disappointing.
Tales from the Borderlands (2014 – 2015) (PC) – Finally finished the last episode. This was a great series. If you have any interest in Telltale games, it’s worth picking up.
Tabletop Simulator (2015) (PC) – I just played around with this for a couple of hours, but it looks really promising. It’s a board game simulator, and it comes with the standards – chess, backgammon, etc – but there’s also a huge amount of user content. We played the XCOM board game, and it was a perfect reproduction. A friend of mine is a board game nut, but he lives out of town, so this will give us a chance to try a bunch of games in the future.
What have you been reading/watching/playing this month?
This is the sequel to Moore’s A Dirty job, which is a fantastic book about a beta male finding himself in the role of a Death Merchant, tasked with retrieving and protecting the souls of the dead. I read it nearly a decade ago, so it took me a little while to figure out what as going on in this sequel. I really should have glanced at a synopsis before starting, because I apparently blocked out the last quarter of that book. This lead to some happy, if unintentional, surprises, but Moore does take some time to remind the reader on the finer points of the last book. I could have used a bit more reminding, but if you aren’t me and have a moderately functional memory, it will be just fine.
This takes place about a year after the last novel. Due to varying circumstances, not all of the death merchants have been able to perform their duties over the last year, and the souls that they were meant to watch over have been disappearing. Beta male Charlie Asher, trapped inside the body of a 14-inch-tall meat figure with a giant penis, has to find a new body and figure out what to do about the rise of supernatural activity they’re witnessing in San Francisco, with the help of another death merchant Minty Fresh, ex-cop Alphonse Rivera, his former goth employee Lily, his Tibetan monk girlfriend Audrey, and The Emperor of San Francisco.
Christopher Moore is always hilarious, in a perfectly juvenile way, and this continues to be true in this novel as well. This wasn’t his strongest plot, but his characters are what really make his novels, and he has some great ones in this. I particularly enjoyed his foul-mouthed nine-year-old daughter Sophie, although she didn’t feature as much as I’d hoped. There’s just something about hearing a child swear that is fun when you aren’t a parent. His black characters were a little awkwardly blaxploitation-esque, and while he does acknowledge that in the story, it doesn’t make it any less painful to read. They really feel transparently like black characters written by a white guy, the same way his English characters feel written by an American.
The pacing of the plot also felt a little strange. The main conflict was only hinted at for the longest time, and when they finally neared the confrontation, at the very end of the novel, all of the subplots were neatly tied up. It made the story feel a little disjointed to me, like it was meandering and speeding along all at once. The climax of the novel didn’t really hit that hard, because I wasn’t as invested in that part of the story (arguably, the main part).
I bought a signed copy of this, like I did with Sacré Bleu, and my dog ate the corner of the book. It wasn’t signed in person, though, so I’m not too heartbroken. If the value of his signature suddenly sky rockets with collectors in the future, however, the price of my edition is probably going to suffer. My only hope now is for my dog to somehow become famous.
I should also add that the book cover glows in the dark, as should be the case for all fine literature, and for this I have awarded bonus points. If you can’t love a book that glows in the dark, you’re dead inside.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka Published: 1915 Translated by: Susan Bernofsky (from German) Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerini Length: 02:08 (128 pages)
I actually read this over the Christmas holiday, which I admit is not the best time to read a novel about a man turned insect ruining his family’s life, but I managed to enjoyed this despite the incompatible festivities.
This was my first time reading Kafka, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I was mainly excited about now being able to use the term ‘Kafkaesque’ with some legitimacy, but I was happy to find I enjoyed his writing as well. As with any translation, it’s hard to know how much of that is Kafka and how much is due to the translation, in this case by Susan Bernofsky, but whatever the formula, the final product was a pleasure to read.
When Gregor Samsa woke one morning from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed right there in his bed into some sort of monstrous insect.
Gregor Samsa is a travelling salesman, working to provide for his sister and parents, when he awakes one morning to find he’s transformed into a giant insect. The beginning of this novella is actually quite funny in how absurd it all is. Finding himself suddenly an insect is the very first sentence, and an explanation of how this came to happen is never hinted at or even speculated upon. Once he realizes the state he’s in, he acts as if he’s woken up with a common cold. It’s more of an inconvenience than a horrific curse. He even still wants to go to work, if only he could manage to flip over after waking up on his carapace and get these many legs to work in unison. It’s not until he sees the fear and disgust in others that he begins to understand that his life is forever changed. Whether it’s delusion or just the clinging habit of day-to-day life, it’s hard to say.
His family is disgusted by him, although they still accept what’s happened with surprising ease, and he is confined to his room to live as a shameful family secret. They open the door only to feed him, never to interact with him in any meaningful way, and always regard him with contempt. His mother is the only one who still wants to treat him well, but she faints when she finally manages to see him. His sister and father both have to take up jobs in order to support the family now that Gregor can no longer work, his sister also acts as his caretaker, and they both resent him for this.
The story gets quite dark and heartbreaking by the end, as he is more and more alienated and discouraged. I don’t know Kafka’s intentions, whether there was a particular analogy in all of this or if the lack of one was actually the point, but it’s hard not to draw comparisons between what Gregor is experiencing and what someone with a debilitating illness, and their family, may have to go through. The alienation he feels, as well as the inability to come to terms at the beginning. The way it changes the lives of everyone in the family, and how they grow to resent that. Gregor’s family was almost comically awful, but there’s no denying that such an event will change everyone’s lives, and over a long period of time it may begin to wear.
I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.
Even the beginning of the story mimics how cruel the universe can be. How someone can be healthy one day and then suddenly not, and search as you might for an answer or explanation, there may never be one. This is unfortunately an unfair world, and no matter how you live your life, you may one day wake up in a body that feels alien to you. One that you can’t control, and that others may look upon with unease.
Gregor may have transformed, but his family also went through their own transformation. This struggle brought them together as never before, and while it was something they would never wish to endure again, they were left stronger, both as a family and as individuals. Tragedy has a way of bringing people together.
Much like Christmas!
(Okay, trying to tie that in was not as successful as I would have liked.)
I went into this knowing absolutely nothing. The sequel to this, Golden Son, won the Goodreads award for science fiction novel of 2015, so I thought I should check the series out. Those Goodreads awards are a little silly, because the people voting haven’t read all of the novels nominated, but it at least meant that it was enjoyed by a lot of readers. I’m glad I did pick this up, because it turned out to be my favourite novel of the last year (or at least one of them…I have commitment issues).
This takes place on Mars and follows a sixteen-year-old named Darrow. Darrow is a Red, the lowest class in human society, who works under the surface of the planet to gather helium-3, a gas that humanity uses for its terraforming efforts. He works as a Helldiver, which is the incredibly difficult and dangerous job of maintaining the drills in the helium-3 mine. The Reds are born under the surface and eventually die there, never seeing the sky. This is their sacrifice for future Reds, for once humans have terraformed other planets, their people are promised prosperous lives.
On Mars there is not much gravity, so you have to pull the feet to break the neck. They let the loved ones do it.
Darrow faces a moment of true injustice, even above and beyond what he lives with every day, and this eventually tears him from the life he knows and leads him to join an uprising, somewhat against his will. Once he has joined, we’re treated to interesting war tactics and mind games as he tries to integrate with, and eventually battle, higher class citizens, in a way that is reminiscent of Ender’s Game, except on a much larger scale. Instead of just a squad leader, in a way he’s learning to be a king. It’s a fun mix of a coming-of-age story with dystopian science fiction and medieval castle siege warfare.
My only minor issue with the novel was how the plot was structured in this first book. This has a Hunger Games feel to it, in that Darrow, with all of the students in the school he infiltrates, are put into an arena to battle. It’s not for entertainment, but rather education, and it’s not necessarily to the death. I enjoyed this quite a bit, but the way it was executed made it feel as if you were reading a side plot for 70% of the novel, which made the overarching story that had been introduced up until that point feel weak.
The games were the focus in the first Hunger Games novel from the beginning, and (I’m assuming, as I only read the first) the larger story was built off that base and developed in the next two sequels. In this, we have an introduction that is about a greater problem, and then we suddenly find ourselves in these games and everything has changed. I loved that the games were a surprise, and thoroughly enjoyed that portion of the novel, but when it finishes you’re suddenly reminded that surviving the games wasn’t the ultimate goal.
It didn’t ruin anything for me, and we are still shown briefly how this has put Darrow in a much greater position to do what he originally set out to do, but it was a bit jarring. /Minor Spoiler
This is full of clever ideas, and it’s beautifully written, particularly for a first novel. Tim Gerard Reynolds’ narration was spectacular. He has to do quite a mixture of accents and characters, and he pulled it off brilliantly. He’s a new favourite of mine now. This is the first in a trilogy, and the final book is released next month, so this is the perfect time to start these. I’m going on holiday in a couple of weeks, and I don’t think I’ll have much time for audiobooks, so I plan to start the next book in a month or so.
I started reading this nearly two and a half years ago, just after my dad passed away, because The Cremation of Sam McGee was a poem he used to recite in his youth at his Masonic meetings. I really enjoyed that one, but then put it on my shelf after only reading half the poems in the book, forgetting about it entirely. It wasn’t until recently when I happened to notice the bookmark in it that I remembered never having actually finished it.
Robert Service was born in England to a Scottish father, and at the age of five moved back to his father’s hometown of Kilwinning. When he was twenty-one, he moved to southern Vancouver Island with dreams of becoming a cowboy. After travelling over much of western North America, he eventually took a job in Victoria at the Canadian Bank of Commerce. A year later, he was transferred to Kamloops, my hometown, for six months before heading to the Yukon. It actually makes me wonder now if my dad knew Service’s history and if that came to his mind while deciding to emigrate from Scotland to western Canada.
Service seemed to love the gold rush. I don’t know if all of his poetry centered on that, or if it was just this collection, but I think every poem in this had to do with the people of the gold rush and the northern landscape. There are many snow-capped peaks to be had in this little book. Some of this just felt like the sort of poetry you might find embroidered and hung on a kitchen wall. To be fair, though, I’m not sure I gave it a fair chance, as my natural reaction to encountering anything bordering on Canadiana is to immediately lose consciousness.
Some of these I did actually genuinely enjoy, and flipping through now I feel like I might have enjoyed more than I originally thought. The two-year break I took in the middle of this, combined with a few of the poems that really bored me, is probably tainting my memory of the collection as a whole. The Cremation of Sam McGee, The Man From Eldorado, and The Men That Don’t Fit In are a few that stick out as being quite good. I start to drift when he begins to go on too much about snow, but he also writes about killers and the desperate and lost.
I’d like to find a copy of his autobiography, Ploughman of the Moon, An Adventure Into Memory. He lived an exciting life full of travel, and that would be fun to read about. I think I might revisit these poems soon as well. Just reading through a bit while writing this has piqued my interest again on a couple of the poems.
I know this blog has turned into a series of book lists lately, but I promise this is the last one for a while. I saw this challenge last year a little too late, but I think it’ll be a fun one to join. I love food literature and haven’t really been reading enough of it, so this will help clear some of those books off the shelf.
I’m doing the ‘Pastry Chef’ level, which is 4 – 8 books. The choices have to prominently feature food in some way, but aren’t bound by genre or format. It’s not a requirement to list any books before beginning, but it’s my favourite part, so here is my current food-related backlog from which I’ll likely be drawing:
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
The 4-Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss
Secrets of the Best Chefs by Adam D. Roberts
Encore Provence by Peter Mayle
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
Two years ago David Bowie shared his top 100 favourite reads on Facebook. Seemed like an apt time to revisit this once I heard the awful news. I’ve read shockingly few of these, seven to be exact, so I’ll have to revisit this now and then for inspiration. I haven’t even heard of half of these.
Interviews With Francis Bacon by David Sylvester
Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse
Room At The Top by John Braine
On Having No Head by Douglass Harding
Kafka Was The Rage by Anatole Broyard
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
City Of Night by John Rechy
The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
I’ll be giving the Back to the Classics challenge another go. The idea is the same as last year, to read a novel from each of the 12 challenges within the year. In this case, a classic is anything published over fifty years ago. I’d like to read all twelve, but even an incomplete list will garner entries for the year-end draw:
Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing
Here are the categories and my initial tentative picks. These can be changed throughout the year:
A 19th Century Classic: Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome
A 20th Century Classic: The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton
A classic by a woman author: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
A classic in translation: The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A classic by a non-white author: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
An adventure classic: Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic: Dune by Frank Herbert
A classic detective novel: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
A classic which includes the name of a place in the title: The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
A classic which has been banned or censored: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college): Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
A volume of classic short stories: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
I’ve been getting more and more into science fiction these last few years, and I had a craving for a technological thriller of the computer security variety. I usually have a backlog in my head for every genre, taken from book blogs or interviews or just natural progressions from what I recently read, but I couldn’t think of what to pick up for this. Daemon seemed to be at the top of many random Reddit recommendation threads, though, so I decided to grab the audio book.
A billionaire computer game designer passes away, and when his obituary is posted online it triggers a chain of events that threatens the world economy and millions of lives. This begins as a fairly typical crime novel, there’s a death and a detective is trying to find the culprit, but it quickly turns from a who-done-it to a why-did-they-do-it-and-WTF-is-happening. I don’t really want to go into the plot here too much, as I went in blind and think that’s really the best way to approach this. I was consistently desperate to find out what was happening, and while it was overall very fast-paced, I felt like the flow of information was perfect. Answers spawned more questions, but it never felt like information was being withheld unnaturally to drive you to read on. It really held my attention from the beginning and kept me in suspense.
The writing was serviceable, but it’s not the main draw of the novel. There were an unacceptable amount of ‘deafening silences’ in this. The dialogue got cheesy at times, the characters fall a bit flat, and Suarez got carried away with action scenes, especially at the end, which just aren’t the novel’s strong point. There were also a couple of chapters set in an MMO game, which were just excruciating to read, and I love video games. I can only imagine how painful those sections (only a couple, to be fair) would be for someone who isn’t as excited by video games as I am.
Those gaming chapters were probably made a little worse by this being an audiobook, but I feel like the dialogue was probably made a little better, so it evens out. I’ve seen a few quotes of dialogue that had an awful lot of ellipses, which we are thankfully spared from in audio. Jeff Gurner seems like he could be a great narrator, but some of the choices he made for character voices were so hammy it was pulling me right out of the story. The detective sounded like Tom Waits with a particularly bad hangover, and I think he was in his mid-30’s, which just seemed odd.
The story also doesn’t actually end, and I don’t mean that in a snarky way. Literally not a single sub-plot concludes. The novel just finishes. I understand he had this planned as a trilogy, but after 600 pages you should be able to tie up something.
I work as a software developer, so I have a love/hate relationship with books and movies that feature hackers or system cracking. It’s typically handled in a cartoonish manner, and for good reason I think. I personally find it excited to read or watch console commands being typed in, but I realize that’s not everyone’s idea of thrilling narrative. This book doesn’t take too much time to explain technology, and seems to be targeted at people with some understanding of computers, which I actually really appreciated. Characters will type in a network SSID without stopping to explain networking basics. At one point a character exploits a website with SQL injection, and he also doesn’t explain what that is. It’s done in a way that readers can pick up what’s happening from the context, even if they don’t understand the specifics. I’m sure overall he explains things more than I’m remembering, but it’s certainly less than usual, enough that I noticed.
This turned a lot more negative than I expected. If I look at any individual piece of this, I can see so many flaws, but put it all together and the book worked really well for me. It turned a little bizarre at the end, but I still have high hopes for the sequel, which I plan to pick up in the next couple of months. This was his first novel, and it was originally self-published, so I’m hoping his later books have more input from an editor. I’m curious to see how his writing improves. I feel like he could eventually be a favourite of mine if he keeps improving. He’s written four novels now, and the third book in this series will be released this year, so maybe he’s already miles better.
Hey, I succeeded on this one! I knew I’d read at least twelve books from my to-read pile, but I’m happy to have specifically read twelve books from this list. I love making lists of books, but I often have trouble following those lists, as I tend to add books I feel I’ve been ignoring, which may or may not be the books I feel like picking up when I’m browsing the shelf. The list also must consist of books you’ve had on the shelf for at least a year, which makes you dig around the shelves a bit more.
I unfortunately didn’t get to Hemingway. I had good intentions, but every time I picked it up I just was not excited. Someday it’s going to happen. Unfortunately, this is the the last year Roof Beam Reader is hosting the challenge, so maybe I’ll find a similar challenge and add it to that list.