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Kaethe

Kaethe

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Reamde - Neal Stephenson 

Reamde - Neal Stephenson

Gold farming in MMPORG, and game building, veterans and draft-dodgers, a British writer of fantasy with exquisitely hand-crafted languages and cultures and also an American fantasist of the most prolific stripe, Seattle hipsters and Iowan wind farmers, private jets and slow boats from China: everything and everyone has a foil in this book, but since it's over nine hundred pages, an exhaustive catalog would be really long, and far less entertaining. Stephenson manages to take a Clancy-like scenario, give it a Dickensian and international cast, keep up a Dan Brown kind of momentum even as he takes time for National Treasure sort of thinking. Lots of thinking.

 

And also I happened to notice a particular device Stephenson used to good effect: the first time a name is introduced he spells it kind of phonetically, the way the character heard it, but when the character actually appears on stage, as it were, the name is spelled as it is using the Roman alphabet and English transliteration. It's important because there are quite a few people with nonEnglish names and nonRoman writing. In the same way he keeps the plot going without taking the time to explain everything: eventually all becomes clear for a character without a lot of telling. I don't usually notice technical aspects of a novel's construction, but at over 900 pages I had a fair number of opportunities to ponder whilst doing other things which were not reading.

 

So, the upshot: an incredibly entertaining book that one can feel smug about reading. Recommended for ereaders because of the heaviness and awkwardness of holding a bound copy.

 

Library copy 

Mr. Pants: Trick or Feet! - Scott Mccormick, R. H. Lazzell 

Mr. Pants: Trick or Feet! - Scott Mccormick, R. H. Lazzell

I don't understand whether these are cars who are treated like human children, or actual children drawn as cats for some reason. Doesn't matter. I was amused.

Library copy

 

 

The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov, Michael Glenny 

The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov, Michael Glenny

inspired "Sympathy for the Devil"

Finally getting to it now that Veronica is spending the summer learning Russian.

***

 

Ban the book; build the buzz.

 

Had it not been suppressed for forty years it wouldn't have become internationally famous. It's a bit of a mess. There's the love story of the Master, a writer, and Margarita. They're both inconveniently and unhappily married to other people, as apparently everyone was in the twenties. Don't worry, the useless-except-as-plot-devices spouses aren't in the book. The Master has written a moving novel about Pontius Pilate which no one will publish, a theme introduced early in the book: it is unacceptable to even consider that Jesus might have been a real person. This novel within the novel presents Pilate as being forced by law and politics to sentence Jesus to death, but far from washing his hands of the job, he strives to save him, to reduce his suffering, and to respect him after the crucifixion. I liked the Master's book and wouldn't have minded more of it.

 

Eventually the book settles down and concentrates on the suffering of the Master, but the first third of the book is devoted to satirizing Moscow's literary and theatrical (think vaudeville) world of the 20s. Not since Dante has a writer so indulged a desire to mock and punish. If these characters aren't real people I hope they're only thinly veiled ones, because otherwise they are too shallow to bother with. Their sins are mostly about getting a better apartment, which in an overcrowded urban environment is no sin at all. 

 

Knowing that this was the inspiration for "Sympathy for the Devil" I had high hopes going in for that character. Jagged and Richards did more and did it better than Bulgakov. He doesn't get to do much, he's just a man who is too old for in unpleasant job, but too decent to leave the hard work to someone else. His staff are all less powerful and less competent, but they seem to derive some pleasure from the business of pointing out folly in humans. Not much fun, really, considering what one might do, but a bit in the end.

 

There is some real fun when we finally get to Margarita: girlfriend gives it all over to being a witch, but it turns out that being a witch is also not as much fun as you might think. Bulgakov 's damned are a parade even he finds to tedious to recount.

 

The book does have a happy ending, for some bleak Russian notion of "happy". No doubt it was fun to write, but the titular characters don't have much agency, and the structure deprives the book of any real momentum until half way through, so even though I did become familiar with Russian names, overall it wasn't very rewarding. I wanted to love it: it features an oversized talking black cat, but even those bits were joyless until the last sixty pages.

 

Maybe the Soviets only suppressed it for being slow, and dull, neither instructive nor entertaining. Or maybe I should quit trying to read Russian fiction, since I never end up liking it. Or both.

 

Library copy

 

Edited to correct typo 

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate - Al Franken 

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate - Al Franken

It is terribly important that the most trusted figures in American politics right now are comedians: Al Franken, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert. It is important that our newest president has only ever actually been professionally successful as a television character.

 

Don't get me wrong: I don't think actors, performers, and certainly not writers are somehow less valid as elected officials. While the primary business of senators and congress people is lawmaking, I recognize that they themselves don't (possibly ever anymore) write the laws; federal laws are written by interested parties, think tanks, and congressional staff. So it isn't necessary to be a lawyer in order to shape laws. What is necessary: I think a broad, general interest is good; literacy is useful; the ability to listen is huge; one has to judge sources, because I'm sure there's never less than two sides to any issue, and all of them purport to have data backing them up, of which some must be less valid or useful than others; a willingness to admit ignorance and to learn is key, because no one is an expert in everything, and hastily-formed judgements are unlikely to result in successful solutions to complex problems. And of course, one has to be able to work with many difficult people, but that's true of all work, isn't it? That list of qualities leaves previous work experience pretty open.

 

It's important that our emperor is naked, and that as many people as possible are pointing at the bare ass he's waggling at us, and laughing. It's not possible to bring him down by arguing with him or fact-checking him: he's a shameless liar, he just makes shit up, most of his shtick is just childish insults. You can't argue with him. He doesn't believe in the idea of a fair fight. But you can point and laugh: he has no defense against mockery.

 

Franken is a mensch. I would give that man an organ I can't spare, secure in the knowledge that he would use it only for good. He is everything one could hope for in an elected representative, just once I would like to vote for someone who was so progressive and also so pragmatic. Harvard has gone up in my esteem by being Franken's alma mater. If you've never read any of Franken's political books you're in for a treat.

 

Library copy

Truly, Madly, Guilty - Liane Moriarty 

Truly, Madly, Guilty - Signed/Autographed Copy - Liane Moriarty

It's not a thriller.

 

Imagine that line as spoken by Arnold Schwarzenegger to his class in Kindergarten Cop. I start here because I saw a review saying what a disappointing thriller it was, and it would be disappointing if that was what Moriarty were shooting for. It's also not a romance, or a mystery, or a literary novel, although it does share some elements with those.

 

What it is is a book about regular middle class suburban couples who experience a trauma together, and how it affects their lives thereafter. It's not a big trauma, it's not newsworthy, but it affects them all, and their little kids, too. And because the author takes her work seriously, there is much more to it than just that, humor, and backstory, and a way through, and a future.

 

I love books like this about living in after some bad thing. Fairy tales are important because they teach us that the witch or the monster can be killed, these books (and I hope someone has a short, catchy name for the genre that isn't sexist, because I sure don't) these books demonstrate how to live through the bad things and still have a good life. I don't believe stories about people living through horrible events and being stoic and saintly and a good example. Pain doesn't make people stronger or better, it makes us angry, and short-tempered, and hell to get along with. And of course, we all have pain and most of it is garden-variety common and of no interest to others. And the older we get the more time we spend attending funerals, the more people we have to lose. These books remind us that we can still laugh at the wake, that there are many ways to comfort one another in our loss.

 

I'm on my way to a funeral soon 

What Alice Forgot - Liane Moriarty 

What Alice Forgot - Liane Moriarty

The mystery is what happened to Alice's marriage. Alice, suffering from a concussion and subsequent amnesia is the one trying to figure out who she is and how it went wrong. Another marvelous book full of kids and after school activities and how destructive it is for a marriage when gender roles make one person the breadwinner and one person the parent. And yes, it is also very white and heteronormative and upper middle class suburban, but again, Moriarty takes seriously the business of having and rearing children, and that is important. Plus now I basically see Reese Witherspoon playing the lead role in every one of the books and I like Reese Witherspoon, so that's okay.

I only have one Moriarty book left to read, and then I am going to be very sad for a while.

Library copy

 

The Hypnotist's Love Story - Liane Moriarty

The Hypnotist's Love Story - Liane Moriarty

This was my least favorite so far; it took me a while to really get hooked. And I still loved it. Erin who got me started on Moriarty has loaned me a Paula Hawkins, so I'm going to loan her a Carol Goodman. And walking out of my regular Tuesday meeting I got to talk books again with another coworker, who loved What Alice Forgot which I started as soon as I got home.

Like Saskia I had gotten out of the habit of talking to people, of having friends, of chatting. I appreciate having an example of how to get socially involved again.

Oh, hell, what I really love is the house on the beach.

Library copy

 

Louis I, King of the Sheep - Olivier Tallec  

Louis I, King of the Sheep - Olivier Tallec

With great accessories comes great stupidity. Or perhaps, Some sheep are more equal than others. Something about sheeple blindly following the edicts of a madman? And whether or not it was intentional, I like the wind bringing the crown as it brought Mary Poppins, and then, one day, it blows the other direction.

 

Also, I wonder if I have retained enough French to be able to read this in the original?

 

Library copy

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals - Mo Willems

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals - Mo Willems, Mo Willems

Very good concept, excellent execution. Another book giving the reader warm, positive, living words to say to the listener, but not smarmy or precious.

Library copy.

 

Cinnamon - Neil Gaiman, Divya Srinivasan 

Cinnamon - Divya Srinivasan, Neil Gaiman

I liked the art, and a couple of lines, and I get the homage to Kipling, but it didn't connect with me.

Library copy

 

Norton and Alpha - Kristyna Litten 

Norton and Alpha - Kristyna Litten

I don't know why, but the stock legs and trunk-like nose is appearing in world by different illustrators this year. Sadly, it isn't a style I care for.

Library copy

 

 

Norton and Alpha - Kristyna Litten 

Norton and Alpha - Kristyna Litten

I don't know why, but the stock legs and trunk-like nose is appearing in world by different illustrators this year. Sadly, it isn't a style I care for.

Library copy

 

The Kraken's Rules for Making Friends - Brittany R. Jacobs

The Kraken's Rules for Making Friends - Brittany R. Jacobs

  

Almost as earnest as The Rainbow Fish, but with a marginally better message than "You can buy friends of you're willing to give up everything that makes you special." Saved by a slightly -divergent-from-cliche ending.

I wish the text was as unconventional and captivating as the art.

Library copy.

Leviathan Wakes - James S.A. Corey  

Leviathan Wakes - James S.A. Corey

I got into two different conversations lugging this around. So, apparently there's a new Sci Fi series based on this series of books. And it's good, I hear. You know what I liked best about it, besides the old-school sci fi space opera vibe? Ethics. I know, right? Lots of thought time and discussion given to ethics and morals and what is the right thing to do. It doesn't drag the plot down at all, there's still plenty going on, and big battles and such. And I liked the hardboiled cop storyline enormously.

Female characters at maybe 1 in 10, and mostly they exist for dudes to fall for, so points off for that, but the dudes are falling for clever, creative, hard-working characters, so it's not like reading Golden Age sexism, but there is definitely room for improvement. And Yay! everyone isn't white, so that's nice, too.

My library only has this one volume. So, does anyone know if the series is driving an uptick in reading? I want to ask them to get all the books, but not if I'm the only one who'll check them out.

Library copy

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors - Drew Daywalt, Adam Rex 

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors - Drew Daywalt, Adam Rex

I loved the art, which included visual references to other Adam Rex books. The story not so much.

Library copy

 

The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling - Timothy Basil Ering 

The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling - Timothy Basil Ering

Just so lovely. Lots of children's books have magic in them, and many have talking, clothes-wearing animals of all species hanging out together like it's no big. But this one actually feels magical, full of awe and wonder at fairly mundane events. And so pretty.

Library copy