Month: August 2014

2014 Book #42: California

californiaBah! Thanks to all of those audiobooks, I’m way behind!

So. California. You’ve probably heard about it. Stephen Colbert loves it, so most of the liberal world does, too. It’s been all over TV and social media. And I love the cover.

It’s a post-apocalyptic-dystopian type, about Cal and Freida, a couple who have just left a dying Los Angeles to live in the wilderness of California. They find a shack and live there for a while, then meet some people who live nearby, eventually moving into their house. Not with them. We’ll get to that. As society slowly dissolved (earthquakes, storms, viruses, etc), various groups of people formed their own microsocieties. Rich people formed Communities, which are as close to what we have now as you can get in their world. Less fortunate people remained in the cities or moved on their own out into the wilderness. Some people formed terrorist organizations, like The Group, eventually led by Frida’s brother, who she is told was a suicide bomber. After Cal and Freida move to the wilderness and meet this other family, they learn of a settlement a couple of days’ walk away, and Freida is curious. The other couple warns Cal to stay away from it, but after they mysteriously die and Cal tells Freida the truth, she insists on heading there. What they find is a primitivish society run by hippies and former city-dwellers. Things Happen, and The Mystery Unfolds.

California is an okay novel. I enjoyed it well enough. I guess I gave it two stars because it’s generally mediocre, and I didn’t like the ending. I don’t understand what all the hype is about because there’s absolutely nothing special in CaliforniaBird Box is so much better. So. Much. Better. That said, California isn’t bad, though it might not be worth your time because I’m sure its star will fade quickly.

2014 Book #41: The Night Circus

nightcircusI tried reading The Night Circus shortly after it was published, and though I liked it, I couldn’t get through it. I think I stopped around the two-thirds mark. I’m not sure why. This time, I had the benefit of more passive reading: an audiobook. I guess it was worth the time I spent listening to it, though I can’t say I’m a fan. I think The Night Circus was what I expected, a whimsical sort of fantasy, but it was also more of a romance than I like. I was hoping for another Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but sadly, that’s not what The Night Circus is.

It’s about a challenge between two magicians. They each choose a child – one, a magician’s daughter, Celia; the other, an adopted boy, Marco – and teach said child magic. Once Celia and Marco are grown and trained, the magicians set up a circus as a stage for the competition. Celia and Marco think it is a contest of skill, but that turns out not to be the case. They end up falling in love, which complicates things. Meanwhile, Bailey, a teenager, is dared by his sister to visit the circus, which is only open at night, during the day. He accepts the dare and climbs over the fence, and he meets a girl about his age named Poppet, who gives him a glove to take back as proof that he went inside. Years later, the circus returns, and Bailey goes in search of Poppet, ending up much more entwined in the circus than he ever thought he would be. Things, of course, Happen.

I think I liked reading the book more than I did listening to it. Some sections are told in second-person, describing the insides of tents and other possible experiences at the circus. Having someone reading the book to me colors those experiences differently than I might on my own. Which might be my problem with most audiobooks – I might as well be watching a movie.

The book is well-written, and the descriptions of the circus are beautiful. I enjoyed most of the characters, and I liked the complexity of the story. That said, I wasn’t entranced like the first time I tried to read it. Maybe it was the puppy on the end of her leash, pulling me around, that distracted me.

The Night Circus is worth a read, though I think I would have liked it more without the romance. Celia and Marco’s falling in love seemed less realistic than the rest of the novel. It’s a sort of Romeo and Juliet type of instant love that just didn’t register with me. The rest of the novel, though, I enjoyed.

I’ve begun the massive DC-photo-upload on Flickr. Here are a couple of the highlights so far:

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I really need to finish that project before I forget about it entirely.

2014 Book #40: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

hitchhikerThis isn’t my first round with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. When I was fourteen, or so, I checked it out from my high school library and read it voraciously. I loved  every minute of it. I thought 42 was the best number in the way only a teenager can grasp false significance.

This book is cultural currency. I read it again for two reasons: I’d forgotten a lot in the intervening almost-20 years, and it was one of the few audiobooks on my local library’s OverDrive that was both interesting and immediately available. I listened to it over a week, or so, of walks with Zelda.

I didn’t like it half as much this time around. Sure, it’s funny enough. I laughed ten times more and harder at A Confederacy of Dunces and so many more books, even recently. On the productive(?) end, now I remember the story behind the number 42 and where “So long and thanks for all the fish” came from. Those things seem to be important to lots of people.

I’m not going to do much of a summary of this one because if you haven’t read it, you’ve watched the movie, and if you haven’t done that, you’ve heard enough references to grasp the situation. It’s about Arthur Dent, who lives on Earth until it’s unceremoniously blown up. Luckily, he happens to know an alien and ends up hitchhiking around the galaxy, getting into all kinds of interesting situations. The universe is explained, and so on.

I gave The Hitchhiker’s Guide three stars on Goodreads. It’s right in the middle. I liked it well enough, but it’s not a good book by any stretch of the imagination. I guess it was good for me to read because here’s one set of book/movie references I’ll get for a while. That’s something, I guess.

I finished this book with an overwhelming feeling of MEH. I know there are sequels, and I might read them at some point, but I probably won’t for lack of interest. Douglas Adams captured the imaginations of millions, but not mine; not since I was a teenager, anyway. Maybe it’s like how you kind of need to be a teenager to enjoy Jack Kerouac.

2014 Book #39: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

bernadetteSince I adopted a certain puppy a few months ago, I’ve spent a lot of time outside on walks, about an hour a day. At first, I was busy talking to her and trying to make her behave, but, for the most part, she’s settled down, and I figured I should use this extra time to listen to books. The first was Where’d You Go, Bernadette. At this point, I seem to be faster at getting through audiobooks than paper (okay, digital) ones because, well, puppy. And Minecraft, though that’s another post (or another blog entirely).

I’ve talked in previous posts about my issues with audiobooks. With a few exceptions, I haven’t enjoyed them. Now, though, I’m wondering if I just listened to the wrong books, or even the right books read by the wrong people.

Because I loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

What’s funny is that I think I liked it so much not because of the book itself, but because of the way it was read. And I can’t find who read it without checking it out and downloading it again! Ugh! Which I’ll do later. (One would think it would be easier to find out who read an audiobook, but even Google is withholding the information.) I got it from my local library’s Overdrive, by the way.

It’s about fifteen-year-old Bee and her mother, Bernadette. As a reward for doing well in school, Bee’s parents tell her she can have anything she wants, and she wants a family trip to Antarctica. Despite some reservations, they agree. It’ll be a difficult trip, as Bee’s father is an executive at Microsoft who is always chained to email, and Bernadette is basically a recluse, considered insane by Bee’s schoolmates’  socialite mothers, who Bernadette calls gnats. Lots of really funny hijinks ensue, including a school function at a gnat’s house being interrupted by a landslide from Bernadette’s property that only happened because said socialite insisted that Bernadette remove her blackberry bushes before the party. Things escalate, and Bernadette ends up disappearing. Bee works to solve the mystery of what happened to her mom.

Most of the story is told in a series of emails and journal entries, and it’s mostly funny, though in the end, it’s poignant. It’s not a great book by any means, but it’s not crappy chick lit, either. I don’t think I would have liked it as much if I had actually read it, though. Having this one read to me, in several voices, made it seem more immediate. I really need to find out who the reader was so I can listen to all of her other books.

Anyway. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is Maria Semple‘s second novel. Her first, This One is Mine, has a lower rating on Goodreads, but the blurb looks interesting enough. I’ll probably pick that one up at some point.

In other news, I’m back from Washington, DC. I still haven’t processed the photos I took with my good camera, so most of my adventures will have to wait. The most notable, though? I ended up in a presidential suite at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel! Here’s a tour:

And I can’t forget the pandas! I only had a little time, so I went to the National Zoo just to see the pandas. What’s cool is that all of the Smithsonian stuff is free, so I didn’t have to pay $20+ to see one animal. That said, I would have done it anyway.

I guess those were the major highlights. I went to most of the usual touristy sites, but I only had a few hours, so it was mainly just a lot of fast walking. Those photos are on the Nikon. And then there was the Society of American Archivists conference that took up most of my time. Lots of People were involved.

After all that, I’m glad to be home to my husband and my menagerie of pets. Things should be calmer for a while.

2014 Book #38: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

colorlesstsukuruColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami‘s lastest novel, was released in English on the perfect day: the very day I was flying to DC from Louisiana and had nothing better to do than read all day. I’d been looking forward to this book since it was published in Japan, about a year ago. The translator couldn’t finish fast enough! I’m a huge Murakami fan and have talked extensively about his books on this blog. I really liked his last one, 1Q84 (though it wasn’t my favorite), and I was sure good things were on the horizon.

But Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki was a letdown. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a perfectly fine novel as long as you don’t compare it to Murakami’s best. He can do so much better. It seemed like he said to himself, “Well, I guess it’s time to write another novel” and did it without any real inspiration.

It’s about Tsukuru and his close group of high school friends who mysteriously abandoned him a year after he went to college. It’s been sixteen years, and he still doesn’t know why. He starts dating a woman named Sara, tells her his story, and she tells him that he has to track them down and resolve his issues if he wants to have a serious relationship with her. So that’s his real impetus: he tracks down these former friends to get a woman. Of course, as he meets with each of these friends, the mystery unravels, and so on and so forth.

That’s all I’ll say except that this would have been a much better novel if Murakami had ended it differently. Until about two-thirds through, I thought I might have found a new favorite Murakami. Then things slowly tipped downhill.

Again: It’s not a bad novel. It’s just not good for a Murakami novel. I didn’t especially like After Dark, either, but I’ve been planning on revisiting that one. I liked A Wild Sheep Chase better the second time around. I’m not sure what my favorite of his novels is, though it’s somewhere in this (short) list: Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Kafka on the Shore, Sputnik Sweetheart. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki isn’t half as good as the ones in that list. Why, you ask? A few things. There was a noticeable lack of cats and wells. Cats were only mentioned as parts of a couple similes, and wells were nowhere to be found. What’s a Murakami novel without a well? And, more seriously, while Tsukuru is not a flat character, his friends are. This important part of his life, around which the entirety of the novel revolves, just blends into the background. It’s hard to explain, but you’ll see what I mean if you read it. And the end. I guess I’ll put a short spoiler alert here: his driving force is a woman who is cheating on him, and he does everything to keep her, basing much of this devotion on the advice of one of these former friends. It just doesn’t make sense. End of spoiler.

All of that said, I’m already eagerly awaiting the novel that Murakami is probably still writing right now.

I’m at the point in the year (for the second time?) that I’m tired of writing book reviews, so I’ve been putting them off. I just finished reading this novel last night, but I listened to a fantastic audiobook version of Where’d You Go, Bernadette that I still need to write about. There’s also my current trip to Washington, DC, that might get its own entry. And the dog. We can’t forget the dog. I’ve got so much going on right now! I guess that’s a good thing.

2014 Book #37: The 42nd Parallel (USA part 1)

42ndparallelOkay, so The 42nd Parallel only qualifies as its own book in the way that The Lord of the Rings does: John Dos Passos‘s USA trilogy is really one big book. That’s my disclaimer. Note that I’m disregarding this disclaimer because USA is loooong – at least as long as The Lord of the Rings. Three books it is, then.

Still suffering from my book rut, I stumbled on The 42nd Parallel while I was browsing around Oyster (which just got even more awesome with a web reader!). I’ve wanted to read USA since I saw a theatrical production of it when I was in high school, but I never got around to it mainly because of its length. Splitting it into three makes it seem more doable, especially with my limited free time because (you guessed it!) puppy.

Dos Passos seems to be aiming at the Great American Novel by encompassing all of North America in this ginormous book. In the first of the trilogy, we meet five main characters: Mac, Janey, Eleanor, J. Ward Moorehouse, and Charley. Separate chapters are given to each character in a style like the Game of Thrones books. They come from vastly different backgrounds and lead vastly different lives, but they all intersect, at least tangentially, in often fascinating ways.

I really loved this book, and I could tell from the beginning that it’s a masterpiece. Maybe no one reads it anymore because of its length – calling The Great Gatsby the Great American Novel seems more palatable because almost anyone can pick it up and experience it in its entirety within a couple of hours. That’s definitely not the case with USA, but it’s entirely worth it. The rest of the trilogy will follow in short order.

And on to the puppy. It’s been so long since I’ve posted that I had to scroll down the last couple entries and was surprised at how much has happened since. She’s definitely growing. Here she is at the vet, waiting on her last round of shots and a microchip!

Now that she’s had all of her shots, we can go on more adventures! A couple weeks ago, we went to Hamel Park to see the Red River:

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A few days later, we went to Caney Lake for a picnic lunch and visited Nunpoo in Minden.

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Nunpoo was very happy to see Zelda.

Zelda is, of course, a puppy, so things don’t always run perfectly smoothly:

She’s big enough, now, that she can jump right onto the coffee table or over the baby gates we installed to keep her in the living room. Oh, well. We’re working on things. One good thing about puppies: she was asleep five minutes later.

Finally, yesterday was National Mutts Day, so we celebrated with a selfie:

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’ve had to slow down my reading. There’s the book rut that won’t seem to go away and, of course, the puppy. It doesn’t help that I’m choosing long books, either. A friend talked about The Pillars of the Earth on Facebook, so of course I had to give it a try. It’s like Game of Thrones without dragons. I had no idea! It’s really good, except it’s too long, so I’ve put it on hold for a while. I hope I get my act together finish it soon.

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