Category: Book Blog (page 3 of 27)

2015 Book #2: The Strange Library

strangelibraryWhat a (very tiny) book! Haruki Murakami‘s book release dates are the only ones to which I pay close attention. If there’s a new Murakami book translated into English, chances are I’ve read it. Okay, I have, as I’ve read all of his novels. All of them. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage disappointed me, so this time I wasn’t sure what to expect.

And oh, was I surprised.

The Strange Library is now my favorite Murakami book. It’s fantastic. I love it. I want more.

It’s very, very short. Like a half-hour kind of short. A kid goes into a library to research a random thought and ends up trapped there. That’s the gist of it.

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But it’s so much more than that! It’s sort of a short Bildungsroman involving loneliness. And the Sheep Man makes an appearance! Gah! It’s also illustrated which is kind of neat, but the illustrations didn’t really add much to it. I think they were mainly there to take up space. The diverse images in this post all come from the book.

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Which brings me to my one complaint: The Strange Library is marketed as a novel (or at least a novella) with a list price of $18. The description says the book is 93, or so, pages long. That’s counting lots of full-page and sometimes multi-page illustrations. This “book” is really the length of a short story – and a short short story at that. It took me less than a half-hour to read, and I’m questioning the money I spent because of that. Sure, I could have waited for the library to get it, but it’s the beginning of the year and city funding hasn’t been dispensed yet, so I’d have to wait a while. I even went over to Barnes and Noble to have a look, but they didn’t have it in stock, so I gave up and bought the Kindle version from Amazon. Granted, it’s only $8, but for a half-hour of entertainment and no physical copy, that’s still a little cheap. I know full-color illustrations are not cheap, but I’d rather skip them and buy a reasonably priced tiny book instead. I’m pretty sure this is my first time complaining about the cost of a book…

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I really, really love this book. There are so many good things about it. I know I’m gushing at this point, but I can’t help myself. If you haven’t read Murakami before and like magical realism (or straight fantasy, really), get your hands on a copy. It’s a great Murakami primer and introduces so many of the ideas in his later books. Somehow, there’s a startling lack of cats or wells. But the Sheep Man!

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SO. Should you read The Strange Library? YES. Should you buy it? Not unless you love Murakami so much that you collect his books. Your local library (or Barnes and Noble) will eventually have it, and you can borrow it (or drink a cup of coffee while you read it in the store).

2015 Book #1: 10:04

tenohfourI hate to start the new year off on a bad note, but damn. I hated soooo many things about this book. Don’t worry, this’ll be a quick review.

10:04 is by Ben Lerner, who, I gather, is mostly a poet. It’s like he tried to write his version of The Bell Jar but failed miserably. He should stick to poetry, though I won’t be reading it.

It’s about a poet (who is currently writing a novel) who lives in New York. He teaches at a New York college, has New York friends, and is using various means to get a friend pregnant because she thinks it’s a good idea. He’s also doing other various New Yorky things. Two minor hurricanes happen, and he might or might not have a tumor slowly growing in his sinuses. So very exciting.

Now I’m going to list some of the things I hate about this novel.

  1. It’s a memoir, dammit, and Ben Lerner is no Sylvia Plath and is not good enough at writing to make a memoir pass as a novel.
  2. He can’t get his head out of his ass. 10:04 is the most self-indulgent book I’ve read in…I don’t remember how long.
  3. He likes to display his diverse vocabulary, which is fine in poetry but terrible in most novels. Don’t think Cormac McCarthy. Lerner makes it almost intolerably awkward.
  4. Nothing really happens. That can totally work for better authors. This isn’t an episode of Seinfeld.

So why, you ask, did I even finish this novel when I figured out very quickly that I hated it? Mainly because I listened to the audiobook. I’ve talked before about how that more passive form of reading can make difficult novels easier to wade through. That, and I’m also reading The Stand, which is really long and will take a while to finish (right now, I’m somewhere around 43%). Keeping my 50-book goal (and regular blog-posting) in mind, I figured that the benefits of slogging through a few hours of crappy book might outweigh the annoyance factor. And I was hoping that Lerner might redeem himself at the end. He didn’t. I’m not even sure I remember how 10:04 ends, and I just finished it a couple days ago. Meh.

Here’s to better books in the (very near) future!

Image credit: Davide Costanzo

Friday Things: 1/9/15

Okay, okay. I’m not very good at posting things Every Single Friday. I blame Christmas, the New Year, and general laziness. And not spending much time on the internet because I was playing stupid computer games.

But here we are, a little over a week into 2015, and Things have finally settled down. Here’s my list, which includes some links from the past two weeks:

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Please excuse the bit of construction mess that’s about to happen around here. I have to update the lists and various other new year-related stuff, so I’m going to try to update the template while I’m at it since Elegant Themes continues to withhold Extra.

 

2014: The Year in Books

Here we are at the beginning of another year. As usual, I read Lots of Things last year, and I plan to do the same in 2015. Here’s what I read in 2014, formatted as always: bold means I really liked it, italics means I hated it, and plain ol’ text means it was good enough.

Lots of bold this year!

So, you ask, what was the best? Sort of like last year, I’m going to list a couple: the BEST book I read (as in objectively the best) and the book I most enjoyed. If you’re a regular reader, you probably know at least the first book already.

Drumroll, please…

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Yep. This is the second year in a row that John Williams has taken the prize. Last year, it was Stoner, which is in my top five Best Books I’ve Ever Read. I’m not sure that Butcher’s Crossing made its way that high, but it just might be in the top ten. It’s perfectly constructed and definitely the best book of 2015. I had to get it from the library’s ILL system because there was no local copy, and I liked it so much that I asked for my own copy for Christmas. It’s sitting on my shelf next to Williams’s only other novel, Augustus, which I’ll probably read this year.

Okay, the best novel is down. This second category isn’t quite as easy, and my decision surprises even me. Ready?

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What? I know. Where’d You Go, Bernadette was the first audiobook I listened to on my frequent walks with Zelda, and I enjoyed it so much that it made the top of the list. I somehow doubt it’d be here if I’d read the book, as the audiobook presentation made it for me. That’s one I’ll probably listen to again at some point.

Of course there are honorable mentions because I can’t make up my mind about this one. Butcher’s Crossing is my rock solid choice for Best Book, but I’m clearly fuzzy about Where’d You Go, Bernadette, so here are some close runners-up, in no particular order:

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So there you have it: Cosmicomics by Italo CalvinoThe Inverted World by Christopher Priest, and The Wind through the Keyhole by Stephen King. Oh so good! I’m reliving them in my head right now. I sure hope Mr. Stephenking finds it in his heart to write another Dark Tower novel…

Onward!

2015 is off to a slow start: I’m reading another novel by Mr. Stephenking, and it’s LONG, so give me a couple weeks. I’m trying to make myself suffer through the second half of a crappy audiobook so I have something to post, but I’m not sure it’s worth it. I’ve decided to dispense entirely with any extracurricular reading goals (beyond the Usual Fifty), so we’ll see what happens. I’m not even going to try making a TBR list because we all know how that turned out last year. Yay, 2015!

Photo credit: Jack

2014 Book #64: The Enchanted

enchantedAaaand we’ve made it to the last book review of the year! Yay! 64 is a record, though I got close last year. I think I’ve written about every book but one about diabetes. I skipped that one (though it’s excellent) because I’m the only person I know for whom it’s even remotely relevant. Anyway.

The Enchanted happened on a whim: I ran across it while I was browsing Book Riot’s deals page, clicked through, then saw that it has good reviews on Goodreads. I saw “magical realism” and prison and said to myself, why not? A few minutes in, I was hooked.

It’s about a man on death row in a maximum security prison. We figure out very early that he’s insane, though we don’t know what he did to get there. The magical realism label is a lie: he’s just crazy. But he’s beautifully crazy! The horses on the cover come from an image in his mind of golden horses running below the prison during executions. It’s really amazing. He spends lots of time talking about the lady (a lawyer) and a fallen priest and their involvement with the inmates. One of said inmates, York, is scheduled to die very soon, and the lady tries to save him even though he wants to die. She goes to his hometown and talks to relatives and others, trying to find out exactly what happened. We don’t get the full story. We also hear about the other inmates and what happened to them that turned them into killers. The lady and the fallen priest have baggage of their own.

This book is kind of a psychological study on what turns people into killers and how two people with very similar pasts will cope with it differently. And did I mention that it’s beautiful? The Enchanted is a bit sentimental for my taste, but the effect is glorious, and it’s worth reading even with its sappy undertones. I might even read it again someday.

Image credit: Drew Bates

2014 Book #63: Over Sea, Under Stone

overseaunderstoneHere I am, at the end of the year, in catch-up mode AGAIN. Meh. Maybe my 2015 resolution needs to be to get my blogging act together. (Really? you ask. No, not really. My actual plan is to outlaw recreational cheese and nuts in my house. Maybe I’ll last ten minutes.) Anyway, my laziness means that this post will be short, as I have one more book to review and my grand end-of-the-year post to write. Wish me luck.

Which means that there is no way I’ll do this book justice. Over Sea, Under Stone is aimed at a younger demographic than I usually read, but I enjoyed it more than most YA novels I’ve read recently (not that I read lots of those, either). It’s kind of like the Hardy Boys discover a fantastical map and begin a huge adventure that involves King Arthur and (probably) a dragon.

Okay, that’s almost exactly what happens. Three siblings and their mostly conveniently absent parents go to visit their eccentric uncle in Cornwall. He happens to live in a huge old house, and you begin to wonder very quickly if it contains a certain wardrobe. That, it doesn’t, but there is a conveniently hidden staircase to a conveniently hidden attic which contains a conveniently hidden mysterious map for the children to discover and puzzle over. Turns out their discovery is also convenient to their uncle, who rented the house and has been looking for that very map for some time now. The children and their uncle begin a race against some sort of Dark Forces in search of the (a?) Holy Grail, which had at one point been in King Arthur’s Possession. Things happen. Mysteries. Mayhem. You get it.

See? I made Over Sea, Under Stone sound awful! What’s funny is despite all the clichés, it’s not. I enjoyed it immensely, and I’m going to read the rest of the series soon. It’s quick and fun and exciting, even with the few eye-rolls in the process.

I wish I had discovered this book when I was ten.

Which all means that you should settle in for some light winter reading. This book is best served with a roaring fire and a footstool. And maybe some hot chocolate. Sadly, I don’t have any of those things, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Image credit: Sharon Langridge

2014 Book #62: The Glass Bead Game

glassbeadgameIn a recent post, I talked about how I joined Roof Beam Reader’s 2014 TBR Pile Challenge – and failed miserably. Well, in my mind, The Glass Bead Game makes up for all of it: this book has been on my TBR pile longer than any other book. That’s right: I tried reading it (WHY?) when I was about 14, and I got maybe an eighth into it and gave up. There’s no way I could have finished this novel then, and I’m not even sure why I started. It probably had something to do with trying to impress someone because I was 14 and dumb.

So. Why did I pick it up again so many years later? I randomly found the audiobook and thought I’d have a better chance with it. And I finished it! That in itself is an accomplishment: The Glass Bead Game is one of the hardest books I’ve ever waded through. It makes The Satanic Verses seem like simple, easy reading.

That said, it’s a good book. Is it worth slogging through some 800 pages of dense prose? Probably not. I don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone I know.

I’m not going to discuss the plot in detail. It’s structured as a formal biography of Joseph Knecht, who became Magister Ludi, or Master of the Glass Bead Game. The game itself is what fascinated me so many years ago, and I think that part of my frustration then (and now) involved its never being explained. We know it’s a game about connections, like a melody being played then followed by related variations. But multiple fields of knowledge are involved – usually mathematics. The game is played with symbols. It’s really complex. The biography follows Joseph Knecht from early childhood through mid-adulthood, then switches to “legend” about what he did after he left his post. Last are three “lives” he wrote while he was a student.

The tone is serious and a bit lofty – definitely not easy reading. Audiobooks are great for books like this (it’s how I got through Anna Karenina, which I hated): you still absorb the contents well enough, but it’s a more passive experience because it’s much harder to go back and reread, and it’s much easier because no matter what, the narrator just keeps going.

Keep in mind that Hesse won the Nobel Prize for this novel. It’s his last and is considered by many to be his magnum opus. I’m ambivalent. I can see how The Glass Bead Game is a Great Novel (certainly moreso than the aforementioned Anna Karenina, which, again, I hated), but I didn’t experience the strong feelings I was expecting. Most of it was pleasant and interesting enough, but I don’t think I’ll ever read it again, and I won’t recommend it. If you want to read something difficult, I suggest some Rushdie – you won’t be disappointed with Satanic Verses or Midnight’s Children if you manage to get through them.

(A note about the featured image: it’s from Pretini by Mario Giacomelli and is one of my very favorite photographs.)

Friday Things 12/19/14

Two weeks in a row! I’m on a roll! Here are some Things from around the internet, in bullet form:

And since it’s almost Christmas, I’ll share one of my favorite Christmassy photos. Here’s Palmer photographing his parents’ tree three years ago:

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Merry Christmas!

2014 Book #61: The Crossing

crossingI picked up The Crossing because I’d read a string of crappy books, and I wanted to read one that I knew would be good. All I knew about it was that it’s by Cormac McCarthy and that it’s the second book in the Border Trilogy. Actually, I guess I should have known exactly what to expect. I like reading books that I know almost nothing about – the plot happens as it happens, and I can go for the ride. That’s what happened here, and oh, what a difficult ride it was.

Shortly after I began reading this book, I wondered whether I was emotionally equipped to finish it. Turns out I was, but barely. The Crossing made me cry. I don’t remember the last time that happened. Stoner, maybe? It’s been a while.

Instead of offering any sort of plot summary, I’m going to post some quotes because you should really read this book, and I don’t want to spoil your experience.

He camped that night on the broad Animas Plain and the wind blew in the grass and he slept on the ground wrapped in the serape and in the wool blanket the old man had given him. He built a small fire but he had little wood and the fire died in the night and he woke and watched the winter stars slip their hold and race to their deaths in the darkness. He could hear the horse step in its hobbles and hear the grass rip softly in the horse’s mouth and hear it breathing or the toss of its tail and he saw far to the south beyond she Hatchet Mountains the flare of lightning over Mexico and he knew that he would not be buried in this valley but in some distant place among strangers and he looked out to where the grass was running in the wind under the cold starlight as if it were the earth itself hurtling headlong and he said softly before he slept again that the one thing he knew of all things claimed to be known was that there was no certainty to any of it. Not just the coming of war. Anything at all.

Also:

If a dream can tell the future it can also thwart that future. For God will not permit that we shall know what is to come. He is bound to no one that the world unfold just so upon its course and those who by some sorcery or by some dream might come to pierce the veil that lies so darkly over all that is before them may serve by just that vision to cause that God should wrench the world from its heading and set it upon another course altogether and then where stands the sorcerer? Where the dreamer and his dream?

One more:

For the world was made new each day and it was only men’s clinging to its vanished husks that could make of that world one husk more.

Cormac McCarthy is the best living American novelist.

The Crossing is now one of my favorite McCarthy novels. Blood Meridian still takes top honors.

This novel is the second in a trilogy, though you don’t have to read the first one to know what’s going on. I’d imagine there might be at least a few references to the first one, but it’s been a while since I’ve read All the Pretty Horses, and I didn’t catch any. I guess The Crossing isn’t McCarthy’s most accessible novel, so you might want to start with The Road if you like popular lit. It’s not like the rest of his novels, though. Blood Meridian is more representative. I think I started with Outer Dark, which might be even more grim than this one. McCarthy is not a cheery writer.

Photo credit: Pam Morris

Friday Things: 12/12/2014

Here’s something new. In my efforts at blog-subject expansion, I’m going to attempt a weekly feature called Friday Things. I could be alliterative and call it the Friday Five, but I have more than five things to show you, and I’m sure I’ll have more or fewer in the future.

All of these Things didn’t appear this week. I just found them this week, and I figure that some people I know might enjoy them, too. Here’s what I found on my adventures around The Internet, in bullet form:

You’re welcome.

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