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Sunday Book Review

gqmartinez's picture

Its Sunday again, so that means its time to talk about books. First some housekeeping. Unless some folks want to jump on board and host the book reviews, I plan to move to an every other week schedule. To give us some time to read books.

I've been sick with a nasty head cold. My head felt like an ever-expanding balloon. Not fun. What are your favorite books to read when you are recovering from an illness? Do you read something light--mind candy--or something deep an introspective in those conditions?

Here's another question: what is your favorite book that no one you talk to has heard of? Mine is probably Chasing Shakespeares by Sarah Smith. It deals with the "controversy" over the identity of the "real" Shakespeare. It's more mind candy than substance, but it does introduce the "controversy" in an easy to read way. In terms of the "controversy", I'm in the Avon camp. I've known some really, really intelligent people who weren't the best schooled and/or royalty. What about you all?

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gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

As I mentioned, I've been under the weather. I haven't exactly finished Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie, but I will plug my way through it to say I do.

Shalimar reminds me a lot of The Satanic Verses. Both are rather interesting stories, but they suffer from what I like to call excessively superfluous words (irony intended). Both books can spare the readers many pages if they stopped being so loquacious. I understand the desire to set mood, but you don't have to do so in every single sentence to be successful.

Submitted by lambert on

Who hasn't heard of those books?

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

for just one.

We have an actual part-time librarian who doesn't believe anything she can't podcast exists.


gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

My favorite Vonnegut. I've found that while most people can name Slaughterhouse Five, Cats Cradle, or Sirens of titan, few mention Hocus Pocus.

OK OK, Vonnegut doesn't really count as not well known.

Submitted by jawbone on

Mystery on PBS has Kenneth Brannaugh as the inspector this spring season. I read one of Henning Mankell's non-mystery novels, Eye of the Leopard, about a young Swede who goes to Africa to get away and learns to love and fear the country he's settled on. Took a bit to get into it, but gripping.

When I find a new author I like, I tend to try to start with the earliest books and read through the oeuvre.

However, Ruth Rendell is so prolific that I got kind of bored and have dropped her for awhile. Plus, her books got longer, but not necessarily better, as she went along.

There was an Irish mystery writer who I was really getting into, finished the last book in our library system -- and learned that he had died and it would be the last. Can't remember the author or character's name. Ditto for a series set in Iceland.

Read my first exposure to Scottish author Ian Rankin and his Inspector Rebus series set in Edinburgh, this one during the week of the G8 coference in Scotland (July 2005) -- the one where BushBoy fell while riding his bike around the meeting's confernce center grounds. Fast read, only a few pages left. Enjoyable and would be good reads when I'm feeling miserable.

caseyOR's picture
Submitted by caseyOR on

Inspector John Rebus books are great. It is well worth the effort to search out all of these books and start reading at the beginning. I have read them all ( got them from the public library). There is a rumor that the latest Rebus book, which came out last year, will be the last. : (

Say it ain't so, Ian.

I also am quite a fan of the Inspector Lynley mysteries by Elizabeth George. Although George is an American, Thomas Lynley is a police homicide inspector for New Scotland Yard. Also worth the effort to start at the beginning of the series.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

Rebus was in his thirties when the series started if I remember correctly. He's aged through the series and is approaching eligibility for retirement, and his health suffers from the drinking, smoking, bad eating habits, and refusal to work out. The physical problems have been increasing over the last several books, and I've wondered if Rankin would keep the series going.

It's sort of like Mankell's Wallander series, where Kurt Wallander ended up diabetic. That series also seems to be over. Instead of writing ten Wallander novels as he originally planned, Mankell switched the last one to a book with Wallander's daughter as the protagonist. As I understand it, after Swedish TV made a very good adaptation, the actress who played the lead killed herself, and it affected Mankell badly enough that he put away the next novel he was working on in the new series and doesn't think he'll go back to it.

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

I've enjoyed many of his books. He died in 2002. His lead is a an Irish Chief Inspector, and always include some meaty other subject to learn about (the Book of Kells, Dublin horse shows, Joyce).

Rendell -- agreed. Some of her more 'psychological' mysteries bored me and now she's on my "nothing else at the library list."

Wallander has been on my list to check out for a long time, if Mystery! is taking him on then I'm going to step it up. I love books with dramatizations to accompany them, even if the tv/movie versions are bad. I just got Rankin's latest (and sounds like last) out of the library. Now I'm sad, if that's to be the last one. Perhaps he'll begin another series with a different character?

Since I seem to share my mysteries tastes with lots of you all -- another gem is Kate Ross' Julian Kestrel series. There are sadly only 4 books in the series, because the author died of cancer at an early-ish age (early 40s I think). Kestrel is an English 'dandy' during the Regency period in England, whose foppish behavior covers a quite practical and interesting soul. Ross writes quite well and is quite attuned to issues of status, class and money. I was surprised to find reading about the Regency period quite interesting.

Submitted by jawbone on

Thank you.

The Icelandic writer is Arnaldur Indridason, featuring Icelandic detective Erlandur and his team. I've read Jar City. and Tainted Blood.

A lot of these murder investigators end up not taking very good care of themselves or their family and friends.

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

is a strong staple (is that redundant?) of detective fiction, esp. the noirs.

As a counterpoint, I like McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. HBO is making a series of it and from the brief ads I've seen, it looks fairly faithful. Normally this series would be a bit too bubbly and sugary for me, but somehow he pulls it off. The lead, Precious Ramotswe, is always involved in one main mystery while in the midst of working out her changing & complicated family and friends relationships, which are very important to her. I'm also big Elizabeth Peters fan, whose Amelia Peabody books have her whole family involved in their mysteries. Definitely a decent balancing out from the lone wolf genre (and I get to learn about Egyptology at the same time).

Actually, that quality -- heroes who depart from Campbell's mythic path of individual accomplishment with the aid of just a few helpers to being one player in a web of relationships giving her greater strength than any Slayers who came before -- is one of the things that really made Buffy a near-radical interpretation of heroism. And is one of the reasons for my Joss-worship. It's a much more sustainable model in the systemic sense.

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

Independent of quality -- it looks awfully like Fox is doing its Friday-night death roll thing. Joss' work needs time to build, which is in awfully short supply on any network these days. The first two eps (I haven't seen the 3rd yet) were decent but not bang-out-of-the-gate. That's not good. But I can glimpse all sorts of tasty themes building about identity, loyalty, memory & personality, redemption, trust, control of others -- all the usual delicious Joss motifs. I'm just worried that as with Firefly, he won't get the chance to play them out.

Echo does seem out of the web, now. But so was Buffy at the beginning, with the Watchers' and even Giles' attempts (at first) to separate her from her friends. I would be very surprised if Echo stayed out of the web, just because the complex interplay of relationships as the grounding for heroism and great deeds is so much a part of Whedon's fundamental philosophy. It's in all his work -- Buffy only defeats Adam at the end of S4 because the Scoobies all meld together, and when Angel blows off Cordelia and Wes in S1(?) of Angel, really bad things happen. Even the Firefly crew only triumphed when each of them came to some precarious balance and acceptance of each other, even though Simon and River had to forgive (or look past, anyway) Jayne's attempt betray them, and everyone (except Kaylee) had to connect with River's otherworldy bizarreness. No one triumphs alone, at least not for long, in the Jossverse.

So I guess I expect to see Echo start to make some connections with those around her, pretty soon. Although the personality wipes are some kinda barrier! Echo is the ultimate subject -- she's a newborn after every mission, and is as dependent on the Dollhouse string-pullers for everything -- food, human contact (that she can remember), safety as newborns are on their parents. Only her parents are corporate overlord greediheads. I expect it will be great if it gets a chance to play out.

mojave_wolf's picture
Submitted by mojave_wolf on

I'm much more likely to favor fiction over non-fiction, and colorful, fast-paced fiction preferred, thank you muchly.

But not depressing fiction. I *loved* Joyce Carol Oates' Foxfire when I read it a couple of months ago , but I recently tried her book of short stories, Haunted, read two stories (the first and last) and stopped. I'm just going through too rough of a time to want to be that disturbed and/or squicked.

The title story, "Haunted", starts out centered around a couple of girls very similar to the two leads in Foxfire, except more selfish and, well, somewhat hateful. They live in a rural area and start investigating old houses with a reputation for being haunted. Soon after, things begin to go very wrong.

While I can't do anything but praise the writing and power of the piece, it left me deeply, deeply disturbed for some reason. Days later, I tried the last story, more or less drawing an analogy between the way some women and lab rats are treated (this is a gross oversimplification/distortion for the sake of brevity). Again, powerful and well written, but depressing and gross. When fighting for one's financial life while a bizarre storm of ill luck swirls around, not the sort of thing I want to be reading.

I have since very much enjoyed reading Rachel Caine's latest Morganville Vampires novel (Glass Houses is the first in series, if anyone wants to pick it up). Can't really say much about my issues with this one without giving things away, but can say the YA series as a whole is really smart fun, centered around a very bright girl who gets into college early, but whose middle of nowhere, Texas parents want to keep her close to home and out of the big city and decide to send her to an obscure school in a small town so she'll be properly sheltered. Alas, this is not how things work out. Many points for having a smart person who *acts* smart and achieves things in a supernatural milieu without developing any supernatural powers herself. (there are a horde of YA vamp series out now; this is by far the best I've looked at) (Caine also has a fun smart adult mixed fantasy & SF series about people who manipulate weather conditions, Ill Wind being the first)

I dunno the *best* book no one has ever heard of that I've read, but over the past year, Edward Abbey's simultaneously offensive, problematic, hilarious book The Monkey Wrench Gang, featuring some of the most beautiful nature writing around is not, so far as I know, well known. My fairly long review of it is here:

I read somewhere that Jo Walton's Farthing, one of the best books published this decade, had only sold something like 5,000 copies in the US a year after initial publication, which upsets me deeply (hopefully the last year or so has been better). Honestly don't know the sales on the other stuff I've read, so can't say. Excerpt of old review (full review here:
This witty, scary little gem breezily details the world of the Farthing Set, a bunch of upper-crust Brits who successfully negotiated a peace treaty with Hitler, where "Nine years had been enough to test the terms of the Farthing Peace and show that England and the Reich could be good friends."

Alas, one of these wonderful Farthings has been found murdered. Style and tone are part of what separates a servicable idea from a wonderful novel, and to give an example of why I love this book so much and tell you part of the set-up at the same time . . .
"But anyway, when I heard that Sir James Thirkie had been murdered, that's the first thing I thought of, Angela Thirkie being mean to David the afternoon before, and I'm afraid the first thing to go through my mind, although fortunately I managed to catch the train before it got out of the tunnel so I didn't say so, was that it well and truly served her right."

. . . absolutely brilliantly handles the transition from . . . "la la the world is f*cked up but at least our part of it is tolerable and maybe we can fix it and make things a bit better" to "Uh -- oooh" to "Oh. F*ck."

& noticed in that set of reviews Lane Robbins' Maledicte, a beautifully written dark fantasy that I don't think ever caught on . . .

mojave_wolf's picture
Submitted by mojave_wolf on

And here I worried that I ran on far too long.

And this gives me a chance to answer what I forgot, re: the original post:

"I've known some really, really intelligent people who weren't the best schooled and/or royalty. What about you all?"

Heck yes. One of the most naturally talented writers I know never finished college, and having both a JD and having worked with some blue collar types who never *went* to college at all, I can say with confidence that, while on average, yeah, law school grads probably have higher IQ's than people who never went to college, that's "on average". There are plenty of stupid people who somehow make it to (and through) law school, and plenty of exceptionally intelligent people who don't have much in the way of formal education.

Submitted by lambert on

I'm re-reading The Truth -- "The Truth Will Make You Fret" ...

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

"The Dark is Rising" series. It's a generation before Harry Potter, so it's not filled with weighty tomes, but it's a good romp (YA Fiction at your local library) of an Arthurian retelling.