Bragan Reads Right on Through It in 2021

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Bragan Reads Right on Through It in 2021

1bragan
Ene 1, 5:42pm

Hello, everyone! Glad to be back here in Club Read for yet another year. After 2020, I am not even going to begin to try to predict what 2021 might or might not bring, but whatever happens, I'm going to keep reading right on through it.

As I mentioned in the Introductions thread, my main response to the stress of 2020 seems to have been doing lots and lots and lots of online book-shipping. This year, hopefully I will be doing less buy-buying and more book-reading. Or at least less book-buying and more or less the same amount of book-reading. I'll take that as progress, too.

Otherwise, I have very few reading plans, but you can probably expect the same eclectic mish-mash from me as usual, with a fair amount of speculative fiction of various kinds, a lot of non-fiction, and smatterings of nearly everything else.

If, for some reason, you're interested in looking back over what I read last year, you can find my 2020 posts starting here.

Happy New Year, all, and happy reading!

2baswood
Ene 1, 6:02pm

Hi Betty have you had a chance to see the latest Doctor Who - first time on British TV last night.

3AnnieMod
Ene 1, 6:23pm

Look at it this way - now you have a lot of books to read ;)

Happy New year and I am looking forward to see what you read next - your tastes seem to be as eclectic and diverse a mine so I never know what you would read next :)

4bragan
Ene 1, 8:22pm

>2 baswood: I am just about to sit down with my New Year's dinner and watch it!

>3 AnnieMod: Happy New Year! I swear, I never quite know exactly what I'll read next, either. I figure it helps to keep life interesting. :)

5stretch
Ene 1, 8:35pm

Happy new year and happy reading!

6AnnieMod
Ene 1, 9:14pm

>4 bragan:

I've been known to leave my library (my second bedroom is converted into a library) with a book for the night and while getting all the lights out to have another one catch my eye from a living room bookcase and have it kinda jump the queue. So... yeah. Matter of fact this is exactly what happened with the one I am reading now... :)

7lisapeet
Ene 1, 9:18pm

Happy 2021, and I look forward to hearing about what catches your eye (I'm the same way).

8dchaikin
Ene 1, 9:56pm

Happy 2021 Betty. Feel free to keep us updated on those signals from Proxima Centauri. : )

9rhian_of_oz
Ene 2, 3:30am

Happy 2021. I've been hit by many BBs from you in the past and look forward to more of them this year.

10OscarWilde87
Ene 2, 3:59am

Happy 2021! I will of course be following again this year! A star is dropped.

11bragan
Editado: Ene 2, 11:25am

Thanks, everyone! Nice to see you all here! I am looking forward to a shiny new year of books, and of Club Read. (Where I will maybe manage to be a bit more active, outside of posting on my own thread. I hope so! Even if I am already kind of overwhelmed with all the new posts for the new year.)

>6 AnnieMod: Books can be sneaky that way! I haven't had too many instances of having one actually in my hand when a different one refuses to wait its turn, but many, many examples of a book I swear I'm determined to get to very soon being put off and off and off by others crowding in ahead of it.

>8 dchaikin: Right now, I only know what I've read about it on the internet, myself, but if I stumble into any insider info, I'll let you know. :)

>9 rhian_of_oz: Always glad to provide the BBs for others! I figure it's only fair, as I seem to get hit with so many of them.

12bragan
Ene 2, 5:19pm

Right, on to the actual new reading for the new year! And a very nice book to start on, too.

1. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke



Piranesi -- although that is not actually his name -- lives in a seemingly infinite House of vast rooms full of statues, partially flooded by the sea. He is alone, except for fish, birds, thirteen dead people, and a man he thinks of as the Other, who visits twice a week and says a lot of cryptic things.

It's a wonderful, magical, fascinating, deeply strange setting, with a wonderful, mysterious, fascinating, deeply strange narrator. And it really is Clarke's choice of narrator that makes this short novel so good. It's very, very easy to imagine a much more conventional-feeling version of this basic story written from some other POV, with "Piranesi" in the role of a simple plot device, but while that might have been vaguely interesting, it would never have been anywhere near this memorable. And not just because I got quite attached to the guy, either, although that certainly does help.

Rating: 4.5/5

13avaland
Ene 2, 5:20pm

A bit late, just want to say that I'm going to try to get over here from time to time to see what you are reading (pssst. I'll tell you how many used and new books I bought in 2020 if you tell me your yours? Not publicly, of course. It's bad)

14bragan
Ene 2, 5:47pm

>13 avaland: Hello! I will try to do the same for you.

And, oh, dear. I've been a little afraid to total it up. Um. Let me see...

Oh god. Oh, god. Yeah. Yeah, that's a bad number. If yours is higher, I'll be seriously impressed. Or appalled. Or both.

Well, since we're not doing it publicly, I will message you with my shame. :)

15rhian_of_oz
Ene 2, 8:44pm

>12 bragan: This would be a BB except it's already on my wishlist :-). Glad to hear you enjoyed it, what a great way to start your reading year.

16bragan
Ene 2, 10:02pm

>15 rhian_of_oz: The second book of the year is very good so far, too, so we are definitely off to a good start!

17ELiz_M
Ene 2, 10:35pm

>14 bragan: Thank you, this post made me giggle. My "worst" book buying year was 121 books in 2014 (my records don't go back very far, though). And even though most of them were used, I am pretty sure I spent more than $1000 on books that year. I was appalled until my mom pointed out that for her photography hobby good lenses cost considerably more...

18bragan
Ene 2, 10:52pm

>17 ELiz_M: Thank you, I will try to reassure myself with that now. "Hey, at least I'm not buying expensive camera lenses!" :)

19SandDune
Editado: Ene 3, 9:41am

>12 bragan: Piranisi was my first book of year as well. I think I liked it even more than you as I gave it five stars. I agree that it is the point of view that turns what would be an enjoyable read into something very special.

20bragan
Ene 3, 12:23pm

>19 SandDune: I'm pretty stingy with five-star ratings, so it didn't quite get there for me, but it was a really good note to start the year on, for sure, and I'm really impressed with the storytelling choices Clarke makes and how well they work.

21dchaikin
Ene 3, 1:56pm

>12 bragan: nice first review. Seems to be a book people are reading. I see it on Litsy a lot and now two reviews quickly in CR. I love the cover. Anyway, I've been curious and so happy to read your take. (My first thought on reading your review is that it sounds like he's in an aquarium...or variation of)

22bragan
Ene 4, 12:23am

>21 dchaikin: It does seem to have gotten a lot of attention. Deserved, I think.

And, heh, no, he is not in an aquarium. Although I find the thought rather amusing. Come to think of it, there is a reference to an aquarium...

23LolaWalser
Ene 4, 1:05am

Hi Betty! So what did you think of the Doctor Who special? I wonder when we can expect a new season...

24bragan
Ene 4, 1:21am

>23 LolaWalser: Honestly, I was pretty meh about it, but it's always awesome to see Captain Jack again.

I'm not at all sure when the new season's going to be, what with all the covid-caused disruption.

25LolaWalser
Ene 4, 1:28am

>24 bragan:

Yeah, me too. Not enough story for the time they had. Still--I read it was BBC's most-watched of the day. Barrowman looked amazing; probably that lovely smile of his makes him look unchanged.

But, woohoo!--two women in the Tardis!--I will bask in that while I can. :)

26AnnieMod
Ene 4, 1:31am

>25 LolaWalser:

Well, it is Doctor Who AND Barrowman. I suspect that even if the whole episode is just him reading the phone book while sitting in the Tardis, it will still be the most watched of the day. Throw in a doctor and/or a few other companions and... yeah... no surprises there ;)

27bragan
Ene 4, 1:47am

>25 LolaWalser: Apparently we're getting a new male companion, but it would be very cool if we get a little time with just the Doctor and Yaz before he shows up.

>26 AnnieMod: I admit, I'd probably tune in to Barrowman reading a phone book in the TARDIS. So that's pretty hard to argue with. :)

28avaland
Ene 4, 7:09am

>14 bragan: Now that we have established that you have won, I think I can release any vestigial guilt....

29wandering_star
Editado: Ene 4, 11:23am

>12 bragan: That's a really good point about Clarke's choice of narrator in Piranesi. I also think that the denouement could also have been handled very differently - would have been in 99 out of 100 versions of this story - and the way that it turns out is what stops this being just a clever puzzle novel with an unreliable narrator, and creates the humanism and profundity.

30bragan
Ene 4, 1:57pm

>28 avaland: Yes, I absolve you! :)

>29 wandering_star: Yeah, I find the choice of narrator so fascinating, because the guy who's been lost in the weird place so long it's driven him crazy, who has to be searched for, or who appears at significant moments to say weird things, or whose journal provides important clues, is such a stock trope, but seeing the entire thing from his unreliable but still very human viewpoint here completely transforms everything.

And you know, thinking about it, I think everything about the ending would have had to be different if we weren't in his head, with a first-hand understanding of his experiences and feelings, of who he is and what this place he's been means to him. And that would, indeed, have almost certainly been a much poorer and less memorable thing.

I do like the fact that, the more I think about this novel, the better I like seem to appreciate it.

31bragan
Ene 4, 4:07pm

And this year's reading continues to be off to a really great start!

2. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter



There are certain books that, when I finally get around to reading them, leave me wondering how the hell I managed to reach the age I have without having done so before. This collection was definitely one of those. Because I love fairy tale retellings and reworkings, and Angela Carter's are -- rightfully, it turns out -- regarded as standout examples

Only it turns out they're even more than that. I found this collection absolutely stunning. Carter's writing seems to weave a dark, complicated magic of its own. Which is all the more impressive because, in some of these stories, there were moments when I stopped, pulled back a little, thought about the kind of language she was using to tell her tale, and realized that, honestly, it all feels like it ought to be a little... overwrought. Purple, even, in places. And yet, holy crap, does it somehow work to just pull you along, somehow. The language, the imagery, the familiar fairy tale elements and the way they twist and transform into shapes that are completely unexpected and yet somehow don't feel as if they should be unexpected... It all seems to work to completely bypass the rational part of my brain and inject something wonderful and disturbing directly into my veins. And yet, I have the very strong feeling that I could probably revisit these stories any number of times, with or without my analytical brain fully engaged, and find something new to think about in them every time.

It's a rare and incredible thing when I finish a work of fiction and find myself just sitting there saying wow out loud for a little while afterward. This collection did it for me twice: once when I finished "The Lady of the House of Love" (a vampire tale with echoes of Sleeping Beauty), and then again when I finished the whole collection.

Wow.

Rating: 5/5

32japaul22
Ene 4, 4:12pm

>31 bragan: This is one that has been on my mental TBR forever as well. Maybe I'll actually get to it in 2021 - you've made it very tempting!

33bragan
Ene 4, 4:13pm

>32 japaul22: It was on my physical TBR, even, for five years before I got to it, and I'm kind of kicking myself over that fact now.

34RidgewayGirl
Ene 4, 4:27pm

>12 bragan: I'm waiting on my library for this one, glad to hear it's good!

Regarding the books purchased in 2020, there was this pandemic thing going on and I think we all need to give ourselves a break and just enjoy the full shelves and abundant choices. I am not just saying this because I ended up adding 93 books to my library.

35AnnieMod
Ene 4, 5:14pm

>31 bragan:

It gets you, doesn't it? It all starts so deceptively shallow and almost cliched in places and before you realize it, it gets you and never lets you go. And then it does it again in the next story. and again. And again. And when you look at the whole thing put together, it is a lot more than the sum if its parts...

And now I want to find my own copy and read it again...

36stretch
Ene 4, 6:52pm

>31 bragan: I have to find a copy of this! Everytime I read another glowing review makes me want to read it right now.

37bragan
Ene 4, 7:47pm

>34 RidgewayGirl: Yes, that seems the only sensible way to proceed!

>35 AnnieMod: It really, really does. And "when you look at the whole thing put together, it is a lot more than the sum if its parts" is something I was very much thinking, too. Some of the individual stories are better than others, or do more than other, but when you take them all as a whole... Well, it very much earns that wow.

>36 stretch: You should get a copy! And then not wait five years to read it, like I did.

38wandering_star
Ene 5, 6:14am

>30 bragan: And you know, thinking about it, I think everything about the ending would have had to be different if we weren't in his head, with a first-hand understanding of his experiences and feelings, of who he is and what this place he's been means to him. And that would, indeed, have almost certainly been a much poorer and less memorable thing.

Yes, this, exactly!

39dchaikin
Ene 5, 1:42pm

>31 bragan: this title comes up here a lot. I think avaland has mentioned it a few times. I’m sure others have. I always think - “but i’ve read so many bad retellings”* - but this is a really tempting review.

*(but... have I actually? Anyway... )

40bragan
Editado: Ene 5, 4:07pm

>39 dchaikin: I mean, I can't guarantee you won't think it's a collection of bad retellings, because for all I know you and I might well have different definitions of what a bad fairy tale retelling is. But at the very least I'm willing to bet it will be interesting. If it helps any, it's very short. The entire collection is only about 160 pages.

41dchaikin
Editado: Ene 5, 5:19pm

>40 bragan: that actually is helpful. A not intimidating length.

42sallypursell
Ene 5, 5:32pm

Hi, I'm just getting started this year, and it is daunting how many posts there are already.

Also, I think I can match a few people here for over-doing the buying of books this past year. Terrifying, when I stopped to think about it. My husband, who never complains about my buying, actually was upset about it several time during the year--the large piles, you know. I, too, blame the pandemic for it--it was the uncertainty. And the library kept varying closed and open all year. Mostly, though, I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it.

43bragan
Ene 5, 7:47pm

>42 sallypursell: Tell me about it! There are people whose threads I just cannot keep up with at all.

It's almost a little reassuring to know that I'm very much not the only one whose response to 2020 was to go nuts buying books. Even if I seem to have done more of it than most. :) There are so many reasons for it, I think we all get to excuse ourselves.

Now, I just really need to try to get out of the habit in 2021.

44sallypursell
Ene 5, 8:07pm

You might enjoy this:

The foot of my bed


My sewing room


The foot of that pile


45bragan
Ene 5, 9:20pm

>44 sallypursell: Goodness, those are some piles! All right, maaaaaybe I can understand why your husband might complain. Although a bed surrounded by books sounds pleasant enough to me. :)

46sallypursell
Ene 5, 9:36pm

>45 bragan: When we got together my husband was a big reader too, but now he's on the computer most of the day, and doesn't much read. I don't get it. If you would see his piles you might think we were hoarders. We're not, though, we just raised four kids in a house that is just about 1000 square feet, and all of us had many pastimes. We clear stuff out all the time. I don't throw away or give away many books, and not much of my fabric and yarn stashes. Everything else is fair game.

47wandering_star
Ene 6, 2:19am

A friend of mine made several large "Christmas trees" out of books this year - I think three or four of them, in varying sizes up to over six foot! He posted a great video on FB, a timelapse of himself and his wife building up the trees.

48sallypursell
Ene 6, 8:50am

>47 wandering_star: What a neat idea!

49Julie_in_the_Library
Ene 6, 8:55am

>44 sallypursell: I think your home may qualify as a fire hazard! :) That's an impressive amount of books!

50bragan
Ene 6, 1:25pm

>47 wandering_star: Very cool! Maybe I should have done that this year. I didn't have a Christmas tree, but I always have books.

51sallypursell
Editado: Ene 6, 9:28pm

>49 Julie_in_the_Library: Oh, that's just the overflow, bought this year, or maybe a few last year too.

There are quite a number of bookcases filled, too.

52bragan
Ene 6, 9:48pm

Well, I managed to tear myself away from compulsively refreshing news sites to finish another book. I'm counting that as an accomplishment today.

3. Every Tool's a Hammer: Life is What You Make It by Adam Savage



I was a big fan of Mythbusters, and I've always found Adam Savage -- with his bouncy energy, his heart-felt geeky enthusiasm, his skill, and his ingenuity -- to be a particular delight. Some of my appreciation for that skill and ingenuity, though, comes from the fact that what he does is just so utterly beyond me it might as well be brain surgery, as my own talent for anything involving working with my hands is effectively nil. Which makes me not really the target audience for this book, since it's largely aimed at giving advice to other folks who express their creativity by building physical things.

Even I, however, can see that it's pretty good advice, as most of it is less about specific things like which tools to use -- although there is a little bit of that -- and more about the general principles involved in approaching these kinds of projects: organization, being willing to experiment, the pitfalls of trying to do things too quickly, etc. I'm particularly impressed by how successful he is at checking his ego and being willing to actually learn from his mistakes, and to put his failings and missteps on display so that others can learn from them too. He's also very, very good about stressing that everyone has to find the ways of doing things that work for them, rather than assuming that he knows best for everybody. Which, honestly, is something I wish more people giving advice on creative endeavors would understand so well.

I'm guessing that this is likely be a really good, encouraging read for maker types, especially those just starting out. For my part, while I'm not exactly in a position to find much of it useful, even if Savage does try to make his advice as broadly applicable as possible, I did at least enjoy this as a glimpse into how he works. And his passion for what he does and his sincere love of sharing it with other people made it a surprisingly pleasant read even for someone who can barely hammer a nail in straight.

Rating: 4/5

53sallypursell
Ene 6, 9:54pm

>52 bragan: That one is seriously tempting! I'm a Mythbusters fan, too.

54bragan
Ene 6, 10:02pm

>53 sallypursell: I was wondering, based on some reviews I'd read of it after I picked it up, whether I'd get much of anything out of it at all, given how very much I'm not the target audience, no matter how much of a fan I might be. So I'm very pleased and relieved by the fact that I found it an enjoyable read, anyway.

55avaland
Ene 7, 11:02am

>31 bragan: Angela Carter is a part of my holy trinity: Atwood, Oates and Carter. She takes up far less shelf space than the first two (oh, one can only imagine what she might have given us if she had lived longer).

56bragan
Ene 7, 11:55am

>55 avaland: I need to read more Atwood. I've really liked a lot of what I've read of her so far. And I keep accumulating Oates on the TBR and never reading any of it, something I very much need to rectify.

57rocketjk
Ene 7, 1:05pm

Hey, I finally found your thread. Happy New Year and happy reading in 2021. Cheers!

58bragan
Ene 7, 1:28pm

>57 rocketjk: Hello and welcome!

59arubabookwoman
Ene 9, 4:40pm

Hi Betty and Happy New Year. Always interesting reading going on here, and I will try to follow along, and possible occasionally comment.

60bragan
Ene 9, 5:34pm

>59 arubabookwoman: Welcome! Good to see you here, please do stop by any time.

61bragan
Ene 9, 10:45pm

4. Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam



A couple and their two teenage children are taking a vacation, a pleasant getaway from their home in NYC spent in a very nice house they've rented for a few days, in a place far enough out in the country that they can't even get decent cell phone service. They do get just enough signal, though, to catch a glimpse of some kind of news about a big blackout on much of the east coast. And then the TV and the internet go out. And the people who own the house, who also happened to be out of the city for the day, stop by and want to stay, because something tells them maybe New York City isn't where they want to be right now.

But, really, everything's fine. Everything is absolutely fine. How can everything possibly not be fine, when you're on vacation?

Hooooo boy.

For most of this novel, I kept thinking that I didn't like it very much, that the writing just wasn't working for me. Such a pity, I thought to myself, because it has a lot going for it, otherwise. The author clearly does have some real talent, and the characters are very believable, the details of their lives and attitudes almost painfully recognizable at times. There's some good suspense, and some complicated, insightful thematic stuff. But, oh, I told myself, I just can't get along with the writing style at all. All that head-hopping (a particular pet peeve of mine, and something I believe very few authors can get away with). That detached narrative voice that keeps flat-out telling us things about the characters instead of showing us through words and actions (even if it doesn't feel amateurish the way that sort of thing usually does). The places where the sentences start to seem like they've maybe been polished one too many times, to the point where they've become slightly unnatural. The "little did they know"-type moments that start to pop up here and there, which surely must be just a little too coy, a little too narratively convenient. Yes, I decided, all of that is just too much of a problem for me. A pity, but that's obviously the reason I keep not wanting to pick this back up after I've put it down, the reason I'm not fully sinking into the story, the reason I feel sort of stressed out and annoyed as I read.

Yeah, well, you know what? Most of that is me being almost as much in denial as some of the characters. Because this is not a badly written book, or even a book whose writing is so much not to my taste that it just kind of ruins everything for me. I'm still not a fan of this particular POV structure, but Alam does actually do some good stuff with it, and those moments of dramatic irony that I kept wanting to think of as coy and convenient ultimately turn out to be nothing short of devastating.

No, it took me until very near the end to fully admit it to myself, but the truth is, the reason I kept fighting getting too much into this novel and telling myself it wasn't working is because it was just absolutely, positively not the book I should have been reading in the first week of 2021. Which is to say, a novel that, among other things, plays on the anxious possibility that if you take your eyes off the news for one moment something terrible will happen while you're not looking (something that did, in fact, happen for me on the same day I started reading this), a novel that reminds you, slowly but insistently, that the lives and the systems that we take for granted are in fact vulnerable and unstable and maintained largely by fragile consensus

Yeah. Basically, it stirred up every single horrible, anxious, frightened thing that's sitting in my brain right now, and it seems I am not quite emotionally equipped to confront in fiction what I'm already currently having a hard time handling in reality. And yet, once I finally recognized this fact, once I gave up fighting against it and just let myself go where it wanted to take me... Well, the result was very powerful. I may have let out a very long, ragged breath at the end. I guess you do have to count that as a significant success.

I still really, really wish I'd read it some other week, though. Or some other year. Or maybe in some other timeline.

Rating: 4.5/5, entirely despite myself. Damn you, Rumaan Alam.

62wandering_star
Ene 10, 6:49am

>61 bragan: Ah. My library loan for this came in just this morning...!

63lisapeet
Ene 10, 8:55am

>61 bragan: And see, this just makes me perversely want to read this. There's something about doubling down on dark reading, particularly fiction, in dark times that feels like a pressure valve to me... picking at a scab, or something. I have it on the pile, but can't get to it right away—and maybe that's a good thing.

64RidgewayGirl
Ene 10, 10:28am

>61 bragan: I just started this one this morning. I'll return to read your review once I've finished the book.

65LolaWalser
Ene 10, 10:50am

Soooooo intrigued. But also a huge wimp. What to do, what to do...

66kidzdoc
Ene 10, 12:26pm

Fabulous review of Leave the World Behind, Betty. I've been in that "must follow the news every moment" state and heightened sense of anxiety off and on for the past 4+ years, never more so than this week. I'd like to read this book, but I'll wait until my anxiety level decreases from its current 15/10 rating.

67SandDune
Ene 10, 12:42pm

>4 bragan: I’ve read some good things about Leave the World Behind. I’ve added it to my Wish List.

68bragan
Ene 10, 2:54pm

>62 wandering_star:, >64 RidgewayGirl:, >67 SandDune: I hope you guys have an easier time reading it than I did, but also that you end up appreciating it as much in the end.

>63 lisapeet: I often feel like that, myself. I think it's the same impulse that makes me want to listen to Leonard Cohen albums when I'm unhappy. But apparently right now I want stories to temporarily soothe my anxieties, rather than adding to them.

>65 LolaWalser: Depends on what kind of a wimp you are, maybe? The darkness in it is the kind that creeps up on you quietly, not the kind that spurts horror at you with a fire hose. Personally, I think I tend to find that more disturbing, but people do differ on that.

>66 kidzdoc: Yeah, I thought I was already anxious enough, but it's amazing how much this week has managed to add to it. I'd say I do recommend the book but... maybe give it until at least after the 20th. (There are slightly spoilery reasons why I very much wish I had.)

69dchaikin
Ene 10, 5:19pm

>61 bragan: you have me scared to death to read this book. : ) Great review, scary world.

70baswood
Ene 10, 5:33pm

> enjoyed your review - and you have another timeline?

71bragan
Ene 10, 5:39pm

>69 dchaikin: It's probably really not that bad, if you don't read it when you're already about to have a stress meltdown at the dangerous and uncertain state of the world. :)

>70 baswood: If only I did!

72bragan
Editado: Ene 14, 8:56pm

5. The Book of Dzur by Steven Brust



An omnibus volume consisting of books 10 and 11 (by publication order) of Brust's Vlad Taltos series, featuring former crime boss and assassin Vlad Taltos, a human who has lived most of his life among the elf-like Dragaerans.

In this case, I definitely have to review the two separately.

Dzur: This one follows on almost directly from the previous book, Issola. I finished that one feeling rather excited to see what might come next, but I can't say this installment really paid that off. There are some developments in the ongoing story arc, but they all feel more like setup for the future than anything else, and the actual plot, which features some power struggles among organized crime operations, wasn't especially interesting. And while I'm sure there are readers who might really enjoy the long descriptions of food that start off each chapter, I can't say I'm among them. Not that any of it was bad. Even the weakest of these novels manages to be at least mildly entertaining, but while this one still clears that bar, I don't think it gets very far over it.

Jhegaala: Here we're jumping back in time again to fill in an important gap in Vlad's narrative thus far. And this one I definitely liked. I found the plot much more interesting, to begin with. Yeah, I might look very slightly askance at the way Vlad has to spend several pages at the end explaining to us everything that just happened, but Brust is clearly playing on mystery novel tropes there, in a very self-aware sort of way, so I'll allow it. It also features Vlad taking a trip back to the eastern land of his family's origins, which I found interesting. I've often said that the world-building is the best thing about this series, but while reading Dzur, I'll admit, I was starting to think maybe we'd explored that world enough by now that there wasn't much left to do with it. But, of course, there was this whole region and culture that had only been touched on so far, and I'm glad to have finally gotten to spend some time there. It's a good installment for character stuff for Vlad, too. Since he's on his own this time (well, except for his constant reptilian companions, of course), we get to spend a lot of time in his head, and I always find that interesting. His cynical sense of humor is always fun, even when he's going through some very dark times, as he is here. But I also like the way Brust paints him in such complicated shades of gray. It would have been very easy, I think, to let Vlad become simply heroic, and even easier to turn him into the kind of antihero whose actions you're never expected to question as long as he looks cool doing them, or, alternatively, into a soggy bundle of what-have-I-done angst. Instead, Brust lets him be sympathetic and likeable and funny, but also finds ways to quietly remind us that despite all the ways in which Vlad can be a good guy, he's not entirely a good person, and he's kinda-sorta okay with that. And that, to me, is much more interesting to read.

Rating: Dzur gets a slightly generous-feeling 3.5/5, but Jhegaala is a very solid 4. I'm not sure how to average that out. I guess mathematically it ends up being closer to 3.5/5 than anything else, so let's go with that, even though it doesn't really mean anything.

73AnnieMod
Editado: Ene 15, 12:42am

>72 bragan: I love this whole series - even if some books are weaker than others, the whole thing is just adorable. :) I wonder how much of Dzur being a much slower book is because of the cycle poem and what a Dzur house is supposed to be doing (stalk and blend as opposed to being more active). Or I am just thinking too much.:)

74bragan
Ene 15, 2:31am

>73 AnnieMod: I can't say I love it all as wholeheartedly as a lot of people seem to, as it really is a bit too uneven for that, to me. But at its best, it's very cool, and even the weakest installments at least have some fun touches, so I'm certainly enjoying it, overall.

And Brust obviously does like to play around with structure and with themes related to the whole House cycle thing, so who knows what is or isn't overthinking? :)

75bragan
Ene 15, 10:11pm

6. Humans by Brandon Stanton



In this expansion of his Humans of New York project, Brandon Stanton travels to cities around the world to photograph people he meets on the street, interview them, and share parts of their stories. It's an extremely interesting exercise, and a good reminder that everyone we encounter, everywhere, has their own story and their own struggles. But what really struck me about this one is how terribly unhappy (or even, in some cases, horrific) the majority of these stories seem to be. I doubt it's the intended effect, but mostly it just leaves me with the impression of the world as one profoundly sad place.

Rating: 4/5

76SandDune
Ene 16, 8:16am

>72 bragan: I'm sure there are readers who might really enjoy the long descriptions of food that start off each chapter, I can't say I'm among them. Tentatively holding up my hand as one of ‘those’ readers. I spent several days after finishing Dzur really wanting to go and eat a meal at Valabar’s! I agree that some of Brust’s novels are better than others but I have enjoyed all of them.

77bragan
Ene 16, 8:25am

>76 SandDune: I have a friend who loves the books who got very excited at finally being able to actually "visit" that restaurant, so you are not alone! I think I'm probably just too much of a lowbrow when it comes to food. And too much of picky eater. It no doubt totally ruins the effect when you're sitting there going, "Eww, mushrooms!" :)

78MadeleineReed
Ene 16, 8:38am

Este usuario ha sido eliminado por spam.

79dchaikin
Ene 16, 3:05pm

>75 bragan: interesting book, Humans, and interesting affect it left on you.

80bragan
Ene 16, 4:20pm

>79 dchaikin: Yes, to both things.

81rachbxl
Ene 17, 4:07am

Great review of Piranesi - I immediately put a hold on it. And if that hadn’t taken me to my limit, I’d have put a hold on Leave the World Behind too.

82bragan
Ene 17, 11:12am

>81 rachbxl: Damn those limits! Hope you end up liking Piranesi as much as I did.

83rhian_of_oz
Ene 17, 8:35pm

>75 bragan: I do wonder whether it's because the stories of people living happy, contented lives aren't considered interesting enough to be included. "I met my partner when I was 19, I asked him out when I was 22, and 28 years later we're still together and he continues to be my favourite person in the whole world." :-)

84bragan
Editado: Ene 18, 12:55am

>83 rhian_of_oz: There were a few like that. One guy said he was the happiest person in the world. But those were much fewer, and generally much shorter.

Even if the selection of people is random -- and he claims he picked people to interview at random, although he might have been more selective about who made it into the book -- he obviously chose what to quote out of everything they said to him, so I'm sure there was a bias towards picking stuff that seemed more interesting. Or maybe weightier. But, you know, I might have liked to read about a few more happy, contented lives, even if they are less varied and exciting! It would have made a nice break from all the people whose dreams were crushed because they couldn't afford to go to school, and all the women who spent years under the thumbs of abusive men.

85wandering_star
Ene 18, 9:01am

>61 bragan: I'm about two thirds of the way through this now. It's really good at creating an unsettling atmosphere, isn't it? I read a few chapters this morning before going for my run and my neighbourhood suddenly seemed a bit weird and off kilter!

100% agree with you though about how sometimes the sentences "start to seem like they've maybe been polished one too many times, to the point where they've become slightly unnatural." If other things about the book weren't so effective I would definitely be getting annoyed by that.

86bragan
Ene 18, 11:00am

>85 wandering_star: A little bit too good at the unsettling atmosphere maybe, huh?

I think that particular "over-polished sentences" issue is particularly noticeable in the first couple of chapters, which wasn't great because it did make me a little over-sensitive to it throughout the rest of the book (even if, yeah, that totally was not the reason why my brain was unhappy while reading it). I can just imagine the author being so concerned with his first impression that he kept going over and over and over and over those chapters long after he should have stopped.

I don't know about Alam's educational background, but I've noticed this sort of thing very often with people whose author bios say they have an MFA in writing. It's like they've been told by professors that it's vitally important to make every sentence fresh and unique and special, and they take it far too much to heart. Leave the World Behind ultimately works, anyway. I mean, it really, really works, based on the things it did to my brain. But I've seen it utterly ruin novels I might otherwise have liked. The way I see it, not every sentence can or should be a shining jewel of literary uniqueness. You have to have a setting for those jewels to show them off, or you end up with the literary equivalent of expensive, tasteless gangster bling.

87wandering_star
Ene 18, 12:12pm

>86 bragan: I completely agree, I have noticed that "MFA style" too! I imagine the sentences being worked over by a lengthy group discussion in class.

I've finished Leave The World Behind now, partly because for the final third of the book I had to put aside any other plans for a couple of hours, and read, biting my nails, wanting not to read it so I could be free of the tension, but also having to keep going. And in that time I was also getting messages from my DC-based friend telling me about the checkpoints and Humvees being installed on her street, and the unreality of that chimed so perfectly (?) with the unreality of the events in the book.

So, yeah, not good for anxiety.

88bragan
Ene 18, 1:27pm

>87 wandering_star: I'm not sure what it says about me that I actually feel rather reassured, or something, by the fact that I'm not the only one who had some kind of anxiety reaction to it.

89bragan
Ene 18, 6:06pm

7. What the Hell Did I Just Read?: A Novel of Cosmic Horror by David Wong



This is the third book in the series that started with John Dies at the End. Like the other two, it's funny, stupid, profane, ridiculous, and a bit confusing. It's also, somehow, a surprisingly good horror story, in its own weird, chaotic way: creative, imaginative and, in places, genuinely pretty creepy. I'm honestly not sure how this combination of elements managed to work once, never mind three times in a row. But it's fun, and I continue to be here for it.

Rating: 4/5

90sallypursell
Ene 18, 7:10pm

>74 bragan: I admit, I am a serious fan of Vlad Taltosh. I like all the books, although they differ quite a bit. I also like Brust's other work, the parodies of Dumas, etc. I've been trying to get my husband to read The Phoenix Guards for years, since he is such a Francophile, and used to love Fantasy and Science Fiction so much. No luck, so far.

91sallypursell
Ene 18, 7:13pm

>77 bragan: I love the food stuff. I don't like mushrooms, but the rest of my family does, and I can imagine that I like them for long enough to enjoy the books.

92bragan
Ene 18, 10:20pm

>90 sallypursell: I'll probably go on to other works like The Phoenix Guards once I finish the Vlad books, but at the rate I'm going, it's going to take me a while.

>91 sallypursell: I can imagine liking a lot of things, but I have something of an irrational mental block against the whole idea of eating fungus. :)

93sallypursell
Ene 18, 10:25pm

>92 bragan: I share your irrational mental setting; they smell bad, they look weird, they taste awful, and the texture is aversive.

94bragan
Ene 19, 9:54am

>93 sallypursell: Yes, exactly! Also, in my mind, they are irrevocably associated with decay, rot, and the unpleasant smell of shit from the mushroom farms we used to drive past on the way to my grandmother's house when I was a kid.

95bragan
Ene 22, 12:21pm

8. Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap



This is a collection of what I think I'd have to describe as literary fantasy stories. A couple are set at least partly in the US, and one or two are heavily influenced by Japanese culture (including one that riffs on Magical Girl anime in some fascinating and effective ways), but in general they are very firmly based in the Philippines. My own knowledge of the Philippines, I'm afraid, is limited enough that there are definitely a lot of words and cultural references I didn't understand, but I'm pleased to report that that never stopped any of the stories from working for me at all.

And it's a nice, solid collection, I'd say. Maybe none of the stories absolutely knocked my socks off, but the best of them are very good, and even the ones that didn't do as much for me were interesting and worth reading. Which, let's face it, is never a given when you're talking about short story collections. It's always nice to see one that doesn't feel at all uneven.

Rating: 4/5

(Note: This was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book.)

96bragan
Ene 23, 5:46pm

9. Of Muppets & Men: The Making of the Muppet Show by Christopher Finch



I've always been a big fan of the Muppets, and The Muppet Show, in particular, is deeply dear to my heart, being one of those rare pieces of beloved childhood nostalgia that's actually still just as delightful to me now as it was when I was nine. So I was very happy when a fellow Muppet-loving friend of mine offered to lend me this book, a coffee table-sized volume published in 1981, when The Muppet Show was filming its fifth and final season.

I have read some other books about the Muppets, including Jim Henson: The Biography, so I did wonder if much of this was going to be a rehash of stuff I was already familiar with, and maybe to some extent it was, but its looks behind the scenes (including a detailed play-by-play about the filming of one particular musical number) were fun and offered a lovely little glimpse at what was obviously a truly amazing place to work. I also like that we got some commentary from various guest stars about their experiences working with the Muppets. And the author's discussions of the individual Muppets as characters, and the writing and performances that go into building those characters, were really quite charming. There are a lot of pictures, too, which was nice, although I do maybe wish fewer of them had been in black-and-white.

Rating: 4/5

97rocketjk
Ene 23, 7:34pm

>96 bragan: Big Muppets fan here, too, especially of the Muppet Show. I once got to interview the singer, Cleo Laine, who was once a guest host on the Muppet Show. At the end of my interview with her, I said, "One last question, and I have to ask you this. You're the only person I've ever interviewed who was a guest host on the Muppet Show. What was it like?" She got a big smile and said, "Oh, it was a lot of fun. One thing I remember is that between takes, the puppeteers would not speak to you directly. They would only speak to you through the puppets. So if you had a question, you asked a Muppet. It was their way of keeping the feeling going that the Muppets were real people that you were interacting with." I've always gotten a kick out of that, but you probably already knew that from this book and the Henson bio.

As they say in the Bob Denver/Muppets Christmas special: "Peace on Earth, goodwill towards men and women and chickens and bears and Dizzy Gillespie."

98bragan
Ene 23, 8:18pm

Oh, that's wonderful! I don't in the least blame you for not being able to resist asking the question.

And, yeah, I'd heard before that they'd do that sort of thing, but it will never, ever not make me smile to think of it. Apparently they'd also banter back and forth in-character with the puppets among themselves, too, and how marvelously adorable is that?

99bragan
Ene 28, 7:45pm

10. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett



Brit Bennett's first novel, The Mothers garnered a lot of praise, and deservedly so, but I think this one is even better. It's the story twin sisters, Desiree and Stella, born in a small, poor African-American community in Louisiana in the middle of the 20th century. Both girls leave town together in their teens, but soon part ways. Stella abandons her sister to forge a new life in which she passes for white, marries a well-off man, and has a daughter who knows nothing of her origins, while Desiree, fleeing an abusive marriage, ends up back in their mother's home once more, with her own daughter in tow.

It's a story about identity, of many different kinds and in many senses of the word, about family, about re-inventing yourself, and about the difficulties of leaving your past behind you. I really am so deeply impressed by Bennett's writing. She sweeps back and forth between different time periods, and transitions into different points of view so smoothly and compellingly that she makes it look like the easiest thing in the world. (Well, all right, there was one moment where she makes a small, passing mistake about the geography of New Mexico that distracted me rather badly for most of a chapter. But I suspect most people are extremely unlikely to notice that, and I am willing to forgive her for it, considering how darned good everything else about her writing is.)

Rating: 4.5/5

100RidgewayGirl
Ene 28, 7:54pm

>99 bragan: I'm looking forward to reading this. It's almost my turn at the library.

101bragan
Ene 28, 8:10pm

>100 RidgewayGirl: Hope they get it to you soon! It really is worth it.

102janemarieprice
Ene 28, 11:30pm

>99 bragan: This sounds wonderful and up my alley. Your comment about the NM geography does make me incredibly curious about how she did with LA geography.

103rocketjk
Ene 29, 12:38am

>99 bragan: My wife just began reading The Vanishing Half and she is enjoying it so far.

104bragan
Editado: Ene 29, 7:53pm

>102 janemarieprice: I know very little about LA geography, so I couldn't comment on that. I suspect that, for most people, it's probably easier to get right than the unfamiliar, uncharted territory of New Mexico, though. :)

(EDIT: Oh, wait, hang on. I read that as Los Angeles, which also features in the story, but you no doubt meant Louisiana! Which may be equally uncharted and unfamiliar for most folks. Including me...)

>103 rocketjk: Glad to hear it! I enjoyed it from the very beginning, myself.

105janemarieprice
Ene 29, 8:28pm

>104 bragan: Yes indeed I meant Louisiana. It was much easier to be clear about that when we still wrote states like "La."

106avaland
Ene 31, 6:20am

>96 bragan: I loved the Muppet Show also. I attach it to my memories of being in California in '76, '77.

107AlisonY
Ene 31, 6:52am

Catching up (I always seem to be behind on CR at the moment), but I took a few book bullets there, particularly on the Alam book which sounds hugely intriguing.

108bragan
Ene 31, 7:41am

>106 avaland: Really, how can you not love The Muppet Show? :)

>107 AlisonY: Always happy to find a target for the book bullets. It only seems fair, really, given how often I find myself hit with the things!

109dchaikin
Ene 31, 7:13pm

>97 rocketjk: >98 bragan: these are fun comments about the Muppets performers.

Also, noting The Vanishing Half.

110bragan
Feb 1, 12:58am

11. The Buying of Lot 37: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Vol. 3 by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor



This is the third volume of transcripts of Welcome to Night Vale, the podcast about the small desert town where the surreal is mundane, the mundane is surreal, and all the conspiracies are true. It features episodes 50-70 (or 70B, since that one was a two-parter), as well as the live show "The Librarian," and, as in the first two volumes, each transcript comes with a short introduction from someone involved in the making of the show.

To be honest this is not my favorite run of episodes. I remember thinking, at the time, that everything felt a bit anti-climactic after the excitement of the StrexCorp arc (which, in retrospect, probably marked the show's high point) and that they left Carlos hanging around in that desert otherworld for entirely too long without a whole lot to show for it. I can't say I've changed my opinion on that now, either. But, hey, even probably-past-its-peak Night Vale is still pretty good stuff, and worth revisiting. And we do get the outstanding"The September Monologues" in here, as well.

I'd almost forgotten, though, about that whole story arc in which the defeated mayoral candidates pull a bunch of shenanigans, including storming City Hall, because they refuse to accept that they lost the election. That definitely resonates a bit differently right now than it did in 2015, and I have absolutely no idea how to feel about it.

Rating: 4/5. Because, yeah, still pretty good stuff, anyway.

111bragan
Feb 4, 7:44pm

12. Words on the Move: Why English Won't - and Can't - Sit Still (Like, Literally) by John McWhorter



Linguist John McWhorter talks about the process of language change in general, and about the changes that English, in particular, has been through and continues to go through, and why that's normal and inevitable and nothing to panic over, and also kind of cool and interesting. I don't know that there was a whole lot here that was entirely new to me, if only because I regularly listen to his podcast, but McWhorter's writing is always fun to read. (Well, mostly. Even his weird sense of humor and tendency to come up with offbeat examples to illustrate the things he's talking about doesn't quite save an entire chapter on vowel shifts from making my eyes glaze over a little. But, really, you can't not talk about vowel shifts.)

And I do think it's an important and useful thing, the attempt that books like this make to bring a linguist's perspective to ordinary people, encouraging them to replace, or at least temper, the natural tendency to get all judgy and reactionary about language change with a genuine understanding of change as a fundamental part of what language does. Or possibly even what language is.

Although I will admit that even now, I still can't help but feel a bit annoyed at the use of "literally" as simply another intensifier. Just because, despite McWhorter's best attempts to reassure me otherwise, some part of my brain remains stubbornly convinced that one day I will use it to mean "not figuratively" -- because there is no other good word to use for that! -- and no one will understand what I mean. I'm working on chilling out about that, though. I really am. Because it's very clear to me at this point that if I never used a word in a way that hasn't been decried by someone, sometime, as a linguistic degeneracy of a type guaranteed to reduce us all to incomprehensibility, I'd never be able to say anything at all.

Rating: 4/5

112LolaWalser
Feb 4, 11:11pm

Ahh, the eternal prescriptivist-descriptivist free for all! Well, I was recently won over to tolerating "irregardless" because my beloved First Dog On The Moon boldly uses it (but pls shoot me if I ever do).

"Literally" used incorrectly bothers me, as do many other things that are imprecise and wrong--like "aggravation" used to mean "irritation" instead of a worsening, or "impact" for "effect" etc. "Irregardless", in contrast, is a neologism, a word that didn't exist and now does.

But then who am I to complain about anything, with my cavalier attitude to punctuation, hybrid dialects, and (last not but least) a sick passion for parentheses (to say no more...)

113bragan
Feb 5, 12:19am

>112 LolaWalser: "Irregardless" is easy to mock, but it does communicate perfectly well. I mean, we all know instantly what it means.

Me, I've moved away from being willing to say that anything of this sort of thing is "wrong." There is no objectively wrong when it comes to words, after all. Treating "aggravation" as if it means "irritation" isn't remotely the same as treating the Earth as if it's flat. There is no actual fact there to get wrong. Words mean precisely what groups of people use them to mean, no more and no less. And complaining that "aggravation" is shifting (or, really, has already shifted) its meaning doesn't make any more sense, given sufficient perspective, than complaining about any of the other English words that have shifted their meanings over time. Which is to say most of them. If it wasn't wrong and awful and imprecise and language-damaging for "meat," say, to stop meaning "any kind of food" and start meaning "animal flesh food," then why is it wrong for "aggravate" to shift meanings, as well? Truth is, the only reason you're annoyed by one but think the other is right and proper and fine is because of the accident of when you happened to be born.

Thinking of things this way has enabled me to be a lot more relaxed about language, and possibly made my life happier in general. I mean, I may still never quite be able to bring myself to say "itch" when I mean "scratch," but I no longer get all aggravated (heh) when other people do it. It's wonderfully relaxing, really, and lets me save my ire up for much more deserving targets, like telemarketers and people who don't turn off their phones in the movie theater. :)

(But, for what it's worth, I also do love parentheses.)

114rhian_of_oz
Feb 5, 8:47am

(Who doesn't love parentheses?)

The "relaxed" use of literally bothers me but thankfully the people I know use it literally :-).

My pedantic side would like to insist that language is used "correctly" but I mostly recognise that as long as I can understand what is being communicated then it doesn't matter.

But if 'your' becomes an acceptable alternative for 'you're' then I'm out.

115lisapeet
Feb 5, 8:57am

>111 bragan: That looks interesting, and might be a good breath of fresh air for someone who could use a little more separation between the editing I do for a living and plain old written communication among folks I know. Because in my world, at least eight hours a day, there is a right and wrong—both as fits standard grammar and the house style of the publication where I work. But you can't be a prescriptivist all day long—it's exhausting, for one, and will piss people off eventually—especially in the last couple of decades when so much of communication is a) written and b) written on the fly.

I'll probably never be OK with "literally," but in my civilian life I've trained myself to look the other way on a lot of usage. Honestly, if I could get used to everyone suddenly using "u" 10 years ago, I can live with anything, even lie/lay. Even who/that. (Except maybe hyphen use in ages—I will write to any media outlet that posts/prints a phrase like "ten-years-old" and harass them.)

I also love parentheses, though perhaps not as much as I love em dashes. Me and Emily Dickinson, we're like that.

116bragan
Feb 5, 10:54am

>114 rhian_of_oz: But if 'your' becomes an acceptable alternative for 'you're' then I'm out.

I admit, that one might break me. :)

>115 lisapeet: It is interesting, and if it sounds like something you might enjoy, I recommend it (along with McWhorter's other books, too).

He does, by the way, talk about how there is a difference between saying that there is no objectively "correct" form of language and asserting that it's perfectly fine to, say, start your Nobel acceptance speech with, "So, like, y'know, hi guys. Whaddup?" He uses what I think is a really good analogy: fashion in clothing. If you're a businessman making an address to the shareholders or something, you're probably expected to wear a suit and tie. This isn't an "objectively correct" form of clothing, just what this particular society happens to expect in that particular situation at this particular point in history. The necktie doesn't help get your point across any better than if you weren't wearing it. But wearing it is a rule you need to follow to show how seriously you're taking things. Culturally, it's what's considered appropriate in that context. And because that is a real social expectation, it isn't that people don't need to learn those rules. In general, they do, so they can use them when appropriate. But to take someone to task for not following the language rules appropriate to the Nobel acceptance speech when they're having a casual conversation about what kind of milk to buy is just as silly as berating them for not wearing a necktie to bed. (OK, most of the examples here are mine, not McWhorter's. But that's definitely the gist of it, anyway.)

And that's without even getting into the ways in which spoken and written language are very different things, of course...

I also love parentheses, though perhaps not as much as I love em dashes.

Oh, those are also lovely. Sometimes I find myself trying to use parentheses and em dashes in the same sentence, and have to reel myself in. :)

117LolaWalser
Feb 5, 11:11am

Ooh--em dashes--are they this--...?? Love 'em. I think in grammar speak that means "mercilessly abuse them".

I think much of the sense of correctness/incorrectness depends on age. The older I get, the wronger the world gets. :)

118bragan
Feb 5, 11:22am

>117 LolaWalser: That's because the older you get, the more the world has changed since you were born. Which is very inconsiderate of it! I'm starting to realize that it's less the changes themselves that I mind, often, and more the way they make me think about exactly how old I'm getting. :)

119dianeham
Feb 7, 2:20am

...then you hear a knock and wonder "whose at the door?" :-)

120dchaikin
Feb 9, 1:07pm

I’m still going to be annoyed by “more unique” and the like, but probably >118 bragan: applies. Appreciate the comparisons.

121bragan
Feb 9, 1:33pm

>120 dchaikin: One you stop expecting language to be 100% logical and consistent -- something it was never, ever designed for -- I think it does get a little easier to let things like that go. :)

122dchaikin
Feb 9, 1:38pm

No. : )

123rocketjk
Editado: Feb 9, 2:21pm

Another way to look at the age/change dynamic (or perhaps a way to repeat what y'all have already said :) ) is that when we're young we seek change--sometimes for its own sake--as a way of recreating the world in our own images. When we're older we're not so sure the generation behind us needs to bother with all that. Hey, we already fixed the language!

I don't mind change, per se. I do mind wanton disregard of rules designed to enhance comprehension.

Certain things drive me nuts in ways that I admit are irrational. The first time I overheard someone at the next table at the coffee shop talking about incentivizing people to try a new brand of beer, I wondered whether "incentivize" made this person feel more grown up than just saying "encourage" would.

But being bugged by things like "more unique" to me is not irrational because what I feel I'm reacting to is laziness on the part of the speaker. "Unique" is not a concept that's particularly hard to understand, and "unusual" is a perfectly handy word sitting right next to it in the tool shed.

Or things like people speaking of sending or receiving "invites" rather than "invitations." Of course, someday dictionaries will list "invitation" as an archaic form of the noun form of "invite." 'Twas ever thus, but I don't have to like it! :)

I was wholly and dogmatically against the practice of turning two words into one word that sprouted during the first dotcom boom. I was living in San Francisco and working as a copy writer, so I was right in the teeth of that one. I was seen as a dinosaur because I insisted on naming my freelance writing business Rocket Words rather than RocketWords.

I had a debate with a guy in a bar about the word/s "health care," which he insisted should be written "healthcare." I finally ran an online search (this is around 2002). Turned out the people involved in the practice used two words. (Nurses referred to themselves as being involved in health care). But products designed to serve that field, were written as a single word: healthcare software).

I think I was the last person in California to consent to writing website rather than web site. I still refuse to write "login." "Login to the website." Well, but what would be the past tense? "Yesterday, I loginned?" No! You would say, "Yesterday, I logged in." I rest my case!

124bragan
Editado: Feb 9, 2:48pm

>122 dchaikin: Well, hey, some people do very much enjoy being unhappy about this sort of thing. You do you, my friend. ;)

>123 rocketjk: Yeah, good point about change being something the young are drawn to, the rest of us not so much. There are probably excellent evolutionary reasons for that.

I do mind wanton disregard of rules designed to enhance comprehension.

I used to go around saying things like this, but I've started listening to people like McWhorter when they point out that a lot of the things we want to insist injure comprehension genuinely don't. We just think that somehow they ought to. But, like I said, I'm still struggling to believe that when it comes to "literally." Even though I can't actually think of a single case when someone I know truly got confused about which sense was meant.

For what it's worth, I think maybe I tend to think of "login" as a noun and "log in" as a verb, but if that's changing, I personally don't have much of a problem with letting it. But then, compound words have always existed in English, and they've always been made by what used to be two separate words running together. Linguists would say that the distinction between a single compound word and a two-word phrase only exists as a convention of writing, anyway, not as an actual linguistic difference. Language being, first and foremost, a spoken phenomenon. So which way you write it is really kind of arbitrary.

Also, I will repeat: if you are ever, ever, ever expecting language to make strict logical sense, you will never be happy with it, no matter what, because that is not in the nature of language at all. :)

(Post edited to correct some typos, because I do actually think "proper" spelling and punctuation in written language aids comprehension and ease of reading. Except, of course, for all those times it doesn't.)

125rocketjk
Editado: Feb 9, 4:03pm

>124 bragan: "Also, I will repeat: if you are ever, ever, ever expecting language to make strict logical sense, you will never be happy with it, no matter what, because that is not in the nature of language at all. :)"

Not three "evers." Maybe just one. Strict logical sense? Not necessary. Language should simply conform to my preferences and prejudices. It's not that difficult.

126SandDune
Feb 9, 5:28pm

>111 bragan: I have added this to my WL. I am very interested in how languages change over time. The more I have learnt about it, the more relaxed I have become about certain grammatical ‘errors’ that used to annoy me.

127bragan
Feb 9, 6:10pm

>125 rocketjk: LOL. Well, I do think you are wrong there. Everything should conform to my preferences and prejudices, clearly, because they are the truly correct ones. Although I have some strong ideas about other areas where that should happen first, before we start in on language. :)

>126 SandDune: It's a nice, easy-to-read, rather fun book that covers a lot of interesting ground. And it's a subject that fascinates me, too. I really do find that the more I read about linguistics, the more my perspective shifts in interesting and worthwhile ways.

128bragan
Feb 10, 12:15am

13. Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejidé



This description-defying novel is set in 1977 in Washington, DC. (Or maybe an alternate version of Washington DC? Or maybe really, really not.) It features, among others: Nephthys, who ferries needy souls from place to place in a haunted car; the spirit of her murdered brother, Osiris; Osiris' daughter, Amber, who foresees death in dreams; Amber's son Dash, who has witnessed something terrible he scarcely understands; Mercy, the child molester who threatens Dash for discovering his secret; and Dash's father, a traumatized wanderer unable to cope with who he became in Vietnam. And it's about a whole complicated stew of human things: loss, violence, racism, family, hope, death, and all the things and people that haunt us.

The complex, dreamlike writing style sometimes times struck me as powerful, sometimes merely as strange, and to be honest I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about all of it, but never for a moment did it cease to be interesting, in the good way.

Rating: 4/5

(Note: this was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book.)

129rhian_of_oz
Feb 10, 7:56am

>126 SandDune: You may also like Because Internet if you haven't already read it.

130raton-liseur
Feb 10, 10:32am

I really enjoyed your conversation following the >111 bragan: review, around how the language changes.
We have the same discussion around French (mainly around how French is spoiled by English and, as self-centered as we are, feelling that it happens only to us), so it's really nice to have this perspective!

131bragan
Feb 10, 6:08pm

>129 rhian_of_oz: I have, and I loved it!

>130 raton-liseur: I've heard that France has official policies that try to police language issues (as opposed to here in America where everyone just complains fruitlessly about how everyone else talks). Is that true? And if so does anybody actually think it works?

132bragan
Feb 11, 8:38pm

14. The Legends of River Song by Jenny T. Colgan, et al.



A collection of five Doctor Who stories featuring time-traveling archeologist, sometime wife of the Doctor, and general troublemaker, River Song. I really like River and was a little worried that the collection wouldn't do her justice, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. The stories here range from reasonably entertaining to quite delightful, and River's voice and personality come through very, very well. As do the Doctor's, in the stories where he shows up. The plots are all various kinds of ridiculous, but since this is Doctor Who we're talking about, that is, of course, absolutely fine.

Recommended for fans of the good -- well, okay, maybe not entirely good, but always very cool -- Professor Song.

Rating: 4/5

133bragan
Feb 13, 2:57pm

15. The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought by Susan Jacoby



Robert Ingersoll was a 19th century lawyer and orator who spoke out with great verve and eloquence against religion and superstition and in favor of humanist values (including anti-racism and women's rights) and the separation of church and state. I'd certainly heard of Ingersoll, but given how much I've read on these topics, I wasn't nearly as familiar with him as I thought I should be. Susan Jacoby clearly thinks a lot of people aren't as familiar with him as they should be, and this book is very much her attempt to correct that. (She even includes an open letter to the so-called "new atheists" at the end, encouraging them to acknowledge Ingersoll's contributions more.)

From what I did know of Ingersoll going in, I was inclined to be well-disposed towards him, and having finished this book now, I feel very, very much more so. Ingersoll was 100% my kind of guy, and in many ways he seems not just ahead of his own time, but possibly ours as well.

I do feel a bit sorry for Jacoby, though. Her writing is perfectly readable, if not exactly compelling, but boy does it pale in comparison to Ingersoll's. You can see why he had a reputation as an amazing speaker, and why even people who disagreed with his views used to show up just to enjoy listening to him talk. Every time Jacoby would finish up a long quote from him and go back to her own commentary, I'd resent it a little bit, because I just wanted to keep reading him.

Her commentary does put him into some good context, though, and she touches on the relevance that Ingersoll and the issues of his own time have for today's political and religious climate, not in great depth, but in ways that are thought-provoking.

Rating: 4/5 for this book, but based on it, I'd give Ingersoll himself a 5/5.

134dchaikin
Feb 13, 3:06pm

Wait, what was Ingersoll? I’m so intrigued.

135dchaikin
Feb 13, 3:08pm

(My flippant question wasn’t meant to say you didn’t just explain who he is. Sorry if it came a across that way. It was just the figure of speech that popped up in my head.)

136bragan
Feb 13, 11:42pm

>135 dchaikin: LOL! That's OK. See? He should be more well-known!

137raton-liseur
Feb 16, 2:18pm

>131 bragan: I'm replying a bit late to your question...
Well, we have the "Académie française", established in 1635 under Louis 13th's reign. It aims at giving clear rules and regulations on how to speak properly.
Today, the Académie publishes a dictionnary, but it is not the one we usually refer to. It still has some weight, but it is rather seen as an institution that rubber-stamp changes that have already been widely accepted in the society.
In the past, there have been some reforms of orthography (which are always a huge debate in the media, everybody has his or her opinion, although orthography is less and less known), so I guess that yes, there are rules that we all abide by (or are supposed to). But frankly, I could not tell if the existence of the Académie française has any impact on how (or how rapidely) the language evolves. My guess would be that the impact is null or very limited.

138sallypursell
Feb 16, 5:47pm

Oh, your thread is delightful. I, too, love em-dashes, and I think the books you have read this year are stellar. I read a lot of good stuff, too, but I intersperse it with a lot of genre fiction, which helps lower my anxiety. I don't know why it does--maybe because it is so often just what I expected. I just read a great book about Magellan, and a novel by Frances Hodgson Burnet.

139LolaWalser
Feb 16, 6:14pm

>133 bragan:

Sounds like a right-on gent!

I have a couple dozen old Target Doctor Who novelisations. Since they are almost all based on TV serials I haven't tried to read any yet. Can't remember if I asked you this before (sorry!)--have you tried the stories made by Big Finish, the audio adventures?

https://www.bigfinish.com/collections

140bragan
Feb 17, 2:18am

>137 raton-liseur: Thanks for the answer! I have wondered how much impact attempts to officially regulate language do or don't actually have. I can't say I'm very surprised if the answer is "not much." Language change does seem, by and large, to be something of an unstoppable force.

>138 sallypursell: Aww, so glad to know you find it delightful here! For my part, I like to go with a very deliberate mix of different kinds of reading: fiction and non-fiction, different genres, serious and light fiction, etc. I feel like it's good for my brain, or my mood, or something.

>139 LolaWalser: I have a lot of those old Target novelizations! And I have listened to some Big Finish stuff, but I'm not a huge fan of the audio drama format, and there is so much of it as to be honestly overwhelming, so most of it has kind of gone by me.

141raton-liseur
Feb 17, 10:36am

>140 bragan: I agree, for good or bad. I too don’t like changes in word semantics, although I tend to consider (or to convince myself) that it is a sign of a language vitality.
I don’t like the use of English words in French neither, although if you think about it, we make them our own by inventing their meaning. For example, we use the word “drive”, by only for on-line shopping in supermarkets that you come and collect. But I have seen, not so long ago, a walking drive (come and collect with your bicycle or walking, so a drive with no driving involved!). It’s really interesting to see how English words acquire a different meaning when used in French.
So, there are changes I don’t like, but there are changes for which I would love the French Academy to be a bit more proactive, namely the feminisation of some words. The Academy is very timorous on this subject, and I clearly do not follow their rules on this matter (which some people must hate when they read the reviews I write).
Since I consider that some changes are needed, I try to accept some others that make less sense for me although I sometimes gnash my teeth (if it’s the right way to say this).

142RidgewayGirl
Feb 17, 11:51am

>141 raton-liseur: Learning French in Canada, I was taught to never, ever use the English word. Imagine my surprise when I went to France and found out that terms like le fin de la semaine or gomme a mâcher were not actually used.

143raton-liseur
Feb 17, 12:51pm

>142 RidgewayGirl: Yes, I think I can imagine! And I'm ashamed to say that we are so little inventive that we almost systematically turn to Quebec to find ideas to translate English words!
I personnally decided a few years back not to use week-end anymore and say "bonne fin de semaine", but I guess people find me crazy... And I have not chewed chewing gum in ages, so never thought about this one (but will keep it in mind)!

144AnnieMod
Feb 17, 1:00pm

>143 raton-liseur: Weekend is so pervasive as a word that it was borrowed as is into Bulgarian as well...

145raton-liseur
Feb 17, 1:09pm

146RidgewayGirl
Feb 17, 1:35pm

I find it delightful that a language largely comprised of words borrowed from elsewhere is, in turn, adopted by the very languages it stole from.

147raton-liseur
Feb 17, 1:51pm

A recent example of this is "date".
A latin word to name a specific day.
Then it went to English-speaking countries and acquired a new meaning, on top of the original one, to have a romantic meeting (taking the expression from wordreference!).
Now, the word is back in France with this second meaning! Now we have "(la) date" (pronounce dat) for the day and "(un or une, I'm not sure if it's feminine or masculine) date" (pronounce deit) if you want to meet a potential lover!
But I am not sure youngsters made the connection between both dates, which makes me giggle.

Bragan, sorry to hijack your thread with all those digressions!

148LolaWalser
Feb 17, 2:01pm

>140 bragan:

I hear you, I was surprised that I liked them at all, but as they are large-cast drama and not reading, I get caught up. I hope you don't mind if I plug this FREE (!) episode for other fans in your thread-it's Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, John Gleeson and Matthew Waterhouse together again in 2020! Something for the nostalgics...

9.2A. Doctor Who: Chase the Night Part 1

Ack, now I wonder if it's accessible to all... as far as I remember, I was able to download freebies BEFORE becoming a customer. I hope it works.

>141 raton-liseur:

I think it's great you're using inclusive language. People like to kvetch, but we'll get used to it. I'm seeing more inclusive practice in German and even Italian too. The Académie is notoriously a bunch of male misogynists. :)

>142 RidgewayGirl:

Ha, yeah, Québécois is a French unto itself! But, while I'm always ambivalent about drives for linguistic purity because of the inevitable nationalist politics they attract, I do see a point to their more aggressive stance, what with drowning in a sea of English...

Jean-Benoît Nadeau has several excellent books about French languages from the Canadian POV, I recommend The Story of French (it also contains, incidentally, a very funny description of the workings of the Académie Française through history). Nadeau publishes simultaneously in French and English.

149raton-liseur
Feb 17, 2:56pm

>148 LolaWalser: Oh, I'm not that open-minded. I need time! I read inclusive language with less and less struggle, but don't write it yet. I'm at the noun feminisation stage: for example "autrice" for a female writer rather than an indistinguishable "auteur" for both male and female writers.

150bragan
Editado: Feb 17, 9:07pm

>141 raton-liseur: Of course, English itself cheerfully borrows words from everywhere and anywhere else, changes them for its own purposes, and never seems to worry about it for a second. (As I see Ridgewaygirl rather wittily points out a little further down the thread.) It certainly doesn't seem to have done us any harm! :)

I do have some sympathy, though, for wanting to resist American culture, English included, from trying to take over the entire world.

>147 raton-liseur: No worries, I find them interesting! And I think lots of words make weird multilingual journeys like "date" seems to have between Latin and English and French. Personally, I think that's fascinating and kind of cool.

>148 LolaWalser: Thanks for the link! I might possibly check it out, even though I don't usually do the audios. I do love me some Fourth Doctor.

And I do agree about inclusive language being a good thing. English is a strange and difficult language in a lot of ways, but I am glad to speak a language that doesn't insist on baking gender right into all the words you use to describe people. (Eg "doctor," rather than "el doctor" and "la doctora" in Spanish -- which I have to go to for my examples because I don't know any French.) The trend in English does very much seem to be towards ever more gender neutrality, too, which I very much approve of. But I think that's probably working as well as it is because it's a natural cultural change, rather than stemming primarily from an artificial attempt to impose it from the top down.

I'm always ambivalent about drives for linguistic purity because of the inevitable nationalist politics they attract

Honestly, I think that's a good reason to be flat-out against them. And it's not just nationalist politics. A lot of prescriptivism ultimately is just about telling minority groups that their natural speech patterns are bad and wrong and indicative of low intelligence and lack of culture, when there is no actual linguistic or logical justification for any of that, no matter how much people might want to believe there is. Historically, policing language almost always ends up being about politics and power and who gets the privilege of defining what counts as "correct." I think it's something we should be deeply wary of.

151bragan
Feb 18, 8:06am

16. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald



Sara from Sweden strikes up a pen-pal friendship with a fellow book-lover from a tiny town in Iowa, but when she arrives for an extended visit she discovers her friend has died. So she moves into her house and opens a bookstore using her books, even though there are about six hundred people in town and none of them read, and somehow everyone in town inexplicably falls in love with her and her bookish ways, including, of course, a good-looking single guy.

I'm something of a sucker for books about books, and readers, and bookstores, so I wanted to like this one, but it was just too much, even for me. Nothing in this story, not a single point of plot or characterization, is remotely convincing, and some of it is just so bafflingly out of touch with reality of any kind that I find myself wondering if the author is, in fact, from outer space rather than from Sweden. I mean, presumably people actually own houses in Sweden, right? And other people inherit them when they die, rather than them just being free for random strangers to squat in and start selling off the dead person's belongings, right? And that's just the beginning. It gets stupider from there. And the book-themed stuff doesn't help much, either, because Sara's relationship with books feels incredibly shallow and stereotyped, and the sense of recognition I usually feel when reading about fellow book people really wasn't there at all.

But at least, I thought as I reached the halfway mark, for all its stupidity, I'm not finding it as deeply irritating as I probably should. It's pretty bad, but I'm not exactly hating it. It's far too blandly well-meaning to stir up much in the way of negative emotion. So that's something, at least.

Except then it just got even stupider. And stupider. And now I am very irritated with it, after all. Bah.

Rating: 2/5

152DeclanWhitehead
Feb 18, 8:21am

Este usuario ha sido eliminado por spam.

153raton-liseur
Feb 18, 2:00pm

>150 bragan: I agree with your last paragraph. My opinion on this has shifted a lot in the past few years, but I tend to think that "correctness" is a dangerous concept as it raises the question of how to deal with non-correctness...
However, there are still two things I would like to restrain in terms of language: first the use of English terms. I have nothing against English (or I would not be reading your thread or any other on LT!), but I fear a standardisation of languages. Second, I feel the way people speak today in France is far more aggressive and I do not like this aggressiveness (I guess the language is a reflexion of how the whole society evolves, and it is this evolution that I regret).

>151 bragan: This book was at the back of my mind for a time I'd like a nice easy read. It is not anymore, thanks for saving me the trouble of reading it!

>148 LolaWalser: I'll have to check this Nadeau reference, thanks!

154rhian_of_oz
Feb 18, 8:57pm

>151 bragan: I read this about four years ago and liked it, describing it as quirky and feel good. It was recommended to me based on my liking A Man Called Ove.

As well as being a sucker for books about books I am also a sucker for "the outsider" so I suspect I was inclined to be sympathetic to Sara from the start and want things to work out for her. And therefore probably read the story as it was presented without thinking too deeply about it. :-)

155bragan
Feb 18, 10:51pm

>153 raton-liseur: English spreading everywhere is something worth being a little bit concerned about, I'd say. I can't see borrowing a few words as a huge threat in itself, but there is a real danger of it crowding much smaller languages all the way into extinction, and I don't think anybody can deny that English-speaking culture is certainly expanding at the expense of other cultures.

As for aggressiveness, I can't speak for French, but in English I think how aggressive one perceives certain kinds of language to be can be very much a generational thing. I know certain uses of profanity, for example, that to my grandparents seemed aggressive and disrespectful now, among a lot of younger people, seem instead relaxed and casual, the kind of speech patterns you use with people you like and are friendly with, not people you actually want to insult.

156bragan
Feb 18, 11:01pm

>154 rhian_of_oz: Aha, I knew there was a reason I kept resisting A Man Called Ove! ;)

I think just waaaaaaay too many things about The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend rubbed me the wrong way all at once. Honestly, it kind of put me off from the very first paragraph, which gave me the strong (and later very well-confirmed) impression that the author really didn't understand small-town Americans at all. But it finally completely lost me when it turned into a ridiculously contrived romance. I might be an easy sell on books about books, but I'm a very hard sell on romance, and that one was downright painful for me. In so very many ways.

But, hey, I've certainly enjoyed enough books that I know other people found stupid, so I am not judging. Well, I'm not judging you. I am still judging the book. :)

157rhian_of_oz
Feb 18, 11:20pm

158bragan
Feb 22, 9:14pm

17. Network Effect by Martha Wells



This is the fifth book in the Murderbot series, and the first full-length novel. It's maybe arguable how well the plot stuff you get in these books works at full length. It may be a bit too slight for that, ultimately, and some of the action scenes worked better for me than others. The climax was wonderfully exciting and interestingly weird, though. And, anyway, the plots, while entertaining enough, aren't the draw in these books. The draw is Muderbot itself, complicated, snarky, strangely adorable killer cyborg that it is. I swear, no matter how much it complains about having emotions -- ugh, emotions -- every time it displays one, it does something to my own stupid human heart, and the moments when it realizes it cares about someone, or someone cares about it just make me go all squishy inside. And there is a lot of that in this one, in between all the kidnappings and shooting and things. Especially as it features one particular relationship that I just love to pieces and was delighted to see developed.

God, I really, really hope there is going to be more of this series.

Rating: 4.5/5, because no matter what the plot is or isn't doing, I can't rate something that does that to my feelings any lower. Awwww.

159rhian_of_oz
Feb 22, 10:44pm

>158 bragan: I'm eagerly waiting for this to come out in paperback and was worried that Murderbot wouldn't really lend itself to the longer form. I'm very pleased to hear that's not a problem.

FYI according to the internet Fugitive Telemetry is due out in April.

160bragan
Feb 23, 12:17am

>159 rhian_of_oz: I do think it may work best in novella form, plot-wise, but it does still work in novel form, I'd say. The character stuff still carries it nicely.

Also, yay! I hadn't heard whether there was a new one in the works or not. I am very relieved to hear there is!

161bragan
Feb 26, 4:16pm

18. Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison



In this second collection of Leslie Jamison's essays, she writes about a variety of subjects, some very personal and some less so -- although her own perspective and thoughts are always very much part of the story. There's a piece about the virtual environment Second Life, and one about an unusual whale that humans can't resist projecting themselves onto in various ways. There is an essay that's partly about Las Vegas and partly about two very different romantic relationships in Jamison's life. There's one about fairy tales and the experience of being a stepmother. There are a couple that are extended looks at the works of others (James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and the photography of Annie Appel, who kept returning to take pictures of the same Mexican family for decades), which I didn't find nearly as compelling as Jamison writing about her own experiences, but which were certainly still good. There are essays about pregnancy and eating disorder and Civil War photographs, and a museum in Croatia dedicated to mementos of failed relationships. So it covers rather a lot of ground, although in ways that somehow manage to make it all feel emotionally or thematically connected.

I do think, overall, this didn't wow me quite as much as her earlier collection The Empathy Exams did, although that might simply be because I had a better idea of what to expect from this volume and it took me less by surprise. That a very high bar to meet, in any case, and no matter what kind of comparisons I might or might not draw, Jamison does very much continue to prove here that she's a damned good writer. I am deeply impressed by her honesty, and by the way she thoughtfully reflects on things and then reflects on her own reflections in ways that, in the hands of a lesser writer, could feel like self-absorbed navel-gazing, but instead feel to me as if they express something deeply profound and recognizable about the experience of being human. Even when I find myself disagreeing with her -- and I definitely wanted to argue some points in the essay she wrote about children who supposedly remember past lives, if nowhere else -- I always felt a very real respect and appreciation for her and her writing.

Rating: 4.5/5

162avaland
Editado: Feb 27, 6:18am

All caught up. How interesting to have this whole intriguing discussion of language in and and around your reviews!

163bragan
Feb 27, 10:37am

>162 avaland: I somehow knew that, of everything I've been reading recently, it was that book that would provoke the discussion. :)

164bragan
Feb 28, 10:18am

19. A Taste for Honey by H. F. Heard



A recluse who really enjoys his honey gets drawn into a murder plot involving killer bees, and also involving his neighbor, an elderly gentleman called "Mr. Mycroft," who keeps bees and who sure talks a lot about crime and deduction.

I'm not entirely sure how well this works as a (coy but obvious) Sherlock Holmes story. "Mr. Mycroft"'s powers of deduction may be very much Mr. Holmes', but a lot of his dialog failed to ring entirely true to me, somehow. And, honestly, the killer bee plot is just kind of silly. But I almost didn't care about that, just because the misanthropic narrator entertained me so much. I'm not even entirely sure why. He's not a good person, but he amused me immensely. Maybe it's just that you don't see many protagonists in fiction whose main motivation is that they just want to not have to talk to people, and as an anti-social introvert myself, I can't help but relate.

Rating: I'm giving this one a 3.5/5. The ridiculousness of the plot and its failure to 100% work for me as a Holmes story make it hard to justify rating it higher, but I am still seriously tempted.

165valkyrdeath
Editado: Mar 2, 8:34pm

I intended to keep up with LT threads this year, so instead I'm only just getting started two months in. So much interesting reading here as always!

>12 bragan: Enjoyed your review of the new Susanna Clarke book. It sounds quite a bit different to her last, but no less intriguing!

>52 bragan: Probably not a book for me, I'm completely inept at almost everything remotely practical. But I do miss Mythbusters and their slogan of "failure is always an option" is one I'm happy to live by.

Enjoyed the discussions about language. I've been meaning to read something by McWhorter for a while. The quote that summed up the whole thing for me from Because Internet, about getting worked up over changes in language, was "Could we not put our tremendous computing power (both human and mechanical) to better use than upholding the prejudices of a bunch of aristocrats from the eighteenth century?"

>133 bragan: I've only vaguely heard of Ingersoll but you've definitely made me want to check this book out.

>158 bragan: I'd be surprised, and even more disappointed, if there isn't more Murderbot in the future. Those books are some of the most fun I've read in recent years and I can't imagine tiring of them any time soon.

166bragan
Mar 2, 7:45pm

>165 valkyrdeath: I hear ya! I told myself I'd participate more in other people's threads, this year, and that kinda-sorta happened briefly, and then I went right back to being just about as sporadic and haphazard about it as ever.

Probably not a book for me, I'm completely inept at almost everything remotely practical.

Oh, man, me too. Deeply and embarrassingly so. But I do kind of like watching other people be competent at such things. At least when they're not just making me feel intimidated and inferior, but Adam Savage is great at infecting me with his enthusiasm instead.

And that is a great quote from Because Internet! If you liked that, I do think you'll likely enjoy McWhorter's stuff.

As for Murderbot, I found an interview with the author, and not only is there a new book due out next month -- which I have now pre-ordered -- but she is planning more after that, too, although she said the next one might take another year, because she has other stuff she's working on. I will wait impatiently but happily!

167bragan
Mar 3, 12:59pm

20. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi



Yaa Gyasi's second novel is a portrait of Gifty, the daughter of Ghanian immigrants to America, as she reflects on her life: her childhood in an evangelical church, the unhealed trauma of her beloved brother's death from an overdose, her scientific research, her mother's depression, and her own complicated, hidden feelings about all of it.

This novel, I would say, lacks the intensity of Homegoing, lacks the compelling, disturbing quality that one had. But it is affecting, I think, in ways that kind of sneak up on you. And, boy, is Gyasi's writing good, still. I was a little nervous going in, as some of the descriptions made it sound like there was going to be some kind of science vs. religion debate at the heart of this, and that's a subject about which I admit to being kind of touchy. But I certainly should have trusted Gyasi more on this point, because while Gifty's experiences with and feelings about science and religion are very central to this story, what we get isn't at all a debate between them. It's something much more complex, and subtle, and personal, and interesting.

Rating: I wavered a bit over the half star here, I think entirely because I kept wanting to unfairly compare it to the more intense experience of reading Homegoing when what it's doing is something very different. In the end, though, it really does earn it. So, 4.5/5.

168sallypursell
Mar 3, 7:46pm

>166 bragan: McWhorter sounds like my cup of tea! But as far as the quotation from Because Internet, it sounds a little harsh to me, *gulp*, feeling a little bit dissed.

169bragan
Mar 3, 9:00pm

>168 sallypursell: Well, if McCulloch is dissing you, I will say that at least she does so with a sense of humor? :)

170bragan
Ayer, 9:38pm

21. Reactions: An Illustrated Exploration of Elements, Molecules, and Change in the Universe by Theodore Gray



This is the final book in Theodore Gray's wonderful non-fiction trilogy about the chemistry of everything around us. The Elements introduced the basic building blocks of that chemistry, Molecules showed the ways in which those building blocks could combine to create an unimaginably vast array of substances, and Reactions looks at some of the ways in which those substances interact with each other to make things happen. We find out here why some materials burn more easily than others, why dropping a bottle of nitroglycerine can ruin your whole day, how it's possible to tell by analyzing your breath whether your body is currently burning sugar or fat, why watching grass grow or paint dry should be far less boring than you think, and a great deal more.

As with the previous books, this is a beautifully well-designed volume full of eye-catching photographs. It's also deeply fascinating. I'm extremely impressed with Gray's ability to explain things very clearly and interestingly, in such a way that not only do you understand the science better, but you also find yourself with a new and exciting perspective on the whole world around you. He also writes with a fun, engaging, often very humorous voice.

I definitely recommend all three books, even (or perhaps especially) for those who took high school chemistry and thought it was boring.

Rating: 4.5/5