Author Topic: 2015 Reading Challenge  (Read 2544 times)

Junior

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Re: 2015 Reading Challenge
« Reply #10 on: March 23, 2015, 06:32:57 PM »
16. A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet

1Q84: Vol 1 by Haruki Murakami.

It is fair to say that Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite authors even if his books tend to be a little same-y. They're completely different from anything else, but if you tell me that his new one has a 20 or 30 something adult male searching for greater meaning in his life with the help of old friends and, at some point, a trip down a well, all with a certain mix of Japanese and American styles plus a healthy dose of magical realism, I wouldn't be surprised. 1Q84 is, so far, his biggest work, and it has taken me a few years to build up the courage to attack it. I've heard complaints that it goes nowhere and spends too much time on things that aren't interesting, and that the book is too big for the small amount of plotting it contains, and while I can certainly see where those complaints are coming from after reading roughly the first third of the book (I picked up a copy that maintain's the Japanese release style, three separate books rather than one large one), I can't agree that these "issues" are really problems at all.

The larger page count (even this first third comes in at just under 400 pages) allows Murakami room to indulge in his scene setting and story-within-story tendencies to their fullest. It is no wonder, then, that the world of 1Q84 feels richer than that of smaller, more insular novels like Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. And it's not even his weirdest world. Maybe, though, that is because I'm still embroiled in the rising action of the story. There are a few mysteries and a potentially malicious force of "Little People" who seem to be some kind of forest-dwelling entities hell-bent on remaining anonymous. Oh, and there's another moon in the sky, smaller and yellower than the normal one, and just off to its side. I'm starting to get hints of Hard-Boiled Wonderland as the two parallel stories, that of a young assassin working for a benevolent rich lady who helps women in abusive relationships and a young author brought in to rewrite a high-schooler's remarkable story about the "Little People", start to intertwine.

Meanwhile, in the books best touch there are over- and undertones of great cult narratives including Orwell's 1984, which gets namechecked pretty often and doubles as the time setting of the novel. We have already gotten a rich history of a communist cult from which a group has splintered and gotten into violent confrontation with the police. It is that cult that our high-school author has escaped from, and from which another young girl escapes into the arms of the assassin. By the end of this opening third both main characters have personal reasons to investigate the strange cult at the center of the novel, a prospect which has me itching to return to the world of 1Q84 as soon as I can.

9/10.
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Bondo

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Re: 2015 Reading Challenge
« Reply #11 on: March 24, 2015, 01:36:47 AM »
I think this is where I'm at so far, including things I'm in the middle of. Fifty Shades of Grey is a power novel.

01. A book with more than 500 pages (Alan Turing: The Enigma)
03. A book that became a movie (Fifty Shades of Grey)
05. A book with a number in the title (Fifty Shades of Grey)
06. A book written by someone under 30 (The Diary of a Young Girl)
07. A book with nonhuman characters (Fifty Shades of Grey)
08. A funny book (Yes, Please)
09. A book by a female author (Yes, Please)
11. A book with a one-word title (Revolution by Russell Brand)
13. A book set in a different country (The Diary of a Young Girl)
14. A nonfiction book (Multiple)
15. A popular author’s first book (Fifty Shades of Grey)
26. A memoir (Yes Please)
27. A Book you can finish in a day (Fun Home)
29. A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit (The Diary of a Young Girl)
31. A book with bad reviews (Fifty Shades of Grey)
34. A book with a love triangle (The Magicians?)
37. A book with a color in the title (Fifty Shades of Grey)
39. A book with magic (The Magicians)
40. A graphic novel (Fun Home)
41. A book by an author you’ve never read before (Fifty Shades of Grey)
44. A book that was originally written in a different language (The Diary of a Young Girl)
50. A book you started but never finished (The Diary of a Young Girl...this is saying a book I gave up on? Or a thing I gave up on previously but finished this year? Because I consider books completed if you read 100 pages and decide not to finish.)
[/quote]

Junior

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Re: 2015 Reading Challenge
« Reply #12 on: April 10, 2015, 04:05:40 PM »
39. A book with magic

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Once again, Kazuo Ishiguro does the bulk of his work with his words. That might seem like an obvious statement in a book review, and maybe it is, but Ishiguro's ability to evoke not only a place and time (Arthurian England, in this case) but also a well known genre (again, Arthurian legend) via his word choice is just astounding. He makes it seem so effortless and his books are so easy to read that one has to stop and pay attention to the words he's using and the way he uses them to truly understand what he's doing and how he's doing it. Take the mist which forms the malevolent force at the center of this book. The opening chapter introduces it as a very real object in the world, a covering that obscures the landscape and creeps into the underground dwellings that the central characters, an old couple named Axl and Beatrice. But then Ishiguro turns the mist into an allegory for forgetting on large and small scales. It's the mist that keeps the country safe from interfighting between the Britons and Saxons that dot the land, but it is also the mist that steals memories from Beatrice and Axl of their son and their lives together, so they go on a quest to visit him in a nearby town. On the way they meet a knight of King Arthur's court and a Saxon warrior, among other more sinister characters.

Ishiguro plays around with the form of these kinds of stories, introducing characters for a chapter and leaving them behind at its end so that the journey becomes a series of encounters rather than one with a strong arc. Some of those encounters are more successful than others, but nearly all of them have a certain creepy (or downright scary) vibe to them where the menace is either immediately apparent or hidden behind false niceties. The Buried Giant is an allegory to be sure, and working with Arthurian legend makes the magic and dragons, for there are both, obvious symbols for other societal ills. Religious treachery is here, so's the idea that maybe forgetting is for the best. It's a thing that won't work for everybody (the New Yorker review called it "Ishiguro's Folly"), but it very much worked for me. I guess I'm a softy for such things.

5/5.
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smirnoff

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Re: 2015 Reading Challenge
« Reply #13 on: April 10, 2015, 06:26:11 PM »
I'm sold.

Junior

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Re: 2015 Reading Challenge
« Reply #14 on: April 10, 2015, 06:28:56 PM »
I was just reading your latest post in the Interstellar thread about the value of explaining potential ambiguities. I think that's an element of this book that will either work quite well or not at all for a reader. I can see it being both too explicit in its allegories and too vague in the things those metaphors are references to. I think it's going to come down to a reader preference type deal, and I'm curious to see where you come out. Let us know!
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smirnoff

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Re: 2015 Reading Challenge
« Reply #15 on: April 10, 2015, 06:37:08 PM »
Hmm, I stopped reading after this.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Once again, Kazuo Ishiguro does the bulk of his work with his words. That might seem like an obvious statement in a book review, and maybe it is, but Ishiguro's ability to evoke not only a place and time (Arthurian England, in this case) but also a well known genre (again, Arthurian legend) via his word choice is just astounding.

I thought, aww yea, this book must be the stuff.

Now that you've said something though I went back and read more and now I'm super hesitant. :)) Allegory! Vague! Metaphor! Short encounters, not really a big arc! Oh my. Now it doesn't sound like my kind of thing at all.

I don't know if I'm up for it. I'll certainly keep it in mind heh.

Junior

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Re: 2015 Reading Challenge
« Reply #16 on: April 17, 2015, 07:42:20 PM »
27. A Book you can finish in a day

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Or, a book that you can finish in a sitting. Here's a little story much like the books I love so much from my childhood, Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth. Like those pillars of greatness, The Little Prince is half absurd, half treatise on the benefits of not taking things so seriously, which is a message and mode of communication that I can get behind pretty easily. So why didn't I like this as much as I like those? Maybe this is a case of too little and too late. Unlike Alice and Milo's books, this one barely gets going before it ends and we are treated to only the tiniest taste of the little Prince's worldview which necessarily squishes the episodes of his adventures into inconsequential bites. We are treated, in the middle, to his journey from his own small planet to Earth and the many stops on mini-worlds in between. Each is an obvious object lesson in some kind of adult silliness or another, but none are given enough time to develop into true characters like the Queen of Hearts or King Azaz the Unabridged in Alice and Phantom, respectively. So if the book misses the character, do the didactic points at least hit home? Not really. It feels like Baby's First Absurdist Book, which is fine and probably works well in that context, but it feels like a primer when I've already been speaking the language with ease for most of my life. It seems I have done this in reverse order, and if I had the ability to go back in time and hand this book to my parents at age 5 or 6, I certainly would because I think it would really do something great at that age. The ending is surprisingly affecting given just how little time we have spent with the two real characters that exist in the story and it's not a poorly written book by any means. I just came to it at the wrong time.

3/5.
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Junior

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Re: 2015 Reading Challenge
« Reply #17 on: April 30, 2015, 03:36:29 PM »
14. A nonfiction book

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson.

I'm almost always a fiction guy. For me, informative writing seems like it is better suited to the essay, even the long form essay, rather than a book length examination. But this book got a lot of great reviews earlier in the year and the topic is something I'm very interested in. In the past year there has been a further rise in public shaming than even there was in around 2013 when Ronson was writing this book. Heck, earlier this week a guy who ran the Houston Rockets' twitter account got fired for posting a gun emoji pointing at a horse emoji (the horse being the mascot for the Dallas Mavericks, the Rockets opponent in the first round of the NBA playoffs) with the further text, "Shhh. It'll all be over soon." I saw the tweet on reddit and I thought it was kinda funny, because anything with emojii is funny. Like, is that really how we communicate now? Anyways, yes, he got fired for making probably the least offensive joke possible, and then, predictably, many people got angry at the idea that he was fired. Much of what Ronson investigates in this book is the culture around and behind the internet which leads us to, well, shame somebody for a slight either real or imagined and at any degree of severity. A lying journalist gets less flack than a person who got somebody fired by shaming them, both of whom get way more than a guy who had his weird sex fantasies outed by a national newspaper. Ronson investigates but never conclusively proves what makes us react one way towards one person and more or less severely to another.

But that's not all he writes about. He also gets inside the heads of the shamed and attempts to explain how these people reacted to the shaming. It's an interesting element because in almost all the cases the person's life is much more drastically altered than you'd imagine. One of the reasons twitter and the like explode with public shaming on an almost daily basis is that the shamers operate under the assumption that this is just one bad day for the shamed, one which might cause a sleepless night or two, but that's almost never the case. It's a startling lack of empathy on the part of the shamers, an unwillingness to believe that they can have a profound impact on the people they are calling out. It usually ends up with the shamed person getting fired, and it often leads to depression and PTSD. That's a large weapon to wield, and it's one we swing recklessly. Ronson also dives into some related fields like porn and the justice system, both of which feature codified standards that outline specifically what kind of shame is allowed and what isn't.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as if we've reached Peak Shame yet. It might take somebody big doing something drastic in response to a public shaming for us to reconsider our modus operandi when somebody does something we don't agree with. Perhaps start a conversation rather than attack them via twitter? Who knows what might come of that?!?!

4/5.
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pixote

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Re: 2015 Reading Challenge
« Reply #18 on: July 20, 2015, 05:01:56 PM »
03. A book that became a movie
05. A book with a number in the title
09. A book by a female author
10. A mystery or thriller
13. A book set in a different country
17. A book a friend recommended
21. A book your mom loves
27. A book you can finish in a day

     Ten Little Indians (Agatha Christie, 1939)

It's been a long while since I've read any of Christie's mysteries (or even seen an adaptation of one), so this was partly a nostalgia trip — and thus somewhat tough to critique. The novel definitely succeeds as a very quick and enjoyable read — but possibly to its detriment. There are ten main characters, and they each get a page of two of backstory and then another page of internal characterization, and that's it. All very cardboard. The whodunit plot is equally thin. There's a certain inevitability to it all (as acknowledged by the alternate title And Then There Were None) that made me wonder how much I'd miss by just skipping ahead to the last ten pages. The very precise plotting is impressive as a juggling act, but a little underwhelming in the cleverness of it all. I never had that "ahh, I see!" reaction that I generally want a whodunit to provoke. Just a contented shrug.

Grade: B-

First book I've read this year. :-/

pixote
« Last Edit: July 20, 2015, 05:03:38 PM by pixote »
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

heisenbergman

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Re: 2015 Reading Challenge
« Reply #19 on: July 25, 2015, 11:42:52 PM »
Quote
01. A book with more than 500 pages
03. A book that became a movie
07. A book with nonhuman characters
13. A book set in a different country
34. A book with a love triangle
50. A book you started but never finished

« Last Edit: July 25, 2015, 11:55:13 PM by heisenbergman »