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December 03, 2011


I am not sure these books are this year's or last year's, I lose track easily, but I really enjoyed Felix Gilman's _Half-Made World_ and Francis Spufford's _Red Plenty_, (although the latter was enhanced by the fact I have been taking a linear programming class).

Also, I haven't read any of Ms. Whitfield's books, but I have read her blog. A couple of years ago she discussed the notion of the "Mary Stu" character, a male character for whom reality itself will restructure itself in order that said character can be a hero instead of just a pathetic a-hole. A twist on the Mary Sue and hence quasi-a-propos of the inner view you mention wrt the Jo Walton book. I've found this particular notion to be very useful, for example in helping to explain just why the Patrick Rothfuss books are so annoying.

I second the recommendation for the Weatherford book on Genghis Khan. It's not scholarly, not entirely accurate, and its main argument is probably too broad. But as an introduction, it's great--and really fun to read.

Another title I'd recommend from the non-fiction back catalog (which is pretty much all I read) is Dominic Sandbrook's history of Britain in the 1950s, _Never Had It So Good_. I haven't read his tome on the 1960s yet, but am looking forward to it.

I don't have anything cohesive, but I am now reading Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage and enjoying it a great deal. Also I've been rifling my daughter's school library and enjoying Gary Paulsen's books a great, great deal. Beginning with Hatchet.


Thanks for reminding me to link to Kit's blog. The post you're thinking about is Macho Sue, one of my benchmarks, as well.

DrS - I'll be writing more about it later, but I'll just say that I think it's not a "sentimental novel", it's an emotional one.

In literary criticism a 'sentimental' novel is an emotional novel. That said, I can understand why you want to emphasize this distinction in a non-technical sense. A lot of sentimentalism crosses the line into maudlin excess.

Slarti, you might enjoy Gary Paulsen's auto biography, My Life in Dogs. He had a difficult and unusual upbringing, saved by a series of dogs.

I read the whole Game of Thrones series in about three weeks. Then I went back and read it again. And again.

I'm reading Massie's biography of Catherine the Great mostly because I liked his other books. So far so good.

Other than that....English murder mysteries. Johnathan Gash has a new series out which I am reading with relish. I got burnt out on the Lovejoys years ago utr the new series has me hooked.

ALl this reading is due to my Kindle. I can't read regular books any more unless its one of those REALLY LARGE TYPE BOOKS FOR THE NEARLY BLIND.

I'll second the Dominic Sandbrook recommendation.
I just finished his "State of Emergency", which covers early seventies Britain - excellent, and often very funny. It recaptures the time (which I grew up in) brilliantly.

I'll also strongly recommend Charles Mann's 1493. An analysis of the consequences of the discovery of the Americas, it's also a fantastic introduction to world history. Full of stuff I never knew before (& I'm pretty sure that will apply to all but the most polymath).

For really serious historians, Chris Wickham's The Inheritance of Rome.

SF - I thought China Mieville's Embassytown was pretty good.

Murakami's IQ84 pretty well lived up to the hype.

Slarti, you might enjoy Gary Paulsen's auto biography, My Life in Dogs. He had a difficult and unusual upbringing, saved by a series of dogs.

Thanks for that, Laura; I've been thinking that if Paulsen had an autobiography I would very much like to read it. I've torn through Hatchet, The River, Brian's Winter and The Return all in one weekend, and thought Paulsen's story (the little of it that he has recounted in various Afterwords) would be very, very interesting indeed. I'll check it out!

I second Embassytown, although it's not really in my comfort zone. It's basically a story containing a lot of human failure, but very good.

What else? I always, always have strong recommendations for Seabiscuit and Unbroken. Read them.

Paulsen wrote some very dark books. The Crossing is one. It's not a middle school book, although the vocabularly is fairly restricted. It's more for high school students, I think.

I didn't like Hatchet or The River. I was more or less force fed them. But his other books...
I rarely recommend books or give then as gifts unless someones says, "I want this." The way people react to books is too personal.

People give me dog rescue books all the time but mostly I cannot read them. My husband got me The Purpose of a Dog, but I can't read it bccause I start crying. It makes me too empathetic with the dogs at our rescue kennel, their loneliness and need for a home, the jumping and barking :Me! Me! Me!"

I couldn't read The Lost Dogs, about Micheal VIck's pits, either. I just read the ending which is mostly happy. The only gift book about dogs I have been able to read is Inside of a Dog, which is mostly a science book about the differences in mental processing between a dog and a human. I am more polite to dogs now, having read that book, and more patient with the sniffing and peeing.

Yeah Genghis Kahn book -- 3rd thumbs up from me.

As with ambivalentmaybe I'm a 80%+ backlog nonfiction reader.

One that jumps out from the last year was The Founding Fish by John McPhee. It was written in 2003 and is centered around the history of the American Shad. It's a fairly bizzare book and parts are difficult to get through, but it's more than worth it for the general knowledge, historical facts and anecdotes, and occasional passionate writing.

I love Weatherford's book on Genghis and regularly assign pieces to my freshman classes. It's one of the best pieces I've found to take them out of their comfortable, Western-centered, world view and make them appreciate the validity of other cultures. Sitting on my 'to read' pile at the moment is his follow up book, The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire. Mongol women had important, powerful roles in their society, so it promises to be a very interesting read.

I am finishing Keith Meldahl's Hard Road West: History and Geology along the Gold Rush Trail(2007). It skillfully tells the story of the emigrants' journey and how geography shaped the route and the experience. With equal skill it tells the story of western geology and how the geography came to be. Both stories are accompanied by many well-chosen illustrations. It is a fascinating and very readable book.

Old Book: Jack London's People of the Abyss

I think it is especially appropriate as we have one of our major political parties interested in going back to the work rules of 1906, and the current leader for the GOP nomination wants to put kids back to work.

I think it is also of interest as the UK was in the same relative state as an empire, had significant worker displacement due to "outsourcing" and automation.

Parts are a hard slog, but for me it was a cure for the GOP that was lurking inside me.

Plus it is a free download for Kindle.

I guess few people know today that Jack London was a dirty commie ;-). I didn't until I read The Iron Heel (in a GDR edition that somehow found it's way into the Siemens company library that served as the (semi-public) library in this part of town when I still went to school).


I would guess it would be hard not to be a commie given the working/living conditions he describes. The Iron Heel was interesting too, but I found it dissappointing and incomplete. I did like his Scarlet Plague, though.

I think both London and Sinclair missed the rise of unions as a counter to the oligarchy and a correction to working conditions. Although maybe they were just wrong by a century or so.

Parts are a hard slog, but for me it was a cure for the GOP that was lurking inside me.

Do your parents know about this?

Do your parents know about this?

yes, my mother accepted my "coming out" with grace, but dad is not speaking to me.

I think he's more hard-headed since switching from Piels to Budweiser.

As perhaps an interesting companion to Uncle Tom's Cabin, I'll recommend Bury the Chains, by Adam Hochschild. Fascinating history of the push to end slavery in the British Empire.

I've discovered Iain Banks this year. I'm currently reading his "Excession" which is improving greatly in the last three quarters from a rough beginning. "Matter" and "The Algebraist", his more recent science fiction novels, do his themes more justice and joy, I think.

Many of his works deal with a Milky-Way-spanning, human-oriented, Anglo-inspired "Culture" and how it deals with being both superior to many of the species it "helps", and encountering new intelligences beyond its ken that are, well, a bit anarchic. If you want to read about the gods themselves being laughed at and pitied by even elder gods, you may want to check out this Scotsman's work. :-)

Similarly, you don't have to have read *every* book Mor reads to see how her mind develops, but you have to have heard of most of them, and you have to know The Lord of The Rings, at least, to a fair depth.
This turns out not to be true. At least, I've spoken to more than one person who has loved Jo's book and has only seen the LOTR movies, and not read the books, and also hasn't read most of the books mentioned.

Just being a geeky reader of skiffy turns out to be sufficient, though I expect the book is even better if you're familiar with most of the mentioned books.

I adore Jo, and I adored AMONG OTHERS. I recommend it most highly.

I don't have anything cohesive, but I am now reading Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage and enjoying it a great deal.
One of the two cats I cat/house-sit for (for a year now, and probably for at least another year, if not more) is named "Shackleton," and the owner, who travels greatly, once put a photo of Ton-the-cat on Ernest Shackleton's grave.

John McPhee is always good reading.

I've discovered Iain Banks this year.
Apparently, from the books mentioned, you've discovered Iain M. Banks, not Iain Banks. :-) (Really, which name he uses tells you something about the book.)
Iain Banks (born on 16 February 1954 in Dunfermline, Fife) is a Scottish writer. He writes mainstream fiction under the name Iain Banks, and science fiction as Iain M. Banks, including the initial of his adopted middle name Menzies. In 2008, The Times named Banks in their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". [...]

Interviewed on Mark Lawson's BBC Four series, first broadcast in Britain on 14 November 2006, Banks explained why his novels are published under two different names. His parents wished to name him Iain Menzies Banks but his father made a mistake when registering the birth and he was officially registered as Iain Banks. Despite this he continued to use his middle name, and it may be considered official by adoption. It was as Iain M. Banks that he submitted The Wasp Factory for publication; his editor asked if he would mind dropping the 'M' as it appeared "too fussy". The editor also raised concerns about possible confusion with Rosie M. Banks, a minor romantic novelist in P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves novels. Following his three mainstream novels, his publishers agreed to publish his first SF novel, Consider Phlebas. To distinguish between the mainstream and SF novels, Banks suggested the return of the 'M'.

You've been reading M. :-)

A friend in Honolulu purchased a sailboat from Gary Paulsen. Nice boat. Came with a ton of sunscreen and towels. And Jack Weatherford was a professor at my alma mater, Macalester College. As far as good nonfiction this year, I can recommend In the Garden of the Beasts by Seattle author, Erik Larson.


I've considered, for several years, _The Use of Weapons_ and _Inversions_ (by Iain M. Banks -- personally I prefer the be-initialed to the aninitialed writer), to be good examples of the kind of sf books you use to hit upside the head with people who refuse to consider that genre fiction might actually be literature.

May I also observe how much I appreciate the occasional thread like this, although it always bloats my list of books to find.

Just to toss a fox in the henhouse, I've kinda gone off Iain M. a bit. I haven't read the two books that JakeB mentions, but I did read Consider Phelbas and was pretty taken by it and the whole Culture backstory, so I read a few other books (Player of the Game, Look to Windward and Matter) and then got kinda fed up. Perhaps it was middle age life crisis talking, but I was a bit tired of these lithe, incredibly sexy super geniuses who seemed to be populating the novels. I then went back and reread Consider Phlebas, which is interesting because it describes a person from 'the other side' in the Iidrian-Culture conflict, making him a sympathetic character, even though we are supposed to sympathize with the Culture. The rereading made me aware of how Banks is able to manipulate the reader into sympathizing with the Iidrian agent (and I suppose it is a good measure of Banks' ability that he had me rip thru the book the first time and not see what he was up to) Still, the rereading made me feel it was a bit too much manipulation (though again, I'm finding myself less appreciative of a writer who is able to manipulate me, though again, this is probably more a comment on where I am than any value judgement on Banks).

Hopefully, this will pique people's interest if they haven't read it, but will, and perhaps provide some food for thought for those who have.




I just finished Ready Player One, and although it may not qualify as a work of enduring literary appeal, it's a very, very fun read. IMO, of course.

Next on my list is Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay, on my wife's strong recommendation. And somewhere in there is a Gary Paulsen nonfiction (having to do with his participation in Iditarods) that my wife swiped from the school library shelves.

I'll second the "Warmth Of Other Suns". When offered the opportunity to have all freed slaves shipped to Liberia, Fredrick Douglas explained; para;"negroes consider The United States their home. They wish a chance at the American experience". Even the more ardent abolishiners were surprised by this. Easy to see in retrospect why it took 100 years after the Civil War to have laws pass that began to lessen the effects of bigotry, rampant in the South and throughout our nation.
Ms Wilkerson brilliantly provides a window into the lives of three black citizens of the "Jim Crow" South. Their lives, choices, and Journey's are detailed with alarming clarity.
One of the best books I have ever read. My only regret is that it is all painfully true and not a Novel!

I just finished "Doc", a novel about Doc halliday. I read it inconjuction with a biography of Doc written by a historian and reading the tow together enhaced both. The novel is about personalities which the historian, who dealth scrupulously in facts left out.

I have alwasy been interested in the history of the West, in the mixture of personalities and motivations of people who chose to live on the edges. For those of yu who might enjoy some self education in this subject Berbard De Voto's books re essential as is Taos and the Wy-to-Yah Trail ajd Bent's Fort by David lavender.

Anyway the ovel "Doc" is not great literature, but it is well rooted in history and her specualtions on the possible persolities of now famous or infamous individuals has the feel of veracity. I found it sad and poignant.

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