Category Archives: Books, Poetry & Language

One Author

If you could only read the books of one author for the rest of your life who would it be? Several writers give their answers.

Tough question. I would want to choose someone very prolific but also good. Those two things don’t always go together. On the other hand, I could pick someone not so prolific but highly re-readable. Or I could pick someone who writes really long books, like James Michener. But if I have to pick only one author I want it to be a really good, prolific science fiction author because that’s what I find the most entertaining. Best of all would be prolific, long books, highly re-readable. So… I haven’t really answered yet have I? Well, it’s a tough question.

A Very Mixed Review

The Last Revolution by R.T. Carpenter was on Amazon’s list of monthly (or was it weekly?) Kindle specials. It was very cheap, and it looked like my sort of thing. It is a more or less average colonial rebellion story. In this future all the nations on Earth have been consolidated into just three nations and there is a Council, which has its own military “to keep the peace.” Alden, a member of an elite unit in the Council military, ends up working with Lunar colonists who are fighting for independence. It’s actually a reasonably entertaining story. Not great but it is a kind of story that I enjoy.

On the negative side, this book needs some intensive editing. It is full of obvious mistakes that made me feel that the author was a high school student who struggles to maintain a C average in English. Just a few examples: He used the word “formerly” when he meant “formally,” “disposed” when he meant “deposed”, “diffuse” when he meant “defuse”, and, most hilariously, “yolk” when he meant “yoke”. There are a number of awkward or confusing sentences, especially near the beginning of the book. Worst: “They moved past him towards the large windows that faced the street.” There are only two people in this scene. If “they” refers to those two people, as it must, then who is the “him” that they move past? Another problem was that transitions between flashbacks and the story’s “present” are handled rather awkwardly. There are also what are clearly just typos, the most frequent being failure to leave a space between words, as in “itwas” or “threedozen”.

The ending leaves readers with a big mystery. There will be a sequel and I will probably read it in spite of all the very annoying flaws in the first book because, you know, I have to know what happens next. I just hope the author discovers the value of proofreading, editing, and correct vocabulary before he publishes the second book.

Travels to Faraway Places and Times

Thanks to Amazon’s monthly “$3.99 or Less” Kindle specials I have discovered some good books that I would not normally have searched for. One of these is Daughters of the River Huong by Uyen Nicole Duong, a novel about four generations of Vietnamese women. I grew up in the 60′s and 70′s, seeing images of the Vietnam war on TV every night. That formed my own mental picture of the country of Vietnam. I would like to be able to say that this novel has forever changed that picture but it hasn’t. It’s too firmly fixed. But it did introduce me to an earlier and much different Vietnam.

The novel begins in New York, with the central character, Simone, a Vietnamese-American, a successful corporate attorney, then quickly goes back in time to her childhood in 1960′s Vietnam, then further back to the time of her great-grandmother, a royal concubine. Later the book looks into the lives of her mother and grandmother and finally back to the present. I have to admit that I enjoyed the history parts of the story the most and found Simone’s teenage and adult years quite tiresome but, overall, it’s a good story and I’m glad that I read it.

A few 19th century photos of Vietnam

Next up? Well, I’m really craving a good sci-fi novel. It’s been a while.

Book Quiz

I saw this Book Quiz and immediately thought, “I have to answer this one on my blog!” Then I realized that there are a lot of questions I can’t answer but I’m going to do it anyway.

1. Your favorite book: The more books you have read, the harder it is to answer this question. I would have a hard time even coming up with a top 10. My favorite book is whatever book I happen to be reading when you ask the question, unless it’s one that is not particularly great.

2. Your least favorite book: What I said about favorite books – the more you read harder it is to answer – is true of least favorite books also, but Clan of the Cave Bear is the first that comes to mind. It stands out as being a real stinker.

3. A book that completely surprised you (bad or good): Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. It was the first Mieville that I read and I had never read anything like it before. Weirdest book I had ever read, (up to that time) full of “Wait! What?” and “WTF” moments and lots of big beautiful words.

4. A book that reminds you of home: Home, in the sense of where I grew up? Or where I live now? I can’t think of any. I mostly read books about places totally unlike anywhere I’ve ever been.

5. A non-fiction book that you actually enjoyed: Like Kelly, I think the wording of the question is strange and messed up. Why wouldn’t anyone enjoy non-fiction? In fact, my answer could be pretty much the same as my answer to the first question. I’ve read and enjoyed too many to have just one favorite. But, just picking one at random… The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson.

6. A book that makes you cry: Lots of them have at various times. I can only think of one and I didn’t actually cry just came close. It was The Death of Sleep by Anne McCaffrey and Jody Lynn Nye. It’s about a woman who spends years in cold-sleep (not by choice) so her daughter grows up without her.

7. A book that’s hard to read: I’m sure there must have been a few (or at least one?) but I can’t think of any.

8. An unpopular book you believe should be a bestseller: I wouldn’t call this “unpopular” just relatively unknown (and, sadly, OOP) – The World Is Round by Tony Rothman.

9. A book you’ve read more than once: I’ve read The World Is Round many times and I used to be obsessed with Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series. I’ve read the original trilogy and the Harper Hall trilogy at least a dozen times. But in recent years I’ve started to feel that there are too many books I haven’t read to waste time re-reading books. That’s not to say I won’t ever give in to temptation and go somewhere I’ve been before.

10. The first novel you remember reading: I can’t remember the first.

11. The book that made you fall in love with reading: I have no idea! I’ve been reading most of my life. That’s like asking, “Which breath made you fall in love with breathing?”

12. A book so emotionally draining you couldn’t complete it or had to set it aside for a bit: Oh gosh, such drama! Who but a teenager would ask a question like that?

13. Favorite childhood book: Mystery of the Haunted Mine by Gordon D. Shirreffs. I read this one many times. I still had the book for a while as an adult and it upsets me that I lost it at some time or other. (I still keep hoping to find it someday) Used copies at Amazon start at $40!

14. Book that should be on a high school or college required reading list: I occasionally read something that I think “everyone” should read but I can’t think of one in particular. I think every high school student should be required to read at least two good, and very different from each other, science fiction novels because so many people get wrong ideas about what science fiction is like and claim to not like it without ever having read any.

15. Favorite book dealing with foreign culture: I think, probably, the last book I read, This is Not that Dawn. But maybe I just thought of that because it is the last book I read.

16. Favorite book turned movie: Not sure. Can’t think of one.

17. Book turned movie and completely desecrated: Almost all of them. But I really don’t care. Books are books and movies are movies and I don’t expect movies to be completely true to the book. I think of the movies as being “inspired by” the books, not as accurate visualizations of books. No matter what, the pictures on the screen will never match the pictures in your head.

18. A book you can’t find on shelves anymore that you love: Well, I’ve already mentioned two OOP books that I love and those can be found if one is willing to pay the price.

19. A book that changed your mind about a particular subject (non-fiction): None I can think of except, I guess I could say Bill Bryson’s books changed my mind about travel writing. It can be interesting.

20. A book you would recommend to an ignorant/racist/close-minded person: I wouldn’t bother. I just assume that anyone that ignorant probably doesn’t read.

21. A guilty pleasure book: I don’t even understand this question.

22. Favorite series: Currently, Neal Asher’s Polity series.

23. Favorite romance novel: I don’t read romance novels, though many of the science fiction novels I read include romance. Elizabeth Haydon’s Rhapsody (fantasy) was quite romantic but sometime in the first sequel the romance part of the story started to get tiresome. People in love act stupid (at least in fiction) and stupid people just annoy me. That’s why I don’t read romances or watch “romantic comedies”.

24. A book you later found out the author lied about: No idea.

25. Favorite autobiographical/biographical book: This is a somewhat embarrassing question because I rarely read biographies. Hildegard of Bingen: A Visionary Life by Sabina Flanagan is one of the few I’ve read and it was interesting.

26. A book you wish would be written: China Mieville’s next novel, whatever it is.

27. A book you would write if you had all the resources: The book I already have in my head. Resources have nothing to do with it. It’s just that… well, actually I don’t have much of a story in my head, mostly just characters and worlds that I don’t exactly know what to do with.

28. A book you wish you never read: I don’t know… Maybe the fourth book in the Dune series. The original trilogy was incredible but everything after that was kind of pathetic and made me sad.

29. An author that you completely avoid/hate/won’t read: None in particular. There are, of course, many authors who simply don’t interest me.

30. An author that you will read whatever they put out: China Mieville, Neal Asher.

Reading: Other Times and Places

I have been reading The Middle Stage occasionally for a number of years, with the natural result that I got it into my head that I wanted to read an Indian novel. It took me a while to get around to it but I finally decided on This is Not That Dawn (reviewed here) as my first. That Chandrahas called it ” a plausible contender for the greatest of all Indian novels” as well as the fact that it is over 1000 pages made it irresistible for me.

The book begins at the funeral of an elderly woman in Lahore (now in Pakistan) and follows two members of the family, a brother and sister, through the years around and after the Partition. I quickly got caught up in the lives of the characters and started to care what would happen to them and that, to me, is an essential characteristic of a good story. The author was deeply sympathetic to the hardships faced by women in male dominated societies, especially during times of war and unrest. The book also explores changing moral values and the conflict between generations. Nothing really surprised me. I’ve already read enough to have a small clue as to what life in that part of the world is like but, lacking an actual time machine, nothing can take you to another time and place like a good book.

The only difficult thing about the book was that the names, nicknames and honorifics sometimes made it hard to keep up with who was who among the supporting characters. Also there were a lot of unfamiliar words for clothing and food which had me going to the dictionary often at first but Kindle’s dictionary does not know most of them so I soon gave up on that but I occasionally pulled out my smartphone to look something up on Wikipedia. I love modern technology, don’t you?

The English translation contained quite a few errors: “their” instead of “there”, “off” instead of “of”, singular when plural is called for and a lot of other things like that. Being somewhat OCD about such things myself I found this distracting. Overall though, it was a good book. I’m glad I read it and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in 20th century history, exploring other cultures, or who just likes a good story.

I have two more trips to two different Asian cultures waiting on my Kindle (both from Amazon’s monthly $3.99 or less specials) and I haven’t decided which one I will read next.

“This can’t happen with a real book”

That was my immediate thought last night when my Kindle, quite strangely, went back to the beginning of the book I’m reading when I exited the dictionary. I was 40% of the way through the book! I didn’t know what to do and it was late so, heartbroken and worried, I decided to deal with it tomorrow (which is now today) and turned it off.

The first thing I did this morning was to search the Kindle forums on Amazon. This error has happened to other people and there is no automatic way to go back to where you were in the book. The best suggestion was to search on a phrase you remember from the page you were reading. Well, of course, early this morning I couldn’t think of any exact words that I had read last night. But slowly, after morning tea, the fog began to lift and I remembered something that got me very close to where I was.

Now that the panic is over, really thinking about it, it was no more of an ordeal (maybe less of one) than finding your place again in a paper and ink book when you drop it and lose your place so, even though that should not have happened, I still love my Kindle. I’m a little bit peeved at it for losing my place and I still wonder how such a thing could happen but no technology is perfect. It’s so easy to get into the habit of trusting it.

Back to Back Neal Asher

The last two books I read were both by Neal Asher and both were sequels. I always hate trying to “review” Asher’s books. I don’t ever quite know what to say because I feel like anything I can say will make the uninitiated go, “Huh? What?” And there’s always so much going on in his books that I just don’t know how to give a good idea of what they’re about. But if you have never read anything by Neal Asher and you’re interested I recommend that you start with Gridlinked. At first you may find it rather shocking but once you get into it it’s great fun. Anyway… on to my two most recent reads.

The Voyage of the Sable Keech is a sequel to The Skinner. I have been wanting to read this for several years and I have a sort of funny confession to make. For all those years I thought the title was The Voyage of Sable Keech. Do you see what I did? I missed the second “the” and totally changed the meaning of the title. I didn’t realize my mistake until sometime after I had the book and started reading it. Sable Keech was a character in The Skinner and in the sequel it is an ocean going ship named after that character. Both books are very good. The setting is an ocean planet with lots of huge, hungry, very dangerous sea creatures, as well as some insane humans and AI’s of varying levels of sanity, but mostly more sane than the humans.

The Technician is a sequel to Line of Polity. That book deals with an evil Theocracy and, as in most of Asher’s books, a lot of large hungry, very dangerous creatures. In the sequel, a former member of the Theocracy has a secret to what happened to the original inhabitants of the planet Masada locked up in his brain. People who formerly would have been trying to kill him now have to protect him from other people who are still trying to kill him. This might be my favorite of Asher’s novels. In addition to the usual kind of action, it contains a lot of insight into human nature and a number of very quotable lines, a couple of which I have already quoted.

And now I have started reading something entirely different, which I will tell you about eventually.

Two Quotes

These are both from The Technician, by Neal Asher.

“I think, Shree, that you’ve lost sight of what we were fighting for.”
I haven’t, it’s freedom.”
An airy concept often used by people who are really saying: I’m fighting for the freedom to tell you what to do.”

Too true in the real world. Then there’s this one, my favorite of the two, although I do somewhat understand the appeal of mysticism.

“That everything can be analysed, catalogued and understood does not destroy its value. Mysticism is the function of a mind looking for alternatives to reality.”

Reading

A few days ago I finished Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber. Some time in the distant future, human civilization is destroyed by vicious alien invaders who will not negotiate, nor even communicate. A group of humans escape to a world they name Safehold. To insure they will not attract the attention of the aliens, they establish a low-tech civilization and to insure it will stay that way the leaders establish a religion in which progress is a sin. Fast forward almost 900 years and a survivor of the war, a cybernetic avatar awakens and sets out to change things.

I liked the book, did not love it. It’s an interesting enough story once you finally get past the “introductory” stuff. Fully two thirds of the book was primarily conversations about politics. Some of this is necessary to establish the political situation but I would have preferred to get to the main action much sooner. That action, when we finally get to it, is mostly an old style naval battle. A familiarity with sailing terminology would have been useful but, lacking that, I still found it interesting.

My biggest complaint, even worse than the several hundred pages of politics, is that the characters are not particularly well-developed. Mostly there are generic good guys and generic bad guys. The main characters are almost interesting but what little the author gives me about them just frustrates me and makes me want more. Even with all its faults though, I think I might read at least one more in the series because it’s really not all bad.

Oooo! A List!

And a pretty darn good and useful list: The Top 101 Science Fiction Adventures. These start with very early science fiction and are listed chronologically. Not surprisingly, I have read very few of these. Here are the ones I have read:

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. – Edgar Allan Poe – This one is bizarre and quite interesting, especially the part about Antarctica. It makes you realize that at that time in history Antarctica seemed as far away as Mars.

The Time Machine – H.G. Wells

The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells – After having seen two movies based on this, I have to admit that the book was a bit of a disappointment.

The Lost World – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Princess of Mars – Edgar Rice Burroughs – I need to read the rest of the Mars books.

At the Earth’s Core – Edgar Rice Burroughs

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

1984 – George Orwell

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Stranger in a Strange Land(?) – Robert A. Heinlein – I think I read this one but I’m not sure. I really don’t care much for Heinlein except for The Moon is a Harsh Mistress so the other books of his that I’ve read all just sort of blend into one thing that I think of simply as “Heinlein”.

Dune – Frank Herbert – The first three books in this series are awesome beyond my ability to describe. The later books became tiresome.

The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. LeGuin – Meh. Not one of my favorites by this author, who is not one of my favorite authors though there was a time when I really wanted to like her work.

The Dispossessed – Ursula K. LeGuin – Sort of interesting even though very dreary.

The Word for World is Forest – Ursula K. LeGuin – Probably my favorite of LeGuin’s novels.

Lucifer’s Hammer – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle – Loved it.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams – I read at least part of it. I can’t remember if I finished it.

So that’s 16 or 17 out of 101. Could be worse, I suppose. I want to read more of the books on the list and not just so I can say I read them. Some are old enough to be on Project Gutenberg, which makes it easy.

Oh, That’s Where They Were!

My books! They’re here! (As I mentioned before these are both by Neal Asher.) And there were two surprises. These are both used books and I would have sworn the seller was in Florida but they came from the UK! Which explains why they took so long to get here. Actually it wasn’t long at all considering how far they had to travel. That was the first surprise. The second is that The Technician is a hardback. Either I had thought it was a paperback or I just forgot.

Anyway, both books are in very good condition, just as advertised. I am so tempted to start The Voyage of Sable Keach even though I’m only about a third of the way through Off Armageddon Reef (David Weber). Number Two Son is in the middle of Anathem (Neal Stephenson) and it looks like he will finish that before I finish OAR.

Wait! This Is Not a Cat Blog

*UPDATED*

Uh oh. That was two cat posts in a row. We are in danger of being overwhelmed by the cute. So let’s just babble incoherently for a while. Or something.

So it’s November. The last couple of days have been rainy and cool but not really cold. It’s not bad. I prefer warm weather but this isn’t bad. It feels right for November. The fall colors peaked late. Until just a few days ago trees were still mostly green but now they’ve changed and leaves are falling rapidly. This colorful part of fall comes and goes so fast.

I found this collection of gorgeous steampunk images the other day. I have this one on my desktop now but it was really hard to decide which one I wanted to use.

TV:

We watched the Face Off (SyFy) season finale was last night. This was the first time I had watched an entire season of it. I normally avoid any kind of elimination competition show like a flesh eating virus but my son got us into this one and I actually enjoyed it. All of the competitors got along with each other very well and mostly had excellent attitudes. There were a couple of whiny women that I kept wanting to slap, or shake or something, but compared to most such shows this was a very pleasant group of people. And it was interesting to see their creations. The guy I was sort of rooting for (Tate, from Tulsa) did not win but I wasn’t dissatisfied with the outcome. The final three (of which Tate was one) really were the best three. I’ll probably watch this show again when it returns in January.

I have recorded two episodes of Naked Vegas, which was heavily advertised during Face Off. The rest of the family doesn’t seem to be very interested in it and I’m not sure when we will get around to watching it. We have quite a backlog of recorded shows to watch. That’s okay though. So far we are keeping up enough that we haven’t filled up the recorder and we will have a few shows to watch later when football is over and “Oh No There’s Nothing On TV” season starts.

It seems like most of the shows we’re watching (or recording) right now are on CBS: Elementary, Person of Interest, NCIS: Los Angeles, CSI and Big Bang Theory. Besides those, we watch Castle (ABC) and Grimm (NBC) And I think that’s just about all on the “Big Four”. We have nearly an entire season of Hell on Wheels (AMC) on the recorder and several episodes of Torchwood. (BBCA) Our former favorite cable/satellite channels (Discovery, History, Animal Planet, Nat Geo, Science) are mostly showing crap and re-runs right now. Of course HGTV and DIY are still my Saturday morning TV. Like a kid and cartoons, I can’t miss my Saturday morning home remodeling shows but most of the good shows are gone and the few that are left mostly show the same six episodes over and over and over and over and over.

Sewing:

Yes, I have been sewing and have a few things I want to show off but getting out the camera and setting up the tripod seems like such an ordeal for the lousy pictures I always get. But I will get around to it sometime.

Reading:

I decided to try reading Andre Norton’s Witch World series again. I read the first two books years ago and lost interest with the third. I just finished the third book, Three Against the Witch World yesterday and I do intend to read them all (or at least all that I have) but I want to read something else now. I have ordered two more books by Neal Asher, which should arrive today or tomorrow so I want to wait and read one of those but I hate to not be reading anything. Because of the TV show, Grimm, I decided a while back to download Grimm’s Fairy Tales and I’ve been reading those, just one once in a while and I read another one last night to fill in the time between books.

Via The Middle Stage, an infrequently updated blog about Indian literature, I learned about This Is Not That Dawn, which looks very interesting to me. Since I discovered The Middle Stage, years ago, I have wanted to read an Indian novel simply because I haven’t ever read one, but it’s been very much a back-burner want and I had no book or books in mind. Well, this is the one. I plan to download it soon because the Kindle version is waaaay less expensive.

Oh, almost forgot… I also ordered the first book in David Weber’s Safehold series, thanks to this conversation. I was actually going to start This Is Not That Dawn next but then the linked discussion prompted me to order a few books and now I’m eager for those so I’ll probably read all three of them before I get around to TINTD. Or maybe I’ll try reading two books at once. I know some people do that but I never have.

UPDATE: I received Weber’s Off Armageddon Reef this afternoon but not the two Neal Asher books. (The latter are used.) I was planning to read The Voyage of Sable Keach first (kinda wanted to get to it before Number Two Son) but since OAR is here and I need something to read now, I started that one. You know… there is something extremely pleasing about being the first to read a brand new paperback – the unbroken spine, the clean, untouched pages, that new feeling. But used books are fine too. It’s what’s printed on the pages that counts.

Books People Lie About

I have actually read half of the top 10 books people claim to have read but really haven’t.

1. 1984 by George Orwell – Yes. I read it twice, once in high school and again some years later.

2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – Yes, recently.

3. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – Yes, just a few years ago.

4. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger – No. I’ve never been particularly interested in reading it.

5. A Passage to India by EM Forster – No. I haven’t heard much about it but the title alone makes me think I might like it.

6. Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – Only the first book.

7. To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee – Yes. I’d like to read it again. I saw the movie when I was a kid and read the book a year or two later.

8. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky – Yes.

9. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – No. I sort of want to read it but it’s not a high priority.

10. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – No. I don’t know if I’ll ever read this one or not. From what little I know about it, it doesn’t seem like my cup o’ tea.

I’m not sure what to say about people who lie about having read books. If you want to impress someone just actually read the books. Not only will you be be able to honestly say you read them but you will be a more impressive person all around. I can usually tell whether or not a person reads a lot even if the subject of books never comes up. Generally, people who read books are more interesting.

Big Book

Yesterday I finished reading War and Peace. This is the quintessential Really Long Book, often referred to jokingly as such. If you want to say you had to wait a really long time you say that you could read War and Peace while you’re waiting. For this reason, I have always wanted to read it. I like long books. On the other hand, I have always been put off by the title. Books about war generally don’t appeal to me. (Unless there are space ships) But Kindle and Project Gutenberg make these things so easy.

I actually rather enjoyed it, for the most part, though there were parts that I found less interesting. I almost immediately got interested in the characters and their lives and started to care what happened to them and for me this is the number one mark of a good novel. On the negative side, the book ends with two lengthy epilogs, the second of which consists of nothing but Tolstoy blathering on and on and on and on about history and, of all things, free will. He made a pretty good point that in the present we believe we have free will but the farther back we go in history the more people’s actions seem inevitable. This point could have been made in a paragraph or two or, at most, a few pages but it took Tolstoy twelve chapters. Perhaps this is why people think of War and Peace as being interminably long.

And just how long is it? According to this Wikipedia List of Longest Novels, 1440 pages. (I had to look it up because Kindle doesn’t give you page numbers.) That’s long but really not exceptionally long. James Michener’s novels, for example, are typically over 1000 pages. And there are many trilogies with total page counts that easily equal that of W&P. And yes, I think that’s a fair comparison when the trilogy is one story in three books. This list of 10 Longest Novels in the English Language has a 10 volume work as #1 and numbers 2 through 6 are also longer than W&P.

This is not intended as an attempt to knock War and Peace down from its pedestal. I only want to say that maybe using it as a metaphor for “really long” doesn’t make as much sense as we assume it does. And, don’t be afraid of long books. Long is good. The longer the book the longer you get to stay in that world.

Rules For Reading

Rules? We don’t need no stinking rules! Okay, wait. We all have our own personal rules for things we do, that apply only to ourselves and no one else, and these Rules for Reading mostly fall into that category. There are two or three that should be universal.

1. Always stop at the end of a chapter. Always. No, not always. I often just stop at a line break.

2. Use specific bookmarks. I just use whatever I can find, mostly the little card tags off of clothing, which I save for this purpose. They make great bookmarks. And then there’s my Kindle which saves my place for me.

2a. No dog-earing, bending, or folding of pages. Absolutely! This is one of those that should be universal. I hate dog-eared pages.

2b. Weirdly enough, spine-breaking is fine, just don’t get too crazy with it. No! No! No! It’s not okay!

3. Always read two books at once. For most of my reading life I have always read only one book at a time but in recent years I’ve started trying to read two at once. It doesn’t work out well for me. I usually end up neglecting one.

4. No (or minimal) writing in books. NO writing in books! Not “minimal” just NO. Writing your name on the front, blank page or a note to the person you are giving the book to, if it’s a gift, is fine but otherwise NO writing in books! Ever!

5. Rereads must be earned because there are too many great books out there to read an okay one twice. I used to re-read a lot of books but now I rarely do. I am tempted sometimes but there are too many great books out there to read even a favorite more than once.

6. Not finishing a book is OK. I really hate not finishing a book but it is okay. Sometimes it’s more than okay. If I’m forcing myself to finish a book that I’m not really enjoying much I’m missing out on one that I could be enjoying a lot. However, I have read books that didn’t get interesting until more than a third of the way through so I’m always worried that I might miss out on something good if I quit too soon.

7. It is always better to take more books on a trip than you think you’ll possibly have time to read. I rarely take books on trips and if I do it’s only one but my trips are never more than a few days.

8. Having a favorite genre is fine. Getting stuck in that genre is bad. I have mixed feelings about this one. You never know what you might be missing by limiting yourself to just one genre. But on the other hand, there is more science fiction (for example) than I would be able to read in a lifetime and I could happily remain “stuck” in that genre for my entire life. However, I do have other interests and choose to branch out and read something different once in a while.

And here are a few more of my rules for reading.

9. Don’t get stuck in never ending series just because you want to know what happens next. In the past I used to keep reading books in a series even when I wasn’t enjoying them all that much because I couldn’t stand not knowing what happens next. Now I avoid those kinds of series. If each book in the series can be read as a stand-alone or if I know the story is complete in a specific number of books that’s fine but a series that just goes on and on and on with each book ending in a cliffhanger… No.

10a. Read books by your favorite authors. It’s nice to “live” in a favorite universe for a while.

10b. But don’t get stuck on just a few authors. You never know when you might find your next favorite so try new authors often.

Cli-Fi?

Has Climate Change Created A New Literary Genre? Writers are always influenced by what is going on in the world and many try to speak to what people are concerned about. Does that mean that a “new literary genre” is created every time a lot of writers take up a popular theme? Well, I guess that partly depends on exactly how you define “genre.” Is it a broad category or a narrow one? I’m inclined to think that climate fiction is not a new genre but just the latest popular topic. But, yes or no, let’s please not start using the term, “cli-fi.”

Reading

(This post is a week overdue.)

Last week I finished reading the second book in the Hellhole trilogy and discovered that, apparently, the third book isn’t out yet. Darn.

So I started something I have been wanting to read for at least three-quarters of my life, the quintessential Really Long Book, War and Peace. I have never been put off by the length. I’ve read lots of long books. I like long books. It was just one of those things that I hadn’t got around to yet.

All I can say at this point is that I’m not bored yet. The Kindle status line shows that I am 14% of the way through the book, which means that I’m averaging 2% per day. The first part was about vapid aristocrats. Now I’m into the war part of the book. The vapid aristocrats were more entertaining. I’m generally not attracted to books about war unless there are spaceships involved. But I’m hanging in there. I’m thinking we might eventually get back to the vapid aristocrats.

By the way, here’s a list of longest novels. It shows that War and Peace in paperback is 1440 pages. I have read novels by James Michener that were over 1500 pages.

Neal Asher, Briefly

I recently finished two short books by Neal Asher. The Parasite is apparently out of print and used copies of it start at well over $100 at Amazon.com. You don’t want to know what new copies of it cost. Fortunately there’s a Kindle version. It’s a must read for fans of Asher’s Polity universe, though it is not a Polity story. It seems to be pre-Polity. At least it has some of the same elements you see in the Polity stories. And I hope I’m not giving too much away when I say that I loved the ending.

Africa Zero contains two related stories about a future Africa filled with all sorts of genetically engineered creatures. It was a fun, quick read with a lot of interesting ideas. Of course, “fun” and “a lot of interesting ideas” pretty much describes every Neal Asher book I’ve ever read.

If anyone reading this is considering reading Asher on my recommendation, because everyone has different tastes in entertainment I feel I must warn you that Neal Asher’s stories have extraordinarily high body counts. Lots of humans and aliens die quite messily. If they made movies of these books and aired them on TV they would start with the familiar warning: “Some images may be disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.” If you’re interested I would recommend starting with either Gridlinked (which is the one I started with) or The Skinner.

Reading Miscellany

I finished reading book one of The Mongoliad. It’s okay but not great and as I was reading it I was thinking that I probably wouldn’t bother to continue with books two and three but then I get to the end and there’s no kind of conclusion nor even a logical break. It just ends in the middle of the action. So I don’t know. At first I thought I really wanted to see what happens next but after a couple of days I’m already starting to think, “Eh… I don’t care.”

I found Mongoliad when I was searching for books by Neal Stephenson but I wasn’t paying much attention because I didn’t realize until I received the book and actually had it in my hands that it was written by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, E. D. deBirmingham, Erik Bear, Joseph Brassey, and Cooper Moo. A seven way collaboration! I generally tend to prefer single author books though I have read a few good two author collaborations and one really good three author collaboration.

Before Mongoliad I was reading Don Quixote but stopped in the middle of it. I started it again and read a couple of chapters. I’m almost halfway through it now. Picking it up again after a break was no trouble at all. It seems to be a good book to do that with. I think I will eventually finish it but the way I’m going it could take years.

I really wanted to get back to science fiction for a while so I ordered a few more books. I just started The Parasite by Neal Asher. I usually buy science fiction in paperback so I can share but used copies of this book start at over $100! Thank goodness for Kindle. So far I’m liking it. It’s exactly the sort of thing I’m in the mood for. (Yes, I know. Shut up.) Paperbacks on the way: Africa Zero, also by Neal Asher, and The Peace War by Vernor Vinge.

A Not So Big Idea

I have to admit I rolled my eyes at this “big idea”. Perhaps this would have been a big idea in the 70′s. Now, I haven’t read the book but I’m thinking “teenage, steampunk Charlies Angels.” And at first I thought what would be really daring would be a book in which women don’t have to kick butt to be respected – women who sew and knit and drink tea while wearing pretty dresses, and I swear I’m not just thinking this because I’m “old”; I was thinking pretty much the same thing when I was a teenager in the 70′s and the notions about what a woman should be started to change.

But of course it’s a novel and a novel about women sitting around sewing and knitting and drinking tea while wearing pretty dresses wouldn’t be very interesting. I honestly can’t think how anyone could make it interesting. It’s just that, in the history of female role models there’s only ever been one kind of role model at a time. At one time a woman who was very good at all the domestic arts was considered a good role model. Now Hot, butt-kicking women are the role models. Why can’t we have more than one kind of role model? Why does popular culture have to present one certain kind of role model and say, “This is what you should all admire and aspire to be”?

I do give Ms. Kress points for a couple of things though.

On the off-chance that the FMC does have female friends, they are often represented as frenemies (I really hate that word). Relationships between women are evidently supposed to be catty, manipulative, and just all-around unpleasant. By contrast, there is a beauty to men’s bromance. It is held up as an important and wonderful thing, whether it be a Fellowship surrounding, say, a piece of jewelry, or someone to whom you can say I Love You, Man. But the female bond is derided, considered a necessary evil. Something to mock. It’s actually why I believe so many women love bromance books and films. We so rarely see our own friend relationships represented as high-quality and fulfilling, that we relate better to watching the way male relationships are represented.

And…

You can imagine my shock when one day it occurred to me that my considering typically feminine things less important meant that I was perpetuating a pretty darned sexist attitude very common in our society. There is a notion that things that interest men are more worthy than things that interest women.

I decided to embrace the part of me that was more feminine. And doing so meant also embracing it in my book. Nellie loves being girly, loves playing dress-up, loves sparkles. None of this takes away from her ability to be strong, intelligent and get the job done. In fact, I truly believe her more girly qualities enhance these three powerful ones. Quite frankly I think she’s an utter delight. If I do say so myself.

So maybe I’ll read the book. It’s YA, far from my usual thing, but I’m a bit curious.

Book Quote

I was going to do one of these every week but it hasn’t worked out that way. Anyway, today’s quote is from Excession by Iain M. Banks.

I think a little explanation might be required for those not familiar with Banks’ Culture novels or especially for those not very familiar with science fiction in general. In this series of novels space ships, space stations, and a lot of other technological things are intelligent, sentient, and have feelings. The following paragraph describes some of the thoughts and feelings of one of the ships in the story. (Italics in original)

It was a warship, after all. It was built, designed to glory in destruction, when it was considered appropriate. It found, as it was rightly and properly supposed to, an awful beauty in both the weaponry of war and the violence and devastation which that weaponry was capable of inflicting, and yet it knew that attractiveness stemmed from a kind of insecurity, a sort of childishness. It could see that – by some criteria – a warship, just by the perfectly articulated purity of its purpose, was the most beautiful single artifact the Culture was capable of producing, and at the same time understand the paucity of moral vision such a judgement implied. To fully appreciate the beauty of the weapon was to admit to a kind of shortsightedness close to blindness, to confess to a sort of stupidity. The weapon was not itself; nothing was solely itself. The weapon, like anything else, could only finally be judged by the effect it had on others, by the consequences it produced in some outside context, by its place in the rest of the universe. By this measure the love, or just the appreciation, of weapons was a kind of tragedy.

Decline of Language

On declining vocabulary:

I worry over what I see as a potential impoverishment of language (for example, students thinking that it’s perfectly appropriate to use “text speak” to write a paper in. The problem with that kind of telegraphic language – it’s great for sending a quick note to someone over your phone – but it lacks adverbs and adjectives and long descriptions and….well, I admit I’m a bit of a Luddite but in my darker moments of contemplating it I wonder if maybe it’s a path back to the grunts that our ancient ancestors allegedly used (though there is now a hypothesis out there that Neanderthals sang, which I think is wonderful*). And I realize there’s the whole descriptive vs. prescriptive debate in linguistics, and that languages evolve and such….but in biological evolution, a major loss of diversity is usually seen as a negative thing, and the loss of linguistic diversity (in the sense of decline of vocabulary) does concern me. *

I like that comparison with biological evolution to make the point about loss of diversity. I often think about that but I have never been able to state it so well. Besides text-speak taking over, there are two things that bother me greatly. One is what I think of as the hijacking of words – when a relatively small group mis-uses or deliberately alters the meaning of a word or chooses just one existing meaning of a word that has more than one meaning, and insists that from now on it can only be used to mean what they want it to mean. One example is the word, “depression.” It used to be that you could say, “I’m depressed,” to mean, “Right now, at this moment I am very unhappy,” but now if you say that everyone thinks of clinical depression. I even saw one online discussion in which some people were saying that if you use the word “depression” casually you are disrespecting people who are “really depressed”. There is another, perhaps better, example I could use but I fear I would be opening a can of worms if I mentioned it.

The other thing that bothers me is words just falling out of use, people using words with similar but slightly different or less exact meanings than what they are really trying to say. I feel that we are losing subtleties of meaning and losing the ability to express ourselves effectively. I know language changes. It’s good that it changes, but we should pay attention to the way it is changing and not allow it to lose diversity and richness of meaning.

And I thought of a third thing that bugs me: people talking in catch-phrases. We all do it but many people over-do it. Going green, moving forward, at the end of the day, it is what it is, (I really, seriously hate that one.) think outside the box. We hear them all the time and it’s hard not to repeat them when they seem useful but wouldn’t it be more effective to find our own words?

I understand that not everyone can be a linguist. I understand that there are people who are “language challenged” just as there are people who are “math challenged” (and I admit I’m not as good at it as I wish I could be) but when I hear people on TV, in a position that requires (or should require) a person to be educated and articulate, using the wrong words, or less effective or exact words than they could be using, I can’t help but feel our whole culture is in decline. And what really makes me sad is that most people don’t even see this as a problem.

*I didn’t make the blockquote bigger on purpose. For some reason WordPress did that all by itself.