Bragan Reads Right on Through It in 2021

Questa conversazione è stata continuata da Bragan Reads Right on Through It in 2021, Pt. 2.

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Bragan Reads Right on Through It in 2021

1bragan
Gen 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
Gen 1, 6:02pm

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

3AnnieMod
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 1, 8:35pm

Happy new year and happy reading!

6AnnieMod
Gen 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
Gen 1, 9:18pm

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

8dchaikin
Gen 1, 9:56pm

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

9rhian_of_oz
Gen 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
Gen 2, 3:59am

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

11bragan
Modificato: Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Modificato: Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 4, 7:09am

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

29wandering_star
Modificato: Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Modificato: Gen 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
Modificato: Gen 5, 5:19pm

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

42sallypursell
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 5, 8:07pm

You might enjoy this:

The foot of my bed


My sewing room


The foot of that pile


45bragan
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 6, 8:50am

>47 wandering_star: What a neat idea!

49Julie_in_the_Library
Gen 6, 8:55am

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

50bragan
Gen 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
Modificato: Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 6, 9:54pm

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

54bragan
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 7, 1:05pm

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

58bragan
Gen 7, 1:28pm

>57 rocketjk: Hello and welcome!

59arubabookwoman
Gen 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
Gen 9, 5:34pm

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

61bragan
Gen 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
Gen 10, 6:49am

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

63lisapeet
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 10, 10:50am

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

66kidzdoc
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 10, 5:19pm

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

70baswood
Gen 10, 5:33pm

> enjoyed your review - and you have another timeline?

71bragan
Gen 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
Modificato: Gen 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
Modificato: Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 16, 8:38am

Questo utente è stato eliminato perché considerato spam.

79dchaikin
Gen 16, 3:05pm

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

80bragan
Gen 16, 4:20pm

>79 dchaikin: Yes, to both things.

81rachbxl
Gen 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
Gen 17, 11:12am

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

83rhian_of_oz
Gen 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
Modificato: Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 28, 7:54pm

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

101bragan
Gen 28, 8:10pm

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

102janemarieprice
Gen 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
Gen 29, 12:38am

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

104bragan
Modificato: Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Gen 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
Modificato: 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
Modificato: 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
Modificato: 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
Modificato: 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

Questo utente è stato eliminato perché considerato 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
Modificato: 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
Modificato: 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
Mar 5, 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

171bragan
Mar 10, 1:43pm

22. Voyagers: Twelve Journeys through Space and Time by Robert Silverberg



A collection of nine short science fiction stories and three novellas, loosely assembled around the theme of "voyages," spanning multiple decades of Robert Silverberg's writing career.

It's been a very long and prolific career, and I haven't remotely read everything Silverberg has written. (Most of the pieces in here were new to me, for instance.) But from what I have read, my feeling is that while his writing is always smooth, polished, and professional -- something that, sadly, is hardly a given in the SF field -- his individual works do vary in quality. At his best, he approaches real brilliance, but some of his stuff is merely decent but forgettable, or interesting but flawed. I'd say the contents of this collection, overall, are basically mid-range Silverberg. There's not anything here that got me really excited, but there was only one story that left me entirely cold. ("Looking for the Fountain," in which a company of Conquistadors encounter the descendants of some very lost Crusaders while searching for something that might more accurately be described as the Fountain of Viagra than the Fountain of Youth.) And that one, at least, was not one of the longer pieces.

In fact, the two that I enjoyed the most here were two of the three novellas. I'm actually a little surprised that "We Are for the Dark" worked for me as well as it did, to be honest. The plot may be less a plot than a loosely assembled collection of individual scenes, and the ending is weird and not entirely satisfying. But somehow it really does capture the sense of the vast, dark expanse of the universe really well for me, and the ability to evoke that sort of perspective is one of the things I have always loved in science fiction. Perhaps similarly, the time-travel plot of "The Hundred Gates of Thebes" is pretty thin, existing mainly as an excuse to give us a sense of what it might be like to find ourselves actually stepping through time and setting foot in ancient Egypt. But it does that very well, bringing its setting to life for the reader in an impressively vivid way. Now, mind you, I could find other things to complain about with both of those stories... If nothing else, Silverberg's love of gratuitous scenes in which a female character throws herself sexually at the hero without much in the way of reason or preamble makes me want to roll my eyes a bit. But they worked pretty well for me, anyway.

The bottom line, I suppose, is that I wouldn't exactly recommend this as a first introduction to Silverberg's work. But if you've read and liked some of his other stuff, this one may be worth a look.

Rating: A possibly slightly generous 4/5

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

172SassyLassy
Mar 19, 5:08pm

Loving the discussion around language here.

>120 dchaikin: Agreed - unique cannot be modified.

One of my favourite twitch provoking usages is "I could care less" to which I always want to respond "Well go ahead then"

>113 bragan: Words mean precisely what groups of people use them to mean, no more and no less. Sounds a bit like "truthiness". It might work if the entire group is agreed upon the usage, but if the group is split and one surgeon is hearing 'liver' and another on the same case takes it to mean 'kidney', there's trouble.

>141 raton-liseur: >142 RidgewayGirl: Learning French in Canada too, 'le fin de la semaine' to me approximates Friday afternoon in colloquial use, right before 'le weekend' (not to be confused with The Weeknd). I'm not sure what TGIF would be though.
My French tutor, une québecoise, is most insistent on academic French, but also throws in some truly bizarre almost joual things, all situation specific. She thinks once you learn things correctly, you can break the rules and play with the accent, but not until then. That will be never for me.

>148 LolaWalser: Will look for Nadeau

>!55 More good points

173bragan
Mar 19, 6:53pm

>172 SassyLassy: "Unique cannot be modified" is not a very unique opinion, but it's one that's demonstrably false, because, look, I just did it and you 100% understood me. ;) Language not, in fact, being subject to the rules of formal logic, no matter how many people seem to wish it was. Having studied formal logic a bit, I think language would be a hell of a lot more boring and possibly less useful if it did, honestly.

And I've never in my life understood people complaining about "I could care less." It always leaves me wondering how they've somehow never managed to be introduced to the concept of irony.

It might work if the entire group is agreed upon the usage, but if the group is split and one surgeon is hearing 'liver' and another on the same case takes it to mean 'kidney', there's trouble.

This, of course, is why technical terms are defined much more precisely than colloquial ones. If there is difficulty there, I don't think it's ever situations like that one. It's more of an issue when experts use the technical definitions of words and the public hears the colloquial one.

(I love the language discussion, too, but it does seem to bring out the -- hopefully good-natured! -- snark in everyone, me included.)

174bragan
Mar 19, 9:42pm

23. The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson



This is the third book in the Masquerade series, about a woman attempting to bring down an oppressive empire from the inside.

I feel like I'm doing this series a major disservice by reading it (more or less) as it comes out, rather than waiting for it to be finished and reading it all in short order. Because the plot is incredibly complicated, full of machinations and manipulations and multiple points of view and competing ideologies, and all manner of complexity. Honestly, that was all hard enough to follow just while I was reading the first book, and a two-year pause between volumes while I forgot all the details and many of the broad outlines meant I spent a good portion of this one feeling a little lost, no matter how much the author tried to remind me what was going on.

I think that's definitely one of the reasons why, after mostly quite enjoying the first two books, I found this one a little bit disappointing, a little bit difficult to get through. But I'm pretty sure that's not the only reason. Thinking about it, there were basically three things that appealed to me about this series from the beginning, and at this point they all seem somewhat less effective.

First is the way it serves as a critique of imperialism that doesn't oversimplify the motives of the people who practice it, presenting us with people who are capable of doing utterly horrific things while still believing they're the good guys, thanks to their own warped worldviews and half-baked ideas about science. Well, this volume still does give us that, but I fear the effect of characters giving themselves and each other speeches on this stuff is maybe starting to wear a bit thin.

Second is the world-building, which is deep and rich and really interesting. There's still a lot of that, but it's taken a bit of a left turn, as of the end of book two, and it's a turn that I don't think is entirely working for me. At the outset, this felt like the kind of fantasy where the only fantasy element is that it's set in a world that doesn't actually exist, and everything else is impressively realistic. But then it suddenly introduces some really out-there elements, bizarre fantasy-horror stuff that I might really like in a different context, but which felt out of place here, and my suspension of disbelief has never really recovered. (The author does attempt to justify it as perhaps scientifically plausible in his afterword, here, but he's not really fooling anybody.)

Third, and most significant, is that what we were initially presented with seemed to be a deeply complex, psychologically realistic, and often painful portrait of a woman facing the very real possibility that she might be forced to become the thing she hates in order to destroy it. We seem to have gotten away from that now, though. Or rather, if that person still exists, she's become distant from the reader, harder to emphasize with, and thus harder to care about. And her psychology has also become profoundly unrealistic, in a way that also isn't doing any favors for the old suspension of disbelief.

All of which isn't to say that this volume is nothing but a disappointment. The world is still extremely interesting. The plot is still interesting, even if it's hard to follow. The characters are for the most part well-drawn. There are some moments that do manage to be emotionally affecting. But... Well, let me put it this way. I initially thought this was meant to be a trilogy, and assumed that this was the final volume. When I realized, near the end, that, no, there was still one more planned installment to come, my reaction was a feeling of real regret, because this one had taken me far, far too long to read and I wanted to be done with it.

But, having come this far, I figure I will feel compelled to read the next one when it's out. Even if I'll probably feel lost all over again, because I'm already forgetting some of the stuff that happened in this one.

Rating: I'm going to give this 3.5/5, but I can't decide whether that's massively generous or not, because I don't know how much of my difficulty in getting through it was basically my own fault for having a crappy memory, or for having expected it to be something other than it is. I am trying to give it the benefit of the doubt, though. Maybe just because I want to convince myself I'm still enjoying it in an attempt to psych myself up for volume four.

175bragan
Mar 20, 12:02am

24. Geek Ink: The World's Smartest Tattoos for Rebels, Nerds, Scientists, and Intellectuals by the creators of Inkstinct



I don't have any tattoos. To be absolutely honest, I cannot, deep in my heart, understand how anyone could possibly want a tattoo. (So, basically the same attitude that I have towards children.) But I do find myself being really drawn to and impressed by the sight of genuinely artistic ones. (Tattoos, that is, not children.) And the tattoos on display in this book very much qualify. The first half of this volume features short profiles of renowned tattoo artists from around the world, with samples of their work. The second half features a gallery of tattoos arranged by subject matter, including various categories of science and nature, fantasy, pop culture, and other subjects. And while some of the artistic styles are more to my taste than others, they are all very impressive. I might not want any of them on my body, but being able to browse through them in book form is pretty cool.

Rating: 4/5

176bragan
Modificato: Mar 20, 5:15am

25. Bunnicula: 40th Anniversary Edition by Deborah and James Howe



There's something strange about that new bunny rabbit the Monroe family has just brought home. Why does it have fangs? And what is happening to those poor, innocent vegetables? The cat, who has read entirely too many horror novels, is worried, but the family dog just wants everybody to get along.

A beloved childhood classic that I've somehow managed to miss entirely for my whole life, despite the fact that I might have been at about the right age for it when it first came out. I can see why people are fond of it, though. It's very cute, and I can imagine actually being a bit creeped out by those drained-of-juice veggies as a little kid. Although as an adult I'm far more disturbed by the diets of the other animals. Please, kids, do not feed your dog chocolate cake or give your adult cat milk!

This 40th anniversary edition comes with an introduction by author James Howe, some short comments by a few other kids' book authors about how much they loved it when they were kids, and a gallery of cover art and other depictions of the titular bunny. Also a weird fuzzy cover, for some reason.

Rating: 4/5

177LolaWalser
Mar 20, 1:02pm

>176 bragan:

Looove that cover!

>175 bragan:

With you on both tattoos and kids... although I can see some appeal to the serious whole-body or large parts of body tattooing (not to do it, but to admire it).

178bragan
Modificato: Mar 20, 5:12pm

>177 LolaWalser: I find a lot of sleeve tattoos, in particular, rather beautiful, and I'm happy to appreciate them on other people, even if I don't understand why anybody would actually want one on their own body. And, hey, I can enjoy playing with other people's kids, too, sometimes. It's nice, I suppose, that people do things so I don't have to. :)

And that Bunnicula cover really is fuzzy! Sort of a velvety texture, which I don't personally enjoy touching, but it's a neat idea, anyway, I guess. Also the bunny eyes and the blood drop are sort of shiny. Somebody had a lot of fun designing that.

179bragan
Modificato: Mar 21, 7:51pm

26. How to Dispatch a Human: Stories and Suggestions by Stephanie Andrea Allen



A collection of short, strange stories, mostly focusing on Black lesbian characters, and mostly coming under the heading of some variety or other of speculative fiction. Most of these have premises that sound cool and intriguing: A woman finds her entire life being taken over by her futuristic smartphone. A cat plots to murder its human's annoying house guest. A vampire unknowingly makes a date with someone from a family of vampire hunters.

And yet, I hate to say it, but the writing just doesn't quite seem up to doing these ideas justice. I'm trying to think how best to describe it. "A bit amateurish" maybe just sounds mean. Perhaps I should go with "overly simplistic?" We've got lots and lots of little declarative sentences that keep telling us facts about the characters and their worlds and their lives when they really should be inviting us in to experience them, you know?

And, no doubt in large part because of that, these stories mostly failed to land for me the way they should, even the more disturbing ones. The overall result is a collection that constantly feels on the verge of doing something really, really interesting, and never quite delivers on it.

Rating: 3/5

(Note: This was a LibraryThing early reviewers book.)

180Nickelini
Mar 22, 1:39am

>179 bragan:
Well, that sounds interesting, even if the writing wasn't up to the ideas.

I've read a lot of esteemed fiction that is full of gorgeous writing, but doesn't say much of anything. Most of us are searching for the sweet spot in between, I think.

181bragan
Mar 22, 1:46am

>180 Nickelini: Yeah, I think you're right and there's an elusive sweet spot in there somewhere. Sadly, I think this particular collection isn't even trading off good writing for saying something, mostly.

182bragan
Mar 23, 6:40am

27. Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose by Deirdre Barrett



The concept of supernormal stimuli is perhaps a little difficult to explain, but not, I think, particularly hard to understand. Basically, animals have instincts that cause them to respond to certain things -- like food, rivals, young, or potential mates -- in ways that aid survival and reproductive success. But if you take those things and replace them with unnaturally exaggerated versions, or versions that unnaturally exaggerate a particular detail that the animal cues in on, you can get an unnaturally exaggerated response, one that might even be detrimental to survival. For example, consider a bird that lays speckled eggs, which it has a strong instinct to take care of. If you stick a ball in its nest, one that's bigger and brighter than the bird's real eggs and has big bold polka-dots instead of little speckles, the bird doesn't think, "Wait a second, something's wrong here. This is not my egg." Instead -- and I'm very much paraphrasing here -- its reaction is more along the lines of, "OMG, that is one amazing egg! Boy, do I want to sit on that!" It might even neglect its actual eggs in favor of the fake one.

If you think about it, it's a concept that probably explains a lot about human beings and all the weird and often unhealthy things we're into. Well, Deirdre Barrett has thought about it a lot, and she does think it explains a lot... But unfortunately the book she's written about it wasn't really the one I wanted to read on the subject. There is some science here, some relevant statistics, and some useful perspectives. But, honestly, the whole thing often feels less like an exploration of an important scientific phenomenon and its relevance to human culture and psychology and more like an exercise in complaining about What's Wrong With the World Today and trying to shame people out of doing anything fun. Science mixes with opinion, nuances get lost, and entire swathes of human artistic endeavor get dismissed as a waste of time. Even the chapter on why we find exaggeratedly baby-featured things cute -- an absolutely classic example of supernormal stimuli at work -- ends with what feels very much like the author desperately trying to come up with a reason to disapprove of that, too. And the chapter on why war is bad -- not, I hasten to add, an assertion I disagree with -- feels only tenuously connected to the concept of supernormal stimuli at all.

All of which maybe makes it sound a lot worse than it is. I mean, there are certainly some good points in here, and it does at least serve to introduce an important topic that I suspect we should be paying a lot more attention to as we try to understand this artificial world we've created and how we interact with it. But it's still definitely not the book I wanted it to be.

Rating: 3/5

183LolaWalser
Mar 23, 11:11am

>182 bragan:

"Evo psych" is such a low, dismal racket... but it does grabby headlines very well.

184rocketjk
Mar 23, 12:26pm

>27 bragan: Terrific, all too understandable, review. It's so frustrating when a book about an interesting topic, where you know the author actually has the knowledge to write the book you're hoping for, gets ruined by poor judgement and/or ill-considered execution on the part of the author.

185lisapeet
Mar 23, 4:35pm

>182 bragan: You just can't trust a neoteny hater. That's too bad about the book, because it sounds neat. And the cover is just weird enough to be cool (I put a lot of stock in covers, even if I'm reading something in e and never see it). Oh well, thanks for taking one for the team, or at least for me, who might have been tempted.

186bragan
Mar 23, 7:41pm

>183 LolaWalser: I mean, I think you really do have to think about human psychology in terms of evolution to make much sense out of it, but there are so very many ways to do it badly. And so many terrible headlines, indeed.

>184 rocketjk: Yeah, that's a special kind of frustrating! And it's not that there isn't anything in the book that's worthwhile, not at all, but that just makes some part of me even more frustrated, because being able to trash it thoroughly would be kind of satisfying, you know? :)

>185 lisapeet: Again, it's not that there's nothing worthwhile in it at all, but still. Sigh. And I can't say the author hates neoteny as such, but, man, she is so committed to the idea of EVERYTHING ABOUT HOW YOU RESPOND TO THE WORLD IS WRONG, STOP IT that you can actually see her flailing around at the end of that chapter trying to find some reason to complain about things being too cute. She finally settles on the idea that maybe Japan should be putting its energy into helping old people instead of standing around going "awww!" at cute cartoons, or something. Which may be one of the weirder false dichotomies I've seen lately.

187wandering_star
Mar 24, 6:57am

>182 bragan: Interesting review. It sounds like one of those books which would have been better as a longread so the author didn't have to pull in too many examples?

I've just watched Ran (based on King Lear, Lord Hidetora gives away his land to his sons and is then dispossessed) and your example of the egg reminded me of the Fool's speech:
"A serpent's egg is white and pure. A bird's is speckled and soiled. The bird left the speckled egg for the white. The egg cracks; out comes a snake. The bird is gobbled by the snake. Stupid bird!"

188LolaWalser
Mar 24, 3:06pm

>186 bragan:

I mean, I think you really do have to think about human psychology in terms of evolution to make much sense out of it, but there are so very many ways to do it badly.

Yes, "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution"; unfortunately, the evo-psych rubbish is incapable of making sense of it--methodologically it's a pseudoscience on par with phrenology, and resulting in as much ignorance and discrimination of the worst kind as that did. It's not the fault of psychology per se--it's not most psychologists who insist on aggrandizing their speculations with stolen trappings of "hard" science.

Time after time their rubbish goes up in smoke, but what sticks are the headlines--ants and lobsters "rape"! Rape is "natural"!--men dominate in theoretical physics because hunting is male and intellectual and "gathering" is female and non-intellectual! (except for the evident starting sociological point that theoretical physics has been male-dominated, every single clause has been shown to be wrong)--autism is a male condition to do with "male brains"!--this, like all of medical research in the past and even now, has done untold harm to women by ignoring and misinterpreting their conditions and diseases. That this could still happen in late 20th/21st century, that these vainglorious bastards can still make their fortunes by peddling prejudice dressed up as "science", makes my blood boil.

The real scientific problem in "thinking about human psychology in terms of evolution" is that we don't have a solid science of psychology. Evolutionary mechanisms are much better understood today than are cognition, emotion, the mind. In part this is due to limits on experimentation--we can't (nor should we) experiment on people with the freedom we experiment on animals. But it could also be that we are at the limits of reductionist science such as we have right now, that we lack proper tools, mathematical and methodological, for tackling complex systems (like the brain) and their emergent phenomena (such as the mind and "the psyche").

>187 wandering_star:

Nice fable but I wonder--aren't reptilian eggs soft? Could this actually happen or am I just ruining a poetic image? :)

189bragan
Mar 24, 6:25pm

>187 wandering_star: Maybe it would have been better as a long article, but I somehow suspect that if the author tried to distill it down to its essence, she would have distilled it down to entirely the wrong part.

And, y'know, that King Lear quote might sum it all up pretty succinctly! And probably more interestingly...

>188 LolaWalser: The real scientific problem in "thinking about human psychology in terms of evolution" is that we don't have a solid science of psychology.

Yeah, I think you are very right about that.

190bragan
Mar 25, 10:32pm

28. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua



Charles Babbage was a Victorian inventor who came up with very, very detailed plans for what he called the Analytical Engine: a calculating machine that really would have been nothing more or less than a computer -- a primitive, limited, and clunky computer, but a full-fledged computer nonetheless -- made out of cogwheels and powered by steam. Which is an idea that, I think, just gets cooler and weirder the more you think about it. Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace was the only legitimate daughter of Lord Byron, a woman whose impressive intellect was deliberately channeled into mathematics by her mother in hopes that she wouldn't end up like her crazy poet father. She and Babbage hit it off wonderfully and formed a firm friendship and long-term collaboration on matters concerning the Analytical Engine. Where Babbage was focused on the mechanics of the device, Lovelace was more interested in its operation, and had some genuinely prophetic ideas about what machines like it might be capable of. She is sometimes described as being the first computer programmer.

They were also, apparently, really fascinating, eccentric, and colorful characters who make great material for a graphic novel. Although I'm not actually sure whether "graphic novel" is quite the right word for this book. It's a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, with, as the subtitle suggests, rather more of the latter than the former. Actually, its origin story is rather charming. The author initially just created a humorous little biography of Ada Lovelace in webcomic form. But she found the end of that story a little too depressing for the light tone of the comic: Lovelace, sadly, died young, and Babbage died frustrated and unfulfilled, having never succeeded in actually constructing his Engine. So Padua instead concluded her comic by imagining a "pocket universe" in which they were able to build the thing, after all, and use it to "have thrilling adventures and fight crime." The comic turned out to be quite popular, which was nice, but also led to people assuming she was now writing a comic about the alternate-universe adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, when really she was just making a throwaway joke. She kept insisting to people that no, she wasn't writing anything of the kind, even as she kept finding herself, well, sort of writing it. This book is the result!

I actually do think the Lovelace bio that starts it out is the best part. It's hilarious, informative, geeky, and delightful. The fictionalized adventures that follow are sometimes whimsical -- one of them features an Alice-in-Wonderland version of Lovelace falling through a looking-glass into the Engine itself -- but are mostly just little excuses to bring in other famous people of the time, many of whom were personally known to Babbage and Lovelace, often taking their dialog directly from their written works or letters, and providing lots and lots of factual footnotes. Which sounds a bit dry, and the footnotes do get a little out of hand in the first adventure -- something the author notices and ends up making a meta-joke about -- but overall it actually works surprisingly well. The humor is always cute and fun, the historical facts are genuinely interesting, and Padua is clearly so fond of these two nutty geniuses and enthused by her own research into them that it's truly infectious.

She also includes interesting quotes from some primary sources she's found at the end, as well as a section showing her own drawings of the Analytical Engine and taking us through its workings. (Well, in a simplified fashion, anyway, because it's all very dauntingly complex.)

Recommended for anyone who's interested in Lovelace and Babbage, the history of computer science, the Victorian era in general, or a bit of pleasantly nerdy humor.

Rating: 4/5

191LolaWalser
Mar 26, 6:21pm

That sounds great. Reminds me of that recent Doctor Who episode with Ada, loved it.

192LolaWalser
Modificato: Mar 26, 6:22pm

noooooo, so sorry--doubling again (why, LT, why?! it only happens in Talk!)

193wandering_star
Mar 26, 6:44pm

>188 LolaWalser: The best book I've ever read on the pseudo science around men's and women's brains being different is (the wonderfully titled) Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine, which includes a ludicrous experiment which showed that female monkeys preferred to play with pots and pans...

>190 bragan: Ah, I'm very fond of this, glad you enjoyed it

194LolaWalser
Mar 26, 7:46pm

>193 wandering_star:

Cordelia Fine is excellent! There's also a later book of hers, Testosterone Rex, that I recommend to everyone. Not just for the debunking of common myths around sex differences but as a primer for rigorous thinking about research in general.

195bragan
Mar 26, 10:24pm

>191 LolaWalser: I think that episode might have been the reason I picked this one up, although it had been on my wishlist for some time. :)

196rhian_of_oz
Mar 27, 10:13am

>194 LolaWalser: Thanks for the BB.

197bragan
Modificato: Mar 30, 1:52pm

29. The Case of the Imaginary Detective by Karen Joy Fowler



Rima has lost her entire family in a series of unrelated tragedies, so she goes to stay for a while with her godmother Addison, an extremely popular mystery writer, even though Addison and Rima's father had been estranged for years before he died. While there, she has imaginary conversations with Addison's detective character, encounters an (extremely minor) actual mystery, and asks some questions about her family's past. Well, not so much asks questions, really, as plays detective in a vague, half-assed kind of way instead of just coming out and asking what she wants to know.

It's very hard to know what to make of this book. It's written in a slightly quirky, intermittently omniscient style that I sometimes found a little bit fun, and sometimes mildly irritating. I suspect which moments were which probably depended a lot more on my own changing mood than on the book itself, though. It did occur to me, in a less charitable moment, to wonder whether the style was meant to distract us from the fact that very little was actually happening, and that the supposed mysteries weren't particularly interesting. Well, maybe, maybe not. I think Fowler is trying to do something a bit meta, something that perhaps subverts a bunch of mystery tropes, and I often really enjoy that sort of thing when it's done well, but in this case, I'm left sort of wondering that the point of it all was. It was never a chore to read, moments of irritation notwithstanding, but nothing about it feels satisfying, either.

It also doesn't help that it was published in 2008, and it's chock full of rants about the politics of the George W. Bush era, which is something that feels so distant, so almost quaint compared to everything we're going through today that it just enhanced my feeling of disconnection from it all. (Also not helping: the fact that it's mildly laced with 9/11 conspiracy theories, and I have even less patience with conspiracy theories of any political stripe now than I did then, and also the fact that a lot of the backstory revolves around white supremacists, and nobody seems much bothered by them at all. Yeah, basically, this whole novel has aged like milk when it comes to the political stuff.)

Rating: 3/5.

198sallypursell
Mar 30, 9:46pm

>168 sallypursell: >169 bragan: When I came back to your thread to catch up again, this sounds to me as if I was slightly joking, but you certainly can't tell, can you? My kids used to deride me for speaking completely seriously when I was joking. I have a dry sense of humor, but to me it seems funnier that way. I don't know why.

199bragan
Mar 30, 11:03pm

>198 sallypursell: I think I thought you were slightly joking, if it helps any. :)

200avaland
Mar 31, 5:59am

>197 bragan: Apparently that is a KJF I missed (probably just as well). The "W" era does seem so long ago, doesn't it?

201sallypursell
Mar 31, 12:25pm

>182 bragan: What is an "evolutionary psychologist" when it's at home. I suppose I can make an educated guess, but it sounds a little "military intelligence" to me, if you follow.

202sallypursell
Mar 31, 12:29pm

>188 LolaWalser: Brava! What a fine description of the problem with psychology, and with the book Bragan reviewed for us (brilliantly) in >186 bragan:.

204sallypursell
Modificato: Mar 31, 12:35pm

>197 bragan: There's a problem with your link to The Imaginary Detective, Bragan. It goes to a different book by the same author.

Unless it is a different name for the same book?

205bragan
Mar 31, 1:53pm

>200 avaland: It seems like it happened on another planet, honestly.

>204 sallypursell: I tried clicking it just now, and it's definitely taking me to the right book. Although I did notice when I was making the touchstone for it that in the touchstone list it came up as Wit's End, which I'm 99% sure is in fact the same book under another title. Is that the title you're seeing when you click on it? If so, that raises a lot of interesting questions in my mind about how the touchstone links even work, but it should still be the right book.

206sallypursell
Mar 31, 5:32pm

>205 bragan: Yes, it was Wit's End, so that is curious. How *does* that work?

207bragan
Modificato: Mar 31, 10:29pm

>206 sallypursell: That seems really, really odd. I wonder if it's showing me the page with the other title because that's the edition of the book in my catalog?

208AnnieMod
Modificato: Mar 31, 10:49pm

>207 bragan: UK/US title situation - thus the double title. :)

When you click and you own the book, you see the title from your catalog. For someone who does not have the book, the default name shows up.

209bragan
Apr 1, 12:16am

>208 AnnieMod: For some reason, I never, ever knew it did that.

210AnnieMod
Modificato: Apr 1, 12:27am

>209 bragan: I am pretty sure it changed a few years ago. It used to show the work details if the book ID was not there (from a touchstone for example) but at some point that changed so if I go to http://www.librarything.com/work/10166 or The Winter Queen (same link - one touchstone, one a direct one) for example, it shows me my Russian book http://www.librarything.com/work/10166/book/177451576 as title, author and cover while for someone not having it, it will be the English one as it wins out and my Russian one will be shown to them only if they click on the link with the Book ID at the end.

211bragan
Apr 1, 11:59am

>210 AnnieMod: Ah, thanks for that info. It's a little reassuring to know that I haven't been confused right from the very beginning of my time here!

212bragan
Apr 2, 6:53pm

And my new thread for the second quarter of 2021 is up! See you all there.
Questa conversazione è stata continuata da Bragan Reads Right on Through It in 2021, Pt. 2.