Books & Reading
If I have 5 free minutes, chances are I'm going to be reading something, whether it's the news, a technical article, or some fiction. Below are some of my most recent reads and further down, some of my all-time favorite authors.
Hey, also check out my NPR Books We Love and PBS Great American Read pages to see how I've integrated data from NPR, PBS, and OverDrive to help find good books to read and borrow them in eBook or audiobook format from most libraries' digital collections.
Recently Read Books
The Lightless Trilogy
This trilogy by C. A. Higgins was an entertaining read. I had some issues with the science and engineering of how she described life on the various planets and moons of the solar system. Glass domes on Europa with poorly explained air locks? I don't know if I buy that. And some ideas, such as the black hole at the heart of the ship, and its possible impact on the solar system, were brought up as possible threats, but ultimately went nowhere.
What you might consider a main character is a ship with an AI computer, called Ananke, that becomes self-aware thanks to some meddling hackery of a space pirate (stupid phrase, but that's basically what he is). I really wanted more examination of how that AI thought and its interactions with one of its creators. The human characters were thin. Many were barely sketches that barely managed to act as foils for main characters. And some of the main characters were not much more well drawn. Overall, not bad, some interesting ideas, it was a fun early summer read.
The “Imperial Radch” Trilogy
I enjoyed this series more than I thought I would. Maybe they were shooting for something from the ’60s, but to my eye, they suggested some kind of Buck Rogers space ranger shoot 'em up. But that is not at all what these books are like. Just ignore the covers — they bring nothing to the table or shed any light on what the books will be like.
The books brought up some interesting questions about AI and free will and self-determination, what makes a human a human. I almost didn't bother reading them because of their covers. But it had some good world building and it left me curious to discover more about the universe of these books.
Hmmm ... both of these series are about ships with AI systems. I hadn't thought about that much until I wrote this.
All-Time Favorites, Books and Authors
Man, how to describe Donna Tartt's novels? The first of her books that I read was The Secret History (1992). Perhaps it was related to the recent unfortunate events in my life at the time, but this book's setting and mood perfectly matched my dark mood and sense of impending doom. If I read it now, I might not like it as much, but it was perfect for me at a time. A small, insular liberal arts college in New England. Over-privileged rich kids with too much intelligence and dubious morals. Frustrated, unrequited infatuation. A narrator who feels slightly out of place and in over his head, maybe feeling a bit like an imposter in this world. It was a perfect storm of a book for me at the time.
After The Secret History, I read The Goldfinch (2013). While this one didn't quite resonate with me the same way that The Secret History did, it was still a good read, following its narrator, Theo, from a devastating loss through a tumultuous coming of age through a very messy early adulthood, struggling to find his place. I don't really understand critics who say that it's a “children's book” for adults. As if that's by definition a bad thing, anyway.
The Cider House Rules (1985) and A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989) are two of my favorites by Irving. Oh, heck, throw in The World According to Garp (1978) and The Hotel New Hampshire (1981) too. His sprawling, detailed stories blend realism with a healthy dose of ... I don't want to say magic, that's not quite right. They feel very real, very detailed and fleshed out, but brushed with unexpected touches of the fantastical in places.
It's actually been quite a while since I've read any of his books. Probably The Fourth Hand (2001) is the most recent novel of his that I've read. I need to catch up!
I loved, loved, loved Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy. Who cares if she doesn't want it labeled as science fiction !? It doesn't change the fact that she created an interesting, if depressing, speculative dystopian apocalypse. Sometimes it bothers me if a book or a series of books changes perspectives drastically from one character to another (A Song of Ice and Fire excepted), but I was just as involved in each of the characters throughout this series. Really wonderful series that I would highly recommend.
Ursula K. Le Guin
I've read all of Le Guin's Earthsea books except the last, The Other Wind (2001). Somehow, that one slipped through the cracks. I remember reading the original Earthsea trilogy when I was probably in my teens. I found it so dark and creepily cultish. It almost felt dangerous to be reading it.
Recently, I've also been reading the Hainish science fiction series. There are a lot of books and short stories in the Hainish Cycle, some better than others. The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and The Word for World is Forest (1972), I thought, were some of the better ones. Rocannon's World (1966), I thought was not so good. But it was only Le Guin's first novel to be published.
OK, if you've never heard his Santaland Diaries, please stop now and go listen to it!
If you're still with me, listen to his “Papa Was Not A Rolling Stone” performance.
If you like it, go read the rest of his books, or better yet, listen to them as audiobooks. Knowing his delivery might be somewhat crucial to appreciating his written work.
If you don't like it ... well, maybe I just don't want to know you. (Not really, I know humor is a personal taste and what I find hilarious, you might not care for at all.)
But, really, if you don't like it, there must be something wrong with you. ;)