Jan. 2nd, 2013

aslant: (elle s'amuse)
I am super excited to continue my book reviewing habit in 2013! I'm really pleased that it catalyzed a much more intensive search for good books, for finding meaning in good books. It's now just a habit -- a book is mentioned in an article, or by friends? Boom, it goes on the library request list. It's a fabulous perk of working at a college that through our local Summit network or through general ILL I can get pretty much any book I want. Books have become a main source of entertainment again, after being sorely neglected due to the pernicious influences of the internet and its shady vapid bullshit.

Onward with the first book of 2013!

1. The Hydrogen Sonata, Iain M. Banks.

This was a lucky find at our local library's New Release shelf. I picked it out for Kirk, remembering the author's name. I remember now...I read the Algebraist a couple years ago? It was super fucking confusing. Anyway, the other book I was reading was missing its middle chapters (thanks, whoever bound Buddha Heart Parenting) so I sniped this up from Kirk's pile. Kirk's early verdict was "it's surprisingly funny!" and I found that was true throughout. The book itself hinges on the liar's paradox, kind of, or rather on the philosophical dilemmas of trying to unmask a lie, and what you might learn from it, and whether it's worth all the trouble if nothing will change when you find the truth out anyhow. This is pretty top notch sci fi world building, and features a female protagonist, which gave me warm fuzzy feelings. I really enjoyed digging into the mechanics of how superior intelligences, the ships' Minds that have kind of Douglas Adamsy names and occasional quirks, work within and among other (less smart) beings, or how their internal workings (or external machinations) are an integral part of the world and the plot. In general I think that's what makes good sci fi, for me -- a world in which the whizz bang stuff is not just set dressing. The other interesting conceit of this novel is the whole concept of the Sublime, a place into which various civilizations have chosen to disappear, and it's not about death, it's about a higher realm/dimension of existence, but rather like heaven -- can we describe it? Does it really exist? People have come back from it, in the book, so presumably it's real. But no discernible information comes back about it. I could imagine that for someone who believes in heaven, this might be a disturbing kind of stoner revelation, dude, what if it's all not real...but it was an interesting philosophical exercise to turn my skepticism on this whole accepted (or is it?) facet of the novel; what if we all believed in the Sublime, and chose to go there, except it wasn't really anything at all?What if it's just winking you out of existence and you agree to do it because of a lie (not the same lie as the liar's paradox mentioned above, incidentally, this is no spoiler) and it's all just empty rituals and such to convince you that it's real? Conversely, what if it was real, in a secular way, and civilizations could choose to go there all at once? Interesting, anyway. And of course, I know [livejournal.com profile] mordicai raves about Banks' Culture novels, of which this is one, so now I want to read more. This was a fantastic novel as a standalone, though.
aslant: (elle s'amuse)
After some final scrambles to sort out a few misnumbered reviews, my 2012 total stands at 48. I'm pretty proud of that number, as it was attained in between work and parenting and a hell of a year. I read more books than that, but I think of this primarily as a way of digesting what I've read, getting my thoughts together, and only secondarily about quantity.

Most of the best books didn't fit into any themes, per se, but there were a couple obvious themes: 1) childbirth and parenting, 2) nonviolent communication and relationships, 3) British domestic service between the wars, and 4) the holocaust. You could say my class schedule this past academic year has been a bit erratic, to say the least.

Here is a list of the top 8 that stuck out when I reread through my reviews, unranked:

42. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz, believe the hype
41. La Batarde, Violette Leduc a.k.a. the writer I should have written my thesis about
34 & 35. books 1 & 2 of the Kingkiller Chronicles, Patrick Rothfuss
15. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
20. You're An Animal, Viskovitz!, Alessandro Boffa, hilarious, sweet and clever like a randy Calvino
8. Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel, a.k.a. the book that might have saved my marriage
6. Mothers and Others, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, best unintentional utopia
1. The Tiger's Wife, Tea Obrecht

There are lots more I would add to the honorable mentions list, which I don't care to list out, but these top 8 are the ones I would spend money to have on my bookshelf. That is a big endorsement these days.

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