Who's reading what?

Was Albert Camus a better goalkeeper than George Orwell? Have your say here.
k-j
Perspicacious Poster
Perspicacious Poster
Posts: 2978
Joined: Thu Aug 04, 2005 10:37 pm
Location: Denver, CO

Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Wed Oct 21, 2015 7:50 pm

Kangaroo - Yuv Aleshovsky, tr. Glenny

Moderately trippy Russian satire about a chap framed by the police for the (made up crime of the) rape and murder of a kangaroo in the zoo. There's a farcical show trial with a grotesquely elaborate propaganda film as the central evidence, hallucinatory interactions with Hitler and Stalin, lashings of swearing and squalor and absurd Russian humor. I thought of Gogol, Bulgakov, Kafka (although it's not believable like Kafka), and modern Russian/Eastern Bloc authors I've read like Viktor Pelevin and Yuri Buida, Gombrowicz and Konwicki. I found it a little too exuberant and madcap at times, but I don't fault it for that since that's clearly the point.

The Golden - Lucius Shepard

I read some of Shepard's short stories last year and fell quite hard for them, so even though the only novel of his my library had was this one about vampires, I decided to give it a go. It's more or less a murder mystery set in Castle Dracula or a close analogue of that fort. You have these different clans of vamps with different views on the future of vampirism, and lots of political scheming. Not badly written, but quite generic in its plot and not my thing. I liked the end, though, which (in contrast to Shepard's short stories) was decisive, logical, unforeseen and seemed to me to reorient the novel quite interestingly.

The Mayor of Casterbridge - Hardy

I quite like reading Hardy but his novels are all pretty similar in their explorations of guilt, thwarted ambition, frustrated desire and tall poppies cut down. There's not a lot of joking around. My favourite scene in this one was the skimmington ride, the public shaming of Henchard and Lucetta, which was a custom I had never heard of before.
fine words butter no parsnips

k-j
Perspicacious Poster
Perspicacious Poster
Posts: 2978
Joined: Thu Aug 04, 2005 10:37 pm
Location: Denver, CO

Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Thu Oct 22, 2015 9:44 pm

The Treasure of Sainte Foy - MacDonald Harris

The incomparable Harris demonstrates again his ability to write genre novels which don't so much transcend their genre as give it a good buffing and insinuate it into the hallowed halls of High Art while the doorkeepers aren't looking (not sure I've expressed myself very well there). This is a thriller, more or less, about an antiquities heist on a village church deep in the rural, Occitan, and slightly creepy south of France. Half the book is the first-person narrative of the failed American academic who scouts out the treasure and gets romantically embroiled with its enigmatic curator. For the other half we're in the company of his accomplices, Occitan separatists/communist agitators who are ruthless but frequently comical. They hijack a helicopter and it doesn't end well. Like the rest of Harris's novels, this features his perfectly-tuned, unpretentious prose, his effortless incorporation of research, his darting imagination, his genial, knowing worldliness, etc. etc., and a beautifully understated magic-realism that leaves a little coal of awe inside you after you turn the last page.

The Moor's Last Sigh - Salman Rushdie

Rushdie's brand of magic realism, of course, is the opposite of understated. But I enjoyed this rambling picaresque with its hurtling, helter-skelter prose. I loved the liberal indulgence in Indian English (reminded me a lot of G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr) and the whole ferocious, love-hate portrayal of India and its history, ending in a special lament for Bombay and a rousing philippic against religious nationalism. Really it's a family saga novel, or a superb parody of one, and while every generation of the de Gama-Zogoiby clan provides its own great characters and stories, it seemed to me that most of Rushdie's art and labor was given to the earlier ones. In fact the last part of the book was rather weak and disappointing.

Going Native - Stephen Wright

A super beginning to this novel, as a regular suburban guy wanders away from a soul-destroying dinner party, deserting his wife and home, destination unknown. Then we encounter (presumably) him in the guise of various radically different strangers/wanderers as we take a long strange American (road?) trip. The prose is full-on technicolour throughout, prickling and sparkling and dense up close like a chameleon's hide. But the vignettes are not all of an equal high standard, the shared themes are tenuous (which is OK), and I felt that the whole never quite lived up to the promise of the first part. But an engrossing book.

This brings me to the end of June and only 29 books in arrears.
fine words butter no parsnips

k-j
Perspicacious Poster
Perspicacious Poster
Posts: 2978
Joined: Thu Aug 04, 2005 10:37 pm
Location: Denver, CO

Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Tue Oct 27, 2015 9:21 pm

Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology - Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili

This is a good functional summary of the emerging field of quantum biology. It's hard not to see the fascination of quantum weirdness, but a lot of people are probably turned off by the remoteness of it from our classical physical world. This book smashes the two together with CERN-like force. We are quantum, it says. Everything is quantum. At the same time, this is the weakness of "Life on the Edge". By invoking quantum effects to explain so many and varied biological mysteries, the authors seem to protest too much. Sometimes (magnetoreception in migratory birds) there is very strong experimental evidence to support their case, and other times (origin of life) they freely admit that there isn't (yet). I don't begrudge them their enthusiasm - I suppose it's inevitable in such an emergent field - but I was left with the feeling that Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili would happily blame everything from earthquakes to the Easter Bunny on Quantum Biology, given half the chance. Recommended for its sheer novelty.
fine words butter no parsnips

User avatar
Ros
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 7959
Joined: Sun Dec 07, 2008 4:53 pm
antispam: no
Location: this hill-shadowed city/of razors and knives.
Contact:

Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Ros » Tue Oct 27, 2015 9:35 pm

k-j wrote:Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology - Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili

This is a good functional summary of the emerging field of quantum biology. It's hard not to see the fascination of quantum weirdness, but a lot of people are probably turned off by the remoteness of it from our classical physical world. This book smashes the two together with CERN-like force. We are quantum, it says. Everything is quantum. At the same time, this is the weakness of "Life on the Edge". By invoking quantum effects to explain so many and varied biological mysteries, the authors seem to protest too much. Sometimes (magnetoreception in migratory birds) there is very strong experimental evidence to support their case, and other times (origin of life) they freely admit that there isn't (yet). I don't begrudge them their enthusiasm - I suppose it's inevitable in such an emergent field - but I was left with the feeling that Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili would happily blame everything from earthquakes to the Easter Bunny on Quantum Biology, given half the chance. Recommended for its sheer novelty.
Does it insist on giving you a potted history of quantum theory first? I'm getting fed up of popular science books that insist on starting decades ago and taking a run up to the new stuff.


Ros
Rosencrantz: What are you playing at? Guildenstern: Words. Words. They're all we have to go on.
___________________________
Antiphon - www.antiphon.org.uk

k-j
Perspicacious Poster
Perspicacious Poster
Posts: 2978
Joined: Thu Aug 04, 2005 10:37 pm
Location: Denver, CO

Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Tue Oct 27, 2015 10:09 pm

Ros wrote:Does it insist on giving you a potted history of quantum theory first? I'm getting fed up of popular science books that insist on starting decades ago and taking a run up to the new stuff.
Yes it does, but as I've never read a proper book about quantum theory, my understanding deriving instead from popsci moultings on the net and hazy references in my other reading, that was fine by me. But yes, there is an info dump in the first few chapters. It's not a terribly well-written book - the attempts to colourise each chapter by inserting some tangential biographical details of the boffins involved seem desperate and are not well-integrated into the discussion of the science - but the various applications of QT to deep biological processes provide plenty of grist for the brain to grind away at.
fine words butter no parsnips

k-j
Perspicacious Poster
Perspicacious Poster
Posts: 2978
Joined: Thu Aug 04, 2005 10:37 pm
Location: Denver, CO

Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Wed Oct 28, 2015 9:09 pm

Anna Karenina - Tolstoy

Plot was gripping, characters almost all masterfully-drawn. The only aspect I wasn't enamoured with was the character of Levin, the author's avatar. He is rather a bore and the last section, after AK has gone her way and we are left with Levin, is worthy and dull. The brilliant set pieces, mostly social gatherings, are a joy to read, full of wit and irony.

There is so much to admire; it's abundantly clear how influential and ahead of its time this novel is. The characters are deep, conflicted, morally ambiguous, evolving: fully credible. The narrative is compulsively readable and subtly daring with its glimpses of interior lives. There is a startling passage where for a couple of pages, we experience things from the perspective of a hunting dog, and unlike almost all similar attempts in later literature, it is convincing (and fun - it's clear from all his fiction that Tolstoy loved dogs). Even the short chapters, and the way Tolstoy handles time, feel modern.

Probably one I'll read again, which puts it in pretty select company.
fine words butter no parsnips

David
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 13307
Joined: Sat Feb 18, 2006 4:40 pm
Location: Ellan Vannin

Re: Who's reading what?

Post by David » Thu Oct 29, 2015 6:16 pm

k-j wrote:Anna Karenina - Tolstoy
You've got me thinking I should read it again now.

What about the short stories? Some terrific stuff in there.

User avatar
Ros
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 7959
Joined: Sun Dec 07, 2008 4:53 pm
antispam: no
Location: this hill-shadowed city/of razors and knives.
Contact:

Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Ros » Thu Oct 29, 2015 7:56 pm

Never read it. Makes me think I should.
Rosencrantz: What are you playing at? Guildenstern: Words. Words. They're all we have to go on.
___________________________
Antiphon - www.antiphon.org.uk

k-j
Perspicacious Poster
Perspicacious Poster
Posts: 2978
Joined: Thu Aug 04, 2005 10:37 pm
Location: Denver, CO

Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Thu Oct 29, 2015 8:29 pm

David wrote:What about the short stories? Some terrific stuff in there.
I've only read The Kreutzer Sonata and The Death