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Subject: What did you read in August 2016 . . . ? rss

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The Well Of Lost Plots - Jasper Fforde
Something Rotten - Jasper Fforde
Web Of The City - Harlan Ellison
The Ghost: In Search Of My Father The Football Legend - Rob White

The Well Of Lost Plots and Something Rotten - Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde is a mad genius. Rereading his debut series results in discovering layer upon layer upon layer of meta-wonderfulness, with throwaway gags from book one paying off in astounding ways in book 4. And as much as I enjoy each book, the next one turns out to be even better, even stranger. I need to complete this series, and start on his newer worlds . . .

Web Of The City - Harlan Ellison

More wonderful "lost works" from Hard Case Crime, probably my favorite publishers. This time it's a 50s-era gang tale, an unlikely first novel from SciFi master, Harlan Ellison. It's an energetic, if slight ride. The slang and banter sound strange and forced today, although I have no reason to doubt their authenticity - apparently Ellison went undercover, joining a street gang for ten weeks as research into this work. I just found out that HCC's parent company, Titan, has solicited a couple of HCC comic book series - Peepland and Triggerman, so I'll soon have even more to read . . .

The Ghost: In Search Of My Father The Football Legend - Rob White

John White was one of the stars of Tottenham Hotspurs' legendary Double winning and Europe conquering team of the early 60s who was struck by lightning and killed on a golf course at age 27. His son, Rob, was just a few months old at the time. This book is the son's effort at trying to get to know his father, through artifacts and interviews and reams of newspaper articles.

After the first chapter, I thought this might become an all time favorite book, but the writing quickly becomes clunky - the son and the ghost writer stepping over each other and muddying the narrative, the reliance on snippets of match reports to anchor every key moment. There are also numerous moments where the writers attempt to illustrate a point with an example which requires knowledge not presented n the book to make sense of - sometimes I understand the reference, but more often I don't and I'm left simply more confused.

There is a fascinating story in here, both John's and Rob's, and when it is clearly Rob's voice, meeting his dad's former teammates and finding a brief connection, the book is powerful and moving. And the descriptions of the state of the game in the late 50s and early 60s is illuminating, digging deeper down the rabbit-hole I first fell into in The Boys Of White Hart Lane which details the players of the late 70s and early 80s. The impact of an influx of money into soccer in the 80s has truly deprived us as fans of the genuine connection to players that used to be the norm, and it is beautifully illustrated once again throughout The Ghost.

In the end, here is a wonderful and interestingly focused exploration of arguably the best team of the 20th century, slightly let down by a workman-like rather than inspirational writer, which starts and ends strong and sadly flounders a little in the middle.

Recommended for Spurs fans, and fans of soccer in the 60s, but anyone else is likely going to be bored.
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Lots of reading this month! I spent a week in Maine on vacation, and always read a lot there.

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
So this is pretty much the novel version of a gory horror movie. Lots of really stomach turning stuff. I'm not a fan of gory films, and not novels either. Even that, as a thriller it's, well, pretty dumb. The bad guy is supposedly brilliant, but constantly does extremely risky and stupid plans, that always happen to work out. No, brilliant people come up with low-risk and clever plans. And he has a network of hundreds of "customers," any of whom would ruin his plans if they were careless, but apparently he's smart enough to always find "customers" who are capable of keeping his secrets and never accidentally letting honest people see what he's doing. And they all pay him lots of money. Honestly, if in the end you find out that he was a disguised space alien with a mind control beam, it would have been more believable. It seems to be an attempt to follow the model of Gillian Flynn or "The Girl on the Train" but with more violence, but it lacked their cleverness or the believable villains.


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
Do reviews of this book even matter? If you're a fan, you'll read it.

But if anybody is on the fence - there are things to like here, mostly in the major plot points. And things to dislike. Mostly in the way that the original Harry Potter characters are constantly forced into scenes where it makes no real sense for them to show up. And there's a real lack of interesting new characters; other than the Albus and Scorpius (admittedly, the two main characters), everybody is a retread of the original seven books. I can't really give it more than a middling review, it wasn't a waste of my time, but I was hoping for better.


A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman
A detective story written they way they should be: Interesting, well-developed policemen investigating an interesting crime. Twists that I should have seen coming, but didn't, along the way. The criminal is a little bit weakly written, but it's so much fun getting to where you know who it is that I'm willing to give that a pass. This is the first book in the series that I've read, if the rest are this good then I'll probably be reading a lot of them.


The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman
This is my second Leaphorn & Chee book (although this has no Chee), and I'm a fan. It's a little bit weak in the end, and Leaphorn isn't as well developed as the later book I read, but the mystery is interesting, the characters are good, and the setting is great.


Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman
Joe Leaphorn investigates murder. This time it's a Zuñi boy, whose Navajo best friend disappears the following day. To me this was a bit weaker than the other two Leaphorn books I've read, mostly because the criminal seemed farfetched; his motivation was kind of ridiculous, he did some things that seem really dumb, and the conclusion didn't make a lot of sense. But the detection to discover who the murderer was is good, so the book overall is still worth reading.

Similar to my problems with the Bernie and Chet books, two of the Leaphorn books have had very similar murderers. I decided to try a 4th book to give it a fair shake, and the 4th is very good so far and doesn't seem to have a copycat plot, so I'm probably going to keep reading.
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H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

I usually don't like memoirs, and reading this book confirmed this taste (it had way above my daily allowance of pyschobabble), but this one promised good stuff about falconry and T. H. White (Once and Future King) and (IMO) it delivered.

Plus points added for having such a fresh structure (memoir on a brief intense period of time interlaced with a narrowly focused biography and a primer on modern falconry).

I know two people who hated it though, so YMMV.
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A Flight of Arrows by Lori Benton
Here's the review from my blog.
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A recommendation of Rudy's (Tickmanfan), from a few months back, I believe.

It started out a bit slow but I warmed to the story and by the end of it I was ready to buy book 2. Which I have done.


I won't be reading Book 2 in September, probably, unless Barchester Towers-- a wmshub recommendation, I think-- doesn't work for me.
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An SF anthology whose title eludes me (but something like masters of SF).
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The Devil You Know

by Mike Carey





Vicious Circle
by Mike Carey



Right now, I'm in the middle of the third book in this "Felix Castor" series, and so far they've all been pretty good.


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My reading has been scattered this month -- I've found a substantial pile of good books in the thrift shops, including several Jack Reacher crime thrillers and two Walking Dead novels, but the only book I think I read through and completed was Day By Day Armageddon.



I thought it was a cracking good read, I could hardly put it down and would readily recommend it to anyone who enjoys the horror/thriller/zombie genres, yet I don't think it's a "keeper" that gets a permanent place in my library -- I'm glad that I read it, but don't foresee that I'd want to RE-read it later.

I see that the book was originally done as a series of website posts, apparently as handwritten notes and journal entries, and I think that would have been a marvelous experience -- waiting for each new entry and wondering what's happening in the protagonist's world, or if he is even still alive, would be so different from turning the pages and knowing that there's still a lot of book left to read!

cool

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2 more books, and then...report.
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nycavri wrote:

The Ghost: In Search Of My Father The Football Legend - Rob White

John White was one of the stars of Tottenham Hotspurs' legendary Double winning and Europe conquering team of the early 60s who was struck by lightning and killed on a golf course at age 27. His son, Rob, was just a few months old at the time. This book is the son's effort at trying to get to know his father, through artifacts and interviews and reams of newspaper articles.

After the first chapter, I thought this might become an all time favorite book, but the writing quickly becomes clunky - the son and the ghost writer stepping over each other and muddying the narrative, the reliance on snippets of match reports to anchor every key moment. There are also numerous moments where the writers attempt to illustrate a point with an example which requires knowledge not presented n the book to make sense of - sometimes I understand the reference, but more often I don't and I'm left simply more confused.

There is a fascinating story in here, both John's and Rob's, and when it is clearly Rob's voice, meeting his dad's former teammates and finding a brief connection, the book is powerful and moving. And the descriptions of the state of the game in the late 50s and early 60s is illuminating, digging deeper down the rabbit-hole I first fell into in The Boys Of White Hart Lane which details the players of the late 70s and early 80s. The impact of an influx of money into soccer in the 80s has truly deprived us as fans of the genuine connection to players that used to be the norm, and it is beautifully illustrated once again throughout The Ghost.

In the end, here is a wonderful and interestingly focused exploration of arguably the best team of the 20th century, slightly let down by a workman-like rather than inspirational writer, which starts and ends strong and sadly flounders a little in the middle.

Recommended for Spurs fans, and fans of soccer in the 60s, but anyone else is likely going to be bored.


Yeah this one is moving up my list steadily. COYS!

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The only book I actually finished this month was this one I was reading to the kids:



Gone-Away Lake
by Elizabeth Enright


This is quite a well-regarded book by Enright. Previously we'd read her book The Saturdays -- another entry in the "four siblings have quaint adventures" genre (I'm discovering that this genre is HUGE -- and it's almost always four siblings. Only very rarely is it five or three) -- and this has a bit of the same charm. (Except in an unusual twist, it's not four siblings, it's two cousins.)

A big part of the The Saturdays is that the protagonists meet new people and hear stories about when they were younger. And that's pretty much the entire plot of Gone-Away Lake.

This is definitely well-written and I understand why it's well-regarded. If you're looking for a book full of magnificent descriptions of lazy summer days exploring swamps and old houses while two elderly people share stories of when they were kids, this is the book for you. Enright really can create a scene and breathe life into it.

What it's missing is a compelling plot or conflict. After discovering run-down houses along the shores of the former lake and the people who still live there, nothing really happens.

There are one or two moments of tension, but these are resolved quickly and then it's back to more sumptuous descriptions. The book just goes on and on for awhile, and then sort of closes.

As I say, it's well-written, and a great example of descriptive writing (bordering on purple prose, but staying just this side of it). But not much "story" to the story.

MMB is going to smite me.


Still plugging away at about 5 other books. One of these months I'll finish them all off at the same time.
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The Wolf in Winter, by John Connolly




A homeless man dies in an apparent suicide, and his estranged daughter is missing. With a tie to the homeless man, detective Charlie Parker decides to investigate. Of course, with this series, it's not just a simple case. Instead, we have an insular town with awful secrets they'll do anything to keep from being exposed.

The events of this book profoundly affect Parker, and now we'll see how he deals with the aftermath.


White Sand, by Brandon Sanderson




Man...I really wanted to like this. But it's not very good.

First, and I understand it's subjective, but I HATE the artwork. Too many extraneous lines that I think are supposed to add depth, but just make things muddy. Blech.

But that can be saved by a good story. I wish there had been one. It's not awful, but there's not enough time to fill in the obviously complex backstory of this world and its culture, people, customs, religions, and...everything. In the introduction Sanderson tells us this was first a novel. I would absolutely read that novel. But the writer of this (who isn't Sanderson, BTW), had the unenviable task of making a novel into a graphic novel. That can work, but it usually works when the book actually exists so people already know what's going on when they dive into the graphic novel. Here there's no background material, so we're lost.

I'm a big Sanderson fan, but this just didn't work for me. If he writes the novel, though, I'll devour it.


Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury




I owe Ray Bradbury a great debt. It was after reading "The Veldt" in 6th grade that I decided I would be a writer--even if I was just writing for myself. So I'm not sure why it took me so long to read this book about writing by one of my favorites.

It's full of Bradbury's infectious exuberance, but it's also somewhat jumbled. It's really just a collection of pieces he's written over the years--many of which appear to simply be introductions to new editions of books, so are very specific to that book. The lack of cohesiveness, and specificity of certain pieces, means it doesn't hold together as well as, say, David Morrell's excellent book on writing.

While Zen is a good book, it's definitely not the best book on writing I've read.


Fellside, by M.R. Carey




I'm more and more convinced that using the word "literary" to describe a book is just marketing speak for: "The author takes his sweet time getting there."

Jess Moulson is a junkie. And in a night of drug-addled confusion, she starts a fire that nearly kills her and her boyfriend, and that does kill a young boy who lives in the same building. So it's off to Fellside prison for Jess, where she'll face all the horrors of prison life. But there may be a way to find redemption, because a ghost has a story for Jess--and needs her help.

So we're given a mystery and a courtroom drama, with some paranormal thrown in for good measure. There's character development, but it all felt fairly cliched. This is every prison book/movie/TV show you've ever seen.

Carey takes 500 pages to tell this story, and that's easily 100 pages too many. There's not enough story to justify that length, and the story that's there is flimsy--like a ghost.


A Song of Shadows
, by John Connolly




Parker is recovering from the wounds he suffered in the last book, so he books a house on the beach in a quiet, coastal Maine town. Only one thing could interrupt his convalescence. NAZIS!!!!!!!!

So Parker gets wrapped up in the hunt for war criminals. This is problematic, I think, because at this point the war was around 75 years ago, so those criminals are super old. That's not to say we should stop hunting them, or that they shouldn't be held responsible for their crimes. But it doesn't feel as imperative as it would have even 20 years ago. "Let's get that 95-year-old guy who pees his pants and is confused about where he is!" "YEAH!!"

Anyway, the story is fine, and Connolly just gets better and better as a writer. But what elevates this to four stars (and nearly five) is the ending, where the main plot has an interesting twist, but we also get an eerie glimpse into
Spoiler (click to reveal)
his daughter Sam, and what she knows and what she's capable of.
I can't wait to see where this is heading.


His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik




His Majesty's Dragon takes place during a time of conflict between England and Napoleon-led France. The difference here being that dragons exist, and they fight for and with humans in our conflicts.

The book starts with a British ship capturing a French vessel, and finding a dragon egg aboard. It hatches, and the dragon bonds with the reluctant captain. The rest of the book is him coming to terms with being removed from his position in the Navy and moving, with his dragon Temeraire, to the Aerial Corps. And training. And finally fighting.

Novik's a good writer. Not flashy or profound, but she gets the job done in an "easy" way that's not actually easy at all, but takes great skill. Her battle sequences were especially vivid and well done. Unfortunately, there are a number of things that struck me as not-thought-through, and even silly. And they take away from the story. Here are a few...

1) The biggest, and most egregious, is that we don't know anything about the dragons outside the military. I don't mean it's barely mentioned. I mean there's NOTHING. Are there dragons in the wild? Do they live in their own societies? They're intelligent, so how did we come to
"domesticate" them? And since they're so smart, why in the world do they fight for us? What's in it for them? I don't like info-dumps, but it would have been easy to include even a little information on dragons. You're asking me to suspend disbelief, so help me in my disbelief. Make this phenomenon seem real by telling me about it.

2) Dragons are very smart (mostly), and Temeraire pops out speaking English. I'm not sure I can buy dragons being able to physically talk, but I'll go with it. Novik has a character explain that dragons pick up language while still in the egg. Okaaaay. You're making me work really hard to believe this. First, a creature can pick up language just by hearing it spoken, and with zero visual reference at all. But even better: Temeraire was only on the British ship for two weeks before hatching. But picked up the whole language in that two weeks. Riiiiiiight...

3) Laurence calls his male dragon Temeraire "my dear" throughout the book, but he doesn't use this phrase with anyone else, so it sounds silly.

4) Speaking of Laurence, he has the personality of a boiled cabbage.

5) I don't get the contempt for the Aerial Corps. The Navy (and those civilians who associate with them) completely look down on them. THEY HAVE FREAKIN' DRAGONS! That save your butts! Why would everyone not be their biggest fans? It's more than just rivalry between military branches, like we see in modern times. But we get zero explanation.

6) How can these countries afford to feed all of these dragons? Livestock, which don't grow overnight, will feed a lot of people. Or one meal for one dragon. That's SO expensive! And there are lots of dragons. And those that aren't on the front lines are used for tasks such as delivering mail. "Hey, thanks for carrying my letter up to Scotland. Here's a COW." What?! It's just something she should have thought through, and then given an explanation that made my "?!" go away.

Anyway, I've been harsh, but, again, my friends gave this 4 and 5 stars and I DON'T GET IT! It was a okay book. I'll likely even pick up the next one in the series to see where it goes. But it had better get better quickly.


A Time of Torment, John Connolly




Well, I've done it. I've read all 14 books in the Charlie Parker series, in a relatively short time (9 months). I've never binge-read a series like this before. In fact, I have a hard time reading series at all. If I read the books as they come out, I forget what happened between books. And if I read the books after they've all come out, then it's too much of one thing and I get bored and distracted.

But not so with the Charlie Parker series. I was never once bored. I didn't have any problem reading straight through. I wanted to. I had to.

So A Time of Torment. Well, I think it's the best book in the series. It starts out with one of the most compelling pieces of writing I've ever read. Parker and his two compadres are hunting a monster. One of the most twisted, evil, and awful people I've ever come across. And he's just the warm-up! He was enough to be the Big Baddie in any other book, but here he's the pregame show.

The rest of the book is about Parker searching for a parolee who's gone missing, and who seems to be connected with an isolated and insular piece of West Virginia called The Cut.

And the ending! Hoo-boy, the ending...
I'm lamenting the fact that I'm caught up on the series. (If you're considering reading the series, fer cryin' out loud, start at the beginning.) I'll have to wait another year for the next book, dangit. At least Connolly isn't George R.R. Martin. I might go nuts.
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The Man Booker Long List was announced this month. I try to read as many of the 13 as I can, then try to read all of the Short List which will be announced later this month. So far, it's a weird batch of novels for what I think is the premier literary award for novels in English.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

This book is almost a thriller. After 150pp of some boring sad sack's life, the novel kicks into intense mode for a strong ending. If it weren't so short I might have abandoned it, but I'm glad I stuck it through because Moshfegh really sticks the landing on this one. I predict it will make the Short List but not win.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Rarely are funny books actually any good, but Beatty pulls it off here. This book is legitimately laugh out loud funny while being a successful satire of racism. The overarching message is a strong one: Find out who you are and become it. I predict it will make the Short List with a chance at winning.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

This commercial success is a look at the relationship between a mother and daughter. With echoes of Tinkers by Paul Harding and a little bit of Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, it explores the unspoken familial bonds. I like what Strout does, but it's more of a Pulitzer contender than Booker prize. I predict it will not make the Short List.

The North Water by Ian McGuire

2nd best whaling book ever! This book was so damned good. A friend summed it up perfectly as "Mean Girls on a boat." It's a story of some badass whalers sailing north for that good old blubber gold. And of course, shit goes awry. I give it two puss filled gangrenous thumbs up and one lost frost bitten nose. It will make the short list and should win (from those I've read so far).
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Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett - I don't know enough cinema history to appreciate all the jokes. Still, enjoyed this one.

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman - I normally don't like characters as contrived as the ones here - they are almost fable-like in how they change - but it works here, if only because the narrative talks so much about stories.
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Gelatinous Goo wrote:
The Man Booker Long List was announced this month. I try to read as many of the 13 as I can, then try to read all of the Short List which will be announced later this month. So far, it's a weird batch of novels for what I think is the premier literary award for novels in English.

It'd be a fun project to get a bunch of us together and each read a few of the Man Booker list. Hopefully get some overlap so each book will be read by at least 2 or 3 people. Then we can compare notes and see which one we would give the win to.
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Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

Plucky 1960s heroine lights off for stars unknown to solve linguistic mystery; superiors threaten to spank her.


Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Human civilization is an enormous con game perpetuated by pampered elites—but it's the only game in town so fuck it and watch more TV.


Who Fears the Devil? by Manly Wade Wellman

Singing hobo turns up just in time to wreck otherworldly shit over and over again—someone should just shoot him, seriously.


The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean

Consciousness is a heavily edited illusion—but it's the only game in town so fuck it and watch more pizzlewhiff.

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wmshub wrote:
Gelatinous Goo wrote:
The Man Booker Long List was announced this month. I try to read as many of the 13 as I can, then try to read all of the Short List which will be announced later this month. So far, it's a weird batch of novels for what I think is the premier literary award for novels in English.

It'd be a fun project to get a bunch of us together and each read a few of the Man Booker list. Hopefully get some overlap so each book will be read by at least 2 or 3 people. Then we can compare notes and see which one we would give the win to.

I do this with a book club. It works very well. Everyone presents one of the books. Most of us read as many as we can. It's such a solid list every year.

I will read all or nearly all of the short list, so I'd get in on any discussion here.
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MWChapel wrote:
2 more books, and then...report.


There better be a huge gummy worm at the end of this report... ninja
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Thanks for the rent-free space in your head. Would have been nice if you'd cleaned it up a bit before you rented it out, though.
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wmshub wrote:
Do reviews of this book even matter? If you're a fan, you'll read it.

But if anybody is on the fence - there are things to like here, mostly in the major plot points. And things to dislike. Mostly in the way that the original Harry Potter characters are constantly forced into scenes where it makes no real sense for them to show up. And there's a real lack of interesting new characters; other than the Albus and Scorpius (admittedly, the two main characters), everybody is a retread of the original seven books. I can't really give it more than a middling review, it wasn't a waste of my time, but I was hoping for better.


I guess I'm kind of curious, but . . . well, . . . it's a stage script. And you say "So's Macbeth and Hamlet and people read those all the time," but . . . okay, I've just never found reading scripts to be all that enjoyable. Not as "readable" as I like.

I'm surprised that none of the promo hype I've seen about this book really points out that "Hey, kids! This is a script!" because I'm guessing there's been some disappointment.

And I'm kind of surprised that Rowling and her co-author didn't "novelize" the script.
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Billy McBoatface
United States
Lexington
Massachusetts
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Drew1365 wrote:
wmshub wrote:
Do reviews of this book even matter? If you're a fan, you'll read it.

But if anybody is on the fence - there are things to like here, mostly in the major plot points. And things to dislike. Mostly in the way that the original Harry Potter characters are constantly forced into scenes where it makes no real sense for them to show up. And there's a real lack of interesting new characters; other than the Albus and Scorpius (admittedly, the two main characters), everybody is a retread of the original seven books. I can't really give it more than a middling review, it wasn't a waste of my time, but I was hoping for better.


I guess I'm kind of curious, but . . . well, . . . it's a stage script. And you say "So's Macbeth and Hamlet and people read those all the time," but . . . okay, I've just never found reading scripts to be all that enjoyable. Not as "readable" as I like.

I'm surprised that none of the promo hype I've seen about this book really points out that "Hey, kids! This is a script!" because I'm guessing there's been some disappointment.

And I'm kind of surprised that Rowling and her co-author didn't "novelize" the script.

The script-iness of it bothered me for 20 or 30 pages, then I got used to it and barely noticed any more that it was a script instead of a novel. I suspect it would be a little better as a novel, you have more options on how to present information then, but it reads fine as-is.
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Gary Selkirk
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Truro
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Might seem a bit absurd, but I read the RED BADGE OF COURAGE for the first time.
Always enjoy the old Audie Murphy movie of that title, ancient and quaint as it is. Not only that, but having been a life time studier of the ACW, seems a bit remarkable to me as well. An easy, relaxing and nostalgic read.
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Drew
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North Dakota
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LINCSANDWINKS wrote:
Might seem a bit absurd, but I read the RED BADGE OF COURAGE for the first time.


Not at all.

I remember trying to read it in grade school and thinking "This is awful."

And then I finally read it all the way through in my 30s and loved it!
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Justin Case
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Greensboro
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LINCSANDWINKS wrote:
Might seem a bit absurd, but I read the RED BADGE OF COURAGE for the first time.

Doesn't seem absurd to me either -- great books become recognized as such for good reason, and none of us can read them all at once, but every really good book that we read adds something to us no matter when we read it.

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Michael Howden
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San Jose
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wmshub wrote:
Gelatinous Goo wrote:
The Man Booker Long List was announced this month. I try to read as many of the 13 as I can, then try to read all of the Short List which will be announced later this month. So far, it's a weird batch of novels for what I think is the premier literary award for novels in English.

It'd be a fun project to get a bunch of us together and each read a few of the Man Booker list. Hopefully get some overlap so each book will be read by at least 2 or 3 people. Then we can compare notes and see which one we would give the win to.


I'm in. I have thought for some time that this thread could support a more traditional book club, but have not ever floated the idea. I always thought it would be too difficult to figure out how to pick books, but the Man Booker list is ideal.
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