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Subject: What did you read in October 2016? rss

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Billy McBoatface
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Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
I decided to take a break from Man Booker books and read this. The first novel that Austen wrote, published posthumously. Her sparkly prose is there, but the character development is badly undercut by the way that she switches between honest writing and comedy. In her later novels, it is usually supporting characters who do ridiculous things; in this novel, it is often the main character. If this were a comedy that would be fine, but instead we have chapters where the main character acts like a believable young woman, then a few characters where she is in the deluded belief that she is in a Gothic fiction novel surrounded by evil and mystery. Then she comes back again to be a realistic person.

I was also disappointed by the broken promise on page 1: "Catherine, for many years of her life, [was] as plain as any. She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without color, dark lank hair, and strong features." I was hoping for an Austen book that for once didn't have a pretty main character. But then by the second page of the book, she suddenly becomes beautiful, and thus is able to win a rich husband by the end of the novel.

Only recommended to Austen completionists.


His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae
At times the main character was irritatingly obtuse, but the picture of crime in an isolated Scottish crofting community was interesting enough to make it worth reading all the same. I also felt like the book was leading up to something, but then it sort of dissipated into "Well the trial ended and that was that." I supposed that is the end of the story, but there was a lot of leads going this way and that (I don't want to say much more because of spoilers), but in the end none of them turned into anything.

All That Man Is by David Szalay
Nine short stories, all about men, most of whom are unbearably self centered. Not sure what the Man Booker judges saw in this, I found it painful to get through.

When I was almost done with All that Man Is, the Man Booker winner was announced. I'm reading it now, am only about ¼ through, but I can say that so far this is clearly the best of the bunch, so I think they picked the right one! A real review next month once I've finished it.
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I read this purely due to the high regard the critics have for the author. I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't the roundhouse kick to the gut that this book gave me.

A close second to McCarthy's "The Road" on the list of "Incredible books that are not recommended for new parents". I'm an old parent and it was tough enough.
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Takashi Hiraide
De Kat / The Guest Cat


Books about cats usually tends to be sentimental and shallow. I suppose there is a market for it, however I am not interested in them. I want literature and this book is what I have found.

The young main character - the author himself - and his partner lives at the end of the eighties in some outer corner of Tokyo, in very modest circumstances in a very modest house, that is part of a somewhat bigger estate. Every now and then they are visited by a cat and it becomes an habit. The cat gets his own box and food. The owner of the estate died and his wife moved to an home for the elderly. The couple is looking after the estate, which isn't too big.

In writing style it reminds me of that other Japanese author Haruki Murakami, where things are ok as they are, whatever happens. A bit detached. Very zen-like, if you ask me.

Then over halfway of the book, the cat suddenly dies. Not much happened so far, so I thought, "Ah, now it is going to happen!". But it didn't. The neighbours, owners of the cat, were angry, because they learnt that the cat wasn't exclusively theirs. The couple moved and met other cats. The focus then turned to the collapse of the Japanese house market bubble, which had lead to a deep economical crisis in Japan.

During the book I wondered what was wrong with the main characters girlfriend. She seems immature and too sensitive to me. It wasn't explored at all. Neither what the cat had meant for them. Or something about the mourning process. I know the book was about a transition process. The estate owner died, The cat died, they had to move. For me it wasn't more than that. I only felt that opportunities were missed and things remained unexplored.

When I looked for reviews on the internet, they were all very positive. But I didn't find this work neither poetic, nor intelligent, nor philosophical, nor brilliant and certainly not humourous as said in the comments on the backside of the book. For me it is a modest read at most.
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Chris Tannhauser
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The North Water by Ian McGuire

A whaling yarn that explores all the things that come out of people when you squeeze them—both literally and figuratively—through the sieve at the very limits of civilization and humanity. Notable for its stunning depiction of a stone-to-the-bone sociopath whose powers of introspection are about an inch deep; when we’re in other characters’ heads it’s the usual emotion-soaked psycho-kino of past loves and losses, but when we enter his there’s nothing but a claustrophobic hum and an incurious, ineluctable pull toward raw action. He doesn’t plan so much as observe, confident that the inexorable gearwork of interaction will come around to the moment where his teeth will mesh with the solution, and the knife will be drawn from his pocket and into someone’s belly as naturally as you and I might shake hands.

I was in awe. Recommended.


Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Explorations in the the various ways math, language, and religion can expand the mind—and the terrible potential of that expansion to exceed the elasticity of the human soul, causing that precious knot of cognition to come undone and give way to permanently altered perceptions of self, world and time. As is usual for a collection some of the stories are much stronger than others: “Understand”, about a man whose intelligence is increased beyond a critical threshold by drug therapy, is particularly good, while the steampunky one—though well-written—left me shruggy.

The human interest stuff can feel bolted on in the fashion typical of genre fiction—“I have a great idea for a story… all I need is to add a guy and a gal having relationship issues to make it feel real!”—but the writing is so polished, and he does such a professional job of spackling over all the cracks, that the tiny flaws are more than forgivable for what you get.

If you haven’t read his stuff, you should. I have no idea why I’d never been exposed to it before, but I’m glad I went there.
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Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien


I give this a totally cop-out 3 stars. It was good but I was bored. It is interesting to read a book set in a major historical event in your lifetime. I found myself impatient with details, because I remember when Tiananman Square happened. The story spans from Mao's Cultural Revolution in the '60s through Tiananmen Square massacre in '89 and beyond. I think it's just Thien's style that I found unengaging because the stories, settings, and characters were solid.

All That Man Is by David Szalay


First of all, it should have been called Some That Man Is. This was my least favorite of the Booker bunch. I felt the author gave us ideas about things rather than the things themselves. I found his presentation of personalities and circumstances outside of himself to be shallow and inauthentic perspectives. In particular, the final vignette (or whatever these novel/not-novel particians were) shows Szalay wondering about how weird it will be to be old. His take read like a young man tripping out on what 80 will feel like rather than a good story about a believable character. Also regarding structure, he says he was messing with the form of the novel and experimenting with the concept of the novel. What we got, though, is really just a collection of short stories. The whole book felt like an intellectual exercise that I just couldn't get myself to care about. But the part where the dude had sex with the fat girl and her mom was good.

Barkskins by Annie Proulx


This started off with lots of promise. The setting (early logging along what would become the Canadian/US border), the characters, the horrible deaths (I never thought about how horrific a log jam would actually be--those logs will just keep coming and slamming into whatever is in their way). Overall, this multi-generational epic tale was too much for me. I'm not a fan of multi-generational time jumps to begin with (with the exception of Yaa Gyasi's excellent Homegoing). I find it difficult to connect with or care about any of the characters or plots, as they are so fleeting. In the end, my love of the surface elements could not keep my interest in the sweeping narrative. Trim this down to 350pp and give it focus and I'm all in. Reminded me of Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries in a long, boring way.

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrea Burnet


wmshub summed it up perfectly. It felt like a twist or major plot shift was coming, but in the end they went to trial, a verdict was read, and that was that. The revelation that Macrae's confession was unreliable was a big fake-out. We started to understand that we weren't getting the whole story, but then nothing else materialized. I still give it 4 stars for the engaging story, strong narrative, and interesting, pot-boiling read. Apparently, it's been picked up for a TV series (or mini-series?). I liked it enough to check that out. For some reason, the book kept reminding me of Dreiser's An American Tragedy, but ultimately was not as fulfilling.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


I guess it's a good sign that this book is already feeling a bit dated. Or is it? It's very short book, a pamphlet really, based on her TED Talk. She illuminates gender disparities, but really only overt and now much discussed ones (pay gap, validation, etc.). 2 years after publication, these ideas are much more commonly discussed, but no less important. I hear some country (Norway?) federally distributes this book to all children of a certain age (middle school?). It's a solid introduction the gender discussion.
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Billy McBoatface
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Gelatinous Goo wrote:

wmshub summed it up perfectly. It felt like a twist or major plot shift was coming, but in the end they went to trial, a verdict was read, and that was that. The revelation that Macrae's confession was unreliable was a big fake-out. We started to understand that we weren't getting the whole story, but then nothing else materialized.

Spoiler...
Spoiler (click to reveal)
One thing I noticed was that Roddy's lies/omissions in his story were mostly centered around sex. E.g., he claimed to only wander around at night and look in windows, when later we find out he was masturbating while watching young girls. I kind of expected us to find out that his sister was not actually raped by Broad, but by Roddy, and that in his story he was trying to pin that on Broad to ease his conscience or make people hate him less. That exactly doesn't have to happen of course, but some sort of discovery that made the unreliability have a purpose would have really improved the book IMHO. Instead, we're left knowing the he lied about some things in his narrative, but nobody really cares, and we never know or care whether anything else was true or not. Grrrr.

It's especially disappointing because this book had so much buzz, I was expecting something better.

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Robb Minneman
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For my birthday, my sister-in-law got me Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach. This is the most educational book of flatulence jokes I've ever read in my life. Roach has a semi-stream-of-consciousness style. It makes for an entertaining read, and she's got a great sense of humor. The book covers all of the personal details that space travelers have to cope with: Motion sickness, personal hygiene, sex, and pooping. It's really difficult to poop in zero-gee!

In fact, reading this book has me questioning Elon Musk's goal to put people on Mars in 2025. He blew off the pooping question at his announcement conference, and that's got me wondering what other things he's dropped. I have confidence in his technical team's ability to put things in LEO and work out the rocket equations. The personal effects of space travel are another ball o' wax.

Highly recommended for anyone who's into space travel.

I took on another book after that, but about halfway through I took a break and dove into Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, from Lois McMaster Bujold. That's a re-read for me. I needed something light and fun to get away from the deadly serious book I'd been experiencing. It's basically a romantic comedy in a sci-fi setting, with characters I'm comfortable and familiar with. I enjoyed the heck out of it, as always.

This one's good, but it won't make much sense to someone who hasn't fully invested in the Vorkosigan universe. If you've read Bujold and liked her, this is a terrific book. Don't pick up the series here.

Then I took the time and finished up that deadly serious book: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, Erik Larson. Oof, that's a hard read. I knew the Lusitania was a major event in the WWI timeline, but I didn't realize the magnitude of the tragedy, nor the personal toll on the involved parties.

Larson tells it very well, and the use of short chapters to break up the narrative helps. It makes the tragedy accessible without rubbing your nose in it. Still, this was a heavy book; I put it down in the middle and walked away for a week.

Recommended, but best for history buffs who have an interest in the time period. I'm glad I read it, and I know I need to improve my knowledge of the WWI era.
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This was an interesting, if rough, story. Also extremely short. It was interesting how at the beginning, light (the light of God?) was that which hurt Mersault, but also compelled him to act so brashly. I forgot to pay attention to instances of light later on in the story (while he was in jail) so I kind of want to go back and dig around in there to see what I can find.

What is Mersault about? How much of this is allusion to the travesties of WW2? Is he the silent guilt of those who could stand up to evil powers but just choose not to? If so, why was this in France, which was forcibly invaded? His victim (and aggressors, sort of) were Arabic, which I'm not sure is significant or not but if so I'm not sure why.

I have a lot of other questions too, but I'm gonna keep from making this a huge post. this was a read for a little book club I'm in and we are just bad at having meetings, but we probably will, and I can do a little more analysis first (we don't research the book when we read, though afterwards is fair game).

Anyway. It's a short little read, and rough but interesting. I'd recommend it for a little beach reading devil
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Was I really the only Chit Chatter who was left in awe by All That Man Is?

Serious Sweet - A. L. Kennedy
The Book Of Three - Lloyd Alexander
She Changed Comics - Betsy Gomez (ed)

Serious Sweet - A. L. Kennedy

My last Booker read, and the only one of the three not to make the shortlist. 200 pages in I was just about fuming - nothing had happened, just pages and pages of the inside of two broken Londoner's heads. And then the connections started to show up, and over the next few hundred pages a fragile story emerges. And it was beautiful and touching and *just* about worth the interminable set up. There was just enough craft, enough perfect phrases scattered throughout the early going to stop me from actually putting the book down, and in the end it wasn't that close a thing. But I was frustrated - perhaps that what what Kennedy wanted me to be . . .

The Book Of Three - Lloyd Alexander

Another book I read exclusively to my 7-year-old daughter. And it's fine. It has that earlier days feel of not knowing whether it was in fact children's lit, or meant for an older audience. It was derivative when it was written and has been surpassed many times over now. I'll read the next book - The Black Cauldron - if she asks, and we'll watch the movie, but I don't expect her to ask . . .

She Changed Comics - Betsy Gomez (ed)



A Comic Book Legal Defense Fund publication, Kickstarted months back and received right around NY ComicCon, this is a series of essays and interviews (with plenty of amazing and pertinent art) about the women who have had a hand in shaping the comic book industry almost from day one. Many of the features are on women who have been censored, challenged, banned and even jailed for their work ranging from the Golden Age through Silver to Modern, and not ignoring Underground and Alternatives, Manga and other international creators. If you have any interest at all in the history of the form, in the role of women over the years, in free speech, She Changed Comics is well worth a look. (And a purchase supports a cause that I am committed to . . .)
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The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter - An interesting premise that goes absolutely nowhere. Largely lacking in Pratchett's usual charm. Not recommended.

Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett - A typical (so enjoyable!) Discworld/Watch story.
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Well, the last thing I read in October 2016 was:

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The Sellout
by Paul Beatty


"Unmitigated Blackness is coming to the realization that as fucked up and meaningless as it all is, sometimes it’s the nihilism that makes life worth living."

I haven't had this many laugh-out-loud moments with a book in some time. Satire of the first order that strays toward poetry and swings philosophy like a retractable-club at figure skating practice. Incendiary language constantly daring the reader to look away, or blink. I didn't make it through the entire Man Booker short list, but was not surprised this was awarded the honor. Highly recommended.



























Eileen
by Ottessa Moshfegh


What a promising first act! Such great characters filled with frightening potential. The narrator/protagonist with her penchant for shop lifting and waning devotion to her alcoholic father is a powerhouse of potential. Well written throughout, and falling short of insulting, the whole novel blew apart with the introduction of a heralded character that seemed to be from another book. What she was doing there and why is dismissed by the first person narrator as being another story altogether. I hate to say I disagree, but NO she is part of this story! It is good through about the middle of act two, and then it becomes a head scratcher. Buyer beware.
















The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
by Sam Kean


A hivegod recommendation from last month and a welcome rest from the Man Booker list. Great stories told with enthusiasm bordering on manic. If stream of consciousness can be footnoted, this is what it looks like. Well researched, interesting but sometimes a little scattered. At points the author attempts to describe the magical links that underpin the overall beauty of the table and failed to deliver that "ah-ha" moment to this reader. If you like physics and science stories it is well worth the time.





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wmshub wrote:

Spoiler...
Spoiler (click to reveal)
One thing I noticed was that Roddy's lies/omissions in his story were mostly centered around sex. E.g., he claimed to only wander around at night and look in windows, when later we find out he was masturbating while watching young girls. I kind of expected us to find out that his sister was not actually raped by Broad, but by Roddy, and that in his story he was trying to pin that on Broad to ease his conscience or make people hate him less. That exactly doesn't have to happen of course, but some sort of discovery that made the unreliability have a purpose would have really improved the book IMHO. Instead, we're left knowing the he lied about some things in his narrative, but nobody really cares, and we never know or care whether anything else was true or not. Grrrr.

It's especially disappointing because this book had so much buzz, I was expecting something better.



I got the exact same impression about Roddy's obvious omissions of sexual awareness. But for me, the unresolved threads are what makes the book so good. Since the entirety of the plot is presented by accounts of the dead, having some plot twist that tied it all up would have subverted the whole point of the show. For me, it would have been like revealing how the magic trick is done, during the trick.
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Two weeks ago, I actually debated whether Lachen had raped Jetta with a friend that I loaned the book. I believe that it may be a fabrication in the account. Roddy's complete lack of reaction to the scene rings so false and he never brings it up again. It would also mean that he was responsible for Jetta's suicide. That narrative makes Roddy's incestuous affair with (or rape of) Jetta the cause of her suicide, and most likely the reason for the bloody rampage at the Broad home. Plot twist enough for me
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ColdFrog wrote:

This was an interesting, if rough, story. Also extremely short. It was interesting how at the beginning, light (the light of God?) was that which hurt Mersault, but also compelled him to act so brashly. I forgot to pay attention to instances of light later on in the story (while he was in jail) so I kind of want to go back and dig around in there to see what I can find.

What is Mersault about? How much of this is allusion to the travesties of WW2? Is he the silent guilt of those who could stand up to evil powers but just choose not to? If so, why was this in France, which was forcibly invaded? His victim (and aggressors, sort of) were Arabic, which I'm not sure is significant or not but if so I'm not sure why.



The setting is not France. The Stranger is set in French Algeria and was written at the end of WWII but is not about that war. If anything influences the setting it is the long conflict between the native Arab population of Algeria and the occupying French but even this is surface.

The Stranger is one of the best examples of Camus' Philosophy of the Absurd and it is this philosophy that is the heart of the book. Mersault, the protagonist is a odd man who refuses to play the game of assigning meaning to a meaningless universe. This is expressed in his overall lack of emotion and empathy even for his dead mother. There is a reason the first half of the book is about the death of his mother and his trip to her funeral. His lack of obvious grief dooms him in the end for no other reason then his inability to feel more than a little sadness at her passing.

There is a lot more to what's going on in Mersault's life and what leads him to kill a nameless Arab on that Algerian beach. This is one of the books that had a tremendous influence on my life as I read it at a time when I was really trying to figure out what exactly I believed. I knew I thought differently than the other people in my life. Absurdism spoke to me and helped me make sense of the world around me. I love this book.

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Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis. I've had this book for as long as I can remember. Did I get it from my mother? Anyway, it's wonderful, and I'll never get rid of it; it only gets better as I get older. For those who don't know, it's a collection of short pieces written by a cockroach.
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Managed to read another classic this month.





Considering when it was written it's scary relevant today considering what we can already do with genetics. The book itself wasn't that good, but glad I've finally read it. Comparing it to 1984 which I read recently it's really hard to guess which future where heading towards? A mix of these two? Scary thought.





Very cool walk-through of all the elements. Very nice pictures of them as well. Got it for my son but really enjoyed it myself. Quick read. I wouldn't have minded if there had been more text.





Old Man's War #6, and for now final book. I really enjoyed this series but think the last two books which are actually collection of novellas are a bit weaker than the full books. For some reason John Scalzi thinks he's better at writing novellas when he's really not (at least according to me). The first part is very good but the ending is a bit weak. Not to spoil anything for those who hasn't read it yet, but I think he could have fleshed it out with one or two more chapters (not often I say that (apart from the book above )).
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Kafka wrote:
ColdFrog wrote:

This was an interesting, if rough, story. Also extremely short. It was interesting how at the beginning, light (the light of God?) was that which hurt Mersault, but also compelled him to act so brashly. I forgot to pay attention to instances of light later on in the story (while he was in jail) so I kind of want to go back and dig around in there to see what I can find.

What is Mersault about? How much of this is allusion to the travesties of WW2? Is he the silent guilt of those who could stand up to evil powers but just choose not to? If so, why was this in France, which was forcibly invaded? His victim (and aggressors, sort of) were Arabic, which I'm not sure is significant or not but if so I'm not sure why.



The setting is not France. The Stranger is set in French Algeria and was written at the end of WWII but is not about that war. If anything influences it's setting it is the long conflict between the native Arab population of Algeria and the occupying French but even this is surface.

The Stranger is one of the best examples of Camus' Philosophy of the Absurd and it is this philosophy that is the heart of the book. Mersault, the protagonist is a odd man who refuses to play the game of assigning meaning to a meaningless universe. This is expressed in his overall lack of emotion and empathy even for his dead mother. There is a reason the first half of the book is about the death of his mother and his trip to her funeral. His lack of obvious grief dooms him in the end for no other reason then his inability to feel more than a little sadness at her passing.

There is a lot more to what's going on in Mersault's life and what leads him to kill a nameless Arab on that Algerian beach. This is one of the books that had a tremendous influence on my life as I read it at a time when I was really trying to figure out what exactly I believed. I knew I thought differently than the other people in my life. Absurdism spoke to me and helped me make sense of the world around me. I love this book.



The Cure's "Killing an Arab" is actually influenced by this book. I like it. Haven't read the book yet though.
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Trudging through this series again. Last time I gave up somewhere around book 7, but that was while he was still alive and we were waiting years between releases. It's better than I remember, but the stuff that helped drive me away last time is still there (Good lord, you don't need to describe the buttons on everyone's jackets or spend an entire chapter on the process of separating wheat. And we all know Nynaeve is going to tug her braid. Stop typing it.)
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Galstaff wrote:
wmshub wrote:

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One thing I noticed was that Roddy's lies/omissions in his story were mostly centered around sex. E.g., he claimed to only wander around at night and look in windows, when later we find out he was masturbating while watching young girls. I kind of expected us to find out that his sister was not actually raped by Broad, but by Roddy, and that in his story he was trying to pin that on Broad to ease his conscience or make people hate him less. That exactly doesn't have to happen of course, but some sort of discovery that made the unreliability have a purpose would have really improved the book IMHO. Instead, we're left knowing the he lied about some things in his narrative, but nobody really cares, and we never know or care whether anything else was true or not. Grrrr.

It's especially disappointing because this book had so much buzz, I was expecting something better.



I got the exact same impression about Roddy's obvious omissions of sexual awareness. But for me, the unresolved threads are what makes the book so good. Since the entirety of the plot is presented by accounts of the dead, having some plot twist that tied it all up would have subverted the whole point of the show. For me, it would have been like revealing how the magic trick is done, during the trick.
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Two weeks ago, I actually debated whether Lachen had raped Jetta with a friend that I loaned the book. I believe that it may be a fabrication in the account. Roddy's complete lack of reaction to the scene rings so false and he never brings it up again. It would also mean that he was responsible for Jetta's suicide. That narrative makes Roddy's incestuous affair with (or rape of) Jetta the cause of her suicide, and most likely the reason for the bloody rampage at the Broad home. Plot twist enough for me

Spoiler (click to reveal)
OK, now I feel a bit better. Since I'm not the only one who felt like it was probably Roddy who raped/had sex with Jetta, then the author probably intended us to guess at this. But it still bothers me that nobody else in the book noticed or cared about this, so it ends up feeling like a dangling plot line. I'm usually OK with things being not completely clear in a book, but in this one there aren't enough clues to confirm the guesses, and what seems like it should be important has little effect on the rest of the book.
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Kafka wrote:
ColdFrog wrote:

This was an interesting, if rough, story. Also extremely short. It was interesting how at the beginning, light (the light of God?) was that which hurt Mersault, but also compelled him to act so brashly. I forgot to pay attention to instances of light later on in the story (while he was in jail) so I kind of want to go back and dig around in there to see what I can find.

What is Mersault about? How much of this is allusion to the travesties of WW2? Is he the silent guilt of those who could stand up to evil powers but just choose not to? If so, why was this in France, which was forcibly invaded? His victim (and aggressors, sort of) were Arabic, which I'm not sure is significant or not but if so I'm not sure why.



The setting is not France. The Stranger is set in French Algeria and was written at the end of WWII but is not about that war. If anything influences it's setting it is the long conflict between the native Arab population of Algeria and the occupying French but even this is surface.

The Stranger is one of the best examples of Camus' Philosophy of the Absurd and it is this philosophy that is the heart of the book. Mersault, the protagonist is a odd man who refuses to play the game of assigning meaning to a meaningless universe. This is expressed in his overall lack of emotion and empathy even for his dead mother. There is a reason the first half of the book is about the death of his mother and his trip to her funeral. His lack of obvious grief dooms him in the end for no other reason then his inability to feel more than a little sadness at her passing.

There is a lot more to what's going on in Mersault's life and what leads him to kill a nameless Arab on that Algerian beach. This is one of the books that had a tremendous influence on my life as I read it at a time when I was really trying to figure out what exactly I believed. I knew I thought differently than the other people in my life. Absurdism spoke to me and helped me make sense of the world around me. I love this book.

See, that's exactly the kind of detail I easily miss (that it was Algeria, not France).

One thing I found quite fascinating was how in the beginning, with his mother's funeral, a lot of things rang true even today - he felt like he had to apologize for missing work because his mother died, he was living a life where he was just getting by and couldn't really support her, it's all very parallel to modern problems and it made this more real.
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Kafka wrote:
ColdFrog wrote:

This was an interesting, if rough, story. Also extremely short. It was interesting how at the beginning, light (the light of God?) was that which hurt Mersault, but also compelled him to act so brashly. I forgot to pay attention to instances of light later on in the story (while he was in jail) so I kind of want to go back and dig around in there to see what I can find.

What is Mersault about? How much of this is allusion to the travesties of WW2? Is he the silent guilt of those who could stand up to evil powers but just choose not to? If so, why was this in France, which was forcibly invaded? His victim (and aggressors, sort of) were Arabic, which I'm not sure is significant or not but if so I'm not sure why.



The setting is not France. The Stranger is set in French Algeria and was written at the end of WWII but is not about that war. If anything influences it's setting it is the long conflict between the native Arab population of Algeria and the occupying French but even this is surface.

The Stranger is one of the best examples of Camus' Philosophy of the Absurd and it is this philosophy that is the heart of the book. Mersault, the protagonist is a odd man who refuses to play the game of assigning meaning to a meaningless universe. This is expressed in his overall lack of emotion and empathy even for his dead mother. There is a reason the first half of the book is about the death of his mother and his trip to her funeral. His lack of obvious grief dooms him in the end for no other reason then his inability to feel more than a little sadness at her passing.

There is a lot more to what's going on in Mersault's life and what leads him to kill a nameless Arab on that Algerian beach. This is one of the books that had a tremendous influence on my life as I read it at a time when I was really trying to figure out what exactly I believed. I knew I thought differently than the other people in my life. Absurdism spoke to me and helped me make sense of the world around me. I love this book.



Yes, Camus's absurdist philosophy, although it stands on its own, can be seen as a response to the existentialism of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Existentialism (too simply put) posits that meaning must be constructed by the individual through free will. Absurdists don't reject meaning outright (like nihilists) but they feel concepts like God or free will can be used to elude the question of meaninglessness.

The light and heat in The Stranger represents the fact that things very large, complex and outside the individual's control, aka the world, are what matters when discussing meaning and actions. Note that at the end, I believe, Mersault says he is part and parcel to this absurd world.


Edit: When The Cure performs "Killing and Arab" now, they change the words. Too examples are "Kissing an Arab" and "Killing an Ahab" (taken from Moby Dick's point of view).
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shumyum wrote:
Edit: When The Cure performs "Killing and Arab" now, they change the words. Too examples are "Kissing an Arab" and "Killing an Ahab" (taken from Moby Dick's point of view).


I understand why they do it considering the world as it is today, but it doesn't work for me. The whole premise of the song is the stranger who kills an Arab, changing that invalidates the song for me.

I can listen to the old version anyway.
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You guys read some pretty intellectual books last month!

Here's what I read






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Crosstalk, by Connie Willis




Confession time: Other than short stories, I've never read anything by Connie Willis. Which is odd, because I used to live in the same town as her. I've seen her buying toilet paper, for heaven's sake, so why didn't I ever read one of her books? No idea.

But I got an advance copy of her new novel, and thought I'd finally break that streak. The results are a crosstalk.

In the very near future two people can get what's called an EED implanted in their heads, and this small device lets them feel what their loved ones are feeling. Emotions are heightened. It's all the rage. And, as with so many cutting edge technologies, its newness means it's only available to the rich and the famous.

Briddey and her fiancee Trent have plans to get EEDs, despite her smothering Irish family's protests. So when a gap in an EED surgeon's schedule unexpectedly opens up, they get the procedure. But things don't go as planned...

I won't spoil anything, but the rest of the 600 pages is a frantic race to find out what the heck is going on. It's a comedy of errors where we're just as in-the-dark as Briddey, as she and others are running around, chasing red herrings, making incorrect assumptions, and just generally being confused.

Willis is certainly a good writer. The plot moved along. We got to know characters in natural and believable ways. And the love story felt real and genuine. But I'm just not a fan of breathless, lighthearted books where I don't feel we're moving forward. This is exacerbated by the fact that the book is 600 pages long. I've certainly read books that needed to be 600 pages long, but this ain't one of them. It's too lighthearted for that. The problem was that she kept repeating herself, bringing up information, misdirections, and scenes that you'll swear you already read 40 pages ago. We already know where this comedy of errors is heading. GET THERE! Cut that dross and you've got a punchy little book that would have been stronger for the brevity.

My other big complaint is that the character of Maeve, Biddey's 9-year-old niece, is completely unrealistic. I have a son who's a couple months shy of 9 years old, and Biddey is laughably grown up. She talks like an adult. She's able to program computers like a super-genius adult. And she just doesn't feel real. If Willis had made her 12 years old, all the complaints go away. At 9 the faults are glaring.

As it is, I actually liked the story, and the characters, and the love story, and what it had to say about how we're just too dang over-connected. Hence the three stars. I just wish she'd done it in 2/3 of the length.


Bad Chili, by Joe R. Lansdale




Hap gets bitten by a rabid squirrel. Leonard gets accused of murder. And they both get tied up in a mystery involving a gay biker, a chili king, and a violent ex-wrestler. What can I say? This series is steady: It's not terrible and it not great. I expect nearly every book in the series will get three stars. But three stars is good! This Bad Chili is comfort food.


Pieces of Hate (and Dead Man's Hand), by Tim Lebbon




This is an odd little series of novellas from horror writer Tim Lebbon. This second piece, "Pieces of Hate," also included the first story in the series, "Dead Man's Hand," so I'll review them both.

In "Dead Man's Hand" we're introduced to Gabriel, a seemingly immortal man on the track of a demon-man named Temple, who killed Gabriel's family long ago. Gabriel has numerous wounds on his body that ache and open when he's near his nemesis Temple. We get the feeling this cat-and-mouse game has played out before, and will again. The story is told from the perspective of a store owner, so we're somewhat removed. The ending isn't very satisfying.

In "Pieces of Hate" we move from a Western setting to a pirate one. Because it's a play on words, you see. Get it? Anyway...once again, Gabriel is chasing after Temple, but this time the tale is told from Gabriel's point of view. It also ends in a rushed and unsatisfactory way.

The rest of this review is kind of spoilery, so you're warned. The fact that Gabriel seems unable to injure Temple makes these books pointless. We follow along as he chases this demon who killed his family. The demon kills lots of bystanders. There's kind of a standoff. And Temple escapes unharmed. Next time it will be the same story in a new setting. Why am I reading these again? I mean, a major part of the appeal of revenge stories is seeing the person GET THE REVENGE. The next novella takes place in WW2, but I just don't care.

I know Lebbon can write. His short story "Pay the Ghost" is absolutely haunting. And I've read his collection White and Other Tales of Ruin, and it was quite good. These novellas just aren't.


Hell Divers, by Nicholas Sansbury Smith




The world managed to bomb itself into oblivion in World War III, and 200 years later all that's left of humanity is crammed onto two large airships. The surface of the planet is uninhabitable, thanks to radiation, intense electrical storms, and mutated monsters known as Sirens.

The titular Hell Divers skydive down onto the surface for short missions to grab supplies, lost gear, and power cells to keep those airships afloat. Most Hell Divers don't make it past 15 jumps. Xavier is on his 96th.

Things go bad. Time is running out. Teethy monsters are a constant threat. It's standard action-adventure stuff. But if you go in expecting that, it's a decent book. Sure, there's almost no character development. Sure there are things that don't make sense, such as describing someone as "thin as a whippet" when no one alive has any idea what the heck a whippet is. And where, exactly, did these Sirens come from? If they mutated from something, what was that something? I don't know much about radiation, but I don't think it spontaneously creates creatures out of nothing--especially ones with mouths just FULL of razor-sharp teeth. But if you're looking for simple, slam-bang adventure, this book might just do the trick.


Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett




“What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter."

Lord Vetinari would, that's who. Moist von Lipwig, con man extraordinaire, is about to be hanged. But he's saved and given an ultimatum: Become the new Postmaster for the Ankh-Morpork post office, or die for real. Moist chooses the former.

We're introduced to a motley crew of postal workers, all of whom are funny, endearing, and new. That's one of the things going for Going Postal. At the time this was written (2004), it was hard to dive into any of the numerous Discworld series, without going way back. And some of those early books just aren't very good. But Moist and the crew are all new. We meet a few standbys from the Watch, Government, and University, but you certainly don't have to have read any other Discworld novels to jump right in here.

Of course, Pratchett had something larger to say in all of this--about technology, tradition, "convenience," and the wonderful feeling of writing or receiving an actual, handwritten note. It's something we're losing day by day. But if you don't feel like writing a letter after reading Going Postal, then you might just work for the evil telegraph company...


The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury




Ray Bradbury: No writer could so perfectly capture what it's like to be young. He never forgot the joys, fears, and breathtaking adventure of it all. I read him to remember.

It's Halloween! And eight young trick-or-treaters are heading out for an evening of fun and candy. But when they reach Pipkin's house he's not feeling well, and sends them on ahead. It's clear something's not right, and the pals soon find themselves at a mysterious and dark gothic house--one with a tree outside, festooned with hundreds of jack-o-lanterns. The owner of the house is Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, and he has bad news: Pipkin has been taken, and he might not return.

So the boys are off on an adventure with Moundshroud to different times, different lands, and different celebrations that all relate to the costumes they're wearing--a witch, a skeleton, a gargoyle, and so forth. Will they be able to save Pipkin? You'll have to read this short book to find out!

I was "only" going to give this 4 stars, but I was gripped by the ending. The cost to the boys to save their friend was just...powerful, for some reason. I can see myself reading this every Halloween, as a new tradition. Thanks, Ray.
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Very good.
Looks like I'll have to getthe third in the series now.
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