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Music: Iphigenie en Tauride (Gluck; Gardiner recording). For some reason this opera stole my heart, even though my French really isn't good enough to understand what they're saying, and I don't really like any other Gluck as much. I think a large part is the Gardiner recording being just so... orchestral; the orchestra is practically another character in the opera.

Movie: The Ring Cycle (Bayreuth). Up. Up was the best movie I'd seen in a movie theater since... since the Incredibles. The Ring Cycle was one of Those Things where I don't expect anyone else to like it necessarily, but... wow. Wow. Blew me away.

Book (fiction): Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri). Yeah. Lahiri is just Really Good.

Book (nonfiction): I, Asimov / Prime Obsession (Derbyshire) - a tie! Asimov wins for extremely amusing and readable memoir, while Derbyshire wins for interesting math.

Reread: The Severed Wasp (L'Engle) - Really, I think this is L'Engle's best non-Murry book.

I am really surprised that there is no SF/F on this list (I don't count Severed Wasp, even though it arguably takes place in a near-future NY).
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First, as a general public service announcement, I have been told that Lev Grossman is the brother of the sculptor mathematician Bathsheba Grossman, who I can without reservation say kicks total butt. Did I mention she is a mathematics sculptor? Swoon!

So, the book. I do believe this is the kind of book one cannot read (well, certainly not if one is me) without feeling the need to wave one's hands about wildly, pontificate about it for hours, and buttonhole random people to rant at about it... for while I had both good and bad feelings about it, they were pronounced feelings; no apathy here! (In this respect it was just about the opposite of Time Traveler's Wife, to which [ profile] julianyap compared it, my reaction to which was "Eh.") It's Contemporary New York Bored Teenagers Meet Harry Potter and Narnia, which pretty much sums up the book. As for the book itself, I really very much liked the first half (okay, the geese? awesome!), I hated and despised the third quarter (I might actually have given up reading it at this point were it not for promising I'd finish it) and thought the last quarter just about made up for the third quarter (I must say I didn't see any of that coming), except where it ended a little too abruptly. So overall, that's a win, I'd say.

Quentin, the main character, although he has his moments, mostly (starting on page 2 or so) makes me want to scream and beat my head against the wall -- I know it's intentional, but Quentin's anvilicious tenth iteration of "Why am I unhappy? Is it me, or is it just that the world sucks?" MADE ME WANT TO PUNCH HIM. (Why, yes, Quentin, it's you; and all of us know it.) (It does not help that I was never the sort of kid who wanted to escape into Fantasyland; yes, I read some books obsessively, but actually live there? Uh, no.) Alice is awesome, and I found myself surprised to rather like the Physical Kids. Brakebills (the Hogwarts analogue) I rather like, and Fillory (the Narnia analogue) makes me want to beat my head against the wall and beat the book against it (not that I would) - this, I think, is the biggest flaw in the book.

Let me, in fact, say more about Brakebills and Fillory under a cut.Cut for meta-rants about fantasy; allusions to spoilers, but nothing specific. )
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Still finishing up books from 2009...

I was complaining to D several weeks ago that the last time I read a math book for fun was probably back in high school. D listened, thought a bit, and said, "You know, you should try Prime Obsession."

Yup, he was absolutely right. This book is made of complete awesome, and I was totally addicted to it, reading it when I should have been unpacking (or sometimes trying to do both at once) and finishing it in under a week (which is kind of unheard of for me and nonfiction books). It is about the Riemann hypothesis, and told in two strands: the mathematical and the personal. Derbyshire breaks down all the math as simply as possible -- if I hadn't seen it done, I would've thought it was impossible to explain the Riemann hypothesis ("All nontrivial zeros of the Riemann zeta function have real part 1/2.") requiring no more math than, really, elementary algebra (he explains everything else, including the concept of series, complex numbers, logs, analytic continuation...) -- though if that's all the math background you have, it will be significantly harder slogging than if you have a bit more (I would recommend knowing the general concepts of complex numbers, logs, infinite series, and having a nodding familiarity with at least the concepts of calculus). Along the way you'd be introduced to lots of fascinating math tidbits, like the divergence of the harmonic series (Derbyshire makes it sound a lot more interesting than I just did) and chaos.

My personal background is such that I know up to calculus/linear algebra really well (I skimmed most of the early mathematics chapters in this book), and have, or used to have, a nodding familiarity with complex analysis. I had been taught the Riemann hypothesis (in the words I use above) in my complex analysis class, but had no idea why it was so very interesting. There's a point where Derbyshire introduces what he calls the "Golden Key," at which point my mouth hung open and I said to D, "Holy crap! ...I clearly knew NOTHING about the Riemann hypothesis! ...Wow!" Even so, I found a couple of the chapters near the end fairly dense (and so did D, who I suspect knows quite a bit more complex analysis than I do). So, um, yeah, I really recommend it if you know some math, though the early math chapters will be pretty trivial for you. It does make me want to find a book at a slightly more advanced level, though.

But you can even read it without any mathematical knowledge or background whatsoever, and it's still an awesome book. Derbyshire has decoupled, to a certain extent, the math and people/context chapters (even and odd respectively), so you can fairly easily skip any of the math you don't want to look at and just read the interesting stories about the personalities involved. I find his style extremely entertaining; even the endnotes are fun (there's one where he explains multiplying negative numbers against themselves that ends with a funny and rather adorable punchline from his small son). And mathematicians are an amusing lot; some of the stories he cites are mathematical classics that I'd heard before (e.g., the mathematician G. Hardy used to mail postcards before travel saying he'd solved the Riemann hypothesis, because he knew God would never let him die with such glory!) and some were new, but all were amusing!

Really, really highly recommended, especially for math nerds (though presumably not if you already know tons about the Riemann hypothesis).
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I almost didn't read this. Something about the title made me think, oh, I don't know, that it would be about an American teaching about sexual freedom. Or something. Anyway, it didn't sound appealing. And I tend to get annoyed with books without quotation marks. But then it totally captivated me, from almost the very first. It is about literature, which is obviously a huge draw for me (and is probably going to get me to read Henry James and at least skim through Lolita). And about Iran, which I didn't think I would find fascinating but did. And it is a political warning, to both the Left and the Right: be careful what you wish for, and who your bedfellows are.

Really a book I'm glad I read, although I did find it slightly disjointed, I didn't particularly agree with her about Jane Austen, and I never got to care about the girls as much as I am pretty sure I was supposed to.

(Also, look, tags! I'm only, what, three years behind in my organization...)

(Coming very soon: The Magicians (Grossman), which was also on hold at the library and which I am snarfling through frighteningly quickly...)
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In ascending order of interest to me.

The Company (KJ Parker): So I really liked, or at least was terribly fascinated by, Parker's Engineer trilogy. This stand-alone was... ennh. It was vaguely interesting, I guess, but predictable and not particularly twisty (The Engineer trilogy, while the entire arc was perhaps predictable, was definitely twisty, and if it was a bit Rube Goldberg at times, one was still rather interested in how the mouse in the treadmill exactly did connect to the pulley and so on...), and at the climax I rolled my eyes so hard I could very well have sprained something. (I mean, for serious?? At least have your climactic action be not based on a biological urban legend!)

Ender in Exile (Card): No, really, Mr. Card, no one wants to hear you talk about how totally and fantabulously awesome marriage and reproduction is. No one. Not even me, and look, I'm married and reproducing! I'm on your side! But no one likes being lectured at, 'kay? Showing characters who derive great satisfaction from reproducing, yeah, fine. Having each one of them make a cute speech about how important it is for them to be married and reproducing, not so much. No one talks like that! No, not Mormons either, unless they're giving a talk, and not very many of them then either. Okay, now we've got that over with... if you can stand, or skip over, the lectures, it's really not bad, in that compulsively readable way that Card has, although sort of lacking in anything resembling a coherent plot, being more of an Ender and Valentine have Crazy Adventures in Space Christmas Special! sort of thing. And yay we are finally done I think with Achilles. Please?

In the Forests of Serre (McKillip): I love the Riddlemaster trilogy, which I find immensely satisfying. McKillip herself I think is a lovely stylist. Ever since the Riddlemaster trilogy, though, I feel a little as if she's a lovely stylist in search of a story worthy of her talents. This book made me feel rather that way too, though not so much as some of her other work I've read, and I rather do like the magicians. And I very much enjoyed the Russian/Eastern European mythology.
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A Great and Terrible Beauty (Libba Bray) - This book was hilarious to me because it was Dead Poets Society, only with girls and magic instead of boys and poetry. And when I say this, I don't mean it had some of the same themes, I mean it was pretty much exactly the same; it's like the author watched Dead Poets Society, took notes, changed the characters to girls (major points, though, for making them actual girls -- sometimes catty, sometimes kind -- and not boy clones), mashing them up a bit, and added a magic subplot. Somewhat repressive but high-falutin' school? Check. Inspiring teacher? Check. Shy student? Check. Student forced into familial expectations? Check. Student enthralled with romance? Check. Meetings in a cave out in the woods where readings are done and rebellious things are said across a fire? Check. And of course all the plot points are the same, meaning that if you've seen DPS it's not even a case of guessing the plot points ahead of time, it's more a case of checking them off against your list of corresponding DPS scenes ("let's see, we haven't had the obligatory heartwarming scene with the teach-- ah, there it is.")
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Via [ profile] ase. Okay, Dawn (and the two sequels) blew me away. Just. This is some extraordinary SF -- humans (or what's left of them) are conquered by an alien race. Only it's not that simple. The humans might think it is. The aliens are really alien and don't look at it that way (and indeed are both much more ruthless than most humans, and much more compassionate than most humans, at the same time) -- they look at it as a sort of symbiosis. The humans, once they start understanding the aliens, can sort of see it the aliens' way, but humans deeply think of things in the form of dominator and dominated, and in that respect the humans are definitely the latter. Um. This synopsis is a mess. I cannot possibly describe what's going on and do it justice.

Butler always catches me a little off guard; this is true of both her short stories and her novels. I suppose it's partly because she makes no secret of her perspective as a black female and that it is going to differ from, say, my perspective; but some of it is, I think, her own style as well. For Parable of the Sower and the Pattern novels, I'm not sure I was working so much with that strangeness as against it (though I do very much like the Pattern novels). With the Xenogenesis books she leverages that strangeness to aid her in describing the very strange alien society, and it really, really works for me.
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For a while there I wasn't really feeling up to reading much meaty. I was in fact craving trashy-but-not-completely-badly-written novels. My usual go-to for that is to reread Judith Krantz's Mistral's Daughter, which has oodles of trashy romance, not to mention three generations of gorgeous professional-model red-haired Mary Sues. It's not even horribly badly written (for example, I can no longer physically read the Sidney Sheldon I scarfed down as a kid, it's that bad), though note I am not particularly recommending it to anyone here. So, I finished that and was still casting around for something. I decided to reread that trashy-but-usually-not-unacceptably-badly-written long-novel with gorgeous model-quality heroine and hyper-masculine red-haired Gary Sue. Yes, The Fountainhead. I love that book! It is so deliciously trashy, what with the frigid heroine melting when Her Man shows up, the total bonding of Peter Keating (whom, by the way, I totally love) to his alpha male, the wife swapping, the total manly-man Roark-Wynand friendship and love triangle. (Note also that I intensely despise most of Atlas Shrugged, which tries to be bombastic rather than deliciously trashy, thus losing all the charm of Fountainhead. And is depressing to boot.) Yes, I know Ayn Rand is turning in her grave at being compared to Judith Krantz... bonus!

This all led to a conversation with D in which a reorganization of our bookshelves was proposed. They are currently organized in a Byzantine system involving a) how much we like the book (horizontal depth and partial vertical placement), b) category of book (room and vertical placement), c) height of book (inter-shelf placement), and d) author last name (intra-shelf placement). The new proposed system: a) hair color, and possibly b) eye color.

Besides Mistral's Daughter and Fountainhead, on the red-haired shelf would go Bujold's Cordelia books, Hero and the Crown, Heinlein's To Sail Beyond the Sunset (the only reason I own this one is because of the heroine's marked resemblance to my awesome high school junior-year roommate)... Cordwainer Smith's stories about C'mell... probably more I can't think of off-hand. I'm a little shocked, actually, at how much red hair there is around, given how few people I know in real life with red hair, though I suppose I shouldn't be.

(Also, I recently picked up one of the Alanna (Tamora Pierce) books from the library because I was feeling nostalgic, and was horrified to find that Alanna has red hair and purple eyes AND a sentient cat. Who also has purple eyes. (D thought this was hilarious, mind you.)

Does anyone else have trashy but still compulsively readable fic they would be willing to recommend? For reference, besides Krantz, I like in this category Maeve Binchy and Agatha Christie (well, I don't think of her as trashy, but she is not exactly literary).
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Via [ profile] nolly. This was really interesting. How to deal with verbal attacks. In particular, the idea is that a verbal attack contains underlying implicit suppositions, and defending against the wrong thing can get you into trouble and escalate the confrontation instead of defusing it. A lot of the tips she gives I had already had some experience with from muddling through thirty-odd years of learning how to deal with conflict in my own life (go after the actual words, not the supposition, or ask to clarify whether the speaker really means the supposition or is just using it as a rhetorical trick), but it's interesting to see it codified and laid out like that, and seems a lot easier than my (and I imagine most people's) trial-and-error ("hmm, okay, that made Mom even more mad, that wasn't the right move") way of doing it. I especially found the specific responses very interesting -- there are certain situations where Elgin recommends a particular phrasing, with examples of how deviating from that specific phrasing can make the situation worse intstead of better.

In particular, I wish that I'd been able to give this book to my sister five years ago, when she and our mom got in raging battles on a weekly basis.

I'd also recommend it for any writer -- if you are a good writer you will have figured out how a lot of this stuff works already just from watching people interact, but it's kind of neat to see it down in black and white -- so I wouldn't necessarily buy it were I a writer, but it would be worth checking out from the library.

I also checked out the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense at Work, which I was much, much less impressed by, mostly I think because it was written for an era and situation with which I do not identify at all. I'm lucky enough to work for a company that espouses more of a "if we work together we can get more stuff done" philosophy than a "let's play off people against each other" philosophy, which she very much assumes. And the examples she used to demonstrate "woman thinking about work" versus "man thinking about work," made me think, "Wow, those women are idiotic, who thinks that way?"... so I guess I've internalized some of the "male" way of thinking.
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...Yeah, I have a backlog of posts... these date back from first trimester, in fact. These are sorted by how much I enjoyed them (from most to least):

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (Wilhelm) - I've been on a Wilhelm kick recently. This one started slow but I thought was a strong book, though the science is... um... a little suspect. (I get the impression Wilhelm is not, er, a hard scientist; about three books in a row now I have been rolling my eyes, the worst being in Smart House where she talks about the big million-dollar question in computing being melding digital and analog computing. Er? Granted I believe she wrote it in 1989, but, what?) It's about the end of the world, and clones, and individuality, and honestly rather a Gary Stu type whom I quite enjoyed. I recommend it highly if you can get by the iffy science and treat it as entertainment rather than as A Classic Of Yore (in which case you are sure to be disappointed).

Dreamsongs, vol. 1 - I enjoy George R.R. Martin a lot, though I can't say I actually like his stories, and I realized why after reading this. I don't know about now, but at least for the part of his life these stories cover, he was not exactly successful in love, and these stories reflect that -- maybe half of them weren't about disillusionment and dysfunctional relationships, but a whole lot of them were.

The Host (Meyer) - Oh, yeah. I read this quite a while ago at the behest of the Kid, but forgot to post. It was much, much better than Twilight. I actually enjoyed it, though as usual with Meyer's stuff there was some disturbing relationship/gender subtext.

Fairie Wars (Herbie Brennan) - not to be confused with Sarah Rees Brennan, of course! - I think this is a first book? Anyway, it's got a lot of energy, and there's a lot going on. As usual in fantasy, the "science" is cheesy and stupid, and I have to say the nomenclature of "Fairies of the Light/Fairies of the Night" made me laugh hilariously, but I liked it!

Purple Emperor (Herbie Brennan) - Sequel to Fairie Wars (and, I think, the second in a trilogy). Well. He certainly has the can't-catch-your-breath plot going full speed in this one as well. I'm a little less enamoured of this one, because I noticed more that the plot seemed to crowd out things like, oh, any kind of character development at all. Still, I did finish it.

The Emperor's Children, Claire Messaud - Mainstream. People interact in New York; hilarity ensues, or something. This was, well, better than I thought after reading the first twenty pages, and by the late middle I thought it was quite good. Then the end happened, and I was all, "That's it?" I guess it's pretty good, but being the mean evil person I am, I totally wanted more of the characters to get a satisfying comeuppance. Warning for preponderance of unlikeable characters. (I think I have yet to read a mainstream book set in New York with a preponderance of likeable characters.) Better, go read Edith Wharton instead; Messaud just wants to be Wharton.

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, Alison Goodman- It's of note because the mythology involved is Chinese-oriented rather than Western-oriented, and I feel like I should support non-Western-based fantasy in general. However, the prose seemed a bit clunky to me (it wasn't horrible, just a little too much first-book-ish), and the ending was completely cheesy; I said aloud, "That's it? That's the answer?" Interesting enough that I'll probably pick up the sequel from the library, but probably not enough that I'll more than skim it. I read a couple of good reviews of it, though, so YMMV.
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I have been absolutely blown away by Jhumpa Lahiri's work. She is a mainstream fiction writer who writes predominantly about immigration and assimilation in the Indian/Bengali community, and who writes superbly and elegantly. I read Interpreter of Maladies (short stories - her first book, and won the Pulitzer; this is what we're dealing with!) first, and The Namesake (novel) after. I had varying reactions to the stories, but almost all of them moved me. The first and last stories are, I think, the strongest emotionally, and also complement each other nicely.

The Namesake is almost like an expansion of and sequel to the last story in Interpreter: it chronicles an Indian couple as they move to the US after an arranged marriage and have children, and follows the oldest child, a son, as he grows up and takes his place in the world. It is about the process of immigration and assimilation. It is about expectations and rebellion, and how both can lead to unfortunate results. It is about growing up. It is about names, and families, and love. (And yes, [ profile] sarahtales, I thought of you. No idea whether you even read this kind of book, but if you do, I think you will like it.If not, you won't.) Warning, it is a slow book, with very little in the way of plotting.

I have a special tie to these books because my parents, of course, are immigrants, who had basically an arranged marriage, and a lot of the things she writes about are applicable to my parents as well: how puzzling it must be to try to adapt to a completely new culture; how courageous it is to leave everything and everyone you know and care about for a new life that, as like as not, will start off in hardship (it certainly did for my parents); how painful it is to see the gulf between you and your children, because you have brought them up in this new world so that they don't understand you or where you came from; how heartbreaking it must be to see your children embrace all the things about the new culture that you wanted them to reject, but how proud you are of them too, as they easily move through a world that still, sometimes, baffles you. It made me think in a different way about my parents (it's always quite wonderful when a book turns sideways the way one thinks about the world), and what they went through, and how incredibly courageous they were and are, and how much they must love us, to encourage us to assimilate the way that they have. (They are really wonderful. My parents have never had any problem with us having friendships, dating, or marrying outside our race/culture, and indeed brought us up more American than anything else on purpose, and I cannot fathom what degree of love that must take, to bring up your kid in such a way that you know she will be half a stranger to you, and that your grandkids will be even further away-- because you want what will be best for them.)

Now, so that this isn't all sappy: I hated Mouse. She was really, incredibly lame. I was totally all, "Get a life!" I understand the point Lahiri was trying to make, but really, did she have to do it via such a completely lame character? (After talking about this with K, I've decided the problem might be mine: I don't deal well with characters' infidelity unless they have a good reason, which Mouse manifestly does not have.)

This is absolutely the best thing I have read this year, in what has been a very strong year for books so far. I don't know if people who don't have strong ties to this immigrant experience will be quite so impressed. It is also true that she doesn't seem to write about anything else but the immigrant experience, so although I continually get new things out of her writing, I could imagine someone else getting kind of bored with it.
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So I was thinking a little bit about "mindblowing" stories because of seeing Matthew Cheney's list here. I don't really care that much about the controversy; as far as I can tell "Mammoth" does not necessarily mean "comprehensive" (I own the Mammoth Book of Fantasy, which is not at all comprehensive), or even really anything at all. As far as I can tell from the table of contents, none of which are stories I actually found mindblowing, I suspect it's just that Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF sounded better than Book of Friends of Editor That Would Be Willing to Give Him Cheap Reprint Rights, which is what it actually looks like to me (and would explain the skewing against authors, women and POC and otherwise, that I actually think have written mindblowing SF stories).

In addition to the Butler, Chiang, Kress, LeGuin, Moore, Tiptree, and Willis stories that Matthew Cheney names, I thought offhand of the following (note that almost all my good SF anthologies are in NC, so I'm sure I'm forgetting some good ones). Note that these are all stories I found mindblowing at some point in my life (possibly not this one).

Mountains of Mourning (Bujold)
The Dead Lady of Clown Town (Cordwainer Smith)
Pots (C.J. Cherryh)
Salvage (Orson Scott Card)
I'm sure some story by Alfred Best should go here
Piecework (David Brin)

(I adore Zenna Henderson and Tanith Lee, but I wouldn't call anything I've read by them mindblowing SF. Same with Cheney's Delany, Fowler, Goldstein, Murphy, Russ, and Wilhem -- I've read them, and liked many of them, but maybe didn't get to them at quite the right point in my life, or something.)

(Restricting to hard SF would, I think, mostly restrict my list to the Bujold and Brin, and Tiptree.) He was explicitly trying to make a list of non-white-males, and I wasn't, but notably I got two on my short list anyway, not counting that I would definitely have put Tiptree and Willis on my list if he hadn't (I am ashamed to say that I probably would have forgotten Butler, even though I think several of her stories are pretty darn amazing).

Anyhow. My real question is the following: more mindblowing SF short stories I Must Read?
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Finally got around to Horizon (Bujold). Well, I liked it fine. It definitely reminded me of Cherryh a bit (though markedly less grim): the big bad was not defeated, or even understood, but a minor (well, relatively) part of the big bad is defeated, with the idea that it may now be easier to defeat the big bad entirely; and a culture is not changed upside down, but nudged, little by little, into a better shape.

Cut for minor general spoilers - tried to stay away from specific spoilers) )
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So I was terrified I wasn't going to like this book, because I like [ profile] sarahtales very much indeed. I should not have worried, as it turns out.

So, first: This is a book about family! Siblings! I cannot even describe how happy I am to read a YA novel that does not revolve around romance, because you know how many couples I know who were serious about romance at that age? Two.

I was very, very pleased -- and I should really not have been surprised by this, given SRB's book reviews -- that the book didn't fall into any of the cliche traps that I exceedingly hate. In particular, Nick takes some risks, but they're reasonable ones that don't blow up in his face and bring Danger and Doom upon them All! (Oh, man, am I tired of that one. Look, *coughHarryPotter* if your protagonist is more-or-less capable, he's probably not going to screw up too badly, and if he's not, I may not really want to read about his screwups.)

The characters are lovely, not cliched or retreads from other fantasy at all. (Jamie bears the marks of a typical mild-mannered SRB hero, but even so transcends those roots.) All four major characters are distinct, non-Mary-Sues, and far more interesting than their first categorization upon appearance (the way that real people are almost always more interesting once you've known them for a while). The mythology seems fairly well-grounded (and I loved the Goblin Market... Christina Risotto, hee!) which is a huge compliment coming from me, as I routinely abandon books in the middle because I don't think they're being consistent or reasonable with the system of magic.

The style I found slightly off-putting at first (by which I mean that I was not immediately grabbed by the first couple of chapters). I can't exactly put my finger on what it is; I think it has to do with having to get used to Nick's stylistic voice, and that being slightly jerky (the paragraphs being very short and choppy, for instance). By the third chapter or so, it is clear that this is mostly a reflection of Nick's personality, and did not bother me subsequently.

The thing that was pretty much just phenomenally awesome about it, to me, is SRB's plot management. Plot management skillz, shading into meandering about Alan and the heart of the book: Book-destroying spoilers here! )

Anyway: yeah. I liked it exceedingly. Go read it. (with the caveat that, should you find it slow at first, you should push through at least three chapters before giving up.) Can't wait to see what she does next!
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Sister Light, Sister Dark, White Jenna, and The One-Armed Queen are books I meant to read at a much younger age (especially the first two) and somehow never got around to it. Yolen's great strength, of course, is her weaving of myth and fairy tale, and it's all here. It's the sort of thing that, if you like her other work, you'll like the first two books, and if you don't, you most certainly won't. I like her work, so I like these books.

SLSD is, to my jaded grown-up eye, actually a little more interesting than WJ because there is less of a sense (to me) that the myth and story are of course right and the history is wrong; in SLSD it seems that it could go either way, and there's some evidence that perhaps the historians, who strip all magic from the world, are right, and the story is only a story. Or maybe the story really is the truth and the history is a lie. It's hard to tell, which is neat. In WJ it becomes a little more obvious that oh, yes, of course the magic prophetic explanations are the right one, and those stupid silly historians who don't believe in magic are just spiteful and deluded. Eh.

Also, I found Jenna's reaction at the end (of WJ) kind of weird. She has this agonizing choice, it's made for her by, basically, death, and she's totally cool with that? No angsting at all? Ooookay. But the myth at the end is beautiful and kind of heartbreaking.

The third book was written much later, I believe, and I don't like it nearly as well -- the mythic ideas of the Chosen One and the dark sisters and the prophecies are kind of sort of there, but not nearly as powerful as their incarnation in the first two books. Also, Scillia is a whiny brat, which doesn't go well with myth.
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A fun book, recommended by [ profile] lightreads, about why we are so bad (except when we're good) at predicting the future. It's not a bad pop pysch book, though I had my usual pop-social-science problem: he describes an experiment, what it's supposed to convey, and I go, "Yes, but..." Which maybe I wouldn't do if I saw the actual paper, but I don't find the level of detail in pop-social-science convincing.

For example, he has this thesis that people deriving satisfaction from having children is a myth propagated by human society, and isn't actually true, which he "proves" by showing a graph of how marital satisfaction diminishes once people have children, and showing that women find looking after kids less satisfying than doing other tasks. Yes, but... but I find working less satisfying than reading books, but I can tell you right now that my overall satisfaction would diminish if I were reading books all the time instead of working, which lets me exercise my technical skills, spend time with interesting geeky people, gives me satisfaction that I'm contributing to society (maybe that is the "myth" part -- but if it really does make me happy because I believe that it should, is it a myth?), and not least, makes me money to buy the books with... And there are lots of things -- he wouldn't even disagree with this -- that can honestly make you happy once you've convinced yourself they ought to make you happy.

ETA: Not that I disagree with his hypotheses (certainly, for his hypothesis on child-rearing, it is supported by kids being a Big Pain to raise) but it irks me that his proof standard is as bad as it is, even for my pleasure reading.
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Okay, I may actually post a couple of times, for a change!

[ profile] julianyap told me to read Octavian Nothing (Anderson), without telling me anything about it. (It is a YA book, though it's one of those YA books that is perhaps better read after one is a YA.) And he was right, both to tell me to read it and to tell me nothing about it. Because if you know something about it before reading, it does take something out of the lovely first section of the first book (it is a two-book series), which starts out, you think, as one thing, and gradually one finds out one is in another world entirely.

This is an astonishing pair of books which tackles some pretty explosive issues (mostly with great finesse, showing and not telling, although Octavian does have a couple of annoyingly anvilicious whines in the first book); I was blown away by it; and I think everyone should read it. I do not love it desperately (it's pretty grim, and I have a hard time loving grim books, which is not really the author's fault), and I do not own it.

On racefail: I have been making no secret of the fact that as far as I can tell, racefail is at least 99.9% a complete and utter waste of time. On both sides. But then... there is always that 0.1% (and I'm glad for the people who wade through the crap to bring me the 0.1%, even as I marvel at the black hole of what must be gobs of their free time) that makes me, at least, think about things a little more. It was in the context of racefail raging in the background that I read these books, and it made me think about how I responded to the first and second volumes, and what that means about me as a reader, and I came to some less-than-comfortable conclusions.

Cut for spoilers that will pretty much ruin the coolest part of the first book, though it's still worth reading otherwise )

(edited to fix annoying typo)
cahn: (Default)
I read I am the Cheese for the third time today - I seem to have been reading it about once a decade or so. This time, I believe for the first time, I finally totally understood the plot. How is it that this book is classified as teen lit?? Or maybe I'm just slow. Well, at least I'm improving!
cahn: (Default)
National Put Quotes in Your Blog Month has expired, but I started writing this post in February...

His despair seemed to melt and pool inside him, until he could almost congratulate himself that he was no longer desperate, but simply demoralized and depressed -- emotions entirely accepted, even expected, in the lab.

This quotation from Allegra Goodman's Intuition captures a large part of what captivated me about this book -- it shows what it's like to do research. It simultaneously made me miss research (there's nothing like the high of discovering something) and be very very glad I don't do pure research anymore.

Yeah, so this book impressed the heck out of me. It's mainstream fic (which surprised me; I was expecting science fiction, but it's actually rather that rare beast, fiction about science) about a research lab and what happens when friction erupts in the lab over a postdoc's experiments, until it has ramifications that go well beyond the one postdoc.

But what really impresses me about this book is this: I believe quite strongly that there are empirical facts about the world that do not change. Either an experiment worked or it didn't. But people are complicated. A given empirical fact, say, a conversation between person Alpha and Beta, can to person Alpha say something about herself. Person Beta may look at that same conversation and conclude something different about Person Alpha. And the thing is, they might both be right. Because people are complicated. (And to take it a step further, it may be true that Person Beta's conclusion about Person Alpha says something, moreover, about Person Beta. That may be different from both the way that Alpha looks at Beta, and the way that Beta looks at himself.) And it seems to me that most books assume that there is one right way of looking, not just at facts, but at people and people's motivations. Even in books with unreliable narrators -- well -- it is true I am a sucker for the unreliable narrator, but the whole concept presupposes that there is some underlying truth that the unreliable narrator does not see. No, in this book everyone is a reliable POV, but reliable in different ways, and unreliable to the extent that they do not necessarily see in the ways that others see. Like real life!

The result is that there is a great compassion in this book for all the characters, and that there are no villains. Indeed, the magnitude of Goodman's accomplishment can be seen in that the character that [ profile] abigail_n, in the review that got me to read the book, calls "the closest Goodman comes to an out-and-out villain" is the one I thought of, before rereading her review, as the hero of the piece (though I understand why he can be thought of as the villain as well).

I feel like I should add some caveats. I was predisposed to like this book because it describes Cambridge, MA, a city which I love, and even a concert in Cambridge that I actually watched (and which [ profile] liuzhia was in)! I have no idea if her portrayal of bio-lab work is all right (I only know that her emotional portrayal of science is dead on). And indeed her portrayal of music (which only occurs a couple of times in the book, to be honest) really kind of sucks (excuse me, but no one who learned violin before his teenage years thinks about the violin spot when practicing unless it's infected, so even mentioning it is a bad sign). I found the middle section of the book, which opens up into the wider world, a bit tedious (though I understand why it had to happen).

Despite all that, my vote for my best read of the year so far, though it's only March and most of what I've read has been old Asimov novels :) I am not entirely sure about this, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think [ profile] ebs98, [ profile] ase, [ profile] julianyap, and [ profile] lightreads would like it (and if you try it out and don't, let me know so I can do better next time). [ profile] joyce I'm even less sure about, but the next time someone starts yapping at you about academia you could do worse than reading the first chapter of this to remind yourself why you aren't in research!
cahn: (Default)
Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

Anyone who does not know that this quotation is from Isaac Asimov should go and read a book of his in penance. I've been rereading a bunch of his stuff lately, mostly because I had a cold and was not feeling up to anything less readable, and whatever else you might say about him Asimov is very easy to read.

I had never actually read his robot mystery novels before (though I've read every single one of the robot stories), and the first two are really quite good (in, of course, a Golden Age sort of way-- don't expect psychodrama), though I figured out the killer in the first book after the first third of the book. I have always loved the Black Widower mystery short stories ([ profile] joyce, you might like these -- they are short and sweet and usually pretty upbeat), though they vary widely in quality. I love them honestly for the afterwords more than anything else. Which realization started me on reading his autobiography (I, Asimov, though there are three others), which is just really charming. Asimov sounds like he was a delightful person, and I am annoyed that he left us after only 300 (!) books.

Off to Yosemite for this weekend, yay! hope the weather is nice *crosses fingers*


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