Reading!

Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,270
70
106
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
Several people had recommended Walter Mosley as a sci-fi author (but when I checked out such a book from the library, the employee remarked that he thought he was just a detective mystery writer). The first book, Merge/Disciple, was two novellas (cool format: one started from the front cover, the other began from the back cover, printed "upside down" from the first story), but not the same story or characters. Both had similar protagonists: young-old men whose jobs or economic situations weren't what they thought they'd be in in their late 20s or early 40s, living in New York, who both get financial windfalls. Both stories also had alien beings that basically led to end-of-the-world scenarios that they themselves become responsible for (wood stick beings, a mysterious future-predicting being who communicates via computer). Very well-constructed, great diction and style, with some good surprises at times.

The second book is non-fiction, Elements of Fiction, to help aspiring writers to create their fictional stories. It's not just a here's-what-I-did-so-you-can-try-it-too instructional manual; he calls this a "monograph" throughout. Gives some great starter ideas for novels, writing in a wonderful and purposely-ambiguous style. It's helpful and possibly frustrating for future writers, as he gives no "answers" to how to write, but plenty of ways to consider this for themselves.

[edit: 3/28] I read my first Studs Terkel book earlier this year, and I was interested in his others. Will the Circle Be Unbroken? was both what I expected, and a little different. Still filled with interviews (mostly just him transcribing their words, with occasional framing of context) and divided by topic, but this was more philosophical (about death, afterlife, aging). Speakers were honest, if not blunt. Again, this had a decent cross-section of people around the Chicago region (apparently, some of them had been interviewed for his previous oral history books).
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,270
70
106
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
Finished a couple books today (tomorrow resumes "real" online teaching, after this week of "vacation," so I'm not sure if I will still have the time I did to keep reading so much).

Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson's The Bridge to Never Land, is the 5th (and currently last, although this one certainly ends with the expectation of another) in the "Peter and the Starcatchers" YA series about Peter Pan. What makes this one different is that it's in "real life," where people have read these 4 other books, assuming they were just fun fictional stories. Turns out, THEY ARE REAL! Two siblings basically find a map, and after A LOT of coincidences (even for a kids book), are able to help save the world from the evil Lord Ombra's desire to gain power from the starstuff that gives Peter his flight (and a bunch of other abilities to people). It's quite good, even though I guessed almost all the "surprises" or plot devices, making me keep reading (Peter himself in the Peter Pan Flight ride at Disney World and in a Main Street USA parade with a costumed Peter were pretty good).

Chuck Klosterman's Eating the Dinosaur was my first (and possibly last) book by this pop culture analyst (he likely wouldn't accept that label). It's about a dozen essays on various topics (music, TV, advertising, sports, and more) that are very layered in references and personal anecdotes. I don't understand the vague interviews at the end of each essay (no names are given, very little context and rarely related to the preceding essay, so I guess it's up to the reader to figure out if someone actually answered the question(s) or if he made it up himself). It was okay.

[edit: 3/31] Last book for this month had some weird coincidences: David Brin's The Postman. I saw it on the library shelf and recalled it was a late-'90s film with Kevin Costner, a la Waterworld (a post-apocalyptic setting), which I wondered how close it might seem to today's Covid-19 concerns. This book has a wanderer find the body (and clothes and mail bag) of a dead mailman and takes on his "job" with a noble profession in a time now where information and communication are rare. What's weird: as I was a couple chapters from finishing reading it, I checked to see if it might be on TV later to record... it was playing at that very moment! And, in checking my lists (LISTS... drool), not only had a read a book of his before (Star Wars on Trial) but that I had a conversation with him while waiting in line for a panel at Celebration IV about that book... which I happened to be reading at the time and had with me in my backpack! Oh, and this book was pretty good.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,270
70
106
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
Christopher J. Moore’s In Other Words was a collection of words and phrases that are hard to translate across languages. It’s fun and interesting, culturally informative. A short, easy read.

With Clive Cussler passing away earlier in the year, I thought I would add another of his books this year. I saw that this was “Dirk Pitt’s First Adventure” but written after the first Dirk Pitt book (did this guy understudy with George Lucas and his episode numbering?). Pacific Vortex! (yes, it has an exclamation mark! at the end! ) is about a Bermuda Triangle-type place where ships mysteriously disappear. Dirk seems too stereotypical of a single, male, strong hero; and the “monologuing” that the villain does was quite hackneyed to me. It was written in the early 1980s, so it’s a time capsule of the USA/USSR super powers rivalry, when people still smoked and sunbathing was fine but could still apparently hold their breath underwater for a long time after being shot and tortured.

I wanted something light, maybe funny, and I saw comedian Margaret Cho’s I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight on the shelf in the biography section. Well, this book was honest (if not blunt and profanity-laced) in her views about social and personal issues. I did not laugh much, as she basically hated the way the world (mainly the US) was in 2005. But her word play and paraprosdokians were interesting to read.
 

Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,270
70
106
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
A couple of "French" books, sort of... Jules Verne: An Exploratory Biography by Herbert Lottman. It's a chronology of the writer's life, based on letters he sent over his life. That is something that the 21st century will lose out on: written proof of what someone does. I doubt that the photo trail and digital threads of social media will make for good museums in the future. Interesting info about him (he was a frequent playwright and started out in law and finance, his letters through his late 20s make him out to be quite the whiner, and his gastronomic issues throughout his life caused some to call him a hypochondriac). Slow reading with many, many endnotes.

With These Hands, a short story collection by not-only-a-western-author-whose-name-sounds-French Louis L'Amour. It has 11 stories about people using their hands (fighting and boxing, building shelter after a plane crash in Alaska, untying rope bonds, etc.). Really good characterization and plotlines for such tales (some characters even crossed over the stories).

[edit: 4/13] I have had mixed results with western novels; I saw this title on the library shelf and thought it could be wonderful or horrible. Bill Pronzini's [email protected] Jones starred an itinerate typesetter (basically, a wandering newspaper employee) in Montana in the late 19th-century. Each chapter was from the POV of a different character (maybe 15 different people throughout?), with none from Jones himself. He is kind of like Indiana Jones or Eastwood's drifter character: skilled but flawed. There were interesting plotlines that came together well by the end; I liked it. I don't think the author's written other books with this character, yet.
(p.s. This is book #1441 that I've read over the years, with 411 of them as SW books)
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,270
70
106
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
Two books that are about "travelling" through history in the mid-20th century...
Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight by Jay Barbree was listed as a biography of the first man on the moon, but the dust jacket mentioned it wasn't really that. Armstrong, who was a friend of the writer, had said that if his life as an astronaut was to written about, he wanted it to include more people involved with the program. So, this is more of a chronology of the space program, of which Armstrong had a key role. Very specific, including several conversations and transmissions verbatim. It was informative but not too "interesting" to me.

Kurt Vonnegut's classic Slaughterhouse-Five, as an anti-war story, was supposed to be difficult to get through (content-wise). But while the time-travelling aspects were interesting and added a nuanced perspective to human nature and destruction, it was more blunt and crude, somewhat confusing. It's both a true account and a magically-realistic overview of the events and the people part of them. I can see why this has been lauded, as well as banned.

[edit: 4/20] The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead was the second book I'd read by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author (IIRC, he won it for this book). He took the book's title and made it an actually on-the-rails thing, not just an image of freeing slaves in 19th century America. It covers decades of time and multiple characters (not all of whom survive to the end), and almost turns into a suspense mystery, as you try to figure out who will do what, or if that person will actually return to the story. Very good; I think I found another author to seek out past and future novels.

[edit: 4/22] Another fictionalized history-based novel, Richard Parry's The Wolf's Cub, was a sequel to a book I read a few years back. Since Wyatt Earp really did travel to Alaska, this author created a "son" of the lawman to continue those events the way they could've gone. It was set in 1901 in both Alaska/Canada and the Panama Canal region, with a race to get Canadian weapons to use in Columbia's battleground over Panama as its own country; and Nathan Blaylock (Earp's son) trying to find his own son while finding a she-wolf who befriends him and his travelling companions; and spies from Washington DC and Panama and England/Canada with their own issues and missions. It seems confusing, but it actually works; but people heal REALLY fast (two days after being shot in the hip with a rifle, a character is quite "amorous" with seemingly no pain; a man who has 2 toes amputated is up and running in the snow a few hours later; severe frostbite just means a couple days in front of a wood-fire stove; etc.). I saw that there's a third book in this series, but I don't see it at my local library; I think I am okay to end reading it.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,270
70
106
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
In my pile of books to read, I finished Salman Rushdie's Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights. Why is it titled that? Well, if you add up the total number of days you get... 998 days (but assuming three of those months had 31 days instead of 30, you get the model of this book, 1001 Nights). In this story, jinni (plural of jinn, or genies) enter our world and start the War of the Worlds against themselves and humans. At times, it is amazing in its style and details (pop culture references: Batman, Emperor Palpatine, Watchmen; in speaking of a financial problem there's a line like "your gold, men, in sacks" was humorously creative; some characters were strong), but around the middle it just got confusing. Once the Epilogue came around, some things made sense; but not enough to clarify the confusion section prior. It's odd that much of this "predicted" our current lockdown and pandemic conditions, with the jinn war and its effects (the book is from 2015).

[edit: 4/26] Another long-titled book, Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer wrote a young adult book, Randi Rhodes Ninja Detective: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit, starring the daughter of Lucy Lu and Ozzy Osbourne's guitarist, who gets adopted by Sherlock Holmes, and... Just kidding. A teenaged girl who loves detective stories and work, after her widowed father (who just stopped writing detective books) moves them back home to Tennessee from New York City, meets up with some new friends to try and solve a theft in this small town. The caricatures (that's not a mistaken word) come off as flat and stereotypical, and there's a bit of Encyclopedia-Brown-from-a-strained-family vibe to it; overall, it was okay (I wanted something less "heavy" of a read, and that's what I got).

I thought that Drew Carey book would be funny. I was wrong.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,270
70
106
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
Two books with similar titles (I chose the first because I had the second on my to-read list, and I liked the first author whom I just read this year). Endgame/ by Bill Pronzini is (likely) the final book in a 40+ year series of the "Nameless Detective," where the narration is in first-person without anyone telling his name (but his co-workers and family are named). Interesting way to get the killer's confession (and probably end the series, too); the story is about a wife who goes missing (later found dead) and the husband is the prime suspect. But there is another death that the detective agency is solving in the different part of California. The two cases get confusing a bit, but not too much. It was decent; I may seek out other "Nameless" crime mysteries.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card was a story I'd heard about, even before the film came out but never got around to reading (or, it was often checked out from the library). A sci-fi book that's not science fantasy (which I seem to have preferred more), it's about kids who are trained to fight off insect aliens in space. Parts of Lord of the Flies, Starship Troopers, Hunger Games, Ready Player One, or Harry Potter (all of which eventually got movie versions made), the children (who are "gifted" kids) don't sound like children, eventually don't act like children. But an interesting story that flows well (the adults are made out as just as much of villains as the "bugger" aliens). I liked it, but not enough to start reading the other Ender books.

[edit 4/29] Ugh. It took so long to read: The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles. Somewhere, I read that this book was a must-read. Yeah. The premise is that it's set in Victorian era England, about a gentleman who's supposed to get married but other issues come up. The unique aspect, apparently, is that the narrator is someone from the mid-20th century (it was written in 1969), commenting on the differences between eras. It is written in the dense, verbose Victorian style. That's why it took so long to plod through. It was alright.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,270
70
106
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
C'mon! There's got to be other people out there reading now... it isn't all just binge-watching and streaming, right?

Two similar sports books, about people whose success in the 1960s & '70s came with teams called Bruins.

They Call Me Coach by John Wooden and Jack Tobin. The famous college basketball coach talks about his family upbringing, his teams and players (prior to and during his times of fame), his views of "current" and future college basketball (it was from the late 1980s, with an updated Foreword by Bill Walton from the early 2000s), and his Pyramid of Success (I didn't know that he never copyrighted it, so it could continue to be used by anyone who found it useful or helpful). It was informative.

Orr: My Story by Bobby Orr. The famous hockey player talks about his family upbringing, his teams and players (prior to and during his times of fame), his views of "current" and future hockey (it was from the early 2010s, with comments about the pro and junior levels of the sport), and his agent's theft of his financial success (I had heard about this, but didn't know how extensive it was, not just Orr himself, nor the agent's losses of honors and prestige). I also was unaware that he played for the Blackhawks, too (I assumed his knee injuries just ended his career early in Boston). It was informative.

[edit: 5/3] Judging a book by its cover is as cliché as raining cats and dog-eared pages. But I picked this YA book due to a certain shoe, that used to be the footwear of choice for a certain indoor court game... da... Chucks! Mr. Terupt Falls Again by Rob Buyea was a sequel (and there's a follow-up book too, apparently) to a story about New England-area 5th graders and their experiences with their teacher (he was injured and ended up in a coma). But in this book, he is now their 6th grade teacher; each chapter is told from a specific student's perspective (even with different fonts for their names), about home life issues and school concerns. It was pretty good (funny once or twice, surprising once, moving and concerning throughout), but I am fine without reading the other two: no Converse covers!

[edit: 5/8] Two (technically, three) books of opposite styles and contents...
Ethan Frome and Summer by Edith Wharton. These two novellas, according to the author, should be read together, since their settings and tones are similar. I'd had EF on my to-read list (LISTS... drool), but the Victorian style descriptions and content (quite detailed, relationship worries and societal expectations) dragged on for me. A man is tired of his nitpicking, hypochondriac wife... and bad things happen. Sort of ends on a realistic note. A woman is tired of her nitpicking, cruel townspeople who constantly judge her for not being from this town... and bad things happen. Sort of ends on a realistic note. I have mentioned the well-constructed/negative plot and content books I have read before: this is one of those.

The Soul of Baseball by Joe Posnanski. This follows the author on his around-the-country journey with former Negro League ball player and manager Buck O'Neil. Buck sometimes speaks in poems (at least, that's how the author felt and wrote), always tries to be positive, often recalls interesting player personalities and antics, and consistently makes sure to keep the memories of those individuals and those times alive. He never felt bitter, no matter how many people asked him why he wasn't, based on the hardships and difficulties he and his fellow players endured then. A wonderful collection of tales, told by a wonderful man. This book was published just after Buck passed away, and before he could be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,270
70
106
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
Two female writers, with two totally different subjects and purposes:

Comic Tiffany Haddish's The Last Black Unicorn was occasionally shocking, sometimes LOL-worthy funny, and profanity-laced throughout. An honest self-reflection of her difficult life, by a self-confident but wary-of-being-hurt-again person.
Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles was the first appearance of her detective Hercule Poirot (but in a similar comic book origin story, he's "introduced" with other characters knowing of his previous crime solutions and his personal quirkiness). Lots of detail (she has to, to spend about two full chapters of revealing facts), and even some pictures of the building's rooms and pieces of evidence. It was good.

[edit: 5/12] A short book, Faith, by President Jimmy Carter, wasn't what I thought it would be. But I suppose after reading it, I should have expected this. He talks of his life, and how his religious beliefs affect what he does and has done. I learned a bit about his pre-Oval Office life, which was interesting; but his philosophical musings were fairly simple (part of his point, too, I guess).

[edit: 5/16] I had White Fang to-read, since I had read Jack London's Call of the Wild back in junior high (not much of a memory of that one). This was slow reading, but actually really good once it was done. Kind of like that movie that tracks a boy's life for over a decade, except it's a wolf cub, who grows up. Humans are called "gods," and his various masters treat him well or poorly over his life. Are people worse than animals, in their "natural" behaviors?

[edit: 5/18] Another Agatha Christie book, which I'd chosen because I loved the children's books about that bear from Darkest Peru. 4:50 from Paddington is part of the Miss Marple series, an older woman who solves cases. In this one, which interestingly involves a regular train at 4:54 from that station and never mentions a time 4 minutes earlier, a murder on another train is observed by a friend of Miss Marple. The body was disposed of near an old estate, and all the people connected to it become suspects. The solution comes really late (maybe 10 pages left?); I think I suspected that person. It was a fast read and okay.
 
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Bel-Cam Jos

Jedi Council Member
Aug 16, 2001
16,270
70
106
Where 'text' & 'friend' are nouns
Being the first official day of summer (but it sure doesn't feel that way this year), thus begins summer reading. Next school year, our department is piloting a series of books, so some of them I will read to be prepared for teaching them. The first, a sort-of-YA book, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, mainly takes place over two summers in El Paso, TX (in 1987-88). Ari Mendoza meets Dante Quintana, and their friendship grows as they learn about each other. There are some violent situations (some accidental, some intentional), layered family dynamics, the ubiquitous profanity that is a necessity in current YA, and the terse, short dialogue of teens who are concurrently quite articulate and immature. I did like some of the allusions and references.

[edit: 5/23] A second book for our classes, Stamped, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, won't get a review from me here. It's not bad; I just shouldn't comment in a non-RP section here. But I will call it "flippantly informative." It's also given me a bibliography of books to read later.
And, after searches for books about the three First Moon Landing astronauts, a children's book I Love You, Michael Collins by Lauren Baratz-Logsted wasn't what I expected. It was much better. I thought it would be simplictic, but the main character is a ten-year old who chose him as the astronaut she'll write a letter to (all her classmates chose the other more "famous" men), and continues to write letters until the splashdown. Her family leaves her at home for various reasons, so she empathizes with "the loneliest person in the world" as she has to deal with a missing pet cat, making food for a Moonwalk Party, and the domestic issues occurring. Based on the chapter titles, "Dear Michael Collins" might've been a better book title; funnier than I expected, and more introspective and scientific, too.
 
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