“A man practices the art of adventure when he breaks the chain of routine and renews his life through reading new books, traveling to new places, making new friends, taking up new hobbies and adopting new viewpoints”
Wilfred Peterson (via dhammza)
At the beginning of the year I made several resolutions, one of which I was reasonably sure I’d be able to stick to since it simply involved reading and I’ve always been an avid reader. It was resolution-worthy, though, because I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I used to over the past few years, for a number of reasons, mostly work-related.
My intention was to go both genre- and format-hopping — one print, one eBook — and write reviews for whatever I read, but to-date I’ve only read one eBook, the entertaining steampunk anthology, The Shadow Conspiracy, and despite having downloaded several free eBooks and samples on the iPad’s major ereading apps, I’ve yet to read another.
Despite the inexplicable lure of the $149 WiFi-only Nook, for now, when it comes to long-form reading, I’m still a hardcore print guy.
That said, I’ve read several really good books so far this year, the most recent of which, The Black Minutes, I came across the old fashioned way, browsing the shelves of a bookstore, in this case, the new Books & Books in Westhampton Beach. The colorful spine caught my eye first, while the great cover and intriguing jacket copy closed the sale. Blurbs don’t do much for me, and Junot Diaz’ is a bit over the top, but the review excerpts on the back cover all rang true, especially El Pais‘ specific recommendation to “those who enjoy impossible missions and quixotic adventures.”
Calling Martin Solares’ debut novel a “quixotic adventure” is an understatement; it features a compelling cast of colorful characters and his loose, almost stream-of-consciousness style reminded me a bit of Richard Price’s excellent Lush Life. I’m not sure if it’s a real genre, but halfway through I began referring to it as Tropical Noir, though Solares’ emphasis on vivid characters and imagery over plot makes it all feel more literary than you’d typically expect from noir.
At 433 pages, it’s a surprisingly breezy read that’s easy to get lost in for long stretches (I have the sunburn to prove it!), and while Solares nearly drops the ball at the end with an abrupt conclusion that forced me to backtrack — rereading the last 40 pages, skimming the Cast of Characters and several early chapters — the whole was as satisfying as its various parts. I’m pretty sure it’s the first modern work of translation I’ve ever read, and it made for an intriguing transition from the book I finished right before it…
Finch, by Jeff Vandermeer, is a bizarre, brutal mix of noir and fantasy that hits all the right notes and leaves you breathless, wanting more. It might also be one of the weirdest novels I’ve ever read.
Described in its cover blurb as “fungal noir” by Richard K. Morgan, it’s the kind of book I enjoyed reading but would be hard-pressed to explain why. Instead, I’ll direct you to Will Hindmarch’s review which initially put the book on my radar and does a far better job of expressing my thoughts on it than I could:
I was so sure I had the case figured out, except that I didn’t trust Ambergris — VanderMeer’s city is a cruel and many-faced thing. I wasn’t sure if the mystery would be more literary or more fantasy, and I knew that solving the mystery wouldn’t end the story. But I had no idea how big the book would end up making the truth. Finch is no detective yarn, no episode in an imagined police series. It’s a big story seen from over the shoulder of a man living as a detective, a man who reminds us as he reminds himself, I am not a detective.
The Black Minutes and Finch, though absolutely nothing alike, share similar fundamental traits and reading them back-to-back made me appreciate both a bit more for their respective authors’ ability to take time-worn tropes and turn them into fresh, original stories that stand on their own merits. Both also offer strong arguments for the power of serendipity and word of mouth, as I’d have been unlikely to come across either if I only depended on Bestseller Lists and Amazon’s algorithms.
Thoughtful, thought-provoking, and still relevant and believable nearly 20 years after it was first published, Parable of the Sower is speculative fiction at its best. Butler delivers a classic that’s part coming-of-age tale, part alternative-future-historical fiction, all excellent, compelling storytelling. READ IT!
The first 2/3rds are a wonderful roller coaster of intriguing characters, clever dialogue and plot twists, but the final third nearly comes off the rails under the weight of its intricate time-travel underpinnings. Powers mostly pulls off a satisfying conclusion, staggering across the finish line, but it’s not quite as compelling as it could have been.
The Eberron story is the best of the three, though I am a bit biased in not being a fan of the whiny, sanctimonious Drizzt nor having any interest in the Dragonlance setting. Eberron’s mix of sword & sorcery and steampunk has always intrigued me, and the short here is a nice appetizer.
A clever, brutal “graphic mystery” set in one of America’s ugliest periods, it simultaneously entertains and disturbs.
Disappointing to have Jack return and hijack the series just as a new storyline was starting up. Should have been published as a Jack of Fables TPB. 🙁
YOU ARE NOT A GADGET is the 21st Century’s AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH, shining a bright light on the dark side of Web 2.0, “open culture” and the dehumanizing effects of technology for technology’s sake. Jaron Lanier is a thought-provoking genius and his manifesto is a must-read, especially for my digitally minded publishing colleagues.
What have you read recently that was really good?