July Books

Dur­ing July I didn’t get as much reading/listening done as I often do. Sum­mer takes up a lot of read­ing time.

Lis­tened to:

The Water Knife — Paolo Baci­galupi (Nar­ra­tion by Almarie Guerra — who’s just fine to lis­ten to.)
A vio­lent and thrilling view of a near future filled with the con­flicts of the New West– when water is run­ning out and the drought just won’t lift. Sound famil­iar? Three character’s story arcs meet, cross, and recross. Angel the water knife: an enforcer employed by Las Vegas’ water mogul. Charged with obtain­ing (fre­quently by duress) and pro­tect­ing the water rights that feed the Las Vegas fun machine and the arcolo­gies — nearly self-sustaining liv­ing envi­ron­ments filled with water fea­tures and the rich who can afford to live there. Marie: a refuge from the dust bowl that is now Texas. One of the new Okies doing what ever she can to get by. Lucy Mon­roe: a jour­nal­ist who has come to iden­tify, per­haps too closely, with the res­i­dents of the now water starved Phoenix. It’s fic­tion but not so far-fetched when you con­sider the amount of cor­rup­tion and vio­lence that has accom­pa­nied the fight for water rights in the West in the past 150 years. It’s also got some pretty graphic vio­lence and some almost tol­er­a­ble sex scenes. Adults only.

The Things they Car­ried — Tim O’Brien (narr. — Bryan Cranston aka Wal­ter White or what­ever– I’ve never seen the show, but the voice is pre­fect for OBrien’s sto­ries.)
The pre­tense that these short sto­ries are true sto­ries con­tin­ues all the way through the book, right down to its ded­i­ca­tion to one of the char­ac­ters — Rat Kiley. These are sto­ries of Viet­nam from the reac­tion of a kid get­ting his draft notice, through expe­ri­ences “in coun­try,” to the sto­ries of those same sol­diers at home again and liv­ing in a nation that doesn’t know what to do with them.
It’s an inter­est­ing med­i­ta­tion on the nature of fic­tion when a story teller uses it to tell more truth than can pos­si­bly be told in straight non-fiction. There are strong par­al­lels to Phil Klay’s Rede­ploy­ment which uses a sim­i­lar tech­nique to exam­ine the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. O’Brien is IMO a bet­ter writer. As well, the national cir­cum­stances in which the sol­diers were deployed and returned from deploy­ment are dif­fer­ent. And yet the same.
An eas­ier lis­ten than I thought it would be.

The Book Thief: Mar­cus Suzak (aban­doned)
A story of a girl in WWII Ger­many and books. Told from the point of view of Death — which I should have liked and maybe would have liked if I had read the book. But lis­ten­ing to Allan Cor­duner try to do the voices of chil­dren just didn’t work for me.

Enjoyed the hell out of Neal Stephenson’s Sev­en­Eves (Great nar­ra­tors. For the first two-thirds of the book Mary Robi­nette Knowel — a writer I admire whose work I can­not stand to read. It hap­pens. For the last third Will Dam­ron.)
The moon breaks up and life on earth will end in two years. A race to get some frag­ment of the human race into space where they can sit out the destruc­tion of earth (some 5000 years worth of it) and keep the species going. It has space ships and robots and nice geeky peo­ple and a cou­ple of not so nice peo­ple. And a not too sur­pris­ing end­ing — but I loved get­ting there.
There have been com­plaints in var­i­ous cir­cles that the Stephenson’s geek­ery is too much. That all those descrip­tions and bits of back­ground and occa­sional info-dumps make the story too slow. I don’t find that to be the case. Espe­cially in the audio-book ver­sion. There’s a nice leisurely pace to be sure, but I didn’t find my inter­est flag­ging. On the con­trary I’m spent entirely too much time plugged into my headphones.

Read:
(I’m read­ing less than I’m lis­ten­ing lately. One of the haz­ards of sum­mer — too much else to do while it’s day­light and too lit­tle dark left at the end of the day to get much read­ing done.)

The Book of Spec­u­la­tion — Erika Swyler
If you like mer­maids, cir­cuses, curses, mys­te­ri­ous books, librar­i­ans, and curi­ous fam­ily sagas then you should read The Book of Spec­u­la­tion. I can’t explain the title there isn’t really any­thing spec­u­la­tive about the book. But the story and char­ac­ters are appeal­ing in a sum­mer read kind of way. And it’s sum­mer so that’s just about right. Not too long a book. Maybe a week’s worth of bed­time reading.

The Unnec­es­sary Woman — Rabih Alamed­dine
It’s easy to become unnec­es­sary in a world in which fam­ily is every­thing and old women only exist as grand­moth­ers. Aaliya lives in Beruit. She is 72 years old, unmar­ried (divorced actu­ally) has no chil­dren and lit­tle inter­est in her remain­ing fam­ily — a step mother and a hand­ful of boor­ish half broth­ers. But she loves books, and lit­er­a­ture, and phi­los­o­phy. Her pas­time is trans­lat­ing books that she loves into Ara­bic using a round-about method. All of the books she trans­lates are orig­i­nally in lan­guages that she doesn’t speak. (She’s fond of the Rus­sians.) To trans­late them into Ara­bic she uses sev­eral ver­sions of the books in the two other lan­guages that she does speak, Eng­lish and French. What sort of trans­la­tion this cre­ates is a bar­rel of tex­tual mon­keys that is never directly addresses but the ques­tion of how much of the real you can access through rep­re­sen­ta­tions lives some­where at the core of the book. Nom­i­nally it is about the every­day and extra­or­di­nary crises that attend being female, old, and unusual in a strongly patri­ar­chal soci­ety.
The voice of Aaliya is warm, witty, and occa­sion­ally baf­fled by the incon­sis­ten­cies of the world. The dif­fer­ence between world as it should log­i­cally be and as it illog­i­cally is. You’ll enjoy her company.

Books of June

A writer's notes about books. Here are the books I read and listened to in June. Read: A Brief History of Seven Killings - Marlon James In which there are a damned sight more than seven killings. Some of the narrative is true in a broad … [Continue reading]

All In

Russian Prints Quilt

Recently, after many years of being away from the art of putting pieces of fabric together with lengths of thread, I bought a new sewing machine. A sewing machine that requires not one but two getting acquainted classes for the new user, and whose … [Continue reading]