The Books of July

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.

* good read­ing book, bad audio book * 

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.)

Enjoyed the hell out of it. 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.

* saga length, epic scale * 


(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.

* There are libraries and books! * 

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 Aaliya’s company. *