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