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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Nathan's LiveJournal:

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Friday, January 13th, 2012
10:09 am
Books read in 2011
Discovery of the year was Sarah Monette. I finally read her stories of Kyle Murchison Booth, which were exquisite and delightful and unsettling and sad and often very funny -- as, it turns out, are most of the rest of her stories. I can't wait to read her novels, both the old Doctrine of Labyrinths series and her new novel (written pseudonymously as Katherine Addison), this year.

Some of the other fictions that most tickled my fancy this year include:
The Bleeding Horse and Other Ghost Stories (2008) by Brian J. Showers
Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti (2011) by Genevieve Valentine
Sensation (2011) by Nick Mamatas
Pym (2011) by Mat Johnson

As far as series stuff, I tore through the first six or seven of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga books at the end of 2010, and made it through the next six or seven at the beginning of 2011. Very enjoyable romps; I'll probably read the most recent couple this year. Also read the first four of George C. Chesbro's Mongo Mysteries. I started off enjoying them immensely but am quickly losing interest; I may or may not continue with them this year. I read more trilogies than I'd have expected this year, of which I particularly enjoyed Harry Connolly's Twenty Palaces books, which are among the very few nouveau-urban fantasy series I've been able to get into; N. K. Jemisin's intimately epic Inheritance Trilogy; and D. M. Cornish's extremely imaginative Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy, recently repackaged with generic covers as The Foundling's Tale.

The nonfiction books that've most stuck in my head this year include Ryan and Jethá's Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality (2010), Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010) and Bourke's What It Means to Be Human: Reflections from 1791 to the Present (2011). I only read one volume of essays in 2011, Thomas Glave's Words to Our Now: Imagination and Dissent (2005), and I liked it a lot. I plan to check out his fiction this year.

Didn't read many comics of interest. Read a few good ones at the beginning of the year, and caught up on a bunch of X-Men stuff toward the end. By far the most memorable was been Gerry Alanguilan's ELMER, which, come to think of it, would make an interesting pairing with Joseph D'Lacey's novel MEAT.

And behind the cut, the list:Collapse )
Monday, April 4th, 2011
7:01 pm
Books read, March 2011
41. A Civil Campaign (1999) by Lois McMaster Bujold -- Courtship and romance, Vorkosigan style. Featuring pretty much every character in the series who isn't a mercenary. A delightful whirlwind of whoops, and post-whoops salvage. Plus some Barrayaran politics. The butter bug subplot was a bit on the goofy side, but everything else was great fun. [Amazon]

40. Komarr (1998) by Lois McMaster Bujold -- Another enjoyable Vorkosigan novel -- though not as good as the Barrayar, Mirror Dance, Memory trifecta -- features some satisfactory, but not excellent, detective work, but more importantly introduces the love of Miles' life, and establishes her as an actual character rather than just the object of Miles' lust. Also, Bujold's thematic concerns seem to have shifted from identity to personal growth. [Amazon]

39. Dreamweaver's Dilemma: Short Stories and Essays (1996) by Lois McMaster Bujold -- This book collects all of Bujold's published short stories, which are generally, um, kinda cute but not that good, plus a couple even earlier unpublished novelettes, one a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, the other an early Vorkosigan-verse piece, and the popular Miles novella "The Mountains of Mourning". Also a few interviews and essays, better than the stories for their insights into why and how Bujold writes. One of those for-completists-only sorts of things. [Amazon]

38. The Hunger Games (2008) by Suzanne Collins -- A fun, fast read. Some wrenching scenes. Didn't blow me away as I'd expected it to, given all the acclaim from, well, everyone ever, it sometimes seems. I'm going to wait to discuss this one until I've finished the trilogy. [Amazon]

37. A Companion to Wolves (2007) by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear -- This is a book I've been meaning to read since it came out, but, well, I kept judging it by its cover, which does nothing to make me want to see what's behind it. I'm glad I finally pulled it off the shelf, though, because it's great fun. I understand that it's meant to subvert animal companion tropes, but as I'm quite unfamiliar with the telepathic animal subgenre that level was essentially lost on me. Fortunately, it stands on its own aside from that, with fun characters, fine worldbuilding, and a thoughtful story. I've seen some reviewers complain about the number of characters and the difficulty of the names; I hope none of those people ever becomes a teacher. Anyway. Recommended. And I can't wait to read the sequel later this year. [Amazon]

36. A Game of Thrones (Book One of A Song of Ice and Fire) (1996) by George R. R. Martin -- I don't think I've read any of these novels since Book Three came out about a decade ago, though I'd read this one at least twice before then. I was surprised at how many scenes I remembered, some of them almost verbatim. (Maybe it was more than twice?) I was also surprised at how addictive I found the novel; my tastes have drifted away from the fat fantasies I so enjoyed in high school, so I wasn't sure I'd still enjoy this now, but Martin does a masterful job moving the story forward between multiple characters, rather than getting bogged down with POV characters as some authors have done. Anyway. I tore through this in two days. No longer as mind-blowingly awesome as it once was, but still very readable. [Amazon]

35. The Hedge Knight II: Sworn Sword (2007-2008) adapted by Ben Avery (script) and Mike S. Miller (pencils) from "The Sworn Sword" (2003) by George R. R. Martin -- Better than its predecessor. Fewer characters to keep track of, and better adapted to comics. Enjoyable. [Amazon]

34. The Hedge Knight (2003-2004) adapted by Ben Avery (script) and Mike S. Miller (pencils) from the "The Hedge Knight" (1998) by George R. R. Martin -- I remember enjoying the novella on which this comic is based, but, despite some beautiful art, this didn't really work for me. I haven't read any of Martin's novels in a decade or so, so the parade of names and characters was a bit overwhelming, and the Avery could have done a better job letting the artist carry the story instead of giving us non-stop text boxes. Not bad, but not too impressive, either. [Amazon]

33. The Brains of Rats (1990) by Michael Blumlein -- A powerful collection of stories. Several of them are cold, hard masterpieces. A few others have, um, not aged very well. Blumlein's got a distinctive, precise voice, and he carves away at the frozen sea with a scalpel, not an ax. I look forward to finding more of his stories. [Amazon]

32. Memory (1996) by Lois McMaster Bujold -- And Bujold tops Mirror Dance, making this her best book yet. Plus someone deals with trauma without developing multiple personalities! I think I prefer the Miles mysteries to the Miles space operas, though it's hard to say whether that's a function of the genre or of Bujold growing as a writer. [Amazon]

31. Cetaganda (1995) by Lois McMaster Bujold -- Originally serialized in Analog. A young Miles mystery. Fun read, good worldbuilding -- it's nice that the Cetagandans aren't just vague villains anymore -- but pretty lightweight compared to the last couple Vorkosigan novels. [Amazon]

30. Mirror Dance (1994) by Lois McMaster Bujold -- Back to Bujold after a month away. I was a little wary of this book, as I didn't love Brothers in Arms or the character of Mark, but I was wrong to doubt. Bujold's just keeps getting better. While her continued exploration of themes of identity through often literally fragmented and partitioned minds sometimes doesn't feel quite right to me, her stories remain fun, fast and almost impossible to put down, and her command of them keeps improving. [Amazon]

29. Bet Me (2004) by Jennifer Crusie -- I'd never read a romance novel. I was curious. I've seen this book recommended several times in different places -- even more often than Georgette Heyer's Venetia -- so I gave it a try. It was a cute, fast read. Occasionally obnoxious, occasionally charming. Didn't leave much of an impression. May check out Heyer before checking out of this genre. [Amazon]

Books read, January-February 2011Collapse )
Friday, March 4th, 2011
4:40 pm
Book meme is going around
The book I am currently reading: Only one? I'm reading Bujold's Cetaganda, Death's Acre by Bass & Jefferson, Evolution's Rainbow by Roughgarden, The Voyage of Night Shining White by Roberson, Terminus by Howse, and several others.

The book I am currently writing: Not happening right now.

The book I love most: When it comes to books I am a serial lover. There are some that will forever hold a place in my mind's heart, but the book I love most is usually the book I'm loving to read at any given time.

The last book I received as a gift: Common Sense on Mutual Funds by Bogle. I'm even making myself read it! Haven't learned anything yet except that no one seems to have proofread the "10 Years Later" updated sections.

The last book I gave as a gift: A Small Furry Prayer by Kotler, or A Field Guide to Surreal Botany from Two Cranes Press. Probably the former.

The nearest book on my desk: I'm about the same distance from The Brains of Rats by Blumlein and Reinventing the Bazaar by McMillan.
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011
11:42 am
Books read, February 2011
28. Air (2008-2010) by G. Willow Wilson (words) and M.K. Perker (pictures) -- This comic suffered a problem fairly common to graphic novels canceled after only a year or two: it reads like most of an opening act suddenly shunted into a conclusion. But this book has problems beyond that. For one, Wilson seems to find her ideas a lot more exciting and interesting than she ever succeeds in convincing me they are. For another, her characters often feel less like people driving the action than like tools for advancing the plot. They hit the beats, but they don't feel real, and the dialogue is often quite bad. Poignancies, paradoxes and events just happen without ever resonating with me, and the Vertigo-style magic-beneath-the-real-world story never really felt plausible. Also, this book is Wilson's first long-form comics story, and by the time she begins to get a handle on the pacing, it's disrupted again by the book's cancellation. So it's a story that had potential, but ultimately was boring enough to get canceled before that potential could be realized. [Vol. 1: Letters from Lost Countries | Vol. 2: Flying Machine | Vol. 3: Pureland | Vol. 4: A History of the Future]

27. Scorch Atlas (2009) by Blake Butler -- This brief collection of stories of people coping (or not) during the collapse of society on alternate earths whimpered and gibbered into the handkerchief of my soul. (My biggest problem with this book was its design: the grayed-and-wrinkled effect of the pages was printed at insufficient dpi, so I had to hold the book uncomfortably far from my face unless I wanted the effect to resolve into headache-inducing dots.) [Amazon]

26. The Bone Key (2007) by Sarah Monette -- Delightful collection of stories about introverted museum archivist Kyle Murchison Booth. Of course no sooner had I read it than I learned a new edition was forthcoming. In any event, these stories are delicious and fun and often slightly disturbing, and highly recommended. [Amazon]

25. Star Wars: Knight Errant (2011) by John Jackson Miller -- Garbage. Why do I keep doing this to myself? [Amazon]

24. Deep State (2011) by Walter Jon Williams -- Follow-up to TINAG in which some of the same characters end up facing off against an authoritarian regime. Larger in scale but less focused than its predecessor, it's fun but ultimately less satisfying than TINAG. Almost as fun as reading the book was seeing how closely it hewed to the situation in Egypt. [Amazon]

23. This Is Not a Game (2009) by Walter Jon Williams -- Thriller in which ARG network is used to deal with real world situations. A fun book, a page-turner read in practically one sitting. [Amazon]

22. Above/Below (2011) by Stephanie Campisi and Ben Peek -- Paired novellas that are much better together than individually. Because I'm boring I started with Above. Literal social division and class warfare: the rich live in floating cities, literally above the poor who supply their fuel in exchange for food. And then a city falls from the sky. . . [Twelfth Planet Press]

21. Whose America?: Culture Wars in the Public Schools (2002) by Jonathan Zimmerman -- This book untangles two histories that are often jumbled together. The first part deals with the history of the textbook wars over the last century; the second part looks at the conflicts over religious education and religion in education over the same time period. Fascinating stuff, if occasionally a bit dry. [Amazon]

20. The Elements of Investing (2010) by Burton G. Malkiel and Charles D. Ellis -- I read this because it was a gift. Didn't really learn anything from it, but it's a decent introductory primer on investment. [Amazon]

19. ELMER (2006-2008) by Gerry Alanguilan -- A beautiful comic. What happens to the world when chickens suddenly achieve sentience and intelligence? It sounds silly, but it's handled deftly and occasionally surprisingly. Highly recommended. [Amazon]

Books read, January 2011Collapse )
Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
10:59 am
Sunday, January 2nd, 2011
12:50 pm
Books read, December 2010
104. Horse, Flower, Bird (2010) by Kate Bernheimer -- A short collection -- one paragraph per page, with even more white space than the Comeau novella -- of dark, sad fairy tales about girls and women. [Amazon]

103. One Bloody Thing After Another (2010) by Joey Comeau -- A novella from the writer of the A Softer World webcomic. Lots of white space make this a very quick read. A lot of fun -- if you enjoy the offbeat humor and sensibility of A Softer World you'll probably enjoy this. [Amazon]

102. The Vor Game (1990) by Lois McMaster Bujold -- Another Vorkosigan novel, another night up past my bedtime to finish it. Addictive space opera. I wouldn't have thought of it as Hugo material, but what do I know? [Amazon]

101. Holiday (2010) by M. Rickert -- A mixed short collection of stories, with a couple I liked a great deal, a couple that didn't do anything for me, and a handful that I enjoyed but did not love. I'm not sure that the chronological/thematic arrangement did the book any favors. A decent enough collection but I expected more from the follow-up to Map of Dreams [Amazon]

100. The Philadelphia Area Architecture of Horace Trumbauer (2009) by Rachel Hildebrandt and the Old York Road Historical Society -- Read because I have a bizarre compulsion to read books written by people I know. Given that I know virtually nothing of architecture, it was nice to learn a bit about the architectural history around where I live. [Amazon]

99. People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy (עם הספר) (2010) edited by Rachel Swirsky and Sean Wallace -- A delightful anthology. The title is slightly imprecise, since the earliest story is from early 2000 and the most recent original to the volume, and the lion's share of the stories are fantasy with only two or three works of science fiction plausible-fabulism, but it's a very strong, well-balanced collection of stories from both big names and newcomers. Probably my favorite anthology I read this year. [Amazon]

98. Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas (2008) by David Cortright -- What it says on the package: a history of peace movements and the ideas behind them. A very good reference, as far as it goes, although his analysis of more recent trends seems limited: his discussion of the changing role of national militaries feels incomplete, for instance, with no consideration of PMCs. Still, a readable overview of the last several centuries of peacemaking efforts. [Amazon]

97. Borders of Infinity (1989) by Lois McMaster Bujold -- Collection of three Miles Vorkosigan novellas, loosely linked by a mostly irrelevant frame story. All three stories were good fun. [Amazon]

96. The Uncommon Reader (2007) by Alan Bennett -- An amusing novella dealing with the consequences of Queen Elizabeth II becoming a reader. [Amazon]

95. Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays (2009) by Eula Biss -- Fantastic collection of essays dealing with race in America. [Amazon]

94. On the Banks of the River of Heaven (2010) by Richard Parks -- I almost always enjoy Parks' stories, but this is probably the weakest of his three collections. It starts off strong, but the three stories I liked least were clustered near the end, leaving the collection feeling unbalanced. [Amazon]

93. The Quantum Thief (2010) by Hannu Rajaniemi -- An Arsène Lupin-inspired caper in a quantum tech world. Fun, dense with fun technologies and ideas, but after all the glowing praise I expected more than was delivered. [Amazon]

92. Ex Machina (2004-2010) by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris -- This political thriller-cum-superhero tragedy is less consistent than Vaughan's Y: The Last Man; a number of the stories feel like what political hot topic does Vaughan want to teach himself about this month, and his tendency to drop factoids feels more forced here than in Y. But it's enjoyable regardless, and he gets it under control and manages to bring it all together successfully in the end, with a powerful coda. [Book 1: The First Hundred Days | Book 2: Tag | Book 3: Fact v. Fiction | Book 4: March to War | Book 5: Smoke Smoke | Book 6: Power Down | Book 7: Ex Cathedra | Book 8: Dirty Tricks | Book 9: Ring Out the Old | Book 10: Term Limits]

91. Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword (2010) by Barry Deutsch -- Adapted and expanded by Deutsch from his webcomic published 2007-2008. A fun, funny story of a young Orthodox Jewish girl with heroic ambitions. [Amazon]

Books read, January through NovemberCollapse )
Thursday, December 2nd, 2010
3:22 pm
Books read, November 2010
90. The Silent Land (2010) by Graham Joyce -- A middling effort from Joyce, whom I usually love. I put it down in the middle and almost forgot to pick it back up. I'm glad I did, as the second half is much better than the first -- including a couple chapters that could stand alone as fine short stories -- and the ending, though basically predictable, packs a wallop. The pace -- very slow at first, then rapidly accelerating as the novel moves on -- is deliberate and necessary, but I was barely invested enough in the characters to want to follow their early attempts to figure out what was going on. Ultimately I was glad I'd stuck with the book, but if you haven't read Joyce before this might not be the place to start, I think. [Amazon]

89. The Boy Who Set the Fire & Other Stories (1974) translated by Paul Bowles from the Moghrebi by Mohammed Mrabet -- Bowles taped and translated these stories from Moroccan storyteller Mrabet. This is a storytelling tradition with which I'm unfamiliar. I enjoyed these stories -- often involving generational conflict, youth rebelling against its conservative elders, and almost always involving copious smoking of kif -- a great deal in small doses but lost interest if I tried to read more than one or two at a time. [Amazon]

88. Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America (2010) by Matt Taibbi -- I really enjoy Taibbi's writing. I like that, politically, he's perfectly happy to stroll down the aisle calling bullshit on both sides, and that he's got the ability to look past the popular, simplistic, red v blue culture war narrative when the facts don't fit and investigate what's actually going on. And I like that he's a strong enough writer to render complex and depressing situations understandable and amusing. In this book he explores some of the causes of the financial crisis, the commodities bubble, the way America is selling off its infrastructure, and how and why health care reform was so effectively screwed up. A perfect holiday gift for your disaffected American friends. [Amazon]

87. Brothers in Arms (1989) by Lois McMaster Bujold -- It seems like everyone loves Bujold, but those ugly Baen covers have been putting me off reading her books for years. I finally forced myself to ignore the cover of the first book of the series, and a couple weeks later found that I'd punched through the first five of them. Addictive stuff. Fun, solidly written, smart space opera. Not as much depth as I'd expected, although I hear later novels in the series offer more of that, but I like how each novel stands alone; for all I've heard of what a great character Miles is, I've enjoyed all the non-Miles books just as much as those featuring him. [Amazon]

86. Falling Free (1987-88) by Lois McMaster Bujold [Amazon]

85. Ethan of Athos (1986) by Lois McMaster Bujold [Amazon]

84. The Warrior's Apprentice (1986) by Lois McMaster Bujold [Amazon]

83. Shards of Honor (1986) by Lois McMaster Bujold [Amazon]

82. Tripwire (A Jack Reacher Novel) (1999) by Lee Child -- I wanted something simple but not too stupid, and remembered that Child's first two novels fit that bill, so I moved onto his third, still featuring plainclothes superhero Jack Reacher. This is the stupidest and least satisfying to date. I doubt I will move on to number four. [Amazon]

81. The Palm-Wine Drinkard and his dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Deads' Town (1952) by Amos Tutuola -- This was going to be my Halloween read this year, but I was a couple days late. Tutuola gives us Yoruba folklore by way of deceptively simple English prose; it often reads more like a transcript of a storyteller's tale than like, well, anything you're used to reading. A quick read, often humorous, often scary, it offers a glimpse into a world of different values and beliefs than those informing most Western fantasy. I look forward to reading more from Tutuola. [Amazon]

80. Blush: Faces of Shame (2005) by Elspeth Probyn -- Earlier this year I read a lot about Restorative Justice and restorative practices, so read a lot about the concept of reintegrative shaming from John Braithwaite and his crew and critics, about shaming as affect from Tomkins and Nathanson, so this slim volume, a broader exploration of and inquiry into shame, caught my eye. An interesting, introspective look at the values and uses of shame. [Amazon]

And I don't usually comment on books I only dip into rather than read in their entirety, but this one was pretty awesome:

Race in Early Modern England: A Documentary Companion (2007) compiled and edited by Ania Loomba and Jonathan Burton -- Not only is there a lot of great stuff in here, but this book also marks one of those fun instances of reading synchronicity: I was introduced to blemmyes and various other inhabitants of ancient travel writings shortly before starting catvalente's new novel, and was reacquainted with Linnæus just as he came up in another book I was dipping into. In any event, definitely worth checking out if you're interested in the history of the concept of race. [Amazon]

Books read, January through OctoberCollapse )
Monday, November 1st, 2010
10:47 am
Books read, October 2010
I'll probably edit in some comments later, when I have time, but for now I'll just list them:

79. Birdbrain (2010) translated by David Hackston from Linnunaivot (2008) by Johanna Sinisalo [Amazon]

78. Rethinking the 21st Century: 'New' Problems, 'Old' Solutions (2009) edited by Amy Eckert and Laura Sjoberg [Amazon]

77. Africans: The History of a Continent (second edition; 1995, 2007) by John Iliffe [Amazon]

76. Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks (revised edition; 2008, 2010) by Ben Goldacre [Amazon]

75. The Red Tree (2009) by Caitlín R. Kiernan [Amazon]

74. Test of Metal (Magic: The Gathering – A Planeswalker Novel) (2010) by Matthew Stover [Amazon]

73. At the Queen's Command (The First Book of The Crown Colonies) (2010) by Michael A. Stackpole [Amazon]

72. I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay (2010) by John Lanchester [Amazon]

71. The Convalescent (2009) by Jessica Anthony [Amazon]

70. Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery (2010) by Steve Nicholls [Amazon]

Books read, January through SeptemberCollapse )
Friday, October 1st, 2010
11:08 am
Books read, September 2010
Offered with brief commentary because I've got places to be!

68. The Old Knowledge & Other Strange Tales (2010) by Rosalie Parker -- A slim collection of quiet tales that makes a good rainy afternoon read. (It was originally to be published by Ex Occidente; I don't know what happened, but I'm glad Brian J. Showers ended up with it instead, as I'm still waiting for some EO titles from more than a year ago.) The stories that were simply unsettling generally worked better than the stories that attempted a twist at the end. A good collection, but I'm not sure it'll stick with me. [The Swan River Press | Amazon]

67. Redemption in Indigo (2010) by Karen Lord -- I think Small Beer Press may be unique among publishers in having yet to offer a title I've read and not enjoyed. This is a charming and delightful little novel that inspired more laughs and smiles than anything else I've read in some time. [Amazon]

66. Haunted Legends (2010) edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas -- A slightly above-average anthology that didn't have any duds, but also didn't get me in the gut or down the spine as often as I'd expected or hoped for. Still, a majority of strong stories from a nice mix of writers make this worth checking out. [Amazon]

65. The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion (2008) by Matt Taibbi -- Taibbi gets American politics. He's also very funny. Unfortunately, lack of footnotes combined with several lazy errors (the period from August 29 - September 26 is not "just over three weeks" but is, in fact, four whole weeks, and Aaron is renamed Joe for a paragraph) have me wondering what factual mistakes may have been made. Still, a very enjoyable (and quite scary) book. [Amazon]

64. Star Wars: Legacy (2006-2010) by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema, et al. -- Midrange work from Ostrander. The politics and battles were good, but the ongoing saga of Cade "I'm not a Jedi" Skywalker got old fast. Still, the best of the Star Wars comics published over the last few years. Major drawback: Dark Horse has decided to restructure their Star Wars line, so decided, to the surprise of readers and creative team alike, to cancel the solidly-selling book at a point when the end was nowhere in sight. So this book ended at the end of a story arc but not at the end of the story. Then they announced that there would be a miniseries in a few months to actually let the story end. As it stands, this is a decent book without an end. Next year we'll see if six more issues can bring this to a proper close. [Volume 1: Broken | Volume 2: Shards | Volume 3: Claws of the Dragon | Volume 4: Alliance | Volume 5: The Hidden Temple | Volume 6: Vector | Volume 7: Storms | Volume 8: Tatooine | Volume 9: Monster | Volume 10: Extremes]

63. Sourdough and Other Stories (2010) by Angela Slatter -- Loved it. Gorgeous, enthralling book of linked short stories. The stories were great on their own and better together. [Tartarus Press | Amazon]

62. One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions, and Economic Growth (2007) by Dani Rodrik -- A series of essays that, together, reinforce the idea that different places with different situations need different, localized approaches to development. Familiar ideas, but with more math and specific examples and policy suggestions than in more popular books in the genre. [Amazon]

61. Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical (2009) by Robert Shearman -- This book co-won the Shirley Jackson award for best collection. I mostly picked it up because I loved the title. The stories were sharp, occasionally painful, and quite clever, but they were also mostly written in a single voice, a very British conversational style that reads kind of like Neil Gaiman at his most twee, which I ultimately found more annoying than endearing, diminishing my appreciation for the book a bit. [Big Finish | Amazon]

Books read, January through AugustCollapse )
Wednesday, September 1st, 2010
12:18 pm
Books read, August 2010
A slow reading month. Made a little progress in a number of books but finished few. Pretty sure I've given up on Boris Vian's 1947 L'Écume des jours/Froth on the Daydream (tr. Stanley Chapman), which I enjoyed whenever I was reading it but never felt particularly compelled to return to after setting it down.

57. Interfictions 2: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing (2009) edited by Delia Sherman & Christopher Barzak -- I enjoyed most of the stories in this anthology quite a lot, even if I'm still not sure how these "interstitial" stories differ from the more generically bounded short fiction I read in other literary fantasy anthologies. Did these stories cross boundaries? Break rules? Has this antho been shelved anywhere but in the sff section of any bookstore? I don't know. But with only one story that really didn't work for me and a number that were excellent, it's certainly a strong collection of stories that I'm happy to recommend. [Amazon]

58. When the Hands Are Many: Community Organization and Social Change in Rural Haiti (2001) by Jennie M. Smith -- An ethnography that delves into what poverty, democracy and development mean to some of the poorest people on earth, from their point of view rather than the more common academic or foreign aid official perspective. Occasionally a bit dry, but full of great insight. Might make a good companion piece to James Scott's Weapons of the Weak. [Amazon]

59. The Lifecycle of Software Objects (2010) by Ted Chiang -- Good science fiction from Chiang? You don't say! A sad and beautiful character-based novella dealing with the ethics of artificially constructed intelligence. Not Chiang's best work but still a lovely, thoughtful, very readable piece. [Amazon]

Short stuff: I read "MetaPhysics" by Elizabeth M. Glover, "A Reversal of Fortune" by Holly Black, "Mike's Place" by David J. Schwartz and "Non-Disclosure Agreement" by Scott Westerfeld from Tim Pratt's Sympathy for the Devil anthology. Also read "No Need of Wings" by Tia V. Travis, "Empty Dreams" by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy and "Dead" by Haddayr Copley-Woods.

Books read January through April, May, June, July
Saturday, August 7th, 2010
5:36 pm
More dissonance in your diet?
greygirlbeast mentioned today that "most readers do not want to read books that are . . . smarter than they are". I love books that are smarter than I. One of my pet peeves in fiction is when I know where the story's going, or how it will unfold, too early. When reading nonfiction, I not only want interesting information, but I want it synthesized and articulated by someone smarter than I am: I want to be challenged not just to learn new facts, but to think about the world, or at least some small part of it, in a different way. That said, I also read and enjoy my share of comfort fiction.

Some months ago I was working on a paper on media myths and the narrative imperative, particularly as relates to disaster response (for instance, the prevalent media myths of disaster panic and looting when far more common responses to disasters involve increases in pro-social and altruistic behavior), and in the course of my research I came across a fair amount of information about the ways in which people select and pay attention to news media. It will come as no surprise that most people seek out information that confirms their own beliefs, while avoiding dissonance -- a tendency that has been reinforced by increasingly partisan television news offerings and new media such as the internet (with the political ramification that it's now easier than ever for politicians to "preach to the choir" but more difficult than ever to "convert the flock," making it quite difficult anymore to achieve bipartisan support for anything).

As I recall, the numbers were something like this: roughly 20% of people surveyed reported preferring news that reinforced rather than challenged their beliefs, while roughly another 20% prefer to check their news against other news sources with the opposite bias. (No information that I remember on the preferences of the remaining 60%, except for the indication that some number of them have opted away from the news altogether, preferring entertainment to politics.) (Interestingly, while media bias apparently increases with more of those latter "conscientious" consumers giving business to purveyors of either extreme, there is some evidence that those consumers are able to get a more accurate picture from increasingly biased news sources on both sides than from a single, "balanced" news provider.)

I wonder how the numbers would stack up in a survey of readers rather than news consumers: how many would prefer to avoid dissonance and stick to escapist or formulaic or "comfort" fiction, or to nonfiction that confirms their biases and beliefs; and how many would report preferring fiction that challenges them, perhaps makes them uncomfortable, or nonfiction on topics about which they know little, or by authors with biases different to their own. And of those who read both the comforting and the challenging, what percentage of their reading falls in which category. (I'd also interested in seeing a comparison of self-reports to actual reading habits.) And, for that matter, how many people report not reading at all.


While I don't have access to my sources right now I believe the numbers I mentioned came from one or both of these:

Baum, M. A. and Groeling, T. J. (2010). War Stories: The Causes and Consequences of Public Views of War. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Xiang, Y. and Sarvary, M. (2007). News Consumption and Media Bias. Marketing Science, 26(5), 611-628.
Wednesday, August 4th, 2010
11:27 am
Dog saves man's life by eating his toe. A touching story of human idiocy and canine loyalty. Or was it? Did the dog eat the toe because it started smelling good, or in an altruistic attempt to rid the guy of the infection?
Sunday, August 1st, 2010
5:44 pm
Books completed, July 2010
45. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2006-2010) by John Jackson Miller et al. -- This is just a mess. To begin with, it's odd to title a book Knights of the Old Republic and then not actually feature any Knights of the Republic. There's one recurring character who's a knight, but he's in a cabal doing his own thing and not really representing the Republic. That oddity aside, this book is still very off. The basic plot itself is decent, but it's handled so unbelievably ineptly. Almost every plot point is contingent on every character being an idiot always. There's very rarely a situation that couldn't have been nipped in the bud by the characters actually having an adult conversation. Miller's dramatic and narrative sensibilities are on par with a latter-day George Lucas, his tin ear for dialogue the same. Honestly, does he ever read his lines out loud? Does he ever listen to real people having conversations? He likes to develop subplots slowly, but he doesn't know how; instead of dropping hints and clues that we can piece together, he instead throws in cryptic cameos that don't reveal anything and then later spends whole issues doing flashback datadumps that fill us in on situations in a very unsatisfying fashion. He doesn't seem to know how to handle his cast of characters, either -- very frequently two or three of his characters have stuff to do and the others are just waiting on the ship to pick them up. And I don't know whether the length of this book was dictated editorially or chosen by Miller, but it also seems odd to conclude the major story arc on issue 35, have 6 issues of random adventures, and then do another bigger story arc for the next 9 or 10 issues. It seems like the characters-with-nothing-to-do problem could have been resolved quite simply by playing the Jarael arc alongside Zayne's major arc and resolving them both at the end of the series. So, yeah, a big disappointment. A story of intrigue, betrayal, obsession, prophecy and war that could have been outstanding in the hands of a better writer instead just comes across as a bunch of idiots making bad decisions for 50 issues. (**) [Volume 1: Commencement | Volume 2: Flashpoint | Volume 3: Days of Fear, Nights of Anger | Volume 4: Daze of Hate, Knights of Suffering | Volume 5: Vector | Volume 6: Vindication | Volume 7: Dueling Ambitions | Volume 8: Destroyer | Volume 9: Demon]

46. Who Fears Death (2010) by Nnedi Okorafor -- A very very good far future science-fantasy set in Africa. The novel is topical, dealing with issues like weaponized rape, female genital mutilation, genocide and sexism, but never comes across as preachy. It's engaging and intelligent and Okorafor manages to balance and counterpoint the unrelenting grimness with moments of exquisite joy and beauty. Highly recommended. (****½) [Amazon]

46. Leviathan Wept and Other Stories (2010) by Daniel Abraham -- Abraham is a fantastic writer, and this is a very strong collection, without a dud in the bunch. Clean, elegant prose coupled with great ideas and populated with memorable characters make for a delightful reading experience, and the collection is also well balanced, opening and closing with very strong stories, making it easy for those who, like me, read collections front to back to stay engaged. I'm wavering between 4 and 4.5 stars, and think I'm going to give Abraham the benefit of the doubt. (****½) [Amazon]

47. Criminal (2006-2007) by Ed Brubaker (words) and Sean Phillips (pictures) -- The first Criminal series is collected in two volumes, each telling a separate standalone story, although there are some characters in common between them. The comics are well-written, well-plotted and they look great, but I guess based on the hype I was expecting to be blown away, and really I wasn't. There's nothing wrong with these stories and plenty right with them, and, while I don't feel like the series will stick with me, I may continue with the subsequent Criminal series. (***½) [Vol. 1: Coward | Vol. 2: Lawless]

48. "Remember You're a One-Ball!" (2010) by Quentin S. Crisp -- An exquisitely written tale of human cruelty. The novel's greatest success is in Crisp's rendering of a first person who is painfully honest, unpleasantly misanthropic, and yet a pleasure to read. The story, involving the narrator's experience with institutionalized child abuse -- he's a teacher -- makes some important observations, but goes so far over the top in its inhumanity that it can be hard to swallow. Still, worth checking out for those interested in horror that deals with the human condition rather than the supernatural or the shock factor. (****) [Amazon]

49. Tough Choices: Structured Paternalism and the Landscape of Choice (2010) by Sigal R. Ben-Porath -- I read this mainly because the author is a professor of mine with a lively intellect, and I'm glad I did. A skillful and well-reasoned defense of paternalism not in the form of coercive policies but rather in terms of structuring choices and creating opportunities to increase, not impinge on, individuals' freedom and liberties. I enjoyed this book a good deal more than I expected to. (****) [Amazon]

50. Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir (2010) by Ander Monson -- A collection of essays that, together, are an interrogation of our culture's ubiquitous I, an inquiry into solipsism, and, individually, are mostly surprising and delightful. Monson is an intelligent, playful writer and I look forward to exploring more of his work. (****) [Amazon]

51. The Sword (2007-2010) by the Luna Brothers -- As expected from the Luna Brothers, this is an engaging comic that won't particularly stimulate your brain cells; it's the comics equivalent of a summer blockbuster, a couple hours' worth of slickly rendered action with a few twists. Enjoyable fluff. (****) [Vol. 1: Fire | Vol. 2: Water | Vol. 3: Earth | Vol. 4: Air]

52. A Handful of Pearls & Other Stories (2010) by Beth Bernobich -- Bernobich is a passionate, sensual fantasy writer, her stories colorful prose paintings that at their best are as ravishing as they are painful. I get the feeling, however, that she hasn't yet honed her craft to the precision that would do her stories justice -- a number of the stories felt that they they were verging on, just a nudge away from, excellence. (Or maybe her craft is just fine and it's a matter of taste that left me feeling oh-so-close to being completely absorbed by those stories without quite getting there.) Though I did enjoy most of the stories, I feel the best of them are weighted toward the front of the collection -- the first three stories are the best -- making for an unbalanced reading experience that ends on a less satisfying note than it started on. Still, Bernobich is a versatile and talented writer worth keeping an eye on; also look out for her debut novel, Passion Play, in a couple months. (***½) [Amazon]

53. A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees (2010) by Clare Dudman -- Fine historical novel based on the true story of the founding of a Welsh colony in Patagonia in 1865. It's a harrowing book, but beautiful, full of humanity, and believably renders the hardships and triumphs of the early colonists, as well as what their arrival meant to the native Tehuelche people. (****) [Amazon]

54. Scott Pilgrim (2004-2010) by Bryan Lee O'Malley -- Bizarre and surprisingly funny and engaging graphic novel displaying an odd mélange of influences -- manga, video games, superhero books, hipster culture -- that really works. Just an odd, precious, pop culture bildungsroman with a huge cast of finely drawn characters almost all of whom are funny, memorable and distinct from one another. (****) [Vol. 1: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life | Vol. 2: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World | Vol. 3: Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness | Vol. 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together | Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe | Vol. 6: Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour]

55. The Ethics of Memory (2002) by Avishai Margalit -- Interesting book of philosophy about the relationship between ethics and memory. Do we, individually or as a group, have an ethical responsibility to remember certain things? If so, what things? And why? Margalit is well-read and draws on philosophy, history and literature to illustrate his propositions. His prose is clear, his terms always defined, and this book provides a lot of food for thought. That said, the arguments are not always particularly philosophically rigorous, and the book as a whole reads more like the series of lectures it was drawn from than a cohesive, unified text. (***½) [Amazon]

56. Unthinkable (2009) by Mark Sable (words) and Julian Totino Tedesco (pictures) -- This comic has a decent plot that indulges a writerly fantasy/conceit: after 9/11, a novelist who had a thriller that predicted a similar catastrophe is recruited for a top-secret government think tank. Its mission: to come up with other catastrophe scenarios so that the government can prevent them. Soon enough, lacking results, the think tank is disbanded. Then, several years later, the scenarios they came up with start to come to pass, and the novelist tries to bring the think tank back together to stop at least the doomsday situations. Unfortunately, this book ran only five issues, and with about a dozen significant characters running a series of missions around the globe, the whole thing feels like a superior political action thriller set on fast-forward. The characters never feel fully developed, never really have a chance to shine, and the action is rushed forward so quickly as to sometimes be nearly incomprehensible. This is a story that, while silly, could have been fun and exciting, but it's a story that certainly would have needed more than five issues to tell. (**½) [Amazon]

Books completed January through April, May, June
Saturday, July 10th, 2010
4:22 pm
Quick question
Has there ever been an alternate history novel set in the twentieth- or twenty-first century of a world in which Queen Isabella persisted in her rejection of Christopher Columbus's plans?
Thursday, July 1st, 2010
10:40 am
Books completed, June 2010
44. Madeleine Is Sleeping (2004) by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum [Amazon]
43. The Specific Gravity of Grief (2010) by Jay Lake [Fairwood Press]
42. Memory's Tailor (1998) by Lawrence Rudner [University Press of Mississippi | Amazon]
41. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (2009) by Wells Tower [Amazon]
40. Through the Drowsy Dark: Short Fiction and Poetry (2010) by Rachel Swirsky [Aqueduct Press | Amazon]
39. God of War (2010) by Matthew Stover and Robert E. Vardeman [Amazon]

Books completed January through April, May
Friday, June 25th, 2010
9:51 am
Does this book exist?
So. Baiting the Unicorn: and Other Tails of Under-Dogs and Under-Bitches by Liza Granville. Published, apparently, by Bastard Books in 2001. It never shows up used at any of the usual spots -- Amazons, Abebooks, eBay, Powell's, Alibris and so forth. I've never seen a scan of its cover. And yet it's always mentioned in interviews with Granville and in the about the author of her novels. Does anyone know whether this book actually exists?
Tuesday, June 1st, 2010
2:36 pm
Books completed, May 2010
Amazon reviews are forthcoming for most of these:

38. Simple Goalkeeping Made Spectacular (2009) by Graham Joyce [Amazon]
37. Best Served Cold (2009) by Joe Abercrombie [Amazon]
36. Narrative Power: Encounters, Celebrations, Struggles (2010) edited by L. Timmel Duchamp [Amazon]
35. Producing Success: The Culture of Personal Advancement in an American High School (2009) by Peter Demerath [Amazon]
34. Occultation and Other Stories (2010) by Laird Barron [Amazon]
33. Gringos in Honduras: "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" (1995) by Guillermo Yuscarán [Amazon]
32. Passion Play (2010) by Beth Bernobich [Amazon]
31. GrimJack: The Manx Cat (2007-2008) by John Ostrander (words) and Timothy Truman (pictures) [Amazon]
30. Feed (2002) by M.T. Anderson [Amazon]

Books completed January through April.
Monday, May 3rd, 2010
8:31 am
Hurricane vs Oil Slick
Since it sounds like we'll be well into hurricane season before the leak is contained, let alone the slick cleaned up . . . what happens if a hurricane comes in on top of an oil slick the size of a small state? Does it just stir things up, spread things out and let us pretend the oil has disappeared for a little while, or does it carry tremendous amounts of oil inland? Has a large windstorm ever coincided with a large oil spill?

And yes, I'm aware of the oil spillage during Hurricane Katrina. I was knee-deep in it! But this seems to be a different order of magnitude!
Sunday, April 25th, 2010
10:22 pm
books read, 2010
On target to complete the 50 Book Challenge this year. . .

29. Moonshine (2010) by Alaya Johnson [Amazon]
28. Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty (1998, revised 2003) by Muhammad Yunus with Alan Jolis [Amazon]
27. Ship Breaker (2010) by Paolo Bacigalupi [Amazon]
26. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (2004) by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing [Amazon]
25. Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability, and Survival (2007) by Daniel Jaffee [Amazon]
24. Expiration Date (2010) by Duane Swierczynski [Amazon]
23. Planetary (1999-2009) by Warren Ellis (words) and John Cassaday (pictures), et al. [Book 1: All Over the World and Other Stories | Book 2: The Fourth Man | Book 3: Leaving the 20th Century | Book 4: Spacetime Archaeology]
22. The Invisible Cure: Why We Are Losing the Fight Against AIDS in Africa (2007) by Helen Epstein [Amazon]
21. Cuba's Academic Advantage: Why Students in Cuba Do Better in School (2007) by Martin Carnoy with Amber K. Gove and Jeffery H. Marshall [Amazon]
20. Innocents Abroad: American Teachers in the American Century (2006) by Jonathan Zimmerman [Amazon]
19. Horns (2010) by Joe Hill [Amazon]
18. Chasing the Dragon (2009) by Nicholas Kaufmann [ChiZine Publications]
17. I Kill Giants (2008) by Joe Kelly (words) and JM Ken Nimura (art) [Amazon]
16. Action Philosophers! (2005-2009) by Fred Van Lente (words) and Ryan Dunlavey (pictures) [Amazon]
15. Rules of '48 (2009) by Jack Cady [Amazon]
14. Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice (2006) by Sally Engle Merry [Amazon]
13. Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls (2002) by Rachel Simmons [Amazon]
12. The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To (2010) by DC Pierson [Amazon]
11. The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (2006) by William Easterly [Amazon]
10. Ultra: Seven Days (2004-2005) by The Luna Brothers [Amazon]
9. Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet (2008) by Jeffrey D. Sachs [Amazon]
8. Words of Birth and Death (2006) by Hannu Rajaniemi [Writers’ Bloc]
7. Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story (1992) by Paul Monette [Amazon]
6. Sleepless (2010) by Charlie Huston [Amazon]
5. Bone Black: memories of girlhood (1996) by bell hooks [Amazon]
4. The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas translated by Gregory Rabassa from Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas (1881) by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis [Amazon]
3. The City & The City (2009) by China Miéville [Amazon]
2. Scenting the Dark and Other Stories (2009) by Mary Robinette Kowal [Amazon]
1. Soulless (Book One of The Parasol Protectorate) (2009) by Gail Carriger [Amazon]
Wednesday, February 10th, 2010
11:38 am
Polyphony 7
Just a shout-out to anyone who enjoys good fiction or knows anyone who enjoys good fiction: please purchase a copy of Polyphony 7.

Polyphony is a fantastic series of non-themed anthologies; unfortunately, if at least 225 copies of this seventh volume are not pre-ordered by March 1, fewer than three weeks from today, this anthology will have to be cancelled and it is unlikely that we will see any future volumes. You may find details of the situation here.

You need not fear for your investment: if at least 225 copies are not pre-ordered, all pre-orders will be refunded. I'm hoping not to have to receive a refund. Please invest in a fine anthology from a fine small press and help me realize that hope.
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