Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Martian by Andy Weir

This is a tale of raw, basic survival in a rough terrain. One man, abandoned on Mars.

We read this for the library's book discussion, and many readers were surprised by how much they liked it. It's more about science than about science-fiction. There aren't ray guns and alien life forms; instead it's about one human surviving because he knows how to do advanced chemistry.

Mark Watney isn't about to give up, despite insurmountable odds. Not enough water? Chemistry! Not enough food? Botany! No communication? Rocks!

I have seen the Matt Damon movie, and it's very good. It's not quite the same, but honestly both stand up pretty well on their own (or even in comparison).

I highly recommend this one, even if you're not into advanced science and especially if you don't enjoy sci-fi. It's a captivating story, and you don't have to understand every formula to understand what a creative thinker the character (hell - the author!) is to persevere in these situations.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

O!M!G! Listen to this audiobook! I'm just gonna put that right up there at the top of this post, because it's super important. I am serious. Listen to this audiobook.

This is a strange tale - an experimental novel - told mainly by the spirits that inhabit the Washington DC cemetery where Abraham Lincoln's son was temporarily interred upon his death in 1862. It takes place over a very short time period as the living and dead observe the boy's funeral cortege, the family's grief, and the father's late-night cemetery visit to grieve in private.

There are a lot of opinions, stories, and experiences involved in the novel's narrative, and they're each systematically logged and annotated for your reference. Which is where the audiobook's special nature comes in handy. The library bought an audiobook copy especially because I'd read an article about the 166 narrators they used to record it.

The book is incredible and completely engrossing. Even in some of the more strangely told parts of the story, it's fascinating how each voice brings its own perspective to the events: was the moon full, new, or a sliver that night? How to describe the strange angularity of a most famous man?

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Nix by Nathan Hill

A struggling college English professor finds the jolt of writing inspiration he needs when his estranged mother is very publicly arrested for assaulting a Senator.

The novel juggles several storylines: grown men stunted by their addiction to an online quest game, a childhood friendship's long-lasting impacts, the radical 70's story of his mother, childhood tales of folklore and fantasy.

I really enjoyed the story - the hopping between time periods and characters kept it fresh, yet every divergence presented characters you felt strongly about (sometimes pity, other times irritation and even hatred). The overall theme that everyone's haunted: by the past, by expectations, by a decision made or an action not taken.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

In a sweeping, multi-generational storyline, a modern American tells the complete story and history that led to his fantastical intersex existence.

This book won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and we chose to read it for the library's book discussion. A lot of ink was spilled by reviewers who criticized the words used and treatment of Cal's medical condition, but I think it's a fantastic read and a really good book to talk about after you've finished it. Beyond the gender conversation, there's a lot to discuss: the immigrant experience, chasing the American Dream, race relations.

And aside from that - and maybe most importantly - it's really a great story well told. I listened to the audiobook (excellently read by Kristoffer Tabori) and Callie became a friend during the 21-hour duration of the book: I wanted to know what happened to her, how she felt, how Cal emerged, and how he coped. Her experience was not in any way similar to my own, and I wanted to see the world through her eyes and experience her remarkable family.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Unmentionable: the Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill

In this snarky, casual book, the modern reader receives a no-holds-barred look at what hygiene, fashion, and society were REALLY like for women in the 19th century.

BBC melodramas, romance novels, and the balm of time have worked a true magic: the past has become so sanitized and glossy that we pine for the days of chivalry - completely forgetting that there was poop everywhere, the ownership and operation of your vagina was a medical mystery, and a stricter-than-strict social code of mores meant you were hardly allowed to speak.

This is a funny book that puts you right into the action. The author is speaking directly to YOU the reader, and even responds to your questions and complaints as she imagines you'd be having them. Not in any way scholarly, but certainly educational!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Night Film by Marisha Pessi

The death of a famous, reclusive director's daughter prompts a disgraced journalist to reopen his notebook and investigate. Was Ashley Cordova cursed, or merely tragic?

Scott McGrath is driven by revenge and shame into reopening old sores - Stanislav Cordova was the man and the story that destroyed his reputation as an investigative reporter. Looking into Ashley's short life is a side door that leads Scott into a dark place he never really left, years ago.

NOTE: a lot's been said in other reviews about the "enhanced content" that accompanies this book. The included PDF had articles, webpage screenshots, etc.  I listened to the audiobook and didn't realize my narrator was also describing that additional material until I was almost finished with the book - it had been seamlessly integrated for audiobook listeners.