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January 2004: Book Reviews

This is an archive of my shorter book reviews and notes, which historically have been posted over at the 50 Book Challenge on LiveJournal, but which I’m starting to move over here. I’m posting them with altered date-stamps, but they might show up in my LiveJournal cross-post anyway. Bear with me, please.

Note: Many of these books also have full reviews available in the book review podcast (RSS).

#1: The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin. One of the Hainish anthropolgical science fiction novels. A Terran Observer goes to a world that, during her spaceflight, has undergone a political and cultural revolution, which it is still in the throes of. Everything she’d known about the world prior to her flight is obsolete, and all books and literacy have been outlawed.

#2: Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. The world undergoes a series of disastrous events which blind everyone and promote the ascendance of a race of ambulatory and predatory plants. Good book– I’ve had it on my shelf for a couple of years, and I enjoyed reading it quite a lot. It reminded me of Earth Abides in many ways, although it aimed more for the socio-political rather than the geographical changes that one can expect in a post-apocalyptic world.

#3: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Good book about a utopia of women. A little heavy on the utopia, though; I tend to prefer utopian narratives that catch the flaws in the utopian world. Also, the ending was abrupt and felt very unfinished. Still, for an early utopia story, it’s not bad.

#4: Rocannon’s World by Ursula K. LeGuin. Finished Rocannon’s World today while waiting for my flight home from Las Vegas. I brought 2 books with me, and only read this one, at 136 pages long. A sweet little science fiction piece, actually, though not as sophisticated as her later work.

#5: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I listened to this one today (unabridged). I usually feel that Morrison does a good job with laying out a plot, but I can’t say that this one felt as connected as I would have preferred. Instead, it kind of drifted along, going from one character’s POV to another in a way that left me very unsatisfied, and which was very difficult to handle in an audio format.

I was, by the way, reading The Gates of the Alamo for Book #5. But it’s 750 pages long, and it’s taking me longer to get through than I anticipated. I’m stuck in that I don’t have time to read it, but it’s a very intriguing book, and I really want to read it.

Essentially, what I’m saying is that I need someone who will pay me to stay home and read books all day, instead of driving 2 hours a day in a car so I can sit at a desk and do things that don’t involve reading books. Until then, I will listen to audiobooks during those 2 hours a day, as needed, and get my fix of reading actual hard copy books at lunchtime.

#6: A Prison Diary by Jeffrey Archer. I’m still plugging through the Alamo, but I downloaded this one from to listen to during my drive and at work.

Wow. Just, wow. Great book– I loved it. I think I’m going to end up buying a print copy at some point to read.

I think I’m getting into a biography/autobiography/historical kick right now, but I’m enjoying it immensely. After I finish the Alamo, there’s a holocaust survivor bio on my list.

#7: Gates of the Alamo by Stephen Harrigan. Historical fiction. I picked this one up in the Las Vegas airport in early January. I’ve mentioned it before because I’ve been reading it ever since then. It’s 735 pages long, paperback, and very good. Since I knew nothing about the Alamo when I started reading, except that the Texians lost, this was also highly educational, in the sense of giving me the historical facts in broad strokes.

I’m going to slow down my reading a bit for the next 5 days, as I struggle to finish writing my own novel. Talk to you all in February.

#8: Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I listened to the unabridged version on audiobook ( is my friend).

I recommend it, highly. I think if I ever go back to teaching Freshman Composition, I will be using it heavily in the classroom. It’s an amazing book, with immense variety, while sticking fairly consistently to subjects that are an unusual mix, while still being extremely complementary.

Most of the descriptions you’ll find describe this as the story of a boy who gets stranded on a lifeboat with a 450-lb. adult Bengal tiger, but that is so very simplistic, it’s just not even funny. This story is about acknowledging the basic functions of animals, humans, and gods. It’s about validating the improbable, about letting yourself believe in something. It’s about defying Occam’s Razor, in the most blatant and glaring ways possible.

It’s also a beautiful story, and wonderfully told.

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