The OF Blog: Reading, whatever happened to dear ol' reading?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Reading, whatever happened to dear ol' reading?

Funny how a combination of a very hot summer and a new job that takes up 10-14 hours of every working day can derail my reading. Over the past two months, I've read fewer books (18) than I was averaging the first five and a half months of the year (260 total, or a shade under 50/month). Normally, I would have reviewed about 1/4 of the books read or at least mentioned them here in passing, but I haven't written a full review in that time either. So, for those that are oh so curious about what I've read since I was laid off from my previous job to the time I began my current position, here goes:

Adam Roberts, The History of Science Fiction - Despite the problems I had with some of Roberts' arguments and the support (or lack there of in places), this ultimately was a book that I found to be worthwhile for those such as myself who are interested in historiographical matters.

Roberto Bolaño, 2666 (Spanish edition) - I thought his earlier work Los detectives salvajes (The Savage Detectives) was a good, challenging read. This book is going to stir up quite a bit of talk in certain US literary circles when it is released in November. Five separate stories united by certain thematic elements. In places, it is very, very dark, but this is quite fitting for the metaphorical story of the 20th century, I believe.

Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver - With this book, Stephenson reminds me why I had earlier associated him with Thomas Pynchon in regards to how the style reflects thematic elements. Enjoyed it quite a bit, will read the other Baroque Cycle books sometime in the near future.

Gene Wolfe, Memorare (Limited-edition signed hardcover edition) - This Hugo-nominated novella was typical Wolfe writing in a shorter medium, meaning it was well-written, with some engimatic elements, but more straight-forward in places than in his novels. Enjoyed it quite a bit, as one might expect. Perhaps around Christmas time, I'll re-read it and write a proper review.

Brandon Sanderson, The Hero of Ages (ARC) - This conclusion to the Mistborn trilogy was surprising in places. While still annoyed with some of the prose choices (a more fluid style would have helped in places, not to mention more work on the dialogue), the plot flowed smoothly and quickly and the resolution was surprising in places, until certain little clues from the first two books were considered. Pretty much a logical character path, although some readers doubtless will be surprised by certain turns beginning around the halfway point. Enjoyable read ultimately, despite the shortcomings.

Holly Phillips, In the Palace of Repose - This short story collection from 2006 was a pleasure to read, as Phillips writes well and her stories don't feel like carbon copies of each other. Will need to re-read before I ever attempt to write a true review of this, however.

Adam Roberts, Splinter - This update of a minor Jules Verne story of people living on a broken-off chunk of Earth after a comet smashes into it is a very touching father-son story, among many other things. Roberts has an enjoyable reading style and I am eager to read more of his fiction, since both this and Salt (read last year) were a pleasure to read.

Paul Kearney, The Ten Thousand - This single-volume adaptation of Xenophon's ancient tale of the 10,000 Greek mercenaries who had to fight their way out of a Persian dynastic struggle will appeal to many with its short but eloquent turns of phrase and the way the action unfolds. Even more important than that, I'm actually curious to read Xenophon now, which perhaps is the most fitting compliment I can give to this book.

Thomas Disch, Camp Concentration - I finally bought this book last month, but sadly it took Disch's suicide on July 4th to remind me that I've been putting it off for too long. I've already commented on it elsewhere, but suffice to say, I'm kicking myself for not having read it sooner.

Catherynne M. Valente, The Labyrinth - This was her first published prose piece and while there are times that she seemed to be trying to do too much with the story she had set out to tell, the prose is gorgeous and flows well. Will re-read this in the near future, time permitting.

Umberto Eco, Six Walks in the Fictional Woods - Transcription of a series of lectures he gave in the early 1990s. Thoughtful, erudite, just how I like Eco to be.

Yasmina Traboulsi, Bahia Blues - This collection of short fiction was interesting for its shifts and various characters, but it wasn't quite as good as some of the others I've read this year. Good, but not near the very good level of the majority of the short fiction I tend to pick out based on recommendations.

Jeff VanderMeer, Secret Lives (Signed, limited-edition hardcover) - This is a set of microfictions originally written for those who bought the short story collection Secret Life from bookseller friends of VanderMeer. The stories are quirky, amusing, and I enjoyed reading them.

Subcommandante Marcos, La historia de los colores/The History of Colors (re-read) - an illustrated children's lit version of indigeneous southern Mexican creation myth about how the world received color and why macaws are so colorful. The fact that it was written by the leader of the Chiapas-based Zapatista rebels is just an added bonus, I suppose.

Andrzej Sapkowski, Sangre de los elfos (Blood of the Elves in English) - Very good start to the five-novel Saga. Will say more after I re-read it in English in the next couple of months.

Andrzej Sapkowski, Tiempo de Odio (Time of Anger in English) - Strong second volume. Again, more later, perhaps after I've imported the remaining volumes in Spanish translation.

Various authors, King Alfred the Great - Always wanted to read more about the Anglo-Saxon King Alfred the Great. From official biographies to other accounts from contemporary sources, this was an informative read.

John Julius Norwich, A Short History of Byzantium - A one-volume condensed version of his three-volume narrative history of the Byzantine Empire, Norwich's style is very breezy, with bold statements being offered based on his interpretation of the material. Good primer-level survey of a sadly neglected part of world history. Made me curious to explore the more scholarly works, which I hope to do later this year.

And there you go, my reads since June 18th. If any of you have read any on the list, feel free to share your opinions on them. Likewise, if you have any questions, I'll try to find the time before my bedtime this week to answer them. Now back to the final pages of Javier Negrete's Buscador de sombras.


Liviu said...

Before Anathem came, I thought 2666 would be my top book of the year by far, but now I give a slight edge to the Stephenson book - read it 3 times as opposed as 2 1/2 for Bolano - just because it touches on all the things that drew me to sf first - basically the current edge of science in the quest for understanding *everything*

Anathem is Road to Reality (R. Penrose magnum opus which is the best ever science book for the "general public" - though it helps to know a lot of math - I've ever read) mixed with the Book of the New Sun (G. Wolfe)

But 2666 is absolutely brilliant too and I expect to be talked a lot

I've also finished The Confusion and I've enjoyed it a lot, a little more than Quicksilver actually, since it flows better - but the history of money is of much less interest than the Multiverse theory of reality - and started on System of the World

I've read Splinter a while ago and I loved it though it's a mainstream book disguised as sf - but I loved almost everything Adam Roberts put out as original novels, most recently the superb Swiftly and with another book in January that's buy and read asap -

Paul Kearney is one of the best - if not the best - writer of action fantasy today so The Ten Thousand played in his strength since the plot/pacing/balance which are his weaknesses in my opinion were already there and consequently that's another superb novel.
And sure read the Anabasis since it's quite good - actually it's amazing how good and not to be put down a lot of classics are from Herodotus to Tacitus, Titus Livius, Plutarch and more...Even the ones with "boring" reputation like Polybius are quite absorbing in many parts. Norwich is like that in some ways, so it's no wonder people find his books absorbing - and the 3 volume of Byzantium despite its length is another hard to put down book. The dry, emotion free history that's the rage today in books even for the general public, may be one of the reasons students do so badly in that subject...

MV Manfredi of Last Legion fame has an October UK release of another Anabasis reinterpretation, Lost Army but through the eyes of the women accompanying Cyrus' army. Abira the narrator is the lover of Xeno the exiled Athenian. Got an arc and it's superb so far - got an arc of Void 2 and that takes precedence, but Lost Army is next.

Labyrinth - well that's very weird but superb writing - needs a reread to fully make sense of it

Anonymous said...

now this is your way of making bookporn, larry :)
no pictures, just words: that's even more explicit than mine, paradoxically :)

Anonymous said...

Adam Roberts is good, isn't he?

He's one of the bloggers at, which might be your cup of tea.

Lsrry said...

Despite not receiving an ARC for it (probably because I'm spotty with my requests, not to mention my coverage lately), I'll probably buy and read it later this year, likely after my impending move in November.


I've joked for years that all I do online is connected with being a book pimp. I guess my "ladies" are a bit easier on the body, if not the mind! ;)


Thanks for the link! When I update the blogroll this weekend or next, that's one to add for sure.

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