Skip to main content

Books

Sophie's Choice

Posted in

I know I’m going to get flak from my friends for reading yet another book about World War II, but this one is different, I swear.

The thing is, it’s not really about World War II, or at least, the parts that set this book apart from others aren’t the parts that talk about World War II. No, the parts that make this book really work are the parts about the author, and the rich description. It’s fascinating to read a book about the 50s, written in the 70s, with the perspective of a reader in the 2010s.

The novel blends styles in a wonderful way. Sure, this is the Southern novel in the style of Faulkner (or Styron), but it’s also the novel of urban youth discontent, and also the novel of relationship drama. These types of novels have been written before, but they’ve not been blended in this fashion, or with this skill. And to top it off, Styron is a great writer, simultaneously flowing and descriptive, with wonderful insight.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/52452516

star star star star star star star star star no star

StrengthsFinder 2.0

Posted in

I read the applicable sections of this when my employer asked me to take the evaluation associated with this book. My employer couched this as a test that came with a book, which is correct. Everything in the book that was relevant was contained in my personal results summary that I recieved after the test, and my summary was both more directed and stronger.

The idea behind this book might be good. It’s tough to tell from the super-simple introduction. I wouldn’t recommend that anybody read it, and I’m including a review here only for completeness.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/247891132

star no star no star no star no star no star no star no star no star no star

A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, #5)

Posted in

The latest version of George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series picks up where the last one left off. Unfortunately, the last one was subpar compared to the rest of the series, which means that this is another okay entry in an otherwise stellar series.

Once again, Martin is stagnating the series by expanding the web, rather than tightening it. The first three books in this series were remarkably reductive. As many new characters entered the series, there was still a sense that the series might end in some sort of reasonable time frame as others kept making their exits. Martin seems to have reached a critical mass of storylines that is making all of them seem hopelessly bogged down. It’s just too long before we get back to characters, and too often, the progress before we leave is middling.

Crucially, this volume also overlaps chronologically with the last volume, an authorial choice that just doesn’t really work. It’s disconcerting, making the last book seem more like a poorly thought-out prequel.

I shouldn’t heap so much hate on this book. Most of it is just disappointment in the series, rather than specific dislike of the book. But it’s a bitter pill of disillusionment nonetheless.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/247508990

star star star star star no star no star no star no star no star

Blood, Sweat & Chalk: How the Geniuses of Football Created America's Favorite Game

Posted in

Depressingly content-free. Too much time was spent on the history of the coaches who developed these systems, and not enough on the actual principles of the system. The coaching hierarchy is mildly interesting, but the reason I wanted to read this book was not to learn about coaching, but to enrich my understanding of strategic principles of football.

As an engaged football fan, I knew most of the limited playbook strategy discussion that was present, and even had a passing familiarity with a great many of the coaches. And I found the discussion pretty boring. I can't help but think that a more novice football fan would still find the book boring, but would also find it confusing. So who's the book for? The people who can follow the book already know the information, and the people who can't follow the book won't get through it.

Definitely skip this one.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/122096777

star star star no star no star no star no star no star no star no star

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, #4)

Posted in

A Feast for Crows is a bad portent for Martin. Thusfar he’s managed to keep his sprawling epic under control, but this book sees him diverge wildly from the main characters, and spend a ton of time on new characters. Other good fantasy series have devolved in ever-widening plot and character circles (see: Wheel of Time, Runelords), and I would prefer it that Martin not do the same thing. If a series is supposed to end in three five six seven books, it’s probably not a good idea to introduce more characters in the fourth book.

The worst part of all this is that the plot begins to drag to a glacial pace. In the previous three books, there was dynamic changes in power, ever-shifting alliances, and major events happening throughout the book. In this book, everything just gets deeper. Things are developed on the Iron Islands, but the overall arc is the same: they’re still in rebellion. Things happen with Arya, but she is still far removed from the action. The decision to leave whole storylines out of this book is a bad one, as the remaining characters are not enough to carry the whole book.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4928096

star star star star star no star no star no star no star no star

The Prehistory of The Far Side: A 10th Anniversary Exhibit

Posted in

A Prehistory of the Far Side is a good book. It’s easily the best single collection of Far Side comics, if for no other reason than that there’s a bunch of context for a cultural phenomenon. The comics are good, and anybody who lived through the 80s or 90s is familiar with them, and you already know whether you’re going to like them or not. The new and thus interesting part of this collection is the text surrounding the cartoons.

I’m divided on the humorous take that Larson takes to the background story behind the Far Side. It’s pretty clear that Larson has elements of truth spread into his stories, while other parts are clearly false, but there is plenty that falls in the middle that isn’t clear at all. I hunger for just a straight up telling of what happens, because there’s plenty of ambiguity here. I’m of the opinion that the book would be stronger if Larson would let the story speak for itself. Comics are a business, after all, and it doesn’t do any service to the genre to imply that even the creation aspects need to be trivialized and funny. You know what? I’m willing to read serious analysis of comics and their creation, and I wish this book gave me just a little bit more of that.

Of course, I have plenty of bias, as I was first introduced to the comic book collection retrospective with The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, still my favorite comic collection ever. Prehistory of the Far Side came first though, and opened the door for these retrospectives, which I adore. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/59242083

star star star star star star star no star no star no star

Blue Mars (Mars Trilogy, #3)

Posted in

Blue Mars, the continuation of the Mars trilogy, is not quite as good as the first two, but is still worth reading. This is the quintessential wrapup novel. The loose storylines from the first two novels are finished in this book.

As for the social pressures that make this series so memorable, they take a bit more of a backseat, though they’re still there. I continue to be pleasantly surprised by Robinson’s ability to point out the not-so-obvious social pressures that would occur from interplanetary civilization. His predictions of what will happen to Earth seem prophetic for being written in the 1990s, as we seem to be going exactly down the path he writes about.

This is one of my favorite science fiction series, and I’ve been recommending it to all kinds of folks. By all means, read this series.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/124306252

star star star star star star star no star no star no star

A Farewell to Arms

Posted in

Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is his war novel, this one on the World War I Italian front. I’m hardly the most qualified critic to pick this up, but I enjoyed this.

The style took a bit to get used to. One doesn’t pick up one of the giants of American literature and expect to find such short, choppy, declarative sentences. There’s little flow to the style, as most of the sentences seem to read “[Subject] [verb]ed [object],” with most of the subjects being simple with no adjectives. Conjunctions and dependent clauses seem to be out of the question.

Once I got past that, I saw a bit more of the beauty of Hemingway’s writing. He has a gift for description and tone, using common words and short sentences to still draw a coherent scene for the reader. Hemingway’s semi-autobiographic narrator doesn’t have an exceptional vocabulary, but he can still evoke a feeling as well as the most eloquent first-person narrators.

I will say that this edition is one of the edited editions, and I would recommend finding the book in the original, unadulterated version if you can.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/52516971

star star star star star no star no star no star no star no star

Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players

Posted in

Word Freak is the story of Scrabble as told through the lens of one journalist who decided to become a professional Scrabble player for a year. “Professional” here is a stretch, as it is arguable whether there is enough money in the Scrabble circuit for even a single player to make a living. Fatsis doesn’t make any pretense at hoping to make money playing the game, but he does throw himself into the study completely, while also examining the fascinating lifestyle and characters of the top Scrabble players.

The characters in the upper echelons of Scrabble are what really make this book great. Many of them are so driven by Scrabble that they appear obsessive. Fatsis, too, falls into this trap, although to his credit he realizes it. He is constantly worried about what the study of Scrabble is doing to him, and whether he is displaying the tendencies of single-mindedness and irrationality that so irk him in the top players. And rather than coming across as pointless navel-gazing, this introspection makes the book.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/71419775

star star star star star star star no star no star no star

The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)

Posted in

Brandon Sanderson entered my sphere of consciousness when he took up the flag for Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series when Jordan passed away in 2007. Sanderson did a great job with a Wheel of Time series that, even for fans, had grown rather moribund over the last several volumes. If he was good enough to take over for one of the most popular fantasy authors of the last 20 years, it stood to reason that his independent stuff was pretty good as well.

From that background, this book is very surprising. This is the much more classic fantasy novel style, which is to say that it tells one story for the duration of the book. It's a good story, as far as fantasy novels go, but very little like Jordan's style of huge array of characters in completely different locations with shifting narrative point of view.

When not viewed as a comparison with Jordan's series, the novel is a good, page-turning fantasy series that doesn't cover anything particularly new. The promise of the book cover that it is about a hero who failed feels kind of cheap, as the book doesn't actually tell the story of that hero, instead telling a story that occurred more than a thousand years afterward. If you're going to make a book that promises a modern fantasy heroic tragedy, then you better deliver. Such a book would be amazing, a huge change from the usual "Hero sets out to naively change the world, ultimately succeeds" trope.

The book had hooks. I enjoyed reading it, didn't want to put it down, and was sad when it finished. However formulaic it might be, I still have to admit that I liked it.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/85934643

star star star star star star star no star no star no star
Syndicate content