June 12, 2005
32. Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott
There just aren't enough words for my growing love of Anne Lamott. I know her brands of Christianity and spirituality aren't for everyone, but wow do they speak to me. She has a way of soothing my soul, of saying the things I need to hear, even if maybe I didn't want to hear them. I'd thought about grabbing the book and listing some quotes here, but there's just too much. There's too much goodness in this book to pick just one or two quotes.
I have almost nothing in common with Lamott, who is a single mother and recovering addict and alcoholic. What we do have in common is a belief in a God of love and social justice, and that all of the dogmatic crap people tend to get so bogged down in is a gigantic waste of time. She reminds me that Christianity can (and should) have room for everybody, regardless of our personal differences.
31. G is for Gumshoe, Sue Grafton
It always surprises me to discover that I enjoy the mystery genre. I rarely pick it up willingly (as was the case with this one--I was in a situation with nothing else around to read) with the sole exception of Agatha Christie. But I had fun with this book. It's pretty much exactly what you're looking for when you're looking for a series mystery. The dialogue is snappy, the main character is quirky and interesting, and the mystery gets solved in 250 pages or less. There was nothing deep here at all, just pure brain candy. I may surprise myself and go looking for a few more of the books in the series.
30. Eyeing the Flash: The Education of a Carnival Con Artist, Peter Fenton
Peter Fenton spent a portion of his adolescence working the games at a carnival--all of which are rigged. This memoir is fascinating, if perhaps of dubious veracity, as Mr. Fenton spent a long time writing for the Enquirer. It certainly painted a different pictures of the carnivals I remember going to and loving as a kid. As a matter of fact, as the carnival he describes in the book traveled throughout Michigan, chances are pretty good that at some point I went to the carnival he writes about.
The biggest trouble with the book, though, is that absolutely none of the characters are the least bit likeable, not even the narrator. One of the reviewers on Amazon commented that after he or she had finished the book they felt like they needed a shower--and that's completely accurate. Everybody in this memoir is greasy or slimy in some way or another, it's hard not to come away from it feeling a little soiled. Still, if you're a bundle of naivete (like me), it's an intriguing look at the other side of the world.
29. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
Would you believe this is the first time I've read this book? I think I read one or two of the Pern books way back when I was a kid, but I know I didn't read this one. I enjoyed it in a faintly nostalgic "god I would have adored this when I was eleven" type way. It was a good study in worldbuilding, as well. In addition to getting caught up in the story, I found myself analyzing the ways McCaffrey communicated facts about Pern to the reader--and in fact, I may end up referring to it again as I try to fix up my own worldbuilding.
The characters were largely likeable, if a little two-dimensional. I was a little bothered by the constant references to a character's body size and the character traits associated with it--but that's a quirk of mine, and for some weird reason, every single book I read this weekend did something similar.
Anyway, I may pick up one or two of the other books in the series, out of curiosity.
June 08, 2005
28. The Working Poor, David K. Shipler
Yes, this book pissed me off exactly as much as I thought it would. Shipler does an excellent job of covering all the varied reasons for poverty, and shows that despite the politics of the matter, neither the Left nor the Right is exactly correct on what causes poverty and what should/can be done about it. I found myself outraged while reading this, but more, I found myself trying to think of ways that I could be part of a solution. I still haven't decided what I could do yet, but I'm thinking about it.
The class system in the US is so fucked up. We try to ignore it, and everybody thinks they're middle-class, no matter where they are or how much money they actually make, so as a result, nobody ever tries to address the actual differences in terms of expectations and upbringing and communication skills and values. Class does matter, even here, and it's time we start dealing with it.
June 07, 2005
27. Hotel Babylon, Anonymous & Imogen Edwards-Jones
Subtitled "Inside the Extravagance and Mayhem of a Luxury Five-Star Hotel", I read this expecting non-fiction. And supposedly it is, in the sense that everything described within really happened. However, it's written from a very narrative and fictionalized standpoint, compressing all of the events into a 24-hour period. This sort of stretches credibility a little bit, but doesn't make the book any less fascinating a read. In fact, it's worth noting that I picked the book up (which has been sitting waiting on my bookshelves for months) last night at about 5:30 PM, and minus a small break for dinner and some email-checking, didn't stop reading it until I finished at about 11:00 PM.
The stories of sheer excess are mind-boggling (whiskey that costs 750 pounds a shot), but my favorite surreal moment is when a drug-addled guest starts doing a striptease in the middle of the lobby at 5:00 AM.
Still, it's probably no accident (and is proving an interesting contrast) that the next book I picked up was David Shipler's The Working Poor.
26. Hammered, Elizabeth Bear
I'm a little ashamed that it took me this long to get a copy of this book and read it. I got to hear the author read a bit from it at WorldCon in September, and got really excited to read the rest. It wasn't until WisCon that I actually bought it and started reading. In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably note that I've met the author a couple of times and follow her livejournal regularly.
That said... wow. Usually anything even vaguely cyberpunky leaves me cold, mostly because emotions are not the focus of the genre, and it's hard to care about a lot of the characters. There have been two exceptions to this: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, and now Hammered. Jenny Casey may be one of my new favorite SF/F characters. She's unabashedly tough and independent without turning into a man with boobs, like so many tough, independent women in fiction.
It was interesting that I found myself reading this on two levels, as a reader, and as a writer. I do that fairly often nowadays, but maybe because I read about Bear's process as a writer, I was more aware of it here. I was able to see how things worked, and why they worked, while at the same time, as a reader, feeling the effects that the author no doubt meant for me to feel. It was impressive as hell. I don't think I will wait nearly as long to get my hands on the follow up, Scardown, which comes out at the end of the month.
June 03, 2005
25. 'Salem's Lot, Stephen King*#
It's funny how audiobooks can help you rediscover books you already love. There have been several new audiobook versions of classic Stephen King novels recently, such as Carrie as read by Sissy Spacek (amazing!) and Salem's Lot, read by Ron McLarty--whom I had never heard of, before his first novel came out earlier this year, The Memory of Running. I don't know what kind of a writer he is, but he is an incredible audiobook reader. He's the type who does character voices, but does them so well that it's not obnoxious at all, and you can tell who's speaking even before he reads the dialogue attribution. I really enjoyed 'Salem's Lot when I read it for the first time (believe it or not) last year, but McLarty's reading added a whole new dimension. I got weepy in several places, because the characters became so heart-rending. And I finally got to hear the voices of the Maine oldtimers who populate King's books. Definitely worth checking this one out, particularly since it's unabridged.
(As a note, the list for 2005 is updated, but is tremendously out of order, and I doubt I'll go back and fill in comments for each book. It is, however, as complete as I can make it, and I'll add in any books I discovered that I missed along the way.)