Book Log #14 – Exhalation: Stories

Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang [Little Shop of Stories?]

I don’t remember when I read this. I assume I picked it up at Little Shop of Stories as an impulse purchase, there’s no record I purchased it at Amazon or had it on my wishlist. Additional evidence is that this was one of the best books I’ve ever read, and that more often comes from the curated selection at LSOS.

I talked about this book to anyone who would listen, and there are only a handful of books I can say that about. And what’s amazing is I didn’t write about it here. So I’m rectifying that mistake.

I can’t find my copy, but that is almost certainly because I forced someone to borrow it.

This is an amazing collection of literary science fiction stories. The writing is smooth and flawless and the ideas are fun and clever.

The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate is one of the best time travel stories I’ve ever read — the problem of suspense in time travel narratives is difficult to come by, but this story’s convention works perfectly for that. The setting is also unique, almost reading like an Aesop’s Fable.

Exhalation, from which the book’s title is taken, is an amazing bit of hard science world building.

It’s been a while, but I don’t remember there being a weak one in the bunch. Funny, poignant, interesting… this book’s got it all.

Go read it. Now.

Book Log #12 – The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman [Little Shop of Stories]

There is an issue I have with some narration that I struggle to articulate. I want my third person narrator to be… Consistent? Clear as to what it is?

There is a line that (I feel) shouldn’t be crossed tentatively. Either the third person narrator is a character, or it is a neutral conduit for information. It throws me out of the story when the narration suddenly has a personality for the sake of making a joke, and then doesn’t.

The narration of Hill does that a couple times, and it bothers me more than it probably should. All in all, this is an okay slice of life novel about a single young woman in LA.

Perhaps the characters were not as outlandish as the book seemed to think they are. Maybe not a lot happens here. But for some reason I ploughed through the novel, and I have no regrets.

Perhaps a nice low impact story with a happy ending is want I was looking for these days.

As a side note, I feel like I’ve read a disproportionate number of books lately with characters who love books so much. Maybe that’s always been the way with books– authors usually like books, and write what you know, right?

Book Log #11 – The Toll (Book 3 of Arc of Scythe Series)

The Toll (Arc of a Scythe) by Neal Shusterman

This is one of the the few series that both my son and I have read. Shockingly, to me, we don’t have much in common in specific books. Though, on the face, we should.

Neither of my kids read as much as I envisioned when they were little, as I read to them every night, for probably a decade. They both have a love of story, there is no doubt. But picking up a book is rarer than I’d like.

Their counter-argument is that they read *all the time*, by which they mean social media. And they’re not… wrong. And maybe my way of thinking is old-fashioned. Of course, I know there was disappointment in some quarters when I didn’t immediately dive into a Christmas-gifted edition of Tom Sawyer when I was 9 or 10. So perhaps we all fail to live up to elder expectations.

But it makes having a series in common all the more rewarding when it happens.

The Arc of Scythe series is good, though it requires me to do quite a bit if disbelief suspending in its very premise. Society has become “post-mortal” due to nannites in the blood that repair the body, and rejuvination processes that can rebuild a body if the brain has not been destroyed. People are generally “deadish” instead of “dead”. So that’s fine.

There is also an ubercomputer that manages everything for everyone. It has the sum of human knowledge at it’s disposal, and runs simulations on actions and outcomes to determine the best possible path. That’s fine, a common sci-fi trope. It’s a benevolent entity that is firmly grounded in Asimov’s laws-like principles.

But– now we have an overpopulation problem. To solve that overpopulation problem, they decide that some humans will become “Scythes”, an organization outside of the uber-computer’s control that are tasked with killing a certain percentage of the population.

Why not branch out to other planets? Settle the moon or Mars? Well, they tried that, and everyone died in explosions.

Why not keep trying, if the alternative is people getting randomly killed on Earth? I DON’T KNOW.

Well, there’s a bit of a reason, and it relates to the ending of The Good Place. [SPOILERS AHEAD]

It boils down to infinity being just too much. In order to live with purpose, time has to matter. If you have all the time in the world, a lack of motivation settles in and everything goes to crap. If you don’t know how much time you have… well, best get to livin’!

If you accept that premise that death gives life purpose, then this is a pretty satisfying series all around.

Myself, I’d prefer to give infinity a whirl.

Book Log #6: Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures Young Readers Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly [Little Shop of Stories, Paperback]

I caught the movie with the kids last weekend before reading this book. Unfortunately, I had accidentally put the Young Readers Edition on my wishlist, and received it for Christmas. So, it was a tad simplistic… I kind of want to get the adult version and read it again.

The stories are interesting, and I’m glad I read (a version of) the book after seeing the movie, so I could sort the dramatization from the facts a bit. If the book is taken as the reality, then the movie did take some liberties with time and order of events, and even reassigned some things that happened to different characters, but overall the movie was by and large a true story, just reshaped for dramatic effect.

According to the book, John Glenn didn’t trust the IBM electronic computers, and did indeed ask for the “girl” to check the calculations on his reentry before he would take his historic flight, which was a touching point in the movie that seemed exaggerated. Nice to know that piece was true.

At any rate, it’s amazing that these stories haven’t been mainstream knowledge until now. They’re inspirational, to say the least.

Book Log #5: The Three Body Problem

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu and translated by Ken Liu [Christmas gift, hardback, Little Shop of Stories]

This was originally recommended by… someone. Curt? Can’t remember. But then President Obama recommended it. And I figured if two totally unrelated sources recommended a book, I should probably listen.

I wasn’t disappointed. I feel like Cixin Liu is a Chinese Neal Stephenson. Lots of interesting sci-fi ideas mixed in with a dose of history… a very enjoyable read. It went pretty quickly.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book translated from Chinese, so… a first.

Again, it’s difficult to discuss without spoilers… but the story spans from the Cultural Revolution and its fallout to the “present day”, covering a couple generations and jumping back and forth in time with gradual reveals of what’s “really” going on. Reminiscent of Cryptonomicon.

Good read. Thanks, Obama.

Book Log #51 – The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

I’ve read several autobiographies by comedians in the last few years– Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Faith Salie… hmmm, I felt like this list would be longer.

All of them have been funny, all have been interesting, all are good reads I would recommend… by Amy Schumer’s is the first one that also made me somewhat terrified for my daughter.

Ms. Schumer tells stories of her encounters with abusive or unstable boyfriends, and I’d love to say my daughter is too self-possessed, too smart, too self-respectful to fall for the crap a wrong person brings. But the fact is… so was Amy Schumer.

I’d like to think that we’re raising our daughter in a better environment, and maybe that will help, but you just never know.

Probably the best thing I can do is just let her read Amy’s book. When she’s much, much older, because this sucker is pretty raunchy and definitely R-rated, like most things Amy does.

Regardless, this was an excellent, funny, often poignant, sometimes cringe-worthy book. Definitely recommend.

Books Read: 51
Week Number: 52

This is it, folks. I need to knock one more out in three days. And I think I know just the book.

Book Log #46 – Approval Junkie

Approval Junkie: Adventures in Caring Too Much by Faith Salie [Hardback, Little Shop of Stories, $27]

I knew Faith Salie a tiny, little bit.

Freshman year at my dream school, and her “safety” school (pg 224), we lived in the same 103 person dorm. We acted together in a video project, where I and two other guys sang (poorly, in my case) a serenade to her about art, or rather how “we have art for [her]”. We are not the heroes of this video, we are the jerks. She plays a being from another plane of existence, or something like that. I played a pizza delivery boy.

I know she took the Early to Bed, Early to Rise adage very seriously, to the chagrin of her suitemates, who were more the opposite and didn’t care much for shushing during Really Deep Conversations That We Have In College.

We once had a very nice conversation in a suite, the topic of which I completely forget.

She transferred to Harvard after freshman year, which I referenced in the dorm yearbook with a joke about “Faith No More”, a band I knew existed but couldn’t point out in a lineup. I stretch for the comedy.

But now she is part of the Golden Era of Female Comedians. Felicia Day, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer, Mindy Kaling, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, etc. etc. etc., many of whom have written memoirs. But not many of them are on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me on NPR, which is her greatest achievement IMHO.

I love these books, and Ms. Salie’s is no exception. Very funny, very readable, and just the right amount of poignant. She’s got plenty of stories worth telling, even at her young age of mid-fortiesish.

I recommend it, even if she disses my alma mater.

Books Read: 46
Week Count: 47
Gotta… catch… up.

Book Log #38 – The Member of the Wedding

The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers [Little Shop of Stories, $7.56/Kindle $6.51]

“Recommended” by the Language Arts teacher at Dekalb School of the Arts. By which I mean, it is on my son’s reading list for this fall. This is the second book from his list that I’ve picked up, and I must say that we’re 2/2 on good reads there.

Probably I wouldn’t have appreciated it as much in 8th grade. Or 12th. Or when I was 25. Tastes change, now I am boring. Or I used to be. One or t’other.

This book is a fascinating character sketch of a 12 year old girl. Full of complex emotions she’s encountering for the first time, she struggles with finding her place in the small town she grew up in. That description seems cliche, and doesn’t really do justice to the fine writing and vivid portrayal involved here.

Regardless, I liked it quite a bit. I look forward to more of the school system’s recommendations for “my” reading list.

A note that I read the first half in paper form, then we forgot it when we went out of town and Roan needed to get a couple chapters read, so we grabbed it on Kindle, where I finished it. Being a short novel, the price/page on this one is fairly high.

Week: 38
Book: 38
Ratio: 1:1

Book Log #35: The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate [Little Shop of Stories?]

Katherine Applegate is a ridiculously prolific author.

She does not shy away from the dark and the sad. The first part of this book, while mingled with hope and levity, is mostly really sad. It documents various animals living in a mall zoo.

I understand this is based on the real story of a gorilla named Ivan who resided at the Atlanta Zoo.

In short, it tugs at the heartstrings, but is well-written and engaging. This was a book I read to my daughter in the evenings, and she loved it. Even when it was sad.