Books: Innocence

April 3, 2014

Since I had a gift card for Books-A-Million, I decided to get Dean Koontz’ newest novel, Innocence, for my birthday. Mostly I wait for books I want to be available at the library, but some books I buy, such as his Odd Thomas series. When I read that Innocence was one of his favorite books that he’d written, I thought that was a good enough reason to buy it.

I disagree with this review, which claims that “readers will either love this story or despise it.” It’s a reasonably well-told story, and thought-provoking once you finally learn the secret of what makes people hate Addison Goodheart and those like him. But I don’t know how likely I am to reread it. Now that I know the nature of Addison’s “deformity” what little suspense was there is gone, and the writing is not so impressive that I want to read it just for the way Koontz writes (as I have others of his books).

What is most interesting about the book is Koontz’ idea of people, like Addison, to whom others react with fear, then violent hatred. Even his own mother found it difficult to have him present, and the one person in the city who is his father’s friend can only bear to see him once a year. I wondered what it could be in their faces, especially their eyes, that provoked such a reaction, but the answer turned out to be very different from what the reader expects.

Please note that the rest of this post will be about what Koontz reveals at the end of the novel, so stop here if you haven’t read it and want to without knowing the explanation ahead of time.

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The pleasures of reading

February 17, 2014

I have been thinking lately about the different kinds of books I read, and the different kinds of pleasure I get from reading them.

There are those I read primarily for the enjoyment of a well-told story. I recently read two books by Daniel Silva, an author recommended to me by a co-worker, who purchased The Kill Artist for me for my birthday to get me started. The Kill Artist is the first in his Gabriel Allon series, though as it happened I read The Rembrandt Affair (tenth in the series) first, because I found it at Goodwill after my co-worker recommended Silva but before my birthday.

I can enjoy a well-told story without learning anything new, I suppose, but good storytellers generally take a reader’s mind to new places. Not necessarily geographic places, though there’s generally enjoyment in learning about new places.

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Books: City of Clouds

February 1, 2014

I read Book of Clouds because it was recommended by a friend, my Spanish professor from college. I won’t say I disliked it, but on the whole my impression was mostly of unrealized expectations.Perhaps I am missing something. A review in the New York Times calls it “required reading of the most pleasurable sort.” Reviews quoted at amazon.com call it “exquisitely written,” “beautifully evocative,” and “weighty in its intelligence and thoughtfulness.”

I would agree that there are a number of well-written passages about various aspects of the city of Berlin. Indeed, the novel seems to be more about Berlin than about its main character, Tatiana. Making the setting an essential part of the novel is good, but it doesn’t take the place of good character development and plot.

Or maybe it does, for some readers. The word “surreal” comes up in some reviews. Perhaps it is seen as rising above the need for the sort of characterization and plot development that are normally expected in a novel. I don’t necessarily dislike surrealism (I happen to like Salvador Dalí‘s art), but perhaps I prefer it in visual art rather than literature. I would probably like the surrealist elements in Book of Clouds if they accompanied an interesting character, plot, or both.

But I guess I’m not alone in my disappointment with the book. A review in The Guardian concludes that “But without [the author's] or Tatiana’s familiarity with Berlin, the reader gets lost in the dense fog of allusion.”


Books: Why Nations Fail

January 26, 2014

For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard about how poor people are in many parts of the world and how we who have so much need to help them. Yet I’ve also read how so little of the aid sent to some countries gets to the people who really need it.

I’ve read how the poverty of some countries is due to exploitation by wealthier countries, including my own. I’ve read how the traditional culture is a factor, discouraging innovation, especially it is associated with cultural values different from one’s own. I’ve read in particular how the dominant religion of a society may affect its economic progress – or lack of it.

What I hadn’t seen before I read Why Nations Fail is an analysis that shows the links between politics and economics, or that explores in detail the economic history of societies in many different times and places. When I got the book from the library I wondered whether I’d be able to finish it (462 pages) before I had to return it, but it made for surprisingly quick reading.

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Books: Original Sin

January 23, 2014

It’s hard to say much about any murder mystery without giving away key aspects of the plot. It’s also hard to evaluate any novel as a whole without taking the ending of the book into account.

That being said, I did enjoy reading Original Sin until the ending. It’s good enough reading that I wouldn’t want to spoil someone’s potential enjoyment of reading it by discussing the ending, but I have to say that I did find the ending somewhat less than satisfying, which colors my impression of the book as a whole.

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Reading Augustine

January 2, 2014

Considering my post yesterday about reading the classics, it seemed quite serendipitous today to discover this invitation to read Augustine’s City of God, a little bit each day, over the course of this year. It’s one of those classics I’ve thought from time to time (as I happen upon mentions of it in something else I’m reading) that would be good to read, but that seemed too difficult to tackle on my own. But now I won’t be on my own. At the point when I joined the Facebook group, it was up to 841 members.

Collin Garbarino, who is organizing this, says that “City of God has everything—history, theology, philosophy, science.” That definitely sounds like my kind of book. And I don’t even have to track down the copy that I’m sure we have somewhere, since it is available online in various formats. Reading on a computer screen isn’t my favorite way to go, but it has the advantage of being something I can do from different computers, as long as I have the link (which is one reason I included it here).

Garbarino has designated January 6 as the starting day, but I plan to get started now – no doubt there will be days when I have trouble finding time to read even three or four short chapters.


Reading the classics

January 1, 2014

Even before reading Soldier’s Heart (see my previous post), I had been thinking about trying to read some of the classic literature that I never read when I was in school. I read a fair amount that wasn’t for school assignments, but that was mostly when I was still in school (i.e. up through getting my M.A. in Spanish in 1984).

Back then I prided myself on reading mostly the sort of books that would be assigned in school. I’m not sure if I thought that reading them made me a better person, or just that, being the sort of person who enjoyed good literature, I wouldn’t enjoy popular fiction.

Then I tried reading some popular fiction, and discovered that a good deal of it made very enjoyable reading, and that it still dealt with important themes about human life and society. To refuse to read it because it wasn’t considered “literature” seemed an elitist attitude that reflected too much pride in my intellectual abilities.

But now and then, seeing lists of classical literature that I haven’t read (such as the top 100 lists that make their way through facebook now and then), I wonder what I have missed out on. I have always valued education, and tried to keep learning new things.

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Books: Soldier’s Heart

December 27, 2013

I bought Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point by Elizabeth Samet a few years ago, but just got around to reading it this past week. It was not what I expected, though that might simply be because it had been so long since I bought it that I had forgotten what I knew about it when I bought it.

I knew it was about soldiers and literature, but I thought it was written by a soldier. Instead, Elizabeth Samet is a civilian professor of English literature at West Point. I also expected it to be more about literature; instead, a large part of it is about Samet’s own experiences, both before and since coming to West Point.

This includes her experiences teaching literature to cadets, and it is interesting to learn of their responses and perspectives. It is also interesting to follow their future military careers, as they continue to correspond with Samet after they graduate.

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Books: A Certain Justice

December 21, 2013

I don’t write blog posts about all the books I read, especially those that I read primarily for entertainment. Just as some books may be good reading but not provide much discussion in book clubs (see my previous post), they don’t provide for much to write about in a blog post.

Even with books that might give me a fair amount to say, if I’ve already read – and blogged about – other novels by the same author, I often find little to say that I didn’t say in a post about a previous book. I don’t generally have much to say about the plot – if you read a book you’ll find that out for yourself. And the kind of ideas discussed and the style of writing are often similar from one book to another. (That’s not a bad thing, I just am not inclined to write what feels repetitive unless the book is absolutely fantastic.)

In light of my previous post about book club books, however, I decided I did want to write something about P. D. James’ A Certain Justice. (Note: this is unrelated to the R-rated movie of the same title coming out in 2014.) I had nothing much to say about the last P. D. James book I read, Shroud for a Nightingale, which one reader review of the book I just read calls “brilliant” and James’ “most intricately plotted or fast-paced novel.” But A Certain Justice is thought-provoking in ways that Shroud for a Nightingale was not.

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Book club books

December 13, 2013

Recently I was shopping at a store where I saw a rack labeled “Book club books.” I didn’t have time to go browse (much as I would have liked to!), but I was curious what earned a book that designation.

I understand when books are segregated in bookstores by genre (though I agree with an author I read recently, who says it’s too bad bookstore browsers are less likely to pick up a different sort of book than when all titles were lumped together). It makes sense that some books are classified as children’s books or young adult books (though as I blogged recently, good books transcend those categorizations).

But what makes a book a “book club book”? Is it because it has been chosen by some nationally known book club? Is there some forum where people in local book clubs, like the one I belong to, tell what books they’re reading? Do editorial reviews recommend certain books as particularly suited to book club reading?

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