Back from holiday!

>> Saturday, January 20, 2018

Hi everyone, I'm back in Liverpool for a couple of weeks to finish sorting out all the million little details still outstanding before I move to Helsinki at the end of the month. My holiday in Uruguay was exactly what I needed: lots of family time, and days and days of sitting by the pool reading.

There really was a lot of reading. The non fiction was the highlight. I finally read David France's How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS, which I've had at the top of my TBR for a few months. It reminded me a bit of one of my favourite books last year,  East West Street, by Philippe Sands, in that it beautifully combined the personal and the factual, and it had a narrator with a stake in the story. Both books also made me cry. Turns out both books have won the Baillie Gifford prize for non fiction, one in 2016 and the other in 2017, so that's one prize I'll be keeping an eye on.

The other really great non fiction was Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions, by Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths, which examines the way computer science looks at certain problems, and how that can illuminate the way we think about real-life issues.

On the fiction side, it was mostly solid but few books really wowed me. I loved rereading The Curse of Chalion (Bujold is always amazing), and Becky Chambers' A Closed and Common Orbit was as great as her first, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. I also enjoyed visiting 1990s Pakistan in Kamila Shamsie's Broken Verses, a TB Hospital in 1950s England in The Dark Circle, by Linda Grant, and the hidden areas of the Vatican with Robert Harris' Conclave (which I haven't quite finished listening to, but I'm enjoying immensely).

There were a few disappointments, books I'd been saving and really looking forward to, but that didn't deliver. The biggest one was Kristin Cashore's Jane Unlimited. It was really weird, but not in a good way, and full of characters that were psychologically unbelievable. It was a DNF for me, which I wasn't expecting. I was also disappointed in The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K Le Guin. The big idea of people who can move from being male to female to gender-neutral is not that revolutionary now (to be fair, possibly helped by this book!) and the plot outside of that was a bit meh. I still liked it, just not as much as I was hoping. I was also disappointed by the couple of Nordic Noir books I tried to read, both of which ended up being DNFs.

Here's a list of everything I read:


Sun,  20 January 2018 at 09:10  

Welcome back! And a bit late, but happy new year! I have yet to finish The Left Hand of Darkness too. Have you read Ancillary Justice? It's about a non-gendered culture with female pronouns. I enjoyed it so much more. Made it to my top 10 last year.

Malvina 20 January 2018 at 19:59  

WHat did ythe I think of Vinegar Girl? I laughed all the way through. I thought it would be almost impossible to translate The Taming of the Shrew into something contemporary. I was wrong...!

meljean brook 24 January 2018 at 05:35  

That holiday sounds wonderful! And welcome back!

Was Kristina Ohlsson's Unwanted one of the Nordic Noir disappointments? I've had that on my shelf forever because I read the first few chapters and then just kind of...wandered away. It wasn't even a conscious DNF, I didn't even put that much effort into it. I just didn't pick it up again.

And I think you just saved me from Jane, Unlimited! I'd read in my daughter's school newsletter that it was a recommended read, and it was described as brilliant description of coping with grief and completely unusual, but I suspect that if it's weird but not in a good way to you, that would probably be more how I would read it.

I still need to read A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. It's been languishing in my TBR forever, despite hearing nothing but wonderful things.

Janine Ballard 26 January 2018 at 04:52  

I agree with you on Jane, Unlimited. It's my least favorite Cashore, and I wasn't a big fan of Fire.

I loved The Left Hand of Darkness when I read it 15 or 20 years ago, and I wonder whether I would feel similarly to you now? But I remember that I especially loved its take on culture shock / culture clash. The last scenes are still so vivid in my mind.

Rosario 27 January 2018 at 08:42  

Sun: Happy New Year to you, too! (I'm even later to respond!). I have Ancillary Justice in my TBR, and really want to read it soon. I felt Left Hand of Darkness was very of its time in certain aspects, and much prefer the way the same issues are explored (or even just depicted) in more recent books (like Becky Chambers' A Close and Common Orbit, which I happened to read right before this one!).

Malvina: Ah, I forgot to list that one amongst the books I loved! So good! I did have those doubts as well (as well as doubting it could be turned into something I could enjoy at all, actually!), but Tyler managed it.

Meljean: Thank you! Yes, unfortunately Unwanted was one of them. It had an interesting setup, I thought, but I didn't like the writing (part of that might have been the translation, I guess), and the lack of logic in some of the policework annoyed me.

My problem with Jane, Unlimited was that the characters didn't behave like real people. They would do stuff that made no sense and everyone around them would accept it as perfectly logical. It IS unusual and the sense of grief in Jane was palpable and really well done, but it was just not for me. I can't say whether you would like it, of course, but I suspect not.

And do read ALWTASAP (!). I adored it :)

Janine: I liked Fire myself, but this is absolutely nothing like the other books. I would never have guessed it was the same author.

Re: Left Hand of Darkness, I suspect I would have liked this a lot better a couple of decades ago. I think it might have felt a lot less dated (even though it would have been about 30 years old by then!).

Anonymous,  12 February 2018 at 00:54  

Welcome back and that's a lot of reading.

One of the nordic noir books I Travel Alone or something like that was a DNF for me. I have my favorites in the genre and have decided to skip reading any new authors in that area. My interest these days is in the classics and I'm currently reading Jane Austen's Persuasion after loving Pride and Prejudice. ---Keishon

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