Monday, October 31, 2011

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

As I read this book, I spent a lot of time thinking about the role of Okonkwo. While he has a number of flaws (his temper, for example), he definitely fills the role of a tragic hero for me. This book, like Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God definitely has an anthropological bent--but here that bent turns metafictional as the narrator reflects on masculine and feminine stories. Finally the book's critique of colonialism is both scathing and heart-rending.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

When I re-read this book, I particularly enjoyed tracing the anthropological strain (manifested in the author's use of folk tales) throughout the book. I wondered a little about Janie's development: she always defines herself as a romantic self (that is, she ends her childhood when she is attracted to a young man, and she becomes a woman when her illusions about the romance of marriage are crushed, for example). It was frustrating to me that there seemed to be little interest in Janie's development of herself for herself.

Four Decades of Magic: Celebrating the First Forty Years of Disney World by Chad Emerson

This book contains a collection of essays about the history of Walt Disney World. It took me several months to read because I read it intermittently, an essay at a time. Some of the essays were really excellent and clarified and informed me about bits of Disney history with which I was not previously familiar. Other essays seemed to retrod familiar ground. Overall it was an entertaining collection.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

This book starts as a brief bildungsroman, but it develops into an intriguing story about regret and whether you can go back to reevaluate the past. Anthony Webster is a young man whose girlfriend dumps him for one of his best friends. When that friend later commits suicide, Anthony puts the whole episode out of his mind. But forty years later, he receives a strange bequest that prompts him to reexamine his past. While the book comes together in a thought-provoking way and was generally enjoyable, there's something a bit pat about the whole thing.

One Step Behind by Henning Mankell

The title of this book summarizes pretty accurately how I felt reading it--I really enjoyed the story, but I never felt like I knew anything about what was happening until the author was good and ready for me to know (which was ahead of Wallander at times, but never too far in advance). I felt like the mystery this time remained more mysterious than usual (I didn't have a great sense of why the killer turned out to be such a nut job). Still it was an enjoyable read.

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

This book finds Deryn, Alek, and the Leviathan on a journey around the globe, first to rescue inventor Nikola Tesla, then to get him and his doomsday machine to New York to support the war effort. Along the way there are some highly interesting stops where Pancho Villa, William Randolph Hearst, and Sakichi Toyoda make appearances. I really like the alternative history in this book--Westerfeld has done a great and imaginative job figuring out how these technological differences (Darwinists who alter DNA to build beasties to do magnificent things, and Clankers who build machines) would play out in an historical context. The best part of the story, though, is all about how Deryn and Alek finally learn to trust each other.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Narratologies: New Perspectives on Narrative Analysis by David Herman

This collection had a several very good articles. I particularly found the ones that connected recent work in computers to narratology, the "Speak, Friend, and Enter" article on linguistic forking paths, and the first essay (which gave a great account of "Cat in the Rain" helpful. The collection made a good case for the continued relevance of narratology.

The Half-Finished Heaven by Tomas Tranströmer

This collection of poetry is full of beautiful images. I particularly liked the blend between appreciation for the natural world and awareness of and engagement with urban spaces. I also found a lot of the poet's interest in music very revealing. An enjoyable collection that spans a venerable career.

Death Masks by Jim Butcher

In this book Harry Dresden finds himself up against the vampires (a vampire of the Red Court challenges him to a duel) while he's called on to find the Shroud of Turin which has been stolen from a church in Italy and which seems to be on its way to Chicago. I think the key point of this novel was when one of the spirits that Harry has summoned asks him--why do you do it? He doesn't really have an answer to hand, and I'm hoping that in future books he'll explore his motivations more.

The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell

This murder mystery is like many of Mankell's: it has the mystery, but it also deals with the question of what the role of the police in civil society is. As in other books in this series, the murders are prompted by the murderer's sense that justice is not being done, and the victims are reprehensible. Still, Mankell (and Wallander, his detective) demonstrate a faith in justice and in the police to solve even the most carefully-planned and executed murders.

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

In this book Percy Jackson appears at the Roman equivalent of Camp Half-Blood but he has lost his memory. He makes friends with Frank and Hazel, outcasts even in the camp's disgraced Fifth Legion and gets sent on a quest to redeem the honor of the Fifth Legion and help stop Gaea's evil plot to take over the world. I really enjoyed looking at the Roman side of things--Riordan has obviously put a lot of thought into how the differences between Greece and Rome would play out in his fictional world. The book is very funny at parts, moving at others, and full of wholesome fun. I can't wait to see where the series goes from here (and for the Greek and Roman counterparts to meet in full!).

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

I definitely appreciated the achievements of this book much more this time around than I ever have before. I'm not quite sure what clicked (whether the epic ambitions / ultimate parody of the journey the Bundrens take, Darl's prescient ability to know what's going on, poor Vardaman's inability to process his mother's death, Cora's self-righteous assumptions, or Anse's sly laziness), but I could see how this novel works better than ever.

Low Town by Daniel Polansky

This book throws a lot of balls in the air but manages them well. I found myself surprised by several twists. It took a little bit of time to figure out how the imaginary world of the novel works, and how the main character fits into that world, but I ended up really liking the main character, who fits into the noir mold of a detective struggling to do what's right in spite of his troubled past. I'm hoping there's more to come from this story!

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

I was really intrigued by the figures of Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe when I read this book again. I found Mrs. Ramsay's ability to make connections (and a sort of art out of the social) particularly moving--especially when you consider how ephemeral that art (and even Lily's art--she cannot create her painting until she accepts that it might moulder in someone's attic someday) is. Additionally, I was moved by the lyrical beauty of the prose. Finally, I was intrigued by Woolf's attention to punctuation--for example the characters who die in bracketed statements.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Choices of One by Timothy Zahn

I really enjoyed this book which delivers old and new favorite characters (Han, Luke, Leia, a little Wedge, a little Vader, Mara Jade, Thrawn, and the Hand of Judgment stood out) in the midst of the rebellion. Lots of great action (and not a few betrayals), but more to the point, the characters were great. I particularly enjoyed seeing Luke as still a farmboy--definitely someone who doesn't yet have it all figured out. Han and Leia, who still haven't admitted they like each other yet, are also good here. All in all a great story.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

This book purports to be an oral history of the zombie war. It's a really enjoyable account. The book does a good job of working its way through to cover the war fully despite being set up as a series of interviews. We don't get to know any of the individual characters terribly well (many of them just have one section), but overall it paints a compelling and exciting portrait of humanity in crisis.

Ghosts I Have Been by Richard Peck

This book is about Blossom Culp, a young girl who lives in the Midwest in 1913. She's got the Second Sight and the main plot of the book is about how she sees the ghost of a British boy who died on the Titanic and gets to visit the Queen as a result. I found the plot a little bit slow, but I really like Blossom and her friends Miss Dabney and Alexander Armsworth.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

This book made a lot more sense (or the plot lines seemed to work together better this time around). I intrigued by Dracula's move to London--he's interested in the new urbanization and the huge population accessible to him from there. I also found the Renfield subplot more comprehensible this time.