Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015 Books

As I did last year, and the previous few before that, I'm posting the books I read last year.  More than a couple of doorstops in there. Couple of disappointments but mostly a reasonably good year.  I think the most enjoyable of the year were The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Water for Elephants and The Good Luck of Right Now.  

* = Recommended
X = Stay Away

  • A Game of Thrones (Audiobook):  George R.R. Martin - liked it better than I thought I would, based on the opening.  I have to give it to Martin, he does have a respectful treatment of women and children, making them active, complex, full human beings and key players in the machinations of court life, present in realistic numbers, rather than as mere tokens.  I hated the zombie-based plot line, and am not thrilled at the prospect of a dragon-based.plot line that is hinted at as a teaser for the next volume.  I recognize the need for a formidable external enemy that might serve to temporarily re-unite the warring families, but in my opinion, resorting to supernatural forces weakens, not strengthens a plot about very human rivalries.  I might or might not work myself up to reading the next volume.  If I do, it will probably be because of interest in Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow and possibly Arya and Bran Stark.  I don't really find any of the others very compelling.  I take a rather dim view, in general, of stories where characters are clearly on the side of "good" or "evil" and I find most of the characters in here a bit too cartoonish that way.  Tyrion and Jon have divided enough loyalties that my interest in them is piqued.  I may try to get the video of the series...I think my interest might be sustained a bit better in movie mode.
  • Emma:  Jane Austen - I enjoyed this more than I have in the past (Emma is not one of my favorite Austens.)  I found it a bit more forgivable, this time, though I continue to be disappointed with the overly elitist ending for poor Harriet.
  • Sense and Sensibility:  Jane Austen (most of it) - what can I say?  Comfort food.
  • Pygmalion:  George Bernard Shaw
  • The Yellow Wallpaper:  Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • Emergency Care and Transportation of the Sick and Injured, Tenth Edition (most of it):  American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
  • 1Q84 (Audiobook):  Haruki Murakami - kind of interesting.  Could have stood a bit of pruning, IMHO - a fair amount of redundancy and tell stuff.  And you kind of spoil the magical realism effect when your characters reflect on how weird things are getting for them.
  • Snuff (Audiobook):  Terry Pratchett.  Enjoyed it a lot.  Not quite * material.  I love Pratchett's theme of tolerance that wends its way throughout his work.
  • Mrs. Warren's Profession:  George Bernard Shaw
  • * The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Audiobook):  Michael Chabon - loved this. Started a little slow, but it really pulled me in.  I started it a bit reluctantly, not expecting to like it a lot, as I'm not much of a comic book enthusiast.
  • Possession (Audiobook):  A.S. Byatt - Enjoyed it a lot, but I won't put it as a *, as it may not be for everybody.  I have to be entertained by the digs at academe, which
    some of you may understand :-) 
  • The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (Audiobook): Charles Dickens - Liked it better when I read it years ago. A little disappointing this time round.
  • 100 Years of Solitude (Audiobook):  Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • * Water for Elephants (Audiobook):  Sara Gruen - really enjoyed it
  • * The White Tiger:  Aravind Adiga - you know I liked it because I actually read the whole thing on paper.  (This is my second read of still holds up, even knowing the punchline.)
  • Ann Veronica (Audiobook):  H.G.Wells - big disappointment...I normally like HG Wells a LOT, but this one...sigh.  I kept waiting for him to get to the point, and then...he neatly missed it.   There was so much potential in the premise.
  • * The Good Luck of Right Now (Audiobook):  Matthew Quick - not the sort of book that you'd (I'd) expect me to like - full of spiritual themes.  But really the voice was so wonderful, characters so real, and the story and structure so good, that all-in-all it was one of the best reads I had this year.  Now I'll have to go read Silver Linings Playbook (I liked the movie a lot). The narrator of this one is a totally different voice/character than the protagonist of the Silver Linings Playbook movie, but I can see the connection in terms of the delicate and nuanced handling of emotionally damaged characters.
  • Death Comes to Pemberley:  PD James - kind of a serious disappointment.  The premise and the historical fiction aspect were interesting, but I found the writing distractingly bad.  I liked the movie/miniseries, though, which I saw before I read the book.  Kept waiting for the character motivations/plot twists of the movie to appear in the book, which they didn't.  I say good job to the screen writers - they added a depth to the work that was entirely missing in the text.
  • Oedipus Rex:  Sophocles
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime:  Mark Haddon - read it to discuss with Sidharta (who had strong negative reactions to it), as he was required to read it over the summer.  He found the narrator overly stereotyped and was confused/annoyed by the lack of consistency between  the narrator's behavior and his words (I had to remind him about unreliable narrators).  By a curious coincidence, it so happened that I was reading The Good Luck of Right Now at the same time, and while it isn't for the same audience, the narrators are very similar in some ways.  I liked The Good Luck of Right now much, much better.
  • The All Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion (Audiobook):  Fannie Flag - sweet, but kind of predictable.  Some interesting historical detail on the WASPs - WWII women's flying unit.
  • Reamde (Audiobook):  Neal Stephenson - the premise was so interesting (using gold farming to solve computationally difficult problems, and using this for economic benefit), but this was pretty much dropped in favor of more action, which was kind of disappointing to me
  • * Americanah (Audiobook):  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - lovely reading
  • Stones from the River (Audiobook):  Ursula Hegi - reading was a little annoying, interesting perspective on life in Germany from WWI on, including a feel for life in the days leading up to WWII and the holocaust, which felt eerily like modern US.
  • Camille:  Alexandre Dumas
  • Anna Karenina:  Leo Tolstoy - I loved it a lot when I was in grad school, rather less this time.  I'm just not finding much there in Anna.  I understand and sympathize with her inner conflict, but I don't find her an interesting enough person independent of her unpleasant social situation to warrant all this drama.  Kitty and Dolly seem to be deeper thinkers than she is.  I still love Levin, though I'm a little more irritated with his landowner perspective than I think I was the first time round.  But Tolstoy is still the Boss in my book for his creation of living, breathing, mixed up characters who change moods on a dime.
  • The Forsyte Saga:  John Galsworthy - well...just because...I read it only about 2 years ago,'s so well done...still working on it - I'm about 2/3 of the way through.
  • Rashi's Daughters - Book 1:  Joheved:  Maggie Anton - interesting premise, kind of annoying writing; some interesting historical details of life in Medieval France
  • The Daring Ladies of Lowell (Audiobook):  Kate Alcott - annoying reading and writing; trying to like it - it's got some interesting historical context of the life of mill workers in the 1830s, but there's a lot of stuff that feels tone-deaf about social mores in those times, not to mention annoyingly anachronistic turn of phrase.  Still working on it
  • Logicomix:  Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou - because who wouldn't like a graphic novel with the founders of computational logic, like Cantor, Russell, Godel, Hilbert, etc. as characters? 
  • Age of Reason:  Thomas Paine - reading with Annapurna - I just love it!  
And with Sidharta:
  • The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Willson:  Mark Twain (most of it...he finished it off, himself)
  • The Three Musketeers:  Alexandre Dumas - well, actually, not the version I'm linking to, but rather the Children's Illustrated Library edition I read as a kid...I think it's just a little too racy, and slightly misogynist for him in the I found out to my shock a few years ago when I read the grownup version, myself.  
  • The Menaechmi:  Plautus - actually we read a much more modern translation than the one I'm linking to, which uses a much more modern voice.  I read this in college and loved it.  I figured it was just the right level of goofy slapstick that would appeal to Sidharta.  Next stop:  The Comedy of Errors :-)  Or maybe Lysistrata.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass:  Lewis Carroll - actually we read from The Annotated Alice that I bought for Kumar many years ago, which includes some very interesting text by Martin Gardner (most of which Sidharta wanted nothing to do with :-)
  • Watership Down:  Richard Adams (started) - I read this when I was a bit younger than Sidharta and loved, loved, loved it.
  • For the Win:  Cory Doctorow (started - still working on it) - Annapurna loved this when she was about the same age...I read it a while ago and loved it.  Figured Sidharta's about ready.

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