Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

by Haruki Murakami

This is the story of a man who’s wife leaves him and his efforts to get her back. At the beginning of the novel Toru or Mr. Wind-up Bird, has quit his job at a law firm and putters around the house cooking and looking for their lost cat while his wife supports them. One day his wife goes to work and simply doesn’t come back. Because this is Murakami it does not involve any navel gazing about what could have gone wrong in the marriage or any action by the man to go out and get a job to impress her and win her back. Instead Toru drifts along letting fate take him where it will and in this case it takes him on some very interesting adventures. In his wife’s absence Toru meets Malta Kano, a psychic helping him look for his lost cat and her sister, Creta Kano, a prostitute of the mind. He crosses paths with his evil brother in law, Noboru a pragmatic politician who defiled Creta Kano years ago and may have something to do with his wife’s absence. He meets Lt. Mamiya who tells him about war atrocities in Outer Mongolia and Manchuria. He runs into a mother and son team that he calls Nutmeg and Cinnamon and joins up with them to psychically heal wealthy women. Toru also makes friends with a teenage girl down the street, May Kasahara , and spends quite a bit of time sitting in a dry well where he has some unusual experiences.

What I really love about Murakami is his writing. This is how he described a smile: “The hint of a smile played about his lips, as if he had just heard a joke and was smiling now in the most natural way. Nor had the joke been a vulgar one: it was the kind of elegant pleasantry that the minister of foreign affairs might have told the crown prince at a garden party a generation ago, causing the surrounding listeners to titter in delight.” Most authors would just call it a smile but Murakami draws a vivid picture. I also love the crazy characters and the way you never know exactly what is going to happen because reality as we know it does not apply in a Murakami novel( New York Times review called the novel Kafkaesque). I have read some reviews that said they didn’t like the ambiguous ending but I like to be left guessing about what happens after the novel ends. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. While I like Kafka on the Shore better because I liked the main character more, this was a great read and I will certainly continue to read Murakami.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Lending Books

Today’s Musing: “A few weeks back we had a question about borrowing books, this week I was wondering what your policy was on lending books. Do you lend books to anyone? Just friends? Only big readers? How long are they allowed to have them?”

I hate lending books and try not to do it too often. I have book shelves in my office at work filed with my personal books (almost all fiction) because we don’t actually use books for work anymore. Sometimes co-workers will brows my shelves and ask to borrow books. I lent one person a hard cover that subsequently was lost and then eventually found more than a year later but without its dust jacket. My boss borrowed five or six books that I only got back three years later when she retired. And it is not just a problem at work. I certainly cannot loan books to my family. My sister never ever buys books and usually reads whatever paperback she can find free in a book swap to which she returns it when she is done. She has no notion that a book is not to be treated with respect and any book will not only be dog eared but with the spine broken, splattered with wine and/or dipped in the swimming pool when she is done with it. She is absolutely not allowed to go into my books shelves.

The only time I lend out books is when I read a book and just know that so and so absolutely has to read it. For those few friends that I know will take care of books and I am convinced that a particular book is something they must read, I do not hesitate to lend to them the book and they do the same for me. Some of my favorite books are ones that a friend knew would be perfect for me and insisted that I read it. I don’t set any time limit on the loan. Interesting question.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Guardian's 1000 Novels - SF & Horror

Carl V at Stainless Steel Droppings has an interesting post regarding the Guardian’s 1000 Novels Everyone Should Read which includes a section on Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.
Following Carl’s lead, below is a list of those SF books with those I have read bolded and in orange. I was surprised that I had actually read 34. The Guardian list is a little strange until you read their introduction that explains their selections criteria: “all are examples of a literature at the forefront of the collective imagination. Every truly original writer must, by definition, create a new world. Here is a whole galaxy of worlds to explore.” Of course it is also odd that the introduction specifically mentions that Tolkien is on the list and he isn’t. The fun of lists like this is to not only get new ideas of books to read but also disagree and quibble over the books left out (Perdido Street Station, Ender’s Game) or inexplicably included (Darwin’s Radio), pleasantly surprised by ones that you had forgotten about (Weaveworld) and confirm the ones that you vehemently agree are must reads (Titus Groan, The Trial). This list has given me some good reading suggestions - like I need more books on my wish list!

1. Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
2. Brian W Aldiss: Non-Stop (1958)
3. Isaac Asimov: Foundation (1951)
4. Margaret Atwood: The Blind Assassin (2000)
5. Paul Auster: In the Country of Last Things (1987)
6. Iain Banks: The Wasp Factory (1984)
7. Iain M Banks: Consider Phlebas (1987)
8. Clive Barker: Weaveworld (1987)
9. Nicola Barker: Darkmans (2007)
10. Stephen Baxter: The Time Ships (1995)
11. Greg Bear: Darwin’s Radio (1999)
12. Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination (1956)
13. Poppy Z Brite: Lost Souls (1992)
14. Algis Budrys: Rogue Moon (1960)
15. Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita (1966)
16. Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Coming Race (1871)
17. Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (1960)
18. Anthony Burgess: The End of the World News (1982)
19. Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Princess of Mars (1912)
20. William Burroughs: Naked Lunch (1959)
21. Octavia Butler: Kindred (1979)
22. Samuel Butler: Erewhon (1872)
23. Italo Calvino: The Baron in the Trees (1957)
24. Ramsey Campbell: The Influence (1988)
25. Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
26. Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)
27. Angela Carter: Nights at the Circus (1984)
28. Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)
29. Arthur C Clarke: Childhood’s End (1953)
30. GK Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)
31. Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (2004)
32. Michael G Coney: Hello Summer, Goodbye (1975)
33. Douglas Coupland: Girlfriend in a Coma (1998)
34. Mark Danielewski: House of Leaves (2000)
35. Marie Darrieussecq: Pig Tales (1996)
36. Samuel R Delaney: The Einstein Intersection (1967)
37. Philip K Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
38. Philip K Dick: The Man in the High Castle (1962)
39. Umberto Eco: Foucault’s Pendulum (1988)
40. Michel Faber: Under the Skin (2000)
41. John Fowles: The Magus (1966)
42. Neil Gaiman: American Gods (2001)
43. Alan Garner: Red Shift (1973)
44. William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984)
45. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Herland (1915)
46. William Golding: Lord of the Flies (1954)
47. Joe Haldeman: The Forever War (1974)
48. M John Harrison: Light (2002)
49. Robert A Heinlein: Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
50. Frank Herbert: Dune (1965)
51. Hermann Hesse: The Glass Bead Game (1943)
52. Russell Hoban: Riddley Walker (1980)
53. James Hogg: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)
54. Michel Houellebecq: Atomised (1998)
55. Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932)
56. Kazuo Ishiguro: The Unconsoled (1995)
57. Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
58. Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (1898)
59. PD James: The Children of Men (1992)
60. Richard Jefferies: After London; Or, Wild England (1885)
61. Gwyneth Jones: Bold as Love (2001)
62. Franz Kafka: The Trial (1925)
63. Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon (1966)
64. Stephen King: The Shining (1977)
65. Marghanita Laski: The Victorian Chaise-longue (1953)
66. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Uncle Silas (1864)
67. Stanislaw Lem: Solaris (1961)
68. Doris Lessing: Memoirs of a Survivor (1974)
69. David Lindsay: A Voyage to Arcturus (1920)
70. Ken MacLeod: The Night Sessions (2008)
71. Hilary Mantel: Beyond Black (2005)
72. Michael Marshall Smith: Only Forward (1994)
73. Richard Matheson: I Am Legend (1954)
74. Charles Maturin: Melmoth the Wanderer (1820)
75. Patrick McCabe: The Butcher Boy (1992)
76. Cormac McCarthy: The Road (2006)
77. Jed Mercurio: Ascent (2007)
78. China Miéville: The Scar (2002)
79. Andrew Miller: Ingenious Pain (1997)
80. Walter M Miller Jr: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960)
81. David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas (2004)
82. Michael Moorcock: Mother London (1988)
83. William Morris: News From Nowhere (1890)
84. Toni Morrison: Beloved (1987)
85. Haruki Murakami: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1995)
86. Vladimir Nabokov: Ada or Ardor (1969)
87. Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003)
88. Larry Niven: Ringworld (1970)
89. Jeff Noon: Vurt (1993)
90. Flann O’Brien: The Third Policeman (1967)
91. Ben Okri: The Famished Road (1991)
92. Chuck Palahniuk: Fight Club (1996)
93. Thomas Love Peacock: Nightmare Abbey (1818)
94. Mervyn Peake: Titus Groan (1946)
95. John Cowper Powys: A Glastonbury Romance (1932)
96. Christopher Priest: The Prestige (1995)
97. François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-34)
98. Ann Radcliffe: The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)
99. Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space (2000)
100. Kim Stanley Robinson: The Years of Rice and Salt (2002)
101. JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
102. Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses (1988)
103. Antoine de Sainte-Exupéry: The Little Prince (1943)
104. José Saramago: Blindness (1995)
105. Will Self: How the Dead Live (2000)
106. Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (1818)
107. Dan Simmons: Hyperion (1989)
108. Olaf Stapledon: Star Maker (1937)
109. Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash (1992)
110. Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
111. Bram Stoker: Dracula (1897)
112. Rupert Thomson: The Insult (1996)
113. Mark Twain: A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court (1889)
114. Kurt Vonnegut: Sirens of Titan (1959)
115. Robert Walser: Institute Benjamenta (1909)
116. Sylvia Townsend Warner: Lolly Willowes (1926)
117. Sarah Waters: Affinity (1999)
118. HG Wells: The Time Machine (1895)
119. HG Wells: The War of the Worlds (1898)
120. TH White: The Sword in the Stone (1938)
121. Gene Wolfe: The Book of the New Sun (1980-83)
122. John Wyndham: Day of the Triffids (1951)
123. John Wyndham: The Midwich Cuckoos (1957)
124. Yevgeny Zamyatin: We (1924)

Friday, January 02, 2009

2008 Year in Review

2008 was an interesting reading year for me. I started this blog in February 2008, I tried out my first online reading challenges and moved my reading diary from a written form to longer reviews posted here. I was guessing that I read less this year than in past years because I was devoting more time to the blog and reading other book blogs but this year I read twenty books and when I looked it up it turns out last year I only read 21 and 20 in 2006. I would certainly like to read more in 2009. A friend and I started a book club in 2001 and I know that this year reading challenges have distracted me from that. For the first time since its inception I have neglected to read two of the book club books which I feel very guilty about. I really have enjoyed this exploration of the blogosphere and intend to continue.

Top 4 Books Read in 2008:

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
A changeling kidnaps a young boy and takes his place in the human world and the novel follows the adventures of these two “boys”. While a novel about children and or changelings would not be the type of book that would normally catch my attention, it was so beautifully written that it turned out to be my favorite book of the year. My review is here.

Secret History by Donna Tartt
I first heard of Donna Tartt when I started reading reviews for her newer book The Little Friend. All the reviews said it was not as good as her masterpiece Secret History. When I was looking for an audio book to throw on my ipod for a lengthy plane trip I selected this and was very impressed. Although it is nominally a mystery in that there is murder and the police are searching for the killer, the reader knows from the beginning “who dunit” and the book is really a psychological study. The narrator is a lower class kid from California who goes to Hampden College in New England and falls in with a rich sophisticated clique of students studying Greek. The book is about the narrator’s one year that he spent with this very odd group of people. Tartt’s use of language is amazing and her characters were both fascinating and vividly portrayed. I loved it.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
I was looking for a book to recommend to my book club that stretched the boundaries of the form of the novel. I had heard of this book but hadn’t gotten around to reading it until this year. It is written in the second person and the protagonist is “The Reader” ie you. He buys a book but after one chapter the rest is missing and he spends the rest of the book attempting to find the rest of it. Instead he repeatedly finds the beginnings of other incomplete books, each one from a different genre or style. The book alternates between the protagonist’s search for the book and the actual books themselves. The book is a meditation on being a writer and as well as being a reader. I absolutely loved it but I must say my book group did not. They didn’t like the lack of plot or the emphasis of form over the story but that of course was the entire point of the book. I enjoyed its experimental nature (indeed selected it for that very reason) and loved its portrayal of an avid reader and the musings on reading and literature.

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
I bought this for the Once Upon Time II Challenge but didn’t get around to reading it until later. I really wanted to read it because the author was supposedly inspired by Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, one of my favorite books. As far as I am concerned the main character is the steam-punk city of New- Crobuzon itself and its many varied and interesting species. The plot involves an eccentric scientist who inadvertently assists the slake moths who terrorize the city by taking people’s dreams and leaving them comatose. The scientist and his strange band of friends and colleagues endeavor to save the city. At more than 700 pages there are many other subplots as well, but the plot is not the point. The point is the incredible descriptions of the city itself and its inhabitants. The city is a huge strange dark decaying amalgam of high tech and steam/clockwork technology. The inhabitants vary from bureaucrats that would fit in perfectly in Kafka’s world to Satan, a giant inter-dimensional spider called the Weaver, a sentient super computer, creatures similar to cactus, birds, frogs and insects and Remades that incorporate mechanized technology into their bodies. This is not a page turner. You have to have the patience to revel in the lush imagery and it took me a while to read but long after I finished it New-Crobuzon is still is vivid in my mind.

I have not managed to do reviews of three of the four. I think this is because I enjoyed them so much that I wanted the review to be great and therefore they linger in drafts because I am not satisfied with them. I am going to try and catch up on my reviews and do better in 2009.


Although some of the books could fall into more than one category for the purposes of this list I only assigned one category for each book.

Nonfiction - 0
Science Fiction - 1
Horror - 4
Fantasy - 5
Mystery - 2
Literary - 7
Thriller - 1

This certainly reflects my participation in challenges. I don’t think I have ever read so much fantasy at one time and while I do enjoy horror, literary books usually predominate my reading. I also usually get at least one or two nonfiction books read. I would like to read more sci fi in 2009. Other interesting stats:

Female authors - 7
Male authors - 13
New to me authors - 14
Audiobooks - 4

Happy reading in 2009!