Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Once Upon A Time VI

It is time once again for Carl V's Once Upon A Time challenge!! I have been really bad about posting, writing reviews and participating in challenges etc. but I just love the Once Upon A Time challenge so I am hoping this is a good time to get back into the swing of things. I was amazed to see that out of my pool of choices for last year’s challenge I actually have read a good deal of them (6 out of 16), though not necessarily during the challenge time period.

For more information on this challenge that focuses on fantasy, folklore, fairy tales or mythology go here and for the review site go here. It runs from March 21 to June 19, 2011.

I have many books that I could read for this challenge so I am going to try and mostly stick to those that I already have on my shelf, Kindle or ipod. So here is a pool of books to chose from.

Demi-Monde: Winter by Rod Rees
Samedi the Deafness by Jesse Ball
Stone Raft by Jose Saramago
The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Last Book by Zoran Zivkovic
Observatory Mansions by Edward Carey
The Narrator by Michael Cisco
Sensation by Nick Mamatas
Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
Aurorarama by Jean-Christophe Valtat
Pym by Mat Johnson
The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino
Veniss Underground by Jeff Vandermeer

And if that isn't enough there is always Jeff Vandermeer's Best Fantasy of 2011 review to get inspiration from.

I am going to sign up for the Journey because I appreciate the flexibility and lack of stress which means that I will read at least one book but I might, and usually do, read more. Last year I really enjoyed Season 1 of Game of Thrones and I am very excited to watch Season 2 which starts April 1, 2012 on HBO. Thanks Carl for hosting another great challenge.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tournament of Books

Although it apparently has been going on for years I have just discovered The Tournament of Books which is taking place March 8 - March 30.

In case you’re new, The Morning News Tournament of Books is an annual book event—2012 is our eighth year—pitting 16 of the best novels from the previous year in a March Madness-style battle royale.

Here’s how it works: Each weekday in March, a judge evaluates two books and chooses one to move ahead. On the final match day, all the judges weigh in on the remaining two books, selecting one to receive our award, The Rooster (named in honor of David Sedaris’s brother). Each day, there’s also commentary from our play-by-play officials, Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner, as well as you, the audience. One special note: Just before the Championship match, we have a special “Zombie Round” where the would-be finalists must battle our readers’ two favorite books that were already ejected earlier in the competition.

I finally have some idea of what people are talking about in the office when they refer to brackets, March Madness and moving on to the next round. (What, you don't think that are talking about books?)

While I have only read one of these books, a Sense of an Ending, and intend to read 1Q84, these are certainly books that got the buzz last year and I have heard of most of them. I have been considering reading The Last Brother, The Tiger's Wife, State of Wonder, The Sisters Brothers, Swamplandia!, and The Cat's Table. And I had no thought of reading The Art of Fielding until I read a really interesting article in Vanity Fair about how it got published. But do I want to read a book simply because it got so much buzz? Is it fair to refuse to read a book just because it got so much buzz? I tend to be reluctant to read a book if it is too popular but I usually end up reading a couple. [Having said that, I just had to look and see what I had read from prior years Tournaments. Of all the books in the Tournaments from 2005-2011 I have read 2666, Brief and Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao, The Road, Historian, Cloud Atlas and No Country for Old Men. Of those only Cloud Atlas really wowed me. ]

In any case, this Tournament is funny and amusing and interesting to follow, whether I ultimately decide to read some of these or not. And unlike all those annoying sport commentators clogging up my satellite channels and saying nothing, the running commentary by Keven and John is really amusing. I am really looking forward to the Quarter Finals 1Q84 vs. Tiger's Wife match up (but am afraid my Murakami may get knocked out) and will be interested in the Swamplandia! vs. Sisters Brothers match up. And I predict that State of Wonder will come back for the zombie round but would prefer The Cat's Table.

Post Tournament Roundup:
I really enjoyed following the tournament and checking each morning to see who won the round. After the tournament I immediately purchased Sister's Brothers and added Open City to my Kindle wish list. I will of course read IQ84 and may also read The Tiger's Wife, Swamplandia!, and The Cat's Table. Now I don't know what to read first thing every morning! I guess I will just have to wait until next year.

Lost City of Z

by David Grann

This was on my list of books to read for both 2010 and 2011 and I finally read it. It is a non-fiction account of a journalist trying to retrace the steps of British explorer Percy Fawcett who went missing in the Amazon in 1925 trying to find a lost city which he called Z, something akin to El Dorado. I enjoyed it but it wasn't as exciting as I expected.

I found Percy Fawcett and his wife very interesting and while some reviewers were annoyed that it had too much of the author's story in it, I found that interesting as well. (I always imagine that I would enjoy being a sleuth in old musty libraries - I was a history major after all.) I also find stories of explorers before the advent of GPS and satellite phones fascinating, as must others as there have been quite a few recent books (both fiction and non-fiction) on the subject. And of course there is always fascination with the Amazon (the tv show The River and huge hit State of Wonder by Ann Patchett). I am glad I read it but it probably won't be on my top 2012 list.

Bookmarks Magazine

Here is what looked interesting in the Sept/Oct., Nov./Dec. and Jan/Feb Bookmarks Magazine.

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk - S
Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein - S
Drood by Dan Simmons - S
The Informationist by Taylor Stevens - S
Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach - S
Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco - S
The Leopard by Jo Nesbo -  S
Swamplandia by Karen Russell - S
Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta - S
Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane - S
Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
Appetite City by William Grimes - NF
A Moment in the Sun by John Sales
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
something by J.G. Ballard
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Lost in Shangri-la by Mitchell Zuckoff -NF
Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Embassytown by China Mieville
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer - NF
Devil in the White City by Erik Larson - NF
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
The Women by T.C. Boyle
Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood -NF
11/22/63 by Stephen King
The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt -NF
A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres -NF
Among Others by Jo Walton
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Pym by Mat Johnson
Pale King by David Foster Wallace
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson - NF
On Writing by Stephen King -NF
The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
Love in Ruins by Walker Percy
We Others by Steven Millhauser
Luminarium by Alex Shakar
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Map of Time by Felix J. Palma -SF
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - SF
Reamde by Neal Stephenson - SF
Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman - NF

Friday, March 16, 2012

Review of 2011 Reading

Ok, so it is March and a little late for a 2011 review but I figure better late than never. In 2011 I was doing really well through June and then life just got incredibly busy and distracting. I only read 20 books in 2011 and reviewed 11 out of the 20 and made 26 blog posts - by far my worst year since I started this blog. I successfully completed Carl V’s Sci Fi Experience and the Once Upon a Time Challenge but then only read one book for the RIP VI Challenge and didn’t even review it. And I totally failed in the Japanese Literature Challenge and the Murakami Challenge. Nonetheless, I read 20 books which is the same that I read in 2008 when I started this blog. I am just going to move on and hope that 2012 is a better year all around.

My five favorite books from 2011 are:

Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
The City & the City by China Meiville
The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
The Wave by Susan Casey
Finch by Jeff Vandermeer

I didn’t manage to review the Wave or the Manual of Detection. The Wave is non-fiction but I found it a real page turner. I gave it to several people to read and they loved it and passed it on to more people to read who loved it. I don’t know if it particularly resonates because of where we live but it seems to appeal to a wide audience. The Wave is naturally all about waves, specifically especially large waves, and it takes you on a tour of historians, scientists, maritime specialists as well as the big wave surfers. As Bookmarks Magazine says: “Part science lesson and part adrenaline rush, The Wave is an intense thrill ride that manages to take a broad look at oversized, potentially devastating waves.” I had no idea people were actually surfing these incredibly huge waves. I found it so interesting that I then rented some surf movies/documentaries. I especially enjoyed the dvds Step into Liquid and Riding Giants.

The Manual of Detection was amazing and I really need to re-read it. On its face it is a noir detective story but the Detective Agency our protagonist works for was designed by Kafka or Saramago and he is trying to track down his disappeared mentor, catch a murderer and discover why all the cities alarm clocks are being stolen. And of course there is a femme fatale and creepy villains and dastardly deeds. But don’t worry about the plot, this is extremely well written and a fun surreal adventure. I am at a loss as to what else to say so as most of the reviewers/critics seem to have done, I will simply say it reminds me of Kafka, Saramago (All the Names), Borges, the movies Brazil and City of Lost Children. Just read it.

How did I do with my year of reading deliberately? I said I was going to read the following:

Gold Bug Variation by Richard Powers
The Castle by Franz Kafka
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Lost City of Z by David Grann (nonfiction)

I read the Lost City of Z (enjoyed it) and the Castle (I was disappointed in it). I was enjoying the Satanic Verses but then set it aside to read the Once Upon a Time reading and have not picked it back up. I have the audible version of the Sound and the Fury, which I was finding easier than the print, but only got about a third through it and then moved on. Gold Bug Variations I really want to read but it only comes in print and I don’t even know where my copy is at the moment.

In addition I wanted to read a book about Art, a book about Food, a book about Books or Reading, a nonfiction book as well as something from the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels List. I read a book about Art - Priceless which I enjoyed, a book about Food - Various Flavors of Coffee which was fun, a Book about Reading - The Lost Art of Reading which I hated, three non-fiction books - Lost Art of Reading, Priceless, the Wave but no Modern Library Books. I don’t think I am going to make a list of deliberate reads for 2012 as life is just too crazy. I will simply be happy if I get to read.