I haven’t posted here in forever – something about having a baby now that limits my time. So, here are a few things I’d like to say about what I’ve been reading.
This was on NPR’s “best books of 2011” list and it was about Florida, so I really was looking forward to it. It had its moments, that’s for sure, but overall it wasn’t as tight of a narrative as I would have expected from a best books of 2011 entry. There were also a few times when I wondered, without knowing the answer, just how much time the author spent in the everglades before writing this book. I also wished she had used real place names. I can’t decide – the book either tried to do too much or it didn’t do enough. A better book like this is one called A Land Remembered by Patrick D. Smith.
I moved on from there to something that I knew I would certainly enjoy a bit more, but was for sure not on any top ten books of the year list. Returning to my favorite sci-fi author, Alastair Reynolds, I read his Century Rain. It was very good, though a bit of a departure for him from his normal, thematically. It was still very much sci-fi, but not quite the hard core, vacuum of space, type story I’ve come to expect. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it and also enjoyed how he incorporated little tidbits of real history into the flow of his narrative, like the bit about how Guy de Maupassant ate lunch under the Eiffel Tower because that was the only place in the city of Paris where you could eat lunch without having to see the tower. Wanting something a bit more “spacey,” from him, I next turned to…
Pushing Ice, I had heard, was quite the fan favorite, and it was easy to see why. I was riveted to the narrative, and genuinely felt some of the emotion behind the tough decisions the crew had to make. One minor complaint was I felt the back and forth in terms of leadership position between the two main characters went one back and forth too much. It felt a little bit forced then. But that really is so minor because this is a fantastic story, a hard core space story with high stakes just like I was looking for. Reynolds has said he might like to return to this universe for another story and I for one would love that.
Then I left space and returned to a fantasy world for a bit, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about over Brandon Sanderson. He’s currently writing a big fat huge fantasy epic “decalogy” and before I invest any time in that I wanted to get a feel for him and read the Mistborn trilogy that got him noticed. The first book was pretty great, the second boring as grass growing, and the third just about as good as the first. I loved the system of magic in it, though at times, when he would introduce something new about it just in time for it to impact the plot I was annoyed as that felt a little contrived. The characters were fun, though some of the supporting characters were a bit 2D. He tried really hard to create a dark fantasy environment, what with constant ashfalls and killer mists at night, but for some reason I just never bought it. The danger wasn’t real for me. I’m not sure this was his fault or not, cause he mentioned it often enough. All in all, this was a fun, light series to read that probably could have been two, slightly larger books rather than a trilogy. But, if you want to get noticed in fantasy you have to write a trilogy. It’s like author hazing.
Having finished that, I wanted to read something that would be both quick and more literary, so I picked another of the books from NPR’s top ten of 2011 and went with Ben Lerner’s debut novel (he’s apparently more well known as a poet) Leaving the Atocha Station. This is a story (maybe?) of a young American student on a prestigious poetry fellowship in Madrid, Spain that he feels he neither deserves nor particularly wants. He is an unsympathetic character as he constantly lies and deceives everyone around him for personal gain, and by the end of the book, I just really didn’t like him. I did, however, spend a lot of time (for a 150 page book) thinking about some of the social situations he found himself in and recognizing myself in those. They weren’t particularly fond memories. At times I felt like I was reading a younger Hemingway, but Hemingway would never have cared as much as this guy pretended he didn’t care. There is some debate among readers about whether or not the character actually was a profoundly good poet, despite his protestations. The thing that sucks is, I think he probably was. I think what makes these kinds of books “good” is their ability to evoke that emotion in a reader, rather than a kick ass plot or edge of your seat suspense. So, I get it. It still wasn’t all that fun to read though, but it was probably “good” that I did read it. I liked it. I didn’t like it. I read it fast. I thought about it a lot. I’m ready to move on.